John Stevenson: I will say a few words about new clause 30. The Bill includes plenty of references to elected mayors and their powers. Indeed, much of our debate has centred on elected mayors. I have long supported the idea of elected mayors and very much welcome their introduction into legislation. However, the Bill deals with larger areas such as combined authorities, large cities and the larger counties. It does not address the possibility of elected mayors in smaller councils and communities.
I acknowledge that the Government want this change to come from the bottom up, with local authorities coming together to put forward ideas and proposals, hence all the deals that we have heard about up and down the country in recent days—I am sure that there are many more to come. I understand that process, although I do not wholly agree with it at all times. I sometimes think that there needs to be greater direction from the centre. Nevertheless, the Government are moving in the right direction.
New clause 30, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and I tabled, is a small change that would allow smaller council areas and communities, which are unaffected by this legislation in many respects, to consider having an elected mayor in a simpler way and give their populaces the opportunity to vote on the prospect of an elected mayor. For example, there is an elected Mayor of London, but of the 32 boroughs underneath that, only about two have elected mayors.
I would like other boroughs to have an easier opportunity at least to consider the prospect of an elected mayor, and to extend that provision to other parts of the country. It is my view, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), that the hurdles that prevent such an opportunity from being made as easy as possible for local communities are currently too high. Requiring 5% of the local electorate to sign a petition to bring about a referendum is a high figure. One or two places up and down the country have achieved 5%—indeed, Copeland District Council in Cumbria managed to achieve that figure, and people subsequently voted in a referendum for an elected mayor.
New clause 30 is a small change that would enable local people—with the support of a reasonable but realistic number of members of the public—to bring about a referendum, and I suggest that the Government change the requirement in the Bill to 1%. That does not necessarily mean that there will be an elected mayor; it means that that community will get the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether they would like one. I accept that some places will reject that opportunity, but if more such opportunities exist we will start to see more elected mayors in different parts of the country and it will become an established form of local government. I firmly believe that that is far more transparent and accountable, and it will provide real leadership in different parts of the country.
I look forward to the Minister’s response, and would be delighted if he accepts the new clause so that it can be incorporated into the Bill and mean that referendums can be held across the country over the next few years on a regular basis. I appreciate that he will probably want to consider the matter, and I will not be pressing the new clause to a vote. I ask him to consider the issue seriously, however, and to see whether he can reduce the 5% to a percentage that is more realistic and will enable local communities across the country to petition for a referendum and decide whether they wish to have an elected mayor.