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?
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.
That is an important point. Will the Minister say under what circumstances she envisages that power being exercised?
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.
Can the Minister tell the Committee whether any changes are being actively considered at this point by her Department?
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.
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?
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.