‘and in the County of Somerset, as defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997, approved by a referendum in the local authority area’.

Government amendment 15.

Clause 18 stand part.

Clause 9 stand part.

Amendment 1, in schedule 3, page 32, line 12, after “persons” insert

‘including representatives of parish, neighbourhood, community and other councils in the area of the combined authority’.

21 Oct 2015 : Column 1018

This amendment would allow local representation from parish, neighbourhood, community and other council is to attend combined authority scrutiny meetings.

That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Government amendment 9.

Amendment 58, in clause 10, page 11, line 26, at end insert—

‘(5) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for conferring powers on a combined authority to set multi-year finance settlements.’

This amendment is intended to offer financial stability to city regions, allowing them long-term planning which is something not currently offered by the finance settlement or the funding of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

Clauses 10 to 14 stand part.

Amendment 49, in clause 15, page 14, line 43, at end insert—

‘(d) In the County of Somerset, as defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997, approved by a referendum in the local authority area.’

Clause 15 stand part.

Government amendment 10.

Amendment 2, in clause 16, page 16, line 6, at end insert—

‘(d) the creation of a Constitutional Convention to discuss further local authority governance, functions and related democratic issues.’

This amendment creates the means by which every UK citizen can participate in a national public discussion on local devolution in the context of the wider renewal of UK democracy.

Government amendment 11.

Amendment 47, in page 16, line 11, after “apply” insert

‘and in the County of Somerset, as defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997, approved by a referendum in the local authority area’.

Amendment 50, in page 16, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) In the case of two tier authorities, consent under section 16(3) may also be given where a majority of local authorities in the local authority area have indicated their support.’

Government amendments 12, 14 and 13.

Clause 16 stand part.

New clause 2—Subsidiarity

‘That Subsidiarity as defined by the Maastricht Treaty 1992 Article 5(3) shall apply to the functions of national and local government.’

This new clause would build in local government’s independence by using the principle of subsidiarity found in European law.

New clause 4—Local Government Constitutional Convention

‘(1) A convention is to be held to consider and make recommendations on the constitution of local government in the United Kingdom.

(2) The Secretary of State must make regulations to—

(a) appoint a day on which the convention must commence its operations,

(b) make fair and transparent rules about how the convention is to operate and how evidence is to be adduced,

(c) make further provision about the terms of reference prescribed under section (Local Government Constitutional Convention: terms of reference), and

(d) specify how those who are to be part of the convention are to be chosen in accordance with section (Local Government Constitutional Convention: composition).

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(3) The date appointed under subsection (2)(a) must not be later than 31 December 2016.’

This new clause creates the means by which every UK citizen can engage in a national public discussion of devolution local government, governance and electoral systems and make recommendations and receive a response from government and parliament to that national debate.

New clause 5—Local Government Constitutional Convention: terms of reference

‘The convention must consider the following terms of reference—

‘(a) the devolution of legislative and fiscal competence to local authorities within the United Kingdom,

(b) the reform of the electoral system for local government,

(c) constitutional matters relating to local government to be considered in further conventions, and

(d) procedures to govern the consideration and implementation of any future constitutional reforms in relation to local government.’

This new clause creates the means by which every UK citizen can engage in a national public discussion of devolution local government, governance and electoral systems and make recommendations and receive a response from government and parliament to that national debate.

New clause 6—Local Government Constitutional Convention: recommendations

‘(1) The Local Government Constitutional Convention must publish recommendations within the period of one year beginning with the day appointed under section (Local Government Constitutional Convention).

(2) The Secretary of State must lay responses to each of the recommendations before each House of Parliament within six months beginning with the day on which the recommendations are published.’

This new clause creates the means by which every UK citizen can engage in a national public discussion of devolution local government, governance and electoral systems and make recommendations and receive a response from government and parliament to that national debate.

New clause 7—Local Government Constitutional Convention: composition

‘(1) The Local Government Constitutional Convention must be composed of representatives of the following—

(a) registered political parties within the United Kingdom,

(b) local authorities, and

(c) the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

(2) At least 50% of the members of the convention must not be employed in a role which can reasonably be considered to be political.”

This new clause creates the means by which every UK citizen can engage in a national public discussion of devolution local government, governance and electoral systems and make recommendations and receive a response from government and parliament to that national debate.

New clause 10—Housing devolution to London

“In any enactment relating to housing, any power or duty of the Secretary of State applicable to any person or dwelling shall be exercisable in the Greater London area only by the Mayor of London, with the consent of the Greater London Assembly.’

This new clause provides for devolution to London of the Secretary of State’s housing powers.

New clause 11—Local property taxes devolution to London

‘(1) There shall be London Consolidated Fund into which shall be paid each month a sum equivalent to the previous month’s tax receipts in relation to properties in the greater London area accruing from—

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(a) the stamp duty land tax,

(b) capital transfer tax,

(c) the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, and

(d) capital gains property disposal tax.

(2) The Treasury must consult the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly on what band and rates should be applied in respect of the Greater London area for the next financial year in respect of each of the taxes mentioned in subsection (1).’

This new clause provides for devolution to London of the receipts from taxes on property and for formal consultation with the Treasury on the rates of those taxes to be set for the greater London area.

New clause 12—Local Government Financial Integrity

‘(1) Local authorities shall be financially independent of central government, save as otherwise provided for by this section.

(2) Central government may not place any restriction on decisions by local authorities about the exercise of their financial powers.

(3) The distribution of central government funds between local authorities shall continue on the basis of existing equalisation arrangements. Distribution will continue to be based on the principle of ensuring fairness and balance between local authorities. The basis on which this distribution is carried out must continue to be made public.

(4) Each local authority shall receive from central government a guaranteed share of the annual yield of income tax, as follows. Central government must in each financial year assign to the Secretary of State responsible for the distribution of central government funds between local authorities an amount of money equivalent to the yield from ten pence in the pound of income tax. The Secretary of State must make arrangements to inform each taxpayer in England of the amount of their income tax which makes up the central government funding distributed to English local authorities as a whole.

(5) The amount of the income tax yield referred to in subsection (4) shall be renegotiated between central and local government whenever service provision responsibilities are transferred between central government and local authorities.

(6) Local authorities may raise additional sources of income in their areas in any way they wish, and with the consent of their electorates as expressed through arrangements to be determined and put in place by the local authority concerned.

(7) Local authorities shall be able to raise any loans, bonds or other financial instruments which their credit rating allows and as independent entities will be exclusively responsible for their repayment. All local authorities shall operate a balanced budget so that in any one financial year all outgoings, including interest repayments on borrowings, shall not exceed income.

(8) Central government may not cap, or in any other way limit, local authorities’ taxation powers.

(9) The financial transparency standards that apply to central government shall apply to local authorities.

(10) Central government and local authorities may contract with each other in order to pursue their own policy objectives.’

The intention of this new clause is that receipts from income tax should be assigned to the Department for Communities and Local Government who will then pass it on to councils.

New clause 14—Power to create new council tax bands—

‘(1) Section 5 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) omit “The Secretary of State may by order, as regards financial years beginning on or after such date as is specified in the order” and insert “A local authority may for any future financial year”.

(3) Omit subsection (5).’

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The intention of this new clause is to devolve to councils the power to create new council tax bands.

New clause 15—Abolition of referendums relating to council tax increases

‘(1) In Part 1of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (council tax: England and Wales) after Chapter 4 omit the Chapter set out in Schedule 5 to the Localism Act 2011.

(2) Schedule 6 to the Localism Act 2011(council tax referendums: further amendments) ceases to have effect.’

The intention of this new clause is to end the council tax referendum system.

New clause 16—Effective devolution committees

‘(1) The functions of local authorities include the formation of committees to collect and analyse data on effective performance by local authorities of powers and functions devolved to them.

(2) The Secretary of State must not give any directions to such committees.’

The intention of this new clause is to enable Local Government to set up its own “what works” organisation on devolution to examine what’s effective, either independently or in partnership with, but separate from, the Department for Communities and Local Government.

New clause 17—Scale of devolution

‘(1) The extent of the devolution of powers and functions to local authorities must not be dependent on the size of the population of the local authority.’

The intention of this new clause is to provide flexibility for devolution on varying scales and foot prints instead of linking the amount of devolution to the size of the recipient.

Government amendments 26, 30 and 31.

Mr Brady: I shall be brief. Amendments 40, 41 and 45 relate to a variety of questions regarding the precise powers that are to be transferred under a devolution settlement, including whether powers can be devolved down from Government and whether there is any danger or any possibility that might preclude the danger of powers being pulled up from local government and vested at a level further from the people, which I believe to be the case under the Bill as it stands.

Essentially, amendment 45, by providing a veto for any one authority in a combined authority or mayoral authority area over any decision, would establish what, in the context of the Prime Minister’s negotiations on the EU relationship, we would refer to as sovereignty. It is the opposite of the arrangement in the Bill, which we would, I suppose, call qualified majority voting. The current provisions would clearly allow a majority position in the mayoral authority to prevail over a serious objection from one, two or perhaps three authorities. If I read the Bill correctly, in fact, I think that most of the vetoes in the Greater Manchester agreement would require two-thirds opposition to a measure to prevent it from proceeding.

Amendment 45 makes it very clear that although we are pleased to participate in the new arrangement, or to enhance the existing arrangement of a combined authority, which works very well, we believe that the fundamental power in this relationship ought to reside with the local authority or with each of the local authorities in the area. If the amendment were to be agreed, it would provide that protection. As with the amendments we discussed in the earlier group, which I did not press to a vote, I do not intend to press these amendments to a Division in Committee, in the hope that Ministers will reflect on them and consider whether there are more effective ways in which these guarantees and safeguards could be provided.

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Similarly, amendment 40 seeks to establish what one might call a “foundation status”. It would give a special status to the original devolution agreement, which has been acceded to by the leaders of the local authorities in Greater Manchester, which is obviously the instance I know best. The intention is that it would limit the transfer of powers from local authorities, in particular, to any transfer that might take place before the establishment of the mayoral authority and would therefore prevent any further transfers. The amendment might not be perfect, and there might be flaws in how it is drafted, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will accept that there is a real and important point that at the moment of the inception of the mayoral authority there is a degree of consent from the local authorities, but that consent might be less certain at a later stage.

Finally, amendment 41 seeks to provide an explicit guarantee. Ministers are very clear in their statements and Members on both sides of the House have been quite enthusiastic about the principle that we are seeking to move decision making and spending closer to people, taking functions away from central Government and moving them to a more local or regional tier. The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) spoke previously to his amendments seeking to establish a principle that could allow powers always to cascade down to the lowest level—something with which many of us feel a natural sympathy.

However, the Bill as it stands provides the possibility for powers to move in the opposite direction—for a local authority in any one year under any political control to decide that it wishes to cede decision making to the mayoral authority level. It is conceivable that the present Conservative Government will last for no more than another three or four Parliaments, and at some point in the future there could be a Government of another party in place. It is conceivable that a Minister less benign and less wise than my hon. Friend on the Front Bench may seek to lock into a mayoral tier of government powers sucked up from the local level.

Amendment 41 would provide a guarantee that what Ministers say they intend to achieve through the Bill and what most of us would like to see—the transfer of powers down from central Government—will indeed be the effect of the Bill, and not the reverse, the danger that the process will lead to decisions being taken further away from people, rather than closer to them.

Mr Graham Allen: Again, I shall speak about a number of issues that relate to the bigger principles and can perhaps be considered as a warm-up for the next devolution Bill, which must surely come within a couple of years, as I said in my earlier contribution, to knock the edges off this pioneering Bill, which brings serious devolution to England for the first time in my political lifetime. I tabled a number of amendments and I shall speak first to amendment 2, which is about a constitutional convention.

The work that I have been doing on a constitutional convention, which is the policy of my party and others, becomes ever more pertinent. We do not want to do parts of the jigsaw, but never see the bigger picture. Unless we step back and have a constitutional convention, we will not see how voting systems interlock with the role of a second Chamber, with the nations within the Union, and with the role of independent and devolved local government as the agents of devolution in England.

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This is an important Bill providing one part of that jigsaw, but at some point in the next five years we need a mechanism to allow us—hopefully, all parties—to get together, take a pace back and ask, “Where does this leave us? Where does it leave the Union? Where does it leave our democracy?”

I have spoken about the evolutionary approach to English devolution of the Minister and the Secretary of State, and I have commended both. Where does that necessarily piecemeal approach leave us in terms of the future of our country? That cannot be the property of any one party, nor should it be. The parties here have a role as a midwife, ensuring that this concept has a fair wind and is set up properly, is properly funded and provided for and has proper means of public participation, but that is all.

The political parties should take a step back from any convention, whether on local Government or on our wider democracy, and allow the citizens of the United Kingdom their say, perhaps under the auspices of one of the great and the good—an archbishop, a High Court judge or whoever they want to suggest—as worked so well in Scotland. That led to the smooth—it was also protracted, but necessarily so—development of devolution there, culminating in the Scotland Bill that was before us only a few weeks ago.

4 pm

I do not expect the Minister to jump up and say, “Fine, we’ll do that”, but I do expect him to acknowledge that there is a point here, which is that we cannot keep doing this stuff piecemeal and that at some point we will need to pull it together. The whole of my private Member’s Bill on a constitutional convention is basically in the amendment paper, including the nuts and bolts that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing in the previous Parliament, worked very hard on. I have pulled together some of those ideas and put them in an amendment so that they can be read by anyone, at either official or political level, who feels that the concept of a constitutional convention has something to recommend it to the House.

The next issue is one that I know is close to the hearts of Conservative Members: all things European. One of the really good things European was set out in the Maastricht treaty. I forget which Conservative party leader it was—either Mrs Thatcher or Mr Major—who granted us ever-closer union with our European friends. It set out one concept that I think we can all agree on, at least philosophically: subsidiarity—that most ugly word for the most beautiful concept. It essentially means doing things at the lowest appropriate level.

I return to the idea that we must entrench what progress we make. It is not good enough to hope that Whitehall will not want to suck power back, because it will. Having the principle of subsidiarity from the Maastricht treaty and European law embodied in our own law in order to prevent that is something that I think pro-Europeans and anti-Europeans could agree on. It could then be a central tenet of the way we distribute power in the United Kingdom.

A simple amendment incorporating that into British law would give people in devolved local government some security, and something that they could take to

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court, if necessary. People at the lower level of the double devolution that I talked about earlier—people in a neighbourhood council, for example, who scraped together a few quid to do good things in their parish—would have a defence, because taking that away from them would be illegal. I hope that the Minister will also look at that proposal, because I think that in the near future, if not now, it should command the respect of the House and find its way into legislation, either supported by a super-majority or hidden behind the Parliament Act 1911.

I will move on now to new clauses 4 to 7 and a constitutional convention. I will pick just one thing that is at the centre of the paradox that the Minister is struggling with—and who would not struggle?—which is that although we are seeking to devolve power, we are, whatever words we choose to dress it up, imposing the concept of a mayor as the gateway to devolution. I will not get involved in that argument, because in 2020 it will be history and we will look back on it as something that is not all that relevant. However, it is relevant right now, and it is difficult right now.

The argument I put to the Minister is that we ought to be looking at this as something that we can change, work through and evolve, if we consider that at some point we want local government not to be told what system of governance it must have or what electoral system it must operate, but to have the discretion, as an independent institution, to decide on its own governance. If the concept of mayoralty has not taken root after five years, possibly in 80% of England, then it is not a good concept. Some people might say “Fine” to the concept of a mayor, as they would in London now. If we tried to take the concept of a mayor away from people in London, they would resent it greatly. We should let people decide at the end of that period whether they want a council leader, a committee structure, or something else. That would survive the test of time because they would have decided that it was what they wanted.

Exactly the same argument applies to electoral systems. Some people, including me, would say that authorities should be free to decide their own electoral system for local government. If they want all-out councils, election by thirds, the single transferable vote or first past the post, then, in conjunction with the people in their area—that is very important—they should have a debate about that and come to a decision on it. That would be a strong system, but not immutable. People are entitled to say, “We tried the mayor and it didn’t work—we had a succession of people who weren’t very good. We never had that before when we had a more collegiate view.” We should let people make a choice, and let them renew it every so often if that is what they want. I throw that out as an idea; I do not expect the Minister to accept it. If he does, I will be most grateful, but I suspect that it needs to brew a little, perhaps alongside a constitutional convention.

I have tabled many amendments and I am conscious of trying not to use up too much time. The Chair will raise an eyebrow appropriately if I go on too long, but I do not intend to take as much time as I did earlier. Some of my amendments were initiated by the National Association of Local Councils, others by the New Local Government Network, and the one on devolution for all sizes of authorities by Key Cities, but I will deal with the home-grown ones.

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The central amendment is about learning the lesson from Scotland. I am sorry that no one from the Scottish National party is in the Chamber at the moment, because their advice would be very helpful. Someone who went to Scotland, even before the referendum, would have gone to a country that has a chunk of income tax assigned to its Government—to the Scottish Parliament. Rather painlessly, four years ago, we passed the Scotland Act 2012, which gave the equivalent of a 10p income tax rate to the Scottish Parliament. The national rate was reduced by 10p and we substituted a Scottish rate of 10p, so nobody paid any more and no elements of equalisation changed, but there was a clear line of account from the Scottish people as taxpayers to their Government in Holyrood.

I am making the radical, earth-shattering, civilisation-ending suggestion that what the Scots did could work for England and that the English people are just as capable of benefiting from such a system as the Scottish people are already. We could assign a chunk of income tax, not directly to every individual local authority, because that would become a nightmare, but, in essence, to the equivalent of the Scottish Government, which would be the Department for Communities and Local Government. That chunk would go to the DCLG as a block of, say, 10p in the pound, through the distribution mechanism, as now, with proper equalisation, as now, and no changes in the rates. That would give everybody a really clear line of account. If it was on people’s wage slips that that chunk of their national income tax went to local government, everyone would suddenly start to take much greater interest in their local government because they would see for the first time that they were spending that chunk of their income tax money on it.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with my hon. Friend’s argument on income tax. Might the full suite of property taxes, not just business rates, also be worth considering in this context? I draw his attention to my amendment, clearly not as well drafted as his, suggesting that property taxes should be devolved in full to London. I hope to catch Mrs Main’s eye and say a few words on that later.

Mr Allen: Our London colleagues have done some fantastic work on how to localise taxation that is currently held by the centre. That has to be done sensitively and carefully, but as I said earlier—I do not think my hon. Friend was present then—every other western democracy manages that difficulty without a problem. In Sweden, America, Canada, Italy, Germany and Holland, it is second nature to retain money locally from business rates, landfill taxes and land taxes such as stamp duty. They get by pretty well. In fact, because that system is institutionalised, their local government has immense power over and above what we have as vassals. In effect, we do what we are commanded to do according to the crumbs left in the begging bowl after the Chancellor has done his bit for the national economy.

It is absolutely open to us to do work similar to that done by my hon. Friend, Professor Tony Travers and consecutive London Mayors to liberate people. Nottingham gets a lot of tourists because of the Robin Hood tradition and the castle, so we could have a hotel tax or a bed tax of £1 a night. That happens in other western democratic countries and the people endorse it. There is a big caveat though: no council should do this unless the

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people have okayed it and bought into it. Councils should also be able to borrow on the open market on the basis of their credit rating, but they need to have the consent of the people. It is perfectly possible for us to do what my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr Kevan Jones: I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend and, while I do not disagree with him, the proposal to retain 100% of business rates will be a disaster for some poorer areas. It is fine for areas of central London, such as Westminster, to argue for the ability to retain 100% of their business rates. However, business rates in poorer areas of the north-east and elsewhere are never going to generate a great deal. In fact, one large closure can devastate the local income base. There has to be a redistribution mechanism.

Mr Allen: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A proper redistribution mechanism—whether it is based on the amount received from income tax, business rates or any other taxation—must be in place; otherwise the system could be distorted and deeply unfair. That is why my amendments, which my hon. Friend will have read, suggest that equalisation should be central to the process; otherwise we will end up with the disjointedness he mentions.

Jonathan Edwards: In addition to the point made by the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), does the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) think there is a relationship between fiscal decentralisation and the geographical wealth of the countries that he mentioned, including the United States, which is far more balanced than the gross imbalances in the UK?

Mr Allen: No, I do not believe that is the case. That happens everywhere. Although I am very much an ardent devolver, I believe there is always a place for the federal level. President Clinton was not denied his wish to introduce Head Start to every state in the union. He did not impose it, but he offered it as a federal programme and virtually every state picked it up. Devolution would not diminish our role in this place to do good things, and it certainly should not diminish our role in insisting on the sort of equalisation that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has in mind.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree, though, that that is not what is being offered by this Government? They are offering retention of 100% of business rates without equalisation, which will have a dramatic effect on those areas with low business rate receipts. It will also be to the advantage of some areas that perhaps do not need extra resources.

Mr Allen: I again agree with my hon. Friend. We are not there yet and it is not a done deal yet. We need to make the points that he very ably makes about equalisation. I will say to him, however, that if it is a choice between being instructed by Whitehall how to spend not very much money and having not very much money to spend locally, I would go for spending it locally every time, because we will maximise value and spend the money sensitively. Whatever money is available, it is better spent by those who know what they are doing, rather than by the man in Whitehall. I totally accept my hon. Friend’s points.

Mr Gareth Thomas: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr Allen: I am very conscious of the time, but I will give way.

4.15 pm

Mr Thomas: Is not a further argument for local taxes being controlled at local level that it allows local government a full range of policy responses to deal with local problems? I offer the example—I hope to catch your eye on this later, Mrs Main—of the housing crisis in London, where an ability to impose higher taxes on empty homes might be one part of the solution to the housing crisis.

Mr Allen: The nuance that I would add to my hon. Friend’s excellent point is that local taxation need not necessarily always be collected locally. Income tax is a very good example. Provided that it is distributed fairly from the centre, it makes a lot of sense for collection to be a central function, with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs simply continuing to do what it does, openly and transparently. Other things—he mentioned a hotel tax, business rates and so on—are much more amenable to local decision making, but we are long way from that.

Graham Stringer: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Allen: I will, but if I may, I will make that the last intervention, otherwise you will start to twitch, Mrs Main.

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend is committed to and searching for radical localist solutions. He mentioned the efficiency of decisions taken locally. My experience is that local government is much more efficient than central Government. Would not the most radical constitutional change be to make central Government responsible to local government, not the other way round?

Mr Allen: I would not ever wish to do to central Government what they have done to local government. I will therefore resist the temptation that my hon. Friend puts in my way. Sometimes, however, when we are being lectured about fiscal prudence, I ask myself: who has the triple A rating in this country? It is local government, rather than central Government. Who goes cap in hand to international lenders? Central Government. Who runs tight and balanced budgets? Local government. A central Government of any political colour who lectures local government should look in the mirror first.

I just want to mention one last new clause, new clause 16. It relates to having an institution, created by local government, as one of the What Works institutions that, thankfully, are now springing up across and outside government. They take the best possible practice out there and spread it around. A national-level inspectorate can tell local government what to do, but I am saying that there is a different model. We should draw up from the localities to national level something selected by the localities to spread best practice. We all want to do better and to hear who is doing the good stuff.

I will boast about the fact that the city of Nottingham has just come with the idea of an energy broker. Anybody can phone up and get the best deal—done. It will save people several hundred pounds a year. It is a not-for-profit service. As a Nottingham patriot, I could go on about our trams and many other innovations that we are introducing with two hands tied behind our back.

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If we release people in the way I am describing, we can show them best practice and we can see what they are doing. I ask the Minister to consider that point very seriously. The Government have very generously created What Works institutions in policing and early intervention —I played a small part in creating the Early Intervention Foundation—and there are about 10 of them across the board. We need an organisation created by local government and that local government will respect—based in the LGA, the Department for Communities and Local Government or wherever—to give advice, offer evidence and fight local government’s corner. That is something for the Minister to take away and consider, and I hope it will reappear in the next of the two other devolution Bills I anticipate before 2020.

John Stevenson: I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about amendment 50, which I tabled. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says, but it is not my intention to press it to a vote.

As the Minister is well aware, I fully support the Government’s overall aims and intentions. It is sensible that this is an enabling Bill and that it allows the maximum possible flexibility. I think that it will lead to innovation and fresh thinking not just at the national level, but at the local level. Indeed over the past few years, local authorities have demonstrated that they are innovative and that they can change.

I appreciate that the Government want to reform local government with the support of local government. The Bill gives local government the opportunity to step up to the plate and embrace these opportunities. It gives local authorities the chance to take responsibility, to take on more powers and to achieve an awful lot more for their communities. I understand that the Government do not want to impose things on local authorities, but to discuss and negotiate with them in order to come to a deal that is beneficial for central and local government.

A key part of this change is not only about powers, but about governance and structure. There has been an extensive discussion about elected mayors, of which I am an enthusiastic supporter. Indeed, I believe that elected mayors should be the default position for all councils throughout the country. I will continue to support and encourage that idea. However, I accept that the Government want local areas to come up with their own solutions and ideas for change on both governance and structure. I understand the thinking behind that.

I do, however, have some concerns. If I may take this opportunity to be rather parochial, I would like to talk a little about Cumbria. I suspect that other areas face similar circumstances, but I will just discuss my own county. Cumbria has been described as a county that is over-governed and under-led. We have more than 380 councillors and seven councils, yet we have only half a million people. That system was created in 1974 and is now clearly not fit for purpose. It is recognised by everybody locally, including all the political parties, industry, business, the health service and local people, that it has to change, and that it has to do so soon if it is to be part of the devolutionary changes that are happening and to take the opportunities that are available to local government.

However, there is a potential problem. That is why I tabled amendment 50. I believe that it is wrong in a two-tier area for one authority effectively to have a veto

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over any change, even if it is a sensible and well-supported proposal made by the rest of the county and all the other districts. That allows one authority to stop popular and vital reforms going ahead. Anyone who understands Cumbrian politics will know that that is a distinct possibility.

Amendment 50 is not about allowing central Government to impose their will over what happens in Cumbria—I want to emphasise that. It is about stopping one authority denying progressive change that is in the interests of people throughout Cumbria. Cumbria is an obvious example of this problem because six of its authorities could be prevented from bringing about badly needed and well-supported reform by one maverick authority.

Mr Rees-Mogg: I am very interested in the point that my hon. Friend is making, but concerned that his proposal would undermine one of the principles behind what the Government are doing, which is to ensure that there is consent for the proposals. Does he feel that if what he is describing were to happen, it would be right to have a referendum to ensure that people were not having decisions made for them wrongly by the hierarchy above them?

John Stevenson: I do not feel that a referendum would be necessary, because the councillors on the various councils are the elected representatives of the people. My concern is that one authority might dig its heels in and prevent change that is in the beneficial interests of the rest of the council and all the other districts, particularly given that sacrifices will be made by those districts and the county council.

I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to what I consider to be a modest and sensible amendment. I look forward to him accepting it on Report.

Mr Betts: I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said about the need for a wider constitutional settlement. That was apposite, and at some point we will have to address those issues. I agree with his points about subsidiarity and taking that below the level of an individual local authority, and about encouraging the process down.

Fiscal devolution is a challenge, and Members have reflected different perspectives from different parts of the country. It is a challenge, but not one that we should duck. I am Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, on which the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) sat in the previous Parliament. He made important and valuable contributions to our report. We found a way to take on board proposals from the London Finance Commission about the wider devolution of property taxes, while recognising the need to protect areas that will perhaps struggle to raise business rates and other property taxes easily, or to get back money from areas that simply watch property prices rise and receive enormous windfalls. We must have balance in the system.

The Committee has begun an inquiry into the workings of devolution and the Bill, but since then the Chancellor has made his announcement about the full localisation of business rates. The Committee will want to come back and look at how that will be done. I think most Members would support the principle behind such a move, but how will we implement it to ensure protection

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for poorer areas? How will we devolve more powers to local government to take account of the extra money made available as part of that process?

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is right to say that the Select Committee must consider business rates retention in detail. One possible solution for devolved city regions might be the pooling and sharing of business rates. For example, parts of Greater Manchester are key drivers of economic growth, and that wealth should be spread across the whole conurbation for the benefit of all.

Mr Betts: My hon. Friend is right, and the Committee made that recommendation in the previous Parliament. It is a way that we can devolve the redistribution process to more local areas. That does not work everywhere, but it would probably work well in areas such as Manchester that have a spread of different local authorities

Mr Gareth Thomas: My hon. Friend’s point about poorer areas and the full devolution of business rates is apposite. Is the Chancellor’s suggestion to axe completely the revenue support grant for local authorities—that was in the same speech as plans for the full devolution of business rates—likely to have a dramatic impact on increasing inequality of income between areas? Will my hon. Friend’s Committee be considering that?

Mr Betts: We will certainly want to consider that issue. From reading what has been said, and the written statement that was presented to the House on the first day back after the recess, there does not seem to be a commitment simply to leave the amount of business rates collected in an area with that local authority. Instead there was a move to allow the full retention of the growth of business rates, and then a decision about what to do with the rest. I think that is the position, but Ministers will have to explain it further in due course. I am sure that the Committee will want to explore that.

The Minister and I have slightly different views about whether elected mayors should be a requirement for full devolution, but the Minister won the vote and that measure is back in the Bill. I am still concerned to have a level playing field, however, and I am surprised about one element in the Bill that Ministers have not sought to explain. Amendment 60 would delete from clause 5(1)(7) words that would devolve to a mayor who is exercising powers independently, any powers that are

“similar to any power exercisable by the mayoral combined authority…but the power conferred on the mayor may not include a power to borrow money.”

When a combined authority is set up, it can have the power to borrow money. In the Sheffield city region, the combined authority has to borrow money for the functions of economic development, skills and matters devolved to it. The mayor will effectively become the transport authority and exercise transport functions. In exercising those functions, however, the mayor will not be able to borrow money. Somebody else will have to do that if, for example, a new tram system is going to be developed. The mayor will have to go to somebody else and say, “Will you borrow money for me?”

4.30 pm

Is that not a very odd situation? The Government have been arguing very strongly—the Minister has made the case—that we need clear accountability and strong leadership, and that we can only have that through

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elected mayors. That has been the Government’s line right the way through, but these strong mayors—these solely accountable people who are essential to making this form of governance work—will not be able to borrow the money to deliver the functions they are given. Why? It is not as if I am arguing, with the amendment, that Ministers have to give borrowing powers to the mayor, but the Bill actually prevents the Government from being allowed to give borrowing powers to a mayor. Is that not very strange for an enabling Bill? The Ministers have disabled themselves from doing something that seems fairly fundamental to the powers of a mayor. Can someone explain that? I cannot. It really is quite a strange situation for the Government to have got themselves into.

I tabled a very simple amendment to take those lines out. It will not force Ministers to do anything; it will simply allow them to come to deals with the combined authorities on how mayors should be able to exercise properly the functions they are given. The Minister might like to at least reflect on the fact that this is a sensible amendment.

I return to the comments made by the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). His is a probing amendment, but it is probing in a very effective way. There is a problem: consent for one person is veto for somebody else. That is also a problem in proposed new subsection (3) in clause 15(3), which relates to authorities that have to give their consent for a combined authority to operate, including a district council or

“a county council the whole or any part of whose area is within the area”.

What if four Derbyshire districts decide they want to join and have their transport powers exercised by the combined authority of the Sheffield city region, which is a natural travel to work area—they are all working together on a joint basis at present—and Derbyshire County Council says no?

This is a point I raised earlier. Ministers have to give some thought to the challenges this will pose in areas where there are currently districts in counties. I give great credit to the Government, because both the LEPs and the devolution proposals they are working towards have no regard to the old regions, which were administrative conveniences, but Sheffield has little connection with Whitby, even though we are both in what was the Yorkshire region. We have a lot of connections with Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire, Bolsover, Derbyshire Dales and Bassetlaw. They are part of our travel to work area, along with Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham. We are part of the same economic entity. To have a Bill that enables a veto on the development of a proper economic policy for a proper economic area is a concern. I am raising this point again and the hon. Member for Carlisle has raised it in a different context. It is a problem. I hope the Ministers will help us to sort it out.

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con): It is my view that there are no problems with the Bill. I championed it last week because I believed the Government were right to give more powers to councils, which can better address the issues in their areas. Cornwall does not have an elected mayor, but it does have a rather unique sense of identity and a desire to get its traditional low-wage economy functioning as a high-wage, high-skill one and to secure the lifestyle benefits that brings.

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As many Members are aware, the Bill was preceded by the Cornwall deal, which, as a Cornwall MP and local councillor, I was proud to see signed off by the separate bodies and the Minister. Devolution for Cornwall recognises the needs of its people. The Government are saying to the people of Cornwall, “If you want more power, you can have it.” It is no secret that Cornwall has been a very deprived area. This is not just recognised nationally; it is also recognised on the continent. Cornwall has received European funding to improve this situation, but the last round created only 3,500 jobs out of the 10,000 planned. This is in a county of only 500,000 people. Those 10,000 jobs would have been of huge benefit to us, but the funding was not properly utilised. Cornwall has now been granted intermediate body status and so gets to take control of such money. That is the best way to make businesses grow. Let us give business the opportunities to invest.

As a rural area, Cornwall struggles with the reliability and frequency of transport links. In my constituency, there are no main line railways—there is not one passing anywhere near the constituency—so I know how important bus links are to communities. I am glad, therefore, that bus links were part of the deal. Not everyone has a car or driving licence, so it is buses that help them to commute to and from work. The Cornwall deal now gives us greater control over those bus links, and with the introduction of smart ticketing, like that in London, we can move Cornwall into the 21st century.

Cornwall and local health organisations plan to introduce a business plan for the integration of health and social care, meaning that Cornwall will have a greater say over how healthcare is provided to our elderly, sick and vulnerable constituents. With the empowerment of local government, however, comes great responsibility, and my constituents want to hold local government to account. This deal makes that possible. It gives the power to local people to hold their politicians and boards accountable. I feel proud to be MP for an area that has seen these devolved powers. It is a historic deal for Cornwall, and I hope that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will feel the same way when the same powers are devolved to their areas.

Mr Gareth Thomas: I rise to make the case for new clauses 10 and 11, which stand in my name, but first, I should preface my comments by supporting the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) about a constitutional settlement. That is an entirely sensible way forward. I do not know whether he has considered the distinctiveness of London as part of that settlement, but I think that any such convention should recognise its difference, the scale of the challenges facing it and the significant contribution it makes to the wealth of the UK as a whole.

I read new clause 22, debated in the previous group, with interest, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), whom I understand was its genesis. I hesitate to commend him more fully, in case it damages his career, but I am encouraged that the Labour Front-Bench team recognise the need to argue quickly for more devolution to London. I hope to persuade him and the Committee that my new clauses contain the substance of what needs to be devolved to London.

The substance of new clause 11, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), secured cross-party support in London as a result of the

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London Finance Commission, which Tony Travers chaired and which was established by the Mayor of London, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). That commission recommended that the full sweep of property taxes—not just business rates, but council tax, stamp duty, capital gains, property development tax and the annual tax on enveloped dwellings—should be devolved to London.

High property prices in London mean that the capital contributes a disproportionate amount to the Treasury through property taxes. Last year alone, some £3 billion was paid in stamp duty in London—40% of the total, more than was paid in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.

It is right that much of the wealth generated in London is redistributed around the UK. There should be continuing equalisation measures, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) rightly said, perhaps through the revenue support grant or other means. There should also be a corresponding reduction in grant income to London to ensure that devolution of property taxes is fiscally neutral to the Treasury.

My point, however, is that London needs to control more of the wealth that we create to solve the challenges that our city faces. We have the most severe housing crisis of any part of the UK, the highest cost of living, and the starkest levels of inequality. Our transport infrastructure is under huge pressure, and we have stubbornly high levels of child poverty and deprivation. I say that not in any way to dispute the fact that other parts of the UK face significant challenges as well, but merely to underline the argument that London needs to be able to control more of the levers to shape our responses to these challenges.

I thus support the instinct to retain 100% of business rates, but it is the full devolution of all property taxes that is needed to help us in London to tackle our challenges, with a pound-for-pound reduction in London’s revenue support grant as the quid pro quo going forward. There is widespread support among the business community for the devolution of property taxes because that community recognises that it is key to developing the necessary infrastructure to promote economic growth.

I use as my example the 40 years it has taken to start work on Crossrail. Given the pressures that London’s rapidly growing population is creating for further investment in infrastructure, it is vital for big infrastructure decisions to be brought to resolution more quickly and for the control of property and taxation to be exercised at London-wide levels, which would increase the Mayor’s ability—and, indeed, that of local councils—to put the financing together for the infrastructure schemes necessary for the future. Greater control over property taxes would ease the borrowing constraints on London’s local councils so that they could invest in vital infrastructure such as affordable housing.

As the London Finance Commission set out, London currently controls only 7% of the taxes that are paid here, compared with more than 50% in New York. Property taxes are set locally in Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Tokyo. Such control would not only enable London to plan infrastructure projects better, but allow greater scope to ensure that the property taxes that are levied suit London’s property and land markets. For example, the introduction of a hotel occupancy tax, as successfully levied in New York, could raise up to £50 million a year

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for London. Even if the Minister is not minded to support my new clause 11 at this juncture, he might give some indication of being tempted to develop a feeling of courage in taking on the Treasury and advocate further devolution of more property taxes to London.

New clause 10 devolves responsibility for housing law to the Mayor and Assembly. That matches arrangements for Scotland and Wales and would allow Londoners themselves to decide whether to extend the right to buy and whether or not to cut rents. It is the scale of the housing crisis that provides the overarching rationale for this new clause. We have seen a huge drop in owner-occupation in London. An average home in London costs nine times the average wage of a police officer, 21 times the average wage of a chef and 35 times the wage of a Foreign Office cleaner. Rents have rocketed, and are not expected to bottom out any time soon. Homelessness has also increased rapidly: there has been a 50% increase in my own borough over the past five years. Meanwhile, Ministers—and I say this with all due respect to the Minister who is present—sit on their hands doing very little about a crisis which, given that we are building fewer than half the homes a year that London needs, is likely to become more rather than less acute unless radical steps are taken.

4.45 pm

I strongly believe that the Mayor of London has not had the will to tackle London’s housing crisis. It is also true to say that he has not had at his disposal all the levers that he might have had if he had really wanted to get to grips with it. One of the benefits of the amendment is that we would be able to put in one set of hands, or in the hands of one institution, all the crucial levers that would enable us to tackle that crisis. A mix of solutions is needed. The potential for those solutions currently lies in a multiplicity of hands, including those of the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Mayor and the Valuation Office Agency. We need to bring those responsibilities together, so that a mayoral London housing strategy can have real teeth and real resources with which to meet its objectives.

Decisions about the right to buy, about cuts in rents and about the introduction of rent controls in London, which I think are needed, planning rules, tax powers and the power to write the rules for the housing market more generally should be the responsibility of the Mayor, with the support of the Assembly. I think that property taxes should be as well, so that, for example, we can impose higher taxes on empty homes or on land that could be, but is not being, developed. Such decisions could be made more quickly by the Mayor. At present, councils must head for the Treasury to try to persuade the Chancellor.

I recognise that there are those who think that London has all the power and all the wealth, and that further devolution will only make that worse. As I said earlier, the wealth that London creates needs to be redistributed. Most Londoners continue to support that principle strongly, but I do not think that Whitehall always knows best. I think that there are more policy areas in London in which the expertise—I say this gently—of Scottish, Welsh and other English MPs is not needed, and which should be devolved to the Mayor and the Assembly. Property taxes and housing law, for instance, are crucial in that regard.

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London is different from the rest of England. The scale of our economic and social challenges, our rapidly rising population and the fact that our competition is now far more about New York, Berlin and Tokyo than about other UK cities demand a much stronger devolution package for London. That does not by any means undermine the case for further devolution to other parts of England, as the Bill already suggests.

Mr Kevan Jones: Amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), calls for the creation of a constitutional convention, which I think is very important.

As we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Government’s proposals are likely to end up as a dog’s breakfast. The Bill does not represent a movement for devolution or an attempt to improve local government or governance; it represents a clear political agenda. It is about the Chancellor’s vision of a small state Britain that will make it easier for him to push through draconian cuts. Once he has pushed responsibilities down to local government or regional tiers, he will be able to top-slice the budgets, while the difficult decisions will have to be faced locally, by mayors and councils. Those individuals will get the blame for the tough decisions that will be taken. The Chancellor and this Government will step back and say, “I’m sorry, it’s not our fault; it’s your local decision-making process.”

This is a unique way of approaching the devolution debate in this country. There have been other approaches. There was the Crowther debate in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which stood back and looked at not only Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but how to devolve power locally. The Redcliffe-Maud reorganisation of local government took time to look at future structures for local government. That was controversial at the time—some of the historical counties were abolished, for example— but at least there was an evidence base.

That is not what is on offer now, which is why amendment 2 is so important. We need a properly thought-out national debate on devolution and what the structures will be. What we have now in this so-called enabling legislation is legislation with a big stick attached to it. Local areas such as the north-east have been told they can have devolution but only if there is an elected mayor, even though the Minister keeps denying that. He said an interesting thing in response to the previous set of amendments; he said no area would be disadvantaged if it did not go down the devolution route. That is not what he has been saying in the region or what his supporters in the Conservative party have been arguing in the region. The argument there is that if these truculent local authorities do not agree to devolution, they will lose out on all this money. The Minister has changed his tune this afternoon and said that is not conditional. It will be welcome if there is still an option to get those extra resources without necessarily going down the route he wants.

This is about local decision making, but what is key in any organisation is who holds the purse-strings. The Chancellor still holds the purse-strings under what is being proposed, and when the tough decisions come down the line his fingerprints will not be on them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) mentioned business rates. I take his point: allowing local councils and others to have the powers to

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regenerate areas and try to create extra revenue is welcome, but he will appreciate—as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North noted earlier—that there is not a level playing field across the UK. Without any mechanism for redistribution in local business rates, areas such as the north-east—those that have already been hit disproportionately by this Government taking the need element out of grant formula, which rewards richer areas more than poorer areas—are going to lose out.

Westminster city council will benefit if it gets to retain 100% of its business rates and gains from any new development it can have. Its situation will be easy compared with that of the poor people of Redcar; Redcar council is going to find it very difficult to attract new development that plugs the hole left by the closure of the steelworks.

We need to ensure we put in place structures that not only will work and have the support of people, but are practical. If we have a Teesside mayor and a mayor for the north-east, both will have responsibility for transport in their area. Where that will leave the A19, the M1 or any of the other transport links that cross the area, no one seems to know. Will the mayor of Teesside be responsible for the section of the A19 as far as the border of the area? Will the mayor for the north-east assume responsibility for the road network beyond that point? Therein lies one of the issues.

The Government said that they were against regions, but they have now divided quite a small geographical area. Supporters of the proposals have not explained how all this will work in practice. They have been out there in the north-east vigorously putting forward their case. Many of them have been posing as business people while forgetting to tell everyone that they are actually Conservatives.

There is a similar problem with resource allocation. The Government are proposing to impose a new tier of regional government, but how will it relate to the existing local authority tiers? The Minister keeps saying that this will be different because it involves moving power down from Whitehall to the region, but I can envisage people starting to ask whether they really need the large numbers of councils that they have at the moment. That will certainly happen in Manchester, for example. I know that turkeys do not usually vote for Christmas, but some local authorities need to think about where the Government’s agenda will lead. The Conservative party has traditionally been quite passionate about local government—it has always been supportive of it—but I believe that the Bill represents a move to reduce those tiers of local representation.

We need to step back and look not only at how the new system will work in practice but at the levels of local support. The Government are refusing to allow the people of the north-east a say in whether they want an extra tier of local government. The Minister is adamant that he is not prepared to give those people a say over whether they want an elected mayor whose responsibilities would stretch from the Scottish border down to Barnard Castle. As I said earlier, when we proposed a regional assembly in 2004, we quite rightly put it to the people. The Conservatives and their supporters argued vigorously against the proposal, and I am sure that if the then Labour Government had imposed an assembly on the region without taking the proposal to the people, we would rightly have been criticised.

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There would have been an outcry. Those same advocates who argued against us then are keeping very quiet now, however.

I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). He has raised various issues, and I agree that there is a problem. One question that some of the smaller district councils will face is whether they will have capacity as a result of the cuts that will be imposed in the autumn statement, on top of those that have already been imposed. The last Labour Government introduced unitary councils in the north-east, in Durham, and it was one of the best things that happened making decisions more straightforward. I hate to think what some of those smaller councils would do if they were still in existence now, given the cuts that this Government have imposed. I doubt that they would have the capacity to deliver their services.

I put it to the Minister that these larger areas will need an effective mechanism for ensuring that local people are engaged in the decision-making process. I used to work in Cumbria and I know it well. I understand some of the attitudes he has referred to. Having a veto over decisions on what is needed there could be a disadvantage for Cumbria rather than an advantage.

We need the measures that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North is proposing. We should have had them in place before we embarked on this process, but the Government know exactly what they are doing. This is not about devolution. It is about the clear political agenda of the Conservatives and the Chancellor. They know what they are doing, and it has nothing at all to do with the proper devolution of decision making.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I concur that a constitutional convention would be very sensible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said.

I hear the idea of a hotel tax in London—I hope it is not on my constituents coming down for a good overnight stay, but on those coming from abroad. I am not sure a hotel tax would work particularly well in Bassetlaw, although it is worth considering. I recall that until the last few years Welbeck Estates levied £3 on every tonne of coal produced for a century. If local government had been allowed to do that, Bassetlaw would be a very different place, because the infrastructure and so on would have been appropriately remunerated for the coal that we provided for the rest of the country in wartime and in peacetime, at great cost. That concept of local decision making is a very good one, so I would accord with the idea, but I hope there would be some exemptions to anything that is done in relation to the good people of Bassetlaw.

5 pm

My questions are solely on the technicalities, as I see a few ambiguities here. There seems to have been a bit of a rush to get into the model being used. Nobody in my area or elsewhere would know about D2N2, but it is apparently Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and it is deciding that it might want this model, rather late in the day. I am sure Derby is a wonderful place, but I cannot say I have visited it very often and so I do not know how wonderful it is. Like most of my constituents, I am a little unknowing of the joys of Derby. What we have in

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common with Derby I have no idea, but it is certainly not economic, social, cultural or in any way to do with business, including shopping. Things cobbled together are likely to be rejected if they are put to the people.

That highlights another genuine problem, no matter how enthusiastic or not one is for this concept: Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire each has a unitary authority, and we have two-tier authorities, so putting another level of governance on top, with another elected politician, creates more politicians, with deputy mayors to be appointed as well. Different parties have views on how that should be done, but it means more politicians. The inevitable consequence of creating such an entity would be that either the districts or the counties would disappear —it would be interesting if the Minister clarified that. There would be unitary authorities of some kind within the combined authority. Otherwise, we would have potentially competing authorities representing some areas, set against single-voiced authorities. It is very clear that, no matter who is running them, the unitary authorities will have far more power and influence, because they will be speaking with one coherent voice whereas the two-tier authorities will not be. Those bodies may well be competing, and because the larger county authorities could be controlled by people from an entirely different district, that could be to the disbenefit of any particular district and a huge potential conflict could be created.

Logically, if it is a good idea and people want it—councillors, politicians and the people—there should be clarity that it will result at some stage in the foreseeable future in fewer councillors, rather than more. That is an important principle. I have argued repeatedly over the years for unitary authorities, and I have always thought that having too many paid councillors is a bad idea and that reducing the number will lead to more efficiency. In areas such as mine, we are talking not just about those two tiers and a third tier that could appear if this is agreed in D2N2—it is not the best of names—but about 60 parish councils as well. I would shift a little bit of power to them—for example, a few of the planning powers. Giving slightly more power to parish councils, particularly on planning issues, would doubtless get a lot of support from those on the Government Benches. Therefore, we have an absurd level of tiers if one is not stripped out.

Clarity on that issue would be useful, as would clarity on the issue of democracy. Will the people of Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, north-east Derbyshire or the Derbyshire Dales be able to choose where they go? That is a fundamental question. We could have a situation in which we have two mayors. Now, if there is one thing that is worse than having one mayor it is having two mayors. We could have a mayor for D2N2—I am sure that the turnout for the election would be dramatically high as it was for that of police commissioners—elected at the same time as the mayor for Sheffield city region. We need a level of certainty. Without question, if we are talking about economics and transport, our money and influence should go to Sheffield city region, because that is where the link is. That is simply a fact. There is no ambiguity there. We link in on health as well—I will not stray into that debate as it is coming up next—but that has already happened. The skills budget has gone as well, with North Nottinghamshire college in my area now merging with Rotherham college in Sheffield city region.

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It is essential that we have the choice and that we do not get bundled into something, either deliberately or accidentally, that does not work for us. I do not think that that is the Government’s aim—

Mr Betts: My hon. Friend is reiterating the point that I was making earlier, and I entirely agree with him. Although Bassetlaw could not be forced into D2N2, could it not be prevented from joining the Sheffield city region as a full member? In other words, it could be left in limbo.

John Mann: I suppose Bassetlaw would have the option of declaring itself a unitary authority, of getting approval for that and of joining Sheffield city region. There may be routes around it, but the principle is fundamental. We need to have the ability to choose. If those two choices were put to the electorate, I suspect that I know which they would choose, and probably decisively. They may have a different view to me, but that is their prerogative—we have a word for that: democracy. What we do not want is “undemocracy”. Some people are very hostile to what the Government are doing and some are much more sympathetic. Either way, will these two options—is it the D2N2 model—lead to more councillors?

Mr Kevan Jones: I am very interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. He knows that I am very familiar with his constituency, having grown up there. Does he think that the fundamental weakness of this Bill is that there is nowhere for the people to have a say in what actually happens?

John Mann: The Minister will clarify whether, legally, people can have a say, but I am sure that there are ways in which a say can be created to ensure that there is popular consent. There are ways in which we could choose to do that. I am not talking about my own informal consultations, which are pretty huge. It would be interesting to get the Minister’s take on that. Those are key points.

Can we have some assurance that, over time, these measures will not lead to more elected representatives? If people are honest, they understand that if we have a two-tier scenario linked in with unitaries, either the districts or the counties will inevitably go at some stage, and probably sooner rather than later. That is bound to happen. Some may say that that is a good thing. As I have said, I have argued for unitaries before, but it is important that councillors understand that that is what is happening. Similarly, it must be clear that we will be able to choose, and the Derbyshire districts will be able to choose, where we will go. I am sure that the Government want that. They say that it is a brilliant idea, so they must want us to be part of it. It is really how we do that with guarantees. It would be useful to have that on the record.

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): As a former leader of a council and a member of a combined authority and local enterprise partnership, I welcome the thrust of the Bill. There is no question about that. I said in a previous debate that the train is going out of the station—the cat is out of the bag, to mix metaphors. Whichever description we use, this is the reality.

I do not deny that the governance structure in local regions is important, but whatever that structure is we must move the debate on. Local government has changed

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over centuries. In the 19th century, it changed to reflect the industrial revolution. It changed at the beginning of the last century and at the end to reflect the patterns of population, demography, business and so on. It has changed over time. London changed in the early ’60s, we changed again in the 1970s and it is now time to change once more. People might have concerns, but that is life. It has to move on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made a point about having too many councillors, but I am pretty agnostic on that. The United States have significantly more councillors proportionately than we do, and they get on okay, and the same applies to the French. It is part of the heart of a community that there might be lots of councillors. I am not arguing for that, but I do not think that it is a reason for not going ahead with changes.

I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) about the principle. There will be changes to local government and devolution in the coming years, and we might as well recognise that while we are in this transition and get on board with the constitutional convention. That does not stop things happening now, but we really need to get on with it, and I ask the Government to consider that seriously.

I also support what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) said. He referred to some of the specifics. It seems remarkable that a mayor would not have the borrowing powers he described. I hope that is just a mistake—a lacuna in the legislation—that will be put right. It is important that the detail is picked up.

There is a danger that this debate will get a bit too esoteric. Do I think that devolution will be good for my city region of Liverpool? Yes, it will. Why? This is not unique to us, but we have a thriving visitor economy. For many years, that has been our direction of travel and Liverpool is now the fourth most popular city in England for national and international visitors. That could link into the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw about hotel taxes and the ability, if that many people are coming into the city from abroad, to use that revenue if we so wish. I am not saying that we should, but we should have that flexibility if we want it. The visitors are coming to my city, not to anybody else’s, and that is important.

At the moment, the visitor economy brings in £3.8 billion and 40,000 jobs, and it is a major growth sector. Do I think that the city region would manage that, grow it and progress it better? Yes, I do. There is no question about that. If we wait for Whitehall to help us, we will be waiting until the cows come home, and I mean no disrespect to Whitehall.

Mr Graham Allen: My hon. Friend reminds me that Thomas Jefferson once said that were people to wait for Washington to tell them when to reap and when to sow, they would soon go hungry. The same probably applies if we wait for Whitehall to figure out how to do some of these things. Will my hon. Friend also comment on local government borrowing and social investment bonds? In America, there is a multi-trillion dollar local government capital market. People borrow, they return, they use their liquidity and they stash money overnight. That would be a fantastic source of revenue that is currently denied to local government.

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5.15 pm

Peter Dowd: My hon. Friend is spot on in in identifying some of the mechanisms that can be used to help local economies. For example, low carbon investment accounts for 1,400 businesses in our area and is a major growth sector. Among the organisations that invest in our area is Copenhagen city council. Why cannot we as a city council or a local authority invest in our area in that way? Devolution will eventually enable us to do that. The low carbon industry is one of our priorities and brings a huge amount of money into the local economy. We want to grow that area, and we could do that best ourselves.

There are other reasons why my city region will benefit from devolution. We want more manufacturing. The Government have said that they want to move into manufacturing because that helps with exports. In our area advanced manufacturing is worth £3.2 billion and accounts for 50,000 jobs and 3,000 businesses. Again, we need to grow that as part of our strategy, which may well fit in with the Government’s agenda. It may not, but that is a matter for us. We are working closely with businesses through the LEP and outside the LEP to continue to develop that sector.

The creative and digital sector is important. Merseyside had a long history of creativity. I am not saying that other places do not have that, but for decades we have had the benefit of the creativity that we have brought on, and we want to continue to bring it on. Why not? That will be best done from within Merseyside. The sector is worth £878 million, and accounts for 3,500 businesses and almost 19,000 jobs. We are best placed to grow that. The life sciences and health sector is huge and worth £1.7 billion, with the potential to grow even more.

I gave those examples of our priorities—the visitor economy, advanced manufacturing and so on—because many of those have been pushed from within our area. We want the structure, the capability, and the devolution of powers and resources to enable us to push them further.

This may be a radical proposal and it may be slightly party political. The Conservatives have made major cuts in our local government budget in Merseyside and other areas, and that will continue. If that happens, so be it, although I do not agree with it. But I would rather have devolved budgets and resources even at a lesser amount if we can determine how to use them, because our priorities may not be the priorities of the Government. One of the good things that the Government did was to lift much of the ring-fencing which had become endemic over the past 10 or 15 years.

If, with devolution, comes the resource—appropriately equitable, possibly over a transition period—all the better. Colleagues in my neck of the woods and I welcome devolution. We want to be able to push the agenda on for our area and we think we are best placed to do that. Importantly, we would be accountable for that at a local level, and that is the key.

Mr Steve Reed: This group of amendments deals with the functions of combined authorities and their funding. I shall try to cover the whole range and also speak to our amendment.

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The Minister said that he and the Government are listening to these debates and making changes as a result. It is disappointing, therefore, that they have not brought any significant changes to the Committee in relation to this group, after the debates and decisions that were taken in the Lords, and the debate on Second Reading, on introducing stronger financial powers. Areas are being given new powers, which is absolutely welcome, but the truth is that they will lack the resources they need to use them fully.

Local government has proven itself to be more efficient than national Government, as hon. Members have testified, but Whitehall still will not let go. That is why I tabled amendment 58, which would introduce multi-year financial settlements. That would offer city regions financial stability and allow them to have long-term planning, which currently is not on offer under the financial settlement or the funding of local enterprise partnerships. Without long-term funding arrangements, they cannot plan sensibly for the long term.

The Government must commit to providing devolved regions with the resources they need so that they are not being set up to fail. The regional development agencies, which LEPs replaced, were able to make single three-year funding arrangements. LEPs are in many respects better, but they have access to a smaller budget, and there are far too many small ring-fenced grants, which constrains their ability to take the big, long-term, strategic decisions in the way they need to. We must ensure that combined authorities do not suffer the same problems.

Amendment 58 would therefore make provision for multi-year funding agreements, which would give combined authorities the resources and time they need to build financial stability and allow them to best protect themselves against unfair funding settlements of the kind we have seen central Government deliver since 2010, which I fear we are going to see again when the Chancellor makes his pre-Budget statement to the House in a few weeks’ time. This is an important issue, and I believe that the success or otherwise of devolution depends on it, so we will seek to push that amendment to a vote.

A number of other amendments are aimed at increasing financial stability. We are particularly interested in the Government’s view of those. I urge the Minister, in the Secretary of State’s absence, to respond to them so that we do not have to bring them back on Report. In particular, amendment 60, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), seeks further powers to allow mayors to borrow. New clause 14, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), would allow local areas more discretion over the setting of council tax bands.

New clauses 10 and 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), seek further devolution to London. I think he is quite right to point out that the devolution journey in London has not ended, because the capital is seeking further powers. His points about devolving housing to London are certainly worth further exploration. However, it is worrying that the Housing and Planning Bill contains more than 30 centralising measures, taking powers away from the localities and putting them in the hands of Ministers here in Whitehall, which runs completely contrary to everything we have heard from Ministers this afternoon about their devolution intentions.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West also referred to fiscal devolution. We certainly need to see that, but it must sit alongside a fair equalisation mechanism, with incentives for areas so that they can benefit by expanding their economic potential, including the ability to invest in housing, infrastructure and those things that will increase the opportunity for jobs and prosperity.

The Government have tabled a number of minor amendments relating to the functions of police and crime commissioners, particularly amendments 23, 24 and 25 to schedule 2. There have been a number of media reports about devolving fire service functions to PCCs, but the Bill gives those functions to mayors. Can the Minister assure the House that fire services will not be politicised in the hands of mayors, a move that the Local Government Association says there is “no pressing need for” at this stage?

We support the principle of subsidiarity—an ugly word for a beautiful concept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North reminded us in relation to his new clause 2—which states that decisions should be taken as close to citizens as possible. That is a very important principle that central Government repeatedly fail to understand.

On my hon. Friend’s points about a constitutional convention, he has been constrained to keep within the scope of this Bill by talking about a local convention. However, we believe that we do need a model for engaging civic society in the whole country—citizens, not just politicians—in seeking a new constitutional settlement that will shift powers not just from Whitehall to town hall but to communities, neighbourhoods, service users and all citizens to get power out of this place and into the hands of people who can really make a difference once they have access to it.

James Wharton: We have had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. I recognise the comments made by hon. Members across the Committee and the range of amendments that have been tabled.

New clauses 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 16, and amendment 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), are about the constitutional position of local government and putting in place arrangements for a constitutional convention to review this and implement any constitutional reforms considered necessary. I recognise his consistency in pursuing this issue; indeed, he also has a private Member’s Bill related to it. No one would deny the importance of constitutional matters. The traditions of this country are that we approach these matters in a pragmatic, evolutionary way. Our constitution has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so to meet the real needs of our people across the United Kingdom and to reflect the changes that are taking place in the wider world. I absolutely recognise the hon. Gentleman’s intentions and interest in this area, but I feel that this approach has served us well and I am confident that it will continue to do so.

The thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments is that, for the first time in our history, we would put our constitution on a more rigid basis, seeking to codify issues and, in a sense, to set them in stone. Although they recognise the importance of constitutional issues and strongly support the passing of power down to the

21 Oct 2015 : Column 1044

lowest practical level that this Bill will enable—the essence of devolution—the amendments are unnecessary and would be out of step with our traditions. They are also somewhat outwith the scope and intention of this particular Bill. However, I recognise his desire to put these matters on the agenda and his belief that they need to be addressed. I am sure it is not the last time that they will be discussed across the Floor of the House.

Mr Graham Allen: If the Minister thinks the system is serving us well, may I gently remind him that six or seven months ago we came within 6 percentage points of the Union breaking? We have all the shambles around English votes for English laws, and there are many other issues where people are clearly, given voter participation levels alone, disenchanted with politics. Does he not agree that the great work he is doing on English devolution could be the spark to re-engage a lot of people who are very jaundiced about our politics?

James Wharton: As I said, I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interest and expertise in this area, and I am sure that we will have the opportunity to discuss it further across the Floor of the House, whether in relation to this Bill or other areas of policy. He tempts me to go further than I am willing to go in my comments today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) tabled amendment 50, which would give the Secretary of State powers to establish unitary authorities even if not all the councils concerned in a combined authority area agreed to the change. Our approach is that if a governance change is to be made, there needs to be a level of consensus about the choice over the whole area. We are not in the business of imposing change on anyone. However, I recognise my hon. Friend’s desire to raise this issue. He is not the only Member to have done so. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has spoken about similar issues today and has met me to speak about them separately. We are about to engage in ongoing correspondence on the matter. I am of course happy to meet my hon. Friend if he would like to discuss this further, and I am pleased that he will not press his amendment to the vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) tabled amendments 47, 48, and 49, which make a special case for Somerset. Just to be absolutely clear and to put it on the record, Somerset is a very special and exceptional place, but I explained earlier why I do not consider it appropriate to treat it differently in terms of this Bill. Nor do I believe that the substance of the amendments, which are about how the principle that changes in an area’s governance are a matter for local choice should be applied, are necessary given the existing safeguards. Somerset, or indeed any council, could be not required to join a combined authority or be conferred new central Government powers if those democratically elected to represent the people of the area did not consent. The councils of Somerset—or, indeed, the councils of some place less special—can themselves decide how they want to take their residents’ views into account. Those who have been elected should decide these matters. That is four square with our traditions of representative democracy, and therefore I hope my hon. Friend will not press his amendments to a vote.

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5.30 pm

Mr Rees-Mogg: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his assurances, which are extremely welcome, and for acknowledging that Somerset is an extremely special place. On that basis, I will not press my amendments later.

James Wharton: I thank my hon. Friend and note that flattery can get you a long way in this business.

The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) tabled new clause 10, which would provide for the devolution of the Secretary of State’s housing powers to the Mayor of London. Since 2012, the Mayor of London has had overall responsibility for housing policy and delivery in London, taking over from the Homes and Communities Agency. The Mayor has powers to set strategic housing and regeneration policy through the London housing strategy. The Secretary of State has a legitimate role in relation to housing across England and it would be inappropriate to remove that role.

The amendment would weaken the Mayor’s role by requiring the Assembly’s consent. That fundamentally misinterprets the role of the London Assembly, which is a scrutiny not an Executive body. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s desire to pursue the issue and to put it on the record. I am sure he will want it to be considered further as matters progress and that this is not the last time it will be discussed on the Floor of the House.

A significant number of other amendments relate to finance. Government amendment 9 provides greater flexibility in funding the functions to be devolved. Orders under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 enable a combined authority to levy for transport purposes, and the constituent councils to make financial contributions to that combined authority to fund economic development and regeneration functions. The amendment provides flexibility to enable the constituent councils, if they so wish, to make financial contributions for any function of the combined authority, not just economic development and regeneration.

Opposition amendment 58—which the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), has said he wishes to pursue further this evening—proposes that the Secretary of State be allowed the power to allow combined authorities to set multi-year finance settlements. For a combined authority to set multi-year budgets, it requires not a power from central Government, but the certainty of knowing what funding it is to get. The deals we have agreed with Greater Manchester and the Sheffield city region show how funding across the years can be agreed. We do not, though, need powers to put in place multi-year settlements for local authorities. We can already do that administratively as part of the wider local government finance settlement.

Amendment 60, tabled by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), would delete from clause 5 the exclusion of borrowing powers from the ancillary powers that can be given to a combined authority mayor. I listened very carefully to his contribution and understand his concerns. We agree that in appropriate cases there should be prudential borrowing for funding investment for which the mayor is responsible. The Bill provides for that, and the exclusion that the amendment seeks to remove is not about prohibiting such prudential borrowing.

Clause 10 makes provision for funding combined authorities and, in particular, provides that the Secretary of State may make regulations specifying the functions

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for which there can be borrowing. The Bill explicitly provides that those functions can include mayoral functions and that the constituent councils must consent to any regulations allowing borrowing.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are indeed borrowing powers for mayoral functions. In addition to devolving powers to a mayor, the Bill also allows ancillary powers to be conferred on a mayor to allow him or her to exercise the devolved powers. These ancillary powers could be those needed to ensure that there are no doubts about a mayor being able to run an office or to commission necessary studies, or they could include giving the mayor a general power of competence.

The exclusion, which the amendment seeks to remove, is to make it clear that those ancillary powers cannot include a power to borrow. They cannot be a back door to borrowing. The Bill sets up a proper regime for borrowing to fund mayoral powers, and that should be the route for a mayor being able to borrow.

Mr Betts: These are complicated issues and I am not totally sure that I followed all that, and I do not know whether anyone else did, either. The Minister seemed to be reading out a brief from civil servants. Could he provide a note with a thorough explanation of the issue? None of us wants to end up with mayors who need to create transport systems but then find that they do not have the powers to borrow in order to do so.

James Wharton: In line with my desire to retain my reputation as a benign velvet glove, I have already written a note to my officials asking that we write to Members following this debate, to ensure that we fully clarify those matters. I will, of course, write to the hon. Gentleman, and if he has any concerns, I would be delighted to discuss them further with him.

Amendment 55, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North, would enable control over decisions on business rates and council tax discounts to be devolved, if that is what is wanted locally. We have always said that we are interested in hearing proposals from authorities and that nothing is off the table for conversation. The Government have signalled their intentions and enabled a large degree of the sorts of financial flexibilities sought by the amendment. We recently announced that, by the end of this Parliament, local government will be able to retain 100% of its business rates. Through the existing powers that govern the business rates retention scheme, we can already give mayoral combined authorities their own share of local rates income and ensure that they benefit from the local growth that that will help to establish. Of course, any decision to make use of the existing powers to extend the rates retention scheme would be taken alongside that on any wider transfer of powers and functions to mayoral combined authorities.

Mr Graham Allen: Does the Minister accept that the Scotland Act 2012 gives the Scottish Government the right to retain not only 10p in the pound of income tax, but, from April, the proceeds of landfill tax and stamp duty, which are two significant amounts of money? Is there some reason why local authorities in England should not be able to have similar retention of those taxes?

James Wharton: The hon. Gentleman is consistent with his theme of wanting to go further to take devolution to what I have no doubt he genuinely believes to be its

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logical next level. I acknowledge his comments, and I am of course happy to meet him after this Committee sitting to discuss them further. However, I do not want to hold out the false promise that a Bill that already goes so far and does so much will be amended in line with his desires. I am happy discuss with him his longer-term desires for constitutional change and for devolution to take what may well be its next steps at some point.

We made it clear in our 2015 manifesto at the last election that we would continue to help local authorities keep council tax low for hard-working taxpayers and to ensure that residents can continue to veto high rises in council tax via a local referendum. New clause 15, tabled by the hon. Gentleman, would abolish the system of council tax referendums put in place by the coalition Government. The referendum threshold is not a cap. Councils can set any council tax increase they like, provided they obtain the consent of their local electorate when they go over the threshold. We see no reason to take away the protection and the final say of local voters over excessive increases.

New clause 12, tabled by the hon. Gentleman—he has just raised this issue—would provide that income tax receipts amounting to 10p in the pound should be assigned to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which would then pass the money on to councils. We are already committed to boosting local growth: by the end of this Parliament, the local government sector will retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local government services. The new arrangements we are already committed to delivering will give the sector greater long-term certainty over its income. No longer will local authorities be reliant on central Government telling them how much money they will receive for the year ahead only weeks before they set their annual budgets. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s desire to go further and I am very happy to discuss that issue further, but I ask him not to press the new clause to a vote at this time.

Mr Allen: On the Minister’s language, it is not so much a desire to go further as a desire for England to catch up with Scotland so that we can have a properly devolved settlement in the United Kingdom.

James Wharton: The hon. Gentleman is articulate and persuasive, but he will not tempt me to elaborate further.

New clause 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Harrow West, provides for the devolution to London of the receipts from taxes on property. I know the Mayor’s ambitions for London and we have announced the local retention of business rates, but devolving taxes such as stamp duty to London could create a distortive effect. There would be a significant increase in administration costs for both the Greater London Authority and businesses that purchase properties both in and outside London. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I will consider his comments further, but I do not want to give him the false expectation that they are likely to be reflected in the Bill or to make a commitment that I cannot fulfil at this time. He has, however, made his case very effectively.

Mr Gareth Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister for his smooth words. I gently suggest that his argument against the further devolution of property taxes as

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distortionary does not fit with his argument for devolving business rates, which will arguably be just as distortionary, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) said. There seems to be a slight lack of consistency in the Minister’s position, which may be because of what the Treasury has bequeathed him. I encourage him to go back to the Treasury and press it further before Report.

James Wharton: I hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments. The announcement that we will devolve business rates was made in the way it was exactly because we wanted to ensure that we talked to local government about how it should be done to make sure it works properly and effectively and meets our policy desires. To devolve certain taxes to just one area is a different proposition. He clearly supports it and argues for it effectively, but it does not have a place in this Bill at this time.

Amendment 1, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North, clarifies that the persons who may be invited to attend an overview scrutiny committee meeting may include

“representatives of parish, neighbourhood, community and other councils in the area of the combined authority”.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s intention and commend him for pursuing openness in the process, but the Bill already allows people to attend. To define them in a list risks the provision being narrowly interpreted, rather than broadly interpreted, which is what we want.

Mr Graham Allen: The intention is to ensure that those who operate below the council level at neighbourhood or parish level feel involved and engaged, rather than going along as members of the public, so that they can take the next step of pushing devolution down into double devolution. Surely engaging those people would be a very good thing to do.

James Wharton: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that engagement is important. My contention is that the Bill provides for it with the power to allow persons to attend and invite persons to be present to scrutinise the process. My argument is that defining a list of particular types of persons or bodies risks narrowing the interpretation. However, I understand what the hon. Gentleman desires to achieve.

I will now discuss the amendments that relate to requirements on the exercise of mayoral powers. Amendments 40, 41 and 45, which were tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) would place requirements on mayoral powers. Amendment 40 provides that a function may only be specified as a function of the mayor with the consent of the combined authority prior to the creation of the post of mayor. We have concerns over the latter part of that amendment, because it appears to rule out a further transfer of functions to a mayor once the position has been established. It seems to mean that the deal that is reached initially is the deal, full stop.

Amendment 45 underlines hon. Members’ concerns that the constituent councils must be content with the list of functions to be exercisable by the mayor. I understand hon. Members’ concerns and agree that no local authority functions should be conferred on a combined authority, with or without a mayor, without the consent of the councils involved. We make provision

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for that in clause 5. I am happy to continue the dialogue with the hon. Members who have raised this point and I understand the deeper points that they wish to address. I hope, therefore, that we can reach a consensus that allows us to pursue the matter in a different manner to the amendments that we are discussing.

Government amendments 5, 6, 7, 8 and 26 will provide greater flexibility in how a mayor will be able to undertake their functions. The amendments are reasonably straightforward. Amendments 5 and 6 will provide greater flexibility and create greater capacity to enable a mayor to be supported in undertaking functions, where that is wanted locally. Amendments 7, 8 and 26 enable mayors of combined authorities, if it is specified by order, to exercise any of their general functions jointly with other authorities or combined authorities with the same functions, if they so choose. They enable a joint committee comprising the mayors of two combined authorities or a combined authority mayor and local authorities to exercise jointly shared functions across the area, thus providing greater flexibility in how mayors, combined authorities and local authorities can work together.

Finally, I will mention some minor and technical Government amendments. Amendments 30 and 31 insert provisions that enable an order to specify that local authority functions must be exercised jointly by the councils and the combined authority. Amendments 23, 24 and 25 relate to police and crime commissioners. They clarify the timing of an order that transfers PCC functions to an elected mayor; ensure that drafting on PCC functions is consistent; and ensure that, in line with the provisions for PCCs generally, a person acting in place of a mayor with PCC functions temporarily cannot carry out particular strategic functions, such as issuing a police and crime plan. Finally, Government amendment 15 will mean that the power to make regulations under clause 17 includes a power to make incidental, supplementary and consequential provision. Those are tidying-up amendments that are not controversial. I certainly have not detected that they are from the debate.

I hope that right hon. and hon. Members, in the light of those explanations, will not press their amendments and will feel able to support the Government amendments.

Mr Nuttall: With the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), and having listened carefully to the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5


Amendments made: 5, page 4, line 26, at end insert “, or

(c) so far as authorised by an order made by the Secretary of State—

(i) for a person appointed as the deputy PCC mayor by virtue of an order under paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 2, or

(ii) for a committee of the combined authority, consisting of members appointed by the mayor (whether or not members of the authority),

to exercise any such function.

‘( ) An order under subsection (3)(c)(ii) may include provision—

(a) about the membership of the committee;

(b) about the member of the committee who is to be its chair;

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(c) about the appointment of members;

(d) about the voting powers of members (including provision for different weight to be given to the vote of different descriptions of member);

(e) about information held by the combined authority that must, or must not, be disclosed to the committee for purposes connected to the exercise of the committee’s functions;

(f) applying (with or without modifications) sections 15 to 17 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (political balance on local authority committees etc).”

This amendment makes provision for a mayor to arrange for the person appointed as the deputy PCC mayor or a committee of the combined authority to exercise a general function which is exercisable by the mayor, if authorised to do so by an order made by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 6, page 4, line 39, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) in accordance with arrangements made by virtue of this section or section 107DA.”

This amendment provides for a general function exercisable by the mayor for the area of a combined authority to be taken to be a function exercisable by a committee or by the deputy PCC mayor, where arrangements have been made under provision inserted by amendment 5 or new section 107DA, inserted by amendment 8.

Amendment 7, page 5, line 3, at end insert—

“() provide that functions that the mayoral combined authority discharges in accordance with

arrangements under section 101(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972 (discharge of local

authority functions by another authority) are to be treated as general functions exercisable by

the mayor (so far as authorised by the arrangements).”

This amendment enables the Secretary of State to provide by order that functions of a mayoral combined authority discharged in accordance with arrangements under section 101(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972 are to be treated as general functions exercisable by the mayor of the authority.

Amendment 8, page 5, line 16, at end insert—

“107DA Joint exercise of general functions

(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision for, or in connection with, permitting arrangements under section 101(5) of the Local Government Act 1972 to be entered into in relation to general functions of a mayor for the area of a combined authority.

(2) Provision under subsection (1) may include provision—

(a) for the mayor for the area of a combined authority to be a party to the arrangements in place of, or jointly with, the authority;

(b) about the membership of any joint committee;

(c) about the member of the joint committee who is to be its chair;

(d) about the appointment of members to a joint committee;

(e) about the voting powers of members of a joint committee (including provision for different weight to be given to the vote of different descriptions of member).

(3) Provision under subsection (2)(b) to (d) may include provision for the mayor or other persons—

(a) to determine the number of members;

(b) to have the power to appoint members (whether or not members of the combined authority or a local authority that is a party to the arrangements).

(4) Provision under subsection (2)(c) may include provision as to the circumstances in which appointments to a joint committee need not be made in accordance with sections 15 to 17 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (political balance on local authority committees etc).

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(5) In this section references to a joint committee are to a joint committee falling within section 101(5)(a) of the Local Government Act 1972 that is authorised to discharge, by virtue of an order under this section, general functions of a mayor for the area of a combined authority.”—(James Wharton.)

This amendment enables the Secretary of State to make provision by order enabling the combined authority to enter into arrangements to discharge general functions of the mayoral combined authority jointly with one or more other local authorities or combined authorities.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2

Mayors for combined authority areas: police and crime commissioner functions

Amendments made: 23, page 26, line 33, leave out

“police and crime commissioner functions”

and insert

“functions of a police and crime commissioner”

This amendment makes a minor drafting change to paragraph 1(1) of new Schedule 5C to achieve consistency with the language used in new section 107E(1) as inserted by clause 5 of the Bill (to which sub-paragraph (1) cross-refers).

Amendment 24, page 26, line 34, at end insert—

‘( ) A duty under this Schedule to make provision by order is a duty to make such provision in an order made at any time before the first election of a mayor who, by virtue of an order under section 107E(1), is to exercise functions of a police and crime commissioner.”

This amendment clarifies that an order made under new Schedule 5C can be made at any time before the relevant mayor is first elected and makes it plain that a Schedule 5C order can be made subsequently to an order under new section 107E.

Amendment 25, page 30, line 12, at end insert—

‘( ) Subsections (5) and (6) of section 107C, so far as relating to the exercise of PCC functions, are subject to any provision contained in an order under this Schedule.”—(James Wharton.)

This amendment ensures that an order under new Schedule 5C can make provision to prevent a person who is acting in place of a mayor with police and crime commissioner functions from carrying out particular PCC functions such as issuing or varying a police and crime plan, consistent with the current position in respect of actin PCCs.

Schedule 2, as amended, accordingly agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Other public authority functions

The Minister for Community and Social Care (Alistair Burt): I beg to move amendment 32, page 9, line 15, at end insert—

‘( ) See also section 19 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2015 (devolving health service functions) which contains further limitations.”

This amendment inserts a new subsection into section 105A of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 which alerts the reader to clause 19 of the Bill which contains limitations on the power to make an order under that



The Temporary Chair (Mrs Anne Main): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 33 to 38.

Clause 19 stand part.

Government new clause 8.

Government new schedule 1.

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Alistair Burt: I think this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and I am honoured to do so. Thank you for inviting me to speak this afternoon. As a former Member of Parliament for Bury North—a constituent part of the Greater Manchester devolution process—and a former sponsor Minister for the cities of Manchester, Salford, Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn, I am pleased to take part in this debate which has acute relevance to that part of the world.

May I too put on record my sadness at the loss of Michael Meacher? As a friend and colleague in the north-west for many years he performed great service for Oldham, and was a good colleague to his friends on all sides in the north-west. He will be much missed, and I am sure that the Committee sends its condolences to his family and all who mourn him.

Clause 19 contains valuable safeguards that will apply to the local devolution of health functions. It was inserted in the Bill by an amendment tabled by Lord Warner in another place. Amendments 32 to 38 will provide further definition and clarity, without altering the spirit or substance of the clause. Lord Warner has confirmed that he is supportive of these further amendments.

Clause 19 provides that regulations under clause 17, or an order under section 115A of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, must not transfer any of the Secretary of State’s core duties in relation to the health service as set out in the National Health Service Act 2006 and the NHS constitution. It makes it clear that whatever devolution arrangements might be agreed with a particular area, the Secretary of State will remain bound by the key duties placed on him in respect of the health service.

Amendment 38 provides further clarity by listing the duties of the Secretary of State that may not be transferred, in so far as they are capable of such a transfer. First and foremost, section 1 of the 2006 Act provides for the Secretary of State to retain responsibility to Parliament for the provision of the health service in England. Others are overarching duties on quality, reducing health inequalities, research, education and training, and on the NHS constitution. They also include Secretary of State’s role under the Health Act 2009 in revising and publishing the NHS constitution, his role under the 2006 Act in setting strategic direction for the NHS in the mandate to NHS England, and his role in overseeing and reporting to Parliament on the health service generally, and in particular on NHS England’s performance.

In essence, although health service functions are capable of being devolved to local authorities and to groupings of local authorities, the main responsibility and overriding duty of the Secretary of State for the NHS is not affected by these arrangements and he remains accountable for them.

Mr Betts: I apologise, but I shall have to go to chair a meeting about black and minority ethnic coaches and managers in football, another issue that I know will be close to the Minister’s heart.

The Minister may be trying to reassure the Committee, but in some ways he is giving me cause for concern. Devolution deals will, in particular, try to link social care and health in a more real way to the benefit of constituents. My concern is that if every line of accountability goes back to the Secretary of State in Whitehall, it will stop local innovation happening. Will not the line of command back to the centre simply stop things happening?

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Alistair Burt: That is a good question and I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. No, the whole process being considered is to give powers to the various authorities to be, as he said, innovative in what they would like to do. They will have the powers and the responsibilities to do that. The reason the concern was expressed in another place was to make sure that in the process it would not be possible for the NHS to transfer its core duties and therefore have local authorities do things that are contrary to the main constituent parts of the NHS, such as on issues relating to quality and so on. The accountability of the Secretary of State therefore remains. The ultimate accountability he or she has standing here at the Dispatch Box remains, but it would not stop the work and the innovation. As I shall go on to say, the regulatory powers of organisations such as the Care Quality Commission, Monitor and others will also remain in place to ensure that none of the national quality standards we expect from the NHS will be deviated from. There will be different ways of doing things, but ultimately the quality standard remains a national quality standard.

Mr Betts: I see what the Minister is trying to achieve, but I just worry about whether it will work like that in practice. Given that we are in very new territory here and that things will be done differently with the delegation of powers to individual authorities as well as to combined authorities, does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea, perhaps two years after the devolution powers have been put in place, to have a thorough review of how they are working and whether there is anything in the Government’s proposals that might actually stop devolution working properly?

Alistair Burt: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we can plan to review things at any stage. For devolution to work, the different models that may be put in place, whether big urban city models or more rural models, must of course pass the test of whether they are doing something qualitatively different and better for people. It will certainly be possible and necessary to review that. I think the concern has been to make sure that national standards are not dropped in the process of innovation. That is why the ultimate duty and responsibility of the Secretary of State remain. That was much discussed in another place. The reason for tabling these amendments is to confirm that, under the overall umbrella of wanting greater innovation, national standards will be preserved and cannot be threatened. That is the idea.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Would it be fair to say that local authorities rule on these matters, but that the Secretary of State might occasionally reign?

Alistair Burt: We must be clear. The Secretary of State’s overarching duty and responsibility for the NHS will not mean a definitive touch. The whole point of devolution, as indeed the whole point of integration of services between local authorities and the NHS, is to give people the powers to make their decisions locally. There will be much discussion between different constituent parts. In that, the Secretary of State will have no part. It will not be possible, however, for a devolved authority to neglect or remove a core part of the NHS and say, “Oh well, we’ve got the power to do so.” That is the reason for the safeguard to which the amendments and new clause 19 refer.

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John Mann: Is there anything in the Government’s proposal that would impact on a district such as Bassetlaw —the hospital trust crosses the border into south Yorkshire, but the clinical commissioning group money remains entirely within the district—electing to join Sheffield city region, in another region, where other decisions will be needed? Are there any hidden nasties we should be aware of?

Alistair Burt: No, I do not think so. There are neither hidden nor unhidden nasties. Local decisions will still be made, and CCGs will still be monitored for quality, effectiveness and the like. I am just coming on to talk about the regulation.

Clause 19 provides that the regulatory functions of national bodies held in respect of health services will not be available for transfer to a combined or local authority. This makes it clear that local devolution settlements will not devolve the regulatory functions of Monitor, the Care Quality Commission or other health service national regulatory bodies as defined. This means that a transfer order may not change the way in which our national health service regulators operate to protect the interests and safety of patients. Amendment 38 inserts a provision clarifying that a “health service regulatory function” means a regulatory function within the meaning given by section 32 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, in relation to the health service. Amendment 35 omits the word “supervisory” but clarifies that the supervisory functions of NHS England in relation to CCGs are also expressly protected from transfer.

The safeguards set out in clause 19 would support the Secretary of State in ensuring in a transfer order that where a combined authority or local authority was to exercise transferred health functions, using the Bill’s new powers, that authority could be held to account as to the exercise of its health service functions, just as NHS commissioners are currently held accountable. Amendment 36 amends clause 19 to require that in a transfer of functions to a combined authority or a local authority, provision must be made about standards and duties to be placed on the authority.

Amendment 38 provides further explanation of the national service standards to which the Secretary of State must have regard when making such provision. These include, for example, those in the standing rules set for NHS England and CCGs, recommendations and quality standards published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and of course the standards set out in the NHS constitution, which sets out pledges and codifies requirements, statutory duties and rights that NHS services in England must, as a minimum, meet. These include national access standards, including waiting times. Amendment 38 also provides definitions for “national information obligations” and “national accountability obligations”.

As amended, clause 19 provides further clarity about the role of the Secretary of State for Health and what will and will not be included in any future transfer order giving local organisations devolved responsibility for health services. This clear statement in legislation, making provision for the protection of the integrity of the NHS, is intended to provide further confidence for future devolution deals. In essence, they will be underpinned by the basic core duties of the NHS, and that cannot be shifted. Amendments 32 to 38 give further definition and clarity to support the valuable principles behind this clause.

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New schedule 1, which inserts schedule 3A in the Bill, provides for amendments to the National Health Service Act 2006, and new clause 8 is a clause to introduce that schedule. These amendments concern the making of arrangements with combined or local authorities for the exercise of health commissioning functions under the 2006 Act, including provisions allowing greater flexibility over how partners to such arrangements may work together. This will enable greater integration of health and care services and support local leaders to take collective steps towards better health and care for their local population.

New schedule 1 also makes small amendments to the 2006 Act concerning the provision that may be made in regulations concerning local authorities’ social care information.

Places such as Greater Manchester and Cornwall are calling for the ability to design and deliver better health and care services, and the ability to make decisions at a level that works best for their communities—locally or, where it makes more sense, at a regional or sub-regional level. As we know, devolution deals will be tailored to the needs and circumstances of a local area. The Bill will already allow the Government to make orders to devolve to a combined authority or a local authority a range of powers and functions currently carried out by Whitehall Departments or bodies such as NHS England.

6 pm

The National Health Service Act 2006 enables NHS England to delegate and share responsibility for certain health functions, such as the commissioning of GP services with local clinical commissioning groups. It also allows CCGs to work together to improve the exercise of their functions and provides for the Secretary of State to involve local authorities and NHS bodies in the commissioning of public health functions.

Peter Dowd: I do not think anyone could disagree with the concept of maintaining standards, but when the Minister talks about what NHS England will be allowed or permitted to do, he needs to go further. The concept of subsidiarity is relevant. Powers should be devolved down, subject to standards, or there should be an onus, almost by default, on transferring responsibilities downwards rather than allowing bodies to pick and choose what they think should be devolved.

Alistair Burt: The order by which powers will be devolved will be subject to parliamentary approval. The safeguard is that the Secretary of State will have the power, as Parliament requests and demands, to put limitations on and conditions into that order. The reason there is no template for which powers must go downwards is that each area will probably have something different. The Bill provides a permissive opportunity for NHS powers to be devolved, but the powers to be devolved will depend on what each devolved administration is looking for. This part of the Bill sets out the ability of the Secretary of State and the NHS to achieve that, and the safeguard applies in respect of national qualities and standards and the regulatory process. The decision on which bits will be devolved down will be made by the Secretary of State and the NHS in consultation with the local areas that want the extra powers. I hope that helps the hon. Gentleman.

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Peter Dowd: I would press for further clarity. I understand what the Minister says. The point I am trying to make is that if a local area says, “We think we are best able to provide particular services and responsibilities in a particular way” and NHS England, for example, says that it is not prepared to relinquish those responsibilities, we need a means of mediating that clearly and unambiguously. The assumption should be that the powers will go down to the local area if it wants them—subject to standards.

Alistair Burt: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am not sure, however, that we can be more prescriptive on the face of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is describing the process by which an area says, “We think that, in addition to the functions already devolved, other things need to be devolved to help local health services work together”, but it is difficult to envisage the circumstances in which NHS England would say, “Well, no you can’t”. At the moment, most are working collectively in any case, so this is a matter for local decision making and agreement between the parties involved. I do not think we can say more than that directly in the Bill at this stage. The whole process of devolution will fall into disrepair if there is continual conflict between an area that says, “Look, we think we can do this”, and a central authority that says, “No, you can’t, there’s no point in that given the process we are going through”. The provision of safeguards is about ensuring that NHS England can be confident of devolving powers, because ultimately the regulatory powers and the safeguards should ensure that patients and constituents are protected by national standards remaining the same. That is how I envisage it working.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): My right hon. Friend has talked a great deal about the safeguarding of NHS provision. Can he reassure me that the social care element will be protected by the same level of safeguards?

Alistair Burt: Yes, in that the regulatory powers of the CQC and the safeguarding inspection regime will be retained for the social care element that is covered by a devolution deal. Again, the whole point is to give as much flexibility as possible to areas that want to exercise their powers to deliver services differently, with the reassurance that there will no compromise in relation to key standards—not that that would be wished for in a local area, and not that it would be anticipated by any of the devolving powers.

Following discussions with Greater Manchester and other local areas, we are now taking the opportunity to make available further options in legislation for combined authorities and local authorities to work together with clinical commissioning groups and NHS England across a wider area—such as Greater Manchester—to improve the integration of services. Those options will sit alongside the powers provided by the Bill to devolve a range of powers and functions that are currently exercised by Whitehall departments or bodies such as NHS England to a combined authority or a local authority. Crucially, wherever responsibility for NHS functions is delegated or shared in this way, accountability will remain with the original function holder, whether that is NHS England or a CCG. The original NHS function holder will continue to be accountable via the existing mechanisms for oversight, which ultimately go to the Secretary of State, who retains ministerial responsibility to Parliament for the provision of the health service.