[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee on 12 October 2015, and written evidence to the Committee, reported to the House on 7 and 15 September and 12 October 2015, on the Government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, HC 369, the Committee’s First Report of Session 2014-15, Devolution in England, the case for local government, HC 503, and theGovernment’s response, Cm 8998.]
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption.] I understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), but his amendment is on the Order Paper for inspection by colleagues, and will be there for some time to come, and he can show it to his family.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I guess we have to get used to rival Opposition amendments these days, but I look forward to hearing the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen).
The Conservative party promised that if elected it would begin a bold new era of devolution. We made that promise because, as hon. Members on both sides of the House would recognise, over the course of the best part of a century, this country became one of the most centralised in the free world. Our cities, towns and counties became progressively more dominated by Westminster; local leaders had their undoubted dynamism and energy curbed and were made to conform to what Whitehall required; and our economy became unbalanced, its local strengths undermined by over a century of central direction from London.
People who know and love their communities have seen their good ideas frustrated, and the public’s enthusiasm for local democracy has unsurprisingly withered. The damage caused by over-centralisation is not only political; as Members know, seven of the eight largest cities outside London have for some time had a GDP per head below the national average. That stands in contrast to the experience of other European countries, where the major regional centres of their economies power the national economy ahead. If they can do it, we can do it, and we are determined so to do.
Crucial to devolution is who controls the money. We are currently negotiating the new Scottish settlement, which must mean a new settlement for England, and I hope that England will have a strong and sensible voice in that. We will now have a new determination on business rates and councils, so will the Secretary of State explain how the money might work under the new regime?
I will. The idea that business rates raised locally can be retained by local government, rather than being sent to the Treasury, is a major step forward that colleagues in local government agreed and for which many have campaigned over many years. Having made that commitment, it was right to announce it so that our colleagues in local government could help us with the important work of putting in place arrangements to protect authorities that do not collect enough in business rates at the moment to pay for their services. It is right that that be done collaboratively, and the Chancellor announced the arrangements in order to initiate that conversation.
My right hon. Friend talks about a long campaign and the trend towards devolution, as shown not least in our manifesto and reflected in the Bill, which commands support certainly among Government Members. I caution him, however, that if Sunday trading deregulation is tacked on quickly to the Bill at a later stage, a significant cross-party group of hon. Members will vigorously oppose it on behalf of businesses, families and workers.
I understand the comments of my hon. Friend, who has been a clear and long-standing campaigner on this issue. As all Members know, there has been a consultation on whether to devolve to local authorities the power to set Sunday trading hours. That consultation has closed and we are considering the results, but I say to him and other Members that I and my colleagues are happy to meet them to discuss their concerns before the Government respond to the consultation.
Further to that intervention, will the Secretary of State confirm for the record that hon. Members would have an opportunity to debate the matter in a Committee of the whole House, should the Sunday trading hours extension be introduced into the Bill? I, on behalf of the Church of England, and others would want to place on the record our opposition to the extension.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing forward this Bill and on the hard work he has done over many years in bringing devolution to our cities. Will he accept from me that bringing devolution down from Whitehall to town hall is not enough in itself? Will he look a little further at what we call “double devolution”, or taking devolution down to the communities and neighbourhoods, as we are trying to do in Nottingham at this very moment?
I will indeed, and I would like to reciprocate the hon. Gentleman’s compliment. Both in his role as Select Committee Chair in the last Parliament and through his personal work in Nottingham, driving the regeneration of what he terms the outer estates in his city, the hon. Gentleman brings and personifies a degree of local knowledge of the problems and of the people, many of whom he has introduced me to on my visits to his city, which it would be impossible to replicate in Whitehall. That provides a good example of why we need to devolve in exactly the way that the hon. Gentleman said.
Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back to the subject raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—the issue of where the money comes from to finance devolution. The Secretary of State will be aware of the work of the current Mayor championing full fiscal devolution for London—not just of business rates, but of a series of other local property taxes. Why has the Chancellor resisted devolving control of those additional property taxes?
I think the hon. Gentleman is being a bit churlish. Part of the Mayor’s campaign was to have 100% retention of business rates. That has been secured, and the mayor was appropriately generous in his praise for the Chancellor for doing so. We are rightly responding to a long-standing campaign to make this devolution work, which is a very important step forward.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the feeling of many Members about the Sunday trading liberalisation amendments that could be in the Bill. He will also be aware of the meeting of MPs and constituents over how the obligation to work will affect people’s Sundays. Before any of that happens, we are seeking the opportunity, as others have said, to debate that matter in this House. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance—a cast-iron assurance—that that will happen?
I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, the consultation has not yet been responded to, and the Government will need to take a view on the responses to it. My colleagues and I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any other Member who wants to influence what happens on this issue. Secondly, if such provisions were to become part of the Bill, it would of course be essential to debate them on the Floor of the House so that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues have a chance to express their views and influence the debate.
Let me make some progress; I will of course take further interventions a little later.
The Bill’s purpose is to give power to the cities, counties and towns of our country and to free them from some of the Whitehall rule. This has been promised in the past by successive Governments of different colours, but often never realised. It is worth asking why well-intentioned Governments have never succeeded before in making a real difference to our country’s devolution settlement. One reason why previous efforts failed is as a result of an approach whereby everything had to change in a uniform way across the country. By contrast, the fundamental approach of this Bill is to enable the Government to give expression to proposals—they may be different proposals from different places—with no requirement that the same arrangements should apply to all parts of the country simultaneously. It is a fundamental tenet of this Bill, in contrast to other reforms debated over many years, that it does not give me or any of my ministerial colleagues the power to impose any arrangement on any local authority. All it gives is the ability to give expression to a proposal, if I may put it that way.
I know that the Secretary of State is fully committed to the Bill. He referred to it not imposing anything in a uniform manner on local authorities or combined authorities. Does that mean that he is not going to impose a mayor on a combined authority?
The Bill does not include the ability to impose any particular form, whether it be a combined authority, a different combination of authorities or a mayor. It provides for the ability to give expression to an agreement made between authorities, which I think is the right approach.
Does the Secretary of State agree that any proposal for devolution needs to be ambitious and bold, both to realise the economic potential and to capture the public’s imagination? A good example might be the Greater Yorkshire devolution bid.
I commend my hon. Friend’s ingenuity in seeking to elicit an endorsement of that particular proposal. What I certainly can do is to endorse the great efforts and imagination that have gone into a very attractive bid. A number of alternatives for Yorkshire have been put forward to the Government, and I will meet Yorkshire authorities to see whether a consensus can be reached. As my hon. Friend knows, a consensus is required for these arrangements to come into force.
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the model of elected mayor and combined authority has profound implications for public engagement and public involvement. If this is devolution purely from Whitehall to town hall, and does not actually empower communities, that would be a major problem. This also has profound implications for the role of back-bench councillors who feel potentially marginalised by this model and for the role of Members of Parliament in holding public services to account. What is the Government’s position on the public, back-bench councillors and Members of Parliament in the light of the profound impact of the proposals?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. It is important that both back-bench councillors and Members of Parliament have the opportunity to exercise scrutiny of any elected officials, whether they be chairs of combined authorities or members of the cabinets put together by combined authorities or boroughs.
Let me finish answering the question from the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis).
Having a prominent and identifiable figure can, I think, help that scrutiny. Both the recent Mayors in London have been prominent individuals, and I dare say that they would both say that they feel pretty well scrutinised by Members of Parliament, elected members and indeed by public opinion. Under the Bill, it is open to different authorities to put arrangements together. In the case of Greater Manchester, strong powers exist for the constituent authorities, which have a long track record of working very well together to exercise scrutiny over the elected mayor. Members of those councils, of course, are linked in through that. Different arrangements are possible in different places.
I agree with the Secretary of State’s notion that the devolution process will be asymmetric, so that combinations will have to form themselves. In the case of Birmingham, some components are obvious, but where does the right hon. Gentleman take control to ensure that some parts around it—whether it be Warwickshire, Stratford or whatever—are not left out of the process and can be brought together into some greater framework?
The right hon. Lady reflects exactly why we need a bespoke approach rather than a single template—because every place is different. As we know, her city of Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe, and it is very different from other authorities. Greater Manchester is divided into 10 separate authorities, for example. It would be completely wrong to seek to impose a Manchester arrangement on Birmingham and its neighbours. As I have said, and as is reflected in the Bill, arrangements can come forward only if there is a consensus between the local authorities that might want to be partners. That has to be forged locally. I do not have the ability either now or subsequently through the Bill to impose an arrangement on any authority, however much people might desire it.
If the hon. Gentleman studies the Bill, he will see that there is no ability for me to impose a mayor on the authorities of the north-east. They are having discussions about the issue, and they are entirely at liberty not to accept that form of governance if they do not want it.
I gather that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has been trying to catch my eye, but because he is sitting behind me, I missed him. I will give way to him before I make some more progress.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I wonder whether I can draw him out a little more. In the west of England, four local authorities—Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset—work closely together as a functional unit. Can he confirm that nothing in the Bill would allow any future Secretary of State to apply a structural arrangement to what is currently a very well-operating unit?
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that point, because it illustrates something that I was saying before I took interventions. Previous approaches involving a template that was imposed on places by Whitehall, including the creation of Avon, were widely resisted—correctly, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would say. They never enjoyed any public identification, affection or support. We have learnt from that experience, and the Bill is the opposite of those previous reforms of local government. All the powers that it contains are geared to allow me to implement the expression of local opinion and not to impose any arrangement in any way, and that certainly includes the authorities mentioned by my right hon. Friend.
I am going to make some progress, but after I have done so, I will of course give way to Members who wish to intervene.
That is partly why we have decided to develop bespoke arrangements, but we also respect the fact that every place is very different. Greater Manchester, for instance, is a very different place from Liverpool. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Indeed, the difference is to be celebrated. Vive la différence! They are both proud cities in their own right.
One of my regrets about the periods during which those two great cities, and others, were subsumed into the region called the north-west, which I do not think enjoyed a fraction of the identity, recognition, affection and, indeed, power they had enjoyed, is that they were sublimated, and our approach gives expression to that regret. I have been delighted, but not surprised, by the response of civic and business leaders across the country, and not just in our cities. They have demonstrated their enthusiasm for investing in a greater prominence for cities, towns and counties that can boost the economic prospects of the whole country.
May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of identity? People will obviously not identify with the new office of mayor and the combined authority unless they feel that they have some buy-in. The Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the cabinet system to local government, provided for two important functions. One was the call-in procedure, and the other was the provision that key cabinet decisions must be made public and must be publicly scrutinised. Does the Secretary of State expect the same powers to apply to the office of the mayor and the combined authority?
Yes, I do. I think that the arrangements we require should have the potential to be equally transparent, although they may not need to be identical. We must consider them, debate them and ensure that they achieve the purpose that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
I will now give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State.
Yesterday, after nearly two decades of leadership in the city of Birmingham, Sir Albert Bore stood down. In the city of Chamberlain, he was one of its greatest leaders. A man of immense personal integrity, he led the city through tough times, and indeed, working with the Secretary of State and others, he has been a pioneer of the new devolution settlement for England. As Albert stands down, will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to a remarkable man who has made a difference throughout his life to the city that he has served and loved?
I will do that with all my heart. Sir Albert Bore has given distinguished and devoted service for many years to a city that he loves. He has led the city through some difficult periods, and he has always done so with a calmness, authority and pragmatism that have made it possible for him and me to work very well together, despite our being in different political parties. I think the fact that, under these arrangements, Birmingham is poised to be able to advance and recover some of the civic possibility that was exemplified under the mayoralty of Chamberlain was very much in Albert Bore’s mind, and he will leave a very positive legacy to the city. His stepping aside at this point to allow a new leader to take Birmingham to the next stage is a tribute to his first concern for the city, and I am sure that all Members will wish to join us in paying that tribute.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about proud cities, but I know that he will not forget proud counties such as Hampshire, which want to embrace devolution. As he will know, my part of Hampshire has a strong local enterprise partnership, the Enterprise M3 LEP, which has secured significant investment and infrastructure. Will he ensure that any plans for devolution do not diminish that strong role for LEPs, which have such an important part to play in the country’s economic recovery?
As a former councillor and, indeed, ward colleague of my right hon. Friend, may I express my violent enthusiasm for the Bill? So enthusiastic are councils across the country that I am sure my right hon. Friend will be carried shoulder high into the next Local Government Association conference that he attends. [Laughter.] Does he agree, however, that many of the worries he will hear expressed here today, and in other places, stand in the way of what could be a golden age for municipal and county government? Does he agree that one of the critical things we must all realise is that councillors are not second-class politicians, that they can be trusted to make large and significant decisions about their areas and communities, and that too often in the House we look down our nose a little at councillors and feel that we should retain a little too much power because they cannot be trusted?
Order. The jocularity of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention was equalled only by its length. May I gently say to Members that interventions must be brief? We do need to make some progress. The Secretary of State is always generous in giving way, but Members should not abuse that.
In view of the proposed violence of my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm, I am glad that he is sitting over there rather than closer to me. He was my friend and mentor in local government, and we did a lot together on the basis of our knowledge, as councillors, of our local area. I think that is very much reflected in what we are doing now. For all the discussions we will have, today, in Committee and on Report, this is, for all of us, a big opportunity to do what many of our predecessors sometimes hoped but failed to do: give capable leaders across the country the ability to make a difference to their communities. It is right that my hon. Friend pays tribute to the potential of local leaders.
I hope the Secretary of State will not regret giving way, because I am going to intrude on the somewhat rosy view he is developing about Greater Manchester. There was a sense of shock there about the health devolution and the imposition of an elected mayor. Manchester is not a city; the unit we are talking about is 10 separate places. I represent Salford and I have been a councillor in Trafford, and I know that feelings run high about that imposition. The real concern is about health and the role of MPs once this health devolution goes ahead. The British Medical Association is very concerned that doctors were not consulted before that decision, and neither were MPs in Greater Manchester. We find ourselves too far outside the loop, and there are real concerns about the role of an MP in expressing their constituents’ concerns on health matters in the future. This is not at all clear.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. All I would say is that the proposals on health devolution came from the Greater Manchester authorities—they were not proposed by the Government—and reflected their feeling that their local knowledge and experience could make a material difference in improving health outcomes for people in Manchester. This is important. Of course, the national health service will always continue to be accountable through the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister and Ministers to Members here, and I encourage all authorities and Members to take the opportunity to work together and not only scrutinise but influence these arrangements. I hope they will do that.
I am going to make some more progress and then take further interventions later—I think I have been generous in the interventions I have taken.
Clearly there is much to discuss, but I regret the reasoned amendment—it may be a reasoned amendment but it is not a very reasonable amendment from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett). I am surprised by that because he is a genial chap normally. He says that the Bill does not offer meaningful devolution, but most civic leaders, of all parties, across the country recognise that this is an important Bill that gives them the ability to take powers that previously have not been made available to them. His approach is rather like St Augustine’s, in that he is saying, “Let us have more devolution, Lord, but not just now.” I hope that in the weeks ahead the conversations that will take place between the Opposition Front Benchers and their civic leaders in local government, who very much welcome these deals and powers, will moderate shadow Ministers’ views on that. I say to him and other hon. Members that it is important to proceed as consensually as we can on this, and if he has suggestions that we can reflect in our arrangements, they are as valid coming from him as from any other Member. He will find that I am open to them, as my colleagues are.
The point is that we need good devolution and devolution that works. Let me take the Secretary of State back to the health issue because there are real concerns, expressed by the Royal College of Nursing and the NHS Confederation, about fragmenting services and the fact that devolution will not solve the significant financial crisis that our health service and social care service face. Therefore, real safeguards are needed to avoid unintended consequences and to protect the patient.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about that. Far from fragmenting health services, one of the most important things that we need to do, in the interests of all our constituents, is bring together, in closer co-operation, health and social services, because where they are not well aligned and well integrated, patients—our constituents—can fall through the cracks in the system. That is what is behind the Greater Manchester proposals.
I am going to make some progress. I have spoken for half an hour and a lot of Members want to speak.
The Bill is intended to honour our pledge to bring prosperity and opportunity to every part of the country. We must address the problem of recent years of how to prevent the strength of London—valuable and desirable though it is—from overshadowing the opportunity for other parts of the country to achieve their potential. It is very important that no one and no place shall be left behind. Talking of one nation, as Disraeli said,
“the greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”
Our local communities are aware of their riches and they want the opportunity to show them, to make use of them and to burnish them in a way that they have been prevented from doing in the past.
Let me say a few words about the progress that was made in the last Parliament.
I want to make some progress and I will perhaps give way a little later.
During the last Parliament, the Government introduced the concept of city deals, pioneering the approach of having a conversation with cities, in the first instance, to see whether there was any common ground—something that might be in the local interest and the national interest, and where agreement could be reached. That was followed by 39 growth deals. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) foresaw my being carried shoulder high at LGA conferences, but my experience at those, having negotiated the city deals, was that the leaders of our districts and counties did not so much carry me shoulder high as pursue me down corridors demanding that they should be able to be part of this devolution, and they were right to do so. That is why we extended our devolution arrangements to the 39 growth deals. It is important that we now take this to the next level and be able to devolve powers that Ministers and public bodies have to local authorities, be they individual authorities, combined authorities or mayoral authorities.
The important point to recognise is that the Bill gives no ability to strip any powers from any existing authority. All their powers continue and all the Bill’s proposals are directed at allowing this House, if it gives its approval, to take powers from Ministers and from national bodies and vest them in local government and local leaders. All the devolution is one way; no change is made to the powers and responsibilities of the constituent councils.
I want to contribute later, but I wish to say something about the principle of devolvement. The Trade Union Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to determine whether or not a trade union convenor has more or less time off in Carlisle, 200 miles away. That is not decentralisation. May we have a commitment that that sort of measure in that Bill may be devolved back to local authorities?
I warmly welcome this Bill, and I hope to speak today in support of it and further devolution for Hampshire. The Minister has mentioned no impositions in this Bill, and we hope it will work positively with the Localism Act 2011. Where authorities have not used their powers to deliver on local plans and neighbourhood plans, as is the case in my constituency, where there is a vacuum of localism, how does he see this Bill working with the Localism Act?
That goes to the point about double devolution made by the hon. Member for Nottingham North. My hon. Friend is right in what she says, and the Housing and Planning Bill contains provisions to strengthen the ability of neighbourhoods to insist on the development of a neighbourhood plan. I hope she will find that welcome.
I am going to make some progress, but I will give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee and others before I finish.
The Bill has been warmly welcomed by local government, business leaders and local leaders of every hue. Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council, said the deal with Manchester was “a momentous moment” for Greater Manchester because
“it gives greater control over our own destiny.”
But the Bill is, as we have been discussing, relevant to rural areas, none more so than the great county of Cornwall, where a group of Members of Parliament—it is a good example to Members on all sides—engaged with their local authorities in developing the proposals. The agreement with Cornwall was described by the leader of Cornwall Council as “brilliant news” and “the first stage”—which it is—“of a longer journey” towards further devolution for Cornwall.
In Sheffield—the constituency of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), so it is perhaps a good point to give way to him—James Newman, whom he knows well, the chairman of the local enterprise partnership, said that Sheffield’s agreement put it “at the front of the pack” and would strengthen the position of Sheffield as a “world-class centre for modern manufacturing and engineering”, which it undoubtedly is.
I will not demur in any way from what the Secretary of State has just said. I congratulate him on his efforts over the years to bring about the change that we have seen in the approach to devolution. In a written statement the other day, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the full retention of business rates and the fact that that will mean more resources for local government, but it will require a process of further devolution of powers to take account of the extra expenditure that local authorities will control. Will he say how that will be done? How will local authorities and this House be consulted on the measures to be devolved as part of that arrangement?
That is a very good question, and I am sure we shall have other opportunities to discuss it. Devolving 100% of business rates is more than the grant that goes to local authorities, so it is an opportunity to devolve more powers with the funding to local government. Again, the point of the transfer announcement at this stage is so that we can have a sensible conversation with our colleagues in local government as to what might be the appropriate activities and responsibilities to devolve. I dare say the hon. Gentleman personally and his Committee might have some suggestions to make on that.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Bill. On the point about further powers that might be devolved, will he in the course of his speech or during the progress of the Bill give us some more substance about how that would interact with some of the specific grants—for example, the police grant, the better care fund, and the operation of the public health grant?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He will know that the biggest challenge facing healthcare in the years ahead will be funding. The models for funding in local government and in the NHS are radically different. How will he reconcile that in a way that will not promote fragmentation in healthcare delivery? Notwithstanding the comments about differences in need in different areas, the big public health challenges are pretty much the same everywhere.
Let me make some progress. I will not give way. I want to let other Members contribute, including the hon. Member for Hemsworth
No one can doubt this Government’s commitment to devolution or the incredible enthusiasm that we have met across the country, where local leaders and communities want to take control of their affairs. We have had applications from 38 places across the country—cities, towns and counties making proposals of their own. I look forward to discussing their proposals with them to see if it is possible to make use of the powers in the Bill to their advantage and to the nation’s advantage. I look forward to being in Hampshire next week to do precisely that for the Hampshire authorities.
The very process of these negotiations has been positive. They have brought together neighbouring authorities which, on occasion, have not had the most cordial of relationships, but that is changing. The involvement of business through the local enterprise partnerships, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) said, has been very important too. It will be crucial that agreements we make should involve the support of business if we are to make the progress that we seek.
We have briefly discussed the further opportunities. Not everything to do with devolution is contained in this Bill. I do not want to overclaim its powers as a panacea for 100 years of centralisation. The arrangements for business rate retention will no doubt come through other means, whether through the local government financial settlement or through future spending reviews, but it seems to me that this is a very important part of a suite of measures that will allow us to make the progress that is needed.
I am extremely grateful. My right hon. Friend rightly talks of engaging people throughout the country and I welcome what the Bill does. It provides an important opportunity for engaging young people in politics. He will know that the Lords inserted clause 20 in the Bill. Can he assure me that he shares my view that we ought to look at the franchise in the round? Although I support votes at 16, we ought to consider that in the round.
I entirely agree. There is a debate to be had about the voting age. That should be considered on its merits in an appropriate piece of legislation, not as an afterthought in a Bill that is about existing institutions, rather than about voting in particular.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), then I will conclude.
I warmly support the Bill, which my right hon. Friend and others have long championed. I refer to London in particular. My right hon. Friend has referred to the great cities in the north and in the midlands, but how will the Bill relate to London? He will be aware that London has asked for full fiscal responsibility and devolution. Will the Bill enable that? Also, will he clarify the position in relation to the setting up of the Greater London Authority, which was done through an Act of Parliament, and how that will interrelate with the Bill?
My hon. Friend has great expertise in these matters and he will know that the London arrangements through successive Acts of Parliament are set up in statute in a different way from the rest of the country, so for that reason many of the provisions do not apply to London. He mentions fiscal devolution, and of course the business rates retention, which is not in the Bill but is a complementary reform, will be part of that. I hope it is clear to Members on both sides of the House that this is very much the direction in which the Government are proceeding, and there will be other measures complementary to that.
During our discussions I am sure the Government will want to reflect on points that have been made. Some changes have been made in the House of Lords—for example, to make it clear that in respect of the national health service, the responsibility for health arrangements will be that of the Health Secretary. We intend that the Bill will also allow for the creation of subnational transport bodies, Transport for the North being one, so we will want to reflect the powers to enable such bodies to be established.
In the past—in Victorian times—the world looked admiringly at Britain’s model of strong civic governance and the results that it delivered for our economy and our society right across the country. During the century that has passed since those times, that strength has been diminished by the appetite of this House to centralise power in London. Every Act that made that change left our local democracy less potent and the economy less balanced. We now need to restore local power and do it with enthusiasm. This is not an approach rooted in nostalgia or romantic sentiment; it is one of hard-headed judgment.
If we want to succeed to our maximum extent, every part of the country must contribute according to the best of its talents and its abilities. That requires strengthening the powers our cities, towns and counties have. We want to see a renaissance of local power that has the potential not only to benefit our cities and regions, but to transform the prospects of the entire country—to create one nation where energy and creativity are unleashed in every part of the country; one nation where ideas and ambition are rewarded; one nation where the rewards and benefits of success are available to all. That is the purpose of the Bill, and I warmly commend it to the House.
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords], notwithstanding the need for devolution to local communities, because the Bill does not offer meaningful devolution to England and would leave behind England’s town, county and shire regions, ignores the will of the people by imposing mayors as a condition of devolution, threatens the financial stability of local government by not offering a fair funding settlement, and fails to reshape central Government for a long-term commitment to devolution.
This is an important Bill and it arises at an important moment in our country’s political arrangements. The Secretary of State was at his charming best. He has a reputation for being a very charming individual, and he did his best to charm the House, but I am not sure he convinced the House, and I will explain why in a minute. I am afraid, although I do like to create consensus, coming from Yorkshire I feel I ought to add a little Yorkshire grit.
The Secretary of State has convinced me that he means well and he believes in devolution, and so do we, but unlike him we would do it from the bottom up, rather than have a top-down model of imposition. We would also search for a more comprehensive model, rather than a piecemeal one, as in this Bill. Finally, we would be much bolder, because particularly in England there is a huge democratic deficit and we need to understand better this English problem. Rather than tackling it piecemeal, as the Government are trying to do, we would take a wholesale approach. That is the model we are going to set out.
It is easy: we will launch, hopefully with other parties, a constitutional convention that will try to reach out into every village, church hall, town hall, city hall and every part of the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join us and others in looking again at the political arrangements of the country.
Can I take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said that under no circumstances will any future Labour Government seek to reintroduce imposed regional assemblies, imposed regional planning or imposed tough binding targets for housing or any other matter on any English local authority, or any form of capping?
May I take my hon. Friend back to an issue that was raised with the Secretary of State: Sunday trading? I should say that I speak as a proud member of USDAW, the shop workers union. It is very concerned about the possibility that the Government will tack on to the end of this Bill at a later stage a change to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 that will benefit nobody, does not create jobs and harms millions of shop workers and damages our community day off—Sunday. Will my hon. Friend commit that he will resist that and will ensure that if that happens we will have a full and proper debate?
Order. Before the shadow Minister continues, may I say that interventions must be very short? Members are expecting to be called to speak. There will shortly be a six-minute limit; the way we are going, we will have to drop it to three minutes. I do not want to do that; I want to get everybody in. So we want fewer interventions, and speedy replies may help as well.
I will also try to make some progress before giving way again, because I have only got to the second paragraph of my speech so far.
When I first opened the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, I did so with a momentary tremor of excitement. I asked myself whether this Bill was going to give the great English cities, but equally the market towns, the villages, the country areas and shire districts, a real settlement and real power over their futures. I wondered whether this would be an ambitious Bill that would deliver for England, in all its complexity, the devolution a Labour Government enacted for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. I wondered whether this would be a Bill that gave people up and down the land, from 16 years of age and upwards, the chance to have a real say in how they are governed.
I read the Bill carefully, and with all due respect I have to ask: may I offer the Secretary of State some private advice, just between the two of us? He should recall the old political truth that hubris is always followed by nemesis. We English, certainly in Yorkshire, have a different way of capturing the same idea: we say “pride comes before a fall.” In this Bill, the Government are displaying a breath-taking level of highhanded treatment of our council colleagues.
In a democracy, we who hold power at the centre should never forget that authority flows up from below, rather than being imposed from above. The sad truth is the Bill offers a pretence at devolution. I will give five reasons why.
Let me come straight to the first and most central point. The Secretary of State did not reveal the whole picture in his answer on metro mayors. The truth is that metro mayors in local areas are a precondition of devolution, and that is simply wrong. It is doubly wrong when that imposition is applied even to areas where the local population voted only recently in a referendum to reject the idea of being governed by a mayor. The people of the great cities of Sheffield, Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Nottingham voted against metro mayors, yet the leaders of those cities tell me that as a condition of devolution they are now being required to accept something their own electorate rejected. That is triply wrong when the Government continue to impose this single model of governance even though they do not have the legal powers to do so.
In the other place a crucial amendment was passed that decoupled the imposition of mayors in urban areas from devolution deals. I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not in his speech have the grace to say that the Government will now accept this amendment, which was backed by peers of all parties, including many distinguished Conservative peers.
Furthermore, in a powerful article in today’s The Daily Telegraph—essential reading for the Labour party—the Conservative hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who is in his seat now, puts it well, and perhaps better than I could:
“Devolving power but telling people how to exercise it, jars: if the deal is as good as we are being told, why not put it to a vote?”
Perhaps some cross-party consensus could break out here, because I feel sure that if we had had a vote in Greater Manchester, which has always rejected the idea of a metro mayor across the whole of Greater Manchester, it would not have gone through, because every constituent part, with the recent exception of Salford, has voted against that.
I agree, and my hon. Friend makes the point I am making.
I have received strong representations in recent weeks from those who advocate that where a devolution deal includes an elected mayor, it is only right that a local referendum of voters takes place and it decides in favour of it. What we have at the moment is mayors being imposed where the referendum voted against. In the vast majority of the devolution deals that have been done since 1997, referendums were held to endorse constitutional settlements—in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London. Why should there not be a referendum for the northern powerhouse? There is merit in such an argument, and we will make sure that we test it in Committee.
Where there are to be mayors, the House must carefully consider appropriate systems of accountability and scrutiny, as Members on both sides have said. In the other place, Labour supported amendments to improve the audit of mayors. In Committee here, there will be much more to discuss. In London, the Mayor is directly accountable to a directly elected Assembly. Should not that model apply elsewhere?
Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is my party’s position that we massively believe in the transfer of power from Whitehall and Westminster to local authorities and communities? Will he pay tribute to the leadership of the many Labour councils, particularly those in Greater Manchester but also in other areas, that have innovated and pioneered devolution to provide higher-quality public services more effectively?
Of course; I said at the beginning of my speech that we are a pro-devolution party, but we want a comprehensive settlement. The people who must not be excluded from any new settlement are the citizens. The citizens of Greater Manchester should be part of any settlement. Indeed, where possible, power should be passed down to those citizens through what the former Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), has described as double devolution.
The programme motion allocates only two and a half hours in Committee—albeit on the Floor of the House—to debate all the amendments on the powers, functions and reporting mechanisms of any mayor who happens to be elected. That is clearly inadequate for such discussions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the provisions relating to elected mayors in clause 3? Subsection (2) states:
“An order under subsection (1) shall not be used as a condition for agreeing to the transfer of local authority or public authority functions.”
Subsection (3) goes on:
“A mayor for the area of a combined authority is to be elected by the local government electors for that area”.
Does not that provide sufficient cover for what the hon. Gentleman is asking for?
Every one of the leaders I have spoken to—they have been negotiating with the Treasury, by the way, rather than with the Department for Communities and Local Government—has told me that, despite their objections, they have been told that they cannot have devolution unless they agree to a new form of governance, namely a metro mayor. That may or may not be what is on the face of the Bill, and we will see what the Government do in Committee and what amendments are tabled, but the truth is that this is a fait accompli. A single model has been imposed from on high. I invite Conservative Members to reflect on whether the only possible model for city and town governance involves a directly elected mayor with no accountability to a wider assembly. That is a presidential, not a parliamentary, model of governance, and it is anathema to the British constitution.
Charming as the Secretary of State might be, he nevertheless gave wind to the prejudice that lurks in one or two minds outside London that the capital has all the power and all the wealth. I know that my hon. Friend is bigger than that. Will he therefore acknowledge that, in the face of an acute housing crisis, Londoners recognise that more devolution needs to be given to the Mayor and the London Assembly so that we can properly tackle that crisis? For example, might my hon. Friend support an amendment to the Bill that would give London the same opportunities to control housing legislation that Scotland and Wales currently have?
We would look carefully at any amendment that was presented to us. The point I want to make is that the old days of a Westminster-based elite cooking up deals and imposing them on cities and other areas are over. It is time we consulted the people and engaged in a wider conversation, but that is precisely what the Government are avoiding.
I have a lot of sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend is making about the imposition of elected mayors. Recognising that we will eventually need to move to a wider settlement, perhaps through a constitutional convention, does he accept that in the meantime it is not our party’s position to stand in the way of devolution deals to our colleagues in local government, particularly in major cities including Sheffield and Manchester?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that local government leaders should not be directed by those on the Front Bench. If they feel that something can be done in a deal with the Government that will be beneficial to the community, they should do it. Equally, it is our duty to express opposition to the way in which this is being imposed on local government. I have spoken to council leaders in south Yorkshire, where my hon. Friend is a distinguished Member of Parliament, and they have told me that this deal is being imposed on them.
The second reason that the Bill is a pretence at devolution involves the wider context of local government finance. In a comprehensive Bill, there should surely be clauses regarding the way in which local government can be funded to make it more autonomous and less dependent on the centre, but the reverse is the case here. There should also be clauses regarding fair funding, as the cuts in recent years have been concentrated on the urban areas. We know that the Chancellor manipulated the formula for the benefit of certain areas in a way that was politically beneficial to the interests of the governing party.
The truth is that the Secretary of State is not devolving financial power, or any power. He is delegating Treasury cuts. What the Government give in pennies, they take back in pounds. Since 2010, local government in England and Wales has lost 40% of its funding. Now every children’s centre, every fire station, every care home, every nursery, every pensioner waiting for a bus, every youngster looking forward to attending a youth club on a Friday night and everybody of any age whose horizons are widened by public libraries—they and many others are anxiously waiting not for this Bill but for 25 November, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will announce his spending review.
The Tory-led Local Government Association is expecting further cuts to local authorities of up to an additional 40%. That is on top of the cuts that have already taken place. Cuts on that scale make a mockery of the Secretary of State offering further devolution. This is the delegation of cuts, not the devolution of powers.
I have already referred to the wise words of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West in that excellent journal, The Daily Telegraph. It has to be said that that paper has been on a roll this week. Yesterday, a report by its political editor stated:
“As many as four Cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary”,—
and two others, unnamed—
“have so far refused to submit to the Treasury plans to cut their departments by as much as 40 per cent.”
I put it to the House that the anti-austerity case that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has been pursuing has now extended to members of the Conservative Cabinet. It seems to have wider cross-party support than was first feared. But wait a minute! That same article reports that the Business Secretary and the Justice Secretary are “enthusiastically” preparing for massive cuts to their Departments. The House is entitled to ask what side of this dividing line our Secretary of State stands on. There is no mention of him in the article. Is he fighting the corner for those fire stations, libraries, care homes, students and nurseries? Or is he, like the Business Secretary and the Justice Secretary, “enthusiastically” anticipating cuts on a historically unprecedented scale?
In giving way to the hon. Gentleman, I invite him to tell us whether he supports the cuts that have already taken place in his local authority, as well as those that are going to take place in the next three years. I am sure that his local paper would be interested to hear this views on that.
I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not answer my question.
The Bill ought to include reference to proper financial autonomy and to fresh financial arrangements for local government. Anything that pretends to offer devolution with one hand while retaining the power to control finances with the other is nothing more than an iron fist in a velvet glove.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about local government finance. Certainly, the two councils in my constituency are suffering very badly from the reductions in funding. Does he also recognise that, with the devolution of powers such as health, there is a complex situation starting to develop in which health budgets are ring-fenced, except public health, which has been top sliced, and adult social care, which has been decimated? There is still an overall budget deficit in the health and care system.
That emphasises my point. As much as the Bill may offer a form of devolution, the truth is that whenever financial decisions are made by the Treasury, true devolution will not be achieved. That is what should be in the Bill, and that is why the point I am making is so important.
My third reason for why the Bill is not satisfactory refers to something that is happening at No.11. It was announced at conference that business rates are to change, which must be a good thing, but, as always, the devil is in the detail. No clear announcement was made about how the redistribution between richer and poorer councils would take place. Some £26 billion is collected in business rates, £2 billion of which goes to Westminster council. We need more information in the Bill about how such a scheme will work. Let me say to Members, many of whom represent suburban areas in London, seaside towns, rural communities, shire districts, market towns and all the wonderful places that make up England, that they should be seeking answers to these questions. The Bill is silent on all these matters.
Fourthly, the Bill threatens to do a great disservice to the very backbone of England and English democracy. It is a puzzle to me why a Tory Secretary of State should ignore this. The market towns, the county villages, the shire counties, the county towns, the suburbs and some of the smaller freestanding cities are the backbone of England—the great cities are wonderful, but they are not the backbone—and they have been offered a second-class form of devolution. Why should that be? I was once privileged to lead the great city of Leeds, which is one of the most powerful economic and cultural engines in the north, and even in England. Indeed, the renaissance of English cities, mostly under Labour control, has been one of the great successes of the past 20 years—I have always thought that this should be added to the checklist of the enduring achievements of Labour in government—but this Bill risks neglecting all the areas that are not in those great urban centres. The potential for growth and enterprise lies elsewhere in England, which is a rich, diverse country that we all love. The Bill is almost silent on the matter. The Chancellor’s ambassadors who were running around the country did not bother to call in to the market towns and the shire towns of the country; they went to the big cities.
The bottom line for me is that the same powers should be on offer to both urban and rural areas of England. For example, whatever powers are available to metro mayors to raise business rates—by the way, it will not be possible to raise business rates unless an area has a metro mayor—should also be available to the smaller towns and the rest of England, too.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the recent Cornwall deal, which deals with the very heart of the rural communities; it is not all about the big cities. The Prime Minister himself delivered that deal to the very rural area of Cornwall.
As everybody in local government knows, the truth is that the Treasury deals with the big cities. The big cities are where the glamour is and where the general direction of this Bill is. Other areas have been left to the lesser actors within the Government. It may be that, in some areas, the best way to promote connectivity and economic growth and to establish devolved institutions that reflect the identities and culture of the locality is to have a combined authority. Let me take Yorkshire and Humber as an example. My own view—I am not going to impose anything because we do not believe in imposition—is that Yorkshire has the strongest identity and is the most obvious economic unit. It is a great shame that the Government’s consultation process did not allow ordinary citizens of the county to be engaged in a debate about the county’s own future.
As with other proposals in the Bill, the only people excluded from having a view are the electorate themselves. That brings me to the final weakness in the Government’s proposals, which is their complete failure to consult the public, businesses and the wider civic society. What happened to the big society? Leaders of councils from all parties have basically had to enter negotiations with the Treasury, and we all know that it is the Treasury and not the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that is conducting these negotiations. The leaders have all entered into the negotiations with a gun held to their head. They either do devolution Whitehall’s way or it will not happen at all.
Council leaders have had to do the best they can for their areas, but it is noticeable that they and others are beginning to become more vocal in their concerns about this whole top-down process. For example, the great newspapers of the north-west, including the Manchester Evening News, The Bolton News, the Wigan Evening Post and the Oldham Evening Chronicle, have taken an unprecedented united stance in campaigning for a fair devolution deal. They are asking not only for the necessary funds to make devolution a reality, but for no more closed-door decision making. A basic flaw of the Bill is that there is no list of the powers that central Government seek to devolve. That is because, in reality, the whole agenda is being driven by Downing Street.
Let me briefly return to my opening remarks about hubris. It sounds like we all believe in devolution, but Labour are determined to make it happen. We will seek to work with those of other parties and those of no party who share the same objective. The past few weeks—I have spoken to leaders about what has happened over the past few weeks—have seen the demeaning process of the Chancellor’s emissaries dashing round the country meeting leaders in private, attempting to strong arm local councillors into so-called devolution deals for which there is as yet no statutory basis. I am sorry to say this but the Secretary of State, as charming as he is, has been little more than a passive observer. He was not even in the room. I fully understand why councillors will engage in these negotiations, and indeed some progress has been made—it is right that I should acknowledge that. However, we are not convinced that the Bill incorporates all the necessary safeguards to be supported in its present form, and that it is sufficiently bold or radical in resolving the English problems.
It is noteworthy that national organisations, such as the British Medical Association and the Nuffield Trust, are very concerned about the health proposals, and the Minister should take that on board. They have expressed concerns about how health powers and resources will be devolved. The matter is not clear. This is an area where there are already variations in funding, in standards of care and in the way NHS funding is used. This is a question for the Minister. What will national pledges and targets mean in future when there are shared budgets? It was forced on Greater Manchester, which is why none of it is clear.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why we need a comprehensive settlement to the constitutional and political problems facing our country. Clearly, there is a role for a central, active Government, but not for a bureaucratic top-down Government. Some decisions do need to be made nationally to ensure that there is no postcode lottery, especially in the health service and other areas. On the other hand, decisions should be made as close as possible by the people themselves.
Let me finish on the following point. Rather than remaking the shape of our democracy, the Bill is more about remaking the image of the Chancellor as he prepares to become the Tory party leader. In their present form, the deals that are being made will prove to be no more than a short-term fix. Most of them will not endure in the longer term. We will seek to amend the Bill, but would it not be preferable, even at this late stage, for the Secretary of State to agree to put aside the Bill for a period of time and join with us and others in the hard but necessary task of rebuilding our constitution and our political culture on a consensual basis from the bottom up? This Bill is a top-down imposition on local democracy.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution so early in this important debate. Let me begin by saying how warmly I welcome the principle that lies behind the Bill. The intention of bringing real power and decision making closer to the people we represent is one that I think almost all of us in this House share. From a Greater Manchester perspective, we must also acknowledge the great prize that lies ahead if we can achieve the proper integration of health and social care, but I emphasise the importance of getting the detail right in the implementation.
I would also like to thank the Secretary of State for the courteous and constructive engagement he has already offered to colleagues who are interested in the Bill, which gives me considerable confidence that we will be able to move forward in a way that delivers the objectives while overcoming the concerns that some of us have. He has also indicated that the Bill will be considered in Committee of the whole House, which is clearly the right thing to do.
I have four broad concerns. The first—the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) spoke about this at some length—relates to the imposition of the model of governance, which I think is unfortunate. We need to ensure not only that the public generally buy into the principle of devolution and feel that they own the new arrangements, but that the new arrangements bring genuine accountability to governance.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned some of the concerns about the devolution of healthcare. We already have a worrying straw in the wind in Greater Manchester, with the initial reorganisation of hospital services coming before all of this. It has been handled in a deeply regrettable fashion and raised considerable concerns. Certainly, I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of accountability in the process. Given that some of these issues are already arising, it is timely that we are now looking at them as we legislate and trying to ensure that accountability is in place.
It is good that a consensus is being built across Greater Manchester. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, and I know that Wythenshawe hospital is very concerned about being left out of the equation in that regard, so how these decisions will be made and consulted on in future is very worrying. But there are other concerns as well. Salford was a leader in the integration of health and social care, and my fear is that that will now be set back by having to work across Greater Manchester.
I agree with the hon. Lady. It would be regrettable if, in seeking to devolve power, we ended up taking some decisions further away from people and making it harder for their voices to be heard.
My second concern is about the distribution of powers. I hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s assurance that this can only be about bringing powers from central Government, but I do not think that is really clear in the Bill, so I would welcome much more clarity as we proceed in Committee. Clauses 8 and 9 make provision for the exercise of statutory functions in relation to an area to be transferred to a combined authority. Clause 5 makes it possible by order for any function of a mayoral combined authority to be a function exercisable only by the mayor. Therefore, I do not think that it is as clear in the Bill that power can move only in one direction as many of us would want to see. We might return to that at a later stage.
My third concern, which was raised with me by my local authority, relates to the possibility that this deal amounts to a one-way commitment. It relates to those local authorities that have made a commitment to the combined authority. The Greater Manchester agreement will place obligations on the local authorities, and certain expectations are being placed on the Government, but there is no mechanism by which the local authorities can hold this Government, or indeed any future Government, to account to ensure that they meet their obligations as part of the deal. I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider whether we might find a way to tighten the provisions and make it clearer that the Government’s obligations will be observed.
My fourth and final concern—in a way, this could provide a solution to all the other concerns—is about what happens if the arrangements do not work. What happens if a local authority reaches the point at which it regards the agreement as a mistake and thinks that the powers have been vested in the wrong place? It is the question of final resort. What are the terms under which a local authority could choose to walk away from a deal? What happens if it says, “This clearly isn’t what we bought into”— possibly a microcosm of a bigger debate that we might have by the end of 2017? It is about a local authority being able to leave a combined authority without penalty.
A deal that transfers spending from central Government to the local level is very welcome, but the mechanism set out in the Bill for allowing local authorities to leave a combined authority is very messy. Rather than the local authority simply deciding to opt out, the combined authority must decide to dissolve itself and then reform with the other authorities that wish to remain. The mechanism makes no provision for ensuring that a local authority can leave on fair terms and without penalty.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about how one might unpick the constitutional arrangements of a combined authority. One example is the pooling and sharing of business rates. For instance, if Trafford decided to leave the combined authority, it would be very difficult to unpick that. Another example is the health devolution arrangements.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. These matters will need to be made clearer during the passage of the Bill.
In conclusion, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I think that the principle behind the Bill—the Government’s evident desire to transfer spending and decision making closer to the people—has very wide support, and I think that few Members of the House would differ from it. I will certainly vote enthusiastically for that principle today, although I anticipate having interesting debates and discussions in Committee. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the assistance and engagement that he has already offered in that regard.
I do not intend to spend a great deal of time speaking on the Bill, as clearly it affects only England and Wales, not Scotland. However, I would like to offer a few observations and questions that I hope will be of value.
First, I ask the House to consider the journey that Scotland has been on. The people of Scotland have been seeking devolution in some form or other for many decades. The experiences of the no vote in the 1979 referendum, the yes vote in the 1997 referendum and the recent independence referendum have all shaped public views on what devolution means and how it should operate. We arrived at this situation through public and civil society demanding change in a way that I am not quite convinced is yet the case for England’s cities and regions. Devolution should not be done in haste, and great consideration should be given to its purpose and the means by which local people will be involved.
Scotland is a hub of expertise on the devolution process, and we feel that public engagement is critical. We recognised the hunger for local community power by passing the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 in the Scottish Parliament and introducing the “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” consultation, in which the islands have demanded more powers from the Scottish Government. We support more efforts to deliver devolution for local authorities, but the process must be transparent and consider the views of local communities.
In the past two years there has been great consideration by organisations such as Common Weal and the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, as well as by other civic groups and individuals, such as Lesley Riddoch, whose book, “Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish”, looks at what shape democracy should take and how local people can be more involved in the process. I recommend that Members have a look at Lesley’s book to see how the bottom-up approach can be taken. I have asked the Library if it could seek a copy for their information. I also direct Members to the Electoral Reform Society Scotland’s Democracy Max project, which looked at the idea of “mini publics” as a means of engaging the public in shaping their own democracy. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) that double devolution must go through local communities as well, and cannot stop at the mayoral level.
My reading of this Bill is that it is, sadly, very top down. Powers are being given rather than demanded, and there is still the same level of control from the centre. I agree with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) about that. An example is the imposition of mayors against the will of local people, particularly those who rejected such a principle in local referendums. Transferring powers from a centralised Westminster system to an all-powerful mayor is not really, in practice, local participatory democracy. People do not have a say, and that reflects on the legitimacy that the mayor will then have. If people are to have faith in the process, a good deal more work needs to be done to establish what they want their local democracy to look like and what powers it should have.
Londoners are broadly comfortable with the originally established system of devolution in London, but one thing they look enviously at in Scotland is the power to control and shape housing policy. Would the SNP look sympathetically on an amendment from London Back Benchers seeking to give that power to London?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point on the ability to control housing policy. While the SNP is not necessarily going to vote on this because it is an England and Wales-only Bill, we strongly agree with the principle that housing should be in the control of London, and other local authorities as well, because if people are unable to control the housing stock or to make decisions about construction, funding and everything else, they are hamstrung in their ability to influence local housing supply.
I seek to establish the Government’s true purpose in devolution to cities and to local government. Members may remember that Scottish devolution was supposed to have killed the SNP stone dead, but if that were its purpose, it has demonstrably failed, despite the fact that our Members are not in the Chamber today. If devolution to cities and local government in England and Wales is based on the general principle of the importance of local decision making and democracy, that is a worthy ideal that I absolutely support, but if, as suggested by a lot of the rhetoric, it is simply about economics and growth rather than democracy, I am less convinced. Tying the deals to economic indicators puts a great deal of pressure on the new set-up, and I fear that it could then be a hostage to economic fortune. Should it not meet those economic targets and goals, it could be seen by the Government and by local people not to have achieved the objectives that were put on it.
I also seek an assurance that devolution is not being used as a cover for cuts. A lot of people involved in the NHS, in particular, are concerned about this. Like other Members, no doubt, I have had lots of representations from various organisations. This should not be a cover for regionalisation of the NHS by the back door. That is fine if Scotland has control over the NHS, which is a great thing, but it should be debated on its own as a case that can stand or fall on its own merits. To cut funding and blame the new authority would make the position of that authority absolutely untenable.
In this place, decision making feels very far away from ordinary people, whether they be in Wick, Glasgow, Manchester or Cornwall. I hope that this Bill will create and engage a groundswell of support for local democracy in England, and that powers and money are returned from Westminster to local people, as they should be. I urge the Government to consider how best to embed the principle of subsidiarity within the Bill, and to seek and listen to the views of local people on what they are seeking from their democracy.
I am delighted to speak in this important debate, as aside from the economy, devolution is one of the great domestic issues of our time. We have seen changes in Scotland and Wales driven by a devolutionary agenda, and now England too will be part of this overdue reform. The Bill presents this country with a huge opportunity to rebalance the relationship between local and central Government and, indeed, to improve it, but it is also an opportunity to rebalance our country, not just politically but economically. I therefore fully support the Bill’s Second Reading.
In many ways, this Bill is a clever one—an enabling Bill that allows for a great deal of flexibility and permits room for innovation. Both those freedoms are very welcome as we create an environment for bespoke deals that will give responsibilities and powers to different parts of our country and, most importantly, provide the opportunity for different cities, counties and districts to develop and grow in their own way and on their own terms.
One of the Bill’s central themes is the concept of elected mayors, of which I have been a long-standing supporter. In my perfect world, I would like to see them as a default setting for all councils. They are a modern, more accountable and more transparent form of local government. They provide visible leadership and responsibility, and a vehicle for real change in our cities and counties. One need only look at London to see the benefits that this visibility and leadership can bring to a place. I therefore continue to support the Minister in his endeavours towards the advancement of elected mayors, an idea that I hope will be of particular benefit to the north of the country.
I understand the Government’s view that the Bill will bring about evolution not revolution, and that central Government will not be imposing their will on local government. I do not fully agree with that. I do accept, though, that it is vital that the Bill works with the grain of the people.
I take issue with the Government on three parts of the Bill, the most important of which is clause 16(3), which, in effect, gives any council, however bloody-minded, parochial or underperforming, a full veto on what could otherwise be a well-supported and essential proposal for reform. It gives the few—small-minded politicians—the power to prevent progress for the many.
I take Cumbria as an example. It is a county with just under half a million people, but with seven separate councils and over 380 councillors. In Cumbria, it is accepted across the political parties and by the business community, the LEP, the health sector and, most importantly, the wider public that the current structure is not working and is holding our county back. Cumbria, it is recognised by all, needs fewer councils and fewer councillors. It needs unitary governance and everyone in Cumbria knows it. However, under the Bill as drafted, just one of those seven councils can veto proposals for change and the entire process, against the will of the majority, would be scuppered. I therefore ask Ministers to review that clause, not with the intention of allowing central Government to impose themselves, but to ensure that where there is overwhelming support for reform among local communities they cannot be held to ransom by a minority.
My other concerns are clauses 20 and 21. On clause 20, it is understandable to consider a reduction in the age required to vote, but this must be a policy for all elections or for none. In addition, thought must be given as to whether it would also mean that 16 and 17-year-olds could stand for election. I therefore ask the Government to give the clause further consideration.
I am not making a comment as to the merits of the case. I am merely suggesting that if it is to be introduced, it should be consistent across all elections. I ask the Government to consider that further.
As for clause 21, I would be very reluctant to see such a change removing the moratorium on areas that have chosen directly elected mayors. As I intimated earlier, I would like the position of elected mayor to be encouraged and expanded further. Indeed, I encourage the Government to consider making it easier for local communities to trigger a referendum to have an elected mayor by reducing the threshold required for a petition from 5% to 1%. That would clearly demonstrate the Government’s commitment to elected mayors and to the principle of allowing local areas to determine their own future.
I remain fully supportive of the Bill and its intentions, and I applaud Ministers for bringing about this long-overdue legislation. However, I hope that these small changes are considered in Committee or on Report to ensure that local communities, particularly the people of Cumbria and Carlisle whom I represent, are able to take full advantage of this important policy.
I have over the years had disagreements with the Secretary of State about the pace of change of devolution: I probably wanted to go faster than he and the Government have gone. I have had disagreements with him about the amount of devolution: I probably wanted to go further than the Government have gone. I have had some disagreements with him on the detail. The important thing, however, is that we are actually talking about devolution. Devolution is a key element of Government policy and it is happening. It is important to have regard to such matters.
Although my disagreements may be about the pace and extent of devolution, the direction of travel is absolutely clear. I think that credit, on a cross-party basis, should be given to the Government and to the Secretary of State—both in his current job and his past roles—for driving forward this agenda, which deserves support.
Thinking about it, there probably never was a realistic chance of getting a big bang, with complete devolution across the board of everything that I would eventually like to be devolved. After years of centralisation, it was probably always going to be the case that incremental change would be the successful way forward—convincing the Treasury that economic growth would be improved and that value for money in public services would be increased. Indeed, we must watch to make sure that those things actually happen, and that proper impact assessments are made over the years to show that the change has brought such benefits.
Having different solutions in different areas was likely to be the way forward to achieve devolution on a realistic basis, and that is also completely consistent with the localist approach, which is that things should be done differently in different areas. However, I have one serious disagreement with the Secretary of State, which the Local Government Association has also raised. The disagreement is that one size does not fit all in terms of the powers that will be devolved and how those powers should be administered. We therefore come back to the imposition of elected mayors.
Why is such imposition necessary? If the rest of the approach is about agreement, with local areas coming forward with their views on what needs to be devolved in their area, why cannot we trust them to come forward with ideas about how powers should be administered in their area? The Government must provide an answer on that challenge, because that is the one inconsistency in their whole approach.
Yes, I think so. Ministers will have to explain that. I think their answer would be that Cornwall has elected councillors for one county, which is slightly different from the situation in combined authorities. I do not accept that, because I think we can come up with arrangements in combined authorities. Indeed, to come back to the Sheffield model, I understand that some of the economic items to be delegated, such as those on skills, will be devolved to the combined authority, not to the mayor, but that transport items will be devolved to the mayor. That means there will be a two-party approach: on some items, the elected leaders of the various constituent councils, acting as a combined authority, will have the powers, but other powers will go to the mayor. I think that will be more confusing than ever to the public, who will not know where powers rest under the new approach.
The Government must give thought to one or two things, as should local government. The deals being done—I understand how they are now being done to move forward a very centrist agenda on a more devolved basis—still give a bit of an impression that ideas are being cooked up in back rooms by councillors, and that deals are then done in back rooms with Ministers. We must try to move to having a more open debate. Ideas for devolution should be brought forward by councils and there should be a more open debate on the Government agreeing to such deals. We must find ways of involving the public more in the whole approach if we are to take them with us. In the end, one of the key issues of devolution should be greater public engagement, with the public feeling that they have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. That has to be a key element of devolution, but there is a problem at present.
I agree that we will eventually have to get an overall framework for devolution, including a list of powers that councils can have as of right. Ultimately, there must be a move from devolution by patronage—Ministers agreeing that certain things can be done in a certain way—to councils having the right to have such matters devolved to them. We are a step away from that situation at present, but we must move in that direction. As I said to my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), let us look at wider devolution—ultimately, we may want a constitutional convention—but in the meantime we must not stop the progress that is being made. Let us make sure that the devolution deals can go ahead and take us in the right direction of travel. Perhaps that is something on which we can get consensus.
I want to raise a couple of problems. In Sheffield, there is still a problem about the non-metropolitan districts that are part of the city region. It is unique as a city region because it crosses more than one region—it does away with the old regional boundaries—but the non-metropolitan areas cannot join the transport deal because transport is a county function. The elected mayor will cover only the south Yorkshire districts, not other districts in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, but it cannot be right that a devolved authority’s travel-to-work area is not covered by the new mayor who has responsibility for transport. That is a challenge and a problem.
I do not share the concerns that colleagues have expressed about health, although one of my concerns is that we do not really have standardised treatment and service levels throughout the national health service anyway. However, we must avoid the dead hand of centralism in the Department of Health stopping innovation at local level in joining up health and social care in a way that will be allowed under devolution deals, whether in a combined authority such as Manchester or in an individual authority such as Sheffield.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has become a convert to fiscal devolution. In the end, real devolution is not just about allowing local authorities greater freedom to spend the money they are given by central Government; it has to be about more freedoms for councils to raise money. The Chancellor’s statement on the full localisation of the business rate is a step forward. In the last Parliament, the Communities and Local Government Committee produced a report on “Devolution in England: the case for local government”. I hope that the Government will look at the proposals for further fiscal devolution. Business rates and how full localisation is done are obviously important issues. As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, there is an opportunity, with the extra money retained in local government through full localisation, to allow more devolution right across the board. That will be a very big conversation during this Parliament, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State is committed to a full consultation on that both in Parliament and with local government as a whole.
I am glad to have caught your eye in this very important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). His experience clearly showed through during his speech, and I largely agree with everything he said.
I am delighted to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his enthusiasm for this concept, which is one of the largest devolutions of powers to local government since the 1970s. We have to be careful how we do it, because we want to get it right, but I have no doubt that, for example, in Gloucestershire, to which more than £1 billion of public spending may be devolved, there is considerable scope for innovation to deliver better services on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire.
In Gloucestershire, the county council, six district councils, the local enterprise partnership, the clinical commissioning group and the police and crime commissioner have worked hard during the summer to produce a very credible, 75-page document, “We are Gloucestershire”, in which they set out their bid for devolution to Gloucestershire. On Monday, six of Gloucestershire’s MPs met to discuss the document. I must tell my right hon. Friend that there was a large measure of agreement, although we have some concerns, which I shall elucidate in my short speech.
Approximately £3 billion of public money is spent in Gloucestershire. However, taking out the Department for Work and Pensions budget for pensions and benefits and certain parts of the education budget, we estimate that about £1 billion of spending is likely to be devolved. As my right hon. Friend knows, Gloucestershire has the considerable advantage that all the institutions I have mentioned are coterminous with the county boundary, which makes our bid considerably easier. However, the document that has been produced is very light on governance. On this I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). The devil is in the detail: how is this thing going to be managed? A delivery board will be needed, and all the partner institutions involved must be part of it.
We already have several joint structures in Gloucestershire: the £200 million business rate pool is one, and the joint working of Cotswold—my own council—West Oxfordshire, Forest of Dean and Cheltenham Councils is another. However, the really big prize in Gloucestershire would be the devolution of health and social services. That would be much easier under one authority, and it would stop the gaps that are currently emerging between different authorities.
There are two areas of concern: planning and elected mayors. Gloucestershire’s devolution bid states:
“We will integrate leadership and direction of the planning workforce across all agencies and appoint a Strategic Planning Commissioner to lead this work for Gloucestershire.”
That makes me uneasy. The district councils have local democratic accountability for planning. In my area, 80% of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, planning is an extremely difficult and controversial matter. I would therefore be very uneasy to see it merged into one Gloucestershire-wide planning authority.
The second area of concern, on which I made a rather impish intervention on the Opposition spokesman, is elected mayors. I read out what the Bill says on the matter, so I will not do so again. The Government did make some concessions in the House of Lords by putting that clause in the Bill. However, I say to the Secretary of State that my feeling, from speaking to the authorities, is that if an elected mayor is imposed on Gloucestershire, this bid will not fly. At the moment, we want the leader of the county council to be in charge of the organisation. That is not to say that we will not move to an elected mayor in the future.
I think that having an elected mayor would have two consequences for Gloucestershire. First, we would have to move rapidly towards having a unitary authority, otherwise Gloucestershire would have too many democratic tiers. Secondly—I am not averse to this, I must say—we would have to lose our police and crime commissioner, because there would be no point in having another elected police body.
I want to raise one really important point with the Secretary of State that has not been aired in this debate, and that is the business of administrative savings. Whether the budget is £1 billion or more, there are currently a lot of Government mandarins administering it. When those people no longer have to administer the budget, I would like some of the savings to go to Gloucestershire. After all, Gloucestershire will have to employ extra people to administer it. It is only fair that some of the savings that the Treasury makes be devolved to Gloucestershire.
Finally and importantly, I point out to the Secretary of State that this excellent document was produced largely without consultation with Gloucestershire’s Members of Parliament. By their nature, Members of Parliament know better than almost anyone else what is going on on their patch and what their patch needs. It is therefore incumbent on any devolved organisation to have the closest possible co-operation with its Members of Parliament. I would like it written into any bid that Gloucestershire makes that the devolved organisations have to consult Members of Parliament on a regular basis. That must be meaningful consultation that they have to take notice of.
I warmly welcome the Bill. There are some difficulties with it and, inevitably, the devil is in the detail. However, it is a great concept that up and down this great nation of ours could unleash the potential of local enthusiasm and generate once again the Victorian idea of competition between local authorities to deliver better services on behalf of our people. That is surely what all of us here are all about.
I strongly welcome the Bill. It is an enabling Bill that will allow negotiations to take place between local authorities and central Government. Not before time, it brings the beginning of the end of centralisation in this country.
The Secretary of State gave one reason why this country has been so centralised: the drive for uniformity across the country. That was what was wrong with the reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s. It has been a sin of omission by the Labour party over the years to fail to devolve, because it has always looked for a perfect solution. The Conservatives committed more of a sin of commission in the rows between central and local government in the 1980s.
I refer right hon. and hon. Members to Lord Heseltine’s speech on Second Reading in the House of Lords. It was a mea culpa for his early career as a junior Minister in the Department of the Environment. He said that he was ashamed of some of his responses to local government at that time. However, Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis have made a terrific contribution to the Bill and to devolution generally. I urge people to read Lord Heseltine’s speech.
I cannot support the Opposition amendment. To put it simply, if it were passed, all the work that has been done by local government leaders in Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire, south Yorkshire, Merseyside and elsewhere would be wasted. This is not a perfect Bill, but it is a good Bill in that it devolves power. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have talked about consultation. I spoke to the leader of one of my councils this morning, and before the amendment was tabled by Labour Front Benchers there was no consultation on our position. That is a great shame.
One could make a very long speech about this Bill, but I just want to talk about a few matters. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) that it does not deal with the disparity in the distribution of money in this country, but it does deal with the disparity in the distribution of power and may well lead to better economic growth in the areas that have devolution. We do need to deal with that issue.
One item that has not been mentioned much in this debate and which I ask the Minister to mention in his winding-up speech is the re-regulation of buses, which is one of the really attractive parts of this devolution. Control of the bus network will come under the elected mayors. That proposal is not covered in the Bill, so when will it be brought forward? My worry is that although this Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are enthusiastic, I am less convinced that the Secretaries of State for Health and for Transport are quite so enthusiastic.
The area of greatest controversy is what has been called the imposition of an elected mayor. Really, it is a negotiation. I say to those who are opposed to it that many more powers and a lot more resources are being offered. Whether there is a referendum or whatever, there has to be an answer to the question of who will be elected to look after the extra resources and money. If it is not to be an elected mayor, we would have to recreate the old Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire County Councils or have a Greater London Authority-type structure. It seems to me that the best structure is an elected mayor, so that people know who they are voting for and who will have responsibility for the services. The core of democracy is the ability to throw people out of office. That cannot be done if there is secondary representation by elected leaders. An answer is needed to that fundamental question.
The hon. Gentleman has posed the most significant question in respect of elected mayors. Surely it should be the responsibility of combined authorities to make the decision. If they want an elected mayor, so be it, but if they want a GLA-type set up, surely that is their choice.
Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of the Government to determine the structure of local government and then for people to elect it. I am not saying that people should necessarily be excluded; I am just saying that people who do not like elected mayors have to come up with an alternative. I do not think that a combined authority is an alternative, which makes consulting people rather difficult. Given that we have waited so long for devolution, I do not want any barriers put in its way. It is better to have an imperfect system than to wait even longer for the perfect answer.
My hon. Friend is making a typically robust speech from his massive experience as a local government leader. Does he agree that we have to be careful that the mayoral issue does not divert us from the big picture of devolving powers and finance and making things work in the locality? If we are not careful, the mayoral question will become the Labour version of English votes for English laws, which has led the Conservatives to focus on just one aspect, to the detriment of the big picture.
I agree that that issue could become a road block to achieving what most people in this Chamber, and certainly in the other place—I have read the debates—want to achieve.
A number of people have raised concerns about health, and I think there are some misunderstandings about that. Health issues in Greater Manchester concern an agreement for the combined authority to exercise powers that have already been given to local government in a more effective way. I hope that in future more power will be given to local authorities to deal with health because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) says, our health service is not evenly spread out, and there will always be differences. The key issue here—as in the entire devolution debate—concerns whether key decisions on health are taken by elected people, or by non-elected people in Whitehall and elsewhere. I support such decisions being taken by elected people.
The power of devolution is that there are always tough decisions to be made, whether in times of cuts or times of growth, and being an elected politician is a tough business. Let us consider the most difficult decision that a politician, whether the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister or a local councillor, has to take: the closure of a hospital. Is it better for that decision to be taken by the Secretary of State in central Government with advice from civil servants in Whitehall, or would that decision—however difficult—be better taken locally? I come to the conclusion that such decisions are always better taken by local people.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who spoke more common sense in six minutes than, sadly, we heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench in 30 minutes.
I welcome this Bill because it moves forward work that was undertaken in the previous Parliament to replace the old centralised model or regional policy, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, with a genuine ambition to empower local people. For me, the big prize economically is the re-emergence of our great industrial cities—the Manchesters, Birminghams, Leeds, Nottinghams and, to keep my Committee Chair happy, I should add the Sheffields. It is vital to empower those city regions so that they regain and renew their wealth, power and competitiveness. This enabling Bill gives Ministers powers within a framework, and I ask them to continue with their ambitious approach to devolution because small incremental steps will not be sufficient. I know that will always be the ambition of the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues, but let us keep the pace going because that ambition exists across the House.
In the 4.8 minutes that I have left I wish to touch on three issues: business rates, city governance and metro mayors. Last week we heard from the Chancellor about an excellent fiscal devolution, which will keep my Committee Chair happy. That is a big policy change; it is £26 billion and a major shift in policy and resource. I encourage Ministers not to be inveigled by their civil servants into trying to ring-fence the extra money that will come when metro mayors are able to raise the basic rate. Ministers no doubt already have plans for the fine details on that issue, but they should not be tempted to ring-fence and instead should rely on local accountability. Those who run local businesses are the best people to judge whether a proposed scheme in their locality is right—after all, they are being asked to fund it. Following the business improvement district model, let us try not to over-define things at the centre. We should use local judgment and let the payers decide.
My second point is about what I consider to be the most important principle underpinning this Bill: the principle of collaboration. For too long the old silo mentality has persisted in the public sector with single issue Departments fighting over what they see as “their” budgets, and councillors squabbling between neighbouring authorities. That needs to change. For devolution to succeed, local governance needs to become more holistic and to deliver public services in the round, not within narrow bureaucratic silos. It should be about outcomes for people, not incomes for different Departments. To achieve that, other changes will be needed. First, city regions will need to embrace emerging smart technologies, which places such as Milton Keynes and Bristol are already adopting. The opportunity to transform the design and delivery of public services across an area is within our grasp, but that means ensuring that we embrace the principles of open data, connecting different Departments, agencies, and national quangos in that area, and for local leaders to be willing to share power and budgets, and focus on solving problems rather than running fiefdoms.
Thirdly, the Bill seeks to usher in a new form of mayor—the metro mayor—which I welcome. I accept that outside our larger cities that may not be the only or best form of governance, but for my money I think that the establishment of metro mayors is the best way forward for our cities. Our emerging city regions need strong leadership; they need people who have a vision that reaches beyond their ward boundaries and who have real world experience. The direct election of a city region mayor is the best way to achieve that as it will attract the calibre of people that we need and that our cities deserve. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) pointed out, a mayor will provide a visible figurehead who is accountable to the people they serve.
What we have in London is what happens in most major cities across the world, and it is frankly time that our cities caught up. Our cities need a new model of governance that attracts the brightest and best, and provides real answers and direct accountability to their citizens. It is a model under which—dare I say it?—our political parties will have less control. For me that is a good thing.
In many ways I would like the Bill to be more ambitious, but I am well aware, as the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out, that we must be practical. The idea of a revolution overnight would not work. This evolutionary process is making real progress on the ground, and people are starting to notice it. We should recognise that more and more people live in our cities, and that the shift in demographics is inexorable—that is the future. When I look at cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield or Birmingham, I see a genuine sense of growing pride and prosperity, and that is the prize within the Bill. There will be problems with the details, but if we keep our eye on that prize, we can make real progress for the next generation.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Like them, I strongly support the move towards more devolution, but we should not get misty-eyed about metro mayors or local government in general. We are now—rightly, perhaps—sceptical about centralised decision-making from Whitehall, and in that spirit I think that the provocative scepticism of those on the Opposition Front Bench is right.
I am entirely comfortable with the thrust of the Bill, although I think there are some omissions, the biggest of which relates to London. London is different from the rest of England in terms of the scale of appetite and need for further devolution. I say that not to minimise the argument for further devolution in the north, Cornwall or elsewhere, but rather to underline the scale of the challenges currently facing London.
London’s population is bigger than that of Scotland or Wales, yet it does not have power to tackle the—at times breathtaking—levels of poverty and inequality. London is growing by more than 100,000 people a year, and it is expected to do so for at least the next decade, bringing with it range of additional challenges that are not replicated to the same degree elsewhere in England.
The housing crisis in London is bad now, but it is only likely to get worse without substantial extra devolution. Many in the House will be familiar with the development of London’s infrastructure, which has too often been characterised, particularly on the big projects, by lengthy delays. In part, that has been driven by the number of players involved in decision making, not least in central Government.
London should be given the tools in full to tackle our housing crisis in particular. Through the Mayor and the London Assembly, it should be given the right to legislate on London housing matters. Legislative power over housing was devolved to Scotland in 1998 and to Wales in 2011. I simply ask the House why London, where the crisis is so acute, should not have the same powers: judgment on control of rents, on whether right to buy should be extended, on levels of property tax, and on funding for new affordable housing. Targets for percentages of new-build schemes given over to sheltered housing or social rent ought to sit in one place, enabling one body or one figure to develop a clear, holistic strategy for housing in London. At the moment, the Mayor has his hand on some of the levers, but for too many others it is to Whitehall that he has to go, and not just to one Whitehall Department but to a number of Departments. I gently suggest that that needs to change. I hope to table a probing amendment to test the appetite of the House on devolving legislative power on housing to the London Assembly.
In Wales, we suffer from referendum fatigue. Whenever significant powers are to be devolved to Wales, there is always a referendum. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there should be a referendum before legislative powers are handed down to the London Assembly?
There is a justification for having a referendum in London to consider the extension of powers: we had one when we set up the Mayor and the Assembly. If there is to be further substantial devolution then there is certainly a case to be made for a referendum to cement mayoral and Assembly authority over those additional powers.
Another area for London ought to be full fiscal devolution. I welcome the announcement on business rates, but I am afraid that does not go far enough. All property taxes should be devolved. The all-party consensus of the mayoral London Finance Commission report published in 2013 was for a pound-for-pound reduction in revenue support grant as the quid pro quo that London offers back. It remains opaque at best on why the Treasury will not agree not just to business rates but to additional property taxes to London.
I am enjoying very much my hon. Friend’s review of where we are on local government finance in London. Does he not accept that we have broken the precedent with the Treasury by having income tax assignment for Scotland? The law was passed three or four years ago, before the devolution referendum. It now, very properly, has a system of income tax devolution. Is not the long-term answer to have a proper baseline budget, rather than little slices, so that London, Nottingham and every other part of the country can look after its own affairs?
My hon. Friend is, as ever, ahead of me. I share his view that in time—particularly if there are substantial additional public services responsibilities devolved to London, not least the extra powers, alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), relating to healthcare—there would be a case for more control à la Scotland, certainly the ability in the current settlement to vary levels of income tax. Why should London or Nottingham not be able to impose new additional levies—for example, a tourist levy that many other big world cities, such as New York, can impose? It is striking that in London business has strongly supported the devolution to local control of all property taxes, not just business rates. They see it as essential to speed up infrastructure development. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to use their influence with the Chancellor to encourage him to go even further down the line of fiscal devolution.
There is also a question about the living wage. Why does that need to be controlled by the Treasury? Why should the decision not be set, after consultation with business, by local people? There could perhaps be a local minimum set by national Government, with the actual rate determined by at regional level by local decision makers. I again draw the attention of the House to London, where a living wage and a living income would be very different from that in other parts of the UK.
If there is to be a further devolution of powers to London—I hope there will be—we need to consider stronger scrutiny powers for the London Assembly. The Assembly ought to be able to scrutinise the heads of major public utilities—such as water, electricity, gas, National Rail and broadband providers—on their London work programmes and on how Londoners will be affected by their decisions, in the same way that the Assembly is able to scrutinise other crucial services, such as policing and transport. I commend the case for further devolution to London and hope to probe this issue with the Government in due course.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this very important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Listening to the contributions we have had so far, it is clear that devolution means different things to different parts of the country. That is why giving powers back to local communities is so important, as different regions can champion their strengths while taking steps to address the challenges they face. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and the Minister for all their work to bring the Bill forward, and for their readiness to meet interested parties.
Speaking as a proud Yorkshireman, and looking at what devolution might bring to our great county, it is essential that the whole of Yorkshire benefits from the devolved powers on offer. Nowhere should be left behind. This is not just about our cities; this is about empowering our rural hinterland. Manchester and Sheffield have now secured settlements, and the precedent for countywide devolution has been set by Cornwall. However, the question of devolving powers to the rest of Yorkshire remains to be answered.
Of the four competing bids the Treasury received, it is my sincere hope that the Chancellor will recognise the unique strengths of the Greater Yorkshire bid. Sadly, there are some who would prefer to see our great county carved up. Doing so could, sadly, only serve to marginalise our rural and coastal communities, which are as much a part of Yorkshire as the metropolitan centres of Leeds and Bradford.
As a fellow Yorkshire MP, I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he think that, because of the very rushed nature of the bids—they had to be in very quickly—the debate we really should have had in Yorkshire about that Greater Yorkshire model has not taken place? We have ended up, as he says, with several bids going in, dividing up Yorkshire in an unhelpful way.
I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Lady says. In horseracing terms, the Greater Yorkshire bid was slow out of the stalls, but is gathering pace and coming up fast on the rails. I sincerely hope it will end up winning the day.
Tearing the three ridings apart, as the hon. Lady mentioned, would undermine the strong bonds of culture, identity and friendship—Yorkshire is a very friendly place, as I am sure you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker—and weaken what we could achieve. The devolution project is about scale, with communities coming together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Bringing many parts of Yorkshire together under a Greater Yorkshire bid would allow us to use the Yorkshire brand to unleash our true potential. It is clear that people want to see us put old rivalries aside, and devolution should not be used as just a power-grabbing exercise. The public have placed their trust in us to devolve the powers they need to succeed, and it would be a betrayal to put petty party politics first.
That gives rise to the question, though, of why such deals, which should be owned and led by local businesses and communities, are instead being negotiated, to some degree, behind closed doors. Negotiations cannot be completely open—I accept that—but there has to be an opportunity to scrutinise the devolution deals on offer before they are accepted by local authorities. The greatest danger in politics, and the downfall of many Governments, is to stop listening to the people, thinking that we in this place know best.
That brings me to one area of devolution about which I am yet to be completely convinced. People have told us time and again that they do not want elected mayors. In 2004, plans for regional assemblies were abandoned after the north-east gave a resounding no to such a proposal. Of the 10 referendums held in our largest cities in 2012, nine gave another resounding no to elected mayors. True devolution can succeed only when we listen to what people tell us.
Where are we heading on this devolution journey and what is the ultimate end-game? As Scotland has shown, does devolution satisfy the need for local decision making, or does it ultimately lead to division and even greater demands for more power? Once Pandora’s box has been opened, can it ever be closed again?
Although I very much support the principle of devolution and what the Government are trying to achieve, we must be aware that this is not going to be a smooth journey. We need clarity on where devolution is going to take us. We must move with caution and get the right deals for the right reasons. Do we have to have elected mayors—another layer of politics—to deliver that? I am not convinced as yet.
The ultimate aim of devolution must be to close the historic north-south divide, not by dragging London down, but by learning from its example and raising our game to compete with the best in the world. A Greater Yorkshire deal—a Yorkshire brand—could compete with anywhere in the world. You will probably agree with that as well, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Closing the north-south divide can be achieved only if devolution is allowed to percolate right through our great county. Like the Tour de Yorkshire, it must run from Settle to Scarborough, from Whitby to Wensleydale, taking in all the country’s market towns, coastal resorts and ancient cities—in short, the very best that Yorkshire has to offer. We must not rush this once-in-a-generation opportunity for greater powers. Let us get the right deal for our regions and the right deal for a Greater Yorkshire.
Before I came to this House in May, I had spent 18 years as a city councillor in Manchester, and I am very proud of what we achieved for our city in that time. We have shown how good civic leadership can help transform a city and create partnerships that really help to improve the lives of our citizens. We led the way not just in leading the demands for devolved powers, but in demonstrating that local government has the capacity and the vision to use them.
Local people know their communities best and how best to deliver for them, so I welcome the principle of devolution of powers in the Bill. Indeed, I welcome the deal that has been agreed for Greater Manchester. Devolution is a Labour value, giving power to people and communities who know what is best for them.
I have two concerns about the Government’s plans. First, funding needs to follow powers, and that is in the interests of not just local government, but national Government as well. I spent three difficult years as executive member for finance on Manchester City Council having to make incredibly tough decisions on cuts to services as a result of the unfair funding cuts imposed by the coalition Government. We had to take £250 million out of our budget over the course of the last Parliament. If Members consider that that reduction took our budget down to about £550 million, they will understand the scale of the problems we faced.
We dealt with that very effectively through improving efficiencies and revolutionising the way in which we deliver services, and devolution of powers will allow us greater freedom to do that. That level of cuts, however, is not sustainable, and local government, as many are aware, faces a struggle to keep non-statutory services going if those cuts continue. Even worse, some local authorities face the real possibility of becoming financially unviable. Local government could become unviable as a result not of its own actions, but of the actions of the Government in starving deprived areas of funding. If the Government carry on with that level of cuts, it is their own devolution project that will be at risk. Devolution simply will not work without proper funding. We cannot devolve responsibilities without the resources to fulfil them.
Secondly, the one-size-fits-all approach is not the way forward. A few years ago the people of Manchester decisively rejected the idea of an elected mayor. I believe that was because they did not see the need for it. Good civic leadership can come in many different forms, and Manchester—under the excellent leadership of Sir Richard Leese and, before that, of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), as well as that of the Greater Manchester combined authority—has shown that we have not just a successful council, but a model for the use of devolved powers across Greater Manchester that has been developed by Greater Manchester.
The citizens of Manchester were not given the option of a metro mayor; the proposal they rejected was, in effect, to directly elect the council leader. Some of the critics of the metro mayor model clearly do not understand the difference between an elected council leader and what is now being offered for the conurbation.
That is absolutely right and I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was just coming to that point. The imposition of an elected mayor on Greater Manchester and on other areas is unnecessary. I am not necessarily against an elected Greater Manchester mayor, but it really should be for Greater Manchester to decide. It should be for local communities to develop evidenced proposals on the best way to organise themselves to use those devolved powers. That would be true devolution.
Local government can and does deliver great things for its citizens. I welcome devolved power to create jobs and growth opportunities; to invest in desperately needed new housing; and to allow health and social care to work together for local people. Personally, I would like devolution to include some powers of oversight over education, because at a time when we are devolving powers over other services it seems counter-intuitive that power over education is, in effect, being centralised. Local government in areas such as Manchester has shown that it deserves the powers and resources to deliver. Let us give it the freedom and the resources to do so.
This is an important debate on an important piece of legislation and, like many of my colleagues, I welcome the devolution agenda. Local accountability is, I think, extremely important and the challenge, as has been repeated across the Chamber, is making it work in practice.
The first stage of devolution started with the local enterprise partnerships. Effectively, we devolved to them responsibility for productivity, growth and, more recently, infrastructure projects. Phase 2—this Bill—devolves responsibility not to unelected bodies, which is what the LEPs were, but to politically elected bodies. We are considering devolving many areas similar to those devolved to the LEPs as well as social care, police and education. If that is to be achieved, there are some concerns and risks about the consequent almost imperative need for vertical and horizontal integration between the different local bodies—the counties, the districts and the unitary areas. I am not entirely convinced that that was what the Government intended, as it seems to me that we risk consolidation as opposed to devolution, and I do not think that we should.
Devon and Somerset have a bid in, involving 20 authorities working together. My concern is that for that many authorities to work together we will need sensibly to consider some functional integration, but who will give up their power base, who will give up their budget and who will share it? More importantly, what about the taxpayer? How will he or she know who to hold accountable and how will he or she do it? At the ballot box?
The Government, quite rightly, are looking to integrate NHS and social care, but will that be more complicated across a diverse range of authorities? Does it mean—I hope not—that we will have to unpick and put together again new deals between the NHS and the local authorities? Will the NHS play ball? Should clinical commissioning groups be required to be part of that? They are part of some bids for devolution, but not all of them.
In the south-west, we have 20 parties working together: 15 districts, two unitaries, two counties and the LEP. My fear is that local accountability will be lost and that we will consolidate not devolve. Our bid has three aims: first, to deliver accelerated economic growth; secondly, to deliver conductivity and resilience for our infrastructure; and, thirdly, to deliver integrated health and social care.
On the growth agenda, there seems to me to be a challenge as the LEP and the other authorities are playing in the same ballpark. How will we deal with that? My other concern is that the rural communities will get lost and the thinking will be dominated by the Exeters, Plymouths and other large cities. How will the funding work? Will it go through the LEP or through the new bodies?
This team of 20 has a very good record of working together on infrastructure. On rail, our peninsula taskforce is delivering seriously good news. On roads, we have the bypass for Kingskerswell and we will, I hope, have the A303 developments. However, my concern is that that devolution still ignores local problems with infrastructure, such as local bottlenecks in towns. Balls Corner in Newton Abbot is a case in point. Focus will be lost on small infrastructure projects and issues, such as my port in Teignmouth.
We also have a number of integrated projects on health and social care. In Torbay we have an integrated care organisation with pioneer status, whereas Plymouth CCG and the northern, eastern and western Devon—NEW Devon—CCG are working together with a one system, one budget plan for £426 million. Somerset has a Symphony health and social care project, while Exeter has its own integrated care project. Will we lose the focus on some of the local differences between the rural communities and the cities? Will we lose the necessary differentiation between how we provide for an ageing population and how we provide for the bustling younger population in cities?
The Government are going absolutely in the right direction, but my concern is how we deliver these measures, how we avoid the pitfalls and how we avoid the consolidation and integration that take away from local democracy and from what I believe the Government intend. The devil is in the detail, and I wanted to ensure that I raised these issues early because although the Government’s intentions are right, I want to avoid chaos and ensure that local focus remains. Finally, I want to ensure that we do not inadvertently consolidate upwards rather than devolve downwards.
This is a great day. It is the beginning of what will be a very long journey. I think that we will probably have two more Bills on devolution before the end of this Parliament, but at the general election in 2020 we will look back and all the anxieties about the detail in the Bill—some of which we disagree with, of course—will have become irrelevant as most local authorities in England will have devolved to some extent or another. That will be the future. I must put on record again that I think that the Secretary of State has been foremost in introducing the Bill. He has a fantastic record of working with local government and with Labour local government, in particular, through his work with the core cities and on the cities agenda. The Bill is part of a line of progression.
Of course, we cannot have perfection in the first Bill, but those who have some sort of aldermanic sclerosis and believe that we will not move anywhere unless we get absolutely everything right are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is important that we move on devolution now in a way that previous Governments, regrettably, did not. This is the most fantastic opportunity, in my opinion, for all of us who care about the principle of devolution, enabling people to make decisions as closely as is humanly possible to where they are and where they live.
It is the beginning of the end of possibly several hundred years of the imperial view that Whitehall knows best and that only the man in Whitehall can tell people whether they should have double yellow lines on their high streets or be allowed to have a betting shop on their street corner. What nonsense! It is treating one’s own country as if its people are slaves, rather than liberating them to make a genuine economic contribution, in times of austerity and at other times, as well as a social and political contribution locally. Even with the distinguished colleagues around me, I do think our politics is over-blessed with too big a gene pool. Why should not the leader of our capital stand to be leader of one of our great parties? Why should not the leader of Greater Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle or anywhere else push our politics forward with a lot of local experience? This is something of which many Governments in the recent past have been bereft.
This is the beginning of a journey. I personally would rather we did not have a mayor—Nottingham voted not to have a mayor. However, if we continue this journey and have another Bill and another one after that, I am sure that we will devolve to such an extent that we will liberate people in the localities to choose their own system of governance and method of election. That will be a definition of devolution achieved.
Part of that choice on localism is the level at which it is most appropriate to make decisions. Forty-odd years ago, my constituency was a patchwork of urban district councils and small municipal boroughs, and people still very much identify with those neighbourhoods. Is it not right that we also seek to empower those communities again?
The movement from Whitehall to town hall is very welcome, but then we must go the extra mile. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), an SNP Member, is no longer here, because we do not want to go the way of pushing power from Westminster to Holyrood, only for the latter, instead of dispersing some of that power, to suck it up and create a national view on everything, rather than liberating the talents in Scottish local government. There are many lessons to learn from Scotland—we should be humble about that experience and learn everything possible—but that is probably one exception to the rule about listening to how the SNP has done things in Scotland.
There will then be a broader picture. Once we have embedded devolution and organically we have made a start, when it is proving its worth and we can demonstrate that we will add value to every single pound, we can move to the next stage, which is the one outlined by the Opposition Front-Bench team. It is to see it as part of the broader jigsaw of a constitutional convention that will consider local government’s role, as part of the debate about devolution in England, an elected second Chamber and a written settlement, among other things.
It is important that what Whitehall giveth, Whitehall does not taketh away. As the Secretary of State is aware, that will mean at some point entrenching the progress we make so that it can never be reversed. That will mean super-majorities in the House, hiding stuff behind the Parliament Act 1911 and so on. There are lots of ways to make it difficult for the wrong sort of Secretary of State to suck these powers back up.
My hon. Friend is making a typically excellent speech. Is not the basic challenge of the Bill that it strengthens the Secretary of State’s hand with local government but not with Whitehall? He needs a few more ambition clauses that force his colleagues to devolve more rather than less and not to rely on backroom negotiations in the Treasury. For example, should we not be devolving many more powers to help local authorities, such as my hon. Friend’s, deal with the entrenched challenges of poverty and deprivation?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we are doing now is pushing that enormous heavy ball up the mountain—and it is just starting to move. Let us keep that momentum going, and when local government has proved its worth and we have developed the capability and potential of local councillors and officials—I am loth to make any criticism of them, given how we sometimes run the country—they will demand those extra powers. That is certainly the case on issues relating to health and employment. That will come. People will say, “We can do this; we can raise a bond on the open market; we can run something by our local population; we can raise additional taxation—if local people agree with it”, which is very important, as was mentioned earlier.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) made a specific point about how to help areas of high deprivation. He and I share an unfortunate medal in that we are in the bottom 10 local authorities when it comes to deprivation. This will be immensely liberating. My right hon. Friend and I know, but our councillors know much better than anybody—even the Secretary of State from Whitehall—how to spend a pound effectively in the local context. It is all about bringing sensitivity and capability back to our governance, and instead of fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, it is about enabling people to make decisions locally. Local people above all will want to maximise the potential of every austere pound that comes their way.
For the bigger picture, I think a constitutional convention running alongside this process is essential. I hope that the Government will generously agree to participate in anything that all other parties come together to discuss on that basis. They will not be able to legislate on it, but it is important for them to participate in the debate and have that discussion. In the end, the Secretary of State’s Fabian view of moving forward—slowly, steadily and gently making progress—has been proved right. We need to ensure that such an approach is supported in the longer term. The Bill has flaws, but it provides a fantastic start, so I commend it to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who has been a long-time advocate of more devolution to local government. I share his congratulations to the Secretary of State, who has not only advocated devolution for a long time, but is now in a position to deliver it.
In common with other speakers, I spent many years in local government—26 years as a councillor, to be precise. During that time, I and my colleagues were railing against central Government, whoever were in power, for centralising more and more. Now we have gone into reverse, which is extremely welcome.
I have been a long-time advocate of the evolving position of elected mayors. Unlike those on both sides of the House in recent years who have been rather stop-go in their support, I have long been an advocate. In 2001, I tried to gain sufficient signatures on a petition for an elected mayor in my own authority. I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who earlier advocated that it should be made easier for the electorate to initiate petitions, rather than leave it to politicians, and that we should reduce the threshold to 1%, which would encourage local people to overtake the views of their local authority if it were being somewhat resistant. We all know that local politicians can sometimes be resistant to change, and we have heard varying views about the role of elected mayors this afternoon.
For too long, local government has languished in the shadows. Elected mayors will provide an identifiable figurehead and increase the feeling of local identity. We can all identify with our country, our county and our town or village. Those are the constructs around which combined authorities should evolve.
Those of us who live in an area that was subject to major reorganisation in the 1970s—and my area was pushed into the hated county of Humberside—are well aware of the need to attract a feeling of identity among local people. Local authorities are not just administrative units governed by lines on a map, and that is even more true of the regions that we have all been pushed into. Although we have been told for many years that those regions do not exist, much of government operates through them. An earlier speaker referred to Yorkshire and Humberside and then started talking about “the county”, but Yorkshire and Humberside are actually two counties, and those of us who live in the Lincolnshire part tend to resent the fact that the focus is always too much on the Yorkshire part.
I am pleased to say that two local authorities in my area have presented a proposal which I fully support, and I hope the Secretary of State will accept it. It was presented jointly by the leaders of Labour-controlled North East Lincolnshire and Conservative-controlled North Lincolnshire, Ray Oxby and Liz Redfern, and I pay tribute to them both for helping us to arrive at the point where we are now.
There are great economic development opportunities for northern Lincolnshire. I see that the Minister for the northern powerhouse, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), is present; I know that he will want to refer to the strengths of the area, including the growing offshore renewables sector, which is providing a much-wanted and much-needed boost for the local economy.
I want to digress slightly before ending my speech. I share the reservations of Members who mentioned Sunday trading. Some of us attended yesterday’s reception hosted by the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents the small businesses that we all want to support. We recognise their concern about the proposed extension of Sunday trading, and I support them in that regard. It will take a lot of persuasion to make me support the extension.
As we have already heard, local people are best suited to determining the priorities that can lead to greater regeneration and prosperity in their area. It is not just our great cities—which have so often been the focus of city regions and the like—that need support and encouragement; the energies and prospects of provincial towns such as those in my area can be unleashed by more devolution. I hope that the combined authorities that are emerging will evolve into unitary authorities, which have much more democratic accountability than the combined authorities that we are about to create, and I fully support the Minister’s proposals.
It is a great pleasure to follow my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). He mentioned the renewables industry, which is important to the economic future of both the sides of the Humber that we represent.
Just two years ago, in an article about Britain’s so-called decaying towns, The Economist described cities like Hull as suffering because, over many decades, the state had been too much rather than too little involved. It made no reference to the fact that other parts of the country, such as London and the south-east, had benefited from more favoured status and more support. I think that the Minister will regret that that view was expressed, and will recognise that places like Hull should not be abandoned as The Economist suggested. In fact, there is evidence that the northern regeneration boosted by devolution will increase overall national economic growth, which, of course, we will all welcome.
I do, however, have specific concerns about the proposals before us today. First, as has been mentioned by many hon. Members, the devolved powers in the Bill are conditional on accepting a single, made-in-Whitehall model of local governance, with the concept of elected Mayors. That model is being pushed through via backroom deals, not as a result of proper consultation with communities, and it is even being done in areas where voters have previously rejected the elected Mayor model. This one-size-fits-all centralism misunderstands local variations of geography and economic life. What may work well in Greater Manchester may not work for areas such as Hull and the Humber, and I had hoped that we had left behind Henry Ford’s idea of, “Any colour provided it is black” or what Douglas Jay described as, “The gentleman in Whitehall really does know best.”
Real devolution should not be imposed top down, from the centre. It should allow the creation of models whereby local leaders can be accountable to their voters, not to Whitehall, for decisions that are then made locally. Genuine devolution must transfer powers and responsibility from Whitehall, and devolution must have clear objectives. Structures that then emerge in each part of the country should reflect local factors. Devolution is a means to an end, not an end in itself; the Government have not provided enough clarity on that.
Secondly, this devolution comes against a backdrop of severe funding cuts, which since 2010 have been focused most heavily on the most deprived areas, and more are coming down the track. Blame will be devolved more than power. Devolved decision making requires fairer funding and local revenue-raising powers, free from outdated Treasury rules or gimmicks. It means freedom to innovate and get better results than if the powers remained in Whitehall. We need localised power on raising capital investment for infrastructure, transport, flood defences and social housing. Localising business rates is potentially progressive, but powers must apply to areas with no elected mayor, too. Moreover, robust transitional arrangements are needed so that poorer areas do not lose out, as they have done in local government grant distribution since 2010.
Thirdly, in the digital age there are fewer excuses that Government can use not to devolve more Whitehall jobs to the regions. Fourthly, although local innovation helps raise national standards, we do risk fragmentation in areas such as the NHS, and that could damage front-line services for local communities. Fifthly, I want to talk a little about recent events that affect my city of Hull and the Yorkshire bids that have gone forward. Civic and business figures across Yorkshire have been jumping through hoops to meet arbitrary deadlines for signing up to Whitehall’s model of devolution. As has been said, there are already several bids for Yorkshire, and they fragment the true potential for Yorkshire to have proper devolution to the county. In line with what the hon. Member for Cleethorpes said, we need to consider the needs of the south bank of the Humber, because both the north and south bank need to work together to ensure that we unlock the power of the Humber estuary as the “energy estuary”, as it has been described. Hull also has common interests with North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, for example on tourism, but we need a proper debate on whether the Greater Yorkshire model is the one that best serves the county and really does unlock that potential.
Hull is a key city, but it is not one of the self-selecting “core cities”, to use that unhelpful distinction. As a result, Hull has risked being excluded from the deals currently being done. Although it may not be a disaster in some respects, Hull could be left out when issues such as transport or broadband are discussed, and that would be very regrettable. Hull has to be part of the northern powerhouse if that is really to be worth its name. Despite many Hull successes, including investment by Siemens and being awarded the city of culture status in 2017, which we have achieved without an elected mayor, we still recognise that we need to reverse decades of decline in our traditional industries. We cannot risk Hull being left further behind. Hull needs a longer-term regeneration effort spanning decades, as has been enjoyed by areas that faced similar challenges in the past. Real devolution could help close up the unfair regional funding disparities in many areas, and the growth gap between the north and the south, boosting UK GDP overall.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I welcome the further devolution from central Government to Greater Manchester and to other cities and regions which the Bill enables, as well as the wide-ranging benefits that this transfer of power will deliver to local communities. I have fully supported this Government’s commitment to devolve greater powers to local authorities, and as a Greater Manchester MP I am pleased that it is our local authority combined area that is leading the way towards devolution and the creation of the northern powerhouse.
This enabling Bill will not only deliver further devolved power to Greater Manchester but, importantly, it will provide the opportunity for other cities and regions to follow in Manchester’s footsteps. Working in conjunction with the localism legislation, which allows more neighbourhood planning and better community rights, this Bill will provide opportunities for local government to truly represent local people. I want to make sure that my constituency, Cheadle, will continue to benefit from all aspects of this agenda as the Greater Manchester combined authority takes greater control and more responsibility and powers over economic development, transport, health and social care, planning and policing in our area. Furthermore, as a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, I have welcomed the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in greater depth.
As the devolution agreement for Greater Manchester is implemented and its aims are realised, it may well be used as a model for other cities and regions, always bearing in mind the individual nature of local authorities across the country. I am encouraged by the level of interest that the Government have received in the form of devolution bids from other cities and regions, and it is important that this Bill provides the flexibility for each authority to agree a deal that meets the needs of its local area. Devolution is a process that must be allowed to evolve, and there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all model. Authorities will work together to find the best fit for them.
Directly elected mayors are at the heart of the Bill, and the powers that they will receive in combination with the local authorities should not be underestimated. Elected mayors will be in no doubt about the scale of their responsibilities as power is devolved from the centre. I have been greatly encouraged by the example set by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State working with local authorities, as has been mentioned. It has been shown, particularly in the case of Greater Manchester, that strong local civic leadership is essential to reach the right outcome.
However, strong leadership and good government rely on effective scrutiny, and it is vital that the necessary checks and balances are seen to be in place. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on transparency. As the powers are devolved and critical responsibilities for the provision of key services are taken up by local authorities under the auspices of elected mayors, it is crucial that scrutiny processes and procedures are robust enough to ensure transparency and accountability.
I shall refer briefly to planning issues. As has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), planning is often a contentious issue for local authorities. The localism agenda does much to make planning law more accountable to the will of local people, and the Bill must build on that. It is important that protections are in place to make sure that the localism agenda is adhered to and strengthened. I was pleased to hear that this has been taken up and commented on positively. The green belt is an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly as strategic decisions are made. I want to ensure that the local view is heard and that, through neighbourhood forums and plans, the localism agenda is taken into account.
The Chancellor’s recent announcement on business rates is welcome. This is a positive step towards greater fiscal devolution which has the potential to fuel growth, particularly in the northern powerhouse, and many small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency will welcome that.
In conclusion, I have always been clear that devolution has the potential to rebalance our economy and make local government more accountable and responsive to the needs of local people. This Bill will enable the Government’s firm commitment to deliver on this ambition and I will therefore support it.
As a former leader of a metropolitan council, I welcome devolvement and the powers it brings, in my case to a city region. The reality is that the genie is out of the lamp and cannot be put back in—and nor should it be. This is not a question of if, but when and how, and no one is being forced to take part. As for the question of transparency and negotiation, it does not take Sherlock Holmes to work out what those powers might be, and I will touch on them later.
There are of course concerns, but they must not be allowed to cause delay and there must not be further prevarication. It is not as though these powers and responsibilities do not already exist. They do exist, but usually in the hands of civil servants and even on occasion in the hands of Ministers. Devolution allows for local decision making at a sub-regional level on issues of importance to the future of the areas concerned. There is the question of the election of a city regional mayor in my area.
My hon. Friend’s experience is very valuable in this matter. Bristol is the only core city to support an elected mayor. Does he agree that the citizens of Bristol deserve the right to reverse that decision at any point and that the Lords amendments to this Bill offering Bristolians that opportunity are to be welcomed?
I take the view that local areas should have the widest ability to make their decisions, and if Bristol wants that, that is a matter for Bristol to pursue. My personal view is that I would rather have a local decision maker in the form of a metro mayor than a decision maker 200 miles down the M6 in an office not many yards away from here. I would prefer the decisions to be made in Merseyside in my case. There are alternatives, however. The Manchester model offers a way forward, and there may be variations on the theme.
I am interested in the responsibilities and powers that are devolved—issues around economic development, the question of transport, potentially strategic planning, skills and employment, questions around business planning, certain European issues, possibly further education, the careers service, and certain Department for Work and Pensions responsibilities. The NHS has been mentioned. The reality is that most NHS services are delivered at a local level and many decisions are made at a local level, and I think it is a question of teasing out how those decisions can be made at a local level but in the context of a city region. I recognise there are concerns about things like specialist services, but I do not think they are insurmountable, and I think they are issues that we have to tease out and discuss. Yes, they are going to be challenging, but we must not brush them under the carpet and pretend we cannot deal with them, because we can. So, yes, there are challenges, but they can be overcome. The list of potential powers to be devolved goes on and on, and it is, as they say, a question of horses for courses.
Reference has been made to collaboration, and collaboration does currently take place. When I was leader of a city region council, we collaborated all the time, day in, day out. But of course without the powers that devolvement brings, that collaboration can only go so far, as is the case with resource.
That brings me to the elephant in the room: the question of resource and the devolvement of that resource, and then of course the equity of resource. This is about the allocation and then the equity of the allocation. I ask that the allocation of resource be appropriately equitable.
The reality is that this train is about to leave the station. My area wants to be on that train—not at any cost or at a cost that would denude us of crucial resources, but we need to grasp this opportunity. This does not preclude any discussion of subsidiarity, however. Indeed, it should start the process of subsidiarity from local authorities down to town councils and parish councils, of which there are many in my council area.
If the Bill will secure better and sounder economic cohesion, I will support it. If it will liberate local government to even a small degree compared with how it was 100 years ago, I will support it. If it will give a fair allocation of resources, I will support it. However, as Anne Brontë said:
“There is always a ‘but’ in this imperfect world.”
I do not want to heap too much praise on the Secretary of State, because I do not want him to be moved just yet, but I give him credit for moving this issue on.
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman and to other Opposition Members, and I am heartened by the glowing praise that I am hearing from that side of the Chamber. Will he join me in urging his colleagues to join us in the Lobby this evening? We have heard about the 38 bids and other expressions of interest from around the country, and they reflect the fact that this fundamental piece of legislation requires cross-party consensus.
I will get back to the hon. Lady as soon as the Secretary of State fills in his Labour party membership form.
The Secretary of State deserves credit for moving this matter on from where is has languished for far too long. We need to get to grips with it, and from the point of view of my city region, the sooner we do so the better.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this most important Second Reading debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). The partnerships between local authorities and businesses that the Bill encourages will present areas such as mine in the north of England with an opportunity to unlock the necessary drive and ambition to address our specific needs, so that we can maximise our potential and strive to build an economy that will address historic divisions such as the north-south divide that have hung over us for far too long.
I recognise the fact that London and the south-east have been an economic driver for the rest of the country, but that should not stop us being ambitious about other parts of the United Kingdom. We have only to look at the effects of the recession to see that the need to rebuild our economy is long overdue. The dependence on one economic area in such circumstances fails to capitalise on what much of the rest of the country has to offer. The concentrated and centralised power in Whitehall can often fail to understand the need for economic growth in a variety of areas across the UK. After all, the growth of cities such as Leeds and Manchester occurred not because Whitehall demanded it but because local businesses and leaders understood their communities, their resources and, more importantly, their people.
Today, we are seeing a real drive to boost the economy of the north. I can see the potential in my own area, the Leeds city region, with close to 3 million people, a resident workforce of 1.4 million and more than 100,000 businesses creating an economy that was worth £55 billion in 2012. We are seeing massive and unprecedented investment in our transport systems, with new railway stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge serving my constituency and a southern access to Leeds City station that will help to unlock the regeneration we need in the south of the city. There is increased capacity across the TransPennine link and we are now preparing for HS2, which will connect Leeds with Sheffield, Birmingham and London. We are also investing millions and billions of pounds in major road schemes across the north. All these developments make connectivity much easier and enable people to change jobs if they want without necessarily moving home. There is still so much more that we can do, and this Bill offers us the chance to have our say on the issues that people in our area understand.
I want us to take advantage of this Bill in a most ambitious way. I know that my right hon. Friend has had a number of bids for our area, and he faces an unenviable task. Just as we have seen ambition and vision across the Pennines with the Greater Manchester deal, so too should we, on the right side of the Pennines—I mean geographically and spiritually—be equally ambitious, if not more so.
Recently, the South Yorkshire deal was announced, leaving the rest of Yorkshire to come up with a bid. I know that there has been a lot of lobbying for a Leeds city region bid, but we could go further and create a serious player in the UK economy. The Greater Yorkshire bid, which would include West, North and East Yorkshire, would be one of the biggest deals—if not the only deal—in the UK. The area’s great cities, major towns and rural and coastal areas have always had complementary and inter-related roles. Whether we are talking about people travelling to work or people enjoying our tourism, these areas are better connected economically than ever before. With the Greater Yorkshire deal, we could progress that even further.
The growth that we have seen economically in the city region and the huge interest there is in tourism create both pressures and opportunities. That is no more so than in housing where councils are merely looking at their own housing targets within their boundaries. We need a much more regional approach to this matter, so that we can ensure that we are protecting as much of our greenbelt as possible.
It is also important that we ensure that we have access to the world markets. I was pleased to hear Hull mentioned. Building a strategic approach for the M62 economic corridor and expanding the entrepreneurial capacity of our rural and coastal areas offer great potential for the areas to work together for a combined approach to economic growth rather than competing with each other.
Very many opportunities exist in this bid—in healthcare, in renewable energy and in the food markets. Logistically, the port in Hull offers access to more than 230 million consumers. We also have a big airport, motorways, HS2, tourism and so much more. This is a fantastic bid that has been put forward, and I seriously hope that it will be considered, not least because it will build the skills and aspirations that we and business need and it will offer greater and improved outcomes for our young people.
This bid makes sense. It has the drive, ambition and aspiration that I want to see. It would also make us a serious player in the UK and across the world. This Bill gives us the power and opportunity to do that, so that we no longer have to look at London and the south-east with envy. We can become a driver not just to rival it but to exceed it and become an ambitious contributor to the northern powerhouse.
The great city of Birmingham is the city of Chamberlain and the birthplace of municipal government and municipal enterprise. It is the city of 1,000 trades; the workshop of the world. It is a city that, to this day, has immense strengths and potential, but it is a city with high unemployment. The bitter irony is that, just as the economy is strengthening, there is an acute and growing skills shortage. I see that in my own constituency of Erdington, which has the eighth highest unemployment rate in England. The city is ambitious and, with our partners, we want to go for it at the next stages, not least because Britain cannot succeed through London and the south-east alone.
Historically, Labour has been the party of devolution—Scotland, Wales and London. I have always believed in the dynamic role of local government in driving economic growth. I was a founder member of one of the first enterprise boards in Greater London back in the 1980s. Indeed, together with the Secretary of State, we piloted the Heseltine project in the west midlands in 2012. What that demonstrated was a real enthusiasm for the city region agenda.
The strong view within the region is that there is now an historic moment of opportunity, and we want to seize that moment with both hands. We want to see the economic success of the region and also what can be delivered through the West Midlands Combined Authority—a somewhat clunky title but an appropriate one nevertheless. We want to build upon our strengths, such as the automotive sector. We want to provide ladders of opportunity at the next stages. We are going to have 10 years of major construction, so we want to ensure that those without work or an apprenticeship can get both.
We also want to pursue a wider agenda through the combined authority. This is not just about jobs, apprenticeships, homes and transport; in the words of Stephen Rimmer, who has been seconded to Birmingham from the Home Office, it is also about people and wellbeing. Let me give one brief example. In July I co-chaired a summit of all the local authorities, together with West Midlands police and other agencies, on a highly effective strategy to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse. We will now roll it out across the region, through the combined authority, as part of a wider strategy to tackle vulnerability in the west midlands. That is effective inter-agency working.
If I am enthusiastic about the potential at the next stages—and I am—there are three problems. First, the Government cannot empower and then impoverish. In Birmingham we have already seen £700 million of cuts to our budget, and we are facing a further cut of £200 million. Already £2,000 has been cut for every household in Birmingham. I must say that there has been grotesque unfairness in the approach, when we look at what has happened in, for example, the leafy shires of east Cheshire or Surrey. At the next stages, Birmingham will struggle to cope with cuts of up to 40%. I therefore urge the Government to think again, including about the fairness of their approach.
Secondly, the local enterprise partnership, together with the seven leaders, has submitted an ambitious bid to the Government. However, in the words of one Conservative colleague, the response thus far has been derisory. Therefore, the offer at the next stages will be key, both in its own right, to enable us to do great things in the west midlands, and also to bind in those who would otherwise say, “Why should we take part if there are peanuts on offer?” Again, those are the words of a Conservative colleague.
Thirdly, the Bill stands localism on its head. I had the pleasure of working with the current Secretary of State when the Localism Act 2011 was going through Parliament—I remember those 20 sittings in Committee with great fondness. Therefore, I cannot understand how the Government can reconcile what they said then with what they are saying now. They are now saying, “We will set you free to be the master of your own destiny, provided you do what we tell you to do, and in this case it’s the imposition of a metro mayor.” When I compare that with European examples, such as Bologna, Rotterdam and Barcelona, I simply do not understand why the Government should take such a position.
I will make two brief points in conclusion. First, I think that police and fire services logically sit within the context of a combined authority. I think that the Home Secretary has been right to say that has to be by agreement, but it is also crucial that local people, police forces and police and crime commissioners are consulted, because there are real problems with boundaries, coterminosity and local accountability. The voice of local people must be heard if police and fire services are to be included in the new arrangements.
Secondly, in the little time remaining I want to make a point about Sunday trading. There is already provision for limited Sunday trading. The Association of Convenience Stores is right that what the Government are proposing fails the family test. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is right that shop workers would have to work when they do not want to. The proposal would threaten many local stores and disrupt local communities on a day when they want peace and quiet. I urge the Government to drop the proposal and keep Sundays special.
Let me say at the outset that I believe in the principle that, as far as possible, decisions should be taken at the level of government closest to the people who those decisions will affect.
After local government reorganisation in the 1970s, a Greater Manchester county council was created that brought together the 10 local authorities around the city of Manchester. It was not seen as a great success and was abolished a few years later, in 1986. It was seen as an artificial creation. However, we are now seeing, in effect, the recreation of that body, albeit by a different process and with a different name. We now have a Greater Manchester combined authority. We already have an interim mayor covering the area of the same 10 authorities that together made up the Greater Manchester county council. The problem that my constituents have with the whole concept of a Greater Manchester council is that they do not see themselves as living within a county of Greater Manchester. It is an artificial construct. Very few say that their address is Bury, Greater Manchester; they say that it is Bury in Lancashire. In Ramsbottom, people still ask why they were separated from their historical roots in Rossendale valley.
On Bury Council, which covers my constituency and that of Bury South, there are 51 councillors. Across the 10 local authorities that together make up the Greater Manchester combined authority, there are no fewer than 645 councillors. It is therefore no surprise when people ask me, “If 645 people can’t sort things out for us, what difference are 646 going to make?” It is a difficult question to answer. Very few of my constituents think that the answer to their particular problem will be the creation of a new tier of local government. Recreating that new tier above the existing 10 councils creates the danger of powers being devolved down to the new tier rather than down to where they could go if the new tier had not been created. Thus we finish up with decisions being taken further away from, rather than closer to, the people who are affected by them. I hope that safeguards can be included in the Bill as it passes through its later stages—for example, to provide a clear mechanism for a council to leave a combined authority, should it so choose, without being penalised for doing so.
Fortunately, I do not have to rely just on anecdotes and the many conversations I have had with my constituents to know what the people of Bury think about the idea of having an elected mayor, because back in July 2008 they voted in a borough-wide referendum, and they rejected the idea by 15,425 votes to 10,338. I would hazard a guess that the margin would be even greater if the referendum question related to the whole of Greater Manchester. I support the idea of my constituents having a direct say on this proposal in such a referendum.
The Bill is largely technical, so let me deal briefly with some of the detail within it. I believe that the new mayors, if we are to have them, should be elected by the first-past-the-post system. Whichever candidate gets the most votes should be elected. That is the tried-and-tested method of elections in this country, and I see no need to change it.
I do not believe that 16 and 17-year-olds should vote in these local elections. Let me give just one example of the unintended consequences of such a move. If someone votes in local elections, it is reasonable to assume that they should be paying council tax. A single parent with a 16-year-old living at home would, at present, be entitled to a 25% single person’s discount on their council tax. If their son or daughter gets the right to vote, should they not then lose their 25% discount and have to pay their council tax in full? This has not been fully thought through.
I hope, for the sake of my constituents, that this Bill does bring about the benefits that have been suggested, but I do not think that many of them will be losing much sleep about it. For all that we get worked up about it, they want to see real improvements in the services they receive rather than tinkering about with the mechanics of local government.
I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate. I want to support the Bill and the principles at its heart, and to join many Labour colleagues in paying tribute to the Secretary of State for the way in which—with the guile, cunning and charm for which he has become famous—he has pursued the principles we are debating. This afternoon, I want briefly to encourage the Secretary of State to be more flexible on the one hand and more ambitious on the other.
I was not actually born in a town hall, although at times it felt like that. I am the son of a local government officer who, inspired by the practical idealism of the new towns movement, spent his career in town halls around the country. I grew up in a home in which the practical idealism of the Attlee Government was very much part of the atmosphere. I support the Bill not because of that upbringing, but because of my experience as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, in No. 10, in the Treasury and, most importantly, as the first Minister for the west midlands. Every lesson that I learned in that time in government taught me that decisions are made faster and better if they are taken locally.
Many Members of the House will have seen the glory that is the new New Street station. For years, Whitehall ran around the issues, ran away from the issues and failed to get the funding in place. It was only once we had a Minister for the west midlands that we were able to get people in a room, bang heads together and make sure that the deal was done. Four or five years later we can celebrate exactly what can be done when we get power out of Whitehall and vested more locally.
I want the Secretary of State to be more flexible in his approach to metro mayors. As a keen student of local government history, he will know that we only ever make incremental progress in this country. If we can encourage more power to leave Whitehall by encouraging authorities to come together, we should not let the issue of metro mayors get in the way, but just get on with it.
The real message I want to give the Secretary of State is that he needs to be more ambitious. The Bill strengthens his hand in relation to local councils in this country, but not in relation to other Departments. When I was Chief Secretary, we invented the new concept of Total Place, which showed the ideas and savings that could come from putting services together. I was also the chair of the Manchester Whitehall group, and I had to negotiate with other Departments for the powers we gave to Manchester. I can tell the Secretary of State that that was like drawing teeth. If he is to make the impact we think he could, he needs powers in relation to other Departments to force them to give away the powers that will make the difference locally.
I will illustrate that point with a few comments about my home town of Birmingham and the combined authority of the west midlands. As the Secretary of State knows, the challenge we face is that wealth per head in our region is 20%, or about £4,000 a year, below the national average. Our knowledge economy—the jobs of the future—is actually shrinking, not getting bigger. In fact, it has 2,000 fewer jobs than it had before the recession, whereas other regions, such as the north-west, have about 35,000 more jobs. We can expand opportunity for the people we serve only if we can create a bigger knowledge economy for the years to come.
We therefore need more powers locally over science, skills and start-ups. First, on science, I want our region to be the enterprise and engineering capital of the country, but our universities currently draw just 3.5% of their income from the science budget. We need a bigger science budget and a bigger budget for the work that universities and industry can do together, and we need our combined authority to be able to shape those projects locally for the years to come. We have great firms, such as Jaguar Land Rover, and the serious gaming industry around Coventry, but at the moment we do not have enough resource or power to put together our university powerhouses with our industrial powerhouses to do great things for the future.
Secondly, we need more powers on skills. We need to create in the west midlands a German-style dual-track system that would allow our young people to take an earn-while-you-learn route up to degree level skills. Right now, just 200 young people in the west midlands are on such a route to a degree level skill, including just 70 in the great city of Birmingham and just 10 in Wolverhampton. We should be giving at least half of our young people an earn-while-you-learn route to a degree. That would be in line with Government policy, but we cannot do it because we cannot bring together apprenticeship agencies and colleges, we cannot co-ordinate with academies and university technical colleges, and we do not have much latitude to co-ordinate with universities. We could pull that together in a new system in the west midlands, if only we had the power and resources to do so.
Thirdly, we need more power to support an entrepreneurial revolution in our region. That was always the way in which we made our fortune. A new business is opening every 43 minutes in the west midlands. Up in Manchester, 20% more businesses are opening than in the west midlands. We need to be able to deliver more enterprise training and more start-up loans. Those are the kinds of powers that we need to make a difference.
That is why I say that the Secretary of State needs to be more ambitious with the Bill. He needs more powers in relation to other Whitehall Departments if he is fully to achieve his ambitions. If we get that right, there is a great deal more that we can do. There is no better example than Sir Albert Bore, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) praised earlier, of what can be done. I hope that the Secretary of State gives us the powers to get on with the job.
I listened intently to the shadow Secretary of State’s response to the Secretary of State. He suggested that the devolution agreements so far had been imposed on local communities by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can only speak from our experience in Cornwall, which is of a rural area that has advanced a significant way into the nuts and bolts of the detail of a deal. We are way beyond aspiration. I believe that there will be a Cornwall deal.
I assure the House that that deal comes in response to the long-standing desire of the Cornish people for a greater say in key decisions and greater control over the delivery of public services such as transport, health and economic regeneration. Cornwall Council, health leaders and the six MPs have been intensely involved in the development of the Cornwall deal with the Secretary of State, not the Chancellor, and it does the good people of Cornwall and all those who have worked so hard to get where we are today a disservice to suggest that it has been imposed from the top down by the Treasury.
As a Cornwall MP, I have good reason to welcome the Bill. Our keenest challenges in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly are addressing the wage gap with the rest of the UK and bringing meaningful integration between health and social care. Cornwall should no longer accept its low-wage economy. Our low wages harm people’s ability to access the housing they need, encourage an exodus of young people as they seek well-paid jobs elsewhere, reduce the money that people have to spend in our town centres and hamper efforts to provide well-resourced community facilities and services.
What the Bill allows and the Cornwall deal achieves is a greater resolve than ever before to tackle the well-documented deprivation in Cornwall. They provide the tools to address low wages by giving local elected representatives and business leaders the necessary powers, tools and resources to create the skills and jobs we need. In Cornwall and on Scilly, we welcome that and relish the opportunity to use the expertise and goodwill that exists locally to sort out the problem of our low-wage economy.
More than ever, we need the meaningful integration of health and social care in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. The current scene is confusing and wasteful, and patients are not getting the care and support that they need and deserve, and that could be available to them. The Cornwall deal brings all those who are concerned around the table. Already, work is being done to understand how services can be integrated, patient care improved and resources concentrated where they are needed most. The deal builds on pioneering work that is already taking place to integrate health and social care, particularly by the Penwith pioneer project in my west Cornwall constituency. It is my belief that the Bill will increase the pace of the development of integrated services.
Finally, Cornwall Council has led the way over recent years in devolving responsibilities to town and parish councils. The problem is that there seems to be a habit of devolving responsibilities with no funds attached. There is an appetite among town and parish councils to take on services so that they can be delivered closer to home. I would welcome it if the Government took the lead, through the Bill, in enabling local councils to cluster together, if they choose to do so, to take on services and receive the funding that they need to deliver them for the people they serve.
I will start by breaking the habit of a lifetime and agreeing with some of the contribution made by the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). I also urge the Secretary of State not to get too carried away with identity, and I will let him into a secret: I am a proud Mancunian by birth, and also a proud Dentonian. I suppose I am a Greater Mancunian, because I was born two months after the local government reorganisation. Many of my constituents will have allegiances to their old historical counties. Someone who lives in Denton and Audenshaw in my constituency is Lancastrian, but someone who lives in Dukinfield is from Cheshire and proud of it. Someone who lives in Reddish, Heaton Chapel or Heaton Norris in the Stockport part of my constituency has dual identity, because they started off in Lancashire in the 20th century, and were transferred to Cheshire when the area became part of Stockport county borough. People identify with their old historical communities as much as they do with the reality of local government administration on the ground.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Bury North in that when the Government of the late Baroness Thatcher abolished the old Greater Manchester Council—along with other metropolitan county councils and the Greater London Council across the river from here—she did not do so to create a patchwork of unitary government. The then Government recognised that it was impossible to create unitary government in the metropolitan counties because some functions had to be carried out at county-wide level. We ended up with a hotch-potch of joint boards: the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority, Greater Manchester waste disposal authority, Greater Manchester fire authority, and Greater Manchester police authority. There were still functions at county level.
The difference was that in many respects those bodies were less accountable than the old Greater Manchester Council which, for all its faults, at least had directly elected representation. The problem with joint boards—we see this today with Transport for Greater Manchester—is that although they include councillor representatives, the district councils do not hold those councillors or that joint body to account. In some respects, having some level of direct accountability at city region level makes sense.
My concern is about the accountability of the individual. I accept that the mayor will be accountable to the electorate every four years in local elections, but the difference between the London model and that proposed in Greater Manchester is that a small Assembly at London level holds the Mayor of London to account. It has a call-in procedure and can question the Mayor, but I do not see where that function lies in the Greater Manchester model. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that he expects the call-in procedure and key procedures on cabinet decisions at local government level to apply to the mayoral model for metro mayors, and I look forward to him fleshing that out.
Part of the problem with a combined authority—certainly the Greater Manchester model—is that each of the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester will have an executive portfolio. They are the Executive, and there is nobody to hold them to account. There is no clear process to call in cabinet decisions that affect one or more metropolitan districts in Greater Manchester.
My hon. Friend is making excellent points, as did the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), with whom I found myself in agreement for the first time in my 10-year parliamentary career. The key point is the lack of accountability, which will not be improved in the ways we are looking for. Transport for Greater Manchester has been doing a major infrastructure project, and my constituents are at the end of their tether about the lack of accountability. They and I do not know who to go to, and it has been a disaster. My hon. Friend’s point about joint bodies is right.
I am glad my hon. Friend mentions Transport for Greater Manchester. One of the functions that will be passed to the mayor is transport and the regulation of the bus network. I very much welcome and look forward to that. I have to say, however, that I hope it is done in a better way than some of TfGM’s current franchising arrangements. We have a deregulated bus system, but one area over which TfGM has responsibility for setting a network is school buses. Just this term, we have the bizarre situation whereby TfGM has awarded the school bus contract for Fairfield school—where, incidentally, my daughter studies—to Stagecoach for the mornings and Belle Vue buses for the evenings, and neither will accept the other’s tickets. TfGM has set that contract and I think it is absolutely barmy. Quite frankly, if it cannot get it right with a school bus service I really worry about its capacity to set the whole network in Greater Manchester. I therefore hope we get better accountability and decision making.
On devolution of health, my one concern is this: who is ultimately accountable for the NHS in Greater Manchester? It is not clear from the memorandum of understanding signed between the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and the Government. The mayor seems not to be part of that memorandum at this stage and I hope very much that that is reviewed. If I were an NHS provider in Greater Manchester, to whom do I look to make the decisions? Is it NHS England, the combined authority, the mayor, or am I looking in all directions? That lack of clarity really needs to be sorted out, so we have clear levels of responsibility.
My hon. Friend, a fellow Mancunian, is making an excellent impassioned speech about devolution. We are in favour of the devolution package, and the interim mayor, Tony Lloyd, will have powers over transport, business rates, skills retention and spatial planning. However, the problem as it stands is that the people of Greater Manchester do not know where the health portfolio is going to sit. Who will be accountable? At the moment, it will be one of the 10 local leaders. The devolution deal, as currently put forward by the Government, is not joined up.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need absolute clarity from the Department of Health. I understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be having those discussions, but before devolution takes place Greater Manchester MPs need clarity.
On fire and rescue, the intention in Greater Manchester is for police and crime commissioner functions, and, eventually, fire and rescue, to go to the mayor. That might require an amendment to the Local Government Act 1985, which set up the Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority. I do not see anything in this Bill relating to that. Perhaps it can be dealt with by a statutory instrument. I hope the Secretary of State will confirm that the intention is still to devolve them.
I want to make a plea about local government funding. Greater Manchester has agreed to a pooling and sharing of business rates. I very much support that, because some parts of Greater Manchester have more potential to grow the economy than other districts in the county, and it is right that we share that wealth across the whole of the conurbation. The funding is still very important, because we have a low council tax base. Unless there is a stratospheric increase in business growth, we will not fill the gap. That is where Ministers’ plans might fail.
I am pleased to rise in broad support of the Bill not only as a Member of Parliament for Hampshire, an area that has put forward a proposal for a combined authority, but, like many Members, as a former councillor. I served as deputy leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, representing a ward within my constituency, and saw at first hand the potential local government has to deliver for local people.
The borough council invested its resources, on behalf of taxpayers, into regeneration schemes, and I was pleased to sign off a number of projects bringing a plethora of new businesses to Basingstoke, ranging from a market-leading Waitrose and John Lewis at Home combined store to a small Costa Coffee drive-through. In making those investments—I stress that they are investments, not spending—the borough council was able to keep its council tax, which is unchanged for six years, the sixth lowest in the country while having the sixth highest spend per head.
My hon. Friend knows from his distinguished service as leader of a borough council that it is absolutely right for local councils to do their best by their local communities. Indeed, the Hampshire combined authority is doing what he says. It states:
“We will live within our means”.
That is embedded in its proposal, and that is one reason why I want further devolution of powers. Councils should be able to take responsibility for their own funding, and local people should be able to shape the future of their area.
As Hampshire’s proposal recognises, it is of the utmost importance to have control over planning and infrastructure, too. The Hampshire combined authority proposal states:
“We will protect the local character of our diverse area”.
Combined authorities provide a great opportunity for Government to devolve more planning powers to a local level. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. As the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) has said, combined authorities should be able to set out new strategic plans identifying broad areas where housing growth can be developed in a timely fashion, where new homes will genuinely support growth by supporting economies that are underperforming, and where infrastructure investment is required to unlock the right development.
As a fellow Hampshire MP, I am delighted that my hon. Friend has been able to speak. Does he agree that the Bill will enable us to work with the Hampshire authority to build infrastructure, particularly a fast railway, which will help the southern part of the county?
My hon. Friend is a passionate champion of faster railways, and I agree that it is important not only that we build the right homes in the right places at the right time, but, crucially, that we have the right infrastructure. She makes her point very well indeed. I will come back to infrastructure in a moment, because it is a very important issue.
The Secretary of State has said:
“We are determined to end the hoarding of power in Whitehall”.
I commend that, but it should apply to Bristol, too.
The Hampshire combined authority proposal says:
“We will build more homes”.
In return, instead of a planning inspector deciding whether or not an appeal is justified, we should trust local people to monitor and review decisions made in their own local area. Combined authorities should be able to set out that important open spaces between settlements are maintained by restricting the growth of some towns and villages ever outwards, preventing distinct communities, each with their own unique charm, from becoming urban sprawl. And yes, combined authorities should be given powers over green belt, including the ability to create new green belt, providing certainty about the future to residents and communities as part of a development deal.
I have always been clear, however, that I want brownfield development to be prioritised, instead of greenfield being developed unnecessarily. There is plenty of brownfield land in my own constituency and in neighbouring areas, although it is not all being promoted for development at present. I would like North East Hampshire to become a beacon of top-quality, 21st-century, architecturally mighty brownfield regeneration. It is such a shame to see rundown buildings, but my constituency has such an opportunity. I genuinely believe that the demographics and geography of North East Hampshire mean that communities could be transformed for the better, uplifted in look and feel, and improved in quality of offer. That will happen through assembling landownership in the centre of communities, building iteratively through an area and sticking to a common vision.
To return to my hon. Friend’s point, the Hampshire combined authority proposal states:
“We will invest in infrastructure”.
It is clear that infrastructure improvements are an absolute necessity, and Government has a role in that part of the equation. Whether the land is brownfield or greenfield, infrastructure is critical in ensuring that these developments not only provide homes for our friends and children but take the opportunity to improve the way of life for existing residents. Whether the land is brownfield or greenfield, development should not come before infrastructure. That is why I welcome Hampshire councils’ proposal, which specifically sets out a 10-year transport investment fund to be used significantly to improve our roads and public transport. That is a good start, but in planning our future we must also look to the past. As I mentioned a moment ago, we should think about the existing infrastructure deficit and how it can be mitigated so that existing residents end up with a better deal.
It is only right that infrastructure should be delivered alongside any new development rather than communities being left hoping for improvements in the future when our roads are already jammed and our trains are already crammed. I urge the Secretary of State to consider how infrastructure deficits can be remedied through devolution and how communities can secure infrastructure improvements ahead of agreeing to development—whether through strategic plans, local plans or neighbourhood plans—so that they are confident that infrastructure will be delivered, as that has too often not been the case. There is another way to fund infrastructure, of course. If regeneration is led by combined authorities and by local government, the profit that local government can make from redevelopment if it owns the land allows reinvestment in infrastructure or for the benefit of taxpayers. That is particularly important with brownfield sites, since sites might not be viable after taking into account a developer’s profit if they are also required to pay the community infrastructure levy and section 106 at the normal level.
Through that vision of active local government, brownfield regeneration will genuinely benefit local people rather than simply the shareholders of a developer through improved infrastructure and lower council tax. I strongly believe that local government has a role to play in outlining how it wishes comprehensively to improve its built environment.
That takes me to compulsory purchase orders. I believe, perhaps unusually for a Conservative, that CPOs can be in the public interest, and they should be streamlined. Through devolution, there is a great opportunity to do that. The national infrastructure plan identified that it was critical in making available more brownfield land.
Let us be ambitious about devolution. Let us devolve powers to local councils to decide the future development of their area. Let us reform compulsory purchase powers to kick-start brownfield regeneration and improve communities for residents new and old. Let us enable that much-needed infrastructure for existing communities, and, above all, let us deliver devolution that has democratic roots in the community, in keeping with the core purpose of devolution—greater power for local people and a greater Britain for all.
I shall support the Bill on Second Reading. It follows closely some of what the Liberal Democrats were proposing through devolution on demand, which was also advocated by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), although we would like to go further by offering a menu of powers that local authorities could take, perhaps without needing to go through the bargaining and bartering process that has taken place with the city deals. We welcome the Bill, but we would like to go further. We have consistently supported devolutionary measures over many years, from the Scottish Parliament through to the changes in Cornwall.
I am enthusiastic about the Bill, but I would not say that I was violently enthusiastic, as one Conservative Member did earlier. My enthusiasm is tempered by what is happening to local authorities’ budgets, which are under huge pressure. I am sure that this is true for all Members in the Chamber this afternoon, but my local authority, having made as many savings as possible though initiatives such as combining back-office functions with other local authorities, is now having to make some serious and more challenging decisions about libraries and youth services.
As I said, we will support the Bill on Second Reading. I am surprised at the position taken by the official Opposition, and I am afraid I agreed with those senior Labour Back Benchers who expressed surprise and concern that it might be more about opposition for opposition’s sake than about concrete concerns. This is genuine devolution on offer, and local authorities should be willing to grasp it.
I wish to comment briefly on some of the amendments made to the Bill in the other place. Greater accountability was built in, which is essential, particularly if there are to be many more elected mayors. I hope that the sort of scrutiny one sees in London, with the London Mayor and London Assembly, will happen for elected mayors in combined authorities. I do not want to be suspicious of what the Secretary of State said earlier, but he seemed to be saying that elected mayors would not be imposed, but in subsequent questions, the look on his face suggested that perhaps there would be some imposition. From the discussions behind closed doors, which others have referred to, it seems that there will be a requirement for elected mayors to be adopted. I agree there is a fundamental question about what sort of governance structure an authority puts in place if it does not have an elected mayor but, as I said earlier, combined authorities should be able to decide that question.
Indeed, and that is not something I would support. It should be for the combined authorities to decide.
I do not think the Secretary of State mentioned votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, which are provided for in the Bill and are my reason for supporting it on Second Reading. Whether we support it in future stages, however, will depend on what he intends to do about amendments around the imposition of elected mayors, votes at 16 and 17 and allowing Bristol, for instance, to vote in a referendum to get rid of its elected mayor. If people are not happy with a governance arrangement, they should have the power to change it.
I want to stress our concerns about the concentration of power in elected mayors. The Secretary of State will know that under the first-past-the-post system, one party often ends up controlling an authority, and potentially all the combined authorities, even though the percentage of votes cast for it should not give it a majority. One of the central questions is how to ensure that the powers of the mayor are checked by the appropriate mechanisms.
I am pleased with what Lord Warner, Lord Patel and Baroness Walmsley did at the other end to make it clear that NHS standards would apply, because we needed some certainty about that.
In conclusion, however, whether our support continues into Committee will depend on what the Secretary of State intends to do about some of the positive changes made in the House of Lords around elected mayors, votes at 16 and ensuring greater accountability for the proposed new governance arrangements. The Bill is a positive development, but there are still some areas to watch.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill, and like several before me, I do so to highlight specific reservations that if left unaddressed could lead to significant problems on the road ahead. I wish to speak candidly about these proposals and urge improvement while there is still time. I also speak on this matter with a degree of direct experience of local government within Greater Manchester, having served as a councillor on Stockport borough council prior to being elected to this place.
Speaking as a former councillor, I firmly believe in strong and accountable local government, and believe that many services and powers can best be decided on, provided to and voted on geographically close to the people they affect. Too often, Westminster is seen as too remote or out of touch to do an effective job in that regard. To this end, I believe that appropriate powers should be devolved to local people where they are clearly of benefit to, and demanded by, local people. I am sure that this is what the authors of the Bill intended at its inception, as well as to deliver on a manifesto commitment to “devolve powers and budgets” in order to deliver local growth. In its current form, however, I feel that in places it falls short of this aim and in other respects goes too far. It also raises important constitutional questions about which I am currently uneasy.
The Bill would enable the creation of elected mayors for combined local authorities to exercise budgets and powers relating to transport, housing, local business, skills, health and in some cases policing and planning. These powers will be both drawn up from constituent local authorities and drawn down from central Government, and in the case of Greater Manchester, would result in a command of a portfolio in excess of £6 billion a year. This makes the new Mayor, and others to follow, the most powerful politicians in England outside Westminster and Greater London. It is right, therefore, that such a post should be chosen by, and answerable to, the people.
The Bill proposes a system for electing this new Mayor in 2017—you can’t say fairer than that. However, colleagues from outside Greater Manchester—and, I dare say, a few people who live in Greater Manchester—may be surprised to learn that although the Bill is only having its Second Reading today, this new Mayor of Greater Manchester is already in place and has been in office for four and a half months. At the end of May, the interim Mayor was appointed by a handful of councillors—the leaders of the 10 metropolitan boroughs of Greater Manchester. The successful candidate was Tony Lloyd, the Labour police and crime commissioner for the county. His opponent was Labour’s Lord Smith of Leigh, himself the leader of Wigan council. Neither candidate published any manifestos, did any campaigning; made any public appearances or answered any questions from voters or journalists. The decision was taken at a meeting held in private without any public involvement. The only hustings were behind closed doors at four events where colleagues of the two men—fellow Greater Manchester politicians—could ask questions, and even those had to be pre-submitted in writing.
It appears, sadly, that the democratic revolution that the Bill is meant to create does not at this stage involve much democracy. Happily, however, that point was not totally lost on the interim Mayor himself. As quoted by The Daily Telegraph in May, he said:
“There is no sense that what we're delivering for the people of Greater Manchester is owned by them and believed by them to be in their interests, and we’ve got to change that.”
How we are to “change that”, however, is not clear. Unlike in London, there will not be an elected assembly holding the interim Mayor or his elected successor to account. Unlike in London, there will be no statutory public question times, where anyone can turn up and ask the Mayor a question. Unlike in London, almost nobody in Greater Manchester even has the faintest idea of what is happening.
Important questions are still to be answered. How powerful will the new mayors be in relation to their boroughs or in relation to Members of Parliament? Will the Secretary of State be able to confer more powers on mayors at a later date? Will this require further legislation? Will those in this House or local councils, or even voters, get the opportunity to support or resist these future transfers? What are the safeguards against metropolitan district powers being transferred to the elected mayor? Is there any provision for these councils to have a mechanism whereby they can withdraw powers without penalty? Can we include strengthened safeguards for metropolitan districts to have the power of veto?
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s speech. If he is against the imposition by his Government of an elected Mayor on Greater Manchester, would he have preferred, in common with some other hon. Members, to have a referendum Greater Manchester-wide on this issue?
The hon. Lady anticipates a future paragraph in my speech; if she will wait with bated breath, she will have her answer.
The questions I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be addressed and revised in order to make these measures acceptable. So far, the matter of devolution to Greater Manchester and the creation of a directly elected Mayor has been very much distant from the general public. Elected by nobody, scrutinised by nobody, known by nobody, and paid a fortune, controlling an even larger budget, the new interim Mayor carries a distinct air of illegitimacy. Of course, those are just my concerns, speaking as an MP with a conservative approach to constitutional affairs.
As I said at the outset, I am in favour of the devolution of appropriate powers when they benefit, and are demanded by, local people.
I must say that I have found very little enthusiasm among my constituents for the creation of another tier of government at any level.
One way of settling this question would be to test it by means of a referendum in Greater Manchester. Presumably other cities could follow suit, and could express their will emphatically. I know that this is not a new idea—it has been circulated by others who are cautious about these proposals—but so far it has met with resistance, which naturally raises the suspicion that one reason why voters have been cut out of the process is the fear that they would make the wrong decision.
We should remember that, in 2012, referendums on the introduction of elected mayors were held in major cities across the country. The people of Manchester rejected the idea, amid concerns about “an elected dictator”, as did all other cities apart from Bristol; and the portfolio of the Bristol Mayor is but a sliver of that which is proposed for Greater Manchester. There should be serious reflection about this, and the Government should explain why the needs for a referendum now, to enact the proposals in the Bill, are any less great than they were in 2012. Indeed, since the people of the city of Manchester and the borough of Bury—mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall)—rejected directly elected mayors in referendums, many might ask why this mayor is being forced upon them.
Let me end by saying, perhaps surprisingly given the tone of my speech so far, that I will apprehensively support the Bill’s Second Reading. I stress, however, that significant amendments need to be tabled in Committee and on Report to address these serious concerns and head off mounting disquiet among all parties and all regions about the powers in the Bill and the precedents that they set.
If I have ruffled any feathers on this side of the House this afternoon, I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me. I stand here as a loyal member of the Government’s party, fortified by the manifesto on which I stood. Page 13 of that document—which was roundly endorsed by more than 11 million people in May—states:
“We will devolve far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors.”
I merely ask this: where, so far, has that choice been for the people of Greater Manchester, and when is it going to come?
I should declare an interest, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I welcome the debate, and I welcome the shadow team’s involvement in a slightly larger remit including a constitutional convention. I think that if we were to look closely at other models of an upper House, or a bicameral system, we could discover a great deal about the regional differences to which many Members have referred today.
Let me say a little about some of the other points that have been made by Members on both sides of the House. First, I share the considerable reservations that have been expressed about Sunday trading and the impact that it might have. Secondly, let me draw Labour Members’ attention to something of which they may not be aware. A voluntary tourist levy has been introduced by the London borough of Hackney, and I suggest that they have a look at it, because it is a great example of the way in which a business approach can occasionally be combined with people joining in voluntarily. The levy is spent directly on such functions as the cleansing of the borough.
I wanted to make a couple of points about the question of mayors, which was raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg). There is a predominance of male mayors, and I think we should look at that. I do not think enough women are either council leaders or mayors, and I suspect that that is why I was invited to become the vice-president of the LGA. When I last looked, 88% of council leaders or mayors in the country were men, and I am sure that very few of them are black or ethnic minority.
We also need to look at the possibility of fixed terms, because in some areas there will always be a Labour mayor and or there will always be a Tory mayor. In such areas, having three fixed terms might be a way of slightly loosening things up for people coming through who want one day to be the mayor. We need to be brave and consider that, even though it is not an easy topic to raise with people who currently hold the role.
I wish to address the three key areas, the first of which relates to capital budgets and housing. There is no reason why we have to wait for this Bill to go through; we could easily allow councils to borrow to build homes. If the Government really want to be radical and non-ideological, I suggest they try a Treasury-approved scheme whereby certain councils that are keen to build homes, perhaps in London and the south-east, are permitted to do so. That would get around our forever lifting borrowing caps and things; we could just allow certain schemes to come through. The all-party group for London is examining a particular scheme and will bring that to the Government’s attention. In parts of the country where housing is not such an urgent issue, we might be able to consider, for example, certain transport capital projects, so that we are being innovative and not waiting for this whole process to go through. We could look at Treasury-backed schemes to undertake transport projects in parts of the country where housing is not the key capital issue.
My second point is about skills. In the London context, the LEP is not best practice, because the scale does not work; it does not connect to local communities. Perhaps it does in Manchester or in other parts of the country—I do not know enough about that. On skills and employment, local boroughs—large unitary authorities—that have a billion-pound turnover are big enough to have an LEP of their own. We should be a bit more ambitious than what is currently on the table in respect of skills and unitary authorities.
My final point is about the health revenue stream. There is currently no incentive for a local government leader to do any prevention whatsoever; there is not enough money so why do it? We have to consider a mechanism whereby when it comes to the end of February, local council leaders are doing the right thing because they know it is the best thing for the public purse, because the saving goes back to the NHS. We have to think of a way of being really creative so that local authority leaders are doing the right thing on prevention, rather than being penalised because they are doing prevention, which is slightly more expensive; they spend more money and it saves the NHS money, so there is no recycling there of the budget. I wonder whether our very clever civil servants could think about getting together with the Department of Health to carry out some experiments on that.
I also wish to raise three issues of governance in the London council context. First, voluntary committees are currently considered capable by Departments of receiving appropriate delegations and funding as part of the devolved settlement in specific service areas. We need to be given reassurances that the governance framework matches what we need to do because, as I said, London is of such a scale that the Manchester model does not quite fit, but neither does one of sub-regional partnerships.
My second point relates to the issue of the Mayor versus the boroughs. It is not a party political point, because this is just how it works. We need to ensure that voting rules do not preclude the protection of minority interests; a 50% plus 1 arrangement would not provide enough protection between boroughs or between boroughs and the Mayor. That needs to be looked at in more detail.
Finally, joint committees remain capable of being entered into and being left by individual authorities rather than by external direction, so there is a bit of an opt-out—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I warmly welcome the Bill, which places my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is a friend in more ways than one, in a very great tradition of Conservative municipal reformers. It is worth remembering that a great deal of the architecture of local government as we now know it is due to Conservative radicalism. We can trace this back through the work of Richard Cross, Disraeli’s Home Secretary, the work of the Salisbury Administration and the creation of county councils, as we know them, in the Local Government Act 1888, and the creation of the forerunners of the London boroughs through the municipal reform legislation of the 1890s. They were all the result of Conservatives who were prepared, where necessary, to shake up the mix a little when they realised that the existing structures needed to change, to be built on and to be reformed.
If my right hon. Friend looks at some of the debates then, as I had the chance to do, he will see that Salisbury’s Home Secretary, Ritchie, was told that the vestries were all doing perfectly nicely and there was no appetite to change them, that people would be very happy with that, and that the idea of a London-wide council was most dangerous because the rates were much lower in Paris, as the Paris city council existed only for the discussion of communistic principles. One or two things have changed, I suppose, and my experience of London council leaders takes me nowhere near that route.
Those who want to use local government as a dynamic force sometimes have to fight against a degree of institutional inertia. We sought to do that in the previous Government with the Localism Act 2011 and with the reform of local government finance. The Bill is a further step on the road. The Secretary of State was right to talk of it as a suite of powers that are being given. There are those who may say that some powers come with conditionality attached, but it is up to the councils concerned to decide. If they want that devolution, it is not unreasonable to accept the condition of direct accountability that goes with it, so I have no difficulty with the Government’s proposal in that regard. If councils have so great an objection to a directly elected chief executive, which has worked perfectly well in London, they do not have to apply for devolution. That is the simple answer. Enlightened self-interest will, I am sure, make any sensible council willing to apply.
My own experience of London government has been that the traditional format of London-wide governance in the Greater London Council did not succeed, whereas a much slimmer, more strategic Greater London Authority with a directly elected and accountable Mayor—a direct focus point for the people of London, and a direct focus point for inward investors to London—has worked, particularly when collaborating with the second-tier authorities. That is the model that the Government are moving forward and we should endorse it.
The reason I intervened on the Secretary of State earlier about the financial powers is that it is important that we see this change also in the context of the very important announcement at my party’s conference of the return of the business rate to local government. The two go hand in glove, although they are not legislatively linked, because the creation of good-size combined authorities creates the critical mass for those authorities to work as economic drivers. It is accepted that we will have to raise funds for that economic investment. They will have the size and scale and, if they are sensible with their use of the retained business rate, the ability not only to invest directly but, for example, to promote further the already fledgling municipal bond market, which would be regarded as the norm in most other advanced democracies, but which we have lacked in the United Kingdom.
Reference has been made to the undoubted need under the new financing system to have some form of equalisation. We all accept that. A very interesting piece of work has been done through the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance which suggests that it might well be possible to do that equalisation not necessarily on a single national basis, but on a sub-national basis. If, as I hope is the case, we see combined authorities and other authorities voluntarily pooling their business rate receipts because that makes sense, particularly if the combined authorities are to be based upon natural economic units so that the development area is not likely to be in the area of one single constituent authority but within the combined authority, the logic then for pooling business rates is all the more enhanced. That provides the critical mass to bo