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Devolution: England — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 25th March 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat 3:06 pm, 25th March 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on devolution of services and powers in England; and what work has been done to provide a basis for a future Government to advance that agenda.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government are committed to devolving greater spending powers. We have created local enterprise partnerships giving power to local councils and businesses, agreed city deals with 27 cities and invested £7 billion in local areas through growth deals. Devolution deals have been agreed with Manchester and Sheffield and, looking ahead, the Government are open to discussing proposals with any area which would welcome increased powers and greater freedoms to maximise their economic growth.

Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her Answer and very much welcome these developments. However, given that the current arrangements that the Government have made fall short of fiscal devolution, is she aware that an additional £8 million could be added to national income if financial and other powers were devolved? Does she consider that a key priority of the new Government should be to move forward on fiscal devolution?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it will be for a future Government to decide whether they want to move forward with fiscal devolution. However, as regards business rates retention, £11 billion has been retained in local areas.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, has not one of the problems with our arrangements been that our constitutional changes have been very piecemeal and haphazard? Should not the excellent suggestions of the noble Baroness be considered side by side with proposals for further devolution, fiscal and otherwise, for Scotland and Wales, preferably in a constitutional convention, as has been so wisely proposed by the leader of the Labour Party?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we have had a Silk commission, a McKay commission and a Calman commission. We are not currently contemplating a further convention. There is no particular demand for it—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

From the public, my Lords. We are moving to a more decentralised system within England through city deals and devolution deals. The devolution deals are confined not just to cities.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that by doing separate bits of devolution for the separate devolved nations we do not make progress towards retaining the United Kingdom, we risk its dissolution?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this Question is around devolution in England rather than devolution to England and is confined purely to the local government aspect.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that, before embarking on further devolution in England/to England, it would be a good idea to have a system of fair funding throughout the United Kingdom, and to deal with Barnett and have funding based on need?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, that is what this Government are working towards in terms of fair funding across the country and ensuring growth in those regions that have not previously had as much growth as we would wish.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the Minister talks about empowering northern cities in particular and devolving responsibilities, but is it not the case that the Government have consistently hit areas such as Liverpool and Manchester, some of the most deprived parts of the country, with the largest cuts in funding? What is empowering about taking with one hand and giving back far less with the other?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, after talking to local government leaders in both Liverpool and Manchester I know they are very pleased with what this Government have given them. If we just look back over the last 30 years we see that it was a Conservative Minister in the form of the then Michael Heseltine who did so much work in Liverpool. It was a Conservative Minister in the form of the then Michael Heseltine who led the regeneration of Hulme, who brought the Metrolink to Manchester and, indeed, who started the regeneration of Manchester after the bomb. I do not accept the noble Lord’s point.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for having drawn a distinction between decentralisation and devolution. Devolution we do not need—for who needs another layer of government, another load of paid politicians and another load of hangers-on, all swinging on the taxpayers’ wallets?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friend, as always, hits the nail on the head. I could not have put it more articulately.

Photo of Lord Elis-Thomas Lord Elis-Thomas Plaid Cymru

My Lords, during my time spent in both Houses of Parliament campaigning for devolution in Wales, I always thought that devolution for England—especially the north of England, which I dearly love, being my nearest region—was part of the project. Therefore, has not the time come for all us devolutionists within this kingdom to recognise that without the liberation of England, there is no future for the United Kingdom?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Tebbit said, this is about decentralisation rather than devolution to England. I would just reiterate my previous point.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, I thought I detected something in what the Minister said a little earlier. Can she assure the House that she meant it when she said that the Government were working towards the abolition of the Barnett formula and its replacement by one based on need? That is what she said. Did she mean it?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, in terms of devolution in England—decentralisation in England—as local authorities and groups of local authorities take on their share of public funding, Barnett will actually change in terms of its distribution.

Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Baroness has referred to various partnerships and deals. Is there not a gap, in terms of direct democracy, in dealing with that which is supposedly devolved in these areas?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, in terms of the first devolution deal, which is in Greater Manchester, the arrangements and relationships between the local authorities have been well established for over three decades. In terms of local engagement, the election of a mayor as the person accountable to government will add clarity to it.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness has not explained fully her remark about the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula allocates public funds between the countries of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness seemed to imply that allocation between different areas of this country would be revisited. Also, would she take it from me that those who welcome the decentralisation moves do not number among those who are happy with the Government’s formula for allocating resources? Speaking from the north-west, we need an answer.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this is a Question about England and the point I was making was that Barnett will become less relevant in the future.