West Midlands Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024

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Wednesday 13th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 7 February be approved.

Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 15th Report, 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, if approved by both Houses, this order will transfer police and crime commissioner—PCC—functions from the West Midlands PCC to the Mayor of the West Midlands. The first mayor to exercise PCC functions in the West Midlands would do so following the next mayoral election, which is scheduled for Thursday 2 May 2024. This maintains the direct democratic accountability for policing and crime in the West Midlands, as the mayor will be elected by the people of the West Midlands on the basis that they are to exercise the functions of the PCC for that area.

The incumbent PCC for the West Midlands will continue to exercise the functions until the end of his elected term of office. The person elected as mayor, from the point of taking office on Tuesday 7 May following the mayoral election, will act as the single, directly elected individual responsible for holding the chief constable and police force to account. The mayor will be accountable to the people of the West Midlands for this responsibility. Their functions would include issuing a police and crime plan; setting the police budget, including the PCC council tax precept requirements; appointing and, if necessary, suspending or dismissing the chief constable; addressing complaints about policing services; providing and commissioning services for victims and vulnerable people; and working in partnership to ensure that the local criminal justice system is efficient and effective.

Part 1 of the Government’s review into the role of PCCs cemented government’s view that bringing public safety functions together under the leadership of a combined authority mayor has the potential to offer wider levers and a more joined-up approach to preventing crime. The Government’s levelling up White Paper, published on 2 February 2022, sets out our aspiration to have combined authority mayors take on the PCC role where feasible. By working in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level, mayors can ensure that there is a more holistic, unified approach to public safety.

As is required by Section 113 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, the Home Secretary launched a public consultation on the proposed West Midlands police and crime commissioner functions transfer on 20 December 2023, which ran for six weeks to 31 January. Over 7,000 responses were received to this consultation, and the Home Secretary considered the views gathered when deciding whether to lay this order enabling the transfer of PCC functions to the Mayor of the West Midlands.

It is the Government’s view that incorporating PCC functions into the role of the Mayor of the West Midlands, who is elected to deliver across a range of other functions, will bolster their mandate to bring greater joined-up access across the responsibilities they are accountable for and will help to facilitate a whole-system approach to crime reduction.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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While the Minister is on the consultation, could he conclude it by telling us the number of consultees and the responses that they gave, and can he give us some numerical attachment to that so that we get some idea of how the consultation went?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I can and will do so shortly.

Incorporating the PCC functions into the role of the Mayor of the West Midlands preserves the democratic accountability that underpins the PCC model and at the same time reduces the risk of competing democratic mandates within the West Midlands Combined Authority area, providing greater clarity for the electorate on who is responsible for public service functions in their area.

The exercise of PCC functions by the Mayor of the West Midlands is a significant step to realising our ambition for more combined authority mayors to take on PCC functions, as is already the case in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. It will mean that people in the West Midlands will be served by a mayor who will have a range of functions and levers comparable to those of the mayors of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and London, and they will be able to hold their mayor to account for this enhanced range of responsibilities.

The Government have also laid a similar order which, if approved by both Houses, would see PCC functions exercised by the Mayor of South Yorkshire, following the rescheduled mayoral election in May.

I turn briefly to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. The noble Lord states that the transfer of functions is taking place without the consent of the other relevant local authorities. When PCC functions are transferred to be exercised by an existing combined authority mayor, Section 107F of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 requires the consent of that mayor to enable the making of the order. The Mayor of the West Midlands provided his formal consent to the Home Secretary on 7 February. The consent of any other local leader is not required by statute. This reflects the fact that it is the mayor themselves and not the combined authority or the leaders of the constituent authorities who will exercise the PCC functions, as it is a central tenet of the PCC model that only the individual elected to exercise the PCC functions may do so, whether that individual is a PCC or a mayor.

The noble Lord also states that the functions are being transferred without the consent of the people of the West Midlands through a vote, but the incumbent Mayor of the West Midlands was elected to office by the people of the West Midlands in May 2021. Arguably, this means that the mayor has a clear democratic mandate in the region, and, as indicated, he has consented to this order. Should the House pass this order, it will then be directly in the control of the people of the West Midlands to elect the individual they wish to see exercise the functions of the PCC at the May election. The Government are doing nothing to take that ability away from the electorate with this order; we are simply transferring the exercise of policing governance functions from one directly elected role to another.

Finally, the noble Lord has highlighted the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report on this order, and specifically its finding that an initial decision was made by the Home Secretary to transfer the functions before a public consultation had been conducted. It is true that the Home Secretary communicated an initial decision to the mayor and the PCC for the West Midlands on 6 December. The Permanent Secretary’s response to the committee’s letter has addressed this concern, but for the benefit of the noble Lord and the House, I will also address it.

At the time of the Home Secretary’s decision, the requirement of Section 113 of the 2009 Act to conduct a public consultation was not known to him. It had not been the Government’s intention for the levelling-up Act to place a new statutory test and a consultation requirement on the power to transfer PCC functions to combined authority mayors. However, as soon as the Home Secretary was made aware of this requirement, he launched the six-week public consultation on the proposed transfer and agreed to retake his decision only after he had given due regard to the responses to the public consultation and he was satisfied that the statutory requirements of Section 113 had been met. The decision to make this order was taken on 6 February and supersedes the decision that was communicated on 6 December.

If noble Lords will bear with me a second, I will try to find the relevant statistics, as asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I know I have them in my winding-up notes—I will find them in a second.

It is unfortunate that the initial decision was made without knowledge of the statutory requirements, but the appropriate steps were taken to ensure that the decision to make this order was not made until the requirements had been met. I am satisfied that the Home Secretary acted well within the legislation as soon as he became aware of this initial oversight. I call on Members of your Lordships’ House to reject the amendment tabled by the noble Lord. I hope that what I have said provides some reassurance and clarity.

I thank the House for its indulgence; I have found the numbers, with thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne. The public consultation ran from 20 December 2023 to 31 January 2024. The Government’s response to the consultation was published when this order was laid before Parliament. The total number of responses received was 7,103—a good deal more than those received by other consultations relating to devolution proposals. Of those responses, 46% agreed with the proposal, 50% disagreed and 4% said that they did not know. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by
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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we on this side of the House consistently support directly elected mayors. We also support them having police and crime powers when boundaries make this appropriate. However, it is not a remarkable point to make that we also believe that, first, the Government should act within the rules set out for them and by them; secondly, that local leaders should be brought along with any proposed changes; and, thirdly, that due and democratic processes should be respected and that consultations should be entered into in good faith, with the intention of listening and reporting back to Parliament in a transparent manner.

It is right that the Government explain not only the initial oversight in terms of the statutory duty but the manner in which the consultation took place. I request that the Government outline how they plan to make this right with local leaders in the region to make it clear to everyone where they now stand, and what will happen to regain the confidence of the people of the West Midlands. Will the Minister commit to further consultation? More widely, and with more regulations to come, I ask the Minister to outline how he will ensure that this approach will not be repeated.

Proper devolution demands that the Government work with local communities and bring on widespread support to produce outcomes that are right for their areas. It also demands that government acts effectively across departments when issues cross Whitehall boundaries. How will the Government ensure that this is done in future?

Of course, we will support my noble friend. He gave a devastating speech when he introduced his amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I will do my best to address as many of the points that have been raised as possible.

It is worth recognising the support from the Government and the Opposition in the other place for the policy of enabling more directly elected mayors to exercise PCC functions, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, just noted. As I outlined in my opening remarks, the exercise of PCC functions by the Mayor of the West Midlands will be a significant step forward to realising the Government’s ambitions, as set out in the levelling up White Paper, for more combined authority mayors to take on PCC functions, as is already the case in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, and will be the case in York and North Yorkshire from this May. We have also introduced a draft order to achieve this outcome in South Yorkshire.

It is the Government’s view that bringing public safety functions under the leadership of a combined authority mayor, where it is possible to do so, has the potential to offer wider levers and a more joined-up approach to preventing crime. It places the PCC model and functions at the heart of a wider set of responsibilities for improving public services, exercised by an individual who will be directly answerable to the community that will elect them. It not only preserves the democratic accountability that underpins the PCC model but with an expanded role for the mayor comes a higher public profile, increased visibility and a greater ability to bring about local change.

The fundamental aim of the order is to incorporate the PCC model within the role of the mayor, maintaining the core principles of governance and accountability. The Government want to seize the opportunity to bring together in one elected role the responsibility for public safety and local regeneration for the people of the West Midlands.

In areas where there is a PCC and a mayor, both elected separately by the same constituency, it can confuse democratic mandates and create barriers to joined-up delivery across a range of public services for those communities. The statistics the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, cited do not take into account local circumstances and, therefore, comparisons have limited utility. None of this means that the West Midlands could not still be safer and have less crime under the new proposed system. Incorporating the PCC functions in the office of mayor creates an opportunity to clarify and enhance the mandate of that elected individual to make a greater impact across a range of public services.

As I set out in my introductory speech, the Home Office ran a public consultation on the proposal to transfer the PCC functions. The purpose of the consultation was to provide the Home Secretary with information to help his decision on whether to proceed with the legislation before us now. While the numbers for and against the transfer were taken into account by the Home Secretary, the most helpful aspect of the consultation, for the purposes of making the decision, was the information provided in the responses. The Home Secretary’s decision was informed, but not bound by, the responses to the consultation. In making his decision, the Home Secretary also had regard to information concerning the statutory tests and duties relevant to his decision. Ultimately, the Home Secretary is satisfied that the making of this order meets the statutory tests required of him. I say to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that this was not a referendum. He took note of all the information and made his decision; the information is not binding.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, specifically Section 62, has come up. That amended the consent requirements for the transfer of PCC functions to existing combined authority mayors and, instead of the previously required consent of the mayor, the constituent authorities and the combined authority, only the consent of the existing mayor is required to make an order enabling the transfer of the functions. This was decided by Parliament.

The Government have been clear that the PCC functions may transfer to a mayor only at the point of a mayoral election; this ensures that mayors are elected on the basis that they will be exercising PCC functions, maintaining the democratic principles of the PCC model. If this legislation is approved by both Houses, both the incumbent mayor and the PCC would complete their existing terms of office, and on 2 May the West Midlands electorate will select a mayor on the basis of them exercising PCC functions, providing them with a democratic mandate. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asserted that Mr Street will be the PCC, and I sincerely hope the noble Lord is right, but he will have to make his case to the electorate and they will determine “who is mates with who”, to quote—I forget who.

It may already be known to this House—I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to it—that the judicial review launched by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner on the public consultation and subsequent decision to transfer the PCC functions to the mayor was heard by the courts yesterday. Judgment will be reserved until next week, so I cannot prejudice those ongoing proceedings, but the Government strongly defended the claim made by the PCC. We are confident that the public consultation was robust and the Home Secretary’s decision to enable the transfer was lawful.

Regarding the extent to which this transfer upholds democracy, the Government have always been clear that PCC functions can transfer to a mayor only at the point of the mayoral elections, as I have just said. The way this order enables the transfer is no different; the first mayor to exercise the functions will not do so until the May 2024 elections have taken place and they have taken office—I believe on 7 May. The West Midlands electorate still has the ability to decide who they wish to see exercise these PCC functions. The Mayor of the West Midlands will be elected in May on the basis of exercising those.

A number of noble Lords raised concerns that a mayor may—I use the word “may” carefully—appoint a deputy mayor to support them in the exercise of the PCC functions. It was argued that this might be a dilution of the mandate and accountability of the role. At this point, I note that the current PCC has appointed two assistant PCCs. Mayors who exercise PCC functions can appoint a deputy mayor for policing and crime, but this is something that PCCs may also do, as I have just said. The ability to appoint a deputy does not shield mayors from scrutiny at the ballot box; the mayor will be held to account for the performance of a deputy they may appoint to support them. Also, not all PCC functions can be delegated to the deputy PCC; by statute, certain key strategic functions, such as the issuing of the police and crime plan, the appointment and suspension of a chief constable, and calculation of a budget requirement, may exercised only by the mayor themself.

All noble Lords noted the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report on this order, and the concerns raised in that report. I know the committee has written to the Policing Minister and the Permanent Secretary to express its concerns. I understand that both the Minister and Permanent Secretary have responded to those letters. The committee raised concerns about what it considered to be the “selective reporting” within the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanies this order, and I know that the Policing Minister has responded to address these concerns directly. But I would like to make it clear that the Explanatory Memorandum did not deliberately withhold information in any sort of attempt to selectively report the responses to the consultation and the views of stakeholders. As is best practice, the documents clearly outline the views raised as part of the consultation process, both in support of the transfer and those that raised concerns. The document also signposts readers to the Government’s response to the consultation, which has been published on GOV.UK. It goes into further detail on the concerns raised by respondents to the consultation and the Government’s response to those concerns.

As regards to the timing of the order, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Sahota, I would like to address those points, particularly in relation to the Gould principle of electoral management, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sahota. Where possible, government aims to ensure that any legislative changes to elections are introduced at least six months in advance of those elections, to give all those involved appropriate notice. In the case of the West Midlands, government was not able to lay the order six months in advance of the May 2024 elections. Every step has been taken to lay as early as possible, and I know officials have been closely engaged with partners in the West Midlands Combined Authority and the office of the PCC throughout the process, to keep them informed as much as possible. I hope noble Lords will support the order, so we can get one step closer to providing clarity to the local area, and enable it to deliver orderly elections in May. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, noted, as long as that is done by 21 March, all is in order.

A question has been raised about why the Home Secretary took the original decision to proceed with the transfer before the statutory requirements were met. As soon as the Home Secretary became aware of the statutory requirements of the 2023 Act, he launched a public consultation and made it clear that he would retake his decision after he had had due regard to the responses and after he had considered whether the making of the order would meet the statutory tests. The order was therefore not laid before Parliament until the Home Secretary was satisfied that the statutory requirements of the 2023 Act had been met. I hope I have dealt with the key points that have been raised. Again, I thank all those who participated. I beg to move.

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this lively and interesting debate. I am very conscious of the time. I particularly thank the Minister, who had a difficult case to put and did it with politeness and good humour. I also thank Members of the House who have been present, as well as those who have spoken. I will not reply to the comments as I think the case has been made. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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20:45

Division 2

Ayes: 137

Noes: 54

Motion, as amended, agreed.