‘(1) The Secretary of State may not make provision under section 5(1) unless the Secretary of State considers that the conditions in subsection (2), where relevant, are satisfied in relation to that provision.
(2) Those conditions are that—
(a) the effect of the provision is proportionate to the policy objective intended to be secured by the provision;
(b) the provision, taken as a whole, strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person adversely affected by it;
(c) the provision does not remove any necessary protection;
(d) the provision does not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom which that person might reasonably expect to continue to exercise;
(e) the provision is not of constitutional significance.
(3) An order under section 5(1) may not make provision for the delegation or transfer of any function of legislating.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3) a “function of legislating” is a function of legislating by order, rules, regulations or other subordinate instrument.
(5) An order under section 5(1) may not make provision to abolish or vary any tax.’.—(Andrew Stunell.)
Brought up, and read the First time .
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 8—Sunday trading hours - power to amend or repeal —
‘Notwithstanding any existing statutory provisions, a local authority may, for its area, impose its own regulations on Sunday opening hours for retail outlets that currently have a restriction in place to either—
(a) reduce the existing hours, or
(b) extend the existing hours.’.
New clause 10—Recall elections —
‘(1) If 25% or more of the registered voters in the constituency of an elected local government member sign a relevant recall petition then a recall election must be held on the same date as the next election (whether or not a local election) to be held in the constituency of the elected government member, provided that that election is not less than 12 weeks after the threshold has been reached.
(2) In order for a recall petition to be relevant the appropriate returning officer must be satisfied that—
(a) the petition has been submitted in accordance with the rules provided for in subsection (3) and;
(b) there is evidence contained in the petition that the elected local government member has—
(i) acted in a way which is financially dishonest or disreputable,
(ii) intentionally misled the body to which he or she was elected,
(iii) broken any promises made by him or her in an election address,
(iv) behaved in a way that is likely to bring his or her office into disrepute, or
(v) lost the confidence of his or her electorate.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay regulations before Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act setting out—
(a) how notice of intent to petition for recall is to be given,
(b) how “registered voters” are to be defined for different types of constituency,
(c) the definition of “appropriate returning officer”,
(d) the ways in which registered voters can sign a recall petition,
(e) the ways in which signatures to such petitions will be verified,
(f) entitlement to vote in, and the conduct of, the recall election,
(g) rules on any other related matters as considered necessary by the Secretary of State, and
(h) consequential, saving, transitory or transitional provision (including amendments to existing statutory provision, whenever passed or made).
(4) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to returning officers on how to make assessments under subsection (2)(b) within six months of the passing of this Act.
(5) The question that is to appear on the ballot papers in a recall election is “Should [name of elected local government member] be recalled from [name of body or office]?”.
(6) If at a recall election more votes are cast in favour of the answer “Yes” than in favour of the answer “No”, then—
(a) if the elected representative has been elected under a first past the post or alternative vote electoral system, he or she is recalled and a by-election must be held within three months in which the recalled candidate may stand, or
(b) if the elected representative has been elected under a system of proportional representation, the next candidate on the relevant party list shall take the seat.
(7) In this section “elected local government member” means any person elected to the Greater London Authority, a county council in England, district council, or London borough council, including an elected mayor of the council; and the Mayor of London.
(8) Regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(9) Subsections (1) and (2) come into force six months after the day on which the regulations under subsection (3) are made.’.
New clause 27—Low pay policy statements —
‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument require relevant authorities to prepare a pay policy statement for lower paid staff within six months of this Act coming into force.
(2) In this section “lower paid staff” means—
(a) the lowest paid member of staff, and
(b) any member of staff paid less than 20 per cent. above the amount paid to the lowest paid member of staff.’.
New clause 28—Local authority contractor pay policy statements —
‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument require relevant authorities to prepare a pay policy statement for the highest paid staff and the lower paid staff of local authority contractors within six months of this Act coming into force.
(2) In this section—
(a) “local authority contractors” means a company or organisation (a “contractor”) that supplies services or executes works for the relevant authorities to the value of more than £250,000 in any financial year;
(b) “lower paid staff” means—
(i) the lowest paid member of staff, and
(ii) any member of staff paid less than 20 per cent. above the amount paid to the lowest paid member of staff,
(c) “highest paid staff” means the highest paid member of staff by remuneration, which shall include payments made by the contractor to the member of staff in connection with that staff’s employment, any relevant bonuses and benefits in kind.’.
Amendment 37, page 4, line 22, clause 5, at end insert—
‘(6A) The power under subsection (1) or (2) may not be exercised to amend, repeal, revoke or disapply—
(a) this Part of this Act,
(b) Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 section 7 or section 13,
(c) Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 section 23,
(e) Childcare Act 2006, Parts 1 and 2,
(g) Equality Act 2010, section 88,
(h) Equality Act 2010, section 149,
(j) Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 section 21,
(k) Transport Act 2000 section 145A,
(l) Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Exemptions for Disabled Persons) (England) Regulations 2000,
(m) Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2007,
(n) Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (England) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2007,
(p) Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995,
(q) Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986,
(s) Community Care, Services for Carers and Children Services (Direct Payments) England Regulations 2009,
(v) Commons Act 2006,
(x) Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 section 40,
(y) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 25 or section 28E,
(z) Environment Act 1995 Part 4,
(z2) Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949,
(z3) Hedgerow Regulations 1997,
(z5) Ancient Monument and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 sections 12 and 13,
(z6) National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949,
(z7) Animal Welfare Act 2006 section 30,
(z8) Zoo Licensing Act 1981,
(z9) Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 Part 6,
(z11) Working Time Regulations 1998 Regulation 28,
(z12) Education Act 1996 section 15ZA,
(z13) Food Safety Act 1990 Parts 1, 2 and 3,
(z15) Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 section 1,
(z16) Housing Act 1996 Part 7,
(z17) Homelessness Act 2002,
(z18) Housing Act 2004 Part 2,
(z20) Local Government Act 2000 Part 3 section 21 or section 37,
(z21) Children and Young Persons Act 1969 Part 1, or
(z22) Adoption and Children Act 2002.’.
Government amendments 44 to 50.
Amendment 36, page 5, line 32, clause 7, at end insert—
‘subject to the exceptions specified in section 5 (6A)’.
Government amendments 51 to 98.
Amendment 42, page 193, line 27, schedule 2, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 on page 195.
Amendment 43, page 198, leave out lines 4 to 25.
Amendment 2, page 199, leave out lines 30 to 43 and insert—
‘The elected mayor is to be returned under the simple majority system.’.
Amendment 3, page 200, line 6, leave out from ‘one’ to second ‘vote’ in line 7.
Amendment 38, page 205, leave out lines 29 to 31.
Amendment 1, page 208, line 48, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘2.5’.
Amendment 39, page 209, leave out lines 3 to 25.
Amendment 40, page 209, leave out lines 26 to 47.
Amendment 41, page 211, line 18, leave out from beginning to end of line 31 on page 213.
Amendment 15, page 213, line 40, at end insert—
‘9OZA Elected Mayors and Reduction of Councillors
(1) Where a local authority has an elected mayor, that local authority must reduce within four years of the election of the Mayor the number of local councillors to one-third of pre-mayoral levels.
(2) These provisions will apply retrospectively to local authorities which already have an elected mayor and the reduction in councillors must take place within four years of this legislation taking effect.’.
Amendment 4, page 215, leave out line 17.
Amendment 5, page 215, leave out lines 34 and 35.
Government amendments 99 to 129.
Amendment 365, page 15, line 44, clause 16, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
Amendment 366, page 16, line 4, leave out paragraph (c).
Government amendments 130 and 131.
Amendment 367, page 16, line 31, clause 17, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
Amendment 302, page 18, line 28, clause 21, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 303, page 18, line 30, leave out ‘A senior’ and insert ‘Subject to subsection (2)(b), a,’.
Amendment 304, page 18, line 31, leave out ‘its chief officers’ and insert—
‘(a) its chief officers and its lower paid staff; and
(b) the chief officers and the lower paid staff for each employer of indirectly employed staff, subject to paragraph (c);
(c) nothing in this Chapter shall be taken as requiring the publication of a pay policy statement where:
(i) it relates to indirectly employed staff; and
(ii) the aggregate value of all funding received by the indirect employer of the staff from a relevant authority does not exceed £250,00 in any financial year.’.
Amendment 305, page 18, line 41, at end insert
‘and the lower paid staff
(h) the total level of remuneration of the highest paid chief officer (A);
(i) the total level of remuneration of the lowest paid member of staff (B);
(j) the total number of staff being paid the amount set out in paragraph (3)(i);
(k) the number of staff paid less than 10 per cent. above the amount set out in paragraph (3)(i);
(l) the number of staff paid less than 20 per cent. above the amount set out in paragraph (3)(i);
(m) the highest paid chief officer’s remuneration as a multiple of the lowest paid member of staff’s remuneration using the formulation A/B;
(n) the pay multiple to be maintained as set out in paragraph (3)(m).’.
Amendment 306, page 19, line 1, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 307, page 19, line 3, at end insert ‘and lower paid staff’.
Amendment 308, page 19, line 5, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 309, page 19, line 11, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 310, page 19, line 13, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 311, page 19, line 16, at end insert—
‘(6) Where any of the posts to be included in the pay policy statement are not full-time, the information given in the pay policy statement must be expressed as a full-time equivalent.’.
Amendment 312, page 19, line 29, clause 24, at end insert—
‘or its lower paid staff.’.
Amendment 313, page 19, line 30, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 373, page 19, line 39, leave out ‘senior’.
Amendment 314, page 20, line 35, clause 26, at end insert—
‘(g) any employee of the relevant authority whose remuneration exceeds that of any chief officer as defined in this section.’.
Amendment 315, page 20, line 35, at end insert—
‘(2A) In this Chapter “lower paid staff’, means each of the following—
(a) the lowest paid member of staff,
(b) staff paid less than 20 per cent. above the amount paid to the lowest paid member of staff.
(2B) In this Chapter “staff” means any staff whether directly or indirectly employed by a relevant authority and who are not chief officers.
(2C) In this Chapter “indirectly employed” means staff employed other than by a relevant authority to undertake work for a relevant authority and which is funded by that authority. Any reference to indirect employment, indirect employer or indirectly employed staff, shall be construed accordingly.
(2D) In this Chapter the provisions of section 231 (associated employers) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 shall apply to indirect employment arrangements.’.
Amendment 316, page 20, line 36, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘, or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 317, page 20, line 38, after ‘officer’s’, insert—
‘, or lowest paid member of staff’s’.
Amendment 318, page 20, line 40, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘, or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 319, page 20, line 41, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 320, page 20, line 43, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 283, page 20, line 44, leave out ‘is’ and insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff is’.
Amendment 284, page 20, line 45, after ‘officer’s’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’s’.
Amendment 285, page 21, line 1, after ‘officer’s’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’s’.
Amendment 286, page 21, line 4, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 287, page 21, line 5, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 288, page 21, line 7, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 289, page 21, line 8, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 290, page 21, line 11, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 291, page 21, line 13, after ‘officer’, insert—
‘or lowest paid member of staff’.
Amendment 292, page 21, line 15, after ‘officers’, insert—
‘or lowest paid members of staff’.
Government new clause 13—Further warning notices.
Government new clause 14—Further EU financial sanction notices.
Amendment 353, page 22, line 1, leave out clause 30.
Government amendments 132 and 133.
Amendment 354, page 22, line 28, leave out clause 31.
Government amendments 134 and 135.
Amendment 355, page 23, line 41, leave out clause 32.
Government amendments 136 to 138.
Amendment 356, page 24, line 23, leave out clause 33.
Government amendments 139 and 140.
Amendment 357, page 24, line 38, leave out clause 34.
Government amendments 141 to 143, 183, 211, 216 and 217.
Government new clause 22—Pre-commencement consultation.
Government amendment 266.
New clause 12 refines one of the central elements of the Bill—the general power of competence. I shall say more about that shortly and also address the other new clauses and amendments in this excessively long group.
The Government are committed to the radical decentralisation of power and control from Whitehall and Westminster to local government, local communities and individuals. We are pushing power back down to the lowest possible level, and this Bill is about shaking up the balance of power and revitalising democracy. It will give power to councils, communities, voluntary groups and the people, giving local authorities the power to take decisions that are right for their areas, and giving to local people the power to influence those decisions.
This Government trust local authorities to know what is best for their areas, we trust local councillors to know what they are doing and we are freeing up local government from the shackles of central Government. The Localism Bill does just what it says on the label.
I welcome the Minister’s opening remarks and wonder whether he is, therefore, just about to get on to the fact that he supports my new clause 8, which would give local authorities the opportunity to vary Sunday trading laws. If what he says is true and he wants to pass all such decisions down to the lowest possible level, that is surely what he is about to announce.
I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend’s case deployed in the debate.
I am pleased to report that there is a very broad measure of agreement, both inside and outside the House, on the Bill’s principles and, indeed, on many of its specific provisions.
Local authorities will need to ensure the delivery of more responsive services in a more transparent way, so that their citizens can see what is going on. To do so, local councils will need to innovate, to work across traditional boundaries and to ensure clear lines of accountability to their residents. That will be characterised, above all, by the way in which local democracy is renewed.
Within this very large group of proposed changes, there are a number of new clauses and amendments that hon. Members from all parts of the House have tabled, including the one to which my hon. Friend just referred. We shall debate them, I will consider carefully the points that hon. Members raise and I hope to have the opportunity to respond to them before the close of this debate.
We had a consensual time on the whole in Committee, and I hope that we can carry that forward in our discussion on this group of proposed changes.
Not wanting to become non-consensual at this early stage, I note that the Minister talks about limits on power, and we are still concerned about the Bill’s 142 extra powers for the Secretary of State. I am puzzled why new clause 12 specifies only the powers in clause 5(1), because they are exactly the same as those in clause 5(2). If there is a concern about limiting the powers of the Secretary of State, it should apply to both subsections. I wonder whether the Minister might cover that point.
I hope to have satisfied the hon. Lady by the time I have completed my remarks. If not, I am sure that she will let me know.
All the Government amendments and new clauses, one way or another, are designed to improve the effectiveness of the Bill, given the range of issues that were raised in Committee, as the Minister of State said, and given outside events, including in particular the passage of the Welsh referendum, which means that some of the provisions that were in prospect earlier on can now be made a reality. To that extent, I hope I can reassure Jonathan Edwards that we are not inserting a whole lot of totally new provisions; we are simply making available to the Welsh Executive the same powers that are being made available in England. I hope he finds that somewhat reassuring.
We have, where appropriate, taken into account feedback from the consultations that have been carried out on elements of the Bill and representations that we have received from a wide range of organisations that have been interested in—and, in some cases, very excited about—the prospect of the Bill coming into force.
There was a broad consensus about the general power of competence, with the concerns that were expressed being about the scope of the powers and the role of the Secretary of State. New clause 12 and the related amendments address those points. Equally, there were debates and discussions about the position of fire and rescue authorities, because they will have similar powers. We have reflected on the concerns raised in Committee and the feedback that we received from industry partners, and we have tabled an amendment on that point. Several amendments make the fire and rescue authority powers applicable in Wales.
There was much agreement in the Committee’s debate on the Standards Board for England, and we listened carefully and have tabled an amendment. On European Union fines, there was a lot of discussion about the practicalities, but we reached a position whereby people agreed that the intentions behind our proposals on EU infractions were broadly reasonable—I think those were the words of Mr Raynsford—and the debate was more about how this would work in practice.
This is the point where we have to become non-consensual, because Labour Members are still totally opposed to EU fines, and amendments have been tabled on that.
I take note of that, and I will return to it in two or three minutes’ time, if I may.
The hon. Lady is of course right that there was not agreement on everything. I recognise, in particular, that there were different views on mayors, not only between Government and Opposition Front-Bench teams but among some of my hon. Friends. I will listen carefully to the points made today on the mayoral proposals in the Bill, particularly on such issues as shadow mayors and mayoral management arrangements. Overall, however, I was struck by how much we had in common and how much consensus there is about the need to change the power balance in this country in line with the direction that the Bill takes. I hope that the House will recognise that, through the range of new clauses and amendments that we have tabled, we have tried genuinely and thoroughly to address the points that have been raised.
Let me turn in more detail to new clause 12 and some of the other Government amendments. I appreciate that I have to strike a difficult balance between using up the available time for debate and giving the House a reasonable explanation of the measures before it. I will steer as good a course as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am sure you will let me know if I go astray. New clause 12 and its related amendments impose conditions on the use of the delegated powers in clause 5(1) in relation to the general power of competence. Clause 5(1) sets out a power for the Secretary of State to remove or to change statutory provisions that prevent or restrict the use of the general power of competence. We have termed this the barrier-buster power.
Amendment 64 is the equivalent provision for the general power of competence for fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales. The amendment imposes conditions on the use of the delegated powers in new section 5C(1) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, which is inserted by clause 8. New section 5C(1) sets out a power for the appropriate national authority—Welsh Ministers for the devolved matters relating to Wales, but otherwise the Secretary of State—to remove or to change statutory provisions that prevent or restrict the use of the general power for fire and rescue authorities.
Concerns were expressed about the scope of the delegated power at clause 5(1)—the barrier buster—and the equivalent powers in relation to fire and rescue authorities. The Government reflected on those concerns and decided to introduce specific preconditions as to the use of the barrier-buster power and the limitations on its scope. These include a proportionality test and a requirement to achieve a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person adversely affected by an order. In addition to the current requirements that the Secretary of State has to satisfy—in particular, that he must think that a provision prevents or restricts the use of the general power and must consult on his proposals—subsection (1) now provides that he must also consider the conditions set out in subsection (2), in relation to the general power, and in section 5C(1) in relation to the fire provision to have been satisfied in relation to the proposals.
The new conditions that the clause introduces ensure that the use of the provision is proportionate to the policy objective intended, that there is a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person adversely affected, that there is no removal of any necessary protection, that no person will be prevented from continuing to exercise any right or freedom that they might reasonably expect to exercise, and that any provision is not of constitutional significance. In the light of Opposition amendments 36 and 37, it is perhaps worth explaining the effect of these conditions in a little more detail. The first condition is that the effect of the provision made by the order is proportionate to its policy objective. It might be possible to achieve a policy objective in several different ways, some of which might be more onerous than others and could represent a disproportionate means of securing the desired outcome, so the Secretary of State must satisfy himself that that is not the case and that there is an appropriate relationship between the policy aim and the means chosen to deliver it.
The second condition is that the provision made by the order, taken as a whole, strikes a fair balance between the public interest, on the one hand, and the interests of the person adversely affected by the order, on the other. While it may be possible to make an order that will have an adverse effect on the interests of one or more persons, the Secretary of State must first be satisfied that this is outweighed by beneficial effects in the public interest. The third condition is that the provision made by the order does not remove any necessary protection. The notion of necessary protection can extend to economic protection, to health and safety protection, and to the protection of civil liberties, the environment and national heritage.
The fourth condition is that the provision made by the order will not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom that he might reasonably expect to continue to exercise. To take a leading example, any right conferred or protected by the European convention on human rights is a right that a person might reasonably expect to keep. The fifth and final condition is that the provision made by the order is not constitutionally significant. That condition will allow orders to amend enactments that are themselves constitutionally significant, but only if the amendments are not constitutionally significant. The condition puts it beyond doubt that repeal of legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998 or the European Communities Act 1972 is outside this power.
In addition to these preconditions, we are seeking to amend the Bill so that an order under clause 5(1) or section 5C(1) of the 2004 Act may not make provision in relation to certain specified limitation. Subsection (3) prevents orders from being used to delegate or transfer a function of legislating, ensuring that a power to make legislation given by Parliament to the Secretary of State or to another body cannot be transferred to a local authority in the interests of barrier busting. It is right that those decisions should remain with Parliament. Subsection (4) gives a definition of the function of legislating—that is, legislating by order, by rules, by regulation or by subordinate instruments. Subsection (5) prohibits an order from abolishing or varying any tax. It could be argued that removing a tax payable by a local authority would be the removal of a barrier, but it is not our intention that clause 5(1) should be used in that way, so the new clause will prevent an order to vary tax from being made.
Taken as a whole, the Government’s proposals will provide the protections that the Opposition seek in amendments 36 and 37, but without the inflexible and heavy-handed mechanism that they propose.
Amendment 36 would amend the definition of a statutory provision by excluding from that definition a long list of statutes, which is set out in amendment 37. That appears to have been prompted by various strands of work that are being undertaken to gather information about local authority duties. This appears to be an attempt to make a point about front-line duties and the desirability of many things that local authorities have to do. Indeed, that is what Barbara Keeley set out on her website as being her intention. She has fairly given me notice that she
“will be pressing ministers in the Commons debate…to be clear about which other vital council services can be protected.”
I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that the general power is not designed as a means to do away with duties that Parliament has imposed on local authorities. The general power does not oblige local authorities to act in a particular way; it is not the same thing as a duty imposed by legislation. It will give local authorities real freedom to innovate and act in the interests of their communities. The Opposition seem to have developed a misunderstanding about the scope of clause 5(1). It provides the Secretary of State with powers to remove or change statutory provisions that prevent or restrict the use of the general power. That restriction or limitation is one that bites on the general power by virtue of clause 2. The provision is about removing barriers to the legal capacity of authorities to act innovatively and in the best interests of their communities. It is not aimed at removing duties, nor is it, nor could it be, a general-purpose tool to remove any legislation that places a burden on local authorities.
New clause 12 and the connected Government amendments will increase the safeguards on the use of the power in clause 5(1). In addition, the Secretary of State must consult before exercising the power and the appropriate parliamentary procedure for scrutinising any proposed order will be determined by Parliament.
Does the Minister accept that clause 5, when taken in conjunction with the review that his Department is carrying out into burdensome regulations, might lead to the fear, which many of my constituents have expressed to me, that important protections and duties that exist within local authorities might disappear?
The review of statutory duties is a separate exercise. We have made it clear several times that the review of statutory duties will not remove duties to provide vital services, and that any changes to statutory duties that come about as a result of that review will subsequently be properly considered and consulted on. There is no connection between the two processes.
I urge the House, when the time comes, to support new clause 12 and to reject amendments 36 and 37.
I will turn to the other proposals in this group, on which I hope I can be helpful. When the Committee discussed the standards of behaviour required of councillors, we discussed whether a local authority should have to publicise that it has a code of conduct. My hon. Friend Mr Ward made a powerful speech on the difference between may and must. I think that was one of the Committee’s high spots. Although we consider it right that a local authority can choose whether to adopt a code of conduct for its members, it must be under a duty to disclose whether it has done so and whether it has revised or abolished its code. That duty will ensure that local people are made aware when their local authority adopts, changes or withdraws its code, while leaving it for authorities to decide how best to publicise and deal with these matters.
The Minister is putting the completely absurd proposition to the House that the local authority will be under a duty to publicise a code of conduct that it may decide not to have. Will he please recognise that that is nonsense? Abolishing the requirement for a code of conduct in every local authority in the country is a serious, retrograde step, of which the Government should be profoundly ashamed.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question and the answer is no, I do not accept that at all. When we exchanged words in Committee, I thought that this was an outrage, so I am glad that it has been downgraded a little. The important point is that the decision a local authority takes should be transparent, so that the local electorate are aware of it and the local authority are accountable to them. We have accepted the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East put to the Committee, and Government amendments 130 and 131 deal with that.
Does the Minister expect to give any guidance under the powers in the Bill on what a code of conduct might contain, or will it simply be left to the local authority to do its best?
The Local Government Association has given notice that it sees itself as—I do not want to put words into its mouth and say the custodian—the focal point for ensuring that a standard code of practice is available. I would have thought that the huge majority of local authorities will continue to have a published and open code of conduct. Indeed, I should have thought that it would reflect adversely on the reputation of a local authority if it chose not to do so. However, the right place for that decision to be taken is in that local authority in the light of the views of its electorate; it is not something that should be imposed from above.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Bill is not applicable in Northern Ireland. Currently, every local authority in England has to have a statutory code of conduct, so we are not for want of an example. We are saying that there should be flexibility about the shape and nature of the code, and that that flexibility should be exercised by the local authority.
On EU fines and infractions, I assure the House and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South that we will ensure that any process to pass on an EU fine is fair, reasonable and proportionate, and we will consult on that. We will pass on a fine only if an authority has clearly caused or contributed to causing it, and has the power to remedy the situation and can afford to pay. That is set out in new clauses 13 and 14 and in Government amendments 132 to 143. The measure is not about Ministers reclaiming every penny; it is about giving a strong encouragement not to incur fines in the first place. Local authorities must not be able to assume that if they make a mistake and are in the wrong, the UK taxpayer will pay their bill for them.
It is perhaps worth rehearsing what the process is. EU grants are given with conditions attached. At present, the monitoring, and therefore the risk, falls to central Government and their agencies. In the new, devolved world, that will not always be the case, and with the transfer of control has to come a transfer of risk. The Government do not seek to offload risks that are beyond a local authority’s control—mention has been made of air pollution targets and so on.
That will all be set out in a policy statement, and I can say today that we are making good progress on that. I am placing in the Library a paper from the Greater London authority that has emerged from some of our earlier discussions, and I would very much welcome comments on it. We do not necessarily agree with every single part of it, but it will provide a strong basis for discussion over the next few weeks and we are committed to taking that discussion forward. We have also engaged with the Local Government Association and will continue to do so.
We debated fire and rescue authorities in Committee, and our amendments 92 and 93 are a response to the concerns that the Opposition raised and feedback that we have received from industry partners. They relate to authorities’ powers to charge for attending persistently malfunctioning or wrongly installed automatic fire alarms. It is not in dispute that there should be such a provision for non-domestic premises, but the point was made that domestic premises would also be caught by that power, and probably wrongly so. The amendments simply remove that option from fire and rescue authorities.
We also discussed pay accountability in Committee, and we undertook to return to the House on the matter of greater accountability on low pay in light of Will Hutton’s report on fair pay in the public sector. His report made some clear recommendations, particularly about the benefit of setting decisions on senior pay in the context of the pay of the rest of a body’s work force. Some of the Opposition’s amendments are in the same tone. We are sympathetic to that idea, particularly the potential for linking lower pay with senior pay, and we will consider the best way to take that forward. If necessary, we will return to it in the other place. As we do so, we will remain mindful of the level of burden placed on authorities and ensure that pay decisions remain ones for the appropriate local employer to take and are not dictated by us.
On the other hand, we do not think it would be helpful to use the Bill to address the pay of contracting bodies. Councils, the voluntary sector and businesses, especially small firms, have called on the Government to remove unnecessary burdens and break down barriers in local authority contracting, not increase them. That does not prevent a local authority from developing a local policy to ensure that bodies with which it contracts are open about their rates of pay as a matter of contract. That should remain an issue for local decision making, not central determination.
We have a very large group of amendments, and you no doubt have a large group of Members wishing to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House on the one hand for taking so long and on the other for dealing with some very important topics only in skeleton form. I am pleased to move new clause 12, and in due time I will wish to move the other Government new clauses and amendments in the group. I undertake to listen carefully to Members’ contributions as the debate proceeds.
I am glad that Ministers are still so interested in my website—it makes it worth all the effort of keeping it up to date.
I shall speak first to amendments 36 and 37, which are related to new clause 12. They are intended to protect a list of the most important duties of local councils from the powers that the Secretary of State wants to take in clause 5(1) and (2). I should remind the Minister that he did not answer my question about new clause 12 not applying to clause 5(2). I see that Ministers are looking at the Box and seeing if they can find some inspiration over there.
As I said on Second Reading, the Secretary of State’s power under clause 5(1) and (2) is chilling, because it would allow him to
“amend, repeal, revoke or disapply” any statutory provision. The Government can keep calling that barrier-busting, but it will still end up being the same swingeing power. The difficulty for those who are opposed to it is that it would leave local councils and the people who use their services at the mercy of the ideology of the current Government and Secretary of State. I know from the debates that we had in Committee that some of the Ministers were opposed to giving Secretaries of State such a level of power in previous local government Bills, and spoke against it. Perhaps they would like to think about why they have had such a change of heart.
Since our debates on the Bill started, the Department has launched its review of the statutory duties of local councils. That means that the nature of the power in question, and how it will be used to sweep away what councils are starting to see as burdens, is now much more under the spotlight. The Government’s focus on duties as “burdens” has caused alarm and great concern to people who rely on the services of their local council. Their concern about the extent of the Secretary of State’s powers to sweep away councils’ duties is greater because of the language that the Government are using to describe the vital duties on which people depend. In the review, councils and the public were asked to specify the bureaucratic burdens that they wished to throw away. In fact, Ministers have allowed all the duties of councils to be listed, and voted on, as “burdens”, “red tape” or “bureaucratic barriers”. In using that language, they do not appear to have considered the importance of many of the statutory duties of local councils.
Strangely, we now find ourselves bartering to try to find out which particular duties might be safe and protected from the Secretary of State. The Department’s website states that the only duties that might be protected are those on libraries and child protection, but the Under-Secretary of State, Robert Neill, ventured in a recent letter to The Guardian that allotments were also safe. It is not reasonable to have only vague reassurances on three out of all the duties of local councils. We have therefore tabled amendments 36 and 37, and I say to Ministers that they must be clearer about protecting the vital duties of local councils—duties that legislation has created, which provide important protections and services on which people rely—from the power that the Secretary of State wants to
“amend, repeal, revoke or disapply” any statutory provision.
Members should make no mistake about it: there are real concerns about that power. Professor Luke Clements is a leading expert on community care law, and in an article about the statutory provisions that could be swept away by the new power, he stated:
“The list includes large swathes of the Mental Health Act 1983, the Children Act 1989 as well as virtually every community care and carers statute. The suggestion that protecting children or frail elderly people from abuse could be…‘burdensome’ is further evidence of the coalition government’s disdain for the very notion of a welfare state.”
He said of the Government’s approach:
“It is a contempt that has already created a largely lawless regime where fundamental rights, such as the right to a face-to-face assessment” and
“the right to have assessed needs met regardless of resources…are openly flouted. It is a regime that fuels the daily news stories of disabled, elderly and ill people being failed by public bodies, and experiencing neglect and extreme indignity. In the face of this, the response of the coalition government is not to strengthen the law, but to suggest that it be trashed.”
I have really been disappointed by the hon. Lady’s remarks, which are a travesty of what is in prospect. I spent perhaps a little too long in my speech explaining precisely what new clause 12 will do and making it absolutely clear what it will not do. I am sorry to say that she is making it up, which is not good.
Incidentally, I can answer the hon. Lady’s question about clause 5(2)—as she suggested, inspiration has arrived. It relates only to overlapping powers, so by definition it will not change local authority powers or duties because it will take away only one of the overlapping powers.
I am afraid that I am not convinced by that, and I am not making this up. I know Professor Clements, because he helped to draft much of the carers legislation that went through the House as private Members’ Bills. He, among others, is very concerned.
To respond to the Minister’s point, part of the difficulty is that the conditions set out in Government new clause 12(2) are subjective. It is another lawyers’ charter, because they will have to settle the question of whether or not legislation fits those conditions. The key point is that all the decisions lie completely within the judgment of the Secretary of State. That is what is making people uncomfortable. There is great concern about sweeping away the laws, rights and protections for those who need care. Yesterday in the Palace, I attended a gathering of five all-party groups on disability—I attended as the chair of the all-party group on social care. Two questions were asked of the Bill and the review, and there was a chorus of concern in the room. Ministers can attack me if they want to, but I am representing concern from outside the House.
Citizens Advice has told MPs that it is worried about the broad-ranging powers that clause 5 confers on the Secretary of State. It is worried that the power will be used to revoke or repeal a number of statutory provisions, such as the public sector equalities duty.
That is a contradiction. In fact, the 126 or 142 new powers—we can count them in different ways—are of great concern.
The list of legislation that we propose in amendment 37 for protection from those new powers may not be perfect—I am sure people can find fault with it—but it is vital to get a clear steer from Ministers that they do not intend to continue to see important council duties as burdens. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Homelessness Act 2002, which is on our proposed list, creates a vital duty for councils to have a strategy for tackling homelessness, or does he agree with Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has asked for that duty to be scrapped? Hammersmith and Fulham also wants to scrap the rough sleeper strategy, and wants not to assess the sufficiency of locally available child care. It wants no requirements on its youth service. Do Ministers believe that Hammersmith and Fulham should be able to shed those duties? That is the key question.
Councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham want to shake off what they view as burdensome duties, but the Opposition’s view is that those council services are vital and should be protected. A list of what is vital and to be protected is the key to that. In Committee, the Minister said:
“Every local authority will retain duties enshrined in other legislation to provide services and not to charge for them, if charging is not allowed at present.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee,
However, Hammersmith and Fulham wants not to have plans for homeless people, and Wandsworth council plans to charge children £2.50 to use a playground. That is where we are. It is time for Ministers to end the uncertainty that they have generated with their sloppy plans for revising legislation on council duties. It is time for them to reintroduce certainty, so that people know that councils must provide land for allotments and an efficient library service, assess carers’ needs, and have plans for tackling homelessness.
I welcome the Minister’s partial sympathy on proposed new clauses 27 and 28 and the proposed amendments on pay transparency and very much look forward to developments. Much has been said in recent months on top pay in local government. I am sure that Ministers would agree that a great deal of that talk has been stoked by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. However, he has tended not to show the same concern for the lowest paid staff, or for levels of pay among consultants and contractors, who provide £38 billion-worth of goods and services to local government, which is paid for out of the public purse.
Our proposals aim to introduce pay transparency much more fully than the Government plan. We want to shine a light on top pay and low pay, and I welcome the Minister’s sympathy for that. However, the Opposition also want to develop the recommendations in the Hutton review on pay. Ministers said that they would reflect on that review, and I hope they take that seriously. All hon. Members agree that there has been some excessive growth in senior roles in the public sector, but there are also myths about public sector pay. The Local Government Association estimates that of 1.7 million employees in mainstream local government jobs, 60% earn less than £18,000 a year. According to the LGA, more than 400,000 council workers earn less than the living wage, including more than 250,000 who earn less than £6.50 an hour.
Indeed, a quarter of those who experience in-work poverty are employed by the public sector. In addition, the average public sector pension, at £4,200, is very far from the gold-plated pension that people talk about. Our proposals would introduce greater transparency and help the objective of curbing excessive pay at the top of the scale, because it will be harder for a highly paid council chief executive to defend his or her pay if the public can see what that council pays its lowest-paid members of staff.
The Opposition believe that as well as an approach on top and low pay, we need a fair and consistent approach to transparency in local authority pay. As my hon. Friend Jack Dromey said in Committee, Will Hutton’s report puts paid to the myths. Public sector employees earn only £1 of every £100 earned by the top 1%, or to put it another way, out of every £100 that is earned by the top 1%, only £1 is earned in the public sector. Therefore, the perception that the public sector is awash with fat cats is a myth, and it does not help when DCLG Ministers spend their time building that myth as a way of dealing with top pay.
The Hutton report confirms that increases in executive pay have been a private sector phenomenon. That is why tackling excess pay should happen not just in the public sector. We should also focus on pay in the private sector when money is paid from the public purse—that is the test. Staff on outsourced local government contracts tend to be concentrated in low-wage sectors such as cleaning, catering, low-skilled manual work and care work. One key question for hon. Members is this: do we want cleaners, care workers and teaching assistants to earn a living wage? The Opposition believe that they should earn such a wage. We therefore hope that Ministers and Government Members agree that the implementation of a senior pay policy in local government would be a double standard if the same logic is not applied to contractors, not least because the local government procurement market is valued at £38 billion.
Will Hutton said in his report that
“it is important that the Fair Pay Code and as far as possible the other recommendations of this Review are extended into the public services industry.”
I hope that Ministers—I welcome the Secretary of State to the Chamber—support Hutton’s proposals to extend pay transparency to those private sector contractors who are paid out of the public purse. Implementation of our proposals would help to ensure that executive pay does not spiral up, that low pay is challenged, and that people can be confident that their local council is spending their money fairly and wisely.
Finally, I support amendments 39 to 41, which are in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) and for Birmingham, Erdington. The proposals would remove the power of the Secretary of State, who has just joined us in the Chamber, to direct or order the imposition of shadow mayors. That is one of the most controversial measures in the Bill, and it represents the Government at their most centralising. The Government want to order a local authority to cease its existing form of governance and begin to operate a mayor and cabinet executive. Ministers spent months denying that they intended to try to impose shadow mayors.
I remind the Secretary of State that he gave the following answer to my hon. Friend Diana Johnson on
“She seems to be suggesting that we would somehow impose mayors on those 12 cities, but of course we will not-that is completely out of the question. The proposals will be subject to referendums. Once we know the views of the people in those 12 cities, we will move on to the election of a mayor if people vote for that.”—[Hansard, 21 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 1117.]
[Interruption.] I am getting some confusing signals from Government Members. On the same day, to be clear about the Secretary of State’s intentions, my hon. Friend Mrs Glindon asked him again whether it was his intention to turn council leaders into mayors before holding a referendum. He stood at the Dispatch Box and referred my hon. Friend back to the earlier question:
“I ruled out the possibility that we would be imposing mayors. This will be subject to a referendum.”—[Hansard, 21 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 1125.]
He was absolutely clear. However, the proposal in the Bill directly contradicts what the Secretary of State said on that occasion and on other occasions. It is further proof of a Government who say one thing and do another, and it raises further questions about whether what they say can be trusted at all.
Since the debate began on the proposal to impose mayors on 12 of our largest cities, opposition has bubbled up and developed all over the place. Indeed, the day after the Localism Bill was announced, the leader of Bradford council, Councillor Ian Greenwood, told the Bradford Telegraph and Argus newspaper that he was uncomfortable with being given an office to which he had not been elected. In that article, he said:
“My view is this is not the right thing for Bradford… I am uncomfortable about being given an office I wasn’t elected to. I don’t feel it’s the right thing to do. Leadership is not about dictating, it’s about taking people with you”.
Does my hon. Friend accept that we need a clear line on this? The Secretary of State’s apparent proposal for Birmingham would mean that the person who lost the election this May and will lose it again next May will be imposed on the people of Birmingham, irrespective of how they vote. Surely there is nothing democratic about that.
No, there is absolutely not. I thank my hon. Friend for making that point.
Hon. Members will be interested to know the extent to which there is all-party opposition to these proposals in Bradford. The Conservative group leader on Bradford council also argued against the imposition of a shadow mayor in that city. In the same article, Councillor Anne Hawkesworth said:
“My colleagues and I are not supportive of elected mayors… We do not think that the proposals are suited to the needs of…Bradford.”
Last week, the same issue was reported on again, when Mr Ward said:
“My view is that it should be for the councils to decide if they want to go down the referendum route. The referendum shouldn’t be imposed.”
The Opposition agree. Shadow mayors and referendums on having a mayor should not be imposed. In Bradford at least, it seems, there is Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative opposition to the Government’s proposals. However, there has also been opposition in other councils, including Leeds city council.
While my hon. Friend is running through a list of authorities, will she also refer to Sheffield—now a Labour-controlled authority, of course? There has been cross-party agreement between Labour and Liberal Democrats, and all are opposed to any mayoral system at all, and certainly opposed to shadow mayors. I am sure that were there any Conservative councillors in Sheffield—which there are not—they would be joining in the opposition as well. Is it not a strange system in which a mayor’s legitimacy comes from being elected by the public, but a shadow mayor’s legitimacy comes from being the representative of most councillors on a council? In Sheffield, that majority of councillors are opposed to the proposals.
Absolutely. I was not going to go through a complete list, but I welcome hearing about what has happened in Sheffield.
It seems that Yorkshire is turning against these proposals en masse, and there has been opposition in other councils—for example, in Leeds city council. The Yorkshire Post quoted its leader, Councillor Keith Wakefield, as saying that these proposals are
“not acceptable in today’s democracy… If people decide they want an elected mayor that’s what they should have, but do it following a vote… I think the idea of a referendum is OK where people have an opportunity to say yea or nay. What’s not right is putting you in a position where there’s been no vote.”
I understand that he would turn down the position whatever happens.
I am about to conclude, so as to leave time for other Members to speak.
I regret that a new group of amendments on scrutiny was not selected for debate tonight. It was debated in Committee, and I hope that it can be taken forward to the other place. I would like to underline again and again that we are still opposed to EU fines.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Report on this important Bill. I appreciate that there are a lot of amendments, however, and that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I will be as succinct as possible. I would like to refer to amendments 2 and 3. They are small but significant amendments that deal with the election of elected mayors. Because of their significance, I hope to press them to a vote tonight, unless Ministers see their merits.
I fully subscribe to the localism agenda. I believe that we have become an over-centralised state, with too much power at the centre, whether with Ministers or civil servants. The Bill will start to turn the tanker around. I accept that progress will be slow, but it will take the agenda in the right direction. On Second Reading, I said that a cultural change was required first in Whitehall, with less interference and prescription from the centre, and, secondly, in the town hall, with people there taking more responsibility. However, localism has three strands: the division of power; tax-raising powers; and governance. I would like to concentrate on governance, particularly elected mayors.
I am a strong supporter of the concept of elected mayors. That is the direction in which we should be going. They are open, transparent and accountable, and I also believe that they will help to revive local government. I thought that there was broad cross-party support for them, because they were introduced by a Labour Government in 2000, and because, obviously, the coalition Government are retaining the concept and looking to introduce 11 new mayors in due course.
I accept that elected mayors were a Labour concept, although I was not in favour of them. It is noticeable that across the country many local authorities have rejected the idea, and that many of those who voted for them now regret doing so.
I accept that they are not universally supported by all parties, but I believe that there is broad support. The hon. Gentleman raises a separate point, though, because there are several reasons why elected mayors have not caught on. However, I want to concentrate on my amendment 2 about their actual election.
At present, mayors are elected under the supplementary vote system, which is retained in the Bill. Effectively it is a form of the alternative vote. My amendment 2 would change that so that future elections are done under first past the post. That would provide a consistent approach to elections. Varying the voting system creates confusion and a lack of certainty for the average voter. Two weeks ago, this country went to the polling booth for a referendum on whether we wanted AV or first past the post. Had the voters supported AV, I would have withdrawn this amendment. I would have accepted the will of the people. In fact, there was an overwhelming and emphatic vote for first past the post. As one hon. Member said to me, “The people of this country did not say no; they said never.” I accept that judgment, but I believe there has to be consistency. I support the amendment on the basis that we should have a consistent approach to our elections and that elected mayors should therefore be elected under first past the post. I genuinely hope that the House will agree with what the people said two weeks ago and support the amendment.
I want to address new clauses 13 and 14 on EU fines. I believe that ministerial advice stated that individual fines to local authorities would be appropriate where there was a direct causal link, and where councils were guilty of action or inaction. One example is waste, on which I would like to address two key issues: EU directives on recycling and landfill taxes.
The Local Government Association briefing is dismissive of the Government’s proposals. It states:
“Moves to allow Ministers to force English councils to pay parts of fines imposed on the UK government by the EU are unfair, unworkable, dangerous and unconstitutional. This is an unprecedented power for Ministers to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny and will inevitably lead to legal battles as Government tries to apportion “blame” for EU fines.”
The LGA urges that the policy be scrapped, and continues:
“In effect it means a Minister may simultaneously be prosecutor, judge, jury, and co-defendant, when Ministers themselves may actually be responsible for fines being levied. This is neither impartial nor localist.”
There are reasons why the Government are responsible for such fines perhaps being levied, but I want to address the confusion that seems to exist in Government. The Minister for the natural environment—the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—said in Committee in March that local authorities would not face what I describe as “bin taxes”, which are charges on local authorities and their residents for not reaching the EU’s 50% threshold. I asked him:
“I want to press the Minister on EU fines for England and Wales on waste collection. Does he support the individual fining of authorities that do kerbside collection and that are struggling to reach 50%, as suggested by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government?”
The Minister replied:
“I can tell the Committee that local authorities will not be fined individually for not achieving 50%. I can give that assurance…If we are failing, it will be lamentable”.—[Official Report, Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee,
There seems to be a great deal of confusion between the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on this issue. To be honest, I would like the proposal scrapped, but we at least need some clarity on how to reach 50% recycling rates and avoid EU fines.
The Bill does nothing to protect my constituents, particularly given that councils in east Lancashire have been hit extremely hard by DCLG cuts. Residents in my local authority, which was Conservative until last Thursday night—thankfully we now have a Labour authority—had achieved a 40% recycling rate, or just under. In effect, we are talking about a bin tax by any other name, and it is unfair. The message to the Minister this evening is that it is not the fault of the residents of Lancashire. The county council’s waste private finance initiative schemes would have resulted in a 90% recycling rate, but they were scrapped a few months ago. Up until a few months ago we had a strategy that would have enabled us to avoid EU fines, and we are talking about some of the most deprived communities in this country.
There are also issues around recycling centres. If the Government will not invest in recycling centres, or if the spread of recycling centres across the country is disproportionate, that is not fair either, but that is a Government policy. It is not an EU policy; it is a policy that the Government will be answerable for. The LGA is quite correct to say that the Government will be held to account; indeed, this issue could end up in the courts.
However, there is a second, more important reason why the scheme is not fair—a reason that I put to the Under-Secretary—and it concerns the difference between kerbside and co-mingled collections. Kerbside collection rates are around 30% to 40%, whereas co-mingled collections through recycling centres are hitting 80%, 90% and beyond. Local authorities in areas with co-mingled recycling will have high collection rates, but they will also have problems with contamination, which I accept. The Government are trying to encourage people not to co-mingle, but to separate. However, collection rates in areas with kerbside collections are much lower, so EU fines are unfair.
I do not want to stop the hon. Gentleman in his tracks, but I think that I can reassure him. He is operating on completely the wrong premise. There is no suggestion at all that a fine would be levied on an authority because of its performance on recycling rates. The only suggestion is that if the authority does not adopt a plan as required—that is, something specifically required of that authority—and if it has been warned that it needs to have one, that will be the occasion for a fine. That authority’s performance is completely irrelevant, whatever it might be. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman and allow him to return to the issue at hand.
I thank the Minister for that, because he is essentially saying that he has just ripped up his own new clause, which now has no teeth—he has just taken them all out. If local authorities are to come up with a plan, they will come up with one and carry on recycling at 30%. However, the Minister is not going to say to local authorities, “Well, actually, because you’ve got a plan, we’re going to do something about it.” Instead, he will be saying, “You’ve got a plan, so we’re going to do nothing about it.” He has taken all the teeth out of his own new clause, so why has he proposed it? Why has it taken him until today to say what he has said this evening, and why do ministerial statements say that the proposal involves waste? He is effectively telling people that—
The Minister of State had the opportunity before to say what he has said this evening, but there are real issues—[ Interruption. ] That is fine, but it is the Government who are putting forward their new clause, which now has no teeth.
In conclusion—because I was wrapping up—the LGA says that the proposal will be problematic to enforce. What are the Government enforcing? How can local government increase recycling rates for residents? If action is to be taken, it will hit some of the poorest communities that have higher recycling rates, not some of the wealthiest ones, and the same goes for landfill taxes. I appreciate Ministers’ comments, but as far as I am concerned, I am delighted that all the teeth have been taken out of this proposal.
My new clause 8 would allow local authorities to vary Sunday trading hours in their areas. As hon. Members will know, under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, large shops over 280 square metres may open for only six continuous hours between 10 am and 6 pm on Sundays, excluding Easter Sunday, when they must remain closed. I think that this is rather anachronistic. Sunday trading is increasingly popular. I have no interest to declare, but I do have some experience to declare, as somebody who worked for Asda for 13 years. In my time there, Sunday trading hours were the busiest hours of the trading week. Contrary to common belief, Sunday trading hours were also the most popular hours that members of staff wished to work, because for many people Sunday was one of the few days on which they could do additional hours, as they had other people at home looking after their children and so on. If people want to shop on a Sunday or work for certain hours, I do not really see what business the Government have telling them what hours they can do.
Members may be aware that Scotland has a different regime. Sunday trading is fully deregulated in Scotland, although, under the Sunday Working (Scotland) Act 2003, workers have the right to refuse to work on Sundays. I am not aware that the whole world has collapsed in Scotland as a result of deregulating Sunday trading hours. In fact, my experience is that it has proved to be incredibly popular with both customers and workers alike. I would like workers and shoppers in England and Wales to have exactly the same rights to shop or work in shops at a time of their choosing as people in Scotland have.
My new clause 8 would not give local authorities the opportunity simply to extend Sunday trading hours, because I believe in true localism. My new clause also offers local authorities the opportunity to restrict Sunday trading hours further, if they so wish. If we believe that decisions should be taken locally, we should give local authorities the widest possible ability to make decisions to suit their areas. In areas that need extra regeneration, the opportunity to open for extra hours on a Sunday might be welcome, as it may benefit the local authorities in such areas. I do not see why the Government should stand in those authorities’ way if they believe that to be an important part of their regeneration strategy. Other local authorities may wish to restrict Sunday trading hours. I would not advise them to do so—I do not think it would be very popular—but that would be up to them, as democratically elected local authorities. So I hope that the Minister will explain whether he agrees with my proposed extension of the principle of localism. If he does not agree, will he tell me what on earth his objection is to extending a right to the people of England that the people of Scotland already have?
My other amendment is amendment 15, which relates to elected mayors. I fully support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend John Stevenson which proposes that such elections should be run on the first-past-the-post basis. I ought to declare a slight interest, in that my father is the elected mayor of Doncaster. He was elected under the system described by my hon. Friend, and he would not have been elected under first past the post, because he came second in the first ballot. Some might argue that my views are rather altruistic, in that I do not support a system that has benefited my dad; instead, I want to do what I think is genuinely the right thing for the country. Others might argue that my father being elected under the alternative or supplementary vote system could well be the best possible argument for first past the post. I would not like to comment on that; I will leave it to others to make that decision.
I want to press on, because the Government have allocated a shameful amount of time for this debate and other people want to speak.
I support first past the post, even though my father would have been disadvantaged by it. My amendment 15 proposes that there should be a two-thirds reduction in the number of councillors in local authority areas that have an elected mayor. There are already far too many local councillors; Bradford has 90, for example. The US Senate has only 100 people in it, for goodness’ sake. Why do we need 90 councillors in Bradford? If we are to have an elected mayor as well, why on earth should we have an additional layer of bureaucracy, more expense and more levels of local politicians? If we are going to have an elected mayor, for goodness’ sake let us reduce the number of local councillors at the same time and save the council tax payer some money. I hope that the Government will accept my rather modest amendments, but if they do not, I will certainly be interested to hear their reasons.
I entirely endorse what Philip Davies said about first past the post. I am not a supporter of elected mayors but, if we have to have them, they should be elected by the first-past-the-post system. He is absolutely right.
I rise briefly to speak to my amendments 353 to 357, which would delete clauses 30 to 34. The clauses relate to fines to be imposed by the European Union. I find the whole idea of such fines complete anathema—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I thought that I might get some support in the Chamber on that point. We could quite easily leave out all reference to the EU, and I would like to see that happen.
I note that the Minister, in introducing the new clause, said that he had already had discussions with the Local Government Association. The LGA is very concerned about this issue, as my hon. Friend Graham Jones rightly said. I hope that the Government will think again and simply delete any reference to the EU. Rather than giving freedoms to local authorities, their proposals will put an imposition on them. They would place more central control on them, rather than leaving them to their own devices and giving them more freedoms.
I hope the Minister will think about this and that the Government see fit, during the later stages of the Bill, to delete any reference to the EU. I strongly support the LGA’s view, which was ably set out by my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Minister will give this matter some thought. I shall not press my amendments to a Division, but I hope that he will bear in mind my feelings and those of many other Members.
I am grateful for this opportunity to place my views, with which those hon. Members who served on the Public Bill Committee will already be familiar, on the record, and I apologise for any repetition. I fully support amendment 41; indeed, there are many amendments that I could support, and many more that I would like to have seen that no one else would have supported. I feel strongly about this one, however. It relates to elected mayors and shadow mayors, and to the executive powers of the mayors. Amendment 41 deals with something that symbolises everything that is wrong with the Bill.
There is nothing worse than waste, and there is nothing worse than a wasted opportunity. The Bill is a colossal wasted opportunity for the House to consider the relationship between central and local government. We have profoundly let down the democratic system by not reviewing that relationship. We could have looked at what other countries do, and agreed some basic principles against which any measures relating to local authorities could have been evaluated. I agree with Professor Stewart and Professor Jones, who gave evidence to the Bill Committee, that this is a centralism Bill, rather than a localism Bill. How different it could have been if the will had been there to make it so.
Opposition Members will no doubt be delighted to learn that, in my local authority, the Lib Dems lost a seat to Labour. We lost it in an election in which nearly seven out of 10 electors did not turn out to vote. At a time when politics is divided, and when big issues are dividing the nation, we again need to ask profound questions about why people are so reluctant to turn out and vote. We need to ask questions about the quality of the candidates, as well as about the turnout. We also need to ask what the measures in the Bill will do to address the serious democratic deficit in this country. We know the reasons behind the problem. We know that, when we knock on the doors, people say that we are all the same. The reality is that that is largely true. It is hard to be different in local government. The discretion and freedom to be different have disappeared, year by year, Government by Government.
In Committee, I mentioned local authority budgets. Bradford has a budget of more than £1 billion, yet we end up discussing only £1 million or £2 million. Local politicians expend a lot of hot air disputing those amounts, while the vast majority of the budget is beyond their control. Yes, we are largely all the same. The Bill could have removed barriers and restrictions. I do not understand why, when we are desperate to remove barriers to the private sector to encourage initiative, entrepreneurship, enterprise and freedoms, we do not do the same thing at local government level. Those barriers will remain after the Bill has been passed.
The Government are still overbearing, arrogant and interfering. They are still ruling by stipulation, by compulsion and by bribery. They provide handouts that local government can spend, but on one thing only. How many times have Members who were formerly councillors known that the only show in town involved doing whatever the Government were funding? They were not given the discretion to spend that money as they wished. The funding would go only to the private finance initiatives or to academies, for example. We, as locally elected councillors, were not given the money and asked how we would like to spend it. Remember the bribery involved in the swimming campaign and the free school meals? The initiatives lasted for one year only, and we had to pick up the tab the year after. They were introduced simply to facilitate ministerial press releases.
None of this will be changed by the Bill. Councillors are used and abused. The Treasury insists on controlling the finance, and without financial freedom, there is no democratic freedom. The low opinion of local government held by people in this place staggers me; I am appalled by it. An example is the outrageous front-loading of the cuts. Instead of local government being seen as a partner to help us through the financial crisis by contributing to the deficit reduction over a period of time and being asked for help to deal with it, the cuts have been imposed on it from above by a Government who claim to support localism.
I support amendment 41. My views on elected mayors are, quite frankly, my business and they should be expressed in a ballot if my council decides that that is what it wants to do. I will participate in that debate—not in this place, but where it should take place: in council chambers up and down the country. Yes, we should set parameters and controls; yes, we should demand disclosure, which was mentioned earlier; but for goodness’ sake, let us breathe life back into a vital part of our democratic system.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case for the next localism Bill. Does he agree that it is important, even for those who might not support the amendments on the shadow mayors and related issues, to ask Ministers to look at these proposals again?
Of course I agree.
Let me conclude by saying that it is time to set local government free. In that respect, the whole Bill, despite some good bits, is a wasted opportunity and thus a complete failure.
I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall limit my comments to a few. I applaud the hon. Member for Bradford East
(Mr Ward) for his speech. I did not anticipate hearing comments like that from the Government side of the Chamber, but he is a man who says it as it is, and I respect his views and the way he put them.
I shall focus on two aspects of this group of new clauses and amendments: senior pay policy, dealt with in new clauses 27 and 28, and powers to make supplemental provision, as set out in amendment 37 to clause 5. Bringing transparency to senior council pay is entirely right. I accept that some people might have been paid excessively in some circumstances, but this constant bashing of chief executives and senior council officers by Ministers does a complete disservice to people who do an incredibly difficult job in councils up and down the country. Some of these people will have worked their whole lives in local authorities; others might have left good private sector jobs to work there.
The hon. Lady is adopting a strange position in defending the massive increase in pay at the top of the public sector. Does she accept that her Government could have done something about transparency? When she talks about a disservice, is not the real disservice to the electors of our communities who have to pay the bills for these people who have earned incredible amounts of money over the last few years?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening. I said that I accepted pay transparency is a good thing at both the top and the bottom of an organisation. I accept that the previous Government could have brought forward measures to insist on pay transparency and I know that some local authorities were transparent. Many have independent remuneration panels that would take decisions about councillor pay. I know that my own local authority is certainly looking at having an independent panel to review executive pay. My point is that we should shine a light on abuses, but that this constant barrage is disproportionate.
These measures are, in my view, all about the Secretary of State getting a headline. Listening to him, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that if only 600-odd council chief executives were paid less, the national budget deficit would be dealt with. It will not. This is a complete red herring. Let us take the example of my local authority of Lewisham. The council’s overall pay bill is £280 million, which pays for thousands of staff. The top 32 jobs of senior management account for £4.1 million; the five executive directors and the chief executive cost the council in the region of £1 million. Yes, £1 million is a huge amount of money, but we have to take account of these individuals’ responsibilities and the repercussions they might face if they gave bad advice, took bad decisions or implemented bad management. When politicians make a bad decision, they might lose an election, but council officers doing the same could end up in prison.
The responsibility of chief officers has not changed. The last Government actively encouraged councils to be rewarded in inspections for being seen to pay high salaries, because that appeared to make the same officers better officers.
I have no experience of that happening. I would be interested to speak to the hon. Gentleman after the debate to learn more about his experience.
What puzzles me most about this Government’s obsession with senior pay is that it comes at a time when they seem spectacularly unwilling to tackle excessive pay in the private sector. I represent a London constituency and I know that there are bankers, lawyers and accountants who, within five or six years of graduating from university, will be earning £60,000, £70,000 or £80,000 a year. That is not far off the wage of a head of children’s services. I ask whether it can be right to put all the focus on senior council pay.
I agree with the amendments tabled by Opposition Front Benchers that deal with bringing transparency to low pay. Lewisham is an authority that has led the way on implementing the London living wage. As a result of its London living wage policy, 800 contracted staff are better off from the council’s insistence on seeking invitations from contractors that put in a London living wage bid as well as a regular bid. I am proud of the work that the authority has done on that and I believe that there are ways of encouraging the public sector and local councils to do the same.
I had wanted to comment on amendment 37, but I am conscious of the time. It is strange how the Government are, drip by drip, telling us which duties they wish to protect—whether it be duties to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, or to provide allotments or whatever. Why did the Government not do this work before they put out their review of burdensome regulations? A couple of weeks ago, the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government heard the Minister for Housing and Local Government talk about the Department’s decisive leadership in abolishing the Audit Commission. I would urge the Government to show some leadership in saying which of the “burdens” they value and want to see protected. It seems to be one rule for one thing and a completely different rule for something else. I think it is sloppy and poor government—sadly, I think many of the Bill’s provisions are an example of poor government. I look forward to voting against some clauses and in favour of some amendments when we get the chance.
We have so little time that I am going to cut straight to the chase; I hope not to take more than a minute or two.
I speak in favour of new clause 10, which I tabled and which is supported by Members from both sides of the House. It concerns the recall of councillors. I view this as a simple, obvious, “no brainer” idea, which I hope will be met with a nod of approval by both Front-Bench teams. I will briefly make the case for it.
As Members know, the Government are planning to introduce a recall mechanism for parliamentarians, whereby Members face being removed from office if their constituents so choose. The plans, in my view, do not go nearly far enough. MPs will be subject to recall only if a Committee decides that they have committed an act of serious wrongdoing. Recall is supposed to be about empowering people, not parliamentary Committees, so I shall seek to amend that provision when I have a chance. In the meantime, I was pleased that the Secretary of State promised to consider introducing into this Bill a recall mechanism for councillors. That has not happened, so I have done it for him.
I am fortunate in that my constituency is served by some excellent councillors, but we all know that there are some councillors who do very little for their constituents, so there should surely be a mechanism whereby residents can hold councillors to account during the four years in between elections in the same way as employees are in every other field of human endeavour. It cannot be right to ask Members to vote for measures that will introduce recall for parliamentarians, but not for councillors in local government, which is just as important.
My new clause would allow for
“25% or more of the… voters in the constituency of an elected local government member” to petition for and trigger a recall election. I think that that strikes the right balance between preventing vexatious recall attempts and empowering local people to hold their elected councillors to account. The new clause would greatly empower local people and would keep councillors on their toes, and I hope that it can be put to the vote so that the House can support it.
I wish to speak, very briefly, to amendments 365 and 366, which I tabled and which relate to standards.
In his opening remarks on the programme motion, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark—who steered the Bill through its Committee stage—expressed a wish to listen to the views of people, whether they were members of the Committee, other interested parties, or people who had given evidence to the Committee. As he knows, an awful lot of people gave evidence, and many who gave evidence on standards gave very interesting evidence. Sadly, however, the Government did not listen to the evidence, including that given by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Government may be right in saying that there is a case for some streamlining of the standards procedure, and indeed I conceded that in Committee, but I am afraid that they are making a serious mistake in substituting for the existing machinery a framework that is incoherent, that is potentially extremely weak, and that will contain serious anomalies.
Let us examine those three problems. First, clause 17 allows the Secretary of State to require local authorities to establish a procedure relating to the declaration of interests, a breach of which will involve a criminal liability. Clause 16 allows the establishment of an entirely voluntary framework within which it will be up to a local authority to decide whether to adopt a code of conduct. That could lead to an extraordinary situation. Someone who had failed, perhaps owing to a technicality, to declare an interest as part of the mandatory requirement imposed by Government would be liable for a criminal action, whereas someone who had behaved in a deplorable way—who had bullied people, been dishonest, or behaved shamelessly in the council chamber—could emerge scot-free because the council concerned had chosen not to adopt a code of conduct. That is clearly unsatisfactory.
Secondly, there will be no code of conduct promoted by Government, like the model code that has existed in the past, that could serve as the default in the event of a local authority’s failure to adopt its own code.
Thirdly, there is a serious risk that, under clause 16(2), a local authority that currently has a code of conduct could
“withdraw its existing code of conduct without replacing it.”
Ministers claimed that they would leave this to local government—that they would do the right thing. At a time when we are all concerned about standards in public life, whether at national or local government level, it is extraordinary that they should produce a half-baked proposal which has not been thought through, which allows loopholes and anomalies to exist, and which—most seriously—undermines the substantial progress that has been made in recent years in improving those standards.
Although Ministers appear unwilling to accept the case for amendments in the House of Commons, I sincerely hope that Members in another place with real experience of these matters will press amendments to ensure that there is a more coherent, more satisfactory and more demanding framework to maintain standards in public life.
I served as a local councillor for 10 years under the previous standards regime, which was an abuse of and an assault on local democracy. As long as councillors do not break any criminal law, it is for the public who elected them to judge their behaviour. I was once referred to the standards board by a political activist for having dared to be a school teacher. The process wasted public money, because someone had to investigate, only to find it was all a load of old guff. It was a politically motivated referral, and there were countless examples of the same thing in my council chamber. Members on all sides reported each other for everything. That is a load of old nonsense, and the sooner it goes the better.
As for pay policy, I cannot support the amendments tabled by the shadow Minister, Barbara Keeley. It is incredible that the Opposition should advance such proposals, having done what they have done to public sector pay at the top. I recall that when the Labour authority in Hull was seen as a failing council—I believe that Mr Raynsford was a Minister at the time—we were inspected by officials who told us that we must pay our senior staff more. We ended up with five corporate directors on outrageous salaries of £105,000 a year. [Interruption.] It is true: I was there at the time. We saw a massive explosion in pay. The suggestion that we should take lessons from the Opposition on the subject takes some swallowing.
I do, however, agree that there should be more transparency in regard to private contractors who work for local authorities. My local council, which was Labour-controlled until two weeks ago but is now Conservative-controlled, has spent £3 million on consultants in the last year, and spent millions of pounds in the preceding years. There should be more openness about how money is spent and how much people in the private sector are making. There is a good point behind the proposal, although, as I have said, it takes a little bit of swallowing given that the last Government presided over the pay explosion at the top.
Having made those few comments, I will yield to other Members who, I am sure, are keen to make their own contributions.
Let me first say how ably my hon. Friend John Stevenson spoke to amendment 2, which concerns the first-past-the-post system for electing mayors. I shall certainly support him in the Lobby if he presses it to a vote.
The Government are clearly in favour of the principle of elected mayors, given that they propose to allow 12 of them in the Bill. What I want to know is why they are making it so difficult for local authorities to initiate the process. Local authorities will rarely, if ever, vote for a referendum on the election of mayors. Because of the cosy relationship that often exists between councillors, they view elected mayors as a threat. However, elected mayors can provide leadership and transparency and revitalise local democracy, and we should do all that we can to encourage them. My amendment 1 would reduce the threshold of the electorate who can petition for an elected mayor from 5% to 2.5%. I hope that the Government will see the wisdom of my proposal, and will support it.
I want to comment briefly on three of the amendments that have been discussed so far.
I have a huge amount of sympathy for the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith about a recall procedure for councillors, but, although I hope that the Government will reflect on the points that have been made and that such a procedure will be introduced eventually, I think it would be inappropriate for the House to introduce it before introducing a similar procedure for Members of Parliament.
I found it incredible that Barbara Keeley—who would not take an intervention—should criticise the Government for forcing referendums on the governance structure of local authorities, given that the Government whom she supported forced virtually every council in the country to adopt executive systems of governance with no recourse to referendums.
Finally—I am conscious of the time—I strongly support the new clause about Sunday trading that was tabled by my hon. Friend Philip Davies. He and I do not agree on many issues, but we agreed on two today, sentencing and Sunday trading. I also had a lot of sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend John Stevenson about first past the post. He spoke of the need for consistency, but his amendment would introduce a big inconsistency between the Mayor of London and other elected mayors. The Government should consider that issue in the context of the results of the referendum.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
Question agreed to.
New clause 12 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (