'(1) An order under section 73 may make, in relation to the ITA,—
(a) provision about its constitutional arrangements (within the meaning given by section 78(2)),
(b) any provision which may be made by an order under section 79, 80 or 81.
(2) An order made by virtue of subsection (1)(a) which includes provision about the number and appointment of members of the ITA must provide—
(a) for a majority of the members of the ITA to be appointed by the ITA's constituent councils (see subsection (3)),
(b) for those members to be appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils, and
(c) for each of the representative councils (see subsection (4)) to appoint at least one of its elected members as a member of the ITA.
(3) For the purposes of this section, the constituent councils of an ITA are—
(a) any county council, and
(b) any district council,
for an area within the integrated transport area of the ITA.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (2)(c), the following councils are representative councils in respect of an area to be designated as the integrated transport area of an ITA—
(a) if that area includes the whole of a county, the county council;
(b) if that area includes a metropolitan district or a non-metropolitan district comprised in an area for which there is no county council, the district council;
(c) if that area includes one or more districts in a county but does not include the whole county, either the county council or the council for each of those districts (as determined by or in accordance with the order in question).
(5) If an order made by virtue of subsection (1)(a) provides for members of an ITA to be appointed otherwise than from among the elected members of its constituent councils (see subsection (2)(a) of section 78), it must provide for those members to be non-voting members (see subsection (2)(b) of that section).
(6) The voting members of an ITA may resolve that provision made in accordance with subsection (5) is not to apply in the case of the ITA.'.— [Paul Clark.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendments (a) and (b) to Government new clause 10.
Government new clause 11— Provision that may be made in an order under section 78: membership of ITA.
Amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Amendment No. 11, in clause 73, page 64, line 6, in clause 73, at end insert—
'(2A) An order may be made only if all of the constituent councils of the proposed ITA have approved the scheme by means of—
(a) a resolution, and
(b) a public referendum.'.
Government amendment No. 151.
Amendment No. 29, page 64, line 31, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
'(b) for those members to be appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils in such numbers as to be proportionate to the representation of political parties on those councils'.
Amendment No. 12, page 64, line 32, at end insert
(c) for those members to be appointed from among the members of the different political parties represented in the constituent councils, in such numbers as to be proportionate to the representation of political parties on those councils'.
Amendment No. 13, page 64, line 32, at end insert—
'(8A) Only those members appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils under subsection (8) will be permitted to vote in the ITA'.
Government amendment No. 152.
Amendment No. 26, in clause 78, page 68, line 29, at end insert
'but which arrangements must provide that members of the ITA who are not elected members of the ITA's constituent councils may not vote unless this is unanimously agreed by the ITA's elected members.'.
Government amendment No. 153.
Amendment No. 101, page 68, line 37, at end insert—
'(c) for the ITA to determine what matters members of the ITA who are not elected members of the constituent councils may not vote on (which may include any matters relating to the funding or expenditure of the ITA, whether of a capital or revenue nature).'.
Government amendments Nos. 156 and 157.
Amendment No. 64, in clause 87, page 74, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
'(2) The Secretary of State may not make an order under this Chapter unless the Secretary of State has laid a draft of the order before each House of Parliament and the remaining provisions of this section have been complied with.
(3) The Secretary of State must have regard to—
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament; and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament on the draft order, made on or with regard to the draft order during the 60-day period.
(4) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Secretary of State wishes to make an order in the terms of the draft, he must lay before Parliament a statement—
(a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (3)(a); and
(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.
(5) The Secretary of State may after the laying of such a statement make an order in the terms of the draft if it is first approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(6) However, a committee of either House may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (4) and before the draft order is approved by that House under subsection (5), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft order.
(7) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (6) in relation to a draft order, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft order in that House under subsection (5) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(8) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Secretary of State wishes to make an order consisting of a version of the draft order with material changes, he must lay before Parliament—
(a) a revised draft order; and
(b) a statement giving details of—
(i) any representations made under subsection (3)(a); and
(ii) the revisions proposed.
(9) The Secretary of State may after laying a revised draft order and statement under subsection (8) make an order in the terms of the revised draft if it is first approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(10) However, a committee of either House may, at any time after the revised draft order is laid under subsection (8) and before it is approved by that House under subsection (9), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft order.
(11) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (10) in relation to a revised draft order, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft order in that House under subsection (9) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(12) Where a person making representations under subsection (3)(a) has requested the Secretary of State not to disclose them, the Secretary of State must not disclose them under subsections (4)(b) or (8)(b)(i) if or to the extent that to do so would (disregarding any connection with proceedings in Parliament) constitute a breach of confidence actionable by any person.
(13) If information in representations made by a person in response to consultation under subsection (3)(a) relates to another person, the Secretary of State need not disclose the information under subsection (4)(b) or (8)(b)(i) if or to the extent that—
(a) it appears to the Secretary of State that the disclosure of that information could adversely affect the interests of that other person; and
(b) the Secretary of State has been unable to obtain the consent of that other person to the disclosure.
(14) Subsections (12) and (13) do not affect any disclosure that is requested by, and made to, a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order.
(15) For the purposes of subsections (5) and (9) an order is made in the terms of a draft order if it contains no material changes to the provisions of the draft order.
(16) In this section the "60-day period" means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament under subsection (2).'.
I shall also discuss new clause 11 and amendments Nos. 151, 152, 153, 156 and 157, in the name of the Government. All these amendments deal with the membership of integrated transport authorities.
The strengthened powers for local authorities to improve bus services in their areas—which we discussed under the previous group of amendments—will be most effective if they are supported by the right arrangements for taking decisions at a local level. There is a clear consensus that in our larger urban areas outside London the current leadership and delivery arrangements for transport do not work as well as they might and that they need to be updated to reflect changing patterns of transport. The current governance arrangements in our major cities date from 1968. The Transport Act 1968 allowed for the establishment of passenger transport authorities with overall responsibility for public transport services across each of those cities. By the time of the establishment of the metropolitan county councils in 1974, there were six of these PTAs, covering the west midlands, south and west Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear and Merseyside. One was also set up north of the border in Strathclyde. Although the PTAs survived the abolition of the metropolitan county councils in the mid-1980s, the power to create further PTAs was removed from the statute book, even in circumstances where local authorities themselves were keen to see new ones set up. So, the broad arrangements for local transport decision making have, almost unbelievably, effectively been frozen since then.
Over the last quarter of a century, there have, inevitably, been many changes in the transport needs and patterns of different areas—for example, in the distance that commuters are prepared to travel to their workplaces—yet the existing legislation offers very little flexibility to update local arrangements for the planning and delivery of transport, or for one PTA area to do things differently from another, where local needs differ; hence our provision in this part of the Bill.
I come now to the Government's amendments. At present, membership of each of the six English PTAs consists entirely of local councillors representing each of the local authorities that make up the passenger transport area. The Bill offers greater flexibility, both to areas that are considering setting up a new integrated transport area and authority and to those where the existing PTA has become an ITA, as to whether they would prefer to broaden the membership of their ITA to allow a wider range of bodies or persons to be represented on it. At the same time, a majority of members of each ITA would still have to be elected members of the local authorities that make up the integrated transport area.
I shall come on to those points shortly, but let me say that the ITAs will be able to draw together responsibilities for integrated transport. The title of integrated transport authority itself highlights that this is not just a simple change from passenger transport authorities to ITAs, but that it is very much about bringing together all the transport requirements—a point that covers exactly the issue that my hon. Friend raised.
First, let me say that it is up to local authorities to make a decision to review their transport arrangements and to come forward with a proposal to establish an ITA. Therefore, it would be within the scope of the authorities in the hon. Gentleman's area of the Isle of Wight to have discussions and look at whether some form of ITA could be created within those authorities. It is not for the Secretary of State, or central Government in general, to dictate what the local authorities should do; it is up to them to come forward with proposals as to how they might take advantage of the Bill.
A range of issues relating to ITA membership was explored in detail in Committee. In particular, concerns were raised as to whether it was appropriate for those members of an ITA who were not elected representatives of a local authority to be able to vote on matters in the integrated transport authority. As we explained at the time, we are keen not to be too prescriptive in the Bill about the details of the structure of each ITA and how it will operate. As I indicated to the hon. Gentleman, we think that it is far better for us to leave different areas the flexibility to do things differently if they so wish, including deciding whether non-elected members of ITAs should be able to vote.
Just a few moments ago, when we were discussing the previous group of amendments, the Minister agreed about the importance of local democratic accountability. He made the point forcefully that the local authority would have the final say on quality contracts, and that it would not be left to advisers. Will he explain to the House why this is a different principle? Why does he feel that the matter that we are discussing now should be at the discretion of local authorities, and why is the principle of democratic accountability not just as important on this matter as on the one that we were talking about just a few moments ago?
The ITAs will consider all the transport options that exist. We are still giving the final say to local authorities, and in fact it is provided that they will be in the majority on any ITA board. Representatives of the local authorities will make up the larger number, and there will be a minimum of one representative from each authority in the ITA area. Equally, it would be right for them to bring in others, potentially including representatives of users—that option would be open to the ITA and local members—to be involved in their deliberations and discussions. Whether they had voting rights would be decided by the elected members of the ITA. I hope that that covers the hon. Gentleman's point.
May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to new clause 10(5)? I am clearly reading it differently from him. It states that
"it must provide for those members to be non-voting members"—
"must" not "may". As I interpret it, he appears to be saying that they may be non-voting members. The wording in the bit that I am reading, which may not be the bit that applies to what he is saying, states that they must.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is certainly the case that if an ITA decides that it wishes to include other representatives, for example of bus users, operators or a number of other groups depending on local requirements, it will have the ability to do so. It will then be able to decide on which matters those non-elected, non-local authority members will vote. That is exactly the provision.
Perhaps if I turn my attention particularly to new clauses 10 and 11, I may elucidate on what I have just said. Members of all parties recognised that voting arrangements are best decided locally, which was why we were happy to respond with new clause 10, which applies to secondary legislation setting up new ITAs, and new clause 11, which applies to secondary legislation covering ITAs that already exist. They provide that it will be for each ITA to decide for itself whether those of its members who are not elected members of the local authorities but who are appointed by them should be able to vote, and if so, on which issues. That is instead of the issue being determined in the governance order to be made by the Secretary of State.
I have been puzzling over new clause 10(5) and (6) since I first read them. Subsection (6) clearly provides for local determination on the voting rights of non-elected members on a committee, but will that be reversible on a meeting-by-meeting basis?
It will be for the local ITA to decide how that provision will operate. It might decide on voting rights on issues that appear on the agenda for a given meeting, or it might well decide on broad categories of provisions. It could agree that non-elected members cannot vote on finance issues, or another such category. There will clearly be supporting guidance to help ITAs through that process, but it will be for them to deem how they run their own affairs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being generous in giving way on a difficult point. My concern is this: if a party in control of an ITA can bring people on to it and give them voting rights on everything from capital and revenue expenditure to the network route, will it be able to say that those people have voting rights for four years, potentially undermining any elections in its constituent authorities? That is not clear from the new clauses.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. If I recall correctly, the authorities themselves will be able to review provisions under the new clauses periodically. I shall return to that issue shortly, but I recall that they will certainly be able to review them as and when required. Of course, there is a requirement for the ITAs to follow the rules and regulations on political balance, to reflect the constituent local authorities that make up the ITA.
That course of action would be open to individual ITAs. As I have said, it will be up to an ITA to decide locally whether those members have voting rights. That will be entirely its decision to make, and the concern that my hon. Friend Graham Stringer has indicated could be taken into account.
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.
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.
I thank my hon. Friend. I wish to be absolutely certain that it is clear that non-elected members of an ITA will always be in the minority, because we have arranged it in that way.
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.
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.
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.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a clear response: it is a matter for local people—local, democratically elected councillors—on 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".
If he were to accept it, we would cut the Gordian knot on this issue.
Equally, Labour Members believe that local authorities and local elected representatives should have the power to decide, and we want to provide for that.
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?
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.
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?
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 authorities—I knew that I would think of them.
I am sorry to labour this point. I applaud the Minister for what he is saying about giving maximum flexibility to local elected members—that is music to my ears—but 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.
I take on board my hon. Friend's 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 it—that 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.
Would not the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend 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.
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.
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 six—a minority on the PTA—of 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, however—our party would not do that, but we are talking about a hypothetical situation—despite 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.
I accept that there are concerns, but they may differ according to the area. There may be one set of concerns in my hon. Friend's area, and another in the constituency of 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.
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.
Although I would prefer elected members only to take part in votes, I understand the Government's 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 parties—Labour, Liberal Democrat and independents. Increasingly, they are coming into balance on PTAs, so the opportunities to abuse the system are great.
In practice, I am sure that suggestions and guidance will be provided on how ITAs might be set up, but I must reiterate that it will be for the local members to make the final decision—
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?
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.
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.
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 authorities—not 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.
I am glad to see the new clauses, although I would like slightly more clarification of certain parts of them. In Committee I said:
"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"— those that I tabled in Committee in April and May—
"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,
I am pleased to see the new clauses, because they begin to cover the issues that were raised in Committee and have been raised again tonight.
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 Government's 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 Government's 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.
The amendments to the new clauses also complement amendments Nos. 11 and 13, which were tabled before the summer. Amendment No. 11 will ensure that a new ITA can be set up only when there is public consent for it. I have given two options for how that consent could be given. Firstly, the elected councillors on each local authority could agree a resolution. Secondly, there could be a referendum. The principle of local validation and local accountability is extremely important to the Opposition. Indeed, we might return to it if we ever get to the clauses that deal with road charging.
When we debated the creation of ITAs in Committee, I was not alone in thinking that the then Minister was not entirely convincing in trying to persuade us that the current constitution and membership details were bottom-up arrangements and would have the impact and effect that most Members required. Amendment No. 13 goes further, and I hope that the Minister will reflect again on the subject before we finish tonight. The amendment will ensure that only members appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils will be able to vote in the ITA—that is, that only democratically elected members will be able to vote.
Amendment No. 13 goes further than the Government's amendments, which, as we have discussed, say that the ITA can decide when and on what issues members may vote. I think that there is some support for amendment No. 13, which goes to the core of our democratic principles. We want ITAs to be democratically accountable bodies and it is therefore logical that the members of the ITA who are given the power to vote ought to have the mandate to do so by virtue of having been elected by local people to represent them and to take decisions on matters such as local transport.
With the new clauses, the Government have come a long way. They have left the starting blocks and are halfway around the track, and if they were to accept amendment No. 13 they would cross the finish line. I was not initially tempted to press amendment No. 13 to a vote, and I am probably persuaded that I should not. However, I hope that the Minister will consider the number of interventions from his own party and look again carefully at my wording. It will provide him with a way out and with the answer that his Back Benchers were looking for.
Let me turn to the other amendments in the group. Amendments Nos. 26 and 29 have been tabled by the Liberal Democrats, and amendment No. 26 is essentially the same as amendment No. 13. Amendment No. 101 is in the name of Graham Stringer and he states that the ITA will decide what matters non-elected members can vote on. I wonder whether that goes far enough in terms of what the House wants.
I agree with the Minister that amendments Nos. 151 to 153 appear to be purely consequential amendments. I certainly welcome amendment No. 156, which states that sections of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 that relate to political balance on local authority committees cannot be disapplied by order. I think that the Minister has given the clear explanation of amendment No. 157 that I would otherwise have sought. I am certainly looking forward to hearing the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley talk to amendment No. 64, because I am keen to hear exactly what he thinks that it will achieve.
My hon. Friend the Minister found himself in difficulties on this issue. I sympathise, because he walked into the job only very recently. I genuinely hope to be helpful by going through the issues as I see them. I hope that we can come to a resolution, if not now, then possibly in the other place.
When the metropolitan county councils were abolished, it became the constituent authorities' responsibility to send members to the passenger transport authorities and other joint boards. After a lot of argument, it became clear that rules had to be applied to retain the correct political balance. At best, my hon. Friend was not clear about the fact that that political balance relates to the number of members sent to the PTA by the constituent districts. If, for example, there was a Labour majority of one in Wolverhampton, the district could not send three or four Labour delegates to the PTA; it had to be proportionate. That requires a little thought. Although the constituent authorities will do their best to send a proportionate balance of members to the PTA—or, in future, the integrated transport authority—it is likely that the final balance will not reflect the balance across the county.
If, as seems intended in new clauses 10 and 11, we reduce the number of council representatives on the integrated transport authorities to one per authority—that is the minimum—it becomes impossible to reflect the political balance in the county, unless the county is a statistical freak. There are difficulties to do with where we start. In Committee, we discussed holding direct elections or referendums to set up the bodies, but that is not what the amendments that we are discussing are about.
In new clause 10(5) and (6), there is both a prohibition on having non-elected members on an ITA, and a power giving ITAs the ability to waive that prohibition. It is not clear what the purpose is of providing for such members. I do not mind the 47 professors of transport that universities feel they need being on integrated transport authorities. I do not mind bus operators or passengers being on them, either. Discussion with those people would add to elected members' knowledge. However, what is the purpose of allowing non-elected members to vote? I have not heard the Minister give any good reason for that.
I should like to query one statement of fact that the Minister made. He said that voting arrangements were determined locally. That is simply at odds with the facts. Local authorities cannot co-opt people with voting rights on to them. In fact, the right is jealously guarded. The Local Government Act 1972 got rid of aldermen, who had been there for ever—I mean, some of them, personally, had been there for ever. From that point on, all directly elected local authorities have been just that—they have had only elected members. That was the political balance. Where there are joint boards, an attempt is made to recreate that political balance on them. The one exception is police authorities. Historically, magistrates have long been seen as almost equal, if not equal, to elected members of such authorities, but all the other authorities have jealously guarded the situation.
I would therefore be fascinated to hear the objective, beyond that of providing expertise, behind allowing non-elected members. The Minister said repeatedly that elected members will be in a majority, but that is not really the point. Those of us who stand for election do so because we believe certain things. Often, parties believe different things; that is why their representatives stand for election. What matters is the political balance. If the Labour party or Conservative party has one representative on a body, that is the balance that matters, and not whether there are more elected than non-elected members.
I ask my hon. Friend to think about that, because as things stand—given the fact that the relationship between subsections (5) and (6) is ill-defined, and given that there is no clear stated objective—the process can change the political balance of the authority, and we do not know how long for; it may be for four years, or for one year. That can be done while elected members remain in a majority.
As Stephen Hammond said, I attempted to define and address some of those issues in amendment No. 101. Having listened to the debate, however, I think that it does not go far enough. I certainly will not press it to a Division, but I look to the Minister at least to make a statement in the House saying that he will look into the issues with a view to ensuring that the political balance is maintained within authorities. What is proposed in the Bill is at best ill-defined. The provisions were introduced in response to comments made in Committee, and I accept the Government's good will, but they could work to undermine essentially good proposals.
I cast the problem as being to do not just with members, but with the purpose of setting up integrated transport authorities; the Minister referred to that. In one sense, the purpose is to say, "Transport has probably not been considered as important as it should have been in the local democratic context, and we will give it a shove. We will have integrated transport authorities, and after consultation and once statutory instruments have been agreed to in this place and the other place, we will give them the ability to take highways powers away from local authorities." If that is the purpose—to give a push to transport—one has to keep the scheme in the most powerfully democratic context that one can.
I have been on passenger transport authorities, and I have been on the Transport Committee, although I was not on it when I was a member of the Government. I believe in giving transport as much help as it can get, but there are competing interests that must also be part of the democratic process. If one is setting up a bus priority measure, shopkeepers, local residents and pedestrians will often have very different views about it. If the proposals in the Bill were agreed to, and those with special interests from the transport world altered the political balance, there would be less and less possibility of people who disagree with transport proposals gaining their point through the democratic process.
Is there not another problem with the proposal—that it may fall victim to what I might call the Thatcher test? When faced with selecting people, the right hon. Lady often used to ask, "Are they one of us?" It is one thing appointing "one of us" to any sort of authority, but it is quite another to give that person a vote.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
Transport proposals are often at the core of the most intense debate in local areas. In Greater Manchester a tremendous row is going on about the transport innovation fund proposals. A referendum on the matter has been proposed, but many of us believe that the question has been fiddled. Transport is not an easy subject, and to take it further from the democratic process may well be a mistake.
My final amendment does not focus on the detailed working and structure of integrated transport authorities and how they could be made fair, democratic and effective; it deals with how they are created. We had that discussion in Committee. The Government's position is that ITAs should be created by statutory instrument, under the affirmative procedure because they fundamentally change the structure of local government. Highways powers will be changed, and borrowing powers may well be transferred to different authorities. People will be able to vote more easily to effect some policies as an elector if the proposals go ahead.
One of the reasons that the local government structure is not as good as it should be is that these issues are extremely difficult to deal with. People have interests and they often have rows about boundaries and about the powers involved. When I proposed the super-affirmative process—the regulatory reform order—rather than a simple SI, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton made two points in Committee on
"we do not consider these delegations inappropriate", but that is not the same as saying that the proposals are better—that a regulatory reform order or a super-affirmative process would not be better, because the difference between a super-affirmative process and an ordinary SI, apart from the fact that if there is dissent, there can be longer debate on the Floor of both Houses, is that representations can be made directly to the Committee dealing with them and amendments can be made to the regulatory reform order before it is placed before both Houses. On issues that are highly controversial, that separate parliamentary pathway, with more consultation and more ability to amend, is better than an SI, which would be passed on a whipped vote, as the recent changes to Cheshire were.
The other defence deployed by my right hon. Friend was that SIs had recently been introduced for changing local government structure. If one thinks back to the rows and debates that took place about Cheshire, it seems that the system has not worked to the satisfaction of hon. Members or the electorate in Cheshire. People did not feel that they had been convinced.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but in the debate at the start of this group of amendments we have unearthed something unsatisfactory as the Government try in new clause 10 to improve the process of setting up integrated transport authorities. I leave my hon. Friend the Minister with one final thought. If, by means of ITAs, we are trying to set up not good transport authorities with elected members who have a relationship with the electorate, but a process that is moving towards the quangoisation of transport, looking to the way that Transport for London has been set up in a completely different political context, it would be easy to interpret the provision as a way of saying that transport in the metropolitan areas, and possibly eventually in the shire counties or the unitary authorities if they go for the same structure, are on the way to being quangos, because we are creating an almost equal status for non-elected members as for elected members, with no clear idea of the purpose of their voting on that body.
I shall comment briefly on the proposed make-up of integrated transport authorities and the voting rights within them. It is clear that the Minister has considered the concerns expressed in Committee by my hon. Friend Norman Baker and by other hon. Members about the political accountability of ITAs, but unfortunately the Government amendments do not go nearly far enough to allay those concerns.
The guarantee in the Government's new clauses that each ITA would include at least one elected councillor from each local authority is not enough to guarantee political balance and the local accountability of the ITA. In his opening remarks the Minister was quick to argue that the Government were seeking not to dictate to local authorities on the make-up of the new ITAs and whether non-elected members had voting rights, but he was unable to give one example of a local authority or PTA that was asking for the power to include non-elected people in the ITA with voting rights.
The current arrangements for PTAs are hardly perfect, but at least they make some attempt to reflect the relative size of each local authority and its political make-up. In Greater Manchester, for instance, the Labour party recently lost control of the passenger transport authority, but that would almost certainly not have happened if the PTA were made up of one member from each local authority area. The temptation will be great for so-called independent members of ITAs to be selected by political allegiance, rather than because of their transport knowledge.
Surely, therefore, the most appropriate way forward is to ensure that any independently appointed members of the ITA have no voting rights. The Government can attempt to put as many restrictions in place as they want, but if they continue to insist on voting rights for non-elected members, they will seriously damage the accountability of each ITA.
Amendment No. 26 in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes seeks to restrict voting rights on the ITA to elected councillors appointed by individual local authorities, while allowing for independent members who have expertise in transport matters. It is right and proper that an ITA should benefit from the expertise and experience that some appointed members may be able to contribute. It is not right or proper, however, that those people should exercise votes. The only people who should have voting rights are elected members of an ITA's constituent council. Those members are the only ones truly accountable to the local people on whose behalf decisions relating to transport matters are made.
I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it appears to contradict his amendment No. 26, to which he has just referred. The amendment says that
"arrangements must provide that members of the ITA who are not elected members of the ITA's constituent councils may not vote unless this is unanimously agreed by the ITA's elected members."
In the Chamber tonight, the hon. Gentleman appears to be enunciating a principle, which I quite understand; his amendment, however, seems to straddle that principle somewhat. Which is his position?
Ideally, we would take the position that there should be no voting rights for unelected members; I suspect that an ITA would never agree to give voting rights to a non-elected member anyway. However, to try to get the Government's support on this matter, we are pushing an amendment that simply gives the opportunity for local authorities to restrict those voting rights.
Although the Government's new clause 10 heads in roughly the right direction, it does not guarantee accountability. It is not acceptable to put the question of whether an ITA is accountable directly into the ITA's hands; that runs the real risk that an ITA will appoint a large number of co-opted members—little more than party stooges—who would then have the power to thwart the wishes of the electorate and the local community. The Government have a duty to safeguard local democracy, not to threaten it as they are currently doing with this element of the Bill. I shall be slightly bolder than Stephen Hammond and push amendment No. 26 to a Division.
I should like to make four big points. First, we have to be careful about the use of the term "political balance". Although it is possible to ensure that each constituent authority within an ITA area is required to propose representatives who reflect the political balance of their council, it is not possible to construct a system under which all the authorities together are taken as a whole and the political balance of the ITA reflects their total political composition. There cannot be a mechanism for doing that, because there would be nobody to oversee it. There is no way in which we can do it, and we must be careful about that. Currently, under the passenger transport authorities, each local authority selects its members to the transport authority on the basis of the political balance in that authority—and that, I suggest to the Minister, is also how things will have to be done with ITAs.
Secondly, it would help if the Minister said that there would be an attempt to balance representation on grounds of population within local authority areas as well. Currently, there are big differences in population among authorities that constitute passenger transport authorities, and the membership of the PTAs reflects that. I hope that that will be carried through. Obviously, Sheffield is the largest authority in south Yorkshire and if we had an extended ITA for that part of the country, I would like that fact to be reflected. We could end up with a mix of met and non-met districts forming a new ITA in which the differences in population size between the authorities would be even bigger.
Thirdly, I turn to the issue of votes for unelected members. In the end, the arguments are pretty persuasive. There is no good reason in principle why unelected members should have the same votes as those on the same authority who are elected. Nevertheless, in moving as far as they have, the Government may well have been helpful. In the vast majority of circumstances, no group of elected councillors on an ITA will award the vote to people who are not elected; they would not share their democratic entitlements in that way. The only time when that might happen is when people want to play political games—when, for example, the majority on an ITA think that they are going to lose power and seek to appoint like-minded people to positions as non-elected members and then give them the vote.
I think, however, that the Minister has already said that the decision on whether non-elected members should have a vote on the ITA should come up after each local authority election at the very least, so that it could be repeated. Indeed, there was some suggestion that the voting members on the ITA might be able to vote on the rights of non-elected members at any time. That might deal with the problem.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said so far. Is not the problem that the Government are standing too far back? They should be saying that setting a framework within which everyone had to operate would in no way affect local accountability. That framework should be designed to prevent abuse and ensure democratic accountability.
In new clause 10, the Government are trying to set a better framework. Some on the Labour Benches are just trying to encourage the Minister to make the framework a little more specific to secure democratic accountability and prevent the misuse of powers.
Finally, I turn to the potential extension of the new PTA areas and the new ITAs. I think that that is a real possibility in south Yorkshire, north Derbyshire, north Nottinghamshire and perhaps even north Lincolnshire. The issue is exciting, because the current PTA boundary ends at the bottom of my garden. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about that, but the problem is that the travel-to-work area does not end there. The travel-to-work area of Sheffield, as a city region, extends into north Derbyshire, north Nottinghamshire and north Lincolnshire. Good relationships are now developing between the various local authorities, which want to come together on issues of transport, and perhaps skills, to consider how they can work together better.
I do not think that everything is sweetness and light between the districts and county in Derbyshire, and elsewhere, about how that will be done; there are some tensions that will have to be talked through. However, the possibility of doing that is a positive and helpful step in the Bill. I ask the Minister to think about the one issue that might be restrictive. I am thinking of representatives of an ITA that incorporated only part of a county but the whole of certain districts within that county, which could happen in, for example, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. In such a case, there would have to be a decision on whether the county or each individual district was represented on the ITA. Might not making that decision, and saying that only one or the other could have representation, create a further problem for an agreed way forward between the county and districts on those other issues? Will the Minister think about how such a restriction might prove more unhelpful than it need be?
We have certainly had an interesting discussion about the provisions of integrated transport authorities—those that exist and those that we want local authorities to consider as a way forward.
The last comment made by my hon. Friend Mr. Betts was about the representation of districts and counties. He is right that there is a minimum position of there being a representative either from each of the districts or from the county council, by agreement. We are saying that that would be the minimum representation. I shall come back to the other matters that he raised and reflect on other things that he mentioned. I shall try to deal with some of the amendments and then with the issues that have been raised individually.
Amendment No. 11 relates to clause 73, under which the Secretary of State can make an order establishing a new integrated transport authority and integrated transport area where the local authorities in the area have reviewed their existing governance arrangements and have published a scheme that proposes that an ITA be set up. However, let me make it absolutely clear: an ITA to be established can usually cover only those geographical areas included in the proposals for a new ITA put forward by two or more local authorities—county councils, metropolitan districts, councils or unitary councils. The only exception to that rule would be in the circumstances that two or more authorities have not only been directed by the Secretary of State to undertake a review of all or part of their area but have been directed by the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a scheme for the establishment of a new ITA in that area or part of that area. I would expect that to be a rare occurrence, if it ever proved necessary at all. However, there might, for instance, be a major difference of opinion between neighbouring authorities that made it impossible for them to decide what area a new ITA should cover, thus holding up a review that could lead to improvements to transport locally.
In those circumstances, a direction by the Secretary of State determining the likely area of an ITA could remove the main blockage to a review going forward. If the local authorities failed to comply with such a direction, the Secretary of State would be able, subject to the procedures and safeguards set out in the Bill, to make an order setting up the new ITA. The Bill already provides several constraints on the Secretary of State's power to establish a new ITA—for instance, the procedural safeguard of consulting representatives of appropriate authorities and others. What is more, any governance order setting up a new ITA would need to be approved by this House and by another place.
These safeguards will enable individual local authorities properly to represent the interests of those who live and work in their areas. I am not convinced that requiring a local referendum or the passing of resolutions before an ITA may be established would provide any worthwhile extra protection. It is worth repeating that people using transport in the area may not always live within the boundaries of the proposed ITA itself, especially where it is an urban area that has a large number of commuters. I hope that my explanation has convinced hon. Members that the safeguard that they are attempting to introduce into the Bill is unnecessary and that they are able to withdraw their amendments.
I turn to the Conservative amendments to new clauses 10 and 11. I have already explained the purposes of the new clauses, one of which is to provide that non-elected members of an ITA should have voting rights only where the existing voting members of that authority agree. This deals with the concern expressed in Committee that having non-elected members could lead to a shift in the political balance of the ITA. That is why, as some right hon. and hon. Members have recognised, we moved to reflect the debate that took place in Committee.
"Only those members appointed from among the elected members of the constituent councils".
That is slightly different from the Liberals' amendment, which would provide the flexibility that the House does not appear to want. I hope that I will be able to press my amendment at the appropriate time, because the Minister has not given me the reassurance that I sought.
Amendment No. 13 would mean that non-elected members had no voting rights at all under any circumstances. I have already been through that discussion. Mr. Leech referred to the fact that individual authorities have not yet asked for non-elected members because they have not yet undertaken a review of their governance arrangements in those areas. We are not forcing non-elected voting members on anybody—we are providing the possibility that that can be decided at a local level. We have said that non-elected members cannot vote unless the ITA wants them to do so.
My hon. Friend has mentioned other examples of where this happens—for example, police authorities. If the provision is not widespread, that does not mean that it should not apply and that we should not be far-thinking in getting the arrangements for governance of the transport system in our towns and cities that we think are right and will deliver. One reason for giving non-elected members the power to vote could be to give a voice to passengers from outside the ITA area, such as those who commute to the travel-to-work area. That was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe, who welcomed the ability to change the boundaries of existing areas because of changing travel-to-work areas. All these measures reflect the changes that have happened over the past 25 years or so while provisions on the Government's arrangements for transport within our major cities have been frozen without the ability to introduce any new ones.
My hon. Friend mentioned the sort of constituency that might be represented by co-opted members who are given the vote, but to whom would they be accountable? Does the situation that he describes override the fears of abuse that have been expressed around the Chamber?
ITAs are responsible to local authorities and, ultimately, to the people whom they serve—the travelling public. I reiterate that this is about making a provision for an ITA to take if it so wishes. If it wants to incorporate and involve non-elected members—for example, representatives from user groups, operators, or other interested bodies that it thinks would add to its deliberations—that is one of its powers. The second power is the ability to say, "You can vote or you can choose not to vote." It is a matter to be decided locally.
Many of us would find it much more reassuring if my hon. Friend were able to give the House a commitment on the point about "review at election", if I could use that shorthand for Members who have taken part in the debate. Would the voting status of non-elected members who were given a vote by the ITA have to be reviewed by the elected members at the first meeting subsequent to any council elections?
That might be a good provision to be incorporated within the constitution of an ITA, but I want to talk further about the question of a review after an election. An amendment was tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon to new clause 10 that would require that members were appointed precisely in proportion to their representation. This is an example of where the provision would work exactly as my hon. Friend Rob Marris says.
As other hon. Members have said, it is unlikely that we would always have a situation where a precise political balance on an appointing council matches the number of appointments that it can make to an ITA. That is why the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 sets out at length the way in which political balance works. Section 15 sets out principles by which appointments can be balanced. When political balance changes, the duty on the appointing authority is to review the representation as soon as is practical thereafter. A review would therefore be going on, even if there was not a change of political balance, because the legislation requires it. Section 15(6) of the 1989 Act deals with non-elected appointees by requiring the number of such appointees to be taken into account.
No, I do not accept that because of the safeguards in the Bill that I hope we will pass today, and in the 1989 Act. I do not believe that the proposals would do as the hon. Gentleman describes. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe talked about reflecting population differences in the numbers that could come from each participating authority. That is a possibility, and the relevant ITA could decide to reflect the population on that basis. The effect of further amendments to new clauses 10 and 11 would be to preclude any representation on ITAs other than by elected councillors. The Government believe that non-elected members of the ITA could have an important role to play if the local ITA so decided.
Amendment No. 64, tabled by my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, would introduce additional procedures for any orders making changes to existing transport governance arrangements in any part of the country that the Secretary of State might make using his powers in clauses 73 to 91. A key objective of the Bill is to allow local government arrangements to be tailored to meet local needs. In contrast to the current statutory arrangements, which are extremely inflexible, the Bill allows for separate orders to be made to introduce changes in different parts of the country. An order covering the west midlands could include different provisions from one covering Merseyside. That is why provisions cannot be included on the face of the Bill, and need to be left to secondary legislation.
I entirely accept that the Bill provides for significant reforms to be covered in secondary legislation. That is why the affirmative procedure will apply, so that all such orders would need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That is entirely consistent with the findings of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the House of Lords. The Committee considered the issue carefully. It noted the procedures and safeguards that are included in the Bill, and concluded:
"we do not consider these delegations inappropriate".
Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to consider his amendment unnecessary. I think that I have covered all the points raised in the debate, and with that I urge hon. Members to support new clause 10 and to reject the amendments tabled.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time.
Amendment proposed to the proposed new clause: (b), in line 12, at end insert—
"(d) for those members to be appointed from among the elected members of the different political parties represented in the constituent councils, in such numbers as to be proportionate to the representation of political parties on those councils".— [Stephen Hammond.]