Local Authority Boundaries (Referendums) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 25th February 2022.

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Second Reading

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 1:30 pm, 25th February 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Local representation matters. People need to have trust in their local authority, which is charged with acting in their best interest, regardless of which political party may be in charge at local level. Residents need to be reassured that the framework, the model, the structure and the geographical area represented mean that the local authority has the capacity and the capability of acting in their best interest.

My Local Authority Boundaries (Referendums) Bill aims to re-empower communities that feel completely disenfranchised and forgotten about, and that feel their local authority, by the very nature of its structure and the geographical area it represents, is incapable of acting in their best interest. The Bill would give communities the option to have their say in refocusing local councils on being local.

Let us not forget that local authorities perhaps have more important powers on an individual or family’s day-to-day life than any other level of government, whether it be highways, potholes, speeding cameras, housing, planning, schools, children’s services, adult services, bin collection, regeneration, driving economic growth, leisure centres or libraries—the list goes on.

I represent perhaps the best part of the United Kingdom. Keighley, Ilkley, Silsden, Steeton, Riddlesden, East Morton, Worth Valley and my wider constituency are full of passionate people who, quite rightly, are extremely proud of where they live. We have some fantastic businesses, large and small, from manufacturing, engineering and tech businesses to brilliant independent retail businesses, breweries and fantastic tourist attractions, all of which are keen to grow and expand their offering. For far too long the area I represent has felt completely unrepresented and not listened to by our local authority. This Bill aims to change that.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

My hon. Friend will agree that democracy is a process, not a state, and it evolves. Winston Churchill said:

“democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.—[Official Report, 11 November 1947; Vol. 444, c. 207.]

Does my hon. Friend agree with that, and does he agree that local democracy protects the interests of local residents, promotes equality, prevents the abuse of power and creates stability? Does he agree that these are all vital parts of the democracy for which he is fighting?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, because this Bill aims to reinstall local councils’ power to represent local people and to make sure that the area they represent feels represented so that delivery can happen at a local level. This Bill aims to address those points by creating our very own local council that can be more representative, more engaged and, most importantly, more focused on delivering for our area.

The mechanics of my Bill are simple: it aims to make provision to enable referendums to be held within parliamentary constituency areas to form new local authorities. It places a requirement on the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to lay regulations that would enable two or more parliamentary constituency areas in England to form a new local authority if, when combined, they form a continuous area. A petitioning system will be created to enable local government electors in any constituency area to indicate their support for a referendum to be held on the creation of a new local authority. If 10% or more of the people in those constituency areas give their support for a referendum via the petitioning system, a referendum will be able to be held among all electors within those constituency areas, proposing to form a new local authority area. Of course, once the referendum is held, if a majority of people have signalled that they want a new council to better represent them, the mechanics of setting up a new local authority should be enabled.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

In County Durham, several years ago, we had referendums on whether to abolish our local district councils and move to a unitary council system. One of the issues that we faced was that, despite referendums in which the overwhelming majority of the general public decided to back maintaining district councils, the greater local authority overruled them. Does my hon. Friend’s Bill have enough teeth in it at the moment, or will this be something to consider in Committee in order to ensure that those referendum results are respected by larger local authorities?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

If I recall, 76% of people across the County Durham area voted in favour of making sure that the local councils were kept. I think the turnout was only 40%—considerably low—but those electors were not listened to. This Bill provides the weight and the teeth necessary to ensure that local electors are listened to and their voice is heard.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Can I give my hon. Friend another example? In Christchurch there was a turnout more equivalent to that at a general election, and its people voted 84% in favour of retaining their independence, but were nevertheless run roughshod over by the Government.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

That is exactly what this Bill hopes to achieve: to instil local democracy in constituency areas that feel unrepresented by a much larger unitary authority, to enable them to have their say, and so that a local council can reflect their views and deliver for them locally, to ensure we can get better services delivered at a local level.

This has been a long-suffering campaign—in fact, I suspect it started before I was even born, probably on the very day on which the borough of Keighley and the urban districts of Baildon, Bingley, Cullingworth, Denholme, Ilkley, Shipley and Silsden were all brought under the control of Bradford. In 1974, the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council was created to administer the newly formed metropolitan borough instigated by the Local Government Act 1972. Ever since that year, when our area’s decision-making powers were stripped and our assets simply handed over to Bradford City Hall, things have never been the same.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I compliment my hon. Friend on the way in which he is presenting his Bill and seeking to deliver for his constituents. Does he agree that it is only right that places such as his constituency have the opportunity to catch up and change those abominable local government structures of the 1970s, as Darlington has been able to enjoy with a unitary authority specifically focused on its own local community?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Of course, Darlington is now one of the thriving towns of the north. Keighley absolutely wants to be one, too, but we are stifled by the system we have locally, under which we are completely forgotten about. In my view, Bradford Council disregards the voice of Keighley and Ilkley and we must be heard.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

As my hon. Friend knows, I fully support him in this and I want my constituency to join his in this new local authority. Does he agree that there is nothing in the Bill that anybody should disagree with, because if Bradford Council is doing such a wonderful job representing his constituents and mine, presumably they will vote against setting up a new local authority when the referendum takes place? It is presumably because Bradford Council knows how badly it is representing our constituents that it is so frightened of this legislation.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a very important point. No one should live in fear of the Bill because it triggers better democracy. Local voices will be heard, so we can ensure that services are delivered better at a local level. I will come on to why this issue is so passionately considered by many of my constituents due to the ongoing failings of Bradford Council.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way, but I have to disagree with him on one point. Is not the entire point of his Bill that some people should live in fear of his legislation: failing local authorities that are not delivering for local people? That is exactly what he is trying to address for his constituents.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I suspect that some will live in fear, but they should not fear the Bill because it is all about ensuring that services are delivered better and that local residents are represented much more efficiently by the people who should be serving them.

Anyone opposed to the Bill will say that bigger is better, but I beg to differ. I am yet to see consistent and guaranteed evidence that the creation of much larger unitary authorities will always provide better representation, better democracy, better deliverability of services, better effectiveness and performance, or indeed better accountability. When it comes to the efficiency, effectiveness and performance of a local council, size is not the driving factor. In fact, if the population and geographical area a local authority represents is too large or covers geographical areas that have little or nothing in common, there is a much greater risk of failure.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

My hon. Friend is making an important point about size. I would be grateful if he could address the point that size—the total number of people a local authority covers or its geographic size—may not necessarily be the problem; it could be its actual make-up. What assessment has he made of the innovative changes taking place in North Yorkshire just to the north of his constituency, where local government reorganisation is taking place? Does he feel that his constituency probably has a greater affinity to the new North Yorkshire council than it does to Bradford?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

My hon. Friend makes some important points. North Yorkshire is of course within miles of my two principal towns and I sometimes feel there is more allegiance to the areas of North Yorkshire. But we have some passionate people who are dedicated to making sure that services are delivered and local decisions are made as locally as they can be. I am working on a strong campaign with my neighbour, my hon. Friend Philip Davies. We believe our two constituencies will be able to form our own unitary authority, so that we can make sure that decision making happens in our area and is not linked to Bradford Council.

When it comes to local democracy and local representation, which drives the local decision-making process, policy ideas and deliverability of services at a local level, size does matter and matters actually much more. That is why, in my view, there should be no set size for a unitary authority. It should be driven by the geographical area it wants to represent. If the population area is too large or people do not feel fully connected to the area which the local authority wholly represents, the negative implications can be disastrous for driving forward positive change for an area.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. May I refer him to the case of Greater Manchester, a completely artificial political construct? Within each individual borough of Greater Manchester, a 493 square mile clean air charging zone is being inflicted on people by Andy Burnham. This is an example of how, if decision making is taken away from the local population, the Bill will answer that. The people of Bury do not want to be part of Greater Manchester.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

My hon. Friend describes the similarities. A clean air zone is being imposed on hard-working people in my constituency—taxi drivers and construction workers, who are having to pay up to £50 a day to enter Bradford city. It is a completely outrageous tax on hard-working people, and I urge Bradford’s Labour-run council to rethink the proposals and perhaps take a leaf out of Andy Burnham’s book, delay the implementation and consider that. In my view, the strategy will not work in its current format.

When there is disenfranchisement and disengagement, with a council area being too large, the consequences can be devastating. Public trust in councillors and council officers is eroded. Levels of uniform engagement across the whole area become weaker and levels of identification or affinity between the electorate and the council officers become weaker again. Of course, across Bradford district, we see exactly that.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech and he is being generous in giving way so often. Does he agree that one of the big drivers he and I see in seats such as ours is the levelling-up agenda, which we really want to get on with? Does he share my concern that some local authorities are not interested in delivering that agenda, as he and I are, and that we need local authorities that will work with us, as local MPs, to deliver for our constituents?

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I totally agree and I will definitely come on to that.

A root cause of so many of these problems is that my constituents feel that they are being used as a cash cow for Bradford, with very little coming back in return. Council tax and business rates are all sent from my constituency to Bradford city hall, with nowhere near the equivalent of those funds coming back to be reinvested in our area. The Keighley and Shipley constituencies generate the highest revenue of tax to Bradford Council through our council tax and business rate payments. Data released by the council finds that such wards as Ilkley, Wharfedale and Craven pay the highest proportion of what is billed, while other wards within Bradford city centre itself pay the least, yet get the highest investment. Even though our constituencies are the largest contributors, we undoubtedly benefit the least, with cash being funnelled into Bradford city centre projects by my constituents, who get no benefit whatsoever. Let us be in no doubt that in Keighley we have some huge problems and some huge deprived areas, and we need more local support from our local authority.

Let me come on the point that my hon. Friend made, which is absolutely to do with levelling up. Clearly, parts of my constituency have been forgotten about at a local level and left behind, particularly by my local authority, which should have given much more attention to them over the years. It has taken this Conservative Government to step in and, through the towns fund, from which we are gaining £33.6 million—it is going to be invested in some great projects—to drive and kick-start that economic regeneration.

It has to be noted that, despite the £33.6 million coming in to support Keighley-based projects, our Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities gave every local authority the opportunity to apply for a levelling-up fund—up to £20 million. That would have provided a greater boost; it would have been in addition to the £33.6 million that this Conservative Government had already put down for my constituency. But what did Bradford’s Labour-run council do in terms of that application process? It failed even to apply for up to £20 million to come into my town of Keighley. That is a disgrace and it is exactly why this Bill is so important. It will finally give my residents the opportunity to have a say in driving forward economic prosperity for our area.

Let us consider a very local project: the Silsden to Steeton bridge, which connects those places and goes over a very busy dual carriageway. My predecessor, Kris Hopkins, when he was the MP, secured £700,000 from the Conservative Government to carry out an economic feasibility study. That money was granted way back in 2015, but it took until the beginning of last year for that study to be completed by Bradford council and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and to produce a cost to build the bridge of £3.6 million. That increased to £5.5 million, and at the beginning of this year Bradford Council came out with an estimate of more than £10 million to deliver the bridge. I only hope that this is not Bradford’s Labour-run council kicking the project into the long grass so that my constituents do not benefit from a pedestrian bridge connecting Silsden and Steeton.

Then we come to the challenges with the planning process. Many of my constituents are extremely frustrated at the time it takes for planning to proceed through the system. I shall use one example. Many hard-working businesses in Keighley want to drive economic growth and build light industrial units. I reference one fairly small project. Back in 2018, a planning application went in for just off the Hard Ings roundabout, to build, I think, eight light industrial units. The application was submitted in 2018, but it took until the year of the pandemic for the application to be approved. During the year of the pandemic, my constituent was successful in gaining planning consent, cracked on, got them built and let the units so that hard-working businesses could crack on and thrive. Had Bradford Council cracked on with that planning application, those business units could have been built and those businesses could have got in and thrived much quicker. Labour-run Bradford Council continued to fail on all levels to support my constituents and hard-working businesses. This Bill gives my constituents the opportunity to have their say.

It does not stop there. Throughout the pandemic, the Government have supported many hard-working independent businesses right across my constituency. Take the example of the additional restrictions grant: a discretionary grant given to local authorities so that they could make the best decision on how to support businesses. Equilibrium, a beauty business in Silsden—this is just one example—struggled time and again to get hold of additional funding; the business had been impacted by the pandemic. The owner then found out that her counterparts in the beauty sector in other local authorities had managed to get hold of the additional restrictions grant. Her business, however, was denied the possibility of even submitting an application, until I pressed the case time and again with the chief executive and leader of Bradford Council.

Some people argue that smaller local authorities are much less efficient at delivering Government support. I do not agree at all. Craven District Council, just next to me, covers a population of about 70,000 to 80,000. It delivered its business grants during the covid pandemic far quicker than Bradford Council. Calderdale, on the other side of my constituency, with a population of around 200,000, delivered its business grants far quicker than Bradford Council. It would be far better to form a new local authority that was much more unified with the area it represents.

I turn to housing. Like all local authorities, our local authority has been charged with putting together a new local plan, which relates to the housing strategy for the next 15 years from 2023. Bradford Council’s proposals see up to 3,000 new houses being built across my local area on greenfield land. Up to 75 houses were proposed in Addingham’s neighbourhood development plan, which it has just completed after long consultations with Bradford Council. Now Bradford Council wants to build 181 houses there. Some 314 houses are proposed for Ilkley, mostly on greenbelt land. There is a proposal for 191 new houses in Riddlesden, mostly on greenbelt land. The Worth valley: 343 new houses, mostly on greenbelt land. In Silsden, 580 new houses are proposed—again, mostly on greenfield and greenbelt land. That will all have a huge impact on local services, schools, health services and road networks. Most of those businesses, schools and GP services have not even been consulted as part of the local plan.

These are not the only instances in which my residents are being ignored. About two years ago, many residents along Moss Carr Road in Long Lee submitted a village green application to try to protect a key greenfield site just outside Long Lee. Bradford Council did not even progress the application, blaming that on its having got lost within its system. Now we find that the housing strategy in Bradford Council’s local plan has identified that very field for house building.

One of the most haunting issues that has had an impact on my constituency is child sexual exploitation. Children’s services are in a dire state in Bradford. Across the district, there are exceptional problems that mark my area out from the rest of the country. Children’s services are perhaps the most important services that a local authority can provide, but Bradford Council’s children’s services have failed vulnerable children for far too long. Only last month, we had a damning Government report on Bradford Council’s children’s services, which only went to show what we have all known for a long time—children in our district are not protected by those with a responsibility for doing so, and that has led to tragic circumstances throughout our area. The council has not acted on problems that have been going on for far too long.

Only in July last year, a limited 50-page review was released, which identified five children who had been sexually abused within the Bradford district over the last 20 years. It confirmed that children remain at risk in Bradford and an unknown number of perpetrators remain unchallenged. Perhaps more damningly, the report concluded that failures had been identified within Bradford Council’s social services and children’s services department.

I am pleased to say that, earlier this year, the Conservative Government stepped in and stripped Bradford Council of its children’s services so that a new trust structure could be set up. My constituents are deeply concerned by the lack of trust in public organisations that should be there to protect them. I am pleased that the Government have stepped in to try to provide some reassurance, so that vulnerable children in my constituency can be looked after, and that is before I start talking about one of the darker issues of child sexual exploitation and my campaign to trigger a full Rotherham-style inquiry into child sexual exploitation across the district. I only hope that the leader of Bradford Council is listening to this debate and that our new Mayor, Tracy Brabin, is also listening, so that they get behind my calls for a full inquiry. If we continue to um and ah around this issue and fail to take action, issues will only get worse.

What are the likely next steps for the Bill? It would give my constituents a chance of a new start with a new local authority. Currently, powers are limited, in that the Government are unable to make changes to local authorities unless they are recommended to do so by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. While measures remain in place for a council to request the commission to undertake a boundary review, there is nothing to allow our constituents to make the decision for themselves. The Bill would provide that option. Importantly, it would do it in a way that ensures that any newly formed local authority would be financially viable and would leave the original local authority also viable.

The Bill would put new measures in place to ensure that local people have a say on who represents them, the very nature of the council and the geographical area in which its services can be delivered more efficiently. It is only right that, if a majority of people in specific constituencies are in favour of forming a new unitary authority, they have the opportunity to do so. Not only would that benefit my constituents in Keighley and Ilkley, but it would be welcomed—according to comments we have heard across the House—by many other people.

My Bill aims to re-empower communities who feel disenfranchised, forgotten and that their local authority, by its very nature, structure and the geographical area it represents, is incapable of acting in their interests. It is high time that we let people have their say on this very issue, and I will not stop fighting until my constituents can have a better local authority that is better engaged on their priorities and able to deliver for them, because my constituents deserve much better than what they currently get from Labour-run Bradford Council.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 2:00 pm, 25th February 2022

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Robbie Moore. As he knows, I fully support him on this Bill, and I thought he set out the case fantastically well. I should say that the people of Keighley and Ilkley are very lucky to have him representing them. He is a fantastic Member of Parliament both in this place and locally, and I very much trust he will be for many years to come.

Both my hon. Friend and I stood at the last election on a promise that we would endeavour to break our constituencies away from Bradford Council. He set out many of the reasons why Bradford Council is failing. Actually, it is failing not just our constituents, but the people of Bradford. However, they have their own Members of Parliament to represent them, and it is our duty to represent our constituents. It is not just that Bradford Council is failing and incompetent, although it is. It is worse than that, as far as I am concerned: it is actually that it does not care about our constituents; it just cares about its Bradford heartlands. If you do not mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will give a couple of examples to illustrate why that is the case, should anybody deny it. There are many examples I could give, but I am going to give two that I think set out the case quite clearly.

Bradford Council is of course always strapped for cash, if we listen to it, and my hon. Friend made a very good point about council tax income, which I will come on to a bit later. It announced a few years ago that it was going to close the swimming pool in Bingley in my constituency, which was a very popular and well-used facility that was used by lots of the schoolchildren we are trying to encourage to do more sport. Of course, Bradford Council’s reason is always that it has not got enough money, and some people may have some sympathy with that. Unfortunately, at the same time as it made the announcement about closing Bingley swimming pool, it announced that it was going to build five brand-new swimming pools in other parts of the Bradford district—so much for lack of resources being the issue. It was quite blatantly because it wanted to put them in its Labour heartlands, and it did not really care about people in Bingley.

However, I have a better, ongoing example. One thing in Bradford Council’s Airedale masterplan from years ago—from about the time I became the local MP, if not before—was to introduce a Shipley eastern bypass. It was recommended by the consultants Arup, who were paid by Bradford Council to come up with this masterplan. It recommended a Shipley eastern bypass, which I wholly agree with and have been campaigning for ever since. After the then Secretary of State for Transport came to see with his own eyes the issues that would be resolved by a Shipley eastern bypass, in early 2019 the Government gave Bradford Council hundreds of thousands of pounds to conduct a feasibility study of this proposal—to see how much it would cost, where it would go and all the rest of it.

Bradford Council was given this money, and it agreed that it would produce the feasibility study by the autumn of 2019. The autumn of 2019 came and went, and no feasibility study was produced by Bradford Council. Then it was going to be the spring of 2020, but that came and went, and there was no feasibility study. We are now almost in March 2022, and Bradford Council still has not completed the feasibility study into the Shipley eastern bypass, and then it has the brass neck to complain that it does not get infrastructure investment into the Bradford district. The Government are trying to facilitate this, and it cannot even do the small bit of the jigsaw that it has to put in place. If that does not demonstrate beyond any doubt that Bradford Council does not care about infrastructure in my constituency, I do not know what would. It would not surprise me if it had barely started it. It clearly does not want to do the project because it would largely benefit the people of my constituency, so it is of zero interest. I think that is pretty shocking, to be perfectly honest.

Bradford Council has not completed a feasibility study, which is either because it is wholly incompetent or because it does not care about my constituents. Those are the only two explanations that anyone can offer. I am happy for it to explain which one it is—it can choose. It can make a public statement about that. I do not care which one it is, but it is clearly one or the other. That proves beyond any doubt in my mind that it really does not care about my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley rightly feels the same about his constituency.

The Bradford area is not suited to being so big—it is too big. I will give a simple explanation of why it does not work. People and the local media often ask me what I am doing for Bradford. As it happens, I do quite a lot, including helping to secure millions of pounds to help the old Odeon in Bradford become a live music venue— without that Government support, that project would not have been viable—and, along with colleagues in Bradford, helping to save the National Media Museum, which was threatened with closure. But, the thing is, no one ever asks Bradford MPs what they are doing for Shipley or Keighley—it is always a one-way street. That goes to show how this area does not work for anybody. We are thrown in as if we are part of Bradford when we have our own needs—and frankly, for my constituents, decision making in Bradford is just as remote as decision making in Whitehall.

My hon. Friend gave some good examples of Bradford Council’s failures. He mentioned child sexual exploitation and how we need a Rotherham-style inquiry to get to the bottom of that, but it continually refuses to agree to that because it is more concerned with trying to protect its reputation than with those children who have been put in a terrible situation. He also mentioned how the Government took children’s services away from the council because it had been failing so badly. We have had some terrible cases. The awful murder of Star Hobson, which happened in my hon. Friend’s constituency, uncovered huge failings by Bradford Council, which had been made well aware of the case.

I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the worst aspects of Bradford Council for my constituents relates to building on the green belt, which affects his constituents just as it does mine. That also goes to show how useless the council is. It is always banging on about regenerating Bradford and how important that is for the district—it does not talk much about regenerating Keighley or Shipley—and then it builds hundreds of houses on the green belt in Wharfedale in my constituency. Of course, people in Wharfedale do not shop in Bradford because it is not easy for them to get to Bradford; they get on the train and go to Leeds. Bradford Council’s housing policy is actually regenerating Leeds rather than Bradford.

Bradford Council does not build houses in places where people would want to work and shop in Bradford. It does not have a joined-up policy to help itself; it is just a numbers exercise for the council, with it wanting to build as many houses as it can in desirable areas of our constituencies to tick a box without any thought about our constituents or even how Bradford might be helped. I am almost certain that a local authority made up only of our two constituencies would not have agreed to some of the housing developments that Bradford Council has imposed on my constituents against their wishes. It will not rest until it has concreted over every last bit of green-belt land in my constituency, which is something that I try to stop.

My hon. Friend mentioned how his constituency has been excluded from the levelling-up fund. I have the same story to tell. We might think that a council that has been griping for years that it has not had enough money to do anything would have had lots of projects ready to go—those that it had wanted to do for years and years. Bingley is the second largest place in my constituency. I have asked Bradford Council to develop a levelling-up fund bid for Bingley. Given how many years Bingley has been under the control of Bradford Council, one would have thought it would have something on the shelf—“If we got £20 million for Bingley, this is what we’d do.” The Government announced a levelling-up fund—“Put your bids in.” Bradford Council said, “Can we have one for Bingley?” and it was “Oh no. We haven’t got anything ready for that. We can’t. We’ll have to start working on it.” Start working on it! They had not even thought about how they might regenerate Bingley.

Indeed, they had thought about it so little that they were not even in a position to put in a bid when the Government are handing out money. They are having to start working out what they might do to regenerate Bingley. We missed the first round of bidding, putting at risk whether we may or may not get anything from a future bid. But do not worry, Madam Deputy Speaker, a bid for Bradford West was ready to go in the first round, and I am sure my constituents were hugely reassured by that.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Does my hon. Friend agree it is shocking that when this Conservative Government come along and say, “You can apply for up to £20 million for the Shipley constituency and £20 million for the Keighley constituency”, there was not even an application for up to £40 million that could have come in to revitalise the Aire valley corridor? It was not even applied for.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is frustrating for those of us who are trying to do the best for our local area to have a local authority that has all the power in the area but does not do its bit. It is telling that the biggest investments we have had recently in the towns fund for Shipley and Keighley have both come from the Government, and not from the Labour council that has had years to try to regenerate the town centres but has not done anything about it. That is why the Bill is so important to me and my constituents, and they will welcome it.

Time is against us, and I accept that the Minister may not be able to accept the Bill today. I hope, however, that she will commit to holding further discussions with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley to see how we can progress the grave injustice that our constituents are facing, and see what can be done to ensure they are properly represented at local level. Surely local government should be all about being local—indeed, as local as possible. What on earth is the point of it if it is so big in area that people feel no affinity to the local government area that is governing them? It is completely pointless. We must make local government much more local again.

The Bill is a perfect way of going about that. It would mean that our two constituencies would be able to petition to set up a new local authority. If the majority of my constituents, and those of my hon. Friend, wanted that to happen, it would happen. Who can be against that form of local democracy and ensuring that we have a local authority that our constituents want? Does any political party want to oppose that principle? I cannot think they would want to face their electorate by saying that they are opposed to that principle, but we will be delighted to hear what the Labour party says about whether it favours that kind of local democracy. My constituents do not want to be part of Bradford Council, and neither do those of my hon. Friend.

I am prepared to be more generous than my hon. Friend, and I hope the Minister will also take this into consideration. Under the Bill—I think my hon. Friend is right to do this in principle—if a majority of voters in those two constituencies wanted to break away and set up their own local authority, the Government would implement that. I am prepared to make a generous offer to go further. I am happy to have a referendum in the whole Bradford district about whether we should break away from Bradford Council. It would mean that the Bradford part of that district would have the majority of people in it, but I am happy to take my chances on that. People might say, “Well of course if you break away that will affect Bradford”, but I am happy for everyone to have a vote in that referendum. Let’s go for it. I will make that generous offer. Who could possibly disagree with that? I hope that the Government will look at what can be done to ensure that local government is genuinely local, so that my constituents are no longer short-changed by the appalling Bradford Council, which is not only incompetent but does not really care about my constituents or those of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley.

I commend my hon. Friend for keeping to his promise at the last election to do whatever he could to ensure that our constituencies break away from the horror of Bradford Council and set up our own local authority. This would be a viable local authority—it would be exactly the same size as neighbouring Calderdale Council, so nobody could say that it was not viable. I therefore hope the Government will take steps to ensure that my constituents and his can be properly looked after and feel represented at a local democracy level, because they are certainly not at the moment. It is an absolute pleasure to be the parliamentary neighbour of my hon. Friend, who is a superb representative of his constituents. I stand shoulder to shoulder with him on this Bill, and we will not give in. We will keep up this fight until we get justice for our constituents.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 2:16 pm, 25th February 2022

It is a pleasure to speak for the third time. I congratulate my hon. Friend Robbie Moore on bringing this Bill forward for its Second Reading today. He has been a passionate campaigner on this issue since his election in 2019 and has found common cause with my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who has long called for the separation of the Shipley constituency from Bradford Metropolitan District Council. Both constituencies continue to suffer from the misery of the 1970s local government reorganisation.

I was delighted to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley did not secure his place for a private Member’s Bill in the usual way through the ballot; nor indeed did he present a ten-minute rule Bill. Rather, he used the very rare method of camping out on a certain date outside the Table Office—a lesson to us all in commitment to the cause. He is a true champion for Keighley and Ilkley, fighting hard to improve the lives of his constituents. I could draw the House’s attention to his many local campaigns and successes, such as the rebuilding of Airedale Hospital, protecting green space on North Street in Keighley or the town deal that he helped to secure for Keighley. However, I think that his campaign to keep Haworth post office open has been particularly moving, to the extent that I felt compelled to sign up myself.

This Bill is further testament to my hon. Friend’s commitment to campaigning and his drive and energy to champion his constituency, stand up for the needs of his constituents and ensure that their concerns are heard here. I commend him for that. He has set out a positive and robust argument in favour of his Bill and his desire for the Keighley and Shipley constituencies to break away from the horrors of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. I understand that the Keighley and Shipley constituencies generate the highest revenues for Bradford Council through their council tax payments. However, from what we have heard today, it is clear that Bradford Council is not delivering for the people of these two constituencies. My hon. Friend has also made a strong and compelling case, setting out the failings of Bradford Council.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My constituency and that of my hon. Friend Robbie Moore provide by far the highest amount of council tax income for Bradford Council, but it is not just that; it is the fact that we actually pay our council tax in our areas. In Wharfedale, 99.2% of council tax income is collected, whereas the last year’s figures that I have available show that City ward collected only 79% of its council tax. Indeed, £12 million of council tax income goes uncollected each year by Bradford Council, despite its pleading poverty.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful for that intervention, which gives a shining example of the horrors of Bradford Council and many others across the country in failing to collect council tax, which is shameful behaviour.

We have all been horrified by the stories that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley shared about children and young people’s services in Bradford Council. In my view, the Government were absolutely right to strip the council of control over its children’s services department this year. No vulnerable child or young adult should be failed by those whose role is to protect them, and I sincerely hope that childhood services in Bradford can turn a corner.

In my constituency, many residents will no doubt be sympathetic to my hon. Friends’ desire for Keighley and Shipley to break away from Bradford District Council. Darlington was a non-metropolitan district of Durham County Council until, on 1 April 1997, the borough of Darlington absorbed the powers of the county council to become a unitary authority, the third smallest in the country, and Darlington Borough Council was formed. Darlington residents felt forgotten and abandoned by Durham County Council, and, given what we have heard today, I have no doubt that that is exactly how the residents of Keighley and Shipley feel about Bradford Council. In Darlington, we also know a lot about how ineffective Labour-run administrations can be, especially when they rest on their laurels and take our communities for granted.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The problem is not just that these local authorities are not delivering, but that they are not listening. In my constituency, the Government, through the towns fund, has delivered money for a new health and wellbeing hub, which we want to support because we need a health and wellbeing hub in the centre of Keighley. However, the local authority is determined to build it on a green space in the centre, in North Street, despite the voice of Keighley not wanting it to be built there. This should not be an either/or choice; it should be possible to deliver a health and wellbeing hub while also keeping the green space. That example illustrates that the failure of some of these Labour-run authorities is not listening to what local people want.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Be it the non-collection of council tax or the failure to listen to communities, we see the failings of Labour-led local authorities up and down the country. Darlington Borough Council now works hard to improve the lives of my constituents, and I want to take this opportunity to praise that Conservative-led council for the hard work it has done since we wrested power from the ineffective Labour administration in 2019. It is hugely important for people to feel that they are being properly represented by their local councils, and there is clearly a demand and need for that in Keighley and Shipley.

However, my hon. Friend’s Bill leaves a number of questions about how the process that it sets out would actually work. As I understand it, the Bill would allow two or more parliamentary constituencies to form a new authority following a referendum, but what would be the impact of the current parliamentary boundary changes if Keighley and Shipley were to do that? Those constituencies could potentially take in more of the other parts of Bradford than they are leaving behind, subject to a boundary commission. What would happen to the respective police and crime commissioner positions? What would happen to the respective police and ambulance services?

Let us take the example of Darlington. I do not represent all the borough council wards in Parliament; my hon. Friend Paul Howell also represents a number of wards. Why should a new local authority form around two or more constituencies when we know that those constituency boundaries could potentially change following a boundary commission review?

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley will no doubt have noted the recent changes to local government just to the north of my constituency in North Yorkshire, with the election of a new unitary council to replace the eight councils that were established there in the 1970s. There is also the prospect of a combined authority to cover York and North Yorkshire.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that parliamentary boundaries change on a regular basis, and that that does not necessitate a change in local authority boundaries. In many cases, Members of Parliament have to represent constituencies that cover different local authorities. The fact that parliamentary boundaries may or may not change in the future will have absolutely no bearing on the authority once it has been established.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I simply raised the point for consideration in the discussion of this Bill.

As I have already mentioned, the new unitary authority that is being established in North Yorkshire already contains many historic parts of the old west riding of Yorkshire, such as Skipton, Settle, Selby, Harrogate and Ripon, and I can see no reason why the great West Yorkshire towns of Ilkley, Shipley and Keighley could not explore a move into the new North Yorkshire council area, with which they could have much more affinity.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley for the intentions of his Bill. He continues to stand up for the interests of his constituents, and that cannot be faulted. Unfortunately, though, I have concluded that I will not be supporting his Bill today. Bradford Metropolitan District Council clearly needs to listen more closely to the needs of residents of the Keighley and Shipley constituencies, and I hope that this debate today will make that clear to the council and it gets the message that it needs to represent fully all residents of the council area.

I cannot support this Bill today, but I wish my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley and for Shipley every success in holding Bradford Metropolitan District Council to account for the dreadful horrors and in ensuring that the concerns and needs of their constituents are properly heard, so that the council no longer ignores places such Shipley, Keighley and Ilkley.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch Minister for Equalities, Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (jointly with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:26 pm, 25th February 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Robbie Moore on securing a place in the ballot for this private Member’s Bill on introducing referendums into the process of local government boundary reviews. He, along with my hon. Friend Philip Davies have both raised, very passionately, a number of serious issues around the service that they are receiving from Bradford Council. I also thank my hon. Friend Peter Gibson for his contribution.

The Government remain committed to their policy that local government reorganisation, whether it involves boundary or unitary changes, should be locally led. I commit to working with my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Keighley as requested on the various issues that they have raised.

The Bill makes provision for certain processes to be followed where boundary changes are being sought, particularly where the boundary change would result in an area being taken out of an existing local government area and the creation of a wholly new area with a wholly new council.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I absolutely understand why the Government would not wish to interfere in bringing forward a top-down reorganisation of local authorities; that would be inappropriate, and I understand why they would be reluctant to do that. Does the Minister accept though that the beauty of my hon. Friend’s Bill is that, in the Government’s stated position of changes being locally led, nothing indicates something more locally led than a local referendum, where all the people have a chance to vote to say where they want to be represented? Does she agree that this Bill fulfils that Government policy of locally led changes?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch Minister for Equalities, Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (jointly with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Absolutely; it does meet that locally led test, but that is not the only test that we would be applying.

The processes that Parliament has established for changing a local government boundary are centred on the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, so that is another step that would be required. We all know that a boundary change can be effected only if it is recommended by that commission. The issue at the moment, which is why we cannot accept this Bill in the way that it has been drafted, is that it would cut across those processes.

The long title of the Bill is:

“A Bill to make provision to enable parliamentary constituency areas to form new unitary local authority areas if agreed by referendum;
to make provision for such referendums;
and for connected purposes.”

The Bill would be very sweeping indeed. We would be concerned about a number of aspects of this approach.

First, parliamentary constituencies may not be a sound basis for establishing the right level of service delivery—that must be a consideration. We also need to make sure that the boundaries can be established only where there is a safeguard against anything that might lose the confidence of the local democracy. That is definitely not the case here, but a referendum could be promoted by some politicians of a particular party and lead to the creation of councils primarily on a party political basis. As the Bill is drafted, there is no prevention mechanism to stop something like that from happening.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I appreciate that time is running out, so may I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for agreeing to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley to discuss how we might bring forward a Bill that satisfies our requirements and those of the Government? That will be very helpful and I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that she is prepared to do that.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch Minister for Equalities, Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (jointly with Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my hon. Friend. He and I will be able to work together on this issue with our hon. Friend the Member for Keighley—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 18 March.