[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant Documents: Oral evidence taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee on 12 October and 10 November 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 the Government’s response, Cm 8998.]
Further considered in Committee
[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
Governance arrangements for local government: entitlement to vote
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause 21 stand part.
New clauses 3 and 9.
I look forward to an interesting discussion this afternoon. I hope it will be similar in tone to the discussion we had on the previous day in Committee and that we are able to explore issues of concern to hon. Members. I hope that in the bulk of cases we find consensus, areas on which the House agrees, on the devolution agenda that I think many of us believe to be in the interests not just of this place but of our constituents—the people we represent who send us here to do the work we do.
I wish to oppose clause 20 and I shall also speak to clause 21 and new clauses 3 and 9. Clause 20 was inserted against the Government’s wishes following a lively debate in the other place. It amends section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 by lowering the minimum voting age from 18 to 16 for the local government franchise in England and Wales. That means that 16 to 18-year-olds could vote in all elections based on this local government franchise. In England and Wales, those would include local government elections, police and crime commissioner elections, elections for the Greater London Authority and Mayor, and elections to the National Assembly for Wales. The amendment would also mean that 16 to 18-year-olds could vote in local neighbourhood planning referendums, council tax referendums and referendums on local authority governance arrangements.
I have considered carefully the arguments that have been set out in earlier considerations of the Bill, both here on Second Reading and in the other place. I am of course also aware of very similar arguments that have been made in relation to the franchise in Parliament’s consideration of the European Union Referendum Bill— a Bill that I follow closely for reasons of personal interest.
I agree with the Government’s view—I do not think the voting age should be lowered at all—but will the Minister give at least some consideration to the idea that there is a distinction between a normal election and a referendum, given the permanence or longer period for which a referendum would hold sway? Again, it is not a view I entirely agree with, but I think there are some colleagues even on this side of the House who would make a distinction between the two. Perhaps he could go into some detail on why the Government feel that that distinction should not be made.
My hon. Friend tempts me to go off topic. The European Union Referendum Bill has had a debate on this matter and has come to a conclusion to express the will of this place on the age of the franchise. I know this issue is of interest to a number of Members. Referendums are different from elections of other sorts, but I do not think that the difference is such that the concession should be made, certainly not through the vehicle of this particular Bill.
The Secretary of State has at least indicated that there is a debate to be had about lowering the voting age and I wonder whether, secretly, he might actually agree with the proposition. Will the Minister explain what the dangers are of reducing the voting age to 16? The world did not cave in when people were given the vote at 16 in the Scottish referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman can speculate on whether the Secretary of State might agree or not. I can tell him that I certainly do not, but I recognise there is a time and a place for such matters as this to be debated. I will set out some of my thoughts on the appropriateness of the Bill or otherwise for that debate today in the comments I will now come to, although I feel that this is not necessarily that time and place, as I will explain.
Does the Minister understand that there is a lot of desire to see an extension of participation in our processes? My Select Committee produced a very fulsome report in the previous Parliament, which outlined proposals such as electronic voting and votes for 16 to 18-year olds. The Minister’s position is very clear: he does not want to do this at the moment. However, will he consider the possibility, as we devolve power to local government, that, in certain discrete pilot areas that request it, there could be experiments with the 16 to 18-year-old franchise?
I admire the creativity of hon. Members who wish to find ways to pursue this matter. I do not feel that it is appropriate to do so in this the Bill, for reasons I will go on to explain, but I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. It is undeniable that there is a debate to be had on the issue. There are views on both sides of the argument. It is, I think, the view of nearly all right hon. and hon. Members that we would like greater participation and involvement in our democratic processes. Whether lowering the franchise is the right way of going about it is rather less clearly agreed across the House. Indeed, it is an area about which I have significant reservations. I have, however, considered carefully the arguments set out with regard to the Bill.
Will the Minister confirm that we did not place in our manifesto any wish to change the voting age, so we have no manifesto mandate, and that when Labour was in office for 13 years with big majorities it never thought it a good idea to change the voting age?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. Conservative Members did not stand on that proposal in the manifesto. Opposition Members from a variety of parties did so. It may be argued, therefore, that this issue has been decided by democratic processes already. However, I recognise, as I have said, there is a debate to be had. We may come to different conclusions, but my contention today is that, valid though that debate may be, the Bill is not the vehicle through which such a change should be delivered.
I would like to make a little progress and then I will give way to more hon. Members who want to have their say on this issue.
Lowering the voting age to 16 for local elections in England and Wales would be a major change to the fundamental building blocks of our democracy. The right starting point for making such change would be that those democratically elected to represent the people of this country should consider all the issues involved. Before such a step, we shall seek the views of those we represent. We should seek to recognise where public opinion stands on the issue, and how to maintain and strengthen confidence in ensuring that elections are free and fair. We should carefully discuss the issues and, having weighed the arguments and recognised where consensus and opinion lies across the country, only then would we decide whether or not to make such a change.
Does the Minister agree that if we were to go down the route of 16 to 17-year-olds having the vote, logic would dictate that they should also be able to stand for Parliament, stand as a councillor or stand as an elected mayor? Is that something he would support?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There is a need for a joined-up approach in such matters. There is a need to ensure that any change is fully considered in the context of all the other things we place age restrictions on—all the other things that we do or do not allow people to do at different ages, often for very good reasons. Whether that is buying cigarettes or alcohol, using a sunbed, voting, standing for Parliament or driving a car, we have different ages for different things for long-established reasons. Those ages are not set in stone, but they are in place for a very good reason in principle. There is a debate to be had, but the conclusion of that debate is not foregone.
I very much agree with what the Minister says, particularly the way in which he has enunciated it. Particularly in the past 10 to 15 years, in many areas—smoking, using sunbeds, drinking—the age limit has been raised rather than lowered. Insofar as we can try to have a sense of working together and agreeing a single age, if anything we are moving in an upward rather than a downward direction. This leads to the question—I say this only because my late mother’s first vote was in an East Germany election in the 1950s and the electoral age in that part of Europe at that time was 14—why not 14, 12 or 10, rather than 16, as is being proposed?
My hon. Friend tempts me to go further down the path of debating the specifics of different ages, but he makes a fundamental and important point: we have different ages for different things. These matters need to be considered fully and in the round. Change should not be brought piecemeal or as an adjunct to a Bill. It would have to be done in a carefully considered way after proper and thorough debate.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but then I really must move on.
How does the Minister, who accepts that there is a debate to be had, intend to facilitate that debate so that we can have it perhaps during this Parliament?
I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman says, but this debate has been ongoing for some time in our democratic process. I said earlier that at least two Opposition parties stood with it in their manifesto, but they were not successful at that last election. I am talking today about the progress I want this Bill to make. His point is well made, but it is not going to tempt me to go further today.
A broader issue underlies the clause: the transition from childhood to adulthood; the interplay between the different limits, age ranges and restrictions, which we have discussed already; and the desire to further the cause of democratic engagement and how to do it. This complex issue deserves the most serious attention, but it should not be an adjunct to this Bill on devolution, the purpose of which is to meet our manifesto commitment and deliver for areas affected. For those reasons, we do not support the clause. It is not the right place to insert such a significant legislative and constitutional change.
After careful consideration, we have concluded that clause 21 should stand part of the Bill. It was also inserted in the other place, against the then wishes of the Government, and removes section 9NA of the Local Government Act 2000, which currently provides that, where a council has been required to hold a mayoral referendum under an order made by the Secretary of State, and where that referendum has been successful and a mayor has been duly elected, the mayoral model of governance cannot subsequently be changed except by a further Act of Parliament. This provision currently applies solely to Bristol.
On behalf of all parties in Bristol, I am grateful for the recommendation to retain clause 21, which, as I said the last time we discussed this in Committee, enshrines a fundamental democratic principle by giving the people of Bristol continued control over the system for determining their elected representatives.
Absolutely. That reflects the consensus we are trying to build around the Bill. Ours are the very actions of a listening Government working on a cross-party basis to deliver in everyone’s interests. Bristol was the only city to vote for a mayor in the mayoral referendums held in May 2012. We have considered the argument made, among others, by the hon. Lady—that the people of Bristol should have the same opportunity as those in other areas to petition for a change in governance arrangements. Clause 21 effectively places the people of Bristol in the same position they would be in had the mayoral referendum in 2012 been triggered by a resolution of the council or the receipt of a valid petition. Having carefully considered these arguments, we are prepared to see the people of Bristol in this position, and hence we support clause 21.
The Minister has spoken about consensus. Of course, one issue, connected with the Bill, on which there is great consensus is the Government’s proposals to amend the Sunday trading laws—the great consensus being that we should not do it. Will he confirm that those proposals are not coming back, either in this Bill or in any other way?
I hear the hon. Lady’s comments, although I am not sure to which clause we are here to debate she refers. More generally, we always talk to hon. Members across the House and listen to the views of the public at large to determine the best course of action, but the issue she raises is not before the Committee this afternoon. As to what will happen in the future, she tempts me to go further than I can.
New clause 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), would amend section 36 of the Representation of People Act 1983 to allow local areas to alter their systems for the election of councillors. His enthusiasm to push the boundaries of devolution, throughout our consideration of the Bill and more generally, has not gone unnoticed by Ministers or, I am sure, Opposition Members. When we last met in Committee, he flagged up the proposition that councils should be free to decide their own electoral arrangements in conjunction with their people. He suggested they should be able to have a debate and come to a decision.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s interest in voter engagement, which, as I have said, we all share, and I note the devolutionary nature of his proposals, under which a council could decide its own electoral system. That said, he will be unsurprised to learn that I have some concerns about how such complex proposals would work in practice and whether there is an appetite for them. Local councillors are currently elected under the first-past-the-post system, which is a well-recognised and straightforward system, as we saw in the outcome of the referendum to change to the alternative vote system in 2011. I accept that that was in relation to UK parliamentary elections, but two thirds of voters chose first past the post over the alternative vote, suggesting there is no public consensus for change.
I have concerns about the potential confusion caused by the possibility of voting systems changing from one poll to the next. We can imagine the pressures that councils and councillors could come under in considering the systems they might wish to employ. There would be a natural desire to consider, or attempt to second-guess, whether there might be some political advantage in adopting a different set of arrangements or sticking with the existing tried and tested ones. Even if appropriate safeguards could be introduced, which themselves would add to the complexity of the arrangements, the practical processes of switching voting systems would still be complex and costly. For example, a change to the single transferrable vote could, in many cases, require a major re-warding of an entire local authority area.
These concerns might not be insurmountable, but the proposal represents a fundamental change to the building blocks of our democratic processes and would require significant consideration, development and consensus, and I am clear that the Bill, although both devolutionary and enabling, is not the right vehicle for such a change. On raising the proposal last time, the hon. Gentleman suspected that the idea might need to brew a little. He will sense from my comments that I believe it has brewed nowhere near enough. I therefore ask that he does not push it to a Division.
Finally, I turn to new clause 9, which would introduce a requirement through regulations for local government electors in an area to approve certain boundary and structural changes via a referendum. The boundary and structural changes involved relate to the establishment of new unitary local authorities, the merger of authorities or movement from one authority area to another. Clause 16 already gives the Secretary of State wide regulation-making powers regarding structures and boundaries. The regulations will allow modification of the existing processes, as provided for in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, for making changes such as merging councils or moving to more unitary structures. These regulations can be made only where all the affected councils agree. I doubt it would be right to include a requirement for a referendum, and nor do I believe referendums to be sound practically in this context.
Our democracy is founded on the traditions and principles of representative democracy, which have served us well and stood the test of time. In general, we believe that decisions on public matters are made most effectively by those democratically elected to represent the area affected. All past experience suggests that this is the case with changes to local authority boundaries and structures. The democratically elected local representatives are best placed to take local decisions on these issues. Of course, they will want to take account of the views of the electorate—of those who live and work there, of businesses, of those who contribute to the life of local communities. However, how they seek these views—the kind of consultation exercises they undertake—is a matter for them. It is not for the Government to tell elected representatives how to undertake their roles.
Hence, it would not be right to require referendums—to require a particular way of ascertaining the views of local people—or for the result of such an exercise to determine the decision on proposed boundary or structural change. The referendums envisaged by the new clause would not be sound in practice. First, it would only require a referendum in a part of the area—the part becoming unitary, for example—yet such a change would have implications for the surrounding areas, so I am not clear that this approach would be right in any event. Secondly, such boundary and structural changes are almost invariably part of some wider reform. To present the question as simply one about some council structure or boundary risks being misleading and oversimplifying complex arguments. With those explanations, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), after what I am sure will be an interesting discussion, will not press his new clause.
In conclusion, I have explained that the Government cannot support new clauses 3 and 9. We are content for clause 21 to stand part of the Bill, but we are opposed to clause 20.
I am glad to hear that the Government are in listening mode. I am pleased about clause 21, but I hope that the Government will now listen to the arguments in favour of clause 20 and reducing the voting age to 16 in local government elections.
More than 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds in the UK are denied any part in our democratic process. In recent years, pressure has developed to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16. The Electoral Reform Society has argued for it, and in 2006 the Power commission was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to find out what was happening to British democracy and why people were disengaged from politics.
The commission drew up a set of proposals and recommendations to increase political participation and it presented them in a final report, “Power to the People”. One recommendation was to lower the voting and candidacy age to 16, with the exception of candidacy for the House of Lords. The Power commission explained its recommendation thus:
“Our own experience and evidence suggests that just as with the wider population, when young people are faced with a genuine opportunity to involve themselves in a meaningful process that offers them a real chance of influence, they do so with enthusiasm and with responsibility. We recognise that few people take an interest in a sphere of life or an area from which they have been deliberately excluded.”
Will the hon. Lady remind us why during 13 years in office up to 2010, Labour, which had big majorities, never wanted to do this?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Sometimes pressure needs to build up before change is made. It is correct to say that the Labour party did not make this change in 13 years in office, but I am going to talk about the build-up of pressure and the involvement of various organisations. We saw in the Scottish referendum that there is a real feeling that our young people are affected by the democratic process. To take the right hon. Gentleman’s arguments to their conclusion, we would never make any changes whatever, simply because we did not do so in a previous term of office.
I was quoting the Power commission on young people feeling excluded and therefore not being interested in politics. The commission proposed that reducing the voting age to 16 would be an obvious way of reducing the extent of such exclusion for many thousands of young people. It would increase the likelihood of their taking an interest and participating in political and democratic debates if they actually felt that they could influence such debates.
Logically, if 16-year-olds have the vote, they should clearly be entitled to stand as candidates as well. Is the hon. Lady comfortable with the idea of a 16-year-old being able to get elected to a position that has executive authority?
The Power commission did not recommend that 16-year-olds should become candidates, but rather that they should have the vote to raise their awareness of the democratic process so that when they reach an age when they are eligible to become a candidate, they will have played some part in the democratic process.
During my election campaign, I spoke to hundreds of young people who were not only enthused by the political process, but actively wanted to engage in it. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is an absolute myth that young people are somehow not interested in politics, not capable of holding public office and not capable of voting? Does she further agree that the right thing to do is to give them that right to vote, so that we can bring about more engagement by young people, which is more actively needed than ever before at this time in politics?
I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The 16-year-olds I know and speak to are very keen on the idea of greater political involvement. We keep going back to the Scottish referendum, but it was amazing to see so many young people participating in that very important debate. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them on an issue that was going to affect them. I feel that we have some 16-year-olds who are engaged in the political process, yet we deliberately exclude them from it.
Clause 20 will allow anyone over the age of 16 to vote in local elections. The amendment was won by Labour and the Lib Dems in the House of Lords; it was not in the original Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I believe it would be a retrograde step to remove this clause.
Clause 20 would have effect for all elections in England and Wales that currently use the local government franchise—for the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly, for police and crime commissioners, and for elections to the National Assembly for Wales and the European Parliament.
For years, there has been a consistent demand from young people for votes at 16. At 16, people become adults and take control of their own futures. They can leave school, work full time and pay their taxes, leave home, get married, join the armed forces—
I accept that young people cannot do all those things at 16 without the consent of their parents, but the fact is that they can still do them.
Contrary to popular myth, young people are interested in political issues—from climate change to racism, and from education to crime. I meet young people in my constituency, as I am sure do many of my hon. Friends, who are studying politics at A-level and are completely engaged with the political process, yet this country still denies them a vote.
In a democracy, voting is the fundamental way for our young people to express their opinions. As the Power commission report put it,
“it is worth remembering that we enlist 16-year olds into the armed forces and expect them to pay taxes if they are earning so they should be able to participate in the selection of those who govern them. We believe that any reform to encourage young people to engage politically will be very severely limited in its effectiveness while the current constitutional, party and electoral arrangements remain in force.”
Given that Government decisions will naturally affect the future, it is arguable that the young are more likely to be affected than older people by some political decisions.
Preventing 16 and 17-year-olds from voting sends a signal to them and to society that their views are not valid or important. The next generation of voters are the first to have received citizenship education in schools, yet they are being denied their full rights as citizens. This seems particularly unfair and unjust. At a time when some people feel that politics is not relevant to them, young people need to be encouraged to take part in democracy, not kept out of it. The Scottish independence referendum showed once and for all that 16 and 17-year-olds are more than capable of taking important political decisions. If young people are registered early and get into the habit of voting, we will see lasting improvements in turnout.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) secured a Westminster Hall debate on this very subject last year. She argued that the time was right
“to open the democratic system even further and to include 16 and 17-year olds among the people who are able to vote.”
“We cannot expect 16 and 17-year-olds to contribute to our society through various means—economically, physically, intellectually or socially—in a capacity where we recognise them as an adult, but then give them the democratic rights of a child… We trust our young people to contribute to society in many ways, so we should start to give them their democratic rights.”—[Official Report, 6 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 7WH.]
I fully support that. I urge all Members to support the retention of clause 20, and to welcome our 16 and 17-year-olds to the democratic process.
Let me now say a few words about clause 21. I am very pleased that, on this issue at least, the Government are listening. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), who is present, and who has done a great deal of work in connection with the issue of the Bristol mayor. As I am sure everyone knows, Bristol was the only city to vote “yes” in the mayoral referendum of May 2012. I think it fair to say that the current mayor has proved to be a somewhat controversial figure, but my hon. Friend has rightly said:
“This isn’t about whether you support the current mayor or would prefer a different person in that office, it’s about whether citizens of Bristol should be allowed a voice about the post itself.
It’s about democracy, and the right of Bristol people to decide how they are governed seems to be a fundamental aspect of democracy.”
She has also said that
“citizens of Bristol deserve the right to reverse that decision at any point”,
and that the Lords amendments
“offering Bristolians that opportunity are to be welcomed”.—[Official Report, 14 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 372.]
I bow to my hon. Friend’s superior knowledge of the issue of the Bristol mayor, but I am very pleased that all Members seem to support clause 21, and I look forward to our giving Bristolians the same democratic rights as those enjoyed by the rest of the country.
I strongly support the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords, and I am very disappointed that the Government are proposing to remove it from the Bill. The Minister’s argument seemed to be “It is all horribly complicated, and this is not the right place to discuss it”, but I could not identify any particularly strong argument for why it is the wrong thing to do, and why 16 and 17-year-olds should not be given the right to exercise the vote like the rest of us.
I was interested by the intervention from the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field). Indeed, I was encouraged by it, because the right hon. Gentleman appeared to recognise that there was some argument for 16-year-olds to have a say on some issues. However, he drew a distinction between referendums and voting in elections on a continuing basis. I think that he should go with his logic. If there is a case for young people to have a say in the future of their country, or on other big issues that are put before the country in referendums, surely there is a case for them to have the right to a say on who is elected as their local councillor. How on earth can the right hon. Gentleman sustain the logic of allowing a vote on a big national issue of enormous import while denying a vote on representation in a local community?
In fairness, I think that I should clarify my position. I am against the idea of reducing the voting age, period, but I also think there is some logic that suggests that a referendum is a somewhat different sort of plebiscite from a routine election. It may happen only every 40 years, as in the case of the European referendum, and, although I suspect that we shall not have to wait quite so long for the next referendum in Scotland, there was at least the prospect of our waiting for a generation or more in connection with a referendum-related issue.
A broader point, however—and I thought the Minister had made it fairly clear—is that this would be a pretty important change in our franchising arrangements. It is not a measure that should be sneaked through as an additional clause in a Bill emanating from the House of Lords, or, indeed, from the House of Commons. It requires a broader analysis. I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s view—and I hope that we shall engage in some fertile discussion during the course of this Parliament —but the notion that a major change can be brought about simply by an amendment during the consideration of a Bill does not strike me as the right way to deal with the entirety of our franchising system.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is an important issue, but I hope he will understand that those of us who are convinced of the case for change should take every opportunity to argue that case, and this is one such opportunity. Because we recognise that the world will not cave in, and that many positive consequences will flow from the measure, we see no difficulty in including it in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) referred to the Scottish referendum, which engendered an extraordinary level of engagement among young people. I do not think that any Conservative Member suggested that the young people who voted in that referendum did not know what they were talking about, or that they ought not to have the right to a say. If Conservative Members believe, on reflection—given what happened in the Scottish referendum—that it was right for those young people to have a say, they should stick with the logic of that, and accept the case for including the measure in the Bill.
It is interesting to note that the turnout among people between the ages of 16 and 18 was very high in Scotland. I understand that, according to an Electoral Commission report that was published in December 2014, the turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds was 75%, as opposed to 54% among 18 to 24-year-olds. Given the opportunity, they engaged in the democratic process very readily, and I think we should all welcome that.
The right hon. Gentleman has made some fair points about the analysis of participation in the Scottish referendum, but does he not agree that that referendum was an almost unique event in terms of the enthusiasm that it engendered among all age groups throughout Scotland’s population, and that there is no immediate read-across from it to other elections and referendums?
I accept that it was a highly unusual event in terms of the degree of excitement and enthusiasm that it engendered across the population. I am simply making the point that the world did not cave in because 16 and 17-year-olds had had a vote in that referendum, and I do not think it would cave in if we gave people in the same age group the right to a say in who becomes their local representative on their local authority.
Perhaps we are more sanguine about the events of 18 September 2014 with hindsight. It might have been very different had the result been a close-run thing, and had there been any suggestion that a change in the franchise of this magnitude might have been decisive in the overall result. That clearly was not the case: lest we forget, I remind the House that the referendum was lost by 10.6 percentage points, although the SNP does not remind us of that very regularly. As the right hon. Gentleman says, the world has not fallen in, but I think that the referendum would have been a lot more controversial had the result been a very close-run thing, and had there been any suggestion that that franchise change might have had a distinct impact on the result.
I was on the same side as the right hon. Gentleman in the referendum. I am half Scottish, and I passionately wanted Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. However, I am also a democrat. I accept the will of the people following a vote in a referendum of that sort, and I accept the right of 16 and 17-year-olds to be part of the decision-making process.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is precisely because 16 and 17-year-olds had the biggest stake in the future of the country that it was important for them to have a vote in the referendum?
I think that is absolutely right, and indeed that is why I also think they should have a vote in the European referendum, because it is their continent as well as ours. They have a larger stake than we do in terms of the number of years they have on this planet so I accept the case the hon. Lady makes.
I have long held the view that this is right in principle. If someone can marry, join the armed forces and, perhaps most importantly, be obliged to pay taxes, if working, at the age of 16, then surely they have a right to a say about the level of that taxation and how it is applied by Government. It is surely actually a democratic outrage that people can be expected in our country to pay taxes but not have the right to any say over the application of them.
Surely that argument makes little sense? My daughter, for example, is currently saving up to buy a laptop computer. She will have to pay VAT. She is 13; she will have no votes. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose a 13-year-old should have a vote on the VAT issue?
No, I am referring of course to the application of income tax to people’s employment rights. To take that argument to its logical conclusion, it would of course be ridiculous to suggest that a four-year-old should have the right to vote. I also made the point that someone who can join Her Majesty’s armed forces and defend this country has no right to vote on the critical decisions this country makes. The case is clearly very powerful.
This change would also have a beneficial impact. The shadow Minister talked about the extent of young people’s engagement in politics. I would draw a distinction. All my experiences show that young people are very interested in political issues, but they are totally disillusioned with, and disengaged from, the political process, and this would be one way of addressing that.
The problem goes further. David Willetts, a highly respected former Conservative Cabinet Minister, has made a powerful case about the broken generational contract. He talks about generational unfairness. As all of us in this House know, whether or not we are prepared to admit it, that older people tend to vote in greater numbers and that drives the manifestos of political parties, which in turn drives the deal that different members of our society get from the Governments of this country. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) agreeing with that point. That problem becomes worse if young people aged 16 and 17 are denied a say and political parties are not forced to listen and think about the interests of young people when shaping their manifestos. Their manifestos will consequently address the needs of older people, which, of course, have to be met, but we also have to ensure that there is, as David Willetts says, generational fairness. That is denied by not giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.
I entirely agree that inter-generational unfairness is a major issue that all of us in the political class will have to face before too long, but is not the real problem one that would not be solved by clause 20 or reducing the voting age: the real trouble is that very few people under the age of 35 bother to vote? The turnout level, even in the Scottish referendum, for 18 to 35-year-olds is much lower than for others. The truth for any political party is that there are twice as many voters over the age of 55 than under the age of 35 and they are twice as likely to vote, so there is four times the bang for the buck, as some would say.
I think there is a progressive struggling to get out. I can tell that the right hon. Gentleman wants to support this. He sees the argument in favour and he rightly points to the low engagement of people under the age of 25, but we have to ask ourselves why. During their teenage years young people are denied any involvement in our political process. Perhaps, as happened in Scotland with the referendum, if we give them the opportunity to have their say at an earlier age and if we start to teach more about the political process in our schools, they might understand that by participating they get a greater say in society and their interests may be better met.
I am sure that, like me, the right hon. Gentleman meets many sixth-formers when he visits schools and finds that they are often extremely well-informed. It is the older generation’s attitude to the younger generation that sometimes leads to young people becoming disillusioned. When knocking on doors during canvassing I often find that young people are very progressive-minded, certainly on matters such as climate change, the poor and poverty in the world.
I agree, and I think it is condescending in the extreme to suggest that someone aged 17 is not capable of making a decision about, for example—in the context of this Bill—who their local councillor should be, for goodness’ sake. Ultimately, that is what the Conservative party is saying—that they cannot be trusted to vote to elect their local councillor.
Perhaps this would-be progressive could have a stab at answering that point. I do not think that anyone denies that there will be a minimum voting age and therefore an arbitrary cut-off, and I guess all the Government are saying is that, all things considered, including issues such as the drinking of alcohol, driving and smoking, 18 seems a pretty sensible cut-off date, rather than 16. I fundamentally believe that, as well as having a right to vote, there is a responsibility to be engaged in politics. I suspect that, again, 18 is a slightly better arbitrary cut-off point than 16—or any other number we might wish to pluck from the sky.
I accept that where we draw the line is arbitrary to a degree, but I would tempt the right hon. Gentleman to be a rebel on this, because I think that deep down his instincts are with giving people aged 16 and 17 a vote. Where his party is choosing to place that arbitrary line will deny 16 and 17-year-olds the right to elect their local councillor in their communities. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about that for more than a moment, surely he will agree that that is ridiculous.
I have gone on for too long, and I apologise for that. I urge the great right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster to have the courage of his convictions and I urge all Members to join those of us who will vote to retain clause 20 in the Bill.
I am very glad to have the opportunity to raise the rights of local residents where there is some pressure for powers to be devolved. The kind of pressure I mean is where, for instance, a rural area finds itself under the control of an urban council, or an urban area is under a rural council. I am not going to raise the issue of the Isle of Wight as there is very little pressure now for a change—in fact, that change took place as long ago as 1996—but let us look at somewhere I am not so familiar with. Let us look at Lancashire-Yorkshire and where the county boundary was. Some areas have been part of Lancashire, but only since 1973. Before that, it was clear that the ancient boundaries were of Yorkshire.
Another example is Bradford and its environs. In Bradford there is quite a difference between those areas which are rural and those which are urban. Many would like to see changes to their own council, rather than the metropolitan council which is now in charge, and many others would not. It seems to me there would be almost no problem in allowing the more rural areas to have more responsibility for their own local affairs, for instance in planning, libraries and housing. They could take over all responsibilities for their area, but it seems to me more likely that they would want to take on the district responsibilities, leaving others, such as education, with their metropolitan brothers.
It used to be the case that it was necessary for effective metropolitan districts to have all their responsibilities over a reasonably large area to enable them to cut costs. Now, however, things have changed. It is possible now for a district council or a unitary authority to share offices so that, for instance, a chief executive could be the chief executive of two, or even three, councils. That is perfectly normal in rural areas, and I propose that the possibility could be made available in urban areas. So it would not be unduly difficult to introduce those benefits. It should be made possible to do so, but there should be no compulsion. To allow such a responsibility to be devolved, I suggest that a referendum should be held. If a majority of people in an area vote yes, the change should take place, giving them direct control over their local area. That would make it easy for local people to express their preference, and I am very much in favour of that.
I rise to speak in support of the comments made on this side of the House about votes for those aged 16 and 17. It is odd that the House of Lords, the unelected Chamber at the other end, should have become the defender of the right of young people to vote in this country. Its wise intervention should be maintained, however, because our experience in Scotland of having 16 and 17-year-olds voting has been very positive.
It is interesting that, since my election to this House in May, every opportunity to discuss the matter has been met with the comment that it is neither the time nor the place to debate it. I should like to ask the Minister when the right time and place would be, because we should seize every opportunity to have these discussions. There is always a good time to get people involved in politics and in voting. Starting at local level, where local services are delivered to young people, is a good way of getting them involved because their schools, youth services and other local services are relevant to them at first hand. They can see what local government does and get directly involved in it.
It is interesting that lots of Members have mentioned the referendum. In my experience, speaking to young people during the two years that we spent debating the referendum was incredibly positive for their engagement. Anyone who saw the debate that filled the Glasgow Hydro arena with young people will remember that it was one of the best in the whole referendum campaign, with incredibly engaged young people making incredibly valuable contributions.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, has become converted to this argument. She has said:
“I’m happy to hold my hands up and say I changed my mind. I’m a fully paid-up member of the ‘votes at 16’ club now, for every election. I thought 16 and 17-year-olds were fantastic during the referendum campaign. I can’t tell you the number of hustings and public meetings I did, and some of the younger members of the audience were the most informed.”
That tells us everything we need to know about how young people ought to be engaged in politics and why they need to be.
I am looking for a bit of consistency in the argument for reducing the voting age for 16 and 17-year-olds. Would the hon. Lady suggest that, if they had the right to vote and the right to stand for election, we should also consider reducing the age limit for alcohol consumption and for driving?
There would be public health concerns relating to the alcohol question, and those are entirely different from democratic concerns. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) talked about party manifestos. If 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote, perhaps they would campaign on issues such as those, but we do not know whether that is the case because they do not have the right to vote in elections to this place or to local authorities, which have licensing powers.
The Minister mentioned that parties that included votes at 16 in their manifesto had not been particularly successful. I have to correct him on that. The Scottish National party had that proposal in its manifesto and we were very successful. I know that 16 and 17-year-olds welcome and respect the rights and responsibilities that we have placed on them. If they are going to be subject to taxation, it is perfectly reasonable that they should have the right to vote.
Turning to some of the other matters under discussion, I am a huge supporter of the single transferrable vote, the system under which I was elected as a councillor. The introduction of that system made a huge difference to the local authority of which I was a member. Before the introduction of STV in Glasgow, only four of the 79 councillors represented the SNP; when the STV election was held, we fielded 22 candidates and we got 22 candidates elected.
The result of these changes can be seen in the Electoral Reform Society’s report of 2010, entitled “Working with STV”. It used Glasgow as a case study and interviewed officers from that council, one of whom stated that Glasgow “has a council again”. There is proper debate and scrutiny. More recent work by the Electoral Reform Society on the need for electoral reform has found that councils that do not have a system such as STV can become one-party states with uncontested seats and, in the worst cases, there is a risk of corruption due to the lack of scrutiny of council decisions.
My understanding is that England already has lots of multi-member wards, with officers elected on a rolling basis. Those could be retained while introducing STV, which could mean fewer elections—providing a saving to the public purse—while bringing a good element of local democracy, accountability and proportionality to those councils. There would not necessarily be a need to change any wards, but a great deal more democracy could be brought into them.
May I ask what would happen in single wards? All but one of the wards in my constituency are single wards.
I appreciate that English local government is complex and has lots of different examples. In Scotland, we had a boundary review which looked at ward sizes and shapes. My experience, having been elected under that system in 2007 and re-elected under it in 2012, is that it works very well for our constituents, because they always have three or four representatives to take their issues to. At the very best, they have a good team of people standing up for their local area. At worst, if they have a councillor who is not doing what is needed, people have an option to go to two or three others who can represent them. That is good for our constituents, and they see the value in that arrangement. A process whereby local councils could decide on this issue by themselves might need further thought, but it is an interesting idea. If the House is not going to take any action to introduce STV, we should certainly allow local government to do it if it wishes to. There would be great value in that.
I also want to talk about local referendums. They are a good thing for local democracy and responsiveness to issues involving a local demand. People should be able to have a say on the matters that affect them, and that could also include the question of revising the way in which local government is set up in their area. The local government arrangements might not be working well, for example, or there might be no clear lines of accountability. There has been a great deal of debate on those issues in relation to elected mayors and to how the rest of the process below them would need to change.
On that point about elected mayors, does the hon. Lady believe that the great cities of Scotland should have the opportunity to hold referendums to decide whether to have an elected mayor?
People are not generally calling for that in Scotland. There has not been that tradition there.
That’ll be a no, then!
If people wanted to hold such referendums, that would be absolutely fine. Lots of councils in Scotland have petitions processes whereby people can submit arguments to the council for consideration, and if they wanted an elected mayor, that could be achieved through that process. The Scottish Parliament also has a petitions process that would allow areas that wanted an elected mayor to take a petition to the Scottish Government. So there are processes in place that would allow for that to happen, if there were a demand for it. However, there is no tradition of elected mayors in Scotland. In Glasgow and other local authorities, we have a political head in the leader of the council and a strong civic head in the Lord Provost or the local provost.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) asked me the question about elected mayors in Scotland, but his own Conservative Government have acknowledged that we have no such tradition, because there was no suggestion of a mayor being imposed as part of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley city deal, as is happening in other parts of the UK. His own party does not seem to think that there is any rationale for elected mayors in Scotland. The Bill provides a good opportunity to try out a number of different measures that could improve local government and make it more democratic and accountable, and I support the principles behind these amendments.
I shall make a few brief points about this part of the Bill. I spoke in an earlier debate, in which I trailed what I am about to say now. I am one of those who believes that we should allow voting at 16, but I do not think that this Bill is the correct vehicle for achieving that.
This is perhaps a case of having the courage of my convictions. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) also mentioned that. I have to tell him that people often confuse the names of our constituencies; I am often called the “Member for Norfolk North”, and I am sure the same thing happens the other way round. We are close geographically, and we also share a lot on the substance and the values in today’s debate, except that I see the courage of my convictions on engaging young people in politics as residing in doing the job properly, instead of doing it piecemeal. I shall therefore be speaking against clause 20.
As the Minister said, something coming merely by way of an amendment is not the way to do the job well. As other Conservative Members have said, omitting that much larger debate about the various ages of majority in this country does not do the job well either—and nor does failing to speak to young people as we take on this debate. After all, if it is about anything, it should be about them.
Although we do not necessarily agree on where this issue should go, I sense that we agree that if this step were to be taken—I do not necessarily support it—it should be after a proper process, in a way that will last the test of time and have real support across the House and from those affected by it. It should not be done via an amendment to a Bill that is about something altogether different.
I agree with the Minister, but perhaps I may put the question back to him, as the right hon. Member for North Norfolk did, by saying that perhaps we could discuss when we ought to have that debate. A natural follow-on from the various contributions that have been made today is moving on to have that debate properly. As I suspect the Minister will tell me, that is for another Minister to answer, but no doubt he will pass the message on.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) cited comments by Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland. I am a big fan of hers, as many people are, even if the hon. Lady is not among them. As she said, Ruth Davidson has changed her view on votes at 16. Like me, Ruth Davidson also comes to the conclusion that this ought to be done for all elections. It does a disservice to this important reform to do it piecemeal and not to give it the respect of a full debate.
Does the hon. Lady accept that in the absence of any other Bill, strategy or proposals for bringing about votes at 16 and 17, this measure is the best we can do in the meantime and that we should support every step to move the issue forward?
I am interested in that argument. Although it is for the Minister to give the real answer on that, rather than for me to attempt to give it, I think we run a risk of creating a patchwork. I do not feel comfortable with 16-year-olds in one part of the country being able to do something that their counterparts in another part of the country cannot. I am not hugely comfortable with the inconsistency, and I would far prefer us to debate this in the round properly.
I agree with my hon. Friend that this is not the right forum for the discussion on reducing the voting age to include 16 and 17-year-olds. Does she agree that if that other debate ever were to come forward, it would have to include things such as the alcohol age and whether 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to have executive power, so that there is consistency?
I agree entirely. In fact, the next section of my notes tells me to acknowledge the points made by my hon. Friend about executive power and standing for office. We should also go through all the points relating to marriage, joining the armed forces, taxation, the use of substances, criminal responsibility and the age of consent for sex. They are all items in that much longer list. Before the Minister looks at me with absolute horror for moving his Bill on to something that is not included here today, I should say that I merely make those points to make the broader debate a real one. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) said when he was in his place earlier, we need to have that debate, and we might hope to do so in the next couple of years, because the topic is important.
The hon. Lady cautioned against creating a patchwork of rights, yet of course the process the Government are undergoing with devolution is creating precisely that across our country, with different deals in every part of it. What is the danger in her having the courage of her convictions and voting with us to retain clause 20, in order to enable 16 and 17-year-olds just to vote for their local councillor? That is all we are asking for. What danger is involved in that?
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to join him in the Lobby, but I would only further trash his reputation in Norfolk if I did. Joking aside, there is a distinction to be drawn between rights that people might have in different parts of the country and public services that people might have in different parts of the country. I would describe the latter as the substance of the devolution Bill—it is about how public services can be better delivered.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would permit me to extend this point to something the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) proposes in new clause 3, which could be argued also to create something of a patchwork. I make the distinction between rights and public services, but new clause 3 brings in another category: methods of voting. I have concern about having a patchwork in that area, too. We would want consistency there, just as we would on rights, but I can see value in having innovation in public services more locally, which is why I support the Bill overall.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that it is in the nature of British constitutional reform that it tends to be pragmatic and incremental and that this opportunity in the Bill is at least a foot in the door towards what she is telling the House she believes in? Does she also recognise that this has already been done piecemeal—16-year-olds had the vote in the Scottish referendum, so she would not even be innovating with this measure?
Having been a Minister with responsibility for constitutional reform, I know well that it is often done in a pragmatic way. What I regard as pragmatic in this instance is to have this debate properly and thus respect the young people whom we seek to serve by looking properly at their rights and opportunities. That is the main thrust of my comments today.
I do not want to be seen as the champion in this House for votes at 16; I want to be seen as the champion for young voters. The technicality of the voting age is a very important signal, which we ought to be able to send to young people to say that they are valued in politics. That is the way I do politics and I am sure it is the way the hon. Gentleman does them; I would like to think it is how everybody else in this Chamber also approaches this crucial matter of democratic engagement. This important topic crucially affects a generation of people, who would indeed like to be involved in politics. It is not good enough to deal with it piecemeal and not to consider the full implications of what we are talking about.
I have a few brief points to make about what this younger generation is asking of us in politics. Political engagement has indeed changed. Demos carried out research for the National Citizens Service in which it says that we should roll up our sleeves, power up our laptops and get things done, rather than rely on the state to do things for us. My colleagues on the Conservative Benches will say, “Hear, hear to that”, because that is what we believe in. We are a centre-right party that believes in getting things done. We believe in local innovation, in individuals being self-reliant, and in helping people to take the opportunities that exist. I support this Bill in its entirety, because it promotes devolution for local areas.
What we can see in Demos’ research is a certain scepticism of the state. The state comes a fairly long way down the list—after individuals, charities and businesses—when it comes to getting things done. Young people do not look to the state alone to get things done. That can be seen in the Ipsos MORI research, “Generation Strains”, which demonstrates the scepticism with which today’s youngest generation views the welfare state, compared with older generations.
What we are seeing is an opportunity for us to embrace a whole new generation of voters; dare I say it, it is the generation to which the Minister and I belong. It is that generation that we need to be welcoming in to politics. What I am saying is that we should have the opportunity to do that properly; to change our campaigning styles to meet that challenge; and to embrace those values here in this House. We also have that opportunity in this devolution Bill, but let us respect our young people by treating their democratic rights properly in a debate that looks at the matter fully rather than off the back of a single amendment that has come from the other place without the chance to look at the issue in the round.
I am surprised, but delighted, to follow the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). She is a very important performer in the democratic constellation, having been a Minister and given evidence to my Select Committee, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which could have been the perfect vehicle for bringing forward such proposals had the Government not abolished it—that probably tells us all we need to know.
I must say that the speed of reaction by Government to proposals from the Commons has not noticeably been a problem in my 20-odd years in the House. Some might feel that there has been a constant blur of democratic innovation in the House, but that has so far escaped me. Perhaps that happens when I am not in the Chamber. I might just be very unlucky.
I say to Members: when in doubt always read the title of the Bill. This one is Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. It says “devolution” and not decentralisation. We are not saying, “Here is Whitehall handing out a bit of power, but it is on a string and we can pull it back when we like.” Nor are we saying, “Power should lie at the centre, but let us try a little experiment on a very strong piece of elastic should the simpletons who are out in the sticks be unable to administer their own affairs.”
Devolution is entirely a different concept. It is about giving power away to a more appropriate level. Therefore, devolving power is, by definition, going to create difference and best practice. Lots of people will experiment, or innovate, on how they do things to suit themselves better in areas in which it is appropriate for people in localities to do those things. A patchwork, or a differentiation, or lots of different levels of change, is at the heart of devolution in a way that decentralisation never can be. Let us read the title of the Bill and let us try to make the Bill do what it says on the tin, which is to devolve power down to the localities rather than to have the localities as a means of administration of what the centre wants. That is a very, very clear distinction, which all of us who want to talk about devolution should understand.
In essence, new clause 3 applies that principle to a number of fields, but most obviously to the electoral systems in this country. There is no longer one electoral system that applies everywhere in the United Kingdom. There is a massive diversity and plurality of electoral systems and we have decided that this is about horses for courses—I am talking about a typical British constitutional evolution. The last major one was around the way in which we elect people to the European Parliament. Then there has been change in our devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, and people are finding their way in different areas. They should be allowed to continue to change if that is what they wish to do in those areas, regions or nations. It should be a process of constant exploration. So why on earth can we not do that in the localities? With the consent of people in the localities, why cannot we try, if they so wish, to go for votes for 16 to 17-year-olds?
Given the immense power vested in the Secretary of State under the Bill—he could not be a better person to trust to use these powers, I am sure—he could use his discretion to try a pilot and see what happens and what the turnout is likely to be. Let us do a proper evidence-based analysis in a number of areas to see whether young people are interested in participating in that way. Trying to do that seems to be one of the benefits of devolution. Other places might be happy with first past the post and such a change might never occur there, but pressure might be brought to bear.
Some people say that it is wrong that there are one-party states in local government. I do not happen to be one of those people, but if we get enough momentum in a locality to say that the system should change and people say, “You know what? It might refresh us. We might do better if we had more challenge,” or whatever the logic of the argument and political debate taking place, they should try something else. Let them try an alternative vote. Let them try, if they wish, the single transferable vote. Let them be the arbiters and judges and jury about the electoral system that they want in their area.
Similarly on governance, if people wish to have a form of governance that includes a leader concept, a committee structure or a mayor, they should be allowed to try it. The imposition element—if people want to run their own affairs, they must do it in the way that the Government say and have a mayor—is one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Government’s proposal, and I do not list many. The Government say, “If you don’t want the mayor, you’re not going to get the powers.” That is unfortunate. It is counterintuitive to those of us, even the Secretary of State, who believe in devolution, and it has not done the cause any good.
If we genuinely, perhaps after one or two more Bills before 2020, get to a position where we trust local people to have the wit and creativity to devise their means of governance, they should decide whether or not they want mayoralty. The reason why only one city went for the mayoralty in the last round and the rest rejected it was partly that it was felt to be an imposition. It came close on the back of a number of elections where people had expressed a political view about who should run their locality. It was done in a clunky, clumsy way, and we can see the fingerprints from that exercise on the one that has been transposed into the Bill. That is unfortunate. Let us allow people to find a mayoralty if they feel that it is appropriate for their area. Let us allow them to test that or to experiment with it if they wish, rather than saying yet again, “You’re getting devolution, but only in the way that we in Whitehall say is appropriate.”
If, like me, hon. Members have had the opportunity to study a document about devolution, they will see that the Government are not doing any of us who care about devolution any favour at all in the way that these things are written. It is like a gathering of local officials and centralised, Whitehall officials with a very large lashing of LSD, and it is difficult for ordinary people, let alone politicians, some of whom are intellectually challenged, to understand what is meant by much of the documentation. That may be based on my errors, but I suspect, given the size of the smile on the Minister’s face, that he, too, realises that to an extent officials at local and national level have depoliticised the very thing that he and the Secretary of State have done so well in bringing the Bill to the House.
I hope Members on the Government Benches are not intellectually challenged. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when we look back at Governments of his party and of mine, we see that the present Government have done an awful lot to further the cause of devolution, and should be given credit for that effort?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is an assiduous reader of my speeches, even more so than I am, and he will see that on Second Reading and a number of occasions subsequently I paid tribute to the Secretary of State for his determination to bring devolution to its present state. It is an extremely good foundation for my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) on the Front Bench to build on in 2020.
I am surprised that we have got to this point in the debate today without anyone mentioning that devolution deals have been announced. I am surprised that the Minister has not mentioned that. I do hope word does not get back to the Chancellor about his omitting to mention the deals in Liverpool and the west midlands, in addition to the deals in Sheffield, the north-east and the Tees valley. I hope deals are rapidly on the way in my area—Nottingham/Nottinghamshire and Derby/Derbyshire. I believe there are 38 potential deals, covering up to 80% of the population.
It may seem odd for someone on the Opposition Benches—I hope I am regarded as all-party on this issue—to point out that there are large areas, Conservative areas, rural areas, county areas, that have been left out of the party. If this is to be a genuinely democratic change of the order of developing national Parliaments and assemblies—a change that will lead to a federal United Kingdom, as my hon. Friends on the Front Bench said in The Huffington Post this morning—we cannot leave our friends in the rural areas, whether they are Conservative or not, out of the equation.
It is important to find areas of agreement. Although on the issue of devolution the hon. Gentleman tempts me to go further than I am currently predisposed to go, and he would no doubt go much further than I might want to, it is important to put on record that he is right about rural areas. We have the deal with Cornwall and we are working with many other areas to reach deals which will include many rural areas in county deals. This is a process of making bespoke deals for individual areas. That means that they will be different and it will take time, but we are determined to deliver them.
I genuinely wish the Minister well in that. I am sure he has followed the debates in the Conservative councillors network over the past 36 hours as closely as I have. It is important that everyone shares in the benefits of devolution and is enabled to make the sort of decisions that they feel are appropriate, rather than those that Whitehall considers appropriate.
The Minister tells me that I am pushing the process a little too fast and a little too hard. We have had such debates since the 1830s, and people have argued that we should not rush things. Fancy giving working men the vote! Fancy giving women the vote! For heaven’s sake, if that ever happens to our democracy, what next? Now, my goodness, there is the brand new issue, which nobody has ever thought of before, of giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote. We should revel in the fact that there are people in our country still desperate to use the franchise. It should be extended to them and that should be done sensibly.
I refer the Minister to the report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I see a number of distinguished former members of the Committee, even sitting close behind the Minister. The report came up with an array of possibilities for extending participation and extending our franchise, such as online voting and 16 and 17-year-old voters. There were many other proposals, but Mr Crausby would rule me out of order, were I to venture into them. Sometimes in a political career there are moments of opportunity and they are very rare. The Minister is a young man starting out on his political career. He may not be the Minister on the next devolution Bill, which is sure to happen before 2020. I hope he is, because he will have gained massive experience from taking the Bill through on this occasion, but he should seize the opportunity to push it a little further than the officials might like. That is a political lesson that we could all share.
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Gentleman’s wise and considered words on devolution issues, even if we do not always reach the same conclusions. I am particularly interested in what might be a glimmer of agreement between us on the issue of voting age. We may not agree on what the voting age should be, but he said that any change should be carried out in a sensible way. Does he think, therefore, that a proper process should be used rather than an amendment to a Bill such as this—in other words, that there would have to be full and detailed consideration, with proper consultation taking into account many of the issues that hon. Members have raised, so that any such fundamental change, were it to be made, would be long-lasting?
I am always searching for consensus. In an ideal world, we should do this thoroughly and properly, but we are not in an ideal world, unfortunately. Parliament is the creature of Executive power, and so occasionally, when an opportunity arises, parliamentarians of any political party should always seize the moment.
This may not be the moment, but perhaps the Minister should be thinking—as we all should, particularly Labour Members—of the opportunities coming up. Next time there will be further increments of devolution. We will write devolution packages that ordinary human beings and Members of Parliament can understand. We will want to share them. We will want to enjoy, across the whole democratic family, the fruits of devolution, which, as Lord O’Neill, the Minister in the other place, said on the radio this morning, give us not only democratic change but the most fantastic economic opportunities, which Manchester has so successfully led the way on, to build economic growth for our local communities in a way that only they can take forward.
I will not press my new clause to a vote, but I hope that, above all, the Minister and my Front-Bench colleagues will start to think about what should be in the next devolution Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who makes the sensible but profound point that if services and economic development are devolved, we will not have consistency across the country. When, over the past 50, 60 or 70 years, people have argued for complete consistency in service delivery or in other parts of local democracy, it has been a cover argument for centralism, because a devolved system cannot be consistent across the ground without centralism. Consistency is never achieved because of the nature of different areas where services are delivered in different ways. Having said that, if my hon. Friend had intended to press new clause 3 to the vote, I probably would not have voted for it. I rarely disagree with him, but I will try to explain why.
I want to make two points on what has come up in the debate and two points on clause 20 and new clause 3. I cannot let it go that my hon. Friend and those on both Front Benches have said that only one city voted for an elected mayor in 2012. In fact, one of the two cities that I represent—the city of Salford—voted for an elected mayor, but the referendum on an elected mayor in Salford was not one of the 11 that were forced on people. There is a lesson there. The reason devolution to Greater Manchester is popular—an opinion poll came out this week showing 75% support—is that it is a negotiated agreement, not something that has been forced on the area. One of the reasons people in Salford voted for an elected mayor was that they had asked for the referendum by petition; it was not forced on them. It is not surprising that the other 10 cities that had referendums forced on them voted no. No constituency argued the case for elected mayors and, unlike under this Bill, they would not have been offered different resources and powers if they had agreed to an elected mayor.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who represents the SNP, said there is no desire for devolution in Scotland.
I am sorry. I will be precise: the hon. Lady said there is no desire for elected mayors in the cities of Scotland. In the context of this devolution Bill, I think that means the same thing. Obviously, I did not mean devolution to the Scottish Parliament. I suggest to the SNP that it should try it. In England, the Government have been proactive by asking the cities and, as we have heard, they have grabbed the opportunity because they have been offered more powers and resources. In essence, the hon. Lady’s argument is that of democratic centralism, which, sadly, is what is happening in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the Scottish islands requested more powers from the Scottish Government, who are now considering how to facilitate devolving more powers to them. The issue relates to the Crown Estate, over which we have no powers, although we would like to have them.
I was making the opposite argument to the one made earlier by the hon. Lady. If Glasgow, Aberdeen or Dundee were offered more powers and resources, they would grab the opportunity, as the cities of England have done. That was the point I was making.
On clause 20, I have been agnostic on the voting age. Arbitrary lines have to be drawn somewhere and I have never been completely taken by the argument that 16 is so much better than 17 or that 17 is so much better than 18. The Labour party’s manifesto said that we would reduce the voting age, so had we won the election I would have voted for it, but not particularly enthusiastically, because there are a lot of rather complicated arguments associated with it. It seems to sit oddly with the Labour party’s commitment to a constitutional convention on major changes to the constitution, and I am wary—not just with regard to this Bill, but in relation to the European Union Referendum Bill—that people are making arguments in favour of lowering the voting age in order to alter results, not because they want comprehensively to win the argument. I will therefore abstain on clause 20 when it is put to the vote.
Another reason I am agnostic on the issue of the voting age is that the argument that there is a direct relationship between people’s age and whether they get involved in elections does not seem to be based on evidence. People vote for a whole series of different reasons, including financial issues, self-interest and principled arguments over how they view the future of society, and the older they get, the more they feel that they have an interest in society. I think that the Scottish referendum was a hugely different experience because it was the future of Scotland that was being considered, so people of different ages turned out in greater numbers than they had done in elections to the Scottish Parliament and to this place and in local elections. I once massively increased the voter turnout in Manchester, not by changing the voting age, but by putting up the rates by twice the level of inflation. Believe me, that created a great deal of enthusiasm for voting, much more so than any change in the voting age.
Although such arguments are appealing, it does not seem to me that the argument about paying tax is completely convincing. The hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) made the case that very young people pay tax by paying VAT, while many 16 and 17-year-olds do not pay income tax because they are at college or not earning money. Is the voting qualification just for people paying tax? Similarly, the functional argument for voting is that people can be in the armed forces, but most people do not join the armed forces. Does that mean they should not be allowed to vote? All I am saying is that there are big questions about arguments for lowering the voting age that appear immediately appealing. We need a discussion about when to enfranchise people, but that should not be done in a Bill to devolve power and resources to parts of this country; it should not be done in a Bill to determine this country’s relationship with the European Union either.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North is an extraordinarily powerful advocate for devolving powers and resources. His new clause 3 makes the case for devolving to local government the power to decide on the voting system. I am very wary about that as a devolved function. Although the argument is sometimes made that with a proportional representation system—the single transferable vote or another proportional system—turnout will increase with people being more enthused by the different voting system, it seems to me that European elections give that the lie: the previous Labour Government had to put European elections with local government elections because the turnout was so embarrassingly low, and those are the only national elections held on a proportional system.
The real argument about whether we have PR—the alternative vote, additional Members or whatever system we want—is nearly always one of party political advantage for the party proposing a different voting system. When it started, the Labour party was in favour of PR; as soon as it got a significant number of MPs, it dropped the idea. The Liberals, who are back down to their normative level of eight Members of Parliament, are very strongly in favour of PR, as is UKIP.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the exception to that argument? The Labour party in Scotland, as part of its coalition with the Liberal Democrats, brought in STV for local government.
I am sure the hon. Lady would agree that the Labour party brought in that system so that the SNP could never be completely in control of the Scottish Parliament, and it failed.
Local government in Scotland, not the Scottish Parliament.
I am sorry. Yes, that is the one exception to my argument. In terms of local government in Scotland, however, it is fair to say that the Labour Government at the time were distrustful of the Labour party running some Scottish cities and thought that it would be healthier if its very large majorities in such cities were broken up. As it happens, I think that was a mistake.
Of course, the point about party political advantage is very strong in respect of the SNP, which no longer talks about proportional representation for representatives in this place because half the Scottish population is represented by three Members of Parliament and the other half is represented by 56. It has suddenly gone quiet on that point.
My hon. Friend said that the electoral systems will be decided by local councils under my new clause. I hope he will forgive me for pointing out that electoral systems may change only with the full consent of local people, rather than through a deal by the political parties.
I accept that that is what my hon. Friend’s new clause says, but it would provide an opportunity for political parties. For example, if the Liberals unexpectedly gained control of a council they had not led before, they could immediately move to hold a referendum to try to change the system. It would be a mistake to allow that. I think that the electoral system for local government is better determined here. It is genuinely a central function. On that basis, if it were put to the vote, I would not vote for new clause 3.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 20 disagreed to.
Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause 34
Sub-national transport bodies
After Part 5 of the Local Transport Act 2008 insert—
Sub-national transport bodies
“Establishment and constitution of STBs
102E Power to establish STBs
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations establish a sub-national transport body for any area in England outside Greater London.
(2) In this Part—
(a) “STB” means a sub-national transport body established under this section, and
(b) references to the area of an STB are to the area in England for which the STB is established.
(3) Regulations under this section must specify—
(a) the name by which the STB is to be known, and
(b) the area of the STB.
(4) The area of an STB must consist of the whole of the area of two or more relevant authorities (whether or not of the same kind).
(5) Each of the following is a “relevant authority” for the purposes of this Part—
(a) a combined authority;
(b) an ITA;
(c) a county council that comes within subsection (6);
(d) a unitary district council that comes within that subsection;
(e) the Council of the Isles of Scilly.
(6) A council comes within this subsection if no part of its area forms part of—
(a) the area of a combined authority, or
(b) an integrated transport area.
(7) An STB is to be established as a body corporate.
102F Requirements in connection with regulations under section 102E
(1) Regulations under section 102E may be made establishing an STB for an area only if the Secretary of State considers that—
(a) its establishment would facilitate the development and implementation of transport strategies for the area, and
(b) the objective of economic growth in the area would be furthered by the development and implementation of such strategies.
(2) The reference in subsection (1)(a) to “transport strategies”, in relation to the area of an STB, is a reference to strategies for improving—
(a) the exercise of transport functions in the area (whether or not exercisable by the STB), and
(b) the effectiveness and efficiency of transport to, from or within the area.
(3) Regulations under section 102E establishing an STB for an area may be made only if—
(a) the constituent authorities have together made a proposal to the Secretary of State for there to be an STB for the area, and
(b) those authorities consent to the making of the regulations.
(4) For the purposes of this Part, the constituent authorities of an STB are every relevant authority whose area is within the area, or proposed area, of the STB.
(5) Before making a proposal under this section the constituent authorities must consult—
(a) each appropriate authority (if it is not a constituent authority), and
(b) any other persons whom the constituent authorities consider it is appropriate to consult.
(6) The Secretary of State may require the constituent authorities to consult any other persons (not already consulted under subsection (5)(b)) whom the Secretary of State considers should be consulted in connection with a proposal under this section.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (5), each of the following is an “appropriate authority” if any part of the authority’s area adjoins the area of the proposed STB—
(a) a combined authority;
(b) an ITA;
(c) Transport for London;
(d) a county council;
(e) a unitary district council;
(f) a London borough council.
102G Constitution of STBs
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the constitutional arrangements in relation to an STB.
(2) “Constitutional arrangements”, in relation to an STB, include arrangements in respect of—
(a) the membership of the STB (including the number and appointment of members of the STB),
(b) the voting powers of members of the STB (including provision for different weight to be given to the vote of different descriptions of member),
(c) the executive arrangements of the STB, and
(d) the functions of any executive body of the STB.
(3) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) which include provision about the number and appointment of members of the STB must provide—
(a) for the members of the STB to be appointed by the STB’s constituent authorities, and
(b) for those members to be appointed from among the elected members of the constituent authorities.
(4) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) may provide for persons, who are not elected members of the constituent authorities, to be appointed as co-opted members of an STB; but such regulations must provide (by virtue of subsection (2)(b)) for those co-opted members to be non-voting members of the STB.
(5) The voting members of an STB may resolve that provision made in accordance with subsection (4) is not to apply (generally or in relation to particular matters) in the case of the STB.
(6) In subsection (2)(c) “executive arrangements” means—
(a) the appointment of an executive;
(b) the functions of the STB which are the responsibility of an executive;
(c) the functions of the STB which are the responsibility of an executive and which may be discharged by a committee of the STB, by an officer of the STB or by a body other than the STB;
(d) arrangements relating to the review and scrutiny of the discharge of functions;
(e) access to information on the proceedings of an executive of the STB;
(f) the keeping of a record of any arrangements relating to the STB and falling within any of paragraphs (a) to (e).
(7) The provision which may be made by regulations by virtue of subsection (2)(d) includes—
(a) provision setting up or dissolving an executive body of an STB, or merging two or more executive bodies of an STB;
(b) provision conferring functions on, or removing functions from, an executive body of an STB;
(c) provision transferring functions of an STB to an executive body of the STB, and transferring functions of an executive body of an STB to the STB.
(8) Regulations under this section may authorise an STB to delegate any of its functions to one or more of its constituent authorities (and any such delegation may be made subject to conditions or limitations).
(9) Regulations under this section may not provide for the budget of an STB to be agreed otherwise than by the STB.
(10) For the purposes of subsections (3) and (4), the “elected members” of a constituent authority—
(a) in the case of a combined authority, are the mayor for the area of the combined authority (if there is one) and those members of the authority who are appointed from among the elected members of the authority’s constituent councils (see section 85(1)(b) above as applied by section 104(2) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009);
(b) in the case of an ITA, are those members of the ITA who are appointed from among the elected members of the ITA’s constituent councils (see section 85(1)(b) above);
(c) in the case of a county council, a unitary district council or the Council of the Isles of Scilly, are the elected members of the council.
102H General functions
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for an STB to have any of the following functions in relation to its area—
(a) to prepare a transport strategy for the area (see section 102I);
(b) to provide advice to the Secretary of State about the exercise of transport functions in relation to the area (whether exercisable by the Secretary of State or others);
(c) to co-ordinate the carrying out of transport functions in relation to the area that are exercisable by different constituent authorities, with a view to improving the effectiveness and efficiency in the carrying out of those functions;
(d) if the STB considers that a transport function in relation to the area would more effectively and efficiently be carried out by the STB, to make proposals to the Secretary of State for the transfer of that function to the STB;
(e) to make other proposals to the Secretary of State about the role and functions of the STB.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for an STB to have other functions of a description set out in the regulations.
(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may be made only for functions to be exercisable in relation to the area of the STB that—
(a) relate to transport,
(b) the Secretary of State considers can appropriately be exercised by the STB, and
(c) are not already exercisable in relation to that area by a local authority or a public authority (see instead sections 102J and 102K respectively for a power to transfer such functions to an STB).
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision about how an STB is to carry out functions that it has under or by virtue of this Part.
(5) Regulations under this section in relation to an existing STB may be made only with the consent of the STB.
(6) Nothing in this section limits the power of the Secretary of State to confer other functions on an STB under this Part.
102I Transport strategy of an STB
(1) The transport strategy of an STB is a document containing the STB’s proposals for the promotion and encouragement of sustainable, safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within the area of the STB.
(2) The transport facilities and services mentioned in subsection (1) are—
(a) those required to meet the needs of persons (including pedestrians) living or working in, or visiting, the area of the STB, and
(b) those required for the transportation of freight.
(3) An STB may include in its transport strategy any other proposals it considers appropriate that relate to transport to, from or within its area.
(4) An STB must publish its transport strategy.
(5) If an STB revises its transport strategy, the STB must publish the strategy as revised.
(6) In preparing or revising its transport strategy an STB must carry out a public consultation.
(7) In carrying out a public consultation under subsection (6), the STB must ensure that such of the following persons as the STB considers appropriate (taking into account the proposals to be contained in the strategy) have a reasonable opportunity to respond to the consultation—
(a) the Secretary of State;
(b) a combined authority;
(c) another STB;
(d) an ITA;
(e) a Passenger Transport Executive;
(f) Transport for London;
(g) a person to whom a licence is granted under section 8 of the Railways Act 1993 (licences authorising persons to be operator of railway assets);
(h) Highways England Company Limited;
(i) a local highway authority (within the meaning of the Highways Act 1980);
(j) a county council in England;
(k) a unitary district council;
(l) a London borough council.
(8) In preparing or revising its transport strategy an STB must (among other matters) have regard to—
(a) the promotion of economic growth in its area,
(b) the social and environmental impacts in connection with the implementation of the proposals contained in the strategy,
(c) any current national policy relating to transport that has been published by or on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, and
(d) the results of the public consultation mentioned in subsection (6).
(9) The Secretary of State must have regard to proposals contained in the transport strategy of an STB that appear to the Secretary of State to further the objective of economic growth in the area of the STB in determining—
(a) national policies relating to transport (so far as relevant in relation to such proposals), and
(b) how such policies are to be implemented in relation to the area of the STB.
(10) The constituent authorities of an STB must exercise transport functions with a view to securing the implementation of the proposals contained in the STB’s transport strategy.
(11) In this Part “transport strategy”, in relation to an STB, means the transport strategy prepared or revised by an STB under this section by virtue of the function in section 102H(1)(a).
102J Exercise of local transport functions
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for functions that are exercisable by a local authority in an area that is, or is to become, the area of an STB to be exercisable by the STB.
(2) Regulations under this section may be made—
(a) only in relation to functions that relate to transport, and
(b) only if the Secretary of State considers that the function can appropriately be exercised by the STB.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), regulations under this section may be made in respect of a function that relates both to transport and to other matters only so far as the function is exercisable in relation to transport.
(4) Regulations under this section may make provision for a function to be exercisable by the STB either generally or subject to such conditions or limitations as may be specified in the regulations.
(5) Regulations under this section may make provision—
(a) for a function to be exercisable by the STB instead of by the local authority, or
(b) for a function to be exercisable by the STB jointly with the local authority.
(6) Regulations under this section may be made only with the consent of—
(a) the local authority concerned, and
(b) in the case of regulations made in relation to an existing STB, the STB.
(7) In this section “local authority” means—
(a) a combined authority;
(b) an ITA;
(c) a Passenger Transport Executive;
(d) a county council in England;
(e) a unitary district council;
(f) the Council of the Isles of Scilly.
102K Other public authority functions
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for functions that are exercisable by a public authority in relation to an area that is, or is to become, the area of an STB to be exercisable by the STB.
(2) Regulations under this section may be made—
(a) only in relation to functions that relate to transport, and
(b) only if the Secretary of State considers that the function can appropriately be exercised by the STB.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), regulations under this section may be made in respect of a function that relates both to transport and to other matters only so far as the function is exercisable in relation to transport.
(4) Regulations under this section may make provision for a function to be exercisable by the STB either generally or subject to such conditions or limitations as may be specified in the regulations.
(5) Regulations under this section may make provision—
(a) for a function to be exercisable by the STB instead of by the public authority, or
(b) for a function to be exercisable by the STB jointly with the public authority.
(6) Regulations under this section in relation to an existing STB may be made only with the consent of the STB.
(7) In this section—
“function” does not include a power to make regulations or other instruments of a legislative character;
“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;
(a) includes a Minister of the Crown or a government department;
(b) does not include a local authority as defined by section 102J.
(1) The Secretary of State may pay grants to STBs to cover expenditure incurred in the carrying out of their functions.
(2) Grants may be paid under this section subject to any conditions the Secretary of State thinks appropriate (including conditions as to repayment).
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
(a) for the constituent authorities of an STB to contribute to its costs, and
(b) about the basis on which the amount payable by each constituent authority is to be determined.
General Powers etc
102M General powers
(1) An STB may do—
(a) anything it considers appropriate for the purposes of the carrying out of any of its functions (its “functional purposes”),
(b) anything it considers appropriate for purposes incidental (whether directly or indirectly) to its functional purposes,
(c) anything it considers to be connected with—
(i) any of its functions, or
(ii) anything it may do under paragraph (a) or (b), and
(d) for a commercial purpose, anything which it may do under any of paragraphs (a) to (c) otherwise than for a commercial purpose.
(2) Where subsection (1) confers power on an STB to do something, it confers power (subject to section 102N) to do it anywhere in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
(3) Power conferred on an STB by subsection (1) is in addition to, and is not limited by, the other powers of the STB.
(4) Where an STB has an executive body established by virtue of section 102G, the STB may delegate to that body its function of taking action under subsection (1) (but not the function of determining what action to take).
102N Boundaries of power under section 102M
(1) Section 102M(1) does not enable an STB to do anything which it is unable to do by virtue of a post-commencement limitation which is expressed to apply—
(a) to its power under section 102M(1),
(b) to all of its powers, or
(c) to all of its powers but with exceptions that do not include its power under section 102M(1).
(2) Section 102M(1) does not authorise an STB to borrow money.
(3) Section 102M(1)(a) to (c) do not authorise an STB to charge a person for anything it does otherwise than for a commercial purpose (but see section 93 of the Local Government Act 2003 (power of STBs and other best value authorities to charge for discretionary services)).
(4) Section 102M(1)(d) does not authorise an STB to do things for a commercial purpose in relation to a person if a statutory provision requires the STB to do those things in relation to the person.
(5) Where under section 102M(1)(d) an STB does things for a commercial purpose, it must do them through—
(a) a company within the meaning given by section 1(1) of the Companies Act 2006, or
(b) a registered society within the meaning of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.
(6) In this section—
“post-commencement limitation” means a prohibition, restriction or other limitation imposed by a statutory provision that—
(a) is contained in an Act passed after the end of the Session in which the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2015 is passed, or
(b) is contained in an instrument made under an Act and comes into force on or after the commencement of section (Sub-national transport bodies) of that Act;
“statutory provision” means a provision of an Act or of an instrument made under an Act.
102O Power to make provision supplemental to section 102M
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision preventing an STB from doing under section 102M(1) anything which is specified, or is of a description specified, in the regulations.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the exercise by STBs of the power conferred by section 102M(1) to be subject to conditions, whether generally or in relation to doing anything specified, or of a description specified, in the regulations.
(3) Before making regulations under subsection (1) or (2) the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) such representatives of STBs,
(b) such representatives of local government, and
(c) such other persons (if any),
as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply to regulations under subsection (1) or (2) which are made only for the purpose of amending earlier such regulations—
(a) so as to extend the earlier regulations, or any provision of the earlier regulations, to a particular STB or to STBs of a particular description, or
(b) so that the earlier regulations, or any provision of the earlier regulations, cease to apply to a particular STB or to STBs of a particular description.
102P Power of direction
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations confer on an STB a power to give directions to a constituent authority about the exercise of transport functions by the authority in the area of the STB.
(2) The power to give a direction by virtue of subsection (1) about the exercise of a function extends only so far as the exercise of the function is relevant to the implementation of the STB’s transport strategy.
(3) Regulations under this section conferring a power to direct may include provision—
(a) for the power to be given generally or subject to conditions or limitations;
(b) for the power to apply to all transport functions or only to those functions specified or described in the regulations;
(c) about the manner in which directions are to be given;
(d) about the consequences arising if there is a contravention of a direction.
(4) Provision under subsection (3)(d) may include provision enabling the STB—
(a) to take any steps it considers appropriate to reverse or modify the effect of a constituent authority exercising a transport function in contravention of the direction, and
(b) to recover any reasonable expenses incurred in taking those steps as a civil debt from the constituent authority.
Boundary and name changes
102Q Change to boundaries of an STB’s area
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations change the boundaries of the area of an STB by—
(a) adding the area of a relevant authority to an existing area of an STB, or
(b) removing the area of a constituent authority from an existing area of an STB.
(2) Regulations under this section may be made—
(a) only if the constituent authorities have together made a proposal to the Secretary of State for the boundaries to be changed in the manner that would be provided for in the regulations;
(b) in the case of regulations under subsection (1)(a), only if the relevant authority whose area would be added to the area of the STB joins in the making of the proposal;
(c) in the case of regulations under subsection (1)(b), only if the resulting area of the STB meets the condition in section 102E(4).
(3) Regulations under this section changing the boundaries of the area of an STB may be made only if the Secretary of State considers that paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 102F(1) would apply in relation to the area as varied by the regulations.
(4) Regulations under this section may be made only with the consent of—
(a) the STB, and
(b) in the case of regulations under subsection (1)(a), the relevant authority whose area would be added to the area of the STB.
102R Change of name
(1) An STB may change its name by a resolution in accordance with this section.
(2) The resolution must be considered at a meeting of the STB that is specially convened for the purpose.
(3) Particulars of the resolution must be included in the notice of the meeting.
(4) The resolution must be passed at the meeting by not less than two-thirds of the members of the STB who vote on it.
(5) An STB which changes it name under this section must—
(a) send notice of the change to the Secretary of State, and
(b) publish the notice in such manner as the Secretary of State may direct.
(6) A change of name under this section does not affect the rights or obligations of the STB or any other person, or render defective any legal proceedings.
(7) Any legal proceedings may be commenced or continued as if there had been no change of name.
102S Incidental etc provision
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make incidental, consequential, transitional or supplementary provision for the purposes of, or in consequence of, regulations under this Part or for giving full effect to such regulations.
(2) Regulations under this Part may make different provision for different STBs or otherwise for different purposes.
(3) The provision which may be included by virtue of this section in regulations includes provision for the transfer under the regulations of property, rights and liabilities.
(4) The provision which may be included by virtue of subsection (3) in regulations includes provision—
(a) for the creation or imposition by the Secretary of State of new rights or liabilities in respect of anything transferred under the regulations;
(b) for the management or custody of transferred property;
(c) for bodies to make agreements with respect to any property, income, rights, liabilities and expenses of, and any financial relations between, the parties to the agreement.
(5) The provision which may be included by virtue of this section in regulations includes provision amending, modifying, repealing or revoking any enactment, whenever passed or made.
(6) In this section “enactment” includes an enactment comprised in subordinate legislation (within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978).
102T Procedure for regulations under this Part
(1) Regulations under this Part must be made by statutory instrument.
(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this Part may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(3) At the same time as laying a draft of a statutory instrument containing regulations under this Part before Parliament, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report explaining the effect of the regulations and why the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to make the regulations.
(4) Subsections (2) and (3) do not apply to a statutory instrument that contains regulations only of the following kinds—
(a) regulations under section 102J that make provision under subsection (4) of that section for a function to be exercisable by an STB for a limited period of time;
(b) regulations under section 102J that make provision under subsection (5)(b) of that section;
(c) regulations under section 102K that make provision under subsection (4) of that section for a function to be exercisable by an STB for a limited period of time;
(d) regulations under section 102K that make provision under subsection (5)(b) of that section;
(e) regulations under section 102O(1) that make provision for the purpose mentioned in section 102O(4)(b);
(f) regulations under section 102O(2) that make provision for that purpose or for imposing conditions on the doing of things for a commercial purpose.
(5) A statutory instrument to which subsections (2) and (3) do not apply is subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament.
(6) If a draft of regulations under this Part would, apart from this subsection, be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it is to proceed in that House as if it were not a hybrid instrument.
In this Part—
“combined authority” means a body established as a combined authority under section 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009;
“constituent authority”, in relation to an STB, has the meaning given by section 102F(4);
“ITA” means an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England;
“Passenger Transport Executive” means a body which is such an Executive for the purposes of Part 2 of the Transport Act 1968;
“relevant authority” has the meaning given by section 102E(5);
“STB” has the meaning given by section 102E(2);
“transport functions” means any statutory functions relating to transport;
“transport strategy” has the meaning given by section 102I(11);
“unitary district council” means a district council whose area is not part of the area of a county council.” —(Andrew Jones.)
This new clause inserts a new Part 5A into the Local Transport Act 2008. The new Part confers power to establish Sub-national Transport Bodies which will operate at a sub-national local government level in transport matters with the aim of furthering economic growth in their area.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendments 62 to 66
In the summer 2015 Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the development of a northern powerhouse, a key part of our plan to deliver sustainable economic growth throughout the country. The new clause and amendments, on sub-national transport bodies, or STBs, will strengthen the development of the northern powerhouse and, potentially, the midlands engine and other areas of our country too. In this House and in the other place, we are transforming northern growth and rebalancing our country’s economy. That is not to the detriment of London; it will complement its economic might and build stronger links between cities, so that hardworking people and businesses can access markets and make the most of their skills and dynamism wherever they are.
One of our first challenges is to improve transport links between the great cities of the north. The Government have been very clear: we need better travel connections in the north. To give the House an example of the gulf in journey times, when travelling to London from Leeds by train it takes about two and a quarter hours to travel 170 miles at an average speed of 76 miles an hour. However, if one travels from Leeds to Liverpool on the train, it can also take just around two hours, but it is only 70 miles, at an average speed of 35 miles an hour. That is clearly too slow. These and other examples like it throughout the country are evidence of the brake on productivity and prosperity that transport can unwittingly provide.
By comparison, good connections between major urban areas can provide the catalyst for growth. We only have to look at examples like the Randstad or the Rhine-Ruhr regions to see the benefits. The Randstad region, bounded by Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, is linked by fast and frequent rail services, with journeys of about 30 to 50 minutes and an extensive road network. This transport network helps that area alone generate about half of the Netherlands’ GDP. Similarly, the Rhine-Ruhr region in Germany, covering five large cities and 10 smaller ones, has a network of fast inter-city, inter-urban and metro-style rail services, and a well-used system of autobahns.
Currently, in our country, decision making on strategic transport schemes is centralised at the national level. The journey to greater devolution has started, however. Individually, cities across the country are already strong and are being given the tools, through more powers and funding from Westminster in city deals, allowing areas the type of local determination they deserve. I believe there is support on both sides of the House for further devolution and a desire to see all parts of the UK benefit from greater devolution of power. The Bill will deliver devolution of powers and resources so our cities, towns and counties can become their own economic powerhouses. Through devolution, Government investment and economic growth is being tailored directly to the individual challenges and opportunities that particular places and communities face.
Let us not forget, however, that much has been achieved already. As we are all aware, improving our ageing infrastructure is of fundamental importance. In recognition of that, we are already spending £13 billion on transport in the north of England in this Parliament. In the past five years, the Government have invested heavily in rail and road networks, committed to the northern hub and electrification programmes and are tripling road spending by 2020, improving the capacity and conditions of our motorways and major A roads. It can be seen, too, in the major benefits to come from the new trans-Pennine and northern passenger rail franchises. Building on these, and through our continuing work to develop northern powerhouse rail and roads, we will bring people and businesses closer together and strengthen connections.
It is excellent news that there will be more road and rail capacity between the northern cities, as it is much needed. Can the rail capacity be provided on existing track? Is it a question of more efficient signalling and better trains?
We can boost rail capacity through a mixture of new lines and work to the existing network, alongside the electrification and signalling. The combination of all those things, in conjunction with new rolling stock, will deliver the step-change we need. Our rail industry is a huge success. It has gone from carrying 750 million passenger journeys per year only 20 years ago to 1.65 billion now. The issue our industry is facing is success and how to deliver that success with its capacity. A combination of things are required to deliver the boost in capacity my right hon. Friend talks about.
Like the Minister, I welcome the unpausing of the electrification of the trans-Pennine route, which my constituents will really appreciate. Will he confirm that when the new northern and trans-Pennine franchises are announced next month it will mean the end to the dreaded Pacer trains across the north?
My hon. Friend is a vigorous campaigner for rail in the north of England, especially in his constituency, and I am happy to confirm that the Pacers will disappear under the new franchises, which we expect to announce before Christmas.
The Minister talks about the importance of trans-Pennine links, which currently are pretty awful. David Higgins described the links between Sheffield and Manchester as a matter of national concern. This is an important new clause—there are 12 pages of it, so it must be important. Just how will it help us to co-ordinate the delivery of HS3 with that of HS2—I have not found anyone in Government making that link—and how will it deliver a tunnel under the Pennines to replace the ridiculously slow Snake and Woodhead passes, which at present pass for road links between Sheffield and Manchester?
I caution the hon. Gentleman: the length of new clauses and amendments is not necessarily related to their importance. A sub-national transport body would provide a link between central and local government to ensure a united voice representing an area’s transport requirements and, as a result, to make more likely solutions that are tailored to local need. I agree with his basic point, however, that connections across the Pennines, especially between Sheffield and Manchester, are not good enough.
Will the Minister explain again? What role will the body play in looking at a road tunnel under the Pennines? Would it carry out the review of whether one is necessary? Would it commission the work? Or would it simply be advisory? How would it relate to HS2, given that that will need other transport links? What will its role be in that connection?
I am coming to that later, so perhaps I will address the hon. Gentleman’s points then.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) talked about trains and railways. Will these provisions also include ferries?
I am not the maritime Minister, so I am not in the best position to comment, but we are seeing huge growth in all our transport modes, and the capacity being injected into our ports is extremely welcome. As to what is happening to our ferries, however, I am afraid I will have to check and get back to my hon. Friend.
Our commitment to improving the road network includes upgrading motorways in the north of England to smart motorway standards; increasing capacity; improving sections of the A19 in the north-east to expressway standard; and improving access to many of our ports, including Hull and the port of Liverpool. I see the difference that projects such as the £690 million improvements to the A1—the biggest upgrade in the country—can make. It is delivering a motorway running to Newcastle for the first time in our country’s history. All over the north, there are schemes totalling £3 billion in the pipeline.
We are already working with Transport for the North on plans for east-west road and rail links to better connect the region so that northern towns and cities can pool their strengths and create a single economy. This includes work to identify the next generation of strategic road investments, building on the transformative schemes in the first road investment strategy. These could include a new road tunnel under the Peak district and major upgrades to other key east-west routes. TfN is also working closely with Highways England as it starts to develop its next programme of route strategies to inform investment decisions for the road period starting in 2020.
TfN is also exploring options to transform services between Sheffield and Manchester, to move towards a 30-minute journey time between Manchester and Leeds, to provide significant speed and capacity improvements between Liverpool and Manchester and between Leeds, Hull and Newcastle, and to bring forward integrated smart ticketing through a new Oyster card-like system of smartcards across the region, across multiple operators and across modes.
These are just a few examples of the good work being undertaken with the first body we expect to become a sub-national transport body. By working with properly established STBs across the country, we will ensure that money is spent on projects that will support growth in each area’s economy and, through that, the country as a whole. A joint interim report providing an update on progress since the first northern transport strategy will be published in the coming weeks.
David Brown, formerly the chief executive officer of Merseytravel, has been appointed the CEO at TfN; and we expect to announce the new chair of TfN before the end of the year. While this work is progressing, the north needs a body with permanence and solidity rather than the current voluntary arrangements for TfN. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced plans to establish TfN as a statutory body with statutory duties.
Putting TfN, and potentially others, on a statutory footing is a crucial symbol of our commitment to rebalancing the economy because it gives a clear leading role to planning and developing a programme for the north. It will provide TfN with the authority to enter into contracts and enable it to recruit staff to drive forward activity and give stakeholders and staff confidence in TfN as an organisation. Making it a statutory body, to which the Government are committed, shows long-term thinking and sends a clear message about this Government’s determination to join up transport planning to help drive economic growth.
Creating TfN as a statutory body, and others like it, means legislation is vital if we want to promote thinking about how to use transport to grow economies—not just now, but for 40 to 50 years into the future. This statutory status gives STBs the permanence and stability they need to do this crucial work. It means they will not be unduly constrained by political cycles or administrative boundaries. That is why the Government have moved quickly to develop legislation and allow TfN the certainty it needs about its future to deliver an ambitious programme. To ensure TfN is ready to look at improvements, not just now, but in the next Parliament and beyond, we are aiming to introduce the secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity, so that it will be established on a statutory footing no later than 2017.
The new clauses and amendments under discussion will not just fulfil our commitment, but help to deliver the programme to build a northern powerhouse that will be a step change for how decisions on transport policy are made across England. It will formalise local input into strategic investment so that TfN can advise on a transport strategy to boost growth and development to its areas. It will allow TfN and similar bodies to evolve with the potential to assume more strategic responsibilities over time.
This clause thus goes further than the northern powerhouse alone. It provides a way to create organisations similar to TfN across the whole of England, except London, at the request of local areas. For example, the newly strengthened Midlands Connect partnership brings together 26 local authorities and 11 local enterprise partnerships, working with national agencies and Government to drive forward improved transport links across the midlands to power the midlands engine. Midlands Connect tells us that improved transport links in the region could boost the economy by more than £1 billion a year, create 300,000 jobs and save businesses nearly £0.5 billion every year. This Government have provided £5 million to Midlands Connect to develop a transport strategy for the midlands, to set out credible long-term transport investment priorities for the region that will help build the midlands engine for growth this country needs.
What my hon. Friend is saying makes sense, with transport being used as an economic growth driver. Can he confirm that the announcement he is making today in respect of this new clause will in no way either delay or undermine previous announcements about the A303, which brushes the north of my constituency? Is he able to update us on what progress is being made on the dualling of the A303—a vital artery to the south-west?
It would be useful if the Minister could veer off the A303, which I am not aware is part of this Bill.
The A303 is not part of the Bill, but the A303, the A30 and the A358 are critical schemes in the Government’s first road investment strategy, which is being implemented between now and 2020-21. I can tell my hon. Friend that it is on track, and that we want to create much more resilient road access into the south-west.
Once this legislation is passed, the Midlands Connect partnership would be able to move forward in the process to become an STB alongside TfN, should that be the route its members wish to take. STBs will give localities a greater say in strategic transport planning for their region, because local people better know their economies and their development needs, and how growth can be maximised in their area.
Let me outline the detail of our proposal for the creation of these sub-national transport bodies. The new clause sets out the basic powers and responsibilities of all STBs. It will be for local areas to come to the Secretary of State with a proposal to form an STB. The Secretary of State’s role will be to consider and approve the proposal once consent from the authorities and a period of public consultation have been completed.
The section of the new clause that is headed “102M General powers” is drawn incredibly widely. Can the Minister tell us, in plain English, exactly what an STB can and cannot do? There is a generalised limitation in the next section, but given the width of the definition, it is not clear to me whether one of these bodies could turn itself into a housing or education authority.
The new bodies are intended to create a link between Whitehall and Westminster and the constituent members of combined authorities. They will be able to develop transport plans for their areas, and come together to tackle issues that are currently decided here or in Whitehall rather than by local councils, relating to, for instance, longer-distance road or rail networks or systems that cross geographical areas, such as a smart ticketing system extending across the north. This is not about broadening their responsibilities to take powers away from other areas; it is about taking powers from Whitehall, increasing accountability, and ensuring that decisions are made locally.
Will the Minister give us a little more detail about how the powers of the Secretary of State for Transport to improve and look after the national road network will be affected by the new powers providing for regional policies on roads? Presumably the Secretary of State will still be in charge of the national network.
The Secretary of State will still be in charge of the national network. He will still be the final decision-maker in relation to the overall national transport strategy, and the way in which money is allocated to different schemes and areas. At first, STBs will advise him on strategic transport priorities for their areas to help promote economic development, but over time they will be able to advise him on how they can develop their roles and take on more responsibilities for improving transport planning, or provide for other enhancements to economic development in their areas. The Secretary of State will not be made redundant by these developments.
I am still not sure what role an STB will play. Will it be just an advisory body? Will it be just a planning body? Will it just help the Secretary of State to make decisions? How, in particular, will it relate to HS2 and HS3? Will it try to link those two bodies? Will it have any oversight of those developments?
STBs’ responsibilities will start with the development of plans for their areas, as the hon. Gentleman will know from the Transport for the North plan, which was published last year. As the STBs develop, I shall expect them to work with other bodies. A memorandum of understanding has already been signed by Transport for the North and Highways England so that they can inform each other’s plans. That is how we expect the arrangement to work. Decisions will be taken away from here and made on a more local basis, and the bodies will then collaborate in order to produce the right plans for their areas.
Subject to the Secretary of State’s agreement, affirmative secondary legislation will designate an area as an STB area. Consistent with enabling legislation, there will be no “one size fits all” approach. The governance for STBs will not be standardised across all of them, and the detail relating to each one will be set out in secondary legislation. Combined authorities and local transport authorities will make up the membership of each body. To ensure that STBs are accountable to the people whom they represent, each one will be overseen by a political-level board consisting of either metro mayors—where they have been established as part of the Government’s devolution programme—or the political leaders of the relevant constituent authorities. The Bill also specifies that the STBs will have a chair, and will enable, but not mandate, the Secretary of State to make regulations for their constitutional arrangements.
To ensure that each STB is established in a way that is right for the area for which it is working, the exact detail—such as the make-up of the board, quorums, the presence of any non-executives, and the appointment of a chair—will be left to individual pieces of secondary legislation, reflecting local plans and local need. The board will then be able to co-opt other members, such as representatives of local enterprise partnerships, to give local businesses a voice, or representatives of neighbouring authorities, to cover cross-border interests.
Initially each STB will advise the Secretary of State for Transport on strategic transport schemes and investment priorities for its own area. STBs will develop a long-term transport strategy which will set out with one voice the area’s view on transport’s role in its economic development. Within the lifetime of this strategy, the STB will then need to create shorter-term transport plans that will prioritise transport interventions to be delivered in given time periods, likely to be mapped on to road and rail investment cycles. This process is already under way within Transport for the North.
Over time, the Secretary of State may grant individual STBs additional responsibilities, through further secondary legislation, around the decision-making and delivery of transport schemes and significant cross-regional schemes, such as smart ticketing. The Secretary of State, and other public authorities including local and combined authorities, will not be able to overlook an STB’s transport strategy when developing their own transport strategies and plans. In return, this legislation requires STBs to consult with local government bodies, the Secretary of State for Transport and other interested parties within or without the STB, thereby ensuring it meets the expectations of all parties.
STBs will take a strategic-level view across an area to improve transport infrastructure and services, and address how that can support the economy. This involves assessing which transport schemes deliver most benefit from their investment, and how best to improve regional connectivity.
In creating STBs, the Government are demonstrating their commitment to work together with local areas to tackle those transport issues that cut across administrative boundaries, such as longer-distance road and rail, and find joint solutions that benefit people travelling across the region, such as smart ticketing. It is important to stress that this legislation gives all areas the opportunity to benefit from the establishment of STBs so their economies can grow. This is a key part of the work to help rebalance the economy outside London. Accordingly, I believe it is necessary for TfN, Midlands Connect and all future STBs to be enshrined as statutory bodies with appropriate statutory powers, and I commend this new clause to the House.
It is welcome to hear the consensus for devolution from all parts of the House this afternoon, and welcome, too, to hear the Minister tell us he is in listening mode. I hope so, because there is an awful lot still to work out across the Bill, including in the new clauses before us now. It will be important if we can build consensus around them so we have a solid foundation on which to build in the Bills that I am sure will follow this devolution Bill.
Labour wants to see the devolution of control over local transport so that trains, buses, trams and cycling can be properly integrated. I welcome the Government new clause. It is undoubtedly a step forward, but, like other parts of the Bill, it is limited by three factors: first, it does not go far enough; secondly, the funding and resourcing are not clear; and thirdly, it still keeps too much control in Whitehall. We would welcome further Government thinking on all those areas before we come to a final decision on the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman listed three or four ways of getting around, but did not mention ferries. Where do they fit?
I am happy to add in any mode of transport that I inadvertently excluded from my list, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
Has my hon. Friend thought of another mode of transport that I missed?
No. My hon. Friend mentioned buses. Does he share my surprise that we are discussing this Bill when the Government have still not produced the Bill that will allow these devolved authorities to reregulate the buses?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I hope that the Government will hear it while they are in listening mode, and that they will make the appropriate changes so that we can get maximum devolution and give local authorities back maximum control over their bus services.
New clause 34 will allow other regions to set up their own Transport for London-style models. TfL was an excellent Labour initiative but it was delivered 15 years ago. Helping other regions to catch up with London is the right thing to do, but it is a missed opportunity not to go significantly beyond that.
If the STB in a given area were to promote a road improvement that covered two different council areas, does the hon. Gentleman think that the STB should have the power to make one of the councils co-operate in the scheme if it did not wish to do so?
That is a matter for the Government, but my view is that this should all be done through co-operation and negotiation, not through imposition. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would not advocate any such imposition; I suspect that he would not.
The London Assembly has made the case that cities such as London need further devolved powers to integrate rail services with their surrounding commuter regions. That will apply to other regions across the country as well. It is not quite clear, however, what will be in scope in that regard. Perhaps this relates to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. It would be helpful to have clarification on that point, as we do not have long to go before the Bill reaches its Report stage. It would be helpful to have clarity before we reach the final vote on the Bill.
There is also the question of how new transport initiatives will be funded. Since 2010, local authorities have had their funding for bus services cut by 70%. The Department for Transport has recently signed up to a further 32% cut, which is likely to affect sustainable transport programmes for cycling and buses, once we see the full detail. All of this undermines the upgrades necessary to deliver effective transport integration, which is critical to making the system work efficiently and effectively for local people. Those decisions should not be taken centrally without involving the areas affected by them, and I hope that the Government will come forward with proposals to ensure that resourcing is also part of the negotiations with localities, along with the additional powers that they may or may not be able to acquire.
Significant control over STBs is to be retained, in some cases quite unnecessarily. The new clause mentions the Secretary of State 39 times, but it mentions mayors just twice. Will mayors have a significant role within these organisations or not? We would welcome further clarification from the Government on what the precise role of the mayors will be. The Government are forcing mayors on to localities whether they want them or not, as a condition of devolution deals in the metropolitan areas, but they also seem to be denying the mayors certain powers. Either they are a central point of local accountability or they are not. We would like to see their powers over transport matters extended.
Under the provisions, authorities will still have to have their proposals approved by the Secretary of State, from whom they will also still get their funding. The Secretary of State will also be able to make provisions about how an STB is to carry out various functions. That does not seem radically different from where the ultimate authority lies now. We have seen what happens when this Government try to deliver transport projects with too much centralised control. We have seen the pausing, and the un-pausing, of the electrification of the TransPennine route, and we have seen airport expansion kicked into the long grass for decades. The Great Western main line electrification announced by Labour has also been delayed by the Tories, with its costs spiralling from under £550 million in 2011 to £2.8 billion today.
Despite the Minister’s fine words and the undoubted good intentions of the Secretary of State, it appears that the Government are still too timid to really let go. I hope that the listening mode they have declared they are in today means they will think about how they can go further with these proposals by the time we reach Report.
Mrs Main, I understand that it is in order to talk about the other clauses remaining to the House to discuss, including new clause 29, at this point, but I am happy to stand corrected.
I am reliably informed that new clause 29 is in the next group.
In which case I sit corrected.
Does the Minister wish to come back in at this point?
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 34 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 24
National framework for devolution of fiscal powers
“Within twelve months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers, including but not limited to, setting and revaluating local tax rates, banding and discounts.”—(Mr Reed.)
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 29—The Local Government Independence Code—
‘(1) There shall be a Code, to be known as “the Local Government Independence Code”, the principal purpose of which shall be to define and regulate the relationship between central and local government.
(2) A court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with the functions of a local authority, or of the Secretary of State or other public authority in relation to any local authority, must take into account the provisions of the Code.
(3) Schedule (The Local Government Independence Code) which—
(a) sets out the terms of the Code,
(b) makes provision about the application of the Code, and requires public authorities, including central and local government, to comply with the Code,
(c) makes provision for amending the Code,
(d) requires that, where it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which ensures compliance with the Code, and makes provision for the amending of legislation where it is found not to be compatible with the Code,
(e) makes provision about remedial orders to amend legislation,
(f) makes provision for Ministers to make, or refuse to make, a statement that a Bill is compatible with the Code,
(g) amends the Parliament Act 1911 so as to exclude any Bill seeking to amend this Act from the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911,
(h) provides for amendments which are consequential on the making of the Code to certain enactments relating to local authorities, and
(i) requires the Secretary of State to provide for the review of provisions in pre-commencement legislation to assess their compatibility with the provisions of the Code,
The intention of this new Clause is to define the independence of local government and to regulate the relationship between local and central government in England by means of a statutory Code.
New clause 30—Reduction in petition threshold—
‘(1) The Local Government Act 2000 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 34(4) (minimum number of local government electors for a local authority’s area who must support any petition presented to the authority), for “5 per cent” substitute “1 per cent”.’
This amendment would reduce the minimum number of local government electors for a local authority’s area who must support any petition presented to the authority from 5 per cent to 1 per cent.
New clause 31—Mayors of combined authorities: Further functions—
‘(1) After section 107E of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (inserted by section 6 above) insert—
“107F Functions of mayors: alcohol pricing
(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for a mayor of a mayoral combined authority to have the power to set a minimum unit price for alcohol that is sold within that combined authority area.
(2) An order made under subsection (1) above must include a provision that such a power may be exercised by a mayor only following a consultation which includes local residents on the proposed level of the minimum unit price for alcohol.”’
New clause 32—Devolution to combined authorities: the family test—
‘(1) As soon as practicable after 31 March each year a mayoral combined authority in England shall produce and publish a report setting out its performance in applying the family test headings set out in subsection (3) over the most recent year to 31 March.
(2) In applying the family test, the mayoral combined authority must consider the impact of its policies and performance under each of the family test headings set out in subsection (3) and consider any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(3) The family test headings are—
(a) family formation;
(b) families going through key transitions such as becoming parents, getting married, fostering or adopting, bereavement, redundancy, new caring responsibilities or the onset of a long-term health condition;
(c) all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities;
(d) families before, during and after couple separation; and
(e) those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown.
(4) An overview and scrutiny committee of the mayoral combined authority shall review the report within four months of its publication.
(5) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to mayoral combined authorities on applying the family test and on reporting on the test.”
This new Clause would require mayoral combined authorities in England to report annually on their performance in relation to the DWP’s Family Test (October 2014) and for an overview and scrutiny committee to examine the contents of the report.
New clause 33—Parish Councils: Power of parish council to sell electricity—
‘In Section 44 (1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 insert “11” between “1” and “16”.’
This amendment will allow parish councils to be able to sell electricity that it generates.
New clause 36—Regard to neighbouring authorities—
‘In exercising a devolved function, combined authorities must have regard to any significant direct impact on the population of neighbouring authorities.’
This clause raises the concerns of some authorities which neighbour devolved authorities and ensures that combined authorities which have devolved functions give regard to the possible impact on neighbouring populations, particularly over issues such as transport and health.
New clause 37—Disqualification for election and holding office as a Member of a local authority—
‘In section 80 (1)(d) of the Local Government Act 1972, omit “for a period of not less than three months without the option of a fine”.’
This New Clause would extend the current disqualification regime to councillors sentenced to any custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence), instead of applying only to councillors sentenced to a term of imprisonment of at least three months.
New clause 38—Enabling devolution to joint committees in London—
‘(1) Following a written request from either—
(a) a voluntary joint committee of London councils, or
(b) a voluntary joint committee of London councils and the Mayor of London,
the Secretary of State may by order make arrangements for a function of a Minister of the Crown or a Government Department to be delegated to that joint committee, formed under Section 101 of the 1972 Local Government Act.
(2) The voluntary joint committee may make such provision as is necessary in relation to—
(a) voting powers required to protect minority interests;
(b) the membership and process for individual authorities to enter or leave;
(c) the executive arrangements of the joint committee;
(d) arrangements for the administration and transfer of property and other liabilities.
(3) A request made under subsection (1) above must have the agreement of all constituent members of the joint committee.
(4) In this section—
“London councils” means
(a) London borough councils, and
(b) the Common Council of the City of London;
“joint committee” has the same meaning as in the Local Government Act 1972;
“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.
(5) A function is eligible for the purposes of subsection (1) above if—
(a) it does not consist of a power to make regulations or other instruments of a legislative character or a power to fix fees or charges, and
(b) the Secretary of State considers that it can be appropriately exercised by the joint committee.
(6) No delegation under subsection (1) above, and no variation of a delegation under subsection (1) above can be made without the agreement of all constituent members of the relevant voluntary joint committee.
(7) Before making or varying a delegation under subsection (1) above, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) London borough councils;
(b) The Common Council of the City of London;
(c) The Mayor of London (in the case of a joint committee of London councils and the Mayor of London).
(8) The Secretary of State may make arrangements for the transfer from the Crown to the relevant joint committee of such property, rights or liabilities as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to the discharge of the function delegated under subsection (1).
(9) If an order made under this section would be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it is to proceed in that House as if it were not a hybrid instrument.’
This clause would support further devolution of Ministerial functions to London by providing for decision-making arrangements to enable operational delegation to groups of London local authorities and for the strategic governance of devolved responsibilities to be shared between London councils and the Mayor through an appropriately constituted joint committee.
New clause 39—Environmental consideration—
‘No later than three months after the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall prepare guidance on effective strategic planning for combined authorities including in the areas of—
(a) mitigation of and adaptation to impacts of climate change;
(b) natural resource use including water management;
(c) delivery of low-carbon energy sources and infrastructure;
(d) landscape-scale conservation, including green infrastructure.’
This new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to set out guidance on how co-operation between combined authorities can be strengthened to mitigate environmental problems and develop green infrastructure.
New schedule 2—The Local Government Independence Code—
‘1 Chapter 4ZA and Chapter 4A of Part 1 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 are repealed.
2 (1) This Code—
(a) defines the relationship between central government and local authorities; and
(b) makes provision about the financial independence and conduct of local authorities.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Code shall affect the rights of individuals; and individuals may continue to seek judicial review of any action by a public authority which they regard as unjust or as infringing their rights.
Local Autonomy and Local Self-Government
3 (1) Local authorities’ accountability is to their electorates.
(2) Local authorities are autonomous, democratically-elected bodies which independently decide upon, administer and regulate public affairs and deal with all matters of concern within their boundaries to the extent that such matters are not the statutory responsibility of another body.
(3) Local authorities shall continue to operate within the rule of law.
(4) Local authorities shall continue to operate with full legal personality and under a general power of competence. Subject to sub-paragraph (4), local authorities may pass measures on matters affecting the affairs and interests of their area.
Scope of Local Government
4 (1) The powers and responsibilities of local authorities will continue to be prescribed by statute.
(2) Local authorities shall have power to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not statutorily excluded from their competence or assigned to another body.
(3) Central government may not propose actions which are intended to, or may reasonably be regarded as being likely to, infringe the independence of local government, as defined in this Code, or affect local government generally or any local authority, unless local government generally, or the local authority concerned, consents.
5 Central government and local authorities shall establish joint inspection regimes to set and monitor the standards of services supplied or secured by them.
6 The geographical boundary of a local authority can be altered only by a proposal from the local authority itself or from its electorate. Local authorities must make arrangements for their electorates to put forward such proposals for consideration. Any such locally-inspired proposal for boundary changes, whether initiated directly by the authority or by the electorate of the authority, must be developed with the involvement of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and shall be subject to approval of the electorate of the area concerned, under arrangements made by the local authority concerned and approved by the Electoral Commission.
Council Governmental Systems
7 (1) The electorate of each local authority, through methods agreed by the local authority concerned, shall have the power to choose that authority‘s internal political decision-making systems. The systems concerned shall include a directly elected mayor and cabinet, a cabinet and leader, a committee system, or any other political decision-making arrangement which the electorate may decide is appropriate.
(2) The electorate of each local authority, through methods agreed by their local authorities, may, after a process of consultation carried out by the local authority concerned, agree to and adopt any electoral system for use in elections to that authority.
Local Government Financial Integrity
8 (1) Local authorities shall be financially independent of central government, save as otherwise provided for in this Code.
(2) Central government may not place any restriction on decisions by local authorities about the exercise of their financial powers.
(3) The distribution of central government funds between local authorities shall continue on the basis of existing equalisation arrangements. Distribution will continue to be based on the principle of ensuring fairness and balance between local authorities. The basis on which this distribution is carried out must continue to be made public.
(4) Each local authority shall receive from central government a guaranteed share of the annual yield of income tax, as follows. Central government must in each financial year assign to the Secretary of State responsible for the distribution of central government funds between local authorities an amount of money equivalent to the yield from ten pence in the pound of income tax. The Secretary of State must make arrangements to inform each taxpayer in England of the amount of their income tax which makes up the central government funding distributed to English local authorities as a whole.
(5) The amount of the income tax yield referred to in paragraph 8(4) shall be re-negotiated between central and local government whenever service provision responsibilities are transferred between central government and local authorities.
(6) Local authorities may raise additional sources of income in their areas in any way they wish, and with the consent of their electorates as expressed through arrangements to be determined and put in place by the local authority concerned.
(7) Local authorities shall be able to raise any loans, bonds or other financial instruments which their credit rating allows and as independent entities will be exclusively responsible for their repayment. All local authorities shall operate “a balanced budget” so that in any one financial year all outgoings, including interest repayments on borrowings, shall not exceed income.
(8) Central government may not cap, or in any other way limit, local authorities’ taxation powers.
(9) The financial transparency standards that apply to central government shall apply to local authorities.
(10) Central government and local authorities may contract with each other in order to pursue their own policy objectives.
Local Authorities’ right to co-operate and associate
9 (1) Local authorities are entitled, in pursuit of any undertaking, to co-operate in any way with any other persons, including local authorities, public and private bodies, voluntary, charity or third-sector organisations, and financial, commercial or private enterprises.
(2) Where more than one local authority is responsible for services in a geographic area, those local authorities shall co-operate so as to maximise the well-being of those living or working in that area.
(3) Local authorities may join any association for the protection and promotion of their common interests and may belong to an international association of any sort.
10 The administration of any local referendum or other vote on proposals put forward by the electorate of any local authority, or other local decision-making processes involving a public vote, shall adhere to standards set by the Electoral Commission; and those responsible for the conduct of any such decision-making processes shall be accountable to the Electoral Commission for their performance against those standards.
Legal Protection of Local Government
11 Local authorities may seek a judicial remedy in order to secure the free exercise of their powers, and any other principles of local self-government or individual rights contained within this Code or otherwise enshrined in law.
Application of and Compliance with the Code: acts of public authorities
12 It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is not in compliance with the Code.
13 Paragraph 12 does not apply to an act of a local authority if—
(a) as the result of one or more provisions of primary legislation, the authority could not have acted differently; or
(b) in the case of one or more provisions of, or made under, primary legislation which cannot be read or given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code, the authority was acting so as to give effect to or enforce those provisions.
14 In this Schedule “public authority” includes central government, local authorities and any other person certain of whose functions are functions of a public nature, but does not include either House of Parliament or persons exercising functions in connection with proceedings in Parliament; and “an act” includes a failure to act.
15 (1) A person who claims that a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) in a way which is made unlawful by paragraph 12 may—
(a) bring proceedings against the authority under this Act in the appropriate court or tribunal, or
(b) rely on the Code in any legal proceedings.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1)(a) “appropriate court or tribunal” means such court or tribunal as may be determined in accordance with rules; and proceedings against an authority include a counterclaim or similar proceeding.
(3) If the proceedings are brought on an application for judicial review, the applicant must have a sufficient interest in relation to the act.
(4) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1)(a) must be brought before the end of—
(a) the period of one year beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place; or
(b) such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances, but that is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in relation to the procedure in question.
(5) In sub-paragraph (1)(b) “legal proceedings” includes—
(a) proceedings brought by or at the instigation of a public authority; and
(b) an appeal against the decision of a court or tribunal.
(6) Nothing in this Act creates a criminal offence.
(7) In this paragraph “person” includes a local authority.
16 (1) In relation to any act (or proposed act) of a public authority which the court finds is (or would be) unlawful, it may grant such relief or remedy, or make such order, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.
(2) But damages may be awarded only by a court which has power to award damages, or to order the payment of compensation, in civil proceedings.
(3) No award of damages is to be made unless, taking account of all the circumstances of the case, including—
(a) any other relief or remedy granted, or order made, in relation to the act in question (by that or any other court), and
(b) the consequences of any decision (of that or any other court) in respect of that act, the court is satisfied that the award is necessary to afford just satisfaction to the person in whose favour it is made.
(4) In this paragraph—
“court” includes a tribunal;
“damages” means damages for an unlawful act of a public authority; and
“unlawful” means unlawful under paragraph 15.
Amendment of the Code
17 (1) The Secretary of State may by order make such amendments to the Code as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) Before making an order under sub-paragraph (1), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) such local authorities,
(b) such representatives of local government, and
(c) such other persons (if any), as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) Any orders for amendments made by the Secretary of State are subject to the procedures set out in paragraphs 17 to 19 of this Schedule.
Limits on power of Secretary of State to amend the Code
18 (1) The Secretary of State may not make provision under paragraph 16(1) unless the Secretary of State considers that the conditions in sub-paragraph (2) are satisfied in relation to that provision.
(2) Those conditions are that—
(a) the provision does not reduce the powers or discretion of local authorities unless the Secretary of State objectively considers that the effect of the provision is proportionate to the policy objective intended to be secured by the provision;
(b) the provision does not remove any necessary protection for local government or breach the obligations arising under the European Charter of Local Self-Government; and
(c) an order under paragraph 16(1) may not make provision to abolish or vary any tax.
Procedure for orders under paragraph 1
19 (1) If, as a result of any consultation required by paragraph 16(2), it appears to the Secretary of State that it is appropriate to change all or any part of the Secretary of State‘s proposals, the Secretary of State must undertake such further consultation with respect to the changes as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) If, after the conclusion of the consultation required by paragraph 16(2), the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to proceed with the making of an order under paragraph 16(1), the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—
(a) a draft of the order, and
(b) an explanatory document explaining the proposals and giving details of—
(i) the Secretary of State‘s reasons for considering that the conditions in paragraph 17(2) are satisfied in relation to the proposals,
(ii) any consultation undertaken under paragraph 16(2),
(iii) any representations received as a result of the consultation, and
(iv) any changes made as a result of those representations.
Super-affirmative resolution procedure
20 (1) A super-affirmative resolution procedure shall apply in relation to the making of an order pursuant to a draft order, as follows.
(2) The Minister must have regard to—
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft order.
(3) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make an order in the terms of the draft, he must lay before Parliament a statement—
(a) stating whether any representations were made under sub-paragraph (2)(a), and
(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.
(4) The Minister may, after the laying of such a statement, make an order in the terms of the draft if it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(5) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order may, at any time after the laying of a statement under sub-paragraph (3) and before the draft order is approved by that House under sub-paragraph (4), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft order.
(6) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under sub-paragraph (5) in relation to a draft order, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft order in that House under sub-paragraph (4) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(7) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make an order consisting of a revised version of the draft order, the Minister must lay before Parliament—
(a) a revised draft order; and
(b) a statement giving details of—
(i) any representations made under sub-paragraph (2)(a); and
(ii) the revisions proposed.
(8) The Minister may, after laying a revised draft order and statement under sub-paragraph (7), make an order in the terms of the revised draft if it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(9) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the revised draft order may, at any time after the revised draft order is laid under sub-paragraph (7) and before it is approved by that House under sub-paragraph (8), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft order.
(10) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under sub-paragraph (9) in relation to a revised draft order, no proceedings may, be taken in relation to the revised draft order in that House under sub-paragraph (8) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(11) For the purposes of sub-paragraphs (4) and (8) an order is made in the terms of a draft order if it contains no material changes to the provisions of the draft order.
(12) In this schedule the “60-day period” means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament under sub-paragraph(4).
(13) In calculating any period of days for the purposes of this section, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.
21 A resolution of either House is valid for the purposes of this schedule if, and only if, the motion for the resolution—
(a) is agreed without a division; or
(b) is passed on a division in which the number of members who vote in favour of the motion is a number equal to or greater than two-thirds of the number of seats in the House (including vacant seats).
Interpretation of Legislation
22 (1) So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code.
(2) This paragraph—
(a) applies to primary legislation and subordinate legislation whenever enacted;
(b) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible primary legislation; and
(c) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of any incompatible subordinate legislation if (disregarding any possibility of revocation) primary legislation prevents removal of the incompatibility.
Declaration of Incompatibility
23 (1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision of primary legislation is compatible with the Code.
(2) If the court is satisfied that the provision is incompatible with the Code, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.
(3) Sub-paragraph (4) applies in any proceedings in which a court determines whether a provision of subordinate legislation, made in the exercise of a power conferred by primary legislation, is compatible with a provision of the Code.
(4) If the court is satisfied—
(a) that the provision is incompatible with the Code, and
(b) that (disregarding any possibility of revocation) the primary legislation concerned prevents removal of the incompatibility, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility.
(5) In this paragraph “court” means the Supreme Court; the Court of Appeal; and the High Court.
(6) A declaration under this paragraph (“a declaration of incompatibility”)—
(a) does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given; and
(b) is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made.
Power to take remedial action
24 (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) a provision of legislation has been declared under paragraph 22 to be incompatible with the Code and, if an appeal lies—
(i) all persons who may appeal have stated in writing that they do not intend to do so;
(ii) the time for bringing an appeal has expired and no appeal has been brought within that time; or
(iii) an appeal brought within that time has been determined or abandoned; or
(b) it appears to the Secretary of State that, having regard to any finding of his under section 5(1) of the Localism Act 2011, a provision of legislation is incompatible with the Code.
(2) If a Minister of the Crown considers that there are compelling reasons for proceeding under this section, he may by order make such amendments to the legislation as he considers necessary to remove the incompatibility.
(3) If, in the case of subordinate legislation, a Minister of the Crown considers that—
(a) it is necessary to amend the primary legislation under which the subordinate legislation in question was made, in order to enable the incompatibility to be removed, and
(b) there are compelling reasons for proceeding under this paragraph, he may by means of a remedial order make such amendments to the primary legislation as he considers necessary.
(4) This paragraph also applies where the provision in question is in subordinate legislation and has been quashed, or declared invalid, by reason of incompatibility with the Code and the Minister proposes to proceed under paragraph 25(b).
(5) If the legislation is an Order in Council, the power conferred by sub-paragraph (2) or (3) is exercisable by Her Majesty in Council.
25 (1) A remedial order may—
(a) contain such incidental, supplemental, consequential or transitional provision as the person making it considers appropriate;
(b) be made so as to have effect from a date earlier than that on which it is made;
(c) make provision for the delegation of specific functions;
(d) make different provision for different cases.
(2) The power conferred by sub-paragraph (1)(a) includes—
(a) power to amend primary legislation (including primary legislation other than that which contains the incompatible provision); and
(b) power to amend or revoke subordinate legislation (including subordinate legislation other than that which contains the incompatible provision).
(3) A remedial order may be made so as to have the same extent as the legislation which it affects.
(4) No person is to be guilty of an offence solely as a result of the retrospective effect of a remedial order.
26 No remedial order may be made unless—
(a) a draft of the order has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament made after the end of the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft was laid; or
(b) it is declared in the order that it appears to the person making it that, because of the urgency of the matter, it is necessary to make the order without a draft being so approved.
Orders laid in draft
27 (1) No draft may be laid under paragraph 25(a) unless—
(a) the person proposing to make the order has laid before Parliament a document which contains a draft of the proposed order and the required information; and
(b) the period of 60 days, beginning with the day on which the document required by this sub-paragraph was laid, has ended.
(2) If representations have been made during that period, the draft laid under paragraph 25(a) must be accompanied by a statement containing—
(a) a summary of the representations; and
(b) if, as a result of the representations, the proposed order has been changed, details of the changes.
28 (1) If a remedial order (“the original order“) is made without being approved in draft, the person making it must lay it before Parliament, accompanied by the required information, after it is made.
(2) If representations have been made during the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the original order was made, the person making it must (after the end of that period) lay before Parliament a statement containing—
(a) a summary of the representations; and
(b) if, as a result of the representations, he considers it appropriate to make changes to the original order, details of the changes.
(3) If sub-paragraph (2)(b) applies, the person making the statement must—
(a) make a further remedial order replacing the original order; and
(b) lay the replacement order before Parliament.
(4) If, at the end of the period of 120 days beginning with the day on which the original order was made, a resolution has not been passed by each House approving the original or replacement order, the order ceases to have effect (but without that affecting anything previously done under either order or the power to make a fresh remedial order).
29 In this Schedule—
“representations” means representations about a remedial order (or proposed remedial order) made to the person making (or proposing to make) it and includes any relevant Parliamentary report or resolution; and
“required information” means—
(a) an explanation of the incompatibility which the order (or proposed order) seeks to remove, including particulars of the relevant declaration, finding or order; and
(b) a statement of the reasons for proceeding under paragraph (23) and for making an order in those terms.
30 In calculating any period for the purposes of this Schedule, no account is to be taken of any time during which—
(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued; or
(b) both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.
Statements of Compatibility
31 (1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill—
(a) make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the provisions of the Code (“a statement of compatibility”); or
(b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.
(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.
Amendment to the Parliament Act 1911
32 In section 2(1) of the Parliament Act 1911 the words “or a Bill seeking to amend the Local Government Independence Code Act” shall be inserted after the words “maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years”.
Amendments to other Enactments
33 (6A) The general power of competence includes the power to raise revenue through any method including although not limited to local taxation, levies and duties.”
34 Schedule 6 of the Localism Act 2011 is repealed.
Duty to review provisions in primary and subordinate legislation
35 (1) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, make provision by Order to provide for the review of all provisions in pre-commencement primary and subordinate legislation to assess their compatibility with the provisions of the Code.
(2) The order must include—
(a) provision requiring the review of the compatibility of pre- commencement legislation to be completed within a five year period, commencing with the date of passing of this Act;
(b) provision for incompatible pre-commencement legislation to cease to have effect no later than the end of a seven year period, commencing with the date of passing of this Act.
(3) The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (2)(a) includes provision requiring the person to consider whether the objectives which it was the purpose of the legislation to achieve remain appropriate and, if so, whether they could be achieved in another way.
36 (1) In this schedule, “pre-commencement legislation” means a provision that—
(a) is contained in any other Act passed no later than the end of the Session in which this Act is passed, or
(b) is contained in an instrument made under any other Act and comes into force before the commencement of section 1 of this Act.
(2) Subordinate legislation under paragraph (35)1 may make transitional, consequential, incidental or supplementary provision or savings in connection with such provision.’
This new Schedule provides details relating to implementation of the new Clause on the Local Government Independence Code.
I understand that it is appropriate briefly to mention the issue of Sunday trading when talking about this group. Last month, the Prime Minister declared at the Dispatch Box:
“we will be putting”—
“in front of the House, in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill”—[Official Report, 21 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 947.]
That was despite the fact that in April he wrote that he had no plans to change the Sunday trading laws and that
“the current system provides a reasonable balance.”
That measure is not before us today; the Government clearly could not get the support that they need. Could we hear from the Minister whether the Government are now ruling it out in this Bill entirely?
I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the provision is not there and that we cannot debate what is not before the Committee.
Absolutely, Mrs Main, although the Minister was courteous enough to respond to a point on this issue earlier in the debate and it would be helpful to know that the Government are not proposing to bring it back on Report next week.
New clause 24 stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Devolution without fiscal powers is not ambitious enough. As Labour said on day one of this Committee, allowing councils greater fiscal powers would allow them to build greater stability into the system. The Government should commit to providing devolved regions with the resources they need, so that they are not being set up to fail. The Bill cannot just be a means of devolving the blame for cuts made in No. 11 Downing Street; devolution is a much bigger agenda than that, and we have heard support for that view from Members in all parts of the House during this afternoon’s debate and during the passage of this Bill. There are problems with the funding of regional economic growth: local enterprise partnerships can be inefficient; and local areas need long-term commitment and resources from the Government. Regional development agencies, which LEPs replaced, were able to make single three-year funding agreements.
I am responsible for LEPs, and I recognise that there are some great LEPs and others that can be improved. The hon. Gentleman says that they can be inefficient, but will he say which ones he is talking about, because I will then have a look?
I am not going to name individual LEPs at this stage in the debate. If the Minister talks to LEPs, he will find that they agree with my view. I used to sit on the board of a LEP until three years ago. They have access to much smaller budgets than RDAs could have and to far too many small funding pots. The model is too fragmented and too short term. I suggest that he speaks to some of the LEPs if he does not think that there is room for improvement along those lines, because I think he will hear from them what he has been hearing from me this afternoon. What the LEPs are looking for and what they need is longer-term horizons if they are to act more strategically. The Government need to understand the need for more local decision making and fewer centrally imposed constraints, and making these changes to LEPs would be a step forward in allowing that to happen.
England’s local government finance settlement is one of the most centralised anywhere in the world. Councils lack the freedom they need to innovate to the maximum and to spend as much as they would like on local priorities. Even London, which is currently more devolved than anywhere else in the country, is reliant on central Government for three quarters of its funding. That compares with figures of just 30% in New York and 25% in Berlin. London is a world city and it is competing with other world cities that have much more control over their own destinies. London does not need to be kept on such a tight leash, and nor do the other cities and regions across the United Kingdom that also hope to grow their roles in the future.
The Communities and Local Government Committee concluded that local authorities in England have limited control over local taxation and, as a consequence, rely by comparison disproportionately on central Government funding. New clause 24 does not prescribe a particular settlement, but calls on the Secretary of State to publish a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers that is in keeping with the approach that the Government have taken throughout this Bill including, but not limited to, setting and re-evaluating local tax rates banding and discounts. We would like the Government at least to consider allowing councils to add additional council tax bands at the top and the bottom of the scale. That would allow for very large properties to be charged more and for smaller properties to be charged less, which is a move towards a more progressive model of taxation.
I have some experience in this area. Before I came to this House, I was leader of Lambeth council. We froze council tax for six years after taking over from a Tory-Liberal Democrat administration that had pushed up council tax by 24% in a single year. The Government need not worry about profligate Tory or Lib Dem councils behaving in that way, because they are accountable to their local electorate. However, that should not be used as an excuse to prevent more localisation together with a fair equalisation mechanism operating across the country. I hope that we will hear more about that during the autumn statement in just a few weeks’ time. The Bill strikes me as another appropriate place to be putting in some of those measures to drive forward the devolution agenda and the ability of local councils to ensure that they have the resources that they need to exercise fully the powers that they will increasingly be acquiring.
The Government can and should go further. They are devolving some of the powers, but little of the money. Devolution without the resources to make it work is not ambitious devolution; it is devolution where the Secretary of State remains the puppet master pulling all the strings, too often afraid to let go.
On new clause 34, we welcome the fact that new sub-national transport bodies must consult adjoining authorities before making a proposal. On transport, the Government have recognised that the devolution of powers to combined authorities concerns neighbouring authorities that are not part of those combined authorities, but are affected by their decisions. I am thinking about areas such as Plymouth in relation to Cornwall, Chesterfield in relation to Sheffield, and Warrington in relation to Greater Manchester. This is an important principle, but it extends to other areas beyond transport.
Decisions made over health, for example, could have an impact on neighbouring populations. I am thinking about proposals for hospital closures, new hospitals, and reconfiguration of regional or strategic health services. Decisions over Sunday trading could also have an effect should those plans go ahead—of course I hope that they will not.
New clause 36 would ensure that regard is given to neighbouring authorities affected by devolution deals. It would be on the same principle as the Government’s new clause 34, so I cannot imagine what objection the Government might have to it. If we want to build support for devolution and not to fuel resentment, this clause needs to be included, and we intend to test the will of the Committee on it by pressing it to a vote.
Finally, let me turn to new clause 39 on environmental considerations. This new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to set out guidance on how co-operation between combined authorities can be strengthened to mitigate environmental problems and develop green infrastructure. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has carried out an assessment of the current devolution proposals and found that there is an appetite among local councils for greater co-operation on environmental priorities.
The duty to co-operate is not currently strong enough, and local planning can fail to take into consideration the ability of the community to build a positive vision for the local environment. Such changes would strengthen and improve this Bill. I am interested to hear the Government’s position on them when the Minister has an opportunity to respond.
I commend the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) on the sentiments of his speech, if not entirely on the detail, because many of us have some sympathy for the need for further fiscal devolution and will be interested to see what form that can eventually take. With no disrespect to those broader issues, I shall refer to new clause 38, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and which relates specifically to enabling devolution to joint committees in London. That might sound technical, but it is actually important. I stress that new clause 38 is signed by the three of us on a cross-party basis. In fact, it is supported by the all-party parliamentary group for London, by London Councils on a cross-party basis and by the Mayor of London. So this is a London ask to the Government.
New clause 38 essentially relates to the fact that, as certainly I and a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House said on Second Reading, it is sometimes thought that devolution in London is a job done. Well, it is not; more remains to be done on devolution in London. The Government recognise that fact—potential means of devolution to the Mayor and to London boroughs have already been discussed—but the purpose of new clause 38 is to probe the Government’s thinking a little, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response on precisely what legislative framework is required to achieve devolution to the Mayor and to London boroughs, either for all of London in some cases or specifically, as would be allowed under these proposals, to parts of London.
We have been talking about the various devolution deals. I was delighted to hear two of them announced today. Of course, they are important and they rightly vary from place to place. Well, the same applies to London. By its very nature and size, London is infinitely bigger than any other city and any other potential devolution deal. For that reason and because of its nature and complexity—although with the directly elected Mayor and the Greater London Authority, it was the first to have a form of devolution of the kind that the Government envisage, which we welcome being rolled out elsewhere—it has different governance arrangements. In particular, we must recognise the role of the 32 London boroughs—far more than in any other proposed combined mayoral authority—as well as that of the London Assembly.
My hon. Friend is talking specifically about London, but as the devolution deal goes through, will it not also need to be reflected in the broader picture—for example, if there were a mayor for Oxfordshire and a number of combined authorities?
My hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point, and I recognise his long experience in local government and his interest in the matter throughout his time in the House. It is perfectly true that we must look at the situation in the shire counties, particularly where two-tier arrangements apply. I very much hope that we will see county devolution deals as well, because the strategic counties of England are potentially just as much economic drivers as our great cities, but we will need tailored governance arrangements to recognise the two-tier nature, which differs in its competence from that within the London boroughs or the metropolitan authorities.
May I associate myself with the very welcome proposals being made by my fellow co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for London? Given the complexity of London’s governance, it will be difficult for further devolution to happen if such proposals are not accepted by the Government. I endorse the view that is being expressed, and I hope that the Government will listen to it as a means to promote further sensible devolution in London.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the new clause. It is not intended to be the definitive text, but I hope the Minister will take heart from the fact that any text brought forward by the Government is likely to enjoy cross-party support and is unlikely to impede the progress of the Bill, but will enhance the opportunity for devolution deals within London as a whole.
On the specific issues with which the new clause seeks to deal, subsection (1) provides the ability for a joint committee of London councils or of London councils and the Mayor to request in writing to the Secretary of State that arrangements be made for the delegation of a function that is currently carried out by a Minister or a Government Department to that committee. That illustrates that it is a voluntary ask; it is bottom-up devolution, where London government has achieved consensus in a particular area and makes a request to central Government for power to be handed down. That might include specific arrangements entered into for the discharge of particular functions, or perhaps for a particular geography.
It is worth bearing in mind that, as the Minister knows, because of its size and complexity, London has different economies in different areas and distinct sets of identities. In south-east London, where there are four London boroughs which were once part of Kent, we face different issues in relation to our labour markets, our transport infrastructure or our housing markets from those in central London, those in east London, which are dominated by the development potential of the Thames gateway, or those in west London, where there is the old Middlesex railway, the industrial complex and now Heathrow and the impact of silicon valley outside the London boundary. There will be potentially different asks from different arrangements within London, and because of the division of power between the London boroughs and the Mayor, in most cases but not necessarily all, the two tiers are likely to be involved. Subsection (1) would make arrangements for that. We think that that provides sufficient scope for such matters to be agreed.
Subsection (2) provides that that voluntary joint committee can make its own provisions, as necessary, in relation to voting powers, its executive arrangements and so on. The voting powers include the protection of minority interests among the constituent parties. We considered whether that would be adequately determined by existing provisions under the Local Government Act 1972, which I am sure everyone in the Chamber is familiar with and reads on a daily basis. Case law suggests that the courts have indicated that the 1972 Act provisions have to be construed in such a way as to provide for binding decisions to be taken on the basis of a simple majority. If that is so, we need a legislative position to entrench the position of a qualified majority to give protection to minority interests within the broader devolution arrangements.
The clause also makes arrangements for the transfer of property—for example, there may be operational assets of the function that are to be transferred and that would more sensibly be held by the joint committee than by the constituent authorities.
Subsection (3), consistent with the philosophy of a bottom-up and voluntarist approach, requires that the request under subsection (1) has the agreement of all the members of the joint committee. If there is a unanimous ask, that is one of the key things about which we must approach the Government. Subsection (4) consists of definitions. Subsection (5) imposes the usual limitations so that the clause deals with operational matters, but not the ability to impose charges or the quasi-legal powers that local authorities have in certain respects. Subsection (6) deals with potential variations, ensuring that they are made by unanimity and triggered by members of the joint committee.
Those parts of the new clause provide a triple lock on the provisions of the Bill. The request must be made on a voluntary basis, entering into the agreement must be accepted on a voluntary basis, and any variation must be on a voluntary basis or by unanimity. I hope that that is a sensible and practical means of taking a devolution ask forward.
Subsection (7) would require the Secretary of State, when he or she has received such a request, to consult London government and the Mayor. That is the right thing to do in terms of transparency and consensus. It also deals with an issue alluded to in some of the other amendments and new clauses—that we should consider the knock-on effects on surrounding authorities, such that if, say, four or five London boroughs wish, with the Mayor, to have a devolution ask, there should be an obligation to consult on any potential adverse impacts on their neighbours.
Subsection (8) relates to the transfer of property rights or liabilities as appropriate. The ask can include such a transfer, and then operational assets and other things can be handed over.
Subsection (9) is intended to deal with the technical legal aspect of any risk of potential hybridity in the arrangements. It has been drawn up in careful consultation with lawyers, but we are very open to discussion with the Minister and his departmental officials about exactly the best means of achieving these objectives.
When the Minister responds, I hope favourably, to the enabling of a Greater London devolution ask, will he confirm the position on the case law, which appears to make it inappropriate to use the existing 1972 Act provisions? In particular, those provisions would not be sufficient to enable a ministerial delegation to joint committees formed under section 101(5) of the Act. Moreover, London boroughs do not appear to be permitted authorities for the purposes of delegation under section 16(1) of the Localism Act 2011, and they cannot take on the functions of other public bodies. I can only blame the then Minister for having missed this very important point, but we all sometimes learn from the experience of legislation in practice. The new clause seeks to rectify these lacunae, and I hope that its objective is shared across the Committee.
I want to talk about the very broad amendments that I have tabled. New clause 29 and new schedule 2 get to the heart of the debate—that is, we can have all the powers we like, but if we do not have the financial capability to use them effectively, they are an empty charade. We are accompanied in this Chamber by people of great expertise, with at least three former leaders of councils and other colleagues who have great experience on local authorities. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—my hon. Friend, if I may call him that—has great experience that he put to the service of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament. He enhanced our reports particularly where they touched on local government. There is great expertise in the Chamber, and I defy anyone to counter the truism that without finance powers are useless.
That is why I return again to the question of what happens next on devolution. This Bill is absolutely essential. The Minister has heard me say on many occasions that it is a good Bill that makes good progress, but he has also heard me ask on many occasions, “What comes next? Once the foundations are in, what do we do to build a more secure construction on them?”
If the Minister does not intend to accept my new clauses, I ask him to look to the future and to consider how we can expand the financial capability of local government. We can do that in a number of areas. Indeed, my Select Committee in the last Parliament inspired me to draft the Local Government (Independence) Bill, which is available from all good Vote Offices or even from me, should anyone who is viewing the debate care to read it. It laid out a number of areas where we could use existing precedent to free local government in England and enable proper devolution.
One of the key precedents was and is Scotland. The efforts of Donald Dewar, the Scottish citizens convention, the coalition’s Scotland Act 2012 and the cross-party consensus among those of us who do not wish to split up the Union and who support the current Scotland Bill, which delivers on the promise that was made before the Scottish referendum, have all contributed to enhancing the capability of the Scottish Parliament to raise and retain its own income.
What is good enough for Scotland is good enough for England. England would need a different mechanism to deliver the heart of the deal, which is income tax assignment, but it is not beyond the wit of mankind to create that capability. Drawing on the lessons of the Scottish experience, we could soon get to a position where income tax assignment, channelled through the Department for Communities and Local Government, filtered down into a clear, honest and accountable amount of income tax without having to make any changes to the rates, the method of collection or equalisation. That would provide local people with transparency and clarity with regard to where and when their income tax is spent, via central Government, by local councils and local authorities. That would be a significant step forward, just as the Scotland Act 2012 was for the Scottish people.
On equalisation, many people get anxious about income tax assignment and say, “That means you’re retaining the income tax raised in your locality,” but that is not what it means. As happens now, income tax would go to the centre and it would be reallocated through the existing formula or a slightly changed formula, depending on the consensus at the time. Equalisation would stay exactly the same as it is now, unless all players—including, above all, local government, perhaps represented by the Local Government Association—consented to any change.
The Local Government (Independence) Bill was the product of a lot of thinking involving academics, Queen’s counsel, the Public Bill Office and this House, to try to make sure that everything was defined as accurately as possible so that it could be legislated on. It outlines ways in which local government could raise additional income, but with the very strong caveat that it could not use any additional sources of income unless it involved local people in the decision and they agreed to them. The issue has been discussed before on the Floor of the House, and we raised the obvious example of charging a hotel tax—or bed tax, as it is sometimes called—if local people consent to it. The heart of devolution is represented not by the Government saying, “Everybody should do this”, but by the freedom of local areas to try, if they wish, to get the consent of people in their locality.
Members have touched repeatedly on the idea that that approach will be so much stronger if it is done voluntarily. Rather than looking for ways to get out of a straitjacket, people will be seeking means to join the club of local authorities that can raise money in particular ways. They would learn from each other, from the experience of colleagues down the road or from further afield and perhaps, as I have suggested in new clauses, from a best practice centre of some description—owned by local authorities, contributed to by central Government —to take devolution to the next step. Let us look at some of the good things that have happened, although not everywhere, and offer them to other authorities so that they can, if they wish, move forward.
I will not repeat the arguments, but I want briefly to raise another matter. The Local Government (Independence) Bill proposed that local government’s ability to raise bonds or loans should be much clearer to ordinary people. We heard earlier about transport issues. If someone wished to raise a bond on the local government bond market, which is a multi-trillion dollar market in America, they could use their credit rating—people are more likely to be willing to take a risk on local government than on central Government—to raise bonds or loans. I argue very strongly that should happen once there has been a debate with local people, not because someone in a closed finance committee or the mayor and his or her deputy made a decision in a smoke-filled room. People should be involved so that we can ensure they have signed up to raising bonds to create a dozen children’s centres, an early intervention programme or whatever it may be, and so that they will watch such a project and take pride in its success, as people who do in so many civic arenas. The people in Nottingham are very proud of their tram system and their workplace parking levy that raises money for all sorts of transport projects in our city. Every Member of the House could reel off examples of their own.
That is at the heart of the new clauses I have tabled, but there is one last and very significant bottom line. We have so often seen central Government offer local government baubles or a few extra crumbs on this, that or the other, but when it suits central Government—of all parties—they take back what they had recently given away. If devolution is to mean anything, it has to be sustainable. It cannot be that if a Secretary of State does not like something an authority is doing—for example, re-establishing grammar schools—they can say, “I don’t like that. I’m going to take back that power.” No, the Secretary of State must win the argument about schooling. The same would apply if a local authority had ownership of the Work programme and everything to do with tackling employment, but the Secretary of State said, “No, I don’t think they’re doing it right; I wouldn’t do it like that” and sought to take back such powers.
If devolution is to mean anything, it must be permanent and entrenched. If it is entrenched, people can get on with it, build and have some certainty. At our disposal, we have number of weapons to entrench a proper settlement for English devolution. We can give local government independence and then protect that behind the Parliament Act 1911 so that any attempt to veto or to suck back powers can be refused by the second Chamber, or perhaps the device of a super-majority—it defends our right always to have a fixed-term Parliament of five years—could be used to defend the rights of local government. Without that protection, such powers are favours, not rights.
Finally, I want to touch on a minor but important issue—tabled as my new clause 33—that has been raised with me by the National Association of Local Councils, who represent town and parish councils. I hope that the Minister will reassure me on this point, which relates to local energy production. In Germany, local energy that comes from renewable sources accounts for 46% of all renewable energy. In the UK, it accounts for less than 1%—0.3% is produced by our localities. That is an appalling record in anybody’s book. I hope that we can liberate our parish and town councils and those who currently cannot sell their electricity that is made by renewables. That would do everybody a favour. Currently, Cambourne parish council is inhibited in doing what it would like to do.
This relatively minor change could see the development of cost-effective solar panelling on school and community centre roofs. I will not press new clause 33 to a vote and if the Minister is not prepared to respond to it today, I would be most grateful if he wrote to me. It was put to me in a spirit of consensus by the National Association of Local Councils.
I will finish with one small example of how energy impinges on what we are talking about today. I have talked of boasting about civic pride, and it is a matter of pride that Nottingham City Council has launched Robin Hood Energy. Every domestic consumer can apply to that not-for-profit organisation and get the best tariff from all the existing suppliers. That has been done in an era of massive constraint on local government. Just imagine what local government could do if it was free to be sensitive to what the delivery of local energy could mean both at the district and county level and, as under new clause 33, at the parish and town council level.
I will not ask the Committee to vote on the new clauses I have tabled. I have put them down as a marker. If the Minister wants to take forward the debate about what will come next in the English devolution arena, I will send him my personal copy of the Local Government (Independence) Bill—signed or unsigned, whatever he prefers—to give him ideas that might find the light of day the next time we legislate on devolution.
I will say a few words about new clause 30. The Bill includes plenty of references to elected mayors and their powers. Indeed, much of our debate has centred on elected mayors. I have long supported the idea of elected mayors and very much welcome their introduction into legislation. However, the Bill deals with larger areas such as combined authorities, large cities and the larger counties. It does not address the possibility of elected mayors in smaller councils and communities.
I acknowledge that the Government want this change to come from the bottom up, with local authorities coming together to put forward ideas and proposals, hence all the deals that we have heard about up and down the country in recent days—I am sure that there are many more to come. I understand that process, although I do not wholly agree with it at all times. I sometimes think that there needs to be greater direction from the centre. Nevertheless, the Government are moving in the right direction.
New clause 30, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I tabled, is a small change that would allow smaller council areas and communities, which are unaffected by this legislation in many respects, to consider having an elected mayor in a simpler way and give their populaces the opportunity to vote on the prospect of an elected mayor. For example, there is an elected Mayor of London, but of the 32 boroughs underneath that, only about two have elected mayors.
I would like other boroughs to have an easier opportunity at least to consider the prospect of an elected mayor, and to extend that provision to other parts of the country. It is my view, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), that the hurdles that prevent such an opportunity from being made as easy as possible for local communities are currently too high. Requiring 5% of the local electorate to sign a petition to bring about a referendum is a high figure. One or two places up and down the country have achieved 5%—indeed, Copeland District Council in Cumbria managed to achieve that figure, and people subsequently voted in a referendum for an elected mayor.
New clause 30 is a small change that would enable local people—with the support of a reasonable but realistic number of members of the public—to bring about a referendum, and I suggest that the Government change the requirement in the Bill to 1%. That does not necessarily mean that there will be an elected mayor; it means that that community will get the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether they would like one. I accept that some places will reject that opportunity, but if more such opportunities exist we will start to see more elected mayors in different parts of the country and it will become an established form of local government. I firmly believe that that is far more transparent and accountable, and it will provide real leadership in different parts of the country.
I look forward to the Minister’s response, and would be delighted if he accepts the new clause so that it can be incorporated into the Bill and mean that referendums can be held across the country over the next few years on a regular basis. I appreciate that he will probably want to consider the matter, and I will not be pressing the new clause to a vote. I ask him to consider the issue seriously, however, and to see whether he can reduce the 5% to a percentage that is more realistic and will enable local communities across the country to petition for a referendum and decide whether they wish to have an elected mayor.
I wish to raise two issues that the Government and the Committee will have to deal with at some point. When I spoke on Second Reading, I indicated that I was generally supportive of the Bill. I have reservations about some aspects and details of it, but the direction of travel is essentially right, as is the idea that devolution will happen and is on the agenda, and there is a good deal of cross-party support for it. That is an important step change from how things were when I first came to the House in 1992, or in many subsequent years. We are seeing progress. Members of the House are standing up and talking positively about devolution, and no one is saying “Local councils can’t do that—they can’t be trusted”, which was very much the attitude a few years ago.
I am comfortable and supportive of that idea, but we need a dialogue and debate about two important issues. The first has been raised continually by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who chaired the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament. He was a strong advocate for trying to codify or set in a more formal arrangement the powers of local government and its relationship with the centre. That is important because there is a danger that some powers and aspects of policy will be devolved to local councils, but that other powers—without talking about centralisation or taking anything back to the centre—will be removed from local councils, and more controls introduced in their place.
There are currently two Bills before the House, and I expect the Minister is considering them both fairly widely. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is about devolution. That is welcome, and we can discuss how devolution should take place. We also have the Housing and Planning Bill, and the Royal Town Planning Institute said that it was astonished at the amount of planning centralisation in that Bill. With starter homes, measures in the Bill are attempting to decide on the nature of section 106 agreements, which are essentially agreements about a particular site between a local authority and a developer. That is a particularly wide issue.
In the last Parliament, the Government portrayed the stand-alone housing revenue accounts as a major mechanism of decentralisation—a means of devolving power to local councils—but look at the changes that are now going through. My concern is that measures before Parliament at the same time as this Bill will take control over rents from so-called high earners and, through rules on inflation increases, over the total rent charged. Those changes will row back on the policy in the last Parliament of giving local authorities powers over their housing revenue accounts on a stand-alone basis. What was given in the last Parliament will be taken back without recognising that it will reverse devolution and move back to a centrist approach.
As I understand it, the Local Government Association estimates that the Housing and Planning Bill includes some 30 new centralising measures. Given that that Bill is being sponsored by the same Secretary of State as the devolution Bill, does that not cast doubt on his commitment to devolution?
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman was trying to make a fair point about devolution and taking back powers, but the shadow Minister is straying down a path that will not be fruitful.
I will try to get back on to the straight and narrow, Mrs Main.
My point is that we need a time of reflection, with a discussion between Government, local government and this House about the framework for the constitutional relationships between the centre and local authorities of whatever kind, including combined authorities, so that we can look at the balance of powers and perhaps put down some markers or mechanisms for ensuring that the devolution we all support today is not taken back tomorrow. We need something of that kind. A constitutional convention has been mentioned—the Government may not like those words, but we need some mechanism to enable that to happen.
My second point is about fiscal devolution. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) quoted the report from the Select Committee in the last Parliament, and the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) was a member of the Committee. We produced the report on an all-party basis. We followed the London Finance Commission, which was promoted by the Mayor of London and supported by the London boroughs. By and large, we agreed the report, albeit with some embellishments, with the London Finance Commission, and we had support from the core cities, but it was almost dismissed by the Government as an irrelevancy—something that they did not want to pursue.
I am pleased that the Government are looking at the total localisation of business rates. How they do that will be critical, including dealing with the issue of rewarding councils that get more development in their areas and at the same time protecting those areas where development is not as easy to achieve. Achieving some element of redistribution in the mechanism will be key. Nevertheless, the Government have accepted the need for some more fiscal devolution in principle. They now need to consider how it can be right that any increase in the one tax over which local government has total control—the council tax—is restricted by the need for a referendum. No other tax raised by central Government requires a referendum on any increase. I did not agree with the previous Government’s policy on council tax capping—I refused to vote for that on several occasions, as it is a very centralist policy.
The tax also has not been revalued for 25 years. That is nonsense. The council tax is the one tax over which local government has some degree of control, but it does not control the bands. There must be some flexibility there to recognise the extraordinary difference between amount of tax paid and the value of houses in the top and bottom bands. The difference in the values of the houses is much wider than the amount of council tax paid. Local councils need more flexibility and the ability to control that. As the London Finance Commission said, and the Select Committee agreed, let us also look at stamp duty and other property taxes. Let us consider giving local councils freedom to set business rates. I know that the Government want to bring in some freedoms, but they could go wider. Could local government have a right to be allocated a certain percentage of income tax?
Those are all ideas. All I am saying to the Government is that once this wave of devolution is going through, with cross-party support and local councils entering into it and putting in bids, can we at least have some indication that they will step back at some point and have a serious look at wider fiscal devolution? Ultimately, simply giving to local councils the power to spend money that has been handed out from the centre is not real devolution at all. It is power to spend the money the Chancellor gives out. What councils need for real devolution is the greater power to raise that money in the first place.
New clause 31 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It concerns the Government’s intent to devolve more powers to local representatives, but proposes pushing the boat out a little further into terrain that, nationally, we have been a little bit tentative about. Devolved powers are allowed to make a decision on Sunday trading. Whether local areas should be able to decide on Sunday trading, and other such issues, is a debate for another day—or, hopefully, not at all.
New clause 31 concerns the minimum unit pricing of alcohol. At one point, the Government and the Prime Minister took the view that the case had been made back in 2008 by the Department of Health. Such pricing would assist directly in tackling health harms relating to the excessive use of alcohol. At that time, the Government were consulting not on whether, but how much. However, the ups and downs of coalition government and other concerns, not least from those on the Government Benches, led to the measure not seeing the light of day. This is an excellent opportunity to bring it back to the light. We can allow local authorities to have the power to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold within their areas.
As has been said, local authorities already have some degree of power to set a price under the licensing regime. I understand that in Newcastle two bars have become the first in the United Kingdom to be licensed to sell alcohol at a minimum price in excess of £1 a unit. I am not sure how popular those bars will be, not least because I am now publicising them, but that is part of the licensing regime in Newcastle. The bars have been licensed subject to a condition that alcohol is sold at set prices that equate to a minimum price of £1.25 per unit of alcohol—nearly three times the 45p per unit price that was subject to the Government consultation.
My understanding is that that price was agreed to keep the street as the city’s premier street. This initiative by the city council, with the full co-operation of the applicants, is designed to maintain the quality of the city centre, control crime and disorder, and improve health. It seeks to end the availability of irresponsibly priced alcohol by controlling multi-buy promotions that lead to irresponsible drinking. That is the approach being followed, in a somewhat limited way, by Newcastle. I understand that Ipswich also had a licensing and prices regime to tackle the impact of excessive alcohol, in particular in relation to super-strength ciders and lagers.
The Bill seeks to reduce the bureaucracy that gets in the way of empowering local areas to do what should be reasonable: to help to have a significant impact on the health harms affecting their local area.
I am interested to hear my hon. Friend’s speech. One of the main problems in my constituency is people preloading with alcohol: buying from a supermarket, drinking it at home and then going out for an evening. He talks about premium prices applying to bars. How would his suggestion work if I could drive literally just a couple of miles down the road to a supermarket, buy my alcohol, come back and drink it at home?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I hope he will support me in calling on the Government to set a national minimum unit price to avoid that precise problem.
The argument has been made, in respect of Sunday trading and other issues, that if we let local areas decide, we might get a domino effect, but I would welcome it if areas without minimum unit pricing, for example, quickly realised that they needed to deal with the problem. These sorts of powers inevitably have a domino effect. It must be the intent of devolution to spread these powers around. The Government say they are keen to devolve such powers in a wide variety of areas. Given that there is real evidence—much more evidence, frankly, than on Sunday trading—of health benefits from minimum unit pricing, why not give local areas the power to decide for themselves?
Might not one slight problem be the potential incentive to do it the other way around, meaning that the one place without a minimum alcohol price ends up with lots of supermarkets looking to locate within it?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but the sad reality is that in all our communities we have an increasing problem with excessive alcohol consumption, and it is affecting all our local accident and emergency departments and health services. Evidence shows that minimum unit pricing tackles the problem drinkers on our streets who do not travel far to areas with cheaper alcohol. It has a particular impact on problem drinkers. It is not the only way of dealing with excessive alcohol drinking, but it is a particularly good one.
My proposal would tackle the problem of bureaucracy and red tape facing local areas going through the licensing regime and applying for permission from the Secretary of State to set a minimum alcohol price. This is unnecessary and unwelcome. The Government have said they want to remove red tape and regulation. Why not do so when it comes to setting minimum unit prices? I might be pre-empting the Minister, but he might say, “Sorry, we can’t do this because it’s not lawful. Scotland, which has devolved responsibility in this area, has tried minimum pricing, and it is being challenged in the courts.” I can assure him, however, that we need not worry about the legal issues in Scotland, because, as Aidan Robertson, a leading Queen’s counsel, said in response to the legal challenge, there
“are no valid grounds in EU law for resisting Minimum Unit Pricing”.
“It is a matter of considerable regret”—
“that implementation of the Scottish legislation has been held up by legal challenges from the drinks industry… The questions referred to the Court of Justice European Union do not…disclose any ground under EU law on which the validity of the legislation may be impugned. Minimum unit pricing for alcohol ought to be permitted as an innovative attempt to tackle a serious health and social problem facing Scotland.”
Scotland should not be alone in benefiting from this; minimum unit pricing is something for England, Wales and other devolved areas. Areas with elected Mayors should also have the power to introduce minimum unit pricing. I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition support the new clause, given that, as I understand it, minimum unit pricing was in their manifesto.
There is evidence, not least from Sheffield University, that setting the minimum price at 50p per unit could save up to 50,000 people from illness in a decade. We cannot ignore the evidence: we are all aware from our constituencies of the impact on individuals of excessive alcohol consumption. This issue is not going away. I implore the Government to seize this matter, to reconsider a national minimum unit price and to reactivate the consultation, which has been kicked into the long grass. In the meantime, perhaps they can look at what happens in local areas and establish a testing ground in areas under the governance of elected Mayors, instead of just relying on Scotland. That makes sense and the time has come. If the Government cannot see that the time has come, let local authorities be set free to get on with it.
On a similar theme, new clause 32 recognises that devolving powers is often a good thing. It is not just about the fiscal and economic benefits, because when deals are struck with various authorities, there is a social deal as well as an economic one. That social deal is picked up by new clause 32, which is designed to put a family test on local authorities. It does so to help authorities deal with a situation that we are all too aware of: the cost of family breakdown. The Relationships Alliance has costed that at about £47 billion. We must find ways to tackle the problem, and one way is to test the powers that are devolved through to the mayoral or combined authorities.
Such a family test is referred to in new clause 32, and it lists similar headings that the Government have highlighted as important across all policy areas. No doubt the Ministers on the Treasury Bench have looked carefully at everything in the Bill to see how the family test is applied. The family test headings are listed, and the first is “family formation”, in which I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) would be interested. The other headings are
“families going through key transitions…all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life…with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities…families before, during and after couple separation; and…those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown.”
No doubt local areas could take those headings for the family test a stage further. It is important to do so.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. He will know that the Prime Minister said in August 2014, when introducing the family test, that he wanted every Government Department to be held to account for the impact of its policies on the family, ensuring that every single domestic policy that the Government come up with will be examined for its impact on the family. That is important for national Governments, but given that local areas are that much closer to families and the impact of their own policies on families, it is surely logical to continue the process into local areas and local governance.
That is why new clause 32 is designed to introduce a family test to put into practice what the national Government say they are doing. I understand that it takes time for the national Government to found a family test “with teeth”, to use the words of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 22 June. We look forward to further publication of the family test to show the teeth. Let us make the teeth apply equally, though, to the family test in local areas.
I would like to encourage a positive response to new clause 32. Next month, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) is introducing a private Member’s Bill on the very issue of the family test—the Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill, which will seek to put the family test into statutory form and ensure that local government has a reporting mechanism. If my new clause does not go through today—I am probably not going to press the matter, but look forward to a positive response from the Minister—there may be further opportunity through my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill.
New clause 37 takes us into a whole different area of governance, as it deals with disqualification for election and holding office as a member of a local authority. The present situation goes back all the way to subsection 1(d) of section 80 of the Local Government Act 1933, which provides that a person shall be disqualified from being elected or remaining a member of a local authority if during the preceding five years he has been convicted and sentenced to at least three months’ imprisonment, whether or not suspended.
I am grateful to Councillor Terry Neville, the Conservative group leader of Enfield council, for bringing this issue to my attention. He is a magistrate, so will know of the change in sentencing practice. He has not been a magistrate since 1933, but from his recent years of experience, he will know that it takes a lot for someone to be sentenced to over three months’ imprisonment. He brought to my attention—I was not aware of it previously—that an individual who has been convicted of such a serious offence that they have been imprisoned for more than three months can still remain a councillor.
This issue has particular relevance in Enfield. In my constituency, Councillor Nesimi Erbil was convicted of two offences of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. On 28 August 2014, he used a fake taxi badge, claiming that it applied to an all-London green taxi licence when he was entitled to drive his cab only in Enfield, Haringey, Waltham Forest and Hackney. He was rightly convicted of an offence of fraudulence in relation to a licence, and received a four-week prison sentence, which was suspended.
Owing to the 1933 Act, that councillor continues to be free to sit on committees and have influence over the people of Enfield. He can sit on planning committees—and, indeed, licensing committees, on one of which he sat after his conviction for the fraudulent licence offence. That does not seem to match up with his having received a sentence of imprisonment. This amendment to the Act would ensure that any councillor convicted of an offence warranting a custodial sentence, whatever its length, was disqualified. We need that modernisation of a limit that dates back to 1933. I am not sure why the Act specified a three-month limit, but I think that we can do a lot better in 2015.
As we devolve more powers to councillors, it is important for public confidence to be maintained. Allowing people like Councillor Erbil to continue in their posts after being convicted of fraud and sentenced to imprisonment will not instil public confidence. The best that we can hope for at present is the establishment of a standards committee to look into such matters, and the operation of internal party discipline—although those concerned can still draw a councillor’s allowance and sit as independents.
I urge the Minister to look favourably on the clause, and to confirm that what may have been appropriate in 1933 cannot be right in 2015.
Those of us with long local government experience never expected any Government to deliver devolution to this extent. I welcome what the present Government are doing, and I know that it is welcomed in local government throughout the country. For many years Governments of both colours drew more and more powers to the centre, and it is extremely pleasing to see that being reversed.
I have been a supporter of elected mayors for many years. In my own authority, I tried to secure a petition with the required 5% support 12 or 13 years ago. The problem is that that percentage is very difficult to achieve if a small number of people are involved, and particularly difficult to achieve within the 12-month period that is specified in the current legislation.
Elected mayors are often very unpopular with sitting councillors, who see them as a threat to their cosy arrangements whereby the roundabout turns and either the Tories or Labour take over. I think that where that resistance still exists, we need to allow residents—the general public—to initiate a petition with the modest threshold of 1% that is proposed in new clause 30, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). I think that that would encourage local people to support an elected mayor, or at least to kick-start the journey towards securing one by initiating the referendum process when resistance is high in the local authority.
We may be seeing proof of the rule that if Back Benchers remain consistent, some Government at some time or other will eventually agree with them. Over the last 15 years or so we have seen both sides of the House run hot and cold on the issue of elected mayors, but those of us—such as my hon. Friend and me—who remain consistent can now put up the flags and welcome the fact that the Government are moving towards the idea of not just elected mayors, but elected mayors with even more power than we anticipated. I hope that the Government will at least give a clear indication that they will look favourably on our proposal to reduce the threshold and give power to local residents.
That is all very well, but in the case of a large rural county such as Lincolnshire, it would be quite wrong for the Government to say, “If you want devo-max, you must have a mayor.” It makes sense to have a mayor of London, Birmingham or Manchester, but it does not make sense to have a mayor of a large rural county.
I see the logic of that, but my hon. Friend will know that in greater Lincolnshire the authorities have already come together and put a proposal forward, although they have not gone for the full package. I hope they eventually will, just as I hope that eventually the combined authorities emerging from this process will evolve into a super-unitary authority headed by an elected mayor. My hon. Friend would make an admirable mayor of Lincolnshire—governor of Lincolnshire, even.
Yes, high commissioner for Lincolnshire.
When I was reading the amendments, I was struck by new clause 32(3)(c) which talks about
“all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life”.
I shall therefore conclude by praising the Government for withdrawing their proposal to devolve powers on Sunday trading to local authorities or elected mayors. It would have been a retrograde step that would have hit many hard-working families that run the corner shop, the newsagents and so on—just the sort of people the Government should be looking after. I welcome that and praise the Government—and praising the Government is a good point to conclude on.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on this group of amendments. I have listened to the debate and, while I understand a number of the points raised, I am afraid I cannot support any of the new clauses, as I will endeavour to explain.
I will begin with new clause 24, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers. By the end of this Parliament the local government sector will retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local government services. For the first time in decades, local areas will see the full direct benefit of business rate growth in their area. We wish to end the merry-go-round of clawing back local taxes to Whitehall and handing them out again in the form of grants. We will, of course, however, maintain redistribution between councils so that local authorities do not lose out.
We will be working with local authorities over the coming days and weeks on this ambitious agenda. It is our intention to devolve far-reaching powers within a framework of strong, accountable, transparent governance, and strong delivery capability. We will be setting out our detailed proposals in due course and, in light of this, I hope all parts of the House would agree that this new clause, which would require the Secretary of State to set out a framework for further devolution of fiscal powers, is unnecessary. I recognise the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) on this new clause, and his desire to see at the end of this process a period of reflection and consideration. I think there is merit in what he says. We will see how things progress, but certainly we will need to look at the totality of what has been done before deciding what next steps may ultimately then follow.
New clause 29 and accompanying new schedule 2 would provide for a local government independence code, defining the relationship between central Government and local authorities, and would make provision about their financial independence and conduct. Such codification is somewhat contrary to our constitutional traditions, and I do not think we need to go down the route set out by this new clause. We always want clarity in the deals we do—we always want to have discussions with local government about the future they see for themselves—but we see no need for what would be a very restraining and unnecessarily legalistic approach to the relationship between central and local government. We will, of course, look to the future, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) asked. He is an ambitious advocate of devolution in all its guises and where it can go, and I look forward to having, I am sure, many more debates in future about this topic with him.
New clause 30 seeks to reduce the minimum percentage of local government electors in a local authority area required for a petition to trigger a referendum on its governance model. My hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) have spoken eloquently on this issue. It is an issue that I know they care about. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes, famed for his consistency, is of course someone who stands by his beliefs and is, I think, in line and in tune with the sentiment of what the Government are doing in this area on this occasion. However, I cannot suggest we should support his new clause because the Local Government Act 2000 gives both the Secretary of State, and Welsh Ministers where relevant in Wales, a power to make regulations concerning public petitions in relation to whether a local authority should hold a referendum about changing its governance arrangements, for example to adopt a directly elected mayor. The regulations can already specify the minimum number of electors who must sign a petition for it to be valid, and the default position if the regulations do not specify any such threshold is 5%, which is also the current threshold for England. I have listened to hon. Members’ arguments, and I am happy to have further discussions about the actions the Government should take in the exercise of those powers, but I do not think it necessary to make this amendment to the Bill at this time.
New clause 31 would allow the Secretary of State, by order, to give power to the mayor of a combined authority to set a minimum unit price for alcohol sold in the combined authority area, with the mayor’s power being exercisable only following consultation on the proposed level of that price. The Government have recently undertaken a nationwide consultation on the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol, which raised a number of issues, including the potential economic impact of minimum unit pricing and the possibility of unintended impacts on businesses. The new clause’s proposed piecemeal, localised minimum alcohol pricing would risk consumers simply travelling outside the area of the authority to purchase cheaper alcohol in a neighbouring area.
I understand that in Scotland the policy of minimum unit pricing for alcohol has been legally challenged, and that the European Court of Justice has yet to express a final view. The introduction of a minimum unit price therefore remains under consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has made clear his desire to see the policy pursued, but for the reasons I have outlined we have no plans to devolve the matter at this time. We will therefore oppose the new clause.
New clause 32 seeks to introduce a requirement for mayoral combined authorities to publish annual reports about their performance in applying elements of the family test. The family test applies to the development of central Government policy. It recognises the fundamental impacts that central Government decisions can have on families and introduces an explicit family perspective into the policy-making process. However, it would not be devolutionary to start prescribing in detail how mayors or combined authorities should go about exercising their functions. We therefore have no plans to require mayoral combined authorities to apply a family test—a test that was in fact designed to be applied to policy decisions with national impact.
Turning to new clause 33, I want to start by saying that we value the important role of parish councils and that we support local government in innovating and achieving value for money, especially when such money is reinvested into communities. The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked some specific questions, which I shall now answer, on the powers of parishes to sell electricity that they generate. A specific example would involve electricity generated from renewable sources.
There is no need to amend the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to enable the sale of electricity generated by parish councils. Through the general power of competence in section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 and through section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, it is already possible for parish councils to sell the electricity they generate, depending on the circumstances. I suspect that the new clause was tabled to seek clarity, and should my comments not provide sufficient clarity I shall of course be happy to speak to interested Members after the debate to ensure that any concerns are properly addressed.
I turn now to new clause 36, tabled by Labour Members, which would require a combined authority with devolved functions to consider the impact on neighbouring local authority areas. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary or appropriate. The statute provides that combined authorities must exercise their functions in relation to their area. That area, of course, is the area that Parliament has approved when establishing the combined authority. It is an area that equally has enabled the combined authority to satisfy the statutory tests—that is, it is an area in which, if functions are exercised, that exercise of functions will result in an improvement compared with what would otherwise be the case. Indeed, the Bill provides that functions cannot be devolved to a combined authority if the Secretary of State does not consider that that would lead to an improvement in the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority’s area.
The new clause seeks to provide some further requirement about how, once established, a combined authority should go about the exercise of the functions devolved to it. As with local authorities, combined authorities must take their decisions having regard to all relevant considerations. Just as local authorities cannot be blind to the impact of their decisions beyond their boundaries, nor can combined authorities; and just as local authorities are able to form joint committees with neighbouring authorities to manage activities that could have an impact beyond their areas, so can combined authorities. Hence, as I have said, the proposed new clause is neither necessary nor appropriate for inclusion in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate has also tabled new clause 37, which would amend section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 so that a councillor who received any sentence of imprisonment, including a suspended one, would be disqualified. At present, a councillor is disqualified only if they have received a sentence of imprisonment, suspended or not, of not less than three months without the option of a fine.
Previous Governments have recognised that section 80 needs to be updated, not least to take account of modern sentencing guidelines, and we agree that change is necessary. Many things have changed since 1972, and this section is in need of amendment. At the beginning of this year, the Electoral Commission’s report “Standing for election in the UK” recommended that the Government clarify and update the law relating to the qualifications for local government elections. Our strong preference is to consult on change, and to work with colleagues in the local government sector and the Electoral Commission in considering the scope of section 80, rather than make piecemeal amendments through this Bill. This work will include not only reviewing and possibly amending the rules of disqualification relating to sentencing, but reviewing other rules about the qualification for standing for election, including rules about employees standing for election and about residence. I would like to thank my hon. Friend for bringing this proposal to the attention of the Committee. I know that he has a pressing constituency issue, which he explored in his comments and which highlights the need to make progress. I hope, however, that he will recognise that it is important that that is done in a considered and sensible way, as well as in a timely way, and that an amendment to this Bill is not the appropriate way to do that at this time.
New clause 38 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and it relates to London. I recognise the work that has gone into it. It is an interesting clause that clearly seeks to raise an important point that matters not only to him but to Members from across the House who take an interest in devolution and such matters in London. If accepted, the clause would enable ministerial functions to be devolved to voluntary joint committees of London councils and to such committees acting jointly with the Mayor of London. I understand from his explanatory statement that the purpose of the amendment is to provide
“for decision-making arrangements to enable operational delegation to groups of London local authorities and for the strategic governance of devolved responsibilities to be shared between London authorities and the Mayor through an appropriately constituted joint committee.”
We have always made it clear that for functions to be devolved to local authorities arrangements ensuring strong and clear accountability must be put in place. The new clause appears to be an attempt to formalise joint committee arrangements, while making it clear that London authorities will have the freedom to enter into their own constitutional arrangements for joint committees, including arrangements involving the Mayor of London. We do not believe that the informal nature of the proposed arrangements provides the strong and clear accountability that would support the devolution of the functions of either a Minister or a Department to a joint committee. However, I do recognise that giving more substance to multi-borough partnerships, which are already delivering innovative pilots in the areas of health, employment and skills, could help provide clearer lines of accountability and enable them to take on more ambitious programmes in the future. I am happy, therefore, for departmental officials to work with London further to explore options and I am of course happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend after the progress that we hope this Bill will have made today.
Finally, new clause 39 seeks to place in the Bill a specific requirement for the Secretary of State to prepare guidance for combined authorities on effective strategic planning for environmental problems and green infrastructure no later than three months after the passing of this Act. As with some of the other amendments we have discussed today, providing for central prescription in this way goes against what this Bill is about; we are engaged in the business of reversing many years of centralisation.
With that, and the explanations I have given on the other provisions in this group, I hope that hon. Members will not push their amendments to a vote. The Government intend to resist them. We have had another interesting, useful and productive discussion on a wide range of issues in this group. It has informed the debate about devolution more generally in a helpful and productive way. On that basis, I hope we can continue to build consensus, can deliver this Bill and can deliver on our commitments.
I agree with the Minister that this has been a good, interesting and productive debate. He says he is in listening mode. I am not sure he is hearing quite as much as we might have hoped, but I recognise his intention to build consensus, which is necessary for the important, incremental, constitutional change we have before us this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) put forward some proposals that have cross-party support and that would enable further and faster devolution for London. I hear what the Minister says, and I welcome his intention to work with London government and London councils to find a way to make these proposals work, because otherwise the complexity of London government will pull London back from the forefront of progress towards devolution across the country. We cannot consider London as a job done just because London was out there first.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) made some very important points about fiscal devolution, which must be a central part of any devolution package; otherwise, what we are doing is merely a charade. Even if the Minister is not able or willing to bring forward proposals in this Bill, we hope that the matter forms part of future legislation as we move towards a more devolved settlement across the country.
I regret the Minister’s comments on new clause 36. Our proposals aim to help devolution to work better. Areas on the periphery of combined authorities should not be excluded from decisions that directly affect them. Our proposal merely creates the right to be consulted, which the Government have conceded when it comes to transport. They should consider it for matters of equal importance such as health. We will seek to push that new clause to the vote, but not new clause 39.
I note that the Minister did not respond to the issue of whether he would rule out Sunday trading from any future stages of this Bill. His silence will lead Members to draw their own conclusions about what is coming.
Having reflected on all the comments in the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 24.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 36
Regard to Neighbouring Authorities
In exercising a devolved function, combined authorities must have regard to any significant direct impact on the population of neighbouring authorities.” .—(Mr Steve Reed.)
This clause raises the concerns of some authorities which neighbour devolved authorities and ensures that combined authorities which have devolved functions give regard to the possible impact on neighbouring populations, particularly over issues such as transport and health.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Minor and consequential amendments
I beg to move amendment 16, page 19, line 8, after “of” insert “, or made under,”
This amendment provides that the power to make regulations under clause 22 of the Bill includes a power to make provision that is consequential on instruments made under the Bill.
With this it will be convenient