Linking pay to the pay of the highest-paid leader of a constituent council could be a route, although in a sense what this amendment says is, “The Secretary of State decides but it must be no larger than”. That seems to put the onus back on the Secretary of State, so the principle we would support is some independent assessment, taking account of the real value of the job. I entirely accept that this would be a very powerful and important job.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, I appreciate the intentions behind these amendments, and noble Lords have made very valid points. I have just asked for some comparator salaries for city or conurbation mayors. The London mayor earns nearly £144,000 a year, and the Bristol mayor earns nearly £66,000.
There are already statutes in place regarding independent remuneration panels and the remuneration of elected members. A combined authority’s constituent councils are required by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to establish and maintain independent remuneration panels which make recommendations to local authorities regarding the remuneration of elected members to which local authorities have to have regard. To take my noble friend Lord Heseltine’s point, there is nothing to stop them making international comparisons.
It would seem that to make provisions for a combined authority to establish its own independent remuneration committee merely to determine the remuneration of the elected mayor would be introducing an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and would take away some of the flexibility that this Bill offers to those areas that seek to establish a combined authority. Further legislation, the Local Transport Act 2008, enables the Secretary of State to make provisions about the remuneration of, and pensions or allowances payable to or in respect of, any member of the combined authority. That includes making provision about the remuneration—that is, the allowances—of a metro mayor, including the part to be played in setting those allowances by independent remuneration panels in the combined authority’s area. As this power already exists, we consider it unnecessary to make further regulations in connection with the remuneration of elected members. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw the amendment.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, about local authorities. I decided, earlier in my career, that I would eventually become a full-time local politician and therefore I lost out on my chosen career—I probably would have been paid more money. I am sure that the noble Lord made sacrifices; if he had gone into business and used his strategic mind there, he probably would have earned a lot more money than he ever did as a Cabinet Minister or an MP. So we all make choices. It can be a dilemma, because sometimes people have to say to their families, “I really enjoy doing this job, but I’m not going to get paid as much as I might in another job”. The Minister will recall that her successor as leader of Trafford had to make that personal choice. That was a very sad loss for others, as he was making a very good contribution, but he decided that he needed to support his family more. So we make those choices.
We also need to think about the fact that the new mayor and the new combined authority’s work needs to be judged in the cockpit of public opinion. If it is perceived that people are getting overpaid, that will detract both from the reputation of the mayor and from the work of the elected members.
This is a difficult issue, and certainly we need to think about it. If we just leave it to local members to decide, as the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said, they will be totally criticised for that, and that would be unfair. However, we also need to respect that not all those positions will be exactly the same. The theme of
the Bill has been flexibility, so in a sense there needs to be flexibility there. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, before I address these amendments, I should address the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Smith with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. The noble Lord had a very distinguished business career before he entered the Cabinet. It was so successful that he even invited me to the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Haymarket company—I cannot quite remember the name. It was a very well-attended and impressive occasion, which I think was held at the Grosvenor House hotel. Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, need not feel in the slightest that the noble Lord was subjected to great hardship before entering the Cabinet. He took very great care to build up a very successful business before he did that. I only wish I could say the same for myself.
On the relevant amendments in this group, Amendments 11 and 12 are designed to introduce flexibility into the response to the situation arising when a constituent authority, part of a combined authority, withholds consent to the proposal to have an elected mayor. The Bill provides that in those circumstances the Secretary of State must order the removal of that authority from membership of the combined authority. Instead of this being a requirement, under Amendment 11 it would become an option for the Secretary of State to consider. Much, after all, may depend on the nature of the powers and functions to be devolved to the combined authority, or in any event exercised by it. There might, for example, be some functions which all the members of the combined authority might agree should be exercised collectively, but which might not be included in the Government’s package, relating to residual functions retained by the constituent councils.
For example, a particular devolution deal might not cover the provision of, say, sports or cultural facilities, which could, however, conveniently still be addressed by the combined authority. In such circumstances, the amendment would allow the Secretary of State to limit the particular authority’s voting participation in the combined authority to matters not included in the agreement with government. You would have a sort of binary system which would allow the combined authority for some purposes to function outside the deal where that would not therefore require the removal of the combined authority. It would be a matter of discretion for the Secretary of State.
To be honest, I am not quite sure what that would avail, but it is perhaps sensible to indicate that there should certainly be representations and consultation before any such decision was made.
The Chancellor appears to have made it clear—and we have heard much about this tonight—that combined authorities which prefer not to have a mayor will not be given powers on as generous a scale as those which accept the condition. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate what would be offered to such combined authorities. Where does the test lie in general terms? That would, to some degree, give a background to these amendments and, indeed, this relevant part of the Bill.
“for members or officers of a mayoral combined authority to assist the mayor in the exercise of general functions”.
Can the Minister enlighten us as to what sort of assistance the Government are contemplating in this provision and what would be the process for making an order? For example, with whom would the Secretary of State consult? The mayor? Presumably. The combined authority? Probably. The overview and scrutiny committee? Perhaps the Local Government Association, if these are general matters? Does subsection (6)(d), which provides that the Secretary of State may,
“provide for the terms and conditions of any such appointment”,
apply to the appointment of a political adviser only—because that is what the clause says—or to any appointment designed to “assist the mayor”, whatever that means? Again, perhaps the Minister could enlighten us. It may be that this might be a matter subject to further thought so the Minister could write to us and deposit the letter in the Library in the ordinary way if she is not able to answer the question tonight. I beg to move.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, in the situation where a local authority does not consent to a combined authority adopting a mayor, the Bill requires that if the Secretary of State makes an order to enable the mayoral model to be adopted, the Secretary of State must remove the non-consenting local authority from the combined authority. Amendments 11 and 12 would change this requirement to an option that the Secretary of State could choose to take and enable a local authority in this position to make representations.
I appreciate the intention behind these amendments but, as we have said, the Government are open to discussing devolution proposals from all places. We want areas to come forward with proposals, developed and proposed by local areas. If a local authority within an existing combined authority does not want to have an elected metro mayor, we believe that it should neither be forced to do so—going back to discussions earlier—nor be able to veto the rest of that combined authority from adopting this model. This is what the Bill does.
Amendment 11 would give discretion to the Secretary of State as to whether to remove the non-consenting local authority when making an order to provide that the combined authority area has a mayor. This would
in effect mean that the Secretary of State can force the local authority to remain within the combined authority, which we do not believe is appropriate.
Amendment 12 enables a local authority which has been removed from an existing combined authority, by virtue of its non-consent, to make representations. We also believe that this is not necessary. The Secretary of State must gain consent from each constituent local authority before an order can be made to enable an existing combined authority area to have a mayor. It is open to the local authorities when deciding whether to consent to make any representations they wish to.
“provide for members or officers of a mayoral combined authority to assist the mayor in the exercise of general functions”.
As the Bill stands, this provision allows for the mayor to be supported in his or her executive functions, in the same way that council officers support an elected mayor or leader of a council. For example, the mayor may set the strategy for the combined authority and officers would support the mayor in drafting, preparing and publishing any necessary plans. Removing this provision risks creating arrangements that would hinder the delivery of the mayor’s executive functions and hence frustrate the very purpose of a devolution deal. Mayors will be clearly identified as the accountable figurehead and be answerable to their electorate for any function they undertake or are assisted in undertaking, so it will be clear where the responsibility lies.
Lord Beecham: To respond to the first point, obviously the Minister—or those who helped to prepare her speech in response—did not take into account the case that I actually put, which was in relation to an authority, under the provisions of the Bill as it stands, being totally excluded from a relationship with the combined authority on matters that are not the subject of the deal. Perhaps the Minister will undertake to look at that aspect of it, which is really the thrust of the amendment. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the Assembly shall consist of P members (“Assembly Members”), where P is equal to the number of constituent authorities within the area of the mayoral combined authority, multiplied by five;
(b) each constituent authority shall be an Assembly constituency;
(c) each Assembly constituency shall elect five Assembly Members;
(d) each Assembly Member shall be a member of the combined authority.
Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I mentioned that I currently serve on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I very strongly support the committee’s recommendations to the House. I think I should apologise to the Minister, and indeed to the House, by saying that, in referring to two of the paragraphs in the committee’s report that refer to affirmative and negative process, I ought also to have referred to paragraph 61, which is much more important, and to which the Minister responded. I was very grateful for that response. I think I should put before your Lordships, and on record, the recommendation in paragraph 61:
“We note that the Government have introduced the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, currently before this House, and that provisions in that Bill relate to the same policy area as that addressed by the LRO. It seems to us that operating in one policy area through two separate legislative vehicles, which are progressing in parallel though at different speeds, presents particular difficulties to the House in considering the combined effects of the changes proposed”.
The Minister was one step ahead of me because she responded to that point, and I am very grateful to her. But now, on record, both of us are clear as to what that issue was. I am grateful for the assurances that she gave.
It may be that, in response to the debate on this group of amendments, the Minister can give us a clear idea of the timetable for bringing together these two very important developments on comparable issues relating to devolution and local government structures.
I see from the department’s note to that committee that there are repeated and very welcome references to the need for democratic accountability. With that in mind, I hope that the Minister will therefore respond positively to our amendments, particularly Amendments 14 and 17, to which I now speak. My noble friend Lord Shipley has already referred in general terms to these amendments, and we think that they are extremely important. They deal, of course, with Clause 1, along with a new schedule, and go to the very heart of the Bill.
During Second Reading, and to some extent again today, colleagues in all parts of your Lordships’ House expressed serious concerns at what I regard as the democratic deficit inherent in concentrating powers in the hands of one person. It is that which I fear weakens the Government’s promise of improved accountability. What we seek to achieve is a level of direct democratic accountability comparable to that now enjoyed in London. I challenge Labour and Conservative Members of your Lordships’ House to argue either that the Bill provides better accountability for the people of the areas concerned than that experienced by the people of London or, alternatively, that the inhabitants of at least the first tranche of combined authority areas up in the north do not deserve the
same level of democratic accountability. It is surely patronising and divisive to say that what is needed for London is not needed outside London. Certainly, that is not in the spirit of effective devolution. Our amendments are designed to adapt the now well-established governance system, bringing together citizens, boroughs, an Assembly and a mayor for London to make it appropriate for these new authorities.
Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, explained with what care and huge scrutiny and attention the legislation for London was considered. All those who have looked again, as I have, at the requirements for the Greater London Authority and for the mayor, will recognise that that was indeed an important parliamentary exercise. I certainly agree with the noble Lord that we should examine it with care.
Amendment 14 simply articulates the principle that there should be an assembly in each of the mayoral combined authorities. It provides for each local authority area that makes up the combined authority to contribute five directly elected assembly members to the total. This would mean that a combined authority with only two constituent councils would have a small assembly of only 10. A large authority would have a larger assembly. But in view of the comments made earlier, for clarity, I should explain that we have at this stage not ruled out additional representatives indirectly appointed by constituent authorities. However, this is just one option for further discussion. Each assembly member, properly elected, would be a member of the combined authority in their own right.
Amendment 17 takes the Committee through the detailed arrangements for the way in which these assemblies would work. As the Committee would expect of an amendment from these Benches, we would provide for members to be elected by the single transferable vote. It also provides that all those entitled to vote in the election for mayor would also be entitled to vote in the election for assembly members. Most critically, this new schedule seeks to mirror the accountability arrangements set out in the Greater London Authority Act for assemblies to hold mayors’ feet to the fire—to hold them effectively to account.
Members of this House who have been members of the Greater London Assembly would certainly tell us that its current functions should be strengthened. I agree, not least in relation to budgets—I know that my noble friend Lord Tope certainly takes that view, too—yet the provisions in the GLA Act are so much stronger in terms of accountability than anything the Government are currently proposing in this Bill. If the Government are at all serious about accountability, therefore, these provisions must be the starting point for holding mayors accountable for what they do on behalf of the wider community. The GLA arrangements would give statutory rights, for example, to assembly members to ask questions of the mayor and senior employees of the authority and have them answered. They would also provide for the assemblies to set up committees and these could be particularly important in relation to, for example, the PCC powers that the Government wish mayors to take on.
between these authorities and the GLA, so I should say up front that we do not say that our drafting is the last word—of course it is not. It is merely the first word. That is why we have a parliamentary process. That is the whole point of having Committee followed by Report and Third Reading. But Sections 50 to 65 of the GLA Act should be recommended reading for all of us if we are looking for some sort of template for how to ensure that the combined authorities are accountable and therefore capable of taking on greater power. The tried and tested clearly gives a real advantage in terms of empirical evidence, compared with just simply hoping for the best.
In summary, this set of amendments seeks to give full expression to the Government’s declared intention to provide the effective exercise of new responsibilities and powers in a way which is answerable to the local population of the area concerned. It gives practical expression to the local democracy initiatives set out earlier so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. It is surely essential to address this; otherwise, the development of the policy as set out in the Bill is not going to be popular and will fail in terms of democratic accountability. Irrespective of how the overview and scrutiny committees are constituted or chaired, they would certainly not fulfil the Government’s promise to make the combined authority,
“democratically accountable to local people”.
Without the tried and tested assembly system to provide effective accountability, we are indeed in danger of creating new one-party states, as my noble friend Lord Shipley put it earlier, with the mayor, the deputy mayor and a vast majority of indirectly appointed members of the combined authority from the constituent authorities, all of the same political persuasion. Without the safeguards in our amendments, your Lordships’ House will be conniving at the creation of new elective dictatorships—new rotten boroughs, if you like.
This solution will be particularly appropriate for areas like Norfolk, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred, and indeed to my erstwhile area in Cornwall. That is because if we move beyond the first tranche of combined authorities, areas such as those would expect a degree of democratic accountability. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, in his place, as indeed he has been throughout our debates today. He made a very important contribution in the debate on Second Reading. He referred to,
“the need for transparency and public scrutiny”.
“the Bill could lead to a concentration of power in the hands of one political party. We have seen all too recently—I am thinking of Tower Hamlets—what can happen when too much power is put in the hands of one person without effective scrutiny.—[
, 8/6/15; col. 707.]
I agree entirely, and I hope the Minister will too. She has said this evening that her aim for this legislation is strong and accountable democracy. I agree with that as well, but I do not see it in the Bill as it stands, and therefore I beg to move.
I may put him right. My main concern is to ensure scrutiny, and there are many ways of skinning the cat. I think that we can look forward to more detail at some stage about how the scrutiny committees can do their work. I am not convinced in London that an elected assembly does the job, and I am certainly concerned about there being a new layer of government, which I think will complicate everything. Although I share the noble Lord’s view about transparency and scrutiny, I cannot support his amendment.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I should like to speak briefly to this group of amendments, to two more of which, Amendments 25 and 26, I have attached my name. I do not want to repeat what my noble friend Lord Tyler has said in relation to Amendments 14 and 17, other than that I agree entirely with him. This really matters because it will bring a fuller elected element into the creation of the mayoral combined authority. At present, the direct connection between the ballot box and the mayoral combined authority is only the mayor, a single person with a direct mandate. For the combined authority to succeed, it needs greater legitimacy. Our Amendment 14 suggests five directly elected members to the combined authority from each of the constituent councils, and we propose election by single transferable vote because, without it, you will not get the multiparty representation that we need to prevent a one-party state arising. Taken together, this set of amendments would prevent the one-party state, which is what we have been talking about today. No doubt we shall look at this further on Report, along with Amendment 17, which explains some of the detail behind Amendment 14.
Let me briefly mention Amendments 25 and 26. I well remember the Bill to establish police and crime commissioners going through your Lordships’ House a few years ago. It was then seen to be a full-time position. Here:
along with all the other things that the mayor will undertake. There is a question of workload. Our discussion on this has been inadequate to date—at least on the evidence provided by the Government on the ability of a single person to undertake the functions of a mayor and a police and crime commissioner, handling social care and health, transport, economic development, regeneration, skills, housing and strategic planning. Putting all that in the hands of one person, even with delegation to a deputy mayor and perhaps to other members of the combined authority, seems an enormous, indeed impossible, workload. Our proposal would mean a slightly larger combined authority—and directly elected—and seems a better way to proceed.
Lord Teverson (LD): My Lords, it is often said, as the noble Lord opposite did, that it is not good to have another level of government and that people in this country think that there are enough levels of political classes, so we should avoid having more. I agree with that to a degree, but by having an elected mayor we already have that extra level of government. If we are to have it, and this Bill lays out that additional level of
government, we should have one that is accountable and is of a good and proper quality to bring that level of government to account.
This amendment would do exactly that. If we are to have this extra level of government, which appears to be right at this time, and to make combined authorities work for the benefit of their larger regions, we should indeed have much greater accountability. That accountability—multiparty, and independents as well as parties within the process—is exactly as the amendments lay down. It is absolutely critical for good and credible government. More important perhaps is that we do not come back in five years to correct a mistake that we may have got into by having local authorities that are completely inward looking, self serving, uncritical and that lose the confidence of their populations. That would mean that this important experiment of devolution had failed.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds (Lab): My Lords, the amendments seems to cover two different areas: first, whether there is a need for oversight of a democratically elected mayor; and secondly, the proposed way of dealing with that. This will clearly vary depending on the part of the country we are in. In my view, the way in which an elected mayor, if there is one in a combined authority, will be held to account is by the constituent local authorities, their elected representatives and the leaders of those authorities. The idea that you need another elected body to hold those people to account seems crazy to me. I think of myself many years ago as leader of Leeds and of West Yorkshire. The idea that there would be another elected body that would hold this mayor to account and that I took no part in it is simply not credible. It simply would not work. Indeed, it would not be effective at all; there would be a great deal of conflict.
So, first, such an arrangement is not necessary to hold an elected mayor to account, should there be an elected mayor. For the record and as I said at Second Reading—despite my earlier remarks, which may be misunderstood—I can understand that a combined authority may occasionally wish to have a mayor. Many will not, but some will. Secondly, the particular arrangement proposed could lead to very odd results. Take my area of West Yorkshire. The local enterprise partnership includes four of the five metropolitan districts of West Yorkshire, plus three shire districts outside that include Skipton, Harrogate and Selby, plus North Yorkshire. Having five elected persons per district would give the area containing Selby an equal number to Leeds. I suggest that that would not be democratic and it would not be understood. I do not care what the system of election would be; it would be very undemocratic and unbalanced.
Trying to find an arrangement that leads to an elected process in addition to having leaders of strong and powerful local authorities—taking the amendments as they are—does not stand up. First, they are not necessary, and secondly the proposal as made in detail is not workable. I therefore oppose the amendments.
but they are not imposing a London executive mayor model. The GLA works to hold the elected mayor to account. How well it does that is open to question. I have never been to a GLA meeting but I have watched a bit on television. It was not the most riveting television I must say, but it did not seem that the mayor was particularly well disposed towards the scrutiny he was receiving, so I am not sure that it has even been that successful in London.
My noble friend Lord Woolmer of Leeds got this absolutely right: outside of London, the combined authority is a very different body. Whereas it works collaboratively and collectively to do things for the area, the 10 leaders in Greater Manchester are still advocates for their own areas. They want to work together, but if something was not in the interest of their particular area they would ensure that the mayor was fully abreast of that opinion. That is where the difference is: we would suddenly tag on, to an effective meeting of already 11 people, 50-plus others from across Greater Manchester. What kind of meeting is that? It would not be an executive meeting; it would simply be a talking shop. We do not need more talking shops. We want to make sure that this devolution really works. That means getting hold of the powers and putting them in in effective ways.
Democratic accountability in our area will be through elected local authorities. That seems to me what is missing in London: we have a big gap between the mayor and the boroughs. That is what does not work in London and what will work in the new combined authorities.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Woolmer and Lord Smith for basically setting out our position on these amendments. We do not believe they are appropriate. It seems to me the key point that has been made is that you cannot draw a parallel between the London model and where we are with these combined authorities because you have members of the combined authorities—not via this election process but directly representing the constituency authorities—who are involved in holding an elected mayor to account, if there is one, through the two-thirds rule on the budget et cetera, but who collectively, as my noble friend said, have functions for which they are responsible. If you go down the route of adding to those elected members, what precisely is the role of those members in comparison with the members who are already there by virtue of the indirect arrangement? Therefore, I do not think that the model fits and it is unhelpful to try to make it fit.
There are other issues as well, perhaps of less consequence, but the proposal is for an assembly only for mayoral combined authorities. What about other combined authorities if there are no mayoral functions? They would still possibly have the same range of functions but this solution is not offered here. The assembly seems to be offered whatever level of devolution is given to the mayor. In some cases there may be full-blown powers for the mayor, including in PCC matters; in others that is not so, so to have the same arrangement in each case—or to propose it—does not
seem to make sense either. However, that is not the substantive point. I think the substantive point is that made by my noble friends.
In terms of the numbers, as we heard, in Manchester’s case we could go from 11 members at the moment, including the mayor, up to 61, whereas London, as we know, has only 25. I appreciate that those figures could be adjusted but it is still a big increase. What is the role of those members who are going to come through the system on this basis? Are they just there to scrutinise? How does their role differ from that of the other combined authority members?
If you look at the number of combined authorities which may be created—some are already under way—there is Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Tyne and Wear, and South Yorkshire, and there are prospects for east Midlands, south Hampshire, Bristol and Leicester. Who else might follow? How many assemblies are we seeking to assemble here? As I said earlier, we have a proliferation of voting systems: first past the post for the council elections; a single transferable vote proposed for the assembly; and the supplementary vote for mayors. I am sure the electorate will be able to cope with that over time but it does not seem to me a great example of clarity and linking with the electorate.
Others have already mentioned the fact that there is an overview and scrutiny committee but that is not the only way that scrutiny is exercised. As we know—the Manchester agreement sets this out very clearly—combined authority members have a role of potentially restraining the mayor.
I wish to make a broad point. I can understand Liberal Democrats having a particular view on the voting system. They may think that it is unfair and that it does not produce a proportional outcome. I make no particular comment on that. However, it seems to me wrong to potentially fetter the situation that we are talking about here with a proposal just to balance up for doing something which in their eyes may seem to be a deficit in the arrangements that would otherwise be in place. It seems to me wrong to use this process for those purposes. So, for a variety of reasons, I do not think this is the right way to go and we certainly will not support it.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for some very measured and sensible comments on these amendments. First, I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on the DPRR committee. As I indicated earlier, we will respond before the end of the Committee stage, which is next Monday. The committee has recommended that the LRO be subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure. With this procedure, the expectation must be that the LRO will not come into force, if Parliament approves it, until late 2015. However, as I have already indicated, we are now seriously recommending including the LRO provision in the Bill—so I hope that that helps him—and it will overcome the difficulties identified by the Delegated Powers Committee.
Amendment 14 provides that an elected assembly must form part of a combined authority. It seeks to insert into the Bill new Schedule 5BA, which provides that the functions and procedure of the elected assembly
are the same as those for the London Assembly. I understand the intention behind the amendment. First and foremost, I understand that those who are proposing this amendment want a bigger role for the ballot box. They see that this is provided in the London mayoral model, where there is an assembly that holds the mayor to account.
However, London is unique. Greater Manchester is unique. Greater Manchester is not London and London is not Greater Manchester. This is not in the civil servants’ notes. All of us from Greater Manchester are very clear about that point and clear that we do not want additional tiers of government. I am confident that other local areas probably feel the same. We do not want to create additional bureaucracy, which would cost the taxpayer money. The devolution of powers to areas will instead create efficiencies and allow each area to find its own creative solutions to the particular challenges it faces in securing long-term sustainable growth.
In order to hold the mayor and combined authority to account for their decisions and actions, the Bill provides that all combined authorities must have one or more overview and scrutiny committee drawn from the members of the constituent councils. Like the London Assembly, these overview and scrutiny committees can require the mayor, officers and members to attend their meetings and answer questions. I am sure that we will discuss the role of scrutiny more fully when we examine the later clauses of the Bill. We are determined to ensure that scrutiny is as strong and robust as it can be. That scrutiny provides the real protection against the fears of a one-party state, and must be seen to be effective, transparent and independent so as to maintain public confidence in the institutions and governance arrangements to which we will be devolving wide-ranging powers. I reiterate my earlier offer—because the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was on his way out of the door when I was making it—about any suggestions that noble Lords might wish to make on how we ensure that scrutiny is as robust as possible.
However, we do not want, and I am convinced that few in our cities and counties will want, a new tier of government—a new tier of politicians. The experience of the metropolitan county councils, which my noble friend Lord Heseltine abolished through the legislation he introduced, shows the problems and weaknesses of having inevitably competing tiers of politicians. That said, I believe that with the right legislative framework for allowing areas to draw together scrutiny committees with a broad membership and strong powers, the future governance arrangements can indeed fulfil the aims of those proposing these amendments that public confidence will be maintained and, more importantly, that devolution will work, benefiting the local communities that it serves.
Amendment 17 sets out the electoral arrangements for an elected assembly, using a single transferable vote model. This is a complex electoral system that would be costly and time-consuming to implement. As noble Lords have pointed out, we would have a very confusing array of arrangements for local elections. Introducing STV for all local elections would require
significant changes to existing electoral boundaries and could not be introduced, even if it were desirable, within any short timescale.
“for the relevant combined authority to enable the mayor to take on the functions of a police and crime commissioner for that area”.
Notwithstanding the explanations I have already given as to why we would not want there to be an elected assembly for a mayoral combined authority, we consider that there is no need to require any additional body to approve the transfer of police functions to the mayor. The transfer of police and crime commissioner functions to the mayor forms part of the devolution deal and is actually analogous to the situation in London. The Bill requires that all the appropriate authorities in an area would have to give consent before an order to transfer police and crime commissioner functions could be made. Hence we are clear that the transfer of PCC functions will be a matter on which the combined authority and/or its constituent councils must agree.
I can also reassure noble Lords that in order for the mayor of a combined authority area to take on PCC functions, the Secretary of State will be required to lay an order setting out the detail of how PCC functions will be transferred to the mayor, and Parliament will have the opportunity to fully consider this. With these explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I thank the Minister. I and my colleagues warmly welcome the assurance she has been giving us—she repeated what she said earlier—because we regard the way in which the Bill will provide for “robust scrutiny”, which I think was the Minister’s phrase, as absolutely critical to its success. We welcome any discussions that can take place before, during and after Report because it is critical to the Bill.
I modestly and tentatively suggest, at this time of night, that when the Minister says that she and the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, are the “we” who have decided that they do not want to have elected members looking at this, they are not all the people of Greater Manchester. We have to be careful in this House about assuming that, because there has been no attempt yet to look at this in the wider community, somehow the leaders of party groups in particular areas can speak for the whole population of that area.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: I want to clarify that the point I made was that we in Greater Manchester—not me and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, but we as elected members, as I was—did not want additional layers of bureaucracy or tiers of government.
Lord Teverson: Perhaps I could intervene on that to say: but of course not. The people who tend to be involved do not like the boat being rocked, which is part of the problem. The establishment of a political area are the last people who would want greater accountability through another body. Regrettably, that is the way in which politics works: we are defensive
about our own seats of power, and that is the danger of this proposal. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Tyler.
I say to the Minister that I think she was probably not involved in any discussions about the Greater London Authority Bill, when these sorts of arguments were also advanced by the leaders of Labour councils in the boroughs of London. They were fearful that the electorate might have other views about priorities. I also suspect that the Mayor of London would be only too pleased to have a scrutiny committee that had no democratic mandate, as it is in the Bill. The next Mayor of London may or may not have a view on that, too. I simply make the point that, if it was good enough for London, we should at least seriously examine whether these new combined authorities are going to have a sufficiently effective mechanism for holding the mayor to account. I do not believe that the Bill provides that at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and others think that we can develop that proposal and it may be that by the time the Bill has finished its passage through your Lordships’ House, we have somehow managed to give the scrutiny committees that sort of role. I have to say that, as things stand, the Bill does not provide for that. I was disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, was not along with me on this because he had a serious point, and I suspect that we may have some discussions and come to an agreement about how to provide this by some means. However, what really worried me was when the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, said that the combined authority would have an executive meeting function. Not so: in my mind, the mayor is the executive. If the leaders are simply there to back up the mayor, who may well be of the same persuasion politically, that will be no scrutiny. It will not be accountable.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I do not believe that the noble Lord is right on that issue. This is one of the differences between London and the combined authorities that we are talking about. The combined authorities will have members who are appointed by the constituent elected authorities, and they as well as the mayor will have functions to perform. It is not only the mayor, if there is one, who gets all these functions; it is other members of the combined authority as well. That is the situation that I do not think the noble Lord has taken into account in his analysis.
Lord Tyler: I think I am still responding; I hope that is right. I think the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, is in a major constitutional confusion on this. You cannot have both sides, the mayor and the constituent authority, exerting executive authority in some form without, in the words of the Minister, effective, accountable democracy—I think that was her phrase.
The time is late, and I am not suggesting that we have the perfect solution. I have already said that this is our first attempt to do this, and maybe we can develop a better one. However, I say to those who are opposing our proposal that, if they are seriously saying that the governance of London is somehow defective and therefore we cannot look at it as a proper model for what should go in this Bill for major conurbations in other parts of the country, and that somehow the people of the north do not deserve the same degree of democratic control over the executive, I wish them to say so publicly.
For the time being, I suggest to the Minister that we should look more carefully at the way in which a mayor is held to account. In those circumstances, and with the assurance that she has given us that we will return to this on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, just before we conclude this aspect of the Bill, I confirm that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, is actually right. Secondly, to say that the London arrangements are not right for other places is not to say that those arrangements are defective but, rather, to say that what suits London does not necessarily suit other places.
(3) When the office of mayor is first established, the Secretary of State may by order make provision for alternative arrangements for the mayor’s term of office and the date of the election to the extent necessary to allow synchronisation with other elections.”
Lord Beecham: My Lords, Amendment 14A is a manuscript amendment arising from the recently published report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Although it is a manuscript amendment, I did not write it myself; if I had, the Public Bill Office would not have been able to read it. It is, however, as noble Lords will see, in printed form. It embodies the position taken by the Delegated Powers Committee on the organisation of elections. The amendment derives from paragraph 6 of the report, which I quote:
“Given the importance of the functions which a mayor is able to exercise, and the emphasis placed by the Government on the democratic accountability offered by an elected mayor, we do not consider it appropriate for the Bill to delegate to subordinate legislation the ordinary length of a mayor’s term of office or the ordinary election dates”.
“It seems to us that any power to provide for those things in subordinate legislation should be limited so that it can only be exercised to the extent necessary to allow synchronisation with other elections, when the office of a mayor is first established”.
Hence the provisions of Amendment 14A: that a mayor’s term of office should be four years; that elections should be held on the ordinary day of election in the election year for the relevant local authorities—I contrast that with the disastrous turnout in the elections for police commissioners, which took place in a cold dark day in November; no doubt that contributed to the minuscule turnout, though perhaps that was not the only reason—and, finally, that when the office of mayor is first established, the Secretary of State should by order make provision for the alternative arrangements for the mayor’s term of office and the date of the election to the extent necessary to allow synchronisation with other elections. That tidies up that particular area.
The other amendments are of a rather different character. Amendment 15 would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in a mayoral election. For many of us, I think the only satisfying part of the referendum process in Scotland, apart from the outcome, was the very high participation rate, particularly among 16 and 17 year-olds, who were allowed to vote. In our view, it is highly desirable that young people should be encouraged to take an interest in politics from an early age. We also argue that citizenship should play a more prominent part in the education agenda—the Lord Speaker’s efforts to encourage Members of this House to address schools and young people generally are a small but important part of that process. Giving those young people the vote at an early age—after all, they are able to pay taxes, be employed and so on—seems to me to be absolutely right. We have to acknowledge that young people are not the quickest to register in any event, so the earlier we can get them into the process, the better. Their future will be very much affected by the work of combined authorities and other aspects of local services.
The final amendment, Amendment 16, would simply require any new legislation to be in force six months before it is due to be implemented, so that there will not be a great last-minute rush to sort out the physical arrangements of elections and they can be planned well in advance and with efficiency. That applies both to the electorate itself and to returning officers and the like engaged in that process. In my submission, these are sensible, tidying-up arrangements to facilitate the smooth operation of whatever process will be involved if we get to holding elections under the terms of the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on all these amendments. As he said, Amendment 14A reflects the concerns of the DPRRC, to which I referred earlier. I am sure he is right in saying that this should be in the Bill, and I hope the Minister will be prepared to accept that. It would be consistent with what has already been recommended, and I understand from what the Minister has said that she has effectively welcomed the committee’s recommendations.
the franchise to 16 for all elections. As the noble Lord said, it was a triumphant success in Scotland. It is now also in legislation ready for any comparable referendum in Wales, and I understand that the Prime Minister himself has said that he expects a vote in due course on a general extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds.
My only concern about Amendment 15 is that it is specific only to this one form of election. I think that is a great mistake. We on these Benches will be bringing forward a later amendment to extend this throughout local government. There has been far too much ad hocery and too many piecemeal attempts to deal with the franchise. Imagine if the extension of the franchise to women had been done on this piecemeal basis, with parts of the United Kingdom doing it in different ways to other parts. Imagine if it had been said, “Only in mayoral authority elections are we going to allow women to have the vote immediately. Others will have it at another time”.
I do not want this to sound smug, but we have been consistently in favour of this policy and very much welcome the arrival of the Labour Party in support of it. I think I am right in saying that some other party north of the border has also joined the bandwagon. Nothing should be read into that: it is simply that we take pride in the fact that the sheer advocacy of this logical extension of the franchise is now getting new recruits. In the meantime, I hope the Minister will respond positively to Amendment 14A. Perhaps she would like to keep her firepower for dealing with the wider issue of 16 and 17 year-olds for when, at the very end of consideration in Committee, we get to Amendment 48. In view of the time of night, I leave it there.
Lord Beecham: As the Minister implied, jumping on the bandwagon with the Liberal Democrats is not generally a fruitful proposition. Indeed, the concept might be an oxymoron. We are certainly adopting a somewhat Fabian approach to the extension of the franchise. I am a little surprised that the noble Lord’s broader amendment has been regarded as within the scope of the Bill, but if it has then so be it. We would certainly look to an extension of the franchise but for the purposes of what we are discussing here the amendment we have drafted is correct.
Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as the Bill currently stands, the ability of the Secretary of State to set the timings of elections by order allows for the fact that there is no single pattern of local elections across the country with which a new mayoral election may be synchronised. It also recognises that devolution deals would be bespoke and therefore it is possible that different arrangements may be sought by and agreed with different areas. For example, an area may wish its mayoral election to be held in a year where there are no council elections while another area may wish to combine mayoral and council elections. While we expect that the majority of areas will wish the mayoral term to be
four years—the same as councillors—we would not want to rule out the possibility of, say, a five-year term, the same as Parliament, if that is what a particular area wanted.
The essential point is that, whatever arrangements are adopted, they will be put in place only after this House and the other place have debated and approved them. Moreover, these provisions in the Bill replicate those for local authority mayors in the Local Government Act 2000. The 2000 Act also provides a default position so that, if the order-making power is not exercised, a mayor’s term is four years and the election takes place on the ordinary election day, the first Thursday in May in the relevant election year—that is, the election specified in the Act for different classes of councils. However, that is a default position, as indeed was recognised in the report by the DPRRC. Rather than setting out a default position, the amendment proposes a more restricted arrangement that applies in all circumstances other than when the office of mayor is first established. Given that the purpose of the Bill is to implement bespoke deals, it would be inappropriate to include such an inflexible position. However, we are prepared to look at whether to include in the Bill some genuine default provision. This would not in any way curtail the scope of the order-making powers in Schedule 5B but would be the provisions that apply if an order were not made.
Amendment 15 would change the franchise for those entitled to vote for mayor in a combined authority area to include 16 and 17 year-olds. The Bill provides that the franchise for electing these mayors, which would have been established as an integral part of an agreed package of powers to be devolved to the combined authority, should be the same as that for electing councillors in any electoral area situated within the combined authority. The voting age in those areas is 18. More broadly of course, the voting age for parliamentary elections is set at 18. Beyond that, the voting age in most democracies, including most member states of the EU, is also 18. In the EU, only Austria allows voting for 16 year-olds.
We have heard arguments for a change in the voting age. However, my concern is that that is part of a wider debate and it would not be appropriate—as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said—for any such change to be implemented in these quite specific circumstances. I have concerns as well about the administrative complexity of running an election in an area based on a register that would include 16 and 17 year-olds and running other council elections or referenda in the same area, quite likely on the same day, on a different basis with a different franchise. These are circumstances in which the risk of confusing the electorate is very real and this can only weaken, rather than strengthen, our local democracy. There is a wider national debate to be had about the electoral franchise, but I am clear that the specific circumstances of the Bill are not the place for it. Accordingly I hope that, on this basis, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
that election should be in force at least six months before it is required to be implemented. This follows clear principles recommended by the Electoral Commission, which we would definitely consult—indeed, which the Bill requires us to consult—on any provisions regarding the conduct of this election.
I should start by being clear that the Government recognise that it is important that electoral administrators and campaigners have good time to understand how electoral law works before it is applied. Our intention is that, where we make legislation affecting an election, wherever possible it is in force six months before that election. Where the circumstances are such that this six-month period is clearly important and there can be no risks or downsides in making this six-month period a statutory, mandatory provision, Parliament has done this. An example is the power in the Representation of the People Act 1983, under which an order may be made changing the ordinary day of elections so as to be the same as the date of the poll for the European parliamentary elections.
I have concerns about whether it is always appropriate to be governed by a specific timeframe. While recognising the need to ensure the legislation is passed in plenty of time, where we are dealing with complex rules already in place and a minor modification is recognised and widely agreed to be needed, we should not be unable to make that change because of some statutory requirement such as this amendment would insert. Perhaps I can reassure noble Lords that the elections for the mayor of a combined authority would be run on the same well-established principles as other mayoral
elections. The conduct rules for these elections will draw on those used for the conduct of other mayoral elections, which are tried, tested and fully understood by electoral administrators and will be familiar to all concerned.
Our expectation is that the first of the elections for a metro mayor will be in May 2017, a timeframe that ensures we can consult the Electoral Commission properly, as we are bound by the Bill to do, and put appropriate rules in place.
Lord Beecham: At this stage, I am prepared to accept that, but I hope that the Minister might have a rather quicker consultation with the Electoral Commission and, indeed, will respond to the report of the Delegated Powers Committee with a view to seeing whether, on Report, it is necessary to produce amendments for decision then. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment tonight.