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 Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:15 pm, 22nd April 2008

I shall be brief because we have gone around the houses on this. The contribution of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley has been extremely helpful in crystallising some of the issues that we have been discussing. He is right to say that they are to some degree a trade-off between independence and accountability. He is also right to draw attention to Tom Winsor and the history of the rail industry. If in doubt, we should come down on the side of accountability because we are talking about public funds and the discharge of important public functions. There is considerable potential for an individual, with or without Government guidance, to behave in a way that is not sympathetic to Government policy, to the local authority in the area that they look after or to the needs of bus passengers and others.

I hope that the Minister will accept that we need to improve accountability procedures. She has already given one or two hints that she might be willing to look at matters such as annual reports and so on. Without over-egging the pudding, it is important that we have some answers. With the best will in the world, the Government want to see bus services improved. They may try to adapt the Transport Act 2000 to bring about those improvements and they will have support from many people in the country and in this House. However, there is a danger that they could be thwarted by the actions of individual traffic commissioners who will be beyond control from the systems put in place by the Government. When the Minister reflects on those matters, I hope that she will consider whether we need further controls. I do not mean day-to-day controls on the traffic commissioners—no one is suggesting that they be micro-managed or that their individual decisions be regulated on a day-to-day basis—but there should be regular checks to ensure that they are doing their job properly and are in line with public policy. I do not think that there are mechanisms for doing so. I have suggested a fixed-term contract as one way to do it. If the Minister does not like that, we must find a different way, but we cannot just allow people to be appointed—I agree with the point about the Select Committee, by the way; it is a useful suggestion—and then run off to do their own thing irrespective of what the public at large need or what local authorities or indeed Ministers want them to do.