New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister [John Prescott] for giving way at last. He said earlier that the County Councils were not under threat from his proposals, or at least not under threat from the Government. I noticed that he had difficulty in keeping a straight face while he said it. What is his response to the Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Ken Thornber, who has pointed out that 8 of the 10 powers listed in the White Paper for Regional Government would overlap with existing County Council powers? Does that not show that, far from powers being drawn down from Central Government towards the people, they will be taken away from the people when they are removed from the counties which, no doubt, will then be abolished?

[The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not agree. [Laughter.] That is my right. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind exactly what he did when his party was in power. He supported an Administration who abolished the Greater London Council, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Merseyside. There was no referendum. There was no consultation. They just abolished those councils. It is a cheek for him to stand up today and talk about what we might be doing. We have made it clear that the issue of regional government will be decided by the people in the regions. They will know what kind of local government structure they want: it will be their choice. That is why the White Paper is called "Your Region, Your Choice".]