Duty to have regard to transport needs of disabled persons
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I rise not to question the motives behind the clause, but to probe the Minister on a couple of points arising from it. The provision is absolutely right and appropriate. Section 112 of the 2000 Act rightly places a duty on local authorities to have regard to the transport needs of persons who are elderly or who have mobility problems. The clause develops that from a duty of development to one of implementation, and it tidies up the obvious problem of the reference to elderly people or those with mobility difficulties by expanding the duty to include all disabled people as defined under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
In relation to the duty of implementation, one of the reasons why the 1995 Act has been so successful is that local authorities have been given time to comply with it. Although a lot of people would have liked the implementation period to be shorter, it has allowed local authorities and other bodies to put meeting the requirements of the 1995 Act into their normal replacement cycle and therefore absorb some of the extra costs that have clearly been incurred. Will the Minister say whether the same intention is reflected in the Bill, so that that there will be a period of implementation rather than a set date, and that the period will be similar to that specified under the Disability Discrimination Act?
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Clause 11 imposes a duty to have regard to the needs of disabled persons, but the 1995 Act is already on the statute book and its provisions must be adhered to, so what would be the actual effect of not having the clause in the Bill? To use the favourite word of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, is it not otiose?
Ms Winterton: Let me explain a little background to the clause, which will also help to answer the right hon. Gentlemans question. The provision will amend an existing duty under the 2000 Act to reinforce the message to local authorities that they must consider the needs of all disabled persons not only when planning, but when delivering local transport in their areas. The clause was added to the Bill in the other place by a Government amendment in response to calls from Lord Low of Dalston to see what more we could do to disability-proof the Bill.
The 2000 Act already places a duty on local transport authorities when they are developing their local transport policies, whereby they must have regard to the needs of persons who are elderly or who have mobility problems. However, the wording of that duty should now be brought more into line with the latest disability discrimination legislation.
Clause 11 will clarify two points. First, it will make clear that local transport authorities must consider the needs of all disabled people. The needs of some peoplefor example, those with hearing impairmentsmight not be covered by the 2000 Act duty. There might be a case for expanding the provision of audible facilities on pedestrian crossings or audible travel information. Indeed, some disability groups have raised concerns that the current duty is too focused on physical mobility problems at the expense of other forms of disability, such as hearing or visual impairments.
Secondly, the clause will make it clear that the needs of disabled people must be considered not only when drawing up local transport plans, but when putting those plans into practice. For example, the needs of disabled persons should be considered not only when writing local transport plans, but when designing a new bus station or negotiating the terms of a voluntary partnership agreement with bus operators. A local transport plan might also be the right place to review parking provision for disabled motorists.
To answer the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, the 1995 Act places a general duty on public authorities in relation to disabled persons, but there is some inconsistency in the provisions of that Act and the Transport Act 2000. We believe that the clause will bring greater consistency and provide greater clarity. I am sure that the Committee agrees that everyone will benefit from legislation that is as clear as possible. The clause also provides a useful opportunity to reinforce the message that local authorities have no excuse for not taking account of the needs of all disabled people when planning and delivering local transport.
To answer the hon. Member for Wimbledon, if local authorities see a particular problem in meeting the provisions of clause 11, we will listen to representations. However, we believe that there should not be a problem. As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said, it is something that they should be doing anyway, so there should not be a long delay before implementation.
Stephen Hammond: I understand entirely what the Minister says, but one of the benefits of the DDA is that is allows implementation periods to vary. Do the Government have in mind a set implementation date, or is it variable?
Ms Winterton: In a sense, the implementation date will be one that is considered reasonable in the circumstances. For example, when considering setting up a new bus station, if the current one has particular problems, implementation will obviously be subject to a variety of time limits. However, the requirement should not be over-burdensome. We believe that it is something that local authorities should be doing, but we wanted to use this opportunity to reinforce the message.
Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is articulating the justification for the clause. In the city of Salford in my constituency, we have an active disabled drivers association. The council has sensibly co-opted a delegate from the association, Mr. Jim Wheelton, on to the planning committee, and he attends all visits. There is good practice in Salford, but the clause will bring consistency across the country. That must be to the benefit of all our disabled constituents.
Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is right. Once again, his constituency is leading the way in best practice, and I congratulate it on taking the needs of disabled people fully into account.
As I said, clause 11 is to be welcomed. We expect the commencement order to state a specific date for its provisions to come into force, but when setting that date, we will consider local authority views on implementation. The Government included the clause as a result of representations made in the other place, and it has been warmly welcomed by representatives of older and disabled people, including Help the Aged, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I hope that the Committee will accept it.
Mr. Knight: I am sure that the Committee will agree with the Minister. Indeed, every reasonable person would agree with her.
May I ask a question for clarification? Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the duty to look after the needs of disabled people will be complied with as an overall policy, and that the clause will not mean that every seat on every vehicle must be disability compliant? I am thinking particularly of local authorities based in tourist areas, which may often have a tourist feature as part of their transport system. We have all seen the trains that run up and down the seafront of many seaside towns, and I believe that Scarborough uses a 1920s steam bus as part of its transport provision. The bus has steep stairs to the upper platform which no disabled person could possibly negotiate. Will she confirm that the overall provision must be disability compliant, but that historic vehicles or tourist vehicles will not be forced off the road?
Ms Winterton: I believe that that consideration is covered in other parts of the DDA, where operators in such circumstances are expected to make reasonable adjustments. That is the bit of the DDA that would cover that kind of operator. The duty in the clause is to have regard to the needs of disabled people. The specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman is covered in other parts of the DDA which refer to reasonable adjustments that need to be made in such circumstances.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Development of policies by ITA no longer joint duty with district councils
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 6, in clause 12, page 12, line 31, leave out subsection (2).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in clause 12, page 13, line 9, at end insert
(2B) An Integrated Transport Authority shall consult the councils for the metropolitan districts comprised in the area on its proposals for the local transport plan..
No. 8, in clause 12, page 13, line 9, at end insert
(2B) If a majority of the councils for the metropolitan districts comprised in the area agree a resolution opposing the local transport plan, the plan shall not have effect..
Graham Stringer: The clause takes away the rights of local authorities in an integrated transport authority to be involved in or consulted on the drawing up and development of transport policies by the ITA. The purpose of these three probing amendments is to ask why.
I am grateful to the Clerk for helping me to draw up amendment No. 6it is immediately incomprehensible to anyone who reads itwhich, in effect, would reassert the status quo in involving metropolitan district councils in drawing up transport plans. Amendment No. 7 would put a duty on the ITA to consult local authoritiesa similar point was discussed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withingtonand amendment No. 8 would give a power of veto if a majority of the local authorities in an ITA area do not agree with the policies that have been developed after consultation by the ITA.
To explain further we have to go back to the core of the Bill, which puts right some of the failings of the deregulation of bus services introduced by the Conservative GovernmentI assume that we will come to that topic this afternoonand brings back, after the abolition of metropolitan councils in the mid-1980s, an authority that will have both highways and transport powers so that integrated transport policies can be developed.
What is unusual about the Governments proposals, which I will probe in these amendments and later ones, is that they allow the powers of highways authorities to be transferred to the integrated transport authority with the purpose of promoting better transport policies. That is fine, but there is a real difference between the authorities.
The highways authorities in the six metropolitan areas are directly elected, so someone who has a concern about traffic management arrangements in their areathere are many concerns in most metropolitan areas about shopping, waiting and car parkingcan go to their local councillor. They can say that something is wrong and they want it changed, or that they do or do not want double yellow lines or a bus lane and so on, and their local councillor can then go to the council and pursue the matter. Transferring powers to an integrated transport authority composed of indirectly elected councillors and perhaps seconded people will remove immediate local democratic input.
The purpose of the amendment is to ask why that is proposed. If that right is to be taken away, should we not have some safeguards to ensure that directly elected people have a right of veto? In the case of Manchester, six local authorities would be required to say that a scheme was mad, so it would not be a trivial matter.
Mr. Knight: Is the hon. Gentleman not, in effect, arguing in amendment No. 8 for a provision to deal with exceptional local circumstances?
Graham Stringer: I shall not go back to the debates on the definition of exceptional and economic, although I note that later amendments deal with the word economic. No, in fact, the situation the amendment would cover might not be exceptional at all. If the integrated transport authority proposed a scheme to put bus lanes in four of the authorities in Merseyside, for instance, and those authorities objected to it, they would have a veto. That is not an exceptional situation; it goes much wider than that.
The amendment gives directly elected people the power to tell indirectly elected and appointed people, You might well have got this wrong. There have been so many changes to local government in the past 25 years that we have got a long way from what I believe is the right principlethat people who are elected have the right to tax, but others have the right to throw them out. In this case, we are talking about people in a new, powerful integrated transport authority who cannot be thrown out directly.
These are probing amendments, and I will not press them after I have listened to the profound arguments made by my hon. Friend the Minister. I am very interested in why we should take these rights away from local authorities and the electorate. These matters are not trivial, but pretty fundamental, and I might well return to them on Report.
Stephen Hammond: The clause gave me considerable concern when I read it, and had the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley not been faster in getting to the Clerk, I would certainly have tabled probing amendmentsand perhaps not just probing ones. The hon. Gentleman argued powerfullysome of us will have experienced this either as councillors before we had the honour of joining the House or as Members of Parliamentthat sometimes regional transport authorities either completely override or do not listen to constituents concerns. As directly elected Members, we have almost no power to influence or persuade them. I have direct experience of that previously as a councillor and now as a Member of Parliament.
The explanatory notes on clause 12 indicate that the intent is to remove the duty to produce plans jointly and place that responsibility solely on the integrated transport authority. As the hon. Gentleman said, his amendments would maintain the status quo, which strikes me as not such a bad thing, unless the Minister can provide some reassurance. I am sure that she will tell us that the amendments are unnecessary because the integrated transport authority will inevitably act in consultation, but in my direct experience that is not always the case. A local authority might not be able to push its points, concerns and local transport wishes forcefully enough if it is not a statutory consultee. The regional authority would be bound to listen to the concerns of local people, communities and local elected members, if they were statutory consultees. Amendment No. 6 would provide for that obligation instead of leaving it to ministerial discretion, guidance or secondary legislation. Although in many cases it would be preferable to leave the list of consultees to guidance, in relation to clause 12, owing to the juxtaposition of the unelected regional body and the elected local bodies, I am in favour of putting it in the Bill.
Equally, amendment No. 7 becomes valuable only if, as a result of consultation, it can effect the desired outcome. In many cases, the outcome that is hoped for might be achieved through the consultation process, but what happens if it is not? Local communities needs and wishes and the expressed views of local, directly and democratically elected representatives can easily be overridden by the regional transport authority.
Amendment No. 8 attempts to correct that error, although perhaps it is worded less fully than I would have preferred. I would have preferred it to say, or any part of that plan rather than just plan, because that would have allowed people to support the plan overall, but to disagree with parts of it. Notwithstanding that deficit, amendment No. 8 has considerable merit. I recognise that, in the hon. Gentlemans mind, these are probing amendments, but I think that the Minister really needs to reassure us on how the wishes and views of the local, directly and democratically-elected members expressed on behalf of constituents will not be completely overridden by regional transport authorities, as is the experience of some of us at the moment.
Ms Winterton: The clause goes to the heart of some of the changes in the Bill. We have received many representations: I, and I am sure all members of the Committee, have met representatives from some of the PTAs who say that they have encountered huge problems when trying to take an integrated approach to implementing or drawing up local transport plans. It may be that one authority decides simply not to co-operate with work to put together a good bus strategy across the whole area, and that causes enormous problems in efforts to improve and integrate public transport in an area. For example, in my local area in South Yorkshire, the current system means that transport plans are probably put together by people on the passenger transport executive; the plans are then sent back to the metropolitan councilsDoncaster in my casewho will then agree that the transport plans should go forward and who have a duty to implement them. So, once a transport plan is agreed, there is a duty to implement it.
One of the points made to us is that that process is sometimes frustrated and people end up with a watered-down plan across an area. Representations about that point have been made when I have met people in local areas. People from all political parties have raised that issueit is not something said just by people of one political persuasion; it is something many people have said to me. If we are to have a truly integrated transport approach, it is important to set up within these areas new integrated transport authorities, which would have the power to implement the agreed policies over the range of the area for which they are responsible.
Clause 12 establishes the key role that integrated transport authoritiesthe successors to PTAsmust play in their areas. That means the duties to develop transport policies and to produce, review and update a local transport plan will in future lie with the integrated transport authority in an integrated transport area. The duty to carry out statutory functions so as to implement those policies will continue to apply to individual local authorities in an IT area as well as to the IT authorities themselves. Again, that replicates the existing situation
The change we are proposing to make in our major cities will enable there to be decision making that is more decisive in identifying transport needs and implementing solutions. By giving the duty to produce local transport plans to the integrated transport authority, we will encourage stronger and more strategic transport planning.
Mr. Leech: Does the Minister not accept that the decision made by the ITA might be completely at odds with the views of the people in the local authority who will be affected?
Ms Winterton: I was coming to that point, to give some reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and other Committee members. First, it is important to remember that councils will be statutory consultees. Secondly, every council will be represented on the authority. The opportunities are available. When we issue guidancewe shall come to clauses on governance laterwe will expect local authorities and the integrated transport authorities to consult widely with the constituent councils in their area.
If a vast number of councils in an area do not agree with the approach being taken, we do not expect it to be forced on them; however, we must recognise that there might be situations in which, for example, one council refuses to endorse the implementation of a bus lane strategy throughout the area. As I said, many people who serve on passenger transport authorities say that it can be incredibly frustrating to try to put together good, integrated transport policies and not be able to. That is a difficult situation. It is a problem that often stands in the way of delivering good public transport, and we believe that the approach that we are adopting will assist the process and enable better delivery of transport in our major cities.
The safeguardsfor instance, ensuring that consultees are statutory and that every PTA has a representative from each councilwill effectively prevent a small minority of councils from imposing their will on a majority. We want a level of agreement, but we must take into account that there are difficulties at the moment that we cannot ignore if we want to enable integrated transport authorities to deliver good public transport in their area and good integrated transport strategies.
Amendment No. 7 would create a duty for integrated transport authorities to consult metropolitan district councils about their proposals, but as I said, clause 9 already imposes a requirement for the ITA to consult individual authorities when preparing or reviewing its local transport plan. That is already provided for.
Amendment No. 8 would enable a majority of metropolitan district councils opposed to a local transport plan to prevent it from having effect, but as I said, the current membership of passenger transport authorities is drawn from metropolitan district
We must get the balance right between acknowledging the problems faced in some areas by PTEs and assisting them in implementing proper ITAs, and at the same time giving the reassurance that I hope I have given by explaining the process that will be gone through and the fact that councils will be statutory consultees. There will be representatives from every council on the ITA. In later guidance, to which right hon. and hon. Members might like to contribute, we will set out some of the ways in which we believe it is possible to reach maximum agreement in order for ITAs to proceed effectively.
I hope that my comments reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and I ask him to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Graham Stringer: I support much of what my right hon. Friend said about the rebalancing that is going on in the Bill to make it easier to have good transport policies in metropolitan areas. All of us who have been involved in transport in metropolitan areas for a long time can recognise the case that she makes. Occasionally there is cussedness, plain awkwardness or political differences between authorities that prevent perfectly good transport schemes from going ahead. I understand that argument, but the purpose of the amendments was to say, If you are rebalancing, where do the electorate come in, because you are rebalancing to a sort of semi-quango in which the electorate cannot be directly involved? In doing that, we need to put in safeguards, whether those safeguards involve the councils saying, No, the ITA has got it wrong, orwe shall come to the relevant amendments laterthe electorate being able to throw the rascals out, as they do to us from time to time.
Those safeguards are not present, so I thought that these were moderate amendments that pointed at that. Although what the Minister says is reasonable, those of us who have worked in two-tier areas for a time know that councillors can be bloody-minded and they can do things because they do not like the other lotsometimes of the same political party. I shall give an example. When Greater Manchester county council was being abolished, I was involved in the creation of what is now the museum of science and industry in Manchester. I went to do the deal with the then leader of the county council to put the aerospace museum into the slightly bigger, county-run museum of science and industry. Bernard Clarke, who was the leader then, said, You know the reason the doors of these two museums, which we can integrate if you and I get together, are facing in opposite directions is that the two council leaders when they were set up hated each other and would not co-operate.
That can happen just as easily in relation to transport, so while we are rebalancing in favour of making it easier to have an integrated transport policy, we must recognise that an ITA could have bloody-minded people on it who are not directly accountable and who could do the equivalent thing in the area of transport to what happened with those two museums. Because we are all human beings, the ITA will not always be able to get its policies right. I live on the boundary of Manchester, Salford and Bury, and at the moment an appalling road-widening scheme is going on for bus lanes. Bury, which is the highways authority, has got it completely wrong, in my opinion and, I would guess, in the opinion of many people who look at it. The amendments are meant to deal with matters that the ITA gets wrong, and to put in some checks and balances.
The answer to that, my right hon. Friend the Minister says, is not the electorate. It is that all the councils that are part of the metropolitan area will send people along, so they cannot really get it that wrong. I have to say that that has not been my experience. If we do the arithmetic, we will find that it depends on the basis of the membership of the ITA. An ITA could be unreasonably repressive to one authority and put forward schemes that may well be part of a bigger integrated transport scheme but are unreasonable to the people who live in the area. It is unlikely, but, in the case of Manchester, 10 hung councils could all send representatives of a particular political party. That would be completely unrepresentative of the districts.
I shall withdraw the amendment, but I think that we will come back later in the Bill not just to this point but to some others that deal with the same core issue. We may come back to it on Report, because while I agree with the balance of the Bill, which furthers better transport, I do not think that we have this right.
Mr. Knight: The hon. Gentleman made a powerful and cogent case for the Committee accepting the amendments. I am a little puzzled about why he is now saying that he will withdraw them.
Graham Stringer: The simple answer is that I am withdrawing the amendments because I think that we would win, given how this place works. I would not be in this Committee if we were going to defeat the Government on every amendment. This is the basis of a discussion that we may return to on Report.
It is interesting that hon. Members have listened carefully to the debate. I hope that the Government have listened as well. It would not be sensible for a Labour Member of Parliament to defeat the Government here and now. I am putting the case, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will listen to the discussion on this amendment and others. I do not want to embarrass anyone.
Mr. Knight: I am a little puzzled by the hon. Gentlemans mindset. I do not regard myself as being here to defeat the Government, either. I am here to scrutinise a Bill that is the Governments will and to seek to improve it. Surely, if he is here to do the same
Graham Stringer: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion I think that he is being slightly disingenuous. It is part of his core business to defeat the Government, but it is not part of mine. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister has listened carefully to this fertile debate. I am sure that we can make some progress not only in rebalancing the policies in favour of transport but in ensuring that we do not repress the democratic process. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Hon. Members: No.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.
Division No. 9 ]
Question accordingly negatived.
It being twenty-five minutes past Ten oclock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at One oclock.
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