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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Volume 828: debated on Monday 13 March 2023

Committee (4th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Clause 8: Constitutional arrangements

Amendment 70

Moved by

70: Clause 8, page 8, line 18, at end insert “but no more than any other constituent council”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment ensures that any constituent council has, as part of a CCA, the same number of appointed elected members as any other constituent council.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 70 I am extremely conscious that it is a probing amendment to look at one aspect of the Government’s thinking on the creation and operation of CCAs. However, in many ways it is also a paving amendment for many of the other amendments in this group. Clause 8 confers on the Secretary of State, subject to the consent of the constituent parts of the proposed CCA, numerous powers in relation to it, ranging from membership and voting powers to the appointment and function of an executive of the CCA. It also covers the overview and scrutiny arrangements as well as the appointment of a mayor, where relevant, and of non-constituent and associate members. So it is very wide-ranging and to some extent, the amendments in this group touch on many of those issues.

It is important to begin by making it clear that, for we on these Benches, at least one issue is really important. Given their crucial role, not least in planning and economic development, we believe that district councils should be full members of any CCA. We have already moved amendments to that effect, as have other noble Lords, and we will continue to do so at later stages of the Bill. I note that, in Amendment 81 in this group, my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, are also proposing a role for parish councils.

We have also been clear that the voting membership of a decision-making body such as a CCA should comprise only those who have been elected to it or one of the constituent organisations that makes it up. In simple terms, we believe that those who have to abide by a law or decision should have some say in deciding who makes those decisions; I certainly believe that that should be true of a second Chamber of this Parliament. For those reasons and many others, as my noble friend Lady Scott will no doubt discuss in a few minutes, we oppose the appointment of non-constituent and associate members to a CCA. We certainly feel, as expressed in Amendments 155 and 156 from my noble friend Lord Shipley, that if they are put in place, these unelected CCA members should not have a vote.

Even if we reach agreement on who should be constituent members of a CCA, there remains the crucial question of what the voting arrangements should be. As I mentioned in an earlier debate, I appreciate the concern that if, for example, district councils are allowed to become constituent members of a CCA, they could, because of their number, always outvote the other constituent members and, in effect, have a veto. It is therefore important that we are clear about how the voting arrangements will be made. Incidentally, I entirely accept that my probing Amendment 70 could lead to that very problem of district councils having a veto.

The Minister has already made it clear that the Government intend to allow CCAs to determine their own arrangements where possible. We broadly agree with this approach, but surely we need to be clear whether that freedom will extend totally to, for example, voting arrangements, without any restrictions on local decision-making. After all, subsection (2)(b) of Clause 8, which refers to the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations, states that regulations may—so it is possible for the Secretary of State to do this—cover

“the voting powers of members of the CCA (including provision for different weight to be given to the vote of different descriptions of member)”.

Like my noble friend Lord Stunell, who will go into more detail on this at a later stage, we are concerned that, for example, setting aside a requirement that the CCA need not be constructed in accordance with the balance of political representation among the constituent members could lead to serious problems with its voting on the issues on which it makes decisions. Not limiting the number of associate members—who could, as we have heard, be given a vote—as per the current arrangement could also have a significant impact on the voting decisions of the CCA.

I am absolutely clear that while we support the Government’s principal intention of ensuring that decisions on these matters are made by the CCA itself, we need to be very clear what freedoms it will really have and what the implications of Clause 8(2)(b) really mean. No doubt, that clarity will come when the Minister winds up. I beg to move.

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 81, which is the first of a number of amendments I have tabled that relate to the powers and duties of town and parish councils. In doing so, I declare an interest as the president of the National Association of Local Councils. These councils are well understood, well established and are a serious part of the fabric of local government. In some cases that is by virtue of size—they spend significant amounts of money—but in others it is about the role they play as, if you like, a convener of local interests, creating that sense of place which we know is so important in any venture that we might call levelling up.

When you talk to Governments of any persuasion and their Ministers, they always say nice things about this sector. They always say that it is very important and does great work, but when the legislation is drafted and the cheques are written, it always feels as though it is at the back of the queue. This is an example of new structures being created that, arguably, are to some extent devolutionary, but there is no mechanism for onward devolution to the town and parish council sector. So, this amendment simply argues that when it comes to the overview and scrutiny arrangements for the combined county authorities, there ought, as of right, to be a requirement for some involvement of this sector, perhaps through the county associations. Having this tier of local government represented would actually strengthen the overview and scrutiny function overall, and it would certainly strengthen the sector.

I rise to support Amendment 70, which was eloquently articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and to illustrate the problem of district councils that sit in boundary positions between county councils and, in some cases, regions. I live in Bassetlaw, and in Bassetlaw District Council the health authority extends into South Yorkshire. Therefore, representation in terms of the hospital trust comes from one district council, and, in terms of local governance, from the county of Nottinghamshire.

Health is a pretty big and complex issue. If I had had my way in the past, it would have been coherent for the ambulance service to have been restructured to follow suit. Indeed, I argued that some of north Derbyshire, such as Chesterfield, north-east Derbyshire and Bolsover, should have been part of an ambulance service with Sheffield and South Yorkshire, because that would have far more coherence, in terms of the geography, industry and some big risk factors. That did not get as far as it should have, and successive Governments have chosen to stick with the rather enforced status quo. I say enforced because some of Bassetlaw’s key strategic aspects were shifted to South Yorkshire in the 1973 Act. There is the idea of a lifelong boundary that is relevant, but when one takes an entire international airport and moves it, and moves the entire minerals deposits for Nottinghamshire in, these are pretty big things. Therefore, the principle of having the district council voice in the middle of things seems essential.

There is a mania in government that bigger is automatically better with local government. I do not mean this Government specifically, but they seem to be falling, perhaps with Civil Service advice, the way that other Governments previously have. The policy and action are true in some areas but not others, where the locality and geography are far more vital. The Bassetlaw district is bigger than Greater London. When one says “tiny” about the population, one is not talking about the critical infrastructure and the land-mass. These kinds of peculiarities exist elsewhere in the country. I have illustrated with this one because I live in it and know it best.

There is huge merit in Amendment 70, albeit with the caveat that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, himself made on what actual voting percentages and so on should be. I do not underestimate the importance of those matters in democracy, but the principle seems absolute: the districts have to be at the table.

My Lords, I support Amendment 81, spoken to so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. In doing so, I draw attention to my vice-presidency of the National Association of Local Councils, which I had the privilege of serving as president for many years, and my current joint presidency of the West Sussex Association of Local Councils.

It is regrettable that, notwithstanding the status of neighbourhood plans as a material consideration in local planning structures, principal authorities often seem to be obliged to disregard them, despite having considerable agency in the production of these plans. I refer to the calling of referenda or, as sometimes seems equally likely, delaying of the calling, which I can only assume has sound reasons. It creates great problems, given that there is substantial commitment of time and no small amount of public money to the neighbourhood planning process.

As we move into other areas that will involve multiple local authorities, such as biodiversity net gain and water neutrality, I can see that it is perfectly legitimate for these to be dealt with at what you might call a superior level. But it remains absolutely essential that communities still have a voice, a view and a role in that particular decision-making format. If the Secretary of State’s comments mean anything when he refers to strengthening the role of communities, as I understood him to say some while back, it must be something other than lip service—something other than parishes and town councils being somehow left behind. When I say that neighbourhood plans are being disregarded, I think of the neighbouring parish to the parish in which I live, where precisely this has happened.

It is very important to understand the structure of town and parish councils, as alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, with their knowledgeable, highly engaged and often very effective interventions in local planning processes through their structure of county and district associations as well as the individual parishes. They should not be underrated. They have access to resources you would not believe. I have come across parishes in which top planning consultants happen to be residents. These people are highly engaged, highly knowledgeable and should be listened to. Parishes have moved along massively in the past 20 or 30 years. They really are the only structure that represents the community at this level. When you think about it, there is no other authority that extends down to that level of where people really live and do things in their work/life balance. If people feel disregarded, as do many residents in my part of West Sussex, it bodes ill for engagement, cohesion and, ultimately, the efficacy of national policies. I would not want that to go unstated in the context of the Bill.

I rise to speak to Amendments 155 and 156 in my name. These are probing amendments because I think it is very important that the Government explain their intentions. Amendment 155 provides that non-constituent members of the combined authority are not able to vote, given their status, and Amendment 156 provides that associate members of a combined authority are not able to vote, given their status. On a previous day in Committee we addressed this issue, in part. However, the Government need to undertake some mature reflection about what is proposed here.

Giving a vote to somebody who is not a full member of a combined authority is unwise. My amendments provide that there should be no vote for anybody who is not a full member of the authority. The principle is that full members are voting members, and voting members are full members, but you cannot have full voting members when they are not full constituent members, as opposed to associate members, of the authority.

The voting structure between counties and districts as explained in the Bill would provide a route for resolving any impasse that might arise if votes were allocated on the basis of population. Of course, a county would have exactly 50% of the votes. If all the district councils voted against the county—one hopes it does not come to that—there would have to be some kind of system for a casting vote. The mayor would seem to be the way forward.

After reflecting on what we have been saying on previous days in Committee, to me it seems that district councils, which are responsible for planning and economic development matters, ought to be full members of a CCA. That seems to me to be the principle. It should not be at the discretion of the CCA, which does not have a district council member, to simply award a vote to that district council member when other district council members may not have a vote because, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said on the previous day in Committee, when giving a vote to one non-constituent member or to an associate member, it does not follow that other associate or non-constituent members would have a vote.

So this is a probing amendment. It is complicated; I understand that. When in due course we reach Report, I just hope that the Government will be prepared to examine the structure they have proposed here. I have come to the conclusion that they should permit district councils within a CCA area to become full members. At that point, those full members would have a right to a full vote under their own terms of membership. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to respond to that, so that we can get a better feel of what we need to do on Report to bring in further clarification on this matter.

My Lords, we have a couple of amendments in this group, one in my name and one in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage. First, Amendment 73 in my noble friend’s name would mean that a non-constituent member ceases to be a member when they form part of a different CCA.

We are aware that the Local Government Association has expressed concerns about this amendment. It has said that local areas should be able to “look both ways”—in other words, be a non-constituent member of more than one authority—if they have close economic or cultural ties with more than one combined authority or devolution deal area. It has also expressed concerns about the fact that it would set a precedent, contrary to the current plans for the city of York, which is currently a non-constituent member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority but would become a member of the new York and North Yorkshire mayoral combined authority.

I want to explain the thinking behind why we tabled this amendment, which is, of course, a probing amendment. It is of course understandable that local authority non-constituent members may wish to be part of more than one CCA. However, we believe, first, that district councils should be constituent, not non-constituent, members of a CCA, to ensure that they can play a full part in decision-making for their area—as other noble Lords have just said—and that this would include any budgetary and spatial development issues, and, secondly, that therefore they could then be a non-constituent member only in a CCA that was not their primary CCA.

We believe it must surely be the case that membership of a CCA is implicitly determined by the geography of an area. If it is the intention of the Secretary of State to have a pattern of overlapping CCAs across the country, will this not complicate the structure of local government rather than simplify and declutter the picture, which the Government have said they want to achieve?

Further to this, if we then have overlapping areas that are both combined mayoral authorities, to which mayor do the people of an area represented on more than one CCA relate? Can the Minister in his response clarify whether the population of that area get a vote in both mayoral elections, which of the mayors is responsible for delivering the economic development and/or regeneration of their area, and who is accountable?

This clause is predicated on the assumption that district council members are simply co-opted, junior partners in CCAs with no voting rights and only a passing interest in sitting in on meetings that they are not actively participating in. As has been said in debates on earlier amendments, we feel that this is, frankly, an insult to district councils.

As I said, my noble friend’s amendment is intended to probe why the Government appear to have set their face so firmly against the inclusion of district councils. Instead, we believe they should be at the heart of decision-making in CCAs since, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, they have powers over planning and economic development, not to mention that they are the councils with the highest percentage of public support. We strongly believe that they should be able to be full members.

My Amendment 127A, which would remove an exemption meaning that consultation does not have to take place if

“the Secretary of State considers that no further consultation is necessary”.

is for clarification, following our debates on a previous day and the response then of the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Howe. In that debate, he said there were no further requirements around consultation because it was covered completely in Clause 46—which, I remind noble Lords, says:

“The Secretary of State must carry out a public consultation unless”—

this is the final reason—

“the Secretary of State considers that no further consultation is necessary”.

As I mentioned on day 3 of Committee, that does concern me. Unless it is clearly demonstrated and transparent why that is no longer required, if we have publicly seen what has been said, what further action has been taken or not taken and the reasons surrounding that, then we are aware of how the Secretary of State has made his decision. As it stands, we are not. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, responded that he would

“take advice on why that clause is worded as it is”.—[Official Report, 27/2/23; col. 70.]

I do not know whether he has been able to do that as yet—I know there has not been much time—but it is important that we understand the wording. We felt that, in order to have absolute certainty, the safety net that the Minister referred to should always exist, and the final justification for the Secretary of State not to have a carry out a public consultation because he does not think it necessary should be removed.

I turn to other noble Lords’ amendments. Amendment 70, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, said in his introduction, is supported by the LGA and would tighten the wording of the Bill. It is important that each of the constituent councils appoints at least one of its elected members as a member of the CCA. That is what it says at the moment. The problem we have is that you end up with a situation where technically a CCA that was dominated by one political party could determine that those of the same political party could have greater representation, while others would have the minimum of, say, one representative. We touched on that in an earlier debate. It is important that we have clarity on this so that kind of political domination cannot happen in a way that ignores other councils’ representation.

The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, is important and we strongly support what she is saying here. I note that her amendment, on representation from parish councils, is supported by NALC, the National Association of Local Councils, which is concerned that the Bill does not go far enough to empower and involve communities in devolution. I ought to draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that I have a personal interest in this amendment as my husband is the chair of our parish council.

We think that devolving powers to areas in England that want them should not be confined to county level, regional level or principal authorities. If the Bill is to achieve what it is talking about—that is, levelling up and regeneration—it is important that local leaders at community level, such as town and parish councils, are empowered to support their communities. Parish councils need to be seen as an important and valued part of a combined authority area. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, they know their areas better than anyone else; they are close to what people think, want and need, so should be part of the process.

The experience of previous and current rounds of negotiations about local government reorganisation and devolution has highlighted the absence of involvement by parish councils or the relevant county association of local councils acting on their behalf, including involvement in scrutiny arrangements. We believe that this amendment will enhance and strengthen the overview and scrutiny of combined county authorities, and we agree that this, and the membership of an overview and scrutiny committee of a CCA, is a proportionate and appropriate way for local councils to have oversight of the proceedings and gives a level of accountability to those local parish and town councils.

We know that NALC has said that previous rounds have not seen the Government engaging effectively with local councils, so I ask the Minister: what engagement has taken place in the drafting of this legislation? Surely the Minister agrees that if there had been adequate engagement with local councils during the preparation of the Bill and following the publication of the White Paper, there would be more consideration in the Bill of the role of local councils? That is not just town and parish, but districts, as has been previously mentioned.

Finally, we come to the two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. First, we understand why the noble Lord has tabled Amendment 155, and the principle behind it and that of Amendment 156. We also understand that these amendments are probing, but we would not be able to fully support Amendment 155 unless there was a change in the Government’s stance on district councils being able to be only non-constituent members of a CCA. If the Government continue with their current stance that non-constituent membership is the only status available to those representing democratically elected councils, surely the Bill has to contain the provision that they can be entitled to vote. Can the Minister explain why the decision was taken by the Government that they cannot have a vote?

We are minded to support Amendment 156 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, but we need to understand much more about the purpose and role of, and criteria around the appointment of, associate members. Without that, it is very difficult to determine whether there should be any provision for associate members to be granted a vote at the CCA table. We believe that the Government have been extremely opaque about this category of membership. So I ask the Minister: when are we likely to get more detail?

My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments, which probes and challenges the membership of the CCA, and even existing combined authorities. It seems to me that there are three major principles that the amendments in this group are exploring; the first concerns whether the Government are determined to continue with democratic local government. There are proposals in the Bill for non-constituent members, which may be groups of businesses, rotary or chambers of trade, or trade unions, that are not elected locally, to be able to influence the spending of substantial sums of public money in their areas.

For me, the whole purpose of democracy is that those elected are those who are going to be accountable for decisions made about public funds—that seems to me to be a fundamental principle of local government. Unfortunately, the proposals in the Bill seem to be moving away from that basic principle by giving combined county authorities the ability to appoint associate members, who represent nobody but themselves, and indeed non-constituent members, who may not be members of an elected body such as a district, town or parish council. I would like to hear from the Minister the Government’s view on this and why these proposals are in the Bill.

The second principle is that of local. It seems that the Government, as perhaps were previous Governments, are intent on taking the “local” out of local government. The move to dismantle two tiers of local government and make them into unitaries moves the elected representatives away from their local area, because their wards are much larger in size. That leads me to support very much the proposals in the amendment of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market about the involvement of town and parish councils within this system of combined authorities. It also leads me to support, the Committee will not be surprised to hear, the voices that have been heard across the Chamber on the important role of district councils within this system. They are the ones which, along with town and parish councils, are at the local level and they understand the economies and cultures of their areas. Those voices must be expressed in a higher or more remote tier of government.

The third principle that has been expressed today is proportionality. What we cannot allow—because, again, it is undemocratic to do so—is to move away from the convention of proportionality. We cannot accept that voices from other political backgrounds will not be given a chance to express those views within a combined authority.

I look forward to what the Minister is going to say about membership, voting arrangements and proportionality, and about the role of district, town and parish councils, because for me this is absolutely fundamental to any proposal for devolution. Devolution is a nonsense if it just results in another remote body that bears no relationship to its local area. If people cannot express their concerns or propose ideas, it is just another way of doing things to people rather than involving them.

Does the noble Baroness agree that one of the other concerns is that such members cannot then be voted out if people do not agree with them being there?

That is my fundamental principle. Anyone who makes decisions about public money has to be voted for; they have to be an elected member. The whole point is that they are then accountable for the decisions they make and can, quite rightly, be kicked out of office if local people do not agree with what they have done. That is the point and if you have non-elected members of these combined authorities who cannot be ejected from office for the decisions they have made, we are no longer a democratic country.

My Lords, as noble Lords have explained, this group of amendments considers various aspects of the membership of combined county authorities and combined authorities, and the voting rights of members.

Amendment 70, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, seeks to require equal membership for all the members of a combined county authority, removing the flexibility that the Bill currently provides. I listened carefully to the noble Lord but I have to come back to a point that I made in an earlier debate: it is vital that the primary legislation on combined county authority membership retains this flexibility and enables the local area to make the decision about membership.

The practice within the existing combined authority model illustrates why. It is very common for the constituent councils of the existing combined authority model to have equal membership, but this is not always the case. For example, in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, each constituent council nominates one member of the authority and collectively they agree another three members so as to achieve political balance. This would not be possible if the legislation was amended as proposed.

I can assure the noble Lord that the proposed membership arrangements of a combined county authority will be subject to thorough scrutiny. The membership will be reflected in the statutory instrument establishing the CCA, which will be consented to by all constituent councils of the CCA, agreed by government and approved by Parliament.

Amendment 73, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to prevent a non-constituent member of one combined county authority being either a full constituent or non-constituent member of another CCA. As we discussed in an earlier group, a non-constituent member is a representative of a local organisation or body—for example, a district council, local university or neighbouring council—who can attend combined county authority meetings to input their specific local knowledge into proceedings.

Preventing a non-constituent member becoming either a full or non-constituent member of another combined county authority may prevent useful cross-area working between CCA areas and collaboration within a CCA. A local authority that is a member of one CCA may be prevented from collaborating with a neighbouring CCA, or an organisation, such as an integrated care partnership or a university, which works across more than one combined county authority may be prevented from working with both CCAs. I hope the noble Baroness agrees that a local area, rather than central government, is best placed to determine how to work with its local stakeholders.

Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, seeks to require combined county authorities to appoint a representative from parish councils within the CCA’s area to the membership of the CCA’s overview and scrutiny committee. We recognise that it could be appropriate for representatives from parish councils to be members of an overview and scrutiny committee considering matters raised by the combined county authority.

However, again, our approach is that these issues—both who should be representatives and which representatives should be invited—are best decided locally. The powers which already exist provide for combined county authorities to invite representatives of parish councils, along with other appropriate persons, to be members of their overview and scrutiny committees. Given that localist approach, we do not consider this amendment to be necessary as all the powers are already available to achieve what the noble Baroness is seeking.

Of course, I recognise that the noble Baroness is perhaps seeking to place a requirement on combined county authorities to invite parish council representatives. While the Government have the power through regulations to make it mandatory that representatives of parish councils should be members of combined county authority overview and scrutiny committees, our view is that this kind of central diktat approach is not in keeping with the spirit of localism or the collaborative involvement we are seeking and wish to see at the local level.

I am finding some of this slightly confusing, so I wonder whether the noble Earl could clarify something. Is he confirming, first, that district councils can be constituent members, and not just non-constituent members? Secondly, did he just say that all district councils will be able to be members? I would just like clarification.

It may be helpful if I cover the issue of district councils in a moment when I come to Amendments 155 and 156. I will do my best when I do so.

Amendment 127A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the requirements in relation to public consultations on proposals to change a combined county authority. We are in complete agreement that public consultation on a proposal to change a combined county authority is important. However, the amendment questions an important part of the safeguard that Clause 46 has in place to ensure that such a consultation is sufficient.

I will explain. As the provision is currently written, the Secretary of State must carry out a public consultation on changing a combined county authority unless three factors are met: first, that a proposal has been prepared under Clause 45; secondly, that a public consultation on the proposal has been carried out and a summary of it submitted to the Secretary of State; and, thirdly, that the Secretary of State considers that no further consultation is necessary—namely, that the consultation which has been carried out is sufficient. The amendment, as I take it, probes the process involved in the third factor. I tried my best to cover that in the letter I sent to all noble Lords who spoke in our previous Committee session.

In essence, the issue here is that the Secretary of State, in deciding whether a prior consultation has been sufficient or insufficient, has to look at several things: what the consultation consisted of; whether it followed the Cabinet Office guidance for public consultations sufficiently well; and, in that regard, whether it covered the necessary groups of people that it should cover, which is one of the principles set out in the Cabinet Office rules. So the public consultation would involve not only residents but key stakeholders, such as district councils, local businesses, public sector bodies, and voluntary and community sector organisations. A summary of those responses has to be presented to the Secretary of State when the proposal is submitted, together with any amendments that the proposing councils wish to make to the proposal in the light of the consultation. So the consideration the Secretary of State has to undertake is a combination of making sure that the principles laid down for consultations have been followed and looking at the evidence that has been presented. I hope that is of help to the noble Baroness.

I turn now to Amendments 155 and 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which have similar effects, as he explained. Amendment 155 would remove the ability of a combined authority to resolve to allow non-constituent members voting rights on certain matters. Amendment 156 would apply the same restriction to a combined authority’s associate members. Both non-constituent and associate members are non-voting members by default, but we have enabled the combined authority to give them voting rights on most matters, should they wish to do so. For example, a combined authority may have provided for there to be a non-constituent member of a neighbouring council to enable their input on matters which may have cross-boundary effects.

I listened with care, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who expressed some severe reservations about this idea. However, it is entirely possible that a combined authority may have provided for an associate member—for example, a local business leader—to enable their input on matters which may have an impact on businesses in the combined authority’s area.

The combined authority may wish to maximise this input by allowing both non-constituent and associate members to vote on such relevant matters. The process for doing this would be set out in the combined authority’s local constitution, with the decision being made by the authority. As I have alluded to, there is a good example of this. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, expressed the view that district councils should be allowed a seat at the table and a vote. The Government have allowed for this to happen, albeit not in the way that the noble Lord has suggested, but as a non-constituent member.

We will be coming to a later group, consisting partly of Amendment 125A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, when we can perhaps discuss the issue of district councils in a little more depth. But it is also one of the topics that I suggest to noble Lords we cover in the round-table discussion which I proposed in our last Committee session, and which is now in the course of being arranged.

I should add that, very importantly, the decision by a combined authority to give any non-constituent members and/or associate members voting rights could be scrutinised by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee to ensure due process is being followed. I suggest to the noble Lord that what we are proposing will not be without checks and balances.

The Minister has given one example of a constituent council—a council outside the area of the CCA becoming a constituent council because there are cross-boundary issues. But that is the only one I have heard him come up with, and I had assumed there would many other examples of why this structure is being created.

I also have concerns about the associate member category. The Minister said, and I hope I understood him correctly, that a business leader in the area might be co-opted as an associate member, who would then be given a vote. Do the Government think that wise, in terms of public perception? I suspect that the public might have some doubts. I do not understand why giving them the vote is so important. I can understand a business leader advising as an associate, or simply being in attendance, which is a common category in meetings, but not actually having a vote.

I will not extend this debate, but I hope that when we have the round-table discussion we can get to the bottom of the reasons for votes being given to those who are not full members of the combined authority.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, and I am sure that we can cover those issues in more depth at the round table. I think it is worth bearing in mind that if the local councils themselves have any doubts or reservations about the appropriateness of giving voting rights to an individual, they do not have to go down that road. It would be only by agreement that this would happen. They would see a value and a purpose in granting such rights.

What could the value be in an outsider—someone who is not elected as part of the authority—having a vote? Perhaps the Minister can give us some examples of it being valuable for them to vote. Their advice, of course, would be important and the traditions of local government are that that advice would be listened to. But I think a vote is the thing that some of us find difficult to accept.

I gave one example, which was a district council that might have particular interests; another might be a university. An integrated care partnership might have major interests in what was being debated or decided. There could be circumstances where a vote by a representative of such organisations could be seen as the right thing to do in the circumstances. Again, I think this is worth my following up in subsequent discussions. I sense that there is considerable uncertainty and hesitation about this provision.

In summary, the Government’s view is that the course proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would undermine a combined authority’s ability to work in collaboration with local stakeholders, in the fullest sense, and experts who can contribute positively to the working of the combined authority and collectively ensure the best outcomes for the area and its residents. I hope that my explanatory comments are helpful, as far as they go, although I am conscious that they will not have satisfied noble Lords entirely. For the time being, I hope too that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, will feel able to withdraw Amendment 70.

My Lords, the whole House is inordinately grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for genuinely listening to what people say and seeking to provide responses to our questions. Nevertheless, he has just acknowledged how complicated this Bill is and how much murk still remains to be resolved. We are therefore particularly grateful that he acknowledges that these issues can be raised again not only at a later stage but in the round table that he now assures us has moved some way towards being formed.

I do not want to dwell on all the points raised, but I pick up very briefly on the contributions by my noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Both have been doughty campaigners for parish councils and the crucial role they often play in our communities, not least, in many cases, in driving forward neighbourhood plans but, as my noble friend pointed out, through their convening powers. It would be helpful to hear in more detail the Minister’s thoughts on where exactly he sees them fitting into the structure.

The key thing that has yet again been raised today, even though it is not directly related to any of the amendments in this group, is the passionate belief in many parts of your Lordships’ House that district councils have a crucial role to play. It was great to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mann, a passionate supporter of Bassetlaw District Council, promoting the contributions that all district councils can make.

We will have an opportunity to raise these issues again in considering other groups. However, while the Minister has said time and again that he is great believer in devolution of power and getting rid of central diktat—I applaud that approach—I say carefully to him that, unless we get the mechanisms right and are clear about exactly what the Government will or will not permit through the various regulations, there is a real danger that we could move from central diktat to party-political diktat in a particular area.

Much confusion still remains. The noble Earl, in his letter to many of us, said that the enfranchisement arrangements for other categories of membership would be determined through a unanimous decision-making system whereby all constituent parts would have a clear vote. However, Clause 10(2), for example, does not say that there has to be unanimity on such decisions. We can deal with issues such as this at a later stage, and my noble friend Lord Stunell certainly intends to probe the Minister in more detail. Given that we have these further opportunities, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 70 withdrawn.

Amendment 71 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clause 9: Non-constituent members of a CCA

Amendments 72 to 74 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Clause 10: Associate members of a CCA

Amendment 75 not moved.

Clause 10 agreed.

Clause 11: Regulations about members

Amendment 76 not moved.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clauses 12 and 13 agreed.

Schedule 1: Combined county authorities: overview and scrutiny committees and audit committee

Amendment 77

Moved by

77: Schedule 1, page 253, line 18, at end insert—

“(d) to make its reports public whenever the overview and scrutiny committee believes publication to be in the public interest.”Member’s explanatory statement

This would ensure that the CCA cannot refuse to publish a report of an overview and scrutiny committee.

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 79, 82, 83, and 84. All these amendments relate to audit and scrutiny, and issues that I think are extremely important if the public are to have confidence in the combined county structure, but those principles, of course, apply to any structure in local government and to any combined authority structure.

Amendment 77 would ensure that the combined county authority cannot refuse to publish a report of an overview and scrutiny committee. This is a probing amendment, for the Minister to explain that indeed it is possible, as I propose in Amendment 77, that an overview and scrutiny committee can

“make its reports public whenever the overview and scrutiny committee believes publication to be in the public interest”.

I simply seek the Minister’s confirmation that is actually what is intended, because I do not think it is actually in the Bill—maybe the words are there and I have simply missed them.

Amendment 79 in my name would prevent a CCA restricting the work of an overview and scrutiny committee without good reason. I think this is really important because an overview and scrutiny committee must have independence to operate without undue influence by the parent committee. Therefore, my amendment simply says that a CCA cannot unreasonably withhold permission for some work of the overview and scrutiny committee taking place.

Amendment 82 relates to whether recent members of a political party can qualify as “an appropriate person”. Amendment 83 is on the same subject or principle. It seems to me that the Bill actually permits someone to be appointed as “an appropriate person” the day after they have resigned from a political party. I have proposed five years: if you are really going to be “an appropriate person”, surely you can be appropriate only if you are not recently associated with an individual political party—five years is a probing proposal; some other period might be relevant. I feel very strongly that you cannot have people appointed as an appropriate person who have very recently been a member, perhaps a prominent member, of any political party. I hope the Minister will be able to put my concerns at rest.

Amendment 84 would enhance public confidence in the audit process by increasing the number of independent people on the audit committees. At the moment, the Government have put one person in the Bill. I think one person is inadequate. What if there were one person and that person’s only contribution to a meeting was to apologise for their absence? I have proposed three people: then if somebody is not present at a meeting, at least somebody is more likely to be present. The general public are now increasingly aware of some of the problems around the audit process in local government: I think that six local councils are now in special measures under the Treasury.

One of the reasons the public have concern is that they are being asked, in some places, to pay much higher levels of council tax to make up for losses that the council has created. The audit function—as opposed to just the overview and scrutiny function—really does matter. To have only one person appointed as an independent person seems to me to be insufficient. Given the concerns that can arise so very quickly about investments and the administration of current expenditure that may go wrong, audit committees play a very important role in giving the public confidence that the taxes they pay are being properly spent. I hope very much the Minister can indicate that the Government understand why just a single independent member of an audit committee is not sufficient. I hope she will confirm that there will be at least two independent people—though I would prefer three, it could be that there should be four or five—for that is the basis of audit. It is and should be run on the basis of independence. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare my interest in farming as set out in the register.

I rise to speak on Amendment 80, and I will continue with my theme I brought up on Amendment 33 in Clause 2 about rural proofing. The levelling-up Bill is an opportunity to correct the systemic failings in the Government’s rural policy development. Defra is often seen as being responsible for rural policy but does not actually have the remit to change economic and social policies in the countryside other than on the environment, farming, fishing and forestry. The cross-departmental objectives set out in this Bill should now enable serious rural policy-making to level up that part of our community in both social and economic terms.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the combined county authorities are structured in a manner that enables them to review or scrutinise decisions which have rural implications, with relevant and experienced knowledge at their disposal. A lack of awareness and understanding of the special challenges facing rural communities is very much exemplified in the development and implementation of the rural England prosperity fund. Local authorities’ strategies for using this fund to exploit the potential of the rural economy are not clear, and their engagement with rural businesses has been scant. By ensuring that the overview and scrutiny committees of combined county authorities have the power to appoint rural sub-committees, a better understanding of the needs of rural challenges—from housing to education to transport to connectivity—will be embedded at the grass roots. This would lead to better local authority engagement with rural households and businesses, enhancing their understanding of the workings of the rural economy and rural livelihoods. Please can the Minister give her support to this amendment in the interests of confirming that and enabling rural issues to be properly considered in wider policy-making.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. I am a serving district and county councillor and a vice-president of the District Councils’ Network.

I will speak to our Amendments 78 and 85 and will comment also on some of the other amendments in this group. Many in this House who have connections with local government will be very aware of the significant issues in relation to formal audit over the last three years. This has been the result of a number of issues in the private sector audit regime that we now have, including the increasing complexity of local authority accounts and the resultant demands on training, the recruitment and retention of staff, and rapidly increasing fees, to name just a few factors that have been experienced by the private audit sector. In fact, it was estimated last year that only 9% of local authorities had been able to have their 2021 audits completed on time.

Audit is really vital, as the noble Lord said just now. It provides public reassurance and confidence for both members and officers, and more particularly for the public. It is disappointing that the Bill does nothing to address that issue. However, the amendments in this section are aimed at ensuring that scrutiny within the CCA is as powerful and independent as it can be, which should, in turn, mean that audit is effective and can develop a high level of confidence among members and the public.

Turning first to our Amendment 78, this is needed because of the proposals in the Bill that effectively exclude district councillors from being voting members of the CCA itself. I appreciate that we have some work to do to clarify that point. The fundamental impact of the decisions taken by the CCA must, therefore, be able to be scrutinised effectively by members with a detailed local knowledge of their area. As chairs of overview and scrutiny review the decisions of their own councils’ executive committees on a regular basis, they will have a good working knowledge of the strategic planning for their areas, and therefore will be able to assess the likely impact of decisions taken by the CCA.

There is a precedent for this. For example, in the policing panels, which scrutinise the work and budgets of police and crime commissioners, all districts in a PCC’s area are entitled to be present. It is not intended that this amendment would prevent other members being appointed to an overview and scrutiny committee—for example independent members, as referred to in Amendment 84, from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

I turn now to our Amendment 85. This relates to the sharing of best practice on scrutiny, and there is some very good advice and support on scrutiny available from the Centre for Public Scrutiny. It will be vital to the successful operation of the CCA that best practice from around the country is shared among the committees. We appreciate that this is not necessarily the role of the Secretary of State, but it could be made clear in guidance to overview and scrutiny committees that they should give consideration regularly to how they operate and how they assimilate best practice.

I will now comment, if I may, on some of the amendments tabled by other noble Lords. We support Amendment 77, from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which is designed to strengthen the role of overview and scrutiny in relation to CCAs. The Labour Party has long been advocating that local public accounts committees could be a way of pulling together local scrutiny of the impact of both national and local policy-making and decision-making on local areas. This would be a first step towards ensuring that overview and scrutiny committees have a level of independence from the CCA. The membership of these committees also needs to be carefully considered.

Turning to Amendment 79, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to the fact that overview and scrutiny committees must be able to carry out their work without influence, and I totally support that. The overview and scrutiny committees must be completely unfettered from any interference from the CCA, including such devices as setting out workplans for them or prohibiting them from scrutinising any aspect of work undertaken by the CCA. Neither should the CCA be able to determine the process used by the overview and scrutiny committees. For example, if the committees wish to call witnesses, including members of the CCA, they should be able to do so. We would be grateful for the Minister’s clarification that it is the intention that overview and scrutiny committees are entitled to carry out their scrutiny of the CCA in any way that they determine will achieve effective scrutiny.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, raise some important issues around the way in which rural issues—such as housing, education, transport, rural economies and so on—often differ from those that are the main consideration of a CCA. We should support the freedom of a CCA to create any sub-committee that is relevant to the work that it undertakes. If it helps to have a rural sub-committee specifically listed to ensure that rural issues are considered by a CCA, that is no bad thing. This is particularly useful where the CCA covers an area that is largely urban but contains smaller rural areas, as it will ensure that issues relevant to rurality are properly considered and reported back to the CCA. A report from one of our own Lords committees, on rural communities, showed that, on the whole, local enterprise partnerships are not great at delivering for rural areas, so the need for that sort of committee of a CCA is well evidenced.

Amendment 82, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is a belt-and-braces amendment, if noble Lords will forgive the expression, to ensure that, should a Member have recently crossed the Floor from one political party to another—meaning that they would have had very recent contact with the mayor, their decision-making processes and strategy—they are not then placed in a position to be able to scrutinise the mayor’s actions. It truly is belt and braces because, in my experience, people who change their political party do so because of disenchantment with where they have been, so it is possible that they may be the best critics of the mayor and their administration. However, this amendment would ensure that there could be no deliberate manipulation of the scrutiny function.

Similar to Amendment 82, Amendment 83, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would mean that, if there is no party with an outright majority on the CCA, the chair of overview and scrutiny should not be a member of either of the parties that may hold the majority together. Depending on local circumstances, this might be difficult if, for example, a third or fourth party is very much in the minority and may not be able to put forward a chair. In those circumstances, it might be necessary to make provision for an independent chair; the fact that we need to continue to discuss this means that there are issues here that continue to need resolution.

The LGA has made some extensive comments on Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. It is worth recording what it has said about having independent co-opted members on audit committees; it is certainly in favour of it. It states:

“Having multiple co-optees enables them to have complementary skills (eg finance, risk management, governance) … The constitutional rules should still require the majority of audit committee members to be elected members. This is for two reasons”—

which are fairly obvious to me but perhaps they are not always so obvious. They are that

“audit committees are fulfilling a role delegated by elected members … who are jointly and severally ‘those charged with governance’, and … elected members represent the community and are in a unique position not enjoyed by independent co-optees to understand what the concerns of local people are in relation to assurance”.

So, although we would support the increase in transparency provided by an increased number of independent members participating in an audit committee for all the reasons that the LGA and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, have highlighted, we question the need to have a specific number when the Bill already states that “at least” one member of an audit committee is an independent member. Perhaps it should be for the CCA to determine its preference for the number of independent members, based on the particular skills base that it feels it needs to carry out the audit role. In time, we feel that good practice would be developed by CCA audit committees as they understand what particular skills are needed in relation to CCA audit work; we are sure that they would be supported by national bodies such as the LGA in sharing good practice.

Another important issue arises here: the question of remuneration, which the LGA has raised. Independent members of a CCA audit committee are likely to be necessarily highly skilled individuals in, for example, finance, risk management and/or governance. While one could expect that they will give a certain proportion of their time for community benefit, it seems unreasonable to expect that they would carry out this role without any remuneration at all. Although the cost of the remuneration of independent members is likely to be minimal in the context of the overall budget of the CCA, consideration should be given to this at the initiation of the CCA so that the roles can be properly defined and recruited. The availability of the necessary skills in any particular area can be decided only in practice.

I am grateful to noble Lords for all their amendments in this group.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a member of Kirklees Council and one who has served on its audit committee for a number of years. Scrutiny and audit are close to my heart. My noble friend Lord Shipley has raised some important issues about scrutiny—about the importance of an appropriate person not being seen as a political nominee, because that would undermine the whole purpose of scrutiny, taking an independent view of the decision-making process in the combined authority.

The second thing, which has not yet been explored, is that scrutiny can be post decision-making and pre decision-making. In strategic decisions made by a combined county authority or a combined authority, the primary duty of a scrutiny committee ought to be pre-decision scrutiny, because that is one way of ensuring a very detailed look at what is proposed—through a semi-independent committee one step removed from the decision-makers in the combined authority. I look forward to what the Minister will say on that and whether emphasis could be put on pre-decision scrutiny, particularly in this role.

The audit function has been illustrated by my noble friend Lord Shipley, who pointed out the number of councils that are failing in their financial status because auditors fail to pick up what is going on there. There are two elements of audit, though, which, again, have not been explored today or indeed in the Bill. One is internal audit, which ought to be primarily the duty of elected members, and the other is external audit, where the appointed external auditors of every council have a very important role at looking at where deficiencies might occur and where decisions being made by the council pose a substantial risk to its future. I totally support the views expressed by all Members who have spoken so far about the importance of having independent experts on those committees from a financial, audit or risk sector to support and advise the committee, but in the end, it is the decision of the elected members. It is them who have to carry the can, quite rightly: if they make poor decisions and fail to expose issues of concern in their councils, they too must be held accountable. I look forward to what the Minister will say on those issues.

Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the issues he raised. One of the challenges of combined authorities, which I see happening even in my own combined authority in West Yorkshire, which everybody will think is a big urban area but is not—it has substantial rural areas—is that the rural areas and issues are largely ignored, because of the challenges of economic development, housing and transport in big urban areas. A proposal or suggestion—in this case, an amendment—to enable specialist sub-committees of a CCA to focus on rural issues is very positive, and I certainly support it. With those comments, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to scrutiny of combined county authorities. I think that we all agree that effective scrutiny of a combined county authority, as with any other local authority, is a key aspect in providing the strong accountability that we all wish to see. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, is absolutely right: it is about not just scrutiny after the event but overview before the event as well, as any good local authority would be doing at the time. I also say this to her: the Bill makes provision for payments of allowances to local authority members who sit on overview and scrutiny, and audit, committees.

Noble Lords will be aware that Schedule 1 provides the underpinning processes for holding a combined county authority to account. Through Amendment 77 the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, wishes to put provisions in the Bill requiring a combined county authority to publish a report of an overview and scrutiny committee if that committee believes that publication of that report is in the public interest.

I reassure the noble Lord that Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 provides powers to require the publication of reports of a committee or sub-committee of a principal council, including overview and scrutiny committees. Schedule 4 to the Bill amends Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 to apply these provisions to combined county authorities. I hope that this provides sufficient reassurance to the noble Lord that further amendments in this area are not necessary.

Amendment 78 was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. We absolutely agree on the importance of overview and audit, as I have said. We recognise that it could be appropriate for representatives from district councils within a combined county authority’s area to be members of a CCA’s overview and scrutiny committee. However, our approach is that this issue of representation is best decided locally. The Bill provides for combined county authorities to invite representatives of district councils, along with other appropriate persons, to be members of their overview and scrutiny committees. The powers are already available to achieve what she seeks.

I recognise that the noble Baroness is perhaps seeking to place a requirement on combined county authorities to ensure that chairs of overview and scrutiny committees of district councils in the CCA areas have to be members of the CCA overview and scrutiny committees. As we have said many times, we prefer a localist approach of enabling those in the area the ability to form their scrutiny committees, rather than dictating this from central government.

Amendment 79 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seeks to prevent a combined county authority restricting the work of an overview and scrutiny committee without good reason. The provisions in this schedule mirror exactly for the combined county authorities the overview and scrutiny arrangements in place for combined authorities. It is important to ensure consistency in approach to robust accountability across all those authorities that have functions and funding conferred to them from the Government.

As with combined authorities and local authorities, combined county authorities are public bodies required by public law to act reasonably in making decisions. It is only right that each combined county authority should be able to decide its own overview and scrutiny committee operational arrangements which best match its local circumstances. This is what this provision in the schedule does.

These operational arrangements will be set out in a combined county authority’s local constitution, to which it and all its members are bound. As such, there is no requirement for this amendment. A CCA cannot withhold an overview and scrutiny committee’s powers. Without such proposals in place that have been consented to by all parties, overview and scrutiny committees will not be able to undertake their role effectively.

Amendment 80 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who I thank for being the voice of rural committees, which are extremely important. This amendment seeks to give combined county authorities’ overview and scrutiny committees the ability to establish a rural sub-committee. I see that is very important for many county authorities, and I can confirm that the existing provisions enable a combined county authority’s overview and scrutiny committee to do this, should it wish. Paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 1 allows a CCA’s overview and scrutiny committee to appoint one or more sub-committees, and they could, of course, be rural sub-committees.

Amendments 82 and 83, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, are about the chairs of overview and scrutiny committees and sub-committees. Schedule 1 sets out that a chair of a combined county authority’s overview and scrutiny committee has to be of a different political party than the mayor in the case of a mayoral CCA and of a different political party to the majority of members in the case of a non-mayoral CCA or an independent person. These amendments seek to provide an additional criterion that the chair cannot have been a member of the same political party as either the mayor or majority of members for a non-mayoral combined county authority for a period of five years prior to appointment.

While we agree with the noble Lord that overview and scrutiny committees are an important part of the accountability process, we believe this amendment to be an unnecessary extra hurdle. Potential chairs’ credentials should be treated on the basis of their current political membership, or lack of it in the case of an independent chair. This is a consistent approach throughout local government. There are no requirements to look back over previously political membership, and we do not think there should be one in these new arrangements.

Amendment 84, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, looks to increase the minimum number of independent members of a combined county authority’s audit committee to three. The Government believe that devolution should be locally led, as I have said many times, and recognise that greater functions and funding must come with strong accountability. The Government’s policy approach is to allow each combined county authority the flexibility to decide its own operational arrangements for its audit committee to best match the arrangements to local circumstances. Currently, this allows CCAs to decide how many independent persons should be appointed to an audit committee, providing that there is at least one independent member.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, brought up the issue of who will be the members of audit committees. The regulations that will establish combined county authorities will set out audit committee arrangements. They will provide that, where practical, the membership of an audit committee reflects the political balance of the constituent councils of the combined county authority. Membership may not include any officer from the combined county authority or the combined county authority’s constituent councils. We await that further information on membership. The amendment that the noble Lord seeks to introduce would take away some of this flexibility, which might not best fit the local circumstances of the combined county authority.

Finally in this group, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, tabled Amendment 85, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to facilitate the sharing of best practice between overview and scrutiny and audit committees of combined county authorities. We recognise that sharing best practice makes an important contribution to the delivery of effective scrutiny functions across the local government sector as a whole. However, we believe that this works best where best practice sharing is locally led rather being a diktat from above.

When they are established, combined county authorities will become part of a broader local government framework and will receive support in developing and improving scrutiny functions. The existing combined authorities are already working together to share best practice between their organisations, including considering effective scrutiny. This includes via the M10 network, which is led by the combined authorities but which government engages with regularly.

Combined authorities are also supported in their work on scrutiny by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny, which looks at specific challenges across all local government, including combined authorities, and works with them to enhance the effectiveness of their scrutiny. Once established, combined county authorities will also be able to operate and share best practice in a similar way to those authorities already in place. I hope the noble Baroness agrees that—

I hope the Minister will excuse me. I find that response about the sharing of best practice a little confusing. What we were trying to understand was how the work across the CCA picture nationally would be shared. I am not clear how that will work across the piece—across the country. There will, clearly, be the development of good practice in audit and scrutiny. Is it intended that that will sit within a framework such as, for example, the Local Government Association? Where will it sit, and how will those authorities be able to share what they are doing properly and effectively?

For a start, they will still be members of the Local Government Association, I assume, as will their members; so there is that route. As we have said, the combined authorities already in existence are already joining together themselves and sharing good practice. I would imagine that the CCAs and further combined authorities will also be doing that sort of sharing of best practice. The department will obviously keep a close eye on a new structure, work with those local authorities and be able to share any good practice from that as well. As usually happens with change, everybody wants to get together to see how it is going. I can give your Lordships an example of when I took a local authority to a unitary authority, and other authorities were going to unitary authorities at the same time. We all joined together and shared best practice. It did not have to be imposed on us; we did it as a matter of course. I think local government is good at doing that and will continue to do so into these new ways of working.

I hope the noble Baroness will agree that, as the work currently undertaken elsewhere should be locally led, there is no need to place a duty on the Secretary of State to facilitate the sharing of best practice between combined county authorities.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I think the issues raised across the Committee on this group have been understood by the Government, including the concern that audit and scrutiny are seen by the general public to have been properly and appropriately carried out; that is a joint objective that we have. I would now, simply, like to read Hansard tomorrow and see exactly what has been said by everybody. We may have something further that we want to address on Report but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 77 withdrawn.

Amendments 78 to 85 not moved.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clause 14: Funding

Amendment 86 not moved.

Amendment 87

Moved by

87: Clause 14, page 12, line 5, at end insert—

“(4) A CCA may request that the Secretary of State publishes an assessment of their funding, including in relation to any new functions.”Member’s explanatory statement

This means that a CCA may request that the Secretary of State publishes an assessment of their funding, including in relation to any new functions.

My Lords, with the current local authority funding gap running at over £7 billion a year and much of the supposed increase trumpeted by the Government having to come from the pockets of already hard-pressed council tax payers, it is somewhat disappointing, as I have said before in this Chamber, that the Bill seems largely to overlook the underlying issues of the underfunding of local government generally and the fact that funding is not distributed fairly according to need.

That is key to the Bill, because those financial issues represent a barrier to the Government achieving their ambitions of levelling up. Indeed, the current rounds of bidding to get funding for levelling up only further add to the problem, because the authorities with the resources to put together the shiny bids that appear to be favoured are not always the ones with the most need. In that respect the Government are, at worst, turning the whole concept of levelling up upside down, and, at best, are applying sticking plasters to the gaping wounds of underfunding in our communities.

As a local government leader for 17 years, I can say from first-hand experience that the drastic savings that have been imposed on local authorities since 2010 mean that what has been achieved is all the more impressive. All major projects coming before any council are subject to detailed analysis of how the outcomes will be measured and monitored. That includes environmental, legal and equalities impacts and, especially, financial costs. At a time when even our Conservative County Council are announcing that it has exhausted all options in meeting its budget deficit, I hope the Minister will reflect on how we can better enable local councils to level up our areas. We are proposing a number of amendments in an attempt to address this deficit, and the amendments in this group would be the start of that process.

On Amendment 87, with a local government regime that is already incredibly regressive—from the benefit from council tax being skewed to those areas that are already better off to the many recently introduced funding pots which, as I said, enable those authorities with the resources to prepare the best bids regardless of the needs of the area—it is vital that there is a process to ensure the accountability and integrity of funding directed to CCAs. The publication of an annual statement would enable clear scrutiny to take place, both between and within CCA areas. It would also have the effect of making the funding of CCAs far more transparent for public purposes, as it would enable the CCA and the Government to demonstrate what funding had been allocated.

The second part of the amendment would take that transparency one step further, in that it asks for the annual statement to have a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate whether the funding allocated to the CCA is achieving the stated aims. Again, that would provide a good opportunity for internal scrutiny via the overview and scrutiny committee, which we discussed earlier this afternoon, and for the public to be assured that the funding provided to the CCA was achieving the aims of levelling up and the strategic objectives that the CCA had set for itself.

The national benefit of these statements would be that, once consolidated, they would provide a national picture of funding, the way that funding was allocated and why, and the benefits that were being delivered through that funding. I would like to think that the discipline of reporting on an annual basis would also ensure that, where bidding pots still got allocated—much as I might prefer funding to be done in a different way—there would be clear criteria for and assessment of those bids, with measurable outcomes, so that these could be reported in the annual statement.

On Amendment 123, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, while the clause in the Bill sets out that the Secretary of State may make regulations in relation to requiring the mayor to maintain a fund in relation to receipts arising from, and liabilities incurred in, the exercise of general functions, and about the preparation of an annual budget, it is not clear whether that power for the Secretary of State extends to subsequently scrutinising that budget and fund in Parliament. Our contention is that local government, including any CCAs set up under this Bill, is already subject to extensive scrutiny through the overview and scrutiny committees internally, and externally through the audit process. So we would be grateful for clarification from the Minister on whether there is to be a further layer of scrutiny set up in relation to CCA budgets.

Amendment 172, submitted in my name and in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talks about this fair funding review—and I feel fairly strongly about this. The fair funding review has been under discussion for at least five years to my knowledge, and probably longer than that. It was delayed again in October 2022. The methodology we currently have for allocations is both flawed and completely out of date. For example, it takes traffic flows from 2011, unemployment data which is 10 years old, highways data which is 20 years old, and census data—and, as we all know, the census is undertaken only every 10 years and so is nearly always too out of date for allocating funding via that formula. Additionally, we all know about the failure to reset property values, which means that we are using property values from 1991.

Average council tax as a share of disposable income in London is the lowest in the UK. That does not mean that there are not areas of deprivation in London, of course—some of the most deprived areas in the country are there—but it is just over half of that in Yorkshire and the Humber, and in the north-east. So, in a dynamic economy and at a time of a cost of living crisis, this outdated and flawed approach, which penalises and exacerbates economic equalities, will not do—it is the exact opposite of levelling up. Our amendment is there to suggest that we need to get on with this fair funding review and get it enacted quickly, because we have got no chance of levelling anything up unless we get this fair funding review completed.

There have been comments from the LGA, which supports the fact that the fair funding review needs to be done. It makes a very good point that there needs to be enough time to allow formal consultation with local authorities, but I cannot believe that, after five years of working on this, that could not be done fairly quickly. When the review does happen, it needs to consider both the data and formulae used to distribute funding, and the Government need to ensure that overall local government funding is sufficient when the new-needs formulae are introduced. That will ensure that no council sees its funding reduced and that there are transitional arrangements for any business rates reset. I beg to move.

My Lords, I think that these are three very important amendments, and my name appears on Amendment 172. It goes without saying that the fair funding review has been undertaken for too long and that it is reasonable that within one year of this Bill being enacted the publication of the fair funding review should happen. I also think that the other amendments are very important, but Amendment 87 really matters because it says that

“a CCA may request that the Secretary of State publishes an assessment of their funding, including in relation to any new functions”.

In other words, is the right amount of money being given to undertake the tasks which the CCA is due to undertake?

All of this relates to the amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Scriven and myself that relates to fiscal policy. There is an issue that we need to debate about fiscal policy and the powers of CCAs—we have the concept now of “trailblazer authorities” and I think the trend is a good one. Nevertheless, I want to be reassured that Ministers understand that local authorities cannot be expected to undertake things, and nor can CCAs, unless the local authorities or CCAs are able to fund them. For that reason, all three amendments in this group seem to me to be particularly important.

My Lords, I apologise for not being present on the first group that the Committee discussed today, courtesy of Avanti trains. We now have three very important amendments, which go to the heart of whether levelling up can be achieved. It cannot be achieved unless there is a massive input of finances to local authorities and to CCAs in order to achieve it.

We all know how the system works at the moment. When this place signs off on an Act of Parliament which places new duties and responsibilities on local authorities, government Ministers are always quick to say, “This will all be covered by the new burdens doctrine”. That means that the new cost will be assessed in Whitehall, by some process which is more or less invisible to the general public, and a number will be added to the amount of grant which is then allocated by Whitehall to local authorities. Putting it more accurately, the original amount will be subdivided so that the new burdens are one fraction of it and the reduced grant overall, because of the economic situation, is the other. In other words, there is no extra money at all because the envelope of money has been predetermined by the Treasury and is simply divided one way or another.

Perhaps the key point in what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, said was about the need for much more transparency on that funding relationship between central government and its decision-makers in Whitehall and the recipients of their decisions—the CCAs and local authorities. These three amendments are ways of establishing a process which would begin to deliver that. I very much hope that, in replying, the noble Earl will be able to give us some comfort that the message has been heard.

I say to the Government Front Bench that, if we could have some assurance that the new burdens doctrine was going to mean a genuine increase of funds for additional processes, we would have much more confidence that the levelling-up process could deliver, rather than simply reapportioning a few crumbs on the side of the plate from one place to another. It is about that process of funding the Government’s ambitions on levelling up; we really need to have some certainty that they have that process clearly in focus and in mind. We shall otherwise pass in due course, no doubt, a Bill that we all know will not provide a route for funding the initiatives which are absolutely essential if it is to succeed.

Turning quickly to the three amendments in front of us, I have characterised the first as a fair funding audit of local authorities which, it seems to me, would reveal at the local level some of the issues that I have just described. Increasingly large burdens are being placed on local authorities and combined authorities to achieve certain outcomes, but the Government are withholding money which would allow the authorities to deliver those.

Amendment 123 is asking about parliamentary oversight. I shall be very interested to hear how the Minister chooses to answer that. There is a great pressure—this was the topic we were talking about on the previous group—on auditing the performance of local authorities when they spend and allocate money, and when they undertake their risk assessments, but there is less investigation of how the Government are handling their side of that equation. Maybe there is indeed scope for enhanced visibility and transparency and parliamentary oversight of that process.

The third is surely something on which the Minister can give us some comfort. He has had five years to think about it and I hesitate to calculate how many Chancellors of the Exchequer, let alone Secretaries of State for Levelling Up, there have been in that time. Plenty of brains and much IQ have been devoted to this topic. The requirement that it be brought to a conclusion within the next 12 months seems highly desirable and perhaps a very useful spur to the Government to tackle what we all know is a very complex question: how should local services and democracy be financed? Who should they be financed by? What should be the way in which we reallocate resources, recognising—as surely the whole idea of a Levelling-Up Bill recognises—that wealth is generated in one part of the country, but the needs and the pressures are in other parts? How are we to reallocate those resources and are the Government going to be brave enough at last to publish the review which will allow us to do that on a transparent and proper basis?

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply because it will decide for me whether levelling up is just a pile of paper or a real project for change in our country.

My Lords, this group of amendments relates to the budgets and funding of combined county authorities and the scrutiny of them. Amendment 87, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, seeks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of a combined county authority’s funding, including in relation to any new functions.

The Government fully recognise the importance of transparency with regard to allocations of funding and regular reporting on the impact of wider and deeper devolution. That is why we introduced a measure to that effect in the Cities and Local Devolution Act 2016. This provision requires the Government to produce an annual report on progress with devolution that covers the areas suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment; namely, funding and regular progress reporting on devolution of additional public functions. Combined authorities and local authorities are already covered by this provision. We laid a consequential amendment, government Amendment 152, on 9 February that will bring combined county authorities into its scope. I hope that is helpful to the noble Baroness.

It is also worth noting that combined county authorities will be subject to the same accounting and audit provisions as combined authorities and individual local authorities. Government Amendment 151, laid on 9 February, extends the provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 to combined county authorities. These provisions include the requirement for them to have locally audited annual accounts available for public inspection on request. Taken together, these measures 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 there are effective, proportionate reporting mechanisms already in place for combined county authorities that will cover what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve.

I read Amendment 123, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, as probing whether Parliament will be able to scrutinise CCA budgets. I agree with what the noble Baroness said: combined county authority mayors and their budgets should be subject to scrutiny. Where I differ from her is that I believe that it should be a local matter. If it is to be worth the name, devolution should combine strong, empowered local leaders with stronger accountability and transparency. A directly elected leader, such as a mayor, with a fixed term and a clear mandate makes it much easier for local communities to make judgments based on local performance and local delivery, rather than the ebb and flow of national politics.

All combined county authorities will be required to have at least one overview and scrutiny committee and an audit committee. These will be instrumental in holding the authority and the mayor to account for their decisions and activities. The Government will be publishing a new devolution accountability framework to ensure that all devolution deals lead to local leaders and institutions that are transparent and accountable, work closely with local businesses, seek the best value for taxpayers’ money and maintain strong ethical standards. Requiring combined county authorities to lay their budgets before Parliament would be excessive and would also place CCAs on a different footing from combined authorities and all other local government institutions.

I think I said when I moved the amendment that our contention was that local government, including any CCAs, is already subject to extensive scrutiny, so we agree with that. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could clarify that no further layer of scrutiny will be applied to CCA budgets. Was that the content of the his response?

In broad terms, yes. But if I can elaborate on that, I will certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Amendment 172, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seeks to insert a new clause following Clause 76. This proposed new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish the fair funding review. I take this to mean the most recent government consultation on fairer funding for local government, which is the 2018-19 review of relative needs and resources.

The review of relative needs and resources was undertaken in 2018-19. As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, this assessment is now out of date. It does not take into account more up-to-date census and demographic data. The events of the past five years, including, notably, the Covid-19 pandemic, mean that the world has moved on. I therefore suggest to the noble Baroness that there would be little benefit to publication in its outdated form.

The Government have already set out, in the local government finance policy statement on 12 December, that we would not be implementing the relative review of needs and resources in this spending review period. Instead, that policy statement sets out details of the funding policy that will be maintained for a second year into 2024-25. In making this decision, the Government were clear that now is the time for stability for the sector, not reform, given the turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the more recent economic issues relating to high inflation.

I emphasise that the Government remain committed to improving the local government finance landscape in the next Parliament and beyond. The department is keen to work closely with local partners and to take stock of the challenges and opportunities that they face to build on the work of the review of relative needs and resources and to ensure that plans for reform are contemporary, robust and informed by local insight. Again, this is set out in the local government finance policy statement, published in December. This is an important issue and one that we should certainly discuss in the coming months.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, will understand the Government’s reasoning on this, and that she will not feel the need to press this amendment when it is reached.

I am very grateful for the responses from the Minister. As was said earlier in the debate, we know that he always listens to the points being put forward, and I thank him for that.

On Amendment 87, which proposes that the CCA can request the publication of fair funding for new functions, I think that it is fair to say that local authorities cannot be expected to undertake bureaucratic burdens such as those. However, we want to see the records of reporting on CCAs, in particular around the cost-benefit analysis of what is being achieved by a CCA.

In response to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I say that there is a significant difference between the funding we see for initiatives and the funding for core services. There has been a great deal of the former and not so much of the latter in recent years. What happens, as we constantly see in local government, is that core services are undermined, and it hollows out the ability of local authorities to deliver the initiatives. I agree with the noble Lord that, whenever we raise these issues, we always get told that there will be new-burdens funding for things. In effect, while we occasionally see some money coming forward, we get things such as the new homes bonus. That is a good example, because the bonus was simply top-sliced from the rest of local government funding, so, in effect, they did not give us any new money at all; they just gave us our own money back. There are also things such as the Government setting rent policy for local authorities, telling us how much rent we can charge our tenants and placing additional burdens on housing authorities, and then saying, “No, you can’t have any new-burdens funding, because you should have been doing all that in the first place”. So there are problems around the whole issue of the new-burdens regime, and we need a genuine increase in funds in local government.

The points from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on how local government is financed, by whom, and how the resources are allocated and so on, were very well made. I would like to see the Government be brave enough to get on with this fair funding review. From the Minister’s response, I feel that it has been pushed into the long grass again. It was set up in 2018; we all understand that the pandemic had an impact on it, and perhaps during the pandemic was not the time to go into a full review of local government funding. It was delayed again in October 2022. Hearing that it has now been moved to the next Parliament is a concern, because this is urgent now. In 2023, we really cannot go much further forward with the system we have, which does not respond to local economic needs or local data, is very slow to respond, and, in many cases, is using data that is between 10 and 20 years old—that is not helping at all with the levelling-up agenda.

I spoke earlier about the difference between initiatives funding and core funding. It is all very well putting money into areas for local initiatives—often that is capital, and we have heard that the Secretary of State has now been stopped from signing off any further capital initiatives, so even that might not happen at the moment—but, if you do not keep the core funding going as well, and make sure that it is rising by inflation at the same time, it will be much more difficult to deliver any levelling-up initiatives whatever. So the amendments are important in making the point that we need to ensure that local government finances are duly and properly taken into consideration in the Bill. As I said earlier, it is disappointing that it is not there in a stronger way and we will look at the government amendments on the reporting on CCA funding to satisfy ourselves that they are right.

In the meantime, I am happy not to press the amendments. However, I hope that the Government are taking the point that we take very seriously this issue of local government finance and its rightful place in the levelling-up agenda; we may come back to it later in the debate.

Amendment 87 withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16: Local authority functions

Amendment 88 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Amendment 89

Moved by

89: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—

“Reports on transfer of NHS responsibilities to local government(1) A Minister of the Crown must prepare reports on proposals for the transfer of NHS functions to local authorities, combined metropolitan authorities, combined county authorities, and mayors as established under sections 15 to 20 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 (combined and local authorities). (2) The first report in relation to subsection (1) must be made within 12 months of the passing of this Act.(3) Subsequent reports in relation to subsection (1) must be made at 24-month intervals following publication of the first report.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and another in this location in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath are probing amendments designed to explore the Government’s commitment to transferring NHS responsibilities to local government as envisaged in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.

My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, which ranges very far and wide; at points, it is difficult to know what connects one with another. However, I suppose that they all have something to do with functions to be devolved to local government, which I guess is good enough.

I have tabled three amendments in the group and have added my name to the Clause 59 stand part debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Bach. My first two amendments, Amendments 89 and 90, are very much probing amendments designed to get a feel from the Government as to whether they have any intention of extending the “Devo Manchester” arrangements in relation to the NHS to other parts of the country. I have long believed that local government should have a greater role in the National Health Service. When the NHS was set up in 1948, there had been a huge debate in the Attlee Government as to whether the new NHS should be part of local government or not. In fact, there was a great argument between Nye Bevan and Herbert Morrison. Herbert Morrison, who had been the leader of the London County Council, which had been the largest hospital authority in the world before the war, argued for local government, while Bevan said that he thought that it would be a second-rate, patchy service. He obviously won the argument, although, by the early 1950s, he had changed his mind. Of course, when he introduced the NHS Bill—in this Chamber, of course—he talked about the NHS being a national service, but he stated that most of the decisions would be made locally through hospital management committees. He also made the memorable quote that when a bucket of slops is kicked over in Merthyr Tydfil, its echoes should sound in the Palace of Westminster. I suppose he was expressing the great tension about the NHS, which is that, for all the efforts to try to run it locally, the centre has continually sucked up powers and has attempted the impossible: to run this massive service through a Whitehall system of targets and other methods to try to bring the service into line.

There have been various attempts to break out from that. I was part of a ministerial team led by Alan Milburn that brought in foundation trusts as an attempt, on the providers’ side, to get much greater local ownership. The problem was that, once Alan Milburn left office, there was no one else to champion the concept, because at heart the Department of Health was very unwilling to let go. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley—whom I always tempt into these debates if I can—tried another approach with the establishment of NHS England as a quasi-independent body, again to try to take some of the decision-making away from Ministers and Whitehall. However, I suggest that, post the noble Lord, the appetite for it among his successors was pretty limited.

So we are left with a service that is under great pressure at the moment. We see Ministers scrambling around announcing plan after plan to try to recover it, and, frankly, that is not the way—I almost said, “That ain’t the way to run a railway”, but perhaps that is not quite right for those of us who travel by Avanti on a frequent basis, as the noble Lord said. When George Osborne reached an agreement with Manchester City Council—without, I think, NHS England knowing anything about it—that Greater Manchester would be given powers, in essence, to co-ordinate the running of the NHS in Greater Manchester, I thought that it had great potential.

Rather like for many initiatives, once Mr Osborne moved on it seems that the appetite in Whitehall for developing this idea fell by the wayside. I really wanted to use my first two amendments to probe the Government on whether they can confirm that, in fact, there is no intention to replicate what is happening in Manchester and that they now see integrated care systems as the way forward. If that is the case, the point I make to the Minister is that all the indicators are that local government is being treated as a very junior partner within those integrated care systems.

I want to pray in aid some very good work by the County Councils Network, which will not be so pleased with me when we come back to the issue of district councils in a few weeks’ time. I pay great tribute to its work looking at current experience of working with the NHS. It found some great examples of partnerships but the conclusion of its work is that integrated care systems

“simply do not feel like a paradigm shift towards delivering truly local priorities based on local engagement, and the question remains as to whether they are ‘joint’ endeavours or NHS bodies with some local government participation.”

Noble Lords who took part in debates on the then Health and Care Bill will remember that we spent many happy hours debating these very points and were assured by the Government that they saw local government as full partners within the integrated care systems. But the reality is that particularly the integrated care boards which commission NHS services are seen to operate primarily to tackle immediate NHS issues rather than address local priorities. The County Councils Network concludes across three themes of its research that:

“Accountability structures for ICBs … lead to NHSE and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and not to local organisations”—

surprise, surprise—that

“Regular directives from ‘the centre’ … require senior ICB leadership to focus on immediate NHS operational issues”,

another surprise; and that there is also

“a ‘command and control’ culture that jars with collaboration and local political leadership”.

That also is a great surprise.

The County Councils Network makes a number of suggestions for improving the involvement of local government. Essentially, it argues that the department of health and NHS England

“need to fundamentally review the levels of centrally mandated activity and targets in policies and funding requirements, particularly in shared policy areas, to ensure that they are consistent with the principle of locally driven strategies.”

I hope the Minister will respond positively to it. If, as I suspect, the Government are not prepared to go down the “Devo Manchester” route, despite some encouraging signs about what it is beginning to achieve, then I think they have to show—as this is essentially a local government Bill—that local government is going to have a greater involvement in the NHS and healthcare in the future. Anyone looking at the challenges we face in health at the moment and the inequalities surely must conclude that, unless we get to grips with chronic ill health and the need to promote a much stronger preventive approach, this will not happen without full participation of local government. That is the only way we can possibly get through the crisis that our health service faces.

Let me move on to a different issue. I come to Clause 58 where, it seems to me, the Government are essentially saying, “You can have devolution, but only on our terms and by adopting this model of directly elected mayors”. I have just heard the Minister comment on this, but why the obsession with directly elected mayors, I do not know. Clause 58 typifies this. At the moment, Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 provides for public authority functions to be conferred on to a combined authority subject to various requirements about authorities locally consenting. Such functions can then be exercisable by the combined authority or by the mayor personally.

But Clause 58 now amends the current provisions whereby all the local authorities covered by the function to be transferred have to agree. Under this clause, the mayor of a combined authority may make a request to the Secretary of State to make such an order. The mayor is required to consult the constituent councils of the combined authority before making the request and requires the mayor to include within such a request to the Secretary of State a statement that all the constituent councils agree to the making of this order or, if this statement cannot be made, the mayor’s rationale for proceeding. My reading is that, despite a constituent authority not giving consent, the Secretary of State can simply agree to the mayor’s request and override objections from constituent authorities. To me, that is a fundamental change from the current provision. It allows a mayor to act in an extremely high-handed way and is something that we should be very wary of.

For an example of high-handedness, Clause 59 really takes the biscuit. I suppose we should call it the Andy Street clause because it has been put in only because he was very miffed that his proposal to take on the functions of the police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands was turned down by the local authorities in that region, as they have every right to do. At the last elections in the West Midlands, Mr Street was elected mayor and a Labour candidate was elected police and crime commissioner. That was a democratic wish of people in the West Midlands, and for the mayor to come along and say, “Forget that. I want to be the police commissioner”, and the Government to come along with this clause and say they going to take the power to do that, is utterly unacceptable. I hope very much, when it comes to it, we will be able to take this wretched clause out of the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 91 to which I have added my name, and to Amendment 469 in the names of my noble friend Lady Pinnock and myself. I also want to express general support for the amendments in this very disparate group.

On Amendment 91, some noble Lords will be aware that I am also at the moment participating in debates on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill and the retained EU law Bill. There are some overlapping issues, and one is the role of trade unions and the interaction between the powers of the UK Government and the powers of employers, including, of course, local government as employers.

Last week on the strikes Bill, I raised the issue of the powers of devolved Administrations. The Minister was unable to give assurances that the UK Government—who, by the way, on issues that are devolved are just the English Government—will not simply override the devolved Administrations. Applying that logic to this Bill, which purports to increase devolution within English local government, it is reasonable for us to ask what the status of trade unions within local government will be and whether the UK Government will seek to override English local authorities in the same way as they intend to override devolved Administrations. The lessons are similar in both Bills.

Amendment 469 relates to the right of local authorities to run their own bus services. My very first job when I was elected as a councillor in 1983 was as a member of the transport committee of Cardiff City Council. I was a member during the infamous period of bus deregulation in 1986. London was of course the exception to bus deregulation. At that time, deregulation was lauded by the Conservative Government as the way to create a modern, efficient bus industry. The divergent history of bus services in London, where they have thrived, and the rest of the UK, where they have struggled for decades, has proved how wrong the Government at that time were.

We last had the opportunity in this House to save our bus services outside London in the Bus Services Act 2017. At that time, I put down an amendment similar to this one, which was not accepted. Although, in our discussions on that Bill, there was some late acceptance of the need for a stronger role for local authorities in planning bus services through franchising, there was explicit rejection of powers for local authorities to set up and control local bus companies. Since that Bill was passed, our already sparse and declining bus services have hit crisis point because of the pandemic.

I remind noble Lords that this Bill is a levelling-up Bill. Our bus services are used by a far larger percentage of the population than the train services. They are by far the most popular form of public transport. The sectors of the population who use bus services are the poorer, the older and the younger, and they are women rather than men. Those services are key to accessing training, further education, jobs for young people and jobs for people who have been unemployed. They provide access to a social life for many who would otherwise be isolated. They allow grandparents to visit and help care for grandchildren. Without them, many rural communities would be isolated.

In advocating that local authorities should have the power to set up bus services, I imagine, in truth, that only the largest would probably want to do so on a comprehensive basis. I think, however, that many would wish to be able to set up a small bus company, for example, to run buses that are timetabled to give access to local FE colleges and to go into town at the start and end of the working day and shopping day, taking the place of commercial buses that have withdrawn and are failing to provide a good service. I expect that many local authorities will not want to intervene, but many will want to fill a gap if it occurs.

Without good local transport services, there can be no levelling up for the poorest, the oldest and the youngest. I remind noble Lords that we need to be looking at the future, and we need to be providing these services for young people to get to jobs, to training and to education, if we are to level up for the future. Buses are a key part of that.

My Lords, I start by congratulating the clerks who made up this group—it is an astonishing achievement to have managed to get so many completely separate issues all in one group. I am afraid that I am going to make life more difficult for the Front-Benchers, particularly for the noble Baroness the Minister, by moving from one subject to another—but here we are; I will do my best.

I ought to remind the Committee that I am a former police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland. I have a clause stand part notice in my name for Clause 59, which we will not reach for many sessions, probably. I thank noble Lords who have added their names to that notice. My noble friend Lord Hunt, at the end of his speech, talked about Clause 59; I very much hope that the Government will listen. Even if my words are fairly harsh, they are not addressed at Ministers here; obviously it is not their responsibility, as such, but the Government’s responsibility that we are landed with Clause 59, which really is not a worthy clause in a Bill of this kind. It should never have been in this Bill; it is a mean, short clause in a large, important Bill and it has absolutely nothing to do with levelling up or grand plans for the future of our country.

It is for one reason only, as has been stated: merely to ensure that one mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority—Conservative, as it happens—can become the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands police force area whenever he really wants to. All he has to do is ask the Government, who are his own party, of course. He does not have to consult with anybody, unlike under Clause 58—for which there is also a stand part notice—where consultation is at least mandatory. In effect, he just has to wake up one morning and say to himself, “Oh, I fancy being police and crime commissioner today; I’ll have a word with a Minister”. Then, without much ado, he will be. In fact, he has, to use modern parlance, fancied it for a long time. Unfortunately, for him, there is a combination of the present law, which demands democratic consent from the combined authority members and from the constituent authorities—the councils that make up the combined authority—and, annoyingly for the mayor, the electorate who have voted on four separate occasions for a Labour police and crime commissioner. “How dare they”, says the mayor, and the Government follow suit by putting in this clause.

First, the present law sought to be amended by Clause 59—namely, the need for majority support from the combined authority and support from all the councils that make up the combined authority, the constituent authorities—was put into the 2009 Act by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. For the Government of the day, and for all of us, it represented a sensible, democratic and consensual approach. Of course a mayor can become police and crime commissioner, if he or she has general support—as has happened in Manchester and West Yorkshire. However, it did stop a mayor from grabbing that position without local support. In the West Midlands, that support is not forthcoming. Now, seven years on—only seven years—the same Government wish to change all that and give the mayor a free ride, effectively.

Secondly, the electorate in the West Midlands has voted every time, as it happens, for a Labour police and crime commissioner, most recently in May 2021, on the very same day that they voted for a Conservative mayor. There is no suggestion that the two position holders, the mayor and the police and crime commissioner, have not worked well together. Both were elected, so I ask the Minister, what is the argument for change? What is the argument to nullify the result of an election, effectively, if it does not happen to suit one party?

This clause is there only, I submit, for the West Midlands mayor. Ironically, if he becomes police and crime commissioner, he will no doubt appoint a deputy who will do most of the work but will not have been elected by anybody. Police and crime commissioners, whether we like them or loathe them, were actually set up by the Government of the day to do a particular job for their public. One of the selling points by the Government when this controversial Bill was put before Parliament was that it would be the public who would elect police and crime commissioners, and that gave them some mandate. This clause represents a real lessening of democracy. It is usually only authoritarian regimes that make laws to abolish the results of democratic elections that they do not happen to like or do not suit them. Surely, we are better than that.

At Second Reading, the Minister did not have time to deal with the points I am making now. In no way is that a criticism: she had much too much to do, given the number of speakers and different points that were made at Second Reading. Now we are in Committee, I would be grateful if she would be kind enough to listen to the following questions and give me answers. First, what is the purpose of this clause if it is not to nullify the results of an election held 22 months ago? Secondly, what is wrong with the principle of having broad consent for change, which was the Government’s policy right up to now? Thirdly, why is there no consultation for the mayor before he makes his application? He does not need to consult under the new provision. Lastly, should the Government not think again about how undemocratic, chilling and unnecessary this clause looks? Its departure from the Bill would, I believe, be well received by all people of good will who believe in local democracy and think it rather shocking that an election result can be overturned merely because the party that lost it does not like it.

My Lords, I rise very briefly to support the probing Amendments 89 and 90, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the role of local government and the NHS. I speak as somebody who has been an NHS manager—I think I said previously that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was in the higher echelons of NHS management when I was a mere trainee. I have also been a local government council leader and recently I have been an NHS non-executive director.

There were clear issues as we went through the Health and Care Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, it seems like we are having the same discussion. It is not that we want to say, “We told you so”, but the structures that have been set up and the cultures and behaviours of the two organisations mean that they are incompatible with what we all want to achieve, which is a localised and systematic approach to dealing with people who go through the NHS and care system to improve health and reduce health inequalities between areas.

The NHS, by structure, looks up. It looks up to NHS England and the department. The way that the funding goes means that the levers that the Secretary of State or the senior directors of NHS England can pull will mean that NHS staff, in terms of managers and leaders, will look up and will respond to a top-down approach. The culture within the NHS is top-down, top-down, top-down. Local authorities, and particularly local councillors, look out. They look out to their area: that is who they serve, that is who, predominantly, gives them their marching orders—not somebody above them from a national organisation and a central ministerial area of government.

I saw how it works recently. I was the non-executive director of Chesterfield NHS Hospitals Trust. Even at budget level, the way that the levers are pulled from the regional level to determine what hospitals do is quite startling. Therefore, unless the Government look at what has happened in Manchester, which I think was called “devo max”, where at least some of the levers—not all, but some—come down to a local level, so everybody looks out at NHS level and at local government level to be able to deal with local needs, rather than somebody sitting in Whitehall making a decision for the whole country and everybody in the NHS having to march in the same direction, we will not get a significant change in improving health and reducing health inequalities at a local level that is systematic and can work. That is why I think these two amendments are important, and the Government will ignore them at their peril.

My Lords, very briefly, because time presses, my name is attached to the stand part debates on Clauses 58 and 59. I do not seek to repeat what has been said already about those two clauses, but I hope the Minister will give clear evidence for the need for both clauses, because I am unconvinced that they are necessary. I will make a further point in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said a moment ago: that the whole principle behind police and crime commissioners was that they were directly elected. If the ballot box is the main means for a police and crime commissioner to be appointed to their job, I do not think that that system can be meddled with in the way that the Government appear to want to meddle with it.

Indeed, to develop what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, of course a mayor with PCC powers can appoint a deputy mayor to have the PCC powers on behalf of the mayor. Actually, when we read the Bill very carefully—indeed, we debated this in earlier stages of consideration of the Bill—the deputy can also pass powers on to “any other person”. There are some restrictions in the Bill as to what that might mean, but the fact is that the words “any other person” simply take away the power of the electorate to make a decision as to who is the police and crime commissioner. For that reason, I support the propositions on Clauses 58 and 59 not standing part.

My Lords, this is another really important group of amendments to do with the extent of devolution: what are the limits that the Government are putting on that? The only areas we have explored, very important though they are, are the National Health Service, policing, transport services—buses, in particular—and general functions. I have great sympathy with all the amendments in this group, particularly those introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asking where the National Health Service fits in with the notion of devolution to local areas.

As the noble Lord explored, currently the NHS does not fit in. A move was made in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority for the mayor to take the provision of health and care services—which we have not referred to so far—under his powers. That was accepted but has not made much progress. One of the biggest challenges, as has been said time and again in this Chamber in debates relating to other Bills, is the absolute importance of connecting the National Health Service and the social care system. Enabling devolution of NHS services to a mayoral combined authority would enable social care and NHS services to be properly linked. The result of no progress being made in this area is before our eyes; we have too many older people staying in hospital for too long, which harms their health, and they are not discharged into the social care service because the two are not linked. The Government have failed to do this time and again. Well, okay, devolve it—pass it on to local mayoral authorities so that we can see what progress they can make. I repeat every sympathy, and support what has been said. I do hope it will be pursued at later stages of consideration of this Bill because it is so important for the health and well-being of the people we serve.

I will also wholeheartedly support the Clauses 58 and 59 stand part notices, for the reasons that have been said. I will give the example of West Yorkshire, where it was determined that the police and crime commissioner role would be combined with that of our elected mayor. Now we no longer have an elected police and crime commissioner because that role is unelected; they are appointed by the West Yorkshire mayor. That was her right; I am not saying she has done anything wrong. But who is now called to account for failings in policing in West Yorkshire? There have been a number of examples across the country where police and crime commissioners have, for various reasons, been found wanting and have been held accountable for their actions. How does that work in a combined mayoral authority where the mayor appoints the police and crime commissioner? Does the mayor have to be held accountable for the decisions and actions of their appointed deputy? That is the only way that accountability can take place. The attempt by the Government to undermine an elected process is undemocratic. How do the Government think that local people will feel about the very important role of holding policing in the West Midlands to account when an elected police and crime commissioner there is somehow unelected? Those two big issues are very important. It is about whether we are talking about devolution to local areas or still talking about centralised systems where there is delegation to combined authorities—which leads nicely to buses.

I cannot add to my noble friend Lady Randerson’s description of what has happened to the bus services and how important they are to any hope of levelling up for many parts of the country. As she said, if you cannot get a bus in order to access employment then, for many people, it is financially impossible to do other than stay at home. Mayoral authorities need to be given the powers to control bus services, as bus services should be encompassed in mayoral authorities. In giving another local example, I should point out that it was done before the mayoral authority was set up. Nevertheless, it comes from the centre of West Yorkshire where, in my own area, we have a number of small villages where the bus services were poor and people could not get about. Fortunately, there was not only one bus a week—like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has, I think—but services were poor throughout the day. We managed to get a subsidy for what I call a small hopper bus—a 15-seater—to go around the various parts of the Spen Valley area and pick up older people, take them into town to do their shopping, collect them and go back again. After a bit, because it was so popular, it has become a self-financing bus service. With local initiatives comes success because local areas know what would probably work for their patches. That is why enabling mayoral combined authorities to have control over bus services is so vital.

Any notion of levelling up will not work without the aspect of transport. There has been too much focus on rail services, which are very important but do not feature in a lot of people’s options for transport. I repeat that my noble friend Lady Randerson made a powerful case for ensuring that mayoral combined authorities can run bus services. Without that, many people—especially in rural areas, but not only in rural areas—will find that they cannot access the services and jobs they need to if levelling up is to be anything other than a slogan.

My Lords, as others have said, this has certainly been a mixed bag of amendments, but clearly they all look at the extent of devolution, the powers and the different functions involved. We have two probing amendments in this group. First, in Clause 19, my Amendment 91 probes

“whether the Government will cooperate with trade unions representing employees of CCAs.”

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her support and for her excellent speech on this matter. At the moment, Clause 19—“Integrated Transport Authority and Passenger Transport Executive”—does not consider the people who work for the CCAs. We believe they should be able to be part of any decision-making process. This is also why we believe it is important for the Government to co-operate with trade union representatives.

The power of employers, which does include local government, needs to be balanced with the needs of employees: there must be a balance between what employers want and what is right for employees. Trade unions work to safeguard this and to deliver quality public services and employment. Clearly, the Bill, once it goes through, is going to bring huge changes to local government. A positive working relationship with trade unions, during any implementation of these changes, will allow the changing needs of the workforce to be both listened to and taken account of. Local authorities should exemplify good employment practice, and we believe that good consultation and co-operation with trade unions and all employees is a fundamental part of this. We look forward to hearing the Minister confirm that trade unions and employees will be part of any consultation and delivery arrangements.

My noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage’s Amendment 477 would ensure that Ministers publish draft legislation for a devolution Bill. This is extremely important, and the LGA supports this amendment. It has been making the case for more local responsibility so that decisions are taken as close as possible to the people that they affect, because that is when the best decisions are made. All evidence shows that good devolution will lead to better outcomes. Where councils and combined authorities have taken on devolved powers, they have begun to demonstrate the possibilities that devolution can bring. Therefore, we believe that there should be a devolution Bill that actually sets out how these greater powers, functions and the funding should be transferred from central government to local areas. After all, this is supposed to be a Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, not a devolution planning Bill. It is really important that there is a devolution Bill set out that includes, for example—as suggested in the amendment—housing, energy, childcare, transport, skills, training and employment. This would help to translate the priorities that the Government have talked about in their missions into action in the devolution agenda.

Amendments 89 and 90 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath have instigated a very interesting debate about what devolution is and what should or should not be devolved. The example of Greater Manchester co-ordinating NHS powers was a very apt thing to talk about within this devolution debate. My noble friend’s amendment refers specifically to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, so I thought I would take a look at that Act to see what happened during the Bill’s progress through this House.

Some interesting amendments were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. They sought to provide safeguards to the local devolution of health functions. His amendments made it clear that, whatever devolution arrangements might be agreed, the Secretary of State would remain bound by key duties placed on him or her in respect of the health service. The amendments also specified some specific duties that could not be transferred, such as the overarching responsibility to Parliament for the provision of the health service in England, as well as overarching duties on quality, reduction of health inequalities—very relevant to this Bill, of course—research, education and training, and duties relating to the constitution of the NHS and its mandate.

It is interesting to remember previous debates on this issue, to see it in context. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, suggested that

“the Bill was never designed for the devolution of NHS functions … It is not designed for devolving functions from a 67 year-old iconic National Health Service, with a large number of statutory duties placed on a Minister, supported by a bevy of national bodies and requirements and strong public expectations of adherence to national standards and rules.”

He then said, which I think is important:

“So far, the Government have struggled to come up with a formula that reconciles the centralised characteristics of the NHS, which is held in great public affection, with a move towards the greater devolution of the delivery of health services and health service functions that many of us would like to see”.—[Official Report, 21/7/15; col. 1048.]

As my noble friend said, the centre has continually sucked up powers. There is no proper local scrutiny of services. As other noble Lords have said, absolutely correctly, local government becomes a junior partner in integrated care systems. It therefore strikes me that this is an opportunity for the Government to start looking at how, perhaps, some of the health services and health service functions could actually be devolved down more locally. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that matter.

I turn now to the clause stand part notices on Clauses 58 and 59 tabled by my noble friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bach, which we very much support. They are absolutely correct: this has nothing to do with levelling up. The Minister needs to explain, as noble Lords have already requested, why these are in the Bill and how this fits with the levelling-up agenda. Again—I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is aware of my constant concerns about consultation—there is no consultation allowed for Clause 59, which is very concerning.

The West Midlands has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I have had a meeting with the West Midlands PCC, at his request. He provided me, following that meeting, with a very detailed briefing about his concerns. It is important that his concerns are put on record, so I will go through those now. First, he asked for the clause to be deleted because he believes that it is very important to maintain the existing requirements for consent. Noble Lords have laid that out extremely clearly. The PCC’s first concern is that, through this clause, there is the abolition of the right to vote. As we have heard, it enables the mayor to abolish the right of people to vote for a democratically elected and directly accountable PCC. As noble Lords have said, this is profoundly undemocratic. In view of the breadth, scope and level of public interest in crime, policing and criminal justice, people should be entitled to vote for a directly accountable PCC. This is clearly preferable to a model where the mayor is just going to appoint a deputy mayor based on patronage.

The PCC is also concerned that the clause removes the people’s choice by enabling the mayor to remove the right to choose. On 6 May 2021, as we heard from my noble friend, the people of the West Midlands, within the same constituency—this is important: it is the same constituency—exercised the current choice available to them and voted for a Conservative mayor but a Labour PCC, who had included retention of the separate role in his manifesto, a commitment repeated in the police and crime plan for 2021-25. The people elected a candidate from one party to be responsible for policing and someone from a different party to be the mayor. In these circumstances, a provision that allows for an elected representative from one party to abolish an elected representative from another party is deeply divisive.

The PCC is also concerned that this imposes counter-devolution by enabling the mayor to disregard and override the views of the constituent councils and combined authority. At the moment, transferring police governance from a PCC requires the consent of all constituent councils, the combined authority and the mayor. All areas affected by a transfer must support it. In the West Midlands, the majority of constituent authorities oppose the transfer of the police governance function to the mayor, but the amendment would enable that opposition to be overridden. Any change requires the unanimous support of constituent authorities.

The clause also diminishes democratic scrutiny and oversight. It enables the mayor to diminish local democratic accountability and the scrutiny of policing. It relegates crime, policing and criminal justice to a secondary function. PCCs are democratically elected, directly accountable and exclusively focused on these matters. In the West Midlands, the police have a budget of £680 million. It would be the largest, most complex and most high-risk combined authority function, yet, under the alternative model, it would be delegated to an appointee.

Endangering the operational independence of policing is another concern. PCCs are prohibited from engaging in operational policing. Combined authorities operate in a local government environment, with mayors engaged in negotiation with local authorities. Key statutory police governance functions—such as setting strategic direction and precept, holding to account and hiring and firing chief constables—will all be at risk, particularly in areas such as the West Midlands where there are political differences between the mayor and the local authorities. Requiring local authority unanimity for a transfer protects policing from becoming a matter of direct political contention.

The PCC drew particular attention to the fact that this would jeopardise local joint working in criminal justice, community safety and violence reduction. This is a pretty serious concern. PCCs have a leadership role in the local criminal justice system, in community safety and in violence reduction. By transferring the function, you run the risk of diminishing meaningful attention to this work. Maintaining a separate PCC function provides co-ordination, leadership and legitimacy by a democratically elected, directly accountable and visible individual. As I asked earlier—other noble Lords have also asked the Minister this—where is the clear evidence that shows why these clauses are needed?

Finally, I will mention very briefly Amendment 469 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, which

“would confer new powers on local authorities to run their own bus services”.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will not be surprised to know that I fully support it; I have talked about bus services before, as she mentioned. Obviously, I am fully aware of how many bus services have been cut and how much funding local authorities will need if they are to take on these new responsibilities. The next group of amendments concerns transport; I have a number of amendments in it and will talk about this issue in further detail.

Has the noble Baroness given any consideration to one of the provisions here about the statement that the mayor must make on consent by the constituent councils? I think she said that it would be only if they gave their unanimous consent but, on page 51 of the Bill, subsection (4)(b) says that,

“if the mayor is unable to make that statement, the reasons why the mayor considers the order should be made even though not all of the constituent councils agree to it being made”.

So it is not even the case that all constituent councils are engaged; indeed, it does not even say that it should be a majority. It would appear that the mayor has absolute discretion to make a statement, regardless of constituent councils’ support.

Absolutely; the noble Lord is completely correct. I was trying to get across that there should be unanimous consent for anything as serious as that matter; I thank the noble Lord for drawing attention to it.

My Lords, this group of amendments covers a number of matters relating to combined county authorities, combined authorities and local authorities, including NHS functions, the conferral of additional functions on combined authority mayors, the fair funding review, trade union liaison and bus services.

I start with Amendments 89 and 90, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. Together, they would require the Secretary of State to publish reports on proposals for the devolution of health functions to authorities and subsequent reports at 24-month intervals. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord and other noble Lords that the existing provisions for reporting on the conferral of health functions on to a local authority, combined authority or combined county authority are sufficient. The regulations that would confer health functions on to a local area would be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum setting out why the functions are to be conferred. The regulations also require parliamentary approval, giving Parliament the opportunity to consider the impact of such a conferral of functions. Also, under Section 1 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, the Secretary of State has to publish an annual report about devolution, including listing any functions—including health functions—devolved to areas in the preceding 12 months.

The noble Lord’s explanatory statements say that these amendments are intended to probe our

“commitment to transferring NHS responsibilities to local government”.

To clarify, our devolution legislation is enabling legislation. Where an area is interested in the conferral of health functions on to a combined authority, local authority or combined county authority, it is possible to do this via secondary legislation. To date, the only area that has taken up this opportunity is the Greater Manchester combined authority, as we have debated; however, in principle, other devolution bids can include these same requests.

Section 18 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 sets out which health functions can and cannot be devolved. As noble Lords have mentioned, the kinds of functions that can be devolved include the joint local commissioning of health services. In contrast, the kinds of functions that cannot be devolved include, as noble Lords might expect, health service regulatory functions vested in national regulatory bodies responsible for such functions. Let me be clear: the devolution of health functions does not alter the Secretary of State’s core duties in relation to the NHS. As this Government have consistently made clear, they are and remain a priority for us.

Amendment 91, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Government to co-operate with trade unions representing employees of combined county authorities that have responsibilities for transport. I support the noble Baroness’s sentiment here that it is important that we engage with trade unions representing transport employees of CCAs. It will, however, be the combined county authority itself as the employer that will be involved in recognising and collectively bargaining with any trade union representing staff at that workplace.

The Secretary of State will not be party to that relationship. Therefore, placing an additional requirement on the Secretary of State to co-operate with a trade union representing those staff risks undermining the relationship between the combined county authority, as the employer, and the trade union. I do not think that this would be appropriate; it is for local agreement. More generally, the Secretary of State consults with a large number of groups, including trade unions, on issues that affect local transport in combined county authority areas.

I shall move on to the Clause 58 stand part debate. Turning to the issues raised by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Shipley and Lord Bach, and other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Clause 58 introduces a new process enabling mayors of combined authorities to take on new public authority functions via a request to the Secretary of State to deepen devolution, in order to remove barriers and give our local leaders more powers to drive the economic, social and environmental improvements locally that their residents, businesses and areas need. It is, however, deliberately limited in scope.

The provision relates only to the transfer of other public authority functions; namely, those currently carried out and funded by organisations other than local authorities such as government departments or their agencies. It makes no change to the consent regime for the transfer of local authority functions, as set out in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, because we fully recognise that local agreement is key to successfully transferring such functions either to be delivered across a wider geographical area by a combined authority or, in some circumstances, to be exercised by the mayor individually.

We have also included an additional safeguard on the use of this provision to make sure that the voice of local authorities is still heard. In making any request for new functions to the Secretary of State, mayors will need to set out the views of their constituent councils and then provide a rationale for proceeding, if any of them disagree. More broadly, this clause also retains the long-established principle that we have had for all combined authority legislation that deepens devolution through new powers; that is, that it must be subject to what has often been referred to as to the triple-lock of consents. It must be consented to locally—in this case, by the mayor with the input from the constituent councils—agreed by the Secretary of State and approved by Parliament. I hope my explanation provides noble Lords with further information such that they could reconsider their opposition to this clause.

On Clause 59, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bach, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Shipley, and many others, the levelling up White Paper, which was consulted on widely, included reference to mayors of combined authorities taking on police and crime commissioner functions where policing boundaries were coterminous with those of the combined authority. It also committed the Government to taking steps to remove the barriers to more combined authority mayors taking on PCC functions. Clause 59 amends the existing provision by removing the requirements of consent from the combined authority and its constituent councils to the transfer of the PCC functions to be exercised by the mayor. This will enable the Secretary of State to make an order providing for a combined authority mayor to take on PCC functions for the combined authority’s area, subject to mayoral consent only.

PCC functions can be exercised only by the mayor. Combined authorities and their constituent councils have no role in the exercise of PCC functions. Therefore, the clause makes it clear that only mayoral consent is required for a transfer. These changes are designed to enable more mayors to take on PCC functions where this has been agreed; for example, within a devolution deal, in line with our White Paper commitment. The transfer of PCC functions to a combined authority mayor would not only preserve the democratic accountability established by the PCC model but can also offer wider levers to prevent crime. Powerful local mayors—

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. I thank her for what she has said so far, but I want to ask her why there is no need for consultation of any kind under Clause 59. She praised the consultation that was necessary under Clause 58 and made it part of her argument. Why is there none in Clause 59?

My Lords, that is because, as I said, the role of the PCC does not impinge on the roles of the constituency councils. It is purely a role for the mayor. When you are looking at things to do with health, you are probably including the care roles of many councils.

Each district council has to have a community safety committee, which is made up of district councillors, others and the local police—it is very much involved in policing. As has been said earlier, and used as an argument by the Government, every police and crime panel must have someone from each district council in the police force area. There is a clear link between the constituent councils. Given that link is so important, how can the Minister really argue that on Clause 58 consultation is necessary but on Clause 59 it has nothing to do with the districts or the county?

I apologise to the Minister. I just thought I would add to the questions now and not interrupt further.

Is this an admission by the Government that the current system of independently elected police and crime commissioners has not been effective? I cannot think of any other reason why the two separate roles should be combined unless it is felt that the separate role of the police and crime commissioner has not been as effective as the Government wished.

In the interests of making life easier for the noble Baroness, perhaps I could add my question. What assessment have the Government done of the crossover of funding between local authorities and police services for community safety work and partnerships? That is a frequent model. When the noble Baroness says that the police and crime commissioner role has no impact on local authorities, surely, that funding flow is relevant.

I did not say that the councils do not have any concerns or interest in the role of the PCC. Of course, they do, as we have heard, with community safety committees et cetera. What I said was that the councils do not deliver any of the services required by the PCC. That is the job of the local police. Therefore, there is no crossover in that way.

I do not know where that information has come from about councils not delivering community safety-related services. It is just not the case. We look at anti-social behaviour; we look at domestic abuse. In my own local authority, we have a very big and effective domestic abuse service, and we work with our colleagues in the police. We have issues related to local area policing. We set our priorities with our local policing teams and deliver services jointly to address those priorities. I could go on—I know the noble Baroness will know some of this from her own experience in local government. It is just not the case that local government does not deliver community safety services in the same way that we deliver health prevention services and so on.

I think we are going to disagree on this, and there is a fine line. I also want to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that I did not answer at Second Reading, for which I apologise—I am conscious of that—but because the amount of information I have is not sufficient to answer them today, I will write to him and talk to Home Office colleagues as well, because I think it is important we get their views. I will also write more about the responsibilities of the PCC and the local authorities, because it is important that we get this right and that noble Lords understand the reasons why we are doing this.

Somebody asked whether this is the way that we will get rid of PCCs. It is not: PCCs have brought a great deal of local accountability to policing. While we want to transfer PCC functions to the combined authority mayors where they want them and it is coterminous, that is not to say that we do not appreciate what PCCs are doing. We believe that they are here to stay. I want to make that very clear.

As I said, if we think about it properly, it is up to powerful local mayors with broader responsibilities. As we have seen in other places including London, and will see in West Yorkshire, they can enhance collaboration and joint working, aligning all public services and delivery strategies. They can boost local outcomes if the local area wants and, through the mayor, asks for it. This allows combined authority mayors to use their visible role on public safety to deliver their devolution deal in a more effective way through forging stronger partnerships for the good of all the people who live and work in a combined authority area. Without this clause, a barrier to the transfer of PCC functions to combined authority mayors will remain, and the opportunity for these mayors to take this stronger, more active role on public safety will be missed.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, and others, asked who will be accountable. I assure them that, even if there is a deputy mayor for crime and policing, the elected mayor will be accountable. That is important, because the mayor has been elected, and he or she goes back for re-election. Noble Lords have said that you cannot get rid of a deputy mayor who has been appointed, not elected.

I am struggling with this logic. The combined authority mayor can appoint a deputy to be responsible for police and crime, but the elected mayor will take the accountability if things go wrong. Why, then, can we not have an elected police and crime commissioner? That is the logic of what the Minister is saying.

That is not the logic. It is an opportunity for the directly elected mayor to be able to join up all these issues within their geographic area and deliver more joined-up services by working with others.

Do the Government therefore suggest that, at a local level, a council leader could appoint their own cabinet rather than taking from elected councillors? That is the logic of what the Minister is saying.

That is not the logic. It takes the whole issue too far. Cabinet members will come from the elected members. That is required in the legislation.

The one thing that this has not answered is the issue of the politics, looking at the West Midlands. Does the Minister not think that, if a mayor can appoint a deputy mayor to take over the PCC functions and the existing PCC is then not there, that deputy should be of the same political persuasion as the elected PCC? The people voted for someone from that party, that part of the spectrum. Should it not be specified if that is the direction that the Government are going in?

No, I do not think so. I will make it very clear: these amendments are nothing to do with the West Midlands. These amendments were in the White Paper a number of years ago and were fully consulted on. I will take the noble Baroness’s point, but that is not what normally happens. You would normally have one of your team as a deputy mayor responsible for one thing or another, as you do in London. In this case, it could be for police and crime. I do not know what West Yorkshire will do.

I would also add that Parliament’s approval is needed for a combined authority to take on any new function. PCC functions can be conferred on a combined authority mayor by secondary legislation only, which needs parliamentary approval before it can be made.

Finally in this group is Amendment 469, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson. This would confer new powers on local authorities to run their own bus services, which we believe is premature. The national bus strategy states that the Government would review whether it remains right that local authorities cannot set up new bus companies. Any consideration of change to the operation of the local bus market needs to be conducted in an orderly manner, with all views and potential impacts, positive and negative, considered. We therefore intend to wait until the review of the bus strategy comes out.

Following the Minister’s earlier remarks about the mayor being able to appoint a deputy to be responsible for policing, I was wondering: are there powers for them to appoint a deputy to be responsible for buses?

I do not know about buses, but I imagine that there may be the ability for a mayor to appoint somebody to be responsible for transport in a large area. I will check that, but I am sure that it is within their powers. It is probably a very good thing to have in large geographical area, as the mayor cannot do everything in detail there. I hope that that satisfies noble Lords.

I have a question on the issue of buses. We have seen millions of bus miles removed from the system altogether. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has very carefully and thoroughly articulated why they are so essential. It is really important that we get this bus strategy as quickly as possible so that we can start to get a sense of how local authorities can play a part in restoring some of the bus services that we have lost. Can the Minister give us any idea of how quickly that will come about? It would seem that the Bill is an ideal opportunity to put that into place. Otherwise, we will have to go through the same discussions again in a few months, a year or two years’ time to give local authorities that power. Why not use the Bill as the ideal opportunity to reinstate what we used to have back in the day? I remember a very good bus service in my own area before the powers were taken away from councils.

This is the responsibility of the Department for Transport. I will be in touch with the relevant Minister to explain the Committee’s deep concern about the issue of bus services and say that an early solution to this would be considered appropriate by the Committee. I will also find out how long it will be before we get this strategy in place. I will write that at the end of the letter, which will go to all noble Lords in Committee. I hope that noble Lords will withdraw their amendments.

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. The Minister made an interesting comment at the end when she said that basically a lot of the services we are talking about are the responsibility of other government departments. That seems to me to go to the heart of one of the problems of this legislation: is it not about devolution at all. If it were really about devolution, the Government would have a concerted approach to widespread devolution, which of course would involve bus services. It is a ludicrous proposition that under this grand new devolution and regeneration system you cannot run your own buses.

On health, what the Minister said was helpful up to a point in that she said there is no legal impediment to what is happening in Greater Manchester being extended, but I do not see any drive whatever. What I see is her own department taking a depressingly narrow view of what local government should do instead of embracing the whole government machinery to say, “We are serious about this.”

The clarification on Clause 58 was very helpful, and I am very grateful to the Minister. On Clause 59, I am pretty speechless. I spoke for the Opposition when the concept of police commissioners was coming through. We opposed it. Frankly, I still have great reservations about the system. My noble friend was an excellent example but, my goodness me, the evidence of poor behaviour by some police and crime commissioners is legion. None the less, we were promised directly elected police commissioners, that the public would decide who was going to be the police commissioner and there would then be accountability through the ballot box, but it seems that this is not to apply now in a number of places. From what the Minister said, it seems that the principle of coterminosity applies to many parts of the country in terms of future mayors and police commissioner areas.

I shall make two points. You cannot exclude local authorities. They form the police and crime panel. They have a direct interest in the precept which is set and have to consult on it. It is a big move to get rid of the police and crime commissioner and simply give it to the mayor—we know the mayor will appoint a deputy and will not really be accountable because the mayor has got other things to do—without consulting the constituent local authorities which play an important role in this whole area, not just in sitting on the police and crime panel. If we are serious about wanting our criminal justice system to be more effective, the local authority has a pivotal role to play in working with the police at local level.

I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to bring this back on Report because I believe we should take out this clause. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 89 withdrawn.

Amendment 90 not moved.

Clauses 17 and 18 agreed.

Clause 19: Integrated Transport Authority and Passenger Transport Executive

Amendment 91 not moved.

Amendment 92

Moved by

92: Clause 19, page 16, line 11, at end insert—

“(6) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report setting out—(a) any differences in integrated transport authority functions conferred on CCAs,(b) the reasons for those differences, and(c) the extent to which economic, social and environmental well-being factors were considered in coming to decisions to confer different powers.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report explaining any differences in integrated transport authority functions conferred on CCAs.

My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group, all to do with transport. I am sure noble Lords will remember that one of the missions is on transport and that that mission says:

“By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing”,

and that:

“The success of this mission will be measured through indicators on commuting modal share and average journey time to centres of employment. New connectivity metrics that account for population density with distance travelled will help identify where the standards are being met.”

The last time I spoke about transport, I quoted from the annexe looking at the metrics. I would like to do the same again, if noble Lords will bear with me. First of all, the annexe says, following the measurements I have just read out, that

“they do not explicitly tell us whether good standards have been met. Supporting metrics on bus punctuality and reliability measured over the … regions of England, will help to identify where the connectivity and service quality improves. Additionally, a supporting metric covering the proportion of all journeys that are public transport will be monitored for the regions … of England.”

I repeat what I said before: this is all very well, but I do not understand how any of that is going to measure or help towards success if you do not actually have any services to measure in the first place, which is unfortunately the situation in very many rural areas of the country.

We know that there is plenty of evidence that demonstrates the regional inequality in transport spending and that efficient transport networks are the backbone of any economy. Transport for the North estimates that £70 billion worth of investment in the strategic transport plan for the north could contribute to an additional £100 billion in economic growth. So can the Minister confirm that the plans to take HS2 to the north and the lack of commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail demonstrate that, unfortunately, the north is not a government priority when it comes to transport investment? Those of us who live in the north find this hugely disappointing, particularly when we look at what money has been spent, including a recent surge in rail spending, according to ONS figures, in the south-east and London. Once again, spending has gone disproportionately to London and the south-east.

The Department for Transport recently published an evidence review on transport and inequality, and it is mentioned in the annexe on this mission, where it says:

“Transport modes such as buses, cycling and walking play a crucial role in enabling access to work for the isolated and vulnerable, while reducing congestion for other road users.”

The DfT’s review said:

“Where transport is available and affordable”—

available and affordable are the two key points—

“it can provide access to different opportunities … Transport is an important facilitator of social inclusion and wellbeing, which can affect economic and social outcomes, and therefore inequality … Transport barriers can be intimately related to job opportunities, but in areas of socio-economic disadvantage, even where local transport is available there may be limited educational and job opportunities for people to access … If transport is (or is perceived to be) too expensive, then people are not able to make the journeys they need to get into work or move into education/training.”

So this report is something that the metrics are relying on, but I do not see anything in the Bill that is actually going to change anything in order to provide those opportunities right across the country.

I draw attention to a report published last year by Transport for the North. It was called Transport-related Social Exclusion in the North of England. This deploys rich quantitative data and compelling qualitative testimony to highlight how the lack of frequent, reliable and affordable public transport continues to deny deprived communities access to education, training, jobs, healthcare, recreation and social contact, while raising further concerns about inequalities based on disability, gender, caring responsibilities, ethnicity and LGBTQ identities. The report says:

“Together, these impacts can contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty, isolation, and poor access to basic services.”

For people at risk of transport-related social exclusion, the choice is simple: missed life opportunities, or financial hardship through car dependency. Across the north as a whole, 21.3% of residents—some 3.3 million people—live in areas where they face a relatively high risk of transport-related social exclusion. That is a significantly higher proportion than the 16% who face this in the south and the Midlands. What do the Government intend to do as part of their levelling-up agenda to tackle this issue?

In rural areas, there is a particular issue with bus services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned earlier. We know that many local authority-supported buses have disappeared and, unfortunately, commercial services have not taken their place. We have just had a question about when we are likely to see the Government’s bus strategy. I appreciate the Minister’s response that this is the responsibility of the Department for Transport but, again, if the Government are to deliver on their levelling-up agenda, all departments need to be on board; they need to be on the same page and fully committed. When the bus strategy comes out, it would be extremely helpful if the Department for Transport could make a commitment on how it will be used to try to level up transport services across the country.

I come back to the issues around bus provision in rural areas. Local authority-supported bus provision declined by 54% between 2011-12 and 2019-20, and commercial services increased by only 3% during the same period. This has left communities poorly served, or with no public transport provision at all. The Campaign for Better Transport and the CPRE produced a report in 2020 which found that 56% of small towns in the south-west and north-east of England have such bad transport connectivity that they are considered to be “transport deserts” or are at imminent risk of becoming one.

I have tabled my amendments—I know there are quite a number—to draw attention to the fact that bringing our transport networks up to the same standard as, or close to, those in London, as in the Bill, will be an immense challenge. We believe that devolution and the exercise of integrated transport powers are crucial to the effective operation of combined county authorities in this area. We believe that all combined county authorities need access to the same powers as those who have the greatest. There must be recognition in the legislation of the challenges relating to transport routes that cross CCA boundaries.

Bus routes, for example, will often go across political boundaries, so collaboration between authorities is crucial. We have talked about this in other areas. It is crucial to achieve the inter-area connectivity that is required and could be transformative for bus routes: for the fares, services, infrastructure and, potentially, even ticketing arrangements. Seamless travel will encourage more people to take public transport and to engage in active travel; that should include good infrastructure and connectivity for cyclists, which I have not seen much evidence of in the Bill itself.

I have another question for the Minister, which I think is critical given the number of commercial bus services that stepped in when local bus services collapsed due to lack of funding. How do the Government intend to approach the private bus companies, which have a profit motive? How will they keep them engaged? I will give an example from Milton Keynes and Stevenage. They have a ZEBRA project, which was designed to bring in large numbers of electric buses to urban areas. We must not forget that part of levelling up transport is how we use it to meet our net-zero targets as well. The problem is that Arriva has just pulled out of this project; the reasons given seem to be that it is concerned about lack of use of the bus routes.

People will not use buses if they do not think they will be reliable and, if they are not using them, the commercial companies pull out. You end up with a vicious circle. If we are to tackle the problems around lack of public transport, isolation and the need to improve services right across the country, there absolutely has to be a plan as well as funding local authorities properly so that they can run bus services. Also, there must be a proper plan to work with the private sector because, otherwise, you will never get the bus services in more rural areas that are needed.

My final point is that there is a great deal for the Government to consider if they are to have any chance whatever of meeting their mission on transport. We believe that our amendments make some sensible suggestions. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her comprehensive introduction in moving this amendment about transport. I agree with everything she said. One depressing thing last week was a headline from the Government in a Written Statement, which said that they will be investing £40 billion in transport but in fact, when you look at the small print, you see that they are going to cut bits of HS2 for two years. Worse still, they have cut the investment in cycling and walking by more than half, having said that they are going to invest. There is an awfully big difference between what it says on the bit of paper and what happens on the ground.

When it comes to buses, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have to hear from the Minister, but we do have an Oral Question on Thursday, in the name of my noble friend Lord Snape, asking the Government

“what plans they have to support the bus industry in England following the end of the current bus subsidy arrangements.”

If that is not urgent, I have a message from the people who run the community transport service in Northern Ireland, saying that the Northern Ireland Executive have stopped all funding of community transport buses from the end of April. All the staff will be made redundant and there will be no community transport services in Northern Ireland. So much for making it easier for people; I hope that we will get some answers on that.

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 92 and 98 but, in truth, I could have put it to every single amendment in this group. The amendments in my name, however, are designed to demonstrate the fundamental importance of transport functions to the effectiveness of the CCAs. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has outlined that very comprehensively and ably.

I subscribe to the view that bigger is not necessarily better in many examples of local government, but it is undoubtedly the case that larger local authorities give you the opportunity to plan strategically for public transport and, indeed, for every strand of transport. Without powers to provide a comprehensive and strategic approach to transport, CCAs will be asked to deliver their job with one hand tied behind their backs. They will not be able to do the levelling-up job in any meaningful way.

This series of amendments asks vital questions about the powers over transport infrastructure. Powers without funding are meaningless as a tool for levelling up. The amendments also address the issue of sustainability. That is important in relation to transport, which is responsible for about one-third of our emissions.

Amendment 92 addresses the vagueness of how CCA powers will be awarded and exactly how they will be exercised and by whom. We had this issue in the previous group of amendments in another context. Once again, the Government seem determined to keep hold of all the cards and to surround their decisions with an air of mystique. That is a very centralised approach to decentralisation, a very opaque approach to transparency and a very London-centric approach to levelling up, and, as it stands, it will not work, so it is right to ask for answers and for greater accountability.

Without a transport revolution outside London—I use the word “revolution” deliberately—levelling up will not work. Week after week in this Chamber, we discuss the latest failures of bus and train services in the north of England. In response, the Government usually list some impressive-sounding numbers on transport initiatives, mostly based on funds that local authorities have to bid for—for example, to improve bus services. That of course overlooks the fact that you need to have a bus service to start with in order to improve it. It also overlooks the fact that the least able local authorities and organisations are not in a position to make successful bids, and increasingly they do not even bother to try.

I cannot speak on this issue without referring to last year’s news about two-year delays and fundamental questions over the future of HS2. That proves that this Government are tone-deaf about the significance of that project. It is the key to unlocking the private and public sector investment that must be made if levelling up is to have any meaning at all. The fact that there is now serious doubt over the project is one of the greatest failures of this increasingly muddled and confused Government.

My Lords, I offer Green support for the direction of travel of this whole group of amendments. I was not able to be here for the previous group, but I offer support for Amendment 469 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson, about allowing local authorities to run their own bus services.

I turn to the specific points in some of the amendments in this group. We have already heard the case set out. I agree with pretty well everything that has been said by the previous speakers about the parlous state of local transport in the UK, particularly in England, and the way in which we are so badly trailing other parts of the world. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about electric buses. I was just looking up the stats. The most recent ones I could find for the EU are from the end of 2021. There were 8,500 electric buses in the EU then, and I have no doubt that that figure has grown significantly. That is based on my own experience of arriving in a number of small European cities and finding that a line of little electric hopper buses, as we might call them, taking people from the bus station to the train station or around the city is just normal—yet for us that would be a rare and amazing pilot scheme.

I shall pick up some specific points. Amendment 93, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would allow residents of the combined county authority to petition their authority and the Government for new transport infrastructure. Creating that democratic framework, explicitly putting it in the Bill, would be useful. We know how much hunger there is in local communities. Mostly they are trying to defend the bus services that they are about to lose, but in many places if people saw the potential for a route towards a new service that everyone knew was needed, the petition would provide a mechanism for that.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, Amendment 94 refers to the assessment of the sustainability of transport infrastructure. With 27% of our total emissions coming from transport, and 91% of those from road vehicles, heading towards public transport and indeed active transport—cycling and pedestrian routes—is crucial. To ask the CCAs to put down on paper where they are at and where they are aiming to go is also crucial.

Sustainability also means looking at the issue of resilience. We are in the age of shocks, climate and other, and as I was listening this to this debate I was thinking about the situation at Dawlish and the number of times that we have seen that crucial rail route cut off. That first really came to public attention in 2018, and we have got precisely nowhere on that issue since.

Amendment 97, which we have not yet heard formally introduced, would mean that CCAs could formally designate rail, bus and particularly cycle paths as key routes. If we are going to have the kind of modal shift that we need to see in transport then bus routes and cycle paths are crucial. We need to give CCAs the power to take control over those, see the way forward and make sure that they are secured and treated as important in the same way that we do, far too often, with the main road network.

This is all fine detail and not the kind of stuff that is ever likely to set the headlines ablaze, but it is crucial if this levelling-up Bill is going to go anywhere towards delivering what the Government say is its aim.

My Lords, this has been rather a depressing afternoon. We have had a long debate about where money was coming from, and the answer is, “There isn’t any”. Now we are on to a debate about another vital aspect of levelling up: you need the money, but you also need a transport policy that works. Reference has been made to the mission statement. I am becoming increasingly concerned that in every debate we essentially get the same message: the Bill is not about implementing the mission statement, delivering on the five pillars or any of the stuff that was in the White Paper, but about something completely different—and so far it has completely eluded me what the something completely different is. Here we have an opportunity to put a bit of substance in the Bill, which this set of amendments would certainly do.

I appeal to the Government just to join up some of the dots in their own levelling-up White Paper and their own set of mission statements, and to look at this piece of legislation as a way of delivering, or at least of outlining how they intend to deliver, these challenging targets. The mission statements have dates attached to them, yet we have already heard that the financial review is going to be quite a long way ahead—probably in the next Parliament, let us be honest. The transport amendments here would give the new CCAs some powers, chances and opportunities to begin to help the Government to deliver on their mission statement. I cannot say I am hoping, but I must surely have some expectation, that the Government are going to rise to that challenge.

I want to remind the Government that one of these aims is to have a similar level of public transport outside London as there now is in London, by an end date. I will leave aside whether that was a promise that could ever be fulfilled, but it would certainly be easier to achieve if you started now rather than starting in two years’ time or whenever the next big Bill or funding round comes.

In light of that government ambition, the Built Environment Committee, of which I was at that point a member, published a report called Public Transport in Towns and Cities outside London at the end of last year. We took a lot of evidence on what the impact of the pressures of single-pot funding are on transport authorities around the country, and some were much more successful than others. As somebody who lives in the area of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester, I rejoice in the fact that we usually do pretty well out of all this. But you have only to look across the Pennines to other transport authorities to see some that do not. We took evidence that they have essentially given up bidding because every bid that they have made, which costs money, has been unsuccessful, and they do not get the feedback that they need to improve or find a way through the system. It is single-pot funding which is not delivering levelling up in the way that it should do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, mentioned Northern Powerhouse Rail and Transport for the North. Plenty of work is going on pointing out to the Government what they could and should do, and how it could be delivered to achieve outside London that London level of public transport. Yet these opportunities are being missed again and again, so I say to the Government that these amendments are a way of getting that process started.

In Greater Manchester, the mayor—not of my political persuasion but certainly with a strong mandate—has been pushing ahead to get public transport to operate in a co-ordinated and fully functioning way across that city. Successive Conservative Transport Ministers have been deeply sceptical of what Greater Manchester has been trying to achieve, and I have challenged the Government on two or three occasions about whether they were or were not actively supporting the model of Greater Manchester and encouraging others to do so. The evidence that was given by the then Transport Minister to the committee was that the Government are completely neutral about all these funding models, and that it is entirely up to anyone to do what they want—except that the Government prefer that they do not do it the Greater Manchester way. Sometimes the Government seem incapable of learning from the practical experience of what works, and allowing or indeed encouraging others to take advantage of the experience that has been developed on the ground. Obviously we see this in Committee, and will see this all the way through it—“If it is not invented here, it cannot be any good.”

From that point of view, I dare say that the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, are doomed to fail today, but I ask the Minister to take a look and go back to the Department for Transport, and whoever else needs to be talked to, picking up the point the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made. Please can the Government, and not just the department, put some guts into the Bill and make it deliver on the missions and objectives that they have set out, that they are so proud to boast about, and which these amendments could facilitate the delivery for?

My Lords, this group of amendments relates, as we have heard, to transport functions and associated arrangements of combined county authorities. Before I address the amendments, I say to the Committee in response to those noble Lords who question the Government’s commitment to levelling up in the area of transport—in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but also the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Bennett—that the Government are committed to delivering improvements to transport across the north and across the piece. Let there be no doubt about that. We are committed to supporting all forms of transport. Indeed, between 2020-21 and 2022-23 we have invested over £850 million in active travel alone. The Transpennine Route Upgrade is the Government’s biggest single investment in upgrading the country’s existing railway, and is part of our continuing commitment to transforming rail connectivity across the north of the country. I plead with noble Lords to have some faith in the Government’s commitment in this area.

Amendment 92 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on any differences in integrated transport authority functions conferred on combined county authorities, and the rationale behind them. It is of course important to help interested parties understand differences in conferral of transport functions between CCAs. Once established, the combined county authority will become the local transport authority responsible for managing public transport in the CCA’s area.

The functions conferred on combined county authorities from an integrated transport authority to enable the CCA to be the local transport authority will be a merger of those currently possessed by the CCA’s constituent local authorities, with their agreement and consent. These will be agreed with the local authorities as the combined county authorities are established, and this approach will be consistent across all CCAs. Therefore, as this clause relates only to powers already held locally, there is no need for the Secretary of State to produce such an annual report because there will be consistency across CCAs. The Explanatory Memorandums to the secondary legislation will also provide an explanation of transport powers that the combined county authority will be responsible for.

Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Baroness, seeks to allow residents in the area of a combined county authority with transport functions to be able to petition their CCA and the Government for new transport infrastructure. We support residents having the ability to push for new transport infrastructure for their area; indeed, this is already possible. The residents of an area with transport functions are already able to petition their local authorities, including for transport infrastructure, and this will be the same for combined county authorities once created. Therefore, creating this additional requirement relating to transport specifically for CCAs is unnecessary.

I come now to Amendment 94, tabled by the noble Baroness to require a combined county authority to publish an assessment within 90 days, if they are transferred certain functions, on whether transport infrastructure in their area is sustainable. An assessment of infrastructure sustainability in a CCA’s area already forms part of a local transport plan. Where a CCA has been given transport functions, it will include this assessment as part of its local transport plan anyway, so we feel there is no need for a separate time-limited assessment.

Amendment 95 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require a combined county authority to undertake an assessment of any company operating a train franchise in its area. There are already contractual reporting arrangements between train operators and the Government, and the train operating companies report their performance publicly on their websites and with key strategic partners, such as CCAs. In line with the Government’s commitment to not create additional bureaucratic burdens, we would not expect to mandate a report on any CCAs. Furthermore, if the CCA feels that it wishes to undertake such an assessment, we would expect it to utilise the existing reporting mechanisms. Given the existing reporting already in place, I hope that she will feel satisfied that the measures are sufficient.

I am wondering how this fits in with local government reporting, in the context of Britain’s legally binding net-zero obligations. This brings to my mind a broader question, but I will understand if the Minister wants to write to me later. How do the actions of the CCA fit within the overall framework of delivering net zero?

If the noble Baroness will allow me, I will write to her on that, because I do not have an answer that would satisfy her in my brief.

Amendment 96, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require combined county authorities to notify the Secretary of State of any plans to begin a local travel survey within 30 days of being transferred functions under Clause 19. There is no legal requirement surrounding a combined county authority’s use of local travel surveys. Creating a legal requirement on CCAs for the reporting of their use within 30 days to the Secretary of State would, I suggest, place an unnecessary burden on CCAs, relative to the benefit.

Noble Lords may be interested to know that the Department for Transport conducts a national travel survey. We would expect CCAs to conduct further work locally to gather evidence in developing their local transport plans. However, we feel that mandating the use of local surveys in this way would be disproportionate, so I am afraid we do not feel we can accept this amendment.

I turn to Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. It would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to confer on a combined county authority a power to designate railways, bus routes and cycle paths as key routes. The purpose of a CCA designating a route as part of its key route network is to enable the mayor to direct local councils in how they should use their powers as the highway authority for that route, if they are not carrying out actions agreed under the local area transport plan. For example, a combined county authority mayor might direct local authorities to build a particular bus lane on part of the key route network, which would have strategic, area-wide benefits for the CCA as a whole.

CCAs will already be able to designate bus and cycle lanes that form part of a highway in their area as part of the key route network under the existing Clause 22. The powers that local authorities have as highway authorities do not extend to railways, so allowing CCAs to designate them as key routes would have no effect on their operation. Given that CCAs will be responsible for the local transport plan for their region, we would expect them to identify their key transport routes and plan how to manage these, including railways.

Amendment 98, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would enable the Secretary of State to confer a power on a combined county authorities to designate their area’s transport infrastructure as in need of regeneration. I would like to reassure her that, once established, combined county authorities, like existing local authorities, will have multiple means through which to petition the Government for improved transport infrastructure for their region. For example, Network Rail is responsible for maintaining the railway and for any renewals to ensure a safe and efficient-running railway. When it comes to enhancements being sought for railway improvements, we follow the rail network enhancements pipeline policy, which sets out how areas can engage with government on rail improvements.

On local roads, the Department for Transport provides local highways maintenance funding through the highways maintenance block and the potholes fund, which provide annual funding for eligible local highways authorities, including future combined county authorities, to locally prioritise investment in local roads and associated infrastructure, such as bridges and lighting columns. The Department for Transport will also maintain regular contact with combined authority areas, which will provide ample opportunity for areas to make the case for transport infrastructure improvements.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about roads and railways, and the control and leadership—if you can call it that—that the Department for Transport has in the pipeline, as he calls it, and everything else. However, I have seen examples of where Network Rail has been unable to paint the railings in one station because it had to go to the Treasury for approval. My noble friend’s amendments are designed to give some local control and accountability, rather than having everything controlled by the Treasury and the Department for Transport, who clearly think that they know best about everything, but some of us have our doubts.

Well, I note the noble Lord’s scepticism, which is long-standing, and can only say that I will relay his comments to the appropriate quarter.

I hope that the explanations I have given will be helpful to noble Lords opposite and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 92. As always, I would of course welcome conversations outside the Chamber if she feels those would be useful.

My Lords, I will be brief as I think everyone is looking forward to the dinner break. I thank the Minister for his very thorough response to my amendments and for his offer at the end. That is extremely helpful and I appreciate it.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for supporting my amendments, which is much appreciated. I will make just one suggestion: if the Government are genuinely committed to levelling up transport in the north, could the next stage of HS2 start from the north and then work down? But at the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 92 withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed.

Amendments 93 to 96 not moved.

Clauses 20 to 22 agreed.

Amendments 97 and 98 not moved.

Clause 23: Changes to boundaries of a CCA’s area

Amendments 99 and 100 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24: Dissolution of a CCA’s area

Amendments 101 and 102 not moved.

Clause 24 agreed.

Clause 25 agreed.

House resumed.