The very process of these negotiations has been positive. They have brought together neighbouring authorities which, on occasion, have not had the most cordial of relationships, but that is changing. The involvement of business through the local enterprise partnerships, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) said, has been very important too. It will

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be crucial that agreements we make should involve the support of business if we are to make the progress that we seek.

We have briefly discussed the further opportunities. Not everything to do with devolution is contained in this Bill. I do not want to overclaim its powers as a panacea for 100 years of centralisation. The arrangements for business rate retention will no doubt come through other means, whether through the local government financial settlement or through future spending reviews, but it seems to me that this is a very important part of a suite of measures that will allow us to make the progress that is needed.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: I will not give way to colleagues who have intervened before. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith).

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): I am extremely grateful. My right hon. Friend rightly talks of engaging people throughout the country and I welcome what the Bill does. It provides an important opportunity for engaging young people in politics. He will know that the Lords inserted clause 20 in the Bill. Can he assure me that he shares my view that we ought to look at the franchise in the round? Although I support votes at 16, we ought to consider that in the round.

Greg Clark: I entirely agree. There is a debate to be had about the voting age. That should be considered on its merits in an appropriate piece of legislation, not as an afterthought in a Bill that is about existing institutions, rather than about voting in particular.

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), then I will conclude.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I warmly support the Bill, which my right hon. Friend and others have long championed. I refer to London in particular. My right hon. Friend has referred to the great cities in the north and in the midlands, but how will the Bill relate to London? He will be aware that London has asked for full fiscal responsibility and devolution. Will the Bill enable that? Also, will he clarify the position in relation to the setting up of the Greater London Authority, which was done through an Act of Parliament, and how that will interrelate with the Bill?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend has great expertise in these matters and he will know that the London arrangements through successive Acts of Parliament are set up in statute in a different way from the rest of the country, so for that reason many of the provisions do not apply to London. He mentions fiscal devolution, and of course the business rates retention, which is not in the Bill but is a complementary reform, will be part of that. I hope it is clear to Members on both sides of the House that this is very much the direction in which the Government are proceeding, and there will be other measures complementary to that.

During our discussions I am sure the Government will want to reflect on points that have been made. Some changes have been made in the House of Lords—for example, to make it clear that in respect of the national

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health service, the responsibility for health arrangements will be that of the Health Secretary. We intend that the Bill will also allow for the creation of subnational transport bodies, Transport for the North being one, so we will want to reflect the powers to enable such bodies to be established.

In the past—in Victorian times—the world looked admiringly at Britain’s model of strong civic governance and the results that it delivered for our economy and our society right across the country. During the century that has passed since those times, that strength has been diminished by the appetite of this House to centralise power in London. Every Act that made that change left our local democracy less potent and the economy less balanced. We now need to restore local power and do it with enthusiasm. This is not an approach rooted in nostalgia or romantic sentiment; it is one of hard-headed judgment.

If we want to succeed to our maximum extent, every part of the country must contribute according to the best of its talents and its abilities. That requires strengthening the powers our cities, towns and counties have. We want to see a renaissance of local power that has the potential not only to benefit our cities and regions, but to transform the prospects of the entire country—to create one nation where energy and creativity are unleashed in every part of the country; one nation where ideas and ambition are rewarded; one nation where the rewards and benefits of success are available to all. That is the purpose of the Bill, and I warmly commend it to the House.

1.50 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords], notwithstanding the need for devolution to local communities, because the Bill does not offer meaningful devolution to England and would leave behind England’s town, county and shire regions, ignores the will of the people by imposing mayors as a condition of devolution, threatens the financial stability of local government by not offering a fair funding settlement, and fails to reshape central Government for a long-term commitment to devolution.

This is an important Bill and it arises at an important moment in our country’s political arrangements. The Secretary of State was at his charming best. He has a reputation for being a very charming individual, and he did his best to charm the House, but I am not sure he convinced the House, and I will explain why in a minute. I am afraid, although I do like to create consensus, coming from Yorkshire I feel I ought to add a little Yorkshire grit.

The Secretary of State has convinced me that he means well and he believes in devolution, and so do we, but unlike him we would do it from the bottom up, rather than have a top-down model of imposition. We would also search for a more comprehensive model, rather than a piecemeal one, as in this Bill. Finally, we would be much bolder, because particularly in England there is a huge democratic deficit and we need to understand better this English problem. Rather than tackling it piecemeal, as the Government are trying to do, we would take a wholesale approach. That is the model we are going to set out.

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John Redwood: Can the hon. Gentleman explain how we can have both a comprehensive solution and only do it bottom-up on the basis of the wishes of people?

Jon Trickett: It is easy: we will launch, hopefully with other parties, a constitutional convention that will try to reach out into every village, church hall, town hall, city hall and every part of the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join us and others in looking again at the political arrangements of the country.

Several hon. Members rose

Jon Trickett: I will take two or three interventions and will then move on, because we have to give Back Benchers an opportunity to make their contributions.

Robert Neill: Can I take it from what the hon. Gentleman has said that under no circumstances will any future Labour Government seek to reintroduce imposed regional assemblies, imposed regional planning or imposed tough binding targets for housing or any other matter on any English local authority, or any form of capping?

Jon Trickett: We will engage in a national debate from the bottom up, using the constitutional convention, which has been used in other countries, to try to create a new framework for Britain.

Joan Ryan: May I take my hon. Friend back to an issue that was raised with the Secretary of State: Sunday trading? I should say that I speak as a proud member of USDAW, the shop workers union. It is very concerned about the possibility that the Government will tack on to the end of this Bill at a later stage a change to the Sunday Trading Act 1994 that will benefit nobody, does not create jobs and harms millions of shop workers and damages our community day off—Sunday. Will my hon. Friend commit that he will resist that and will ensure that if that happens we will have a full and proper debate?

Jon Trickett rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before the shadow Minister continues, may I say that interventions must be very short? Members are expecting to be called to speak. There will shortly be a six-minute limit; the way we are going, we will have to drop it to three minutes. I do not want to do that; I want to get everybody in. So we want fewer interventions, and speedy replies may help as well.

Jon Trickett: I do give that commitment to my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan).

Several hon. Members rose

Jon Trickett: I will also try to make some progress before giving way again, because I have only got to the second paragraph of my speech so far.

When I first opened the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, I did so with a momentary tremor of excitement. I asked myself whether this Bill was going to give the great English cities, but equally the market towns, the villages, the country areas and shire districts, a real settlement and real power over their futures.

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I wondered whether this would be an ambitious Bill that would deliver for England, in all its complexity, the devolution a Labour Government enacted for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. I wondered whether this would be a Bill that gave people up and down the land, from 16 years of age and upwards, the chance to have a real say in how they are governed.

I read the Bill carefully, and with all due respect I have to ask: may I offer the Secretary of State some private advice, just between the two of us? He should recall the old political truth that hubris is always followed by nemesis. We English, certainly in Yorkshire, have a different way of capturing the same idea: we say “pride comes before a fall.” In this Bill, the Government are displaying a breath-taking level of highhanded treatment of our council colleagues.

In a democracy, we who hold power at the centre should never forget that authority flows up from below, rather than being imposed from above. The sad truth is the Bill offers a pretence at devolution. I will give five reasons why.

Let me come straight to the first and most central point. The Secretary of State did not reveal the whole picture in his answer on metro mayors. The truth is that metro mayors in local areas are a precondition of devolution, and that is simply wrong. It is doubly wrong when that imposition is applied even to areas where the local population voted only recently in a referendum to reject the idea of being governed by a mayor. The people of the great cities of Sheffield, Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Nottingham voted against metro mayors, yet the leaders of those cities tell me that as a condition of devolution they are now being required to accept something their own electorate rejected. That is triply wrong when the Government continue to impose this single model of governance even though they do not have the legal powers to do so.

In the other place a crucial amendment was passed that decoupled the imposition of mayors in urban areas from devolution deals. I was disappointed that the Secretary of State did not in his speech have the grace to say that the Government will now accept this amendment, which was backed by peers of all parties, including many distinguished Conservative peers.

Furthermore, in a powerful article in today’s The Daily Telegraph—essential reading for the Labour party—the Conservative hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who is in his seat now, puts it well, and perhaps better than I could:

“Devolving power but telling people how to exercise it, jars: if the deal is as good as we are being told, why not put it to a vote?”

Barbara Keeley: Perhaps some cross-party consensus could break out here, because I feel sure that if we had had a vote in Greater Manchester, which has always rejected the idea of a metro mayor across the whole of Greater Manchester, it would not have gone through, because every constituent part, with the recent exception of Salford, has voted against that.

Jon Trickett: I agree, and my hon. Friend makes the point I am making.

I have received strong representations in recent weeks from those who advocate that where a devolution deal includes an elected mayor, it is only right that a local

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referendum of voters takes place and it decides in favour of it. What we have at the moment is mayors being imposed where the referendum voted against. In the vast majority of the devolution deals that have been done since 1997, referendums were held to endorse constitutional settlements—in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London. Why should there not be a referendum for the northern powerhouse? There is merit in such an argument, and we will make sure that we test it in Committee.

Where there are to be mayors, the House must carefully consider appropriate systems of accountability and scrutiny, as Members on both sides have said. In the other place, Labour supported amendments to improve the audit of mayors. In Committee here, there will be much more to discuss. In London, the Mayor is directly accountable to a directly elected Assembly. Should not that model apply elsewhere?

Mr Ivan Lewis: Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is my party’s position that we massively believe in the transfer of power from Whitehall and Westminster to local authorities and communities? Will he pay tribute to the leadership of the many Labour councils, particularly those in Greater Manchester but also in other areas, that have innovated and pioneered devolution to provide higher-quality public services more effectively?

Jon Trickett: Of course; I said at the beginning of my speech that we are a pro-devolution party, but we want a comprehensive settlement. The people who must not be excluded from any new settlement are the citizens. The citizens of Greater Manchester should be part of any settlement. Indeed, where possible, power should be passed down to those citizens through what the former Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), has described as double devolution.

The programme motion allocates only two and a half hours in Committee—albeit on the Floor of the House—to debate all the amendments on the powers, functions and reporting mechanisms of any mayor who happens to be elected. That is clearly inadequate for such discussions.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the provisions relating to elected mayors in clause 3? Subsection (2) states:

“An order under subsection (1) shall not be used as a condition for agreeing to the transfer of local authority or public authority functions.”

Subsection (3) goes on:

“A mayor for the area of a combined authority is to be elected by the local government electors for that area”.

Does not that provide sufficient cover for what the hon. Gentleman is asking for?

Jon Trickett: Every one of the leaders I have spoken to—they have been negotiating with the Treasury, by the way, rather than with the Department for Communities and Local Government—has told me that, despite their objections, they have been told that they cannot have devolution unless they agree to a new form of governance, namely a metro mayor. That may or may not be what is on the face of the Bill, and we will see what the Government do in Committee and what amendments are tabled, but the truth is that this is a fait accompli.

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A single model has been imposed from on high. I invite Conservative Members to reflect on whether the only possible model for city and town governance involves a directly elected mayor with no accountability to a wider assembly. That is a presidential, not a parliamentary, model of governance, and it is anathema to the British constitution.

Mr Gareth Thomas: Charming as the Secretary of State might be, he nevertheless gave wind to the prejudice that lurks in one or two minds outside London that the capital has all the power and all the wealth. I know that my hon. Friend is bigger than that. Will he therefore acknowledge that, in the face of an acute housing crisis, Londoners recognise that more devolution needs to be given to the Mayor and the London Assembly so that we can properly tackle that crisis? For example, might my hon. Friend support an amendment to the Bill that would give London the same opportunities to control housing legislation that Scotland and Wales currently have?

Jon Trickett: We would look carefully at any amendment that was presented to us. The point I want to make is that the old days of a Westminster-based elite cooking up deals and imposing them on cities and other areas are over. It is time we consulted the people and engaged in a wider conversation, but that is precisely what the Government are avoiding.

Mr Betts: I have a lot of sympathy with the points that my hon. Friend is making about the imposition of elected mayors. Recognising that we will eventually need to move to a wider settlement, perhaps through a constitutional convention, does he accept that in the meantime it is not our party’s position to stand in the way of devolution deals to our colleagues in local government, particularly in major cities including Sheffield and Manchester?

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that local government leaders should not be directed by those on the Front Bench. If they feel that something can be done in a deal with the Government that will be beneficial to the community, they should do it. Equally, it is our duty to express opposition to the way in which this is being imposed on local government. I have spoken to council leaders in south Yorkshire, where my hon. Friend is a distinguished Member of Parliament, and they have told me that this deal is being imposed on them.

The second reason that the Bill is a pretence at devolution involves the wider context of local government finance. In a comprehensive Bill, there should surely be clauses regarding the way in which local government can be funded to make it more autonomous and less dependent on the centre, but the reverse is the case here. There should also be clauses regarding fair funding, as the cuts in recent years have been concentrated on the urban areas. We know that the Chancellor manipulated the formula for the benefit of certain areas in a way that was politically beneficial to the interests of the governing party.

The truth is that the Secretary of State is not devolving financial power, or any power. He is delegating Treasury cuts. What the Government give in pennies, they take

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back in pounds. Since 2010, local government in England and Wales has lost 40% of its funding. Now every children’s centre, every fire station, every care home, every nursery, every pensioner waiting for a bus, every youngster looking forward to attending a youth club on a Friday night and everybody of any age whose horizons are widened by public libraries—they and many others are anxiously waiting not for this Bill but for 25 November, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will announce his spending review.

The Tory-led Local Government Association is expecting further cuts to local authorities of up to an additional 40%. That is on top of the cuts that have already taken place. Cuts on that scale make a mockery of the Secretary of State offering further devolution. This is the delegation of cuts, not the devolution of powers.

I have already referred to the wise words of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West in that excellent journal, The Daily Telegraph. It has to be said that that paper has been on a roll this week. Yesterday, a report by its political editor stated:

“As many as four Cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary”,—

and two others, unnamed—

“have so far refused to submit to the Treasury plans to cut their departments by as much as 40 per cent.”

I put it to the House that the anti-austerity case that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has been pursuing has now extended to members of the Conservative Cabinet. It seems to have wider cross-party support than was first feared. But wait a minute! That same article reports that the Business Secretary and the Justice Secretary are “enthusiastically” preparing for massive cuts to their Departments. The House is entitled to ask what side of this dividing line our Secretary of State stands on. There is no mention of him in the article. Is he fighting the corner for those fire stations, libraries, care homes, students and nurseries? Or is he, like the Business Secretary and the Justice Secretary, “enthusiastically” anticipating cuts on a historically unprecedented scale?

Mr Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con) rose

Jon Trickett: In giving way to the hon. Gentleman, I invite him to tell us whether he supports the cuts that have already taken place in his local authority, as well as those that are going to take place in the next three years. I am sure that his local paper would be interested to hear this views on that.

Mr Prisk: My question is quite simple. At what point is the hon. Gentleman going to start referring to the Bill, rather than to The Daily Telegraph?

Jon Trickett: I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not answer my question.

The Bill ought to include reference to proper financial autonomy and to fresh financial arrangements for local government. Anything that pretends to offer devolution with one hand while retaining the power to control finances with the other is nothing more than an iron fist in a velvet glove.

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Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is making an important point about local government finance. Certainly, the two councils in my constituency are suffering very badly from the reductions in funding. Does he also recognise that, with the devolution of powers such as health, there is a complex situation starting to develop in which health budgets are ring-fenced, except public health, which has been top sliced, and adult social care, which has been decimated? There is still an overall budget deficit in the health and care system.

Jon Trickett: That emphasises my point. As much as the Bill may offer a form of devolution, the truth is that whenever financial decisions are made by the Treasury, true devolution will not be achieved. That is what should be in the Bill, and that is why the point I am making is so important.

My third reason for why the Bill is not satisfactory refers to something that is happening at No.11. It was announced at conference that business rates are to change, which must be a good thing, but, as always, the devil is in the detail. No clear announcement was made about how the redistribution between richer and poorer councils would take place. Some £26 billion is collected in business rates, £2 billion of which goes to Westminster council. We need more information in the Bill about how such a scheme will work. Let me say to Members, many of whom represent suburban areas in London, seaside towns, rural communities, shire districts, market towns and all the wonderful places that make up England, that they should be seeking answers to these questions. The Bill is silent on all these matters.

Fourthly, the Bill threatens to do a great disservice to the very backbone of England and English democracy. It is a puzzle to me why a Tory Secretary of State should ignore this. The market towns, the county villages, the shire counties, the county towns, the suburbs and some of the smaller freestanding cities are the backbone of England—the great cities are wonderful, but they are not the backbone—and they have been offered a second-class form of devolution. Why should that be? I was once privileged to lead the great city of Leeds, which is one of the most powerful economic and cultural engines in the north, and even in England. Indeed, the renaissance of English cities, mostly under Labour control, has been one of the great successes of the past 20 years—I have always thought that this should be added to the checklist of the enduring achievements of Labour in government—but this Bill risks neglecting all the areas that are not in those great urban centres. The potential for growth and enterprise lies elsewhere in England, which is a rich, diverse country that we all love. The Bill is almost silent on the matter. The Chancellor’s ambassadors who were running around the country did not bother to call in to the market towns and the shire towns of the country; they went to the big cities.

The bottom line for me is that the same powers should be on offer to both urban and rural areas of England. For example, whatever powers are available to metro mayors to raise business rates—by the way, it will not be possible to raise business rates unless an area has a metro mayor—should also be available to the smaller towns and the rest of England, too.

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the recent Cornwall deal, which deals with the very heart of the rural

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communities; it is not all about the big cities. The Prime Minister himself delivered that deal to the very rural area of Cornwall.

Jon Trickett: As everybody in local government knows, the truth is that the Treasury deals with the big cities. The big cities are where the glamour is and where the general direction of this Bill is. Other areas have been left to the lesser actors within the Government. It may be that, in some areas, the best way to promote connectivity and economic growth and to establish devolved institutions that reflect the identities and culture of the locality is to have a combined authority. Let me take Yorkshire and Humber as an example. My own view—I am not going to impose anything because we do not believe in imposition—is that Yorkshire has the strongest identity and is the most obvious economic unit. It is a great shame that the Government’s consultation process did not allow ordinary citizens of the county to be engaged in a debate about the county’s own future.

As with other proposals in the Bill, the only people excluded from having a view are the electorate themselves. That brings me to the final weakness in the Government’s proposals, which is their complete failure to consult the public, businesses and the wider civic society. What happened to the big society? Leaders of councils from all parties have basically had to enter negotiations with the Treasury, and we all know that it is the Treasury and not the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that is conducting these negotiations. The leaders have all entered into the negotiations with a gun held to their head. They either do devolution Whitehall’s way or it will not happen at all.

Council leaders have had to do the best they can for their areas, but it is noticeable that they and others are beginning to become more vocal in their concerns about this whole top-down process. For example, the great newspapers of the north-west, including the Manchester Evening News, The Bolton News, the Wigan Evening Post and the Oldham Evening Chronicle, have taken an unprecedented united stance in campaigning for a fair devolution deal. They are asking not only for the necessary funds to make devolution a reality, but for no more closed-door decision making. A basic flaw of the Bill is that there is no list of the powers that central Government seek to devolve. That is because, in reality, the whole agenda is being driven by Downing Street.

Let me briefly return to my opening remarks about hubris. It sounds like we all believe in devolution, but Labour are determined to make it happen. We will seek to work with those of other parties and those of no party who share the same objective. The past few weeks—I have spoken to leaders about what has happened over the past few weeks—have seen the demeaning process of the Chancellor’s emissaries dashing round the country meeting leaders in private, attempting to strong arm local councillors into so-called devolution deals for which there is as yet no statutory basis. I am sorry to say this but the Secretary of State, as charming as he is, has been little more than a passive observer. He was not even in the room. I fully understand why councillors will engage in these negotiations, and indeed some progress has been made—it is right that I should acknowledge that. However, we are not convinced that the Bill incorporates all the necessary safeguards to be supported in its present form, and that it is sufficiently bold or radical in resolving the English problems.

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Barbara Keeley: It is noteworthy that national organisations, such as the British Medical Association and the Nuffield Trust, are very concerned about the health proposals, and the Minister should take that on board. They have expressed concerns about how health powers and resources will be devolved. The matter is not clear. This is an area where there are already variations in funding, in standards of care and in the way NHS funding is used. This is a question for the Minister. What will national pledges and targets mean in future when there are shared budgets? It was forced on Greater Manchester, which is why none of it is clear.

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is why we need a comprehensive settlement to the constitutional and political problems facing our country. Clearly, there is a role for a central, active Government, but not for a bureaucratic top-down Government. Some decisions do need to be made nationally to ensure that there is no postcode lottery, especially in the health service and other areas. On the other hand, decisions should be made as close as possible by the people themselves.

Let me finish on the following point. Rather than remaking the shape of our democracy, the Bill is more about remaking the image of the Chancellor as he prepares to become the Tory party leader. In their present form, the deals that are being made will prove to be no more than a short-term fix. Most of them will not endure in the longer term. We will seek to amend the Bill, but would it not be preferable, even at this late stage, for the Secretary of State to agree to put aside the Bill for a period of time and join with us and others in the hard but necessary task of rebuilding our constitution and our political culture on a consensual basis from the bottom up? This Bill is a top-down imposition on local democracy.

2.19 pm

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution so early in this important debate. Let me begin by saying how warmly I welcome the principle that lies behind the Bill. The intention of bringing real power and decision making closer to the people we represent is one that I think almost all of us in this House share. From a Greater Manchester perspective, we must also acknowledge the great prize that lies ahead if we can achieve the proper integration of health and social care, but I emphasise the importance of getting the detail right in the implementation.

I would also like to thank the Secretary of State for the courteous and constructive engagement he has already offered to colleagues who are interested in the Bill, which gives me considerable confidence that we will be able to move forward in a way that delivers the objectives while overcoming the concerns that some of us have. He has also indicated that the Bill will be considered in Committee of the whole House, which is clearly the right thing to do.

I have four broad concerns. The first—the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) spoke about this at some length—relates to the imposition of the model of governance, which I think is unfortunate. We need to ensure not only that the public generally buy into the

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principle of devolution and feel that they own the new arrangements, but that the new arrangements bring genuine accountability to governance.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned some of the concerns about the devolution of healthcare. We already have a worrying straw in the wind in Greater Manchester, with the initial reorganisation of hospital services coming before all of this. It has been handled in a deeply regrettable fashion and raised considerable concerns. Certainly, I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of accountability in the process. Given that some of these issues are already arising, it is timely that we are now looking at them as we legislate and trying to ensure that accountability is in place.

Barbara Keeley: It is good that a consensus is being built across Greater Manchester. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, and I know that Wythenshawe hospital is very concerned about being left out of the equation in that regard, so how these decisions will be made and consulted on in future is very worrying. But there are other concerns as well. Salford was a leader in the integration of health and social care, and my fear is that that will now be set back by having to work across Greater Manchester.

Mr Brady: I agree with the hon. Lady. It would be regrettable if, in seeking to devolve power, we ended up taking some decisions further away from people and making it harder for their voices to be heard.

My second concern is about the distribution of powers. I hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s assurance that this can only be about bringing powers from central Government, but I do not think that is really clear in the Bill, so I would welcome much more clarity as we proceed in Committee. Clauses 8 and 9 make provision for the exercise of statutory functions in relation to an area to be transferred to a combined authority. Clause 5 makes it possible by order for any function of a mayoral combined authority to be a function exercisable only by the mayor. Therefore, I do not think that it is as clear in the Bill that power can move only in one direction as many of us would want to see. We might return to that at a later stage.

My third concern, which was raised with me by my local authority, relates to the possibility that this deal amounts to a one-way commitment. It relates to those local authorities that have made a commitment to the combined authority. The Greater Manchester agreement will place obligations on the local authorities, and certain expectations are being placed on the Government, but there is no mechanism by which the local authorities can hold this Government, or indeed any future Government, to account to ensure that they meet their obligations as part of the deal. I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider whether we might find a way to tighten the provisions and make it clearer that the Government’s obligations will be observed.

My fourth and final concern—in a way, this could provide a solution to all the other concerns—is about what happens if the arrangements do not work. What happens if a local authority reaches the point at which it regards the agreement as a mistake and thinks that the powers have been vested in the wrong place? It is the question of final resort. What are the terms under

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which a local authority could choose to walk away from a deal? What happens if it says, “This clearly isn’t what we bought into”— possibly a microcosm of a bigger debate that we might have by the end of 2017? It is about a local authority being able to leave a combined authority without penalty.

A deal that transfers spending from central Government to the local level is very welcome, but the mechanism set out in the Bill for allowing local authorities to leave a combined authority is very messy. Rather than the local authority simply deciding to opt out, the combined authority must decide to dissolve itself and then reform with the other authorities that wish to remain. The mechanism makes no provision for ensuring that a local authority can leave on fair terms and without penalty.

Andrew Gwynne: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about how one might unpick the constitutional arrangements of a combined authority. One example is the pooling and sharing of business rates. For instance, if Trafford decided to leave the combined authority, it would be very difficult to unpick that. Another example is the health devolution arrangements.

Mr Brady: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. These matters will need to be made clearer during the passage of the Bill.

In conclusion, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I think that the principle behind the Bill—the Government’s evident desire to transfer spending and decision making closer to the people—has very wide support, and I think that few Members of the House would differ from it. I will certainly vote enthusiastically for that principle today, although I anticipate having interesting debates and discussions in Committee. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the assistance and engagement that he has already offered in that regard.

2.27 pm

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I do not intend to spend a great deal of time speaking on the Bill, as clearly it affects only England and Wales, not Scotland. However, I would like to offer a few observations and questions that I hope will be of value.

First, I ask the House to consider the journey that Scotland has been on. The people of Scotland have been seeking devolution in some form or other for many decades. The experiences of the no vote in the 1979 referendum, the yes vote in the 1997 referendum and the recent independence referendum have all shaped public views on what devolution means and how it should operate. We arrived at this situation through public and civil society demanding change in a way that I am not quite convinced is yet the case for England’s cities and regions. Devolution should not be done in haste, and great consideration should be given to its purpose and the means by which local people will be involved.

Scotland is a hub of expertise on the devolution process, and we feel that public engagement is critical. We recognised the hunger for local community power by passing the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 in the Scottish Parliament and introducing the “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” consultation,

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in which the islands have demanded more powers from the Scottish Government. We support more efforts to deliver devolution for local authorities, but the process must be transparent and consider the views of local communities.

In the past two years there has been great consideration by organisations such as Common Weal and the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, as well as by other civic groups and individuals, such as Lesley Riddoch, whose book, “Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish”, looks at what shape democracy should take and how local people can be more involved in the process. I recommend that Members have a look at Lesley’s book to see how the bottom-up approach can be taken. I have asked the Library if it could seek a copy for their information. I also direct Members to the Electoral Reform Society Scotland’s Democracy Max project, which looked at the idea of “mini publics” as a means of engaging the public in shaping their own democracy. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) that double devolution must go through local communities as well, and cannot stop at the mayoral level.

My reading of this Bill is that it is, sadly, very top down. Powers are being given rather than demanded, and there is still the same level of control from the centre. I agree with the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) about that. An example is the imposition of mayors against the will of local people, particularly those who rejected such a principle in local referendums. Transferring powers from a centralised Westminster system to an all-powerful mayor is not really, in practice, local participatory democracy. People do not have a say, and that reflects on the legitimacy that the mayor will then have. If people are to have faith in the process, a good deal more work needs to be done to establish what they want their local democracy to look like and what powers it should have.

Mr Gareth Thomas: Londoners are broadly comfortable with the originally established system of devolution in London, but one thing they look enviously at in Scotland is the power to control and shape housing policy. Would the SNP look sympathetically on an amendment from London Back Benchers seeking to give that power to London?

Alison Thewliss: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point on the ability to control housing policy. While the SNP is not necessarily going to vote on this because it is an England and Wales-only Bill, we strongly agree with the principle that housing should be in the control of London, and other local authorities as well, because if people are unable to control the housing stock or to make decisions about construction, funding and everything else, they are hamstrung in their ability to influence local housing supply.

I seek to establish the Government’s true purpose in devolution to cities and to local government. Members may remember that Scottish devolution was supposed to have killed the SNP stone dead, but if that were its purpose, it has demonstrably failed, despite the fact that our Members are not in the Chamber today. If devolution to cities and local government in England and Wales is based on the general principle of the importance of local decision making and democracy, that is a worthy ideal that I absolutely support, but if, as suggested by a

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lot of the rhetoric, it is simply about economics and growth rather than democracy, I am less convinced. Tying the deals to economic indicators puts a great deal of pressure on the new set-up, and I fear that it could then be a hostage to economic fortune. Should it not meet those economic targets and goals, it could be seen by the Government and by local people not to have achieved the objectives that were put on it.

I also seek an assurance that devolution is not being used as a cover for cuts. A lot of people involved in the NHS, in particular, are concerned about this. Like other Members, no doubt, I have had lots of representations from various organisations. This should not be a cover for regionalisation of the NHS by the back door. That is fine if Scotland has control over the NHS, which is a great thing, but it should be debated on its own as a case that can stand or fall on its own merits. To cut funding and blame the new authority would make the position of that authority absolutely untenable.

In this place, decision making feels very far away from ordinary people, whether they be in Wick, Glasgow, Manchester or Cornwall. I hope that this Bill will create and engage a groundswell of support for local democracy in England, and that powers and money are returned from Westminster to local people, as they should be. I urge the Government to consider how best to embed the principle of subsidiarity within the Bill, and to seek and listen to the views of local people on what they are seeking from their democracy.

2.34 pm

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I am delighted to speak in this important debate, as aside from the economy, devolution is one of the great domestic issues of our time. We have seen changes in Scotland and Wales driven by a devolutionary agenda, and now England too will be part of this overdue reform. The Bill presents this country with a huge opportunity to rebalance the relationship between local and central Government and, indeed, to improve it, but it is also an opportunity to rebalance our country, not just politically but economically. I therefore fully support the Bill’s Second Reading.

In many ways, this Bill is a clever one—an enabling Bill that allows for a great deal of flexibility and permits room for innovation. Both those freedoms are very welcome as we create an environment for bespoke deals that will give responsibilities and powers to different parts of our country and, most importantly, provide the opportunity for different cities, counties and districts to develop and grow in their own way and on their own terms.

One of the Bill’s central themes is the concept of elected mayors, of which I have been a long-standing supporter. In my perfect world, I would like to see them as a default setting for all councils. They are a modern, more accountable and more transparent form of local government. They provide visible leadership and responsibility, and a vehicle for real change in our cities and counties. One need only look at London to see the benefits that this visibility and leadership can bring to a place. I therefore continue to support the Minister in his endeavours towards the advancement of elected mayors, an idea that I hope will be of particular benefit to the north of the country.

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I understand the Government’s view that the Bill will bring about evolution not revolution, and that central Government will not be imposing their will on local government. I do not fully agree with that. I do accept, though, that it is vital that the Bill works with the grain of the people.

I take issue with the Government on three parts of the Bill, the most important of which is clause 16(3), which, in effect, gives any council, however bloody-minded, parochial or underperforming, a full veto on what could otherwise be a well-supported and essential proposal for reform. It gives the few—small-minded politicians—the power to prevent progress for the many.

I take Cumbria as an example. It is a county with just under half a million people, but with seven separate councils and over 380 councillors. In Cumbria, it is accepted across the political parties and by the business community, the LEP, the health sector and, most importantly, the wider public that the current structure is not working and is holding our county back. Cumbria, it is recognised by all, needs fewer councils and fewer councillors. It needs unitary governance and everyone in Cumbria knows it. However, under the Bill as drafted, just one of those seven councils can veto proposals for change and the entire process, against the will of the majority, would be scuppered. I therefore ask Ministers to review that clause, not with the intention of allowing central Government to impose themselves, but to ensure that where there is overwhelming support for reform among local communities they cannot be held to ransom by a minority.

My other concerns are clauses 20 and 21. On clause 20, it is understandable to consider a reduction in the age required to vote, but this must be a policy for all elections or for none. In addition, thought must be given as to whether it would also mean that 16 and 17-year-olds could stand for election. I therefore ask the Government to give the clause further consideration.

Alison Thewliss: During the debates on the European Union Referendum Bill, much was said about the voting age and when young people should get involved. Lots of people said then that that was not the time—why is now not the time?

John Stevenson: I am not making a comment as to the merits of the case. I am merely suggesting that if it is to be introduced, it should be consistent across all elections. I ask the Government to consider that further.

As for clause 21, I would be very reluctant to see such a change removing the moratorium on areas that have chosen directly elected mayors. As I intimated earlier, I would like the position of elected mayor to be encouraged and expanded further. Indeed, I encourage the Government to consider making it easier for local communities to trigger a referendum to have an elected mayor by reducing the threshold required for a petition from 5% to 1%. That would clearly demonstrate the Government’s commitment to elected mayors and to the principle of allowing local areas to determine their own future.

I remain fully supportive of the Bill and its intentions, and I applaud Ministers for bringing about this long-overdue legislation. However, I hope that these small changes are considered in Committee or on Report to ensure that local communities, particularly the people of Cumbria and Carlisle whom I represent, are able to take full advantage of this important policy.

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2.39 pm

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): I have over the years had disagreements with the Secretary of State about the pace of change of devolution: I probably wanted to go faster than he and the Government have gone. I have had disagreements with him about the amount of devolution: I probably wanted to go further than the Government have gone. I have had some disagreements with him on the detail. The important thing, however, is that we are actually talking about devolution. Devolution is a key element of Government policy and it is happening. It is important to have regard to such matters.

Although my disagreements may be about the pace and extent of devolution, the direction of travel is absolutely clear. I think that credit, on a cross-party basis, should be given to the Government and to the Secretary of State—both in his current job and his past roles—for driving forward this agenda, which deserves support.

Thinking about it, there probably never was a realistic chance of getting a big bang, with complete devolution across the board of everything that I would eventually like to be devolved. After years of centralisation, it was probably always going to be the case that incremental change would be the successful way forward—convincing the Treasury that economic growth would be improved and that value for money in public services would be increased. Indeed, we must watch to make sure that those things actually happen, and that proper impact assessments are made over the years to show that the change has brought such benefits.

Having different solutions in different areas was likely to be the way forward to achieve devolution on a realistic basis, and that is also completely consistent with the localist approach, which is that things should be done differently in different areas. However, I have one serious disagreement with the Secretary of State, which the Local Government Association has also raised. The disagreement is that one size does not fit all in terms of the powers that will be devolved and how those powers should be administered. We therefore come back to the imposition of elected mayors.

Why is such imposition necessary? If the rest of the approach is about agreement, with local areas coming forward with their views on what needs to be devolved in their area, why cannot we trust them to come forward with ideas about how powers should be administered in their area? The Government must provide an answer on that challenge, because that is the one inconsistency in their whole approach.

Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government already seem to have conceded that point in relation to Cornwall, which does not have a mayor?

Mr Betts: Yes, I think so. Ministers will have to explain that. I think their answer would be that Cornwall has elected councillors for one county, which is slightly different from the situation in combined authorities. I do not accept that, because I think we can come up with arrangements in combined authorities. Indeed, to come back to the Sheffield model, I understand that some of the economic items to be delegated, such as those on skills, will be devolved to the combined authority, not to the mayor, but that transport items will be devolved to

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the mayor. That means there will be a two-party approach: on some items, the elected leaders of the various constituent councils, acting as a combined authority, will have the powers, but other powers will go to the mayor. I think that will be more confusing than ever to the public, who will not know where powers rest under the new approach.

The Government must give thought to one or two things, as should local government. The deals being done—I understand how they are now being done to move forward a very centrist agenda on a more devolved basis—still give a bit of an impression that ideas are being cooked up in back rooms by councillors, and that deals are then done in back rooms with Ministers. We must try to move to having a more open debate. Ideas for devolution should be brought forward by councils and there should be a more open debate on the Government agreeing to such deals. We must find ways of involving the public more in the whole approach if we are to take them with us. In the end, one of the key issues of devolution should be greater public engagement, with the public feeling that they have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives. That has to be a key element of devolution, but there is a problem at present.

I agree that we will eventually have to get an overall framework for devolution, including a list of powers that councils can have as of right. Ultimately, there must be a move from devolution by patronage—Ministers agreeing that certain things can be done in a certain way—to councils having the right to have such matters devolved to them. We are a step away from that situation at present, but we must move in that direction. As I said to my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), let us look at wider devolution—ultimately, we may want a constitutional convention—but in the meantime we must not stop the progress that is being made. Let us make sure that the devolution deals can go ahead and take us in the right direction of travel. Perhaps that is something on which we can get consensus.

I want to raise a couple of problems. In Sheffield, there is still a problem about the non-metropolitan districts that are part of the city region. It is unique as a city region because it crosses more than one region—it does away with the old regional boundaries—but the non-metropolitan areas cannot join the transport deal because transport is a county function. The elected mayor will cover only the south Yorkshire districts, not other districts in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, but it cannot be right that a devolved authority’s travel-to-work area is not covered by the new mayor who has responsibility for transport. That is a challenge and a problem.

I do not share the concerns that colleagues have expressed about health, although one of my concerns is that we do not really have standardised treatment and service levels throughout the national health service anyway. However, we must avoid the dead hand of centralism in the Department of Health stopping innovation at local level in joining up health and social care in a way that will be allowed under devolution deals, whether in a combined authority such as Manchester or in an individual authority such as Sheffield.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State has become a convert to fiscal devolution. In the end, real devolution is not just about allowing local authorities greater freedom to spend the money they are given by central Government;

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it has to be about more freedoms for councils to raise money. The Chancellor’s statement on the full localisation of the business rate is a step forward. In the last Parliament, the Communities and Local Government Committee produced a report on “Devolution in England: the case for local government”. I hope that the Government will look at the proposals for further fiscal devolution. Business rates and how full localisation is done are obviously important issues. As I said to the Secretary of State earlier, there is an opportunity, with the extra money retained in local government through full localisation, to allow more devolution right across the board. That will be a very big conversation during this Parliament, and I am pleased that the Secretary of State is committed to a full consultation on that both in Parliament and with local government as a whole.

2.47 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am glad to have caught your eye in this very important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). His experience clearly showed through during his speech, and I largely agree with everything he said.

I am delighted to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his enthusiasm for this concept, which is one of the largest devolutions of powers to local government since the 1970s. We have to be careful how we do it, because we want to get it right, but I have no doubt that, for example, in Gloucestershire, to which more than £1 billion of public spending may be devolved, there is considerable scope for innovation to deliver better services on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire.

In Gloucestershire, the county council, six district councils, the local enterprise partnership, the clinical commissioning group and the police and crime commissioner have worked hard during the summer to produce a very credible, 75-page document, “We are Gloucestershire”, in which they set out their bid for devolution to Gloucestershire. On Monday, six of Gloucestershire’s MPs met to discuss the document. I must tell my right hon. Friend that there was a large measure of agreement, although we have some concerns, which I shall elucidate in my short speech.

Approximately £3 billion of public money is spent in Gloucestershire. However, taking out the Department for Work and Pensions budget for pensions and benefits and certain parts of the education budget, we estimate that about £1 billion of spending is likely to be devolved. As my right hon. Friend knows, Gloucestershire has the considerable advantage that all the institutions I have mentioned are coterminous with the county boundary, which makes our bid considerably easier. However, the document that has been produced is very light on governance. On this I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). The devil is in the detail: how is this thing going to be managed? A delivery board will be needed, and all the partner institutions involved must be part of it.

We already have several joint structures in Gloucestershire: the £200 million business rate pool is one, and the joint working of Cotswold—my own council—West Oxfordshire, Forest of Dean and

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Cheltenham Councils is another. However, the really big prize in Gloucestershire would be the devolution of health and social services. That would be much easier under one authority, and it would stop the gaps that are currently emerging between different authorities.

There are two areas of concern: planning and elected mayors. Gloucestershire’s devolution bid states:

“We will integrate leadership and direction of the planning workforce across all agencies and appoint a Strategic Planning Commissioner to lead this work for Gloucestershire.”

That makes me uneasy. The district councils have local democratic accountability for planning. In my area, 80% of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, planning is an extremely difficult and controversial matter. I would therefore be very uneasy to see it merged into one Gloucestershire-wide planning authority.

The second area of concern, on which I made a rather impish intervention on the Opposition spokesman, is elected mayors. I read out what the Bill says on the matter, so I will not do so again. The Government did make some concessions in the House of Lords by putting that clause in the Bill. However, I say to the Secretary of State that my feeling, from speaking to the authorities, is that if an elected mayor is imposed on Gloucestershire, this bid will not fly. At the moment, we want the leader of the county council to be in charge of the organisation. That is not to say that we will not move to an elected mayor in the future.

I think that having an elected mayor would have two consequences for Gloucestershire. First, we would have to move rapidly towards having a unitary authority, otherwise Gloucestershire would have too many democratic tiers. Secondly—I am not averse to this, I must say—we would have to lose our police and crime commissioner, because there would be no point in having another elected police body.

I want to raise one really important point with the Secretary of State that has not been aired in this debate, and that is the business of administrative savings. Whether the budget is £1 billion or more, there are currently a lot of Government mandarins administering it. When those people no longer have to administer the budget, I would like some of the savings to go to Gloucestershire. After all, Gloucestershire will have to employ extra people to administer it. It is only fair that some of the savings that the Treasury makes be devolved to Gloucestershire.

Finally and importantly, I point out to the Secretary of State that this excellent document was produced largely without consultation with Gloucestershire’s Members of Parliament. By their nature, Members of Parliament know better than almost anyone else what is going on on their patch and what their patch needs. It is therefore incumbent on any devolved organisation to have the closest possible co-operation with its Members of Parliament. I would like it written into any bid that Gloucestershire makes that the devolved organisations have to consult Members of Parliament on a regular basis. That must be meaningful consultation that they have to take notice of.

I warmly welcome the Bill. There are some difficulties with it and, inevitably, the devil is in the detail. However, it is a great concept that up and down this great nation of ours could unleash the potential of local enthusiasm and generate once again the Victorian idea of competition

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between local authorities to deliver better services on behalf of our people. That is surely what all of us here are all about.

2.52 pm

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I strongly welcome the Bill. It is an enabling Bill that will allow negotiations to take place between local authorities and central Government. Not before time, it brings the beginning of the end of centralisation in this country.

The Secretary of State gave one reason why this country has been so centralised: the drive for uniformity across the country. That was what was wrong with the reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s. It has been a sin of omission by the Labour party over the years to fail to devolve, because it has always looked for a perfect solution. The Conservatives committed more of a sin of commission in the rows between central and local government in the 1980s.

I refer right hon. and hon. Members to Lord Heseltine’s speech on Second Reading in the House of Lords. It was a mea culpa for his early career as a junior Minister in the Department of the Environment. He said that he was ashamed of some of his responses to local government at that time. However, Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis have made a terrific contribution to the Bill and to devolution generally. I urge people to read Lord Heseltine’s speech.

I cannot support the Opposition amendment. To put it simply, if it were passed, all the work that has been done by local government leaders in Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire, south Yorkshire, Merseyside and elsewhere would be wasted. This is not a perfect Bill, but it is a good Bill in that it devolves power. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench have talked about consultation. I spoke to the leader of one of my councils this morning, and before the amendment was tabled by Labour Front Benchers there was no consultation on our position. That is a great shame.

One could make a very long speech about this Bill, but I just want to talk about a few matters. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) that it does not deal with the disparity in the distribution of money in this country, but it does deal with the disparity in the distribution of power and may well lead to better economic growth in the areas that have devolution. We do need to deal with that issue.

One item that has not been mentioned much in this debate and which I ask the Minister to mention in his winding-up speech is the re-regulation of buses, which is one of the really attractive parts of this devolution. Control of the bus network will come under the elected mayors. That proposal is not covered in the Bill, so when will it be brought forward? My worry is that although this Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are enthusiastic, I am less convinced that the Secretaries of State for Health and for Transport are quite so enthusiastic.

The area of greatest controversy is what has been called the imposition of an elected mayor. Really, it is a negotiation. I say to those who are opposed to it that many more powers and a lot more resources are being offered. Whether there is a referendum or whatever, there has to be an answer to the question of who will be elected to look after the extra resources and money. If it

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is not to be an elected mayor, we would have to recreate the old Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire County Councils or have a Greater London Authority-type structure. It seems to me that the best structure is an elected mayor, so that people know who they are voting for and who will have responsibility for the services. The core of democracy is the ability to throw people out of office. That cannot be done if there is secondary representation by elected leaders. An answer is needed to that fundamental question.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman has posed the most significant question in respect of elected mayors. Surely it should be the responsibility of combined authorities to make the decision. If they want an elected mayor, so be it, but if they want a GLA-type set up, surely that is their choice.

Graham Stringer: Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of the Government to determine the structure of local government and then for people to elect it. I am not saying that people should necessarily be excluded; I am just saying that people who do not like elected mayors have to come up with an alternative. I do not think that a combined authority is an alternative, which makes consulting people rather difficult. Given that we have waited so long for devolution, I do not want any barriers put in its way. It is better to have an imperfect system than to wait even longer for the perfect answer.

Mr Graham Allen: My hon. Friend is making a typically robust speech from his massive experience as a local government leader. Does he agree that we have to be careful that the mayoral issue does not divert us from the big picture of devolving powers and finance and making things work in the locality? If we are not careful, the mayoral question will become the Labour version of English votes for English laws, which has led the Conservatives to focus on just one aspect, to the detriment of the big picture.

Graham Stringer: I agree that that issue could become a road block to achieving what most people in this Chamber, and certainly in the other place—I have read the debates—want to achieve.

A number of people have raised concerns about health, and I think there are some misunderstandings about that. Health issues in Greater Manchester concern an agreement for the combined authority to exercise powers that have already been given to local government in a more effective way. I hope that in future more power will be given to local authorities to deal with health because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) says, our health service is not evenly spread out, and there will always be differences. The key issue here—as in the entire devolution debate—concerns whether key decisions on health are taken by elected people, or by non-elected people in Whitehall and elsewhere. I support such decisions being taken by elected people.

The power of devolution is that there are always tough decisions to be made, whether in times of cuts or times of growth, and being an elected politician is a tough business. Let us consider the most difficult decision that a politician, whether the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister or a local councillor, has to take: the closure of a hospital. Is it better for that decision to be taken by the Secretary of State in central Government

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with advice from civil servants in Whitehall, or would that decision—however difficult—be better taken locally? I come to the conclusion that such decisions are always better taken by local people.

3.1 pm

Mr Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), who spoke more common sense in six minutes than, sadly, we heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench in 30 minutes.

I welcome this Bill because it moves forward work that was undertaken in the previous Parliament to replace the old centralised model or regional policy, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, with a genuine ambition to empower local people. For me, the big prize economically is the re-emergence of our great industrial cities—the Manchesters, Birminghams, Leeds, Nottinghams and, to keep my Committee Chair happy, I should add the Sheffields. It is vital to empower those city regions so that they regain and renew their wealth, power and competitiveness. This enabling Bill gives Ministers powers within a framework, and I ask them to continue with their ambitious approach to devolution because small incremental steps will not be sufficient. I know that will always be the ambition of the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues, but let us keep the pace going because that ambition exists across the House.

In the 4.8 minutes that I have left I wish to touch on three issues: business rates, city governance and metro mayors. Last week we heard from the Chancellor about an excellent fiscal devolution, which will keep my Committee Chair happy. That is a big policy change; it is £26 billion and a major shift in policy and resource. I encourage Ministers not to be inveigled by their civil servants into trying to ring-fence the extra money that will come when metro mayors are able to raise the basic rate. Ministers no doubt already have plans for the fine details on that issue, but they should not be tempted to ring-fence and instead should rely on local accountability. Those who run local businesses are the best people to judge whether a proposed scheme in their locality is right—after all, they are being asked to fund it. Following the business improvement district model, let us try not to over-define things at the centre. We should use local judgment and let the payers decide.

My second point is about what I consider to be the most important principle underpinning this Bill: the principle of collaboration. For too long the old silo mentality has persisted in the public sector with single issue Departments fighting over what they see as “their” budgets, and councillors squabbling between neighbouring authorities. That needs to change. For devolution to succeed, local governance needs to become more holistic and to deliver public services in the round, not within narrow bureaucratic silos. It should be about outcomes for people, not incomes for different Departments. To achieve that, other changes will be needed. First, city regions will need to embrace emerging smart technologies, which places such as Milton Keynes and Bristol are already adopting. The opportunity to transform the design and delivery of public services across an area is within our grasp, but that means ensuring that we embrace the principles of open data, connecting different

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Departments, agencies, and national quangos in that area, and for local leaders to be willing to share power and budgets, and focus on solving problems rather than running fiefdoms.

Thirdly, the Bill seeks to usher in a new form of mayor—the metro mayor—which I welcome. I accept that outside our larger cities that may not be the only or best form of governance, but for my money I think that the establishment of metro mayors is the best way forward for our cities. Our emerging city regions need strong leadership; they need people who have a vision that reaches beyond their ward boundaries and who have real world experience. The direct election of a city region mayor is the best way to achieve that as it will attract the calibre of people that we need and that our cities deserve. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) pointed out, a mayor will provide a visible figurehead who is accountable to the people they serve.

What we have in London is what happens in most major cities across the world, and it is frankly time that our cities caught up. Our cities need a new model of governance that attracts the brightest and best, and provides real answers and direct accountability to their citizens. It is a model under which—dare I say it?—our political parties will have less control. For me that is a good thing.

In many ways I would like the Bill to be more ambitious, but I am well aware, as the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out, that we must be practical. The idea of a revolution overnight would not work. This evolutionary process is making real progress on the ground, and people are starting to notice it. We should recognise that more and more people live in our cities, and that the shift in demographics is inexorable—that is the future. When I look at cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield or Birmingham, I see a genuine sense of growing pride and prosperity, and that is the prize within the Bill. There will be problems with the details, but if we keep our eye on that prize, we can make real progress for the next generation.

3.7 pm

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Like them, I strongly support the move towards more devolution, but we should not get misty-eyed about metro mayors or local government in general. We are now—rightly, perhaps—sceptical about centralised decision-making from Whitehall, and in that spirit I think that the provocative scepticism of those on the Opposition Front Bench is right.

I am entirely comfortable with the thrust of the Bill, although I think there are some omissions, the biggest of which relates to London. London is different from the rest of England in terms of the scale of appetite and need for further devolution. I say that not to minimise the argument for further devolution in the north, Cornwall or elsewhere, but rather to underline the scale of the challenges currently facing London.

London’s population is bigger than that of Scotland or Wales, yet it does not have power to tackle the—at times breathtaking—levels of poverty and inequality.

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London is growing by more than 100,000 people a year, and it is expected to do so for at least the next decade, bringing with it range of additional challenges that are not replicated to the same degree elsewhere in England.

The housing crisis in London is bad now, but it is only likely to get worse without substantial extra devolution. Many in the House will be familiar with the development of London’s infrastructure, which has too often been characterised, particularly on the big projects, by lengthy delays. In part, that has been driven by the number of players involved in decision making, not least in central Government.

London should be given the tools in full to tackle our housing crisis in particular. Through the Mayor and the London Assembly, it should be given the right to legislate on London housing matters. Legislative power over housing was devolved to Scotland in 1998 and to Wales in 2011. I simply ask the House why London, where the crisis is so acute, should not have the same powers: judgment on control of rents, on whether right to buy should be extended, on levels of property tax, and on funding for new affordable housing. Targets for percentages of new-build schemes given over to sheltered housing or social rent ought to sit in one place, enabling one body or one figure to develop a clear, holistic strategy for housing in London. At the moment, the Mayor has his hand on some of the levers, but for too many others it is to Whitehall that he has to go, and not just to one Whitehall Department but to a number of Departments. I gently suggest that that needs to change. I hope to table a probing amendment to test the appetite of the House on devolving legislative power on housing to the London Assembly.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): In Wales, we suffer from referendum fatigue. Whenever significant powers are to be devolved to Wales, there is always a referendum. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that there should be a referendum before legislative powers are handed down to the London Assembly?

Mr Thomas: There is a justification for having a referendum in London to consider the extension of powers: we had one when we set up the Mayor and the Assembly. If there is to be further substantial devolution then there is certainly a case to be made for a referendum to cement mayoral and Assembly authority over those additional powers.

Another area for London ought to be full fiscal devolution. I welcome the announcement on business rates, but I am afraid that does not go far enough. All property taxes should be devolved. The all-party consensus of the mayoral London Finance Commission report published in 2013 was for a pound-for-pound reduction in revenue support grant as the quid pro quo that London offers back. It remains opaque at best on why the Treasury will not agree not just to business rates but to additional property taxes to London.

Mr Graham Allen: I am enjoying very much my hon. Friend’s review of where we are on local government finance in London. Does he not accept that we have broken the precedent with the Treasury by having income tax assignment for Scotland? The law was passed three or four years ago, before the devolution referendum. It now, very properly, has a system of income tax devolution.

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Is not the long-term answer to have a proper baseline budget, rather than little slices, so that London, Nottingham and every other part of the country can look after its own affairs?

Mr Thomas: My hon. Friend is, as ever, ahead of me. I share his view that in time—particularly if there are substantial additional public services responsibilities devolved to London, not least the extra powers, alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), relating to healthcare—there would be a case for more control à la Scotland, certainly the ability in the current settlement to vary levels of income tax. Why should London or Nottingham not be able to impose new additional levies—for example, a tourist levy that many other big world cities, such as New York, can impose? It is striking that in London business has strongly supported the devolution to local control of all property taxes, not just business rates. They see it as essential to speed up infrastructure development. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to use their influence with the Chancellor to encourage him to go even further down the line of fiscal devolution.

There is also a question about the living wage. Why does that need to be controlled by the Treasury? Why should the decision not be set, after consultation with business, by local people? There could perhaps be a local minimum set by national Government, with the actual rate determined by at regional level by local decision makers. I again draw the attention of the House to London, where a living wage and a living income would be very different from that in other parts of the UK.

If there is to be a further devolution of powers to London—I hope there will be—we need to consider stronger scrutiny powers for the London Assembly. The Assembly ought to be able to scrutinise the heads of major public utilities—such as water, electricity, gas, National Rail and broadband providers—on their London work programmes and on how Londoners will be affected by their decisions, in the same way that the Assembly is able to scrutinise other crucial services, such as policing and transport. I commend the case for further devolution to London and hope to probe this issue with the Government in due course.

3.16 pm

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this very important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Listening to the contributions we have had so far, it is clear that devolution means different things to different parts of the country. That is why giving powers back to local communities is so important, as different regions can champion their strengths while taking steps to address the challenges they face. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and the Minister for all their work to bring the Bill forward, and for their readiness to meet interested parties.

Speaking as a proud Yorkshireman, and looking at what devolution might bring to our great county, it is essential that the whole of Yorkshire benefits from the devolved powers on offer. Nowhere should be left behind. This is not just about our cities; this is about empowering our rural hinterland. Manchester and Sheffield have now secured settlements, and the precedent for countywide

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devolution has been set by Cornwall. However, the question of devolving powers to the rest of Yorkshire remains to be answered.

Of the four competing bids the Treasury received, it is my sincere hope that the Chancellor will recognise the unique strengths of the Greater Yorkshire bid. Sadly, there are some who would prefer to see our great county carved up. Doing so could, sadly, only serve to marginalise our rural and coastal communities, which are as much a part of Yorkshire as the metropolitan centres of Leeds and Bradford.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): As a fellow Yorkshire MP, I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he think that, because of the very rushed nature of the bids—they had to be in very quickly—the debate we really should have had in Yorkshire about that Greater Yorkshire model has not taken place? We have ended up, as he says, with several bids going in, dividing up Yorkshire in an unhelpful way.

Julian Sturdy: I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Lady says. In horseracing terms, the Greater Yorkshire bid was slow out of the stalls, but is gathering pace and coming up fast on the rails. I sincerely hope it will end up winning the day.

Tearing the three ridings apart, as the hon. Lady mentioned, would undermine the strong bonds of culture, identity and friendship—Yorkshire is a very friendly place, as I am sure you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker—and weaken what we could achieve. The devolution project is about scale, with communities coming together to be greater than the sum of their parts. Bringing many parts of Yorkshire together under a Greater Yorkshire bid would allow us to use the Yorkshire brand to unleash our true potential. It is clear that people want to see us put old rivalries aside, and devolution should not be used as just a power-grabbing exercise. The public have placed their trust in us to devolve the powers they need to succeed, and it would be a betrayal to put petty party politics first.

That gives rise to the question, though, of why such deals, which should be owned and led by local businesses and communities, are instead being negotiated, to some degree, behind closed doors. Negotiations cannot be completely open—I accept that—but there has to be an opportunity to scrutinise the devolution deals on offer before they are accepted by local authorities. The greatest danger in politics, and the downfall of many Governments, is to stop listening to the people, thinking that we in this place know best.

That brings me to one area of devolution about which I am yet to be completely convinced. People have told us time and again that they do not want elected mayors. In 2004, plans for regional assemblies were abandoned after the north-east gave a resounding no to such a proposal. Of the 10 referendums held in our largest cities in 2012, nine gave another resounding no to elected mayors. True devolution can succeed only when we listen to what people tell us.

Where are we heading on this devolution journey and what is the ultimate end-game? As Scotland has shown, does devolution satisfy the need for local decision making,

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or does it ultimately lead to division and even greater demands for more power? Once Pandora’s box has been opened, can it ever be closed again?

Although I very much support the principle of devolution and what the Government are trying to achieve, we must be aware that this is not going to be a smooth journey. We need clarity on where devolution is going to take us. We must move with caution and get the right deals for the right reasons. Do we have to have elected mayors—another layer of politics—to deliver that? I am not convinced as yet.

The ultimate aim of devolution must be to close the historic north-south divide, not by dragging London down, but by learning from its example and raising our game to compete with the best in the world. A Greater Yorkshire deal—a Yorkshire brand—could compete with anywhere in the world. You will probably agree with that as well, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Closing the north-south divide can be achieved only if devolution is allowed to percolate right through our great county. Like the Tour de Yorkshire, it must run from Settle to Scarborough, from Whitby to Wensleydale, taking in all the country’s market towns, coastal resorts and ancient cities—in short, the very best that Yorkshire has to offer. We must not rush this once-in-a-generation opportunity for greater powers. Let us get the right deal for our regions and the right deal for a Greater Yorkshire.

3.23 pm

Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): Before I came to this House in May, I had spent 18 years as a city councillor in Manchester, and I am very proud of what we achieved for our city in that time. We have shown how good civic leadership can help transform a city and create partnerships that really help to improve the lives of our citizens. We led the way not just in leading the demands for devolved powers, but in demonstrating that local government has the capacity and the vision to use them.

Local people know their communities best and how best to deliver for them, so I welcome the principle of devolution of powers in the Bill. Indeed, I welcome the deal that has been agreed for Greater Manchester. Devolution is a Labour value, giving power to people and communities who know what is best for them.

I have two concerns about the Government’s plans. First, funding needs to follow powers, and that is in the interests of not just local government, but national Government as well. I spent three difficult years as executive member for finance on Manchester City Council having to make incredibly tough decisions on cuts to services as a result of the unfair funding cuts imposed by the coalition Government. We had to take £250 million out of our budget over the course of the last Parliament. If Members consider that that reduction took our budget down to about £550 million, they will understand the scale of the problems we faced.

We dealt with that very effectively through improving efficiencies and revolutionising the way in which we deliver services, and devolution of powers will allow us greater freedom to do that. That level of cuts, however, is not sustainable, and local government, as many are aware, faces a struggle to keep non-statutory services going if those cuts continue. Even worse, some local authorities face the real possibility of becoming financially

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unviable. Local government could become unviable as a result not of its own actions, but of the actions of the Government in starving deprived areas of funding. If the Government carry on with that level of cuts, it is their own devolution project that will be at risk. Devolution simply will not work without proper funding. We cannot devolve responsibilities without the resources to fulfil them.

Secondly, the one-size-fits-all approach is not the way forward. A few years ago the people of Manchester decisively rejected the idea of an elected mayor. I believe that was because they did not see the need for it. Good civic leadership can come in many different forms, and Manchester—under the excellent leadership of Sir Richard Leese and, before that, of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), as well as that of the Greater Manchester combined authority—has shown that we have not just a successful council, but a model for the use of devolved powers across Greater Manchester that has been developed by Greater Manchester.

Andrew Gwynne: The citizens of Manchester were not given the option of a metro mayor; the proposal they rejected was, in effect, to directly elect the council leader. Some of the critics of the metro mayor model clearly do not understand the difference between an elected council leader and what is now being offered for the conurbation.

Jeff Smith: That is absolutely right and I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was just coming to that point. The imposition of an elected mayor on Greater Manchester and on other areas is unnecessary. I am not necessarily against an elected Greater Manchester mayor, but it really should be for Greater Manchester to decide. It should be for local communities to develop evidenced proposals on the best way to organise themselves to use those devolved powers. That would be true devolution.

Local government can and does deliver great things for its citizens. I welcome devolved power to create jobs and growth opportunities; to invest in desperately needed new housing; and to allow health and social care to work together for local people. Personally, I would like devolution to include some powers of oversight over education, because at a time when we are devolving powers over other services it seems counter-intuitive that power over education is, in effect, being centralised. Local government in areas such as Manchester has shown that it deserves the powers and resources to deliver. Let us give it the freedom and the resources to do so.

3.28 pm

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): This is an important debate on an important piece of legislation and, like many of my colleagues, I welcome the devolution agenda. Local accountability is, I think, extremely important and the challenge, as has been repeated across the Chamber, is making it work in practice.

The first stage of devolution started with the local enterprise partnerships. Effectively, we devolved to them responsibility for productivity, growth and, more recently, infrastructure projects. Phase 2—this Bill—devolves responsibility not to unelected bodies, which is what the LEPs were, but to politically elected bodies. We are

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considering devolving many areas similar to those devolved to the LEPs as well as social care, police and education. If that is to be achieved, there are some concerns and risks about the consequent almost imperative need for vertical and horizontal integration between the different local bodies—the counties, the districts and the unitary areas. I am not entirely convinced that that was what the Government intended, as it seems to me that we risk consolidation as opposed to devolution, and I do not think that we should.

Devon and Somerset have a bid in, involving 20 authorities working together. My concern is that for that many authorities to work together we will need sensibly to consider some functional integration, but who will give up their power base, who will give up their budget and who will share it? More importantly, what about the taxpayer? How will he or she know who to hold accountable and how will he or she do it? At the ballot box?

The Government, quite rightly, are looking to integrate NHS and social care, but will that be more complicated across a diverse range of authorities? Does it mean—I hope not—that we will have to unpick and put together again new deals between the NHS and the local authorities? Will the NHS play ball? Should clinical commissioning groups be required to be part of that? They are part of some bids for devolution, but not all of them.

In the south-west, we have 20 parties working together: 15 districts, two unitaries, two counties and the LEP. My fear is that local accountability will be lost and that we will consolidate not devolve. Our bid has three aims: first, to deliver accelerated economic growth; secondly, to deliver conductivity and resilience for our infrastructure; and, thirdly, to deliver integrated health and social care.

On the growth agenda, there seems to me to be a challenge as the LEP and the other authorities are playing in the same ballpark. How will we deal with that? My other concern is that the rural communities will get lost and the thinking will be dominated by the Exeters, Plymouths and other large cities. How will the funding work? Will it go through the LEP or through the new bodies?

This team of 20 has a very good record of working together on infrastructure. On rail, our peninsula taskforce is delivering seriously good news. On roads, we have the bypass for Kingskerswell and we will, I hope, have the A303 developments. However, my concern is that that devolution still ignores local problems with infrastructure, such as local bottlenecks in towns. Balls Corner in Newton Abbot is a case in point. Focus will be lost on small infrastructure projects and issues, such as my port in Teignmouth.

We also have a number of integrated projects on health and social care. In Torbay we have an integrated care organisation with pioneer status, whereas Plymouth CCG and the northern, eastern and western Devon—NEW Devon—CCG are working together with a one system, one budget plan for £426 million. Somerset has a Symphony health and social care project, while Exeter has its own integrated care project. Will we lose the focus on some of the local differences between the rural communities and the cities? Will we lose the necessary differentiation between how we provide for an ageing population and how we provide for the bustling younger population in cities?

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The Government are going absolutely in the right direction, but my concern is how we deliver these measures, how we avoid the pitfalls and how we avoid the consolidation and integration that take away from local democracy and from what I believe the Government intend. The devil is in the detail, and I wanted to ensure that I raised these issues early because although the Government’s intentions are right, I want to avoid chaos and ensure that local focus remains. Finally, I want to ensure that we do not inadvertently consolidate upwards rather than devolve downwards.

3.33 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): This is a great day. It is the beginning of what will be a very long journey. I think that we will probably have two more Bills on devolution before the end of this Parliament, but at the general election in 2020 we will look back and all the anxieties about the detail in the Bill—some of which we disagree with, of course—will have become irrelevant as most local authorities in England will have devolved to some extent or another. That will be the future. I must put on record again that I think that the Secretary of State has been foremost in introducing the Bill. He has a fantastic record of working with local government and with Labour local government, in particular, through his work with the core cities and on the cities agenda. The Bill is part of a line of progression.

Of course, we cannot have perfection in the first Bill, but those who have some sort of aldermanic sclerosis and believe that we will not move anywhere unless we get absolutely everything right are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is important that we move on devolution now in a way that previous Governments, regrettably, did not. This is the most fantastic opportunity, in my opinion, for all of us who care about the principle of devolution, enabling people to make decisions as closely as is humanly possible to where they are and where they live.

It is the beginning of the end of possibly several hundred years of the imperial view that Whitehall knows best and that only the man in Whitehall can tell people whether they should have double yellow lines on their high streets or be allowed to have a betting shop on their street corner. What nonsense! It is treating one’s own country as if its people are slaves, rather than liberating them to make a genuine economic contribution, in times of austerity and at other times, as well as a social and political contribution locally. Even with the distinguished colleagues around me, I do think our politics is over-blessed with too big a gene pool. Why should not the leader of our capital stand to be leader of one of our great parties? Why should not the leader of Greater Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle or anywhere else push our politics forward with a lot of local experience? This is something of which many Governments in the recent past have been bereft.

This is the beginning of a journey. I personally would rather we did not have a mayor—Nottingham voted not to have a mayor. However, if we continue this journey and have another Bill and another one after that, I am sure that we will devolve to such an extent that we will liberate people in the localities to

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choose their own system of governance and method of election. That will be a definition of devolution achieved.

Andrew Gwynne: Part of that choice on localism is the level at which it is most appropriate to make decisions. Forty-odd years ago, my constituency was a patchwork of urban district councils and small municipal boroughs, and people still very much identify with those neighbourhoods. Is it not right that we also seek to empower those communities again?

Mr Allen: The movement from Whitehall to town hall is very welcome, but then we must go the extra mile. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), an SNP Member, is no longer here, because we do not want to go the way of pushing power from Westminster to Holyrood, only for the latter, instead of dispersing some of that power, to suck it up and create a national view on everything, rather than liberating the talents in Scottish local government. There are many lessons to learn from Scotland—we should be humble about that experience and learn everything possible—but that is probably one exception to the rule about listening to how the SNP has done things in Scotland.

There will then be a broader picture. Once we have embedded devolution and organically we have made a start, when it is proving its worth and we can demonstrate that we will add value to every single pound, we can move to the next stage, which is the one outlined by the Opposition Front-Bench team. It is to see it as part of the broader jigsaw of a constitutional convention that will consider local government’s role, as part of the debate about devolution in England, an elected second Chamber and a written settlement, among other things.

It is important that what Whitehall giveth, Whitehall does not taketh away. As the Secretary of State is aware, that will mean at some point entrenching the progress we make so that it can never be reversed. That will mean super-majorities in the House, hiding stuff behind the Parliament Act 1911 and so on. There are lots of ways to make it difficult for the wrong sort of Secretary of State to suck these powers back up.

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a typically excellent speech. Is not the basic challenge of the Bill that it strengthens the Secretary of State’s hand with local government but not with Whitehall? He needs a few more ambition clauses that force his colleagues to devolve more rather than less and not to rely on backroom negotiations in the Treasury. For example, should we not be devolving many more powers to help local authorities, such as my hon. Friend’s, deal with the entrenched challenges of poverty and deprivation?

Mr Allen: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we are doing now is pushing that enormous heavy ball up the mountain—and it is just starting to move. Let us keep that momentum going, and when local government has proved its worth and we have developed the capability and potential of local councillors and officials—I am loth to make any criticism of them, given how we sometimes run the country—they will demand those extra powers. That is certainly the case on issues relating to health and employment. That will

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come. People will say, “We can do this; we can raise a bond on the open market; we can run something by our local population; we can raise additional taxation—if local people agree with it”, which is very important, as was mentioned earlier.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) made a specific point about how to help areas of high deprivation. He and I share an unfortunate medal in that we are in the bottom 10 local authorities when it comes to deprivation. This will be immensely liberating. My right hon. Friend and I know, but our councillors know much better than anybody—even the Secretary of State from Whitehall—how to spend a pound effectively in the local context. It is all about bringing sensitivity and capability back to our governance, and instead of fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, it is about enabling people to make decisions locally. Local people above all will want to maximise the potential of every austere pound that comes their way.

For the bigger picture, I think a constitutional convention running alongside this process is essential. I hope that the Government will generously agree to participate in anything that all other parties come together to discuss on that basis. They will not be able to legislate on it, but it is important for them to participate in the debate and have that discussion. In the end, the Secretary of State’s Fabian view of moving forward—slowly, steadily and gently making progress—has been proved right. We need to ensure that such an approach is supported in the longer term. The Bill has flaws, but it provides a fantastic start, so I commend it to the House.

3.42 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who has been a long-time advocate of more devolution to local government. I share his congratulations to the Secretary of State, who has not only advocated devolution for a long time, but is now in a position to deliver it.

In common with other speakers, I spent many years in local government—26 years as a councillor, to be precise. During that time, I and my colleagues were railing against central Government, whoever were in power, for centralising more and more. Now we have gone into reverse, which is extremely welcome.

I have been a long-time advocate of the evolving position of elected mayors. Unlike those on both sides of the House in recent years who have been rather stop-go in their support, I have long been an advocate. In 2001, I tried to gain sufficient signatures on a petition for an elected mayor in my own authority. I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who earlier advocated that it should be made easier for the electorate to initiate petitions, rather than leave it to politicians, and that we should reduce the threshold to 1%, which would encourage local people to overtake the views of their local authority if it were being somewhat resistant. We all know that local politicians can sometimes be resistant to change, and we have heard varying views about the role of elected mayors this afternoon.

For too long, local government has languished in the shadows. Elected mayors will provide an identifiable figurehead and increase the feeling of local identity. We

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can all identify with our country, our county and our town or village. Those are the constructs around which combined authorities should evolve.

Those of us who live in an area that was subject to major reorganisation in the 1970s—and my area was pushed into the hated county of Humberside—are well aware of the need to attract a feeling of identity among local people. Local authorities are not just administrative units governed by lines on a map, and that is even more true of the regions that we have all been pushed into. Although we have been told for many years that those regions do not exist, much of government operates through them. An earlier speaker referred to Yorkshire and Humberside and then started talking about “the county”, but Yorkshire and Humberside are actually two counties, and those of us who live in the Lincolnshire part tend to resent the fact that the focus is always too much on the Yorkshire part.

I am pleased to say that two local authorities in my area have presented a proposal which I fully support, and I hope the Secretary of State will accept it. It was presented jointly by the leaders of Labour-controlled North East Lincolnshire and Conservative-controlled North Lincolnshire, Ray Oxby and Liz Redfern, and I pay tribute to them both for helping us to arrive at the point where we are now.

There are great economic development opportunities for northern Lincolnshire. I see that the Minister for the northern powerhouse, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), is present; I know that he will want to refer to the strengths of the area, including the growing offshore renewables sector, which is providing a much-wanted and much-needed boost for the local economy.

I want to digress slightly before ending my speech. I share the reservations of Members who mentioned Sunday trading. Some of us attended yesterday’s reception hosted by the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents the small businesses that we all want to support. We recognise their concern about the proposed extension of Sunday trading, and I support them in that regard. It will take a lot of persuasion to make me support the extension.

As we have already heard, local people are best suited to determining the priorities that can lead to greater regeneration and prosperity in their area. It is not just our great cities—which have so often been the focus of city regions and the like—that need support and encouragement; the energies and prospects of provincial towns such as those in my area can be unleashed by more devolution. I hope that the combined authorities that are emerging will evolve into unitary authorities, which have much more democratic accountability than the combined authorities that we are about to create, and I fully support the Minister’s proposals.

3.48 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). He mentioned the renewables industry, which is important to the economic future of both the sides of the Humber that we represent.

Just two years ago, in an article about Britain’s so-called decaying towns, The Economist described cities like Hull as suffering because, over many decades, the state

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had been too much rather than too little involved. It made no reference to the fact that other parts of the country, such as London and the south-east, had benefited from more favoured status and more support. I think that the Minister will regret that that view was expressed, and will recognise that places like Hull should not be abandoned as

The Economist

suggested. In fact, there is evidence that the northern regeneration boosted by devolution will increase overall national economic growth, which, of course, we will all welcome.

I do, however, have specific concerns about the proposals before us today. First, as has been mentioned by many hon. Members, the devolved powers in the Bill are conditional on accepting a single, made-in-Whitehall model of local governance, with the concept of elected Mayors. That model is being pushed through via backroom deals, not as a result of proper consultation with communities, and it is even being done in areas where voters have previously rejected the elected Mayor model. This one-size-fits-all centralism misunderstands local variations of geography and economic life. What may work well in Greater Manchester may not work for areas such as Hull and the Humber, and I had hoped that we had left behind Henry Ford’s idea of, “Any colour provided it is black” or what Douglas Jay described as, “The gentleman in Whitehall really does know best.”

Real devolution should not be imposed top down, from the centre. It should allow the creation of models whereby local leaders can be accountable to their voters, not to Whitehall, for decisions that are then made locally. Genuine devolution must transfer powers and responsibility from Whitehall, and devolution must have clear objectives. Structures that then emerge in each part of the country should reflect local factors. Devolution is a means to an end, not an end in itself; the Government have not provided enough clarity on that.

Secondly, this devolution comes against a backdrop of severe funding cuts, which since 2010 have been focused most heavily on the most deprived areas, and more are coming down the track. Blame will be devolved more than power. Devolved decision making requires fairer funding and local revenue-raising powers, free from outdated Treasury rules or gimmicks. It means freedom to innovate and get better results than if the powers remained in Whitehall. We need localised power on raising capital investment for infrastructure, transport, flood defences and social housing. Localising business rates is potentially progressive, but powers must apply to areas with no elected mayor, too. Moreover, robust transitional arrangements are needed so that poorer areas do not lose out, as they have done in local government grant distribution since 2010.

Thirdly, in the digital age there are fewer excuses that Government can use not to devolve more Whitehall jobs to the regions. Fourthly, although local innovation helps raise national standards, we do risk fragmentation in areas such as the NHS, and that could damage front-line services for local communities. Fifthly, I want to talk a little about recent events that affect my city of Hull and the Yorkshire bids that have gone forward. Civic and business figures across Yorkshire have been jumping through hoops to meet arbitrary deadlines for signing up to Whitehall’s model of devolution. As has been said, there are already several bids for Yorkshire,

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and they fragment the true potential for Yorkshire to have proper devolution to the county. In line with what the hon. Member for Cleethorpes said, we need to consider the needs of the south bank of the Humber, because both the north and south bank need to work together to ensure that we unlock the power of the Humber estuary as the “energy estuary”, as it has been described. Hull also has common interests with North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, for example on tourism, but we need a proper debate on whether the Greater Yorkshire model is the one that best serves the county and really does unlock that potential.

Hull is a key city, but it is not one of the self-selecting “core cities”, to use that unhelpful distinction. As a result, Hull has risked being excluded from the deals currently being done. Although it may not be a disaster in some respects, Hull could be left out when issues such as transport or broadband are discussed, and that would be very regrettable. Hull has to be part of the northern powerhouse if that is really to be worth its name. Despite many Hull successes, including investment by Siemens and being awarded the city of culture status in 2017, which we have achieved without an elected mayor, we still recognise that we need to reverse decades of decline in our traditional industries. We cannot risk Hull being left further behind. Hull needs a longer-term regeneration effort spanning decades, as has been enjoyed by areas that faced similar challenges in the past. Real devolution could help close up the unfair regional funding disparities in many areas, and the growth gap between the north and the south, boosting UK GDP overall.

3.54 pm

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I welcome the further devolution from central Government to Greater Manchester and to other cities and regions which the Bill enables, as well as the wide-ranging benefits that this transfer of power will deliver to local communities. I have fully supported this Government’s commitment to devolve greater powers to local authorities, and as a Greater Manchester MP I am pleased that it is our local authority combined area that is leading the way towards devolution and the creation of the northern powerhouse.

This enabling Bill will not only deliver further devolved power to Greater Manchester but, importantly, it will provide the opportunity for other cities and regions to follow in Manchester’s footsteps. Working in conjunction with the localism legislation, which allows more neighbourhood planning and better community rights, this Bill will provide opportunities for local government to truly represent local people. I want to make sure that my constituency, Cheadle, will continue to benefit from all aspects of this agenda as the Greater Manchester combined authority takes greater control and more responsibility and powers over economic development, transport, health and social care, planning and policing in our area. Furthermore, as a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, I have welcomed the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in greater depth.

As the devolution agreement for Greater Manchester is implemented and its aims are realised, it may well be used as a model for other cities and regions, always bearing in mind the individual nature of local authorities across the country. I am encouraged by the level of

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interest that the Government have received in the form of devolution bids from other cities and regions, and it is important that this Bill provides the flexibility for each authority to agree a deal that meets the needs of its local area. Devolution is a process that must be allowed to evolve, and there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all model. Authorities will work together to find the best fit for them.

Directly elected mayors are at the heart of the Bill, and the powers that they will receive in combination with the local authorities should not be underestimated. Elected mayors will be in no doubt about the scale of their responsibilities as power is devolved from the centre. I have been greatly encouraged by the example set by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State working with local authorities, as has been mentioned. It has been shown, particularly in the case of Greater Manchester, that strong local civic leadership is essential to reach the right outcome.

However, strong leadership and good government rely on effective scrutiny, and it is vital that the necessary checks and balances are seen to be in place. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments on transparency. As the powers are devolved and critical responsibilities for the provision of key services are taken up by local authorities under the auspices of elected mayors, it is crucial that scrutiny processes and procedures are robust enough to ensure transparency and accountability.

I shall refer briefly to planning issues. As has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), planning is often a contentious issue for local authorities. The localism agenda does much to make planning law more accountable to the will of local people, and the Bill must build on that. It is important that protections are in place to make sure that the localism agenda is adhered to and strengthened. I was pleased to hear that this has been taken up and commented on positively. The green belt is an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly as strategic decisions are made. I want to ensure that the local view is heard and that, through neighbourhood forums and plans, the localism agenda is taken into account.

The Chancellor’s recent announcement on business rates is welcome. This is a positive step towards greater fiscal devolution which has the potential to fuel growth, particularly in the northern powerhouse, and many small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency will welcome that.

In conclusion, I have always been clear that devolution has the potential to rebalance our economy and make local government more accountable and responsive to the needs of local people. This Bill will enable the Government’s firm commitment to deliver on this ambition and I will therefore support it.

4 pm

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): As a former leader of a metropolitan council, I welcome devolvement and the powers it brings, in my case to a city region. The reality is that the genie is out of the lamp and cannot be put back in—and nor should it be. This is not a question of if, but when and how, and no one is being forced to take part. As for the question of transparency and negotiation, it does not take Sherlock Holmes to work out what those powers might be, and I will touch on them later.

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There are of course concerns, but they must not be allowed to cause delay and there must not be further prevarication. It is not as though these powers and responsibilities do not already exist. They do exist, but usually in the hands of civil servants and even on occasion in the hands of Ministers. Devolution allows for local decision making at a sub-regional level on issues of importance to the future of the areas concerned. There is the question of the election of a city regional mayor in my area.

Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab): My hon. Friend’s experience is very valuable in this matter. Bristol is the only core city to support an elected mayor. Does he agree that the citizens of Bristol deserve the right to reverse that decision at any point and that the Lords amendments to this Bill offering Bristolians that opportunity are to be welcomed?

Peter Dowd: I take the view that local areas should have the widest ability to make their decisions, and if Bristol wants that, that is a matter for Bristol to pursue. My personal view is that I would rather have a local decision maker in the form of a metro mayor than a decision maker 200 miles down the M6 in an office not many yards away from here. I would prefer the decisions to be made in Merseyside in my case. There are alternatives, however. The Manchester model offers a way forward, and there may be variations on the theme.

I am interested in the responsibilities and powers that are devolved—issues around economic development, the question of transport, potentially strategic planning, skills and employment, questions around business planning, certain European issues, possibly further education, the careers service, and certain Department for Work and Pensions responsibilities. The NHS has been mentioned. The reality is that most NHS services are delivered at a local level and many decisions are made at a local level, and I think it is a question of teasing out how those decisions can be made at a local level but in the context of a city region. I recognise there are concerns about things like specialist services, but I do not think they are insurmountable, and I think they are issues that we have to tease out and discuss. Yes, they are going to be challenging, but we must not brush them under the carpet and pretend we cannot deal with them, because we can. So, yes, there are challenges, but they can be overcome. The list of potential powers to be devolved goes on and on, and it is, as they say, a question of horses for courses.

Reference has been made to collaboration, and collaboration does currently take place. When I was leader of a city region council, we collaborated all the time, day in, day out. But of course without the powers that devolvement brings, that collaboration can only go so far, as is the case with resource.

That brings me to the elephant in the room: the question of resource and the devolvement of that resource, and then of course the equity of resource. This is about the allocation and then the equity of the allocation. I ask that the allocation of resource be appropriately equitable.

The reality is that this train is about to leave the station. My area wants to be on that train—not at any cost or at a cost that would denude us of crucial resources, but we need to grasp this opportunity. This

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does not preclude any discussion of subsidiarity, however. Indeed, it should start the process of subsidiarity from local authorities down to town councils and parish councils, of which there are many in my council area.

If the Bill will secure better and sounder economic cohesion, I will support it. If it will liberate local government to even a small degree compared with how it was 100 years ago, I will support it. If it will give a fair allocation of resources, I will support it. However, as Anne Brontë said:

“There is always a ‘but’ in this imperfect world.”

I do not want to heap too much praise on the Secretary of State, because I do not want him to be moved just yet, but I give him credit for moving this issue on.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman and to other Opposition Members, and I am heartened by the glowing praise that I am hearing from that side of the Chamber. Will he join me in urging his colleagues to join us in the Lobby this evening? We have heard about the 38 bids and other expressions of interest from around the country, and they reflect the fact that this fundamental piece of legislation requires cross-party consensus.

Peter Dowd: I will get back to the hon. Lady as soon as the Secretary of State fills in his Labour party membership form.

The Secretary of State deserves credit for moving this matter on from where is has languished for far too long. We need to get to grips with it, and from the point of view of my city region, the sooner we do so the better.

4.7 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this most important Second Reading debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). The partnerships between local authorities and businesses that the Bill encourages will present areas such as mine in the north of England with an opportunity to unlock the necessary drive and ambition to address our specific needs, so that we can maximise our potential and strive to build an economy that will address historic divisions such as the north-south divide that have hung over us for far too long.

I recognise the fact that London and the south-east have been an economic driver for the rest of the country, but that should not stop us being ambitious about other parts of the United Kingdom. We have only to look at the effects of the recession to see that the need to rebuild our economy is long overdue. The dependence on one economic area in such circumstances fails to capitalise on what much of the rest of the country has to offer. The concentrated and centralised power in Whitehall can often fail to understand the need for economic growth in a variety of areas across the UK. After all, the growth of cities such as Leeds and Manchester occurred not because Whitehall demanded it but because local businesses and leaders understood their communities, their resources and, more importantly, their people.

Today, we are seeing a real drive to boost the economy of the north. I can see the potential in my own area, the Leeds city region, with close to 3 million people, a resident

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workforce of 1.4 million and more than 100,000 businesses creating an economy that was worth £55 billion in 2012. We are seeing massive and unprecedented investment in our transport systems, with new railway stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge serving my constituency and a southern access to Leeds City station that will help to unlock the regeneration we need in the south of the city. There is increased capacity across the TransPennine link and we are now preparing for HS2, which will connect Leeds with Sheffield, Birmingham and London. We are also investing millions and billions of pounds in major road schemes across the north. All these developments make connectivity much easier and enable people to change jobs if they want without necessarily moving home. There is still so much more that we can do, and this Bill offers us the chance to have our say on the issues that people in our area understand.

I want us to take advantage of this Bill in a most ambitious way. I know that my right hon. Friend has had a number of bids for our area, and he faces an unenviable task. Just as we have seen ambition and vision across the Pennines with the Greater Manchester deal, so too should we, on the right side of the Pennines—I mean geographically and spiritually—be equally ambitious, if not more so.

Recently, the South Yorkshire deal was announced, leaving the rest of Yorkshire to come up with a bid. I know that there has been a lot of lobbying for a Leeds city region bid, but we could go further and create a serious player in the UK economy. The Greater Yorkshire bid, which would include West, North and East Yorkshire, would be one of the biggest deals—if not the only deal—in the UK. The area’s great cities, major towns and rural and coastal areas have always had complementary and inter-related roles. Whether we are talking about people travelling to work or people enjoying our tourism, these areas are better connected economically than ever before. With the Greater Yorkshire deal, we could progress that even further.

The growth that we have seen economically in the city region and the huge interest there is in tourism create both pressures and opportunities. That is no more so than in housing where councils are merely looking at their own housing targets within their boundaries. We need a much more regional approach to this matter, so that we can ensure that we are protecting as much of our greenbelt as possible.

It is also important that we ensure that we have access to the world markets. I was pleased to hear Hull mentioned. Building a strategic approach for the M62 economic corridor and expanding the entrepreneurial capacity of our rural and coastal areas offer great potential for the areas to work together for a combined approach to economic growth rather than competing with each other.

Very many opportunities exist in this bid—in healthcare, in renewable energy and in the food markets. Logistically, the port in Hull offers access to more than 230 million consumers. We also have a big airport, motorways, HS2, tourism and so much more. This is a fantastic bid that has been put forward, and I seriously hope that it will be considered, not least because it will build the skills and aspirations that we and business need and it will offer greater and improved outcomes for our young people.

This bid makes sense. It has the drive, ambition and aspiration that I want to see. It would also make us a

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serious player in the UK and across the world. This Bill gives us the power and opportunity to do that, so that we no longer have to look at London and the south-east with envy. We can become a driver not just to rival it but to exceed it and become an ambitious contributor to the northern powerhouse.

4.12 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): The great city of Birmingham is the city of Chamberlain and the birthplace of municipal government and municipal enterprise. It is the city of 1,000 trades; the workshop of the world. It is a city that, to this day, has immense strengths and potential, but it is a city with high unemployment. The bitter irony is that, just as the economy is strengthening, there is an acute and growing skills shortage. I see that in my own constituency of Erdington, which has the eighth highest unemployment rate in England. The city is ambitious and, with our partners, we want to go for it at the next stages, not least because Britain cannot succeed through London and the south-east alone.

Historically, Labour has been the party of devolution—Scotland, Wales and London. I have always believed in the dynamic role of local government in driving economic growth. I was a founder member of one of the first enterprise boards in Greater London back in the 1980s. Indeed, together with the Secretary of State, we piloted the Heseltine project in the west midlands in 2012. What that demonstrated was a real enthusiasm for the city region agenda.

The strong view within the region is that there is now an historic moment of opportunity, and we want to seize that moment with both hands. We want to see the economic success of the region and also what can be delivered through the West Midlands Combined Authority—a somewhat clunky title but an appropriate one nevertheless. We want to build upon our strengths, such as the automotive sector. We want to provide ladders of opportunity at the next stages. We are going to have 10 years of major construction, so we want to ensure that those without work or an apprenticeship can get both.

We also want to pursue a wider agenda through the combined authority. This is not just about jobs, apprenticeships, homes and transport; in the words of Stephen Rimmer, who has been seconded to Birmingham from the Home Office, it is also about people and wellbeing. Let me give one brief example. In July I co-chaired a summit of all the local authorities, together with West Midlands police and other agencies, on a highly effective strategy to prevent child sexual exploitation and abuse. We will now roll it out across the region, through the combined authority, as part of a wider strategy to tackle vulnerability in the west midlands. That is effective inter-agency working.

If I am enthusiastic about the potential at the next stages—and I am—there are three problems. First, the Government cannot empower and then impoverish. In Birmingham we have already seen £700 million of cuts to our budget, and we are facing a further cut of £200 million. Already £2,000 has been cut for every household in Birmingham. I must say that there has been grotesque unfairness in the approach, when we look at what has happened in, for example, the leafy shires of east Cheshire or Surrey. At the next stages,

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Birmingham will struggle to cope with cuts of up to 40%. I therefore urge the Government to think again, including about the fairness of their approach.

Secondly, the local enterprise partnership, together with the seven leaders, has submitted an ambitious bid to the Government. However, in the words of one Conservative colleague, the response thus far has been derisory. Therefore, the offer at the next stages will be key, both in its own right, to enable us to do great things in the west midlands, and also to bind in those who would otherwise say, “Why should we take part if there are peanuts on offer?” Again, those are the words of a Conservative colleague.

Thirdly, the Bill stands localism on its head. I had the pleasure of working with the current Secretary of State when the Localism Act 2011 was going through Parliament—I remember those 20 sittings in Committee with great fondness. Therefore, I cannot understand how the Government can reconcile what they said then with what they are saying now. They are now saying, “We will set you free to be the master of your own destiny, provided you do what we tell you to do, and in this case it’s the imposition of a metro mayor.” When I compare that with European examples, such as Bologna, Rotterdam and Barcelona, I simply do not understand why the Government should take such a position.

I will make two brief points in conclusion. First, I think that police and fire services logically sit within the context of a combined authority. I think that the Home Secretary has been right to say that has to be by agreement, but it is also crucial that local people, police forces and police and crime commissioners are consulted, because there are real problems with boundaries, coterminosity and local accountability. The voice of local people must be heard if police and fire services are to be included in the new arrangements.

Secondly, in the little time remaining I want to make a point about Sunday trading. There is already provision for limited Sunday trading. The Association of Convenience Stores is right that what the Government are proposing fails the family test. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is right that shop workers would have to work when they do not want to. The proposal would threaten many local stores and disrupt local communities on a day when they want peace and quiet. I urge the Government to drop the proposal and keep Sundays special.