Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:50 pm on 8th June 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour 6:50 pm, 8th June 2015

Well in that case, I will half forgive the noble Lord.

The only major worry I have about the proposed legislation is of course the vexed question of money. When legislation such as this is greeted with such enthusiasm by the Treasury, and the Chancellor tours the country telling everyone how anxious he is to devolve all these powers, I am inclined, perhaps due to my experience as an ex-Whip in the other place, to start counting the spoons. It worries me a great deal that these powers will be devolved without the necessary financial backing to meet them. Again, at Question Time earlier today, the Minister said—if I may say so, somewhat airily—that there will be a mayoral precept. There will have to be a whacking great mayoral precept to take care of all the powers envisaged in this particular Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, quite rightly said that these devolved authorities should surely be able to retain the 100% business rates in their areas. But those two combined will not finance all the matters that are to be devolved. The Government have a duty and responsibility to say exactly where the money will come from. The worst of all worlds would be for some future Government to face questions either in your Lordships’ House or the other place about deficiencies in these matters in a local authority area and for the Minister to say, “That’s nothing to do with me: these matters have been devolved”, due to the Bill that we are discussing today.

I finally turn to the question of what to call these authorities. Again, my noble friend Lady Donaghy, in her very able speech, talked about the “freedom for Birmingham” Bill. One thing you could not call it in the West Midlands is Birmingham, whether greater or otherwise. The great cities of Wolverhampton and Coventry, to name but two, would have something to say about being absorbed into anything called “greater Birmingham”, let alone the boroughs of Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall, to name another three likely objectors. Of course the Minister might say that the leafy suburbs of Trafford and Sale in Greater Manchester, and perhaps my home town of Stockport, would be more prepared to vote for an elected mayor than the city of Manchester, although she will have a job persuading many of us that that is the case, if that is her argument. But while the name of Greater Manchester seems to be acceptable in the north-west, “greater Birmingham” would certainly not be acceptable to those of us in the West Midlands.

With those few provisos and reservations about the Bill, I await the more detailed legislation after your Lordships’ House and the other place have given these matters the scrutiny they want and deserve.