Local Transport Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 22nd April 2008.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 10:45 am, 22nd April 2008

I associate myself with the remarks made about your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor, and that of Lady Winterton. I very much associate myself with the remarks made about Gwyneth Dunwoody. As the Minister may remember, I referred to Gwyneth in my speech on  Second Reading, saying that I heard she had been ill, and that I wished her a speedy recovery. During the last sitting before the recess, I met her in the Speaker’s Corridor and she announced that she was back in rude health. It was a shock to see that she had had a serious relapse during the recess, and this place is much the poorer for her passing. She was fiercely independent, but we always listened to what she said because she always had a valid point to make. She will be missed in all parts of the House.

I am rather surprised that we are here today. On 17 April, the Leader of the House made it clear—mainly in response to criticisms from the Conservative party, but also following comments made by the Liberal Democrats—that the Government intended to honour the long-established practice of purdah. She gave a commitment that, before 1 May, no announcements would be made that could influence the local elections, either by being of a local nature or by being something that local newspapers could treat as such. However, we are being asked to start our consideration of the Local Transport Bill—never mind not sitting on 1 May, it would have been better if we had not sat until after that date.

I am not happy with the programme motion. That is not due to any lack of time given to debate the measure, although it is arguable that more time should have been given. I just do not think that the motion is necessary at all. In 18 months’ time, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon will be sitting on the other side of this room as Transport Minister, I hope that he does not put a programme motion before a similar Committee before it has started its deliberations.

Some years ago, I had the honour of serving as a Whip in the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major. At that stage, it was common practice for a guillotine motion to be used in Committee only when there was a clear attempt to filibuster by the Opposition, and when that filibustering had gone on for several days. We did not need to use a guillotine motion in any of the Committees that I whipped for the Government. Indeed, the last Committee that I whipped was a most enjoyable affair where all aspects of the Bill were agreed by me and the Labour party’s Home Office spokesman. That spokesman was Tony Blair, and he was as good as his word throughout the Committee’s proceedings. Such agreement helps the Committee to focus on those aspects of a Bill that are of concern to the Opposition.

It is important that the Opposition voice on any measure that seeks to change the law is properly heard, and when we have a Conservative Government I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon will not put such motions before Committees. This motion is not necessary and I would like him to oppose it, even though he may have agreed to its content.

The Minister continues to express concern about why the Bill was opposed on Second Reading. Quite simply, many of us do not agree with the concept of road charging. The Liberal Democrats did not want to be associated with some of our policies—