HC Deb 25 June 2002 vol 387 cc810-1W
Mr. Vaz

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his policy on elected mayors. [64227]

Mr. Raynsford

Our policy on directly-elected mayors is set out in the 2001 Local Government White Paper—Strong Local Leadership, Quality Public Services. Where local people think that a directly-elected mayor is right for their area, we think they should have the opportunity to vote for one. Councils have conducted extensive consultations with local people, who can also require a mayoral referendum by organising a petition signed by 5 per cent. of local electors or more.

The Secretary of State has the power in certain circumstances to direct a council to hold a referendum, including where it appears that the council has failed to have due regard to the outcome of local consultations. I told the House on 7 March 2002, Official Report, column 553W, that the Secretary of State did not intend to make any such directions until after we had completed a review of the regulations governing mayoral referendums, following the report "Reinvigorating Democracy? Mayoral Referendums in 2001" which the Electoral Commission published on 1 February 2002.

Since that time we have been putting in place proposals for a comprehensive performance management regime for councils, including independent assessment of their corporate performance. We are giving greater freedoms and flexibilities to all councils, with greater freedoms for high performing authorities.

Within this framework, we believe it will be right for each council to make and justify to local people its own judgments on the outcome of any consultation about proposals for a new constitution. Accordingly, in cases where, in our view, having regard to the outcome of the consultation, the judgment a council has reached does not appear to be justified, our approach will be not to intervene to direct a referendum.

We had informed Birmingham, Bradford and Thurrock councils that the Secretary of State was minded to require them to hold a referendum, on the grounds that the councils failed to have due regard to the outcome of local consultations. These councils judged that the results of their consultation on new executive arrangements did not warrant giving local people the opportunity of a referendum. We took, and continue to take, the view that the consultation results would have justified a referendum.

However, on the basis of the approach I am announcing today, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister does not propose to use his powers in these cases. We believe it is right that we make this clear to the councils today in order to remove uncertainty for them.

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