Question Time: Prescott denies rift over role of local government

JOHN PRESCOTT played down claims of a policy rift with the Prime Minister yesterday, pledging the Government's determination to press ahead with decentralisation.

The Deputy Prime Minister, standing in for Tony Blair at question time in the House of Commons, said both were fully committed to delivering a dimension of regional government.

Mr Prescott was responding to Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, who challenged him about progress to introduce legislation for regional elected assemblies in England after devolution in Scotland and Wales. "What are we to make of reports that you are having to do battle with Number 10 to stop the commitment being watered down and to stop it disappearing from Labour's next manifesto?" he said.

"Are you facing the same sort of difficulties that you have over bus lanes, bus fares, road tolls and various other things?

"You did say that we deputies ought to stick together, so just between ourselves, I wonder if you could tell me, are you getting a bit frustrated at the moment?"

But, replying, Mr Prescott, stressed: "You shouldn't believe everything you read in the press. Could anyone possibly think that I am likely to get in any disagreement with Number 10?

"I am a loyal deputy to the Prime Minister and I am very proud to serve this Prime Minister, who in two years has brought about more fundamental change in this country, more benefits to the people of this country - because we are carrying out those manifesto commitments."

The Government's commitment to further decentralisation after devolution could be seen in proposals for a London elected mayor and the Greater London Authority, he added.

"I have always believed in regional government dimension. Our manifesto said we would consult the people and make a decision then as to whether we would institute a form of regional government.

"I firmly believe in it. I shall be advocating it and doing all I can to see that it is brought in," he said.