Local Transport Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 22nd April 2008.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:15 pm, 22nd April 2008

My hon. Friend was in Committee this morning, and that is exactly the point that I made when explaining why we rejected the idea of short-term contracts. Amendment No. 152, tabled by the hon. Member for Lewes, would have introduced a short-term contract, and my hon. Friend may even have voted on  it, but the Government’s response was that that is not the right approach. It is important for the traffic commissioner to be able to build up experience, particularly given the quasi-judicial role, and it is important that he should not always need to keep an eye on what might happen a year down the line. To ensure independence, it is important that the commissioner does not feel that his job will be up for renewal every three years; it should be a full-time appointment.

Hon. Members need to bear in mind that we believe that the Secretary of State should issue guidance rather than general directions, which is the position now, because it will improve the independence of the traffic commissioner. We have clarified why we want to change the position.

My hon. Friend asked about the issuing of guidance. It is important that traffic commissioners should be independent when making quasi-judicial decisions. It is important also that they should be accountable for the way in which they use public money and for their overall efficiency in carrying out their duties; and there should be accountability to Parliament, as the Secretary of State can issue guidance on some of the principles of operation. The traffic commissioner’s work will involve decisions about large sums of public money. In future he may also have to make decisions about bus services. It is important to ensure that the Secretary of State has the ability to issue guidance in that way. I would have thought that right hon. and hon. Members would think it rather odd if that were not the case given that the implementation of any Government’s transport policies depend on them being able to consider what guidance they want to put out.

With regard to training and experience, the main criteria is the ability to run a tribunal and have experience or knowledge of road transport law and practice. Those are the main qualifications for a traffic commissioner. I am not sure that I can see the Transport Committee as some kind of interviewing panel for the position of senior traffic commissioner. I do not know whether that would be appropriate if we want to ensure independence. It is a matter for the Select Committee to decide who it invites to give evidence. During the draft Local Transport Bill, I recall the traffic commissioners being summoned before the Transport Committee. I know that the Committee commented on the traffic commissioner proposals, particularly pointing out that it wanted to ensure that there was adequate funding. Therefore, it is up to the Transport Committee to be able to summon whoever it wants as witnesses. I hope that that is helpful.