21 July 2015 : Column 997

House of Lords

Tuesday, 21 July 2015.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Royal Assent

2.37 pm

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2015,

European Union (Finance) Act 2015.

Payday Loan Advertisements


2.37 pm

Asked by Lord Lennie

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect children from payday loan advertisements in the light of the review conducted by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Shields) (Con): My Lords, the Government are determined to ensure that children are protected from inappropriate advertising by payday lenders. We support the recent review and revised guidance from the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice warning advertisers against trivialising or distorting the serious nature of payday loan products. This advice strengthens protection for both children and adults, and we look forward to BCAP’s forthcoming public consultation on scheduling.

Lord Lennie (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may ask her two things. First, can she enlighten the House about the members of BCAP who conducted the review into the effectiveness of rules protecting children? Secondly, does she agree with the committee’s rather perverse conclusion regarding one particular advertisement, which featured children in the lead-up to Christmas sitting under a Christmas tree unwrapping presents, that it did not have an “undue appeal to children”?

Baroness Shields: Addressing the noble Lord’s second question first, the BCAP review actually said that it appealed to children but also to vulnerable adults, and the new rules are aimed at addressing that matter on behalf of both groups. The ASA Council governs BCAP and it must seek advice from the Advertising Advisory Committee on the consumer perspective in all broadcast issues. Two-thirds of the members of the ASA Council come from outside the media industry, while BCAP is made up of media representatives, although it is subject to the oversight of the ASA, so we believe that it is an impartial body.

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Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, research by the Children’s Society shows that many children think that payday loans adverts are tempting and exciting, and 61% of parents think that payday loan adverts make children believe that they are a normal, everyday way of managing money. This, in a way, is a subtle form of grooming. Seeing bailiffs removing property when parents cannot repay loans is traumatic for children. What are the Government doing to make sure that everyone understands the damaging effects that payday loan advertisements have on children and their families?

Baroness Shields: The Government are concerned about consumer detriment from the payday loan market. The introduction of mandatory risk warnings and signposting to debt advice is part of this new regulation. Since April 2014, when the FCA took over responsibility for regulating consumer finance from the Office of Fair Trading, there has been a 35% drop in the number of payday loans, and Citizens Advice has today announced a 53% drop in reported problems with payday loan companies.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, research by MoneySavingExpert found that one-third of parents with children under the age of 10 have heard their children repeating slogans from payday loan adverts. We have already heard from the noble Baroness about research from the Children’s Society entitled Playday not Payday. It also found that 34% of adults believe that these adverts are specifically focused at children, and 27% said that they believed that they were pressurising children to ask their parents to take out loans, so the evidence from parents is fairly clear. In the light of the Government’s welcome emphasis on personal responsibility and financial prudence, does the Minister think that it is more important that we listen to people who are associated with the advertising industry or to the voices of the parents, who are pretty clear what these adverts are actually doing?

Baroness Shields: The ASA has taken action in the past two years on 25 advertising campaigns created by the payday loans industry and banned them from broadcast. We as a Government take this very seriously; hence we support the recommendations in the BCAP review which take note of it. We believe that the advertisements that the Children’s Society flagged in the study that it released would be banned under the new rules.

Lord Harrison (Lab): Will the Minister answer the question posed by my noble friend Lord Lennie about the make-up of the BCAP committee?

Baroness Shields: As I said, the BCAP committee is an industry body, but it reports to the ASA, which has oversight of it. I do not have the names of the individuals responsible for this particular review and I will have to write to the noble Lord with them, but they are industry executives with the oversight of the ASA, which is an independent body led by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury. Its members are impartial and are recruited openly.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): I congratulate the noble Baroness on her first appearance at Question Time, following her star appearance—not seen by many in your Lordships’ House, but still very good—last Friday.

Your Lordships’ House will be aware that, led by the Bishops’ Benches—and by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less—we spent a lot of time in the previous Parliament considering what payday lending represented in society today. The general view around the House and a very strong recommendation to those responsible for the Bill at the time was that we should treat payday lending as seriously as we treat alcohol and gambling. It is interesting that, under the BCAP regulations, alcohol and gambling are not allowed to be advertised before the watershed. Why is that not the case for payday lending?

Baroness Shields: I am delighted to say that that is the subject of the forthcoming BCAP consultation. It will be specifically about scheduling and when it is appropriate for those adverts to appear.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that it is a great pity that we live in a society where payday loans are necessary at all and where children are living in poverty when their parents are actually working? Will not the removal of tax credits from working parents make the situation a great deal more difficult, making them turn again to payday loans and leading them into a spiral of debt?

Baroness Shields: I appreciate the concern expressed by the noble Baroness. As your Lordships know, payday loans have been a subject of much scrutiny. As I mentioned, the regulations are such that you cannot charge more than 100% interest, which sounds like a lot, but these are meant to be short-term financial instruments; if you pay them back in 30 days there is no charge or a very small charge. The guidance and advice are about ensuring that advertisers do not mislead people, but we need to educate consumers about the fact that these are not long-term financial instruments and that they should be treated as such.

House of Lords: Membership


2.45 pm

Asked by The Earl of Sandwich

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of Peers eligible to sit in the House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, our manifesto recognised the importance of addressing the size of the House. While we cannot continue to grow indefinitely, the measure most relevant in my view is the average rate of attendance. My first concern as Leader is making sure that Members attend and contribute when their expertise is needed and relevant, so that, as a House, we fulfil our purpose of giving the public confidence in what Parliament decides.

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The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, I thank the Leader for those remarks. She knows that there is strong feeling on this issue in and outside the House. If a cross-party group such as the one convened by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, were to come up with workable proposals, and maybe a consensus on the balance of the parties and a gradual reduction in the number of Peers in this House, would the Government give it their fullest consideration?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Because we have made it clear in our manifesto that we do not intend to pursue comprehensive reform of the House of Lords, this provides a period of stability when, alongside the priority that I have outlined which is to assist Peers in their decisions about when to attend and when to contribute, if there are other proposals that noble Lords want to put forward that are workable and where a consensus can be reached, clearly I am very interested to hear them.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, produced a perfectly acceptable solution. Will the Leader of the House consider that proposal? In the interim, why do we not avoid public ridicule, bite the bullet and ask the Prime Minister to freeze the size of the House by adopting a new formula: one retirement or one death equals one new appointment?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord refers to my noble friend Lord Jopling’s proposal, which was among those debated when we debated the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, earlier this year. Many different proposals are out there. As I have said, what is important is that any of them needs to be both workable and attract a consensus. The Prime Minister, as all Prime Ministers do, has at his disposal the facility to create Peers. We ourselves need to reflect on our role here and on what measures we can take to ensure that we continue to be effective. It clearly sounds as though that is what all noble Lords want to do.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords—

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords—

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, do you want me to take control of this and answer the questions? It sounds like the House is calling for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, first and then I am sure we will want to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am most grateful. Since the Liberal Democrats have 59 more Peers than they should have under their policy of appointing Peers in proportion with the votes cast in the previous general election, would a solution not be for, let us say, 40 of them to stand down? Instead, is there any truth in the rumour that another 11 Liberal Democrats are about to join us and would that be helpful?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord is persistent in pursuing his point about what action noble Lords from the Liberal Democrat Benches might take in light of the recent election result, but I am certainly not going to respond on their behalf to his request. What is really important is that we are all mindful of the result of the last election in the way we do our work in this House.

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, does the Leader recall that the coalition Government of which she was a very distinguished member introduced a Bill to sort out this little problem back in July 2012? It had a majority in the other House of 338 at Second Reading and the support of a majority in each of the three main parties. Indeed, it would have progressed to the statute book had it not been for some silly party games of the Labour leadership with Conservative Back-Benchers. This problem would have been resolved by now.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: But the Bill did not succeed in making its way out of the House of Commons. The manifesto that we stood on at the last election said that we would not seek to introduce comprehensive reform at this time, and it was on that manifesto that we won the general election.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords—

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

Lord Cormack: The Question came from the Cross Benches.

I am sure we appreciate the thoughtful way in which my noble friend has sought to answer these questions. I have the honour of chairing the group to which the noble Earl referred. We hope to produce a report that the House can consider later in the year. Will the Leader give an assurance that that will be taken seriously into account by the Government if it makes constructive proposals?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I say to my noble friend and the House as a whole what I have already said: we should take advantage of this period of stability. If proposals come forward that are workable and attract consensus, I am all ears and will listen very carefully to what noble Lords put forward.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): The Leader will be aware of the speculation about the size of the list of new Peers. Unfair it may be, but the size of your Lordships’ House is often used to attack its effectiveness. If we continue to grow at the same rate in this Parliament as we did in the previous Parliament, by the time of the next election we could have more than 1,000 Peers.

The Leader has rejected a constitutional convention so may I seek common ground with her on two points? How do we promote the role of your Lordships’ House as an essential revising and scrutinising Chamber, and what is the impact of the ever-increasing numbers on our effectiveness? Will she agree to some honest, thoughtful

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consideration over the Summer Recess and come back in September with some thoughts on how to progress, and perhaps even look at having a Leader’s Group to look into this issue?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I do continue to consider these matters. However, while there was an increase in the number of Peers during the last Parliament, there was also a reduction. People have retired. When I was last in front of your Lordships answering questions on the topic, I said that 27 Peers had opted for retirement. Now we are up to 30 and I believe that, with those who are already committed to retirement, that will increase to 32. I will reflect very hard over the summer on a range of different things and will continue to listen very carefully to what proposals might come forward.

EU Budget: UK Contribution


2.54 pm

Asked by Lord Vinson

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the United Kingdom’s net contribution to the European Union budget of £43 billion between 2010 and 2014, according to their December 2014 statement European Union Finances 2014 (Cm 8974), whether they plan to include a reduction in the United Kingdom’s net contribution in their renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, the Prime Minister has been clear on the areas where we seek reform, including welfare, competitiveness and protecting Britain’s interests outside the euro. The EU budget mechanism, which determines the UK’s net contribution to the EU from 2014 to 2020, was agreed in 2013 when the Prime Minister scored a historic real-terms cut to expenditure and protected the rebate. This House ratified that deal on 8 July.

Lord Vinson (Con): I thank the Minister for his erudite reply. Does he agree that every penny we remit to the EU to meet its ever-growing demands has to be borrowed overseas due to our huge trading imbalances? So should we not seize the opportunity of renegotiation to repatriate those sums that are used by the EU largely for capital investments, cut our borrowings and spend that money on our own decaying infrastructure?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, it is kind of my noble friend to say that my Answer was erudite. Of course, what he spotted is that the first response is usually written by erudite officials, not the Minister. On the substantive point, of course it is the case that the UK is an overall net contributor to the EU budget, but it should be noted that the EU does not contribute to specific EU budget programmes such as infrastructure. Indeed, to put it into perspective, the net contribution over the next seven-year MFF will average 0.47% of national income. In addition, as my noble friend will be aware, the UK derives considerable economic benefits from being in the single market and from the deals that the EU collectively negotiates with countries outside the Union.

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Baroness Ludford (LD): My Lords, does the Minister agree that a very good job was done in cutting the current seven-year EU budget over the last one, and that those who did the good job included Liberal Democrat MEPs, of whom I was one? The UK contribution in 2019-20 will be 7% lower in real terms than last year. A good job was also done in reorienting the budget towards research, investment and innovation for growth and competitiveness. It is not an ever-growing EU budget; it is a diminishing EU budget.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: The noble Baroness is right to say that the overall EU budget was cut in real terms as compared with the last one. I am not 100% sure what role the noble Baroness played in that, but I note that we did not agree the last two annual budgets.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, would the Minister stretch his erudition a little further and tell the House what the British rebated contribution is per capita of our population and how that compares with other member states of a similar level of prosperity to us? Could he then perhaps add to that by giving us the cumulative figure for the rebate since 1984?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: No, my Lords, but I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, we on this side of the House had assumed that the Minister was displaying his own erudition as there is no official in the Box to check on this, so he is on his own. What steps are the Government taking to keep Parliament and the British people informed on the progress of negotiations? The Labour Party of course voted for a reduction in real terms to the current 2014 to 2020 budget, but ahead of the referendum it is quite clear that we need to discuss fully both in Parliament and with the British people directly how the EU budget is constructed and how the money is spent.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, I acknowledge that the party opposite did support the new MFF, and I acknowledge the support given by the noble Lord personally to that well-attended debate on 8 July with one speaker. In terms of how we will keep Parliament informed, the Prime Minister made a Statement that was repeated in this House about his renegotiations and the outcome of the Council, and he did say that the issue would be addressed at the Council in December. I would expect the Prime Minister to make a further Statement following that EU Council, which is what he normally does. In addition, not only the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons but the Select Committee of this House will scrutinise the budget, as they always do.

Lord Tugendhat (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his modesty as well as on his erudition. Would he not agree with me that the Prime Minister has set out his negotiating path and that it is always very unwise to deviate from a path almost immediately after one has set it out in public? Would it not be far better to seek changes that will benefit the whole of the European Union and not just the United Kingdom,

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and is not the best way to do that by seeking to control the budget and looking for ways of repatriating those functions that are suitable for that purpose?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I completely agree with my noble friend. In fact, the Prime Minister has been consistent. In the election he said that we would reform the EU: we would have renegotiation, reform and a referendum. That is what he promised and that is what we will deliver.

Lord Grocott (Lab): When the Prime Minister returns from his negotiations in Europe and recommends to the British public to vote yes in the referendum, as we all know he will, how will we be able to judge whether or not he has achieved his objectives?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: He will set out what he believes is his view, and it will be left to the British people to judge whether we should stay in or leave the EU.

Syria: UK Military Involvement


3 pm

Asked by Lord Green of Deddington

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they specifically authorised the involvement of British military personnel in allied offensive action over Syria, and if so, why.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, the Secretary of State for Defence gave approval for UK personnel embedded with US and Canadian forces to strike in Syria. Embedded UK personnel operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel under that nation’s command chain, but are still subject to UK domestic and international law and to the host nation’s law. Embed posts allow personnel to gain experience of key capabilities and equipment and to make a positive contribution to our defence relationships.

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): I thank the noble Lord for his very full reply. Does it mean that the Government now accept that ISIL poses a very serious threat to British interests at home and abroad and that the regime in Damascus most certainly does not? Secondly, do the Government recognise that the collapse of the regime in Damascus would lead to a situation of total chaos from which the main beneficiary would indeed be ISIL?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I certainly agree, as do Her Majesty’s Government, that ISIL is a serious threat to us as well as many other western countries. That is why we are engaged as fully as we can be in the fight against ISIL over Iraq, and we are conducting surveillance operations with our coalition partners over Syria. As well as that, we are training moderate Syrian opposition forces and forces in Iraq, as the noble Lord will be aware. His analysis of the position relating to the

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Damascus regime is, I am sure, one that the House will note, but we are clear that we should do nothing to prolong unduly that regime which, as noble Lords will be aware, has conducted appalling atrocities on its own people.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, in September this year I will have been on the active list in the Navy for 50 years. All my experience seems to indicate that the handling of this situation of the embeds has been a total cock-up. When one makes a cock-up one should just admit it, learn and move on. My question relates to a clarification. Are we now saying that UK personnel embedded in other nations will be allowed to be engaged on the ground and in the air over Syria? How many naval pilots are in the air wing of the next carrier which is moving out to replace the carrier in the Gulf, and will be flying operations in Syria?

Earl Howe: My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord to know that I do not share his analysis of the handling of this matter. I can tell him that UK pilots embedded with the Royal Canadian Air Force and USAF have permission to strike ISIL targets in Syria should their mission require them to do so. The US unit that UK pilots are currently embedded with has conducted strikes in Syria, but it is important to emphasise that neither the US nor Canada is authorised to attack Syrian regime military forces.

Lord Glenarthur (Con): My Lords, is it not the case that secondment or exchange has been part of the services’ policy, rightly, for very many years and provides very valuable experience and expertise in both directions, and that, once seconded, our servicemen fill a vital role as part of the services that they are seconded to? Does the noble Earl further agree that, should our servicemen not be able to play a full operational part on deployment, secondment would be worthless and disruptive to the other nations, who are often our allies—probably all our allies—to whom the individuals are on exchange?

Earl Howe: I fully agree with my noble friend. In a nutshell, one could say that service personnel are either embedded or they are not. The value to our people from being embedded with the United States Navy is the key skills that they are acquiring to operate the Queen Elizabeth class carriers when those come into service later in the decade. The experience gained by flying and supporting US fixed-wing aircraft will allow the pilots to retain the suitably qualified and experienced person status needed to operate the F35B.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I am so sorry, but the House is calling for the noble Lord, Lord Reid. I suggest that, if we can be brief, we will be able to hear from the Lib Dem Benches as well.

Lord Reid of Cardowan: Thank you. I will be very brief. In order that the House can understand the strategy, which do the Government consider the greatest threat to this country and its interests—Assad or ISIL?

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Earl Howe: My Lords, currently there is no doubt that ISIL represents the greater threat.

Baroness Jolly: My Lords, in the Syria Statement yesterday, the Secretary of State’s words were carefully chosen. At the moment, our actions could be construed as the West versus Islam, so could the Minister see any likelihood of future pilots being embedded in Middle Eastern partners’ forces? Would any ministerial permission therefore need to be sought?

Earl Howe: My Lords, exchange of personnel is a regular feature of our Armed Forces, as the noble Baroness will be aware, and this has been the case for many years. I asked for figures relating to our personnel embedded with the forces of other nations, but that statistic is more difficult to come by than might be initially supposed. However, if I can enlighten the noble Baroness, and indeed the House, I would be happy to do so once the information has been gathered.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords—

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, it is the Cross Benches next.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I am grateful. I wonder if the noble Earl can kindly tell the House what in public international law is the status that Her Majesty’s Government regard President Assad as occupying, bearing in mind that some two years ago, in respect of all the belligerents that were opposed to President Assad, we accepted a status for each and every one of them—including, as it so happened, ISIL.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the Government regard the Assad regime as a pariah regime, in short. It will be very important, if we are to seek a lasting settlement in Syria, that Assad and those supporting him are not part of that future regime.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement of Recess Dates

3.08 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a short statement about recess dates into the new year. To save noble Lords from reaching for their diaries, the dates that I announce will be available, as is the custom, this afternoon in the Printed Paper Office. I stress that I make this statement with the usual caveat that each of these dates is subject to the progress of business and, on that basis, they have therefore to be considered provisional.

We will adjourn for a short autumn break at the end of business on Wednesday 11 November and return on Tuesday 17 November. We will rise for the Christmas Recess at the end of business on Tuesday 22 December

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and return on Monday 11 January. Later today, we will also be publishing a new edition of Forthcoming Business, which will also include dates for sitting Fridays in the autumn.

Proposed Changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons


3.09 pm

Moved by Lord Butler of Brockwell

That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the constitutional implications of the Government’s 14 July revised proposals to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in order to give effect to English Votes for English Laws, and that the committee should report on the proposals by 30 March 2016.

Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I shall do so briefly.

The purpose of this Motion is to enable the House to ask for a Joint Committee of both Houses on the Government’s proposals on English votes for English laws. I should first repeat that I welcome the fact that the Government are grasping the nettle of English votes for English laws. At the same time, it seems to me undeniable that their proposals are not just procedural but raise serious constitutional issues. They give a subset of Members of the House of Commons—English or English and Welsh Members—a right of veto on legislation which Parliament would otherwise pass. It seems to me right that Scottish MPs should not have the power to determine legislation affecting only England, or England and Wales, but the Government’s proposals are not the only way of achieving that. The McKay commission and the Democracy Task Force, chaired by the right honourable Kenneth Clarke MP, both suggested simpler and, in my view, less objectionable alternatives which ought to be seriously considered by Parliament.

There are many other problems with the Government’s proposals. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has raised her concern that they require the Speaker in another place to make determinations which will be politically controversial and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said, could cause the privileges of Parliament to be challenged in the courts. Others have argued that the right way to deal with matters of this constitutional importance is by legislation, not by changes to Standing Orders in the House of Commons. That is a view which I share.

When people with experience and expertise from such a different range of perspectives as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Forsyth, Lord Lisvane and Lord Reid, all express concern about the Government’s proposals, these concerns demand serious examination. It would not be sufficient to have a debate in which concerns can be expressed but not resolved before the Government

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rush the proposals through in September by a vote of the majority in another place. At present, when there is both a Conservative majority in the House of Commons and a Conservative majority in England and Wales, the problem is not urgent. Surely it is more important to get the proposals right than to rush them through.

This House has great experience and expertise to contribute on this matter. The proposal for a Joint Committee of both Houses did not originate in this House. It was made by the opposition spokesman in another place. The purpose of this Motion is to enable our House to support it and to indicate our willingness to take part. I beg to move.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I rise briefly in support of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. He helpfully raised this issue last week in a QSD that he introduced, so the noble Baroness and the Government have had an opportunity to consider it.

I should be clear: we do not see this Motion as challenging the principle of what the Government are seeking to achieve—I am sure that that is not its intention. That is not our role or, as a House, our responsibility. However, it is our role as a revising and scrutinising Chamber to consider the implications of proposed changes for how we as a Parliament operate, and whether changes being proposed have any implications not just for how we do business but whether they impact negatively on our work.

3.15 pm

As has previously been noted in your Lordships’ House, these proposals go way beyond those considered in both the McKay and the Hague reports. I know that the noble Baroness does not accept that point, and she will of course have heard the views on it expressed by Members from across the House in our earlier debate. However, these specific proposals have not been fully considered or examined. We in your Lordships’ House have the obligation and the constitutional duty to scrutinise the detail of legislative proposals. We fulfil that responsibility very well, and it is usually seen as an asset to the Government, as evidenced by how often Ministers accept amendments proposed in your Lordships’ House, or introduce their own amendments following debate here. There is always interest in votes that Governments win or lose, but the overwhelming majority of changes made to legislation in your Lordships’ House are through discussion, advocacy and agreement. That is the way that we do business, and that is why we are effective. Indeed, the Joint Committee proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, would use the very best of your Lordships’ House—its expertise, its wise heads and its consensual, cross-party style, working with the Commons to carefully examine the proposals and any possible effects.

Although it is not by legislation, these proposals would fundamentally change the way in which Parliament works. They are far reaching and, as such, deserve proper consideration by both Houses of Parliament. I find it incredible that there would not be proper analysis or consultation with your Lordships’ House about any possible issues that might affect our constitutional role. This House is not an add-on to Parliament or just

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an afterthought—it is an integral part of the legislative process. As I said to the noble Baroness in our debate last week, we will be failing in our duty as a scrutinising Chamber which seeks to assist in ensuring good government if we fail fully to investigate the implications of this proposal on the governance of our country. We have to interrogate this issue now and fully understand any and all implications. Such an investigation through a Joint Committee as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, could either reassure your Lordships’ House that there are no implications or identify any possible difficulties so that they can be addressed. If the noble Baroness’s assessment that there are no implications for your Lordships’ House is correct, that will be confirmed by a Joint Committee. Although she has asserted that as a belief—which I know is genuinely and sincerely held—she has not, so far, provided the evidence to substantiate it.

Surely it would be a gross dereliction of our duty as a House if, in a few months or a year or even later, we were presented with a constitutional difficulty that, because of the failure to properly examine the issues now, we are at a loss on how to resolve it. That would be irresponsible and a recipe for constitutional chaos. I have made clear on more than one occasion from this Dispatch Box that we are and will continue to be a responsible Opposition. I ask the noble Baroness to ensure that we also have a responsible Government and to accept the wise and moderate proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Butler.

Lord Wakeham (Con): My Lords, I have spent a great deal of my political life in government, receiving—and normally taking—the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. He knows, because I have told him, that on this occasion I am not going to agree with him.

I agree that this is a very important issue. The West Lothian question has been around for a long time, and if there were an easy answer or an answer that satisfied everybody it would have been settled years ago. The Government’s proposals should be given a try, but the Government are absolutely right in saying that their proposals should be reviewed after 12 months. These proposals do not alter the rights and responsibilities of the House of Lords in any way; they alter the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. These proposals are a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party which recently won a general election. That must be treated with respect by the House of Lords, which also ought to be cautious in seeking to interfere with the workings of the House of Commons.

I accept that there are strongly held views on these issues. My advice would be for the House to accept the offer of the Leader of the House for a full debate on the matter in September, or as soon as it can be arranged, assuming that that offer is still open should the House seek to resolve the matter this afternoon, which in my view would be a mistake. It is at the time of that debate that we should decide whether the House of Lords should offer to take part in a Joint Committee of both Houses, but I have to say that I am doubtful. As I understand it, the House of Commons is yet to make a decision to change its Standing Orders and it would be premature for us to seek to tell it what to do or to interfere in the middle of its deliberations.

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness (LD): My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on coming forward with this Motion. It is not because we on these Benches do not think there is an issue to be addressed; rather, we think that the Government have gone about it in a somewhat rushed way, with little or no consideration of the possible constitutional consequences.

I heed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who has considerable experience in these matters, that the House of Lords ought to be cautious when we are dealing with matters that relate to the internal workings of the other place. But if these internal workings, and the manner in which the Government are going about it, have important constitutional consequences, then it is a matter for this House to have regard to as well. This is perhaps a classic example of a measure that flashes the warning sign: “Beware the law of unintended consequences”.

Many of these points have been rehearsed, but we know it will be very difficult to determine whether a clause or a schedule, to quote the draft Standing Orders, would be,

“within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to make any corresponding provision for Scotland in an Act of that Parliament”—

that being the test for whether or not it was a matter that the Speaker could certify. It is not an easy matter to determine, as I indicated last week. When I was Advocate-General for Scotland, much of my office was looking at these matters and trying to determine where the boundaries of competence were. Indeed, I had the privilege of appearing before the Supreme Court, presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, on a matter relating to the sale of tobacco products to children. Ultimately it was the Supreme Court that determined whether the matter was within or outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said in our deliberations last week, these issues could bring the Speaker into some legal and political controversy. What if, for example, the Speaker certifies a measure as satisfying the test but subsequently the Scottish Parliament seeks to bring forward exactly the same legislation and the Supreme Court determines that in fact it was not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament? No doubt the Speaker’s certificate would be final but you would have a very difficult situation where the Supreme Court decided something that the Speaker or the Speaker’s Counsel had got wrong. As has also been said, we are treading on ground that could raise issues about Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. Even if it is not justiciable, it will not necessarily stop someone trying to make it justiciable, and all sorts of issues could arise there.

I also note that the draft Standing Orders say:

“Where either the whole House or the English, or English and Welsh, MPs do not agree to a motion relating to the Lords amendments, the amendments are not agreed and a message to this effect is sent to the House of Lords”.

We would be dealing with a situation where an amendment has been passed by your Lordships’ House—indeed, it could have been passed by the House of Commons—which, in the past, anyone would have thought had been

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passed by both Houses and should then go to Her Majesty for Royal Assent, but we are being told that in fact that would not necessarily lead to a measure being put forward for Royal Assent. That is an important constitutional issue. It may not affect the Standing Orders of your Lordships’ House but it has implications for your Lordships’ House.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, may wish to intervene and articulate this more, but he made an important point last week about the provisions that were added in relation to finance—that it could well be the case that the substantial part of the Government’s supply from income tax would be deemed to be a matter only for English MPs or English and Welsh MPs to determine. So you could have a situation where English and Welsh MPs could veto the supply of the majority party in the House of Commons. I am not saying that it could not be done—under these provisions it would be done—but it has important constitutional consequences. Therefore, I do not believe it is sensible to proceed piecemeal by way of Standing Orders of the other place, and that is why the proposal that has come from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is one that I hope this House will pass and which I hope the other place will take seriously.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Butler. The solution that the Government have come up with in the other place is, to put it mildly, far from perfect. But we have one problem in this House this afternoon: we cannot establish a Joint Committee. We can express a view and say that we think that there should be a Joint Committee—personally, I would welcome that—but we can also try to ensure that the matter is referred to our Constitution Committee. I believe that there are repercussions for this House and that we have to take the issue extremely seriously.

Altering the constitution in this way, almost by sleight of hand, does no service to any of us who care about the stature of Parliament, the relationship between the two Houses and the responsibility of this House in particular. My noble friend Lady Stowell has already indicated that there will be a full day’s debate in September, which is good and welcome. But I hope that when she comes to reply from the Front Bench she will be able to go further and say that she, as Leader of the House, will personally ask the Constitution Committee of this House, which has an enviable reputation for working thoroughly and fairly expeditiously, to try to report in time for that debate—but, if not, very shortly afterwards. We are entering a legislative quagmire here and it is far more important that we get it right—here, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler—than that we achieve it quickly.

We have had too much government by gimmick and deadline over the last year. I have quoted this before in the House: something must be done by St Andrew’s Day and something else by St David’s Day. We are playing with the constitution of the United Kingdom, in which I hope that most of us truly believe, and if we are to safeguard the United Kingdom in this new era of extra devolution, we have to safeguard the position of the United Kingdom Parliament—a Parliament in which all Members are equal.

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It may well be, as I believe, that there is a very good case for reducing the number of Members from Scotland when current legislation is on the statute book, and in time for the next general election. There is precedent for that both in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the extremely convoluted arrangement that is currently proposed is likely to create far more problems than it solves. Of course I welcome the idea of a review after one year, but I would rather that we did not go there. I urge my noble friend to give serious consideration to making a personal request to the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House to look at this matter very quickly.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): My Lords, I support the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, not because I want to impede the addressing of this issue by the Government, because we should not. As the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, pointed out, the issue was in the Conservative Party manifesto—but these proposals were not, to the best of my knowledge. What I fear greatly is that the nature of these proposals, far from resolving the issue, will create so much confusion and potential conflict not only within this Parliament but between it and the devolved Parliaments—that of Scotland in particular but the others as well—that we will end up with a solution that is far from desirable from anyone’s point of view.

In deference to the House, I will not go through any of the details, because we want brief speeches. But I would just say, for anyone who does not understand them, that the definitions included in the Standing Orders are deceptively simple. These issues are not at all simple, not the territorial issues or even the second test of the content—not to mention the third test, which is not mentioned at all in the Standing Orders but which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned, is the purpose. If we do not have this done correctly, this is a recipe not for resolving the issue but for having continuous recourse to the courts, to conflict and to confusion of a profound nature in our constitution.

3.30 pm

We cannot of course impose this Joint Committee on Members of the House of Commons—these are their Standing Orders—but we can try to persuade them, with a great deal of sincerity, that the mechanism we are proposing will not impede their addressing of this question but will assist them in addressing the intentions of the Government in a way that does not end up with terrible unintended consequences that will further erode the potential for unity inside the United Kingdom. That is my great fear with these proposals.

I hope that the Leader of the House, when she discusses these matters with her colleagues in the other place, will assure them that the speeches that have been made today do not attempt to deny the right of the Government to address this issue, as it was in the manifesto, but to plead with them to do it by using not only the political expertise at the other end of this Parliament but the deep reservoir of expertise, professionalism, advice, maturity and experience available in this Chamber, through the idea proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, of a Joint Committee. I sincerely hope that that is the spirit in which this debate will be conveyed to the Government by the Leader of the House.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, I do not wish to repeat the arguments that were put in the debate last Thursday which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, or indeed in the debate on Friday when we discussed the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. However, the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is a very sensible one. It is of course a matter for the House of Commons whether it wants to have a Joint Committee but it is also a matter for the Government to provide a lead on what is becoming a highly complex series of interconnected issues.

If, for example, we are to keep the Barnett formula and have English votes for English laws, as it is dubbed, that will have an impact when we come to discuss the Scotland Bill which is before the House of Commons. I wonder what the problem is here that EVEL is trying to solve. I have had a look at the Bills promised in the Queen’s Speech, and only one of them could conceivably be affected by EVEL. That is a buses Bill which gives local mayors—in Manchester, Birmingham or wherever else—the power to run the buses. If I amend that Bill when it comes to this House to include provosts in Scotland, despite it having already been certified as an English Bill, it will go back to the House of Commons as a United Kingdom Bill. There will be no opportunity for the House of Commons to consider the amended Bill in Committee; instead it will be subject to a double vote: one of English MPs and one of the House as a whole.

On Thursday, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, my noble friend the Leader of the House said:

“English MPs cannot overrule the whole House and the whole House cannot overrule English MPs; neither side can force something through without the consent of the other”.—[Official Report, 16/7/15; col. 764.]

That is not the case here. What is happening is that English MPs are being given a veto, which is not what my noble friend described. This is the concern that is being created.

I was talking to a colleague from the other end of the building the other day who said, “We have to have EVEL—look what they have done to us on foxes”. EVEL would make no difference whatever to any vote on foxes, whereas, as my noble friend and others have suggested, reducing the number of Scottish MPs would have an impact on such a vote.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, referred to one thing which really exercises me: at the very last moment, on the revised version, it was made clear that EVEL would apply to finance Bills. Income tax must be about 20% of a Government’s revenue, and that change would mean that a Labour Government, who would perhaps have a majority in the country, would have to have a majority in England in order to get their supply through.

When I was a little boy at school, I was told that the House of Commons was there because it enabled Government to get supply and the consent of the people, and that if a Government could not get supply then it folded. We already have five-year Parliaments and bigger majorities than simple majorities. Now we are adding to that. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, is absolutely

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right that all these issues must be looked at together so that we have a long-term, stable basis on which to go forward.

On the question of stability, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, also pointed out that the commitment made by William Hague in the last Parliament was that this would be put on a statutory and therefore permanent basis. Amending Standing Orders means that the moment you lose a majority in the House of Commons somebody else can go along and add their version of it. It is not a permanent solution to the problem with which our manifesto was concerned: that we must do something about the fact that we have devolved power to Scotland and English MPs are not able to vote on those issues while Scottish MPs are able to vote on the others.

I hesitate to disagree with my noble friend Lord Wakeham, particularly as it is his 30th wedding anniversary today and he was my former Whip. I have always shown great deference to Whips. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, as Cabinet Secretary was, as I said on Friday, the next thing to God as far as I was concerned when a Minister. Yet Gladstone wrestled with this issue: the whole debate was about “in” and “out”. In the end, they tried all this with Irish votes for Irish laws, British votes for British laws and the rest—and they gave it up. They concluded that the right thing to do was to keep a United Kingdom Parliament and reduce the number of MPs commensurate with the amount being devolved. We have done this for years—we did it with Ulster. When there was more power here, when we had direct rule, they had more Members in the House of Commons Chamber. That works. It has even worked with Scotland. Even Alex Salmond in the last Parliament accepted that there would have to be a reduction in the number of Scottish MPs if there were to be more powers. That is what this very building will discuss over the next period.

The other thing I was taught as a little boy was that constitutional changes to the golf club or anywhere else should be done by consensus. You should not do something that gets one group against you as they will then do that to you when they get the chance. That is why a Joint Committee would be a good opportunity to get consensus. To be fair to the Labour Party, I nearly fell off my chair the other day when listening to the spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland—their sole MP in Scotland; like us, the party is now outnumbered in Scotland. He said that Labour accepted in principle the question of English votes for English laws. If we agree the principle, then a Joint Committee might be able to get something permanent which will not damage Parliament or help the nationalists—who are making hay. A recent poll in Scotland found that a majority of people had no idea what the Smith commission was about or what the new powers being given to Scotland were but at the same time a big majority felt that those powers did not go far enough. This is what happens if you proceed in a piecemeal manner and move forward on the basis of pressure rather than a coherent, constructive approach.

I am attracted to this idea because the Government have set their face against a constitutional convention. That is unfortunate but when I listened to the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and all

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the things he would have put into his constitutional convention—it was all to be decided within a year—I began to see the Government’s point of view. If you are to have a constitutional convention, the terms of reference should be narrow and the timescale set. The Government set their face against that. A Joint Committee is an alternative that would enable them to keep control.

In the debate on Thursday, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pretty well said that if the Government do not set up the constitutional convention others will and they will have the resources. We made a big mistake in Scotland not in opposing devolution—we said it would lead to this mess—but in refusing to participate in the constitutional convention. We were not there to make the arguments about the asymmetry that led to this difficulty. We should not repeat that mistake.

When I was a youngster, I used to work in my father’s garage. He once asked me to strip down an engine and put it back together again. I did that but I was left with one bolt at the end, so I had to do it all over again. The Government are in danger of being left with more than one bolt. We need an engine that will take our country forward. I strongly support the noble Lord’s Motion.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, it would be perverse of me not to say that I have every sympathy with English votes for English laws. After all, I want Welsh votes for Welsh laws, and on that basis quite clearly the same should apply for England. However, with regard to the provisions being put forward by the Government, there are questions relating to Wales that have just not been answered. The most fundamental question has to do with the financial implications of the Barnett formula. We had Acts in the last Parliament that were supposed to be England-only, such as the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We are told that 99% of health is totally devolved, yet that Act had a negative effect of £11 million on my local health authority. Because of the way the Barnett formula works, issues arise with regard to cross-border communications between Wales and England.

Quite frankly, these proposals do not start to answer the fundamental questions. If we accept that there will not be independence for Scotland or Wales, certainly within this Parliament, what stable, ongoing constitutional settlement will be able to meet the reasonable aspirations of people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but also deliver the English votes for English laws proposal that the Government have in their manifesto? One needs to get the answer right in the long term, not just apply bits of sticking plaster. I am quite prepared to look at any proposals that the Government put forward to move in the right direction on this, but I beg that the Government, and indeed all parties, try to find that long-term stable solution, rather than short-term expediency.

Lord Lisvane (CB): I support the Motion in the name of my noble friend. Comity—a relationship of mutual respect between the two Houses—is extremely important, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has pointed out with his customary wisdom. It is therefore equally important that this Motion is seen not as an attempt to interfere with the Standing Orders of the

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House of Commons but as a means of examining a constitutional problem, to which what has been proposed is only one possible solution. It is a very complex solution—a complexity to which I have fallen victim—for which I must apologise to your Lordships.

When I spoke during the QSD last week, I said that, were this House to change an English-only certified provision into a UK-wide provision, it would go back to the Commons, escape certification and be subject to a different procedure, which might produce a different outcome. However, I hope your Lordships will forgive my error on just a minor point of detail. I had reckoned without proposed Standing Order No. 83O(4), which says that if this House turns an England-only or England and Wales-only provision into a UK-wide one, the Speaker must still certify it as being an England-only or England and Wales-only provision. To take an extreme example, if your Lordships inserted acres of Scottish provisions into a certified England-only clause, that amendment would be subject to the England-only procedure when it reached the Commons and a majority of English MPs would be required in order to approve it. That seems a little counterintuitive and it may come as a surprise to some. However, it does seem to me an example of the sort of thing that a Joint Committee could tease out in its implications.

Finally, if the Standing Orders route is chosen, it is possible that the courts may become involved, because although Article 9 should be a protection, if the Speaker is to be invited for the first time to rule on an objective matter of law, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, pointed out, that is a hazard. If the legislative route is chosen, it would be possible to put in an ouster clause to say that the Speaker’s actions were not justiciable in any court, but that might not be a foolproof device. On the Anisminic precedent, which noble and learned Lords know much more about than I do, a court might still have a locus. Either outcome would still be of concern to this House just as much as to the House of Commons—so that aspect of jointery becomes very important. But careful analysis and firm conclusions by a Joint Committee might well discourage a court from going down a highly experimental route.

I understand the Government’s wish to press ahead with speed. However, I suspect that they may find a Joint Committee with the early out-date suggested by my noble friend useful insurance and, perhaps, in the outcome, not altogether inconvenient.

3.45 pm

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment. I have three issues to which I want to refer briefly.

First, as others said last week and have said today, the idea that these proposals affect the other place alone has been blown to smithereens. It is clearly extremely relevant to the powers and responsibilities of your Lordships’ House that these proposals are examined very carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has referred to the proposed changes to Standing Orders and, in particular, Standing Order 83O. I do not know quite why the zero is there—oh, it is an “O”, and obviously very important. For brevity’s sake, I am not

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going to read them, as there is a whole page of them, but they are headed, “Consideration of certified motions or amendments relating to Lords Amendments or other messages”.

What is here is clearly an opportunity for a subset of the House of Commons to veto what the House of Lords has said, which goes to the very heart of this issue. It is taking a part of the Westminster Parliament and saying that it has a veto over the whole of that Parliament. The relationship between our two Houses is clearly of supreme importance, as others have said, and this alters the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament. It is as important as that. Even more topically, if one devolved subset of our system of governance is given that opportunity, what are Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont going to say? They will want it too—and why should they not? It alters the whole delicate balance of power and responsibility within the United Kingdom.

The case for a Joint Committee is absolutely clear. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the other place can take absolutely no notice whatever of our Constitution Committee—it does not have a comparable Constitution Committee, as he well knows. Perhaps it should have one. By the time that our Constitution Committee has come up with some recommendations, the danger is that the changes to the Standing Orders in the other place will already have been passed.

That brings me to my second point. This is a classic case of the dangers of piecemeal and ad hoc attempts to deal with apparent anomalies in our constitution. Removing one anomaly produces another. Any Member who still thinks, after listening today, that this can be resolved in isolation would do well to read the Hansard report of our brief debate last Thursday and the debate in the other place last Wednesday. I particularly draw the attention of noble Lords to the comments of the former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, who said:

“Ultimately, every decision that is taken by an Assembly or Parliament in the United Kingdom has a knock-on effect elsewhere, outside the area of its jurisdiction”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/15; col. 1002.]

Surely, such a wealth of practical experience exceeds what is available to the Leader of the Commons on his own—hence, I believe that a Joint Committee would be entirely appropriate.

There is a head of steam now to go beyond this immediate problem and think about the wider context, so I hope the Leader of the House will persuade her colleagues to look again at the case for a comprehensive constitutional convention, supported now on all sides of your Lordships’ House and widely supported in the other place, as well as being the subject of Private Member’s Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is right: just having a constitutional convention is not in itself going to solve this problem, as was clear from the convention in Scotland, which is occasionally quoted as if that were the model. We should be clear that you have to start out with a remit that is agreed, so that all those involved know where they are trying to go. That was

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not the case in Scotland, as evidenced by the fact that two parties did not want to be involved in the constitutional convention precisely because at that stage, they could not agree to the common remit.

There is clearly a major opportunity, as well as a problem, arising from these proposals. I hope that in the short term there is a Joint Committee of the two Houses—such committees have an enviable reputation for getting to the bottom of things and sorting them out in a way that individually, the two Houses have found difficult—but I believe that in the longer term, this now leads to the need for a constitutional convention.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, when I sought to intervene, a little too late, on the prompt conclusion of the proposal to the House from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, I wanted to ask him one question. He is proposing a Joint Committee. Recently, we have had an election and seen the arrival of a substantial number of Scottish National Party MPs who previously observed the principle of a self-denying ordinance, but have made it clear that they do not think this quite applies in the same way any more. I wanted to intervene in order to ask: while this Standing Joint Committee is taking place, what will cover any problems arising from legislation in the meantime? We have had some very interesting—

The Countess of Mar (CB): I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but would he please turn around and address the House?

Lord King of Bridgwater: The noble Countess is the first Member of this House ever to have criticised me for addressing her. I do apologise.

I raise that point because there are very difficult issues that need to be addressed, and the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that the Labour Party also recognises that. These issues have tested Governments over many years, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham said; we all remember Tam Dalyell and his problems with the West Lothian question.

The Government have put forward some proposals. If noble Lords study Mr Grayling’s speech and the interventions he took when the Commons debated this issue recently, they will see that the Government have recognised that these proposals are subject to further revision; however, they do ensure that something is in place for the forthcoming year. If we have a Standing Joint Committee that, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, has to report by March 2016, that report will then have to be considered. One can therefore write off the next Session of Parliament—nothing will change until the next Summer Recess. It would be sensible to see what problems emerge from the Government’s proposals.

As the Leader of the Commons has made clear, what we are proposing is likely to come forward for approval there in September, and he has asked the Chairmen of the Commons Procedure Committee, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, to start monitoring the situation now, rather than waiting until May 2016, as my noble friend suggested, to see where the problems arise.

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The advantage with Standing Order changes, as opposed to going down the statutory route at this stage, is that if issues arise they can be tackled much more quickly. I do not rule out that at the end of this very difficult process, when perhaps by trial and error we have found the right basis on which to proceed, things could then be put on a statutory basis. That would meet the point that my noble friend Lord Forsyth made about the difficulties arising from a different Government coming in and changing everything. That is one approach that could be adopted.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Can my noble friend give an example of legislation that would be altered in any way if EVEL were not in place in the next Session, or if it were in place? Of course, if this is put on a statutory basis, it is then challengeable through the courts.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My noble friend has done the same homework, in a sense, as Mr Grayling, who made this point. He said that the only Bill that anyone could find at the moment that might be affected would be the one giving mayors powers over buses. I think that it would be something short of a constitutional crisis if someone suggested that one more provost should have a bus pass. Therefore, problems will arise, as I think everybody recognises.

My noble friend Lord Cormack asked why the Constitution Committee of this House should not do something about this so that this House is seen to act now. I made some inquiries about that and the answer I got was that it has been the long-established practice of the Constitution Committee of this House not to interfere with the procedural arrangements of the House of Commons—it has regarded that as being outside its remit.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler, has avoided part of the problem by talking about a Joint Committee. However, we have to be careful how we exercise the undoubted power that we have in this House. There is an obvious sensitivity around this issue which, as we know, is felt strongly in English constituencies. The Government’s approach has been to say that we will probably carry the Standing Orders through in September. We will then take the opportunity that the Leader of the House has given us for a debate, and watch the issue very carefully. I hope that the noble Lords who have strong feelings on this matter will give evidence to the Procedure Committee and to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons when it considers the procedure.

The problem is in aligning the reluctance to interfere with the procedures of another place, which are its prerogative, with an acknowledgement of the experience of your Lordships’ House that can be brought to bear in a number of fields. I hope very much that this can be resolved. We all know that this is a difficult issue, but I hope that it can be approached sensibly and without producing conflict between this House and another place.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a very naive question. Is there anything wrong in principle in having the Joint Committee as well as allowing the Standing Orders to go forward?

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Lord King of Bridgwater: One does wonder how many committees we are going to have. There will be the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which are already signed up to undertake this exercise, and now we are coming along with a Joint Committee involving the House of Lords which will be doing the same thing. I think that we need a bit of balance in this. Unless one completely distrusts those Commons committees—and I hope one does not—I think that they should have a chance to monitor the issue and then recommend changes as we go along, if necessary, and as we learn the best way to tackle this very difficult issue.

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, we are in danger of complicating what is surely a very simple proposition from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, to deal with the problem of changes in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons having implications for the way in which we operate in this House. If we think in any respect that they might have implications, the case for a Joint Committee is in my view overwhelming. I find it very difficult to understand the argument that the decision is a completely unilateral one with no implications whatever for this House when one House of a bicameral Parliament makes changes to the way in which it considers legislation. Frankly, the case has been made conclusively—not least by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane—that there are clear implications for the way in which we operate in this House.

However, even if Members do not accept the constitutional or procedural arguments, because I am an old-fashioned politician, I want to set out the very simple political consequence that such a decision would have for this House. Very helpfully for my argument, three contributions have been made by Scots—the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and my noble friend Lord Reid—who are all former Members of the House of Commons.

4 pm

If the House of Commons goes ahead as planned, unilaterally, the following political anomaly occurs. Had those noble Lords all remained in the House of Commons, they would have had fewer rights and responsibilities in respect of legislation passing through these two Houses than they do as a result of having been translated to the second Chamber, the House of Lords. That is incontrovertible. What effect that might have had on their judgment as to their career patterns I do not know, but even if this is only an experiment for a year, if we have a year in which Scots in the House of Commons are not allowed to vote on substantial measures but Bills come here and Scots here are allowed to vote, it is only a matter of time—I am making a political point, not a heavy constitutional point—before someone says, “This is a ridiculous state of affairs. We must stop Lord Forsyth, Lord Wallace and Lord Reid from voting on substantial parts of legislation that go through this House”.

I, for one, have had my differences with all three noble Lords at different stages of their political careers, but I want them to be able to play the full part that they always have in the legislative processes of this

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House, and unless we allow a Joint Committee to be established to consider these matters, such considerations will simply go by the board. They simply will not be considered, and the law of unintended consequences will follow. So I think that the case for the Joint Committee is overwhelming.

Lord Cunningham of Felling (Lab): My Lords, briefly, I support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I have had the honour to chair two Joint Committees of Parliament. The report of the first was unanimously rejected by both Houses. However, the second report, Conventions of the UK Parliament, was unanimously adopted by both Houses of Parliament. It contained a number of matters of relevance to this issue—not least the fact that electing your Lordships’ House would inevitably lead to a constitutional confrontation between an elected House of Commons and an elected House of Lords.

However, that is not the point that I want to make in support of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. A change in the Standing Orders is a cleverly thought-up device—whether by a politician, an adviser or a lawyer advising the Government, I do not know—to enable this matter to proceed. But it does two things. First, it has as yet unknown and perhaps profound implications for the constitution and the governance of our country. Secondly, de facto it prevents this House having any say in the matter. We can debate it, of course, as we are doing now, but we cannot have any impact on it.

A joint committee of both Houses is the best and most sensible way forward, rather than rushing into decisions which change the constitutional relationships between the two Houses. As my noble friend has just pointed out: who knows where they will lead? We have just had some examples of where they could lead. My strong belief is based on my personal experience in both Houses. Many Members present served on the committees that I had the honour to chair—not least the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but many others, too. We reached our conclusions in the committee unanimously and without a vote—no divisions of any kind took place. That report, Conventions of the UK Parliament, has some lessons to teach us about what is now proposed.

Lord True (Con): My Lords, we are one Parliament but two Houses. That is symbolised in the Messages that go forth between green and red ribbon. As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, comity between the two Houses may sound arcane but it is actually an extremely important principle of the way in which we conduct ourselves.

I believe that we should confine ourselves to looking at the Motion that is before us. I may agree with some of the things that are said about the underlying policy, but the Motion before us is that we should seek to set up a Joint Committee that would presume to report on what the House of Commons should do in its Standing Orders.

It would be a move which was not invited by the House of Commons nor sought by the Joint Committee on Conventions for your Lordships to say that we in this House presume to say to the House of Commons how it should conduct its internal affairs. Questions on House of Commons matters are by convention not

21 July 2015 : Column 1022

permitted in this Chamber; we do not ask them. It is a principle that we do not seek to construe the internal matters of the House of Commons.

Standing Orders are quite important. A very important principle in parliamentary law is the provision that prevents tacking. Tacking was the abuse by the House of Commons of financial measures to add things to them that the House of Lords could not amend because of financial privilege. It is not in any statute; it started as a Motion passed by your Lordships’ House and it now sits as a Standing Order in this House that the House of Commons should not do that. The House of Commons has respected that for 300 years—it is just a Standing Order in this House. It is an example of the importance of preserving. We may have a wider interest in preserving the principle that one House does not presume to construe the internal proceedings of another. We can have all the consideration in the Constitution Committee; we can have debates; we can have discussions. But for us to vote to set up a committee which presumes to tell the House of Commons what its Standing Orders should be—

Lord Gordon of Strathblane (Lab): When the noble Lord makes that statement, I think he fails to take account of the wording of the Motion and the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, which are expressly that it is expedient that a Joint Committee be set up—not that this House sets one up, simply that it is expedient that it be set up. That is surely rather important.

Lord True: My Lords, if it is simply a question of expediency, one can make a declaratory statement in a debate. This Motion is intended to send a message to the House of Commons and there is no question about it. The committee is invited in the Motion to report specifically on the proposals for changes in the Standing Orders of another place.

We would not care for it very much if we heard from the House of Commons that they had had a debate and were sending us some suggestions as to how we should change the internal proceedings of your Lordships’ House, or if we should be told by people from the House of Commons who might vote on a particular measure.

Lord Reid of Cardowan: May I ask the noble Lord to read the Motion again? It is not to inquire into the Standing Orders; it is to inquire into the constitutional implications of the change. In that sense, in what way would it be improper for this House to consider the implications for the constitution of this country?

Lord True: My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Reid, but I have read the Motion, which proposes that the committee should,

“consider and report on the constitutional implications of the Government’s … revised proposals to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons … and that the committee should report on the proposals”,

not on the constitutional implications. It is a specific invitation to report on the Standing Orders of another place. I do not think that is wise; I do not think that we should invite the House of Commons to interfere in our affairs and our Standing Orders. We can make clear the concerns and feelings that we may have about

21 July 2015 : Column 1023

these proposals in many other ways, but I urge your Lordships not to trench into the privilege of the Commons and to hold back. Whatever we may think, if the noble Lord, Lord Butler, were to put this Motion to a Division—I hope he will not—it would be construed as a challenge not just to the policy but to the right of the House of Commons to direct its own affairs. I do not think that would be a sensible procedure for this House.

Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has done Parliament a great service by bringing forward this Motion. As he and many others have said, the Government’s proposals are of profound constitutional significance and, as such, they deserve the kind of deliberative scrutiny that this Motion envisages and which the Government are so far refusing to allow.

The arguments in favour of the Motion have been made so extensively and so well that I do not intend to repeat them except to say that I agree with all of them. But several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord True, who has just spoken, have rightly been wary about intervening in the proper concerns of the House of Commons. As a former Member of the other place, I understand that and I think they are right to be wary. But in pursuing his proposal, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is doing no more than seeking to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords so ably presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. That said that one of the key functions of your Lordships’ House is to act as a constitutional longstop. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, may recall the words of his royal commission, which stated that the key purpose of your Lordships’ House is to act as a constitutional longstop to ensure that,

“changes are not made to the Constitution without full and open debate and an awareness of the consequences”.

That seems, purely and simply, what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, seeks to do with this proposal. I hope this House will support him in pursuing it.

Baroness Boothroyd (CB): My Lords, I do not wish to trouble the House with the comments that I made last Thursday: they stand in Hansard for all to see. However, my name has been mentioned very kindly by two noble Lords here this afternoon. This Motion is very practical and constructive in proposing a joint approach with the Commons on an issue of fundamental importance to a bicameral Parliament, which is what we are. It is also of fundamental importance to our entire country, and I hope it very soon receives the blessing of this House.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): My Lords, I know that the House wishes to reach a conclusion, so I will speak briefly. The question is: what are we debating? According to my noble friend Lord True, it is merely the internal arrangements of the House of Commons. According to most noble Lords, it is a major constitutional issue. I believe without any doubt that the second interpretation is correct and my noble friend is completely wrong.

21 July 2015 : Column 1024

We do not have a written constitution in this country. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. But, given that we do not have a written constitution, it has been held throughout the ages by all constitutional historians in this country that one of the most important responsibilities of this House is to be the watchdog of the constitution. That is what we need to do today and why we need to support the resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Butler.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston): My Lords, in responding I will address two main issues. The first is whether noble Lords should have an opportunity to debate the implications of English votes for English laws; the second is whether a Joint Committee is the right way forward. My response to the first of those is a very clear yes. As I said in responding to the Question for Short Debate of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, last Thursday, following the repeating of a Statement in your Lordships’ House and once the House of Commons itself had delayed the process it was following in considering changes to its Standing Orders, it seemed proper to offer significant government time for an non-time-limited debate on this matter.

As has been demonstrated in this afternoon’s debate, there is real expertise in this House, which would make a powerful contribution to this process. Indeed, that has always been the Government’s view on this matter. To illustrate the point, on the day my right honourable friend Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House of Commons, made his Statement to the other place, he wrote to the chairmen of the Constitution Committee and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of this House, acknowledging the expertise that resides here. When William Hague was Leader of the House of Commons and in charge of this process, he put forward a range of options and carried out a consultation on them. He then gave quite a bit of time to meeting many Members of your Lordships’ House on a one-to-one basis because he, like me and others in my Government, recognised the important expertise that is available to us here.

4.15 pm

However, there comes a point when we need to stop talking and make way for some action. To address the West Lothian question, we are making one proposal. It may not be perfect—as I said last Thursday, I do not believe that there is a perfect answer to this question—but what we are bringing forward right now is the result of many discussions over the past few months, since the Prime Minister first said that this is now urgent, and has had the benefit of building on the many different forums and groups of parliamentarians who have looked at the issue over many years. It is modest and pragmatic, and we propose to introduce the change by amending the Standing Orders of the other place—although, as I said last Thursday, we have not ruled out introducing legislation in the future. By bringing forward this change via Standing Orders, next year, in 2016, the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons has said that it will review the new procedures once they have been tested against legislation going through Parliament, and so will the Government at that time.

21 July 2015 : Column 1025

It is also notable that, in addition to reviewing the proposal in a year’s time, when we have seen something in practice for the first time, the House of Commons Procedure Committee has already launched what it describes as an initial review. The committee started that review last Thursday. It has said today that it intends to cover the arrangements for certification of Bills as part of the initial review and will consider written submissions on the issues, which have been outlined and are available on the committee’s website, that are delivered to the committee before the end of August. This is not about any issues being overlooked or noble Lords being unable to feed into the process. As I say, I am proposing that we should provide for a debate in your Lordships’ House when we return in September to give noble Lords a substantial opportunity to contribute to this process.

Of course I understand the argument made by some that a Joint Committee might offer something that has so far evaded us all over the years—indeed, decades—that we have been looking at this issue, but I am not sure that I share that optimism. I think it highly unlikely that a Joint Committee would produce the consensus that has so far failed to materialise over the past 30-odd years. That is because it is not for lack of scrutiny or analysis that the West Lothian question has not been tackled so far; it is because there has not been the political will to come up with an answer. Moreover, it is because it is a difficult issue and because any proposed solution carries risk that the West Lothian question has been ducked for so long. This Government have decided that we will grapple with it and do something about it. We also made it clear in our manifesto that the time is now right to move on this and bring forward a proposal that should be implemented and properly tested.

Some noble Lords have indicated that they would favour alternative approaches to tackling this, but we have a mandate for this in our manifesto. Of course, it is open to those who advocate alternatives to amend our proposals when they are put to the House of Commons for decision. We are not wary of scrutiny but we want to see proposals tested in action, not in the abstract. That is why we are proposing a review when the first Bills subject to the new procedures reach Royal Assent.

Lord Wills: If anyone tables an amendment in the House of Commons to the Government’s proposals, would the Minister expect SNP Members of Parliament to vote on that proposed amendment?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Is the noble Lord talking about amendments to the Standing Orders or amendments to legislation?

Lord Wills: On any proposed changes to the Standing Orders, or indeed to legislation that anyone brings forward, would the Minister expect Members of the Scottish National Party to abstain voluntarily from voting on such measures, or to take part in them?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The whole House of Commons will consider amendments to its Standing Orders, and all Members of that place will contribute to that decision at that time. On the impact of what we

21 July 2015 : Column 1026

are proposing and how legislation is considered in the other place, I would rather not get into a detailed debate now because I have offered time for that kind of discussion in September.

We want to hear noble Lords’ concerns on the risks they consider are attached to our proposals. As I say, I am not suggesting that none exist.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The Minister has talked about the review that will take place after one year. She has no doubt heard a range of concerns of some constitutional importance. Does she think that a review of the proposals in relation to the buses Bill will give sufficient exposure to some of the concerns if we can draw any conclusions?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble and learned Lord touches on the exchange that took place between other noble Lords about what Bills might be affected if we were to introduce this change right now. It is fair to say that there are not that many Bills that are England-only, but there are many Bills—indeed, we are about to debate one next—that contain measures that affect only England or only England and Wales. To try to suggest that there is nothing in the Government’s programme that would not benefit from the introduction of a new regime to deliver English votes for English laws is incorrect.

As I said, we are very happy to hear about concerns that anyone may have about what is being proposed, but I put it to this House that the best way for us to do it is not through a Joint Committee of this House and another House but through the debate that I have proposed. We want Select Committees of both Houses to have an opportunity to examine our proposals. It is entirely a matter for the Constitution Committee whether it wants to look at the constitutional implications of English votes for English laws. I would not want in any way to get involved in the decisions of that committee, as it is for any committee of the other House to decide what it may want to consider.

There is an initial review by the House of Commons Procedure Committee that will feed into that first stage, when the House of Commons will consider its amendments to Standing Orders. There will be a substantial review in a year’s time. I do not think that it is right to commission yet a further piece of work from yet another Joint Committee, duplicating that work that is already under way, and which could also be used as a tool to delay what is a clear manifesto commitment from us to deliver this.

We can continue to debate and deliberate on the best way to address the West Lothian question while at the same time devolving more and more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or we can get on with testing the Government’s proposals after that initial review by the House of Commons Procedure Committee and once the House of Commons itself has decided on how it wishes to amend its Standing Orders. But I really do believe that the time has now come for us to make real progress on a matter that has gone unaddressed for so long. Therefore, I do not support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and indeed the Government will not be able to support it either.

21 July 2015 : Column 1027

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and to the other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am particularly sorry to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, on the 30th anniversary of his wedding, because on that day 30 years ago I was his best man. He showed, if I may say so, very good judgment on that day, and I am very sorry to have to disagree with him today.

If I may, I will first of all answer the question that the noble Lord, Lord King, meant to ask me but did not manage to ask in my opening speech. He asked, if there is a Joint Committee that takes till March next year to look at this issue, what will happen in the mean time. Some have said that there are not many Bills that will be affected, but I have a different answer. My answer is that, at the moment, there is both a government majority in the House of Commons and a government majority in England and Wales, so the problem does not arise—there will be no Bills between now and then for which this will cause a difficulty.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, his conviction that everyone in the Conservative Party always votes identically to the party Whip has not always been borne out.

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I do not think that the problems of the Conservative Party ought to be dealt with by this constitutional change, if I may say so.

What is clear from all the speakers in this debate, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord True, is that these proposals raise serious constitutional issues and that there are many difficult questions which have yet to be answered. The noble Baroness has said that it is a Conservative manifesto commitment to solve this problem, and that is true. Of course I respect that, and that is why I say that I welcome the fact that the Government are tackling the issue, but the means by which it is being tackled were not in the Conservative manifesto. There are different ways of doing it, and I happen to think that some are better than the proposals that the Government have put forward, which the House had no previous knowledge of before they were contained in the Statement. I believe that those issues deserve to, and can legitimately, be looked at without breaching the convention that the Government are supported in their manifesto.

The Government have shifted their position significantly since their original Statement. They have encountered very much more political controversy than they expected to, and the very fact that they have done so indicates that, either knowingly or otherwise, they underestimated the constitutional significance of their proposals. Noble Lords will recall that the Government’s original approach was that their proposals would simply be voted through by the House of Commons by changes to Standing Orders before the recess, and that there should be no debate at all in this House, on the grounds that our procedures are not affected. The Government were forced to retreat in another place to allow time for consideration. The noble Baroness has said that, after reflecting, she recognises that there are indeed constitutional issues which this House should have an opportunity for debating.

21 July 2015 : Column 1028

4.30 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, it is important to clarify what I said. When I repeated the Statement, I made the point, which I stand by now because it is still the case, that, procedurally, this House is not affected by the changes being proposed by the Government to amend Standing Orders in the other place. When I said at the time of repeating the Statement that I did not feel it was necessary to provide time for further debate, I did so because at that time the House of Commons was planning to proceed quite quickly to debate and decide the amendments to its Standing Orders. However, given that the House of Commons has decided to take a bit more time over this, I felt that there was therefore an opportunity for us to debate it. However, if it had stuck with its original timetable, my original position would have remained the same.

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, the noble Baroness appears to be saying that she does not recognise that there are constitutional implications on which this House should have a debate, but I thought that she had accepted that.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am so sorry. The Government are proposing to introduce changes now and to review the implementation of these changes in a year’s time, so of course there will be an opportunity for us to contribute to that process and consider the implications of the implementation of these changes. That is what I said at the time of repeating the Statement, and that is what I say now. My main point now is that there is no way of finding a perfect solution through continuing to debate the issue. What we have now is a good way forward that should be implemented, tested, debated and reviewed in a year’s time.

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I will not detain the House longer. As the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Reid, said, we cannot, of course, compel another place to set up a Joint Committee. However, what we can do today is to say that we believe that this is a matter for Parliament as a whole, not just for the House of Commons, and that it is best approached by Parliament as a whole through a Joint Committee of both Houses. I wish to seek the opinion of the House.

4.32 pm

Division on Motion

Contents 320; Not-Contents 139.

Motion agreed.

Division No.  1


Aberdare, L.

Addington, L.

Ahmed, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Armstrong of Ilminster, L.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Avebury, L.

Bach, L.

Bakewell, B.

21 July 2015 : Column 1029

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Barker, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Beecham, L.

Benjamin, B.

Best, L.

Bhattacharyya, L.

Bichard, L.

Billingham, B.

Blackstone, B.

Blair of Boughton, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Boothroyd, B.

Bradley, L.

Bradshaw, L.

Brinton, B.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookeborough, V.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Burnett, L.

Burns, L.

Butler of Brockwell, L. [Teller]

Butler-Sloss, B.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Cashman, L.

Chidgey, L.

Christopher, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Condon, L.

Cormack, L.

Corston, B.

Cotter, L.

Coussins, B.

Cox, B.

Craigavon, V.

Crickhowell, L.

Cromwell, L.

Cunningham of Felling, L.

Dannatt, L.

Davies of Coity, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Dear, L.

Deech, B.

Desai, L.

Dholakia, L.

Donaghy, B.

Donoughue, L.

Doocey, B.

Drake, B.

Dubs, L.

Dykes, L.

Eames, L.

Elder, L.

Emerton, B.

Erroll, E.

Falkland, V.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Fearn, L.

Fellowes, L.

Filkin, L.

Finlay of Llandaff, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Garden of Frognal, B.

German, L.

Giddens, L.

Glasgow, E.

Glasman, L.

Glenarthur, L.

Goddard of Stockport, L.

Golding, B.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Graham of Edmonton, L.

Grantchester, L.

Greaves, L.

Greenway, L.

Grender, B.

Grocott, L.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hannay of Chiswick, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harris of Richmond, B.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haskel, L.

Hastings of Scarisbrick, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hennessy of Nympsfield, L.

Higgins, L.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollins, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Hoyle, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Chesterton, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Hutton of Furness, L.

Hylton, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Janke, B.

Janvrin, L.

Jolly, B.

Jones, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Judd, L.

Judge, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

Kidron, B.

Kilclooney, L.

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Kramer, B.

Laird, L.

Lawrence of Clarendon, B.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

21 July 2015 : Column 1030

Lee of Trafford, L.

Lennie, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Levy, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Liddle, L.

Lipsey, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Listowel, E.

Lisvane, L. [Teller]

Loomba, L.

Low of Dalston, L.

Luce, L.

Ludford, B.

Lytton, E.

McAvoy, L.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Maddock, B.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Mallalieu, B.

Manzoor, B.

Mar, C.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Mendelsohn, L.

Monks, L.

Morgan, L.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Newby, L.

Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.

Northover, B.

Norton of Louth, L.

Nye, B.

O'Loan, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo of Southwark, L.

Parminter, B.

Patel, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Paul, L.

Pendry, L.

Peterborough, Bp.

Phillips of Worth Matravers, L.

Pinnock, B.

Pitkeathley, B.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Prashar, B.

Prescott, L.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Quin, B.

Quirk, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Ramsbotham, L.

Randerson, B.

Rebuck, B.

Redesdale, L.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Rennard, L.

Richard, L.

Robertson of Port Ellen, L.

Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.

Rooker, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Rowlands, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

St John of Bletso, L.

Sandwich, E.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Scott of Foscote, L.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Scriven, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sherlock, B.

Shipley, L.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Simon, V.

Singh of Wimbledon, L.

Slim, V.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Leigh, L.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Soley, L.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stern, B.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Strasburger, L.

Sutherland of Houndwood, L.

Suttie, B.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Taylor of Bolton, B.

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Teverson, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Swynnerton, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Tonge, B.

Tope, L.

Touhig, L.

Trees, L.

Trimble, L.

Truscott, L.

Tugendhat, L.

Tunnicliffe, L.

Turnberg, L.

Turnbull, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Tyler, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Walpole, L.

Walton of Detchant, L.

Warner, L.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

West of Spithead, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Whitty, L.

Wigley, L.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Baglan, L.

Williams of Crosby, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Wills, L.

Wilson of Dinton, L.

Wilson of Tillyorn, L.

Winston, L.

Wood of Anfield, L.

21 July 2015 : Column 1031

Woolf, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worthington, B.

Wrigglesworth, L.

Wright of Richmond, L.


Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Altmann, B.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Balfe, L.

Bates, L.

Bell, L.

Berridge, B.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blackwell, L.

Blencathra, L.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Brady, B.

Bridgeman, V.

Bridges of Headley, L.

Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Byford, B.

Caithness, E.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cavendish of Furness, L.

Chadlington, L.

Chester, Bp.

Chisholm of Owlpen, B.

Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Courtown, E.

Crathorne, L.

De Mauley, L.

Denham, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dundee, E.

Dunlop, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Farmer, L.

Faulks, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Fookes, B.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Gardiner of Kimble, L. [Teller]

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Geddes, L.

Glendonbrook, L.

Gold, L.

Goldie, B.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Grade of Yarmouth, L.

Green of Hurstpierpoint, L.

Harris of Peckham, L.

Helic, B.

Henley, L.

Heseltine, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Horam, L.

Howe, E.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jopling, L.

Keen of Elie, L.

King of Bridgwater, L.

Knight of Collingtree, B.

Laming, L.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Leach of Fairford, L.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Lucas, L.

McColl of Dulwich, L.

Mackay of Clashfern, L.

Marlesford, L.

Mawhinney, L.

Mobarik, B.

Montrose, D.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Neville-Rolfe, B.

Newlove, B.

Noakes, B.

Northbrook, L.

O'Cathain, B.

O'Neill of Gatley, L.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

Palmer, L.

Patten, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Popat, L.

Prior of Brampton, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Risby, L.

Rose of Monewden, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

Sassoon, L.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharples, B.

Sheikh, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shields, B.

Shrewsbury, E.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Sterling of Plaistow, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Suri, L.

Swinfen, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L. [Teller]

Trefgarne, L.

True, L.

Trumpington, B.

Ullswater, V.

Verma, B.

Vinson, L.

Wakeham, L.

Warsi, B.

Whitby, L.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Younger of Leckie, V.

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Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL]

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL]

Third Reading

4.54 pm

Clause 5: Functions

Amendment 1

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

1: Clause 5, page 5, line 15, at end insert—

“(8) An order under this section may be made only with the consent of the appropriate authorities (as defined by section 107B(6)).

(9) Where an order under this section is contained in the same instrument as an order made by virtue of section 107B(3)(b), the non-consenting constituent council is not to be treated as an appropriate authority for the purposes of subsection (8) above.”

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): My Lords, on Report, I promised to return to this issue of consent. Accordingly, this amendment will ensure that any order to provide that a function of the combined authority can be exercised only by the mayor may be made only with the consent of the combined authority and constituent councils. There are a number of situations in which an order may be made to make a function of the combined authority a function exercisable only by the mayor. Our intention is that in all circumstances the authorities involved need to give consent.

There are essentially three circumstances for this: first, where new functions are given to a new combined authority and where these are to be mayoral functions; secondly, where new functions are given to an existing authority and these are to be mayoral functions; and thirdly, where existing functions of a combined authority are being made to be mayoral functions. This amendment will ensure that in all these circumstances consent from the combined authority and constituent councils is required. I thank the noble Lords opposite for raising this issue. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, we are pleased to see this government amendment, which requires an order where functions of a mayoral combined authority are exercisable only by the mayor—subject to delegation to the deputy mayor or another member or officer of the combined authority—to obtain the consent of appropriate authorities.

So far as delegation to the deputy mayor and others is concerned, this would appear to be undertaken by arrangement with the mayor although restrictions can be put on this by the Secretary of State by order. These restrictions would preclude certain general functions being exercisable by the deputy or may specifically enable a limited list of functions. It appears to be the case that, to the extent that the Secretary of State is taking the opportunity to fetter the delegation by order, consent of the appropriate authorities would be required. However, to the extent that the mayor is allowed free rein to arrange for others to exercise his or her functions, the consent of the appropriate authorities would not appear to be required. Is that correct and is it intended?

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As I hope we demonstrated throughout the passage of the Bill, there has been substantial support and agreement on these Benches but some have expressed concerns over the position and role of a directly elected mayor. That the functions to be exercisable by the mayor will now require agreement of the relevant authorities, taken together with the prospect of some control over the budget, will provide some comfort to those concerned about the potential accumulation of power in the hands of one individual. We are happy to support the amendment.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Lord and beg to move.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 8: Other public authority functions

Amendment 2

Moved by Baroness Hollis of Heigham

2: Clause 8, page 8, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) Notwithstanding the above, nothing in this Act or the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2015 shall preclude provision for some or all of the functions to be exercised in partnership or on a pooled basis with other combined authorities.”

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 6 and 8. This is a very welcome but rather complicated Bill. As we are at Third Reading, I congratulate—genuinely—the Minister on her efforts in getting us up to speed on it and the helpful and constructive way that she has responded. I know I speak for the House when I say that I am grateful.

The Bill is complicated because it was originally designed to make possible replications, especially in the north and Midlands, of the Greater Manchester powerhouse model with its mayoralties: cities that together form a natural metro area, unitary cities sharing common histories and usually common political values and views, powering economic growth—they are indeed great cities. However, research shows that medium-sized cities, here and on the continent, contribute proportionately more to economic growth than the great cities. If the Government want to fulfil their objective of powering economic prosperity, which we all share, it is essential that we—the 30 or 50 medium-sized cities—are counted in. We form a key cities group; many of our members are stand-alone cities, whose adjacent local authorities are rural. We power, rightly, our local economies and most of us do not have contiguous urban neighbours.

5 pm

The concept of northern, geographically coherent combined authorities—CAs—is therefore not easily transposed. In the great urban conglomerations of the north, all the functions that they seek can be devolved to one geographically bounded and defined horizontal authority, sufficiently large to be capable of exercising all the functions that underpin economic growth. That is not possible for us; we are not large enough. Instead, we need different-sized bodies for different functions. This is already recognised in the economic prosperity boards and the local enterprise bodies to which we belong.

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To add to this complexity, we also have varying structures, finances and duties. Most of us are unitary; others are still trapped in a two-tier structure following the disastrous reorganisation of 1974. Some have artificially tight boundaries, so their wealth and energy creation leaks outwards. Many of us are university cities with research parks and high levels of skill, where the new industries and technologies of the future are being devised and developed now. Many—perhaps most—are located in the southern half of England, below the Severn-Wash line. We are untidy and Whitehall always wants to tidy us up. However, you need us if we are all to achieve our common goal of economic prosperity that is focused but is also diffused across the country to the south-west, the south coast and East Anglia, as well as to the Midlands and the north.

Finally, this Bill is complicated. It is good that it is a bottom-up Bill with bespoke arrangements, but it is not so good that the Bill is starting in this House well in advance of our ability to see any draft regulations. Inevitably, the Secretary of State does not know what proposals he will finally want or may find to be forthcoming, and we do not know what proposals he might find acceptable. To that extent, we are both finding our way. These amendments are probing, I hope; they are a hook for the Minister to explain as fully as she can how this Bill affects medium-sized cities such as ours and what flexibility and headspace the Bill offers us, because—with very good reason, and to our pleasure—those concerns have been added on to the original push for metro authorities with metro mayors.

I have authority to say that my concerns are shared by—and therefore that, in broad terms, I am speaking for—Plymouth and Exeter; Portsmouth and Southampton; Bournemouth and Southend; Norwich, Cambridge and Peterborough; Wakefield, Sunderland and Preston. I believe that there are many other medium-sized cities, with the short time between Report and Third Reading, that have not had time to authorise me to quote them; the others have.

As the leader of Southampton, Councillor Simon Letts, put it in an email:

“the issue for us is that we wish to establish governance for a separate economic geography (Southampton and Portsmouth) within a wider CA. This will allow us to take powers and responsibilities which can be applied to improve economic development for our urban coastal geography. That may not be necessary for the London-leaning areas around Basingstoke or the rural areas around the national parks”.

Councillor Woodley, leader of Southend-on-Sea, would like,

“the possibility to create different CAs which are not co-terminous (such as Southend and Thurrock)”.

I may know the answers to some of these questions now, thanks to the meeting yesterday with the Minister, for which I am most grateful—but for the record I shall ask some questions, as many local authorities, as my emails have shown, are still very unsure what the offer is, which is none the less going to be essential if we are going to promote, extend and diffuse economic prosperity.

Will it be possible to devolve powers directly to cities within CAs, or will the powers be available only if devolved from CAs? Will the groups of cities be able to form a combined authority within a much larger

21 July 2015 : Column 1035

geographical area that might itself be made up of one or more CAs—for example, Norwich and Cambridge, within two or three counties? Will it be possible to have a CA for economic development, skills, transport and so on, and form another and larger CA for the purposes of pooling health and social care budgets? Would it be possible for geographically separate cities to form CAs around the development of key economic sectors, such as engineering in Sunderland and Coventry, health and life sciences in Norwich and Cambridge, and marine services and marine research in Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton? What relationship is expected between LEPs and CAs? Must they be on the same geography, or can they be different? How are the governance arrangements to fit together?

To give a concrete example, would it be possible to have a combined authority of Norfolk and Suffolk, along the lines of our Anglia LEP plus, together with a combined authority of Cambridge and Peterborough, along the lines of their LEP plus, and a joint committee with powers devolved directly or indirectly through the CA, aligning greater Norwich, greater Cambridge and Peterborough around skills and back-to-work schemes? Could we combine that role? This would create opportunities for strategic planning—for example, on rail transport between Norwich and Cambridge; the opportunity to build on city deals between greater Norwich and greater Cambridge; and strong collaboration between the universities at Norwich and at Cambridge. Given the briefing that I had yesterday, I suspect that Norwich could be in only one combined authority, that of greater Norwich, and that Cambridge could be in only one, that of greater Cambridge, but that both CAs and any local authorities within them, or indeed outside them, such as Ipswich, could collaborate and form joint committees for any purpose that contributes to economic prosperity, and that each constituent member would bring its own funding to the table—and to do so would not need the Secretary of State’s approval. That is my understanding of where we are, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that I am reading it correctly.

Perhaps the Minister could address the questions and confirm my understanding. Essentially, how best do we devise appropriate structures—smaller for some functions, larger for others, and non-coterminous for yet others still —for those medium-sized cities, which they need if they are to play their essential part in growing the prosperity of this country, which we all want? I beg to move.

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for raising this issue at each stage of our consideration of this Bill. It has been very helpful in identifying the need to maximise geographical flexibility and reflect the needs of the key cities network, those towns and cities that have lower populations than major urban areas. The point has been made very well over the passage of the Bill. I hope that, in a response to these Amendments 2, 6 and 8, we will be able to find our way to structures that will understand the needs of areas with less concentrated populations. I dare say that it will be the subject of negotiations, proposal by proposal. But it does matter that the needs of the rural areas, which are contiguous to the large urban cities in particular, are considered as part of the passage of the Bill.

21 July 2015 : Column 1036

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, one of the advantages of the Bill—as I have read it and, I hope, understood it—is that it is a receptacle in central government for the proposals coming from local government. There are not really any severe restrictions on that. There was one, on which we had a Division, that may well have resulted in an even more rigid arrangement than was in place or, indeed, than the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, thought when he moved it. Anyway, I shall not go into that now.

Originally the Bill was intended to be extremely flexible on this question, with suggestions from any size of authority and any combination of authority. I entirely accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, has said, with her great experience of local government. I am sure that there is scope for a great number of different types of co-operation that will have the effect of bringing forward the sort of proposals made by the noble Lord opposite when he was Deputy Prime Minister—at that time it was the north in particular, but this is about the possibility of co-operation throughout the country—that can give life to the economic aspirations of the people of an area.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, as we have heard, my noble friend Lady Hollis has tabled two types of amendment to enhance the flexibility of the Bill. The first type of amendment, Amendments 2 and 8, seeks to enable combined authorities or individual authorities to which functions have been transferred to pool some or all of these functions with other combined authorities or local authorities. We hope that that in particular will find favour with the Minister, who might not even need these amendments to do that.

The second type, Amendment 6, would give a wide discretion to the Secretary of State to establish combined authorities or economic prosperity boards—we have not debated them much during the course of the Bill—by combining different functions in different areas. That would require the consent of appropriate authorities, and would have to demonstrate the improvement of statutory functions. This amendment in particular would enable local authorities to be part of one combined authority for some functions and part of another combined authority for others.

My noble friend has argued a strong case about the needs of medium-sized cities, particularly those in county settings. As we know now, this is not just a theoretical issue; it has been driven by her own experience in Norwich and by her wide contacts in other areas, which she spoke about today, who have identified with her analysis. As my noble friend has said, we are grateful for the opportunity yesterday to discuss these issues, and we anticipate an encouraging response in relation to Amendments 2 and 8, even if Amendment 6, about the opportunity for someone to be part of one combined authority for some functions and another combined authority for others, may be a step too far at this stage. We look forward to the Minister’s comments on that.

This is about ensuring that all areas have the opportunity to engage effectively with devolution opportunities. I conclude with a suggestion for the Minister about possibly convening a conference for

21 July 2015 : Column 1037

the type of authority that my noble friend has identified to flesh out some of the very important issues that she has raised.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for her comments and for what was quite a productive meeting yesterday together with the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Beecham. I also thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay for clarifying the whole situation in a few sentences although, for absolute completeness, I shall go through the whole thing.

Amendment 2 would enable combined authorities to work in partnership with other combined authorities, and Amendment 8 would enable local authorities to work in such partnerships. Amendment 6 would provide greater flexibility for the Secretary of State to establish a combined authority even if the required geographical conditions were not all met. Following our discussion yesterday, I hope that I can provide clarity and reassure the noble Baroness that the amendments are not necessary.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay said, there are no impediments to local authorities and combined authorities collaborating and working in partnerships, including through establishing joint committees. A joint committee could comprise a number of local authorities, some local authorities and a combined authority, or several combined authorities with or without some local authorities. The power to form joint committees is in the Local Government Act 1972. It is exercisable simply by the authorities concerned deciding to form a joint committee. A joint committee can be responsible for exercising such functions of its members as those members decide they wish to exercise in partnership with others through that joint committee.

5.15 pm

On Amendment 6, the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 provides that a combined authority can be established across an area covering two or more whole local authority areas, and that a single local authority can be only within the area of one combined authority. In this context, local authority means a district council or a county council, which include unitaries. The amendment seeks to change that to enable the Secretary of State to establish a combined authority if those conditions are not met and if the authorities consent and the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to enable different functions to be carried out in different areas. That could, for example, enable the area of a local authority to be included within the area of more than one combined authority—in other words, for there to be overlapping combined authority areas. Such overlapping areas would not be appropriate as that would make no sense in terms of our local government law and structures. A combined authority area is a local government area, as we discussed yesterday. Therefore, having overlapping combined authority areas would make no more sense than having overlapping county areas.

However, that is not to say that there is not the flexibility for a council to be involved, if it makes economic sense, with, say, two combined authorities. For example, five districts in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are non-constituent councils in the Sheffield City Region

21 July 2015 : Column 1038

combined authority. Those same councils are proposing that they, together with the relevant county councils and unitary councils, form combined authorities. Furthermore, the provisions in the Bill enable non-contiguous authorities —to which the noble Baroness referred at length—to come together and form a combined authority, parts of which area are not contiguous. Yesterday we discussed some ridiculous theoretical examples of that. This flexibility for involvement in combined authorities, when linked with the long-standing flexibilities for forming joint committees, provides, I believe, for an extremely wide range of options for joint working and for councils to collaborate together both on delivering public services and on promoting economic growth, including in the context of devolution-type deals.

We also agree with the noble Baroness that it can be effective and efficient for local areas to work together across different geographies on different issues. For example, a functional economic area over which local bodies should collaborate and work jointly to promote economic growth may not be an appropriate area over which to provide health and social services.

The noble Baroness also mentioned, as did the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, discussions with areas, some of them quite small. I can confirm that there are ongoing discussions with such areas. In fact, last week I met representatives from South West Councils, which includes Plymouth and Exeter, to discuss such matters.

I turn to some specific questions. The noble Baroness talked about the relationship between the combined authority and the local enterprise partnership. It is a partnership between business and local authorities and there should be a very logical relationship between the LEP and the combined authority. She also talked about powers devolved to local authorities. Clause 16 gives powers to devolve powers to county and district councils. That is irrespective of whether the council to which the powers are being devolved is a constituent or a non-constituent council of a combined authority.

I hope that I have explained the flexibility for areas to work jointly with different partners in different geographies according to different needs. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this has been a short but helpful debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. There is recognition that we need the flexibility that the Minister is offering us to make best sense of the geographical diversity and local government diversity that we have in this country and to build on the our strengths. That is important. The noble Lord is also right to remind us about rural areas. Most of the cities that I have mentioned as seeking additional powers and, alongside them, clarification about the use of them from the Minister, are indeed the powerhouses of their local rural economies. That is rightly so; that is a perfectly appropriate relationship between the one and the other. The noble Lord is right to remind us of that and I take his point.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said—in a slightly downbeat way, if I may say so—that the Bill is a receptacle for proposals coming from local government and that the emphasis was on bespoke arrangements.

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Of course he is right. My worry is that, at the moment, the receptacle is too much of a lucky dip. I am trying to get greater clarity so that we do not send authorities chasing wild horses and coming forward with proposals that will not be acceptable in the light of the Government’s intentions under the Bill.

We would like as much clarity and development as possible from the Minister as we proceed. That loops us back to a point that my noble friend Lord McKenzie made much earlier in our debates about the need for annual reports to show what has been acceptable, what has been agreed and what is the way forward, so that we can learn from each other in a healthy and pluralistic way. I am sure that the Minister has taken that on board.

My noble friend has handled the Bill with his usual skill and support. I welcome his suggestion for a conference of medium-sized local authority leaders so that around a table, together with appropriate support for the Ministers through civil servants and the rest, they can tease out in detail what may or may not be a runner before they devote quite a large chunk of what are fairly modest home resources to putting forward their bid. It is sometimes hard for large unitaries to understand just how limited are the resources of some district authorities. If we were a large unitary authority, we might have resources of about £200 million; as it is, we have resources of about £20 million a year. It is then hard to appoint staff and devote resources to work where we are essentially duplicating what other authorities have already achieved and established, so we want that to be a continuing dialogue.

Finally, the Minister has indeed clarified the position to be as I understood it: you cannot have overlapping combined authorities. The emphasis will clearly be on joint arrangements between combined authorities established by area. My only concern is whether joint committees will be robust enough in their differential contributions for finance and human resources—staff—to develop their shared goals in a way that can take the test of time. I have been involved over the decades in joint committees between various levels of local authorities. They depend too often on the energy of one or two people. Unless they leave structures behind, although the need continues, the ability to meet it recedes.

We will see whether the joint structures or joint committees which the Minister envisages, as opposed to a joint authority, will be strong enough bodies to power through major transport connectivity and economic development issues and perhaps issues around the integration of health and social care. We will see. In which case, I do not doubt that, if the Minister is then in her current post, she will respond to that as sympathetically as so far she has responded to our amendments. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

3: Clause 8, page 9, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) An order under this section may not provide for a regulatory function that is exercisable by a public authority in

21 July 2015 : Column 1040

relation to the whole of England to be exercisable by a combined authority in relation to its area if the regulated function is itself exercisable by the combined authority by virtue of an order under this section.”

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I shall speak also to government Amendment 4, which will prevent regulatory functions exercisable by a public authority across the whole of England being conferred on a combined authority or local authority which itself can exercise the functions regulated by the public authority; and to Amendments 9 and 10, which make exactly the same exclusion to functions being conferred on a local authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke to an amendment tabled on Report to amend the provisions in the Bill to exclude the possibility of transferring regulatory and supervisory functions to a combined authority. He outlined some of the regulatory bodies to which he could see such exclusion applying; for example, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in Cumbria, the Environment Agency or NHS regulators. As I said on Report, I can see a case for excluding from the scope of what is now Clause 8 the functions of any national regulatory body overseeing the exercise of public functions.

Amendments 3 and 4 do just that. As I have said, Amendments 9 and 10 to Clause 16 do likewise in relation to the conferral of functions on county or district councils. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): I welcome the amendments in this group, which, as the Minister said, follows our earlier debate and concerns expressed that services could be transferred to a combined authority plus the regulatory functions which oversaw those services. So I am grateful to the Minister for bringing forward these amendments.

I wanted to clarify with the Minister just one point. We talked about the NHS but we then went wider, and this is a very wide amendment. I want to ensure that the provision would not have a negative impact where there are currently shared responsibilities for regulation. I am thinking of health and safety in particular, where both the Health and Safety Executive and a local authority share responsibilities. I would not want the amendment to get in the way of the flexibility that exists in those arrangements.

I would extend that to the practice of designation of one local authority as a primary authority. Let us take the example of a company such as Tesco, with stores in many parts of the country. One local authority can take a lead responsibility to deal with Tesco under health and safety legislation to avoid duplication and to ensure that there is a pretty standard approach. I take it that the amendment would not get in the way of sensible arrangements like that, where it is clear that the local authority has some regulatory functions. If the Minister is not able to respond now, I would quite understand if she wished to write to me on it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the amendment has no effect on local authorities’ existing regulatory functions. I hope that clarifies things for the noble Lord.

Amendment 3 agreed.

21 July 2015 : Column 1041

Amendment 4

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

4: Clause 8, page 9, line 20, at end insert—

““regulated function” means the function of carrying out an activity to which a regulatory function relates;

“regulatory function” has the meaning given by section 32 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006.”

Amendment 4 agreed.

Clause 9: Overview and scrutiny committees

Amendment 5

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

5: Clause 9, page 10, line 11, after “committees” insert “and audit committees”

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I shall speak also to government Amendments 12 and 13. I said on Report that I would have discussions with noble Lords about audit committees for combined authorities and, if appropriate, return at Third Reading. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has had early sight of these amendments, which fulfil that commitment and require that a combined authority has an audit committee. I am grateful to noble Lords opposite for having brought this issue to light.

The audit committee will have an important role in providing independent and high-level assurance on the adequacy of internal controls and the integrity of financial management. While audit committees are not required by law in other local authorities, they are widely adopted and, given the particular structure of a combined authority, we can agree that it is appropriate for audit committees to be mandated in these cases.

The amendments also require a committee to have at least one independent person. The definition of “independent person” is to be specified by order. Effective audit committees are characterised by a membership that is objective and knowledgeable. The inclusion of at least one independent member will help ensure objectivity and the authority may also appoint independent members who will bring additional skills or expertise to the committee. I beg to move.

5.30 pm

Lord Shipley: My Lords, this may prove the last time that I speak on the Bill in your Lordships’ House so I thank the Minister for her work on it, although we have not always agreed. I hope all the amendments that we have passed in your Lordships’ House will be approved in the other place. I am looking forward to the affirmative procedure being followed many times as proposals come forward because the Bill has set a direction and is defining a vision for devolution within England. It will empower local areas and for that it is hugely welcome.

I am particularly glad, too, that we have this final amendment on audit committees. It is the consequence of much discussion, both in debates in your Lordships’ Chamber and in meetings with the Minister. I am grateful that we will have audit committees because they are important for the reasons set out in new subsections (2)(a), (b) and (c) in Amendment 13. It is of crucial importance that there is a committee that is

21 July 2015 : Column 1042

seen by the outside world to be assessing the outcomes of delivering total place spending; that is, public sector reform will be driven so that the different departments of state in Whitehall are joined up at a local level and, as a consequence of being joined up, thereby drive efficiencies and more effective services. I am fully supportive of the ambition and detail of the Bill.

I am particularly pleased about the words in new subsection (4) of Amendment 13 that ensure that,

“at least one member of an audit committee is an independent person”.

That is crucially important for external bodies’ understanding that the audit committee is indeed an independent body. In terms of assessing risk, for example, it is very important that that confidence is available. The appointment of those independent persons—I hope that there would be three on an audit committee—is very important and very welcome.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I refer to my local government interests, one of which is being a member of Newcastle City Council’s audit committee. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for accepting the thrust of my amendment that there should be such an independent committee. I join the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in expressing thanks to the Minister, who is, like me and, I think, seven other Members present in your Lordships’ House today, a member of the distinguished union of ex-council leaders—in my case, very ex.

The Minister has been very helpful and patient as we have gone through the Bill, but I should like to make a couple of points. First, while I welcome the inclusion of a reference to an independent person as a member of the audit committee, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my original amendment referred to having the chair as an independent member. Perhaps that is something that the Government could look at when the Bill goes to the House of Commons. It would seem right for that provision to be made. We will obviously not press that point today, but perhaps the Minister will take it back to colleagues.

The other point is a question that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, touched on when he mentioned the need to effectively scrutinise the performance of government departments and other public agencies. I think I understand the position but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm it for the record. The powers of the scrutiny committee to call before it any public body would apply, as it does in local government at present, to the overview and scrutiny committee constituted by a combined authority because there would be government agencies—we have referred several times to Highways England in that context but there may be others and I am thinking of health and social care, the role of NHS England and so on—which at the level of the combined authority may need that degree of scrutiny. I take it that that is the case, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that for the record. I repeat my grateful thanks for all her help, and I am happy to support these amendments.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Lord for those points. Many of the arrangements for combined authorities are simply multiplications of the

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powers specified for local authorities, so I can confirm that the powers of calling for a combined authority would therefore replicate those in local authorities.