Clause 6: Other public authority functions
Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford
28: Clause 6, page 7, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) An order under subsection (1) may include further provision about the exercise of the function including—
(a) provision for the function to be exercisable by the public authority or combined authority subject to conditions or limitations specified in the order;
(b) provision as to joint working arrangements between the combined authority and public authority in connection with the function (for example, provision for the function to be exercised by a joint committee).”
These amendments are all about devolving functions. Underpinning the government amendments in this group is consideration we have given to issues raised in Committee about devolving health functions and devolution not only in cities but in counties where there may not be combined authorities, such as Cornwall.
Government Amendments 28, 29, 30, 80 and 82 relate to discussions we have had on devolving health matters and would provide greater flexibility over how functions can be exercised jointly by a public authority and combined authority. They are intended to provide assurance that any future devolution arrangements will continue to uphold existing accountabilities and national standards for the NHS. This was a core principle set out in the memorandum of understanding concerning health and social care functions agreed with Greater Manchester in February.
I have listened carefully to the points made by noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Hunt, both during Committee and Second Reading, and during the very useful meeting we had last week. I am bringing forward these amendments and providing further assurances today, which I hope will go at least some way to meeting the concerns that noble Lords have.
Clause 6 enables the Secretary of State by order to confer on a combined authority functions held by a public authority. Such functions could be exercisable by the combined authority instead of the public authority, or the functions could be exercisable concurrently by each authority.
Amendment 28 enables the Secretary of State to provide for the functions concerned to be exercisable by the combined authority or public authority, subject to specified conditions or limitations. This would enable conditions to be attached to any conferral of powers from a public authority to a combined authority. This could, for example, enable a conferral of health powers on a combined authority to be accompanied by a condition that the combined authority must also meet the current statutory duties held variously by the Secretary of State for Health, NHS England and clinical commissioning groups, thereby ensuring continuation of current NHS accountabilities and standards. So, for example, the Secretary of State could transfer powers attaching the duty to seek continuous improvement in the quality of services, reduce health inequalities, promote the NHS constitution, seek to achieve the objectives in the NHS mandate or act consistently with those objectives. Other conditions might be attached that were specific to the two authorities’ arrangements for working together.
Amendments 29 and 30 provide greater flexibility to ensure that combined authorities and public authorities can work effectively together. They enable Ministers to specify that functions are to be exercised by the public authority and combined authority working jointly, in addition to the powers to require that functions are exercised concurrently or are fully transferred to the combined authority. Amendments 80 and 82 are minor changes which support these amendments by enabling the Secretary of State to amend or modify legislation; for example, the National Health Service Act 2006 might need some amendments or modifications in relation to the particular combined authority to which functions were being transferred. These amendments allow greater flexibility for devolved arrangements to be specified according to local context and the function concerned, and would give greater assurance that the combined authority or council would have to work co-operatively in the exercise of functions.
I understand that Amendment 31 is also prompted by health considerations. It seeks to limit Clause 6 to exclude public authority functions,
“of a regulatory or supervisory nature”,
from being conferred on a combined authority. I understand the intent behind this amendment, having discussed it with noble Lords last week and again now, and I agree that a combined authority should not be able to act as the regulator or supervisor of functions that it is responsible for exercising. Indeed, I can see a case for excluding from the scope of Clause 6 the functions of any national regulatory or supervisory body overseeing the exercise of functions by public authorities. Such an exclusion would put it beyond any doubt that the regulator responsibilities of, say, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission could not be devolved to combined authorities. Moreover, if a combined authority is provided, by order, health functions, perhaps to be exercised jointly with the local clinical commissioning groups, the combined authority should not also be conferred with the functions of the clinical commissioning groups’ regulators.
As I have already indicated, I can assure noble Lords that we are absolutely committed to upholding existing accountabilities and national standards; for example, for the NHS. This core principle was set out in the health and social care memorandum of understanding with Greater Manchester. As I have said in earlier debates, the Government are committed to the view that health and social care services in any area, whatever devolution arrangements are entered into, must remain firmly part of the NHS and social care system; that all existing accountabilities and national standards for health, social care and public health services will still apply; and that the position of NHS services in the area in relation to the NHS constitution and mandate cannot change. The exclusions sought by Amendment 31 could be made by excluding them from the set of functions which are transferred and, if it were necessary, the Secretary of State’s power to attach conditions or impose limitations could be used, as provided for in Amendment 28. However, I am prepared to consider further and reflect on today’s discussion and, if we consider it appropriate, for the Government to return to these issues at Third Reading.
Government Amendments 71, 72 and 83 will enable the Secretary of State to confer functions of a public authority on local authorities as well as combined authorities. These amendments are ensuring that we have the powers we may need to devolve powers in county areas where there may not be a combined authority. In previous stages of the Bill, concerns have been raised that the Bill focuses on devolution to those large cities with combined authorities, and questions have been asked about how the Bill’s provisions apply in non-metropolitan areas, where perhaps there may not be combined authorities.
As I have explained on more than one occasion, we are very clear that devolution applies equally across all parts of England—cities, counties and towns—and that we are looking to do bespoke deals with all areas that want them. We are also ready to have conversations with any area about the powers and budgets it wants devolved to it and the governance arrangements it proposes to support those powers. This amendment is to put it beyond doubt that there is a level playing field for all areas, including areas where there is no combined authority. That we are serious about this is unequivocally demonstrated by the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget:
“The government intends to support towns and counties to play their part in growing the economy, offering them the opportunity to agree devolution deals, and providing local people with the levers they need to boost growth. The government is working with towns and counties to make these deals happen and is making good progress towards a deal with Cornwall”.
Clause 6 enables the Secretary of State to confer functions of a public authority on to a combined authority, subject to appropriate consent and process. Amendments 71 and 72 replicate these powers for application to local authorities to enable the Secretary of State to confer functions of a public authority on to a county or district council. Amendment 83 makes some minor amendments to tidy up Section 15 of the Localism Act accordingly. These amendments will enable, for example, devolution deals to be made with individual local authorities such as Cornwall, as I have mentioned, in the same way as for a combined authority.
Functions of a public authority could be conferred on a local authority to be exercised individually by the local authority, concurrently with the public authority or jointly with the public authority. All these powers can be transferred with limitations and conditions, as for the transfer of powers from a public authority to a combined authority. As with combined authorities, such a conferral of power can be made only with consent from the local authority and if the Secretary of State considers that doing so would be likely to improve the exercise of statutory functions in the local authority area. Such a conferral of power would also need approval from each House of Parliament and to support Parliament’s consideration, the Secretary of State would lay a report before it setting out the reasoning for the proposed conferral of powers. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these amendments respond to their earlier questions about what the Government are offering to non-metropolitan areas.
We are getting major amendments, which are very welcome, at Report rather than in the Bill. It is very hard to find out what is going on because being on Report confines the sort of discussion which we would normally have in Committee. I am grateful for the Minister’s tolerance. She made the point about county functions. Is she saying that under Amendment 71, in conjunction with Amendment 83, the functions of a public authority may be conferred on any single district authority, not just on combined authorities and counties? I was not sure.
I was saying that it applies to any local authority.
Amendment 32 would require the Secretary of State to consult for 60 days before he could lay a draft order before Parliament which would confer powers of a public authority on a combined authority. I am clear that this amendment is unnecessary and risks adding significant delay to the implementation of devolution deals agreed between the Government and the areas concerned. That we cannot countenance delay is not primarily because we are seeking some bureaucratic neatness or even public administration—desirable as those aims are—but because implementing those deals is critical to enabling areas to address the serious economic challenges that the country faces, including the great challenge on productivity.
As the Chancellor made clear in his Budget, addressing this challenge is key to delivering the financial security that families seek when living standards rise. We cannot delay this. Noble Lords have heard me say a number of times that the Government are open to discussing devolution proposals from all places, and that our approach is for areas to come forward with proposals that address their specific issues and opportunities. These are deals between the Government and civic leaders who have been elected by, and are democratically accountable to, those living in the area.
Amendment 33, which is in my name and which we will be discussing shortly, requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report whenever he lays an order which supports such a transfer of power, to provide further detailed information about the deal and conferral of powers as proposed in the draft order. This report is designed to enhance the transparency of such deals and support parliamentary scrutiny.
I am concerned that Amendment 32 would significantly delay the implementation of such a deal, perhaps by five to six months. As I have explained, I do not think it is an option to have bureaucratic and time-consuming processes slowing the actions needed to grow our economy, improve productivity and increase our competitiveness. Nothing would be gained by introducing the time-consuming processes associated with the requirement to make reports available to Parliament setting out the full details of a deal.
Amendment 34 would require the Secretary of State to publish a list of public authority functions which could be included in a devolution deal and subject to a transfer of functions under the Bill. Noble Lords have heard me say a number of times that we are open to discussing devolution proposals from all places. We have been clear that our approach is for areas to come forward with proposals that address the specific issues and opportunities for their area, and the Bill enables the implementation of such bespoke devolution deals. The nature of these changes will not be described in the Bill itself but set out individually in orders to implement changes in respect of each proposal approved and brought forward by the Secretary of State. These orders will be considered by both Houses of Parliament under the affirmative procedure.
Amendment 67 would place a duty on a combined authority which uses powers under the Bill to publish a plan relating to the provision of social welfare. This approach is also inconsistent with the Government’s approach, which is to invite local areas to make proposals about the powers and functions they wish to be devolved and transferred. This would, in essence, require all combined authorities to publish such a plan, whether or not it would be effective and efficient for the combined authority to exercise this function. With these lengthy explanations, I hope noble Lords will agree not to press these amendments.
My Lords, before I speak to government Amendments 71 and 72, I just want to congratulate the Minister for managing to get Cornwall into so many of her speeches. I have campaigned for some devolution for Cornwall since 1968, and it lifts my heart, even at this time of night, to hear the Government recognising that we have a special case with the integrity of Cornwall. Indeed, it is fair to comment that the boundary between England and Cornwall is a great deal more resilient than the one between England and Scotland or the one between England and Wales. Our identity is therefore that much clearer.
I think the Minister will be aware that the comments I made earlier about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee apply particularly to Amendments 71 and 72 too. These amendments are important. Although I understand her anxiety to short-cut and streamline matters, it should be put on record that their effect on the Bill would be to deal with very similar concerns to those we had in the committee about Clause 6. Members of your Lordships’ House may recall that the committee expressed the view that delegation was “inappropriate” in the light of an absence of any requirement on the Secretary of State to consult affected persons. That was in the committee’s first report to the House, but here we are again: in a similar way, it is being argued that the transfer of public authority functions to a local authority could be so urgent that the Secretary of State could permit a complete absence of any effective consultation of those most affected.
The two new clauses proposed in these amendments are very important. I recognise that the Minister and the Government have tried to move as fast as they can to meet some of the concerns of the committee and of your Lordships’ House, but I hope that she will be prepared to accept that once the committee’s report is published tomorrow—I think it will refer to the proposed new clauses—the House should have an opportunity on Wednesday to look again at the Minister’s proposals in the light of that report.
My Lords, I refer to my Amendments 31 and 32, and thank the Minister very much for her response. Amendment 31 relates to the exclusion of the transfer of regulatory functions. I was very grateful for what the noble Baroness had to say, particularly that we will return to the issue at Third Reading. She referred to our debates about the NHS and naturally referred to NHS bodies, but the general principle arises with other functions as well. For example, I have been pondering Cumbria and the potential under this Bill for the regulators of civil nuclear plants and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to be transferred, under an order through Clause 6, to Cumbria County Council, which clearly would not be possible. Again, that would apply to the Environment Agency. I think the discussions the Minister is having with her officials between now and Third Reading need to go wider than just the National Health Service.
My Amendment 32 suggests that, because of the Henry VIII nature of Clause 6 orders, the super-affirmative procedure ought to be adopted. I know that in some circumstances, that procedure would not always be appropriate because of the length of time it takes. I am therefore very grateful for the noble Baroness’s Amendment 33, which was originally grouped with these amendments, because it meets the substance of my concerns without making use of the super-affirmative procedure. I am very content with her amendment and look forward to further debate on my Amendment 31, on the exclusion of regulatory and supervisory functions from Clause 6 orders.
May I just clarify a comment that I made to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis? I talked about local authorities, but it does actually exclude London boroughs.
My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment 67, which is not an opposition amendment but an amendment in my name. I apologise to noble Lords for entering the fray at such a late stage, but the fact is that I completely failed to appreciate the significance of this legislation for the provision of advice services in which I have a strong interest. That is entirely my failure, but I crave your Lordships’ indulgence and hope that noble Lords will not mind too much if I take a few moments to draw their attention to the matter on Report.
My interest, which I have declared, stems from the fact that the amendment emanates from one of the key recommendations from the commission that I chaired on the future of advice and legal support on social welfare law—namely, that:
“Local authorities or groups of local authorities should co-produce or commission local advice and legal support plans with local not for profit (NFP) and commercial advice agencies. These plans should review the services available, including helplines and websites, while targeting face-to-face provision so that it reaches the most vulnerable”.
The fact that my amendment emanates from a commission of which I was myself the chair does not necessarily make it a bad amendment—indeed, one might think rather the reverse. In fact, there are a number of considerations which come together to suggest that this amendment makes a lot of sense in a Bill which is dealing with the devolution of power to larger, more strategic authorities. Advice services such as citizens advice bureaux, law centres and other charities provide crucial support to individuals in dealing with financial, legal and welfare problems concerning such things as housing, debt, disability benefits and claiming unpaid wages from employers, and they help communities to adjust to economic shocks and the effects of changes on government policies on things such as welfare reform. As non-statutory, or non-protected, services, they have suffered as a result of funding cuts, most social welfare issues having been removed from the scope of legal aid at the same time as cuts to a range of social support budgets.
The first report of my commission in January 2014 was entitled Tackling the Advice Deficit. Just over a year after that, in March this year, we published a second report which concluded that the advice deficit had increased significantly. In the first year since the implementation of LASPO, nine law centres had closed, comprising six of the Law Centres Network’s membership, and the Law Centres Network estimated that local government support for law centres had reduced by almost a quarter since 2010-11.
Our commission’s principal recommendation was that a strategic approach should be adopted towards the provision of advice. On
“The Liberal Democrat manifesto contains a number of wise things, including the suggestion that we should, ‘develop a strategy that will deliver advice and legal support to help people with everyday problems like personal debt and social welfare issues’. I entirely agree with that”.—[Hansard, 10/6/15; col. 792.]
If we take Manchester, which is highly relevant in the present context, as an illustration of these points in microcosm, CAB funding of £1.3 million will be cut by more than one-third between 2015 and 2107, involving major restructuring, including the closure of South Manchester Law Centre and other CAB services, as well as reductions in some face-to-face services. That after £1.2 million had already been stripped out as a result of the LASPO cuts, despite increasing numbers of families and individuals running into debt and legal problems.
As for the strategic response, a combined authority could collaborate with the local advice sector to plan services within a wider range of resources, including the welfare support grant, the universal credit local services framework, the homelessness prevention fund, the troubled families programme, lottery projects to support those with complex and multiple needs, the better care fund and other resources, such as support services for victims provided at local level by police and crime commissioners. This offers a viable model for the rehabilitation and stabilisation of our system of advice and legal support on social welfare law. Such collaboration has been facilitated since 2013 through partnership programmes supported by the lottery’s advice services transition fund. This funding has now run out, although we hope that the Cabinet Office might still work with the Big Lottery Fund to extend this into a rolling programme that could be match-funded from a number of sources and built into a national advice and legal support fund to support the local plans which the recommendation in our report, which I referred to, calls for.
Co-ordination across funding streams and services would not only prevent duplication but help to sustain partnerships across the advice sector. The whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. This is aptly demonstrated by the example of Sheffield, which we studied in our report. The council brought together some 19 separate organisations under CAB leadership, which made for not only economies of scale but gains in efficiency—for example, through three in-house lawyers becoming available to the whole organisation.
“A local authority must establish and maintain a service for providing people in its area with information and advice relating to care and support for adults and support for carers”.
Combined authorities operating the sort of collaborative model that I have outlined offer a perfect vehicle for discharging this obligation. It seems a no-brainer. This is just the sort of thing that combined authorities are being set up to do—if not this, then what?
I would have hoped that the Minister would consider this a valuable addition to the Bill or, if not in this precise form, that she would have been prepared to work with me to find the most appropriate way of incorporating the spirit of the amendment into the Bill. I could not really understand why she felt that it was inconsistent with the Government’s policy. Perhaps, as a result of joining the discussion at this late stage, I have not properly understood the Government’s policy, but if this is the case then maybe the Minister would be willing to meet me before Third Reading so that we could talk through whether there is not a way of meeting both the Government’s objectives and mine in tabling this amendment.
My Lords, as explained, Amendments 28 to 30 were basically driven by the health agenda. The facility for joint working arrangements, the transfer of functions subject to conditions or limitations, and providing for functions to be undertaken by the public authority on a continuing basis together with joint working seemed to us to be entirely reasonable. On the fundamental debate about the NHS we do not believe that this goes far enough, but that issue will be returned to on Wednesday.
Amendment 34, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beecham, is another attempt at clarity on the list of functions that the Government are prepared to consider as available for devolving under the provisions of the Act. We anticipated the answer that we got, and I will not prolong that at this time of night. I just ask: what is so wrong with some form of prospectus that would help local authorities to understand the criteria applied and the capacity that they may build? An annual report would help. I do not fully understand the Government’s reticence on this matter. My noble friend Lord Hunt has dealt with Amendments 31 and 32, and we look forward to the further consideration on Amendment 31.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Low, that we appreciate the amendment that has just been moved. There is a great need in this area; we know that the social welfare advice system has been all but decimated—advice around benefits, debts, employment and housing—and it is a very difficult time. The noble Lord should be congratulated on the work that he did and the commission that he chaired. He is right on the fundamental point that combined authorities should be a forum within which a strategic framework could be put together to deal with these very issues. I take the Minister’s point that it is not the process of this Bill to prescribe that for each individual authority or the way that they should do it, but I hope that she will accept that it would be enabled by this process—indeed, it is quite an appropriate matter for a combined authority to address.
Amendments 71 and 72, as we have heard, would enable the transfer of public authority functions to certain individual local authorities. To reiterate a question asked by my noble friend, this would apply to any sort of authority—a district, county, unitary or single authority—and potentially the same type of powers that would be available more generally. It is an important change, which is welcomed, although we look forward to the DPRRC’s report when it comes out tomorrow. The change is achieved by the Secretary of State making regulations if it is considered that the exercise of statutory functions will be improved. As we have heard, they have to have the consent of the relevant local authority.
We acknowledge that the affirmative procedure will operate, and the order will be accompanied by a more detailed report, which we will debate in a moment. However, the underlying process is unclear—perhaps we will get some clarity from the report tomorrow. It does not seem to require any starting assessment by the local authority and the proposal then being made to the Secretary of State; that seems to have disappeared from the process. In practice that may end up as an iterative process, but if there is no right for the individual local authorities to make proposals to the Secretary of State for consideration which merits some response, what assurance do we have that this is an inclusive process? It starts from the other end of the process to the existing Section 109, so what creates an effective right for individual authorities with a case to be able to make that case and to be heard? I was anticipating an amendment from my noble friend Lady Hollis in this group but perhaps it will come in a subsequent one.
I apologise to my noble friend, but as my amendment was on the very different issue of council tax bands and I thought it was worth trying to explore that in greater detail, fairly late today I asked for it to be disaggregated. Therefore noble Lords will find that on the latest list of amendments Amendment 75A is at the very end, and it will be the last amendment to be debated on Wednesday. The noble Lord may have had an earlier set of groupings in which it was included; I pulled it out after the draft groupings had come out.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that clarification. I will just say to the Government that where my noble friend leads, Governments eventually catch up.
My Lords, I do not wish to repeat anything that has been said on Amendments 31 and 32, because I am very happy with the debate we have had so far. I will draw the Minister’s attention to the very helpful words of the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Amendment 67, and will then take that and compare it to Amendment 34 and the list of public functions, which the Labour Party has identified as needed, and which I support. It starts to matter. We had a brief discussion in Committee around careers services and their role as regards the devolution of skills budgeting—what the exact responsibility of combined authorities would be as regards careers services. All that matters because it is not clear to all the organisations outside your Lordships’ House exactly what is in scope. Therefore the production of that list called for by Amendment 34 seems very important, because the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, were extremely important and appropriate.
My Lords, I support my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and agree with their comments. Although I am delighted by the flexibility and the responsiveness of the Minister, I am now unclear as to why an individual local authority should necessarily join other authorities to form a combined area if it could equally well receive powers. Obviously that would be a matter for negotiation. For example, it would be absurd to confine transport to one area, but for another power associated with economic development you might not necessarily need a combined authority to do so; you just need additional powers to be able to do X, Y or Z.
Therefore, given that at the lowest level we now have single local authorities, then combined authorities and, floating somewhere above them, metro authorities with metro mayors, which will be required, it would be very helpful if the Minister could give us some indication—not necessarily tonight, but as soon as possible—of what the Secretary of State might have in mind to be appropriately delegated to different tiers of authority, particularly for those of us who are in two-tier shire authorities. In that way, a lot of wasted effort will not be put into submissions that will go nowhere. We understand unitary authorities in metropolitan areas very clearly, but where there are district councils and county councils, and the district councils are often rural and urban and have different political views and attitudes towards economic growth, it will be quite complicated to find a way through to maximise our common agenda of economic growth for the prosperity of us all. Therefore anything the Minister can do to help clarify the routes we travel on this will be very welcome.
My Lords, the more I have listened to the debate on Amendment 34, the more worried I have become about many of the interventions from the Benches opposite. Devolution is not something that government departments are longing to do. They are not sitting there asking, “How can we give up power? How can we transfer this back from where we have taken it?”. There is controversy between departments within government. It is a personal controversy and a power structure controversy. If we were to agree to this line of thinking, we would force the Government to find minimalist compromises within the existing structure. Why should the Government go further within the controversy? Why not simply give the least? That would broadly satisfy the consensus within the power structure of Whitehall.
The argument that I have used in my personal capacity with local authorities is: be adventurous. I have asked: do you have the capacity to see how to do something bigger, better and more imaginative than you will ever get if it is imposed on you from central government? Some authorities have that capacity. Manchester has been quoted many times but there are other examples—the noble Lord, Lord Low, in an interesting intervention talked about what has happened in Sheffield. However, in order to galvanise the momentum of local talent based on local strengths, you need men and women who can envisage how to do things better than will ever be achieved by what is imposed on them by the central machine. That is why Amendment 34 is at the heart of the worst way of dealing with things.
We want local people to rise up in indignation with their ideas, to argue for them and to put forward proposals which in many parts of government will not be acceptable so that a debate is forced on government. Then, those who believe in the devolution argument will, in the normal processes of government, have the chance to win the concessions that can meet the aspirations that are put forward. However, clamping down with prescriptive lists divided into tiers of local government and into functions, mirroring the Whitehall structure, is the way to stop devolution in its tracks.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Heseltine for setting the context for some of my answers tonight. We do not intend to make lists to prescribe anything. We want to hear proposals from local authorities—single local authorities or whatever they might be. As my noble friend said, we want to hear about their vision for the future of their areas. I hope that that answers some of the questions that were raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to Amendments 71 and 72. As with the other amendments which the Delegated Powers Committee considered today, these can be discussed further on Wednesday, when the committee’s report will be available.
I was asked whether single local authorities could make proposals to the Secretary of State. The answer is yes.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, asked about social welfare reports. Whatever the merits of these issues—and I can see their importance—again, these are matters for local areas, and indeed perhaps for combined authorities, to respond to if that is considered right locally. They are not matters for a generally enabling Bill providing the framework for devolving powers as part of a bespoke deal.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked why there should not be a prospectus for local authorities to respond to. Again, a prospectus tempts us to shift from our bottom-up approach to devolution to an approach driven by the Government’s ideas about what may or may not be devolved. That goes back to the comments of my noble friend Lord Heseltine. We are totally wedded to the bottom-up approach of having conversations with those in any area for whatever they propose for devolution.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also wanted me to confirm whether that applied to any single authority. The answer, again, is yes, and that includes unitaries, districts and counties but not London boroughs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked: if local authorities can have devolved powers, why do they need to have combined authorities? Local authorities may wish to work collaboratively across their administrative boundaries and across wider functional economic areas in order to promote economic growth. There will be some areas—I mention Cornwall again—where a single functional economic area will involve a single local authority.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked exactly what will be a combined authority’s responsibilities for any skills service. When a combined authority’s responsibilities may relate to the skills service, it will depend on the particular deal in question. The responsibilities will be what that area agrees in its deal. For the Government now to specify what the responsibilities will be would defeat the object of this enabling devolution approach, as explained so well by my noble friend Lord Heseltine.
Amendment 28 agreed.
Amendments 29 and 30
Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford
29: Clause 6, page 7, line 41, leave out “An order under subsection (1)(a) may make” and insert “The provision that may be included in an order under subsection (1)(a) includes, in particular,”
30: Clause 6, page 7, line 45, at end insert—
“(c) for the function to be exercisable by the combined authority and the public authority jointly, or
“(d) for the function to be exercisable by the combined authority jointly with the public authority but also continue to be exercisable by the public authority alone.”
Amendments 29 and 30 agreed.
Amendments 31 and 32 not moved.
Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford
33: Clause 6, page 8, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) At the same time as laying a draft of a statutory instrument containing an order under this section before Parliament, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report explaining the effect of the order and why the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to make the order.
“( ) The report must include—
(a) a description of any consultation taken into account by the Secretary of State,
(b) information about any representations considered by the Secretary of State in connection with the order, and
(c) any other evidence or contextual information that the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to include.”
I will speak also to Amendment 70. During Committee, noble Lords expressed concern that Parliament should be fully informed on the nature of devolution deals and proposals. We have considered carefully the points raised, and we agree that we could strengthen and extend the information available to Parliament. Amendments 33 and 70 are intended to do this. They provide that when a Secretary of State lays a draft order in Parliament, in addition to the order’s Explanatory Memorandum, he will also lay a report explaining what the order does and why he proposes to make it. The report would need to include details of any consultation.
In Committee, we considered several amendments from noble Lords about consultation. Among those were requirements for the Secretary of State to undertake consultation before putting orders before Parliament. We consider that where consultation is undertaken, it is most appropriate that this is at local level by the areas developing the proposals, but it may be appropriate for the Secretary of State to consider such consultation as has been undertaken, and it is right that Parliament should know about such consideration, so my amendments require that the reports to be laid in Parliament contain a description of any consultation and any representations considered by the Secretary of State—and any other relevant evidence or information considered appropriate to include.
For example, in respect of consideration of policing within any deal, the Government would fully expect police and crime commissioners to be part of discussions early on in the development of those proposals at local level. Where the transferring of PCC functions to a mayor is proposed, the report would therefore include descriptions of the discussions that have taken place on this matter between local PCCs, the combined authority and the Government.
I believe that these reports, together with the Explanatory Memoranda, will ensure that Parliament will have all that it needs to consider the orders implementing devolution deals and the governance changes put before it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation but want to say a couple of things. First, I assume that these amendments will relate to each and every agreement that will be brought forward in due course in the House. Secondly, I was reassured that the document setting out the various details would be additional to the Explanatory Memorandum, which is notoriously modest in its explanations. It would be extremely helpful to me and to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to have the reassurance that those reports will be thorough.
I hope that the Government are able to have all success in their ventures. As the debate has gone on over the weeks, I have become more convinced than I was early on that this could well lead to some genuine devolution initiatives. Noble Lords may think that I was rather cynical at the start, but the drive and intention behind it, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and the Minister, is greatly reassuring.
I hope that these reports will be full and genuinely helpful to the House, because those will be the reports that will persuade both Houses that the devolution proposals are substantial and well founded. Of course only experience will show that as the reality, but nevertheless the parliamentary process is important because that is what will carry opinion with the Government and in the local communities.
My Lords, Amendment 33 is to be welcomed as it requires a report, as we have heard, to be laid before Parliament at the same time as the statutory instrument containing an order under Clause 6. The report will cover descriptions of any consultations and representations received and evidential and background information. Amendment 70 requires a similar report in respect of regulations arising under Clause 10. We consider these to be important amendments, which we support.
However, the amendment raises one question, which I touched upon earlier in relation to Amendment 1. The devolution process under way is happening not just necessarily under an order in Clause 6 or 10. It has been an evolving process, particularly in the case of
Greater Manchester. The build-up of that devolution arrangement happened under different provisions, and that could be replicated in other deals.
We are trying to understand whether this will culminate always in one order under Clause 6 or Clause 10, or whether there are bits along the way. If the latter, that would obviously have an impact on the type of information and the type of report, and on whether there are any gaps in it. How will it work in practice?
As I said earlier, the reports could be an important component of an annual report, but I would be interested in how it all works and how it culminates always in one order which then triggers the report that we are discussing.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, for the two points that he raised and for his increasing confidence as the Bill goes along—it is reassuring to me if not to anyone else. He asked whether each and every deal would be brought forward in this way. The answer is yes. He also asked whether the reports would be in addition to the explanatory memorandum. Not only will they be in addition, but they will be full and detailed.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked whether the report plus the explanatory memorandum would be part of the full deal explanation, or whether it would be done piecemeal. My view at this moment—and I will correct it if it is wrong—is that once an area is ready to go forward with a devolution deal and therefore the orders that come with it, there will be a substantial report plus explanatory memoranda. It may be that that is added to through a future order, but that order on its own would then come through both Houses of Parliament. That is how I see it working, and I will correct it if it is not the case.
Amendment 33 agreed.
Amendment 34 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.