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The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): Relationships between the Government and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are governed by the principles set out in the memorandum of understanding, signed in October 1999. I have the lead ministerial responsibility for the memorandum of understanding within the Government and am happy to say that all parties think that the arrangements are working well and that they provide a useful mechanism for handling difficult relations between the Administrations.
Mike Gapes: I am grateful for that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way of bringing about even greater co-operation between the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the English counties and regions would be for them each to send representatives to a reformed second Chamber? That could bring together all parts of the country, thereby acting as the cement that holds the United Kingdom together.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Is the Deputy Prime Minister now confident that, subject to a yes vote in a referendum, at least one English regional assembly will be functioning by the next general election? Assuming that that happens, would it not be appropriate for his Department to relate to all the Assemblies and Parliaments of the United Kingdom, instead of to a series of expensive Scotland Offices, Wales Offices and whatever else might emerge from the process?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The devolution proposals are quite clear. Indeed, we shall make it clear in the White Paper on regional governance that there will be regional government offices, as that is right for administration. There will be a need to ensure co-ordination across Departments. I have told the House that I, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, will produce that White Paper when it is ready. I can now say that it will be ready shortly. To that extent, we shall explain some of those issues in the White Paper.
Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): May I put it to my right hon. Friend that, although the Government have introduced a very bold and ambitious programme of constitutional reform, they have not yet quite established the implications on the way that we organise Departments? The best way to achieve better co-ordination across Government would be to make one Department responsible for local government, regional government, the devolved institutions and constitutional affairs. Would that not solve all the co-ordination problems that keep cropping up at the moment?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: That is an interesting point, but I do not think that it would be the solution. Co-ordination would remain an issue, whether inside Departments or between Departments.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does the Deputy Prime Minister stand by his remarks that the Government should "bite the bullet" and revise the Barnett formula to finance regional government in England? Can he tell us what his proposals to replace that formula will be and whether Wales and Scotland will be worse off or better off as a result?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The quote to which the hon. Gentleman refers was entirely about local government finance and nothing to do with the Barnett formula. Indeed, there are as many concerns about local government finance as about the Barnett formula, and we have clearly made the decision
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): I welcome the fact that the White Paper on regional governance is due to be published shortly and recognise my right hon. Friend's long-standing, unswerving commitment to regional devolution, which is very much appreciated in regions such as mine. I hope that he will agree that it will be important to have wide consultations and discussions on the White Paper throughout the regions, but may I urge himif he were tempted to do soto ignore any advice from Conservative spokesmen who opposed the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, regional development agencies, regional chambers and, in fact, all measures to promote democracy and economic success in our regions?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I well understand what my right hon. Friend says, but she could also have mentioned the Greater London Authority, which the Conservatives opposed and then changed their mind. In all such areas, we just carry on with the programme of decentralisation, of which regional governance will be one of the last changes to be made, because it is essential to give the English regions the opportunities, equipment and resources to get on with developing their regions. We strongly believe in that and, very shortly, we shall produce the White Paper to show it.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): May I press the Deputy Prime Minister on the timing? He says that the regional government White Paper will be published shortlyI think that that was the word he used. Can we assume that it will be published before the House rises for the summer recess? Can we anticipate that the legislation may be forthcoming as early this autumn so that the referendumsif they are to take placewill be held no later than next year?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The hon. Gentleman can assume that it will be shortly. I will say no more than that. We want a referendum to take place in any area that wishes to pursue both that and the principles laid out in the White Paper. We hope that that will be possible before the next general election, bearing in mind the timetable in the White Paper.
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State (Mr. John Prescott): I chair a ministerial group that brings together Ministers across the Government who are working on preparations for the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development, which is to take place in September.
I have had many meetings over the past six months to discuss the summit with Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers from around the world at the request of the Prime Minister, which are in addition to those held by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign and
I am sure that the House recognises the leading role that the United Kingdom has played in the Kyoto protocol and other international agreements, and that it supports our efforts to make the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development a success.
Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for that reply. Will my right hon. Friend set out the Government's priorities for that summit and confirm in particular whether the take-up of renewable energy options will be on our agenda? In addition, given some of the recent trivial coverage whipped up by the Conservatives about my right hon. Friend's meetings with world leaders in advance of the summit, will he take the opportunity to remind the House of the importance of engaging with other Governments if we are to put together a coalition to sort out climate change?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: As my hon. Friend says, it is unfortunate that the report on our efforts to secure agreement on the world summit on sustainable development, which have involved a great deal of plane travel, should be treated in such a trivial way by The Sunday Times. So what's new?
Nevertheless, it is the Government's clear objective to make globalisation work for sustainable development, especially for the poorest. Some 1 billion people earn less than $1 a day, more than 1 billion are denied access to clean water and a child dies every 10 seconds from water-related diseases. That is why our policy is to secure a commitment to improve, among other things, access to clean water and energy services, including renewable energies.
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: Both the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Prime Minister have made it clear at the Dispatch Box that the United States' actions are unacceptable. Achieving sustainable agreements means finding global agreements. The hon. Gentleman refers to a trade agreement; we are referring to an agreement on the environment and sustainability. Global agreements require good will. That did not seem to be apparent in recent American actions.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): May I take the opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for putting the record straight on questions that I asked his Department about the sustainable timber, or otherwise, used in the Cabinet Office refurbishment? It is much appreciated and I accept the apology. May I say how important it is that he and our Government take a leading role at the world summit in Johannesburg, South Africa? It is crucial that in terms of domestic and procurement
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: That is precisely what the Government intend to do. May I add my apologies to my hon. Friend for the wrong information? It was given in good faith, and we acknowledged to the House as quickly as we could that it was wrong. We are carrying out a further report on that, which will be made public and available to the House. However, on the certification of wood, we are taking up the weakness issues with the United Nations, at the conference on sustainable development and with the United Nations Environment Programme.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): When we take a leading role at the summit, will we tell other nations about our record on dealing with the 400 million tonnes of waste that we produce each year in this country? Will we tell them of our patchy record on re-use, recycling and composting, or will we acknowledge that we are slip- sliding towards incineration and excessive dependency on landfill that threatens the quality of life in so many communities, including Blackfordby in my constituency which is close to a new tip that is due to open shortly?
The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: The problems of waste management are very considerable, not only for this country, but for many others. Landfill, incineration and recycling all play a part. As my hon. Friend will know, the issue of landfill has rightly been closed off, and we have to strike a balance between recycling and incineration. The Government have increased the proportion of waste that is dealt with by recycling. Ultimately, we must strike a balance between the options available. That causes controversy, but we intend to deal effectively with the matter. [Interruption.]