Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Minister's Hint on Home Rule Vote

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Minister's Hint on Home Rule Vote

Article excerpt

Regions Minister Nick Raynsford hinted that the North-East will be among the first to stage a home rule referendum as the debate on elected regional government began in earnest on Tyneside last night.

Legislation paving the way for a region-wide poll has cleared the Commons and is now awaiting Royal Assent.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will announce which regions will be among the first to stage polls in the summer of 2004 following public consultation to determine where support for the idea is highest.

Speaking at Northumbria University last night, Mr Raynsford said: "The region has never been shy of making it pretty clear to people like me that it was keen to take forward regional government and I would be less than honest if I did not expect that message will come through loud and clear from the soundings exercise."

The Minister was speaking at the first of a series of debates on the subject of elected regional government, staged by the university's Centre for Public Policy and backed by The Journal.

Three further debates will follow across the region, chaired by former Cabinet Minister and Copeland MP Jack Cunningham, with Mr Prescott due to make a keynote address at a later event.

Last night's session focused on whether the North-East should be among the first to stage a referendum.

Making the case for an assembly, Tyne Tees TV managing director Margaret Fay said an assembly would give the region "an opportunity to make decisions locally rather than centrally".

Deputy chairman of the existing unelected North-East Assembly Bob Gibson said: "An assembly having responsibility for inward investment, tourism and culture is right - but it is wrong unless the Learning and Skills Councils and training comes along as well."

The Minister was also forced to deflect criticism that the proposed 25-member body would be too small to represent regional diversity.

Mr Raynsford said: "If we are going to add value we don't want a large bureaucratic structure. …

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