Devolution and Growth Across Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:28 pm on 3rd June 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley 5:28 pm, 3rd June 2015

I do not believe for one minute that it is being imposed. As the hon. Lady knows, because her constituents rejected that model, they do not have the mayoral system.

People want the devolution of power, decision-making processes and money, but they do not want enlarged government and the further expense involved. Governance and accountability—yes; more government—no.

Then there is the question of the Union. While the intention of devolution is to give decision-making powers to local areas and countries, we must ensure that we do not unintentionally undermine the Union. We are better and stronger together as a Union, so I would like to see an overarching plan to ensure that we make the Union stronger, not weaker—a long-term devolution plan. Has the Secretary of State considered the endgame of a federalist United Kingdom, where the national Government cover certain areas and individual nations or regions cover other areas, where everyone knows and understands their areas of responsibility, and where people know exactly who is responsible for what and can hold those who are entrusted with responsibilities to account?

There are several models of federalism around the world, including in great nations such as Australia, where I grew up, Canada and the United States, to name just a few. Each has the same basic model, and some are even based on the traditional governance of Westminster. What is important is that there are clearly defined areas of responsibility. Those great nations often fall out in lumps because they cannot decide who has each area of responsibility. We have a great opportunity to start with a blank piece of paper and learn the lessons from those great ex-colonies around the world. When it comes to the EU, we balk at the word “federalism”, but we need to have a debate on the merits of federalism within the UK. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we have a long-term devolution plan and not just an ad hoc version that takes us down into the dark abyss of no return?

On the whole, though, the outlook for areas such as the northern powerhouse is great. Our Government have already started the process, with transport moneys, health responsibilities and school responsibilities. We have seen a commitment to expanding rail capacity with High Speed 2, and the great announcement on High Speed 3 to connect Hull to Liverpool via Manchester and Leeds. We have seen investment in renewable energy in the Humber, plans for electrification of the trans-Pennine rail routes and widening of the trans-Pennine motor routes, to name just a few projects.

All these developments contribute to making the huge cogs and gears of the massive northern powerhouse not just fire up but run in top gear. It is a powerhouse that has been held back by the shackles of decades of under-investment. The tools that we need are in the form of devolution. Do not give us the fish; give us the fishing rods to fish. Give us a plan—a proper plan—so that we can not only contribute to the UK economy but be an equal part of it.