|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Lembit Öpik: Make it 80 years, then. Let us say that, after that time, there is a sharp divide between an Administration of one colour in the Assembly and one of another colour in Westminster, who would nevertheless have to negotiate about the matters that I mentioned. Subsection (2) of the new clause would be a green light to a significant division whereby the process of consultation could be used to hold up recommendations and decisions made by the Welsh Assembly. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, but I am worried that his new clause could increase the likelihood of mischief where two Administrations from two parties seek to obstruct the progress of the other.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) for trusting the Government on this. I hope to persuade him to withdraw his new clause, for reasons that I argued in Committee when we debated his amendment No. 1. I shall bear it in mind that everybody wants to conclude our proceedings as early as possibleespecially Conservative Members.
The new clause would require the Assembly to consult the Secretary of State for Transport if any passenger transport service that it secures using the powers in section 7 ran through England. I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Leominster regarding the cross-border implications of the Bill, which we have debated at length. As I said in Committee, the transport network in Wales is part of the wider UK network, and such issues cannot be ignored when considering the need for additional passenger services in Wales. The power in clause 7 will allow the Assembly to secure public transport services to meet transport requirements within Wales that would not otherwise be met. As such, the Assembly envisages that the power will be used sparingly to fill significant gaps in service provision. If such services were to run through Englandwhich, if anything, is likely to benefit passengers from England because we are considering additional servicesit is inconceivable that the Assembly would fail to consult the Secretary of State for Transport as a matter of course.
17 Oct 2005 : Column 645
Let me reiterate the point. The hon. Member for Leominster said that he wanted to trust the Government on the matter. I have put it on the record that it is inconceivable that the Assembly would fail to consult the Secretary of State for Transport for what would be additional services for English passengers.
Bill Wiggin: The Minister is doing a grand job of dealing with my concerns. He has talked about additional services. In view of the obvious breakdown of relations between the Secretary of State and the First Minister, may I ask who would adjudicate if, for example, the Secretary of State for Transport was asked for a lot of money during consultation on a new service that was to cross the border into England? Who would determine such matters?
Nick Ainger: The hon. Gentleman has now raised a different matter. The Bill is clear that, in the case of any additional service that passed through England as a result of a policy that the Welsh Assembly developed, the Assembly would fund the part of the service that was in Wales. However, the fact that the route continued into England and possibly returned to Walesa possibility on the borderwould not place a requirement on the Department for Transport or a local authority to fund that part of the service. Clearly, such a service depends on the support of the Assembly. Clause 7 deals with that. We are considering services that do not currently exist and that local authorities are not willing to support, for whatever reason, but for which there may be a strategic need, identified by the Assembly. The Assembly would therefore fund them. It would not expect any other authority in Wales or in England or the Department for Transport to contribute to that service. I hope that that has reassured the hon. Gentleman and I therefore ask him to withdraw the new clause.
Bill Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for dealing with the new clause and for taking my intervention. I am satisfied that the Bill covers the problem, especially since he was sensible and kind enough to emphasise the additional services, about which I was concerned.
The Bill, which received its Second Reading on 16 June and was considered in Standing Committee on 28 June, will enable the Assembly to take forward its integrated transport strategy by providing it with a comprehensive and coherent set of transport powers. It is an example of the sort of measure that could, in principle, be taken forward by the Assembly if the legislative proposals laid out in the "Better Governance for Wales" White Paper were already in force.
The Bill's objectives have been widely welcomed by all who have been involved in its scrutiny. It was first published in draft on 27 May 2004. Local authorities,
17 Oct 2005 : Column 646
regional transport consortiums, Assembly-sponsored public bodies, transport authorities, police and fire authorities, representative bodies and interest groups, utilities and transport operators were among those consulted on the draft Bill.
The Assembly received 48 responses following the publication of the draft Bill, including comments from a wide range of public and professional groups including the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the Welsh Local Government Association. Of the 135 recommendations and comments received on the text, 60 were comments of general support, while six recommended amendments to clauses relating to rail that were subsequently removed. In total, 14 recommendations made as part of the public consultation were accepted, and subsequent changes were made to the draft Bill.
The Bill has also been scrutinised jointly by the Welsh Affairs Committee of this House and the Assembly's Economic Development and Transport Committee. Those meetings, which were the first time that a House of Commons Committee had formally met a Committee of a devolved Administration, demonstrated an innovative and progressive approach to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill was further debated in the Welsh Grand Committee in July 2004 and received widespread support. Indeed, the Bill has consistently received cross-party support, which was reflected in its smooth passage on Second Reading and in Committee. The thorough, detailed debate in Committee covered a wide range of issues and generated a high level of consensus.
I am grateful for the co-operation of the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) and other hon. Members on the overall aims of the Bill. However, that did not prevent detailed and vigorous discussion and a thorough examination of all its provisions. The Government did not table any amendments, and 18 of the 20 Opposition amendments discussed in Committee were withdrawn following an in-depth debate. Two Opposition amendments were lost on a vote.
In Committee, the hon. Member for Leominster asked me to reflect on a number of questions before Third Reading. The first was whether a local authority in England that objected to the draft transport strategy during the consultation process would be able to make appropriate representations to the Assembly. I would like to reiterate the point that I made in Committee that if such a situation arose, an English authority could make representations to the Secretary of State for Transport, who in turn could make representations to the Welsh Assembly and the Assembly's Economic Development and Transport Minister. However, one of the main purposes underlying the Bill is that local authorities in England whose areas abut Wales should be involved in the development of the Wales transport strategy, and that the strategy should work for people on both sides of the border.
The hon. Gentleman's second question was whether local authorities should have regard to their current commitments when drafting their local transport plans. As I mentioned in Committee, I cannot envisage a situation arising in which local authorities would develop policies to be included in such plans that did not take account of their existing commitments. However, those commitments should not be the main factor in
17 Oct 2005 : Column 647
developing local transport plans, which should evolve over time to take account of external factors and the changing needs of Welsh communities and businesses. Local authorities should not be restricted by current commitments, which will, in turn, also develop and evolve in line with the strategy.
The third question that the hon. Gentleman asked me to consider was whether a direction given by the Assembly to two or more local authorities to enter into joint working arrangements could result in increased costs for those authorities. The Assembly works in partnership with local authorities when developing its policies, and it will therefore consider how additional costs arising from any extra responsibilities imposed on local authorities will be met. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under the partnership agreement, the Assembly would recompense local authorities for any additional functions they may take on, and that it is therefore unnecessary to include any provisions in the Bill in relation to that.
I was also asked to consider the wording of clause 5(5), which provides that local authority members must form the majority of any joint transport authority in relation to defining the quorum of a joint transport authority in the Bill. I have given careful thought to this suggestion. The Bill already states that at least half the members of a joint transport authority will be members of local authorities. It is not for us to specify here what the quorum would be, as any order of the National Assembly for Wales setting up a joint transport authority will specify that as well as detailing the composition, financing and functions of the authority.
While we are discussing joint transport authorities, it may be helpful if I make clear that it will not be possible to create a joint transport authority whose area extends outside Wales. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that. I hope that I have been able to deal with his concerns, and that he is content with the explanations that I have given.
The public transport users committee for Wales was discussed in some detail in Committee. I repeat that it will be independent of the Assembly, and will have autonomy to make a real difference for users of all modes of public transport in Wales. The London Transport users committee continues to be an effective representative of the views of public transport passengers in Greater London, and I see no reason why the Welsh committee should not function in the same way.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who chaired the Welsh Affairs Committee, to parliamentary colleagues, and to the Assembly for the scrutiny that it conducted when the Bill was published in draft. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) for her chairmanship of the Standing Committee. She supervised the proceedings in a thoroughly professional and very expeditious way.
The Bill will enable the Assembly to start delivering its vision for an integrated transport system for the whole of Wales, particularly as it will place a duty on the Assembly to develop and implement policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient and economic transport facilities and services. I commend it to the House.
17 Oct 2005 : Column 648
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|