Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought
66: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental Impact Assessment(1) The Secretary of State must publish an environmental impact assessment 120 days after laying regulations under section 7.(2) Each year thereafter, the CCA must publish an environmental impact assessment in relation to their ongoing operation.”Member's explanatory statement
This means that an environmental impact assessment must be published following the establishment of a CCA.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 66 I will speak also to a number of amendments in this group in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage.
Amendment 66 would require an environmental impact assessment to be published following the establishment of a CCA. We have heard in previous debates that the Bill will create a new model of combined authority through county deals, which will provide local leaders with powers to enhance local accountability, join up services and provide transparent decision-making to rejuvenate their communities. Although this is clearly an excellent ambition, previous debates have also demonstrated that there are many unknowns about how things are going to happen, particularly in a practical way, and what the impacts will be.
An environmental impact assessment would ensure that the likely environmental effects of any decisions are fully understood and then properly considered. An EIA would assess the direct and indirect impact based on a wide range of environmental factors—and it is a wide range, which is why an EIA must be considered and published. It could cover population and human health, biodiversity, land and soil, water, air, climate, landscape, material assets and cultural heritage. There is a lot here to be thought about. It is important, particularly given that we do not believe, as others have said in the previous debates around emissions, that the environment has been properly considered as one of the missions; it is not properly built upon throughout the Bill.
Amendment 74, tabled by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, asks the Government to define and clarify the purpose of non-constituent members under Clauses 9 and 10, which relate to the appointment of the non-constituent and associate members of a CCA respectively. Our concern is that it is not clear whether there is to be any further guidance on whether certain types of non-constituent or associate members will be prescribed by the Secretary of State or recommended in further guidance, or whether it is entirely for the CCA to determine this class of membership according to what it believes local needs to be; for example, whether an ICS or a hospital trust is invited—because a major priority is to tackle health inequalities—or whether it is felt to be important locally that the local enterprise partnership be a non-constituent member to make a link with economic growth. Clarification on that from the Minister would be very helpful.
We have concerns that Clauses 9 and 10 appear to be qualified by Clause 11, which gives significant powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations in relation to non-constituent members. These include the number of non-constituent members; the appointment, disqualification and resignation, or even removal, of non-constituent members; the appointment of a substitute member to act in place of a constituent member; the maximum number of non-constituent members; and the things that may or may not be done by a non-constituent member. There are also equivalent Secretary of State powers relating to associate members. A circumstance could be imagined where, if the Secretary of State took such powers, the outcomes could end up being the exact opposite of the localism and devolution that the Bill purports to enshrine.
That is our big concern with these clauses, and why the amendment seeks clarification and further definition relating to the role of non-constituent and associate constituent members of the CCA. It is important to understand this properly. We do not want any part of the Bill to start pulling powers back centrally when the Government appear to want the exact opposite.
Amendment 76 in my name carries on from this. It would mean that a CCA could request that regulations are introduced in relation to it. Again, it is about the control that the CCA itself has when looking at regulations and at how it needs to operate and behave effectively for its local community, rather than everything being driven centrally by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 86, from my noble friend Lady Taylor, means that an annual statement must be published to show how much funding is given to each CCA. This should include a cost-benefit analysis. We have talked a lot about funding today and last week. It is a critical central part of achieving success from these clauses and the proposed devolution for England.
Clause 14 specifies the process by which the Secretary of State may draw up regulations for the funding and costs of a CCA to be met by its constituent councils, and how that amount payable will then be determined. While the clause specifies that this has to be done with the consent of constituent councils and the CCA, it does not tell us how any additional funding that may be provided by the Secretary of State, for example through the different competitive bidding pots that exist or any grants that may be given, will be included in the accountability process for the CCA. Clarification around that would be very helpful.
We also cannot ascertain from the clause how the overview and scrutiny committee—or the general public, for that matter—would be able to determine by cost-benefit analysis just how effective, with the funding being contributed to it, the CCA is at then delivering against its objectives for the area. We believe that our amendment provides a simple, straightforward way to provide that accountability through an annually published statement.
Amendment 100 in Clause 23, in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor, would require the Secretary of State to explain how a local government area will, in future, have access to the powers that it has lost through removal from a CCA. My noble friend referred to this earlier. If the Secretary of State exercises the powers set out in Clause 23 to change the boundary of a CCA and remove a local government area from the existing area of the CCA, they can either transfer those functions to another public authority or remove a particular function of the CCA altogether for that area. While there is provision that the relevant councils must consent to this removal, there is nothing in the Bill as it stands that requires the Secretary of State to specify how any powers or functions will be delivered in future once that membership of the CCA has been terminated. So, again, it would be very helpful if the Minister were able to explain how that would move forward.
Clause 23(8) refers to consent being required from only the county council and not from any district councils that may be constituent members. My noble friend spoke earlier about the important role that district councils should play. They should not be seen just as a stakeholder, a secondary authority that does not have a say in such matters. This would mean that, in effect, an area could be removed from the CCA with the consent of only the county council but not of the constituent district councils that make up the area of the CCA being removed from its boundary. Surely they should have some kind of say in this. Is this what the Bill is intending or is this an oversight? If it is what the Bill is intended to do, would the consent vote required in Clause 23(9) specifically exclude the votes of district council members of the CCA? This is a really important area that we need to clarify.
Amendment 129, again in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would require the Secretary of State to produce guidance on the establishment and operation of CCAs within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. The current clause simply states that the Secretary of State,
“may give guidance about anything that could be done”
in relation to this chapter. Well, in view of the fundamental changes to the structure of local government that this chapter on CCAs is introducing, we believe that that is far too vague, and very likely to leave local government with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it. In view of the fact that there have already been many iterations of the devolution agenda in recent years, we do not believe that it is unreasonable to expect that the Government will work with the sector in order to have, very quickly, clear and detailed guidance in relation to the establishment and the operation of CCAs as soon as possible after Royal Assent. That is why we have asked for this to happen within six months.
I turn finally to Amendment 130, which aims to probe whether the public will be informed of their CCA’s functions. With this amendment, we want to determine whether the Secretary of State will be responsible for setting out the purpose and aims of the CCAs, and how they are to be established and operated; or whether that responsibility will fall to local government. If the latter is the case, will there be new burdens that will require funding in relation to the communications aspects of informing the public about the functions of a CCA? Will any such new burdens extend to any public consultation funding? This may well be required when an area decides to proceed with the establishment of a CCA. We discussed consultation a lot in the last group but one, and the Minister seemed to believe that there was going to be support for any new burdens—so, again, clarification on that would be very welcome. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to give very substantial support to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has said. She has made several very powerful points. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to those, because I am as concerned as the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Taylor, are about some of these issues. Some of what I want to say I will cover in the next group, so I will try to avoid getting on to the issue of voting powers.
It really is very telling. Amendment 74, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, says:
“Within 30 days of this Act receiving Royal Assent, a Minister of the Crown must publish a statement including a definition of ‘non-constituent member’ and a description of their purpose”.
If I may be so bold, I think that is really late. I had expected that we would have this before Report. With the concept of an associate member and the concept of a non-constituent member, I really think that, before this Bill gets any further, we have to understand what the Government are thinking of with those definitions. We can all hazard a guess. I can hazard a guess. Some things have been said and occasionally written, but we have to do better than this.
On page 10 of the Bill, in Clause 11, the Secretary of State is going to make provision by regulations for a whole set of matters about membership. Then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, rightly identified, it is almost a whole side of the Bill which includes provisions on just about anything you could think of. I am at a loss to understand why these matters are not public at this stage in the consideration of a Bill.
Clause 11(4), “Regulations about members”, says:
“In this section ‘constituent member’, in relation to a CCA, means a member of the CCA (other than any mayor for the area of the CCA) appointed by a constituent council.”
I am sure that is correct, but that is the only definition we have. We have no definition of an associate member or a non-constituent member. Yet, as we will discover in the debate on the next set of amendments, the CCA will have discretion to give those people full votes. There is a big issue here, and I intend to take it further when we get to Report.
All I am trying to do is to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and say to the Government: here we have a number of very serious proposals that, as they stand, are unacceptable.
My Lords, I will specifically address Amendment 66 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bakewell, but I will also refer to Amendment 86. On these Benches we broadly support these amendments because they ask some important questions.
Amendment 66 refers to the environment, which to all intents and purposes is a bit of an orphan in the Bill. One of the great advantages of CCAs, and of gathering together councils on a bigger area, is that you can have co-ordination and efficiencies of scale on environmental issues that are more difficult in smaller units. There are great disadvantages to having large units, but on the environmental issue you need to exploit the advantages. On everything from the management of areas of outstanding natural beauty to recycling schemes—I am trying to produce contrasting examples—and particularly on transport issues, there are huge advantages to running on a larger scale. For example, you have the efficiencies of running a bus network that is not just in the towns and cities but serves the rural areas that feed into them. It is therefore very important indeed that those issues are at the forefront of the decision-making of the CCAs and that they report back on those decisions.
Turning to Amendment 86, I am sure the Minister will forgive me for some cynicism here. The first round of the UK shared prosperity fund and two rounds of levelling-up funding have posed more questions than answers on the criteria on which this sort of government funding is now being based. It seems that areas favoured by the Government are doing well, sometimes not for any good reason. There therefore needs to be accountability in the funding of CCAs.
If we look at the current patchwork of local government funding in England, there always tend to be huge discrepancies and illogicalities because you are always inheriting what has gone before. Areas change and develop, and sadly some areas decline relatively. Sometimes political decisions put some areas at a disadvantage while others thrive. The point I am making is that with CCAs you are starting afresh. It is therefore very important to explain why they are being funded as they are, not just through bald accounting but with a cost-benefit analysis. Amendment 86 is a very good idea.
My Lords, I am grateful to members of the Committee for such an interesting debate about statements and guidance on combined county authorities. We agree completely with the need for transparency on the wide range of issues in these amendments.
Amendment 66, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an environmental impact assessment 120 days after making regulations that establish a combined county authority. I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that in making the regulations, government and Parliament will have already considered the environmental impact of doing so. When deciding whether to make regulations to establish a combined county authority or change arrangements for an existing one, the Secretary of State has to consider statutory tests, including whether it would improve the environmental well-being of some or all of those who live and work in the area. Indeed, the regulations cannot be made unless the Secretary of State considers that this test would be met. There is therefore in our view an ample opportunity for Parliament to consider this.
This amendment would also require a combined county authority to publish an annual environmental impact assessment of its ongoing operation. As a form of local government body, CCAs will be subject to the same requirements as other local authorities to publish environmental impact assessments for specific pieces of work and decisions where necessary.
Amendment 74, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks a public statement of the definition and description of a non-constituent member of a combined county authority. I hope I can reassure her that there is already a definition for a non-constituent member in Clause 9. Paragraph 135 of the Explanatory Notes explains that:
“A non-constituent member of a CCA is a representative of a local organisation or body—such as a district council, Local Enterprise Partnership or university—that can attend CCA meetings to input their specific local knowledge into proceedings”.
The Explanatory Notes go on to explain how a non-constituent member would be chosen. First, the combined county authority may designate an organisation or body as a “nominating body” of a combined county authority if that organisation or body consents to the appointment. A nominating body would be a local organisation such as a district council. The nominating body will then suggest the representative to attend for its body—for example, the leader of the council—and that individual is the non-constituent member.
An associate member is an individual person such as a local business leader or an expert in a local issue whom a CCA can appoint. This enables the associate member to be a representative at CCA meetings and to input their specific local knowledge into proceedings.
I hope I can allay the doubts and fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on this issue. This model is designed to allow for genuine localism. It allows the local area to decide which local organisations or bodies will bring the greatest benefit to the combined county authority, and then appoint them. No two areas are the same. Depending on the local area, this will be different stakeholders, but examples of bodies that we expect to see combined county authorities engaging with are, as I mentioned, district councils, local enterprise partnerships, local universities, local health organisations and local registered providers, to name just a few.
The clause provides that district councils can be non-constituent members of a combined county authority. This will facilitate district councils having a formal seat at the table in putting their local expertise and ensuring join-up. Non-constituent members could attend the combined county authority’s cabinet meetings, be on sub-committees, and sit on overview and scrutiny committees and audit committees, giving those organisations that want them a role and voice in the combined county authority.
The model allows for local flexibility to reflect the different situations of different areas. If the combined county authority and all district councils wish to be involved, they can all be non-constituent members. However, if one does not, a devolution deal will not fall, as it would under the current combined authority model.
As stated in the levelling-up White Paper, we expect the upper-tier local authorities that we are agreeing devolution deals with to work with district councils to deliver the powers most effectively being provided. In discussions thus far, we have been pleased to see collaboration between upper- and lower-tier councils on devolution proposals to deliver for their area.
I emphasise that it is down to the combined county authority to decide what voting rights a non-constituent member should have rather than this being imposed by us in Westminster. Depending on the decision of the combined county authority, its non-constituent members can be given voting rights on the majority of matters.
I hope that this provides sufficient clarity on non-constituent members. I shall, of course, read Hansard and pick up any further questions that I feel I have not covered adequately, and I will write to noble Lords on those points.
As a further point of clarification, if the Minister will allow, is that saying specifically that district councils represented on a CCA will not have a vote, whereas the CCA can decide that other non-constituent members can vote? I am not clear about this at all. Unless what is intended is more clearly set out, we could end up in what I would consider to be an unfortunate situation of elected district councillors who sit on a CCA not being able to have a vote, and the potential for that to be manipulated in a political way would still be there. We need to understand the situation around voting and non-voting for non-constituent members.
I understand the noble Baroness’s point. I do think that I covered that in my remarks, but I will reread what I said and, to the extent that I was unclear, I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness. The broad point is that it will be up to the CCA what voting rights it allows to whom, including district councils.
Amendment 76, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to allow a combined county authority to be able to request that the Secretary of State makes regulations in relation to its membership. In agreeing a devolution deal with councils in an area, we will be discussing what governance arrangements would be appropriate, including the institution to operate the devolved powers, and membership and decision-taking arrangements.
The combined county authority would be able to make such a request to the Secretary of State. Such a request would be formalised through submitting a proposal to the Secretary of State, as set out in Clause 43 for establishing a new CCA and Clause 45 for making changes to the arrangements for an existing CCA. The Secretary of State has to consider such a proposal and, if they deem the statutory tests to be met, can decide to make the regulations. Such regulations can be made only with the consent of the local area—including the combined county authority if one is already established—and with parliamentary approval.
I turn to Amendment 86, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. The Government recognise the importance of transparency with regard to allocations of funding and regular reporting on the impact of wider and deeper devolution. Section 1 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 requires the Government to produce an annual report on progress with devolution to combined authorities and local authorities, which covers the areas suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment; namely, funding and regular progress reporting on devolution of additional public functions.
I can confirm that government Amendment 152, which we have not yet debated, brings combined county authorities into the scope of this annual report. This measure will ensure that combined county authorities operate in a transparent manner and are held to account for successful delivery in the same way that other institutions in England with devolved powers already are. The Government therefore feel that we have already provided for effective proportionate reporting mechanisms for combined county authorities that will cover what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve.
Perhaps I could add, for the noble Baroness’s benefit and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that alongside budgets for specific functions, such as the adult education budget and CRSTS, the Government have sought to provide long-term certainty to areas with devolution deals—including through the provision of a 30-year investment fund, and settlements around that, worth over £11 billion for deals agreed to date. The funding for individual devolution deals is negotiated on a case-by-case basis, as noble Lords would expect. Long-term investment funds will be considered only for those level 3 proposals that represent the strongest governance and opportunities for greater efficiency and economic growth.
Amendment 100, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would require the Secretary of State to explain how a local government area will have access to combined county authority functions if it leaves the area of the CCA. We consider that provisions in Clause 23 already provide for the amendment’s aims. Clause 23 sets out the statutory requirements for changing the area of a combined county authority, including the removal of a local government area. Any changes to the delivery of functions because of a combined county authority’s boundary changing must of course be considered. Such changes to the delivery of functions will be set out in the regulations the Secretary of State will make to change a combined county authority’s boundary, which require the consent of the local area and parliamentary approval.
As I mentioned earlier, Parliament will be provided with a statement in the Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations explaining any changes to the combined county authority’s area or conferral of powers, the views of the consultees, and how these changes meet the statutory test of improving economic, social and environmental well-being. If a local government area wishes to leave a combined county authority, it is possible those functions will be discontinued in that area. The clause already includes provisions that, when changing an area of a CCA, the regulations can transfer functions to another public authority if that is decided to be appropriate. For some areas, a public authority will continue to undertake some of the functions in the area. For some, it may be decided that the function is no longer to be exercised in the area—a point I made earlier, in a previous debate. As such, Parliament will already have this information via the above means, and the amendments are, I consider, unnecessary.
Amendment 129, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would require
“the Secretary of State to produce guidance on the establishment and operation of CCAs within 6 months of … Royal Assent.”
Clause 53 enables the Secretary of State to issue written guidance about anything that could be done under or by virtue of Chapter 1 of the Bill by a combined county authority, combined authority, county council, district council or integrated transport authority. The relevant authority must have regard to any guidance given in exercising any function under this chapter. I should explain: the reference to guidance in Clause 53 relates to requirements for an authority to have regard to this guidance in exercising a function conferred or imposed by or by virtue of Chapter 1; it does not relate to making areas familiar with the processes required to establish a combined county authority.
Any area wishing to establish a CCA will be made familiar with the required processes during their devolution deal negotiations. As we have seen with the deals announced over the past years, officials will work closely with an area’s officers to ensure the successful negotiation and subsequent implementation of deals. While the Secretary of State has no immediate plans to issue any guidance, this clause provides the maximum flexibility to do so, should it ever be suitable.
Turning to Amendment 130, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, I agree that ensuring residents understand what functions their local combined county authority has is undoubtably important. We think there are already a number of mechanisms for achieving this. First, devolution deal documents are public. Among other things, they clearly set out what functions government will confer on the relevant institution, which for many areas will be a combined county authority. Secondly, before a combined county authority is established there needs to be a public consultation, as we have been debating, in that area. It should provide residents and others with the clarity that this amendment seeks.
Furthermore, Section 1 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on devolution in England, including on where agreements have been reached and functions devolved. This section would be amended by government Amendment 152, which we have yet to debate, as I mentioned earlier, to also cover combined county authorities. Finally, the Government will publish a new devolution accountability framework to ensure that all devolution deals lead to local leaders and institutions that are transparent and accountable. This will include consideration of how devolution deals are communicated to residents.
I hope that these explanations are helpful and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 66.
My Lords, there was a lot to think about there so perhaps the Committee would bear with me, as I have an awful lot more questions.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his very strong support for these amendments, which is much appreciated. As he said, we are concerned about the lack of definition, for example. Much of this is unacceptable as it stands, because there are so many unknowns. It is really complicated and confusing, with not enough information out there, and we are really trying to pin the Government down on that as we move forward.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the environment is a bit of an orphan in the Bill. I thank her for her support for my amendment; she is absolutely right to say that we could be looking to have co-ordination and efficiency of scale on environmental matters. It concerns me that this is a real missed opportunity, particularly in areas of waste and transport, as the noble Baroness mentioned. The funding rounds so far have posed more questions than answers and there is not enough opportunity to make great strides in co-operation on environmental issues. These are things that we could do so much better; maybe if the missions focused more on the environment, there would be more thought around this. Obviously, this is something that we will come back to.
We need accountability to be built into these provisions. One thing to think about on the funding is that it is regressive in many areas—and in many that need levelling up more than others. It is not necessarily working at the moment, which is why we think it needs to be looked at.
Coming to the Minister’s comments, I am very pleased that he said we need more transparency and that it is important. However, on the environment, he talked about the fact the Secretary of State has a statutory test of improving environmental well-being. I am not convinced that that is the same thing as I am trying to achieve through the environmental impact assessment. I am trying to talk about working together more effectively on things such as waste, so you have cost benefits alongside improving the environment. There could be an opportunity for the Bill to do that—and it is not exactly the same as improving environmental well-being; they are slightly different. It would be good if the Government could go away and look at how that could perhaps be built into the legislation.
The Minister also mentioned that environmental impact assessments are there for certain pieces of work, but often they are the developers’ responsibility, if they are putting in for a particular development or for planning permission and so on. It is not built into encouraging councils to work together more environmentally effectively to bring that cost benefit to everybody.
On the non-constituent and associate members, from what the Minister said I gather that non-constituents are organisations and associate members are individuals. I am glad I have got that correct. However, to come back to district councils, they are already democratically elected. In theory, if 10 district councils were within a new CCA, could you end up with just one member being represented on the CCA? You could end up with very little district council representation compared with how many different councils there are. We need clear definitions and clear structures. There is nothing about how many members we are looking at and what their powers or responsibilities are. We are concerned that there is not enough pinned-down detail. Obviously, we like things to be in the Bill, but we could have more in the Explanatory Notes or under terms and conditions on how it is going to work once it is up and running.
I also want to point out that, in my experience—perhaps it is just to do with where I have been living—not all upper and lower authorities want to collaborate, and not all lower authorities want to collaborate. You can meet stalemate pretty quickly in those circumstances. I would be interested in how that is intended to be managed and who would manage it in order to smooth things over. How is that going to be helped if it is the CCA which decides who can and cannot vote? It strikes me that that has the potential for manipulation. It would be good to see conditions built in to ensure that does not happen. Would there be any guidance on this? What if, say, the only district council member is refused voting rights? Is there any right of appeal or challenge? How is that going to be managed?
On funding and regular reporting, the Minister mentioned the Local Government Act and how the government amendment is going to bring the CCAs into scope. That is really interesting to hear, and I imagine that we will probably revisit it once we have had a chance to look at that amendment and when it comes up for debate. I thank him for drawing our attention to that.
On access to powers if an authority has left the CCA, I clearly heard what the Minister said on Clause 23, but we added this because it does not actually explain that or lay out what happens. For example, if one local authority were delivering transport itself and were then removed, would that transport delivery go to the private sector, for example? That is completely different. We are trying to understand how that would operate and what the potential implications are if it is not managed properly.
Just very finally—sorry; this is very complicated—on Amendment 129 and the guidance and operation of the CCAs, our concern is that, if this is not laid out clearly, how will local authorities know exactly what they are applying for, or letting themselves in for, if you like? They need sufficient information to know exactly what the possibilities are.
I have one final question—I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me if he does not know the answer. When the upper-tier authorities publish their reports, are they specifically not allowed to do this through the Part 2 confidential reports? I am sorry to have taken a bit of time on this, but this is an important section. It is incredibly complicated, which is why I am trying to get clarification. I do appreciate the Minister’s time.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Baroness. Although some of her questions can be dealt with quite easily via a letter, it might be helpful to her and other noble Lords if we had a round-table session to explore some of the broader questions in greater depth. As she rightly said, considerable ramifications emerge from some of these questions, and I think they would be usefully dealt with in a conversational format, with officials present. So, if that idea appeals to noble Lords, I would be happy to arrange it.
Amendment 66 withdrawn.
Clause 8: Constitutional arrangements
67: Clause 8, page 7, line 24, after second “the” insert “initial”
Member’s explanatory statement
The means that regulations can only relate to the initial constitutional arrangements.
My Lords, I am going to lose my voice at this rate. I will introduce my amendments in this group and briefly comment on those in the names of other noble Lords.
My Amendment 67 to Clause 8 means that regulations can relate only to the initial constitutional arrangements, and my Amendment 68 means that the regulations relating to the constitutional arrangements of a CCA can be made only after consultation with the CCA. Clause 8 allows the Secretary of State to establish constitutional arrangements, and we do not have a problem with that at all. These are defined as
“membership ... voting powers ... executive arrangements”
“functions of any executive body”.
The executive arrangements include government appointments, the functions by which the executive operates, the functions of the executive that might be delegated to the committee, the “review and scrutiny” of the executive, “access to information” about the executive and the disapplication of Section 15 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989—plus the keeping of records. These are important aspects of establishing who will be on a CCA, where decisions will be made and what will and will not be in the public domain.
We believe that, once the Secretary of State sets up the bodies, they really ought to be allowed to get on with the job without undue interference. We believe that we should be able to trust them to exercise the significant power and money functions that will be devolved to them from the centre by this clause. So, if we trust them to do that, we should also trust them to be able to operate their own constitutional arrangements.
My Amendment 67 would insert the word “initial” to demonstrate that the Secretary of State may make provisions about the first set of constitutional arrangements only, and then the CCAs can carry on and do it themselves. Amendment 68 would further ensure that CCAs are consulted on any further regulations that would relate to their constitutional arrangements.
I will speak briefly to my Amendment 88 to Clause 16, which would mean that the
“regulations can only be made with a majority of members of the constituent councils”.
If all the constituent councils are going to feel on a level footing, as it were, with the rest, it is important that they all have that say and that things can change only once there is a majority who actually wants to make that change. It is then more likely to be accepted and moved forward in a constructive manner.
I will comment on a few other amendments. The deletion of the paragraph that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has asked for in his Amendment 69
“would reduce the risk of single party control of the executive of a CCA or its committees”.
We strongly agree with the noble Lord on that. It is an important amendment, because the Secretary of State should not be able to make regulations which disapply the political proportionality rules for an executive or committee of a CCA; we believe that that is for the electorate to decide.
We also agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, in his Amendment 71, which means that a constituent council can include
“a district council in a two-tier county council for an area within the CCA’s area or proposed area”.
We believe that this is one of a number of places in the Bill where district councils must be allowed to be included as constituent councils in two-tier areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has also tabled Amendments 72 and 75, which, again, reduce the risk of one-party dominance. I absolutely understand his point: if you allow voting members to resolve that non-constituent members can vote on a CCA, you could end up with the situation where this class of member is appointed specifically to boost the voting majority of one party. This comes back to us saying earlier that, if you are not careful, you could end up with a situation where things could be manipulated, even if that is not the Government’s intention. We have to be very careful about that, so we strongly support those amendments.
The amendment to Clause 26 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, would require a referendum. I see that she is very keen on referendums today. I am not sure whether this is subject to prior legislation, but I am sure that she can enlighten me. The consultation to which we referred in our amendment in relation to setting up the CCA could carry a requirement that it also determines the nature of that CCA: for example, whether it is to be mayoral-led or indirectly elected, appointed by the CCA. In any case, it is probably good practice to consider a referendum on whether there should be a mayor and whether a CCA is indirectly elected. However, the one concern we have—I am sure that the Minister will refer to this—is the considerable cost of running any referendum; that is the sticking point for us.
Amendment 114, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, ensures that appointments cannot be imposed without scrutiny and without the CCA’s agreement. Again, this is around the appointment of a deputy mayor, in particular. If we assume the current system will continue as it is—that is, where deputy mayors are appointed—I would certainly agree with the noble Lord that this should not be without the scrutiny and agreement of the CCA. The question here is whether a powerful position such as that of deputy mayor should even be appointed in the first place, or whether we should undertake some kind of democratic process for these powerful positions.
Amendment 116A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seeks to probe the circumstances in which political balance might be inappropriate. This is a very helpful amendment where the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, is seeking to explore the nature of political balance in bodies that exercise joint functions. In effect, these have usually worked without political proportionality being applied, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on how this might operate going forward.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has another two amendments. Amendment 120
“would ensure that the CCA is confident that powers being delegated by the deputy mayor are appropriate.”
Sensibly, it seeks to add an extra protection, which we would support—we would not want to see any deputy mayors going rogue, for example. Amendment 122
“would ensure that the views of a majority of the CCA are fully considered”.
Again, we think this is absolutely appropriate. There are important matters that this could cover—for example, the transfer of fire and rescue powers to the chief constable, which is of course a possibility. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I would like first to welcome the offer from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, of a meeting. I suggest that plenty of time be allowed for us to discuss some of the issues that we have been trying to get to the bottom of in our debates so far.
I have six amendments in my name, and they all derive from a first reading of the Bill and the Explanatory Notes. Going back and reading it all again, you realise you actually need to place amendments on these matters. In this group, there are Amendments 69, 72, 75, 114, 120 and 122, and they all have a common theme, which is the centralisation of power and the need for checks and balances in the decision-making process.
Amendment 69 would delete Clause 8(3)(f), which says that
“section 15 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (duty to allocate seats to political groups) in relation to an executive of the CCA or a committee of such an executive”
is disapplied. Therefore, it will not any longer be in place. That says to me that the deletion seems to encourage single-party control of a committee structure of a CCA. I just ask the Minister whether that is wise. It seems to centralise a power to an inner group of the CCA.
There has been a lot of discussion in the last group and then this one about district councils and their rights—clearly the meeting we are going to have will address some of those issues. Amendment 72 is a probing amendment and would prevent non-constituent members of the CCA voting. I say that to draw an explanation of why a non-constituent member of a CCA should have a vote. Why should the non-constituent members of the CCA become voting members? Will they all have a vote, or will it be only some non-constituent members? There is a big issue of principle here. Is it not enough for a non-council-nominating member to be in attendance? It is a simple issue. If you are a full member, you have a vote, and if you have a vote, you must be a full member. In other words, we have to have a discussion about the rights of district councils to be full members and have full votes.
Amendment 75 then addresses the issue of associate members of a CCA having a vote at the discretion of the CCA. I would like the Minister just to explain in what circumstances an associate member would qualify for a full vote. Again, the process could encourage one-party domination, by giving a majority party the right to give a vote to an associate member of their choice—or do I misunderstand? I am very happy to have misunderstood, but I am probing to know what the intention actually is.
Clause 27 as it stands gives the power to a mayor to appoint a deputy mayor from the members of the CCA. Amendment 114 would require this appointment to be approved by the CCA; in other words, it would not allow a mayor to have absolute power in the appointment. I think that is reasonable and would be a check on the power of a mayor, to ensure that we have balance in decision-making.
Amendment 120 would ensure that, when powers are delegated from a deputy mayor who has PCC powers to another person, this arrangement is agreed by the CCA and is felt by it to be appropriate. I was surprised to read that the mayor will delegate powers of PCC to a deputy mayor but that the deputy mayor can then pass on some powers to another person. We need to be much clearer about how that would work. In other places, the police and crime commissioner is being directly elected by the general public. We need to be really clear what the impact is going to be of the change we are going to pass through the Bill.
Finally, I come to Amendment 122. As it stands, the Bill requires at least two-thirds of a CCA to disagree to regulations drawn up by the mayor for recommendation to the Secretary of State. That is about disagreeing with the mayor, and I think that forcing two-thirds of the votes on a CCA to disagree is too high a barrier. It would be better, as I say in my amendment, for it to be 50%, which I think is a much more reasonable figure, because it would be a majority.
I hope the Minister will listen to these probing amendments and that, from the process we are about to follow, we will actually get something in the Bill that is going to be better. I want these powers of devolution to succeed. If they are going to succeed, what we do not want is for things to go badly wrong, and it is possible with a structure such as this that we could end up with them going seriously badly wrong.
My Lords, I shall speak to my amendment in this group and my opposition to Clause 25 standing part. I will make a couple of other comments on other amendments in the group.
I begin by very strongly agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in supporting Amendment 69 from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s explanation of the reasons for this, but an undue dominance of one party in committees is a clear problem, and it is very hard to imagine a justification for the deletion that the Government are proposing. I also agree with Amendments 114 and 120 on the CCA having to approve the appointment and powers of deputy mayors. That is an obvious point of democratic scrutiny.
In this group I have given notice of my intention that Clause 25 should not stand part of the Bill. This would delete the power for the Secretary of State to establish an elected mayor for a CCA, and my Amendment 113 would require a referendum for an elected mayor. What we are talking about here is what I was talking about in the previous group on which I spoke: democracy. We have seen from several sides of the Chamber a real desire to impose a model of governance known as the strong leader model: “We need to have one person there as a figurehead, who makes the decisions.” As a Green, I am fundamentally opposed to that model. I think it is very bad for democracy and very bad for the quality of decision-making and the quality of governance, independent of whatever the ideology might be. I also think that it discourages broader involvement in politics, which should be the very foundation of our democracy.
What we have also seen in the context of this is the election system for elected mayors, which the Government chose to unilaterally change under the Elections Bill—now Act—despite considerable opposition. I am not standing up and saying that as Greens we are going to write into this Bill that there is no right to have an elected mayor. I am saying that people should have the right to decide whether they want an elected mayor. It is very possible to imagine a community, an area, or a region that says, “We want a CCA, but we do not want an elected mayor.” I am seeking to ensure that however it is written into the Bill, that people have that choice, and that genuine choice is available to them.
My understanding is that the Labour Party, as well as the Conservative Party, has tended to be in favour of this strong leader model. That is a model to which I am fundamentally opposed, but I am saying that people should be allowed to have a choice whether or not to have that model applied to them. As in the previous group, I referred to the fact that in a number of cases around England where people have had it imposed on them, they got rid of it when they got the chance—as the people of Sheffield and Bristol did. To answer the question about cost from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, I can cite figures for Sheffield. When conducting it at the same time as another election, it cost around £170,000 for Sheffield, which is the fifth largest city, making it more or less comparable to other cities. That was a couple of years ago, but it gives you a ballpark sense of what it would cost. I do not believe that sort of figure, proportionately, is too high a cost to apply for democracy.
My Lords, I rise briefly in this debate to support Amendment 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. When I was listening, I read it and I am actually quite surprised by what the Government are doing—the disapplication of the duty of allocate seats to political groups. It seems perverse to me that the Government would do this. We are going to bring in these county combined authorities, whereby we bring people together across large areas who were not engaged, were not involved—and we want people to participate in this. Where would you be if you were trying to join one of these county authorities and you thought, “Hang on here, I am from one political group and we control this council, but all the other councils are controlled by my political opponents. I can join here, but then I will be taken off all the committees.” Why would you do that? It just seems perverse. I would be really interested to see how the Government can justify this when the Minister responds.
I really do think that the Government need to go away and think about that. It seems only fair to me that, if you are going to bring a combined authority together and you have elected politicians in all those authorities that come together, if they are from different groups, they should have representation on the Executive. I cannot see why you would want to take them off. Surely, you would want to hear their views. They are from different parts. I know there are proposals for a combined authority covering Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. I used to work up there, and that is a huge area. The thought that one group could be excluded from that because they were not of the same political group—the larger group there—is just perverse. I do not understand why the Government would suggest that and want to do that. I am really looking forward to the Minister’s response to justify this. I hope that, maybe, he may agree to take it back to the department and suggest that they have overstepped the mark and that it should be removed at Report.
My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken at this stage of the Bill, I remind noble Lords of my various interests and activities. I am a chartered surveyor, a vice-president of the National Association of Local Councils, and a member of the Country Land and Business Association. Probably none of them really clashes with what I am about to say. However, I do have fundamental concerns about these CCAs. How is this extra tier going to be funded or how will it generate its own income, in whole or in part? Will they truly meet what the Minister referred to as the transparency and accountability test that he set in the previous group? Will those standards always be routed in democratic accountability and the norms and conduct to be expected thereby, or something else?
I relate to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about ever-greater centralism in the Bill generally. That is a disturbing trend, especially when this whole levelling-up Bill, if you like, was gazetted as something that was going be better for communities. I see the thing drawing away from everything I understand community to be, and recognised it as, when I was president of NALC. This seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
The lack of clarity and specificity, presented as a freedom of CCAs to organise and manage their own affairs to some extent, is another area which is not clear from the Bill. The real acid test is whether this will result in citizen confidence in what we are doing. It cannot be otherwise. This is not something we can do from the top down, saying, “Oh well, they’ll like it, won’t they?” This has to be rooted in confidence in communities and among the citizenry generally.
Specifically, on this clause, the associate members are a special area of what I see as potential democratic dilution. Voting or not, these associates will have position and influence in debate and the processes going on. Let us not get too hung up about precisely whether they will be voting, because they will obviously have a lot of important functions notwithstanding. But who might they be? One can think of all sorts of worthy individuals representing important sectors of the community, but what about a property developer? What about a telecoms or construction company executive, who might have a particular interest in being involved in a particular area, or an investor linked to a sovereign wealth fund? The list goes on. What about a pressure group? The real question is: do these pass the test of citizen credibility when looked at from that area, bearing in mind that this is a body that is going to add another tier to the process we have all become familiar with and, to some extent, used to?
Could the noble Earl give us some reassurance as to who these associates might be? There has to be some overarching principle that sits behind their appointment and the functions they are able to deal with. If not, we would be signing some sort of operational blank cheque to these bodies. I hope he will be able to provide me with an answer to that point, which concerns me very much.
My Lords, before I turn to Amendment 71, I place on record a very personal—and it is not just mine—support for what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said a few minutes ago about the vital importance of allowing tiers of local government to decide for themselves how they want to organise their decision-making processes. That is fundamental.
In terms of one of those tiers of local governance, we have already heard throughout the course of today’s deliberation frequent reference to the importance and the role of district councils. That is what Amendment 71 is about. I noticed that, during the deliberations on a number of groups, concern has been raised about quite how district councils are going to fit in to the new structures that are being proposed. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said—I counted it—on five separate occasions during her last contribution, “It’s all very complicated” or “It’s all incredibly complicated”. I say to her that my Amendment 71 provides a solution which brings enormous simplicity to the whole issue.
Before I do so, I will remind the Committee why district councils are so important. After all, they deliver 86 out of the 137 essential local government services to some 22 million people, which is 40% of the population of England. Those services cover things such as waste collection, street cleaning, housing, economic development, planning, leisure, recreation and many other things. It is important to remember that they are also better known, more popular and more trusted than other tiers of government. They have a higher name recognition, for example, than county councils. The public believe that district councils are much more likely than other tiers to take their views into account in the decisions they make. A recent survey said that 62% of people thought that of district councils, compared with only 32% for county councils and, for those of us who have been or are involved in it, it is sad to know that only 6% of the population believe that central government take their views into account. The public believe that district councils are best placed to understand and deal with social issues in their area and to boost local economies. It is interesting that in two-tier areas, the district councils get a higher satisfaction rate than the county councils.
Amendment 77 is an attempt to explore further the debate we have been having about how these important district councils fit into the CCA plans. At present, as I understand it—the Minister was very helpful earlier in setting the scene in answer to the noble Baroness—the district council might become a non-constituent body, depending on the decisions of other people, but there is no certainty about that. The powers that district councils will have are uncertain, because they are determined by other bodies, and whether they will have a vote is also uncertain, because other groups will decide. An additional complication was raised by my noble friend Lord Shipley when he asked why a non-constituent body should have a vote at all.
One of the issues was the problem of district councils having their powers removed without having any say in it, and I am pleased that some progress has been made—back in November, Michael Gove made a Statement, and we have amendments coming up later that, we hope, will address that concern. It seems to me there is a simple solution to all of this. Currently we have constituent members, which are either a county council or the unitary district council for the relevant area. Amendment 71 simply proposes that we add district councils to that list. It would provide a neat and simple solution; it would ensure that there is no problem with powers being stolen from people, because they would be involved in the decision-making on all the powers that they currently hold, and so on.
Of course, I entirely accept that the Government have concerns about that, believing that district councils could outvote the others or perhaps even have a veto, but these are issues that can be resolved. We note that in Clause 11, there are already powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations. I simply propose to the noble Earl not only that he accepts the amendment, as I hope he will, but as he has very generously offered us a round table to discuss many of these complicated issues, that that could be added to the list of things we look at. I hope that the very simple solution to all the concerns people have expressed about district councils is accepting Amendment 71.
My Lords, it is late. I will try to be quick. I want to pick up what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to as “operation blank cheque”. The bit of the Bill that we are looking at here and that my amendment refers to is described in a sub-heading as “Functions of CCAs”. It consists of 15 clauses, 11 of which start with:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision”.
What is different about the other four? Well, in those, the same words appear but they are not the first words. The problem is that there is a concept, an idea, floating around, but with such a lack of precision that it is extremely difficult to pin down what we will get at the end of the day. My Amendment 116A amends Clause 30, which does indeed start with:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision”
and deletes subsection (4), which would suspend the operation of political proportionality.
I very strongly agree with all the other speakers in what has been said so far and support their amendments, but regarding this amendment, what is Clause 30(4) designed to achieve and why should it achieve it? The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 was not actually the original legislation. There was some preceding legislation introduced by Mrs Thatcher, who was fed up with Conservative councillors in opposition complaining to her about another large party, which shall be nameless, taking not just majority control but complete control of the committee system. That led, in their view, to serious injustice. Mrs Thatcher was persuaded of that point and the rules were introduced. Liberal Democrats at the time were strongly urging the same course of action. It was designed to stop an undemocratic abuse of majoritarian rule.
There would have to be a strong reason for suspending that in this arrangement. It will be a complex situation. We have enough experience here to know that getting a group of district councils and a county council together is not an afternoon’s walk in the park but a complex job, and the last thing that anybody needs to upset that applecart is the idea that there will be unfair or disproportionate representation, or “My council’s view is going to be squeezed out because of a distortion in the system.”
Others have spoken eloquently about that, but I just want to pick up the point about associate members. These are the individuals who can be appointed to join what are joint committees. This clause relates to the constitution of joint committees. It will have county councillors and district councillors. It may have associate members and they may have a vote in certain circumstances. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, pointed out that there is no limitation on who that could be.
We used to have an institution called aldermen. The majority party would appoint a sufficiently large number of its supporters to ensure that it never had any difficulty in the chamber in passing its budget or anything else. Quite rightly, the institution of aldermen has long since been consigned to the dustbin. However, we have got it back here, with associate members. It will be explosive if you mix that in with the complexity of getting district and county councillors around a table taking decisions.
My question to the Minister is: in what circumstances could doing that enhance the Government’s proposal for CCAs? It is one of the many occasions when Ministers decide the regulations, but there is no indication of what factors are to be considered which might justify having any confidence in this proposition. Should not the factors that the Secretary of State considers at least be in the Bill; for example, “The Secretary of State cannot exercise Clause 30(4) unless the following conditions are complied with”? The noble Earl might like to suggest those conditions, those limitations or constraints, because on Report, I would want to include them in an amendment.
Of course, this is not the only clause that I might have made this amendment to: Clause 28(5)(f) is another where proportionality is being suspended—or may be if, at his complete discretion, the Secretary of State decides to do so. I want to hear what the Minister has to say about why he thinks that it is necessary or even slightly advantageous. If he has a plausible reason for that, will he go on and accept that it has to be codified or constrained in some way? If he cannot do any of those things, will he please accept my Amendment 116A and delete subsection (4) from Clause 30?
I will not speak for long. This has been a very important debate, and very positive: across the Chamber, Members are in agreement that we need clarity from the Government about what they are proposing regarding the constitution of the CCAs.
There is one element that has not yet been raised. Where the constituent members are not equal in size, is that to be reflected in the constitution of that particular CCA? I will give an example that was raised in earlier groups. I asked the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about Devon. It has a county council; Plymouth is a unitary, as a city; so is Torbay, as a unitary district. Those three are very different in size, population and economic geography, which we talked about earlier. Are they equal members with a similar number of voting rights? As the Bill says, they can each nominate at least one, but will there be an expectation that they be proportionate to their size and responsibilities? That is not clear and needs to be clarified by the Government before we get any further.
Then there are the non-constituent members. I agree wholeheartedly with Amendment 71 from the noble Lord, Lord Foster: the easy way forward is to say that district councils are democratic bodies within the CCA and have a right to be full members. As I have said just now about constituent members, CCAs can and will have to decide proportionality, and they could do that with regard to the districts. It makes good sense.
Frankly, as somebody who has spent most of my life as an elected person, I find it insulting that a democratically elected body such as a district council is aligned with other non-constituent bodies and put in the same category as local business groups, chambers of trade or trade union bodies, which are not elected by the public. I can see why you would want other groups to be associated with the CCA, but, if they are not democratically elected and therefore democratically accountable, they should be in a different category.
This leads me to associate members. I personally think that they should not exist and I shall leave it at that. Why should they? Somebody tell me. Get individual, unaccountable to anybody—nobody needs to know who they are; perhaps they are somebody’s mate—on there to stuff the numbers the right way. It is just not acceptable.
The only other point I think I want to make is about the appointment of deputy mayors to take on the role of police and crime commissioners. That is the situation we have in West Yorkshire. People in West Yorkshire had the right to vote for a mayor, and the successful mayor was then able to appoint somebody to be responsible for police and crime in the whole of West Yorkshire. This is not a reflection on the individual, who is doing a good job. There is, however, a question here, because the experience of police and crime commissioners in the country has been variable, to say the least. In one or two cases, it was worse than variable: question marks have been put against their names and their positions and how they are carrying out their duties, to the extent that they have had to resign.
Now, if you have an appointed deputy mayor who is then responsible for the duties and responsibilities of a police and crime commissioner, how does that work? Where is the accountability? Does the elected mayor carry the can for what their appointed deputy has to do? That is the only way that I think it might be able to work. It is an area that we need to resolve, and this Bill gives us the opportunity to do so.
My last and final point is just to say how important Amendment 69, about proportionality, is. There will be voices from across political groups in the very big, strategic issues that are going to be determined by combined authorities. To take proportionality away—to disapply it—is a mistake, and I hope that the noble Earl will take away the very strong feelings that have been expressed in the Chamber and come back with revised proposals.
My Lords, this group of amendments considers various aspects of a combined county authority’s constitution and its day-to-day working. Although I appreciate it is a probing amendment, Amendment 67, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to amend the regulations on the constitution of a combined county authority. These regulations include the membership of the combined county authority, which must be amended if, for example, another area wished to join a CCA. Members of the new area would need to be added to the CCA. If no such change were possible, there could be no change to the make-up of an established combined county authority, regardless of the wishes of the local area. CCAs must retain the flexibility to include a new area or for an area to leave, or to reflect other such changes.
Turning to Amendment 68, I completely agree with the noble Baroness on the need for consultation with combined county authority members on regulations regarding the constitution of a CCA. Clause 44 of the Bill already goes further than this amendment by providing that the consent of all the constituent councils is required if the Secretary of State is to make any such regulations. It is worth my making the point that these clauses should not be read in isolation, but rather in the round.
I noted the noble Baroness’s position that CCAs, once established, should just be allowed to get on with it, without the involvement of or interference by the Secretary of State. I look at the issue from the other perspective. The clause enables constitutional arrangements for a CCA to be established in the regulations that will also establish the CCA. These arrangements are the fundamental working mechanisms of the CCA; they include aspects such as the membership of the CCA. As such, it is appropriate that they are set out in secondary legislation to ensure the establishment of a stable institution with good governance. A CCA can set out its own local constitution or standing orders with additional local working arrangements. This is done locally and does not require secondary legislation. However, the local constitution cannot be allowed to contravene primary or secondary legislation. There has to be consistency, and we believe that this is the right way to ensure that.
Amendment 69, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would prevent the Secretary of State making provision for the executive of a combined county authority to represent the political make-up of its members. A combined county authority is to be made up of members from each of the constituent councils on a basis agreed by those councils through their consent to the establishing regulations. These regulations will also provide for the make-up of the CCA’s executive. It is essential that the constituent councils can agree together the make-up of the combined county authority’s executive that properly reflects the local political membership of the CCA. This is essential to underpin the collaborative working required to make a CCA work in practice.
The amendment would, in effect, impose on a combined county authority an executive that did not reflect the make-up of CCA members, which could negatively impact on the working of the CCA. It would also place the executive of a combined county authority in a different position from that of either a local authority or a combined authority, neither of which requires political balance.
Amendment 71, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, would enable a two-tier district council to be a constituent member of a combined county authority. As I said, the combined county authority is a new institutional model made up of upper-tier local authorities only. Only two-tier county councils and unitary councils can be constituent members of a CCA. We contend that this model will provide the flexibility required for devolution to areas with two-tier local government, which has proved a challenge to date. It allows a combined county authority to be established with agreement from the councils across the area that will be the constituent members of the CCA; that is, the upper-tier local authorities.
I realise that some noble Lords are sceptical about this, but this model removes the risk of one or two district councils vetoing the wishes of the great majority for devolution, as has happened with some two-tier local government areas wishing to form combined authorities, where unanimous consent from all councils in the area, including upper- and lower-tier councils, is needed.
I come back to a point I made earlier. While they cannot be constituent members of a combined county authority and, as such, cannot consent to its establishment, district councils can have a voice in a CCA via the non-constituent member model, as set out in Clause 9. As stated in the levelling-up White Paper, we expect CCAs and their upper-tier local authorities to work closely with their district councils, and have been pleased to see this happening in deal areas. This flexible model will enable the county, district and unitary councils to work together in the way that best meets local needs and wishes. The bottom line, I contend, is that this amendment would defeat those objectives.
It is important for me to say to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, that we are not taking away district council powers. Devolution is about giving power from Whitehall to local leaders. We expect the upper-tier local authorities we are agreeing devolution deals with to work with district councils, as I have said, to deliver the powers most effectively being provided. In discussions thus far, we have been pleased to see collaboration of the kind I have mentioned.
I realise that Amendment 72 is, in essence, a probing amendment. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that I cannot accept it, because it would prevent a combined county authority resolving that non-constituent members could exercise a vote on matters where the CCA considered this to be appropriate. Non-constituent members are non-voting members by default. As I tried to make clear earlier, the combined county authority can give them voting rights on most matters, should it wish to. For example, a combined county authority may have provided for there to be some non-constituent members from the area’s district councils to enable their input on matters of importance to district councils in the CCA’s area. The CCA may wish to maximise this input by allowing in certain circumstances for these non-constituent members to vote. This amendment would prevent these non-constituent members being given a vote and would risk undermining the CCA’s ability to work in collaboration with its district councils and other non-constituent members.
Amendment 75, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would prevent a combined county authority resolving that associate members could exercise a vote on matters where the CCA considered this to be appropriate. I am afraid that this is another proposal that I cannot accept, for reasons similar to those I have just outlined for Amendment 72.
Associate members are non-voting members by default, but the combined county authority can give them voting rights on most matters, should it wish to. For instance, a combined county authority may have provided for an associate member who, for example, may be a local business leader or an expert on a local issue to enable the member’s input on matters on which they have relevant expertise in the CCA’s area. The CCA may wish to maximise this input—
I think the answer to that is yes. CCAs can distinguish between associate members in that way. But they would need to justify to themselves why they were according that difference of treatment. Circumstances would dictate a different course in different circumstances.
I come back to saying that the CCA may wish to maximise the input of associate members by allowing—
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, has stumped me there. As I am not totally familiar with the role of the aldermen, and I am sure he is, I had better write to him on that point, if he will allow.
The point I was seeking to make is that the CCA would in some, if not many, circumstances want to maximise the input from associate members by allowing in certain circumstances those associate members to vote on such matters. The amendment would prevent that happening and could risk undermining the combined county authority’s ability to work in collaboration with local experts who can contribute positively to the working of the CCA.
I listened with care to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who I took to express considerable scepticism about having a non-elected person with a seat at the combined county authority’s table. We did cover this in some detail in the previous group of amendments, which he may not have been here to listen to in full. We have seen combined authorities appoint commissioners with specific expertise to focus on a challenging local policy area and drive change in that area. For example, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has appointed Dame Sarah Storey as a commissioner on active travel.
The associate member arrangement provides a more formal structure for bringing in such expertise. Associate members can also bring the local business voice into the combined county authority, the harnessing of which is, of course, vital to achieving levelling up.
The point I am trying to make to the Minister is that, if he is going to use an example, it has to be an example of someone who already sits on a combined authority and has that influence, rather than just someone who advises the mayor and does not have a formal role within the combined authority structure.
I think this was said earlier. I do not think you can take the model of the metropolitan areas and combined authorities and transpose that on to other areas of the country. Why should we not allow for difference, diversity and local decision-making on the way that people are used to best effect?
The Minister does not seem to understand. It is not about transposing from an urban to a non-urban issue. This is a matter of principle about democratic accountability for taxpayers’ money being used and that, when people sit at a table, there is some form of democratic accountability back to the people for whom they are making those decisions. The kind of membership that the Bill proposes has no democratic accountability. It is not about transposing a model from urban to rural; it is a matter of principle. If people are spending taxpayers’ money as part of a mayoral combined authority, whether urban or rural, they should be democratically accountable back to the people whose taxes they are spending.
I will just come back to one point. I was a bit puzzled by the Minister’s response to Amendment 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The Government are taking the power in the Bill to disapply the duty to allocate seats on the basis of political proportionality in the combined authority; they are disapplying that power. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was seeking to remove that provision so that, if a party had a third or a quarter of the seats, it would expect something similar on the Executive. When the Minister answered the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, he gave an answer that seemed to agree with what he was suggesting while justifying the position of the Government. It seemed perverse.
I know that there are to be proposals for a Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire combined authority. At the moment Derbyshire County Council and Nottinghamshire County Council are controlled by the Conservatives, and Derby City Council is led by the Conservatives. The only Labour council is Nottingham City Council. On the basis set out in the Bill, the three Conservative councils could get together, gang up on the Labour council and throw it out of the committee structure. That surely cannot be right. Why would a minority council join something if it could be ganged up on and removed from the executive? It would not; we want to bring people together. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is trying to ensure that this problem could not happen. I do not follow the Minister’s arguments, which were in support of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, but were used to say that we cannot have the amendment.
My Lords, perhaps I could help the Minister at this point by simply suggesting that we add this to the agenda of our meeting, which gets longer and longer as we speak. It is a very important issue, to which we should add the issue of whether the calculation of political proportionality applies to the membership of the CCA—those who are there—or the bodies that each of those members represents, on behalf of which they have been nominated to attend the CCA. You might get a different answer depending on which it is. To avoid a lengthy evening and discussion at cross purposes, perhaps the Minister will agree that we can talk about it around the table; it might be easier.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, because the last thing I would wish to do is mislead this Committee or lead it down a path that led nowhere. Rather than go round in circles, as I suspect we might if I continued, I would be very happy to take up that suggestion and add it to the agenda of this rather lengthy round table we are planning.
Moving on to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I completely agree with her on the need for the constituent members of a combined county authority to agree to the conferral of local government functions on a CCA. This is recognised in Clause 16, which provides that the consent of all the constituent councils is required if the Secretary of State is to make regulations conferring any such functions on a CCA. It is essential that all the constituent councils have agreed to the regulations that establish and confer powers on the new institution to support the collaborative working that is essential for a successful CCA.
I turn to some of the broader issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on Clause 25 standing part. I take on board her instinctive antipathy to the concept of having elected mayors, but let me outline the case in their defence. We have seen from our existing mayors how strong local leadership can enhance economic and other opportunities. Mayors act as champions for their areas, attracting investment and opportunity to their places. They provide that single point of accountability to local citizens. Our devolution framework in the levelling-up White Paper places a strong emphasis on the importance of high-profile, directly elected local leadership, strong local institutions, and joint working across sensible and coherent economic geographies. We believe that high-profile, directly elected leaders—such as a mayor—will be most effective in driving levelling up in an area. Such strong local leadership is essential for delivering better local outcomes and joined-up public services.
As such, level 3 of the devolution framework in the White Paper, which is the highest tier, requires an institution to have a directly elected mayor to access the fullest range of functions and funding. In the case of a combined authority, we have seen that directly elected mayors are the clearest and lightest-touch way to provide that single point of accountability that I have referred to, which enables greater risk taking in decision making. In the case of a local authority, a directly elected mayor increases the visibility of leadership and helps create a greater convening power to delivery place-based programmes. That visibility is not to be derided. The Evaluation of Devolved Institutions report in 2021 found that nearly three-quarters of respondents —72%—across all combined authority areas reported that they were aware of who the mayor of their local area was. London, with 97%, and Manchester, with 88% of respondents, reported the highest level of awareness of who their mayor was.
Many noble Lords will be aware of mayors around the country who are already playing an incredibly powerful role in driving economic growth, as well as improving public services and giving local areas a real voice on the national stage. West Midlands would be a good example, where Andy Street has led work to form Energy Capital with the aim of creating a competitive, secure modern energy system that provides low-cost, clean and efficient power, while Andy Burnham and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority have created Our Pass, a membership scheme to provide free bus travel across Greater Manchester for young people. It greatly improves their ability to take advantage of the city-region’s amenities.
Clause 25 enables regulations to be made for a combined county authority to be led by a mayor. It introduces Schedule 2, which sets out the detail of the electoral arrangements. As I have said, this opens the way for a combined county authority area to benefit from the strongest devolution offer available. As I also mentioned earlier, combined county authorities do not have to have a mayor; they can choose to be non-mayoral. We believe that that choice should be made by the local area, in line with our localism principles. Non-mayoral CCAs can access level 2 of the devolution framework, which in itself is valuable and powerful. This clause provides the mechanism for delivering our aim of having strong, visible and accountable leaders to take devolved powers and budgets, and drive the levelling up in their areas.
Amendment 113, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to insert a requirement into Clause 26 for there to be a referendum before the Secretary of State may make regulations to provide that a combined county authority should have an elected mayor, and for this question to be approved by a majority of local government electors. I have probably said all I can on the pros and cons of referenda. I am, generally speaking, not a fan, and I have to say that I agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about the cost of putting on a referendum.
Lest there be any doubt about local public involvement, however, I absolutely agree that it is important that the public are consulted on a proposal to introduce a combined county authority mayor in their area, hence the requirement for public consultation in Clauses 43 and 45. For the record, again, Clause 43(4) states that, prior to submitting a proposal for establishing a combined county authority to the Secretary of State, the local authorities proposing to establish it must undertake a public consultation on the proposal in the area that the CCA will cover. If those local authorities are proposing that there is an elected mayor for the CCA, that will be set out in the proposal.
Clause 45(3) includes similar provisions for a proposal from a combined county authority to make changes to existing arrangements relating to that CCA, including introducing an elected mayor for the CCA’s area if moving from a non-mayoral CCA. The authorities or the CCA must undertake a public consultation in those circumstances and submit a summary of consultation responses to the Secretary of State alongside their proposal.
When deciding whether to make the regulations to establish or change a combined county authority for an area, including introducing an elected mayor, one of the tests that the Secretary of State must consider is whether the area’s public consultation is sufficient. If they conclude that it is not, Clauses 44 and 46 provide that the Secretary of State must himself or herself undertake a public consultation before any regulations can be made. So we believe that the existing clauses provide for sufficient local consultation on the introduction of a mayor or a CCA. I know that that reply will not make the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, any happier, but I believe we are closer to her position than perhaps she thought we might be.
Amendment 114, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, seeks to ensure that a deputy mayor of a combined county authority cannot be appointed without scrutiny and agreement. The appointment of a deputy mayor is a significant one. The statutory deputy mayor is a member of the combined county authority who would act in the place of the mayor if, for any reason, the mayor is unable to act or the office is vacant. As it is a mayoral appointment, the mayor should have the ability to choose the deputy of their choice as the person who would stand in for them, providing continuity and strong leadership in such an event.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about accountability mechanisms in these circumstances. Alongside the clear need for mayors to be able to choose their deputy from the authority membership, CCAs are required to have at least one overview and scrutiny committee. This is the mechanism by which mayoral decisions will be assessed and scrutinised, together with those of a deputy mayor where they have been required to take over from the mayor.
I turn to Amendment 116A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. Clause 30 enables regulations to be made so that a combined county authority mayor can jointly exercise any mayoral general functions with a neighbouring local authority. Such regulations may set out the detailed operational arrangements, such as membership, chairing and voting powers, and political balance requirements. This amendment would remove the possibility for joint committee appointments to not be politically balanced. We have to resist that, as there may be circumstances in which politically balanced committees are not possible or appropriate. For example, in an area where both the combined county authority and neighbouring local authority are dominated by one political party, it may be desirable for the joint committee to not reflect this and instead include opposition councillors from a different party to ensure a rounded approach. This provision applies to all local authority and combined authority joint committees. This amendment would mean that combined county authority joint committees would be out of step with all other local government institutions.
Amendment 120, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seeks to ensure the combined county authority agrees which police and crime commissioner functions exercised by the deputy mayor for policing and crime can be further delegated to any other person. Combined county authority mayors with PCC functions may appoint a deputy mayor specifically for policing and crime to carry out such PCC functions as may be delegated to them by the mayor. The authority has no role in the exercise of these functions, nor in scrutinising the performance of the mayor and deputy mayor for policing and crime in exercising these functions. This is provided by a statutory police and crime panel for the area. While scrutiny of the role and performance is crucial, it is important that this is done via the panel and that nothing can fetter the deputy mayor for policing and crime’s discretion to further delegate the functions they exercise.
Finally, Amendment 122, tabled by the noble Lord, would lower the threshold at which the Secretary of State would be required to intervene in a proposal by a combined county authority’s mayor to implement the single employer model for fire and policing, uniting both services under a single operational lead. The amendment would mean that only 51% or above, as opposed to two-thirds or above currently, of constituent members of the combined county authority would be required to oppose the mayor’s proposal to implement the single employer model in order to trigger a number of actions involving the Secretary of State. These actions are: a requirement for the mayor to share all representations from authority members about the proposal with the Secretary of State, a requirement for the Secretary of State to commission an independent assessment of the proposal and a decision, and a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish that assessment. It should be for the combined county authority mayor to determine whether to implement the single employer model for these two key public protection services for which they have responsibility. As such, a threshold of two-thirds feels more in keeping to us.
I hope that the noble Lord and the Committee will find these comments helpful and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel able to withdraw Amendment 67.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate. The main takeaway for me is that it is crystal clear that the model is very problematic and that we need a proper discussion about the role and rights of district councils, because I honestly think that the model strips them of powers. It is worth reminding noble Lords that district councils are currently responsible for economic development and planning. So I thank the Minister for his detailed response, but I am sure that we will revisit these concerns in future debates on the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 67 withdrawn.
Amendments 68 and 69 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.35 pm.