|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The new clauses also make it clear that each council that falls within an ITA area should be able to appoint at least one of its elected councillors as a member of the
ITA, or that if there is a two-tier local government structure, the area must be represented at either county or district level.
Mr. Betts: May I return to the previous issue? I realise that it is a tricky point, and I understand that the Minister listened to what was said about concerns over voting rights for non-elected members of an ITA. The problem is that although the members of an ITA will be able to decide whether non-elected members can vote on particular issues, if a party with a majority sees an election coming that it might lose, it could seek to build in its majority by giving rights to non-elected people. That is the real concern.
If the Minister were able to give some assurance that in making secondary legislation he will guarantee that the decision is to be revisited after every local election, that would probably do quite a lot to remove hon. Members concerns.
Secondly, a minimum of one representative from each of the local authorities that are party to the integrated transport authority will be involved, and the political balance regulations laid out clearly in other legislation will have to be followed. Obviously, if there were a change after an election such as my hon. Friend mentioned, for example, the make-up of the ITA could be revisited.
Paul Clark: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. Nothing in life is easy, and all I can say to him is that he should ensure that, through people coming out to vote correctly, his area does not end up with a hung ITA. It would be equally wrong for us to try to prescribe at central Government level how local authorities should handle the delivery of transport in their area. It is right that local authorities should make decisions on such matters and set up the governance arrangements that they want to have. The ITA can always decide to take away voting rights by overturning a resolution that it passed earlier giving voting rights in the first place, and that is why we are allowing local people to make that local decision.
Mark Hunter: A goodly number of hon. Members appear to share a concern that the Government are creating an unnecessary problem. Nobody is making the case that other people should not be involved in these organisations, and nobody is saying that their expertise as transport users and so on might not be useful. We are simply saying that they should have advisory status only. Given the arguments about democratic accountability that the Minister was advancing just a few moments ago, I simply do not understand why he has set a hare running on this issue. With the best will in the world, it is clear from some of the answers given that he does not have a clear response to the various points being made by his Labour colleagues.
Paul Clark: I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a clear response: it is a matter for local peoplelocal, democratically elected councillorson the ITA to decide whether non-elected people are incorporated into that body, whether they have any powers to vote and, if so, on what issues. We are providing for the local members on that ITA to have that power.
Only those members appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils...will be permitted to vote in the ITA.
Mr. Leech: Could the Minister tell the House how many local authorities or passenger transport authorities have made representations to the Government asking them to put other, non-elected members on their new ITA? Which local authorities have made such representations?
Paul Clark: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is asking, but I do not want to end up in a situation such as the one that arose from the Transport Act 1968. For the past 25 years, following the abolition of the metropolitan county councils, we have not been able to amend things to allow the flexibility that would reflect the changes in transport demands in our cities and in our towns and meet the requirements of our constituents and the local businesses that operate in those towns and cities. Therefore, prescribing what the decision-making processes of locally elected representatives should and should not be would be the wrong step to take.
Stephen Hammond: The Minister is clear in his determination to ensure that local authorities can decide which non-elected members serve on those bodies and whether those people can vote. Can he explain where else in local government such a structure is in existence?
Paul Clark: If I recall correctly, such provisions exist within other local government legislation in respect of health improvement forums and so on. We should not necessarily seek to implement decision-making processes in transport in the same way, because this is a complex area. We must respond to local needs, and that is exactly what we are endeavouring to ensure. There are precedents for other joint bodies having non-elected members, such as national park authorities and police authoritiesI knew that I would think of them.
Mr. Clelland: I am sorry to labour this point. I applaud the Minister for what he is saying about giving maximum flexibility to local elected membersthat is music to my earsbut introducing non-elected members is a slightly different proposition. For instance, we would not, in law, allow local authorities to recruit people who were not elected and then allow them to vote and make decisions. The same principle should apply in this instance, so he should re-examine this matter.
Paul Clark: I take on board my hon. Friends comments. It is in the hands of local people to make these decisions. If they decide not to involve outside bodies, such as representatives from service users groups, so be itthat is a matter for them to decide. If they decide to have transport users on their board and they went them to be able to vote, that is also up to the ITA. As I have said, the elected members of the ITA will always be in the majority.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Would not the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) cover this point? It would not prevent advisers from being appointed; it would prevent the ITAs from being loaded committees, because it would be elected members who were in a position to vote. Surely accepting the amendment would be a simple way of making progress.
Paul Clark: I find it difficult to accept that we should not include representatives of other organisations if the locally elected representatives deem it desirable to do so. They should have an opportunity to make that decision, and that is why I would not go down the route that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Rob Marris: I wish to tease this matter out by simplifying it for the Minister. In the west midlands, there are seven metropolitan authorities. Let us suppose that there are seven members of the passenger transport authorities, although that is not quite the case. The west midlands is a swing area, which is, unfortunately, controlled predominantly by the Conservatives at the moment. Let us also suppose that a few years ago, Labour, predominating among those seven councils, had appointed sixa minority on the PTAof these non-elected members for a four-year term. Elections take place in the west midlands authorities three out of every four years, so in practical terms there is an election every year. During the four-year term of the six appointed members, the predominant control could change so that there were two Labour and five Conservative authorities. As Labour had packed the PTA with six non-elected members on a four-year term, howeverour party would not do that, but we are talking about a hypothetical situationdespite the fact that the preponderance within the metropolitan authority would have changed, there would be a majority on the ITA of Labour representatives; there would be six placemen and two from the two remaining local authorities. Hon. Members from metropolitan districts are concerned that such a situation could occur, and on that basis, I urge the Minister to re-examine the mathematics of how this arrangement could play out in metropolitan authorities. I am not suggesting that any party would play fast and loose, but we need democratic safeguards.
Paul Clark: I accept that there are concerns, but they may differ according to the area. There may be one set of concerns in my hon. Friends area, and another in the constituency of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) about any ITA that may be set up there. Those concerns have to be taken into account when people are deciding how their ITA should operate. The danger of prescribing exactly what should happen in every ITA is that it could take us back to 1968, and the inability to change for 25 years.
Paul Clark: As I said earlier, locally elected members will always be in the majority on the authority, and that has to represent the political balance under the existing legislation covering those public bodies.
Ms Angela C. Smith: Although I would prefer elected members only to take part in votes, I understand the Governments desire for flexibility. Would it help if we had a commitment to establishing boundaries for the reasons to give voting rights to non-voting members of ITAs? In other words, we could clearly state the grounds on which an ITA could grant such rights. The nervousness of Labour Members relates to the possibility of political parties playing fast and loose with this provision. In south Yorkshire, we have three main partiesLabour, Liberal Democrat and independents. Increasingly, they are coming into balance on PTAs, so the opportunities to abuse the system are great.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As someone who wants democracy to work, I too would like to be helpful. Given that the Minister is insistent that non-elected members should be able to have voting rights, can he accommodate the concerns of many Members by providing that the voting rights of non-elected members should be renewed after every council election?
Paul Clark: As I have said before, that will be an option for the ITA, as the rules and regulations set out. If an ITA changed, in terms of the representation of newly elected members from the local authority after a given May election, it would be for it to decide the rights of the non-elected members. The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 sets out the political balance requirements, and section 15 sets out the principles, including the need to review all appointments after political changes. That is the point that I have just made.
Ian Stewart: As has been pointed out, if the ITA has the power to decide that non-elected members can have voting rights for several years, they may be entitled to be involved in the initial decisions at the annual general meeting. The question is whether the elected politicians should run the AGM and decide, after each AGM or council election, whether the non-elected members should have voting powers.
Paul Clark: That is for the ITA to decide. I repeat that locally elected members will always be in the majority. It could be that the ITA decided at its AGM that non-elected members were not to vote, or could not vote on constitutional issues. A range of options will be open to the ITA, and that is what we are trying to allow. We want proper representation with proper structures to deliver good public bus services, as we discussed regarding the first group of amendments. We want to modernise the delivery of those services.
In addition to the changes to clauses 73 and 78, the amendments would also take the opportunity to tidy up the structure of the clauses by placing the provisions covering membership of ITAs in two new free-standing clauses. Government amendments Nos. 151 and 153 therefore delete the existing references to ITA membership in clauses 73 and 78, as these will now be covered by Government new clauses 10 and 11.
Government amendment No. 156 is intended to ensure that the political balance of those district and county councils that make up the area of a newly established ITA is reflected in the appointments made by those councils to an ITA. That also responds to concerns raised in Committee that a governance order under part 5 of the Bill could be used to circumvent the new political balance requirements. In fact, PTAs are already subject to section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989, which requires that the political balance of the local authority representatives who sit on a PTA reflects the political balance of the constituent councils that make up the passenger transport area. There may have been some confusion on this point in Committee, but I can reassure hon. Members that section 15 of the 1989 Act will also apply to integrated transport authoritiesnot just to those six ITAs that will replace the existing PTAs, but also to any new ITAs that might be set up in future.
I recognise that there were some concerns that the powers in clause 86 for the Secretary of State to make incidental, consequential, transitional and supplementary provision by order could, at least in theory, be used to disapply the requirement for ITAs to be subject to political balance. I am very happy to make it clear that the Government believe the membership of ITAs should be subject to the rules on political balance, in the same way as are other authorities to which the 1989 Act applies. Government amendment No. 156 underlines that by making it clear that the powers in clause 86 cannot be used to remove the requirements for ITAs to be subject to the rules on political balance.
Government amendment No. 152 makes a small drafting correction in clause 76. Government amendment No. 157 provides that orders under clauses 73 to 91 of the Bill would not be subject to the hybrid instruments procedure when laid before Parliament. That would apply to orders made by the Secretary of State in response to proposals for changes to existing arrangements put forward by local authorities of the sort that we have already been discussing, such as an order setting up a new ITA or making changes to the boundaries of an existing ITA.
The amendment would, of course, apply only to proceedings in another place, as the hybrid instruments procedure does not apply to this House. Such dehybridising clauses are not unusual in local government legislation. Similar provisions have been included recently in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 and the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. Indeed, the Local Government Act 1992 also provided that orders setting up unitary authorities, such as those in Hartlepool or the City of Leicester, would not be subject to hybrid procedures.
The Bill quite properly already provides that governance orders under it should receive detailed scrutiny, both inside and outside Parliament. Clause 87 therefore provides that they will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. Equally, clauses 73(10) and 85(4) provide
that the Secretary of State must consult relevant local authorities and other parties with an interest before such orders are made. Given that fact and the precedents that I have mentioned, the Government do not feel that potentially subjecting such orders to hybrid procedures is necessary to ensure the proper scrutiny of the proposals. That is especially true as such a process could have the effect of delaying changes to existing governance arrangements, which have enjoyed widespread local support.
I am grateful to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members who raised important issues in Committee. We have reflected on those points before introducing these amendments. The amendments address the issues behind amendments Nos. 12, 13, 26 and 29, tabled by Opposition Members, and behind amendment No. 101, tabled by my hon. Friends. I hope that as a result that they will not feel that they need to push these amendments to a vote.
In areas where there is no ITA, local people elect their councillors, who go on to implement local policy such as that on transport...Therefore, in ITA areas that process, or something similar to it, is preserved. My amendments
would achieve that by ensuring that the members of the ITA who make and implement the transport policy were drawn from a pool of locally elected councillors. I question the need for direct elections, although I understand that that process would have even greater...linkage. We have a process whereby elected officials can sit in a democratically accountable way on an ITA, but unless the ITA reflects the political proportionality, democratic representation and democratic consent are removed. [ Official Report, Local Transport Public Bill Committee, 8 May 2008; c. 317-18.]
My argument in Committee, unlike my arguments on the previous group of amendments, gained some support from all parties. I argued that if ITAs were to be a success, they must be accountable and democratic: that the ITAs must be made up of elected members of the councils that constitute the ITA area; that those elected members must be appointed to the ITA in such a way that their numbers reflected the political make-up of the councils; and that, if there were to be unelected members, they should not have the right to vote. The Governments proposals go some way towards that. The new clauses are a starting point, offering total flexibility of membership and voting, that could lead to my desired finishing point of fully accountable ITAs.
The new clauses specify that each ITA must include at least one elected representative from each authority represented in the ITA. Furthermore, the Governments amendments specify that those members not appointed will be able to vote only on those matters that the ITA permits them to vote on. As hon. Members have said, that raises a number of issues, and so I have tabled two amendments to new clause 10 and a further two to new clause 11. Unless I get some further reassurance, I shall test the will of the House on amendment (b) to new clause 10. Those amendments complement my original amendment No. 12, which was tabled before the summer recess. The first effect of the amendments will be not only that a majority of ITA members will be local
councillors, but that all of them will be. The second effect will be that the representation of the various political parties on an ITA will mirror that on the councils that comprise the ITA.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|