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Yorkshire: Devolution

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to proceed with a devolution process for Yorkshire which takes into account (1) rural and urban interests, and (2) the services and industrial sectors, and reunites the historic Yorkshire Ridings.

My Lords, the Government have responded to the leaders of the Sheffield City Region, indicating that they are ready to progress their deal along the lines they have proposed and, recognising the strength of the Yorkshire identity, to consider a localist approach to devolution elsewhere across Yorkshire.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for One Yorkshire—alternatively, God’s own country. Although I am delighted that at last there is progress on devolution, I hope my noble friend will acknowledge that the economy of Yorkshire is equivalent to that of Scotland, and that 75% of those who reside in Yorkshire identify with that enormously important brand, as do all our national and international contacts. Therefore, there should be no delay in allowing One Yorkshire to proceed, even if it does so in parallel with the Sheffield City Region.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for all he does in relation to matters Yorkshire, and congratulate Yorkshire on a very successful Tour de Yorkshire; I am sure the whole House would want to do so. The women’s section was won by Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, the men’s section by Chris Lawless of the United Kingdom—ironically, a Lancastrian.

We are very pleased with the progress being made in relation to Sheffield. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to the Sheffield City Region leaders indicating that we are prepared to allow councils that do not see their future in that city region to join an alternative, wider Yorkshire devolution group after 2022—subject to satisfying the usual tests.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when Jake Berry, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, gave a very discouraging response at the One Yorkshire conference in Leeds last month, he strongly preferred a four sub-region answer for Yorkshire, based on three cities and North Yorkshire? He called North Yorkshire a “rural powerhouse” but was unable to explain what he meant. Perhaps the Minister here will be able to. Perhaps he could also explain what he means by a “localist approach”. We want a regional, county approach, not a localist approach.

My Lords, in relation to the comments made by my right honourable friend in the other place, I am sure that all parts of Yorkshire are powerhouses, and I am sure he meant that every part of Yorkshire packs a powerful punch. The noble Lord will understand that we are pleased with the progress being made in relation to the Sheffield City Region and, as I said, are very much up for looking at other parts of Yorkshire. Officials are taking that forward and will be meeting people throughout Yorkshire to discuss it.

My Lords, whatever happens in respect of developments in Yorkshire, does the Minister not agree that we are approaching, or perhaps have even arrived at, a situation in which the structure of local government in this country is unbelievably complex and unintelligible to vast numbers of people—including, I dare say, a good few of us in this House. We have some cities with mayors, some without; we have different powers in different areas; we have regional government in certain places and not in others. So just as a start towards intelligibility, could the Minister place in the Library, on one sheet of A4, the types of local authorities that currently exist, the frequency of elections therein and the powers that they individually exercise?

My Lords, the noble Lord is always shining a light on parts of the British constitution to indicate their idiosyncrasies, which may well be true of local government as well. It is more whether it works than whether it can be deconstructed in any meaningful way that is important. As I have indicated, we are progressing the position in Sheffield— which I am sure all parts of the House welcome—and we are committed to issuing a Statement on the framework of devolution in England within the timescale the Select Committee has asked for, which I am sure the noble Lord will welcome. We are taking things forward in a very meaningful way, and the latest developments in Sheffield should please us all.

My Lords, I speak as a resident of the North Yorkshire powerhouse. The Minister says that the Government are taking things forward in a meaningful way. They are not actually taking things forward in respect of any part of Yorkshire whatever, bar Sheffield. On what basis do the Government feel that they can continue simply to turn down the expressed wishes of virtually every local authority in Yorkshire for a One Yorkshire deal?

My Lords, as I have indicated to the House, we are looking at the prospects and possibilities for all of Yorkshire. Discussions are going on with officials about the way forward. I am sure the noble Lord will welcome what has happened in Sheffield, as I know many other Members will. That is very welcome and it is within the context of looking at the wider Yorkshire position that we are moving things forward, which is to be welcomed.

My Lords, can I confirm that the Minister is saying that at the end of the term for South Yorkshire, if the authorities want to leave that arrangement they can go into another arrangement in Yorkshire and that the Government will not stand in their way?

My Lords, I am very happy to confirm that that is the case. If authorities were to leave the Sheffield City Region—the two authorities that have previously had difficulties with that arrangement, say—the city region would carry on with the remaining two. It would still be a viable entity, but we are running ahead of ourselves. There is a commitment within the agreement whose details we are now looking at. We are making progress on that to ensure that it carries on until at least 2022.

Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, surely many different areas of this country have different characteristics and therefore devolution should take different forms in different areas?

My Lords, as always, my noble friend puts it extremely well. That is the case: we do not impose a blueprint on every part of the country. The devolution arrangements that exist for the metro mayors differ from each other. That is to be welcomed as they are in different areas with different needs.