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“Within twelve months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers, including but not limited to, setting and revaluating local tax rates, banding and discounts.”—(Mr Reed.)
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 29—The Local Government Independence Code—
‘(1) There shall be a Code, to be known as “the Local Government Independence Code”, the principal purpose of which shall be to define and regulate the relationship between central and local government.
(2) A court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with the functions of a local authority, or of the Secretary of State or other public authority in relation to any local authority, must take into account the provisions of the Code.
(3) Schedule (The Local Government Independence Code) which—
(a) sets out the terms of the Code,
(b) makes provision about the application of the Code, and requires public authorities, including central and local government, to comply with the Code,
(c) makes provision for amending the Code,
(d) requires that, where it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which ensures compliance with the Code, and makes provision for the amending of legislation where it is found not to be compatible with the Code,
(e) makes provision about remedial orders to amend legislation,
(f) makes provision for Ministers to make, or refuse to make, a statement that a Bill is compatible with the Code,
(g) amends the Parliament Act 1911 so as to exclude any Bill seeking to amend this Act from the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911,
(h) provides for amendments which are consequential on the making of the Code to certain enactments relating to local authorities, and
(i) requires the Secretary of State to provide for the review of provisions in pre-commencement legislation to assess their compatibility with the provisions of the Code, has effect.”
The intention of this new Clause is to define the independence of local government and to regulate the relationship between local and central government in England by means of a statutory Code.
New clause 30—Reduction in petition threshold—
‘(1) The Local Government Act 2000 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 34(4) (minimum number of local government electors for a local authority’s area who must support any petition presented to the authority), for “5 per cent” substitute “1 per cent”.’
This amendment would reduce the minimum number of local government electors for a local authority’s area who must support any petition presented to the authority from 5 per cent to 1 per cent.
New clause 31—Mayors of combined authorities: Further functions—
‘(1) After section 107E of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (inserted by section 6 above) insert—
“107F Functions of mayors: alcohol pricing
(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for a mayor of a mayoral combined authority to have the power to set a minimum unit price for alcohol that is sold within that combined authority area.
(2) An order made under subsection (1) above must include a provision that such a power may be exercised by a mayor only following a consultation which includes local residents on the proposed level of the minimum unit price for alcohol.”’
New clause 32—Devolution to combined authorities: the family test—
‘(1) As soon as practicable after
(2) In applying the family test, the mayoral combined authority must consider the impact of its policies and performance under each of the family test headings set out in subsection (3) and consider any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(3) The family test headings are—
(a) family formation;
(b) families going through key transitions such as becoming parents, getting married, fostering or adopting, bereavement, redundancy, new caring responsibilities or the onset of a long-term health condition;
(c) all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities;
(d) families before, during and after couple separation; and
(e) those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown.
(4) An overview and scrutiny committee of the mayoral combined authority shall review the report within four months of its publication.
(5) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to mayoral combined authorities on applying the family test and on reporting on the test.”
This new Clause would require mayoral combined authorities in England to report annually on their performance in relation to the DWP’s Family Test (October 2014) and for an overview and scrutiny committee to examine the contents of the report.
New clause 33—Parish Councils: Power of parish council to sell electricity—
‘In Section 44 (1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 insert “11” between “1” and “16”.’
This amendment will allow parish councils to be able to sell electricity that it generates.
New clause 36—Regard to neighbouring authorities—
‘In exercising a devolved function, combined authorities must have regard to any significant direct impact on the population of neighbouring authorities.’
This clause raises the concerns of some authorities which neighbour devolved authorities and ensures that combined authorities which have devolved functions give regard to the possible impact on neighbouring populations, particularly over issues such as transport and health.
New clause 37—Disqualification for election and holding office as a Member of a local authority—
‘In section 80 (1)(d) of the Local Government Act 1972, omit “for a period of not less than three months without the option of a fine”.’
This New Clause would extend the current disqualification regime to councillors sentenced to any custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence), instead of applying only to councillors sentenced to a term of imprisonment of at least three months.
New clause 38—Enabling devolution to joint committees in London—
‘(1) Following a written request from either—
(a) a voluntary joint committee of London councils, or
(b) a voluntary joint committee of London councils and the Mayor of London, the Secretary of State may by order make arrangements for a function of a Minister of the Crown or a Government Department to be delegated to that joint committee, formed under Section 101 of the 1972 Local Government Act.
(2) The voluntary joint committee may make such provision as is necessary in relation to—
(a) voting powers required to protect minority interests;
(b) the membership and process for individual authorities to enter or leave;
(c) the executive arrangements of the joint committee;
(d) arrangements for the administration and transfer of property and other liabilities.
(3) A request made under subsection (1) above must have the agreement of all constituent members of the joint committee.
(4) In this section—
“London councils” means
(a) London borough councils, and(b) the Common Council of the City of London;
“joint committee” has the same meaning as in the Local Government Act 1972;
“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.
(5) A function is eligible for the purposes of subsection (1) above if—
(a) it does not consist of a power to make regulations or other instruments of a legislative character or a power to fix fees or charges, and
(b) the Secretary of State considers that it can be appropriately exercised by the joint committee.
(6) No delegation under subsection (1) above, and no variation of a delegation under subsection (1) above can be made without the agreement of all constituent members of the relevant voluntary joint committee.
(7) Before making or varying a delegation under subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) London borough councils;
(b) The Common Council of the City of London;
(c) The Mayor of London (in the case of a joint committee of London councils and the Mayor of London).
(8) The Secretary of State may make arrangements for the transfer from the Crown to the relevant joint committee of such property, rights or liabilities as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to the discharge of the function delegated under subsection (1).
(9) If an order made under this section would be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it is to proceed in that House as if it were not a hybrid instrument.’
This clause would support further devolution of Ministerial functions to London by providing for decision-making arrangements to enable operational delegation to groups of London local authorities and for the strategic governance of devolved responsibilities to be shared between London councils and the Mayor through an appropriately constituted joint committee.
New clause 39—Environmental consideration—
‘No later than three months after the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall prepare guidance on effective strategic planning for combined authorities including in the areas of—
(a) mitigation of and adaptation to impacts of climate change;
(b) natural resource use including water management;
(c) delivery of low-carbon energy sources and infrastructure;
(d) landscape-scale conservation, including green infrastructure.’
This new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to set out guidance on how co-operation between combined authorities can be strengthened to mitigate environmental problems and develop green infrastructure.
New schedule 2—The Local Government Independence Code—
2 (1) This Code—
(a) defines the relationship between central government and local authorities; and
(b) makes provision about the financial independence and conduct of local authorities.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Code shall affect the rights of individuals; and individuals may continue to seek judicial review of any action by a public authority which they regard as unjust or as infringing their rights.
Local Autonomy and Local Self-Government
3 (1) Local authorities’ accountability is to their electorates.
(2) Local authorities are autonomous, democratically-elected bodies which independently decide upon, administer and regulate public affairs and deal with all matters of concern within their boundaries to the extent that such matters are not the statutory responsibility of another body.
(3) Local authorities shall continue to operate within the rule of law.
(4) Local authorities shall continue to operate with full legal personality and under a general power of competence. Subject to sub-paragraph (4), local authorities may pass measures on matters affecting the affairs and interests of their area.
Scope of Local Government
4 (1) The powers and responsibilities of local authorities will continue to be prescribed by statute.
(2) Local authorities shall have power to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not statutorily excluded from their competence or assigned to another body.
(3) Central government may not propose actions which are intended to, or may reasonably be regarded as being likely to, infringe the independence of local government, as defined in this Code, or affect local government generally or any local authority, unless local government generally, or the local authority concerned, consents.
5 Central government and local authorities shall establish joint inspection regimes to set and monitor the standards of services supplied or secured by them.
6 The geographical boundary of a local authority can be altered only by a proposal from the local authority itself or from its electorate. Local authorities must make arrangements for their electorates to put forward such proposals for consideration. Any such locally-inspired proposal for boundary changes, whether initiated directly by the authority or by the electorate of the authority, must be developed with the involvement of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and shall be subject to approval of the electorate of the area concerned, under arrangements made by the local authority concerned and approved by the Electoral Commission.
Council Governmental Systems
7 (1) The electorate of each local authority, through methods agreed by the local authority concerned, shall have the power to choose that authority‘s internal political decision-making systems. The systems concerned shall include a directly elected mayor and cabinet, a cabinet and leader, a committee system, or any other political decision-making arrangement which the electorate may decide is appropriate.
(2) The electorate of each local authority, through methods agreed by their local authorities, may, after a process of consultation carried out by the local authority concerned, agree to and adopt any electoral system for use in elections to that authority.
Local Government Financial Integrity
8 (1) Local authorities shall be financially independent of central government, save as otherwise provided for in this Code.
(2) Central government may not place any restriction on decisions by local authorities about the exercise of their financial powers.
(3) The distribution of central government funds between local authorities shall continue on the basis of existing equalisation arrangements. Distribution will continue to be based on the principle of ensuring fairness and balance between local authorities. The basis on which this distribution is carried out must continue to be made public.
(4) Each local authority shall receive from central government a guaranteed share of the annual yield of income tax, as follows. Central government must in each financial year assign to the Secretary of State responsible for the distribution of central government funds between local authorities an amount of money equivalent to the yield from ten pence in the pound of income tax. The Secretary of State must make arrangements to inform each taxpayer in England of the amount of their income tax which makes up the central government funding distributed to English local authorities as a whole.
(5) The amount of the income tax yield referred to in paragraph 8(4) shall be re-negotiated between central and local government whenever service provision responsibilities are transferred between central government and local authorities.
(6) Local authorities may raise additional sources of income in their areas in any way they wish, and with the consent of their electorates as expressed through arrangements to be determined and put in place by the local authority concerned.
(7) Local authorities shall be able to raise any loans, bonds or other financial instruments which their credit rating allows and as independent entities will be exclusively responsible for their repayment. All local authorities shall operate “a balanced budget” so that in any one financial year all outgoings, including interest repayments on borrowings, shall not exceed income.
(8) Central government may not cap, or in any other way limit, local authorities’ taxation powers.
(9) The financial transparency standards that apply to central government shall apply to local authorities.
(10) Central government and local authorities may contract with each other in order to pursue their own policy objectives.
Local Authorities’ right to co-operate and associate
9 (1) Local authorities are entitled, in pursuit of any undertaking, to co-operate in any way with any other persons, including local authorities, public and private bodies, voluntary, charity or third-sector organisations, and financial, commercial or private enterprises.
(2) Where more than one local authority is responsible for services in a geographic area, those local authorities shall co-operate so as to maximise the well-being of those living or working in that area.
(3) Local authorities may join any association for the protection and promotion of their common interests and may belong to an international association of any sort.
10 The administration of any local referendum or other vote on proposals put forward by the electorate of any local authority, or other local decision-making processes involving a public vote, shall adhere to standards set by the Electoral Commission; and those responsible for the conduct of any such decision-making processes shall be accountable to the Electoral Commission for their performance against those standards.
Legal Protection of Local Government
11 Local authorities may seek a judicial remedy in order to secure the free exercise of their powers, and any other principles of local self-government or individual rights contained within this Code or otherwise enshrined in law.
Application of and Compliance with the Code: acts of public authorities
12 It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is not in compliance with the Code.13 Paragraph 12 does not apply to an act of a local authority if—
(a) as the result of one or more provisions of primary legislation, the authority could not have acted differently; or
(b) in the case of one or more provisions of, or made under, primary legislation which cannot be read or given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code, the authority was acting so as to give effect to or enforce those provisions.
14 In this Schedule “public authority” includes central government, local authorities and any other person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature, but does not include either House of Parliament or persons exercising functions in connection with proceedings in Parliament; and “an act” includes a failure to act.
15 (1) A person who claims that a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) in a way which is made unlawful by paragraph 12 may—
(a) bring proceedings against the authority under this Act in the appropriate court or tribunal, or
(b) rely on the Code in any legal proceedings.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1)(a) “appropriate court or tribunal” means such court or tribunal as may be determined in accordance with rules; and proceedings against an authority include a counterclaim or similar proceeding.
(3) If the proceedings are brought on an application for judicial review, the applicant must have a sufficient interest in relation to the act.
(4) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1)(a) must be brought before the end of—
(a) the period of one year beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place; or
(b) such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances, but that is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in relation to the procedure in question.
(5) In sub-paragraph (1)(b) “legal proceedings” includes—
(a) proceedings brought by or at the instigation of a public authority; and
(b) an appeal against the decision of a court or tribunal.
(6) Nothing in this Act creates a criminal offence.
(7) In this paragraph “person” includes a local authority.
16 (1) In relation to any act (or proposed act) of a public authority which the court finds is (or would be) unlawful, it may grant such relief or remedy, or make such order, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.
(2) But damages may be awarded only by a court which has power to award damages, or to order the payment of compensation, in civil proceedings.
(3) No award of damages is to be made unless, taking account of all the circumstances of the case, including—
(a) any other relief or remedy granted, or order made, in relation to the act in question (by that or any other court), and
(b) the consequences of any decision (of that or any other court) in respect of that act, the court is satisfied that the award is necessary to afford just satisfaction to the person in whose favour it is made.
(4) In this paragraph—
“court” includes a tribunal;
“damages” means damages for an unlawful act of a public authority; and
“unlawful” means unlawful under paragraph 15.
Amendment of the Code
17 (1) The Secretary of State may by order make such amendments to the Code as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) Before making an order under sub-paragraph (1), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) such local authorities,
(b) such representatives of local government, and
(c) such other persons (if any), as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) Any orders for amendments made by the Secretary of State are subject to the procedures set out in paragraphs 17 to 19 of this Schedule.
Limits on power of Secretary of State to amend the Code
18 (1) The Secretary of State may not make provision under paragraph 16(1) unless the Secretary of State considers that the conditions in sub-paragraph (2) are satisfied in relation to that provision.
(2) Those conditions are that—
(a) the provision does not reduce the powers or discretion of local authorities unless the Secretary of State objectively considers that the effect of the provision is proportionate to the policy objective intended to be secured by the provision;
(b) the provision does not remove any necessary protection for local government or breach the obligations arising under the European Charter of Local Self-Government; and
(c) an order under paragraph 16(1) may not make provision to abolish or vary any tax.
Procedure for orders under paragraph 1
19 (1) If, as a result of any consultation required by paragraph 16(2), it appears to the Secretary of State that it is appropriate to change all or any part of the Secretary of State‘s proposals, the Secretary of State must undertake such further consultation with respect to the changes as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) If, after the conclusion of the consultation required by paragraph 16(2), the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to proceed with the making of an order under paragraph 16(1), the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—
(a) a draft of the order, and
(b) an explanatory document explaining the proposals and giving details of—
(i) the Secretary of State‘s reasons for considering that the conditions in paragraph 17(2) are satisfied in relation to the proposals,
(ii) any consultation undertaken under paragraph 16(2),
(iii) any representations received as a result of the consultation, and
(iv) any changes made as a result of those representations.
Super-affirmative resolution procedure
20 (1) A super-affirmative resolution procedure shall apply in relation to the making of an order pursuant to a draft order, as follows.
(2) The Minister must have regard to—
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft order.
(3) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make an order in the terms of the draft, he must lay before Parliament a statement—
(a) stating whether any representations were made under sub-paragraph (2)(a), and
(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.
(4) The Minister may, after the laying of such a statement, make an order in the terms of the draft if it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(5) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order may, at any time after the laying of a statement under sub-paragraph (3) and before the draft order is approved by that House under sub-paragraph (4), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft order.
(6) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under sub-paragraph (5) in relation to a draft order, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft order in that House under sub-paragraph (4) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(7) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make an order consisting of a revised version of the draft order, the Minister must lay before Parliament—
(a) a revised draft order; and
(b) a statement giving details of—
(i) any representations made under sub-paragraph (2)(a); and
(ii) the revisions proposed.
(8) The Minister may, after laying a revised draft order and statement under sub-paragraph (7), make an order in the terms of the revised draft if it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(9) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the revised draft order may, at any time after the revised draft order is laid under sub-paragraph (7) and before it is approved by that House under sub-paragraph (8), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft order.
(10) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under sub-paragraph (9) in relation to a revised draft order, no proceedings may, be taken in relation to the revised draft order in that House under sub-paragraph (8) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(11) For the purposes of sub-paragraphs (4) and (8) an order is made in the terms of a draft order if it contains no material changes to the provisions of the draft order.
(12) In this schedule the “60-day period” means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament under sub-paragraph(4).
(13) In calculating any period of days for the purposes of this section, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.
21 A resolution of either House is valid for the purposes of this schedule if, and only if, the motion for the resolution—
(a) is agreed without a division; or
(b) is passed on a division in which the number of members who vote in favour of the motion is a number equal to or greater than two-thirds of the number of seats in the House (including vacant seats).
Interpretation of Legislation
22 (1) So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code.
(2) This paragraph—
(a) applies to primary legislation and subordinate legislation whenever enacted;
(b) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible primary legislation; and
(c) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible subordinate legislation if (disregarding any possibility of revocation) primary legislation prevents removal of the incompatibility.
23 (1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision of primary legislation is compatible with the Code.
(2) If the court is satisfied that the provision is incompatible with the Code, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.
(3) Sub-paragraph (4) applies in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision of subordinate legislation, made in the exercise of a power conferred by primary legislation, is compatible with a provision of the Code.
(4) If the court is satisfied—
(a) that the provision is incompatible with the Code, and
(b) that (disregarding any possibility of revocation) the primary legislation concerned prevents removal of the incompatibility, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.
(6) A declaration under this paragraph (“a declaration of incompatibility”)—
(a) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given; and
(b) is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made.
Power to take remedial action
24 (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) a provision of legislation has been declared under paragraph 22 to be incompatible with the Code and, if an appeal lies—
(i) all persons who may appeal have stated in writing that they do not intend to do so;
(ii) the time for bringing an appeal has expired and no appeal has been brought within that time; or
(iii) an appeal brought within that time has been determined or abandoned; or
(b) it appears to the Secretary of State that, having regard to any finding of his under section 5(1) of the Localism Act 2011, a provision of legislation is incompatible with the Code.
(2) If a Minister of the Crown considers that there are compelling reasons for proceeding under this section, he may by order make such amendments to the legislation as he considers necessary to remove the incompatibility.
(3) If, in the case of subordinate legislation, a Minister of the Crown considers that—
(a) it is necessary to amend the primary legislation under which the subordinate legislation in question was made, in order to enable the incompatibility to be removed, and
(b) there are compelling reasons for proceeding under this paragraph, he may by means of a remedial order make such amendments to the primary legislation as he considers necessary.
(4) This paragraph also applies where the provision in question is in subordinate legislation and has been quashed, or declared invalid, by reason of incompatibility with the Code and the Minister proposes to proceed under paragraph 25(b).
25 (1) A remedial order may—
(a) contain such incidental, supplemental, consequential or transitional provision as the person making it considers appropriate;
(b) be made so as to have effect from a date earlier than that on which it is made;
(c) make provision for the delegation of specific functions;
(d) make different provision for different cases.
(2) The power conferred by sub-paragraph (1)(a) includes—
(a) power to amend primary legislation (including primary legislation other than that which contains the incompatible provision); and
(b) power to amend or revoke subordinate legislation (including subordinate legislation other than that which contains the incompatible provision).
(3) A remedial order may be made so as to have the same extent as the legislation which it affects.
(4) No person is to be guilty of an offence solely as a result of the retrospective effect of a remedial order.
26 No remedial order may be made unless—
(a) a draft of the order has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament made after the end of the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft was laid; or
(b) it is declared in the order that it appears to the person making it that, because of the urgency of the matter, it is necessary to make the order without a draft being so approved.
Orders laid in draft
27 (1) No draft may be laid under paragraph 25(a) unless—
(a) the person proposing to make the order has laid before Parliament a document which contains a draft of the proposed order and the required information; and
(b) the period of 60 days, beginning with the day on which the document required by this sub-paragraph was laid, has ended.
(2) If representations have been made during that period, the draft laid under paragraph 25(a) must be accompanied by a statement containing—
(a) a summary of the representations; and
(b) if, as a result of the representations, the proposed order has been changed, details of the changes.
28 (1) If a remedial order (“the original order“) is made without being approved in draft, the person making it must lay it before Parliament, accompanied by the required information, after it is made.
(2) If representations have been made during the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the original order was made, the person making it must (after the end of that period) lay before Parliament a statement containing—
(a) a summary of the representations; and
(b) if, as a result of the representations, he considers it appropriate to make changes to the original order, details of the changes.
(3) If sub-paragraph (2)(b) applies, the person making the statement must—
(a) make a further remedial order replacing the original order; and
(b) lay the replacement order before Parliament.
(4) If, at the end of the period of 120 days beginning with the day on which the original order was made, a resolution has not been passed by each House approving the original or replacement order, the order ceases to have effect (but without that affecting anything previously done under either order or the power to make a fresh remedial order).
29 In this Schedule—
“representations” means representations about a remedial order (or proposed remedial order) made to the person making (or proposing to make) it and includes any relevant Parliamentary report or resolution; and
“required information” means—
(a) an explanation of the incompatibility which the order (or proposed order) seeks to remove, including particulars of the relevant declaration, finding or order; and
(b) a statement of the reasons for proceeding under paragraph (23) and for making an order in those terms.
30 In calculating any period for the purposes of this Schedule, no account is to be taken of any time during which—
(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued; or
(b) both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.
Statements of Compatibility
31 (1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill—
(a) make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the provisions of the Code (“a statement of compatibility”); or
(b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.
(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.
Amendment to the Parliament Act 1911
32 In section 2(1) of the Parliament Act 1911 the words “or a Bill seeking to amend the Local Government Independence Code Act” shall be inserted after the words “maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years”.
Amendments to other Enactments
33 (6A) The general power of competence includes the power to raise revenue through any method including although not limited to local taxation, levies and duties.”
34 Schedule 6 of the Localism Act 2011 is repealed.
Duty to review provisions in primary and subordinate legislation
35 (1) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, make provision by Order to provide for the review of all provisions in pre-commencement primary and subordinate legislation to assess their compatibility with the provisions of the Code.
(2) The order must include—
(a) provision requiring the review of the compatibility of pre- commencement legislation to be completed within a five year period, commencing with the date of passing of this Act;
(b) provision for incompatible pre-commencement legislation to cease to have effect no later than the end of a seven year period, commencing with the date of passing of this Act.
(3) The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) includes provision requiring the person to consider whether the objectives which it was the purpose of the legislation to achieve remain appropriate and, if so, whether they could be achieved in another way.
36 (1) In this schedule, “pre-commencement legislation” means a provision that—
(a) is contained in any other Act passed no later than the end of the Session in which this Act is passed, or
(b) is contained in an instrument made under any other Act and comes into force before the commencement of section 1 of this Act.
(2) Subordinate legislation under paragraph (35)1 may make transitional, consequential, incidental or supplementary provision or savings in connection with such provision.’
This new Schedule provides details relating to implementation of the new Clause on the Local Government Independence Code.
“we will be putting”— it—
That was despite the fact that in April he wrote that he had no plans to change the Sunday trading laws and that
“the current system provides a reasonable balance.”
That measure is not before us today; the Government clearly could not get the support that they need. Could we could hear from the Minister whether the Government are now ruling it out in this Bill entirely?
Absolutely, Mrs Main, although the Minister was courteous enough to respond to a point on this issue earlier in the debate and it would be helpful to know that the Government are not proposing to bring it back on Report next week.
New clause 24 stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Devolution without fiscal powers is not ambitious enough. As Labour said on day one of this Committee, allowing councils greater fiscal powers would allow them to build greater stability into the system. The Government should commit to providing devolved regions with the resources they need, so that they are not being set up to fail. The Bill cannot just be a means of devolving the blame for cuts made in No. 11 Downing Street; devolution is a much bigger agenda for that, and we have heard support for that view from Members in all parts of the House during this afternoon’s debate and during the passage of this Bill. There are problems with the funding of regional economic growth: local enterprise partnerships can be inefficient; and local areas need long-term commitment and resources from the Government. Regional development agencies, which LEPs replaced, were able to make single three-year funding agreements.
I am responsible for LEPs, and I recognise that there are some great LEPs and others that can be improved. The hon. Gentleman says that they can be inefficient, but will he say which ones he is talking about, because I will then have a look?
I am not going to name individual LEPs at this stage in the debate. If the Minister talks to LEPs, he will find that they agree with my view. I used to sit on the board of a LEP until three years ago. They have access to much smaller budgets than RDAs could have and to far too many small funding pots. The model is too fragmented and too short term. I suggest that he speaks to some of the LEPs if he does not think that there is room for improvement along those lines, because I think he will hear from them what he has been hearing from me this afternoon. What the LEPs are looking for and what they need is longer-term horizons if they are to act more strategically. The Government need to understand the need for more local decision making and fewer centrally imposed constraints, and making these changes to LEPs would be a step forward in allowing that to happen.
England’s local government finance settlement is one of the most centralised anywhere in the world. Councils lack the freedom they need to innovate to the maximum and to spend as much as they would like on local priorities. Even London, which is currently more devolved than anywhere else in the country, is reliant on central Government for three quarters of its funding. That compares with figures of just 30% in New York and 25% in Berlin. London is a world city and it is competing with other world cities that have much more control over their own destinies. London does not need to be kept on such a tight leash, and nor do the other cities and regions across the United Kingdom that also hope to grow their roles in the future.
The Communities and Local Government Committee concluded that local authorities in England have limited control over local taxation and, as a consequence, rely by comparison disproportionately on central Government funding. New clause 24 does not prescribe a particular settlement, but calls on the Secretary of State to publish a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers that is in keeping with the approach that the Government have taken throughout this Bill including, but not limited to, setting and re-evaluating local tax rates banding and discounts. We would like the Government at least to consider allowing councils to add additional council tax bands at the top and the bottom of the scale. That would allow for very large properties to be charged more and for smaller properties to be charged less, which is a move towards a more progressive model of taxation.
I have some experience in this area. Before I came to this House, I was leader of Lambeth council. We froze council tax for six years after taking over from a Tory-Liberal Democrat administration that had pushed up council tax by 24% in a single year. The Government need not worry about profligate Tory or Lib Dem councils behaving in that way, because they are accountable to their local electorate. However, that should not be used as an excuse to prevent more localisation together with a fair equalisation mechanism operating across the country. I hope that we will hear more about that during the autumn statement in just a few weeks’ time. The Bill strikes me as another appropriate place to be putting in some of those measures to drive forward the devolution agenda and the ability of local councils to ensure that they have the resources that they need to exercise fully the powers that they will increasingly be acquiring.
The Government can and should go further. They are devolving some of the powers, but little of the money. Devolution without the resources to make it work is not ambitious devolution; it is devolution where the Secretary of State remains the puppet master pulling all the strings, too often afraid to let go.
On new clause 34, we welcome the fact that new sub-national transport bodies must consult adjoining authorities before making a proposal. On transport, the Government have recognised that the devolution of powers to combined authorities concerns neighbouring authorities that are not part of those combined authorities, but are affected by their decisions. I am thinking about areas such as Plymouth in relation to Cornwall, Chesterfield in relation to Sheffield, and Warrington in relation to Greater Manchester. This is an important principle, but it extends to other areas beyond transport.
Decisions made over health, for example, could have an impact on neighbouring populations. I am thinking about proposals for hospital closures, new hospitals, and reconfiguration of regional or strategic health services. Decisions over Sunday trading could also have an effect should those plans go ahead—of course I hope that they will not.
New clause 36 would ensure that regard is given to neighbouring authorities affected by devolution deals. It would be on the same principle as the Government’s new clause 34, so I cannot imagine what objection the Government might have to it. If we want to build support for devolution and not to fuel resentment, this clause needs to be included, and we intend to test the will of the Committee on it by pressing it to a vote.
Finally, let me turn to new clause 39 on environmental considerations. This new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to set out guidance on how co-operation between combined authorities can be strengthened to mitigate environmental problems and develop green infrastructure. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has carried out an assessment of the current devolution proposals and found that there is an appetite among local councils for greater co-operation on environmental priorities.
The duty to co-operate is not currently strong enough, and local planning can fail to take into consideration the ability of the community to build a positive vision for the local environment. Such changes would strengthen and improve this Bill. I am interested to hear the Government’s position on them when the Minister has an opportunity to respond.
I commend Mr Reed on the sentiments of his speech, if not entirely on the detail, because many of us have some sympathy for the need for further fiscal devolution and will be interested to see what form that can eventually take. With no disrespect to those broader issues, I shall refer to new clause 38, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friend Mr Hurd and Ruth Cadbury and which relates specifically to enabling devolution to joint committees in London. That might sound technical, but it is actually important. I stress that new clause 38 is signed by the three of us on a cross-party basis. In fact, it is supported by the all-party parliamentary group for London, by London Councils on a cross-party basis and by the Mayor of London. So this is a London ask to the Government.
New clause 38 essentially relates to the fact that, as certainly I and a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House said on Second Reading, it is sometimes thought that devolution in London is a job done. Well, it is not; more remains to be done on devolution in London. The Government recognise that fact—potential means of devolution to the Mayor and to London boroughs have already been discussed—but the purpose of new clause 38 is to probe the Government’s thinking a little, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response on precisely what legislative framework is required to achieve devolution to the Mayor and to London boroughs, either for all of London in some cases or specifically, as would be allowed under these proposals, to parts of London.
We have been talking about the various devolution deals. I was delighted to hear two of them announced today. Of course, they are important and they rightly vary from place to place. Well, the same applies to London. By its very nature and size, London is infinitely bigger than any other city and any other potential devolution deal. For that reason and because of its nature and complexity—although with the directly elected Mayor and the Greater London Authority, it was the first to have a form of devolution of the kind that the Government envisage, which we welcome being rolled out elsewhere—it has different governance arrangements. In particular, we must recognise the role of the 32 London boroughs—far more than in any other proposed combined mayoral authority—as well as that of the London Assembly.
My hon. Friend is talking specifically about London, but as the devolution deal goes through, will it not also need to be reflected in the broader picture—for example, if there were a mayor for Oxfordshire and a number of combined authorities?
My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point, and I recognise his long experience in local government and his interest in the matter throughout his time in the House. It is perfectly true that we must look at the situation in the shire counties, particularly where two-tier arrangements apply. I very much hope that we will see county devolution deals as well, because the strategic counties of England are potentially just as much economic drivers as our great cities, but we will need tailored governance arrangements to recognise the two-tier nature, which differs in its competence from that within the London boroughs or the metropolitan authorities.
May I associate myself with the very welcome proposals being made by my fellow co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for London? Given the complexity of London’s governance, it will be difficult for further devolution to happen if such proposals are not accepted by the Government. I endorse the view that is being expressed, and I hope that the Government will listen to it as means to promote further sensible devolution in London.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the new clause. It is not intended to be the definitive text, but I hope the Minister will take heart from the fact that any text brought forward by the Government is likely to enjoy cross-party support and is unlikely to impede the progress of the Bill, but will enhance the opportunity for devolution deals within London as a whole.
On the specific issues with which the new clause seeks to deal, subsection (1) provides the ability for a joint committee of London councils or of London councils and the Mayor to request in writing to the Secretary of State that arrangements be made for the delegation of a function that is currently carried out by a Minister or a Government Department to that committee. That illustrates that it is a voluntary ask; it is bottom-up devolution, where London government has achieved consensus in a particular area and makes a request to central Government for power to be handed down. That might include specific arrangements entered into for the discharge of particular functions, or perhaps for a particular geography.
It is worth bearing in mind that, as the Minister knows, because of its size and complexity, London has different economies in different areas and distinct sets of identities. In south-east London, where there are four London boroughs which were once part of Kent, we face different issues in relation to our labour markets, our transport infrastructure or our housing markets from those in central London, those in east London, which are dominated by the development potential of the Thames gateway, or those in west London, where there is the old Middlesex railway, the industrial complex and now Heathrow and the impact of silicon valley outside the London boundary. There will be potentially different asks from different arrangements within London, and because of the division of power between the London boroughs and the Mayor, in most cases but not necessarily all, the two tiers are likely to be involved. Subsection (1) would make arrangements for that. We think that that provides sufficient scope for such matters to be agreed.
Subsection (2) provides that that voluntary joint committee can make its own provisions, as necessary, in relation to voting powers, its executive arrangements and so on. The voting powers include the protection of minority interests among the constituent parties. We considered whether that would be adequately determined by existing provisions under the Local Government Act 1972, which I am sure everyone in the Chamber is familiar with and reads on a daily basis. Case law suggests that the courts have indicated that the 1972 Act provisions have to be construed in such a way as to provide for binding decisions to be taken on the basis of a simple majority. If that is so, we need a legislative position to entrench the position of a qualified majority to give protection to minority interests within the broader devolution arrangements.
The clause also makes arrangements for the transfer of property—for example, there may be operational assets of the function that are to be transferred and that would more sensibly be held by the joint committee than by the constituent authorities.
Subsection (3), consistent with the philosophy of a bottom-up and voluntarist approach, requires that the request under subsection (1) has the agreement of all the members of the joint committee. If there is a unanimous ask, that is one of the key things about which we must approach the Government. Subsection (4) consists of definitions. Subsection (5) imposes the usual limitations so that the clause deals with operational matters, but not the ability to impose charges or the quasi-legal powers that local authorities have in certain respects. Subsection (6) deals with potential variations, ensuring that they are made by unanimity and triggered by members of the joint committee.
Those parts of the new clause provide a triple lock on the provisions of the Bill. The request must be made on a voluntary basis, entering into the agreement must be accepted on a voluntary basis, and any variation must be on a voluntary basis or by unanimity. I hope that that is a sensible and practical means of taking a devolution ask forward.
Subsection (7) would require the Secretary of State, when he or she has received such a request, to consult London government and the Mayor. That is the right thing to do in terms of transparency and consensus. It also deals with an issue alluded to in some of the other amendments and new clauses—that we should consider the knock-on effects on surrounding authorities, such that if, say, four or five London boroughs wish, with the Mayor, to have a devolution ask, there should be an obligation to consult on any potential adverse impacts on their neighbours.
Subsection (8) relates to the transfer of property rights or liabilities as appropriate. The ask can include such a transfer, and then operational assets and other things can be handed over.
Subsection (9) is intended to deal with the technical legal aspect of any risk of potential hybridity in the arrangements. It has been drawn up in careful consultation with lawyers, but we are very open to discussion with the Minister and his departmental officials about exactly the best means of achieving these objectives.
When the Minister responds, I hope favourably, to the enabling of a Greater London devolution ask, will he confirm the position on the case law, which appears to make it inappropriate to use the existing 1972 Act provisions? In particular, those provisions would not be sufficient to enable a ministerial delegation to joint committees formed under section 101(5) of the Act. Moreover, London boroughs do not appear to be permitted authorities for the purposes of delegation under section 16(1) of the Localism Act 2011, and they cannot take on the functions of other public bodies. I can only blame the then Minister for having missed this very important point, but we all sometimes learn from the experience of legislation in practice. The new clause seeks to rectify these lacunae, and I hope that its objective is shared across the Committee.
I want to talk about the very broad amendments that I have tabled. New clause 29 and new schedule 2 get to the heart of the debate—that is, we can have all the powers you like, but if we do not have the financial capability to use them effectively, they are an empty charade. We are accompanied in this Chamber by people of great expertise, with at least three former leaders of councils and other colleagues who have great experience on local authorities. Robert Neill—my hon. Friend, if I may call him that—has great experience that he put to the service of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament. He enhanced our reports particularly where they touched on local government. There is great expertise in the Chamber, and I defy anyone to counter the truism that without finance powers are useless.
That is why I return again to the question of what happens next on devolution. This Bill is absolutely essential. The Minister has heard me say on many occasions that it is a good Bill that makes good progress, but he has also heard me ask on many occasions, “What comes next? Once the foundations are in, what do we do to build a more secure construction on them?”
If the Minister does not intend to accept my new clauses, I ask him to look to the future and to consider how we can expand the financial capability of local government. We can do that in a number of areas. Indeed, my Select Committee in the last Parliament inspired me to draft the Local Government (Independence) Bill, which is available from all good Vote Offices or even from me, should anyone who is viewing the debate care to read it. It laid out a number of areas where we could use existing precedent to free local government in England and enable proper devolution.
One of the key precedents was and is Scotland. The efforts of Donald Dewar, the Scottish citizens convention, the coalition’s Scotland Act 2012 and the cross-party consensus among those of us who do not wish to split up the Union and who support the current Scotland Bill, which delivers on the promise that was made before the Scottish referendum, have all contributed to enhancing the capability of the Scottish Parliament to raise and retain its own income.
What is good enough for Scotland is good enough for England. England would need a different mechanism to deliver the heart of the deal, which is income tax assignment, but it is not beyond the wit of mankind to create that capability. Drawing on the lessons of the Scottish experience, we could soon get to a position where income tax assignment, channelled through the Department for Communities and Local Government, filtered down into a clear, honest and accountable amount of income tax without having to make any changes to the rates, the method of collection or equalisation. That would provide local people with transparency and clarity with regard to where and when their income tax is spent, via central Government, by local councils and local authorities. That would be a significant step forward, just as the Scotland Act 2012 was for the Scottish people.
On equalisation, many people get anxious about income tax assignment and say, “That means you’re retaining the income tax raised in your locality,” but that is not what it means. As happens now, income tax would go to the centre and it would be reallocated through the existing formula or a slightly changed formula, depending on the consensus at the time. Equalisation would stay exactly the same as it is now, unless all players—including, above all, local government, perhaps represented by the Local Government Association—consented to any change.
The Local Government (Independence) Bill was the product of a lot of thinking involving academics, Queen’s counsel, the Public Bill Office and this House, to try to make sure that everything was defined as accurately as possible so that it could be legislated on. It outlines ways in which local government could raise additional income, but with the very strong caveat that it could not use any additional sources of income unless it involved local people in the decision and they agreed to them. The issue has been discussed before on the Floor of the House, and we raised the obvious example of charging a hotel tax—or bed tax, as it is sometimes called—if local people consent to it. The heart of devolution is represented not by the Government saying, “Everybody should do this”, but by the freedom of local areas to try, if they wish, to get the consent of people in their locality.
Members have touched repeatedly on the idea that that approach will be so much stronger if it is done voluntarily. Rather than looking for ways to get out of a straitjacket, people will be seeking means to join the club of local authorities that can raise money in particular ways. They would learn from each other, from the experience of colleagues down the road or from further afield and perhaps, as I have suggested in new clauses, from a best practice centre of some description—owned by local authorities, contributed to by central Government —to take devolution to the next step. Let us look at some of the good things that have happened, although not everywhere, and offer them to other authorities so that they can, if they wish, move forward.
I will not repeat the arguments, but I want briefly to raise another matter. The Local Government (Independence) Bill proposed that local government’s ability to raise bonds or loans should be much clearer to ordinary people. We heard earlier about transport issues. If someone wished to raise a bond on the local government bond market, which is a multi-trillion dollar market in America, they could use their credit rating—people are more likely to be willing to take a risk on local government than on central Government—to raise bonds or loans. I argue very strongly that should happen once there has been a debate with local people, not because someone in a closed finance committee or the mayor and his or her deputy made a decision in a smoke-filled room. People should be involved so that we can ensure they have signed up to raising bonds to create a dozen children’s centres, an early intervention programme or whatever it may be, and so that they will watch such a project and take pride in its success, as people who do in so many civic arenas. The people in Nottingham are very proud of their tram system and their workplace parking levy that raises money for all sorts of transport projects in our city. Every Member of the House could reel off examples of their own.
That is at the heart of the new clauses I have tabled, but there is one last and very significant bottom line. We have so often seen central Government offer local government baubles or a few extra crumbs on this, that or the other, but when it suits central Government—of all parties—they take back what they had recently given away. If devolution is to mean anything, it has to be sustainable. It cannot be that if a Secretary of State does not like something an authority is doing—for example, re-establishing grammar schools—they can say, “I don’t like that. I’m going to take back that power.” No, the Secretary of State must win the argument about schooling. The same would apply if a local authority had ownership of the Work programme and everything to do with tackling employment, but the Secretary of State said, “No, I don’t think they’re doing it right; I wouldn’t do it like that” and sought to take back such powers.
If devolution is to mean anything, it must be permanent and entrenched. If it is entrenched, people can get on with it, build and have some certainty. At our disposal, we have number of weapons to entrench a proper settlement for English devolution. We can give local government independence and then protect that behind the Parliament Act 1911 so that any attempt to veto or to suck back powers can be refused by the second Chamber, or perhaps the device of a super-majority—it defends our right always to have a fixed-term Parliament of five years—could be used to defend the rights of local government. Without that protection, such powers are favours, not rights.
Finally, I want to touch on a minor but important issue—tabled as my new clause 33—that has been raised with me by the National Association of Local Councils, who represent town and parish councils. I hope that the Minister will reassure me on this point, which relates to local energy production. In Germany, local energy that comes from renewable sources accounts for 46% of all renewable energy. In the UK, it accounts for less than 1%—0.3% is produced by our localities. That is an appalling record in anybody’s book. I hope that we can liberate our parish and town councils and those who currently cannot sell their electricity that is made by renewables. That would do everybody a favour. Currently, Cambourne parish council is inhibited in doing what it would like to do.
This relatively minor change could see the development of cost-effective solar panelling on school and community centre roofs. I will not press new clause 33 to a vote and if the Minister is not prepared to respond to it today, I would be most grateful if he wrote to me. It was put to me in a spirit of consensus by the National Association of Local Councils.
I will finish with one small example of how energy impinges on what we are talking about today. I have talked of boasting about civic pride, and it is a matter of pride that Nottingham City Council has launched Robin Hood Energy. Every domestic consumer can apply to that not-for-profit organisation and get the best tariff from all the existing suppliers. That has been done in an era of massive constraint on local government. Just imagine what local government could do if it was free to be sensitive to what the delivery of local energy could mean both at the district and county level and, as under new clause 33, at the parish and town council level.
I will not ask the Committee to vote on the new clauses I have tabled. I have put them down as a marker. If the Minister wants to take forward the debate about what will come next in the English devolution arena, I will send him my personal copy of the Local Government (Independence) Bill—signed or unsigned, whatever he prefers—to give him ideas that might find the light of day the next time we legislate on devolution.
I will say a few words about new clause 30. The Bill includes plenty of references to elected mayors and their powers. Indeed, much of our debate has centred on elected mayors. I have long supported the idea of elected mayors and very much welcome their introduction into legislation. However, the Bill deals with larger areas such as combined authorities, large cities and the larger counties. It does not address the possibility of elected mayors in smaller councils and communities.
I acknowledge that the Government want this change to come from the bottom up, with local authorities coming together to put forward ideas and proposals, hence all the deals that we have heard about up and down the country in recent days—I am sure that there are many more to come. I understand that process, although I do not wholly agree with it at all times. I sometimes think that there needs to be greater direction from the centre. Nevertheless, the Government are moving in the right direction.
New clause 30, which my hon. Friend Martin Vickers and I tabled, is a small change that would allow smaller council areas and communities, which are unaffected by this legislation in many respects, to consider having an elected mayor in a simpler way and give their populaces the opportunity to vote on the prospect of an elected mayor. For example, there is an elected Mayor of London, but of the 32 boroughs underneath that, only about two have elected mayors.
I would like other boroughs to have an easier opportunity at least to consider the prospect of an elected mayor, and to extend that provision to other parts of the country. It is my view, and that of my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, that the hurdles that prevent such an opportunity from being made as easy as possible for local communities are currently too high. Requiring 5% of the local electorate to sign a petition to bring about a referendum is a high figure. One or two places up and down the country have achieved 5%—indeed, Copeland District Council in Cumbria managed to achieve that figure, and people subsequently voted in a referendum for an elected mayor.
New clause 30 is a small change that would enable local people—with the support of a reasonable but realistic number of members of the public—to bring about a referendum, and I suggest that the Government change the requirement in the Bill to 1%. That does not necessarily mean that there will be an elected mayor; it means that that community will get the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether they would like one. I accept that some places will reject that opportunity, but if more such opportunities exist we will start to see more elected mayors in different parts of the country and it will become an established form of local government. I firmly believe that that is far more transparent and accountable, and it will provide real leadership in different parts of the country.
I look forward to the Minister’s response, and would be delighted if he accepts the new clause so that it can be incorporated into the Bill and mean that referendums can be held across the country over the next few years on a regular basis. I appreciate that he will probably want to consider the matter, and I will not be pressing the new clause to a vote. I ask him to consider the issue seriously, however, and to see whether he can reduce the 5% to a percentage that is more realistic and will enable local communities across the country to petition for a referendum and decide whether they wish to have an elected mayor.
I wish to raise two issues that the Government and the Committee will have to deal with at some point. When I spoke on Second Reading, I indicated that I was generally supportive of the Bill. I have reservations about some aspects and details of it, but the direction of travel is essentially right, as is the idea that devolution will happen and is on the agenda, and there is a good deal of cross-party support for it. That is an important step change from how things were when I first came to the House in 1992, or in many subsequent years. We are seeing progress. Members of the House are standing up and talking positively about devolution, and no one is saying “Local councils can’t do that—they can’t be trusted”, which was very much the attitude a few years ago.
I am comfortable and supportive of that idea, but we need a dialogue and debate about two important issues. The first has been raised continually by my hon. Friend Mr Allen, who chaired the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament. He was a strong advocate for trying to codify or set in a more formal arrangement the powers of local government and its relationship with the centre. That is important because there is a danger that some powers and aspects of policy will be devolved to local councils, but that other powers—without talking about centralisation or taking anything back to the centre—will be removed from local councils, and more controls introduced in their place.
There are currently two Bills before the House, and I expect the Minister is considering them both fairly widely. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is about devolution. That is welcome, and we can discuss how devolution should take place. We also have the Housing and Planning Bill, and the Royal Town Planning Institute said that it was astonished at the amount of planning centralisation in that Bill. With starter homes, measures in the Bill are attempting to decide on the nature of section 106 agreements, which are essentially agreements about a particular site between a local authority and a developer. That is a particularly wide issue.
In the last Parliament, the Government portrayed the stand-alone housing revenue accounts as a major mechanism of decentralisation—a means of devolving power to local councils—but look at the changes that are now going through. My concern is that measures before Parliament at the same time as this Bill will take control over rents from so-called high earners and, through rules on inflation increases, over the total rent charged. Those changes will row back on the policy in the last Parliament of giving local authorities powers over their housing revenue accounts on a stand-alone basis. What was given in the last Parliament will be taken back without recognising that it will reverse devolution and move back to a centrist approach.
I will try to get back on to the straight and narrow, Mrs Main.
My point is that we need a time of reflection, with a discussion between Government, local government and this House about the framework for the constitutional relationships between the centre and local authorities of whatever kind, including combined authorities, so that we can look at the balance of powers and perhaps put down some markers or mechanisms for ensuring that the devolution we all support today is not taken back tomorrow. We need something of that kind. A constitutional convention has been mentioned—the Government may not like those words, but we need some mechanism to enable that to happen.
My second point is about fiscal devolution. My hon. Friend Mr Reed quoted the report from the Select Committee in the last Parliament, and John Stevenson was a member of the Committee. We produced the report on an all-party basis. We followed the London Finance Commission, which was promoted by the Mayor of London and supported by the London boroughs. By and large, we agreed the report, albeit with some embellishments, with the London Finance Commission, and we had support from the core cities, but it was almost dismissed by the Government as an irrelevancy—something that they did not want to pursue.
I am pleased that the Government are looking at the total localisation of business rates. How they do that will be critical, including dealing with the issue of rewarding councils that get more development in their areas and at the same time protecting those areas where development is not as easy to achieve. Achieving some element of redistribution in the mechanism will be key. Nevertheless, the Government have accepted the need for some more fiscal devolution in principle. They now need to consider how it can be right that any increase in the one tax over which local government has total control—the council tax—is restricted by the need for a referendum. No other tax raised by central Government requires a referendum on any increase. I did not agree with the previous Government’s policy on council tax capping—I refused to vote for that on several occasions, as it is a very centralist policy.
The tax also has not been revalued for 25 years. That is nonsense. The council tax is the one tax over which local government has some degree of control, but it does not control the bands. There must be some flexibility there to recognise the extraordinary difference between amount of tax paid and the value of houses in the top and bottom bands. The difference in the values of the houses is much wider than the amount of council tax paid. Local councils need more flexibility and the ability to control that. As the London Finance Commission said, and the Select Committee agreed, let us also look at stamp duty and other property taxes. Let us consider giving local councils freedom to set business rates. I know that the Government want to bring in some freedoms, but they could go wider. Could local government have a right to be allocated a certain percentage of income tax?
Those are all ideas. All I am saying to the Government is that once this wave of devolution is going through, with cross-party support and local councils entering into it and putting in bids, can we at least have some indication that they will step back at some point and have a serious look at wider fiscal devolution? Ultimately, simply giving to local councils the power to spend money that has been handed out from the centre is not real devolution at all. It is power to spend the money the Chancellor gives out. What councils need for real devolution is the greater power to raise that money in the first place.
New clause 31 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston. It concerns the Government’s intent to devolve more powers to local representatives, but proposes pushing the boat out a little further into terrain that, nationally, we have been a little bit tentative about. Devolved powers are allowed to make a decision on Sunday trading. Whether local areas should be able to decide on Sunday trading, and other such issues, is a debate for another day—or, hopefully, not at all.
New clause 31 concerns the minimum unit pricing of alcohol. At one point, the Government and the Prime Minister took the view that the case had been made back in 2008 by the Department of Health. Such pricing would assist directly in tackling health harms relating to the excessive use of alcohol. At that time, the Government were consulting not on whether, but how much. However, the ups and downs of coalition government and other concerns, not least from those on the Government Benches, led to the measure not seeing the light of day. This is an excellent opportunity to bring it back to the light. We can allow local authorities to have the power to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold within their areas.
As has been said, local authorities already have some degree of power to set a price under the licensing regime. I understand that in Newcastle two bars have become the first in the United Kingdom to be licensed to sell alcohol at a minimum price in excess of £1 a unit. I am not sure how popular those bars will be, not least because I am now publicising them, but that is part of the licensing regime in Newcastle. The bars have been licensed subject to a condition that alcohol is sold at set prices that equate to a minimum price of £1.25 per unit of alcohol—nearly three times the 45p per unit price that was subject to the Government consultation.
My understanding is that that price was agreed to keep the street as the city’s premier street. This initiative by the city council, with the full co-operation of the applicants, is designed to maintain the quality of the city centre, control crime and disorder, and improve health. It seeks to end the availability of irresponsibly priced alcohol by controlling multi-buy promotions that lead to irresponsible drinking. That is the approach being followed, in a somewhat limited way, by Newcastle. I understand that Ipswich also had a licensing and prices regime to tackle the impact of excessive alcohol, in particular in relation to super-strength ciders and lagers.
The Bill seeks to reduce the bureaucracy that gets in the way of empowering local areas to do what should be reasonable: to help to have a significant impact on the health harms affecting their local area.
I am interested to hear my hon. Friend’s speech. One of the main problems in my constituency is people preloading with alcohol: buying from a supermarket, drinking it at home and then going out for an evening. He talks about premium prices applying to bars. How would his suggestion work if I could drive literally just a couple of miles down the road to a supermarket, buy my alcohol, come back and drink it at home?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I hope he will support me in calling on the Government to set a national minimum unit price to avoid that precise problem.
The argument has been made, in respect of Sunday trading and other issues, that if we let local areas decide, we might get a domino effect, but I would welcome it if areas without minimum unit pricing, for example, quickly realised that they needed to deal with the problem. These sorts of powers inevitably have a domino effect. It must be the intent of devolution to spread these powers around. The Government say they are keen to devolve such powers in a wide variety of areas. Given that there is real evidence—much more evidence, frankly, than on Sunday trading—of health benefits from minimum unit pricing, why not give local areas the power to decide for themselves?
Might not one slight problem be the potential incentive to do it the other way around, meaning that the one place without a minimum alcohol price ends up with lots of supermarkets looking to locate within it?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but the sad reality is that in all our communities we have an increasing problem with excessive alcohol consumption, and it is affecting all our local accident and emergency departments and health services. Evidence shows that minimum unit pricing tackles the problem drinkers on our streets who do not travel far to areas with cheaper alcohol. It has a particular impact on problem drinkers. It is not the only way of dealing with excessive alcohol drinking, but it is a particularly good one.
My proposal would tackle the problem of bureaucracy and red tape facing local areas going through the licensing regime and applying for permission from the Secretary of State to set a minimum alcohol price. This is unnecessary and unwelcome. The Government have said they want to remove red tape and regulation. Why not do so when it comes to setting minimum unit prices? I might be pre-empting the Minister, but he might say, “Sorry, we can’t do this because it’s not lawful. Scotland, which has devolved responsibility in this area, has tried minimum pricing, and it is being challenged in the courts.” I can assure him, however, that we need not worry about the legal issues in Scotland, because, as Aidan Robertson, a leading Queen’s counsel, said in response to the legal challenge, there
“are no valid grounds in EU law for resisting Minimum Unit Pricing”.
“It is a matter of considerable regret”—
“that implementation of the Scottish legislation has been held up by legal challenges from the drinks industry… The questions referred to the Court of Justice European Union do not…disclose any ground under EU law on which the validity of the legislation may be impugned. Minimum unit pricing for alcohol ought to be permitted as an innovative attempt to tackle a serious health and social problem facing Scotland.”
Scotland should not be alone in benefiting from this; minimum unit pricing is something for England, Wales and other devolved areas. Areas with elected Mayors should also have the power to introduce minimum unit pricing. I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition support the new clause, given that, as I understand it, minimum unit pricing was in their manifesto.
There is evidence, not least from Sheffield University, that setting the minimum price at 50p per unit could save up to 50,000 people from illness in a decade. We cannot ignore the evidence: we are all aware from our constituencies of the impact on individuals of excessive alcohol consumption. This issue is not going away. I implore the Government to seize this matter, to reconsider a national minimum unit price and to reactivate the consultation, which has been kicked into the long grass. In the meantime, perhaps they can look at what happens in local areas and establish a testing ground in areas under the governance of elected Mayors, instead of just relying on Scotland. That makes sense and the time has come. If the Government cannot see that the time has come, let local authorities be set free to get on with it.
On a similar theme, new clause 32 recognises that devolving powers is often a good thing. It is not just about the fiscal and economic benefits, because when deals are struck with various authorities, there is a social deal as well as an economic one. That social deal is picked up by new clause 32, which is designed to put a family test on local authorities. It does so to help authorities deal with a situation that we are all too aware of: the cost of family breakdown. The Relationships Alliance has costed that at about £47 billion. We must find ways to tackle the problem, and one way is to test the powers that are devolved through to the mayoral or combined authorities.
Such a family test is referred to in new clause 32, and it lists similar headings that the Government have highlighted as important across all policy areas. No doubt the Ministers on the Treasury Bench have looked carefully at everything in the Bill to see how the family test is applied. The family test headings are listed, and the first is “family formation”, in which I have no doubt that Mr Allen would be interested. The other headings are
“families going through key transitions…all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life…with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities…families before, during and after couple separation; and…those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown.”
No doubt local areas could take those headings for the family test a stage further. It is important to do so.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. He will know that the Prime Minister said in August 2014, when introducing the family test, that he wanted every Government Department to be held to account for the impact of its policies on the family, ensuring that every single domestic policy that the Government come up with will be examined for its impact on the family. That is important for national Governments, but given that local areas are that much closer to families and the impact of their own policies on families, it is surely logical to continue the process into local areas and local governance.
That is why new clause 32 is designed to introduce a family test to put into practice what the national Government say they are doing. I understand that it takes time for the national Government to found a family test “with teeth”, to use the words of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on
I would like to encourage a positive response to new clause 32. Next month, my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell is introducing a private Member’s Bill on the very issue of the family test—the Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill, which will seek to put the family test into statutory form and ensure that local government has a reporting mechanism. If my new clause does not go through today—I am probably not going to press the matter, but look forward to a positive response from the Minister—there may be further opportunity through my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill.
New clause 37 takes us into a whole different area of governance, as it deals with disqualification for election and holding office as a member of a local authority. The present situation goes back all the way to subsection 1(d) of section 80 of the Local Government Act 1933, which provides that a person shall be disqualified from being elected or remaining a member of a local authority if during the preceding five years he has been convicted and sentenced to at least three months’ imprisonment, whether or not suspended.
I am grateful to Councillor Terry Neville, the Conservative group leader of Enfield council, for bringing this issue to my attention. He is a magistrate, so will know of the change in sentencing practice. He has not been a magistrate since 1933, but from his recent years of experience, he will know that it takes a lot for someone to be sentenced to over three months’ imprisonment. He brought to my attention—I was not aware of it previously—that an individual who has been convicted of such a serious offence that they have been imprisoned for more than three months can still remain a councillor.
This issue has particular relevance in Enfield. In my constituency, Councillor Nesimi Erbil was convicted of two offences of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. On
Owing to the 1933 Act, that councillor continues to be free to sit on committees and have influence over the people of Enfield. He can sit on planning committees—and, indeed, licensing committees, on one of which he sat after his conviction for the fraudulent licence offence. That does not seem to match up with his having received a sentence of imprisonment. This amendment to the Act would ensure that any councillor convicted of an offence warranting a custodial sentence, whatever its length, was disqualified. We need that modernisation of a limit that dates back to 1933. I am not sure why the Act specified a three-month limit, but I think that we can do a lot better in 2015.
As we devolve more powers to councillors, it is important for public confidence to be maintained. Allowing people like Councillor Erbil to continue in their posts after being convicted of fraud and sentenced to imprisonment will not instil public confidence. The best that we can hope for at present is the establishment of a standards committee to look into such matters, and the operation of internal party discipline—although those concerned can still draw a councillor’s allowance and sit as independents.
I urge the Minister to look favourably on the clause, and to confirm that what may have been appropriate in 1933 cannot be right in 2015.
Those of us with long local government experience never expected any Government to deliver devolution to this extent. I welcome what the present Government are doing, and I know that it is welcomed in local government throughout the country. For many years Governments of both colours drew more and more powers to the centre, and it is extremely pleasing to see that being reversed.
I have been a supporter of elected mayors for many years. In my own authority, I tried to secure a petition with the required 5% support 12 or 13 years ago. The problem is that that percentage is very difficult to achieve if a small number of people are involved, and particularly difficult to achieve within the 12-month period that is specified in the current legislation.
Elected mayors are often very unpopular with sitting councillors, who see them as a threat to their cosy arrangements whereby the roundabout turns and either the Tories or Labour take over. I think that where that resistance still exists, we need to allow residents—the general public—to initiate a petition with the modest threshold of 1% that is proposed in new clause 30, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend John Stevenson. I think that that would encourage local people to support an elected mayor, or at least to kick-start the journey towards securing one by initiating the referendum process when resistance is high in the local authority.
We may be seeing proof of the rule that if Back Benchers remain consistent, some Government at some time or other will eventually agree with them. Over the last 15 years or so we have seen both sides of the House run hot and cold on the issue of elected mayors, but those of us—such as my hon. Friend and me—who remain consistent can now put up the flags and welcome the fact that the Government are moving towards the idea of not just elected mayors, but elected mayors with even more power than we anticipated. I hope that the Government will at least give a clear indication that they will look favourably on our proposal to reduce the threshold and give power to local residents.
That is all very well, but in the case of a large rural county such as Lincolnshire, it would be quite wrong for the Government to say, “If you want devo-max, you must have a mayor.” It makes sense to have a mayor of London, Birmingham or Manchester, but it does not make sense to have a mayor of a large rural county.
I see the logic of that, but my hon. Friend will know that in greater Lincolnshire the authorities have already come together and put a proposal forward, although they have not gone for the full package. I hope they eventually will, just as I hope that eventually the combined authorities emerging from this process will evolve into a super-unitary authority headed by an elected mayor. My hon. Friend would make an admirable mayor of Lincolnshire—governor of Lincolnshire, even.
Yes, high commissioner for Lincolnshire.
When I was reading the amendments, I was struck by new clause 32(3)(c) which talks about
“all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life”.
I shall therefore conclude by praising the Government for withdrawing their proposal to devolve powers on Sunday trading to local authorities or elected mayors. It would have been a retrograde step that would have hit many hard-working families that run the corner shop, the newsagents and so on—just the sort of people the Government should be looking after. I welcome that and praise the Government—and praising the Government is a good point to conclude on.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on this group of amendments. I have listened to the debate and, while I understand a number of the points raised, I am afraid I cannot support any of the new clauses, as I will endeavour to explain.
I will begin with new clause 24, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers. By the end of this Parliament the local government sector will retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local government services. For the first time in decades, local areas will see the full direct benefit of business rate growth in their area. We wish to end the merry-go-round of clawing back local taxes to Whitehall and handing them out again in the form of grants. We will, of course, however, maintain redistribution between councils so that local authorities do not lose out.
We will be working with local authorities over the coming days and weeks on this ambitious agenda. It is our intention to devolve far-reaching powers within a framework of strong, accountable, transparent governance, and strong delivery capability. We will be setting out our detailed proposals in due course and, in light of this, I hope all parts of the House would agree that this new clause, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers, is unnecessary. I recognise the comments of Mr Betts on this new clause, and his desire to see at the end of this process a period of reflection and consideration. I think there is merit in what he says. We will see how things progress, but certainly we will need to look at the totality of what has been done before deciding what next steps may ultimately then follow.
New clause 29 and accompanying new schedule 2 would provide for a local government independence code, defining the relationship between central Government and local authorities, and would make provision about their financial independence and conduct. Such codification is somewhat contrary to our constitutional traditions, and I do not think we need to go down the route set out by this new clause. We always want clarity in the deals we do—we always want to have discussions with local government about the future they see for themselves—but we see no need for what would be a very restraining and unnecessarily legalistic approach to the relationship between central and local government. We will, of course, look to the future, as Mr Allen asked. He is an ambitious advocate of devolution in all its guises and where it can go, and I look forward to having, I am sure, many more debates in future about this topic with him.
New clause 30 seeks to reduce the minimum percentage of local government electors in a local authority area required for a petition to trigger a referendum on its governance model. My hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) have spoken eloquently on this issue. It is an issue that I know they care about. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes, famed for his consistency, is of course someone who stands by his beliefs and is, I think, in line and in tune with the sentiment of what the Government are doing in this area on this occasion. However, I cannot suggest we should support his new clause because the Local Government Act 2000 gives both the Secretary of State, and Welsh Ministers where relevant in Wales, a power to make regulations concerning public petitions in relation to whether a local authority should hold a referendum about changing its governance arrangements, for example to adopt a directly elected mayor. The regulations can already specify the minimum number of electors who must sign a petition for it to be valid, and the default position if the regulations do not specify any such threshold is 5%, which is also the current threshold for England. I have listened to hon. Members’ arguments, and I am happy to have further discussions about the actions the Government should take in the exercise of those powers, but I do not think it necessary to make this amendment to the Bill at this time.
New clause 31 would allow the Secretary of State, by order, to give power to the mayor of a combined authority to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold in the combined authority area, with the mayor’s power being exercisable only following consultation on the proposed level of that price. The Government have recently undertaken a nationwide consultation on the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol, which raised a number of issues, including the potential economic impact of minimum unit pricing and the possibility of unintended impacts on businesses. The new clause’s proposed piecemeal, localised minimum alcohol pricing would risk consumers simply travelling outside the area of the authority to purchase cheaper alcohol in a neighbouring area.
I understand that in Scotland the policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol has been legally challenged, and that the European Court of Justice has yet to express a final view. The introduction of a minimum unit price therefore remains under consideration. My hon. Friend Mr Burrowes has made clear his desire to see the policy pursued, but for the reasons I have outlined we have no plans to devolve the matter at this time. We will therefore oppose the new clause.
New clause 32 seeks to introduce a requirement for mayoral combined authorities to publish annual reports about their performance in applying elements of the family test. The family test applies to the development of central Government policy. It recognises the fundamental impacts that central Government decisions can have on families and introduces an explicit family perspective into the policy-making process. However, it would not be devolutionary to start prescribing in detail how mayors or combined authorities should go about exercising their functions. We therefore have no plans to require mayoral combined authorities to apply a family test—a test that was in fact designed to be applied to policy decisions with national impact.
Turning to new clause 33, I want to start by saying that we value the important role of parish councils and that we support local government in innovating and achieving value for money, especially when such money is reinvested into communities. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked some specific questions, which I shall now answer, on the powers of parishes to sell electricity that they generate. A specific example would involve electricity generated from renewable sources.
There is no need to amend the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to enable the sale of electricity generated by parish councils. Through the general power of competence in section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 and through section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, it is already possible for parish councils to sell the electricity they generate, depending on the circumstances. I suspect that the new clause was tabled to seek clarity, and should my comments not provide sufficient clarity I shall of course be happy to speak to interested Members after the debate to ensure that any concerns are properly addressed.
I turn now to new clause 36, tabled by Labour Members, which would require a combined authority with devolved functions to consider the impact on neighbouring local authority areas. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary or appropriate. The statute provides that combined authorities must exercise their functions in relation to their area. That area, of course, is the area that Parliament has approved when establishing the combined authority. It is an area that equally has enabled the combined authority to satisfy the statutory tests—that is, it is an area in which, if functions are exercised, that exercise of functions will result in an improvement compared with what would otherwise be the case. Indeed, the Bill provides that functions cannot be devolved to a combined authority if the Secretary of State does not consider that that would lead to an improvement in the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority’s area.
The new clause seeks to provide some further requirement about how, once established, a combined authority should go about the exercise of the functions devolved to it. As with local authorities, combined authorities must take their decisions having regard to all relevant considerations. Just as local authorities cannot be blind to the impact of their decisions beyond their boundaries, nor can combined authorities; and just as local authorities are able to form joint committees with neighbouring authorities to manage activities that could have an impact beyond their areas, so can combined authorities. Hence, as I have said, the proposed new clause is neither necessary nor appropriate for inclusion in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate has also tabled new clause 37, which would amend section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 so that a councillor who received any sentence of imprisonment, including a suspended one, would be disqualified. At present, a councillor is disqualified only if they have received a sentence of imprisonment, suspended or not, of not less than three months without the option of a fine.
Previous Governments have recognised that section 80 needs to be updated, not least to take account of modern sentencing guidelines, and we agree that change is necessary. Many things have changed since 1972, and this section is in need of amendment. At the beginning of this year, the Electoral Commission’s report “Standing for election in the UK” recommended that the Government clarify and update the law relating to the qualifications for local government elections. Our strong preference is to consult on change, and to work with colleagues in the local government sector and the Electoral Commission in considering the scope of section 80, rather than make piecemeal amendments through this Bill. This work will include not only reviewing and possibly amending the rules of disqualification relating to sentencing, but reviewing other rules about the qualification for standing for election, including rules about employees standing for election and about residence. I would like to thank my hon. Friend for bringing this proposal to the attention of the Committee. I know that he has a pressing constituency issue, which he explored in his comments and which highlights the need to make progress. I hope, however, that he will recognise that it is important that that is done in a considered and sensible way, as well as in a timely way, and that an amendment to this Bill is not the appropriate way to do that at this time.
New clause 38 was tabled by my hon. Friend Robert Neill and it relates to London. I recognise the work that has gone into it. It is an interesting clause that clearly seeks to raise an important point that matters not only to him but to Members from across the House who take an interest in devolution and such matters in London. If accepted, the clause would enable ministerial functions to be devolved to voluntary joint committees of London councils and to such committees acting jointly with the Mayor of London. I understand from his explanatory statement that the purpose of the amendment is to provide
“for decision-making arrangements to enable operational delegation to groups of London local authorities and for the strategic governance of devolved responsibilities to be shared between London authorities and the Mayor through an appropriately constituted joint committee.”
We have always made it clear that for functions to be devolved to local authorities arrangements ensuring strong and clear accountability must be put in place. The new clause appears to be an attempt to formalise joint committee arrangements, while making it clear that London authorities will have the freedom to enter into their own constitutional arrangements for joint committees, including arrangements involving the Mayor of London. We do not believe that the informal nature of the proposed arrangements provides the strong and clear accountability that would support the devolution of the functions of either a Minister or a Department to a joint committee. However, I do recognise that giving more substance to multi-borough partnerships, which are already delivering innovative pilots in the areas of health, employment and skills, could help provide clearer lines of accountability and enable them to take on more ambitious programmes in the future. I am happy, therefore, for departmental officials to work with London further to explore options and I am of course happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend after the progress that we hope this Bill will have made today.
Finally, new clause 39 seeks to place in the Bill a specific requirement for the Secretary of State to prepare guidance for combined authorities on effective strategic planning for environmental problems and green infrastructure no later than three months after the passing of this Act. As with some of the other amendments we have discussed today, providing for central prescription in this way goes against what this Bill is about; we are engaged in the business of reversing many years of centralisation.
With that, and the explanations I have given on the other provisions in this group, I hope that hon. Members will not push their amendments to a vote. The Government intend to resist them. We have had another interesting, useful and productive discussion on a wide range of issues in this group. It has informed the debate about devolution more generally in a helpful and productive way. On that basis, I hope we can continue to build consensus, can deliver this Bill and can deliver on our commitments.
I agree with the Minister that this has been a good, interesting and productive debate. He says he is in listening mode. I am not sure he is hearing quite as much as we might have hoped, but I recognise his intention to build consensus, which is necessary for the important, incremental, constitutional change we have before us this afternoon.
Robert Neill put forward some proposals that have cross-party support and that would enable further and faster devolution for London. I hear what the Minister says, and I welcome his intention to work with London government and London councils to find a way to make these proposals work, because otherwise the complexity of London government will pull London back from the forefront of progress towards devolution across the country. We cannot consider London as a job done just because London was out there first.
My hon. Friend Mr Allen made some very important points about fiscal devolution, which must be a central part of any devolution package; otherwise, what we are doing is merely a charade. Even if the Minister is not able or willing to bring forward proposals in this Bill, we hope that the matter forms part of future legislation as we towards a more devolved settlement across the country.
I regret the Minister’s comments on new clause 36. Our proposals aim to help devolution to work better. Areas on the periphery of combined authorities should not be excluded from decisions that directly affect them. Our proposal merely creates the right to be consulted, which the Government have conceded when it comes to transport. They should consider it for matters of equal importance such as health. We will seek to push that new clause to the vote, but not new clause 39.
I note that the Minister did not respond to the issue of whether he would rule out Sunday trading from any future stages of this Bill. His silence will lead Members to draw their own conclusions about what is coming.
Having reflected on all the comments in the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 24.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.