Schedule 3 - Mayors for combined county authority Areas: PCC functions

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:00 am, 5th July 2022

I beg to move amendment 37, in schedule 3, page 206, line 34, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from conferring only partial Police and Crime Commissioner functions on the mayor.

The fun is always in the schedules, is it not? I like to get into the detail and understand some of the reasons why certain approaches have been chosen. Schedule 3 introduces the arrangements that allow for Mayors of combined county authorities to take on police and crime commissioner functions in the way that the Minister has set out. As I said, this is a complex matter, particularly due to geography. I do not think the Minister quite addressed the complexity issue. Again, I would be interested in his thoughts about how that is likely to work in practice, certainly for footprints that clearly do not match up with police force footprints. That argument has been made already, so I will not repeat it.

The thrust of amendment 37 is to not make the devolution of those functions any more complicated than it already is. Paragraph 2(1) of schedule 3 allows the Secretary of State to

“by regulations provide that the mayor may exercise in the CCA area—

(a) all PCC functions,”

—that is all the functions, as the Minister has described. As I say, that has been done elsewhere, and it seems to be beyond debate. However, I want to probe sub-paragraphs (1)(b) and (1)(c), which provide for

“all PCC functions other than those specified or described in the regulations, or…only those PCC functions specified or described in the regulations” to be devolved. Basically, the Secretary of State can by regulation devolve partial police and crime commissioner powers. First, that is unduly fiddly, and it might create an unwise divergence between Mayors. Either an individual has police and crime commissioner functions devolved to them, or they do not.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I too am curious about the measures and the inclusion of paragraph 2(1)(b) and (c). My concern echoes the debate we had earlier: how there is an obligation under the Bill to have an elected Mayor, because they are taking on and subsuming the role of the police and crime commissioner. It feels as if here we see the role chopped up into little pieces and, as a result, only a partial role taken on. If so, why would there still be the obligation to have an elected Mayor?

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:15 am, 5th July 2022

As my hon. Friend says, the taking on of the PCC seems to be that sort of totemic tipping moment, making this question all the more compelling. I am interested in a case in which sub-paragraph (1)(b) and (c) were used, in which only some police and crime functions were devolved. Does that mean that the pre-existing police and crime commissioner would continue to exist alongside the Mayor? Are we creating some confusion, if we have a PCC and a Mayor with some police and crime responsibilities? I am not sure that is desirable. Again, that might create variance between Mayors. I am not minded to support the provision, but I might be persuaded if we were clear what sort of circumstances it would apply to and what powers we might not want to give, and if we had clarity on the point about other PCCs.

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

The schedule provides detail setting out the areas where the Secretary of State either may or has to make regulations to enable a transfer of PCC functions to a CCA Mayor, and provides the framework and arrangements for them to exercise those functions day to day. It is important that CCA Mayors can exercise PCC functions if the authority and policing boundaries align, and if they feel that taking on the functions will help them deliver more effective policing for the area.

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

I apologise, but it is helpful that the Minister used the “boundaries align” phrase. Is that a complete alignment of boundaries?

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

Yes, I think it is, implicitly. The levelling-up White Paper talks about how, if the boundaries did not quite align and there was a strong desire locally for that, we would look at the geographies over time and whether it was worth changing them in order to make them fit. I stress that that is probably a long-term function. Broadly speaking, this is keeping the mayoral combined authority and CCA models aligned, because the power already exists, although it is not being used in the MCA legislation.

Over time, the PCC role has expanded and evolved, and it continues to do so, and the Bill would allow the Home Office at a future date not to devolve all PCC functions, if that were not appropriate in future. At this point, I cannot specify in exactly what circumstances that might arise—it might be to do with edge cases where there is desire to do some policing-adjacent things through transport, of the kind that Tracy talked about—but so far those powers have not been used. At the moment, I do not think that there is an intention to use them. I am aware of no examples of active discussion of any such thing.

As I say, however, the PCC role is evolving over time, as is that of the different combined authorities. We are just holding open that possibility for the future. Were we to explore that future, the possibility of the processes that we have talked about so far in this sitting—things going through Parliament with explanatory memorandums and so on—would all apply. At the moment, this is just holding things open for a potential future, in case there is a desire to do things in this kind of space.

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

The Minister knows that I do not give an awful lot of shrift to the argument that we need to do such things because that is how they are in combined authorities. The Minister has chosen to establish a separate class. If we merely had to adopt the same arrangements as combined authorities, basically we should have moved the 60 amendments and simply agreed them. The Minister has chosen to legislate differently, and therefore I believe that the amendment needs to be treated on its own merits.

Similarly, I do not give an awful lot of shrift to the idea of leaving the door open for things that have not been used before in mirroring powers, so that they might be used later for an unspecified purpose. That is not a strong reason to keep something in statute, so I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 6 Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill — Schedule 3 - Mayors for combined county authority Areas: PCC functions

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 38, in schedule 3, page 207, line 23, leave out paragraph (a)

This amendment would allow the person who is appointed deputy mayor under section 26 to be appointed as deputy mayor for policing and crime.

This is the dangerous bit. I am going to torture the cricket analogy one last time, even though it really does not stand up to it: we are just seeing out the final over before lunch, so I will try not to nick one here if possible.

Paragraph 3(1)(a) of schedule 3 states that the Secretary of State may

“appoint a deputy mayor in respect of PCC functions” but that that person cannot be what I have called in previous debates “the statutory Mayor”. More than anything, I am keen to know why that measure, which amendment 38 would delete, was included. It may be that the statutory deputy could hold a role outside their normal duties that would mean they were not eligible to take police and crime functions, and could not stand for police and crime commissioner—just as a Member of Parliament cannot be a police and crime commissioner—but I am not clear what that role would be. Short of an unavoidable hurdle, I wonder why we are reducing the options rather than letting the Mayor choose which of their eligible candidates would be best for the role.

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

The single-word answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is: workload. Clause 30 enables the Mayor of a combined county authority to have the functions of a police and crime commissioner conferred on them, subject to their consent. It includes provisions on the employment of a deputy Mayor for crime and policing, and the rules that govern who is eligible.

The role of the statutory deputy Mayor of the CCA is, as we have discussed, to step in should the Mayor become unable to act or if the office of Mayor is vacant. As we said earlier, the deputy Mayor, as any other member of the combined county authority, may assist the Mayor or be delegated a portfolio to lead for the CCA—that could be transport or all manner of different things. The deputy Mayor is also likely to be a leader or another senior member of the constituent council, so is likely to have plenty on their plate. The role of the deputy Mayor for crime and policing is to dedicate constant focus and attention to the vital areas of crime and policing.

Those are both clearly significant roles, and it is difficult to see how both could be delivered by one person without insufficient attention on policing or the responsibilities of deputy Mayor suffering.

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

Is the intention for the role to go to a private citizen, not a constituent member of the authority?

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

The CCA member also holds an elected position for a specific portion of the CCA area, so they are a constituent member. The Mayor’s PCC power covers the entirety of the police force in the CCA area. That could cause confusion about the democratic mandate that the CCA member has—when compared with the requirement of the deputy Mayor for crime and policing—to support the Mayor, who has been elected to represent constituents from across the whole police force area.

Let me encapsulate it. Why do we have to have a deputy Mayor for crime and policing? Because PCC is a full-time job, and in most of the country outside the MCAs, it is a stand-alone job. There are many advantages to bringing those two things together, as the Mayor of West Yorkshire told us, but it works best when there is a high degree of delegation to a deputy Mayor for crime and policing who can drive forward all that work so that the Mayor can provide strategic join-up between that and other functions. We would still have someone whose full-time job is to do all those things. If we tried to combine the two roles, however, it would be just too much workload for one person.

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

The point about workload is well made. I understand now that the portfolio of deputy mayorships will be held by constituent members of the authority, but I am still now sure—maybe that is my fault—whether the deputy Mayor for crime and policing is a constituent member before their appointment by the Secretary of State.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.