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General Committees

Debated on Monday 24 April 2017

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr David Hanson

† Brazier, Sir Julian (Canterbury) (Con)

† Burrowes, Mr David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)

† Cartlidge, James (South Suffolk) (Con)

Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

Dowd, Jim (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

† Hart, Simon (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con)

† Heappey, James (Wells) (Con)

Leslie, Chris (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op)

† McMahon, Jim (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab)

McGovern, Alison (Wirral South) (Lab)

† Morgan, Nicky (Loughborough) (Con)

† Opperman, Guy (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Percy, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

† Pow, Rebecca (Taunton Deane) (Con)

† Throup, Maggie (Erewash) (Con)

Tamsin Maddock, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 24 April 2017

[Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. The order, which was laid before the House on 20 March, will, if approved and made, provide new powers for the Mayor to designate areas as mayoral development areas, to set the local transport plan and policies and to make grants to local authorities. It will transfer the functions, property, rights and liabilities of the waste disposal authority to the combined authority, abolish the waste disposal authority and confer new information-sharing powers on the combined authority. It will also provide for a number of constitutional and funding arrangements.

Of course, councils in Greater Manchester have worked closely together for the past three decades, but since 2011 the combined authority has enabled Greater Manchester councils to work together formally on the interconnected issues of transport, economic development and regeneration. In November 2014, the Government and Greater Manchester agreed a groundbreaking devolution deal, which has subsequently been followed by three others. Manchester is much further ahead than other areas on the devolution journey.

In March 2015, we legislated by order for Greater Manchester to have an interim Mayor. In March 2016, we legislated to establish the position of elected Mayor for Greater Manchester; the Mayor will also undertake the police and crime commissioner functions. In December 2016, we legislated to confer on Greater Manchester significant new powers, some of which were to be exercised by the Mayor and others by the combined authority corporately. Those included new housing and planning powers, devolved transport powers and new powers on education and skills, aligned with those of the local authorities.

On 24 March, following parliamentary approval, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service made two orders that, first, transfer the functions of the Greater Manchester fire and rescue authority to the Mayor, transfer the assets and liabilities of that service to the combined authority and, in turn, abolish the fire and rescue authority; and, secondly, set out the detailed operation of the police and crime commissioner function when it transfers to the Mayor on 8 May, and transfer the assets and liabilities of the police and crime commissioner to the combined authority.

I will deal with this afternoon’s order as quickly as I can. If approved and made, it will enable the Mayor to designate areas as mayoral development areas and will require the Mayor to prepare local transport policies and plans, subject to agreement from seven of the 10 combined authority members. It will enable the Mayor to pay grants to local authorities—those are, of course, designed to support the Mayor’s decisions in relation to use of the consolidated transport budget—and provide that any use of the “earn back” infrastructure fund is agreed by the Mayor.

The order will transfer the functions, assets and liabilities of the waste disposal authority. The Wigan local authority area is outside the waste disposal contract and will remain outside the waste disposal authority, at its own request. The order provides the combined authority with the same powers to share information as the constituent authorities have; provides for constitutional and funding changes, including in relation to the political balance of committees, the chair of the overview and scrutiny committees, and allowances—

Order. I greatly apologise for interrupting you, Mr Percy, but I wish the Government Whip would resume his seat.

There is such excitement, among Conservative Members anyway.

As I was saying, the order also provides the necessary powers for the allowances for the Mayor and other members of the combined authority.

The origin of the order is in the governance review and the scheme that was prepared by Greater Manchester in accordance with the requirement in legislation. In 2016, Greater Manchester published two schemes that set out its proposals for powers that could be conferred to Greater Manchester in 2016, as provided by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

That first consultation ran from March through to May of last year and the second from July through to August. The combined authority provided the summaries and the Secretary of State considered those, as per the statutory requirements. In conferring those functions, the Secretary of State has concluded that they would indeed be likely to lead to an improvement in the exercise of the aforementioned statutory functions.

In considering it appropriate to confer local authority powers on the combined authority and make constitutional changes, the Secretary of State has, of course, had regard to the impact on local government and communities. Importantly, from a local democracy point of view, all 10 of the constituent councils on the combined authority have consented to the making of the order.

You will be pleased to hear in conclusion, Mr Hanson, that the Government are making good progress on implementing the devolution deal to Greater Manchester. The draft order we are considering this afternoon is a fairly significant milestone, contributing to greater prosperity in Greater Manchester and opening the door for what we want to see, which is a more balanced economy and continuing economic success for Greater Manchester, which is already playing such an important part in driving forward the northern powerhouse agenda and the economic development of this country. On that basis, I commend the draft order to the Committee.

Thank you, Mr Hanson. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I put on record a declaration of interest. My father is a truck driver who used to work for the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority until its transfer to Viridor under the private finance initiative contracted there. Unlike me, he has a proper job, as I think he would say.

I am pleased to see the order, which I see as a tidying-up exercise in many ways. I have always felt that the myriad outside bodies that were the legacy of the joint committees that were established in Greater Manchester did have room for efficiencies to be made, particularly with back-office facilities around HR, finance, payroll, comms and press, marketing and such areas. That will provide a capacity to support the Mayor in their functions.

It would good to get some clarification—today or in writing—on the transfer of assets and liabilities for the waste disposal contract to the Greater Manchester combined authority. At the moment, the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority is made up of nine of the 10 local authorities within Greater Manchester, with Wigan outside that agreement. There would have been room for Wigan to opt into that quite recently, particularly when the private finance initiative contract was being negotiated in 2009, but Wigan local authority members decided, for their own reasons, that it was not for them.

If any assets or liabilities are being transferred to the Greater Manchester combined authority, which is owned by the 10 local authorities in effect, any assets in particular cannot be divided by 10, when the value has been created by the nine local authorities. I accept that is quite a technical point but it is quite important in tracking where those assets and liabilities will ultimately go.

On paper, talking about waste disposal sounds like a very dry subject. It is, but it also involves a great deal of public money. When the PFI contract was agreed in 2009, at £3.8 billion that was the largest PFI in the whole of Europe. We are now only eight years into that contract, so a significant amount of money is being transferred.

There is a link to the order that we will consider later today at 6pm, which relates to the precepting responsibilities, but this order is primarily about the levying responsibilities across transport and waste, which, as I said before, makes complete sense.

I will address my final comments to the mayoral development areas. I again support that principle. The ability of local areas to determine for themselves where their development priorities are is absolutely in the spirit of the type of devolution that we have been pushing for.

From a Greater Manchester perspective, when the call went out from Government I know a request was made for a number of the town centres and business parks to be designated as enterprise zones to enhance development in those areas. Unfortunately, under the criteria the Government were not able to allow for that. It struck me at the time that while it might not be a national priority for those areas to be designated as some kind of development zone, our town centres in Greater Manchester absolutely need a focused energy and determination from some authority to ensure that development can be kick-started. Instinctively, it feels like that the combined authority level is the right one at which to do that.

Again, I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether the Mayor will be given powers in the way that enterprise zones have tax reliefs and tax incentives in place when they are approved by Government. Will the Mayor have the same type of powers to give tax relief and business rate incentives within mayoral development zones in those areas? If that is not provided for in this statutory instrument, will that be brought forward in the future?

I welcome the shadow Minister’s support for what he called tidying-up functions. It is important we get this order through, otherwise we will have a Mayor elected on 4 May who will take office without the appropriate functions and powers to be able to operate.

The waste disposal contract will transfer over on 1 April 2018. The reason for that date is that it is what the Greater Manchester Combined Authority requested. My understanding is that it wishes to form a waste committee comprised of the members of the nine constituent councils. Residents should see no change to how waste is collected or the service they receive. It is simply that the legal entity has been absorbed by the combined authority. As part of undertaking the governance review I referred to, the combined authority has an opportunity to review the functions and integration of public services. It has concluded that doing it this way allows it to make some savings as part of the contract without it having any detrimental impact on or making any difference to how the service is provided to local residents.

I will write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail on the mayoral development corporation, its nature and what could be part of that. It is for the new Mayor to come forward with a proposal to Government to put a mayoral development corporation into being. We are keen to see it happen, but it will require further statutory instruments in this place. I am more than happy to write to him with the full details of how that would operate.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the two functions. Manchester is so much further down the devolution route than anywhere else in the country, and that is testament to the local leadership and the history of working together. The impressive economic development we have seen in Manchester in the past few years—and decades, it could be argued—is a consequence of that close working between partners and local authorities. That is precisely why the Government are so enthusiastic about emulating that in other parts of the north and more generally through the rest of England. I again commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2017

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir David Crausby

† Bebb, Guto (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Beckett, Margaret (Derby South) (Lab)

† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)

Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Freer, Mike (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con)

† Gove, Michael (Surrey Heath) (Con)

† Harper, Mr Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)

† Jones, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

† Knight, Julian (Solihull) (Con)

† McDonald, Andy (Middlesbrough) (Lab)

† Metcalfe, Stephen (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

† Shuker, Mr Gavin (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)

Smith, Angela (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab)

† Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con)

† Sunak, Rishi (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con)

Jonathan Whiffing, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 24 April 2017

[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Draft Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2017

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Specified Agreement on Driving Disqualifications Regulations 2017.

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. This draft statutory instrument is being made to reintroduce an agreement to allow for the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. I am sure that colleagues recall the previous arrangement under the 1998 European convention on driving disqualifications, which ceased to apply in the UK on 1 December 2014 when the UK exercised its right to opt out of various EU police and criminal justice matters under the Lisbon treaty.

I am sure that we all know that the UK has one of the best road safety records in the world, and this co-operation among the Administrations in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will improve it further. This measure is particularly important for the people of Northern Ireland, which shares a 310-mile border with the Republic that about 15,000 people cross daily at 300 crossing points. Last year, traffic accidents caused 68 people needlessly to lose their lives in Northern Ireland. If a British or Northern Irish driver receives an instant disqualification from driving while travelling in the Republic—for drink-driving or causing a serious injury to another road user, for example—that disqualification can follow the individual back home. The same is true for Irish drivers disqualified here in Britain or in Northern Ireland.

The treaty that our Governments have negotiated is almost identical to the now defunct European convention on driving disqualifications, but there is one important difference. There was a loophole in that convention’s wording that allowed some drivers to escape a ban following them home by falsely claiming normal residence in the country where the offence occurred. We have amended the wording to close that loophole, thus ensuring that those unscrupulous individuals who seek to escape punishment can no longer do so.

The mutual recognition process is straightforward. When a British or Northern Irish court determines that a driver is to be disqualified and that driver is normally resident in Ireland—the driver can hold any driving licence; it can be an Irish or EU licence or another licence—the driver will be able to appeal the decision. If the appeal is either heard and rejected or not filed, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will write to the Road Safety Authority in Ireland and inform it that a driver resident in Ireland has been disqualified. The case will then be referred to the Irish courts, and the judges there will decide whether to uphold the ban. The same will be true of British and Northern Irish drivers disqualified in Ireland.

These measures should not be considered a double punishment; drivers will have a right of appeal against the initial ban and against the ban applying in the country of normal residence, but a driver who commits an offence serious enough to merit instant disqualification needs to be taken off the road for the appropriate duration in both the UK and Ireland. If an Irish court imposes additional punishments, such as forcing a driver to resit their driving test or take an extended driving test, we in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will similarly impose such additional punishments and requirements.

I point out to colleagues that any driving disqualification arising from totting up of penalty points is not covered by these measures, because penalty points are not assessed in the same way in Ireland. Although Northern Ireland and Ireland are engaged in bilateral discussions through the North South Ministerial Council about mutual recognition of penalty points, that is still work in progress.

This agreement between the UK and Ireland about mutual recognition of disqualifications will not be affected by our decision to leave the EU. As the Prime Minister herself stated only earlier this year following a meeting with the Taoiseach, the ability to move freely across the border is an essential part of daily life for the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland. That is why the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister have both been clear that there will be no return to the borders of the past. Maintaining the common travel area and excellent economic links will be important for both countries in the talks ahead.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I shall be mercifully brief. Labour fully supports the regulations. It is of course entirely sensible that there should be mutual recognition of driving disqualification between the Governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The agreement will mean that a driving disqualification imposed in the Republic on a UK resident or the holder of a UK driving licence will be recognised and given effect in the UK. Accordingly, a person disqualified in the Republic will not be able to hop across the border to the north and drive there.

The legal basis for such an agreement was in place between January 2010 and December 2014, until the UK opted out of the European convention on driving disqualifications of 17 June 1998, following the Lisbon treaty; so it is somewhat disconcerting that there has been a legislative black hole for more than two years. No doubt, however, the Minister will explain the length of the gap and expand upon why it has taken the Government from December 2014 to May 2017 to re-establish the legal basis for the mutual agreement with the Irish Government.

Without an acceptable explanation or justification observers would be perfectly entitled to wonder at the Government’s sense of priority and urgency, or lack thereof, which sadly characterises their approach to road safety issues. It is worrying that for more than two years there have been no provisions in place to stop dangerous drivers who have committed road offences in the Republic of Ireland driving in the UK, or vice versa. The regulations are a much-needed measure and will undoubtedly make our roads safer. It is just terribly disappointing that the Government did not seek to correct the position before. It is imperative that every opportunity, legislative or otherwise, should be taken to make our roads the safest they can possibly be.

The Government have failed in their manifesto commitment to reduce road casualties year on year, and have scrapped the road safety targets that were introduced under Labour. I cannot see why Ministers have persistently refused to bring those back, especially when we support international targets at United Nations and European level. The targets focus minds and attention, and a Labour Government would certainly bring them back. As I have said, Labour fully supports the regulations, which will make a small but highly important contribution to making our roads a safer place for all users, against what has been a worrying backward trend in recent years.

There were a couple of questions there, to which I should like to reply. It has taken a little while to make the arrangements, but the Irish constitution forbids the making of agreements of this nature by memorandum of understanding or a similar more formal instrument. Treaties are therefore required, and it takes time for them to be agreed, signed, ratified and deposited. That, simply, has been the case in this instance; it is not a question of a failure of priority.

I thank the Opposition for their support for the measure. It will make our roads safer, which is something we are all working towards. I do not think that the introduction of targets is critical in doing that. I do not need a target to tell me that road safety is important. We do not need a target to work on producing a road safety statement, which we published in December 2015, or to increase the penalties for mobile phone use while driving, or to seek to tackle the 50 least safe roads on our network with funding from the autumn statement. We are doing an enormous amount on road safety. Targets could be fine in other parts of the world; I have no problem with that. However, they are not needed here, where we are on top of the agenda and doing good work.

I hope that I have answered the questions satisfactorily. I am pleased that the measures have cross-party support, and look forward to their being implemented soon.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England) (Amendment) Order 2017 Draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England and Wales) Order 2017 Draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (Scotland) Order 2017 Draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2017

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Sir David Amess

† Berry, Jake (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)

Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

† Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con)

† Chishti, Rehman (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)

† Field, Mark (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)

† Frazer, Lucy (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Grady, Patrick (Glasgow North) (SNP)

† Heaton-Harris, Chris (Daventry) (Con)

† Lilley, Mr Peter (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

† Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

† Perry, Claire (Devizes) (Con)

† Sheppard, Tommy (Edinburgh East) (SNP)

† Skidmore, Chris (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)

Smyth, Karin (Bristol South) (Lab)

† Timms, Stephen (East Ham) (Lab)

† Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)

† Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)

Ben Williams, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 24 April 2017

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England) (Amendment) Order 2017

With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England and Wales) Order 2017, the draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (Scotland) Order 2017 and the draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

The instruments will together enhance the operation of electoral registration across Great Britain. Three of the instruments will enable piloting on the annual canvass in selected areas this year, while the fourth will enhance the operation of individual electoral registration in Scotland, to allow cost savings for electoral registration officers throughout the year. I will turn to an explanation of that separate measure after describing the pilot-related instruments.

Some Members will be aware that individual electoral registration was successfully introduced in 2014. For the first time ever, it enabled people in Great Britain to apply online to register to vote. Nearly 24 million people have applied to register under IER, 18 million of those online. It is clear that citizens want to register quickly and easily, and we are striving to build on the successes of IER and move away from an old-fashioned, paper-based bureaucratic system towards one that is modern and flexible, meeting what we all expect from electoral registration.

A key component of the electoral registration system is the annual canvass that takes place each autumn, when every household in the country receives registration forms. The fundamental objective of the annual canvass—namely, the maintenance of a complete and accurate register through regular data collection—is, and will continue to be, a Government priority. However, consultation with EROs and local authorities over an extended period has indicated that the annual canvass in its current form is not a sustainable way to achieve that aim and is time-consuming and expensive.

The process requires electoral registration officers to send an annual canvass form—the household enquiry form—to every property in their area. The HEF asks residents to set out whether there have been any changes in the composition of the household since the last year’s canvass, so that EROs can identify whether any residents should be removed from the register or invited to make an application. Response rates to the HEF are significantly lower under IER, as it is no longer a registration tool, and yet where no response is received, EROs are still required to issue up to two further forms and to carry out at least one visit to the property. Electors will therefore receive up to three letters and a visit from their local ERO team, even if they are already registered, solely for the purposes of information gathering.

The reality is that household churn across the country is only about 12% per annum, thus the majority of canvass activity is redundant. Over half of households do not even respond to the initial HEF, meaning that EROs are required to chase them, despite the fact that 88% of households will be a “no change” on the electoral register.

While the Cabinet Office currently provides direct financial assistance for registration linked to the introduction of IER, the total costs of the annual canvass are extremely high, at some £65 million per year. The process is therefore costly to EROs but also very frustrating for them. From knowing their local area or having access to local authority data, EROs may well be aware of the registration status of households in their area. The system currently in place by law, however, does not allow them to draw on their own expertise or other information held by the local authority. It does not allow citizens to tell us once of changes to their registration. It does not enable EROs to focus their resources in the most targeted and effective way.

What is needed is a more effective and efficient system that targets resources on reaching out to under-registered groups to add new names to the register, rather than confirming names that are already on the register. To ensure that ours is a democracy that truly works for everyone, the Cabinet Office is working with EROs across Great Britain to pilot alternative approaches to the current paper-based, inflexible and prescriptive annual canvass.

Three initial pilots were conducted successfully by the Cabinet Office during the 2016 annual canvass process in three areas of England: Birmingham, Ryedale and South Lakeland. The early results from the pilots last year were very promising, with provisional figures indicating that the cost of the alternative canvasses was substantially lower than that of the legislated canvass, due to the reduction in printing, paper, postage and staffing costs. For example, Ryedale estimated that the new methodology it employed resulted in an 89% saving in staff time and costs. Postage was reduced by 50,000 envelopes and simple household notification letters were issued, making the process for administrators and citizens much more straightforward.

Last year, I visited the electoral services team in Birmingham, which reduced its canvassing costs by £160,000 compared with the year before. Birmingham had already been using data to target its canvassing resource at areas of high churn—an innovative approach that is data-driven and efficient. The Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission are analysing the full cost data for the whole process.

The pilots are making a difference and building on the successes of IER. They are moving us closer to a system that is modern and flexible, as we would expect in the 21st century. Resources will be better allocated, less paper will be used and administrative time will be saved. We have learned from the 2016 pilots and refined the processes further, potentially leading to improved savings. The three pilots last year alone led to an estimated reduction in canvassing costs of well over £200,000. That is why we are working with local authorities to trial further changes this year. We have an even greater ambition to test more approaches and alternative ways of canvassing that are just as effective as and more cost-efficient than the current process. By including Wales and Scotland, we are able to inform change to the annual canvass that works across the whole of Great Britain.

The three orders establish further pilot schemes under sections 7 and 9 of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. As some Committee members may be aware, section 9D(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which was inserted by the 2013 Act, requires an annual canvass to be conducted in the manner prescribed in the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 and the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001. The orders we are discussing disapply that requirement for the 23 participating EROs in areas of England, Wales and Scotland.

The orders instead require EROs in the specified areas to attempt to make contact with a person at each residential address in the area for which they act at least once between the date the relevant order comes into force and 2 February 2018. The manner in which they do so, however, and whether they take further steps if no information is received at a particular address will be at the ERO’s discretion. That will enable EROs to test new and innovative approaches to canvassing, including using data, such as council tax data, the local land and property gazetteer and internal local authority databases, to determine whether chasing responses to ERO inquiries is necessary. Such approaches have been developed by working closely with the Electoral Commission, which is supportive of the pilots.

Will my hon. Friend say whether EROs will be directed to make extra efforts where buildings or residences have a very high turnover of residents? I am thinking in particular of houses in multiple occupation, student halls of residence and old people’s homes. Although it may be okay to send one letter to 88% of houses, a small number of houses have a disproportionately high turnover of residents. What steps will EROs be asked to take in that regard?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which strikes at the heart of why the reforms are needed. We are not introducing measures that prescribe in law that every household should be treated equally, even though we know that 88% of households have no change. The resources that are freed up by these reforms will allow EROs to target individuals where there is a greater difficulty with under-registered groups.

Let me give some examples of innovative activity that has been trialled. In Grampian in Scotland, electoral registration officer Ian Milton has been developing a system by working with a tenancy deposit scheme company, which notifies him when tenants have left a property. That enables him to know that the building has been left vacant and that he needs to send electoral registration materials to the property.

In Sheffield, the Cabinet Office part-funded a pilot to the tune of £10,000, which enabled a data-sharing agreement to be developed between the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield ERO. It has seen student registration rise from 13% to 76% at the University of Sheffield. EROs know their local area well and there are new ways in which they can target the people they know are removed from the register or change addresses frequently. EROs can use their resources more effectively to increase the size of our register nationally.

On the ongoing pilot schemes that we hope to take forward into 2017, the extra 23 areas in addition to Birmingham, South Lakeland and Ryedale were chosen using robust research methodology to ensure a spread of electoral register churn, population size, the pilot model chosen by EROs and region. In each area, the EROs will operate control groups and pilot groups so that the results of the approaches can be evaluated rigorously. Four models of piloting activities will run with the EROs in the 2017 pilot scheme, based on proposals from EROs themselves. Each participating ERO has chosen the model that they would like to apply in their area, based on their local knowledge and expertise.

Each innovative model reduces the number of paper communications sent to electors, utilising means such as telephone and email channels, and one model uses existing local data to determine where best to focus resources. Those ideas have all come from experts on the frontline and are designed to improve the citizen experience as well as ease administrative burdens on hard-pressed electoral teams. The elector will benefit from the local authority being able to redirect resources, as I have discussed, and target canvassing more effectively towards under-registered groups.

If successful, the pilots will demonstrate that the annual canvass process does not need to be so prescriptive and that a number of alternative methods to the annual canvass exist, which are just as effective and more cost-efficient, potentially saving at least £20 million nationally from the cost of electoral registration each year.

Although the Cabinet Office provides support for local authorities to offset the cost of the annual canvass—last year it was £26 million—the pilots will provide evidence for wide-ranging changes to free up local authority resources. It is important to note that the canvass itself is purely an information-gathering process. The pilots will not alter the requirements for the registration process and for individuals themselves to be invited to register to vote.

The Government have consulted widely, including with the Electoral Commission, on the pilot proposals. The commission has been very supportive of the plans and has been involved from the start in the early stages of the pilots’ development. The Electoral Commission has also been consulted on the orders, about which it is content, following Cabinet Office confirmation that section 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 remains applicable to participating local authorities during the pilot.

Consultation has also taken place with bodies such as the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Scottish Assessors Association. That is in addition to the work that the Government have been doing with interested councils directly, which has helped shape the four pilot models. The Information Commissioner’s Office was consulted during the development of the pilots and is content that the pilot orders do not raise any new or significant data protection or privacy issues. We have a privacy impact assessment also, which is set out on the Table. Equality impact assessments have been completed to ensure that under-registered groups, as well as groups protected by virtue of the Equality Act 2010, will not be negatively impacted by the pilots. Privacy impact assessments have also been completed to ensure that no new negative privacy impacts under the Data Protection Act 1998 will arise.

Although the purpose of the pilots is to give EROs the space to innovate and test alternative, more effective approaches in relation to the annual canvass, I want to underline that the integrity of the register will always and absolutely be maintained throughout the pilots. EROs have a duty under the Representation of the People Act 1983 to maintain their registers, and nothing in the orders will change that.

The draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 will allow Scottish EROs to benefit from the same cost optimisation measures that have been available to English and Welsh EROs since last year. That will be achieved by amending the registration application forms for Scotland to allow applicants to identify that they are the only person resident at the address aged 14 or over. They also provide discretion to EROs on whether to canvass a property within 12 months of an indication of single occupancy. Allowing EROs to make that choice decreases the amount of resources spent on processing applications and increases the efficiency and speed of the registration process.

Secondly, the regulations will modernise the system of registration by enabling Scottish EROs to send invitations to register and ITR reminders by electronic means if they wish to do so, replicating what has been in place in England and Wales since 2016. That will deliver a quicker and more efficient service to electors, who expect electronic communications when registering in this age, as well as enabling cost savings.

The regulations will allow an attestor to an applicant’s identity to be registered in any local authority area in Scotland; at present, both the attestor and the applicant must be registered in the same local authority. That will assist those applicants whose identity cannot be verified using the usual matching process and who have to provide an attestation to verify their identity, and will result in more eligible applicants becoming registered to vote, as has happened in England and Wales. The provisions also aim to reduce unnecessary ERO correspondence and contact.

Preliminary estimations project that the regulations will reduce the overall cost of IER in Scotland by around £125,000 for the single-occupancy provision and around £400,000 for email ITRs per year. In addition, the regulations make a minor amendment to correct an error in the existing regulation concerning the requirement to provide fresh signatures following the rejection of a postal voting statement.

The Electoral Commission was consulted during the development of the measures and on the specifics of the regulations, and is supportive of the regulations offering the same provision to Scotland as already exists in England and Wales.

The Cabinet Office and I have worked closely with Scottish Government officials to ensure that the measures can be in place for the 2017 annual canvass and that Scottish EROs are able to participate in the aforementioned pilots. Last November, I met the Scottish Government’s Minister for Parliamentary Business, Joe FitzPatrick, and we mutually agreed for the instruments to make provision in respect of both the parliamentary and local government registers in Scotland. That will be done before the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Scotland Act 2016, which will devolve competence in relation to the local government register in Scotland. That was agreed in order to ensure that Scottish EROs take advantage of these cost-optimisation measures in respect of both parliamentary and local government registers this year, and that local authorities in Scotland are represented in the canvass pilots.

With that in mind, the Government believe that the instruments, which allow for full annual canvass piloting, are a crucial step towards improving the annual canvass and the wider registration process. I therefore commend them to the Committee. I also hope that the Committee agrees that the instrument relating to cost-optimisation measures in Scotland will help to move electors and electoral administrators forward towards an enhanced IER system for both members of the public and EROs, as part of the continued successful implementation of IER across Great Britain.

Welcome to the Chair, Sir David. I know that you are always firm but fair in these Committees. I hope that you are firm with the Government and fair with us; I can hope, at least. I know that many Government Members are preparing for involuntary early retirement in a few weeks’ time, given that we are expecting a surge for our party, so they will probably not want to be detained for too long here. You will bring me back to attention very quickly, Sir David, so I had better move on from those minor points.

The Minister made a reasonably convincing case for the instruments before the Committee today, but let me set out a few general points about how we see the Government’s attitude and behaviour in relation to this matter, and then I will ask some questions. We feel that the Government’s general approach to electoral processes gives the impression of regularly tinkering, rather than forming a firm solution to resolve the issue of electoral registration in the current century. There is an impression that they often make rushed decisions that then have to be changed after being implemented, and that the approach to those changes is bureaucratic and slightly over-centralised. An important value behind local government having EROs under its control is that we have a devolved system of administration, rather than a centralised democratic machinery. That is one of the great assets of the British political system.

My feeling, both from what the Minister said and the explanatory note, which I have no doubt all Members have read diligently, is that the measures are driven primarily by financial reasons, rather than the enhancement of democracy. I say that because threaded through almost every paragraph of the Minister’s comments were expressions about the savings that will be achieved by the pilots. The explanatory memorandum clearly tells us all that, in its current form under IER, the annual canvass

“is proving to be an unsustainable cost burden for local authorities to administer.”

There are two ways of approaching unsustainable costs: trying to find ways of saving money—we are definitely in favour of efficiency and cost-effectiveness—and ensuring that local authorities are properly funded, which the Government, lamentably, have failed to do. I will come back in a moment to general cost savings and the severe pressures on EROs.

By the way, if the Minister wants to say that this is not a cost-saving exercise or part of an austerity agenda—a kind of bargain basement democracy that some might call a Poundland approach to politics—perhaps he will indicate that he is happy for any savings achieved to be ring-fenced in local authorities for the further enhancement of democratic processes. Otherwise, some people might arrive at the conclusion—perhaps fairly—that this is about saving money, rather than enhancing democracy.

The Minister has not really explained why it was necessary to introduce the draft orders in the dying days of this Parliament. The orders will come into force on 30 June, but that is an arbitrary date. I will come to the date shortly, because it seems to me that it conflicts with other obligations on EROs to avoid making changes in the run-up to elections. Of course, all EROs face at least one election in the next six weeks, and most face two. An explanation must be given for why the draft orders could not wait until the next Parliament. Perhaps the Minister will reflect on that in his response.

I would like to raise several points on which I hope we will get clarification that helps us to decide how to approach the draft orders. More than 600,000 people were knocked off the electoral register as a result of the IER scheme. We know that quite a lot came back on because they wanted to vote for Brexit, but that was not a product of the IER scheme; it was a product of people’s political imperative to vote in the referendum. Is not the need for the pilot schemes due to the fact that IER is failing to register the whole population and producing the unsustainable cost pressures that I have referred to?

I talked a few moments ago about the pressure on local government, which is central to this matter unless we have a centralised electoral registration system. Perhaps the Minister will indicate that he does not intend to introduce such a system. Billions of pounds have been slashed from local government budgets since 2010. We accept that everyone has to tighten their belts, but there will be a £5.8 billion funding gap in local government by 2020. Is it not the case that EROs and councils as a whole are consequently under huge cost pressures? Is that the real reason why the draft orders were introduced?

The Association of Electoral Administrators has said that its members are increasingly overstretched. In fact, it recently published a document titled “Pushed to the absolute limit”. There will soon be two elections in most areas, and now we will run pilots. I struggle to understand why we are adding to the burden on EROs. The Minister needs to explain why he brought forward the draft orders today, beyond the need to make a few million pounds of savings.

The Minister said that there was wide consultation about the pilot schemes. He indicated that he spoke to the Electoral Commission and various other august bodies, but, as far as I can see, he does not seem to have consulted the wider public and civil society. Many citizens, in organisations and elsewhere in civil society, know how precious our democracy is and are really concerned. I do not think that he consulted any of those people. It may be that he thinks he should not consult political parties, which have an interest in these matters, but I do not think political parties were consulted. Were any third sector organisations or political parties consulted about the pilots? It would be interesting to know.

Something else that appears to be missing is local political oversight of the pilots. As far as I can see, it is intended that reports will be made straight back to the Cabinet Office. There have been some pilots that were administered by the Cabinet Office, but I cannot find where the results were reported, other than in the few sentences of explanation that the Minister just gave to the Committee. Will he commit himself to reporting the pilot results to the House, so that we can all look at what they have produced? We will want to use two measures, will we not? First, does it enhance our democracy? Secondly, is it cost-effective? Clearly, in these difficult times, every single pound and penny counts. Will the local authorities’ elected members have a role in monitoring the pilots?

The other day in the House, the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs reported on the referendum and it also referred to elections. It said—and this has been a matter of debate—that our electoral processes are to some extent exposed to risk from cyber-attacks, either by foreign powers or individuals with particular talents. Will part of the pilots be about making sure that the system is secure, so that it cannot be subjected to the kinds of cyber-attacks that we have read about and that horrify us, because we believe in an independent and secure electoral system to protect our precious democracy?

Finally, in the past few days 350,000 people have registered to vote, including a huge number of under-25s. I am sure that every one of us welcomes that interest in democracy and all those people coming on to the register. We want more to come on, as well. Has the Minister taken that surge in registration into account, and does he share my concern, which is felt widely around the country, that there are still hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people not registered to vote and therefore not capable of taking part in our democracy?

We obviously welcome any cost savings or efficiencies that can be achieved, but we want reassurance that those will not imperil the democratic processes that are so important to us. We know the risks that arise when there is a breakdown of trust and confidence in the electoral machinery. In our country that machinery has always worked well, neutrally and independently of party politics.

Perhaps the Minister will have to write to us about some of the matters I have raised, but I shall be interested to hear what he has to say.

We shall not offer any opposition to the orders and regulations, particularly as they affect Scotland. I note that they have been discussed with Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Assessors Association.

It is tempting to say that when we moved from household to individual electoral registration, many people predicted some of the problems that are now being addressed by the regulations. The extra work burdens and costs generated by the process should not be a surprise to anyone. Tempted as I am to say that there is an element of “I told you so” in this, I note, as has already been noted, that the end of the Parliament is nigh and it seems hardly the time or place to engage in that wider debate. I simply wish those engaged in the pilot schemes well. I wish them success in their endeavours and hope that some corrective mechanisms will be brought forward.

I appreciate that we are talking about a specific area, so I do not want to widen the debate into a general one about electoral registration. However, the Minister referred to the importance of third party agencies in collecting information about the potential electorate. I hope that when the Cabinet Office considers the results of the pilot schemes, it looks again at the notion of automatic electoral enrolment, so that when a citizen interfaces or reacts with one part of the apparatus of the state or the Government, whether that is to pay a tax, claim a benefit or drive a car, the information that is collected is used to ensure that the processes are there to give them the right to vote.

I will not engage in that debate now, but I hope that the pilots that we are about to undertake and the information generated from them might provide some illumination in the months to come for those of us who may or may not be taking part.

I thank the Committee for the time it has taken this afternoon to scrutinise the instruments, which will enable EROs in England, Wales and Scotland to pilot new and innovative approaches to conducting the annual canvass, and allow EROs in Scotland to make use of email invitations to register and single occupancy provisions.

Important points have been made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East, and I will conclude by responding to them. The hon. Member for Hemsworth raised the issue of funding. The Government are committed to ensuring that we have a democracy that works for everyone. In order to achieve that, we must have a democracy that is funded. The introduction of individual electoral registration—one of the greatest reforms to the registration process of the 21st century—cost £143 million. We are also funding local authorities to the tune of £26 million a year to implement IER.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the measures were simply to make savings or to foster democratic engagement. For me, those two go hand in hand. As we make savings from the pilots and the reforms, the costs that are released from the canvass procedures can be used to target individuals who belong to under-registered groups. That is a commitment that I made as a Minister when I introduced “A democracy that works for everyone”; I said that “every voice matters”.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth spoke about engaging civil society organisations as part of the process. I have toured the country speaking to many organisations, from UpRising in Birmingham to Bite the Ballot and the National Union of Students, right across every region in the country. We now have an early general election, but I was planning to publish a democratic engagement strategy, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East knows from the question he asked me in Cabinet Office oral questions last month.

I remain committed to ensuring that the Government strategy demonstrates how every section of society that is under-registered will be given the right to vote. I published a policy paper in March about the anonymous registration of women who are survivors of domestic violence. We will provide them with a mechanism to have an equal right to have their say at the ballot box. The hon. Member for Hemsworth may call that “tinkering” but I call it fundamental change. Therefore, I see savings and democratic engagement as two sides of the same coin.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth mentioned the timing on 30 June. It is important, if not critical, that local authorities that are registered for the pilots are given the opportunity to participate through measures passed in this Parliament. That will give them the planning period they need to begin canvass activity in July and August, as happens in most local authorities. He made valid points about whether it was a burden for local authorities to take part in the pilots. We have contacted all the participating EROs in recent days and all have stated that they are happy to participate. Indeed, they are keen and able to deliver. As I said in my opening remarks, we have 26 pilots taking place in areas that have been assessed for their capabilities, but there were 71 applications from local authorities. There is demand out there and this must be locally driven.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of having devolved machinery. He will know that under the Wales Act 2017 and the Scotland Act 2016, when the commencement orders on the electoral machinery come in, we will be devolving significant issues around elections and democracy to the devolved Administrations, within the local government framework. When it comes to further devolution, we are keen to ensure that local authorities are given this opportunity. On local authority scrutiny, electoral registration officers are independent of local authorities and must retain that independence if they are to have an effective role in our democracy.

On the wider issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about registration and the introduction of individual electoral registration, despite predictions that people were going to crash off the electoral register, it is clear now that it has risen from 46.5 million in 2015 to 47.35 million in the figures released a couple of weeks ago by the Electoral Commission. It is important that we have a complete register, as was stated in the Conservative party’s manifesto in 2015, and Parliament has talked about ensuring that we complete the register. However, we must also have an accurate register. Crucially, the Electoral Commission stated in its report released last summer that the accuracy of the electoral register has increased from 86% to 91%.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hemsworth about the need to have a clear and secure system for our democracy. There is ongoing work on the issue of cyber-security and attacks. He mentioned the outing of the website in May last year. I have taken measures to ensure that I am confident about this general election and future ones. We now have at least double the capacity that we did when the website outed in May last year, and when it comes to monitoring this general election, all measures will be put in place to ensure that that cannot and does not happen again.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth mentioned the issue of trust and confidence. He is absolutely right that in our democracy, we want to ensure that there are as many people on the register as possible, that as many people as possible get the opportunity to vote and that we target our resources at under-registered groups. However, that will be worthless unless we have the processes in place to ensure that the people on the register are who they say they are and are able to vote in that capacity.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East mentioned auto-enrolment. We have had this discussion on the Floor of the House. The Government remain committed to individual electoral registration and will not be going down the path of auto-enrolment, but that is not to say that innovative measures cannot be taken forward. For example, when it comes to student registration and tenancy deposit schemes, which I have discussed, we can target effectively individuals who we know have failed to register and thereby maintain the accuracy of the register.

The proposals have support within the electoral community. The Electoral Commission stated on 14 July 2016 that it

“welcomed the Government’s commitment to conduct pilots in streamlining the annual canvass process”.

The Scottish Assessors Association and Electoral Management Board for Scotland stated on 7 December 2016 that they welcomed the fact that alternative means of carrying out the annual canvass were being piloted in Dumfries and Galloway and Glasgow, along with other registration areas in England and Wales. We would not take the piloting measures forward if we did not have the consent and commitment of the electoral community.

I end by saying that it has been an honour to serve on this Committee in my final engagement before the end of this parliamentary Session as the Minister for democratic engagement. It falls to me to state, for the benefit of the House, our mutual respect, regardless of party politics, for those individuals who work behind the scenes tirelessly preparing for elections. A general election has been called. We have local and mayoral elections in some places on 4 May. When it comes to democracy, as Members of Parliament we are very much actors on a stage, and it is the people behind the scenes who ensure that our democracy is the best it can be and one of the best in the world. I pay tribute to the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the SAA for all the work they do behind the scenes to implement the law and ensure that our elections are the best in the world and as accurate as possible. As Members of Parliament, we depend entirely upon them and are in their debt.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Committee has considered the draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England) (Amendment) Order 2017.



That the Committee has considered the draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England and Wales) Order 2017.—(Chris Skidmore.)



That the Committee has considered the draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (Scotland) Order 2017.—(Chris Skidmore.)



That the Committee has considered the draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.—(Chris Skidmore.)

Committee rose.

Draft Combined Authorities (Finance) Order 2017

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Ms Karen Buck

† Cleverly, James (Braintree) (Con)

† Djanogly, Mr Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

† Double, Steve (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)

† Doyle-Price, Jackie (Thurrock) (Con)

Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)

† Jones, Susan Elan (Clwyd South) (Lab)

† Letwin, Sir Oliver (West Dorset) (Con)

† McMahon, Jim (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab)

† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

Onn, Melanie (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

† Percy, Andrew (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

Perkins, Toby (Chesterfield) (Lab)

† Pow, Rebecca (Taunton Deane) (Con)

† Wragg, William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 24 April 2017

[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Draft Combined Authorities (Finance) Order 2017

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Combined Authorities (Finance) Order 2017.

The draft order was laid before the House on 13 March 2017. If approved, it will put in place the process that elected Mayors and their combined authorities will follow for setting the mayoral budget and issuing precepts. For the six mayoral combined authorities with elections this May, the processes will apply in relation to the 2018-19 year and each subsequent year. The precepting arrangement applies to all mayoral combined authorities except, of course, the West of England, which has determined that it does not wish to set a mayoral precept.

In addition, the order makes certain transitional financial provisions relating to Greater Manchester to reflect that from May 2017, its Mayor will also have responsibility as the police and crime commissioner and for the Greater Manchester fire and rescue service.

Making the order will be a further milestone—nay, a keystone—to fulfilling our manifesto commitment to implement devolution deals and devolve far-reaching powers across England. The order establishes the final element in the funding framework for mayoral combined authorities. Under the framework, the activities of combined authorities and their Mayors will be funded as follows. First, combined authorities and their Mayors, as provided for in the devolution deals, will receive new additional financial resources from Government. In particular, Government have committed up to £5 billion in investment funding, known as Gain Share, for Cambridge and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands and the West of England.

Secondly, primary legislation—the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016—along with the orders already made for individual combined authorities, provides that the constituent councils can make contributions to their combined authorities and Mayors. That is important because those orders also provide that in the case of mayoral expenses, the Mayor must agree contributions with the constituent councils in advance of incurring that expenditure.

Thirdly, combined authorities can levy on their constituent councils for transport costs. Finally, mayoral functions, to the extent that they are not met by other means, are to be met by a precept. The precept is determined each year through the mayoral budget-setting process and is formally issued by the combined authority to the billing authorities for the area.

If approved by Parliament, the order will come into effect the day after it is made. The provisions will ensure an effective process, integrated into wider local government budgeting timetables and including robust arrangements for scrutiny and challenge of the Mayor’s spending proposals. We have discussed that at length during debate on previous orders. The provisions are as follows: a requirement for combined authority Mayors to submit by 1 February a draft budget; a requirement for the combined authority to recommend any amendments to the draft budget before 8 February; a power for the constituent members of the combined authority ultimately to impose amendments to the Mayor’s draft budget if supported by a two-thirds majority, except in the Tees Valley where the majority must be three fifths. In the absence of such a majority, the Mayor’s proposals must be accepted by the combined authority.

Furthermore, the combined authority must set a mayoral budget on the Mayor’s behalf if the Mayor fails to submit a draft for consideration by 1 February. The Mayor must fund mayoral functions through a precept, which will be subject to the same referendum principles as council tax, which we all know well. The standard local government finance regime applies so that precepts must be issued by 1 March. To aid transparency, the Mayor is required to maintain a fund in relation to the receipts and expenses of the Mayor’s functions, excluding police and crime commissioner functions, for which there is a separate police fund.

The order also includes detailed provisions about transitional measures. The duty to issue a precept is disapplied for the year in which the first Mayor for the combined authority is elected, because for that year, the Mayor will not take office in time for the precept to be set. Mayoral expenses in the first year must be met by contributions from relevant combined authority and constituent councils.

The other key transitional provisions relate to Greater Manchester, where the Mayor will be responsible for police and crime functions and the fire and rescue service. They provide that from 8 May, the precepts for 2017-18 issued by the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner and the fire and rescue service will fund the Mayor’s activities in respect of policing and fire and rescue.

In conclusion, the draft order will support the new combined authority Mayors in funding their functions through the precept and the budget-setting proposals that I have outlined. It will complement the orders already approved by the House to implement the exciting devolution deals that we have negotiated throughout the country. I commend it to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck.

Back in December 2014, there was a young bright-eyed council leader who called for a mayoral precept. I do not know what happened to him, but I think his power has gone down. The local paper badged it as a “mayoral tax”—almost a tax bombshell—and the argument about the efficiency of a single precept and about transparency and good governance that enabled people to see what the Mayor’s function cost them was lost. I am therefore pleased that the Government have adopted the idea in a way that the local paper did not at the time. I hope that the local paper has changed its position, because to hold decision makers to account, taxpayers have to see in a transparent way how much the decision makers’ function costs. It is important that in establishing the mayoral function we ensure transparency of its cost.

I particularly welcome the separation of the police and crime commissioner element of the budget, which will appear as a separate component on council tax bills. The fire and rescue precept should be treated with the same separation-of-powers approach because it has a very discrete function provided by the Mayor, but at the moment it is to be provided from the general fund. For the sake of efficiency, we will agree to the draft order rather than delaying it over a minor detail, but in future it would make sense to do one of two things. The first would be to extend to the fire and rescue element the treatment that the police element currently receives, so that the public see the cost separated on their council tax bills. The second alternative, which may be more progressive—it is certainly the direction of travel in a number of areas in which blue light services are being brought together—would be to have a single blue light emergency services precept that is separated from the general component of the mayoral precept. If we did that, the public would see where their money was going, which would hopefully make it easier for them to hold decision makers to account.

I still struggle with the referendum requirement. I struggle to see why a Mayor in a conurbation such as Greater Manchester with 2.5 million people, who had secured the mandate of a sizable number of the population to increase council tax by an amount to fund their manifesto commitments, should have to go to the Government to sign off that increase above a certain threshold. I am not sure that that is in the spirit of devolution or localism. We ought to go some way further towards more freedom and flexibility. I understand the nervousness about council tax increases, which are always politically charged, but for whoever is elected, with that power and responsibility also comes the onus to make the case to the public about where the money has gone and whether such an increase in the council tax precept was right or wrong. That is good for democracy and it is good for local people’s ability to hold decision makers to account.

I will not go on any longer. I recognise that the draft order is essentially a cleaning-up exercise; it is about bringing together existing precepts and making clearer the relationship to the directly elected Mayor who will take office. However, the offer to discuss has been made a number of times, because there are good and bad ideas on both sides of the devolution debate, from Members on the Government and Opposition Benches. Some of this is just common sense. If there were a forum in which we could work together in the spirit of local government and devolution to really iron out some of the creases, as far as I am concerned it would be an open door. I will leave that offer on the table.

I place on the record my thanks to my officials, since this is the last of the devolution orders of which we have had a huge slew over the past few weeks and months, as the shadow Minister and the Whips know only too well. I thank my officials for all their support and guidance throughout the whole process. The draft order before us is the last one, which makes good on our commitments.

On blue light services, yes, the fire and rescue precept will be collected in the way that the shadow Minister highlighted, but it will also be shown separately on the bill so that taxpayers know exactly what the fire and rescue service is precepting on them.

On the referendum and the principles for precept rises, the authorities have to go not to the Government for permission, but to the people.

Will the Minister concede that the threshold for triggering a referendum is set by the Government, not the public?

It is set by Parliament, actually, which is elected by the people.

The hon. Gentleman talked about accountability. Throughout the debates we have had on these various orders I have made the point repeatedly that we require an elected Mayor at the top so somebody can be held to account for the precepting decision. If it were done through any other structure—a combined authority chair or whatever—there would not be that direct link or accountability.

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I will be delighted to meet him to discuss the future of devolution if our constituents do us the honour of returning us here on 8 June. Of course, it is perfectly possible that he could be in my shoes on 9 June, and I could be going to him to express my support for him in his new role as the Minister with responsibility for devolution. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Major Sporting Events (Income Tax Exemption) Regulations 2017

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: James Gray

† Allen, Heidi (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)

† Barclay, Stephen (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Dowden, Oliver (Hertsmere) (Con)

† Ellison, Jane (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

Evans, Chris (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)

† Glen, John (Salisbury) (Con)

Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)

† Johnson, Dr Caroline (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

† Leslie, Charlotte (Bristol North West) (Con)

Lewis, Clive (Norwich South) (Lab)

† McCartney, Jason (Colne Valley) (Con)

† Newlands, Gavin (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)

† Sandbach, Antoinette (Eddisbury) (Con)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

† Turley, Anna (Redcar) (Lab/Co-op)

Katy Stout, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 24 April 2017

[James Gray in the Chair]

Draft Major Sporting Events (Income Tax Exemption) Regulations 2017

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Major Sporting Events (Income Tax Exemption) Regulations 2017.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. The regulations will help us to complete one aspect of the preparations for one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events: the UEFA Champions League final. In just under a couple of months’ time, over 180 million people in over 200 nations will be turning their eyes to Cardiff and the National Stadium of Wales—and, dare I say it, tearing themselves away from the general election coverage—to hopefully watch some excellent football. For the first time ever, Wales is playing host to the match that decides European club football’s champions, and if we think of the 1999 rugby world cup or the Ryder cup in Newport back in 2010, we can be sure that Wales will put on a great show.

In readiness for that, I am here to present the regulations that mean that we can provide the usual income tax exemption for non-UK residents who are making this match happen. Providing such a tax emption is a usual condition of world-class events such as this, supported by successive Governments. We provided an exemption for the fantastic Olympics that we hosted here in London in 2012, and there are other examples, such as Glasgow’s Commonwealth games and the athletics world championships coming up in London this August.

The regulations will enable us to provide a similar exemption for the Champions League final on 3 June. We have made that exemption before previous Champions League finals in England and should do the same thing now, as Wales takes on the role of host. The regulations exempt from UK tax any income arising to non-resident players and officials of the visiting clubs and to individuals designated by UEFA in connection with the final. The exemption runs from 1 to 5 June, allowing two days either side of the event for the exemption to cover any duties performed in connection with the final.

The draft regulations make use of the powers in the Finance Act 2014 to allow tax exemptions for international sporting events to be provided by means of secondary legislation. This will be the second occasion on which the powers have been used. The UEFA final qualifies for the same tax exemption on the same basis as the previous occasion, which was the world athletics championships. It is a top-flight sporting event that moves location, and providing such an exemption is a necessary precondition of hosting the event.

The tax preparations that the regulations put in place may be regarded as one of the less exciting aspects of the much anticipated Champions League final, but they are a necessary one. As the UK has established an outstanding reputation for hosting world-class sporting events, we will continue to take steps to support all four nations in doing so. In that spirit, I hope that colleagues will join me in welcoming the regulations and wishing Cardiff well as it finalises all its other preparations to make this a great show for a truly global Britain. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As the Minister has explained, the regulations provide for an exemption from income tax on income earned in the UK in connection with the Champions League final this year.

The idea of exempting earnings from major sporting events from income tax for non-UK residents is not new; indeed, it goes back to 2006 and 2010, when the Labour Government introduced certain special provisions to exempt non-residents who are coming to the UK to take part in sporting events—in particular, the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 Champions League final. Exemptions of that kind have historically been made through primary legislation, in Finance Bills, but the Government announced in the 2014 Budget that they would legislate to enable income and corporation tax relief to be given in relation to major sporting events via secondary legislation. Provision to that effect was made in section 48 of the Finance Act 2014, and these draft regulations are the first set of exemptions made by virtue of the powers granted in that Act.

Labour obviously join the Government in being delighted that the Football Association of Wales was awarded the right to host the Champions League final at the National Stadium of Wales. The Minister will be aware that the Opposition broadly support the principle of providing tax exemptions for certain sporting events, so we will not oppose the regulations today, but I have a couple of questions.

We continue to express concern about the uncertainty regarding the Government’s approach to selecting such events and seek assurances regarding the prevention of tax avoidance. During the passage of the Finance Act 2014, we moved an amendment to require the publication of a formal review of those decisions every five years. In particular, we questioned what other sporting events the Government envisaged becoming eligible for tax exemptions for non-resident competitors and whether the Government planned to extend the number and range of eligible events. We continue to seek clarity in that regard.

The Minister will also be aware that we have previously raised concerns about gender equality issues, including that the UEFA women’s Champions League final, held at Stamford Bridge in London on 23 May 2013, was not given the same tax exemption as the 2013 men’s Champions League final held at Wembley. Will the Minister confirm that women’s events are being treated equally and, in particular, clarify whether the regulations apply to the 2017 UEFA women’s Champions League final, which is also to be played at the National Stadium of Wales, on 1 June, two days before the men’s final? Will she also confirm what equality impact assessment analysis has been carried out? As I said, we will not oppose the regulations, but we will be grateful for clarity on those issues.

Finally, I join the Minister in looking forward to a fantastic event for Cardiff and in wishing the four teams left in the Champions League the best. If I am allowed to express a preference, I particularly wish Monaco the best; they were fantastic when they played my team, Manchester City, in the last 16. I would like to see them go on and win it, but I wish the best of luck to all the teams and to Cardiff in hosting this great event.

We in the Scottish National party support the motion, so I will not detain the Committee unduly. I have only one further question to those that the hon. Gentleman has asked. Given the partially devolved nature of income tax in Scotland, if a future event such as the Champions League final were held in Scotland, would this secondary legislation approach require a legislative consent motion at Holyrood?

If I am unable to answer colleagues’ questions today, I will obviously get in touch with them after the debate to clarify. The criteria for granting tax exemptions has been set out on a number of occasions, but I am happy to repeat them. They are that the events should be world class and internationally mobile and where a tax exemption by the host country is a requirement of a bid to host the event. For those who are concerned, it is worth noting that the cost of these exemptions to the Exchequer is negligible and in any case is likely to be offset by the benefits of hosting such high-profile events—something that I am sure comes into the minds of those bidding to host them.

The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman raised gender equality. It is certainly not the case that the Government give tax emptions only for all-male events. If the organisers of an all-female event approached the Government, basically the same policy criteria would apply when deciding whether a tax emption was appropriate. The majority of events that have been granted exemptions, such as the Olympics and the forthcoming world athletics championships, actually feature male and female competitors. With regard to the specific event that he named, I understand that an exemption was not requested. However, the criteria would have been applied equally. I accept that, in the world of sport, the decision might sometimes come out differently depending on the nature of the event, but it is dictated not by the gender of the participants in the sport but by nature of the occasion.

When the Minister says the exemption was not requested, was that for the 2017 women’s Champions League final?

I believe that is the case, yes. We do all the normal assessments with regard to impact. As I said, the policy is effectively gender-neutral in that regard, because the criteria are linked not to gender but to other things.

I will look for inspiration with regard to the more technical question I was asked, but if I cannot find any, I might have to drop the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North a line to clarify the need for a legislative consent motion. If it is all right, Mr Gray, I will come back to him subsequent to the debate.

It is quite all right if the Minister wishes to do that, although of course technically speaking it is beyond the scope of this statutory instrument anyhow, as we are simply discussing the UEFA Champions League final in Wales. None the less, that is a matter between the Minister and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.