Law change needed to include two-term limit to Newham mayor in referendum, meeting hears

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: R Fiaz

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: R Fiaz - Credit: Rokhsana Fiaz

A change in the law is required if a public vote on how Newham is governed is to include an option on limiting the number of terms a mayor can serve.

Professor Nick Pearce. Picture: Nic Delves-Broughton

Professor Nick Pearce. Picture: Nic Delves-Broughton - Credit: Archant

That’s the message members of the town hall’s watchdog overview and scrutiny committee heard at a meeting on Tuesday, September 15.

Councillors met a panel of experts to discuss recommendations from an independent Democracy and Civic Participation Commission set up in 2019 in part to consider how the borough is governed.

One recommendation was the application of a two-term limit to the role of executive mayor.

In her 2018 election manifesto, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz pledged to hold a public vote on the existing directly elected mayor model before the end of 2021.

However, Professor Nick Pearce – who chaired the commission – told members that adding the option of a two-term limit to a referendum ballot would require a change in statute or legislation.

Professor Pearce explained: “At the moment, you have to have the existing system on a referendum. The model we propose does not yet exist in statute [law].

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“If you want term limits backed by statute, Parliament would have to give you a statutory instrument for that to go on the ballot.”

He added there may be time to get a statutory instrument through Parliament, but if not the ballot would have to include the existing mayoral model versus another alternative, such as the leader and cabinet model.

A statutory instrument allows a law to be changed or brought into force without MPs having to pass a new Act of Parliament.

The commission’s report states the two-term limit could be introduced without a referendum and backing by law, but that would not be consistent with Mayor Fiaz’s manifesto pledge.

READ MORE: Mayoral term limits and an urban parish council among Newham democracy commission recommendationsMayor Fiaz revealed in the meeting that the issue of how Newham is governed became a “fault line” issue which had become a “distraction” and had led to a “polarising” debate in the local Labour Party.

“It’s important for me to put forward a manifesto commitment to address this fault line issue,” she said.

She pledged a referendum would take place with an alternative governance model put forward to the people of Newham.