Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012 — Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 6th February 2012.

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Moved By Baroness Hanham

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 5 December 2011 be approved.

Relevant documents: 36th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 17 January.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by Lord Beecham

At end to insert "but that this House regrets that the Government are unnecessarily compelling eleven councils to stage such referendums in May 2012, given that any English local authority, or five per cent of its electorate, can require a referendum to be held on whether to have an elected mayor; and that such referendums and consequent mayoral elections involve substantial costs at a time of acute financial stringency in local government and in the country."

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 7:55 pm, 6th February 2012

My Lords, I rise to move a regret Motion in the terms set out. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council for the past 45 years. I also have to say that I have not the slightest interest in being either an elected mayor or a police commissioner-no doubt to the great relief of many of the citizens of Newcastle.

The issue before us stems from the Government's decision to impose referendums on 11 local authorities in May with a view to determining whether they should move from their present system, which is a leader and cabinet system, to that of an elected mayor. If the local electorate, or as many of them as decide to participate, opt to change to a mayoral system, there will, as I understand it, be elections in the dark nights of November next year, to coincide with the police commissioner elections.

The Government's decision raises two issues which fall to be debated. The first is around the merits or otherwise of the mayoral system. That is the background to the regret Motion, although, whatever view one takes about the mayoral system, there is a separate question about whether it is justifiable to impose a referendum as opposed to relying on the system which has operated for the past 10 years of allowing a referendum if 5 per cent of the local electorate choose in a petition to demand one or, indeed, if a local authority decides to hold a referendum.

With regard to the first matter-the merits of the system-it is customary for Governments to have an evidence base for radical changes that they propose. In this case, such evidence is lacking in two key areas. The first is the claim that the elected mayor system is inherently better than the leader and cabinet model-more effective leads to better governance. I would argue that cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and many others have demonstrated an ability to innovate, to promote efficiency and to drive regeneration without an elected mayor. There has been a celebration of the renaissance of some of our great urban centres over the past few years, almost all of them in places with the long-standing-certainly over the past decade-leader and executive model.

There was a long tradition of local government leading the way in social policy before elected mayors. Distinguished local government figures such as Joseph Chamberlain and Herbert Morrison and, for all his faults, Newcastle's own Dan Smith, created enormous change, not just in their own localities, but in the politics of local government generally. Huge advances were made over many decades in social policy, in housing, the move from gas and water municipal socialism which Joseph Chamberlain was espoused in the 20th century, to housing and social care, to transport and the arts. These were signal achievements of the old system of local government and it is yet to be demonstrated that the mayoral system, now operating in a relatively small number of places, is actually any better. I would argue that there is little evidence of that either here or indeed abroad. The noble Baroness may, as she did in Grand Committee, cite examples such as Barcelona. However, as I pointed out at the time-in fact, I think that the noble Baroness pointed it out but perhaps without quite realising what she was doing, with all due respect-Barcelona has an elected mayor who is not elected in a personal capacity but is elected, in the same way that a Prime Minister is elected, as the head of his party-the party list in the case of Barcelona. This is not quite the direct electoral system that is being advocated here. So, in my view, there is not that advantage of a mayoral system.

It is sometimes said that mayors are more visible and more accountable. Members of your Lordships' House may not think I am all that visible at the best of times, but 17 years after I was leader of Newcastle City Council, it is, somewhat to my surprise, not infrequently that I am recognised in the streets of Newcastle as somebody who played a significant part, for a time, in the council's affairs all those years ago, and I am sure that I am not unique in that way. There are probably many other places where those who have led councils whose physical presence was greater than mine are recognisable not just for that reason but because of what they had attempted to do on behalf of their community.

Irrespective of whether one supports the mayoral system, there is a fundamental question about whether we should be proceeding in this way. There is a real issue about the appetite for change. As the amendment indicates, a mere 5 per cent of the electorate of any council could have called a referendum in the past 10 years. Only 39 referendums have been called and in only one of those was the turnout for the referendum more than 40 per cent, apart from in a handful that coincided with the general election, where, obviously, with 60 per cent or so going to the polls, a higher turnout figure was recorded for the referendum. In fact, in many cases, even in those authorities where the mayoral system was opted for, the turnout was pretty low. It was 16 per cent in Bedford, 18 per cent in Lewisham and, just a week or so ago, in Salford, 21 per cent in Mansfield, 25 per cent in Watford and Doncaster, 26 per cent in Newham, 27 per cent in Stoke, which eventually thought better of it and decided to abandon the system in a second referendum a few years later, and there were only three authorities with turnouts of over 30 per cent. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the notion that people are pining for a change in the system.

Nor is it right to say, as was proclaimed as the likely outcome of the change by those who espoused it-my noble friend Lord Adonis among others-that this will somehow lead to greater participation in local elections. In fact, in only one mayoral election, apart from those that occurred on general election day, has the turnout exceeded 40 per cent, and that was in Boris v Ken round 1 in 2008, when the turnout was all of 45 per cent. I vividly remember, as will, I am sure, other noble Lords, particularly the Minister, coming into London, getting out of a Tube station and seeing the placards every time, with the Evening Standardreferring to this impending dramatic event. But it did not seem to excite the electorate all that much even here.

We have this position where the appetite is extremely limited, and not just among the electorate. There are very few in any political party who seem to advocate the system. The noble Baroness was a distinguished leader of an important council for many years, but that council has not chosen a mayoral system. I do not know whether she has been advocating it overtly or quietly, but if she has, she has failed to persuade it thus far. Indeed, apart from four councils in London, which had all been Labour controlled, no council in London and very few councils elsewhere, despite years of control by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or both in coalition, have actually opted to call a referendum or encourage their electorate to do so. That remains the case today in most of the authorities that are in the Government's list. It is possible that political groups in Birmingham may support a referendum and I gather that Liverpool is likely to opt as a council for a referendum, which is, of course, its choice.

I would like to quote a member of Bradford city council, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, who is not in her place tonight, but who was in her place for many years as a very distinguished leader of Bradford Council. One of the Bradford members was quoted as saying:

"My colleagues and I are not supportive of elected mayors ... We do not think that the proposals are suited to the needs of the Bradford district ... We are hopeful that local people will recognise that an elected mayor would be unlikely to improve the quality of life of local residents or the quality of services provided to them and vote to reject the proposals".

That was Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, the Conservative group leader on Bradford Council. I gather that that view is echoed by many of her colleagues elsewhere and certainly by many Lib Dem colleagues, including distinguished local government figures such as Councillor Richard Kemp and others, including the last Liberal Democrat leader of Newcastle City Council. Whether his predecessor remains of the same mind that he once had, we shall perhaps learn in the course of the debate.

In addition to the lack of general interest in the idea of elected mayors, there is a serious question about the nature of the powers to be conferred on a single individual. The concentration of power in a single pair of hands which requires a two-thirds vote on a council to overturn a decision of the elected mayor on key issues such as the budget, the children's plan and so on is a very high ask. It can lead to the situation that we have seen in an adjoining authority to my own and that of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley-North Tyneside Council. For several years it had a Labour mayor and a very substantial Conservative majority on the council, and now it has a Conservative mayor and a very substantial Labour majority on the council. That is, to put it mildly, somewhat confusing to the electorate, and it cannot really be right that that situation can arise so easily and, moreover, that it would require a two-thirds vote to outvote an elected mayor. It seems that we are moving from local democracy to local autocracy, and that is not in the interests of representative local government.

We have this dilemma and we have the cost to bear in mind. The noble Baroness was good enough to make clear in Grand Committee that the cost for each authority of, roughly, £250,000 would be met in the first instance by the Government, but it is still money that could have come into local government and been used for better purposes, as could the equivalent amount, because it will be roughly the same, that will be spent on any more referendums should they occur in November this year at a time when budgets are under so much pressure. One would think that in these very difficult times this is an additional reason to avoid this issue leading to expenditure when there is so little public support for it.

I ask the Government why, in the face of apparent public indifference and the opposition of many of their own local councillors from both the partners in the coalition, quite apart from Labour and other councillors, they are insisting on forcing through the calling of referendums. If people want them, the option is there. Why are they forcing this procedure on an indifferent electorate? Holding them should surely be a matter for local choice, not at the behest of the Government. I would also like to ask them what their intentions are in relation to the 300 or so other authorities that have not yet held referendums. Will they too be compelled to go through this process and, if so, how will they be selected and when?

One issue that has been mentioned in the course of the debates over the mayoral referendum is whether we should be moving from individual city mayors to subregional or conurbation mayors, mayors of Greater Manchester or Merseyside, as was advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and Sir Terry Leahy recently in their report about Merseyside, and perhaps there are other places too. It is interesting that a Government who abolished metropolitan counties 20 or so years ago without having a referendum on that issue should now be thinking of reinventing some subregional governance arrangement, but one of this nature, with an even greater risk of the concentration of power, given that the geographic and population scope that would be involved would be greater than would arise in an ordinary mayoral referendum in an individual authority.

We are faced with the cost of following a government policy that is rooted in no evidence at all and apparently has no public support of any significance to achieve objectives that are very far from clear-unless there is a somewhat hidden political agenda. I bear in mind the words of the Member for Grantham, Nick Boles, who some years ago was advocating the system because it was the only way to provide a ladder by which the Conservative Party might climb back to power in places like Manchester or Newcastle. He is likely to be disappointed, in any event, should mayoral elections take place in May of this year, but that may be the motivation-not on the part of the Minister, I am sure, who is much too honourable for such a cynical approach, but I would not put it past some of her colleagues in the higher reaches of government and beyond.

It is therefore a matter of real regret that we should be forcing people into this process and, given the Government's explicit inclusion of powers to inflict this whenever and on whomever they like, it is worrying that we are embarking on this process at this time. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 8:00 pm, 6th February 2012

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council. I do not set out to make this a Newcastle debate. However, Newcastle is one of the 11 cities identified. I do not regret this Motion and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is mistaken in moving his amendment, for a number of reasons. Let me explain why.

I believe that the debate about elected mayors has moved on. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is absolutely right that a year or two ago I felt that the balance of evidence was strongly against. I no longer believe that to be true. One of the key reasons for that-there are several, which I will come on to-is the elected police commissioner, which I believe has altered the nature of representative democracy at a local level, and that as people get used to electing directly an individual to a role, it will be very odd if the leader of a council is not similarly elected. I will come back to this.

I have not fully understood the issue of cost. There clearly is a cost in running a referendum but actually the referendum will take place on a local election polling day, and the election, should it be approved, will take place on the day elected police commissioners are being voted in.

The decision to have a referendum in the cities identified was actually part of the Localism Bill. We debated it and we came to a conclusion. That Bill is now an Act. Of course, the proposal was in the coalition agreement-it featured it as one of a number of matters-and both that agreement and the decision in the Act should be honoured.

The second reality is that the campaigns have actually started because the polling day is only three months away. I just do not think that you can now seek to put the clock back. Of course, this is only a regret amendment, but we should now be willing to test the opinion of the electorate and it is right that in the 11 cities a decision should be made by those electors.

I note the criticism about the powers of the Secretary of State, but actually those powers simply require a referendum to be held and do not dictate the outcome. It is very difficult for politicians to argue with the ballot box. Electors will make a decision as to what they want. They should be informed about the reasons in favour and those against. Those cases can be made, people can campaign, but people should be allowed to come to their own conclusions.

Local authorities now have the power to decide the outcome-to hold or not to hold a referendum-unless 5 per cent of an electorate call for a referendum. The difficulty with that argument is that in a city with an electorate of 200,000, 5 per cent amounts to 10,000 people. That is a barrier. There has to be a very strong campaign for a mayor to be elected for people to gather 10,000 names out of an electorate of 200,000. That drives the status quo, unless there is a very good reason why people are prepared to campaign and spend time and money in calling for a referendum through gathering petitions. How much better it is if you simply test public opinion, as the Government wish to do.

There are advantages in a mayoral system. I welcome the referendum campaigns because they enable those advantages to be debated. There is a whole set of reasons why I think a mayoral system is right. Mention was made of the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Heseltine. I am convinced by the arguments both have made-it is partly about leadership, partly about figureheads and partly about connecting the electorate with a person who is democratically accountable for what happens in that city.

However, the argument goes further than that. It is better for a council leader-and I have been one myself, for a period of just over four years-to be elected by the electorate as a whole rather than by a party caucus meeting, which is what happens in practice. In other words, if, for the sake of argument, you have 40 councillors and you are the majority party, you can actually elect the leader of that council-who has statutory powers-on 21 votes. I do not think that that is sufficient mandate and I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have a mayoral system where there is an electoral mandate for that person.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked in terms of the evidence base, and whether it is better. I believe that collectively, the cities of England punch well below their weight. The context of this is devolution into Scotland, into Wales, and into Northern Ireland, and also into London. Tonight we see, in the Evening Standard, that the Mayor of London is urging that he be given power over the railways into London. There is a strong case for that, and indeed, as part of discussions going on with the eight English core cities on a devolution to them, issues around transport are being discussed.

With an elected mayor in each of those 11 cities, where there would also be a cabinet, and ward members, who would implement some of the powers of the Localism Act, not least around neighbourhood planning, I do not see this as simply a matter about a two-thirds vote. I see it as being about renewing democracy, and empowering ward members as part of the Localism Act. However, we will have that debate at a later stage. The question is whether we should test the public view, and in my view, we should. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said a moment ago that there is no apparent public support for elected mayors. I draw your Lordships' attention to the very recent referendum in Salford which voted in favour of an elected mayor, and of course the recent decision over Leicester-

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 8:15 pm, 6th February 2012

Would the noble Lord count a turnout of 18 per cent as a vindication of his position that there is a great public interest in this?

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

It is too low, but of course, local elections and leaders of councils are being elected in practice on similar numbers. So no, the point is not material. The fact is that the people of Salford have voted for an elected mayor. It is simply not the case that there is no apparent public support for elected mayors. I believe that we should test the public view. That was agreed as part of the Localism Act, and we should not regret that but should test the public opinion.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I cannot claim any direct interest in the cities that have been selected for these various orders, though I have lived in the West Midlands for many years. I have a particular interest, almost a responsibility, to mention Birmingham. The House may know that my noble friend Lord Corbett has not been very well lately but he would undoubtedly have been here otherwise, and I know that he would have said that this is a daft idea. I know this because I checked with him when I saw him this morning. Although he takes no responsibility whatever for the arguments that I propose, perhaps this could be taken as, to a degree, a reflection of his views as someone who for many years was an outstanding Member of Parliament for the city of Birmingham.

I must take issue briefly with the comments that we have just heard, not least on the argument about direct democracy as if it is somehow more legitimate if a mayor is elected by the whole population of the area rather than being elected by some other mechanism. This is essentially an argument for a presidential system, because I very much doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would say that the Prime Minister has less authority because he is not directly elected by the population as a whole. I, for one, infinitely prefer our parliamentary system, which is basically how our local government system has operated, in much the same way that the Government is decided in the House of Commons. Executive heads are essentially chosen by their peers, and over a period of years their strengths and weaknesses are tested and observed. Although, regrettably, the mayoral system was introduced by a Government whom I supported on most things, it has always seemed to me an attempt to graft a different system from abroad-an alien system sounds so unpleasant-which has no roots in this country. That is the basis of my objection.

I have one or two detailed points to make. The argument that has just been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was that the Government are simply asking local people for their opinions. His position is that it is up to local people to make their minds up. A very skewed question is being put, in the sense that the Government are insisting that these local authorities hold referenda, which seems to be at total variance with all the impassioned speeches we have heard about localism from the Benches opposite. However, it is worse than that, because the Government are insisting that these tests of local opinion shall only be held in those local authority areas which currently do not have a mayoral system. I would have felt slightly more comfortable-but not a lot more-if they had asked one or two of those local authorities that have had experience of this mayoral system over the last 10 years whether they thought it was a good idea to continue with that method of local government. In the one test we have had-in good old Stoke, home of the mighty Potters-the people of Stoke have said, "Thank you very much. We have tried this system out for the past few years and we do not think there is very much to it". I guess that may well be the response of a number of other local authorities should members of the public locally be asked their opinion. However, the Government say, "No, we are not going to ask questions in those areas-only in other areas-and they shall have these referenda whether they want them or not". The only question I want to ask is: where is the demand? There is no evidence of demand that I have seen for locally elected mayors in any of the places where compulsorily they must hold a referendum.

We have already mentioned that the turnout in Salford was 18 per cent, which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, and I agree wholeheartedly with everything he said, is hardly a resounding acclamation for the system-and that is the turnout, not the vote in favour. On the turnouts for some of the referenda we have had so far, in Sunderland it was 10 per cent, in Ealing it was 10 per cent, in Southwark it was 11 per cent-which I suppose is an improvement-and two-thirds of the areas have rejected the idea. I hope very much that the ones that are being tested in this compulsory vote will also reject the idea.

As to the cost in these straitened times-which the Government Benches constantly remind us about-it will be £2.5 million for the referendums. That is about a quarter of a million pounds for each one that is held. Is this really a priority that local people want in these difficult times? I ask, rhetorically, the two previous speakers who have both led their local authority that, if they had been given a quarter of a million pounds, at what point would they have thought the best way to spend it was to hold a referendum on changing the system of local government.

It is, of course, not only the cost of the referendum but should the vote go in favour, there will be the cost of the reorganisation. I have raised this issue already with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and she said in Committee, rather optimistically, that it would depend on the kind of mayoral system that is adopted, which is true. She said:

"The mayor comes in and it might need to provide him with a room. He will probably need a couple of members of staff".

I think that is fairly unlikely. She continued:

"I do not anticipate there being a huge extra cost to the council as a result of this".-[Official Report, 17/1/12; col. GC 146.]

The noble Baroness is very experienced and respected in local government and we do not know whether she is right or I am right in saying that it will cost a lot more than a room and a couple of officers whatever system gets adopted. I cannot think of why on earth we should want to go down that road and spend that amount of money. Certainly, as someone who does not live in London but who watches the mayoral system as it goes on, I cannot believe that it is cheap. Perhaps it is, I do not know the figures, but I would like to ask the Minister-I gave notice to her office about this-whether she can tell us what the government of London cost in the last year under the old system for its head office administration, not for individual services, and what it costs now. I would bet a few shillings that the cost has not gone down. I hope the figures are there somewhere.

My noble friend Lord Beecham asked: what are the benefits of the system? It has been running for 10 years or so in many councils so we ought to know by now. The Government make grandiose claims about it in the supporting document. The Explanatory Memorandum states that the Government believe that,

"directly elected mayors ... enhance their city's prestige and maximise the potential for local economic growth".

So I have to tell the two previous leaders of Newcastle council that, according to the Government, you failed. If you had been directly elected mayors, the place would be zooming.

Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour

On that point, the acclaimed regeneration of the City of Manchester is widely acknowledged to be on the basis of the stability of the political leadership over the past 28 years, when there have been only two leaders of the council. Businesses and civic institutions work closely with that leadership and have been able to plan, over those years, the regeneration which is a model for cities throughout the country.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

That is a fulsome testimony which is entirely justified. I do not know of a shred of evidence to show that in the past 10 years London has been far better managed and that far more prestige has been brought to the city than that brought to Newcastle-I mention Newcastle as a name out of the hat-Birmingham or Manchester by the people who led those cities. I could list the other cities as well.

What are the costs and what are the benefits? I hope that in these referenda, which will doubtless go ahead, people will have the good sense of the two-thirds of those who have been asked so far in different parts of the country and say no. I am sorry about the money that will be wasted en route but I am sure they will save their local authorities money if they do say no. Before there is any further development of this scheme I hope that proper costings are made available and proper research is done into the alleged benefits of the system where it has occurred so far. I also hope that other cities will have the opportunity before too long, if the Minister persists with her policy and holds a referendum in a city that does not have a mayor at present, to follow the splendid example of Stoke-on-Trent and say no.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour 8:30 pm, 6th February 2012

My Lords, I declare an interest, having been a councillor over a long period of time and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, knows, having served on two major European institutions and met a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. I am proud to be able to say that Europe is diverse. Speaking personally-do not worry; I will not break into song-I do not want to be in America where there is a system that means that you can elect the dog catcher or somebody to do this, that or the other job. I quite like Europe because of its diversity. I like the fact that in Spain people can choose whether they have a Catalonian region. I like the fact that regions were developing in Greece. I am sorry for the problems that now face the people in that country.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made my blood run cold when he said that we ought to get on with this because the campaigns have already started. That rings a bell with other bits of this Government's legislation. We are told that, although we have not finished the health Bill, putting it into effect has already begun. That is not the democracy that I believe in. In the democracy that I believe in, you get the legislation in place and then you enact it. If the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, believes strongly in this, then he and my noble friend up in the north-east are perfectly free to go back and get 5 per cent of the population to agree to test the water. What is not in order is for somebody down here in the Government to decide, "You've got to spend that money".

We have not yet seen the full impact of what the Government are doing in terms of local authority budgets and the effect on services. Earlier today the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, whom I, too, respect, in answer to a question about differential funding for local authorities in the north vis-à-vis the south, said, "That is the system we use"-I hope that my paraphrase is agreed to be accurate-"and that is the way the money is allocated". Well, speaking from the north, that way is not a fair way or a good way. People living in northern authorities that are suffering under the cuts in local government expenditure would not choose to spend this money at this time in this way. It is no good saying that it comes from a different budget, pocket or source. Money is money up north; brass is brass, and if there is brass going, they want it spent on old people. The current climate is not one that encourages people to want to spend money on this sort of thing.

I am totally in favour of choices. I actually argued in favour of choices for local people over police and crime commissioners. I asked why we could not have a referendum in each police authority area to ask people whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or whether they wanted a few more police officers on the streets. The Government did not seem to want to ask them that question. In fact, the Government resisted it, as did one or two Liberal Democrat Members of your Lordships' House. At this time there is an issue of accountability. It is no good Members of the coalition, be they on one side or the other, swinging backwards and forwards, saying that the people out there want choice and forcing a referendum on them. What they actually want is choice as to where their hard-earned brass is spent, and at the moment the Government are wasting it on a variety of schemes.

I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who spoke about the importance of individuals and I think that the Government believe in the importance of individuals. In a local authority, the one good thing about the current system, and people know it, is that if a leader is corrupt, difficult or fails to fulfil their duties, those who work with them day after day know about it and they either challenge them and hold them to account or the leader is unseated the next time round.

As for the issue of cities punching below their weight, that has to be seen against the background of the break-up of the regions. This was all too slow in development under my Government. We do not want sub-regionalism. I certainly do not want anything less than north, south, east, west and central in terms of regional strategy. What I actually want is to see people being given a choice. So let us ask the people, and let us ask them all the questions, not just the one or two that the Government favour. I am sure that I am not allowed to gamble in your Lordships' House, but I would bet that if I went home to Ribbleton in Lancashire and asked the people whether they wanted a referendum or a home help, or whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or more police officers at the end of the street-given the descent into rising crime figures under this Government-I know what they would say. With all her distinguished experience in local government, I believe that the Minister does, too.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should probably start with the same words as the noble Baroness who has just spoken. For the past 38 years I have been-and still am-a councillor; indeed I am a member of the executive of a London borough council. I have been a member of the Committee of the Regions, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, since its inception in 1994, and I agree wholly with what she said about that. One of the great joys of being on that committee-there are not that many-is learning about the diversity of what I would call "sub-state government" right across the European Union. I have also been a council leader for 13 years. Where I make a unique claim in this Chamber-well, I was going to say "unique claim", but the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has joined us-is that of having had the doubtful pleasure of spending eight years serving on an authority with the first elected mayor in this country, the Mayor of London.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked for comparisons between the mayoral system in London and what went before. That is an impossible comparison. I get very annoyed when I hear people say-with a lot of justification-that the 10 years with a Mayor of London have been a lot better than what went before. Of course they have. Back in the late 1990s, the Labour Government offered us in London a referendum where the choice was, "Do you want a strategic government for London or not?". I and most of us did. Yet we were not offered the choice of having what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to, as I would, as a parliamentary system-the traditional local government system, which at that time existed everywhere in the United Kingdom-or a presidential system with a strong mayor and a very weak assembly. The Labour Government told us that if we wanted a strategic government, which many of us had campaigned for over many years, the only choice on offer was an elected mayor with a weak assembly-a system once described to me as being just like having George Bush with no Congress. Some of us who had long campaigned for a strategic authority in London found that choice difficult to make, but it was the only choice that the Government gave us. Clearly, had there been a no vote in that referendum, we would not have had another choice to come back and say, "Let us have a parliamentary system instead". There would have been nothing. So forgive me if I am a little cynical when I hear Members on the opposition Bench now complain about the lack of choice.

The other way in which I may be unique here relates to the fact that I have noticed that the debates tonight and on previous occasions have almost always fallen into those opposing the referendums being those who oppose the directly elected mayoral system and those supporting the referendum being those who broadly favour having elected mayors. I find that very odd. I have not yet been tainted by my noble friend Lord Shipley to start changing my mind. I have always been and I remain unconvinced of the case for directly elected mayors. There have been some very good directly elected mayors, both in this country and in other parts of the world, yet we all know that there have quite a few very bad directly elected mayors, some of whom have ended up in prison. Maybe we know about them. I suspect that the vast majority that we do not know about at all have been as indifferent as any other system. We simply do not know about them because they did not make much difference.

I am here tonight to support the Government's intention to have a referendum and to encourage those who hope that it will have a no outcome to have a little more trust and confidence both in their ability to argue that case and in the people to believe it.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I thought that I would provoke someone sooner or later.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Tope, accept that those of us who oppose at this time spending this money on forcing people to have a referendum do so because it is inappropriate? The noble Lord does not know which way I would vote about a locally elected mayor. He knows that I oppose the elected police and crime commissioners.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the arguments about whether we spend money on this or that are always easily made in any debate. Tonight, I should be at my own local authority debating our council budget for the coming year, where the Conservative opposition will argue that we should not put £250,000 into this at the same time as we make a £300,000 cut to something else. You can always have these arguments. The costs of the referendums are very small in comparison to the total budget of any of the authorities, let alone to the national expenditure from which they come. Frankly, that is not a terribly strong argument for or against.

My point was that those of us who would argue yes if they had the chance-I would not, but the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Shipley, would-should have more faith in their ability to convince the electorate. Yes, we would all wish for a higher turnout so that the decision, whatever it is, is more representative of the people at large. Again, the more vigorous the argument and the campaign, the higher the turnout will be. What are the Opposition arguing? Are they saying that there should be a threshold? Are they saying that it should be passed only if a given proportion votes for it? We tried that once before in Scotland and it did not resound terribly well. We simply have to campaign for a high turnout for whatever it is that we believe in. I do not want to be that provocative.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour 8:45 pm, 6th February 2012

My Lords, the local people already have the ability to make that choice without spending money. Let me say this to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I know that one can stand in this Chamber or in a council meeting and say, "This is a relatively small amount of money". But in an area where an old people's home is being closed or the home helps are being reduced, the general public do not see the money that the noble Lord dismisses as trivial or small by comparison as being small when their services are being cut.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I entirely accept that. I am quite sure that in her distinguished career, the noble Baroness as a county councillor-indeed, chairman of the education committee-must on many occasions have had to make such unpopular arguments. I understand that and I am sure that the noble Baroness does as well.

I do not want to take too long or carry on being quite so provocative. However, we come now to the question of why we should have the referenda. First, it was stated in the Conservative Party manifesto, which was at the time of no great excitement to me, but it was then agreed in the coalition agreement-my party has agreed to the commitment that there will be referendums in the originally 12 and now 11 cities. That is an election commitment. It is a governmental commitment. We can all argue what the public do or do not expect. They may not expect political parties to carry out their commitments, but they ought to be able to expect political parties to carry out their commitments. Rightly or wrongly there was a commitment to hold these referendums. It is right that the Government should now be doing that, whatever we may individually hope will be the result of those referendums.

We had the question again about legislation. The Localism Act did not expressly state that these referendums would take place, but it certainly gave the power for them to take place. It was very well known, not least because the coalition agreement referred to it, that this was going to happen. The fact that people are only now in February preparing for a referendum that will probably take place on 3 May is hardly surprising, given all the commitments and all the legislation, including the passing of the Localism Act.

Therefore, I think that the Government are right to be holding these referendums in accordance with the commitments given. Those of us who hope for a no vote should have a lot more confidence in our ability to convince voters. Above all, we ought to trust the people to decide on this. It will decide the issue one way or the other for the foreseeable future. We can then get on with debating an issue that I think is far more important, which is the powers that our local government has-whoever is running it and whatever governance system they choose to have-to get on and revitalise not only our cities but the whole of the rest of local government in this country.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the passion at the end was very good. It has been a low-key debate apart from that. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington-if I may hesitantly say so-has quite a short memory, particularly in relation to putting legislation in place before it has been passed. I stood where the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is on more times than I care to recall, telling the then Government that they were introducing and had almost put into effect legislation before it had been passed. Therefore, I do not accept that challenge to what we are doing here, but I do think the noble Baroness must not forget that that was a situation with practically all the legislation that the previous Government put in place. We must not forget that.

The grant to each local authority is done against a formula-as indeed the previous Government did. We have argued for years over which way the formula was going, one way or there other. People have short memories. We must just all try to remember where we came from.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, drew attention to the fact that the coalition Government's programme made it clear that we are committed to creating directly elected mayors. That commitment was carried out in the Localism Act and was a commitment to having a referendum in 12 cities. Those cities are now 11 because Leicester took the decision to move to a mayor under the original provisions in the Local Government Act 2000. The Government believe that there is good evidence that a powerful, dynamic and directly elected mayor can provide strong, visible leadership, increase accountability for local decisions, deliver local economic growth-that is really important-and bring greater prosperity to their city. However, we believe that it is up to the electorates in these cities to decide in a referendum whether they believe that the mayoral model is one that they would wish to embrace. Through directing that referendums take place, we are ensuring that the people have the opportunity to address the question for themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that the question that was going to be asked was skewed. I remind him that it is set by the independent Electoral Commission and not by the Government.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, I did not express myself very well. I said it was skewed in the sense that it was being asked only in those areas that currently do not have a directly elected mayor. It would be a far fairer test if referendums were also being held in areas that already have them and may want to get rid of them, as Stoke did.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I hear what the noble Lord says, but that was not a provision in the Localism Act. It provided for referendums in the 12 cities and not for referendums elsewhere or on other mayors that have already been elected under the 2000 Act, which was implemented by his Government.

The heart of the case advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is the question of compulsion and the cost of the referendums. We are not requiring any particular outcome for these referendums; we are clear that the decisions about local government are for local people and nothing that we are doing departs from that principle. We are ensuring that people in our larger cities have the opportunity to address the question as to whether they want a mayor for their city. We have made it clear that central government will bear the cost of the referendums, estimated to be about £2.25 million, in line with the long-established new burdens doctrine. On the examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, of what her local authority would think about and what people think about, this will come from central Government-

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

It may surprise the Minister that people whom I have represented over many years do not distinguish where the money comes from but where it goes to.

The Minister reiterated that this provision was in the manifesto agreement of the coalition, when it came together. So it was in the manifestos of both parties and in the coalition agreement that there would be no top-down major reorganisation of the health service. I find it difficult to accept why certain things in the coalition agreement are sacrosanct while others are being trodden on daily to the disgust of the medical profession.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. The Government believe that there is good evidence that-

Photo of Lord Bilston Lord Bilston Labour

Would the Minister allow me to ask a question about costs? We are all well aware of the problems that the majority of people in this country are facing at this moment. How do the Government reconcile the spending of £2.5 million on these referendums, £85 million on the AV referendum and £25 million on the referendum for police commissioners? How can we square this vast amount of expenditure when there is so much poverty and we are taking legislation through this House which will make people more impoverished? We are voting on measures which are unnecessary, certainly in the minds of the public. As we have heard, they are not interested in these kinds of changes. They want local government as they have always understood it: councillors working together for their communities, most often across parties, to bring about the improvements that people look for. I suggest that this is a complete waste of time and money.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, when we have had the referendums we will know whether or not people want to have a mayor, or whether they want changes to their local governance system. This is in 12 cities, that is all: the 12 largest cities. It is not in the rest of the country, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, can already have those referendums if they can get enough people to sign the bits of paper under the Act passed by the previous Government.

The value of large cities effectively led by powerful mayors is demonstrated by international and domestic experience. I am not going to quote Barcelona. There is, not least, the Mayor of London: the capital has benefitted from having a strong voice and leadership. As a result it has been possible to start devolving powers from the centre to the mayor, who is then able to work in conjunction with local government and see major infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, implemented. It exactly because of these and similar benefits which we believe that mayors will bring to other large cities that, in our view, those large cities should all have the opportunity to be governed by elected mayors. Evidence shows that, on average, local authority mayors are known to 57 per cent of local people-over twice the percentage for a council leader. I will not tempt the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to tell me what percentage of people recognised him on the streets of Newcastle. I am confident that it might be a smidgen under 57 per cent, but I am not going to make a bet on it.

Noble Lords on both this and a previous occasion have argued against these orders, and against what they see as being compulsion, citing the current provisions under the Local Government Act 2000, which include the petition trigger and the ability for a council to resolve to change its governance arrangements, as being sufficient. This is consistent with the approach taken by the previous Government which legislated to hold a referendum in 1998 on an elected mayor for London, which has also already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Tope.

However, I would like remind noble Lords that, under the Local Government Act 2000, which was enacted by the previous Government, there were two further triggers for a referendum. Section 35 of the 2000 Act provides that the Secretary of State may make provision enabling him or her, in circumstances set out in the regulations, to direct a local authority to hold a governance referendum. Section 36 of that Act provides that:

"The Secretary of State may by order make provision requiring every local authority, or every local authority falling within any description of authority specified in the order, to hold a referendum", on whether those authorities should operate a specific form of governance, which could include the mayoral form of governance. We are not on a unique path here. In fact, the previous Government used the power under Section 35 of the Act to compel the London Borough of Southwark, which I think the noble Lord mentioned, to hold a referendum on its governance model in January 2002. Indeed, this compulsion was in the form of a direction and was not even subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as this legislation is. The provisions in the Localism Act 2011 are therefore not new or confined to this Government, who are concentrating, as I have said, on just 12 cities-but that is now 11, following Leicester's decision to adopt the mayoral form of government.

It has also been argued that there is no appetite for a mayor or, indeed, for a referendum but I would like to be clear that a case for a referendum under these circumstances is not about whether there is a clamour for one. It is about the governance of our big cities and their contribution to the country as a whole, and about how a mayor can help their city to perform even more strongly economically, socially and environmentally. That is why we believe, at the very least, that the people of the city should have the opportunity to address-and seriously address-the question of whether to have a mayor. The choice is theirs.

In the next few months, discussions and arguments will take place about the strengths and weaknesses of a mayoral model-I am saying "mayoral" because I am not sure that it is "mayoreal", as I do not think there is an "e" in it. It is exactly this type of debate and discussion that points to the validity of an exercise in giving local people the opportunity to address the question of whether to move to that. Let us be clear; we see mayors as being better able to deliver growth and prosperity to our larger cities, something which I know that we all want.

During Grand Committee, and indeed today, noble Lords asked about the cost of a mayor against other governance structures, and about internal administrative costs and savings or allowances. As we made clear in the impact assessment, which I am sure noble Lords have all studied, and as I said in Committee, any costs or savings will depend on how much reorganisation a city council decides to undertake to accommodate the mayor. In order to do so, it may of course reallocate resources internally in a variety of ways. However, based on the 11 authorities which have adopted an elected mayor since 2000, there does not appear to be any substantial difference in the corporate and democratic core costs of having a mayor compared with a leader. Perhaps that underlines my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, last time. In the light of the current financial position, I am sure that any elected mayor would want to keep their costs and allowances down to ensure that they remain within budget.

I think it is correct that the version of the question which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was kind enough to tell the department that he would ask is not entirely the question that he asked in the Chamber. I am going to reply as on the first, if I may. He had asked what the costs were in the administration of the Greater London Council in its last year, if that is correct, and what the costs are now that we have a mayor and Assembly. The noble Lord is nodding his head, so I assume that is right. I can tell him that the GLC and GLA are not directly comparable in terms of function, particularly since information on the GLC is now historic. The combined component budget for the GLA-that is, the mayor and Assembly-for 2011-12 is £155.1 million. That is net of any specific grants of council tax and is the closest publicly available figure to an administrative budget that we can find. The noble Lord may wish to note that the current Mayor of London has in fact frozen council tax during his last four years in office, helped in part by this Government's two-year council tax freeze. By contrast, under the previous Mayor of London the Greater London Authority's council tax levy almost trebled.

Finally, my honourable friend the Minister for Cities in the other place, Greg Clark, recently announced the Government's intention that the first election of a mayor will take place on 15 November of this year, fulfilling the Government's commitment that mayoral elections would take place shortly after any referendum which resulted in a yes vote. I am sure that there will be vigorous debate between 3 May and then if there are to be any elections.

We are clear as to why we believe that elected mayors would enhance the leadership of the 11 major cities, delivering greater growth and prosperity. We cannot compel an outcome but we can give local people the option of a change of governance. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shipley for his comments, and, indeed, to my noble friend Lord Tope. I hear what he says. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

In response to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I simply add that these orders will give the people of the cities involved an opportunity through a referendum to consider and decide on their future governance without the cost falling on the cities themselves. I commend the orders to the House.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for what has been a lively debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friends. To reassure my noble friend Lord Grocott, I think that three local authorities are seeking to undo the mischief of the mayoral system, as he and I and perhaps some of those, would see it, although it remains to be seen what will happen in the referendums which will no doubt take place in those authorities.

I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the original referendum in London. I opposed the proposition at the time, as, indeed, did Ken Livingstone, who was not at all keen on the idea until he was a candidate and was elected. However, such things happen in politics.

The Minister referred to the cost of the referendums and made the point again that that is being paid for by the Government. However, the cost of any subsequent elections will not be borne by the Government. They will be roughly the same figure and will fall on the relevant local authorities in November if the referendums lead to an affirmative vote. She also referred to Southwark, where a referendum was apparently imposed in 2002. That achieved the amazing turnout of 11 per cent and rejected the concept of having a mayor, which my noble friend Lord Grocott mentioned. That is surely evidence that there is no appetite for these elections, about which I spoke in moving the regret Motion.

However, the Minister did not respond to my question about what is to happen after this round of referendums. There are some 300 other councils. Is it the Government's intention to roll this out across the country? What about the flagship Tory councils, such as Westminster and Wandsworth, which she apparently believes are less good performers than those with mayors? Those are Tory councils with substantial populations and responsibilities. Apparently, there is no proposal at the moment for referendums in those places. We have to learn eventually-

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

With respect, I have answered that question. I drew noble Lords' attention to the fact that the Localism Act allows for referendums to be held only in the 12 cities. There was no question of there being referendums elsewhere. However, as the noble Lord knows, they can be held, if that is what is required, under the Local Government Act 2000.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am not sure that that is right. However, in any event, irrespective of whether or not the Government have the power to require referendums-I think that they do, but I may be wrong-what the noble Baroness has said constitutes a pretty substantial disparagement of the record of her political colleagues in significant authorities not unadjacent to where we are debating these matters, among others. I find it rather strange that apparently only mayoral authorities are capable of delivering regeneration and economic prosperity. The case that has been advanced is that you need a mayor to make that progress. Frankly, I do not accept that. However, in general there is a continuing lack of evidence in support of the mayoral system. I say with all due respect to the noble Baroness that affirmation is not evidence.

I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. He gives as a reason for supporting elected mayors that there are to be police commissioners. In November people will have the opportunity of buying one and getting one free because there will be two votes on the same day. But, of course, it will not be free; it will presumably be double the cost. If there is a mayoral referendum that will cost roughly £250,000 and there will be separate costs for the police commissioner elections, which would also clock up to the same figure in individual authorities. If they are buying two, they will have to pay for two. They do not get one free.

Why the existence of a police commissioner should make it all the more desirable to have an elected mayor, I do not understand. But then few people understand why we should have police commissioners in the first place, including quite a lot of Members on the government Benches in this House and in the other place. Certainly it is not understood by the Prime Minister's favourite police officer, Mr Bratton, whom he wanted to appoint as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who could not understand why the American system should be imported into this country.

The noble Lord also welcomed the powers to be given to elected mayors but without explaining why only elected mayors should get them. In fact, it is not only elected mayors who are likely to get them because discussions are going on with other authorities. There is an interesting development around Greater Manchester with the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, which is not predicated on the existence of a mayor either from Manchester or the area as a whole.

I must tease the noble Lord somewhat. It is only a few months since he and I were jointly discussing how we might campaign together against the idea of an elected mayor. This gives rise to the Paul Daniels question. Your Lordships will remember the magician and television personality Paul Daniels and his attractive young wife. She was asked: "What is it about balding millionaire Paul Daniels that persuaded you to marry him?". I gently put to the noble Lord, "What is it Lord Shipley, recently appointed government adviser on cities, that has led you to change your mind about elected mayors?".

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

I have read a lot of the research evidence in that context as a large amount of research has been done on the role of elected mayors. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that a number of countries in Europe do not have our system and that you cannot build an elected mayoral system on to our democratic system of local government. I do not agree. I have read research produced by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I have read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and Terry Leahy on Liverpool and Merseyside. There is also the Warwick commission on elected mayors. There is a body of research demonstrating that you could have stronger economic growth by having a stronger governance system. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that he was talking to me about the importance of campaigning against elected mayors. I was not talking to him about that.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I do not recall the conversation being as one sided as that, but I shall allow the noble Lord to get away with his disavowal of those discussions. I was really only teasing him.

The issue is not who exercises the powers but what the powers are. They do not have to be conferred on a single individual with all the disadvantages to which I referred. Experience around the world is extremely variable. There are appointed mayors, as in Holland. The Labour Party, as I told the Grand Committee, once sent people to see the mayoral system in Holland without realising they were appointed rather than elected-not untypical. There are elected mayors. There is the Barcelona model. There are mayors in jail, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly said. There are mayors who are very successful. There are leaders of councils in both categories no doubt as well. The crucial thing about economic development is having the necessary powers and being able to co-operate with other authorities. In that context, of course, that opportunity has been rather dismantled by the abolition of regional development agencies and the lack of a proper system for ensuring co-operation.

However, we are where we are. I will certainly be campaigning against an elected mayor in my own authority. I shall be happy to quote the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in support of a bipartisan approach. I look forward to seeing the noble Baroness campaigning up and down the country in Conservative authorities-while we still have Conservative authorities-for referendums and elected mayors too. That is something she has not yet found time to do. Perhaps she has not really had the inclination, but maybe that will follow after May. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.

Motion agreed.