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House of Lords Hansard
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Tees Valley Combined Authority (Functions) Order 2017
02 March 2017
Volume 779

Motion to Approve

Moved by

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That the draft Order laid before the House on 23 January be approved.

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My Lords, the draft order which we are considering this afternoon, if approved and made, will confer important new powers on both the Tees Valley mayor and the Tees Valley Combined Authority. We have just had a thorough-going debate on the order that brings to life the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal, and we now turn to the separate devolution deal for the Tees Valley—this order continues our journey with the Tees Valley Combined Authority.

The draft order follows the devolution deal which the Government agreed with Tees Valley on 23 October 2015, the establishment, by order, of the combined authority in April 2016, and the making of the order last July that will see a mayor for the Tees Valley elected on 4 May this year. This draft order, if approved and made, will enable the establishment of a mayoral development corporation in the South Tees area by summer 2017, if the mayor and the combined authority wish to see this. We are also seeking to confer further powers on the mayor and the combined authority on a slightly slower track, and we laid a further order before this House on 6 February to do this.

Before laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State has considered the statutory requirements in the 2009 Act. The Secretary of State considers that these requirements have been met in relation to the functions being conferred on the combined authority. In short, he considers that conferring these functions on the Tees Valley Combined Authority would be likely to lead to an improvement in the exercise of the statutory functions across the Tees Valley. In this consideration, the Secretary of State has had regard to the impact on local government and communities. Also as required by statute, the combined authority and the five constituent councils have consented to the making of this order. As required by the 2016 Act, we have in parallel with this order laid a report before Parliament which sets out the details of the public authority functions we are conferring on the Tees Valley through this order.

If approved by Parliament, the order will come into effect the day after it is made. It will confer on the combined authority a power to be exercised by the mayor: the ability to designate a mayoral development area. This is a necessary step in advance of the creation, by order, of a mayoral development corporation. The order also includes transitional arrangements to allow the combined authority to act in place of the mayor before the Tees Valley mayor is elected on 4 May.

The functions being conferred are corresponding functions to those held by the Mayor of London in relation to the Greater London area. The order confers these functions with appropriate modifications to reflect the conditions in the Tees Valley. These functions include: a power to designate mayoral development areas, after which the mayor is required to notify the Secretary of State of the designation, who in turn is then required by order, subject to the negative resolution procedure, to establish the mayoral development corporation; a power to transfer property to mayoral development corporations; a power to decide that the mayoral development corporation has certain functions, in particular whether the mayoral development corporation is to be a local planning authority; and a power to appoint members to any mayoral development corporation.

The modifications reflect the different conditions in the Tees Valley from those of Greater London. These modifications are: substituting the mayor of the combined authority for the Mayor of London and substituting the combined authority for the London Assembly; requiring combined authority members to consent to the designation of a mayoral development area, if their local authority area contains any part of the area to be designated; requiring combined authority members to consent to the transfer of planning functions, if their local authority area contains any part of the area in which the mayor proposes to exercise the planning functions; and requiring the consent of the North York Moors National Park Authority, if the national park’s area contains any part of the area in which the mayor proposes to exercise the planning functions. This condition was added following discussions across government and with the national park and local area. It is intended to maintain the status and powers of the national park, and to ensure it is fully involved in any decisions about growth in its area.

The order also provides for the necessary funding arrangements to support the mayor and the combined authority in delivering the functions. It includes transitional arrangements that will allow the work to continue at pace to create a mayoral development corporation in the Tees Valley. I can provide more on these if noble Lords would like this.

Noble Lords may find it helpful for me to summarise what the process for establishing a mayoral development corporation in the Tees Valley would be as a result of this order. The mayor would designate a mayoral development area if the mayor considers the designation will further the economic development and regeneration functions of the combined authority, the mayor has consulted on a proposal for a mayoral development corporation and has had regard to the consultation, the mayor has published a proposal which the combined authority has not rejected within 21 days and the mayor has received any necessary consents from combined authority members and the North York Moors National Park Authority. Once the mayor has made the designation and notified the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State must make the order to establish the mayoral development corporation. If the mayor has yet to be elected, the chair of the combined authority takes the place of the mayor.

Noble Lords may be aware that the combined authority is currently consulting on what is in many ways the nub of the issue: a proposal for a mayoral development corporation to cover the SSI former steelworks site and the wider 5,000-acre industrial site adjoining it. That consultation began on 23 December 2016 and is running for 11 weeks; it is still running, and closes on 10 March 2017.

In conclusion, this order devolves brand new powers to the Tees Valley Combined Authority, giving effect to a significant devolution deal commitment and putting local people and business leaders in a strong position to drive economic growth and regeneration. I commend the draft order to the House.

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My Lords, I have a few points for my noble friend on the Front Bench. The first is that, when the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee reported on this, as it did on the previous Motion, I think a sense of unease comes through its report—a feeling that things have not been done entirely properly and a feeling of business undone. Indeed, again, there was a consultation period of only six weeks, from 11 July to 22 August last year, about these important changes. I draw attention to one comment in particular: among 200 respondents who referred to “wider governance issues”, one of the issues they raised was,

“whether Tees Valley was an appropriate geo-political area”.

Having worked on Teesside for many years and still living close by, I think that that is a very relevant consideration.

The first point is a small point: the area is not a valley. Certainly, Cleveland has nothing to do with being a valley. It used to be called Teesside. I want to record for the Minister’s benefit that, if you live up there and you are an ordinary citizen, you still call it Teesside; you do not call it Tees Valley. In thinking about Teesside, there are three authorities—Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool—and they are not contiguous. What is in between them is County Durham. If I start thinking about an integrated strategy, connectivity and all the things that are supposed to happen, I find it very difficult to believe that it is right that County Durham has looked north towards Newcastle, an effort which is not proving entirely easy as time goes by, when it is very arguable that its best interests and the interests of everybody in the north-east of England would be much better served if it looked south. Have there been any discussions about whether County Durham should be looking south rather than north?

It is as well to remember, of course, that Darlington, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees were all part of County Durham once, so the history is entirely in favour of County Durham joining this combined authority. Indeed, I shall live on in the hope that it will decide, and the other authorities will accept, that it would be a good addition to this combined authority. These are very long-established cities and towns. Darlington is very long-established because of the railway and the Great North Road. Hartlepool and Stockton are very long-established because of the fishing industry and the wool, way back, and subsequently shipbuilding and, as has been mentioned, steel. Here I should declare a rather sad interest: I was a director of the company that built the Redcar blast furnace. That furnace should be working for another 30 years at least; it certainly had a life that would have gone on for that long.

I welcome the order, but I think it is incomplete. The thinking that has gone into it, and the Government’s approach, are not as detailed and thorough as they should be. And I have a final reservation. I cannot help half-thinking that some of these authorities go into these arrangements because there is some money at stake.

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My Lords, the north-east in particular is in desperate need of regeneration, inward investment and higher-skilled jobs to bring prosperity to the local area, and Tees Valley is no exception to that. Given that backdrop, I am very supportive of a proposal that enables the local elected representatives to take account, take charge and have the vision and ambition for their own local area; to respond to the challenges of the loss of the steelworks and glassworks in the north-east and the ensuing large area of industrial dereliction; and to themselves be responsible for the challenge in bringing in new businesses, new life and new hope to local people. Noble Lords can tell from that that I am supportive of the notion of that happening. However, I have a couple of questions to explore with the Minister.

First, although the planning functions are critical to the whole idea of a development area, the reports do not make clear how much of the planning responsibilities the constituent councils will pass over to the development corporation. For instance, I think it would be appropriate for major site applications to be the responsibility of a planning authority within the combined authority but that the details, particularly of housing design and so on for the smaller applications, should still be the responsibility of the constituent councils. Those are the sorts of things that strategic bodies do not pay enough attention to. Enabling local councils to take on that responsibility would seem to be the right split of functions. I hope that that is part of the thinking behind the proposal, although it is not clear to me that that was the case.

The second big issue for me is the level of scrutiny that will be applied. Will there be a separate scrutiny function for the mayoral development corporation? I think that such a function would be appropriate, given the significant powers that will be in the corporation’s hands to reshape a considerable area of the north-east. There ought to be a separate scrutiny function to ensure that decisions are appropriately made. With that, I support the order.

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My Lords, I start my remarks by making the usual declarations of interest that I have made in previous debates.

The Tees Valley Combined Authority order brings into force, as we have heard, the agreement reached between the Government and the local authorities in the Tees Valley area. The Minister might be pleased to hear that I support the order, although I have one or two points to raise.

I noted from the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that there were concerns about the creation of a mayoral development corporation, particularly if it covered part of the North York Moors National Park, but was pleased to learn that an agreement was reached whereby the functions and powers will be transferred only with the agreement of the national park authority. I think it is important for the Government to try generally to get an authority’s agreement when it can be brought into the sphere of an area.

I also note the imperative to establish quickly a mayoral development corporation in the South Tees area and that a shadow board has been established. I certainly wish that body well in its important work. Will the Minister say a bit more on what is envisaged and how he sees that body working with business to bring in inward investment? In particular, how will the body relate to the elected Members of Parliament for the area covered by the mayoral development corporation? The area has suffered a serious blow, and everything possible must be done to secure a successful recovery. A close working relationship with local and national government and business and elected representatives at every level is important to ensure that there is a recovery.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has again raised the question of consultation in its report. I am not convinced that the period between 11 July and 22 August is the optimum time to do a consultation. As a general rule, the Government should use other periods. Would it make much difference to run the consultation between 1 September and 1 October? There would be a much better chance of response. Of course, here the consultation showed that 90% were opposed to having a mayor for the area—so that went down really well. We need to look at the timing of the consultation and, too, what we do with the results, given that in this case 90% were opposed yet we are still going ahead. That is an interesting point.

I certainly support the proposal, and will always say so, which I hope is some comfort to the noble Lord. Equally, when I think that improvements can be made, either in the proposal or the procedures that precede it, it is important that I say so as opposition spokesperson. It is my job to do that and to ask questions accordingly. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.

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My Lords, I endorse my noble friend’s approach to this matter. He has referred to the very different views of the department in relation to local opinion in this case. When we were discussing the previous order, the Minister in the other place said that the consultation was effectively inadequate, unreliable and unrepresentative. On this occasion, he, or at least his department, have had the grace to acknowledge that the “vast majority”—to use the phrase reported in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report, published yesterday—opposed the mayoral element in the order. Nevertheless, the Government obviously intend to go ahead, given that we are discussing the matter today, with creating a mayoral authority.

The Government are assuming the posture of Henry Ford. Noble Lords will recall that one could have any colour of car as long as it was black; here, people can have any local deal as long as it is mayoral. That is not a choice. Frankly, it is little short of political blackmail. If you do not take this structure, you are not going to get the support. That is not the normal way that Governments of any political colour have operated. It is deplorable that the clear view on that aspect of the deal by the “vast majority” of residents in this area, as the Government acknowledge, is going to be overridden. The Government say, “You have a choice”, but that is not a choice. It is putting the authority and its people in a completely unacceptable, invidious position. The Government should be ashamed of requiring that condition to be met, given the scale of need that the noble Baroness, in particular, mentioned in relation to this area.

Clearly, the order will go through; but the Government ought not to be adopting that stance in relation to this issue.

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have participated in this debate on the Tees Valley combined authority order. Notwithstanding the final comments of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I thank them for their general support—there was certainly support from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, from the Labour Front Bench.

I shall try to address the points that have been raised. First, I had read the comment of my noble friend Lord Eccles that this is not really a valley. I should know that myself because as a child I lived for some time in Hartlepool—indeed, my brother was born there—so I empathise with that. Nevertheless, I am tied by following the title of the document.

It is perfectly true that Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool are not contiguous. I note what my noble friend Lord Eccles said about whether Durham should look north or south. Of course, we have had the experience of parts of County Durham—certainly South Shields and Gateshead—not wanting to be part of the deal for Newcastle or Tyneside, and that runs contrary to the assertion that this is being imposed by a wicked Government. They had every right to walk away from it, and I keep coming back to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, shakes his head but it is not mandatory for local authorities to have these arrangements. If they do not want them, they do not have them.

There are presumably advantages in them because we have had a welcome for the order from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. In general, he thinks that this is a good thing and he is supporting it—with caveats, which I understand is the role of the Opposition. However, if a local authority does not think it is a good idea, it has every ability to walk away from it. That is what some have done and it is their right to do so. I understand that, but this proposal was in the manifesto and nobody should have been taken by surprise by the Government’s support for the elected mayoral system.

I turn to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and thank her very much for her generally supportive approach. I think that this arrangement will operate in Tees Valley a little as it does in London, where it has operated in relation to the Olympic park, for example. It is about the strategy there. In the case of Teesside, presumably it will involve things such as the siting of businesses, help for business and transport links, whereas, as the noble Baroness indicated, more detailed and less strategic matters will be decided elsewhere.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in all seriousness for his generally supportive comments, particularly in relation to the North York Moors National Park Authority. We have had discussions there and think that those concerned are very content with the arrangements. I agree with the noble Lord about the need to involve all levels of government. That is certainly what happened when the steel task force was set up—I remember going to its meetings. The task force was very productive across parties and different levels of government in seeking to do the best for the Redcar steel plant and, indeed, for steel more widely, where other issues were also involved.

I take the noble Lord’s point about the consultation. It is not ideal that it should happen over the summer, although, rather counterintuitively, I think I am right in saying—I will correct it in correspondence if I am wrong—that the best-responded-to consultation was the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough one, which took place at the same time. Nevertheless, I take the point that has been made: it is not an ideal time.

I say in all seriousness to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that some valid points were made but very often the Opposition’s response is to be against the policy, which I can well understand, and they seem to be against the policy for elected mayors. As I said, I shall be happy to pick up in correspondence any points that I have missed.

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I make it clear that the difference between us is that, if there is to be a mayoral system, it should have the support of the local electorate. That is the only difference between us.

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I am relieved that it is the only difference, but it is a difference as to how that is expressed. We believe that it is expressed through the support of elected members of the combined authorities. The noble Lord does not agree. I think I am right in saying that certainly a majority of these authorities would be those with a Labour majority. If these authorities did not want that, they would have every right to say so and not to be part of the system.

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I regret having to say this but the noble Lord seems to overlook the fact that when eight referendums were held several years ago, they were held on the instructions of the Government. The local councils were not invited to say whether they wanted an elected mayor and to have some sort of consultation, as with the process here. They were instructed to have a referendum. That principle was adopted before. Now it has been abandoned because most of those referendums, from the Government’s perspective, went the wrong way. It is not the noble Lord’s fault because he was not in the Government at the time. The noble Lord, Lord Young, might have to accept some of the responsibility, collectively. But this is a different case.

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This is indeed a different case because they were single authorities. These are combined authorities and the expression of the democratic view is given by combined authorities. It is a policy difference. The noble Lord does not like that policy, but it is the Government’s policy.

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I return to the issue of consultation. If we look at the order before us today and some of the ones we have seen recently, it appears that we have a kind of hokey cokey attitude to consultation, in that the Government go in and out depending on what they want. Actually, largely, they ignore what the consultation says. If they agree then that is great and if they do not they say, “Well we are sorry about that”. I am not sure if this is the right thing to do. I suggest that the noble Lord goes back to the department and the department comes back with some consistency in how the Government address consultation. It is all over the place at the moment, and even some noble Lords on the Bench behind the Minister think that it is not the way to operate.

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My Lords, there is a great difference between a consultation and a plebiscite. This is asking not a simple yes/no question but a variety of questions. Of course we look at the consultation, but it is not a plebiscite on whether to go ahead or not. The noble Lord has not raised this point before and has supported such things. I am not sure whether he is now suggesting that the consultation should be regarded as a plebiscite.

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I am not saying that. The point I am making is that these orders come before us quite frequently and sometimes the Government say, “Oh, isn’t it great that we have everyone fully behind us?”, and the next time they say, “Oh, sorry about that”, and they do not mention it. There seems to be an inconsistency in how the Government address consultation and whether they take it on board. That is my point and I suggest that the noble Lord goes back to the department and has a look at it. The way the Government use consultation seems odd. There is an inconsistency, and the department should look at that.

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My Lords, I want to return to the issue of consultation. I am entirely on the same side of the fence as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Two very serious things emerged from the results of the consultation. One is whether this is an appropriate geopolitical area to achieve all the things that it is hoped combined authorities will achieve. The other is the history of local government in the area, which I did not refer to before but I refer to now.

Many changes have come about during the well over 60 years in which I have lived in the north-east. Those changes, in general, have not worked. The area has a very long and different history. In 1820, Middlesbrough was nothing but a hermit’s chapel on the banks of the Tees. Areas that are not contiguous and have very different histories will have to be pulled together. That is what mayors are supposed to be for. I urge my noble friend to watch very carefully what happens. I said this regarding the previous order and I say it again: I welcome what is being done, but I am uncertain as to whether it will succeed.

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I have one further point. I accept entirely that this is not a plebiscite, but I ask the Government, what is the point of consultation? Is the noble Lord saying, “Yes, of course we will consult on these things, but at the end of the day it will not make any difference: we will do what we are going to do”? If not, what is he saying?

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On a separate point entirely, I asked earlier in the debate whether a specific scrutiny system would be established for the development corporation. If it is successful, as I hope it will be, it will make a huge difference to the area. A scrutiny system should be set up to investigate what decisions are made and how.

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My Lords, I will write in full on the issue of the consultation and on the points made by my noble friend Lord Eccles— which are somewhat different from those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—about the geopolitical nature and history of the area. I apologise to the noble Baroness: she has indeed raised the question of scrutiny at least twice, and I will write to her on that. A scrutiny system is certainly in place. Whether it operates across the whole combined authority or is specific to the strategic development corporation, I am not sure, but I will write fully to her on the issue.

I commend the order to the House.

Motion agreed.