Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 18 July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 8:30, 18 July 2016

My Lords, back in 1997, when I was Secretary of State in the Blair Government, we brought about the biggest amount of devolution in this country: in Scotland, in Wales and, indeed, in the London area. All those proposals were opposed by the Tory Administration, largely because they were about regional bodies having elected representatives.

The appointment of mayors, as in this order, is, in one sense, in defiance of the referendum, about which we are hearing a lot at the moment. The people spoke: they did not want mayors brought into this situation. But we are where we are. This is not devolution. It has been advanced and agreed, which is important, and the Government now see it as local government reform. The main difference is that a mayor is not accountable to the people in the area and there will not be elected assemblies, but rather local government forum restructure. That is fair enough; that is what the Government have got some of these local authorities to agree to.

What is interesting, as the Minister pointed out, is that the models are not all the same. The Manchester model is not the same as the models in Merseyside, Newcastle or Leeds, whatever is agreed there. It is certainly not the same as that in the order before us now. This goes one step further, beyond the local authority boundaries, by bringing together two district councils. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee observed that that could lead to difficulties, which can probably be sorted out.

I am in an area which does not have anything in this regard and is not being asked anything. One of the proposals is that the local authorities in an area have to agree to produce the solution. My area is Hull, of course, but the whole of North Yorkshire, including a lot of Tory areas, is left out. The local authorities are not invited even to make a proposal for the North Yorkshire area because all this so-called devolution, or plan for combined authorities, ends at the Pennines. It does not touch Hull or North Yorkshire; it does not even cross the estuary on to the north Lincolnshire side, although, to be fair, I think the Government cobbled together something—I do not know whether mayors are involved—to form a north Lincolnshire proposal. The three local authorities, in North Yorkshire, Hull and on the Lincolnshire side, have agreed to come up with a proposal. I wonder whether the Government would consider that such a proposal meets the regional basis, because that is what we are talking about: the northern region. In fact, most of it is based on local authorities, but it does not have a regional dimension—so much so that, on Transport for the North, the Government are now having to bring legislation before this House to tell us how to develop the regional powers and regional decision-making which they so disliked.

Can the Minister indicate whether the Government might look, even within this timeframe, at a North Yorkshire proposal involving different political bodies reflecting both sides of this House? I am sure that people in Hull, Beverley and North Yorkshire would like to enjoy this development. It brings money with it, but, as my noble friend Lord Beecham pointed out, it does not necessarily do so in net terms; in fact, if you take account of the cuts, it could be less. Nevertheless, it is the Government’s policy—a new Government, at the moment. Could the area over the Pennines—the North Yorkshire area and Humberside—be considered? It could be brought together under the banner of the Humber estuary, which is one of the great assets of the area, with companies and investment now coming in. Would the Government be prepared to consider how we might include that area, whether it is called a devolved authority, devolution or a local authority? The rest of Yorkshire would like to be involved; will the Government consider such a proposal?