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26 Nov 2002 : Column 205—continued

Mr. George Osborne: The hon. Gentleman knows that I, too, am from the north-west. The democratic challenge is that although Manchester, which he represents, might want the regional assembly, Cheshire might not. If every person in Cheshire votes against it, it can still be imposed on us and we will lose our county council, which is not what we want.

Mr. Lloyd: Cheshire is certainly part of the north-west regional identity. That phenomenon goes beyond the boundaries of local government institutions. I do not cease to be a Lancastrian because the county of Lancashire did not have a role in the city of Manchester during my lifetime. Lancashire has not even been the administrative unit for parts of Greater Manchester for more than a generation. That does not stop me, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) or my hon. Friends from other parts of the north-west being proud to be profoundly Lancastrian as part of our birthright. We are talking not about inventing emotion for a county identity, but about the efficiency and accountability of structures of governance.

I have a criticism that is relevant to all Governments. Manufacturing is much more important in the north-east, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside than elsewhere. That industry has suffered disproportionately in the system of governance of modern Britain. Decisions on the British economy have tended to favour the service economy, not manufacturing, and have a differential impact on the north. The House of Commons has allowed successive Governments to get away with failing to reflect different regional interests. It is vital that the regions have another layer of interest and influence. They need to be able to tell the Government that they must reflect the increasingly different interests of the regions. Scotland, Wales and Greater London have that ability. It is time for the influence and interests of the northern regions and elsewhere to catch up.

My region has been disadvantaged in many ways. Hon. Members will remember the fairly recent debate on the Daresbury site. It seems to me that a decision on that was made on the advice of people with a south-eastern, or near south-eastern, outlook. They could not understand that it was possible to have world-class science in the north-west of England.

One of the major decisions for the Government will be on the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology—UMIST—and Manchester university. I hope that the merger takes place because it will create a university that offers world-class science. That process would be more straightforward, however,

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if the new university were supported by a region that recognised the essential nature of the science-base to its long-term future.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the synchrotron investment. The Government, whom he supports, chose to give a £500 million investment to Oxfordshire, not the north-west, which was patently the wrong decision. However, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that a north-west regional assembly would have had a greater influence on the decision by railing against it. The decision was always going to be made by central Government. It was the task of the House and hon. Members to stand up for our region.

Mr. Lloyd: As the hon. Gentleman knows, north-west MPs, certainly on the Labour Benches, fought a long campaign, but alas we lost. I recognise the action taken by the Department of Trade and Industry to make that pill less bitter; nevertheless it was still a bitter pill for the north-west to swallow. North-west MPs, supported by a strong regional assembly speaking with a coherent and consistent voice for the north-west, would be massively emboldened in breaking the stranglehold of the southern thinking which has dominated this country for as long as I can remember.

There is very little to fear from the Bill in the north-west. I say to the doubters among Conservative Members that the beauty of the Bill is that it offers choice. It will allow people to campaign, as I will do strongly, for regional government for the north-west, and it will allow those who oppose it to campaign against it. That is exactly how things should be in a democracy. The advantage of the Bill is that it will give the choice to the people who will be affected rather than to bureaucrats in central Government, or even, at that point, to the House of Commons. This House will give the people of the regions the opportunity to choose. If other regions do not want to do as I hope mine will, that is their choice, although I think that regions throughout England will be making a mistake if they do not opt for regional government.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Does the hon. Gentleman feel that regions that do not want to follow his line should be compensated for not choosing regional government, which would result in extremely costly local government reorganisation and the establishment of regional assemblies?

Mr. Lloyd: Applying the same logic, if it is demonstrated that, by choosing regional government and establishing efficient unitary authorities and a regional assembly, my region saves money, will the hon. Gentleman be prepared to say to his voters that on the basis of those savings, money should be transferred to the north-west from other regions? If we are prepared to look at the total deal, his point may be interesting.

The issue here is that the choice will be made by the people of the different regions, and the hon. Gentleman tempts me to turn to important regional matters. Over the years, the northern regions have suffered in the allocation of local government funding, which has advantaged the south-east and, in particular, London. That would have to be considered in the context of a new constitutional formula.

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Even more importantly, the Barnett formula will inevitably raise its head. It will do so whether or not we choose regional government, but if we are to examine the viability of new regions in the north-west and north-east, parity of funding will become important. Looking at all the indicators, we see that the north-west has many advantages, and I have enormous confidence that, liberated from its present constraints, it will be able to fast-forward to a better future. However, it is undeniable that many areas of the region have been as profoundly affected by poverty, deprivation and de-industrialisation as Scotland, where the Barnett formula is applied advantageously.

I know that this will be an uncomfortable issue for the Government, but I want to state that although setting up a north-west region is important, we will want to consider parity and fairness of funding within any new regional settlement. In the final analysis, we will want a successful north-west region to make further constitutional reforms so that its powers grow as it demonstrates its ability to use them.

5.44 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) made a passionate and powerful case for regional government and elected regional assemblies. He will not be surprised to hear that Liberal Democrat Members agree with him. My party and our predecessor parties going back to Gladstone have long argued for devolution, and in manifesto after manifesto we have argued for elected regional assemblies, so we will support the Bill tonight. It is right that Britain's existing form of regional government is made accountable to the people.

Our vision of regional government is very different from the Deputy Prime Minister's, however. We have two main criticisms of the Bill, which we shall make tonight and as the Bill proceeds through the House. First, we need more regional devolution than is on offer in the Bill and the White Paper linked to it. Secondly, the Bill does not offer the best way of making preparations for regional assemblies, and I am afraid that it may turn out to kill the idea of regional assemblies. Too often, we see No. 10's hand imprint on the Bill. It is not keen on elected regional assemblies. The Deputy Prime Minister has fought long and hard for his achievements, but I know that he believes in his heart of hearts that this measure should go much further.

Regional democracy, for which the Deputy Prime Minister has made a case, is the reason why we shall vote for the Bill. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) did not spend much time talking about democracy, which is at the heart of the Bill and its proposals, but it is a key argument. In both this and the last Parliament we have advocated constitutional reform, in which there has been a great experiment—not least in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and so on. The Bill is linked to that experiment, and tries to get decisions closer to the people, which we support.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden failed to say whether or not the Conservatives are happy with the current state of regional government. We have far too much regional government. If one starts to add up all the quangos, one loses count very soon. It is

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difficult to keep track of all the different Government offices and quangos in the regions. I have looked for myself, and tried to read the Government document. It is difficult to keep track of numbers. Some national quangos, such as the Environment Agency, have regional offices. There are regional quangos such as regional development agencies. Some central Government agencies, such as the Highways Agency, have regional offices. Some central Government programmes have local or regional aspects, and some local organisations have regional aspects. It is a complete maze, and the key thing is that it is not democratic.

Those organisations, quangos and Government offices are non-elected bodies and exercise wide-ranging powers in policy areas including education, health, economic development, the environment, transport, culture and sport. Why are the Conservatives against giving democracy to our regional government? If you start trying to count those quangos, a key problem is trying to define a quango and what fits neatly into elected regional government—one person's quango is another person's ministerial fiefdom. Often, boundaries are not coterminous, so it is difficult to offer precise definitions. I am grateful to Councillor Chris Foote-Wood, who tried to count the quangos in north-east England. Earlier this year, he published a pamphlet called XLand of the 100 Quangos". He used evidence published by the Deputy Prime Minister in November 2001, which found 12 regional strategies in the north-east and 70 regional and sub-regional quangos. Councillor Foote-Wood has managed to find a few more. The Deputy Prime Minister may be interested in them.

Councillor Foote-Wood entitled his pamphlet XLand of the 100 Quangos", but he found 172 regional and sub-regional quangos. I am tempted to list every single one, but I am sure that you would rule me out of order if I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Departments that operate quangos in the north-east include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which has the north-east regional office of the Community Fund and Culture North East. There are six health authorities in the north-east region and 17 NHS trusts. The former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions had the north rent assessment panel and the north-eastern traffic area authority. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has 71 Government office north-east partnerships, including the XDon't Choke Britain" north-east planning group and the north-east centre for change steering group—I am not quite sure what that does—the northern arts advisers panel, the regional foresight steering committee, the regional round table on sustainable development and so on. Those bodies are not democratic.

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