Moved by Lord Teverson
44DE: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Function of making representations on transport issues
(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide that it shall be a function of a combined authority to make representations about transport issues affecting the area of that authority.
(2) If a combined authority has the function described in subsection (1), that authority shall be consulted on relevant transport issues.
(3) In this section “transport” means—
(b) roads falling within the competence of the Secretary of State,
(c) airports, and
(4) In this section “transport issues” includes—
(a) proposals for new transport infrastructure within the area of the authority, and
(b) changes to proposals or decisions previously announced by the Secretary of State on transport infrastructure within the area of the authority.”
My Lords, I speak on this amendment put forward by my noble friends Lord Shipley, Lord Scriven and Lady Pinnock. As we know, one of the key tasks of combined authorities—and one of the key areas where we expect there to be strong synergies, better co-ordination and economic stimulus—is transport and changing transport arrangements. We have seen how in London transport is absolutely essential, and an important part of the mayor’s role; in fact, many people would say it is perhaps the only effective part of the mayor’s role in London. Although we are not comparing London with the other metropolitan areas, it is still a very important area—we have seen that from the recent debate in terms of the northern powerhouse and all the transport arrangements around the Greater Manchester authority, and the others proposed in the north, and indeed joining up those combined authorities that are likely to happen in the north of England.
The purpose of this amendment is simple. Given that this is such a core element of any proposal for combined authorities and the relationship between the Government and those authorities, there should be a very clear form of communication, consultation and exchange of information between those authorities and the Secretary of State. As and when those combined authorities come about, there is then an obligation, once it has been entered into, for the Government and the Secretary of State to communicate transport issues—whether that be rail, roads, airports, or ports—with the combined authority, and for a consultation to take place. Clearly, this is important and part of what will happen.
This has been shown to be very important because, since we had the debate on the northern powerhouse and the transport elements and connectivity of that, already we have had a major change. The following week we heard that a core part of the northern powerhouse strategy—the electrification and improvement of the line on the TransPennine Express between Manchester and Leeds—is postponed. We hope that it is only postponed but it appears that we will all have to catch our breath and wait during the whole of the summer until Network Rail, in conjunction with the department, decides the fate of something that was seen to be absolutely core to the northern powerhouse and the new potential combined authorities.
There is no better illustration than this of why such a change in the Bill is required, in order that there will be real communication, advance warning and consultation between those authorities, the Secretary of State and the department, let alone all the public who are affected. That announcement, which was made so soon after we had the debate, and was apparently a surprise and a new announcement, came very soon after all the big promises and the energy that the Chancellor and others put into the concept of the northern powerhouse. This amendment is nothing more than a sticking plaster but we hope that it would work better for the future and ensure that such an incident does not happen again. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is a good deal of sense in this amendment. Of course, there are areas—my own is one of them—in which transport issues were effectively run, so far as the Metro system is concerned, for many years by the local authorities before the combined authority came into being. The combined authority currently oversees the function. In relation to roads in particular, I said at an earlier stage of the Bill that, in my part of the world at any rate, the experience of local authorities with Highways England—as I now understand it to be, as opposed to the Highways Agency—is far from satisfactory. What would be the relationship there? Would it be a direct relationship with the combined authorities—Highways England is not really organised on a basis comparable to local government—or would it be via the Secretary of State? It is a matter that needs clarifying. The general thrust in this is one which we would support.
My Lords, I am pleased to put my name to this amendment and I thank my noble friend Lord Teverson for outlining the reason why it is necessary. On the face of it, it would not seem necessary to have such an amendment, apart from the announcement made last week with regard to major transport infrastructure and electrification of all the rails in the north of England. Let us assume that we have this new system of decentralisation or devolution, and a number of combined authorities and mayors are making significant investments in their areas with regard to the environment and the economy, having been promised that major infrastructure will be invested in to make their rail system faster and the major cities of the north connected, and to help economic activity and to speed up the way in which commuters and people can travel.
Let us further assume that, with no consultation or prior warning, the Government pull that major investment, or pause it or kick it into the long grass—whatever phrase is used. For several years, combined authorities and mayors might have been making strategic investments about the location of economic zones or other infrastructure that fits on to the railways in which the Government said that they would invest. That is why the provision needs to be in the Bill. The Minister said that such things would of course be discussed and a requirement did not need to be written into the Bill, but we now have a real case in which dozens of leaders in the north of England have not been consulted about a major change in government infrastructure funding.
We have gone from the northern powerhouse to the northern power cut in the blink of an eye. We are talking about devolution and decentralisation in which significant responsibilities and money for transport will be handed down to local areas, and strategic decisions will be made not in a vacuum but in relation to national government infrastructure. Local areas will be not only consulted but seen as equal partners so that their investments and plans are taken into consideration when the Government invest; and so that the Government keep local areas informed truthfully, openly and honestly about decisions on infrastructure, whether roads, rail, ports or aviation. This is not a made-up scenario; it is a real scenario that happened last week. It is important that it is written into the Bill that areas that have devolved powers should be consulted or warned about government transport infrastructure decisions, and that the area’s ideas are fed into the national plan.
I am happy to support the amendment and I ask the Minister to accept it. Last week shows exactly why the amendment needs to be in the Bill. We need to enable not just the Government but combined authorities, which will be making significant decisions about their local transport systems, to make strategic decisions.
My Lords, I will respond first to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. I will talk later about the Northern Hub and my perspective on it, having worked on it some years ago.
The amendment is not necessary because existing legislation already enables the Secretary of State to confer by order transport functions on a combined authority. In such circumstances, a combined authority with strategic responsibilities is able to make representations about decisions that are likely to impact on its area and how it exercises those transport functions should it decide to do so. On the point about combined authorities being consulted, I can confirm that, wherever appropriate, the Government would expect to consult all local authorities, not just combined authorities, on new infrastructure in their area, whether that be transport or otherwise.
However, the Government must have discretion to take decisions about the future and prioritisation of national assets across the country, some of which—for instance rails and roads, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred—run through many local authority areas. Of course we would expect to engage with local areas on the impact of such changes. One of the advantages a combined authority brings is that it enables the Government to focus their engagement on issues such as transport with a single body that can represent its constituent authorities on strategic responsibilities across a wider area.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about the relationship with Highways England. The relationship would depend on the deal. For example, with the Sheffield deal agreed in December, the combined authority and the local enterprise partnership will have a key role in developing strategy with Highways England and Network Rail.
Returning to the Transport Secretary’s Statement of
I do not remember which noble Lord—I think it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—said that this scheme was announced very recently and has now been scrapped. As I said, I worked on the Northern Hub scheme some three or four years ago. The announcement was made in 2012 and some of it has been delivered. The noble Lord is right that it has been paused—not indefinitely delayed—at this point and I hope that there will shortly be a statement about its continuation.
No one more than me welcomed the ambitious £38 billion investment which has been shown to be overambitious. Part of that investment programme was introduced during the coalition Government and, no doubt, there were creaks in it even at that time.
The Minister has tried to assure me that this is not necessary but was the Midland main line and the TransPennine Express announcement as much news to the local authorities as it was to us? The momentum and rhetoric of the Government since the election, particularly out of the Treasury, has been about pushing this programme forward. This makes it even more incredible that suddenly it has hit the buffers, to use the cliché, literally within a week of this amazing government rhetoric. Did the local authorities get any inkling of this before the public and the House?
I cannot confirm that those local authorities had any inkling—there is no one from Manchester or Leeds here this evening—but, as I tried to say earlier, the Northern Hub, as a project, is well under way. This aspect of it has been paused—not stopped—and I fully expect it to continue.
The purpose of the amendment is not to say that it has not altered. Let me give a practical example. If a local authority, LEP or combined authority agreed with a multinational investor a decision about the placing of a factory or economic unit and then out of the blue, without any consultation or pre-warning, this major transport electrification on which the investment is predicated was postponed, what would that look like to the international investor? How do the combined authority and the mayor respond? The whole purpose of this Bill is for the mayor to have some form of accountability and authority to deliver on the powers that are handed down or in partnership with national bodies.
The amendment does not ask for them to override. It says that if something like this happens, it is in the Bill that the Government, as a matter of courtesy and of strategic planning with that combined authority and mayor, will pre-warn and discuss some strategic changes that may be made so that they can reassure people who are either investing there, or there already, rather than being left startled and unable to answer the significant questions that investors will be asking.
I take the noble Lord’s point that if an international investor was reliant upon the fact that the Government had made an announcement about something and then a mayor or combined authority proceeded in that way, it would be very difficult. I have just been passed a note about the Transport Secretary, who gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee in March. He was at that point raising concerns about the cost and the programme delays on the TransPennine link and First Great Western. Transport Ministers answer questions on rail issues all the time. Uncertainty is a natural part of a huge programme; I think that all noble Lords would accept that. The timetable is subject to continuous review as plans develop and the Transport Minister has set out his plan for addressing, not scrapping, the situation. I hope that that comforts the noble Lord.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. There is a real problem here and it is something that needs to be fixed. I do not in any way question her or her department’swill that this project happens or that they will communicate with the combined authorities, but the track record shows there is a need here. I will think about that further. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44DE withdrawn.
Clause 10: Governance arrangements etc of local authorities in England
Amendment 44E not moved.
Moved by Lord Shipley
44F: Clause 10, page 10, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) Where regulations under subsection (1) apply to local authorities in areas not part of a combined authority, the Secretary of State may allow for the local authority to enter into collaborative working arrangements with a mayor or other appropriate governance structure operating in a city or metropolitan area.”
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 44F very briefly. We had a helpful debate last week about the nature of a combined authority which had close to it less populated and rural areas that nevertheless were part of the urban area in terms of service provision. What we have here is a form of words which I hope the Minister may find helpful, in that it enables maximum flexibility but protects the rights of rural areas. It is a statement of principle about the opportunity for local authorities, which are not part of a combined authority but may be close to it, to enter into collaborative working arrangements with a mayor or other appropriate governance structure which operates in a city or metropolitan area. I hope the Minister finds it a helpful amendment because it is a statement of principle and would enable rural areas to feel more integrated, rather than taken over by urban areas. I hope she is able to think about this amendment and that we can pursue the matter further on Report.
My Lords, Amendments 44H, 44J, 44K and 44L are in my name. They are probing amendments, and in speaking to them I am very proud to declare an interest as a member of Cumbria County Council. I speak to these amendments with the full support of the Labour leader of Cumbria County Council, Stewart Young. I very much hope that the outcome might be some kind of constructive cross-party—I emphasise that—dialogue between the county council, the generality of local government in Cumbria and DCLG Ministers about how best to streamline what are really cumbersome arrangements for local government in our county in the wider public interest.
We desperately need a simplification of the present structures to provide better value for money at a time when things are very tight and will possibly get a lot worse; to make local government more effective at doing its job with limited resources; to improve democratic accountability and closeness to the people for the entirety of the services that we deliver; and, most importantly in the context of the Bill, to enable the people of Cumbria and the new authorities in Cumbria to seize the opportunities for devolution of power from an overcentralised Whitehall that the Bill is all about.
The amendments are to Clause 10. We are quite far along in our deliberations but it is the clause that justifies the inclusion of “and Local Government” in the title of the Bill because it widens the scope of what we are talking about from what I think in reality initially started out as a big cities government Bill into something that can transform local government in many of our smaller city and county areas. I remind my Labour colleagues that I think this is in line with the party policy at the last election, where we stressed the importance of devolution to county regions as well as city regions.
Clause 10 does not seek to impose a single model on local authorities, and that is very welcome. That flexibility is right but the aim of the amendments in my name is to remove what we in Cumbria believe will be an insuperable obstacle to the necessary transformation of structures; that is, the requirement in Clause 10(3) that regulations can be made,
“only with the consent of the local authorities to whom the regulations apply”.
This requirement for local government unanimity—in my view and, I venture to say, in the view of many people in Cumbria—gives far too much weight and leverage to what I would describe as the forces of small “c” conservatism. I hasten to add that the position I am putting forward is supported by many large “C” Conservatives in the county. This is not a party issue; this is a view that unites people across the parties in my county council.
My amendments try to offer a number of options for what could take the place of Clause 10(3) to facilitate the creation of new single-tier councils in what are at present two-tier local government areas. I emphasise that in Cumbria that would not necessarily be a single, unitary council but it would be a streamlined model of authorities. In our view, substantial consensus in the community would be necessary to support such a measure but not unanimity, which experience has shown over 25 years—it has been 25 years since this was first discussed—is impossible to achieve. I am putting these amendments forward as options. Some are mutually contradictory. We are interested to hear what the Government think and whether they are prepared to move on this question.
We are putting forward what I would describe as a proposal to enable the Government to be permissive. It would allow progress, which is so important, and I would like briefly to concentrate on the reasons why.
First, in the age of austerity that we are in, unifying councils will save considerable amounts of money. We have to be grown-ups. We know that there is going to be an intensification of austerity, probably starting with the Budget next week. It is our duty as elected representatives in our county to try to safeguard front-line services as best we can in these circumstances. I am not trying to generate a political argument. I just think that it is the clear duty of everyone, of whatever party, to try to do their best to maintain front-line services.
We commissioned a study from EY, which said that having a unitary authority for the whole of Cumbria would save at least £28 million a year in operating costs, which is about 6% of the revenue budget of the county and district authorities combined. That is a substantial saving. Even if the necessary savings might be double—or in the worst-case scenario, triple—6%, that would be a substantial chunk of the savings that the county would have to make in the process of fiscal consolidation, and I am told that the evidence is that where unitary authorities have been established the savings have been rather larger than initially anticipated.
Secondly, it is important to concentrate functions in a single authority if we are to be effective in local government. It really is a nonsense to have planning in one place and economic development in another, to have rubbish collection in one council and environmentally sustainable disposal in another, or to try to have a transport plan if one council is in control of highways and another of off-street parking. There are innumerable instances of this kind. So, for effectiveness, this change is desirable.
Thirdly, it would improve democratic accountability. The great problem with the present arrangements is that it is the under-resourced, tiny district councils that see themselves, and are seen by the public, as the local voice of the people, although they are largely powerless in reality to turn that voice into action, while the county council—which has 85% of the resources—is by definition seen as remote and people do not understand it. It is unhealthy for local democracy to have this division between a pretty meaningless local accountability and a council that is remote from the people, and it is bad for the attitude of the people who work in the authorities.
Fourthly—this is the key point in relation to the Bill—it is only through having a scheme of local reorganisation that we will be able to take advantage of the further opportunities for devolution in the Bill. I think the Minister had an exchange last Wednesday with my noble friend Lady Hollis. She outlined how there could be a local level combined authority, which could then be part of another combined authority, which could then be part of another combined authority. The Minister was very clear that this Russian doll model would not work. If in Cumbria we are to play a part in the devolution of power, we have to find a way of simplifying our local government structure. That is vital if many local problems are to be addressed. For instance, a unified council in north Cumbria could ask to become part of the combined authority being established in the north-east to try to improve east-west communications, or we could try to extend the remit of our LEP outside Cumbria by partnering with others to address issues such as regeneration, business growth and skills, where we are just too small to get a handle on those things.
One of the biggest problems, although it is outside the Minister’s remit, is that we have some of the worst-performing health bodies in the country in our county. They are running up very big deficits. The solution to all the bed-blocking and the problems that exist has to be much closer integration with social care. There has to be a way of doing that, but it would be very difficult to do it with a two-tier structure.
For all those reasons I am hoping that this set of amendments will generate a discussion. I know that the argument has previously been made that, “We don’t want to waste time on local government reorganisation, and anyway we will only consider proposals for its reorganisation if everybody is agreed on a way forward”. I think that many of the noble Lords in the Chamber come from metropolitan areas. Although there have been strong competing rivalries between councils in metropolitan areas in the past, a strong mutual interest has prevailed in those rivalries. In two-tier areas, it is different. There is an inbuilt structural tension between the authorities and conflict between them. There is a debate which is existential for quite a few people, and you will never get agreement. That is why I am asking not for the Secretary of State to dictate but for an openness to incentivise local authorities to talk to each other and begin to reach an agreement by saying, “There are circumstances in which we could go ahead and streamline local government even if we don’t have unanimity”. I leave it there for now, in the hope that the Minister will take on board some of this unsolicited advice.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend. I agree with much of what he was saying, especially in relation to county regions. I apologise for not having participated in the debate beforehand, but much of it has of course been about metropolitan areas and the growth spur needed for them. I fear that in county areas we will be left behind even more, so I hope that the Government will soon come out with some ideas about what they will be doing about county regions, because those are fundamental to the well-being of our country as a whole.
The Explanatory Memorandum clearly states that the Bill is to,
“support delivery of the Government’s manifesto commitment to ‘devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England’, in particular … ‘economic development’”.
That is absolutely fine and we could agree with it all over the Chamber. However, the potential of devolution is far more than economic. It should be about much more than our economic well-being. It should be about the devolution of power not just to local politicians but to communities and citizens. It should be about the devolution of functions and powers to the lowest possible level, and about empowering citizens. It is an opportunity to reconnect people with politics and to help restore trust in our system of governance. Like all noble Lords, I am concerned about the rise of populism in this country—indeed, throughout the European Union—and my amendment seeks to address people’s feelings of distance and alienation, albeit in a very small way. This is about a new politics, a new way of doing politics, which I believe is necessary for the democratic well-being of our country.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to an excellent publication by Claudia Chwalisz of the Policy Network and the Barrow Cadbury Trust entitled The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change. Drawing on new survey data in the UK as well as interviews and case studies, the publication shows that people are concerned with the process of politics, not merely its performance, and that they have genuine desire for greater political participation in the decision-making process. It cites examples of interactive forums such as citizens’ assemblies, which allow political institutions to involve citizens in making decisions that affect them. These are not a threat to formal systems of government but much-needed additions to enrich democracy. People might not trust politics, politicians and policies, but they do want to be engaged in decision-making about the services that most affect them.
Young people in particular want a different way of doing things in place of the hierarchical, top-down ways of traditional politics and governance. It seems to me that the Bill could provide an opportunity to encourage local government to devolve powers to local communities and citizens. When people feel, as they do, that the current system does not work for them, populism comes to the fore. The devolution of power to the people is a means of countering the simplistic attractions of the populists, who are feeding off anger and a politics of grievance. This means that politicians at local as well as national level must loosen their grip on power, not just between different levels of government but directly to communities and to individuals as well. It means empowering people and giving them a voice. By this I do not mean consulting local people and then taking no notice of their views; I mean involving them in making important political decisions and enabling them to shape their local services.
There are already some excellent examples of where this sort of policy has been successful. I am sure that many noble Lords can cite examples. I know that my honourable friend Steve Reed, when leader of the council in Lambeth, shared power with, for example, tenants on local estates and with young people in respect of youth provision in their locality. I know that Councillor Sharon Taylor, the excellent leader of Stevenage Council, is doing likewise.
I recognise that it will take some time to familiarise people, including elected politicians, with the idea that “ordinary citizens” can and should be involved in making important political decisions and being properly empowered. Voting, in terms of engagement, is not working, and we have to find new ways of engaging people. It is all very well for us to consider the devolution of power and budgets, but it is the citizens of our country whose views must be taken into consideration. Their voices must be heeded. In doing so, the Government and local government would help to bridge the widening gap between people and politicians, as well as improving their citizens and their lives. The amendment before us now would go some way to addressing these problems, and I hope that the Government will take it into account.
I will very quickly say that I fully support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said. When I was leader of Sheffield City Council, we did things such as devolution down to citizens and communities, participatory budgeting, restorative justice—all the things that gave people not just power but actually a stake in the community—and they became authors of a better communities and better well-being where they are. I fully support that, because at times we talk about devolution but we talk about it to a body rather than actually empowering our citizens and our communities to be part of that.
Following on from that, I would just like to comment on some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said. He talked about not wanting to impose, but then spoke for quite a long time about one county—his own—coming around to a unitary authority, and what that might mean. He said that he did not want the Secretary of State to dictate, but that is exactly what Amendment 44L would do. The Minister has heard me for the last few days talking about things that I want in the Bill. This time I shall probably support her saying that she does not want this in the Bill. Amendment 44L would completely change everything about an empowering and enabling Bill. It says that,
“where there is no agreement by all the local authorities to whom the regulations are to apply on the arrangements under subsection (1), the Secretary of State may make provision for unitary governance arrangements based on recommendations of a body appointed by the Secretary of State”.
That basically means dictation if there is no agreement in that area. That is what the amendment actually says.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, in terms of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, that there are governance issues there. He said that there was confusion and that power needs to be as close to local people as possible. One thing that could happen is that you could devolve from county down to district. There is nothing stopping that, and it would be within the remit of a devolutionary-type Bill that that could happen.
I understand what the noble Lord says, but the Bill says that when there is disagreement you would be pushing for unitary authorities or an authority—one or more—in an area where that might not be needed. That is what Amendment 44L would dictate would happen if there was no agreement. It could be one unitary or two or three unitary authorities within the area. The principle of having an amendment that forces unitary authorities on areas that do not want them is not in the spirit of how I see devolution.
My Lords, we have Amendments 44G and 45A in this group, to which I shall speak first. Amendment 44G is an attempt to address in part the concerns expressed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee at paragraph 17 of its first report this Session. Again drawing attention to the wide powers in Clause 10, the committee states:
“We are not convinced that requiring the consent of the local authorities affected is by itself a sufficient control over the very wide powers conferred by clause 10. In our view the delegation is inappropriate without the exercise of the powers being made subject to similar constraints and protections as those which apply to the establishment of a combined authority under Part 6 of the 2009 Act”.
The amendment that we are talking about requires that when exercising the power under Clause 10 the Secretary of State must,
“reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government”.
It is difficult to see why the Government should object to any of that. Since then, and only today, just before the Committee met, we had the opportunity to see the Government’s reply to the committee’s deliberations, in which the Minister says that these regulations are not of themselves establishing new structures or governance arrangements but modifying where all the councils concerned consent to processes for merging authorities, creating unitary authorities and reducing the number of councillors to fast-track these processes. This is not a sufficient distinction to say that we should eschew the recognition that these processes should reflect the identities and interests of local government.
Amendment 45A is also addressed by the DPRR report and would remove the subsection that removes the denial of the hybrid procedure. We know that this is not unusual in legislation. Indeed, in the case of Ebbsfleet, for a limited period, with our reluctant agreement, it was instigated, but there is normally, surely, an alternative mandatory consultation process that is laid down as a substitute. That is what happened in the case of Ebbsfleet. Where is the process in that situation? On what basis is the hybrid instrument process, if applicable, to be denied if there is no alternative procedure on offer?
Amendment 44F, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seems entirely reasonable to us, and the Minister may say whether it is necessary to provide specifically for this in legislation. Are not associate membership arrangements already in operation in certain circumstances?
Amendment 46A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in part mirrors an early amendment that we tabled. We have no great objection to the establishment of an independent commission to review and advise on the progress of devolution, but we need to be mindful of not creating another tier of bureaucracy and a process that might drive uniformity on these matters. My noble friend Lady Royall is right to focus on how devolution is working for communities and individuals. Putting decision-making and policy formation closer to communities and individuals and getting their engagement is one of the fundamental reasons for embarking on this process, or should be. Of course, it will be an evolving process and nowhere near complete in six months, although we need to give it impetus from the beginning.
As for the issues raised by my noble friend Lord Liddle, I fully understand the desire to have a single-tier or unitary authority. I know that in our own local case in Luton it has transformed the opportunity to deliver and join up services in the town. The difficulty that we face, whether it is a county council seeking unitary status or the reverse, is that just one council holding out and not agreeing negates the opportunity of Clause 10, but I say to my noble friend that it operates in two directions. If our noble friend Lady Hollis were here she would say in no uncertain terms that having the need for unanimity has destroyed the opportunity for Norwich to get unitary status.
I think I may have a way through this, and perhaps the Minister might comment. I am not sure that the provisions are still in operation, but about six years ago there were successful attempts to get unitary status for Exeter and Norwich. The enlightened Government of the day supported it, but unfortunately it was judicially reviewed, and when the coalition Government—the coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives—came in they overturned the decision. There is a serious point here: there are big towns and significant cities, such as Cambridge, Norwich and Exeter, that believe that any decent economic analysis shows that they can deliver more effectively for their communities if they are part of a unitary authority. In a sense, my noble friend’s amendment to deny the need for unanimity would have its problem in one direction or the other.
I entirely accept the point that we would not want to leave it up to the Secretary of State in any unfettered way, but should we not be thinking perhaps of establishing some criteria such as those that were certainly applicable at that time, as I recall: an assessment of whether the cities involved could benefit from unitary status and whether it added value to their communities? Certainly, that was the initial assessment in the case of Norwich and Exeter. Perhaps revisiting some such criteria, if those procedures are not still around, might be worth while. I accept entirely that devolution to county regions is party policy, and heaven forfend that I should not support party policy. We can see the benefit of unitary status for counties, but it is a two-way street and it can have an impact in the other direction.
My noble friend referred to “tiny district councils” being largely powerless, but they are seemingly not so powerless when they can stop a unitary authority. However, we are not talking about tiny district councils; we are talking about significant district councils that are being denied the opportunity of unitary status and all that that could bring, just as it could to a unitary county council in Cumbria.
My Lords, I will address this issue in relation to combined authorities and take up the points raised by my noble friend Lady Royall. In relation to combined authorities, in reality a lot of the deals are being done in discussions between leaders of authorities, the department and the Treasury. There is a danger of a democratic deficit: that is, the deals that are being done are not necessarily devolution with the wholesale endorsement and support of the wider population. They are being done behind closed doors, with detailed and close negotiations, and afterwards people are being invited to accept that—indeed, not only to accept that but to accept an elected mayor, which in some cases fairly recently they have rejected.
So there is a problem: in order to make haste with the underlying drive of this legislation, there is a strong temptation to consult and persuade people after the event rather than beforehand. That is probably inevitable. However, I say to my colleagues, certainly in my part of the world, that ensuring that people accept this, agree with it and are enthusiastic about it will be an enormous job. They will be faced by what is pretty well a take it or leave it situation. They will not have played a great part in this. Of course, their elected representatives will have done—that is, indirect democracy—but that does not necessarily mean that people at large will have done. I said earlier that I am very enthusiastic about a combined authority for the whole of Yorkshire, which has 5 million people. However, it is enormously difficult to involve 5 million people beforehand and to find out whether they agree. Indeed, there will always be people who strongly disagree.
Therefore, there is a problem here that not merely the leaders of authorities but government Ministers have to deal with. To say to people, “We’ve done a deal behind closed doors and this is what the devolution package looks like”, is hardly taking people with us. I say to my colleagues around Yorkshire—we have the former leader of Sheffield here—that there will be a big job to do in making the move from doing a deal with the Government to forming a large combined authority and it being something that people are enthusiastic about. I hope that in the fullness of time this will have the enthusiastic endorsement of the wider electorate and that they will be given an opportunity to express their opinion at the ballot box. There is no suggestion that there should be a referendum on a large combined authority or on a mayor, so there will be, in my terms, a democratic deficit. People will have to work hard to ensure that there is gradual and significant support for the driving aim of this legislation in the large metropolitan areas.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have all made interesting points this evening. On Amendment 44F, I can confirm that there is nothing at all which would prevent a local authority from working in partnership or collaborating with other authorities in its area, or across other areas. Indeed, the Government encourage collaborative working as an integral part of providing better services for local people and providing value for money for local taxpayers. However, we do not see that it is necessary for the Secretary of State to provide for any such collaborative working by order. It is for local authorities to enter into partnerships where they consider that it would be mutually beneficial and provide value for money for the taxpayer, and it is not necessary for such arrangements to be established in statute.
Amendment 44G seeks to insert a new paragraph into Clause 10(1), requiring the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government. In response to the debate we have just had on this, and the number of interesting points that have been raised, I hope that it may be helpful to noble Lords if I set out briefly how we envisage that the Government may use the powers being taken under Clause 10 in support of any proposals that are submitted to us in the context of devolution deals.
The regulations in Clause 10 are not themselves about creating new governance structures, for example creating new unitary councils or merging councils. Rather, the regulations are about modifying the processes in particular cases. An example would be enabling, in the case of a particular deal, the processes for establishing new governance arrangements to be fast-tracked if all the councils involved consent. The processes for establishing unitary councils and merging councils are currently set out in Part 1 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. It may be that a bespoke devolution deal is agreed with an area which involves changing the governance arrangements in the area in a way that results in a move to more unitary structures, perhaps also involving some merging of authorities.
All the councils involved have agreed these changes. Furthermore, all these changes will have been developed as part of the discussions, negotiations, and engagement by councils with their areas, which have led to the development and finalisation of the deal. With the deal agreed, all will want to see it implemented as quickly as practicable. The regulations under Clause 10 can help fast-track the processes. These regulations can modify the application of the 2007 Act processes for bringing about these governance changes in the particular circumstances of this agreed devolution deal. Such regulations, which would require the approval of both Houses of Parliament, can be made only with the consent of the local authorities to whom they apply.
However, we do not see these regulations bringing into play different fundamental principles underpinning the Secretary of State’s consideration of matters as provided for by the existing statutory processes for making governance changes. We see them modifying such processes, such as the processes in the 2007 Act which I have mentioned in the example I have just described. Where the processes of governance change involve the Secretary of State being required to have regard, for example, to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities, and to secure effective and convenient local government, this will continue to be the case. Accordingly, the amendment proposed is not necessary and I would hope that, given this explanation, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw it.
Amendments 44H, 44J, 44K and 44L appear to envisage a situation in which a change to unitary governance arrangements is supported by the local authorities that have agreed that such restructuring should form part of a devolution deal, and in relation to which the Secretary of State would then make regulations, but they cannot agree on the detail of such restructuring. In these circumstances, it provides that the Secretary of State may nevertheless make regulations, either with the consent of the principal authorities to whom the regulations are to apply; or after consideration of any demonstration of support from key organisations and citizens in the affected area; or, where provided, on the advice of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. On the face of it, this amendment would provide the Secretary of State with some flexibility to determine the arrangements to be put in place where these cannot be agreed by the affected council, and to do so by drawing more widely on the views of others within the authorities or, indeed, other bodies.
However, this is to suggest that it is the Secretary of State himself who in some circumstances should be determining the aspects of the devolution deal. In reality, and as we have discussed, the process that we are putting in place and the flexibilities we seek to provide are all focused on ensuring that any proposals for a devolution deal put to the Government, and which may or may not include structural change, are negotiated and agreed with the Government by all the councils concerned. The purpose of any subsequent regulations made by the Secretary of State is to implement the proposals that have been agreed as quickly and effectively as is practicable and with the consent of the local authorities to which those regulations would apply. It is not the role of the Secretary of State to use the regulations he makes to paper over any cracks or to impose any kind of solution that does not reflect the deal that has been agreed.
At this point, I say that I have a lot of sympathy for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. I can see exactly the problems to which he is referring. In a way, it is a test of the leadership in that area to agree. To amend that in some way undermines the whole process of devolution and the fact that this is an enabling Bill. I think that we had a corridor conversation at one point, and I am very happy to talk to the noble Lord on a one-to-one basis—if he was running Cumbria, he might have sorted something out by now because he seemed to have it absolutely right on how to do it. However, it does have to be locally led, but I am very happy to sit down with him and perhaps discuss some of the issues and see whether there are other mechanisms by which Cumbria’s ambitions could be realised.
Amendment 45A seeks to delete the provisions in the Bill providing that any regulations made under this clause are not to be considered to be hybrid. This approach of disapplying the hybridity processes from secondary legislation that makes provision about particular areas is well precedented. Our aim, as I have explained to the House, is to agree bespoke devolution deals with particular areas. To do this, we envisage following a process that begins with the Government having conversations with areas about their proposals, their ambitions and the aspirations of their communities. Through these conversations, agreement will be reached between the Government and an area on the deal; that is, the agreement about the powers and budgets to be devolved to the area and about the governance arrangements to be put in place to support these powers being confirmed on the area. Strictly, of course, those arrangements will be with the democratically elected representatives of that area. In developing their proposals and reaching agreement, those representatives will engage with businesses, communities and local people in that area; in short, they will engage with those who will be affected by and will benefit from the devolution deal.
The parliamentary process is to provide Parliament with the opportunity to agree or, if it sees fit, reject the devolution deal that the Government and an area have concluded. Parliament will have before it in the
Explanatory Memorandums details of the devolution deal that the secondary legislation under consideration is seeking to implement. As I said in debates last week, I am prepared to consider whether it might be appropriate for further information to be made available about any devolution deal under consideration. In these ways, Parliament will have available to it all the information it needs to reach a decision on the secondary legislation, and those affected by the legislation will, through the local deal-negotiating processes, be able to make the inputs they may wish to the deal. There is thus no need in the case of these instruments to apply the hybrid procedures.
Further, and as we have discussed in previous debates, once the negotiation of any devolution deal has been concluded, we are anxious to ensure that the proposals can be implemented quickly and to the benefit of all concerned. The hybridity process would delay the delivery of those benefits. I hope that the noble Lords will agree not to press this amendment.
Amendment 48B would insert a new clause placing a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to provide a report to Parliament on the involvement of communities and local electors in the process of devolving power from central government to local and combined authorities. I completely agree that devolution proposals should show how communities will be engaged. However, the important thing here is not putting in place a tick-box requirement in legislation. Instead, the key issue is how central and local government work together to make sure that all deals include agreement on how power and responsibility will be shared with communities and individuals to mutual advantage. As with other aspects of a bottom-up exercise, obviously we would welcome applications from areas with ideas for incentives for this as part of any deal. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the importance of counties; naturally we would love to hear from counties.
We believe that devolution to neighbourhoods can deliver better outcomes and more efficient services in many cases. We are aware of lots of examples of neighbourhoods and parishes taking on services. Cornwall, for example, has set out a framework for devolution to town and parish councils and community groups. We will be actively asking how local authorities will work with communities and neighbourhoods in delivering devolved services, and I have asked my officials to work with places in developing further ways to incentivise this.
There are already mechanisms—for example, parliamentary Questions and debates—by which Parliament can call Ministers to account. The secondary legislation to complement each deal will be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament and approved by them. This is a process that involves a detailed Explanatory Memorandum being laid before Parliament.
A process for evaluating the progress on deals will be discussed with each area on a case-by-case basis. For example, as part of its devolution deal, Greater Manchester will be required to put in place an extensive programme of evaluation, agreed by the Treasury. Evaluations will be public documents, available to all
Members of the House. Accordingly, I do not believe that it is necessary to place a statutory duty as per these amendments.
I have a final point in response to the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, who made a crucial point about wider endorsement by the public. While this is not the London mayor, and Greater Manchester and Cornwall are not London, I see the London mayor as an example of where, as time has gone on, not only has the mayor been better understood by the public but the engagement of both Mayor Livingstone and Mayor Johnson with the people of London has enhanced that role and made it a very compelling one. In previous years it was a question of, “Who will we get to stand as mayor?”, but it has now become an attractive and competitive thing to do—witness the number of people from all parties who are putting themselves forward for it. I take the noble Lord’s point, and I do not think we should forget it in these discussions.
With these explanations and assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel content to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response to Amendment 44F, and in particular for her reassurance that collaborative working arrangements between a rural area and a combined-authority urban area would not be impossible if an amendment was not approved as part of the Bill.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for giving a very good example of what I was talking about relating to the transport corridor between north Cumbria and the north-east of England. We just need to be certain that we do not need statutory arrangements in place with a combined authority in the north-east that would enable, or make it easier for, the north of Cumbria to engage with that.
Mention was made, I think by the Minister, of the work of Cornwall. Tribute should be paid to Cornwall not only for what it has done with its governance structure—it is now a unitary council—but for the way in which it has moved forward with the devolution agenda. I hope that in the course of the next few years other areas will see that as something that can be followed. I welcome the debate that we have had on this and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44F withdrawn.
Amendments 44G to 44L not moved.
Moved by Lord Shipley
45: Clause 10, page 10, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) Before making regulations under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the local government electors in the appropriate local authorities have been properly consulted by the local authorities who are consenting to the regulations under subsection (3).”
My Lords, I can be brief because the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, has addressed part of the aim behind this amendment. As it stands, the Bill gives the power of consent on governance arrangements to local authorities. Amendment 45 requires that,
“the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the local government electors … have been properly consulted”.
In one sense and at its simplest, that could be a referendum. However, it is not quite the same thing as a consultation because that enables a debate without there necessarily being a vote to follow it. But if there is not to be a referendum, and I understand the arguments against, we need to be clear that there has been a consultation which is extensive, meaningful, and results in the proposal commanding broad public support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have to say that I regard this amendment as somewhat unreal. I had the pleasure of working in three places during the recent general election: first, in my own authority of Newcastle; secondly, in the only seat that Labour retained in Scotland, clearly thanks to my superhuman efforts; and thirdly, in Stockton-on-Tees. The relevance of the last is that more posters were exhibited in Stockton-on-Tees for the Thornaby Independent Association than there were for all the other political parties put together; it is an association for the Thornaby part of the constituency.
The notion that electors are committed to the structures which have been created over time is somewhat fanciful. The good residents of Clara Street, in the ward of Benwell in the west end of Newcastle, which I have represented for approximately a fortnight longer than the Minister has graced this earth—that is, dare I say it, just under 50 years—are not consumed with interest in the governance structures of the local authority. I shall use the phrase again: it is quite unreal. Of course they talk of nothing else but the constitution of council committees in my ward and other places. What the amendment seeks to do is prescribe that, in some undefined way, the Secretary of State has to be satisfied that local government electors have been “properly consulted”, whatever that means, on the details of the procedures laid out in Clause 10. The clause covers the governance arrangements of local authorities, their constitution and membership, and the structural and boundary arrangements in relation to them. It goes on to state,
“‘governance arrangements’ means the executive arrangements, committee system or prescribed arrangements operated by a local authority under Part 1A of the Local Government Act 2000”.
In those 48 years, I have not had a single question addressed to me by a constituent on any of these matters. It may be that I am in an unusual position, but I suspect not. It may be that the constituents of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in another part of Newcastle where he was a long-serving councillor, were somewhat more engaged with the minutiae of governance structures, but I am somewhat sceptical that that occurred even then. What is suggested in the amendment is effectively undefined and unworkable, and it is not something we can support. I regret to say that when the Minister, as I expect she will, says that it is not necessary or that she does not understand it, or possibly both, I will concur with her entirely.
I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord will regret that we concur; we quite often concur. It is not at all unreasonable to consider that, as the elected representatives of those areas seeking devolutions work up their proposals, they will have considered carefully what the communities, local people and businesses in their areas want and expect. It is not at all unreasonable to believe that those elected representatives will have thought deeply about how to implement the proposals they are seeking, what those proposals will mean for those areas, and how those proposals will affect the local people who live or work in those areas. We can be confident that local representatives have ensured that they have engaged with their communities and their electorate to whatever degree, and in whatever manner, they judge necessary in respect of the many different elements that may be in the proposals they put to the Secretary of State.
In these unprecedented processes to deliver devolution, it is not right that we start inserting detailed requirements about the Secretary of State having to second-guess those democratically elected locally, or to be required to form a view as to whether, in his opinion, those democratically elected local representatives have acted as they should. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw this amendment.
I am grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I will say two things in response. First, perhaps he would like to have a conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, who took a very different view a moment ago about the importance of consulting local people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer. If you want a government structure to stand the test of time with public support, the public has to be engaged at an early stage rather than a later stage. The second point I make to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is that some combined authorities are now undertaking the very same consultations that I was talking about. Indeed, the one very close to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in the north-east of England is undertaking a public consultation about future governance arrangements. I welcome that. It is hugely helpful that it does.
We will reflect on what has been said and possibly come back with something on Report, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 45 withdrawn.
Amendment 45A not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Moved by Baroness Janke
46: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Referendums to undo change to mayor and cabinet executive
In the Local Government Act 2000, omit section 9NA (effect of section 9N order).”
My Lords, I draw your attention to this anomaly because it relates to my own city of Bristol. By way of explanation I will give you an account of the circumstances that have led up to this. In 2012, there was a referendum held by order of the Secretary of State in 12 English cities about whether they would have an elected mayor. Bristol was the only city that said yes to the elected mayor. In Part 1A of the Local Government Act 2000, the different permitted forms of government and the ways that local authorities can change these forms of government are set out. Section 9N refers specifically to a referendum conducted by this order. These provisions state that if people vote in favour of the mayor and cabinet at a referendum, then the local authority may not move away from that local government model. Bristol is therefore the only authority that may not change its system of governance.
I believe, as do many colleagues of all parties in Bristol, that this is singularly unfair. It is not a question of whether the mayor should be there or not: it is a question of the rights of the local population. Some were saying earlier that people are perhaps not interested in the form of governance. I say to noble Lords that people in Bristol are extremely interested in it. History tells us that not all elected mayors have been a success. Local referendums have been held; petitions have been put together; and mayors have been either reinstated or the system has been changed to ones that people feel are more suitable, more transparent or more appropriate to their area. The people of Bristol should not have that right taken away from them. If we want to be fair, consistent and transparent as we talk about this Bill, this part of the Act needs to go. If Bristol and the surrounding authorities become a combined authority, there will be very many mayors and a lack of clarity as to the roles of the different mayors. I am not against a metro mayor—a strategic mayor—but there needs to be the support of the local population and clarity about who does what, and what the powers of the people are.
We talked about trust with the local electorate and restoring the trust of politics. Many people in my city feel that they have been deceived by the Government. At the time of the referendum, they were not told that they would have no way to alter this system. They were made many promises, which turned out not to be delivered by the then Government, because only one city opted for the elected mayor. I move this amendment in the interests of correcting the situation and making the situation in Bristol as it is in all other English cities. I hope that I might find support for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, on this occasion, I am happy to support the amendment from the Liberal Democrat Benches. The noble Baroness has made a perfectly sound case and, indeed, one that should be extended wider in the sense that, as I understand it, the deal that will be offered to local authorities will be the kind that was imposed on Bristol; namely, that once a mayoral system is adopted, it will be permanent. That is wholly unsatisfactory.
If the previous amendment we debated had been confined to the issues of mayoralty, for example, as opposed to the internal workings of the authority, I would have been a great deal more sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was moving. However, it seems indefensible that a structure can be created and imposed, effectively, on a local community and its electorate with no possibility of change as the price for whatever deal the Government agree to negotiate with the combined authority. I hope again that the Government will think twice before locking local government into a system without not merely having consulted the electorate but without having their approval, let alone that of the constituent authorities.
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I know that the noble Baroness feels strongly about providing the people of Bristol with the same opportunities to change their system of governance should they so choose by means of a valid petition for a governance referendum to the council. I am aware that during the passage of the Deregulation Bill through this House in February 2015, she tabled a similar amendment. I am also aware that she introduced on
As we have discussed in the past, we cannot accept this amendment on the grounds of both precedent and principle. The precedent for introducing mayoral governance following a referendum instigated by Parliament was set when the London mayor was established. In this case, Parliament instigated a referendum through enacting primary legislation. The electors then voted for London having a mayor and, by a further Act of Parliament, the arrangements were introduced. There is no provision in these arrangements for the people of London to vote that they no longer want a mayor.
The Government followed the same broad precedent in putting in place the legislative arrangements that have led to the establishment of mayoral governance in the city of Bristol. In this case, Parliament, through approving by a resolution of both Houses an appropriate order under the Local Government Act 2000, instigated a referendum. The people of Bristol voted for a mayor, and that form of mayoral governance was established under the Local Government Act 2000. As in the case of the London mayor, mayoral governance in Bristol can be changed only by an Act of Parliament.
The amendment would change that. It would mean that the electors of Bristol could have a referendum by petitioning for one and if they voted to end the mayoral model, it would end. This is indeed the position where a mayor has been introduced wholly by local choice, and it is right that this is so. If it is a wholly local choice to establish the mayor, it is right that wholly local choice should be able to end mayoral governance. However, it would be wrong in principle to create circumstances in which a mayor established through a specific decision of Parliament and local choice together could be ended simply by local choice. I do not suggest that Bristol should for ever have a form of mayoral governance, but the decision to change the governance of Bristol, having been instigated in part through a decision of Parliament, should involve some parliamentary consideration of the issue and not be simply a matter of local choice.
It might be said that passing the amendment would provide the parliamentary input into such a decision, but that is a spurious argument. Whatever considerations we are giving today, it cannot be said that we are giving serious consideration to the circumstances of a particular place—in this case, Bristol. Therefore I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
What particular knowledge does Parliament have about the condition of Bristol? Whence does it derive its intimate knowledge and concern for the residents of that city? Why should Parliament refuse to allow them a voice? The Government contrived a referendum, and it went the way they wanted, but is that to remain immutable? It seems a terrible proposition when Parliament can release the authority and return the decision to the people of the city.
The point that I was making was that Parliament had created this situation so it would be for Parliament to undo it. That is not to say that it could not be undone, but it would have to be undone by Parliament.
I thank the Minister for her response. I am clear that Parliament cannot bind itself to future legislation. I am grateful that the Minister has made the case clear. I should like to be advised what parliamentary action could be taken, certainly before Report. It is important to gain trust in moving to the new combined authorities, so will the Minister consider ways in which we might change this anomalous situation and move forward on the same basis as everyone else? I beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Shipley
46A: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent review, support and governance
(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to lay before each House of Parliament each year a report about devolution within England and Wales pursuant to the provisions of this Act (an “annual report”).
(2) An annual report shall be laid before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable after 31st March each year.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for an Independent Commission or Advisory Board to undertake a review and perform an advisory role in relation to—
(a) reviewing orders and procedure arising from the Secretary of State’s decisions; and
(b) requests for orders received from combined or single local authorities.”
“lay before each House of Parliament each year a report about devolution”.
It suggests that:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for an Independent Commission or Advisory Board”,
to undertake a review and perform an advisory role in assessing at a national level and across Whitehall what has been achieved.
Broadly speaking, the amendment derives from the conclusions of the City Growth Commission, which established five progress tests on devolution in England—the first on funding, the second on Civil Service and parliamentary reform, the third on partnerships, the fourth on speed and direction of travel and the fifth on cities’ capacity. The aim of our amendment is to help the process and the aims that the City Growth Commission put in place. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an enabling Bill to put in place the primary legislative framework for the devolution of powers and budgets in England to boost local growth in England. Devolution in Wales is to be subject to separate legislation which the Government are committed to bringing before the House. The question of the devolution of powers to areas within Wales will largely be a matter for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales.
More fundamentally, as we discussed in earlier debates on this Bill, while it is important that Parliament should be able to question and hold the Government to account both on their pursuit of devolution and decentralisation and on the progress being made in those areas which have agreed devolution deals, a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to report annually is not necessary. There are already mechanisms by which Parliament can ask Ministers to account for anything within their remit. These are opportunities that both noble Lords and Members of the other place take regularly.
A process for evaluating the progress of devolution deals will be discussed with each area on a case-by-case basis. For example, as part of its devolution deal, Greater Manchester will be required to put in place an extensive programme of evaluation agreed by the Treasury. There will be public documents available to all with an interest in the area on the progress it is making. Accordingly, it is not necessary to place statutory duties on the Secretary of State, which would be a duplication of a well-tried process.
With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response. We will look carefully at what she has said and consider whether there is a need to pursue this matter further on Report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46A withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Shipley
47: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Governance arrangements of local authorities in England: election of councillors
(2) After subsection (1) insert—
(1B) A single transferable vote is a vote—
(a) capable of being given so as to indicate the voter’s order of preference for the candidates for election as members for the constituency; and
(b) capable of being transferred to the next choice when the vote is not needed to give a prior choice the necessary quota of votes or when a prior choice is eliminated from the list of candidates because of a deficiency in the number of votes given for him.”
Amendment 47 takes us to the heart of an issue that we have talked a great deal about over the three days in Committee. We have discussed the creation of one-party states; the need for accountability and legitimacy, and for properly functioning overview and scrutiny structures; and the need to ensure that the public back devolution and the powers and responsibilities that come with it.
We have expressed many concerns in Committee about the creation of the one-party state. One solution to the problem is to introduce proportional representation, using the single transferable vote, into local government. It would strengthen governance, increase transparency and improve accountability because there would be more opposition councillors. That might change the membership of the combined authority and would certainly alter the make-up of overview and scrutiny committees.
Amendment 47 would prevent a one-party state from arising. As more has been devolved in recent years across the UK, so the powers devolved have been accompanied by changes to more proportional voting systems. As more political parties exist and grow stronger, so our governance structures need to reflect that. Proportional representation enables that. They have it in local elections in Scotland. In England, five parties have significant public support in local elections and it is right that the electors who support those parties all feel represented. A system of proportional voting helps not only in delivering fairer overall representation but also, through STV, enables voters to choose an individual as their preference within their party of choice rather than simply having to vote for the candidate selected by that party in their ward.
Earlier, I mentioned Scotland, where the single transferable vote was used in council elections in 2007 and 2012. In Scotland there are no longer uncontested council seats and there are no one-party states that do not reflect that party’s share of the vote. In England and Wales there are more than 100 councils where one party has more than two-thirds of all seats. Scotland has none. In England in 2011, 24 councils saw 10% or more of their seats uncontested. Scotland has not had an uncontested election since STV was introduced in 2007.
I want this Bill to succeed in its broad strategic ambitions but I do not think it will without public support for the governance structure. Hence our concern that local government, combined authorities and elected mayors should all command public support. The elected mayor in this Bill is to be elected by the supplementary vote system. But more broadly, the use of the single transferable vote system in elections would help us to achieve public legitimacy and accountability in the structure of governance. It will prevent a one-party state arising and it will ensure adequate overview and scrutiny. It will almost certainly increase voter turnout because everyone’s vote will count. This amendment is a solution to the problems that we have identified with the democratic legitimacy of the combined authority structure. I hope it will command the Government’s support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend. In recent years, Parliament has been prepared to find fairer voting systems for everybody else: for Northern Ireland, for Scotland and for Wales, and even for the European Parliament. But of course the House of Commons has been a step too far. That does not mean that your Lordships’ House should not look carefully, in the context of this debate, at the failure of the present system to provide effective and representative local government. In recent weeks a number of Labour Peers, who have previously been opposed to electoral reform, have expressed support for it. I was taken by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—I am sorry he is not still here—who said in our debate on
“at the beginning of a new Parliament, there is a strong case for a commission or committee of both Houses—I am a great believer in committees of both Houses—to look at our electoral system thoroughly, dispassionately and in an unbiased way to see how we can improve it and make it clearer and more consistent, with the fundamental aim of engaging the interest of people, particularly young people and those who do not necessarily have a long history of residence in this country”.—[ Official Report , 15.6.15; col. 1061.]
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, made a similar point about disengagement and re-engagement a few minutes ago.
Local elections in England and Wales are so badly distorted by the system, as my noble friend said, that, in theory at least, we have to look carefully at what they are doing to the confidence that our fellow citizens have in the system. But we now have hard evidence of what can be done by an improvement to the system, as my noble friend has said. Thanks to Dr Lewis Baston, who has undertaken an analysis of the two rounds of STV votes in Scotland, there has been a considerable increase in fair-minded assessment. Under the STV system in 2007 and 2012 for local authorities in Scotland, the immediate increase in the number of those who actually had an impact on the result was dramatic, going from 40% or 45% to 75%. In Dr Baston’s terms, these are “happy voters”—they have had a result. Even more significantly, he goes on to show that if second and subsequent preferences are effective, the percentage of those who are satisfied can rise to 90%. There will be control freaks, in all parties, who take the view that this is dangerous territory because it gives so much choice to the electorate. Frankly, I think it is the consumers of the local democratic process who we should be interested in. It is clear that they are extremely satisfied with the way in which it now operates in Scotland. When he or she votes they get a much more representative outcome and, I think, a resultant quality of service and accountability. From an elector’s point of view, this is surely the moment we have to move on.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that a large number of the cities, boroughs and counties in England where a majority has been given, on a minority vote, to one particular group or party for a very long time have been the ones that have failed. That is why it is extremely important that we listen to those who have identified these problems in England and Wales and we should look particularly at the evidence given by the Electoral Reform Society to us—all those involved in this Bill—that there is a real danger of a rise in cronyism, petty corruption, undue secrecy of decision-making and widespread disenchantment with the whole political process. Unless we make some change to this Bill, that will extend to the constituent authorities and the combined authorities under the Bill.
The experience in Scotland shows that the weakening of one-party hegemony has been wholly positive in reviving local democracy. If in England we could move as well, if in Wales we could move as well, I believe we can avoid what long-sighted and wise parliamentarians from Lord Hailsham to Robin Cook described and warned us about as “elective dictatorship”. Persistent monopoly council control by one party over many years, often with a minority of the total vote, is a recipe for inefficiency, partisan patronage and minor corruption, just as it would be in Westminster. Good governance at all levels requires good scrutiny.
I was fascinated by the contribution of another noble Lord a few days ago, on
“We hear about accountability. What accountability is there in local government today? The noble Lord referred to a ‘one-party state’ but two-thirds of the constituencies that elect another place never change allegiance. The battles are fought in the marginal constituencies. In a vast number of councils in this country, the councillors never change from one party to another. A significant number of councils do not change allegiance either. So if one is talking about changing, the present system does not do it”.—[Hansard, 22/6/15; col. 1397.]
That was a very authoritative assessment and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who I am delighted to see in his place, may recognise those words because they came from him. He said, and I believe he is right, that the present situation is creating a very unpopular and inefficient system of local democracy. We have an opportunity with Amendment 47 to make a really serious attempt to remedy the very sorry state of local governance today.
Would the noble Lord like to comment on the situation in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, where most of the councils— Manchester, Wigan, whose leader is no longer in the Chamber but is a Member of this House, and indeed Trafford—have been of a particular political colour for very many years, and yet they are the origin of the Bill that is before us?
Whether or not they are the origin of the Bill that is before us, I think the noble Lord will recognise that there are authorities in the country—he and I could both name them—where the fact that one party has controlled it for ever and a day without effective scrutiny or opposition has not been conducive to good governance. Again, as Robin Cook said—and I worked very closely with him—good governance requires effective scrutiny and good opposition.
My Lords, is that not the privilege of the local electorate? If they choose to return a particular colour of politics, that is their choice. Is the noble Lord not saying that he would overrule that choice in the name of some abstract transparency that is easily available through other means?
My Lords, that is nonsense. The noble Baroness should simply look at what has happened in Scotland. We now have a practical example. There no longer are these one-party states in Scotland. There are now far more effective local authorities as a result.
My Lords, I declare that I am an elected member of Lewisham Council in south London. This has been an interesting debate but changing the voting system to a form of PR is not something that I am in favour of, although this would be only for the election of councillors in England.
In 2011, we did of course have a referendum on moving to a new system for elections to the House of Commons. The system put forward was AV. I know that that is not a proportional system but it was the system agreed by the then coalition Government, put to a referendum of the voters of the United Kingdom and rejected. There is nothing that I have heard in this debate or elsewhere that makes me think there has been a change in the heart of the voters in England and that what people want is to elect their councillors by single transferable vote, having stuck with first past the post elections to Westminster only three years ago. I did, however, agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, when he talked of looking at governance structures from time to time. I think that that is right. That does not take me down the road of moving to single transferable votes for the election of councillors.
There are issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to, about the number of voting systems that we use to elect people to various public bodies, positions and Parliaments in the United Kingdom. Where a body is elected by a proportional system, it should remain a proportional system, but I would like to reduce the number of systems we use. It is very confusing for the voter to elect people when we are using, at least, first past the post, single transferable vote, closed list systems, top-up lists and the supplementary vote. Supplementary vote is one of the worst voting systems we use. I have been to many counts where the supplementary vote system was used. There are often a considerable number of spoilt ballot papers because people put the X in the second column instead of the first column so the vote is completely discarded, which is a bad thing. I do not think that these people intend to spoil their ballot papers; it is just that they have not understood that they need to put an X in the first column and then one in the second column as well.
Could the noble Baroness in her response make reference to the myriad voting systems we now have in the United Kingdom and how that could be a little less confusing for the voter? I am sure that from the Dispatch Box we are all agreed that changing the system for the election of councillors in England is not something that either of us supports. Nor is there evidence that it is something that the public want. At this stage, there is no need to move down that road.
My Lords, we debated this previously in earlier debates. Amendment 47 would amend the Representation of the People Act 1983 to provide that all local elections in England and Wales would be by single transferable vote.
For the single transferable vote system to function effectively, multi-member electoral areas would be required. As many existing electoral areas in England have only one councillor representing them—for example, nearly all county councils—it would require a review of local government electoral areas in England by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. It could therefore not be introduced, even if it were desirable, within any short timescale. It would also cost more and take longer to achieve a result because of the more complicated count processes.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked me to list the myriad electoral systems. The Mayor of London is elected by the supplementary vote system. European elections use the d’Hondt system of PR and local government is first past the post. That is three that I can name; I am sure that there are more. But I hope that on the basis of this short debate, the noble Lord will feel content to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I listened to the very brief response from the Minister. This will be an issue that we will want to come back to on Report. I find it difficult to understand why this is deemed a step too far in England and Wales when it is not a step too far in Scotland and has proved to be an enormous success. There are occasions when we should learn from the Scottish experience, for example with participation rates, an abolition of uncontested elections and an end to one-party domination. Of course, in the context of first past the post at parliamentary level, we have a one-party state out of Scotland with all but three seats in the hands of one political party. If we had proportional representation using an STV system in the parliamentary elections in Scotland, that would not be the case. In local government there is STV and it has had a profound and positive effect.
Our concern throughout this Committee has been to prevent absolute power, through the elected mayor, combined authority and the overview and scrutiny function lying with the same political party. In some cases, a combined authority would have no opposition councillors of any kind on it, caused by the voting system that we are using. I give notice that I think we will come back to this on Report—but, having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Tyler
48: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Governance arrangements for local government: entitlement to vote
In section 2 of the Representation of People’s Act 1983 (local government electors), in subsection (1)(d) for “18” substitute “16”.”
My Lords, this House will do itself a real disservice if it is not prepared to look at the example that is already taking place in Scotland. This happens to be exactly my message on this amendment, too, but my noble friend Lord Shipley made that point very well just now.
I start by reminding the House of these words:
“We have heard arguments for a change in the voting age. However, my concern is that that is part of a wider debate and it would not be appropriate—as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said—for any such change to be implemented in these quite specific circumstances. I have concerns as well about the administrative complexity of running an election in an area based on a register that would include 16 and 17 year-olds and running other council elections or referenda in the same area, quite likely on the same day, on a different basis with a different franchise. These are circumstances in which the risk of confusing the electorate is very real and this can only weaken, rather than strengthen, our local democracy”.—[Hansard, 22/6/15; col. 1464.]
I am sure that the Minister recognises those words, because they are hers. I compliment her not only on the wisdom of that contribution but on the fact that she used the word “referenda”, which sounds much nicer than referendums.
I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, was giving an infallible answer to the Labour Front Bench about the franchise for the mayoral elections. It would indeed be confusing if 16 and 17 year-olds were allowed to vote for a mayor but not in the general or local elections that might well be taking place on that same day. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues entirely agree. We believe that all our fellow citizens should be enfranchised on the same basis for all local authority elections. Our amendment would deal neatly with all the Government’s very proper objections of practicality and potential confusion. On that basis, we can now move forward with the amendment by consensus.
Of course this will not satisfy all our fellow campaigners, since our ultimate objective is to expand the electorate in all elections in this way, but it would mean that we would have some logic, symmetry and standardisation in the continuing reform process. I have been campaigning for this extension of the franchise for many years. I have presented Private Member’s Bills in a succession of Sessions and in the current Parliament. They have enjoyed widespread support across the House. I am especially grateful for the consistent support of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the Conservative Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the Labour Benches and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the Cross Benches. Most recently, the Labour Party has officially endorsed this campaign and we are delighted that noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench have co-signed our amendment.
I admit that my original enthusiasm for this extension of the franchise was based on my own experience of the growing maturity of this age group, their increased responsibilities and their acknowledged fact that their citizenship course should lead inexorably to voter registration and then participation in the democratic process. There is good reason to think that young people are more likely to register to vote, and to start a lifetime of actually voting, if they are still in the home environment. Once they leave home, whether for jobs or further education, they often become more elusive. All the other distractions kick in and their involvement in the life of their home area weakens or ceases altogether. Those in the 18-plus age group all too often disappear off the electoral scene.
Of course, on average, the first vote cast by a 16 year-old in a general election would probably take place when he or she is 18. Nevertheless, once registered at 16 the likelihood is that they will continue on the register, if only because the ERO will be responsible for keeping them there and there is an obligation, backed by a fine, to continue giving the regular information needed to stay there. As the well-respected Intergenerational Foundation has identified, there is a growing democratic deficit caused by the increasing longevity of the UK population, which is well represented in this House. Quite simply, the young citizens with the most long-term interest in the consequences of their vote are outnumbered by ever larger numbers of pensioner electors.
Of course, since September last year we have had hard empirical evidence from Scotland. I hope at least on this issue that colleagues on all sides of the House will be prepared to accept that this is extremely relevant to the present Bill, because in Scotland the readiness among young people for taking on this vital civic function was demonstrably most impressive. The huge success of the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum, negotiated by my right honourable friend Michael Moore but agreed to by the whole coalition Cabinet, was thought by some to be a step too far.
I suspect some guessed that Alex Salmond was characteristically so in favour of it was because he believed it was going to help him. The interesting thing is that it did not, not in the least. In fact, the very successful levels of registration among that age group, and then their actual vote, demonstrated that those young voters took the whole democratic opportunity very seriously. There has been lots of evidence of that from other Members of the House who witnessed what happened. It is also true that that 16 and 17 year-old cohort voted very responsibly. They voted in a more mature and balanced way than some of their elders, and the blandishments of the separatists fell on very deaf ears. It was middle aged men who actually went the way of the separatists, not the young voters.
In summary, the new young voters proved themselves to be better informed, more conscientious, even more mature than many of their elders. They blew to smithereens all those misgivings and dire warnings of the doomsayers. As a result, in the debates on the Wales Bill in your Lordships’ House last autumn, I successfully argued that a similar referendum in the Principality could not, rationally and in justice, exclude this age group. We should all be grateful to the then Minister and her then colleagues in government for accepting the logic of that case, and authorising the
Assembly so to provide. My understanding is that all parties in the Assembly have decided that they should do so.
Since the referendum in Scotland, the Parliament in Holyrood has moved on to ensure consistency in this extension of the franchise north of the border, again, with the assent of the UK Government. I understand that the Prime Minister here has accepted that there will have to be a vote in the Commons to the same effect in respect of the EU referendum. Given the support already indicated by some Conservative MPs, I hope that this will eventually happen on a free vote.
Meanwhile, in your Lordships’ House, any noble Lord who remains resistant to this logical change must ask themselves two simple questions. First, what evidence have they that the young people in this specific age group in England and Wales are less mature, less responsible and less well informed than their compatriots in Scotland? Secondly, if this is truly a United Kingdom, how can they justify discrimination in such an absolutely crucial matter as the electoral franchise, which will exclude young people south of the border? Having answered those questions, I challenge them to put on record their remaining objections to this reform. I beg to move.
My Lords, this proposed new clause to be inserted after Clause 10 gives effect to the policy of my own party and that of the Liberal Democrats to allow citizens upon reaching the age of 16 to vote in elections. In this case, the entitlement is for local government elections only. I suspect that this amendment is not going to receive a favourable response from the Government, which is most unfortunate.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my noble friend Lord McKenzie and me is one that the Government really should have a more open view of rather than the all too familiar no that we have been getting when this issue has been raised in recent times. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who is not in his place at this late hour, is not a supporter of this policy. However, when we spoke in your Lordships’ House recently, he made some excellent points that I agreed with very much. They regarded the need for much more citizenship education, which I think is very important. I see a programme of that sort of education leading to actually being able to register and to vote at 16. We do not have that at the moment, which is very much to be regretted. The arguments for allowing people to vote at 16 have been rehearsed many times before. It has been a policy in the manifesto of the Labour Party and, of course, the Liberal Democrats. It is also a policy of the Scottish National Party, the Greens and, of course, the Scottish Conservative Party, whose leader, Ruth Davidson MSP, said that she was a fully paid-up member of the vote-at-16 club. I am not sure what the position of Plaid Cymru is, but I am sure that it would support the policy as well.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, the game changer was the decision taken to allow people at 16 and 17 to allow people to vote in the Scottish referendum last year. As he said, the young people embraced their civic duty with pride and a real sense of responsibility, and they were part of the decision on the future path that their country decided to take. It was the right thing to do and it is generally accepted across civil society that it was a good thing. After the referendum, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to allow votes at 16 for all elections to Holyrood, and next year 16 year-olds will vote for the new Assembly in Scotland. I am sure that the Welsh Assembly will take a similar view. We are in a position whereby, in different parts of the United Kingdom, there are different ages at which people can vote, which is not a good place to be. It is a mess, and one that this House should address.
What is also interesting is that in the three Crown dependencies close to Great Britain, you can vote at 16: in the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. You can also vote at 16 at certain elections in Germany and Norway. I have no doubt that this change will happen, and sooner than most people think, and for me it cannot come soon enough.
Has the Minister seen the report from the Election Commission on the progress of moving to IER? Here we are talking about votes of 16 and 17 year-olds when, due to the action of the previous Government—who of course included the Liberal Democrats, so they cannot get away with this one—as of May 2015, the number of 16 and 17 year-olds actually registered to vote has dropped by 47%. There are now only 247,705 people registered to vote as of February 2014. That is a shocking figure and one that both parties in the coalition should be rightly ashamed of. Perhaps in responding the Minister would agree with me that EROs need to take the issue of engagement properly and work particularly to get these young people back on to the register, working with schools and colleges, as takes place in Northern Ireland. It was right when the Labour Party called for EROs to be given a duty to get everybody aged 16 and 17 on to the register.
In conclusion, I support the amendment, and I am sure that the policy change will happen. However, we have a real problem with young people not being on the register, and we need to do something about that.
I add two facts for ministerial consideration. One fact that really struck me about the Scottish referendum was the very high turnout rate of 75% of 16 and 17 year-olds, when for the 18 to 24 year-old age group it was only 54%. That is very marked. What it demonstrates is a clear interest in current affairs and their futures. The question is whether an age group that can demonstrate such a commitment to thinking about their future should be denied a vote generally.
Secondly, decisions are made regularly by local councils which impact on the daily lives of 16 to 18 year-olds. A very good example is the cost of public transport for young people—the cost of bus services, urban rail systems and so on. I have come to the conclusion that the voice of those young people is not adequately heard. I am in favour of votes at 16 and have been for many years, but I am even clearer now that the time has come to implement the change that Scotland has trail-blazed.
My Lords, there is no doubt that the Scottish referendum and debate was unique, certainly in my lifetime, in engaging the public in the way it did. Participation in that election by people from all age groups, including 16 and 17 year-olds, was like nothing we have ever seen before. We can all look at it, wonder why we do not engage better with people from all age groups and reflect upon it. Amendment 48 would change the franchise for those entitled to vote in local elections in England and Wales to include 16 and 17 year-olds. As we have discussed, the Bill provides that the franchise for electing mayors for a mayoral combined authority is the same as that for all local elections in England, where the voting age is 18.
More broadly, of course, the voting age for parliamentary elections is set at 18, and beyond that the voting age in most democracies, including most member states in the EU, is also 18. Only Austria in the EU allows voting for 16 year-olds. We have heard the argument about the franchise in Scotland, but this was decided in Scotland, as is its devolved right, just as it is right that decisions about the franchise for elections that take place in England should be decided by this Parliament. I am sorry to be a party pooper at this time of night, but the Government have no plans to lower the minimum voting age and I am clear that the Bill is not the place to take steps to change the arrangements for local elections. I am sure that even proponents of lowering the voting age to 16 agree that, were it to happen, it should be only following detailed debate.
I have not read the report on IER but I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about EROs engaging in getting people in general registered to vote, and certainly those younger age groups. On that basis I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this late at night I am grateful for any crumbs that fall from ministerial tables. I suppose I should be grateful for that last comment. I shall take up, for a second, the argument that this is not appropriate legislation into which this reform should be inserted. The Long Title of the Bill includes:
“to make provision about local authority governance; and for connected purposes”.
That is critical to the whole consideration of the Bill. We are trying to revive important parts of the local governance of this country, and if the franchise is not relevant to that I do not know what is. Of course, at this time of night it would not be appropriate, as the Minister said. We have not had a very full debate: I have no doubt that we will have a full debate on Report. Therefore, for the time being, I and my colleagues are happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton
48A: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a report on a greater devolution of powers in London, including on whether to make provision for the Secretary of State to—
(a) transfer a public authority function to a joint committee of London councils, and
(b) establish a joint board between London boroughs and the Mayor of London to support further devolution in London.”
My Lords, this issue was brought before us by London Councils—I am grateful for its briefing. This is by way of a holding amendment, because of the time involved. Subject to the debate this evening, we envisage a more specific amendment on Report.
Over the past year it is reported that London government—London boroughs and the Mayor of London—have worked to develop a proposition for devolution in London. From this joint work it has emerged that further devolution will ideally require strengthened governance arrangements at the pan-London and sub-regional levels, without creating a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. The Bill represents a welcome step towards greater devolution across the country but as yet does not provide a direct route to secure the statutory underpinning for the strengthened arrangements that are believed to be necessary for London. Therefore, London Councils firmly supports the proposed new clause, as it believes that it not only speaks directly to its concerns but provides a framework for developing robust governance arrangements in the capital that support further devolution to London at a pan-London and sub-regional level.
London’s existing governance arrangements work well, it is suggested, with London boroughs and the mayor possessing distinct executive power but maintaining a successful strategic partnership. However, governing devolution in London will require new decision-making arrangements. In particular, over the last year it has become clear that there is a need to develop a way of harnessing the best of both tiers of governance in London to manage reformed service provision without adding unnecessary bureaucracy. As such, London Councils wants arrangements that reflect both the mayor’s and the boroughs’ needs and allow effective agreement and decision-making. In addition, any new mechanism would have oversight and authority only over areas of newly devolved responsibility. In practice, many of the responsibilities that might be devolved to London at a pan-London level would be further devolved to individual members or groups of members.
It is expected that borough partnerships will often be the preferred operational arrangement for the newly devolved responsibilities. In order to meet the Government’s tests for devolution, these partnerships would also need some form of statutory underpinning. The Bill fails to provide a direct enabling route towards the strengthened governance arrangements required to deliver further devolution to London. Specifically, it creates no provision for devolution to London government as a joint partnership between London boroughs and the mayor, and it leaves groups of boroughs unable to develop governance arrangements robust enough to meet the Government’s tests for the delegation of public functions. Instead, London Councils wishes to explore amendments to the Bill that address two specific issues: strengthening pan-London governance and sub-regional arrangements.
In respect of the need to establish an underpinned partnership between London boroughs and the mayor, it is suggested that it would be necessary to explore a new clause that provides the Secretary of State with the power to establish a joint board between London boroughs and the Mayor of London to support further devolution to the capital. The board’s stated purpose would be to improve statutory functions relating to economic development and public functions generally within the Greater London area, and it is proposed that the board could be established only if all the boroughs, the City of London and the Mayor of London agreed. In order to support devolution, the board should be able to take on the exercise of public functions in relation to the Greater London area. However, in order to respect the existing partnership between London boroughs and the mayor, the power would be limited so that the board could not take on any function that was currently a function of the mayor, London boroughs or the City of London.
With respect to the need to provide a sufficient mechanism for devolution to groups of boroughs, it is suggested that it would be necessary to explore a second new clause that creates provision for the Secretary of State to delegate a function of a Minister of the Crown or a government department to a joint committee of London councils, subject to consultation with and agreement by the relevant councils. The new clause would largely mirror powers in the Localism Act that permit a Minister of the Crown to delegate a function to the Mayor of London but create provision for groups of boroughs to use their existing joint committees for the discharge of delegated public functions. This probing amendment provides an opportunity to test the Government’s thinking on these issues and creates a hook for further amendments potentially along the lines set out above.
The areas where it is believed that there is further scope for devolution to London are skills, employment, housing, health, crime, community safety and criminal justice, and of course business support. It is suggested that, as in Greater Manchester, a London package should include devolution to London of identified budgets to provide a genuine “common front door” via the LEP’s London business growth hub. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment but, sadly, too late to get it printed on the Marshalled List. As a long-time London councillor, I am more than pleased to support the purpose of the amendment which, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, has come from London Councils. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for describing the briefing so fully. At this time of night I am certainly not going to repeat all that, but I would like to emphasise some of it.
At Second Reading, I made particular reference to the position in London. As currently drafted, the Bill clearly does not fit with the unique structure of
London government. However, that is not, in itself, a reason why we should not enable further devolution to London and within it and the Bill does not quite meet that. In response to me at Second Reading, the Minister said:
“London boroughs are absolutely not precluded from coming forward with their ideas for devolution”.—[Hansard, 8/6/15; col. 717.]
I am sure that she intended to include the Greater London Authority as well as the London boroughs. It is all very well to say they will come forward with their proposals for devolution. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, they have been working on this jointly for some time now and will come forward with proposals. However, the proposals may well reach agreement, not just between the boroughs and the GLA but with the Government as well, but if the legislative structure is not there to enable them to be put into place, it is going to be a very frustrating exercise. The Bill is the obvious opportunity to ensure that the legislative framework is there to enable that further devolution to happen in London.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, made a couple of specific references to what the GLA and London boroughs have in mind. I will repeat it specifically, because I want the Minister to assure us tonight, either that the legislative provision is already there under existing legislation or, if it is not, that they will seriously consider ensuring that there is provision in this Bill. This is an opportunity we have to take. Specifically, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, they want provision to enable a joint partnership between London boroughs and the mayor. This is not just permission to co-operate. They can do that without permission. It is to have the governance arrangements necessary to implement that.
Secondly, we are already familiar with a lot of joint working between a number of London boroughs, but we are talking about the creation of joint partnerships between them. Again, we are not simply saying, “It is a good thing; get on with it”. That is happening already and has been for some years. We are talking now about the creation of the necessary statutory governance arrangements to make it happen.
This is the legislative opportunity to do this, if that provision is not already there. London Councils and the GLA, on whose advice I act, do not believe it is. If we do not do it in this Bill, it is a missed opportunity. It is quite likely that there will not be another opportunity in this Parliament and there is no reason at all why London should be left out of the move to devolution simply because it has a different structure to the rest of the country.
My Lords, I am very happy to use this probing amendment to set out how I see the position in relation to London. I did indeed say at Second Reading that there was nothing to preclude London boroughs or the GLA from coming forward. Perhaps I will expand on that slightly this evening. It is for the London mayor and the boroughs to continue to work together and to agree proposals, which the noble Lord tells me are ready, for greater devolution of powers to London. These could include provision to transfer public authority functions to a joint committee of councils or the establishment of a joint board between the boroughs and the mayor. We will consider whatever the mayor and London boroughs wish to propose, and no doubt they will be making a strong case as to how any proposal they make would provide better outcomes for Londoners. As with any other area, we are ready to have conversations with them, and look forward to those proposals coming forward.
The amendment, however, would turn the process on its head, because it would be the Secretary of State who kicked things off with his report. This is not the approach that we want to follow, as I am sure noble Lords will have established by now, because we believe that such an approach is far less likely to deliver genuine and effective devolution that will improve to the greatest extent the outcomes places face and the economic performance of particular areas.
I hope that on that note the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for his support for this amendment and to the Minister for her reply. If I understood it, I think she was saying that under what is proposed it will be perfectly feasible that the boroughs and the GLA et cetera simply need to come forward and make their case. However, is she saying that what is sought under the new arrangements does not require any change to primary legislation? That is the issue here. Perhaps she could just answer that specifically.
My Lords, as far as I am aware, it does not. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the manifesto commitments on further devolution to the London mayor as well. I hope that that reassures noble Lords.
I am grateful for that and think that I am reassured by it. I think that it needs a quieter reading than at this hour—perhaps in the morning on the train. If, effectively, it does not need primary legislative change, that is fine. I think that we still have scope to bring something more specific back at Report if that proves not to be the case. I know that the Minister is stacking up lots of meetings at the moment, but it would be very helpful to have a specific meeting with London Councils, to make sure that the case it is making is fully heard and that it understands the technical position that she has outlined.
My Lords, before amendments are withdrawn et cetera, I can confirm that, and have actually already started to have a conversation with one London authority.