New Clause 9 — Power of authorities to provide services in exceptional circumstances

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 27th October 2008.

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Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles 5:45 pm, 27th October 2008

May I add my voice to those who have thanked and congratulated my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton, and my hon. Friend the Minister? It was outrageous for Stephen Hammond to accuse the Government of not listening and then complain that the amendments came so late. Of course the Government listened. My right hon. Friend listened and discussed these important issues not only with Labour Back Benchers but with Members from all Opposition parties. In the short time that the Under-Secretary has been in the Front-Bench team, he has worked hard and been rigorous in consulting and listening to Back Benchers from all parties. My thanks are sincere to both Ministers.

I declare that I am a lifelong trade union member, and proud of it. I spent 20 years working for the Transport and General Workers Union as a regional officer in north-west England. Since becoming an MP, I have probably initiated upwards of nine or 10 debates in Westminster Hall and this Chamber on transport issues. That was not because I was a trade unionist in a union for the transport and public transport industry, but because it was one of the biggest demands of my constituents. The ability to get around the community, particularly for the elderly, the disabled and young mothers, is important to the debate about adequate public transport. Indeed, the economic interests of an area depend greatly on people being able to get to work on time.

In the Standing Committee considering the Transport Act 2000, some of us spoke to the then Minister—in the Committee and privately—and tried to highlight the fact that there was an imbalance since the Conservatives had deregulated public transport outside London. That imbalance was not in favour of local people, and we argued strongly that it should be put right by giving local elected passenger transport authorities more powers. It is well recorded that, like my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, I would like to see public transport run by locally elected people in the interests of local people. But that is not the case; we still have a system in which private operators deliver the services. That is fine, but if we have to accept that, there should be a good balancing effect, with local, democratically elected members making sure that the process is carried out in a fair way that looks to the interests of the operators earning reasonable profits and keeping people in work, and most importantly, to ensuring that the service is adequate and affordable for our constituents.

I turn to the question of deregulation being a matter of local democracy, and how the Bill will redress the imbalance. When Stephen Hammond spoke earlier, he referred to a provision in the Bill that says "as it sees fit". That related to local decision making, and the attitude of the hon. Gentleman was an attack on local democracy. The phrase "as it sees fit" implies local knowledge, and if we chose to remove those words from provisions to do with locally elected or public bodies, we would indeed be reducing local democracy.

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