West Midlands Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords am 7:45 pm ar 13 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Sharpe of Epsom:

Moved by Lord Sharpe of Epsom

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.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

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.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Llafur

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?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

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.