As I said on Second Reading, I am sure the whole Committee will share some unanimity over large parts of the Bill. It will undoubtedly be a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and that of Lady Winterton, because I see that the Committee includes a number of hon. Members who served last year on the Crossrail Bill Committee, whose proceedings were completed in an efficient, good-mannered, good-natured and constructive manner. I am sure we will be able to do the same in this case, despite a number of relatively contentious issues.
As the Minister said, the Bill is very different from some of the other Bills that have been introduced in the transport arena over the last few years. The last two or three that we have considered in Committee have been technical Bills, but this one is not. It includes a broad array of topics, ranging from bus services and road pricing to community transport and local transport governance. I was, therefore, grateful that the Minister and her officials gave us the opportunity of a pre-briefing session, and answered a number of questions. We were grateful because that will help the scrutiny of the Committee.
I am also grateful that we were able to negotiate the possibility of the Bill being timetabled for 10 sittings. The Bill is, as the Minister said, an important one. There are large elements of agreement. Even where there is agreement, however, there are issues on which we need to understand the detail of the Government’s thinking. There are also issues of clear contention, and the Minister seemed almost theatrically surprised about some of them. She expressed her surprise several times on Second Reading, which made me wonder what she was auditioning for. None the less we are grateful for the time to explore the issues in Committee.
The only surprise for the Opposition about the timetabling is that we are starting the Bill before 1 May. However, like most of the Committee, I am grateful for the opportunity not to be here on 1 May so that we can go out, to attack or to defend, and help our colleagues in local government in one way or another.
I reinforce the point we made on Second Reading: we support large elements of the Bill, but there are elements that we cannot support. The Minister talked about the decline of bus patronage, which I am sure we will explore in more detail. However, it cannot have escaped her notice that the vast bulk of bus patronage decline happened before deregulation. Deregulation is emphatically not the cause for the decline in bus usage, so re-regulation is not the way to arrest that decline.
The role of the Committee will be to try to improve the Bill. We will try to do so constructively. Effective partnership is clearly the way to successful bus networks, which, as the Minister, her officials and the Committee will have noticed, is the thrust of our amendments in that section. I suspect that it will take up a large amount of our timetable.
I am in clear agreement with the Minister about one more thing. I want to place on record the condolences of the official Opposition to the family of Gwyneth Dunwoody. Her presence or her comments have been writ large over any debate concerning transport in the House over the last few years. Her presence will be felt on the Bill, even though she is not here. We express our sincere condolences to her family.