Motion to Approve
My Lords, the draft order that we are considering, if approved and made, will establish a combined authority with an elected mayor for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area. It will also confer important new powers on both the mayor and the combined authority. The Government have, of course, already made significant progress in delivering their manifesto commitment to devolve far-reaching powers and budgets to combined authorities in England that choose to have directly elected mayors. Since the first devolution deal with Greater Manchester was agreed in November 2014, we have passed the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, which provides new powers for the Secretary of State by order to devolve to a combined authority a Secretary of State function, and confer on a combined authority any functions of a public authority.
I remind noble Lords that Parliament has approved orders establishing combined authority mayors in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, West Midlands, the Tees Valley and, most recently, the West of England. Parliament has also approved an order conferring additional functions on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority covering planning, transport and skills. Furthermore, orders conferring functions on other combined authorities have been laid before Parliament, to be considered imminently.
This order gives life to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal, agreed between local leaders and the Government. We are taking forward this deal with seven constituent councils, these being: Cambridge City, Cambridgeshire, East Cambridgeshire, Fenland, Huntingdonshire, Peterborough, and South Cambridgeshire. The deal means that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area will receive: control over a new £20 million a year funding allocation over 30 years, to be invested in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough single investment fund to boost growth; control over a £100 million housing and infrastructure fund and an additional £70 million over five years ring-fenced for Greater Cambridge to meet housing needs; powers over strategic planning and the responsibility to create a non-statutory spatial framework for the area; and a devolved transport budget and responsibility for an identified key route network.
Noble Lords will want to know that the statutory origin of this order is in the governance review and scheme prepared by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils in accordance with the requirements of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The seven councils consulted on the proposals in the scheme. This consultation ran for six weeks from 8 July to 23 August 2016 and involved a demographically equalised Ipsos MORI phone survey and an internet poll. The consultation received more responses than any other comparable consultation. As statute requires, the councils provided the Secretary of State with a summary of the responses to the consultation in September.
Before laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State has considered the statutory requirements in the 2009 Act. He is satisfied that these requirements are met. The Secretary of State considers that they have been met in relation to proposals to establish a directly elected mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, to establish a combined authority across the local government area and to confer functions on that combined authority. In short, he considers that establishing the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral combined authority and conferring the functions on it would be likely to lead to an improvement in the exercise of the statutory functions across the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area. In this consideration, the Secretary of State has had regard to the impact on local government and communities. Also as required by statute, the seven constituent councils have consented to the making of this order.
As required by the 2016 Act, we have in parallel with this order laid a report before Parliament which sets out the details of the public authority functions we are conferring on Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The draft order, if approved by Parliament, will come into effect the day after it is made. It implements many of the proposals in the seven councils’ 2016 scheme. If approved and made, it will create a mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, directly elected by and accountable to the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The first elections will be carried out on 4 May 2017. The mayor will then take office on 8 May 2017 for a four-year term. Second elections are to be held on 6 May 2021.
The scheme will also: establish a combined authority, chaired by the elected mayor and with members drawn from the seven constituent councils; confer significant new powers and budgets on the mayor and combined authority as set out in the devolution deal; enable the mayor to create a strategic transport plan for the area; confer on the combined authority the function to maintain a key route network, to be exercised by the mayor; confer on the combined authority economic and regeneration functions, as well as functions in relation to the non-statutory spatial plan, with a general power of competence; confer powers in relation to the devolved transport budget, driving development and regeneration and stimulating growth; provide new powers in relation to devolved budgets; provide for the necessary constitutional and funding arrangements to support the mayor and the combined authority; and provide for the seven constituent councils to contribute to the funding of the mayor and combined authority’s activities in an arrangement where the councils are in the driving seat of any decision about the level of contributions.
In short, the order devolves new, wide-ranging powers to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, putting decision-making into the hands of local people and helping the area to fulfil its long-term economic and social ambitions. The draft order we are considering today is a significant milestone, contributing to greater prosperity in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and paving the way for a more balanced economy, improved housing supply and economic success across the country. I commend the draft order to the House.
My Lords, I should draw attention to my registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. I am also, of course, a resident of Cambridgeshire.
Cambridge and Peterborough are two of this country’s fastest-growing cities. They are complementary in their industrial character, but, together, they offer the potential to be one of the leading locations both for high-technology investment and for related value-added activity. To enable this, the county requires more infrastructure, more sites for investment, more housing and commercial development and more skills. All these can and should be more effectively promoted by means of a combined authority taking hold of significant additional investment for housing and infrastructure from the Government, equipping it with local powers and budgets, and seeking a multiplier effect through partnerships with the private sector. I support devolution—and this order. It can have a significant effect in creating and delivering a driver for growth in our area.
In particular, I supported the Government’s initial plan for a three-county devolution deal—that is, Cambridge, Norfolk and Suffolk. Why? In my view, the real potential long-term for East Anglia is to secure Cambridge’s structural relationship to its wider economic hinterland. In reality, that extends into Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire, as well as Suffolk and Norfolk. That is especially so given the focus on life sciences as a global hub south of Cambridge.
Devolution did not, and would not, fit neatly to the economic geography of the Cambridge economic region so the wider scope of devolution and, for now, that more ambitious approach have been dropped. That does not reduce the need for clear and active strategic co-ordination across several counties in the east of England. I urge the mayor and combined authority to look for those strategic relationships with their neighbouring counties—as I know they will. That, as much as anything, should encourage those working towards devolution deals in neighbouring counties—I know Suffolk is considering exactly this—to seek to create further openings in future for ambitious infrastructure plans on a wider footprint. Investment in Cambridge is strong and sustainable in itself but the long-term economic benefit to the United Kingdom will be maximised only by realising scale and opportunities for supply-chain and linked investments related to Cambridge’s remarkable high-tech pull.
I support the combined authority as set out in this order, but I must be clear that this order sets up a combined authority. Where I live, as a consequence of this, after May I will be represented by a parish council, a district council, a county council and the combined authority. That is certainly one tier, and arguably two, too many. Locally, there is an unwritten assumption that in time the combined authority and the upper-tier responsibilities of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough should be managed in one organisation. Indeed, there is already a single chief executive for both Cambridgeshire County Council and for Peterborough. That process should be taken forward—and quickly. The cost of the combined authority in itself is not large, but the complexity of four tiers of local government could mean that the vision, delivery and progress we make are nothing like as much as they should be. I also urge Ministers to work with the combined authority and local councils to bring the Cambridge city deal, which is important in the management particularly of transport and congestion issues in Cambridge itself, within the scope of the combined authority.
Further, I draw attention to paragraph 4 of the schedule, as noble Lords may not have had occasion to look at that. It implies that no decision of the combined authority can proceed without the mayor’s agreement but also that no budget or transport plan of the combined authority can proceed without a two-thirds majority. In practice, four councils can form a blocking minority, even in relation to a budget or transport plan the mayor supports. Of course, this implies that the combined authority, local authorities and mayor must work collaboratively, and they have shown themselves capable of doing so in bringing the order and this plan into being. However, legislation is like a contract. It must be robust when things go wrong and define what happens when people do not agree. I am far from happy that this is yet the case for the new combined authority. The mayor will have a mandate. The role is about vision, leadership and delivery. The mayor should not readily be able to be blocked. With that caveat, I support this order and I look for ambition in Cambridgeshire to be realised in the years ahead, not least through the mechanism of this new combined authority.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, surprised me the other week by making a favourable reference to me in relation to another matter. I reciprocate by thanking him for clarifying an issue that I have mentioned from time to time: it seems we are facing over time a reorganisation of local government on unitary lines without any involvement on the part of local communities. It is a back-door way of reorganising local government. As the noble Lord indicated, there may be a case for doing that, but it sits at odds with the protestations about local democracy and people being involved for it to be conjured up through delegated legislation of this kind.
Moreover, there has been a very interesting exchange of correspondence between the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—the initial report of which was really quite damning about the process that has been adopted here—and the Minister, Mr Andrew Percy, on its 25th report, which emerged just last week. In particular, there was reference in the initial report to dissatisfaction on the committee’s part relating to claims of popular support for the notion of having a combined authority—not a unitary authority. In reply, the Minister referred to the point that had been raised. He said that the committee’s Explanatory Memorandum,
“quoted that under the online poll 47% were opposed to the transfer of powers and funding to a Combined Authority. I accept that it did not record that 59%”—
“were opposed to a mayor; our intention had been to include this but due to an error whilst the drafting was being refined, this was omitted from the final text”,
for which the Minister apologised. I am sure the committee was very grateful for the apology. I wonder what action has been taken against the unfortunate civil servant who apparently just overlooked that issue. The Minister went on to say:
“I believe it is right to refer to the comment made by the councils that the online survey results ‘aren’t representative of the population as a whole’ and represent a ‘self-selecting sample’”.
Any vote at an election represents a self-selected sample. What is the difference in principle that should apply to a response to the report? It seems an absurd justification.
I find myself deeply suspicious of the Government’s approach to this and other mayoral elections. The history is recent: there was a referendum as to whether there should be a Mayor of London. Later, the coalition Government ordained that there should be referendums in a number of authorities. My own authority of Newcastle—I remind the House I am a member of Newcastle City Council and one of several honorary vice-presidents of the LGA—is one of the authorities that was forced to have a referendum. Most of the referendums resulted in a rejection of the notion of an elected mayor. Through this process, the Government are getting round the verdict in so many places without having the courage—that is all it requires—to seek again the opinion of people who made their position very clear some years ago. The Government would be in a position to argue that they are offering more than just a chance of having a mayor. They are offering the chance of a mayor with enhanced powers, a combined authority with enhanced powers and all the rest of it, but they have deliberately chosen not to offer that opportunity to the people on whom they imposed a more limited version of the process a few years ago. I find that inconsistent and, frankly, rather disgraceful.
I wish the citizens of these two authorities well. I hope that the combined authority works out well and that the mayor works well, but we are seeing an erosion of local involvement in these matters and in areas that have expressed clear enough reservations. Bath was the last one we discussed in this Chamber; it was quite clear that Bath did not wish to have an elected mayor as part of the combined authority. The Government really should look again at their processes in connection with this issue.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has encouraged me to say a brief word about Huntingdon. The Minister will not know that I spent my early years in Huntingdon, a very important historic town which has always been subsumed within other authorities, especially Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has just said, I would just ask the Minister how far the consultation extended to Huntingdon. Is there a record of what the population said and whether it was in favour of this combined authority? To me, it is just another case of some of our traditions being overwhelmed by the convention of creating these combined authorities.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lansley characteristically spoke a lot of good sense about the reorganisation of local government in East Anglia but also exposed some of the difficulties there. For example, I share his concern that there should be, going forward now, four tiers of local government. It seems just a little too many. I just wanted to make plain, as a resident of Bury St Edmunds, our determination not to be caught up in this aggrandisement of East Anglian government. We are pretty content with the way we run things locally ourselves and would really like to be left alone to do things in our own way. We have a very effective council with some very effective ways of getting the savings that can come from collaboration without going through the nonsense, if I may use the word, of legislation to combine authorities.
There is no reason why they should not work from the same headquarters or have the same chief officer in more than one authority. There is no reason why you should not be able to go, as I can in Bury St Edmunds, to your local government headquarters and immediately be put in touch with the official who is responsible for the matter that concerns you and sit down together and sort things out. It also enables them to have, in that headquarters building, people responsible for different parts of the authority’s functions: for example education and services for younger people. Those officials have developed the habit of meeting together in the canteen there, and discussing matters and understanding them fully. Sometimes, informal good governance is rather more effective than finding ourselves with four tiers of government through statute.
My Lords, I apologise for coming in slightly late, as the lifts were running slowly. I was inspired to speak because although I seldom agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I very much do on this occasion, for which I am sure there is rejoicing around the House. I wanted to challenge, or comment on, the position of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I speak as a resident of the city of Norwich, of whose council I was formerly leader, and as someone with strong relationships within that city. I was therefore involved in the discussions—at one remove, obviously and properly—on the inclusion of Norfolk and Suffolk in a greater East Anglia authority. The problem for us, which I regard as a very unfortunate legacy of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, is the imposition of the requirement of an elected mayor to be concomitant with a combined authority.
In Norfolk, there were several, rural Conservative authorities—and I am sure it may also be true for many in Suffolk—which were very happy to have a combined authority with an elected mayor who would be Conservative, for ever and a day, representing, to some degree, lower-rate and lower-services authorities. That is their choice. That is not the same for urban authorities such as Norwich, which are effectively regional capitals with the revenues of a rural district council, which have always provided services from leisure to employment—half the jobs in Norfolk are in Norwich—for the whole of the county. We would worry about having an elected mayor over one county, or two counties, of a permanently different, rural complexion—being Conservative would worry me less—running the cities. Those medium-sized cities are the core of economic growth in this country, now and to come.
Secondly, we have a strong sense of place; I believe that some of the alienation that we have seen in politics is because we are losing that sense of identification with place, which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred to. Norwich was for 800 years a unitary authority and then, at the stroke of a pen in 1974, that was abolished, with no respect for place, history or local opinion. Many of us are still fighting to get a more sensible, coherent, democratic, accountable and effective local government system. I have a plea to the Minister, following what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said. Yes, we are working well in LEPs, which shows that authorities of different persuasions can work together, but we do not want an elected mayor whereby one person, presumably male, will be able to override the views of perhaps 300 elected councillors, at whatever tier of government, who are in touch with their communities in a way that one person cannot be. One person speaking for two counties—which are some 120 miles long—would be absurd and inappropriate.
What we need in Norfolk—it may be true for Suffolk; I cannot speak for Suffolk—is transport connectivity. It is something that the rural authorities want and something that Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth also want: to build decent economic infrastructure. We cannot get that if an elected mayor does not necessarily share those ambitions, because they come from a very different local heritage. I respect the rights of those rural district councils to have a different perspective on what they and their communities want from local government. What I fear is that, by insisting on an elected mayor over a county, or even two counties, as the price of a devolution package including transport connectivity, we will not get the focus on economic productivity and growth that, bluntly, only the cities—whether Southampton, Portsmouth, Norwich, Plymouth, Exeter or whatever—can provide.
That is why I beg the Government to disassociate combined authorities from the imposition of the Heseltine elected mayor. We do not want grand leadership; we want collaboration and working together in consensus. That is the best done—in the very words of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—by local authorities, councillors and staff working together in a collaborative way. The way that the Government are going is not healthy for local government, for a sense of local place or, ultimately, for democratic politics, which should grow from the bottom up. That bottom-up approach is now being undermined by back-door reorganisation in ways that do not fit the needs, views and wishes of local communities.
My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness with trepidation—I think that, on the whole, what we are looking at today is a practical outcome of the decisions that have already been made in principle. I ought to declare my interest as a councillor in West Yorkshire and an LGA vice-president. While I obviously support the decision of the local, democratically elected councils in the relevant areas of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to go forward with this devolution deal, I draw the House’s attention to what appears to be a lack of support—or certainly a contradiction over whether there is support—from the residents in those areas. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has drawn attention to the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which highlights the lack of transparency—I think those were the words in the report—and certainly a seeming discrepancy between the two surveys undertaken at the time.
The Government ought to reflect on the final paragraph of the report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which says:
“The picture of local views painted by the Department for Communities and Local Government in the Explanatory Memorandum is incomplete and at times self-serving. We look to Government to present a fuller and more accurate account of such matters”.
With that fair comment on what has gone on in the consultation, I will make some remarks about the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He drew attention to the fact that a mayor who was elected will have a mandate. However, the whole way in which the combined authorities with elected mayors have been established is to have some sort of stop on the mayoral mandate so that they are not people making decisions alone, and quite rightly too. There should be an opportunity for local councils to say, “We disagree with what the mayor is doing” and to veto it. That is an appropriate way to work, given that local councils are allowing some of their powers to be drawn upwards to the combined authority and to the mayor.
In many ways, it is wrong to view the mayors of these combined authorities in the same way as the Mayor of London. First of all, there is no assembly to scrutinise, and secondly, the mayor does not have the same functions: hence the need for a veto in the hands of local councils. This ensures that any decisions which will have enormous impact on local people have the support of those democratically elected councils.
I now turn to the discussions that we have had so far in this debate about layers of democratically elected councils. In my area, there is just one layer. Until the Conservative MPs in Yorkshire stop trying to prevent West Yorkshire from having a combined authority, we have only one layer of local government. It is significantly harder work for those who are elected there than if we had district or parish councils to support much of the work done.
I am a great believer in having layers of councils as long as their functions are very well identified. It enables the places to have a view. One of my concerns is that democracy is moved further and further away from the people whom we represent, so having more councils at real local level to hear views and complaints and to do something about them is the safety valve that many parts of this country are lacking. That is one reason why we are having quite a difference of opinion across the country at the moment: those safety valves are disappearing.
Having said that—because I have concerns about elected mayors that your Lordships might have heard—I will raise one or two questions about this set of powers being acquired by the combined local authority in Cambridge and Peterborough. There is going to be a power of general competence for the combined authority and the mayor. I am concerned as to whether this will be at variance with the power of general competence that the constituent local authorities have, and how those separate interests might resolve themselves if there is a difference of opinion there. My second point is about the scrutiny arrangements, which are not described here. I would guess that they are part of an earlier order and I am concerned whether they are the same as for previous combined authorities. The third point is that there is a suggestion somewhere in the report that further powers are yet to come, which rather puzzled me as I thought they would all be laid out in one go. Why are these not yet identified and what possible additional local powers might there be?
I support the idea of having a democratically elected layer of government which looks at a strategic vision for a broad locality and has some powers and some additional funding, although that is being overstated. Some £30 million a year is not going to change the world, but having a strategic vision and laying out the course of direction for the future is a powerful thing to devolve to local people. With that, I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to some of the questions I have raised.
My Lords, if I may first make a number of declarations, I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests and declare that I am a locally elected councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The order before us is one of a number that we have considered in this House in recent weeks. As we have heard, it proposes to establish a mayoral combined authority, with that authority having control over a number of areas including transport, economic development, regeneration, housing and planning. It also provides for the governance arrangements to include a directly elected mayor. I am not opposed to the order per se but I have a number of comments and a few questions for the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
I hope that the new arrangements will deliver better joint working between the authorities. Bringing them together in this fashion may foster stronger partnerships in other areas as well and in the wider East Anglia area, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred. In general, however, I would be interested to hear from the Minister where the Government are going in respect of devolution. The order seems a little confusing and not very strategic at the moment.
I am not clear in general how the Government see these devolution deals going forward. I would be particularly interested in the response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in respect of having four tiers of local government. He made a compelling point for the Government to answer there. I am also in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, on the points he made in that respect, and with my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham. She made the point about having to have a directly elected mayor to get the transport powers, which is an issue for a number of local authorities.
When Manchester became the first combined authority it got much wider powers than we see here today, as it has powers in respect of the NHS and the police. Is that sort of deal off the table for the future or is some sort of back-door reorganisation being suggested? It really is not clear. I am not sure whether the sort of patchwork that we are getting all over the country is the right way to operate. Perhaps we could hear a little more about what the Minister thinks could happen after May. There appears to have been some change in attitude in respect of these deals with the change of government.
The report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raises a number of concerns, as my noble friend Lord Beecham and others have said. One or two of them are becoming recurring themes, which is not a good place for the Government to find themselves in. A concern raised before on other orders is the question of consultation done over the July and August holiday period. Whatever it is you want to get back, that is not the best time to consider consultation. Often people, especially those with families, will go on holiday once the children are off school and come back some time before September. If you want a meaningful response—a good number of responses—that is just not the best time to do it. I do not understand why the department insists on conducting consultations over that period; I suggest that we should never hold consultations then.
Will the Minister respond to the comments in the report about what would appear to be the selective approach to reporting results of the online survey? That is a serious criticism for the committee to raise. What does he say to the other criticism in the report, which compares the views taken by the department of this order and of the West of England Combined Authority Order? It turned that whole question on its head when it suited it in respect of this order. That is also a serious point for the committee to raise, not one the Minister should be happy about and something that he should not allow to happen in future.
It is probably not fair to say that there is a democratic deficit here, but it is fair to say that democracy is getting out of step with the services being delivered. There are four tiers of local government, it is not clear who does what, we have a patchwork around the country and there is the question of locally elected councillors and a mayor elected over a very wide area. That does not give continuity between the elected members and the services delivered.
With those contributions, I will leave it there and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on the draft order in relation to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. I will do my best to cover the points made, and will take the contributions in the order in which they were made.
I turn first to my noble friend Lord Lansley, whom I thank very much for his support. I take his point about broader working outside the combined authority with, in this case, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and so on. That is incumbent on the authority concerned and I am sure it will bear that very much in mind. There was a recurrent theme picked up first by my noble friend about the various tiers of local government. It is certainly something that we need to watch like hawks. The point subsequently made by my noble friend Lord Tebbit about shared offices and shared officers makes a lot of common sense. I know that a lot of local authorities do that and is certainly something encouraged by the department and the Government at large. It makes a lot of sense, and I am sure that this authority and others will bear it in mind.
I turn to my noble friend’s point about paragraph 4 of the Schedule and the balance of power in a combined authority between the mayor, officials and elected members, a point subsequently raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I think the balance is right. The mayor does not have an overriding right to say, “We will do this”, but the mayor’s vote has to be included in the majority. That is carefully crafted: balances on these things are important.
I turn to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who raised some strategic issues about the operation of combined authorities. Indeed, they operate in a strategic way. They are not in competition with local authorities, they are looking at issues of strategic importance. He will know that the Government are not imposing these authorities on people. That is not borne out by practice or even by the contributions to the debate. He will know from the experience of his authority that it can walk away from this. That is why Northumbria—Newcastle, Tyneside and Durham—does not have a combined authority. Some people did not want an elected mayor; there were differences of opinion between different parts of the area. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, illustrates this: Norfolk walked away because it did not want an elected mayor, for whatever reason.
The reason was that we do not want a swagger mayor of the 1970s Heseltine model. We want greater collaboration in the same way as, when Great Yarmouth was under stress, our chief executive in Norwich worked as chief executive for Yarmouth as well. That is the sort of collaboration we want—by consent and bottom-up—that will allow us to build the sort of economy that is to the advantage not just of the region but the country as a whole.
I appreciate what the noble Baroness is saying, but I am not sure that that was the result of a thoroughgoing consultation—picking up points made by other noble Lords. Whatever the reason, it illustrates the point that the Government are not in a position to impose these deals.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made points about Huntingdon—a gem of a town; I know Huntingdon and Godmanchester very well. Of course, it had to be a part of this process. If Huntingdonshire, as an authority, had not wanted to go ahead with this, it would not have been a part of it, and I suspect the deal may well have fallen apart. I shall say something later in relation to points made by quite a few noble Lords about the consultation exercise.
My noble friend Lord Tebbit made some telling points about the common sense of having shared officers and shared officials and ensuring that we are getting value for money where we have more than one authority. I am sure that that makes a lot of sense and that his cogent and authoritative voice in Bury St Edmunds will always make sure that that authority’s interests are taken account of, as they will be, I am sure, in any devolution deal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is obviously in close liaison with my noble friend Lord Tebbit. I shall be watching them for shared coffees on these issues as they go forward. I take the point she makes that an elected mayor is not something that all local authorities want, but it is not something that is imposed. Some authorities have come forward without an elected mayor model, Cornwall being the example to look at. The Government are not saying that there have to be mayors in all situations. Where people do not want mayors, they do not have mayors.
I will write more fully on the Explanatory Memorandum, which has been raised in relation to the consultation and other matters, and I shall write to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate and place a copy in the Library. I shall not go into all the details of the consultation that took place, except to make two points. This has been the best response to consultation of any that we have had so far. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. He knows what I have been saying in relation to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill about best practice when consultations take place. This consultation took place over six weeks, so it was not the normal short planning period of 21 days. It was a more thoroughgoing consultation, and some of it was online. Those are factors which have to be borne in mind, but I will cover the points about the results. There were two polls: an Ipsos MORI general poll—the main poll, as it were—and an internet poll. Without pre-empting what I am going to say in the letter, I think the internet poll would be a little self-selecting, whereas the other poll may not be. I will try to cover that in the letter that will come round.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an issue about general competence. I think this would mean general competence over the designated functions that they are receiving. She also asked about other issues that may be coming forward. There may well be some others. Housing, for example, is not covered in this order, and that generally finds its way into orders of this type, so that may well be coming forward, but I think the bulk of the transfer of functions is in this order.
I think I have covered the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. He always starts off by saying how much he supports something and then comes with a long list of reasons against it, which is like wanting his cake and eating it. I suspect the Labour Party says, “You’ve got to be in favour”, but the noble Lord thinks of all the things he wants to say that indicate concerns about it. I understand them, but overall he seemed to be saying that this is a good thing. It is not imposed. I think it will be successful. No doubt as we go forward there will be lessons that we can learn. With that, and picking up any points that I have missed, particularly on the Explanatory Memorandum, I commend this order to the House.