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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): My Lords, before the first Motion is considered, I remind noble Lords that in respect of each item of business today the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. The Motions to approve the instruments will subsequently be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. I further remind your Lordships that if there is a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Republic of Korea Framework Agreement) Order 2012
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the framework agreement itself was negotiated in parallel with the EU-Republic of Korea free trade agreement, debated in this Room yesterday, which was signed on 6 October 2010. The agreement provides a structure aimed at strengthening the co-operation of the European Union and its member states with the Republic of Korea in a number of fields. These fields include justice, freedom and security, as well as good governance and taxation. The agreement will also allow for further engagement on global issues such as climate change, security of energy supply and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The agreement gives us another tool through which to discuss and work on important issues with a key ally in the east Asia region. The Republic of Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia, and growing fast; it will be the 10th largest driver of world growth over the next five years. The Republic of Korea is also an important international player, with troops in Afghanistan and ships in the Indian Ocean off Africa tackling piracy. It is also a fellow leader on green issues. Its partner of choice has so far been the United States, but we hope that the framework agreement will give the EU an opportunity to increase engagement in many of these fields and will therefore contribute to the better implementation of UK objectives in relation to the Republic of Korea. The EU delegation in Seoul
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Her Majesty's Government fully support this agreement. We firmly believe that it will help to enhance and strengthen the relationship between the EU and the Republic of Korea. I commend the order to the Committee.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the background to this order ready for affirmative resolution and following yesterday's proceedings on the trade agreement with the Republic of Korea. That, too, is a very important document, with its contents at an early stage; it remains to be seen how that will work out in the build-up of trade between ourselves and the Republic of Korea. This instrument is one of the accompaniments that the EU and its allies and other countries with which we are doing deals like this rightly require. The international practice now is to have agreements along these lines: a framework agreement alongside a trade agreement dealing with all the other matters that the Minister has listed, which are extremely important from the point of view of good governance and civil society being properly looked after in the countries that are parties to this agreement. In this case, that means the member states of the EU and the Republic of Korea. Obviously, right now there is bound to be a certain amount of tension, at least in the margin, because of events in North Korea and the relationship and heightened tension between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. One hopes that will not have any deleterious effect on the trade agreement that we discussed yesterday or on this agreement.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is a great expert on Korea. He is particularly knowledgeable about South Korea-and, indeed, North Korea-and I would presumptuously guess that he may want to say a number of things about these matters. I will listen with great interest, but with some trepidation. I apologise in advance in case we find our proceedings go on a bit because I am due at a Select Committee where a Minister is attending at 4.10 pm. Therefore, if I depart prematurely, which I would certainly not wish to do because it would be very discourteous on my part, I can none the less rely on my noble friend Lady Maddock to keep me abreast of the developments in the rest of the discussion, and I shall look very closely at Hansard.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister said at the outset of his remarks that we should attach great importance to our relationship with the Republic of Korea, our key ally in east Asia; I entirely concur. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, suggested that I am an expert on Korean issues, which is an exaggeration. So far as North Korea is concerned, the only thing predictable about it is its unpredictability. I do not claim great expertise, but I declare a non-financial interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which I founded along with my noble friend Lady Cox seven years ago following our first visit there.
I do not take exception to any of those; indeed, I shall return to three or four examples in the list with some brief questions to the Minister in a moment or two. However, I am surprised that there is no reference to the relationship between North Korea and the European Union-and between it and ourselves. We have had diplomatic relations for over a decade now with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The lack of such a reference seems strange, as does the lack of a reference to human rights in that list.
Looking at the issue from the international perspective, one of the errors in how we have conducted relations is that we have emphasised security questions a great deal-properly so, given that North Korea embarked on the development of weapons of mass destruction-but failed to run in parallel questions of human rights. This is not a criticism of Her Majesty's Government-quite the opposite. I was struck that Amnesty International reported on 10 January that, to mark the birthday of the two late leaders in North Korea, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, an amnesty had been declared for the release of prisoners there. If the Minister has any information on that, I would be grateful if he will let us know whether that is so, how many prisoners might be involved, and whether he sees it as a glimmer of hope in the international situation. If he does not have that information today, I would be grateful if he wrote to me in due course.
I have long argued that we have not really learnt the lesson of history that in the period of the Soviet Union, we understandably matched weapons of mass destruction-the SS-20s and SS-22s of the Soviet Union-with our cruise and Pershing missiles. Simultaneously, Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan as President of the United States at the time embarked on support for the Helsinki Accords, promoting human rights issues alongside and in parallel with security questions. That was the reason we saw the Berlin Wall crumble, and it will be the reason-maybe not tomorrow, but in time to come-that the 38th parallel, which divides the Korean peninsula, disappears as well.
It was in this Room-the Moses Room-that I chaired meetings of the all-party group where we took evidence on several occasions from people who had escaped from North Korea. I will give only one example to the Committee this afternoon: a witness called Ahn Myeong-cheol, aged 37, who worked as a prison guard at four political prison camps within what is called the absolute control zone between 1987 and 1994. He movingly described in this Room how his father killed himself when he realised that he had been heard criticising the regime. His mother and brothers were sent to prison camps. Ahn was re-educated and became a prison guard in that so-called absolute control zone. He vividly and harrowingly described how he witnessed guard dogs, imported from Russia, tear three children to pieces and how the camp warden congratulated the guard who trained the dogs. He said that even when prisoners died they were punished; their corpses and remains were simply left to disintegrate and rot away on the open ground.
I also chaired a meeting for Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who was the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and who, along with his successor Mr Darusman, the former Indonesian Attorney-General, was denied any access to North Korea. In this House, speaking to the all-party group, Vitit Muntarbhorn said that he estimated that 400,000 people had died in North Korea's prison camps in the past 30 years. He said that its human rights record was "abysmal" due to,
All eight of his reports which went to the United Nations have detailed a very grave situation in which the abuses are "both systematic and pervasive", and "egregious and endemic". Vitit Muntarbhorn has concluded:
He estimates that some 300,000 people have fled the country, many of whom are, of course, living in north-east China while others have managed to migrate to South Korea. There is a brilliant book called Nothing to Envy, written by Barbara Demick, which records many of the first-hand accounts of those who have been able to escape.
Here at Westminster, I chaired the launch of a 142-page report commissioned by the late Vaclav Havel, Elie Weisel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Norwegian Prime Minister, entitled Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Councilto Act in North Korea. What they were arguing in that report was for the need for the international community to take human rights issues every bit as seriously as issues concerning security. Only a week ago in another place, in a Westminster Hall debate, the honourable Member for Congleton, Mrs Fiona Bruce, along with Mr Gary Streeter, the Member of Parliament who is the vice-chairman of the all- party parliamentary
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A few weeks ago in this House, I chaired a meeting for Shin Dong-hyuk, who is aged 26 and was born in prison camp 14. He spent the first 23 years of his life in that camp. I am glad to see that the noble Lords, Lord Edmiston and Lord Grocott, who have taken a close interest in this issue, are present in the Committee. They have had the chance to meet some of those who I have referred to. Shin Dong-hyuk was forced to work for 11 years from the age of 10 and was forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed. During his visit here, he met the Lord Speaker and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has a book which will be published in March, entitled Escape from Camp 14. It is precisely people such as Shin Dong-hyuk whom we should be investing in for the future. They are tomorrow's leaders. He does not have a hatred of the leadership of North Korea; he has a hatred of the ideology. He wants his country to change and to reform just as the Republic of Korea did. That was, after all, a military dictatorship, but under the extraordinarily brave and enlightened leadership of Kim Dae-jung it embarked on the sunshine policy and reformed itself, so I hope that we will see North Korea change as well.
In addition to asking the Minister directly about human rights, the importance that we attach to it and why it does not appear in the list of our concerns on the face of the paper, I have four brief questions for him. On energy supply, it was announced in September that Russian natural gas would be pumped into South Korea via a pipeline that would straddle the whole of North Korea. At present, the £520 billion South Korean economy imports about 96 per cent of its energy, 80 per cent from the Middle East. Clearly, it does not want-any more than this country would want-to be entirely reliant on that source. What will be the payment for that energy coming into South Korea? How will that sit with the sanctions that we have imposed on nuclear proliferation-the security questions that I know are close to the heart of the Minister?
Secondly, I would like to ask about Kaesong. One of the most hopeful developments in recent years was the development eight years ago of the Kaesong industrial zone, which is about six miles north of the demilitarised zone inside North Korea. Some 48,000 North Korean workers work there in 123 different companies. This earns, it is said, around $50 million a year for North Korea. The aim is to develop Kaesong so that one day it will have some 700,000 employees. In the context of the employment and trade implications of the order before us today, what is Her Majesty's Government's position on the exploitation of labour and the use of cheap and possibly slave labour? The average wage for a North Korean working in Kaesong is about £67 per person per month, and a lot of that money has to then be handed over to the state. Is this a question that we are pursuing in the context of the cheap labour and cheap produce that could then be exported as a result of these orders to the European Union?
Thirdly, I want to ask about education. On 15 February, an extraordinary man called Dr James Kim will be in your Lordships' House speaking at the all-party group. As a young man, James Kim fought on the side of the South Koreans. He lied about his age in order to get into the army. He was one of only 17 who survived in a unit of 800 men. At the end of the war, he said that he would one day try to do something to bring peace and reconciliation to the Korean peninsula. For his trouble, 60 years later, having gone to North Korea, he was arrested as a spy and sentenced to death. He said, "I have come here to give you everything, so you might as well have my body and use it for experimental purposes". He wrote his last will and testament and said to the United States, where he also has citizenship, "There should be no revenge because I came here as an act of love". He was ultimately deported and a year later was allowed to return to North Korea where he was able to embark on the building of the first ever international public-private university. I was privileged to visit it a year ago at its opening with my noble friend Lady Cox.
Dr Kim raised £18 million for this extraordinary initiative as a result of Her Majesty's Government creating diplomatic relations with North Korea 10 years ago when the then Prime Minister Tony Blair overruled his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and decided that the war was over, which is something that the United States has still not done, merely the armistice that still stands, which was signed in 1953. We ended the war and created diplomatic relations. One of the great fruits of that has been that the English language is now the official second language of the country. It is the language used at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology to teach about 600 students. Is there more that we can do to promote education as a reforming tool? It is a transformative experience. It is the chief thing that will change North Korea in the long term, and we should be very pleased from the point of view of British trade and commerce that English is so widely taught and used there.
I also congratulate the Government on supporting the creation of the first two Chevening scholarships, which started in this academic term at Cambridge University, giving young people the chance to come to the United Kingdom to learn English-language skills on brief courses. It is impossible to come to a country such as this and not be challenged by our liberties, our freedoms and our democracy-the things that we prize. Just as we saw in the former Soviet Union, perestroika and glasnost bring about change, mainly as a result of interaction. Surely the same thing can happen in North Korea.
Finally, I turn to security and weapons of mass destruction. Following the sinking of the South Korean corvette "Cheonan", when 46 people died, and the bombing of a South Korean island, it is quite clear that there was a very serious deterioration in relations between North Korea and South Korea. Many of us fear that it will be not a deliberate act but a Sarajevo moment that will lead to a conflagration that could lead to the loss of some 3 million lives, because that is how many died in the Korean War. We often forget that in addition to the 2.5 million Koreans who died,
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I wonder whether the tools in this order can be used to facilitate a Beijing peace conference because China clearly has the key role in trying to broker some way forward. I also believe that Her Majesty's Government can build on their successes in constructive critical engagement and can work with our European partners to create more constructive engagement, not least with the military. Surely with the octogenarian leadership of the Politburo, the nomenklatura and the military, there are opportunities for us to build relations with some of those who lead the military by welcoming them to the United Kingdom, taking them to places such as Sandhurst and opening dialogue to see whether we can help a country that has 1 million men under arms-it is the world's fourth largest standing army-to put its resources into building peace instead and into doing something about the humanitarian needs of a country where 2 million people died in the famine in the 1990s and where our previous ambassador, the admirable Peter Hughes, said that he had seen examples of malnutrition reappearing on the streets.
With the news from Burma of significant change, the release of political prisoners and a coming in from the cold, surely it is not too much to hope that we might see something similar happen in North Korea. There have been changes in China. Those of us who visited China 40 years ago, as I did, and visited underground churches and saw human rights violations have seen extraordinary change and reform. China is not there yet on some of the human rights issues, but the social and economic changes make it one of the most exciting places on earth. Anyone who has the privilege of travelling to South Korea can see the possibilities for the north if only change could come.
Building on the report that my noble friend Lady Cox and I published when we returned last year Building Bridges not Walls, I commend this order, but I ask the Minister to dwell on some of the points that I have raised today and consider whether we cannot place more emphasis on the importance of raising human rights considerations as we embark on more constructive and critical engagement.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I express the Opposition's support for the approval of this statutory instrument. One of the real privileges of becoming a Member of the House of Lords, which I did last year, is to listen to people such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who have expertise, wisdom and judgment to offer on things that one knows very little about. I hope that the points that he has raised today, although they are tangential to the thrust of the EU framework agreement, will be taken very seriously and that we will have further opportunities to debate the position in North Korea, about which he spoke so movingly. I thank him on behalf of the Opposition for his work there.
The agreement itself is what they call in EU jargon a strategic partnership, and it is one that is directly linked to the conclusion of the free trade agreement in
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The Republic of Korea is extremely significant for us in economic terms. It is the most important trading partner for Europe behind the United States, Japan and China. I discovered that fact when I was Googling away before the debate, but it is a remarkable fact none the less. We on this side welcome the deepening of relations with the Republic of Korea. We think it is right that a trade agreement should have a parallel political agreement, as it were, which sets out a broad range of areas for co-operation and dialogue and we very much wish that co-operation and dialogue to be effective. I am sure that this agreement will play an important role in deepening relationships between Europe and the Republic of Korea, which I hope will assist in a solution being found to the terrible problems that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described in North Korea. I support the approval of this statutory instrument.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I happily yield to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, as an expert in EU jargon. It is a very erudite subject with which we have both struggled for many years. I feel I am slightly in the same position as I was in last night, when being asked to defend Britain's approach to the OSCE, to which the answer is: we are not entirely sure how this works or what its potential is, but we think it is worth doing. The framework agreements are a new element in EU relations with other countries beyond the European region. They have very wide potential, including on human rights, and provide a formal structure for member states collectively to raise such issues.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his, as always, fascinating and well-informed speech. While nothing in this framework agreement specifically refers to North Korea, relations with North Korea are of course always likely to be an important part of the agenda when we discuss political and human rights issues with our Korean colleagues. All those of us who have been to Seoul know that when you are in Seoul you feel close to the border. The sense of insecurity is not that much less than it used to be when one visited Berlin during the Cold War, so one cannot get away from the North Korean dimension in this relationship. The absence of specific reference to North Korea or to human rights in the framework agreement does not imply that these are outside its structure.
The noble Lord asked a number of specific questions, including one about information on the news of a potential North Korean amnesty for political prisoners. I will inquire further within the Foreign Office and report back. Although I am fully briefed on what is happening in southern Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Iran, as one jumps from one country to another I have unfortunately not kept up with exactly what is happening in North Korea.
There are problems in developing among the EU 27 a common position on North Korea. Smaller EU member states see North Korea as a distant country, even further away from Europe than Burma. We are therefore talking about the larger EU member states attempting to reconcile their positions, which fits in with their relations with China and their position on nuclear proliferation. Finding common EU positions on distant problems with which not all the smaller member states are directly concerned is not always easy.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Can the Minister tell us about the position of France? As I recall, France does not even have diplomatic relations with North Korea and since it is not one of the smaller member states, getting a common position would be a pretty good start.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I will ensure that I give the noble Lord a more expert reply on the French position than I could off the cuff. As he remarked, the British took a very balanced decision to reopen relations with North Korea. The Americans and the French did not support it at the time. I think that most of us here think that it was worth doing, in spite of the intense difficulties which our representatives have often had in North Korea since then. We therefore have an advantage over some of our EU colleagues in having a more direct understanding of what is going on in the country.
I will also need to come back to the noble Lord on questions of energy supply. I thank him for the information on the proposals for a direct pipeline and I appreciate its implications. Similarly, in the case of the industrial zone, I am tempted to say that the import into Britain of goods which are partly put together in extremely poorly paid factories and then assembled in higher wage countries is, as we all know, not unique to relations between South Korea and North Korea.
On education, I have heard some fascinating stuff before from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the university of which he spoke. We are doing our best to provide some support there. It is a very interesting experiment and is one of the things which suggest that chinks of light are possibly opening up. At this precise moment, with a change in leadership in North Korea, it is difficult for any of us to read exactly how the situation is going to develop. We have to follow what is happening, to intervene when we think that we can make a difference-as we are beginning to do on the educational front-and to see how much more we can manage. The Government share his concerns about the possibility of a local incident moving up the escalation ladder into accidental war. We are all concerned about that, and not only between North Korea and the
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The comparisons with Burma are not exact. North Korea has remained much more closed than Burma, even through the worst points of the Burmese military Government. We can hope for similar shifts with North Korea but it will take longer and it is much more difficult, precisely because North Korea has been so much more cut off from the world. This framework agreement offers us the prospect to widen the relationship with Korea. We will be pursuing this through a whole range of activities.
Perhaps I may be allowed on a personal note to remark that some noble Lords may not be aware that the Korean parliamentary choir will be coming to sing with the British parliamentary choir and has invited the British parliamentary choir to go out and sing in Seoul in exchange. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the language point. We are singing Mendelssohn with them and the Korean parliamentary choir has insisted that we sing it in the original German and not in English. I am glad to hear that it is particularly correct in this way.
I conclude by reassuring noble Lords that the Government believe our European partners and Europe institutionally have a role to play in strengthening co-operation between Britain and the Republic of Korea. This agreement will allow for more work to be done in expanding a long-term relationship on a number of very important issues such as the promotion of human rights, international peace and security, energy and climate change, on which the Koreans are particularly active, and global economic co-operation.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012 provide for the conduct of referendums in relation to whether a county council, district council or London borough council should change its existing governance arrangements to different-executive or non-executive-
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In addition, as necessary these regulations update the 2007 provisions. They do this particularly to reflect the changes that the Localism Act is making to local governance. In essence, the Localism Act 2011 implements the Government's policy of extending the governance options available to local authorities by adding the committee system to the existing executive models set out in the Local Government Act 2000. It will therefore now be open to local authorities to operate one of the following governance models: the mayor and cabinet executive; the leader and cabinet executive (England); the committee system; or prescribed arrangements-that is, prescribed in regulations by the Secretary of State.
Part 1A of the 2000 Act as inserted by Schedule 2 to the Localism Act, provides for local people to have a say on the governance model adopted by their local authority via a referendum in certain circumstances. The result of such a referendum is binding on the local authority concerned. There are four circumstances under which a local authority would hold a referendum on its governance arrangements. They are where one is triggered by a petition signed by local people; where the authority itself chooses to hold a referendum; where an authority wishes to move away from a governance model that was approved by way of a referendum; or where an authority is required by order to do so. It is this final situation that we will come on to debate later, when an authority is required by law to hold a referendum on whether it should adopt the mayor and cabinet executive. If Parliament approves these regulations and the orders, the mayoral referendums will be held under the rules set out in the regulations.
Noble Lords will see that these regulations reflect the changes provided for in the Localism Act. That is, they provide for the inclusion of questions about whether a local authority should adopt the committee system and whether a local authority, specified in an order made under Section 9N of the 2000 Act, should adopt the mayor and cabinet executive, the orders made under Section 9N of the 2000 Act being those orders that we are debating today.
In addition, these regulations update the 2007 provisions in four further ways. First, they remove references to the now abolished mayor and council manager model. Secondly, on the basis of advice and expertise of the Electoral Commission, they update and improve the questions to be asked in a governance referendum, set out in Schedule 1, and the ballot papers in Schedules 3 and 5. In consulting on the questions set out in Schedule 1 to be asked at governance referendums, the questions were sent to the Electoral Commission, which undertook public consultation on the questions and ballot papers. As a result of the consultation, the Government have adopted the referendum questions and the form of ballot papers as recommended by the commission; these are the questions that are included in Schedule 1 of the regulations.
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Thirdly, these regulations remove the unnecessary prescription in relation to how local authorities publicise information about referendums; for instance, the date of the referendum and the question to be asked. For example, under the 2007 regulations, local authorities are currently required to publish such information in one or more local newspapers. However, under these regulations, it will be for each local authority to decide the best method for ensuring that this information is brought to the attention of people living in its area-a change which, I am sure noble Lords will agree, brings these regulations further into line with the Government's localism agenda.
Finally, provision has been made at Regulation 10 to add the election of a police and crime commissioner, under Sections 50 or 51 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to the list of elections with which a poll at a governance referendum may be required to be combined.
In short, these new regulations will put in place the rules needed for ensuring effective administration of referendums in which the electorate can have confidence. They follow a well tried practice, simply updated for today's circumstances. The referendum questions are as recommended by the Electoral Commission. I am confident that these regulations will ensure efficient and effective administration of any referendum. I commend the regulations to the House.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, this is the first time that I have attended the Moses Room to speak about the idea of an elected mayor in Birmingham, which has been around for a long time. I have come to support the order. I have always taken the view that the opportunity to have an elected mayor should have been taken at least a decade ago. Therefore, I hope that the referendum is successful. To that extent, I hope that there is a large majority for an elected mayor and a very high turnout among the citizens of Birmingham. I do not think that we want to get into the argument of having a small majority on a low turnout, which would be a disaster, simply because the result is binding-a one-vote majority and that is it. That is the same as we had with the AV referendum earlier this year. I can recite all that.
The idea of an elected mayor is a good one, and I hope that the citizens of Birmingham, of which I am no longer one, embrace it. My home in the West Midlands is in Shropshire, not Birmingham. The idea of bringing about a different form of leadership and partnership in local government is long overdue, particularly in the West Midlands and the West Midlands conurbation. I have travelled around the country as a Member of the other place and a Minister for 12 years, and one notices the difference in attitude in co-operation. I cite in particular the difference between the Greater Manchester group of authorities and the West Midlands group of authorities. There is much more partnership and effective leadership in the Greater Manchester set of authorities than there is in the West Midlands. I think that they work together in a much more collegiate way, to the benefit of their citizens. The trigger for
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Depending on the referendum-I hope it will be successful-there will be a contest. I shall certainly not go into personalities here, but I know that the issue has always been who can be the mayor. Being mayor of a big city is a 24/7 job. I think the Mayor of London will testify to that, although I have not discussed it with him. It is clearly a 24/7 job. It is not a job for celebs who are not used to public service. I realise that there are some great American examples of successful celebs, such as Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, but we do not have those people in Birmingham. I want to make it absolutely clear that neither do I think it is a job for has-been politicians. There has to be a way for people from outside the normal mainstream to do public service, but not celebs.
People have to be very wary about what is being offered. It is a mayor for the city; it is not a mayor for the council and it is not a mayor for council workers; it is a mayor for the citizens of Birmingham. That is a big distinction and I think it is a great opportunity. I have never spoken on this issue, which has been mooted for many years, but I regret that when the Labour Party was the majority party in Birmingham it did not grab the idea with both hands when the opportunity came along. Councillors did not want to do it. In fact, I regret the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition that has ruled Birmingham for eight or nine years now. It did not take the opportunity and it could have done this.
I am very pleased by the views of the Secretary of State in taking this action. I am also pleased about the way in which it has been done in the large cities. This is not picking on people. Take the 12 largest cities. I fully accept the issue relating to Sunderland. Of course, Leicester gave a lead on the matter by deciding it earlier. I think Birmingham, as the largest city in England, should have given a lead on this. It has some unique features which I think will be enhanced with the different form of local government that will come out of this. I give my support to the referendum and I hope it is a big success. I emphasise that I hope there is a large majority. I know that some people will want to oppose it, but the citizens of Birmingham need to know that if they want a new future and a new way of running the city, they have to come out and vote in support of it on 3 May. I give the order my support.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend and I have worked together for many years and most of the time we agree. To the extent that this order frees certain models for local people to determine, I am totally in favour of it. Given the different personalities, different commitments and different people at local level, the people should be able to choose. However, I cannot believe that it is right for us in Westminster to determine this at a time when local authorities are facing very difficult circumstances with regard to care for the elderly at home and other local government services.
The Minister knows that I have great respect for her experience in local government, although, as with my noble friend Lord Rooker, we do not always agree. I find it hard to understand why we should tell people that they must spend money on a referendum. It is perfectly open to individuals and parties running at local level, to represent their local community, to present as part of their manifesto a commitment to local people that there should be a referendum-that they would like to see one. However, I am deeply saddened that, when there is a small easement over the "Westminster knows best" model, alongside it this afternoon is not "you may" but "you will" or "you must". I cannot agree with that.
We have seen it with the police commissioners. I spend a lot of time meeting people in my community who are deeply disturbed about money being spent by order from Westminster on certain things at the expense of other things that people have developed in their locality and hold dear. I am deeply distressed that we are telling people that they must spend money on a referendum.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, over the years I have served on three councils, all very different, and I certainly came to prefer what we all in local government call the old committee system. I do not think that I have changed my mind on that. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, I welcome even more encouragement and allowance for people to have the committee system. The last council I served on was abolished by her and her party; we were a small council able to operate the committee system. Indeed, I played a part in this House when small councils were allowed to carry on the committee system under earlier legislation, so I welcome that part of the regulations.
I also welcome the fact that local authorities will be able to choose how they give information to people. That said, I have a worry. I know that all the people in this Room have been involved in these matters over a number of years; we all know the ins and outs; we know how some of these things work. However, as fewer and fewer people have voted in local elections, it seems that fewer and fewer people understand the system. I worry that we will have referendums-maybe not with very good turnouts, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said-because people are not very engaged with these issues at the moment. Therefore, although I welcome the fact that local authorities will be able to do their own thing, I hope that they will up their game in trying to make sure that, if these things are happening, people are at least involved and the decisions are proper decisions of local people.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, I have never been a great fan of elected mayors. However, at least we are asking local people-it will be their decision. My big worry is that turnout will be low because people are not engaged.
I have a question about process. Part of these regulations allows local authorities to hold elections for police commissioners at the same time. Obviously, trying not to have too many elections at the same time is a good thing. I would not have thought that electing a mayor at the same time as a police commissioner was particularly a good thing, but I am not sure whether
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I had not intended to speak until the later debate on the individual orders, but as this has become almost a mini Second Reading debate on the merits of mayors, I feel I must chip in because, like my noble friend Lady Farrington, it is rare for me to find myself disagreeing with my noble friend Lord Rooker, but I do so strongly on this issue. If his wishes could come true, I might be persuaded to change my mind at some stage. I think his two hopes were that there would be a large majority in the referendum, when it came up, for whatever decision it was going to reach, and that we would be spared a kind of beauty contest between celebrities. I think that the evidence so far is that he is likely to be disappointed on both fronts. I did not bring my notes with me, but perhaps the Minister may be able to remind us. In the referendums that have been held so far on directly elected mayors, if I were to describe the turnouts as abysmal, I would probably be exaggerating on the high side. They were very low, even in London where there was lots of publicity. There is no evidence that I am aware of-perhaps the Minister has some-that this bout of referendums would be any different from the previous ones in terms of turnout.
The risk of it being not at all about the city but largely a beauty contest has been proved beyond any reasonable debate by what we see happening in London at the moment. I do not know much about it, except it is between two celebrities called Boris and Ken, it seems to go on inordinately and it is basically a tale of two egos that does not tell us a great deal about how local government should be administered.
Lord Grocott: I find it very difficult to make careful distinctions on that front. Uniquely in a business-politics-where ego occasionally intrudes, those two manage it far more effectively than most of the rest of us. I do not intend to say anything more at the moment because the opportunity will come in the orders establishing the mayoral referendums in the various cities. However, I would like the Minister to remind us, if not immediately, what the turnout has been in previous referendums.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I declare an interest as leader of Wigan council and chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and
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The other thing that my noble friend Lord Rooker seems to think will happen is that getting a mayor for Birmingham might create some cohesion between the other local authorities in the West Midlands. That does not happen. He is right that Manchester works better than many other conurbations-I take some credit-but that is because we have worked at it for a long time and each authority has understood that if you want to gain collectively you have to give up some power as a local authority.
Will someone coming in as the elected mayor of Birmingham say straight away, "I'll be elected mayor of Birmingham but I want to give up things to the West Midlands council so that we can work better together with Coventry, Wolverhampton and the other authorities"? That will probably not happen. We do not know whether it comes down to personalities in Birmingham because, of course, you do not have any successful football managers in Birmingham so clearly the chance of one of those standing does not apply, whereas it does in Manchester. The current law allows each of these authorities to choose to have an elected mayor if they want to. None has chosen to do so. However, if we were offering something like the London model, there could be a real debate.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I resist the temptation to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with whose views on the principle of elected mayors I could hardly disagree more strongly. I shall reserve comment on that issue until we reach the next group of orders. However, I strongly agree with the two noble Baronesses-that sounds like the name of a rather superior public house. The two noble Baronesses and I welcome the regulations which facilitate a choice being made. We will come on to how that choice arises in the next round, as it were. However, I am particularly glad that there is an opportunity for councils which wish to do so to revert to the committee system-not that I am personally in favour of that system as opposed to
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I revert to the Motion moved by the Minister, which will be approved. However, I have a reservation about the regulations in relation to the questions to be asked in the referendum. It is perfectly true that this is not something which has been dictated by the Government. The Electoral Commission has drafted it and has consulted on it although I do not know how many responses it received to the consultation. I doubt whether it was deluged with responses from the public but that is a matter for the commission. The question to be asked is in my view rather curiously and, arguably, tendentiously worded. It is: how would you like your authority to be run, by a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors-this is how the council is run now-or by a mayor who is elected by voters-this would be a change from how the council is run now? It seems to me that "run" is a fairly loaded word. It does not really describe how I felt I was running the council when I was the leader of a council. The council is run by a leader and councillors, not by the leader elected by councillors. I think that rather colours the view that people might well take. They might think that if an individual is running the city, he or she might as well be accountable-if accountability is what they are interested in and if it is realisable-to all of us. In fact, a leader and cabinet model means a leader working with councillors to lead and run a council, not doing it personally. Although there is nothing we can do about it, I rather regret therefore that the question is posed in that way. However, we are where we are and doubtless if there are to be referendums in future, that is the question which will be put. It will be for those of us who take a different view of these matters to explain that it perhaps gives a somewhat misleading impression.
Either at this stage or a little later, perhaps the Minister could respond to the implicit question which I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised about when a mayoral election would take place, pursuant to the orders which we are to debate later, if they are approved. It is suggested that it is intended that these elections will take place in November of this year, on the same day as the police commissioner elections. I do not know whether that is right and I would have
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank those who have taken part in this quite short debate. I was not sure whether this one would be long. I recall that when we were debating the Bill, this aspect had not aroused a huge amount of controversy. I am very grateful to have such sterling support from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I agree very much with what he says. If the referendum is agreed, one hopes very much that the turnout for the subsequent election will be sufficient to cement that decision, and to make people feel that the result is wholeheartedly what they want.
On the candidates for election, somebody will presumably put their names forward and they will have to be nominated. I am not sure whether celebs will come running along to spend at least four years managing a city. We have had some strange candidates in one or two of the elections but, on the whole, those who have been good have survived and those who have not have found their way elsewhere. I am grateful, too, for the fact that there is support for the models of governance. I always felt that the committee system's abandonment was a great shame and I am delighted that there is now a way of getting it back in. Although councils have moved on in many respects in governance, there is always room for a system where councillors have a real opportunity to debate what is going on and the policies that are coming.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, asked about the money being spent on the referendum. This will be not local money but general taxation money, and there will be a grant from my department to the referendum authorities so that they have the money to spend on this. I know that that money comes from the people, but it is not quite as direct as being from the local people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked about having the elections at the same time as those for the police commissioners. There is no definite date for the referendums yet, but it would be fair to say that we would hope that the elections would take place in a reasonable time following a referendum because otherwise there will be a hiatus of governance. They could potentially be held near the date when those for the police commissioners are held but there is no question of that having been decided yet.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked about the turnouts. Apparently, they have been pretty near turnouts at local government elections. He will know, as I do, that those can vary between about 20 per cent and 40 per cent. There has not been an overwhelming general election-type turnout, but they have been within that sort of ballpark figure. There was another question about police commissioners and how often they are going to be elected. The answer is every four years. The mayors will be elected on four-year terms as well. They will be elected on the normal council election day.
There is an agreement, perhaps not unanimous, that local people have a right to decide whether they want this issue to go ahead-that is what the referendums are about. It is not about saying that you must do this
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The noble Lord, Lord Smith, was talking about the fact that there would not be any decent powers. Part of this process is that mayors would have negotiations as to what official powers they thought that they needed. That would be individual and powers would be devolved appropriately to what they wish to have. There is a devolutionary aspect here too of the bigger policy areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, objected to the word "run"; I do not know what I did with the council. Perhaps I had better not think about it. "Run" is the word that the Electoral Commission seems to think that people recognise as the way that a council is managed. That is what it has decided. We have got to leave that; we have taken its independent view. If what is said is a political decision, somebody will say that we are trying to tip the question over. So I think that "run" it will have to be.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Wakefield (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the purpose of all these orders to which I speak is to require the local authority named to hold a referendum on 3 May 2012 on whether it should start to operate a mayor and cabinet executive form of governance; that is, to have a directly elected mayor. As we described in our programme for government, the coalition Government are committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums. These orders are the next stage in fulfilling that commitment. I shall explain the rationale for this, but first I would like to recall the
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As a first step to delivering our coalition agreement commitment, we included provisions on directly elected mayors in the Localism Bill which we introduced in December 2010. Those provisions included introducing the idea that there would be shadow mayors in the cities before any election and that, where a city adopted an elected mayor, it would be required to introduce mayoral management arrangements. These arrangements were that the city would cease to have a chief executive and the mayor would then be both the political leader and the top executive of the authority.
During the parliamentary passage of the Bill, these provisions attracted considerable debate and concern, particularly in the House of Lords. I remember it well. We listened carefully to the arguments being made about why these elements of a switch to the mayoral model could give rise to difficulties and hence were not appropriate. On careful reflection, we accepted the arguments being made and amended the Bill so that there was no longer any question of there being shadow mayors or statutory mayoral management arrangements. Our approach was to listen carefully to the arguments, address the issues raised with an open mind, and seek to ensure that we took forward our mayoral agenda in a way that commanded the widest degree of support and would best serve the interests of the cities concerned.
It is perhaps worth recording that when the House considered the question of mayors in the Localism Bill on Report there were no Divisions on any of these provisions or amendments. The result is that the Localism Act contains a simple provision that enables the Secretary of State to require in a particular city a referendum to be held on whether or not that city has a mayoral form of governance, and the orders before the House today are the first use of this provision.
I now turn to why we are seeking the House's approval for these orders. As part of the coalition agreement, the Government committed to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject, as I said, to confirmatory referendums. Leicester already has a directly elected mayor, following a resolution of the Labour-led council to move to a mayoral form of governance and the people of Leicester elected their first mayor in May 2011. We are therefore planning referendums in May 2012 in the other 11 cities: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield. Where the referendum vote is in favour of having a mayor, the city will then rapidly hold an election for its first mayor.
The Government think that there is good evidence that where a city has a powerful and directly accountable mayor this can be a major factor for delivering local economic growth and bringing greater prosperity to that city. The value of big cities, effectively led by powerful mayors, is demonstrated by a range of international experience. For example, the Mayor of London has transformed the capital's governance and achieved a range of successes including the London plan, the congestion charge, Crossrail and Boris bikes.
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Of all the governance models, we think that the mayoral model has the greatest potential to provide that strong and accountable leadership needed for our cities to be successful, economically, socially and environmentally. That is not to say that other forms of local government cannot deliver success or indeed that a mayor guarantees success, but we are clear, not least from the evidence of cities around the world, including London, that where a city has mayoral governance the odds of success are greater.
Why do we have the 12 cities? As the Institute for Government and Centre for Cities highlighted in their joint report, our cities are the heartbeat of the UK economy. Despite occupying less than 10 per cent of the UK's land, they contribute 60 per cent of our economic output. That is why the Government believe that it is important that in each of our major cities, which contribute so much to our economy, the opportunity to have a mayor is seriously addressed by the electorate.
Of course, it may be, as in the case of Leicester, that the city council-the democratic representatives of the city's communities-simply resolves to move to an elected mayor without a referendum being held. That option is available to all the cities unless their current governance model was agreed in a referendum, and will remain so until we have made a referendum order for that city. But if this option is not taken up, then local people should be given the opportunity to address the issue and decide. That is why we are bringing these orders to be approved by Parliament.
Finally, I remind the Committee that the orders we are considering today are about local choice and allowing local people to have a say on how their city is governed. Although we are clear about the benefits that mayors can bring, we are and remain localist. We believe that decisions about how a locality is governed are best taken locally. This is about letting local people decide. I commend the orders to the Committee.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I cannot resist making just one general point before I get on to the specifics about my fundamental objection to the directly elected mayor system. I see it as an import from a different political culture. In essence, it is a presidential arrangement. All levels of our democracy in our country have embraced the parliamentary system whereby executive heads emerge from the elected body. I think that is infinitely preferable to the presidential system. The Minister's examples were notably from abroad, with the exception of London, and bringing in this system whereby elected councillors have no direct say on who the city's leader should be is-I cannot find a less pompous way of putting this-alien to our political culture, and I do not think there is too much wrong with our political culture. In my view, it has inevitably-certainly in the United States and here-led to mayors being elected who simply do not arrive via the tried-and-tested system.
Let us not go to Barcelona or anywhere else. We have had this system in Britain for a number of years. Where is the evidence that those lucky cities and towns that have directly elected mayors have seen the prestige of their areas enhanced in comparison with those that have not had the benefit of directly elected mayors and have seen economic growth? In short, has London been demonstrably much better governed, to justify all this additional expense, than has, let us say, Newcastle, Manchester or Birmingham? If there is any evidence, I would love to see it, but I am not aware of it.
I move to the specifics of the orders that we are now looking at. One has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Farrington. I am afraid this is more of a rhetorical question than one I expect the Minister to be able to answer because it is unanswerable. How on earth can you have an order that states:
I would add, in brackets, "whether you want to or not"-with the Government's alleged commitment to localism? Why the compulsion? Why not leave it to the local authority to make up its own mind? I do not know the answer to that one. I do not think it will do to suggest, as the Minister did, that somehow this is an opportunity for local people to decide and that the Government are neutral, at least to the extent that the local people can make their own decisions, because is it just an accident that the only places where local citizens will be able to decide on their governance are places where they do not have an elected mayor at the moment? What about all those local authorities that have an elected mayor? Why not ask them whether, on the basis of the past 10 years, it is a good way of spending public money? I am delighted to be able to report that, as the Committee will know, in the one area where people have been given that choice, namely the splendid city of Stoke-on-Trent with the outstanding Stoke City Football Club, the public were asked, "Do you want to continue with your elected mayoral system?" The answer was a pretty resounding, "No, we don't, thank you very much".
Lord Rooker: We need to hear the full story on Stoke-on-Trent. The structure between the mayor and the council was not replicated anywhere else in the country; it was unique. The Stoke system was almost designed to fail and indeed did fail, but it is not the same system as for the other elected mayors.
Lord Grocott: As my noble friend has argued for a referendum, I simply say to him: let the people in these other cities decide whether they want to continue with their mayoral system. They have had long enough to test it out, and he may be right that it is only in Stoke that they would say, "No, thank you very much". If we are to have referendums in places that do not have mayors-I would rather we did not have any at all-then let us have them in places where they do.
That is an average of about a quarter of a million pounds per referendum. Frankly, I am not very interested in who pays for it; all I know is that we will. I suppose it would be very unfair to put it all on the local authority, but the blunt truth is that those of us who do not live in any of these cities-I am one of them-will be paying for them to have a referendum, which I certainly do not want. We will find soon enough whether the public want that. Can the Minister confirm whether those figures are accurate?
"A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been prepared for these instruments as they have no impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies and the cost of conducting the referendums across the 11 cities is less than £5 million".
I do not know how these impact assessments are worked out these days, but that may be the cost of the referendum. Of course, if the referendum results in a yes, then the cost of implementing this system in 11 cities will be massively in excess of £5 million. In effect, through these orders we are setting a train in motion that will cost an awful lot of money. I would like the Minister to tell us who will pay for the reorganisation costs in the event of there being a yes result of a referendum. I would also like to know the estimate that the Government are making before we go on this journey about the cost for each of the local authorities because most of them can ill afford any unnecessary expenditure at the moment.
It goes on to say that if a local authority does not do that, the Secretary of State will. Following the question asked by my noble friend Lord Beecham earlier, if there is a decision to make the change, I would like to know the timescale within which the implementation of that change must take place whether it is done by the local authority or by the Secretary of State?
I very much regret that these orders have come forward. I know this was an idea dreamt up by some policy expert in some recess of the previous Labour Administration. I did my best to stop it happening then, but without success, and this is my second attempt. I do it with more confidence now as I know-I will check the figures because they are around somewhere-that there was no evidence of any great enthusiasm for this system when local areas had the chance of holding referendums under the legislation that the previous Government brought in. There were very low turnouts,
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Lord Cormack: My Lords, I came to listen, but I am provoked into saying a few words because, not for the first time in my brief period in this House, I find myself almost totally in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who has deservedly acquired a reputation for speaking his mind and speaking with a lot of common sense.
I was one of the very few Conservative Members of Parliament who voted against the abolition of the GLC. An amendment of mine came quite close to defeating the Government of the day. My argument was complex, but it was basically that I thought that if we abolished the GLC we would finish up with something worse. I believe that that has proved to be an accurate prophecy. We have the mayor and of course I shall campaign for his re-election later this year as a dutiful member of his party.
I would not be detaining the Grand Committee now if these Benches were crammed, but as they are not, and as I believe that I am the only Conservative Back-Bencher in the Grand Committee Room, I want to say this to the Grand Committee, the Minister and everyone else. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, does not claim to speak for the Labour Party, and I do not claim to speak for the Conservative Party, but just as many of his colleagues in his party have grave reservations about the whole concept of the elected mayor, so do many people in the party to which I have belonged for well over half a century.
Many people feel, as does the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that it is not quite the way we do things in this country. I believe in the collegiate atmosphere of local government which, at its best, delivers a real service. As the country has demonstrated many times-the greatest example of this was Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham-that does not prevent a great leader emerging. The balances and counterbalances that are built into the committee system make for better local government. They also provide a greater challenge for individual councillors, each one of whom has the opportunity to shine. Since we moved to elected mayors and cabinet systems, one has very often found in local authorities that only a handful of people really count. I do not believe that that can be right. I do not believe that it is in the British tradition to elect one supremo to be the mayor.
I am entirely happy about the concept of a referendum. I did not used to like referendums, and I still do not like them very much, but the fact is that they are now here. Because they are here and they are here in abundance today, it makes absolutely uncontestable the case that there must be a referendum if anybody is ever so silly as to propose the abolition of the House
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If we must spend this money, let these towns and cities have their referendums. I shall be interested in the turnout. I personally do not believe that any referendum should count unless there is a threshold. Here I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who went along those lines not long ago. If it is the genuine wish of local people to have an elected mayor in these cities, having had the opportunity to consider the merits and the problems, so be it. However, I hope that they will reflect very carefully and that they will realise that if they go for an elected mayor-somebody with real executive authority-they will be turning their backs on a system of local government which has served this country well over the years. That is a system which I and many others have admired and one in which the Minister has played a considerable and constructive part, as has the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who has an enviable record in these matters. They provided leadership, but it was leadership of a team. The danger with a mayor is that he dictates to a team. People should bear those things in mind.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I was intrigued by the Minister's introduction in which she gave examples of some successful mayors in Spain. I do not suppose that she wants to mention those mayors who are now serving time in Spanish jails for accepting bribes for land usage, or the famous mayoral model in New Orleans when it suffered from flooding a few years ago and the mayor simply dithered and created yet more problems.
I was intrigued by the point the Minister made, with which I totally agree, about the importance of the economic role of cities. The issue that I have with the Government and some people on my side is that we are talking here about cities whose boundaries are historic. I think back to the 1972 reform of local government when most of the boundaries of these places were established, so they are historic to that extent. However, they are pretty arbitrary and do not reflect the way that people's lives are led now.
The city and region I know best is Manchester, but the Manchester economy is not just that of the city of Manchester. The boundary of Manchester comprises a very strange long sausage shape but its economy spreads not only into the nine districts around it but also into parts of Cheshire and West Yorkshire. That is what is driving the growth that we all want to see. I was slightly perturbed by the Minister's answer as Manchester is holding successful talks with the Government on the new deal for cities. I welcome the approach that the Government are taking to that. However, that approach appears to be conurbation-wide, not city-wide. It does not actually give things to Manchester City Council. However, we are talking about how we can, through the combined authority, do things better and achieve the joint objectives that we have on economic growth for Manchester, which clearly is part of the Government's agenda as well.
As I say, there is some genuine debate and discussion going on and I want to place on record how much I support what the Government are doing on this matter. I have met Greg Clark on a number of occasions and he is pushing this devolution well. However, I do not want to see devolution to Manchester-not that I am jealous of Manchester-because, if we are to be successful as an economy, the devolution has to apply to a much bigger area. The economic growth that the Government want will not be achieved unless the Manchester city region does well, not simply the narrowly defined city of Manchester. I know that that is largely the case in other conurbations. I want to refer briefly to West Yorkshire, as I know that area well. West Yorkshire has not really got its act together well. It has three very large and important areas which we know are up for city roles.
My fear in a sense is that once you have become mayor of Bradford or Wakefield or Leeds, your desire is to do well for that part of the conurbation and you fail to understand that, if you want to do well for those three parts, it is the whole conurbation that needs to be successful. Clearly I was at odds with people in my party some time ago who thought that it was a panacea that would solve the problems of local government. Some very good authorities have been set up through the traditional models. I know that the Minister was very actively involved in one of them; we three were on the old Association of Metropolitan Authorities Policy Committee many years ago.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, the last time when I spoke for the Opposition in this Room, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, also participated in the debate. A couple of days after that, he was taken very seriously ill. I am delighted that he is back with us and in such excellent form. I am sure that we wish him continued good health.
It is perhaps appropriate that we are discussing these orders in the Moses Room, not because I may be distantly related to the gentleman in question but because he is portrayed as coming down bearing 10 commandments. The Minister of course brings 11 commandments to 11 authorities, and they may receive a similar reception to that which the originals received. I know not-we shall see.
Since the Prime Minister's arguably somewhat clumsy intervention the other day, referendums have become almost the issue of the day, at least in the minds of the political class. I suspect that the majority of people are rather more concerned with issues such as the faltering economy, unemployment and the fate of the NHS-and, to judge by today's e-mails, the Welfare Reform Bill and perhaps the legal aid Bill. Many of us have been deluged with e-mails about that; I am bound to say that I have never received a single e-mail suggesting that we need referendums for elected mayors. But 11 authorities will now face compulsory referendums, not because as in Scotland there is a public demand for it but because the Government are determined to pursue this agenda.
It is interesting that the Explanatory Notes affirm that the Government believe that local authorities and the communities that they represent are best placed to reach decisions on how their local authority should operate and be governed. They say that the 2000 Act provides for local people to have a say on the governance model adopted by their local authority via a referendum. But it is one thing for people to have a say and another to require them to vote or at least hold a referendum, as the Government are now doing. Yet 5 per cent of the electorate in any of those 11 cities, or any other local authority, could at any time over the past 10 years have requisitioned a referendum-and, of course, the vast majority have not done so. A number of referendums have been held, 38 in all; 13 of them agreed that they should go ahead with the mayoral system and 25 rejected it. Some of those authorities called a referendum, as they were allowed to do; there was nothing wrong with that. That included Tower Hamlets and Leicester. In other cases there was a petition.
My noble friend Lord Grocott questioned the turnout in referendums; in only one case apart from three referendums held on the same day as the general election did the turnout exceed 40 per cent. Incidentally, one of the authorities with a referendum subsequently decided to abandon the mayoral system. The turnout in the five authorities that voted for an elected mayor ranged as follows: 16 per cent, 18 per cent, 21 per cent, 25 per cent and 27 per cent. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the concept. Yet the mayoral system was supposed to lead to a great upsurge in local democracy.
I was present when this concept was floated. It was at a meeting-I do not think that it is wrong for me now to reveal it 15 years on-of the joint policy committee of the Labour Party, a somewhat cumbersome, bureaucratic piece of machinery, which consisted of members of the then shadow Cabinet and of the national executive of the Labour Party. I was representing local government and some other unfortunate was representing the Labour MEPs. Tony Blair announced to the apparent consternation of Frank Dobson, who was the environment spokesman of the day, that we were going to have an elected Mayor of London. The only person who asked a question about that, in a somewhat sceptical vein, was me.
The discussion lasted five minutes and that then became Labour Party policy, which you may think is an interesting way to formulate policy, but there it was. The constant theme of those advocating this was that it would strengthen local democracy and lead to greater involvement. That has not been the case, as my noble friend, Lord Grocott, has rightly pointed out, either in terms of the turnout at the referendum or in terms of the turnout in mayoral elections. In London, the first two elections showed a turnout lower than the average local authority election. At the last mayoral contest, gladiatorial as it was and as it no doubt will be again, with all the coverage proffered by the Evening Standard-noble Lords will remember coming out of tube stations and seeing the placards about the latest Ken or Boris pronouncement-the turnout was around 45 per cent, marginally higher than a council election in a major authority: it did not necessarily command huge interest.
Over and above the propriety of requiring the holding of the referendum-and I think that there is a serious flaw in the Government's approach-there is a question of what is at stake here. We are talking about the conferring on a single individual of very wide-ranging powers combined with very little accountability. It is not as if a majority of the council can overturn a decision of the mayor. On hugely important matters, from the budget, the children's panel, and the strategic panel of the authority and over a whole range of issues, the mayor will prevail unless two-thirds of the elected members of the council overturn him. This is a little better than the Mussolini formulation for general elections in Italy in 1923, when 25 per cent of the votes were sufficient to give 75 per cent representation in the chamber; we are not quite in that league. Nevertheless, it is a formidable degree of power concentrated in a single pair of hands. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, adduced Barcelona as an example of a mayoral authority, which indeed it is, but as she put it-perhaps without quite realising the implications of what she was saying-Maragall, who was the outstanding mayor of Barcelona, was elected as head of his party's list. In the same way, a Prime Minister-although not as it turns out the present Prime Minister-is elected as the leader of his party: his party obtains a majority, not a single individual running for office. That is quite a distinction, yet by any standards Maragall was an outstandingly successful mayor.
The Labour Party in its wisdom once sent a delegation over to Holland. They have mayors in Holland and it was thought it would be instructive for innocent and naive Labour councillors to see what was done in Holland. They had overlooked that mayors in Holland were not elected at all by anybody. They were Crown appointments at that stage. At least the Government have not gone that far yet, but there is that huge issue of power. Equally, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out, there have been distinguished local government leaders, not least in the great city of Birmingham, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, alluded. They have had not merely Joseph Chamberlain but his brother; he was described by Lloyd George, it will be recalled, as a "good mayor of Birmingham in a bad year", but he was a distinguished local government figure. Successive leaders of Birmingham of, certainly, two political persuasions have been well respected. We have seen similar figures leading other councils. So while the power exists for either a council or a small percentage of an electorate to call for the holding of a referendum, it seems entirely unnecessary to prescribe that such elections should take place.
Of course, the Bill will give the Government the power to impose this system of referendum on any authority. It would be interesting if the Minister would indicate the Government's thinking on these matters. Is it likely, if a number of these referendums are successful, that they will then seek to roll out the holding of referendums elsewhere?
In relation to cost, it is reassuring that Mr Pickles has been able to find yet more money secreted in the coffers of the Department for Communities and Local Government-in addition to maintaining the weekly waste collections-to fund these referendums, although most of us would prefer to have the money for more
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It will be gathered that the Opposition are not entirely sympathetic to the orders that are laid today and we will be moving a Regret Motion when the matter comes before the House. I understand that there will be similar proceedings in the Commons. I am confused by the timetable. I understand that we have the statutory instruments before House of Commons, but so be it. We are looking for these matters to come before the House in February.
No doubt the Government will stick to their guns. I can only hope that people in these 11 authorities, should these referendums go ahead, have the good sense to stick with the tried and tested system of local democracy and not vote to confer huge powers into too few hands.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I cannot wait to discuss this issue all over again. I thank the noble Lord for giving us due warning that that is precisely what will happen, so we wait with bated breath. I am sure that we will cover at least some of these issues again and noble Lords will have to try to say the same thing twice if possible. But this gives me an opportunity to say that if I cannot answer all the questions now, I will probably have an opportunity to do so at a later stage.
We could stand here and debate the rationale and the virtues of this form of election all night. There is a pretty clear division, although not entirely politically, on what noble Lords think about this. The coalition's view is that these 12 cities should be given the opportunity to decide whether they think this form of government, which is a different way of doing things, is the right way to go. I readily accept that this is not a policy that the electorate will want in these cities, but they must be given an opportunity to decide and to consider the options. Indeed, people will have to put out some publicity to explain the situation and make sure that the electorate understand the issues at stake.
I do not agree with the concept that has been put that the Mayor of London has not made an impact. I suspect that if you asked people in London who the mayor was they would have a pretty good idea and they would have a pretty good idea of what he did. A mayor is constantly in the news and doing things. People either like or do not like them but they certainly know who they are.
Baroness Hanham: I will have to take the noble Lord's word for it. People may have known who he was but he has certainly been heard of since. The question is whether he was better known at the time or subsequently.
A lot of questions have been asked. It is not helpful to go over the debate again. We have a debate on the previous orders and we have had a very interesting Second Reading speech from my noble friend Lord Cormack, who was not entirely supportive. We have just a few issues to deal with. As regards turnout on the referendums, as I think I have said before, probably some had about the same turnout as local elections. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, did not think that was quite right. I do not think anybody would accept that they have been in the general election ballpark figure but there has been a good turnout.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to the interminable business of savings and costs. We have gone through the election costs. We anticipate that the costs of reorganisation will absolutely depend on what amount of reorganisation a local authority needs to do. It may not need to do very much at all. The mayor comes in and it might need to provide him with a room. He will probably need a couple of members of staff. His expenses will fall within the general administration of the council. Therefore, I do not anticipate there being a huge extra cost to the council as a result of this. I am sure it will make the decisions which ensure that there is no huge extra cost. I do not think the Government want-
Lord Grocott: I intervene only as it may save time when we discuss this later. Presumably, figures are available showing the cost of the mayoral systems that have been introduced. I challenge the Committee to say whether there has ever been a local government or, indeed, any other reorganisation which has not cost more than people said it would. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that the costs are likely to be a bit more than those incurred in providing a room and perhaps a secretary. When the orders come back to the House, could we be given figures showing what the actual costs of reorganisation have been where the mayoral system has been introduced?
Baroness Hanham: I am not sure that I can answer that even now. As I have said, the costs will depend on how much reorganisation a city council has to undertake to accommodate the mayor. As I understand it, the evidence we have shows that there has not been a substantial increase in costs where elected mayors have taken up office. I am not going to be able to provide figures down to £5,500,000 and 36 pence. If I can find more helpful information for the noble Lord, I will, but this is about as good as we can get in that it is for the relevant area to work out in its own mind how much reorganisation it needs to do.
The implementation of the system is entirely the same. It will be up to the authority itself to decide how to implement it. However, we expect the mayor to be in position three days after the election. There should be no hiatus. As I say, he should be in position three days after the day on which the result of the first mayoral election is declared and then take office four days after the election, so this happens within a week.
I love the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. They are all always very taxing and have a nice aspect. I thank him for his speech. I do not have much to say
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That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Bristol (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Bradford (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Manchester (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Sheffield (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Nottingham (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Leeds (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Birmingham (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Liverpool (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the City of Coventry (Mayoral Referendum) Order 2012.
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