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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:25 pm on 8th June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 7:25 pm, 8th June 2015

Pretty well anywhere, but not quite anywhere. However, I have my doubts whether the concept of a directly elected mayor at a combined-authority level will prove any more popular. One of the problems with the rhetoric on the Bill, particularly from the Chancellor and those who are briefing on his behalf, is that it is suggested that the full range of powers will go only to those combined authorities opting for a directly elected mayor. Some of the comments that the Minister made in a briefing meeting and today suggest a bit more flexibility in that regard. As we go through the Bill, I should like to ask how much flexibility we have area by area.

It will be important for us to recognise the different requirements and priorities area by area, but also to recognise the different existing structures area by area. As my noble friend Lord Snape said, it is not just a question of whether you call the relevant area “Greater Birmingham”, to everybody else’s offence, but rather of looking for a combined authority and a directly elected mayor to cover the cities of the East Midlands. We have an elected mayor in Leicester. That is fine. However, Nottingham very firmly rejected the elected-mayor principle. If we were to bring those together with the counties surrounding them, we would experience some difficulty if we were seen to be imposing a particular structure as distinct from particular powers, responsibilities and resourcing.

Questions will be raised on the Bill as we go through Committee but I think the central one is: in what context will it operate? Will it operate in a context in which we free up the financial flexibility and availability of funds for local authorities, or one in which we try to compensate in some way for ever-squeezed formal public expenditure commitments, but not by allowing local authorities to raise their own resources to deliver the economic development we are looking for through innovative partnerships with the private sector and the financial sector?

London does not seem to be covered by the Bill. The London councils say that they could do with some of the powers in the Bill. Will the Minister indicate, either now or in Committee, what powers could be devolved to a combination of London boroughs and the GLA?

My last, and perhaps flippant point, concerns Wales. This is called an England and Wales Bill yet virtually none of it applies to Wales because local authority structures are a devolved matter for Wales. However, as I say, it is called an England and Wales Bill in the appendix. When we discuss English votes for English laws, I would like to know whether this is indeed an English Bill or an England and Wales Bill. That is a minor point in some ways but probably not considered so in Wales. The bigger point is: will the powers and resources really match the rhetoric that surrounds this Bill?