Clause 30 - Functions of mayors: policing

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 5th July 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Clause 30 allows for the conferring of police and crime commissioner functions on the Mayor of a combined county authority. I think it is important that something as significant as this does not go through without debate. Again, this is the core aspect of tier 3 powers, which makes the case for a mayor in those cases. Again, we understand the need for the measure to be in the Bill, but we want to hear from the Minister how he thinks this will work in practice.

This is not without precedent. These clauses mirror combined authorities, and those combined authorities in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire have a Mayor with police powers, and of course the same is true in London. It can be done, and it can be done safely. I am less sure about whether there is widespread desire for it. As I say, if it were the determining factor in tier 3 between taking on a Mayor or not, there may be quite a range of decisions taken.

We heard in both oral and written evidence—I genuinely thought it was admirable—about the culture of collaboration and joint working across the West Midlands Combined Authority. It is clear that it has been able to build consensus on virtually everything, except this point. That was quite revealing in and of itself. Again, it is those sorts of powers that local communities often talk about, such as economic levers, transport levers, housing levers and issues relating to net zero, rather than policing. Again, where communities want this, we are happy for it to be an option where desired. The reality is that it is complicated because of the unavoidable point of footprints for police forces, which do not elegantly overlay with even natural geographies, but definitely not geographies of combined authorities. I cannot imagine a situation where they are likely to converge without a lot of pain and disruption.

There will be some places—the West Midlands ironically being quite a good example—where the footprint probably matches up quite nicely, and clearly that is the case in Greater Manchester too. I want clarity from the Minister. Is his intention to use these powers where there is strong demand and where the geographies are suitable? As I say, I think that is likely to prove challenging. What is the Minister minded to do in situations where there is enthusiasm to take these powers on but the natural communities do not work, or maybe there is a police force that covers a small part of a county combined authority? How would that work in practice?

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is important to get clarification on this issue, and in particular on the extent to which a decision will be taken by default if we end up with CCAs that include more than one police authority area. There are good reasons why some police authorities are relatively small, in terms of population size, such as the vast rural nature of the area they serve, and it would seem wrong to go through a process of effectively deciding a police authority merger by default. I know there is more to it than that, but we need to be given clarity on how that might transpire, so I would be grateful for that clarification.

While I am on my feet, I wish to apologise to you, Mr Paisley, and to the rest of the Committee, because I am off to see a primary school from Kendal. I will leave the Committee for a moment or two, or perhaps longer. I apologise.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 30 enables the Mayor of a combined county authority to have the functions of the police and crime commissioner conferred on them if that Mayor requests it. The Mayors of the Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire combined authorities already exercise PCC functions in their areas. Committee members will remember the evidence session we held with Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, in which she talked about the advantages of having those powers aligned with the other powers she was using—for example, using her powers over transport and her PCC powers concurrently to improve women’s safety.

Clause 30 and the linked schedule 3 offer that same option for CCA Mayors if the local authority and policing boundaries align, and if they feel that taking on those functions will help them deliver more effective policing for their area, where that is agreed between the area and Government. The clause and schedule mirror the combined authority provisions for the conferral of PCC functions to ensure that if a CCA Mayor takes on those functions, the process of conferral and the way they are exercised on a day-to-day basis is consistent with those too. As with all regulations on CCAs, these regulations will be subject to parliamentary approval. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 30 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.