A REGIONAL assembly for Yorkshire will give local people more power, deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said today.

Mr Prescott said it would also boost prosperity and make Yorkshire a better place to do business.

His comments came during a visit to Leeds to debate the merits of an elected regional assembly for the Yorkshire and the Humber region, which includes North and North East Lincolnshire.

He led a charm offensive at West Yorkshire Playhouse with an audience of 200 business people who included opponents and supporters of a regional assembly.

Mr Prescott said: "We believe assemblies for the northern regions will bring prosperity, pride and democracy.

"Assembly members would be people who had the region's interests at heart."

The visit was part of a series of debates taking place in Yorkshire, the North West and North East England.

People will get the chance to vote on the idea of an elected third tier of government in a referendum expected to be held next year.

A "yes" vote will trigger the way for elections to assemblies in spring 2006 or 2007.

Jane Thomas, director of Campaign for Yorkshire, told today's meeting that a new assembly could help solve pressing regional problems.

She said: "It is obvious that we need to be able to plan much more effectively at a level above local authority and lower than national government."

"Only people who live and work in the region best understand the problems.

"We need to be able to make sure that the key agencies - Highways Agency and Strategic Rail Authority - are tied more formally into the decision-making process at regional level and that there is a much fairer allocation of spending to the regions."

But Ms Thomas added: "The bureaucracy is already there, alive and kicking, and noticeable in the duplication of programmes and the inability of some Whitehall departments to recognise the regional dimension to programmes - or even to talk to each other."

Opponents say another layer of politicians and bureaucracy will cost at least another £25m a year to run.