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The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not know whether the proposal would be defeated by 40:1 in the east of England—[Interruption.] Even if it were 50:1, the right hon. Gentleman is showing his arrogance by feeling that he knows what the outcome would be. What we have done is to put the question to the people and let them make the decision. There is an important difference between those two positions. I may give my judgment to the region, but it may reject it, as it has done on this occasion. I am not therefore acting on my judgment, as, to its mind, my judgment was wrong. I will not assume that I know what the outcome will be in the eastern region, but the assembly there has 36 Tories on it, is chaired by a Tory, and is considering the housing situation and recommendations on it. We are in discussion with it, but I notice that it and the Government differ by only a few thousand on what housing is needed in the area. We will continue the discussion.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): A few moments ago, the Deputy Prime Minister said that he did not understand why he lost the referendum in the north-east. The reason is blindingly obvious. He lost the referendum in the north-east, as he would everywhere else in the country, because the people of this country do
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not want regional assemblies. That being so, he went on to say that he has learned the lesson and that he accepts the result. But he does not, because he said that regional assemblies will continue. The South East England regional assembly is not only unelected but unloved and unwanted. Why should the people of Kent pay for a quango for which they have not voted and that they do not want?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Again, I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can assume what will happen in other areas. We must wait and see. As for my accepting the judgment of the north-east, I have done so. I asked it not about the regional assembly but about an elected regional assembly. It chose to vote against it, and I have announced to Parliament today that I have no intention of bringing forward the Bill that would make such an assembly a reality, because the people have spoken. In those circumstances, the unelected regional assemblies, rather than unelected quangos, need to make decisions about matters that affect their regions, as at least they are indirectly elected—again, I suspect that in the south-east, the assembly will have more Tories than Labour members. I think that that is right. We will fully support the assemblies, we will get on with it and I wait to see how many Tories will resign from them.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Referring to the deferred referendums, the Deputy Prime Minister said that, if in future a region does not want to move ahead with a referendum, the House will have plenty of notice of that. How will he ascertain whether a region wants to move ahead with a referendum and what criteria will he use?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003 lays down how to consult and report back. I did that for the north-east, Yorkshire and Humber, the north-west and all the regions. Those were the only three regions in the north, on consultation, in which more than 50 per cent. wanted to have a referendum as to whether to have an elected assembly. That is laid out in the Act, and if the consultation process is to happen again, that remains what will take place and be reported to Parliament.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Will the Government genuinely learn the lessons rather than give up? Will they let the people genuinely decide in which regions to hold referendums, on which powers from the menu, when to hold them and on whose terms? I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that the Government would have won a referendum in Cornwall, but when will we get that referendum?

The Deputy Prime Minister: First, I am not giving up, and I hope that I do not give that impression. I am being attacked for not giving up on all regional policy simply because the democratic mandate—which I would have thought that the House would regard as an important principle—should apply to decisions in the regions. People have rejected the proposal, and I have accepted that. The House should make no mistake: I am not
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giving up on the regional dimension and democratic accountability. I have always believed in it. I think that there is a reason for the fact that, in terms of growth, the north suffers more than the south, but in view of the decision made in the north-east, I will not proceed with a Bill.

As for Cornwall, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of one of the first lessons that I learned about regions, and I learned it again in the north-east. People in Devon do not like Cornwall, and Cornwallites do not like Devon. People in both counties dislike Bristol and all of them hate London. In my own area, Hull and Grimsby cannot get on. When I went to the north-east, I thought that there might be a bit more of a regional identity there, but as soon as people started saying in Newcastle that Newcastle footballers were telling them to vote yes, there was not the same feeling in other parts of the region.

There are strong rivalries within regions that must be taken into account, but in general people know what constitutes a northern region and are proud to belong to it. We are doing our best to reduce the differential in prosperity between the north and the south—and, I might add, the south-west.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister spoke of the growth differential between north and south. His building plans for the south will accentuate the difference, because of the resources that they will draw in to boost the south-east further. Does he not understand that the anger felt in counties such as Bedfordshire, which faces the construction of 80,000 more houses over the next 20 years as a result of his decision, is just as great as the anger that he experienced last week? Given increasing evidence of the danger of such a rate of growth, will he abandon those plans, listen to local people and show that he knows the difference between regional co-operation and regional coercion?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I was trying to recall the hon. Gentleman's constituency—[Hon. Members: "It was Bury."] It is not Bury now, though. [Interruption.] Is it still Bury? If so, I apologise. But I remember the hon. Gentleman losing his seat in the north, and as he well knows the housing situation in the north is very different from that in the south. We have to meet housing demand in the south—

Mr. Redwood: Why?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman has a son or a daughter, I assume that, given his circumstances, they would be able to get a house. But many people cannot afford houses or mortgages and do not want to get on a train and go north to improve their quality of life. They want to live in the south. We have shown that it is possible to build more housing by increasing density and using brownfield sites, as we have, without increasing the amount of land it takes. We must make that kind of intelligent decision rather than
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telling young people, "You can't live near your mum and dad and you can't have a job in the south. Go north, young man." In fact, it is possible to do both.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister let me into a secret? Was all this one of those eye-catching initiatives with which the Prime Minister wished to be personally associated?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Daft question.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I think that that means that the answer is no.

The Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear this afternoon that elected regional assemblies are now dead, but that he is as wedded as ever to unelected regional assemblies. Can I tell him how much that will disappoint my constituents, in a week when the South East England regional assembly has come up with a maniacal proposal to build even more houses in my constituency and the rest of east Kent than he himself proposes to build?

Is that not a prime example of the way in which the South East England regional assembly is out of touch and does not reflect the views of local people in parts of Kent? It is not just a waste of money but is actively doing more harm than good to the quality of life of my constituents and many other people in the south-east. Why does the Deputy Prime Minister not admit that there is no desire for a regional dimension in the south-east and scrap the regional assembly now?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am confused by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It was his area that wanted growth and houses, and it was his area that wanted the channel tunnel rail link to stop there. It was bound to be one of our growth areas. We think it important to do what we are doing, and the pressures that he is talking about are certainly not as great in his area as those in other southern areas that Members have mentioned. The housing will improve quality of life, and it will be connected to a damn good transport system, as we know from the announcement of the domestic services that will feature on the rail link. The hon. Gentleman should stop whining and enjoy his advantages.

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