I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Yorkshire devolution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, and it is a pleasure to see the Minister still in his post—not that there was any doubt of that, I am sure. This debate comes at a critical moment for our region. I was struck by the words of Archbishop John Sentamu, who said this morning:
“Today, our elected leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to repay the trust vested in them by the people and to forge an exciting new future for this great county.”
He went on to say:
“I pray that we will live this out recognising that we have more in common spiritually, culturally, socially, economically, and politically than which divides us…Together we are Yorkshire.”
What eloquent and wise words they are. In delivering them, Archbishop John has set both the standard and the tone for this debate.
All of us here have a responsibility to work co-operatively together to best serve the interests of our region. In that spirit, today I will propose what I hope is a constructive way forward for a future devolved settlement for Yorkshire and the Humber. Before I do, let me say a word about how we got to where we are.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very timely debate? I also want to congratulate him on making sure that we are talking about Yorkshire and the Humber. The Humber is essential if we are going to make devolution in Yorkshire and the Humber work, because of the energy estuary and the fact that the north and south banks provide the second largest port complex in the UK—they are vital to this deal.
My hon. Friend makes an important point: the Humber is absolutely vital to this devolved settlement. Whenever I discuss this, I always have her in mind and am always careful to make sure that I speak the words “Yorkshire and the Humber,” but I am grateful to her for reminding us.
I was in the process of reflecting on how we got to where we are. All hon. Members will know that last year, as other parts of the country moved ahead with their devolution deals, we reached an impasse in Yorkshire. In response, the councils of Barnsley and Doncaster held a community poll on devolution.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the very clear result of the community poll sends a strong message to the Government that the people of Barnsley would like a wider devolution deal? With that result in mind, the Government should work with Sir Steve Houghton and Barnsley Council to produce a deal that reflects the overwhelming will of the people of Barnsley. A fresh approach could end the inequality between north and south that has existed for too long.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour, with whom I agree. The people of Barnsley and Doncaster were given a very clear choice of whether they wanted their local authority to pursue a Sheffield city region deal or a wider Yorkshire deal. I am very pleased that the people of Barnsley and Doncaster made their voices heard. Some 85% voted in favour of a wider Yorkshire deal, and in doing so endorsed the approach that their council leaders had taken. They showed those of us who proudly represent the people of Yorkshire and the Humber the scale of their ambition for devolution. For those of us who represent Barnsley and Doncaster, our marching orders are clear.
Would it not have been more helpful if the community poll had been held before Doncaster and Barnsley signed up to a South Yorkshire deal? In fact, it seems to me that the community poll showed that they had been so badly led by the Labour leaders in Barnsley and Doncaster that they had signed up to something that they clearly did not want. Surely the community poll should have been held before they signed up to the deal, not afterwards.
If I might say so, I think that is a very strange interpretation of the result. The result was a decisive mandate for the leadership of Barnsley and Doncaster councils and a clear endorsement of the wider Yorkshire deal. It is absolutely right that we listen to what the people have told us. If we do not, we will be failing not only to listen but to understand that, right now, for parts of the country and particularly in the north of England, as I hope the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge, the status quo is not delivering. People are disillusioned, and they have a right to feel that way. Just over 18 months ago, the people of Barnsley and Doncaster overwhelmingly voted for Brexit, in part because they felt powerless and in part because they felt tired—tired of being left behind and powerless to do anything about it. It is not hard to see why. Not only do the people of Yorkshire receive an income that is 80% of the national average, but they also receive £300 per head less in terms of public spending, which results in education and health outcomes lagging well behind those of more prosperous regions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he share my frustration at the recent Budget, in which areas that had secured a regional deal received large amounts of money, whereas the Yorkshire and Humber area seemed to be left behind?
I absolutely share the frustration that my hon. Friend expresses. I am seeking today to engage in the most constructive fashion with the northern powerhouse Minister, and I think this represents a very important opportunity for him and for the Secretary of the State to send the strongest signal of intent to the north of England that they are listening to what people are saying, and are prepared to make decisions that best serve those people’s interests.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Does he agree that, if Government get behind the coalition of the willing, a deal for Yorkshire will be possible? The Secretary of State needs to deal with this issue with the utmost importance and get a date in his diary to meet with Yorkshire leaders as a matter of urgency. To do otherwise would be a terrible indictment of his commitment to securing a deal for Yorkshire.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She knows that this Friday in York, the coalition of the willing—leaders from across our area—will meet to reaffirm their support for the wider Yorkshire proposal. I very much hope that when the Minister sums up, he is able to confirm that either he or the Secretary of State will arrange a meeting to sit down with those local government leaders and discuss the way forward.
I was explaining the fact that results in education and health outcomes mean that in our area we lag behind other more affluent parts of the country. I do not begrudge any other part of the country its affluence, but I do understand why people in our region are disillusioned and angry. That desire for Brexit, and the need for devolution, are symptoms of the same malaise. I believe that if we are to make Britain healthy again and heal its divisions, we need a new economic and political settlement that involves genuine devolution of political and economic power that will spread prosperity and opportunity to towns and counties of all regions.
In short, if we are serious about closing the north-south divide, piecemeal changes simply are not good enough. The solution must be as ambitious as the challenge is profound. That is why I believe that a wider Yorkshire deal is the way forward. By working together across the whole of our county and, like in the west midlands, not being confined to just one city, we would have the collective clout and the brand reputation to co-operate and compete not only with other parts of the UK, but with other parts of the world.
The hon. Gentleman talks about “wider Yorkshire” and “one Yorkshire”. Are his constituents who voted in the recent referendum aware that it will not encompass all of Yorkshire because Sheffield does not want to be part of that settlement? Are they aware of that?
If the hon. Gentleman bears with me, he will hear me refer to that later in my speech. The purpose of this debate and of my remarks is to try to move us from where we are now to a place that delivers the best opportunities collectively for our region. My constituents were very clear about what they were voting for—a wider Yorkshire deal—because they believed that that would be in their economic interests.
The economic case for the wider deal is profound. That is why it is supported not just by the Confederation of British Industry, but by the Federation of Small Businesses and the Trades Union Congress. When Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, told The Yorkshire Post that wider devolution would be
“good for jobs, good for growth”,
“combine the advanced manufacturing of South Yorkshire with the energy hub and ports of Humberside, the tourism and agriculture of the North with the financial and manufacturing centres of West Yorkshire”,
I could not have agreed more. Both nationally and internationally, a single Mayor would provide the single voice required to unlock the much-needed new investment. That is critically required in areas such as our transport system.
The inequality in transport spending between north and south has been well documented, but it is worth repeating just how bad the situation has become. London is set to receive 10 times more transport investment than Yorkshire. Because of that, Yorkshire’s transport system is out of date, unreliable and expensive. The separation of transport executives, each with its own precept and fares structure, makes short journeys, such as the 20-minute trip from York to Doncaster, prohibitively expensive. Twenty pounds for an anytime day return is too expensive for working people, and far too expensive to promote the growth that our region needs. A wider Yorkshire combined authority directing investment decisions and using its purchasing power to negotiate with transport providers would address that lack of integration, improve bus and rail services, promote growth and leverage further investment.
Devolution is about more than just transport infrastructure. It is about accessing funding for skills and training, building affordable homes, and preserving our unique culture, countryside and heritage by working together, harnessing our talents, combining our energies and maximising our influence, all of which is in reach.
The people of Barnsley and Doncaster identify with being part of Yorkshire, as do people across our region. The sense of place, community and belonging that comes from identifying with Yorkshire is, in many ways, our greatest asset. As such, we need to make use of it, but I accept that all that is easier said than done, because first we need a consensus between the Government and local authorities in our region. For that to happen, we need a new plan that is carefully considered and painstakingly developed and comes from listening to and understanding all the different views. That will take more time, so first we need an interim solution not only to preserve the goal of a wider Yorkshire deal, but to allow the Sheffield city region to begin to see the benefits of devolution and give everyone concerned the time and space needed to work on a deal.
With the right political will, I believe that holding a wider Yorkshire mayoral election in 2020 is entirely reasonable and achievable, but as things stand we are on course to elect a Mayor of the Sheffield city region in May. The newly elected Mayor would have so few powers that spending up to £2 million on this election would undermine not just his or her position, but the credibility of the whole devolution project. People in Barnsley and Doncaster would rightly feel further disenfranchised and ignored. Indeed, if we are prepared to ignore an 85% majority, what does that say about the state of our democracy?
Today, the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster councils have written to the Secretary of State setting out a clear plan proposing that an interim Mayor of a Sheffield city region should be appointed for two years while negotiations for a wider Yorkshire deal proceed. That follows the precedent set by my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd, who at the time was the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and was appointed the interim Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2015, with an election being held two years later.
That would mean that the Sheffield city region could access the money and powers sooner rather than later, and that the four councils could consult on a scheme in respect of the additional powers contained in the existing Sheffield city region deal. It would also leave those councils that wish to proceed with a wider Yorkshire deal—the so-called coalition of the willing—free to continue their negotiations and potentially to form a shadow combined authority in which they could work for a wider Yorkshire deal. Barnsley and Doncaster would then be free to join that wider deal as and when it is agreed. Sheffield and Rotherham would also be free to join it, or they could continue with their own city region deal and hold an election at the same time in 2020. That framework embodies both compromise and progress. It is a good offer.
In conclusion, I ask only that the Minister listens to the people of Barnsley and Doncaster. They were very clear in what they said, and it would be wrong for them to be ignored, not least because the Secretary of State was right when he told the Local Government Association that the driving force behind devolution is the desire to bring decision making to a more local level. Now that the people of Barnsley and Doncaster have made their decision—all we want is the very best for Yorkshire and the Humber—we need to put that decision into practice.
Does the hon. Gentleman’s plan mean that other areas of Yorkshire would not be able to push ahead with a deal before 2020, even if they wanted to? Does it stop anyone else moving forward with their own deal?
The hon. Gentleman would accept—or I hope he would—that the majority of local councils, including North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, have indicated their support for a wider Yorkshire deal. That is what they will be discussing in York. This is not a political argument, in the sense that there is cross-party support. As I am sure he acknowledges, there are some incredibly decent and talented members of his own party, leaders of local government, who strongly share the view that it is in our collective interest to have that wider deal.
We now need a process of negotiation, which is why I very much welcomed the fact that the Secretary of State sent a letter to the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster councils just before Christmas. It was a very good letter, which initiated a process of negotiation that we are developing further today. It is important that we do that while being mindful that we are working to achieve what is in the best interests of the people we are elected to serve.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Would the discussions he envisages involve the north Lincolnshire authorities? As he said, it is important that the whole of the Humber, as well as Yorkshire, is involved in this process.
I absolutely would envisage that. I hope my hon. Friend is able to put that point to the Minister, because I would be interested to hear the Government’s view. My view, as I reflected a moment ago, is that it is incredibly important that the deal is for Yorkshire and the Humber—both banks. Therefore, as part of the coalition of the willing, it is very important that the partnership relationship exists.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I seek clarification on his comments; I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong in my understanding. Is he saying that at the end of the process, if Sheffield and Rotherham councils do not want to break away from the Sheffield deal and carry on, only Barnsley and Doncaster councils will come into the Yorkshire deal, and Sheffield and Rotherham will stay separate and on their own? That is not the Yorkshire deal. Is this just a mechanism for Barnsley and Doncaster to remove themselves from the deal agreed on and come into another deal? That would undermine the whole “one Yorkshire” argument that he is making. I seek clarification on those points.
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. It is designed to be a mechanism that provides the best possible deal for our region. I think that everybody here would accept that we have fallen behind. Other parts of the country, such as the west midlands, Greater Manchester and the city of Liverpool, are now moving forward with the devolution deals that they have agreed.
What we are looking to achieve is an arrangement that would give Barnsley and Doncaster the flexibility to move into a wider Yorkshire deal in 2020 if that were an option, but would also not bind the hands of our good colleagues and neighbours in South Yorkshire, Sheffield and Rotherham. It would be for them, in consultation with the Government and other members of the combined authority, to take a view on whether they see their future as part of a Yorkshire deal or wish to proceed with their own Sheffield city region deal, which could include neighbouring parts of the country as well.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being generous with his time. To develop that point, is it suggested that the East-West-North Yorkshire deal would be developed, and that Barnsley and Doncaster could then choose to join it, or is that what would happen at the start? If councils in West, East or North Yorkshire did not want to join in with South Yorkshire, would they be able to stay out of it?
The hon. Gentleman rightly presses me on points of detail. Those are precisely the points that will be discussed by the coalition of the willing when it meets in York on Friday, and they are precisely the important points that should be discussed in any subsequent meeting with those leaders and either the Minister or the Secretary of State. However, the purpose of this debate is to provide a response to the constructive letter received by the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster from the Secretary of State just before Christmas, and to continue that process of negotiation, so that we can work towards a deal that best serves the interests of the people across our region.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I feel comfortable with a lot of what he has said; it is based on the Secretary of State’s letter before Christmas saying that if districts want to leave the Sheffield combined authority city region at some stage for another arrangement, they should be free to do so, but equally, if districts want to remain there, particularly Sheffield and Rotherham, they should be free to have a devolution deal.
My one concern about his proposal—I have spoken to him about this—is whether it sends the right signal, given that devolution is ultimately about transferring powers to people. The first thing that we are saying to people is, “You can have a Mayor and an arranged devolution deal from May, but by the way, you can’t be involved in electing this Mayor; the political leaders will choose them.” I am not sure that that sends the right signals to people about what devolution is all about.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss this with him earlier. I appreciate that there is much in what I have said that he feels he can agree with. He raises an important point, but it must be set against the fact that an overwhelmingly decisive mandate has just been delivered to the leaders of Doncaster and Barnsley councils not to pursue the Sheffield city region deal. I accept that these are perhaps imperfect solutions, and I accept that we are not in the place where any of us would have liked to be when we embarked on this journey some time ago, but the most recent democratic mandate is the one delivered emphatically by the people of Barnsley and Doncaster just a couple of weeks ago.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying; he is making an articulate argument. I agree that we need a solution for Yorkshire, and that that solution must be ambitious, as he said. However, I want to pick up on one point that he made. He mentioned a wider Yorkshire deal by 2020. I know that he is making the case for Barnsley and Doncaster, but as an MP for York and North Yorkshire, the idea that we might not have devolution until 2020 worries me. Will he consider bringing forward devolution in other areas across the county as well, such as in the greater Yorkshire deal, and then considering amalgamating it all, perhaps by 2020, into a wider Yorkshire deal, so that all areas of our great county start to get the benefits of devolution?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is interesting, in the run-up to this debate, that some people have said to me that we should press for a wider Yorkshire settlement earlier than 2020, and other people have said that it is unrealistic to expect that a deal could be done within that time frame. His basic point is absolutely right: we need to work constructively with the Minister and the Department to strain every sinew to ensure that our part of the world has, at the very least, an equal playing field on which to compete with other parts of the world.
I will make one further point, which is the essence of the case that I am trying to make. I do not say for one moment that Yorkshire and the Humber should be a special case, but I do believe—I make no apologies for stating it in these terms—that it is a special place. There is something special about what John Sentamu described this morning as God’s own county. There is a huge strength in our diversity. If we could create an arrangement that brought together 5.3 million people into an economy bigger than 11 EU nations, we would truly be a force to be reckoned with, not just in this country but around the world. In the far east—China, Japan or wherever—people know about Yorkshire. It means something to them, and it means something to us. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place an arrangement that could be really meaningful for the people we represent, and I very much hope that we will not miss out.
In conclusion, I reflect back on the decisive results delivered across the north of South Yorkshire just before Christmas. We need to put into practice the decision taken by those people. We need to find a solution and to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity that we have been given to drive forward the northern powerhouse and give the Yorkshire region the chance to transform its economic and political future. I say to the Minister in all good faith that not many Ministers are given the opportunity to do what he has the opportunity to do now. I hope that he will take it up.
I congratulate Dan Jarvis on securing this important debate, and on the constructive way in which he has dealt with the issue. It feels as if we are making some progress, although perhaps we are not in a perfect position yet.
To respond to some of his points, I think that there is a clear feeling across Yorkshire that we are being left behind. On the status quo, nobody whom I have spoken to in Yorkshire who is interested in the economy or politics feels that the status quo is what we want. We know that we need to move forward as quickly as possible. It is about money and powers. It is also about attracting the right person to come forward to lead a Yorkshire devolution deal.
The hon. Gentleman talked about two options—well, one option, really: one Yorkshire or wider Yorkshire. We know that that deal is not on the table at the moment, because of the deal that has already been agreed, yet he proposes that we set conditions on the deal to tie it to another deal that might be agreed. Why do we not just move ahead with the other deal? The South Yorkshire deal can move ahead today, and we can move ahead with a greater Yorkshire deal—a Yorkshire-wide deal. Then we would have two devolution deals in place, and all the money can come in behind that—that is what people are interested in. They are interested in the money, the powers and attracting the right person, but the hon. Gentleman is putting roadblocks in the way of that. I am not saying he is doing so deliberately, but the reality is that we can move ahead today—
I support the case made by my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis. On behalf of all Doncaster MPs, I congratulate him on securing this debate.
I want to make one very brief point. Devolution is about listening to local people, and the feeling in Doncaster could not be clearer. There was a unanimous view in the council—Labour, Conservative, Mexborough First and independent—in favour of the wider Yorkshire deal. The business community, through the chamber of commerce, said it wants a wider Yorkshire deal, and so did 85% of the public on a turnout higher than that for the police and crime commissioner elections. I appeal to the Minister not to impose on the people of Doncaster an election they do not want. Work with us, my hon. Friend and the coalition of the willing to create the deal we want, and go for my hon. Friend’s solution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Dan Jarvis on securing this debate. I feel slightly like an imposter at the party, because I come from the best county in the country—Derbyshire—so I am looking across the border at this issue.
I want to make one very brief point. The Sheffield city region proposal, which has been part of this discussion for a number of years, has at times included elements of Derbyshire. Quite a number of us over the border in Derbyshire have had significant reservations about the proposal for many years. We were pleased when Chesterfield Borough Council finally withdrew from the Sheffield city region a number of months ago.
I will not take up more time than the minute that I have, given the obvious importance of this issue to all colleagues across the ridings of Yorkshire and their real passion. I just want to say that Derbyshire is and has always been different from Yorkshire, and it does not want to participate in a Sheffield city region if that continues.
I am looking at the occupants of the two Front Benches, and never have two proud sons of Lancashire had more opportunity to do something for God’s own county.
I have three very quick points. The letter from the Secretary of State before Christmas was very significant, because for the first time the phrase “one Yorkshire devolution” was used in a ministerial letter. I have some questions about that concept. First, the letter talked about all other councils in Yorkshire agreeing an all-Yorkshire settlement. Does that mean that every council, including Wakefield, has to agree to it?
Secondly, why cannot talks on those proposals start now? In December, the press spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that so long as there is an agreed proposal, talks can begin. Will the Minister confirm, as my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis suggested, that talks can begin immediately in January so we can have a settlement long before the Tour de Yorkshire in May?
Finally, will the Minister confirm that it is policy to schedule all mayoral elections across the country in 2020? If so, an all-Yorkshire election in 2020 would fit in very nicely with that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis. With the time against me, I want to make one short point. You may be aware of my interest in the cultural industries, Mr Pritchard. I believe that this is an opportunity for branding big style. Yorkshire has more than played its part in contributing to British culture. Just look at the success of Hull as the city of culture and Sheffield as a leader in animation and digital content. Screen Yorkshire in Leeds is the biggest investment fund of its kind in the UK, with £15 million for film and TV filmed regionally. We have brilliant shows—“Peaky Blinders” “Dad’s Army”, “A Month in the Country”, “Catch Me Daddy”, and “The Damned United” to name but a few. With our skilled workforce, world-class locations, history, space and value for money, Yorkshire could be a filming attraction the world over.
Thinking big about the north was supposed to be the role of the northern powerhouse, and devolution was a central plank. We have not moved nearly fast enough towards Yorkshire devolution for too long now. It is the new year, so I implore the Minister to make a resolution to make 2018 the year that the whole of Yorkshire sees devolution.
This is a major opportunity to break the stranglehold of centralisation and to liberate Yorkshire to fulfil its potential, because while these arguments go back and forth we are missing out on getting the means that we require to make the most of the potential of the more than 5 million people of Yorkshire. We have heard about the inequality in transport investment. We are not making the most of our economic potential. At a time of Brexit, it is absolutely vital that we do so. We must invest in infrastructure and skills, attract people and provide homes for them, but we lack the means to fulfil that potential at the moment. I welcome the progress that has been made, but I hope that Ministers will hear that we are making a simple plea: if they give Yorkshire the tools, we will do the job.
I thank my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis for the pragmatic way he set out the issue. It is a process not an event, and therefore we need to look at what has happened over the past few years. In my city, York, our council was in a very different place, and wanted a deal with North Yorkshire to start with. Thankfully, it moved on, and is now urging the Minister to put in place a wider Yorkshire deal.
As different authorities have moved forward in this process, it is important to assess where we are now and move forward in the way my hon. Friend set out. We desperately need investment. We will be leaving the European Union in just 14 months’ time, so we need the leverage of Yorkshire’s size. If it comes together, it can bring in the trade and inward investment we desperately need so we do not end up with not just a north-south divide but an east-west divide as we start to become the poor relative of the rest of the nation.
Yorkshire is a self-confident, prosperous and culturally coherent UK region. In 2017, it contributed about 7% of UK GDP. Yorkshire’s greatest institutions, businesses and citizens have profoundly shaped our national story. Yorkshire people are proud of being part of Yorkshire, and it is time that policy makers acknowledged our unique identity.
Yorkshire is demonstrably not a place with one metropolis around which the rest of the historic county revolves. It is simply not suited to the Government’s policy for devolution in the form of metro Mayors or city regions. My constituency is a case in point: it ties together the university, urban areas, rural areas, market towns and villages. A broad, county-wide deal that recognises the reality of our region’s identity, variety and strengths would be better for directing investment and spreading opportunity fairly. I cannot conceive that anything other than a single Yorkshire authority could have the muscle to deliver on such monumental challenges.
Aligning a single Yorkshire election with those for other devolved authorities in 2020 makes sense. Following the letter from Barnsley and Doncaster, we can see the Yorkshire Mayor taking their post in 2018 as a strength, and can look at how to retain the views of South, West, North and East Yorkshire and the Humber within a “one Yorkshire” model. Let us get a road map and move towards that model.
Thank you very much, Mr Pritchard. I thank the Minister for that as well. He is assuming that what I have to say might agree with what he thinks, but there is a slightly discordant note about the longer term. I have real reservations about having one elected Mayor for Yorkshire. I see it as a centralising rather than a devolutionary move. Decisions that are currently worked out at a city region level on transport would be transferred to a Mayor, presumably based in Leeds. I have real concerns about trying to pull together the transport interests of Whitby and Sheffield. Actually, Sheffield has got a real interest in working with the Mayor of Manchester to get proper trans-Pennine routes. That is really important, and we do not have to have the same Mayor for those areas to achieve that.
Advanced manufacturing is doing very well in Sheffield and Rotherham at present. We did not achieve that by going around the far east waving a banner saying, “Come to Yorkshire.” We did it by hard graft, with a local industrial strategy that is working and delivering on the ground. I am not sure that having a Mayor for Yorkshire will add value to that process at all.
I respect the fact that my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis has brought some interesting ideas forward, based on the Secretary of State’s helpful letter about how to find a way forward for the four South Yorkshire districts, as part of the Sheffield city region, that want to move into a wider deal if one becomes available, and allowing them to do that without anyone being able to block that. That is helpful. It is also helpful that if Sheffield and Rotherham want to stay in their own deal, they will be able to do so.
It seems to be accepted that we will have some arrangement for two years, with a proper deal, properly funded, and with proper powers. The one issue of concern now is: how will that Mayor be elected or appointed? I do not think it conflicts in any way with the referendum that Barnsley and Doncaster have had to say, “Those districts still want to work towards a wider deal, in line with the referendum result, but, in the meantime, if we have a Mayor and have a deal, should the Mayor be elected or appointed?”
I have real reservations about saying to the public, “You are going to have a Mayor, and the political leadership is going to choose them.” I find it really difficult to square that part of the proposal with the whole issue of accountability and enfranchisement and the powerlessness that people feel.
I wonder whether we can have a discussion. Perhaps there is a way of saying that, if there is an election, it should be for just two years, to bring it in line with the 2020 deadline. That shorter period would give districts the opportunity to reappraise at that point whether they want to move on to another deal, if available, or stay with the existing deal. I hope that is a helpful suggestion about having an election, but doing it in that timeframe.
Thank you very much, Mr Pritchard. I rise to speak on behalf of the SNP in the debate, and I have to say that I feel like I have gatecrashed someone else’s party to some extent. However, Standing Orders dictate that I say something, so I very much wish to. We do not have a dog in this fight—of course, if it came to a vote, we would probably be prohibited from exercising our judgment under the current Standing Orders anyway. None the less, we do watch the debates in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England with great interest.
To some extent, there is a similarity between the campaign we had to achieve a devolved national Parliament in Scotland—and our campaign to go further and have devolution so complete that we have independent control of that Parliament—and the campaign for English devolution, inasmuch as they are about changing the constitutional basis of the governance of these islands. In terms of the political ambition that drives this debate, there is much that we share and very much support.
People often talk about devolution and the English regions in the same breath, but they are not the same thing. I want to make one important point of difference. The campaign for the establishment and extension of the Scottish Parliament is not about the decentralisation of public administration within a common political framework. It is about allowing the creation and evolution of a different political framework, which will allow a different set of choices to be made, whether that be within the United Kingdom or without the United Kingdom. That is slightly different from the campaign for English regional government.
However, we very much support the idea of devolution and decentralisation within England. We only have to look at a motorway map of the United Kingdom or the inter-city rail network map to see that, for far too long, strategic thinking and planning in the United Kingdom has been dominated by a desire to make the periphery connect to the centre, rather than the creation of sustainable regions of the country that can interconnect and achieve a much greater benefit. The debate is part of breaking that down, and we very much welcome it.
There ought to be some sort of national English plan. For far too long, central Government has ducked this question and, just because it is too difficult or there is not support in some areas, they have been unable to come up with a strategic plan into which these things could locate. I hope the Minister will say that that is somewhere on the horizon, because in the absence of that plan, the city deal, city region and city Mayor proposal is about pushing something ahead in an area where little resistance is expected. What seems to have happened in this instance is that resistance has come about both within the proposed city region area and in neighbouring areas.
Without wishing to take sides or make any particular prescription, it seems to me that surely the only thing Government can now do, given the level of dissent registered to their plan, is to press the pause button, bring people together and have a proper consultation about how decentralisation can go forward in Yorkshire on a basis on which all participants can agree. If it is pushed through without that consent and agreement, it will be ill-fated and will not work.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on bringing this timely and important debate on English devolution. What this Parliament has not done sufficiently is hear what the public were saying during the EU referendum campaign. We are going through the transactional debate with the European Union about trade terms and our future relationship in a way that most people feel completely disconnected from. What people were saying during the campaign was that they are sick and tired of accepting that the way things have been done for generations is going to be continued in the future.
The real, lived experience for many people in this country is that their communities and families have been left behind. The industries that used to support our towns and that many of our towns and cities were built on do not exist anymore, and the well-paid, decent working-class jobs are not there for future generations as they were for the generations before them. People growing up and raising families in those areas have a right to say that they will not accept that settlement.
Government cannot continue to command and control from this place, misguidedly believing that that will change the way the country works in every community across our diverse and complex land. The problem with devolution as it stands is, first, that there is an absence of a clear national framework, which means it is anybody’s guess as to how these devolution deals have been constructed, how component authorities have been included and how they will be resourced in the future.
There have been contradictory approaches from the Government in terms of where power sits. In some areas, we see skills being devolved but educational powers taken away and centralised in this place. Local authorities’ involvement in local schools is completely taken away, but then they are told to sort out the schools’ problems and fix a broken system for young people who have been let down.
I am not one for regional assemblies and regional government. There is a tendency in the new structure for power to be taken from the ground upwards, rather than given away from the centre. That is not in the spirit of devolution. I was resistant to regional assemblies because I saw that taking place. Yorkshire is the exception to that rule. What is devolution meant to be about? Devolution ought to be about people and place. Before we construct any governance arrangement, we ought to pay proper consideration to the sense of belonging that people feel to their community.
I will not, because I am conscious of the limited time we have.
Members will know from the areas they represent that many of our communities have not got over the 1974 reorganisation that created metropolitan boroughs. They will hark back to the days when their local district council used to exist and their sense of belonging. The one thing that would survive all that reorganisation in Yorkshire is the sense of being Yorkshire. We ought to take into account that very strong and powerful sense of belonging.
The other thing is that the foundations of devolution are extremely weak. The cuts that have been made to many local authorities across Yorkshire mean that their basic everyday survival is at risk. Adult social care and children’s safeguarding pressures are significant, and councils are looking to the future and wondering how they are going to make ends meet.
The deal that has been on the table so far has been crumbs off the table. The Government are saying, “If you’re willing to come round, there are a few million pounds for housing and for transport.” The regional imbalances will continue—London gets the lion’s share and our regions get left behind—but that cannot be the future.
From the Opposition Front Bench, I want to put an offer on the table. This is our position. We have heard from some parts of Yorkshire about an interest in looking at a “one Yorkshire” deal, but we have not yet tested the appetite across Yorkshire for what could be a comprehensive deal covering the whole region. My offer to the Minister is this: why do the Government not look, in a proactive way, at a Yorkshire-wide referendum to ask people what they want? If devolution means anything, it would be the community, from the grassroots, deciding for themselves. That will be a different devolution —I am not proposing the same devolution we see in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, the West Midlands and other areas.
That cannot be at the cost of local authorities. We need to properly work out what the role of those component local authorities is. I would strongly argue that the existing infrastructure of local government is more ready to receive greater powers, greater freedoms and greater funding to deliver local services than central Government, but that can happen only if the Government are committed. What is wrong with asking people what they want?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Dan Jarvis on securing this important debate. He spoke passionately on behalf of his constituents and set out what he believes is a potential solution to the current impasse with the South Yorkshire devolution deal. In fact, an hour or so before this debate, I received a letter from Barnsley and Doncaster councils that set out a proposed solution in a very similar form to his.
Before we talk about what can be done to unblock Yorkshire devolution—it is clear that there is a stalemate—it is important to point out that we are not starting from a green field. The negotiations on the South Yorkshire devolution deal started in 2015. The hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues were in this House and had an opportunity to engage with their local authority and ask what devolution should look like in South Yorkshire. I accept that he would probably say that times have changed and that the poll with its massive 20% turnout—although the result was emphatic from that 20%—changes things.
I am grateful to get it on record that, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said, the Government set out a compromise solution before Christmas that could enable us to break the stalemate in South Yorkshire. The difference between his proposed solution and ours is that we believe that the best way to ensure that further devolution can take place anywhere else in Yorkshire is to fully implement the devolution deal for South Yorkshire first, including having an election. Back in 2015 and on two further occasions, the four South Yorkshire authorities came to Government and requested that that deal, together with the gain share, was legislated for in this House. It was voted through the House of Commons.
Given the poll in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, that might not be the ideal solution, but we would face certain challenges in relation to his proposed solution. First, it remains the law of the land that the election for the South Yorkshire Mayor will take place in May. The process for delaying the date of that election would be to ensure that all the councils in South Yorkshire agreed to the election being delayed. As of today, I am not aware that all of them have.
Secondly, the Government would need to agree to a new proposed date for the election. We would need to have a draft order prepared, cleared through the Government’s legal advisor and laid before Parliament. We would then need time to approve it through motions in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and time for the order to come into force. To do that between now and May, given the parliamentary business that we have, looks extremely tight. That is why I hope that all the authorities of South Yorkshire will give proper consideration to the proposed compromise solution that was set out by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
I want to set out the terms of that compromise on the record. It is proposed that the four South Yorkshire councils agree to do all that is necessary for the Sheffield city region deal to be implemented as soon as practicable after the mayoral election. That would require them to first undertake the consultation on the functions that should be devolved to the combined authority and to the Mayor and to give their consent to any order effecting that devolution.
The Government would then agree with Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils that if a “one Yorkshire” solution were to come forward or a deal were developed, and the Government and councils concerned were able to consent to it, the constituent parts of the existing South Yorkshire deal would be free to leave that deal at the end of the initial mayoral term, on the proviso that the transport arrangements covering South Yorkshire had been considered.
I understand from the hon. Member for Barnsley Central that that is not an ideal solution, but it may be a practical one. We have proposed the compromise to all the South Yorkshire authorities and it is ultimately for them, with the compelling result of the referendum in Barnsley and Doncaster in mind, to negotiate between themselves to see if a compromise can be reached. We have had a response from Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield; we have not yet had a response from Rotherham.
I make an open offer to the hon. Gentleman that I will work with him and his colleagues to see if such a compromise can be reached. I reiterate that the Government do not intend to undo the legislation of this House to change the date of the election for the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority election, and even if we intended to do so, I do not believe that it would be possible in parliamentary terms to pass the necessary orders from where we are today.
It sounds as if the proposal that has been laid out by the Opposition has not found favour with the Minister as yet. I hope that that does not preclude any conversations that other authorities across the whole of Yorkshire may wish to have. Would he encourage local authorities to have such conversations—if they continue, which I hope they will—with other authorities in the whole of the Yorkshire and Humber region including northern Lincolnshire?
I encourage conversations to continue across Yorkshire. One of the key point of the compromise proposed by the Government before Christmas to the four local authorities currently in the South Yorkshire deal was that it did not preclude in any way Yorkshire authorities coming together and discussing what a future Yorkshire devolution deal might look like.
I want to deal with the comments of John Grogan, so if I take his intervention now, I will not have time to deal with them. He asked whether the “one Yorkshire” deal means one Yorkshire. The proposal set out by the Secretary of State clearly states that a “one Yorkshire” deal would include all Yorkshire authorities. It is ultimately for the authorities in Yorkshire to go away, negotiate and to try to seek a consensus across Yorkshire about whether that deal can be done. All devolution settlements are made on a ground up basis. If the Yorkshire authorities can reach a consensus, “one Yorkshire” will mean one Yorkshire.
The hon. Gentleman also asked when talks can begin. It is not for the Government to dictate when talks can take place between any authorities in Yorkshire. It is up to those authorities.
I am sorry; I do not have time. Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked whether it is the Government’s intention that all elections for mayoral combined authorities take place in 2020. The answer to that is no.
I am grateful to all hon. Members for their constructive contributions to the debate. This is a hugely important issue at a hugely important time. The Minister is right that the process goes back several years, but since 2015 a number of very significant things have happened that he did not reflect on. There was not then, as there is now, a coherent body of local authorities working constructively to achieve a wider Yorkshire deal. A lot has changed since 2015, not least that Britain has taken a massively strategically important decision to leave the European Union, or that we do not have the footprint that was originally envisaged for the Sheffield city region.
I absolutely welcome the letter from the Secretary of State before Christmas; its tone was very constructive and helpful. However, when the Minister raised concerns about the ability to legislate for any change, I thought he was being a little under-ambitious. Where there is political will to make changes, it should be entirely possible to do so.
I very much hope that the Government will look carefully at the detail of the letter. I accept that the Minister has received it only relatively recently, but it is a good offer that provides a sound basis for a further process of negotiation. That process must begin today and continue throughout the rest of the week, because the clock is ticking and it is in all our interests to work together to secure the best possible deal. That is what I am prepared to do, as I am sure everybody else here is.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (