Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): In the east midlands, there is the D2N2—Derby Derbyshire-Nottingham Nottinghamshire—which may or may not have a directly elected mayor. There is also the Sheffield city authority, which includes Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and various other district councils in North Yorkshire and indeed in North Derbyshire. In the middle of all that, there is Hardwick Hall and various other major buildings. What I want to know, now that the Minister has said that there should be the greatest co-operation, is how that can happen between the Sheffield people who are anxious to take over large areas of

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North Derbyshire and D2N2, which is also part and parcel of the same area? My guess is that there will be many more situations like that in Tory shires. What is the Government’s policy?

James Wharton: Devolution is a bottom-up process; it is done by consensus. I know that the hon. Gentleman will have a significant opportunity further to discuss some of the relevant provisions today, but where we see bodies that have the capacity to co-operate, we want to empower them to do so. We want to give them the levers they need to deliver such things as better public services and economic development. The first step towards that is to confer the powers that the bodies will need to achieve it. What the amendments do is to start the process of empowering our national parks authorities so that they can not only contribute on flooding and resilience, but better the offer that they can make to the public to improve the work they already do so well.

New clause 7 confers new general powers on national park authorities in England, along similar lines to those conferred on, among others, fire and rescue authorities and integrated transport authorities in chapters 2 and 3 of part 1 of the Localism Act 2011. I should make clear to Opposition Front Benchers that those general powers are intended to enable a national park to do more and to do it better; they are not a back door to fracking or shale gas development, and will not affect the approach that we intend to take in that regard.

In England, our nine national parks include some of the country’s finest landscapes, beautiful vistas and exciting wildlife. They are part of our national identity. National parks protect those landscapes for future generations so that we can all enjoy them. They are the cornerstone of many rural businesses. The new powers for national park authorities will allow an authority to act as an individual could—with certain limitations—in relation to its functions. For example, a functionally specific power of competence will allow a national park authority to act through a company, and will allow authorities to trade in a broader way than they currently can.

National park authorities have themselves asked for that power, because they consider that it will enable them to act in a more entrepreneurial and innovative way. For example, they consider that they will be in a better position to enter into partnerships to support growth across our rural economy. Jim Bailey, the chair of National Parks England, has said:

“We are pleased to see the Government introduce this amendment. This will help National Park authorities to maximise opportunities to fulfil our statutory purposes”.

The measure will allow national park authorities to participate fully in devolution deals—an example is Northumberland national park authority's request as part of the north-east devolution deal—and to seek additional sources of funding to assist further their work in supporting rural economies.

It is important to note that a power of competence does not override existing legislation. National park authorities will therefore be bound by their statutory purposes: conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of an area, and promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area. It is also important to note that the power will not be used by national park

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authorities as an opportunity to start charging for entry. As all but a very small percentage of land in national parks is owned privately rather than by the national park authorities, they could have no legal basis for charging.

Let me also make clear that the new powers will not be used to encourage or permit too much, or inappropriate, development. National parks are designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 for their natural beauty and opportunities for open-air recreation. Under the Act, they have the two statutory purposes to which I have just referred. The statutory framework of protection and consents will remain unchanged, and, in using their new powers, the park authorities will not be able to promote or permit activities that are incompatible with those statutory purposes.

The powers given to the Secretary of State, by regulation, to restrict the use of powers by national park authorities in a particular way relate solely to the new clause, and not to their existing powers. Other than those concerning the furtherance of national park purposes, which are retained, the new powers replace the existing general powers of national park authorities under the Environment Act 1995. The new powers are considered more extensive, but the old ones are being repealed to avoid overlap.

Amendment 51 is a minor and technical amendment to schedule 5. It contains consequential amendments to section 65 of the Environment Act.

We are making these changes in response to effective representations that we have received from a number of Members, and from National Parks England and national park authorities. I hope that they will be broadly supported by Members on both sides of the House.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Our national parks are precious national assets. Millions of people use and enjoy them every year. They are areas of protected countryside that everyone can visit, and where people live, work, and shape the landscape. We have 15 national parks: 10 in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland.

In his autumn statement, the Chancellor included devolution to national park authorities in England, allowing them to lend, invest, trade, and set up co-operatives with businesses. That is legally known as the general power of competence. However, we know what is driving this change: cuts made by this Government. Since 2010, national park authorities in England have suffered cuts of up to 40% in their Government funding. Indeed, Northumberland national park is already renting out its spare office space— vacated by staff who have lost their jobs—where an enterprise hub has been set up.

New clause 7 would amend the Environment Act 1995 to provide English national park authorities with general powers to do anything they consider appropriate in carrying out their functional purposes. The new general powers in proposed new section 65A are similar to those conferred on other authorities by chapter 1 of part 1 of the Localism Act 2011. The new clause only applies to English national park authorities.

Proposed new section 65B limits the scope of the general power of competence in several respects. It does not allow English national parks to borrow money or charge a person for anything they do other than for a

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commercial purpose. That immediately raises concerns. The coalition Government’s attempt to privatise our forests was met with a public outcry. That plan was rightly defeated. This Government have attempted to open up our national parks to fracking, again causing a great deal of concern among the public, who value our precious national assets and have no wish to see them opened up to commercial ventures in that manner. We need strong assurances that the character of our national parks will be protected and that such important national institutions are maintained for the benefit of the public. We need a cast-iron assurance from the Government that fracking is not going to be allowed in our national parks.

We need more details on Government funding of national parks. We need more details on what the national parks are actually planning to do with the new powers. We cannot allow the commercialisation of our national parks by the back door. The future governance and accountability of our English national parks is an absolutely massive issue, which deserves proper debate. It does not belong here, in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, inserted at the eleventh hour with no time for the weighty issues raised to have a proper discussion.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Given that national parks are local authorities for these purposes, will the hon. Lady reflect upon what is a complete and deeply misleading red herring that she raises? After all, the fracking matter has nothing to do with the role of local authorities of any kind—national parks or otherwise —in relation to a general power of competence. Should she not welcome the ability for national parks to enter into joint agreements, for example with their district and county councils, which is precisely what this provision is aimed at? She is actually setting up a complete Aunt Sally in this matter.

Liz McInnes: Red herrings, Aunt Sallies: I am merely expressing the unsuitability of the new clause in application to this Bill. It has been brought in at the eleventh hour with the minimum of notice. It raises huge issues. I do not think the general public would agree with the hon. Gentleman that the worry about fracking in our national parks is a red herring. I certainly got a lot of correspondence about it when the Government were talking about it a few weeks ago, and I think we need a proper debate.

James Wharton: I do not know whether I could be clearer on this: the debate around fracking is perhaps for another day, but let me be absolutely clear that these clauses will not be a back door to fracking. They do not affect the issue of fracking with regard to national parks. I would also add very clearly that this is something that has been asked for by national parks. I would be interested if the hon. Lady could tell the House how many national park authorities she has spoken to before coming to oppose the new clause and amendment.

Liz McInnes: The Minister makes an important point. The Government have not given us time to respond correctly. I have not spoken to any national park authorities because the Government have not given us time to consult properly on this matter. No reference has been made to the new clause before now. Today the Bill’s Third Reading debate will take place, and the new clause has been slipped in at the eleventh hour. The Minister is being disingenuous if he seriously expects us to have been able to do a

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thorough consultation with all the national park authorities in England. If that is his approach, he is trying to set us up to fail. We value our national parks, and we want to ensure that we have a proper debate on their future. That is what we are asking for here.

Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con): As the MP for the Northumberland national park, may I say to the hon. Lady that this issue has been ongoing for many months? The powers of competence that are dealt with more widely elsewhere in the Bill have been the cause of enormous concern to the national parks as they have tried to get themselves into the arena of discussion. It is a huge credit to the Minister that he has come up to the north-east and spoken to those in North Yorkshire and to some of my colleagues at the national park in Northumberland to ascertain just how important the new clause—which is just an extension of those general powers of competence—will be. I hope that the hon. Lady will talk to the national parks, because they are absolutely passionate to have this freedom to get on and expand what they do.

Liz McInnes: I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady does not agree with the cuts that have been made to the Northumberland national park authority. I am sure, too, that she would rather we had a proper debate on this matter instead of discussing a new clause that has been snuck in at the eleventh hour.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I understand that the hon. Lady has not spoken to the national park authorities, but that is not necessarily a reason to oppose the proposal. I have spoken to members of the board of the South Downs national park authority—Margaret Paren, who leads it, and Councillor Barry Lipscomb, who is a Winchester City councillor—and they very much welcome it. They think that this general power of competence will allow them to be full players at the table in the devolution bids that are so important in my area. I do not know what “Aunt Sally” means, although I remember her on the television, but this is nonsense. It is opposition for opposition’s sake. The Government should get with the plan here. Just because the Opposition have not talked to the national park authorities does not mean that they should vote against the proposal. I have spoken to the national parks, and they want this.

Liz McInnes: I am sure the hon. Gentleman believes that the Government should get with the plan. However, we are the Opposition. I am not opposing the proposal for opposition’s sake; I am opposing it because I think we need a proper debate on it. It could have a far-reaching effect on our national parks, which are loved and valued by the general public.

Several hon. Members rose

Liz McInnes: I will not take any more interventions. I have already given way to hon. Members.

The national park authorities are one part of the equation, and, as I have already said, we have not had time to consult them properly because this proposal was brought in at the eleventh hour. Surely any reasonable person would want—[Interruption.]Conservative Members had prior knowledge of it. I am sure that every reasonable person would agree that we need a proper debate on such an important issue. The national park authorities

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are not the only stakeholders involved. The public are the real stakeholders. Millions of people use and enjoy our national parks every year, and they should have their say. They would not thank us if we allowed this measure in through the back door.

Neither I nor any of my team is opposing the new clause for opposition’s sake; we are opposing it because we have serious concerns about the way in which it has been introduced. We will not agree to such a huge change in the governance and accountability of our national parks at only a few days’ notice and without a proper debate. If the Minister thinks that we are going to let this go through without a proper discussion, he is very much mistaken.

It is totally inappropriate that the new clause, which could bring about major and irreversible changes to our national parks, should be slipped into the Bill in this manner. The national park authorities are there to protect the environment for the good of the nation and its people. I call on the Secretary of State to withdraw the new clause. It does not belong in the Bill. If a discussion is needed about the future funding of our national park authorities, so be it, but let us have a proper debate. Let us give our stakeholders, the people, a chance to have their say, and let us not try to introduce damaging changes to our national parks by the back door.

Robert Neill rose—

Peter Heaton-Jones (North Devon) (Con) rose

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Ah, what a rich and delicious choice! I call Mr Robert Neill.

4.45 pm

Robert Neill: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

That was without any doubt the least-informed speech I have heard from a Front Bencher in the whole of my career in the House of Commons. I am sorry to say that to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), but she has simply not read the new clause and understood what it is about. It extends the power of general competence that applies to local authorities, which her party supported as a welcome thing when I introduced it as a Minister, along with my colleagues, to local national parks authorities; it does not affect planning in any way whatever. I am horrified that an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman does not understand the difference between the role of a national parks authority qua local authority and its role as a planning authority, which is not changed in the slightest by any of this. The Opposition’s approach is therefore worrying.

Steve Brine: As the shadow Minister would not give way to me for a second time, I wish to put on the record the fact, which my hon. Friend will confirm, that we did have advance notice of the new clause. I met the South Downs national park authority on 13 November, when it made clear its support for the provision. It, like me, has had that much time to look at it. The Opposition may have been distracted with other matters, but that is a whole other matter—and, for the record, Aunt Sally was in “Worzel Gummidge”.

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Robert Neill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The troubling thing is this: applications for fracking, licensing matters and all that regime are not governed by a power of general competence in the slightest. The new clause has no effect on fracking of any kind whatever, and I regret to have to say to the hon. Lady that to suggest otherwise is either wilful ignorance or a serious piece of misleading the public.

The new clause gives local authorities that are national parks the same powers to deal with things as their district councils and county councils have. The point has also been well made that it enables them to enter into devolution deals, which again I believe the Opposition supported. So far, they are against a power of general competence, which they supported when we brought it in, they are against devolution deals in national parks, which they have supported, and they have set up an Aunt Sally that has nothing to do with the case.

I appreciate that the Opposition Front-Benchers have been shuffled so many times that they probably do not have time to read an Order Paper nowadays, but the most cursory reading of the amendment might have given them some idea that their approach is totally off the case, it is against the views expressed by the Select Committee rightly and properly and it is against devolution. I am sorry to say that we heard a bizarre speech from the Opposition and they are taking a bizarre approach. If they divide the House on this, they are simply—

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that quite a campaign has been whipped up across the country about the possibility of fracking springing up in national parks as part of some dastardly plot by the Conservative Government to introduce fracking wherever they can find a national park? Does he think that perhaps the response from the Opposition is influenced in some way by that campaign?

Robert Neill: I have always taken the view in politics that the further left you go, the greater the conspiracy theories get; I suspect that may have happened, perhaps with one or two honourable exceptions, to the Opposition Front-Bench team. But that has nothing whatever to do with what we are about. It has nothing to do with their ludicrous scare campaign. A simple amendment, whose principle was not objected to when the Localism Bill was brought through, is suddenly being seized upon for the most bizarre bit of political grandstanding by a bankrupt Opposition. The best thing they can do is find something to agree upon. Their approach would prevent a national park authority from entering into a joint venture with its district and county councils, although that is a perfectly sensible and reasonable thing to do. Anyone who speaks to people who have represented areas in national parks will know that one of their concerns was the inability to join up the service delivery between the national parks authority, the district council and the county council. That sort of thing was a regular issue upon the desk of any Minister.

The new clause enables that to be done through a simple, legal structure. It has nothing whatever to do with applications for planning permission for fracking and with the licensing regime for fracking. It is a sad and sorry day when an important and useful technical amendment is hijacked by one of the more bizarre bits of political boulevardiering that I have ever seen in my time in the Commons.

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Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): As chair of the all-party group on national parks, I do have some interest in this matter. Additionally, a third of Sheffield—the local authority in which my constituency is—is in the Peak District national park. The name “Sheffield” may conjure up past visions of lots of cutlery being produced, but much of it is very rural, very open and very beautiful.

I understand the concerns of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench about new clause 7, which is of some length and has been parachuted into the Bill right at the last minute. The Government had many opportunities to introduce it earlier, and to talk informally to my hon. Friends, which might have allayed some of their fears. In the end, though, it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, and probably to be very suspicious of a Government who claim they have nothing but good intentions in proposing a four-page amendment.

Of course there is some suspicion, but let us look at what the national parks have been doing. They have told us at meetings that they would welcome the extension of the general power of competence to them—perhaps it was an oversight that it was not done in the first place. As I understand it, the new clause proposes that where national parks exercise functions in a national park area that are similar in nature to those exercised by a local authority in other places the local authority has the general power of competence, but a national park does not.

Everyone gets suspicious about fracking. Many people do not trust the Government on the issue. They think that, as the Government want to go fracking all over the place and national parks do not, the Government are probably happy to do it and have somewhat brought those suspicions on themselves. Perhaps the Government could make an absolutely clear statement that there is no way in which this proposed new clause gives any extension of planning powers or anything else that could possibly affect fracking in national parks.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I can assure the House that we had no idea that this new clause was coming. It is almost five pages long. The nub of our argument is this: the national parks should be single-mindedly protecting our environment, but this power of general competence allows them to engage in commercial activities to bridge the funding gap that the Chancellor has left them with. Does my hon. Friend not worry that that single-minded concentration on protecting the environment might be lost in the search for additional revenue as a result of the commercial powers that are being conferred on the national parks?

Mr Betts: I see my right hon. Friend’s concerns in that regard, but the reality is probably that many national parks do look at ways to raise revenue to help support their budgets. I share his views that national parks are subject to cuts and that they are finding it more difficult to do the job that we expect them to do with their much reduced resources. I think that they will look at other ways to raise funds. That happens anyway. I am not sure whether this new clause widens that possibility greatly. I understand that it simply puts the national parks in the same position as a local authority to try to fulfil their functions.

James Wharton: I wish to clarify that this proposed new clause has no impact on planning as they would affect national parks. It has nothing to do with shale gas

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extraction, or fracking. I hope that is clear enough for the hon. Gentleman, and that it will give him some reassurance about our intention, which is to deliver on a request from the national parks.

Mr Betts: I am aware that the national parks have been asking for it, and I accept the Minister’s statement. Will he think about the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett)on fundraising and the extent to which the powers of general competence could be used by national parks in any way that undermined their primary purpose, which is to look after the national parks, their beauty and the environment while ensuring they are a place where people can live and work? That is an important function of national parks authorities.

James Wharton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for generously giving way again, and I can offer that reassurance. The primary purpose remains, as I said in my speech, that anything that a national park does must be in line with its statutory obligations. There is no legal basis for charging, and we are not looking to allow it. I hope that we might move to a position of greater consensus on the new clause, which I felt would be uncontroversial. I recognise the concerns expressed by hon. Members and I thank the hon. Gentleman for accepting my interventions and giving me the chance to put some of these matters to bed.

Mr Betts: I thank the Minister for his helpful comment. Perhaps more discussion could have been had before we reached this point; that might be something that everyone could learn from. The Minister’s intervention has been helpful to me and I thank him for it.

Dr Julian Lewis rose

Peter Heaton-Jones rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has for some minutes now been poised rather like a sprinter, but he suffers from one disadvantage relative to the hon. Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones), whose constituency houses Exmoor, namely that the right hon. Gentleman beetled into the Chamber a little after the hon. Gentleman. We will reserve the right hon. Gentleman as a specialist delicacy and reach him in due course.

Peter Heaton-Jones: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I have never felt disadvantaged by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).

As you correctly point out, Mr Speaker, one third of Exmoor national park is in North Devon, and a beautiful part of the world it is. Before I go on with my prepared remarks, which I admit are pretty much a verbal tourist brochure, let me say that I do not recognise a lot of what was said from the Opposition Front Bench about the new clause, particularly the comments about its being slipped in and about insufficient time being given to speak to national park authorities. I, in common with all my hon. Friends, I am sure, had no notice at all. I was first alerted to the wording of the new clause on Thursday afternoon, and since then I have had time to have a detailed email correspondence with the chairman of Exmoor national park, Councillor Andrea Davis, my office has spoken at great length to managers at National Parks UK and two hours ago I came off the phone from

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a lengthy conversation with the chief executive of Exmoor national park, Dr Nigel Stone. If I can do that, I am sure that with all the voluminous resources available to them, those on the Opposition Front Bench should surely have been able to make some cursory inquiries about what the new clause is all about. It appears that they failed to do so.

Having spoken to those people, I can say that it is the national park authorities and managers who want this to happen. Opposition Members do those national park managers a great disservice by alleging some of the things that they are. They imply that in asking for the new clause those managers will in some way use the powers for nefarious purposes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Opposition Members need to be careful about what they are alleging because in my experience national park managers have nothing but the best intentions for managing our national parks, particularly in Exmoor.

That leads me on to extolling the virtues of Exmoor and why new clause 7, in particular, will be so valuable. One third of the national park is in my constituency and it includes the beautiful, rugged coastline that not only provides opportunities for many leisure activities but is very important for our environment and ecosystem. In the conversations I have had with them, the chairman and chief executive of Exmoor national park have been absolutely adamant that Exmoor in particular would benefit from the measures included in the new clause. Let me give some specific examples of why they believe that it would be beneficial and why they welcome it.

First, there is great pressure on the provision of housing for local communities in Exmoor and other areas of North Devon. Until now, national park authority managers have been hamstrung in the conversations they have been able to have with developers to ensure arrangements for local, affordable housing. Nevertheless, the new clause is not a carte-blanche to say that all development will be allowed, and, as the Minister rightly said, nothing in it will allow that to happen.

5 pm

Currently, it is difficult for national parks to enter into any sort of meaningful relationship with developers. For instance, they cannot set up a joint enterprise, and they could not engage with a developer who was seeking to undertake commercial activities in North Devon. The new clause will allow national park authorities to enter into an arrangement with a developer, so that land for commercial activity can remain in the ownership of the national park. That will mean that the park retains—and indeed gains—some financial advantage that has not been possible until now. I heard a sedentary comment from the Labour Front Bench saying that national parks want to make money, but what is wrong with that? What is wrong with national parks being able to raise funds to carry out further their excellent work? Opening the commercial world in that way to national parks can only be good for Exmoor.

Another example is visitor attractions. Every year, Exmoor enjoys a large number of visitors who come for its rugged beauty and for the coastland and inland moor areas. The new clause will allow national park authorities to enter into commercial arrangements to ensure that more people enjoy those visitor attractions. It will attract people to the area and ensure that when they are there they have the best possible visitor experience. That is enormously important.

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When I asked the chief executive of the national park to sum up for me in two sentences why he welcomes new clause 7—indeed, it is welcomed by all national park authorities—he said two things. First, at a time when we all have to save money, it gives national park authorities more options to ensure that they are viable going forward. Secondly, the new clause will give national parks the power to make things happen in a way that has not been possible until now.

I warmly welcome the new clause. It is also welcomed by the heads of Exmoor national park—I have spoken to them about this issue in great detail since Thursday. All other national park authority managers welcome it, and I know that they have been in conversation with the Minister. I warmly welcome that because the new clause will be good for Exmoor, and good for the rest of our national parks.

Dr Julian Lewis: I thank you, Mr Speaker, for drawing such attention to the fact that I “beetled” into the Chamber, as you put it, rather late, and I apologise for that. I also apologise for the fact that unfortunately I am going to beetle out of it again rather early, for the same reason that I was late, namely Defence Committee business. I am delighted to have the opportunity of this small window to try to reassure those on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that they will take my reassurances seriously, as I was one of only three Conservative Members to vote against the scheme for privatising the forest estate, which the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) referred to in her remarks. I am not one to accept on trust everything about forests that the Government put forward.

Having said that, the Government deserve a big pat on the back for this measure. It is often said that the Government do not listen, but this is a classic case of their having listened. [Interruption.] I would be grateful if those on the Opposition Front Bench also listened for a moment, because I am directing my speech at them in an attempt to be helpful.

The chair of the New Forest national park authority, Mr Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, is a former official verderer of the New Forest and very highly thought of by all those who live and work in the forest and are concerned with its management and protection. He contacted me some time ago to ask if it would be possible to persuade the Government to include such a provision in the Bill in Committee. Sadly, that stage had just concluded, so it shows extraordinary flexibility and willingness to listen by the Government in general—and by the Under-Secretary in particular—to manage to include the provision.

I fully sympathise with the Opposition spokesmen, because new clause 7 is a lengthy provision, and it is their job to scrutinise measures, whether they are long or short, but particularly if they are long. I should therefore like to try to reassure them about new clause 7 by reading two brief extracts from a document supplied by National Parks England specifically for use in our debate. It says:

“National Parks England (the umbrella body for the NPAs) warmly welcomes the tabling of New Clause 7 by Ministers and hopes that you”—

meaning me—

“will be able to speak in support of it at the Report Stage debate of the Bill on Monday 07 December 2015.”

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It then gives a long list of the reasons why it supports the extension of powers, which are similar, it points out, to powers given to many comparable bodies. It ends by referring specifically to the new clause:

“New Clause 7 follows the legislative format established for other public bodies. National Parks England supports this amendment and would encourage MPs to speak in support during the Report Stage debate on the Bill.”

I understand the difficulty in which Opposition spokesmen find themselves, given that a clause of such complexity has been tabled at short notice. I hope that I have been able to reassure them that national parks themselves warmly welcome the clause. I do not think that it is a conspiracy. I have had occasion in the past to point out conspiracies when they crop up, but I do not think that this is an occasion for concern about conspiracies—on the contrary, it is an opportunity to congratulate Ministers, including the Under-Secretary, on listening, being flexible and making a change at, indeed, the 11th hour. That change deserves to be made if we are to show our trust in the judgment of the national park authorities themselves.

James Wharton: I do not intend to comment for long. I merely wish to record my thanks to hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. We began in a contentious place, but we have, I hope, moved towards consensus. I acknowledge the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who has been vociferous in making the case and with whom I have exchanged a significant quantity of correspondence, for bringing this to the Government’s attention and suggesting that it be included in the Bill. The measure is welcomed by national parks and by many hon. and right hon. Members. I hope that it will be welcomed, too, by shadow Ministers and that we can move forward in a more consensual way in the rest of today’s debates. Regardless, I commend the changes to the House. They are welcome and they are important.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 292, Noes 187.

Division No. 141]

[

5.8 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chishti, Rehman

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, rh Norman

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Opperman, Guy

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Margot James

and

Sarah Newton

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Peter

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Elliott, Tom

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Fovargue, Yvonne

Foxcroft, Vicky

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Haigh, Louise

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Healey, rh John

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Kinahan, Danny

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Osamor, Kate

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Rayner, Angela

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ryan, rh Joan

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shah, Naz

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

West, Catherine

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Phil

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Noes:

Jessica Morden

and

Grahame M. Morris

Question accordingly agreed to.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 739

7 Dec 2015 : Column 740

7 Dec 2015 : Column 741

7 Dec 2015 : Column 742

New clause 7 read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

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).

(3) The date appointed under subsection (2)(a) must not be later than 31 December 2016.” —(Mr Graham Allen.)

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.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—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 3—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).

7 Dec 2015 : Column 743

(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 4—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 5—Commission on devolution of fiscal powers and taxation

“(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a commission on devolution of fiscal powers and taxation to local authorities.

(2) The Commission shall consider the following issues—

(a) the desirability, impact and process necessary to implement an Income Tax rate of 10p in the pound on English tax payers;

(b) the desirability, impact and process necessary to give English Councils the same fiscal and taxation powers as those devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the 2012 Scotland Act, and

(c) any other issues that the Commission considers relevant.

(3) The Commission shall produce a report covering the issues listed in subsection (2) no later than 31 December 2017, and shall make such recommendations to the Secretary of State as it deems necessary.”

This new Clause would establish a Commission to consider the possibility of England local authorities being granted the same fiscal and taxation powers already devolved to Scotland in the Scotland Act 2012.

New clause 8—Combined authority functions: cool off period

“(1) The Secretary of State shall amend any order made under a provision of this Act which transfers a power to exercise of a function from a constituent part of a combined authority to a combined authority, to devolve responsibility for that function back to a constituent part of that authority, if the following conditions are met—

(a) A constituent part of a combined authority requests that the Secretary of State amend an order to return responsibility for the exercise of a function to the constituent part of the combined authority from the combined authority, and

(b) Such a request is made within one year of the first local government election held in the constituent part of the combined authority since the original order was made.”

The intention of this amendment is to create a cooling off period for the transfer of any power to the level of a combined authority. If a constituent part of a combined authority requests that a power is returned to it within one year of next elections held in the constituent part, then the Secretary of State must amend the relevant order to return power to the constituent part.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 744

New clause 10—Governance arrangements for local government: entitlement to vote

“In section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (local government electors), in subsection (1)(d) for “18” substitute “16””

This Clause would re-instate the provision in the Bill, as brought from the Lords, allowing votes for 16- and 17-year olds in local government elections.

New clause 11—Review of fire and rescue services in combined authorities

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 15 months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the fire and rescue services affected by the provisions of this Act.

(2) The review must make an assessment of the extent to which the provisions of this Act affecting fire and rescue services have worked safely and efficiently for the protection of the public over the first 12 months from this Act being passed.”

This Clause would require a review, after 12 months of the Bill being passed, of the fire and rescue services to make sure the new system is working safely and efficiently for the protection of the public.

New clause 13—Fiscal and financial powers

“Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish plans for further devolution of fiscal powers to local authorities in England, including—

(a) an equalisation model related to the retention of business rates, to ensure local authorities with lower business rate income are not negatively impacted;

(b) greater local authority control over local tax rates and discounts;

(c) provision for combined authorities to set multi-year finance settlements.”

This new clause allows the Secretary of State to ensure devolution continues beyond current devolution deals by setting out plans for further fiscal devolution and greater local freedom and stability in relation to budgets and tax rates. The clause also ensures a model is put in place to ensure authorities with lower business rate income do not lose out from the phasing out of central government grants.

New clause 14—Cooperation with peripheral authorities

“No later than three months after the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall publish guidance to be considered by combined authorities while exercising a devolved function, in order to—

(a) have regard for any significant direct impact of decisions taken by the combined authority on neighbouring authority populations;

(b) encourage cooperation between combined authorities and their neighbouring authorities so as to encourage local growth;

(c) enable greater economic cooperation between combined authorities and their neighbours within a travel-to-work area.”

This new clause asks the Secretary of State to publish guidance to ensure neighbouring authorities are considered when devolved functions are exercised, and encourage economic cooperation between authorities within a regional economy or travel-to-work

area

.

Government amendments 4 to 6.

Amendment 58, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) The transfer of local or public authority functions to combined authorities shall not be dependent on an order being made under subsection (1).”

This amendment makes clear that devolution deals must not be dependent on a combined authority having a mayor.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 13, at end insert—

“(2A) An order under subsection (1) may not be made unless the proposition that the combined authority have a mayor is approved by a referendum of the electorate of that combined authority.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 745

(2B) The Secretary of State shall, by regulations, establish the procedures to be followed in conducting a referendum under subsection 2A.

(2C) Before making a regulation under subsection 2B, the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission.”

The intention of this amendment is that elected mayors will be introduced only if that proposal has been approved by a referendum of the residents of the combined authority. The rule for the conduct for such a referendum shall be made by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Electoral Commission.

Amendment 57, page 2, leave out lines 21 to 26 and insert—

“(7) An order under this section providing for there to be a mayor for the area of a combined authority may be revoked or amended by making a further order under this section; this does not prevent the making of an order under section 107 abolishing the authority (together with the office of mayor) or providing for a constituent part of the combined authority to leave the combined authority and to resume its existence as a separate local authority.

(7A) An order under this section providing for a constituent part of the combined authority to leave the combined authority and to resume its existence as a separate local authority must make fair provision for a reasonable and proportionate division of resources between the former combined authority and the seceding local authority.

(7B) Where a combined authority has entered into a contractual arrangement with a third party and an order under this section is made to enable a constituent part of a combined authority to resume its existence as a separate local authority, that separate local authority shall be deemed to be a contracting party to that agreement unless an alternative agreement is reached with the third party.”

The intention of this amendment is allow for a constituent part of a combined authority to leave a combined authority without the combined authority being dissolved, with provision for “fair terms” for the leaving party (i.e. their resource is calculated on a per capita basis, or similar.) and the impact this may have on contractual arrangement with third parties.

Government amendments 7 to 25.

Amendment 59, in clause 10, page 12, line 32, at end insert—

“(1) Within 6 months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a report on the performance of the Localism Act 2011 and a review of the general power of competence provision in relation to its use by combined authorities.”

This amendment introduces a review of the use of the general power of competence by combined authorities.

Government amendments 26 to 29.

Amendment 1, in clause 15, page 17, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) all local authorities in a mayoral combined authority commencing a community governance review of their whole local authority area within two years of this Act coming into force.”

This amendment introduces further measures to support the creation of new local councils with mayoral and combined authorities required to conduct a community governance review within two years of the Act coming into force.

Amendment 56, page 17, line 23, at end insert—

“(4A) Regulations under this section, so far as including structural or boundary provision in relation to a non-unitary district council area, may be made if at least one relevant local authority consents.

(4B) Local authority in this case is defined as—

(a) a non-unitary district council whose area is, or forms part of, the non-unitary district council area;

(b) a county council whose area includes the whole or part of the non-unitary district council area.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 746

(4C) Relating to 4a and 4b

(a) “non-unitary district council area” means the area or areas of one or more non-unitary district councils;

(b) “non-unitary district council” means a district council for an area for which there is also a county council;

(c) “structural or boundary provision” means provision about the structural or boundary arrangements of local authorities in regulations made by virtue of subsection (1)(c).”

The intention of this amendments is to allow the government to make changes to boundaries of local authorities if it has the consent of at least one relevant local

authority

.

Government manuscript amendment (a) to amendment 56, after subsection (4C), insert—

“(4D) Subsections (4A) to (4C) expire at the end of 31 March 2019 (but without affecting any regulations already made under this section by virtue of subsection (4A)).”

This amendment provides for the provisions in subsections (4A) to (4C) of clause 15, allowing structural and boundary provision in relation to a non-unitary district council area if at least one relevant local authority consents, to expire at the end of 31 March 2019.

Government amendments 30 to 33 and 36.

Amendment 3, in schedule 1, page 37, line 3, leave out paragraphs 4 and 5 and insert—

“4 (1) The mayor is to be returned under the simple majority system.”

This amendment would require the mayors of combined authorities to be elected using the simple majority system, also known as “first past the post”.

Government amendments 37 to 45, 50 and 52 to 55.

Mr Allen: One of the difficulties involved in the debates we have had on this so-called constitutional Bill is that they have taken place on the Floor of the House. If we were upstairs in Committee and having detailed debates about particular places and particular boundary issues, the Minister could say, “The hon. Gentleman has made a very good point. I will take it away, talk to one or two authority leaders and issue a few words of reassurance.” On the Floor of the House, however, given the rather clunky weapons at our disposal—such as a Division of the House—they become much bigger issues. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on bringing the devolution process to the House, but rather than it being seen as the first step of many, it is lapsing into the good old confrontational stuff that we seem to enjoy so much on the Floor of the House.

Even under that structure, however, we can do a number of things in the Chamber this evening. We need to seek a more consensual way forward and understand that devolution is an organic process and that it will evolve. Once the deals in England have been concluded, they will make progress and other demands will be made. People will see that they can do things that they could not do before. They will look at neighbours who have concluded deals and say, “I’d like to try a little bit of that. I think I’ll talk to the Secretary of State.” The Secretary of State may well suggest to some places, “Things have been done by another place that you could also do.” To other areas, the Secretary of State and/or councils may say, “Perhaps we bit off a little more than we could chew. Let’s take half a pace back, let this settle and then come forward with other proposals in the future.” That process is not very amenable to debate on the Floor of the House of Commons. Almost by definition, it is better done, first, in Committee, and secondly, by the key players—council leaders and Ministers—talking openly and transparently to take forward the process.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 747

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a very thoughtful speech. Does he not agree that the fact that devolution is being driven at pace by the Scottish agenda means that there is no time to have such a convention on the big devolution to Scotland, and is it not time for England to have matching devolution if Scotland is going to get so much?

Mr Allen: The right hon. Gentleman talks about moving at pace and then immediately suggests that England should have what Scotland has. I would go with the latter of his contradictory points: in such devolution Bills, England should have everything that has been obtained by the Scottish people. To round out the package, England should in particular have not just the powers, but the financial capability to make the powers real.

I will talk later about new clause 5, which says that we can have income tax assignment to England, in just the way it pertains to Scotland, without civilisation as we know it falling apart. I would add that that would renew and strengthen the Union, which will need to happen in future decades, as a federal entity in which the nations of the Union work together very closely as a family, but all retain a degree of income tax in their areas to make their own country work effectively.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I share the hon. Gentleman’s view about financial powers going alongside the responsibility for providing services, but does he not agree that there is a case for devolving responsibility for income tax to below the England level? Most local services in Sweden, for example, are run through tax raised locally, rather than at national level.

Mr Allen: I am delighted to hear the Liberal Democrats proposing something in opposition that, sadly, they did not propose when they were a key member of the coalition Government during the past five years. Before Labour colleagues smile too much, however, the previous Labour Government also did very little on this matter. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) says that they did the opposite. Obviously, I would never be so disloyal as to underline such remarks by repeating them on the Floor of the House, but—

Mr Speaker: Order. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman would certainly not have done so in those almost forgotten days when he was a Whip.

Mr Allen: Indeed, Mr Speaker. We all have scars and sins that are best left unrevealed, otherwise that can turn into rather a destructive process. If we look at the constructive process initiated by the Secretary of State, there is a way forward. To finish my answer to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), double devolution has repeatedly been raised by colleagues from all parts of the House in different ways. Let me restate that it would be ludicrous for England to go the way of Scotland, where there is devolution down to Holyrood, but we can hear the sucking sound—Ross Perot used to hear a “sucking sound” in the United States from Mexico—of powers being sucked up from the localities in Scotland into Holyrood. We do not wish that to be repeated in England, which means, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that there must be a proper localisation of power if the devolution bandwagon and evolution are to continue.

7 Dec 2015 : Column 748

5.30 pm

I would like to put a number of items on the record, but I will not discuss my new clauses at length because we have gone around the houses on those issues before. I just want to say that if we are devolving in England; if we have devolved in Scotland; if a majority of people’s votes in England do not count and perhaps ought to be made to count in a different way; and if we see, as we are seeing with the Strathclyde commission, an anxiety about the powers of the second Chamber: if all those things are happening and we do not have a Political and Constitutional Affairs Committee—imagine if such a thing existed—it makes a lot of sense to have a steady, careful, citizen-led convention that discusses all those issues. Party leaders should at least commit to give the views of a citizens convention airtime on the Floor of the House through the discussion of draft Bills.

It makes sense to take a slightly broader view when discussing these changes and to consider what our democracy ought to look like. The threats are considerable and the action we take should be swift in countering those threats. There should therefore be a broad-brush review of where our democracy lies. That is what is proposed in new clauses 1 to 4, which are in my name. New clause 5 takes up the point about having financial powers to go alongside that.

I turn to what is a difficult question, because it is a detailed question, in respect of amendment 27, to which the Minister will speak. I tempt him to respond to my view on what might be done with the amendment. Devolution deals are so important to those who run local authorities and those who care about local authorities that, because boundaries might change, functions might change and mayors might be imposed, there is a great deal of anxiety in certain places in the country about the precise detail of the deals and how they might work.

I fully understand why the Government tabled amendment 27. It makes sense within the terms of what they are trying to do. They are rightly trying to have a level of flexibility in respect of devolution deals. However, there are particular difficulties in and around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and in respect of the Sheffield deal that is being discussed. I say to colleagues that we are at the beginning of a long road. It is not perfection that we seek today, but progress. We can secure progress, provided that we discuss this matter in a consensual way. The Minister may wish to respond to what I say now. If not, I hope that he will do so soon.

I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State will agree that any changes in local governance that are enabled by the Bill must be achieved through local consensus, with the relevant partners coming around the table to agree a negotiated position. Given that, I draw their attention to the suggestion in amendment 27 that districts that form part of a county could join a different combined authority, without the need for any negotiation with, consensus within or consent from the county council. That would be deeply divisive in many areas and undermine the very consensual approach the ministerial team has consistently advocated in this House. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister provide the House with a reassurance that the amendment will not give districts the right to walk away without local consensus and that any changes would be made through a negotiation between district and county, facilitated if necessary by the Secretary of State?

7 Dec 2015 : Column 749

James Wharton: I intend to speak at greater length on this issue, but as the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to do so I would like to be clear that the amendment gives any council, including districts, the permission to request to be removed from or added to a combined authority. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will review the case put forward by a council and make a decision on whether the request can proceed, but I can reassure the House that any such decision would, where possible, be made only following consultation and negotiation with relevant parties. In all cases, we would endeavour to seek and secure the consensus that I think has characterised many of the discussions we have had in a range of places so far, and which is so important in underpinning the Government’s approach to devolution more generally.

Mr Allen: I am sure that those words will have been heard throughout the Chamber and, more importantly perhaps, by all those who care about, or are in positions of authority in, local government. I very much hope that they take the message that the Government and the House are keen for there to be progress on devolution, and that it should occur on the basis of consensus, interaction and negotiation facilitated by the Secretary of State and the Government.

The people who have interacted with the Secretary of State and the Minister will make their own judgment on whether the Secretary of State can be trusted on these matters. As far as I am concerned, however, the Secretary of State has got us to this position on devolution, which, as I mentioned earlier, was not possible under the previous coalition Government or the previous Labour Government. Is it perfection? No. Is it genuine progress? I hope the answer to that is most definitely yes.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): All this consensus can sometimes feel a little bit disconcerting, but I think it is a good thing. The fact that the Minister has underlined and put on the record, in respect of Government amendment 27, that consensus would be achieved—this is not about particular councils having vetoes or unilateral capability, but a negotiated process—is a very important step.

Mr Allen: I can barely believe that my hon. Friend would be anything other than consensual. In recent weeks he has perhaps been known as being on the provisional wing of the Labour party, but his innate character is that of seeking consensus. I agree very strongly, as I always do, with my constituency neighbour. I hope colleagues throughout the UK adopt a similar view and take us forward on this issue.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend concerned that there are absent voices from the consensus thus far, in the shape of the public, who are not always involved or even aware that these kinds of deals are going ahead? I realise it is difficult, but do their voices not need to be captured somehow, too?

Mr Allen: To an extent, their voices have to be captured by those who seek elected office, whether in this House or in the locality. Devolution is just one part of a broader democratic settlement. It is essential that it is not just the great and the good who are involved. As I outline in new clauses 1 to 4, there has to be the most tremendous unprecedented outreach. A citizens convention

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must go way beyond even what we saw in Scotland, either in the referendum campaign or in its own citizens convention, and use all the modern techniques of social media, technology and electronic polling, so that people can feel ownership. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that unless we build that in, and unless people feel that a proper debate has been had, the process could be stressed and fractured when people feel that the right thing has not been done. I would argue, therefore, as with new clauses 1 to 4, that we will need a broad-based exercise involving an unprecedented level of public participation in order to settle our democracy not just for the next four years but so that it holds for 100 years after that. That cannot be done on the back of us alone making these decisions.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek your advice on a matter of order, although I do not know if I am entitled to do so in the middle of a speech. There are amendments on health. Should we talk about those matters now or wait for a natural break?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly reasonable question, and, just for once, it is a question that the Chair can answer. The answer is no. The matters relating to health are in the next group, of which the lead amendment is new clause 9. We should discuss health at that point.

Mr Allen: That is very helpful, Madam Deputy Speaker. In that case, I will limit my final remarks to a brief consideration of manuscript amendment (a) to amendment 56, which bears my name. Amendment 56, which I wish well, seeks to provide some welcome flexibility to allow for the organic growth and development of our devolution proposals. The Secretary of State, who needs to be reassured that the process will not drag on forever, has proposed a manuscript amendment that puts an end date on discussion. Colleagues and local authorities will have an opportunity, a gateway, a window—whatever metaphor we wish to use—in which to make representations. That process will not drag on forever, but there will be a lot of time to make those representations, which seems very appropriate. On that basis, I am pleased to have added my name to amendment 56.

This large group of amendments covers many other areas, including issues on which I could speak at some length, such as votes for 16 and 17-year-olds and a governance review. The latter will be very important. I believe that there are now 34 or so devolution deals. As we develop those, there will be much best practice, which, by definition, we cannot learn from mid-process, around what has been devolved and how, and around how local authorities can use their powers. It will all be at different levels and different speeds—because, again, devolution means people doing their own thing, not taking a one-size-fits-all approach—but there will be a place for a gathering and sharing of best practice by local government so that the next set of deals, building on the pre-existing deals, can be done in the best way.

We do not currently have an institution that can do that. Despite the excellence of the officials in the Department, we do not have what local government might regard as an independent institution to take that forward. It makes a lot of sense, therefore, to have a review at an appropriate time. It might not look that way to the Secretary of State, who is battling through a

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set of deals with lots of interested individuals—and that can only be his main priority—but, when the dust settles, it will make sense to have an adjunct to the Local Government Association, or whatever local and central Government come up with, to make sure that all the learning from the first set of proposals is carried over to the next set.

With that, I shall draw my remarks to a close. We now have a set of devolution deals, and the boulder is rolling forward. We need to keep the momentum going, so I hope that everyone will wish the Bill well.

5.45 pm

James Wharton: I begin with new clauses 1 to 4, which propose the establishment of a local government constitutional convention. We had the opportunity to discuss these provisions on our first day in Committee, and as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said then, they include the nuts and bolts of this body, as proposed by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which the hon. Gentleman chaired in the previous Parliament. He now draws on the wealth of the knowledge that he acquired from his chairmanship during that time. His intention has been, in part at least, to ensure that some of his observations and experience could be read by anyone who feels that the concept of a constitutional convention is something that could be recommended to the House. I hope he feels that he has been successful in that aim. I have certainly enjoyed the debates we have had on the issue, and I recognise his tenacity and consistency in putting his case before us.

I do not consider it necessary to go through in detail every stage of the possible effects that new clause 1 could have, but it is important to recognise that the hon. Member for Nottingham North has made a number of points that draw on his experience and that inform the debate on devolution. However, as has been the case in previous debates and in Committee, I am not yet persuaded to go as far as to include new clause 1 in the Bill at this time.

John Redwood: Will the Minister confirm that, as the talks on Scotland’s money versus that of the rest of the United Kingdom make rapid progress, it will be the Government’s aim to ensure that England has a block grant that it may choose how to spend?

James Wharton: My right hon. Friend tempts me to go further than I can in the specific context of the Bill, but I think he has been above averagely consistent on that point and very clear about his position. He has put it clearly on the record today, as he has before, and the fact that he has done so is welcome.

I look to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, for advice on whether you would like me to comment on the other amendments in the group, which I would be happy to do, although I have not yet heard the comments of hon. Members on them.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): If the Minister would like to wait until the end of the debate, I shall, with the leave of the House, call him again.

James Wharton: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that we have had such a productive and healthy debate so far, it would be appropriate for me to respond later to the specific points that hon. Members raise. I therefore look forward to the opportunity to speak again as we progress through this stage of consideration.

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Mr Betts: I shall speak specifically to Government amendment 27. The proposals for combined authorities are welcome. They are essentially about local authorities coming together where they wish to combine their approach, their workings and their functions to deliver better services and, hopefully, greater economic growth for the residents in their areas. The idea was pioneered in Manchester. The one fundamental difference between Manchester and some of the other areas that we are considering is that Manchester has had a number of authorities that have worked together over a period of time and these happen to be the authorities that were part of the old Greater Manchester metropolitan area. There were 10 districts that formed that old Greater Manchester metropolitan county, so they have always had a sense of being together and working together over a number of years. They are also unitary authorities that all have the ability to make their own decisions about whether they come together, how they do so and what they do to form the combined authority. It is a relatively simple and easy arrangement in constitutional terms.

The difficulty for some other areas is that the constitutional arrangements are slightly different. Obviously, I am now going to refer to my own area. Sheffield contains the four districts which used to form the old South Yorkshire metropolitan county, and which have worked together to varying degrees, and with varying degrees of success, since the counties were abolished. They came together to form what is now the Sheffield combined authority.

To an extent, the same applies to Leeds, which contains five districts that used to be the West Yorkshire metropolitan county, and which have been working together as a combined authority. There are, however, some differences, which have been recognised at various times by parties on both sides of the House. Sheffield contains not merely the four districts of south Yorkshire, but five other districts which form part of either Derbyshire county or Nottinghamshire county: Derbyshire Dales, Chesterfield, North East Derbyshire, Bolsover and Bassetlaw. They are not part of the old South Yorkshire county, but they are very much part of the local economy of the Sheffield city region—the travel-to-work area.

That has been recognised in a number of ways, and I remember when it was first recognised. I went to the first meeting between the leaders of those nine councils, which took place at Meadowhall shopping centre, and which had been called by David Miliband when he was number two in his Department. I am not sure which Department it was, but it was probably the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I expected a reaction from the districts outside south Yorkshire—I expected them to think that Sheffield Big Brother was going to take them over—but the leader of Bolsover district council said, “Actually, it is quite good that we are involved in this.” He said, “I know that not everyone who lives in Bolsover will have a job in Bolsover, and that many people have to travel to work in Sheffield. What happens in Sheffield matters to us, and how people transport themselves from Bolsover to Sheffield matters to us. It is right that we are sitting round the table having discussions and being involved in the decision-making process.” Those were wise words, which have stood the test of time.

The coalition Government adopted a similar approach. When they formed the local enterprise partnerships, they recognised that the historical regional boundaries

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were not always appropriate. I know that the previous Secretary of State had a thing about regions: people almost had to cross themselves, or put money in the Department’s swear box, if they mentioned them. He was not always right in damning the regional spatial strategies and blaming them for every evil on the planet, but I think he had a point nevertheless, in that the old regions did not necessarily represent local economies and the way in which areas worked in day-to-day life.

The districts of south Yorkshire were in the Yorkshire and Humber region, but the districts in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were in the old East Midlands region, and that often did not work because the two regional development authorities did not always speak to each other. That was a fundamental problem for the Sheffield regional economy, which the last Government recognised when it created the LEPs and allowed them to create themselves across the old regional boundaries to reflect the travel-to-work areas and the local sub-regional city region economies.

We now face a challenge. So far, the districts in that position in North Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire have, to an extent, been able to have it both ways. They can continue as districts, as part of the two counties, but they can also be non-constituent parts of the combined authority in Sheffield. Ultimately, however, the districts will have to make some sort of choice.

We are to have an elected mayor in the Sheffield city region. We have had discussions and arguments about that, but it is going to happen. Should the people of Chesterfield, Worksop, or any other parts of those districts be able to vote for the mayor in Sheffield, who will be in charge of transport in that area, or should they not be able to vote for the mayor, who will then cover only part of the travel-to-work area with his or her transport responsibilities? That strikes me as illogical, because it will not bring about a combined authority that really covers the city region and the travel-to-work area.

Is it possible that the people of Chesterfield will not have a vote for the mayor because Chesterfield will not become part of the Sheffield city region combined authority—although, under the proposals, the mayor will be involved in discussions and decision-making about economic development matters that affect Chesterfield, even if it is only a non-constituent part of the combined authority? I do not think it reasonable for an individual who has not been not elected by the people of Chesterfield to have a say in what happens there.

What the amendment does is ensure that the districts of North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire will be able to make their own decision about the long-term position—about where they think they fit and where their future lies—without the county councils’ having a veto. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), I hope that that will done by means of consensus and discussion. No one wants Chesterfield to feel that it is no longer part of Derbyshire county or Bassetlaw to feel that it is not part of Nottinghamshire county, for many other purposes.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is advancing a powerful argument. He is absolutely right about consensus. He is also right about the fact

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that businesses do not recognise local authority boundaries. Surely, when we talk about devolution, we must talk about it on the basis of economic rather than political areas, but there is a danger of our being sucked into those political areas.

Mr Betts: I entirely agree. In the end, of course, a district council as a whole will have to go to an area, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, the focus should be on what works for the economy in terms of job creation, growth and the development of skills, and on ensuring that the necessary transport links exist.

I hope that the Minister will clarify one important point. There may ultimately be a decision for the Secretary of State or the Minister to make on these matters. The districts in North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire, or some of them, may well decide to become part of the Sheffield city region—I hope that they will, because I think that it makes economic sense—but it is nevertheless possible that Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will form another combined authority, an N2D2, and that there will then be a conflict between the two decisions.

I understand from the amendment that it will be up to the Secretary of State to decide which combined authority the districts should join, because they cannot join two; the people in those areas cannot have a vote for two elected mayors in different combined authorities. I hope when he decides that he will indicate that his key criterion will be what is right for the local economy—that point was made by the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy)—and right for developing skills, for economic growth, and for the development of a proper transport strategy for those areas.

James Wharton: I absolutely hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We must do what is right. If devolution is to be successful, it must recognise the boundaries that are, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer pointed out, more than political: the economic boundaries and the community boundaries. We must take account of what local people want. I am sure that, in exercising whatever powers he has when discussions on the Bill have concluded, the Secretary of State will first seek to build that consensus, as he has throughout the devolution discussions, but will then seek to ensure that the deals that are done will stand the test of time.

Mr Betts: Standing the test of time is about what works economically and what works for growth, because that is the purpose of devolution in the first place.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I think I agree with the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but we might well grant the elected mayors powers to replace the police and crime commissioners, and if, for example, Chesterfield chose to join Sheffield rather than Derbyshire, the people would presumably lose the right to vote for the person who holds their police force to account. I am not sure that, in those circumstances, the Secretary of State could make his decision solely on the basis of economic powers.

Mr Betts: That is an added complication. At present, three separate police and crime commissioners cover the Sheffield city region: one for South Yorkshire, one for Derbyshire and one for Nottinghamshire. Those issues might be considered at some point way down the line, but the leaders of the Sheffield combined authority

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have— sensibly, in my view—decided not to incorporate the police and crime commissioners’ powers in their devolution deal, probably because that would lead to exactly the sort of further complications to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. They have confined their deal to economic, transport, skills and growth issues, which are precisely the issues to which the Secretary of State will have to give particular consideration if there is a decision to be made about which combined authority the districts are to go into.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that we live in an extremely complicated country both culturally and economically, and one of the things that has bedevilled attempts to devolve powers to local authorities has been searching for the perfect boundaries. The perfect boundaries do not exist. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is better to devolve than to spend for ever looking for those perfect boundaries?

6 pm

Mr Betts: Absolutely, and therefore I support the principles of the Bill, but having said that, and while agreeing with my hon. Friend, if we can do something to improve the devolution process, which this amendment does, we should be looking to do that as well. I want devolution to happen, but I want it to work. There is a danger in the Sheffield city region proposals that, without those North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire districts, and without a true reflection of the whole travel-to-work area, the devolution will not be as economically successful.

I accept in the end that it is a matter of consensus, however. This amendment allows those districts to express their own view about where they think their economic future lies without pulling out of the county for all other services. It allows devolution to go forward without a veto from the county over the particular issues of economic devolution and transport powers. It makes a lot more sense for the Sheffield city region. It also offers the same opportunities for the same way forward for the West Yorkshire combined authority and probably for the west midlands as well.

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I shall be brief. I am pleased to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, not least because I thought one of his closing lines summed up our objective here this afternoon: we want devolution to happen, but we want it to work. I want to speak to new clause 8 and amendment 57 in my name and also touch on amendment 2 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), all of which share exactly that objective.

Dealing with the question of consent and the referendum contained in amendment 2, it seems to me that if this process is to work it is essential that it should have the consent of the people who are going to be governed under these new structures. If the argument can be made for the new structures and new form of governance, the Government ought to have the self-confidence to give people a direct say on the changes that are about to be introduced. From a Greater Manchester perspective, I think it is entirely possible that the Government could put a case that would persuade people that the new arrangements should be approved in a referendum, but

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the very act of withholding that opportunity for them to express their will and to show real consent for what is being done in itself sows the seeds of difficulty and discord and makes it less likely that the new arrangements will work.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In his speech on 14 May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

“I will not impose this model on anyone.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to demonstrate that local people want the new system would be to hold a referendum?

Mr Brady: I agree wholeheartedly. I devoutly hope that Ministers even at this late hour will recognise that it is very much in their own interests and those of the Government, and entirely in the interests of the people of the combined authority areas which may face these new arrangements of governance, to accept the point. I am especially hopeful given the sterling work my hon. Friend the Minister did in the last Parliament trying to ensure that people had the opportunity to give consent on the arrangements surrounding our membership of the European Union. I know he will recognise that, given his deep commitment to democracy, it would be entirely consistent for him to recognise the wisdom of the proposal.

New clause 8 is in tune with the essence of the Bill and the essence of the Government’s intentions. There are very few of us on either side of the House who would argue with the proposition that it is generally better for power and decisions to be exercised as close to the people as possible. It is almost invariably better for decisions, including spending decisions, to be taken more locally, and new clause 8 seeks to place an extra protection in the Bill: a safeguard seeking to limit the occasions on which the legislation could be used to permit devolution in the wrong direction. That is not really devolution at all, of course. Rather, it is the opposite of devolution: it is the capacity that exists in the Bill as it currently stands for powers to be moved up, away from the people and away from local authorities which currently exercise powers, to the combined authority or to mayoral authority level. It is a very modest measure—[Interruption.]My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) endorses that view, and I was surprised at just how modest my aspiration had become during the course of this process, perhaps due to the endless courtesy and charm of the Secretary and State and the Minister.

All new clause 8 seeks to do is ensure that, if a local authority decides to transfer a power to the mayoral level, there would be a cooling-off period before it became permanent, and crucially that a local election must be held before such time that that transfer of power away from the people in the wrong direction—this anti-devolution—can become permanent. That is a modest but important safeguard, and I hope Ministers will accept it would be in their interests and the interests of good governance to incorporate it.

Perhaps the most important measure in this group is amendment 57, which sits, almost naturally, as a part of a couplet with the proposition for a referendum. In a way, if we do not have one of them, it becomes even more important that we have the other. If the Government are not going to consult the people directly on the new governance arrangements that will apply to them by

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allowing a referendum, it is even more important that the arrangements set out in amendment 57 should be incorporated, which would allow a local authority, in the event that the new arrangements do not work in the interests of that local authority area, to seek at a future date to leave, with a fair distribution of both the liabilities and assets of the combined authority.

I have sought to ensure proper fairness and a reasonable arrangement in the unlikely eventuality that a local authority would reach the point where it was convinced that the new arrangements were not in its best interests. That would provide the necessary reassurance to people that this is not an irrevocable step, and that if it does not work, there is a way out of it. Perhaps most importantly, it would also place a real discipline on an elected mayor and ensure that the holder of that office would at all times seek to behave reasonably and reflect the interests not just of the majority of the area of the mayoral authority, but of the whole of it. The risk that an elected mayor may at some point in the future seek to govern in a way that is clearly contrary to the interests of any one part of a conurbation would be massively greater if the Bill were to proceed unamended. Again, I very much hope Ministers will recognise that the Bill would be strengthened and improved by amendment 57.

Norman Lamb: I want to speak in support of new clause 10 and to make a brief comment on amendment 7. The new clause seeks to reinstate in the Bill, as brought from the Lords, the provision to allow votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in local government elections. As a matter of principle, I support the idea of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, whether in national elections, local government elections or referendums. I supported the case for 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum. I have also argued the case, along with many others, for them to be able to vote in the European Union referendum, because it is their future that we will be debating.

In the context of the Bill, I strongly support the case for 16 and 17-year-olds having a say, for goodness’ sake, in the election of their local councillor. I find it extraordinary that the Government oppose the proposal so strongly. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has indicated that there is a debate to be had on the subject, and that we might explore it more fully on other occasions, but how long does this have to take? Those 16 and 17-year-olds can join our armed forces to defend the country, they can marry and they can pay taxes on their income if they are in work, yet they cannot have a say on how those taxes might be raised, on the extent of them or on how they might be applied. As citizens they ought to have the same rights as the rest of us enjoy, and I urge the Government to think further on this.

We often make points about the low turnout among those young people who are entitled to vote, and about the low engagement in the political process. I made the point in our previous debate on the issue that young people are very interested in a range of political issues, but there is no doubt that in many cases many of them are disengaged from the political process. If we are to seek to change that, surely giving these young people the right to a say in the political process would help. The turnout among 16 and 17-year-olds in the Scottish

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referendum, at about 75%, is indicative of a level of interest in the issues, which the Government ought to recognise.

David Willetts, the well respected former Minister in the coalition Government, has made a point about the breaking of the generational contract. This is a serious concern. Political parties tend to focus a lot of their attention on the interests of older people, who of course tend to vote. I would argue that there is a lack of attention being paid to the interests of young people, particularly 16 and 17-year-olds, who have no vote at all.

Mr Nuttall: I am getting confused. A few seconds ago, the right hon. Gentleman was trying to convince the House that 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote because such an enormous number of them had turned out to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. Now we are told that we are ignoring them because they do not turn out to vote. Will he just clarify which of those two arguments he would like us to accept?

Norman Lamb: We saw in the Scottish referendum that, if you seek to engage with young people, they will respond. They turned out in record numbers. I understand from the study that took place following the referendum that the turnout was 75% among that age group. I also made the point, however, that there is a lack of engagement with the political process as a whole among young people. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me on that. I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to change that by getting young people to feel part of the process and to participate in it. If we give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote, it sharpens their minds and focuses their interest because they have an opportunity to participate in the political process.

6.15 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is making his arguments very well and I do not want to take him to task over them, but I want to ask him a question. Presumably the Bill will again end up in the House of Lords, as the European Union Referendum Bill has done. Does he think it is the place of unelected people in the House of Lords to make a decision on this question, or should it be reserved to the House of Commons?

Norman Lamb: I continue to argue strongly that we should have a democratically elected second Chamber, and we sought to achieve that during the coalition Government. Sadly, Conservative Members managed to block that long-overdue reform. [Interruption.] I think the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) is agreeing with me from a sedentary position. But we are where we are, and because Conservative Members ensured during the last Parliament that we still have to put up with an unelected second Chamber, it will just have to do the job as best it can. It is a revising Chamber and I hope that it will again make the argument that 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote. I hope that I have responded adequately to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh).

David Willetts made the case strongly that there had been a break in the generational contract. I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to address that serious issue and to ensure that all political parties start to show a

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real interest in the interests of young people. If 16 and 17-year-olds had a vote at local and national levels, there is no doubt that the parties would focus more attention on their interests.

Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman said that the interests of young people are not properly reflected, partly because they do not vote, but he then said that giving the vote to even younger people who were even less likely to vote would somehow change the way in which the Government operated. I just do not understand the logic of that. Will he also tell us what is so special about 16? Why not choose 15? Is this about paying tax? We have to draw the line somewhere. What is the principle on which he is basing his argument?

Norman Lamb: On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I of course accept that this is an arbitrary line. The current age at which people can start to vote is also arbitrary. We have chosen to make it 18. My argument is that we can reduce it because people aged 16 and 17 have rights and play a significant part in society. For example, they can join the armed forces, they can work and pay taxes on their income and they can marry. Those are all significant rights and responsibilities, and if they have such rights and responsibilities they ought surely to have a say in the election of our national Government and in the election of local authorities as well.

Graham Stuart: If the right hon. Gentleman were charged with a serious offence, would he really want 16 and 17-year-olds serving on the jury and deciding on his guilt or innocence? I certainly would not. We are talking about a certain level of maturity, and the line we have drawn is an appropriate one. If we would not want a 16-year-old sitting on a jury deciding whether or not we went to jail for 10 years, I suggest that we would not want to let them play a part in the election of the Government of the country.

Norman Lamb: With all due respect, I think that that is a distraction from the issue we are debating today. I repeat my argument that if 16 and 17-year-olds are able to join the armed forces, pay taxes on their income and marry, which are big responsibilities and rights, they ought to have a say in the election of their Government, either at national level or locally.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that some of the Conservative Members’ arguments do not quite stack up? Maturity is not necessarily to do with age, after all. People of any age can be deemed to be immature, yet they can still serve on a jury and vote in elections.

Norman Lamb: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about that. The argument made by Conservative Members could be used, by logical extension, to deny democracy entirely or to deny trial by jury. I seek to oppose both those logical extensions and to make the case again for 16 and 17-year-olds to have the right to vote. In this Bill, we are talking about their having a say in the election of their local councillors, for goodness’ sake. If the Conservatives seek to deny 16 and 17-year-olds such a basic right, in their own local community, I strongly oppose them on that. The Government say this issue

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deserves further discussion, and I welcome that, but why can they not just get on with it, accept the principle and legislate for it today?

William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con): I rise to speak to amendment 2, which stands in my name and those of a number of right hon. and hon. Friends. As a former councillor in Stockport, I draw people’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The purpose of the amendment is clear: to ensure that a referendum is held in a combined authority area before any mayoral model of governance is adopted. I am pleased that a number of colleagues have felt able to support it by putting their names to it, and I know that a number of others have some sympathy with it. I thank the Secretary of State for his courteous understanding of my concerns. Such a generous and fair approach is, as colleagues from across the House will attest, typical of the thoughtful and decent man he is.

I extend a similar tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), who has handled my reservations with good humour and more than a degree of tenacity, and I thank him sincerely for that.

My motivations for tabling the amendment are several. First, this is very much a local issue of concern, given that my constituency is part of the Greater Manchester area, which has been earmarked for an elected mayor in 2017. I can discern no real demand for this innovation among my constituents—indeed, there is a certain degree of reservation. However, despite their and my scepticism, I am prepared, as I argued on Second Reading, to accept that perhaps there is some demand and so I am perfectly willing to let the people have their say at a referendum, in order to allow them to express their view emphatically. Of course, the outcome either way would be something I would respect entirely.

Although not wishing to prejudge the outcome of such a referendum, I remind the House that directly elected mayors were in recent memory rejected by a number of constituent boroughs of Greater Manchester—Bury and Manchester itself—and subject to widespread rejection across the country in 2012. I thought the Conservative party’s policy at the time was absolutely right: mayors in metropolitan areas should be introduced only if there was a referendum and assent was given. The policy of holding a referendum was correct three years ago and I contend that the opportunity to have a democratic decision at a referendum remains equally valid today.

My overriding concern is, I expect, understandable to many colleagues with shared experience in local government: when new models of local government are seen to be imposed on areas, even if more carrot than stick is used, there the danger lurks. Some will still see the Local Government Act 1972 as an act of municipal desecration, with the break-up of centuries’ old counties and the formation of false constructs, but, aside from mocking the quaint fustiness of those dinosaurs—I do not refer to anybody in this House—we should take a valuable lesson from it: people should feel a sense of belonging to the area in which they live. Furthermore, as this amendment proposes, they should feel a sense of ownership over the formation of entities that govern them.

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Mr Betts: I am trying to work out what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve by this amendment. Is he just probing the Government? They have made it clear that devolution deals, as negotiated, will go ahead only with an elected mayor. Is he working on the assumption that if the population turn down an elected mayor in a referendum, the whole devolution deal for that area will fall?

William Wragg: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My amendment seeks not to ensure that such devolution deals fail, but that the mayor is not a prerequisite of such a deal. I am at variance with the Government on this issue and I would like my amendment to be included in the Bill.

Alison Thewliss: I wish briefly to go through some of the new clauses and amendments. The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) makes points in new clauses that have been made before in previous debates. His new clauses 1, 2, 4 and 6 include Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom. As local government is entirely devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the UK Parliament has no scope in that matter, he has perhaps made an oversight in his proposals. In new clause 6, he wishes to make local councils in England equivalent to the Scottish Parliament, which also is not quite appropriate—after all, they are not the same things. The Scottish Parliament is a Parliament, rather than a local authority, and they are very different items.

Mr Graham Allen: The hon. Lady is misunderstanding me and I need to clarify my remarks. I am not at all equating a local authority with the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the Scottish Parliament, which is one of the Labour party’s greatest achievements. Donald Dewar and all those people who were in the citizens convention have created, often without the co-operation of the Scottish National party, a magnificent institution. I just have a degree of jealously that the powers that have rightly gone to Scotland are not coming fast enough to England and to those of us in the rest of the Union. If we are Unionists, we think that the good things that can happen in one country can happen in all countries of the Union.

Alison Thewliss: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman includes me in the statement that we are Unionists, because I am not necessarily—

Mr Allen: I say that only because the hon. Lady is elected now to the Union Parliament. This is not the Scottish Parliament and therefore we speak here, all of us, as part of the Union Parliament in Westminster.

Alison Thewliss: The hon. Gentleman’s new clause 5 refers to

“the desirability, impact and process necessary to give English Councils the same fiscal and taxation powers as those devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the 2012 Scotland Act”.

That seems to me as if he is drawing a comparison between the two, and I am not convinced that is entirely appropriate.

The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) eloquently put the case for new clause 10, and I, too, absolutely support votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. It is a shame that the Government are not taking the opportunity at least to trial it in local government, as it would be a worthwhile trial. If they are not prepared to

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bring forward comprehensive legislation to change the franchise for all elections, it would be nice if they were willing on this occasion at least to try it in this way, because it is very much worthy of examination. It has worked well in Scotland; the 16 and 17-year-olds who were given the vote on the referendum were very engaged and have remained engaged. Those who were younger were not able to participate but they still had greater interest in the democratic process as a result—they paid attention. A lot of them felt very aggrieved that they were not able to participate, but, as was said earlier, the bar has to be set somewhere and 16 is a reasonable place to put it. That has worked well in Scotland and I very much encourage it here.

On new clause 12, it seems reasonable to review how the NHS is treated in the devolution deals. It seems reasonable to see how that is working, and perhaps more powers need to go across if things could work better.

On amendment 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), and amendment 58, I have lot of sympathy for his comments about the imposition of mayors on local authorities. Some of the evidence that we heard in Committee on this issue suggested that it is perhaps not being fair to local government to say, “You must take a mayor in exchange for these powers.” I have a lot of sympathy for the points he makes. As I said earlier in this process, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley city region deal did not require a mayor in Scotland, so it is not a blanket policy of the Government to apply this provision in every circumstance. I believe that the Duchy of Cornwall has not had a mayor imposed upon it at this stage. Evidence was given in that respect in Committee.

On amendment 3 and the supplementary vote system, I am not sure that that system is necessarily the best one for electing anybody. I have been elected under the single transferable vote in Scotland and under first past the post here, and I believe that the first- past-the-post system is far from ideal in terms of democracy. I cannot understand why anyone would want to put first past the post back into an electoral system—perhaps there will be more explanation of that later—when the majority of research suggests it is the least fair way of electing people to any system of government.

I thank you for your time, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is all I have to say today.

6.30 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I shall speak to amendment 56 and the Government manuscript amendment to it. Although I added my name to the amendment, the original proposal came from my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), who apologises for not being present in the Chamber today. As the House will appreciate, his constituency has been very badly affected by the weekend floods.

I wish to make a few points on my hon. Friend’s behalf. Amendment 56 provides for a very modest change that would give greater flexibility both to the Government and to local communities. Where there is a clear wish for change, a county could achieve it in a much more efficient manner and without too much delay. The amendment seeks to build on existing legislation in relation to changes to boundaries. I am talking about not radical change, but easier changes that both Government and local people support.

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My hon. Friend hopes that these changes can be applied to his own county of Cumbria, where they are badly needed and widely supported, as they would improve local government and lead to cost savings. I note that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) spoke in favour of this amendment. I hope that that sentiment will also be expressed by the Opposition Front Bench and that we can proceed on this matter with consensus. With that, I hope that the House will support this amendment.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I wish to support some of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) and to try to give more information to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) to explain why I am in favour of first past the post.

Briefly, let me talk about referendums and why I have attached my name to amendment 2. It seems that there is a slowly developing theory of referendums in this country that fits in with a parliamentary democracy. It is that those of us who sit in this House, who admire this House and who approve of how our constitution works, have a great affection for the understanding that we are representatives and not delegates, and that we are here to exercise sovereignty on behalf of the people for a five-year period before returning it to them in toto at the end of that period. That is the well-established constitutional position. Against that, and in sympathy with that, there is a developing view of where referendums are useful, and moving from useful to becoming essential; and that is to do with the structures of government. The reason for that is that there is a permanency in the structures of government that outweighs the normal level of legislation with which we deal.

It is quite right that Scotland had referendums on its decisions on independence and on establishing a Parliament in the first place, because those are effectively permanent decisions, irreversible and unchangeable without the consent of the Scottish people. Likewise in Wales, the Welsh have had referendums on their Assembly, as has Northern Ireland, too. With regard to local councils and changes, if the structures are to work they need to go with the grain of popular consent. Authority, when it is used, needs to have a legitimacy that is based in democratic consent. When that consent was not given in the Local Government Act 1972, there was a great deal of hostility to what was done because it did not meet the requirements of local people. Against that evolving doctrine of referendums there is, inevitably, the Government’s view of referendums, which I characterise, perhaps unfairly, as being, “We will have referendums when we think we will win them, but if we think we won’t win them, it is a bit too dangerous, so we won’t take the risk.” It is a pity that the Government have not taken the risk with these new structures. Let us take the Mayor of London as an example. The Mayor of London has enormous popular consent, even when it was Ken Livingstone, let alone now that it is the great man, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson).

William Wragg: The London example is a case in point. That system of mayoralty was assented to by the population at a referendum.

Mr Rees-Mogg: That is exactly the point I am making. That is why there has been affection for the Mayors, even from people who do not share their political

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sympathies. It is felt that they have a legitimacy to do what they have done. I voted against having a mayor for London, because I thought that another tier of government was quite unnecessary; we already have far too many. However, because London had a referendum and the referendum was won, there is a legitimacy. The great city that I neighbour, the city of Bristol, elected a mayor, having decided to do so through a referendum. Therefore, the people of Bristol have invested in that office and given legitimacy to it. I cannot think of anything worse than having an elected mayor covering Somerset, and I would oppose it tooth and nail. The watchwords will be, “Somerset will fight, and Somerset will be right.”

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): May I suggest something that might be even worse to my hon. Friend? It is that the outcome of the amendment might be that there is no mayor, but a new combined authority with devolved powers being run by a politburo of leaders of other councils, the policies of which people will have no direct say in.

Mr Rees-Mogg: If Madam Deputy Speaker will indulge me, I compare that with the Council of Ministers in the context of the European Union. It has democratic legitimacy derived from its constituent parts, whereas a mayor imposed, without a referendum, lacks that fundamental legitimacy. It is more like the President of the European Commission. To have a system that has an imposed mayor is to move away from legitimacy.

Nigel Mills: Just to continue that thought, will my hon. Friend not join me in having some concern that the people who will be taking the decisions, spending the money and exercising the power will not have been elected for that purpose, but for some very different position on a very different authority that could be on a much smaller scale?

Mr Rees-Mogg: I do not accept that. I am not a big-is-good advocate. I think that small can well be beautiful. The individual leaders of councils are the doughty defenders of the interests of the population that has chosen them, and they are in their way like Members of Parliament in that they represent a specific area and a specific interest, and they can combine with others to see how decisions can be made. I see no lack of democracy in a group of people coming together, each one of whom has an individual mandate. Indeed that can be a better democratic mandate than having a highfalutin mayor.

Mr Brady: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech very much and following it closely. He may be interested to know—he may already be aware of this—that in Greater Manchester, which is really the point of origin of many of the things that we are discussing today, the combined authority has worked extraordinarily well, and that those elected council leaders have worked very well together. It seems odd to many of us that we should move from a structure that is working well, and to which nobody has any objections, to the imposition of a completely different structure without popular consent.

Mr Rees-Mogg: I agree with my hon. Friend. Imposing structures does not give them legitimacy. What gives them legitimacy is that they should be built from the ground upwards. Fundamentally, that is a Conservative

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view of how Governments are constructed. I am talking about the little battalions coming together to do big things jointly, rather than a hierarchical system that says, “We know what’s best for you.” That is the approach of those on the Opposition Benches. The socialist approach, as it is now, once again, a Socialist party, is about telling people what to do and giving them the figures who do it. The Conservative evolutionary approach is to allow people to come together, each one of whom individually has legitimacy to do things. I absolutely accept his point that combined authorities have worked by consent and that they do not necessarily need super-mayors or metro mayors put on top of them. If that is done without referendums, we will be back here in 20 years’ time—

[Interruption.]

I very much hope that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is still here in 20 years’ time so that we can discuss these important matters.

Mr Skinner: I have got a better chance of surviving a long number of years if we keep the NHS out of the hon. Gentleman’s and Tory hands. Keep the NHS public, and I have a chance—I am taking a gamble here—of making it.

Mr Rees-Mogg: I do not think the Prime Minister had any intention of making me the Secretary of State for Health, but now that he has heard from the hon. Gentleman, I am sure that he will not.

We will return to the legitimacy of these changes if there are no referendums. Although the Government might well push the provisions through and order these mayors to be appointed, if there is not that validation through referendums the component parts of the super-areas will chafe. They will say, “We are paying taxes to pay for the centre of a city to which we have no real link. We would rather be run from Whitehall than by these funny people in a town hall with whom we have no real link.” The referendum lock follows the grain of the developing referendum theory of government in this country and will ensure that the process is more successful in the long run. In opposing the amendment, the Government are probably being short-termist.

I promised the hon. Member for Glasgow Central that I would come on to the amendment about first past the post and why I have put my name to it. I am very grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove proposed it and had he not done so I would have tabled my own amendment. I believe in first past the post as the fairest electoral system. I think that people get what they vote for rather than what they do not vote for. They get what they most like, not what they least dislike. The fundamental problem with proportional systems is that nobody gets what they want. Everybody gets something else, because the votes go off in all sorts of different directions.

Mr Graham Allen: Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the 50% of people in Scotland who voted for non-separatist parties got what they thought they were getting when they received only three Members of Parliament to represent them whereas the other 50% got 56?

Mr Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. They got exactly what they wanted. They got a referendum that decided that they would remain part of the United Kingdom and then they voted for champions

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to come to this place and represent them constituency by constituency. That is how first past the post works. I wish that they had all voted Conservative; it is a great shame that they did not. The system worked effectively to represent what most people in Scotland wanted. Sadly, most people in Scotland did not want the Conservatives to have 56 MPs. How that aberration could have come about, I do not know, and I am sure that in time it will change.

Nigel Mills: It was worse in ’97.

Mr Rees-Mogg: It was indeed worse in 1997.

However, the majority in each constituency, or at least a plurality in each constituency, got exactly what they voted for and not one of the three Unionist parties in those constituencies was able to compete. That seems perfectly fair.

Alison Thewliss: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only reason why the Scottish Conservative party is present in the Scottish Parliament is proportional representation?

Mr Rees-Mogg: I was going to say that it was because of my efforts in Glenrothes in 1997, but I think that that would be untrue. I would be accused of misleading the House. I think it is to do with the fact that we have a fantastic leader of the Conservatives in Scotland and an inspired Secretary of State. The two combine to make Conservatism in Scotland the coming force. However, that strays from the main topic of why first past the post is a preferable system. It is important to have a victory for the most popular rather than the least unpopular. It encourages the most charismatic figures and people who have a strong party affiliation to stand. That is important.

I am not a great believer in having huge numbers of independents running our great cities. There is a danger that if we take people outside the party system they do not have a particular badge to stand under and it is not clear at the outset what they represent, other than independence. They have no fall-back as regards having someone senior in the political system to get in touch with to guide them.

Norman Lamb: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I totally disagree with everything that he is saying. Does he not think that there is a risk that with first past the post in local government one can end up with a complete one-party state, as has happened in some Liberal Democrat councils, some Conservative councils and, indeed, some Labour councils? The net result is a sort of rotten borough with poor local government and no accountability.

6.45 pm

Mr Rees-Mogg: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Having one party in office forever can create its own difficulties, but I think that that is less likely to happen with a mayor than with a local council with individual councillors. A mayor stands both as a party figure and as an independent figure. That is undoubtedly the case with the mayoralty for London, and the Conservative and Labour figures who have fought successfully have done so by being semi-detached from their parties and building up their personal following.

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That would happen in other places, but it clarifies the issue and is more straightforward if we have first past the post and whoever is most popular wins.

To go back to the developing theory of referendums, I also think that first past the post is what the British people voted for. We had a great referendum under the coalition Government of whom the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) was a very distinguished part, and in that referendum the electorate blew a very large raspberry at electoral reform. They said that they did not want the alternative vote system but wanted to stick to first past the post.

For a Government who have an opportunity to correct what was previously put in place and to go for what the electorate not only wants but has voted for is fundamentally democratic and proper, and ties in with my original theory of referendums. It is the right of the people to decide who governs them as well as the structures of government and how they relate to them. The individual Members, mayors and councillors are then entitled to operate those levers between elections. How people vote, for whom they vote and the regions for which they vote ought to be determined by referendums. We have had one in support of first past the post, and we have had one supporting a mayor for London and a mayor for Bristol. It is a mistake to ignore the very first of those votes and an error not to give people the right to vote on their own structures in future.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I gently remind the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) that although I did not want to interrupt him when he was in such rhetorical form in his intervention, matters concerning the health service are in the next group of amendments. The House so much looks forward to hearing what he has to say then, but that will be after we have finished debating this group of amendments, having heard Sir Edward Leigh.

Sir Edward Leigh: It is of course a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), with whom I normally agree. I quite understand his enthusiasm for referendums, which in one sense surprises me, because a traditionalist such as him would normally have opposed the concept of referendums. He would have opposed them in the past because it was felt—this point has been made many times in the House of Commons—that they were a fundamentally unparliamentary device that has often been used by Governments who are dictatorships to impose extreme changes on society.

I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, however, because in recent years referendums have been seen as a fundamentally conservative force. Generally, the people vote against change. I understand his arguments and I understand why the Government are wary of accepting any amendment promoting a referendum, because they have looked at what has happened in the past, particularly in the north-east, where people voted against change. The Government are determined to drive change forward and fear that if there is a proposal for a referendum, people will usually vote no. This is a very interesting argument.