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21. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's relations with Japan. [6858]

Mr. Hanley: UK relations with Japan are excellent. We are developing close co-operation on international issues, investment, trade, science and technology and in many other areas.

Mr. Viggers: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the relationship with Japan is now so close that the UK is Japan's natural link with mainland Europe and that Japan's economic strength and political maturity make it a suitable candidate for permanent membership of the Security Council? For the same reasons, would it not be appropriate for us to discuss military co-operation with Japan, with a view to co-operating in humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping in due course?

Mr. Hanley: The Government are keen to encourage good co-operation between the UK and Japan in a range

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of areas, including defence. It is in the interests of this country and the international community that key members of the Japanese defence forces should have the opportunity to learn from the United Kingdom's peacekeeping experience. We should encourage Japan to share the international burden of peacekeeping, both financially and with trained personnel, and I therefore agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Banks: Would not relations with Japan improve immensely if, for example, the Japanese stopped slaughtering minke whales in the Antarctic--something that is against all international agreements?

Mr. Hanley: The United Kingdom believes that the decision of the Institute of Cetacean Research to sue Mr. Votier was a private matter for the Japanese courts. We have certainly made clear to Japan on numerous occasions our objections to so-called scientific whaling. The hon. Gentleman may well know that I support his campaign to "Save the Whale". Indeed, someone once said that I was the only human being to receive a dividend from "Save the Whale".


Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools

Mrs. Secretary Shephard, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Lilley, Mr. Secretary Dorrell, Mr. Secretary Hague, Mr. Robin Squire and Mrs. Cheryl Gillan, presented a Bill to provide for the making of grants in respect of nursery education and to permit borrowing by grant-maintained schools: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 41.]

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Delegated Legislation

Madam Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Fire Services

    That the South Wales Fire Services (Combination Scheme) Order 1995 (S.I., 1995, No. 3230) be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.--[Mr. Conway.]

Question agreed to.

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Regional Government

3.32 pm

Mr. Chris Davies (Littleborough and Saddleworth): I beg to move,

The passage of this Bill will demonstrate that the House is determined to reverse the creeping centralisation of power that has turned Britain into the most centralised state in Europe--a country in which decision-taking authority is concentrated in the hands of a small group of Ministers and where no attempt is made to provide a balance to centralised power by harnessing the ideas, initiative and enthusiasm of people throughout the regions.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that the establishment of regional government as proposed in the Bill will not result in the creation of an additional layer of bureaucracy. Far from it; the objective of the Bill is to achieve a dramatic reduction in the powers and cost of central Government. The process of decision taking by the centre will be replaced by one of decision taking by the regions.

For example, the strong and effective tier of regional government proposed in the Bill will eliminate the need for the Department of the Environment in its present form. Its work will be almost entirely superseded. The powers allocated to regional government are such that the roles of the Departments of Transport, Trade and Industry, and Employment and Education will also be significantly diminished. While the establishment of regional parliaments will bring under democratic authority tiers of government that in practice already exist at regional level, major changes in the departmental structure of central Government will also be required.

The Bill will have three far-reaching effects. First, it will enshrine in our system of government the principle of subsidiarity, enabling decisions to be made at the lowest practical level and as close as possible to the people whom they affect. That is a principle much praised by Ministers when they speak of Britain's place in Europe, but it is a case of "Do as I say, not as I do" in our domestic affairs; for there the principle is honoured only by its absence. It is a nonsense and a disgrace that people in regions such as mine, the north-west--which has a population of 7 million and is larger than four nation states in the European Union--have so little influence on decisions that affect them and them alone.

Secondly, the Bill provides the seedcorn for the growth of regional centres of economic influence, a step of the utmost importance if all parts of the nation are to benefit fully from our membership of the European Union and the introduction of a single currency. For 150 years, the tendency of economic influence to gravitate towards the centre has been demonstrated by the decline of our provincial cities in relation to London and financial centres elsewhere. Decisions affecting the livelihoods of entire communities are too often made by people with no knowledge of or sympathy with those localities. The tendency towards centralisation of power is likely to be accelerated by the adoption of a single currency, and it is therefore important that we take steps now to strengthen the influence of our regions on economic decision making.

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Thirdly, the Bill provides a crucial step in the long-overdue modernisation of our stagnating democracy and outdated institutions, whose failure is one reason why the country has been in relative decline for so long. If we look across Europe, we see nation states all of which have decentralised their decision making. There are 20 regional governments in Italy, 16 Lander in Germany, 17 autonomous communities in Spain and 22 regional governments in France, all created since the end of the last war. In their respective localities, they command great public support. Far from dividing their countries or threatening their unions, they provide bonds of democratic legitimacy and regional pride that draw their nations together.

The regional parliaments that the Bill will establish in England will have general authority to act in any field not specifically designated for central or local government. They will play a major role in the distribution of capital and revenue funding to local government and the powerful quangos that exist at present--development corporations, English Partnerships and the like. They will have strategic planning powers, authority to encourage economic development and responsibilities for training, further education, transport planning and infrastructure development.

Not all those areas of authority will be assumed immediately by regional parliaments. In Spain the regional communities are being encouraged to develop at their own pace, and the Bill provides for regional governments in this country to take powers from central Government at a time of their choosing. The Bill recognises that the development of the competence and authority of the new institutions will be a gradual process, and that people must be given time and freedom to work out what they consider to be the most appropriate hierarchy of democratic administration. The result is bound to vary from region to region.

Because the Bill provides for the establishment of a new constitutional settlement and a genuine sharing of authority between central and regional government, the regional parliaments will have recourse to the courts if central Government seek to usurp their authority to determine policy on matters in regard to which autonomy rightly rests with them. The Bill provides for the appointment of commissions to facilitate the creation of the new bodies, able to determine the boundary of each region and the locations of the regional seats of government. Uniformity of size is not an objective. Perhaps the new bodies will choose to follow the boundaries of the Government's existing eight administrative areas; perhaps not. They are certainly already large by European standards.

It is also important to proceed by consent. Diversity is perfectly acceptable if it encourages a strong identification between regional parliaments and the people whom they represent. For example, the regional government of Saarland in Germany deals with a population of just 1 million. Such special arrangements might be appropriate in areas like Cornwall. We could even set up a mini-state in Macclesfield if that would please the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Charged as they are with emotions of local pride, those will not be easy tasks. But they have been undertaken in many countries before ours and I have no reason to

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suppose that our solutions will be any less successful. For the time being, I shall avoid speculating about the appropriate seat of regional government in the north-west.

The commissions are also charged with the task of making arrangements for the election of members of the regional parliaments. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that the specified method of election in this Bill is required to ensure that voting intentions are reflected on a broadly proportional basis. From the beginning, membership of the regional parliaments will accurately reflect the electorate, which this House has long failed to do.

Importantly, the Bill provides for the establishment of an interregional finance commission and formal consultative procedures between the regional parliaments, the Treasury and this House. Although the parliaments will have some tax-raising powers, a large element of their funding will be provided by the Exchequer, and the distribution of funds between regions must be equitable.

In constitutional terms, it would not be too extreme to describe the Bill's effect as revolutionary, as it will fundamentally alter the role of central Government. Although it may be regarded as radical in Britain, however, it would be considered as no more than pragmatic--even tame--by our European partners. That reflects the fact that our Government institutions are trapped in the past and stifle new ideas.

The European Union of which we are part is a Europe of the regions. It is time that we, too, looked to our regions and harnessed the initiatives of their people to find new solutions to the problems that we face. It is time that we brought our constitution and democracy up to date, and placed the principles of decentralisation and subsidiarity at the core of our system of government.

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