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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Local Transport Bill [Lords]

Local Transport Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: David Taylor, Ann Winterton
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Laxton, Mr. Bob (Derby, North) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Scott, Mr. Lee (Ilford, North) (Con)
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) (Lab)
Stringer, Graham (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)
Watts, Mr. Dave (L ord Commissioner of Her Majesty’ s Treasury)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
John Benger, Annette Toft, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 22 April 2008


[David Taylor in the Chair]

Local Transport Bill [Lords]

10.30 am
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Taylor. On my way to the Committee, I noticed that one of the lifts that serves this floor was out of order. It beggars belief that, on the second day back after a two-week recess, a lift is not working. Can you draw the matter to the attention of the appropriate authorities because it could impede the work of this and other Committees? I had to wait six minutes for the other lift. I appreciate that I could have used the stairs, but I did not expect to have to wait that long. It is something that should be looked at.
The Chairman: That is a fair point. It is not specifically to do with our proceedings; nevertheless it is an important point and will be drawn to the attention of the House authorities for early correction.
I welcome the Committee to the first sitting of our proceedings on the Local Transport Bill. Before we begin, I have a few announcements to make. Members of the Committee may, if they wish, remove their jackets during our proceedings. Will all hon. Members ensure that mobile phones and pagers are turned off or switched to silent mode during our sittings? There is a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room. I remind members of the Committee that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairman, Ann Winterton, do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that might be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee. I ask the Committee first to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper for which debate is limited to half an hour. We shall then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, which I hope will be taken formally.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton):
I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 22nd April) meet—
(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 22nd April;
(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 24th April;
(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 29th April;
(d) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 6th May;
(e) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 8th May;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 7; Schedule1; Clauses 8 to 41; Schedule 2; Clause 42; Schedule 3; Clauses 43 to 72; Schedule 4; Clauses 73 to 102; Schedule 5; Clauses 103 to 114; Schedule 6; Clauses 115 to 121; Schedule 7; Clauses 122 to 125; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 8th May.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of all members of the Committee when I say how pleased we are to be sitting under your expert chairmanship, Mr. Taylor, and that of Lady Winterton. The programme motion sets out the times and dates for the Committee to discuss the Local Transport Bill. We propose to meet twice on Tuesdays and Thursdays over three weeks, but not on Thursday 1 May—it being local election day. That gives the Committee a total of 10 sittings spread over five days. I am sure that the usual channels have been in touch about the timings in relation to the Bill and that the programme motion will allow more than sufficient time for full and thorough consideration in Committee. I very much hope that we shall be able to achieve that because the Bill is extremely important.
The Bill is a direct response to points made by local authorities, transport users and operators about the different challenges and circumstances that they face. It follows on from the consultation document that was published in the summer of 2006, after which there was a review that resulted in “Putting Passengers First”, published in December 2006. Following that document, we published a draft Local Transport Bill.
Subsequently, there was public consultation and a thorough process of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Transport Select Committee. I pay particular tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, Gwyneth Dunwoody, who, as usual, did a very good job, supported by some members of this Committee, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley. The Bill was scrutinised in detail and we were therefore able to make some significant improvements before it was introduced to Parliament.
I also pay tribute to the local authorities, transport operators, transport user groups and many other organisations that made vital contributions to the development of the Bill. Many of those groups gave evidence to the Select Committee.
Following discussion in the other place, I believe the Bill now stands in extremely good shape. We made some amendments, particularly on competition law and on the issue of TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and 2006—following representations from trade unions. We believe that the changes proposed in the Bill will make a real difference to how public transport is delivered, particularly in regard to buses.
Buses lie at the heart of our public transport system but, frankly, for too long and in too many of our communities, bus patronage has been on a downward trend. Deregulation in the mid-1980s certainly failed to stem that decline. The Bill will give local authorities stronger powers to work with bus operators to deliver the high quality services that the travelling public need and deserve. It will give transport users a stronger voice, by enabling the creation of a statutory bus passenger champion. It will strengthen community transport and make possible more coherent, integrated delivery of transport in many areas of our country.
For that reason, I was surprised that the Opposition voted against the Bill on Second Reading; I am surprised that Conservative councillors throughout the country have not made representations, because the ones I meet believe strongly in the changes that we want to make through the Bill.
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): We may as well start early. The Minister talked about Conservative councillors; I have indeed received a number of representations from Conservative councillors up and down the country, who are very concerned that quality contracts will cause a decline in the number of bus services in their area.
Ms Winterton: I am absolutely fascinated to hear that, because it is certainly not my experience when meeting councillors from all parties—
The Chairman: Order. It is acceptable and in order to make brief introductory remarks during the programme motion. There will be plenty of opportunities in the days and weeks that lie ahead for comments such as those the Minister and the spokesman for the official Opposition are making.
Ms Winterton: I simply wanted to draw attention to the fact that I am sure we shall have a lively debate given the Second Reading comments that were made from both sides of the House. Obviously a fine body of men and women are serving on the Committee. I look forward to all the contributions and hope that the programme motion will allow adequate time for debate; I am sure it will.
Stephen Hammond: As I said on Second Reading, I am sure the whole Committee will share some unanimity over large parts of the Bill. It will undoubtedly be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and that of Lady Winterton, because I see that the Committee includes a number of hon. Members who served last year on the Crossrail Bill Committee, whose proceedings were completed in an efficient, good-mannered, good-natured and constructive manner. I am sure we will be able to do the same in this case, despite a number of relatively contentious issues.
As the Minister said, the Bill is very different from some of the other Bills that have been introduced in the transport arena over the last few years. The last two or three that we have considered in Committee have been technical Bills, but this one is not. It includes a broad array of topics, ranging from bus services and road pricing to community transport and local transport governance. I was, therefore, grateful that the Minister and her officials gave us the opportunity of a pre-briefing session, and answered a number of questions. We were grateful because that will help the scrutiny of the Committee.
I am also grateful that we were able to negotiate the possibility of the Bill being timetabled for 10 sittings. The Bill is, as the Minister said, an important one. There are large elements of agreement. Even where there is agreement, however, there are issues on which we need to understand the detail of the Government’s thinking. There are also issues of clear contention, and the Minister seemed almost theatrically surprised about some of them. She expressed her surprise several times on Second Reading, which made me wonder what she was auditioning for. None the less we are grateful for the time to explore the issues in Committee.
The only surprise for the Opposition about the timetabling is that we are starting the Bill before 1 May. However, like most of the Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity not to be here on 1 May so that we can go out, to attack or to defend, and help our colleagues in local government in one way or another.
I reinforce the point we made on Second Reading: we support large elements of the Bill, but there are elements that we cannot support. The Minister talked about the decline of bus patronage, which I am sure we will explore in more detail. However, it cannot have escaped her notice that the vast bulk of bus patronage decline happened before deregulation. Deregulation is emphatically not the cause for the decline in bus usage, so re-regulation is not the way to arrest that decline.
The role of the Committee will be to try to improve the Bill. We will try to do so constructively. Effective partnership is clearly the way to successful bus networks, which, as the Minister, her officials and the Committee will have noticed, is the thrust of our amendments in that section. I suspect that it will take up a large amount of our timetable.
I am in clear agreement with the Minister about one more thing. I want to place on record the condolences of the official Opposition to the family of Gwyneth Dunwoody. Her presence or her comments have been writ large over any debate concerning transport in the House over the last few years. Her presence will be felt on the Bill, even though she is not here. We express our sincere condolences to her family.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Taylor, and congratulate you on your appointment.
I begin where the hon. Member for Wimbledon left off. I add my support to the condolences expressed about Gwyneth Dunwoody. Genuinely, many of us feel that she was a hugely important figure in the House. She was associated, more than almost any other MP, with the transport issue. She was independent, while still being loyal to her party. It is a tremendous loss to the House that she is no longer with us. I am very sorry that is the case.
As the Minister knows, we broadly welcome the Bill, which we supported on Second Reading. Although we have differences about particular issues, we shall approach the Committee proceedings constructively. We want to make sure that our concerns, which are not necessarily the same as those of the Conservatives, are properly allocated time. I am sure that they will be. I am content with the allocation of 10 sittings.
I gently ask the Minister that when she berates the Opposition—which she may have good cause to do, for all I know—she is careful to talk about the Conservative Opposition, because I would hate to be associated with some of the policies coming from the Conservative Front Bench, affable though the hon. Member for Wimbledon undoubtedly is. The issues that we want particularly to flag up swing in the opposite direction from the Conservatives, as will become apparent. We want more localised power and will encourage the Government to go further, rather than retracting from their position. Those are all my comments for now. I look forward to the discussion.
10.45 am
I am rather surprised that we are here today. On 17 April, the Leader of the House made it clear—mainly in response to criticisms from the Conservative party, but also following comments made by the Liberal Democrats—that the Government intended to honour the long-established practice of purdah. She gave a commitment that, before 1 May, no announcements would be made that could influence the local elections, either by being of a local nature or by being something that local newspapers could treat as such. However, we are being asked to start our consideration of the Local Transport Bill—never mind not sitting on 1 May, it would have been better if we had not sat until after that date.
I am not happy with the programme motion. That is not due to any lack of time given to debate the measure, although it is arguable that more time should have been given. I just do not think that the motion is necessary at all. In 18 months’ time, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon will be sitting on the other side of this room as Transport Minister, I hope that he does not put a programme motion before a similar Committee before it has started its deliberations.
Some years ago, I had the honour of serving as a Whip in the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major. At that stage, it was common practice for a guillotine motion to be used in Committee only when there was a clear attempt to filibuster by the Opposition, and when that filibustering had gone on for several days. We did not need to use a guillotine motion in any of the Committees that I whipped for the Government. Indeed, the last Committee that I whipped was a most enjoyable affair where all aspects of the Bill were agreed by me and the Labour party’s Home Office spokesman. That spokesman was Tony Blair, and he was as good as his word throughout the Committee’s proceedings. Such agreement helps the Committee to focus on those aspects of a Bill that are of concern to the Opposition.
It is important that the Opposition voice on any measure that seeks to change the law is properly heard, and when we have a Conservative Government I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon will not put such motions before Committees. This motion is not necessary and I would like him to oppose it, even though he may have agreed to its content.
The Minister continues to express concern about why the Bill was opposed on Second Reading. Quite simply, many of us do not agree with the concept of road charging. The Liberal Democrats did not want to be associated with some of our policies—
The Chairman: Order. Those are matters for debate in the days that lie ahead.
Mr. Knight: I am grateful to you, Mr. Taylor. Let me say briefly that we would not want to be associated with the Liberal Democrat policy on transport either. As I understand it, the Liberal Democrats complain that the price of petrol is not high enough.
I do not think that the motion is necessary and it would have been much better if we had waited until after 1 May before starting such deliberations. I hope that, under a future Government, such ritual motions will not regularly be put before Committees.
The Chairman: In relation to an earlier remark, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the out date is set by the House, not by the Committee.
Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): Good morning, Mr. Taylor. I, too, miss Gwyneth already.
I welcome the programme motion and the fact that 10 sittings have been allocated to what is and has been one of the most important issues to my constituents throughout my time in the House, since 1997. I am a veteran of consideration of the Transport Bill in 2000, when the Government attempted to push the boundaries of voluntarism—quite rightly so. We should encourage a voluntary approach within the transport industry. However, at that time, some of us expressed the view that voluntarism has limitations and the Government have shown good sense in developing this Bill, which will address those limitations.
The concepts in the Bill will be welcomed by my constituents and by people across the country. The Bill also looks clearly at consulting people, such as those who use buses. I am in favour of furthering the consultation process, along with other members of the Committee.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I add my welcome to you, Mr. Taylor, and to Lady Winterton when she replaces you in the Chair. I also add my condolences over the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, the former Member for Crewe and Nantwich. As a member of the Transport Committee, I was often on the receiving end of anti-Liberal Democrat comments from Gwyneth, but I think that everyone who has an interest in transport would say that on transport issues she was always an honourable friend and never an opponent.
I support the Bill. There are significant changes that we would like to be made to improve the Bill, but it is welcome, certainly for one reason, which I shall illustrate with an example. In my Manchester constituency, deregulation has resulted in some services being successful and others not being very successful. Where an operator has challenged the existing operator on a route, specifically the 85 and 86 routes from my constituency into Manchester—
The Chairman: Order. I have indicated that flexibility is given to the Chairman of a Public Bill Committee to allow Front-Bench spokesmen to make introductory remarks. That is not normally extended to Back Benchers and others. The points that the hon. Gentleman wants to raise, in the detail in which he is raising them, have an appropriate place in the timetable that we shall work to over the next few weeks.
Mr. Leech: Apologies, Mr. Taylor. I was merely pointing out that removal of service resulted in an increase in price when the competition had gone. I welcome the introduction of the Bill and hope that in Committee we make changes that improve bus services for the general public.
Question put and agreed to.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Ms Rosie Winterton.]

Clause 1

Traffic areas
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I was not going to question the clause because much of what is proposed in relation to traffic commissioners is largely uncontroversial. To a great extent, the issues that we have are ones of consultation and detail. However, on re-reading my notes and some of the Bill this morning, it seemed to me that section 32 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 allows the Secretary of State to vary the extent or number of traffic areas. Clause 1 provides for new subsections to be inserted. Those subsections allow that any order made under the clause may include modifications and amendments to enactment, or indeed to allow the effect of full change to traffic areas.
As I understand it, the Government’s intent with clause 1 is to give the Secretary of State powers—or to reinforce the powers—to vary, limit or abolish traffic areas. I want to establish that that will be the effect of the clause. The Bill, we believe wrongly, de-aligns traffic commissioners from traffic areas. I will explore later, in much more detail, why we think that there is some benefit for local people in having traffic commissioners attached to local areas. I accept that, previously, there was the contention that there were not enough resources in local areas, but that does not necessarily undermine the argument that traffic commissioners should be aligned to traffic areas.
Will the Minister clarify whether the clause exists so that, later in the Bill, she can de-align traffic commissioners from traffic areas, or for another reason?
Ms Winterton: The clause will allow consequential amendments to be made to other legislation affecting England and Wales if future changes are made to the size or number of traffic areas. The UK is divided into eight geographical traffic areas, with a traffic commissioner in charge of each.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the 1981 Act enables the Secretary of State, by order, to alter either the number or the boundaries of those traffic areas. Such an order might need to make consequential amendments to other legislation, but there is no power for it to do so. The clause will give the Secretary of State that power. I should say, however, that power will be needed only if the Government decide to make changes to the current traffic areas.
Norman Baker: That is an important point. Will the Minister say under what circumstances she envisages that power being exercised?
Ms Winterton: I can envisage that power possibly being exercised. However, we need to look at some of the other proposed changes, such as allowing traffic commissioners to work not necessarily solely in their area, but sometimes in other areas. It has occurred to me recently, for example, that there are eight traffic areas but nine regions. There might be a point at some future time, if there was any kind of review, when that situation would change.
I understand that the traffic commissioner for the west midlands is also traffic commissioner for Wales. Again, it might be that—in the future, depending on some other changes in the Bill—one might want to look at whether having eight areas is appropriate. The clause will simply enable any other changes that might follow on from that to be made; it needs to be looked at in respect of some of the other changes that are being made.
11 am
Mr. Knight: Can the Minister tell the Committee whether any changes are being actively considered at this point by her Department?
Ms Winterton: At present, there are no changes proposed for looking at the eight traffic areas. However, that is something that we should retain some flexibility about. As I have said, one issue that occurs to me is the fact that the regional development agencies cover the nine regions and whether that might be more appropriate. I understand that considerations are taken into account when drawing up traffic areas, which I assume are to do with roads, motorways and railways, but there may be some point in the future when it might be appropriate to change that.
Stephen Hammond: I have listened carefully, but there is one thing the Minister has not clarified and I would be grateful if she would do so. I follow her argument about the possible need to modify in the future, but could she clarify whether that would give the current or any future Secretary of State the power to abolish traffic areas?
Ms Winterton: As the hon. Gentleman said, section 3 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 enables the Secretary of State to alter either the number or boundaries of those areas. That could result in the creation of more traffic areas or fewer, thereby abolishing traffic areas. The point is that there is already flexibility within the system to make those alterations. If that were to happen, there would be consultation about it, but we also need to see the clause in the context of the other changes proposed in the Bill. I hope that clarifies the situation.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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