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Elected Mayors

Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose to carry out a consultation about the role and number of elected mayors.

My Lords, the Government have made a clear commitment to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest cities, as set out in the coalition agreement. The Government believe that mayors are an effective model, but it will ultimately be for local people to decide what is best for their city.

I thank the Minister for her reply and congratulate her warmly on her appointment. Will she confirm again that the Government have no intention of imposing elected mayors on authorities, particularly given that many good local authorities and many areas of the country have shown little interest in the system? Does she agree that it would be inconsistent for the Government on the one hand to declare the merits of, and their belief in, localism, and on the other to adopt a “government knows best” attitude in this matter?

My Lords, I can confirm that localism is one of the major planks of the Government’s policies, our intention being to put things down to as low a level as we can. With regard to the 12 cities that have already been named, we expect to engage with local government and other interested parties as the policy is considered. The policy on locally elected mayors will be subject to confirmatory referendums each time.

I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment. Her many years of experience in local government will be a great help to this House and to the Government. Does she agree that the creation of single-person executives requires close attention to be paid to checks and balances to prevent abuse of power? What discussions are being had on term limits such as those in other countries?

I thank my noble friend for her very kind comments and welcome. The intention is to give mayors powers, but those powers will be subject to scrutiny by elected councils, which will have full scrutiny over what is being done. The terms of mayoralties have not yet been finalised.

My Lords, I add to the congratulations to the noble Baroness on her appointment. I fondly remember working opposite her on many occasions when she was a stout defender of traditional London boroughs and structures of local government. The Mayor of London today has made a power grab to take over the London region of the Homes and Communities Agency, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the Royal Parks Agency and the Port of London Authority. It has also sought greater powers over traffic control and awarding rail franchises on routes into London and the allocation of the adult skills budget in London, and to have a greater say in health provision in the capital. Are those proposals supported by Her Majesty's Government and, if so, will they be the powers on offer to the other prospective city mayors?

My Lords, I appreciate that the Mayor of London is looking for greater powers and devolved policies. As the noble Lord will know, we welcome the contribution that the Mayor of London makes, and the new Government have already committed to genuine decentralisation of power. That may mean transferring further powers to the mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.

My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the noble Baroness to her position. She has great experience in local government and the health service, and we warmly congratulate her.

The noble Baroness talks about the Government’s commitment to localism; she has mentioned that twice already. In the past three weeks, the Government have introduced legislation to take education powers away from local authorities. The Secretary of State has announced that council tax will be capped. Local authorities are being required to publish minutiae of information; if they do not, legislation is promised. The 12 largest local authorities will essentially be forced to go down the elected mayoral route. Is not the only freedom that the Government are giving to local authorities the freedom to do what they are told by their boss?

Again, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. No, I do not think that what he said is true. Local authorities will find that they have greater flexibility and power once localism is introduced. We have already indicated that there will be a freeze on council tax for two years. That is something that local authorities have known they would have to implement for some time. I do not accept that there is more central control. There could hardly be more central control than there was under the previous Government, and we certainly expect to make it less.

Does my noble friend remember that health control for the whole of London by the regional assembly has been considered for many years, going back even to LCC days? Certainly, it was greatly considered in GLC days. Does she not think that it is more suitable for this regional authority to have an interest in public health but not necessarily for it to be running the health service, which is quite capable of running itself in London?

My Lords, I am not sure whether any decision has been made on running health services in London. That is in any case beyond me and in the hands of another Minister.

My congratulations, too, to a good local government friend in the Minister. Does she agree that turkeys do not vote for Christmas—and, if so, does she think that there is a need for someone to make the case for change to the leadership structures of local government?

My Lords, I am slightly confused by the question. If it relates to the mayors—I just raise my eyebrows and look at the noble Lord—then of course discussions are going to take place. This policy is newly announced and discussions need to take place with local government, as I have already indicated.