This briefing is intended to update Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) members on the progress of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL] (henceforth ‘the Bill’), following the completion of the House of Lords third reading on Tuesday 21 July 2015.
About the Bill
Introducing the original Bill on Monday 8 June in the House of Lords, Baroness Williams of Trafford, noted that “[the] Bill … puts in place not only the legal framework for devolving powers, but the framework to ensure that the strong and accountable governance necessary for devolution is in place”.
The issue of governance – the election of so-called “metro mayors” or directly-elected mayors – is a key part of this Bill and will likely prove the most controversial aspect. The Bill sets out the scope of the role of an elected mayor including the provision that mayors will absorb the role of Police and Crime Commissioner as well as other functions.
Other issues related to governance include the ability of the elected mayor to appoint a deputy mayor; how a mayor will be elected and the role, legal framework and make-up of an overview and scrutiny committee (elected from within the combined authority membership) to oversee the work of mayors. The majority of amendments made at Report Stage have been on these topics.
The Bill is being led for the government by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Bill sponsor is Baroness Williams of Trafford, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Leading on the Bill for Labour is Lord MacKenzie of Luton and the Liberal Democrats, Lord Shipley.
About third reading
Third reading is the fifth and final stage in the passage of a Bill. The purpose of third reading is to allow for a general discussion about the Bill and a final tranche of amendments (often amendments that reflect the will of the House or matter arising at report stage) before a final vote. At the conclusion of the third reading stage, the Bill will then transfer to the House of Commons for detailed examination by MPs where it will undergo the same passage as in the House of Lords from first reading to third reading.
Timeline of a Bill
First reading – where the Bill is introduced either in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, but no debate takes place
Second reading – where the general principles of the Bill are discussed and debated.
Committee stage – where detailed, line by line examination of the Bill takes place and amendments can be introduced and voted on, usually conducted by a small group of MPs or Lords that are representative of the political make-up of either the House of Lords or the House of Commons, or by a Committee of the Whole House.
Report stage – where a debate is conducted on the floor of either the House of Commons or House of Lords with any MP or Lord allowed contributing to proceedings. Report stage allows the changes introduced at Committee Stage (amendments) to be reported to the whole House and gives all MPs or Lords the chance to introduce their own amendments to the Bill.
Third reading – a short debate and final vote on the Bill before it proceeds to either the House of Lords (if the Bill is introduced in the House of Commons) or the House of Commons (if the Bill in introduced in the House of Lords) where the process then begins again in the respective House. Amendments can be introduced and they are often amendments that reflect debates had at report stage.
This briefing does not attempt to cover every clause and amendment in the Bill, rather it is intended as a summary of the main clauses and amendments we feel will be of interest to the NHC membership.
Overview of third reading
The first amendment followed on from a debate at report stage about the local oversight of the Secretary of State’s capacity to issue an order for a directly-elected mayor to assume a function devolved to a combined authority. The amendment, in essence, ensures 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” (my emphasis) and serves to strengthen the oversight of the combined authority.
Baroness Williams of Trafford, DCLG Minister in the Lords said of the amendment that “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.” She outlined the circumstances where the need for combined authority approval would apply; firstly, where new functions are given to a new combined authority and where these are to be functions of the mayor; secondly, where new functions are given to an existing authority and where these are to be mayoral functions and thirdly, where existing functions of a combined authority are being made to be mayor functions.
This amendment will ensure that in all these circumstances consent from the combined authority and constituent councils is required.
The next stage of the Bill is first reading in the House of Commons, a process by which the Bill is ‘introduced’ to the House of Commons but no debate takes place. It is anticipated that the second reading of the Bill will take place in the autumn.
If you have any questions or feedback about this briefing, or would like to work with NHC on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill when it reaches the House of Commons in the autumn, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.