Labour local government spokesman Lord Beecham focused on plans for referendums on elected mayors in 12 big English cities – including Newcastle – and plans to put in place “shadow mayors” before the referendum results.
During the second reading of the Bill in the Lords, he said: “The Secretary of State may order a shadow mayor to be appointed in an authority due to hold a referendum in the first instance in the 12 authorities targeted to be held next May.
“This will be the executive leader of the council at the time of the order. He will have the full range of mayoral powers until either the referendum fails or an elected mayor takes office.”
Lord Beecham said in authorities that could end up with elected mayors the position would be combined with that of chief executive, which was a “wholly inappropriate conflation of the political and officer roles”.
He urged peers to “send a clear message to the Government that these particular proposals are totally unacceptable and an affront to democracy and good governance”.
Liberal Democrat Lord Shipley, vice president of the Local Government Association, said: “There are simply too many powers in the Bill assigned to the Secretary of State and to Whitehall to regulate and to micro-manage.
“The Government should not have powers to impose shadow mayors on local communities. The creation of an elected mayor should rest entirely in the hands of local people.” Local Government Minister Baroness Hanham promised a “historic shift in power” from Whitehall to town halls, professionals and local communities.
But she told peers the Government was willing to talk and listen, recognising concerns over shadow mayors.
“We will come back to that and also the combination of mayor and chief executive – and I will wait with bated breath for that,” she said.
The Bill received an unopposed second reading, as is customary in the Lords, and is due to begin its line-by-line committee stage on June 20.