Clause 7

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 22 April 2008.

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Local transport policies

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in clause 7, page 9, line 36, at end insert—

‘(1A) In subsection 108(1) leave out “and economic”.’.

Looking back at the relevant parts of the Transport Act 2000, I was struck by the number of words, and the next set of amendments will explore some of my thinking in the same way. I was struck by the word “economic”. To remind the Committee, section 108 of the Act states:

“Each local transport authority must...develop policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within their area.”

However, nowhere in the Act can I find a definition of “economic”. Part 2 of the Local Transport Bill makes interesting changes in how local authorities formulate and implement their transport policies. Given those changes, it is important to ensure that we are clear, and that we tighten up the definitions of exactly what a transport policy should be.

I do not think that anyone in the Committee will disagree with the assertion that a local authority should develop plans and policies that deliver the best value for money—that is especially pertinent at a time when many councils find themselves strapped for cash—but “economic”, in classic terms, means getting the maximum possible average utility for the amount spent and the maximum marginal utility for any extra money spent or, in shorter dictionary terms, the thrifty and efficient use of material resource.

For the provision to have any relevance to the Bill, it ought to include some definition of the words. I note that the next set of amendments proposes even more definitions. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government have a clear, precise definition of “economic”. If not, perhaps she will go back to her officials—

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

The hon. Gentleman proposes an interesting probing amendment and I am interested in his comments. Would it not have been a better probing amendment if, rather than deleting “economic”, he had inserted “add ‘effective and efficient’”? Those are the three “Es” that the Audit Commission uses to test the public sector.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My amendment would have been more to the purpose if I had made that point. He will see that I shall be testing some of those words in a later group of amendments. I seek from the Minister some indication  of exactly what she means by the word “economic”, how she intends to ensure that it is put into the guidance attached to the Bill and how she intends to make it known to local authorities for the purposes of their policy formulation.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The amendment would amend the duty of local transport authorities under section 108 of the Transport Act 2000—to answer some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley—to

“develop policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic, from and within their area”.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon wants to remove the word “economic”. His opening comments were quite helpful, as we were at something of a loss to understand what was meant by the amendment.

I believe, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members accept, that it is important for local authorities’ transport policies to be economic. Authorities need to take into account the costs of implementing their transport policies. I should add that transport is not an end in itself. Effective transport is often a key factor underpinning successful local economies. Transport can play an incredibly important part in getting people to and from work and getting goods to market, for example. The economic aspect of transport is critical, and we want local authorities to address it in their transport planning. Local authorities have said time and time again in my discussions with them that they see transport as a critical way of supporting the local economy, but at the same time they want to ensure how transport policies will be paid for.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister has fallen into the trap that I was worried about. She talks about having regard to local economies, which is clear and vital, but that is not necessarily the same as having an economic transport policy. To someone else that might mean value for money, how much is being spent, and what people get out of the policy. I have proposed a probing amendment to ensure that local authorities are given the correct guidance about exactly what the Government mean by economic. Does it mean that the policy has to stand up to some value-for-money spending test or is it about whether the policy supports the overall local economy? If the definition is left imprecise, local authorities will have to grapple with those important matters.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

It is a mixture of both, and that flexibility is important in local transport policies. When a local authority comes up with a local transport plan, we want it to be clear about how its plans will be paid for. Of course, those plans must be economic—it would be ridiculous for transport authorities to come up with plans that they simply cannot pay for and are just a wish list.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

They do that every day of the week.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Conservative authorities do perhaps. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman believes that every day of the week local authorities come up with unrealistic plans. I think that they plan quite well in terms of the  policies that they introduce. However, it is also important that local authorities consider the effect that transport will have on their local economy. As I said earlier today on the Floor of the House, we issue guidance to local authorities on drawing up their transport plans. We review that information and consult with stakeholders about the guidance we are issuing. Most reasonable people would understand what we mean by first of all making sure that policies are economic in the sense that they can be paid for, and they would also understand that transport plans should aim to help to improve the local economy.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has proposed a probing amendment and I hope that having been probed, it was helpful.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Slightly, but not very. The Minister said that she issues guidance, so presumably somewhere in it is a definition of “economic”. Is there or is there not that definition in the guidance? As I pointed out, one person’s view of the definition of “economic” can be very different from another person’s.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I shall give the hon. Gentleman the legal advice, which I hope will help—I think it is common sense actually. In legislation any word either has the meaning specified in the relevant legislation or the ordinary, natural meaning of the word. In this case, without a definition in legislation, the ordinary, natural meaning of the word will be used, which is not necessarily the same as a technical academic meaning. If we were all being reasonable, we could understand what we mean by economic and most people would accept that as a definition, as I have said. It means ensuring that transport policies can be paid for and help the local economy. The Committee should send the message that we want such a pragmatic approach to be adopted by local authorities when they are considering transport planning.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for providing the legal definition.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Or a lawyer’s definition of the word “economy”. The only trouble is that if we went heavily into party politics, we would find that we have many different views of the word “economic”. With your permission Lady Winterton, I shall withdraw the amendment. However, I give the Minister notice that I might come back to the matter on Report.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

In the interests of being helpful, I assure the hon. Gentleman that if local authorities tell us that they are so puzzled by what we mean by “economic” that they are unable to put together transport plans, we shall attempt in guidance to help them along about what we mean. However, I believe that they will probably understand what we mean by the use of the word “economic”.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:15, 22 April 2008

One local authority might well know what the Government mean, but others may not. That is the point of my argument. Furthermore, the definition may change depending on who is in power. As I said, I thank the Minister for being helpful. I thank her for giving me the legal definition. I give notice that we might come back to the matter of definitions on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 145, in clause 7, page 9, line 36, at end insert—

‘(1A) In section 108 (local transport plans), subsection (1)(a), after “efficient”, insert “environmentally sustainable”.’.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 153, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, at end insert—

‘(c) to reduce aggregate emissions of greenhouse gases from local transport activities, taking Government targets as defined in legislation and guidance as a minimum.’.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I am interested in a different “E”. It stands for environment or the phrase “environmentally sustainable” that I want to insert into the clause. I must say straightaway to the Minister that I do not intend to define that phrase in the Bill, but I am relying on its natural meaning to come across and hope that she understands what I want to convey. I want to reflect on the fact that the Transport Act 2000 to which reference was made when we discussed the previous amendment, required local transport authorities to develop transport policies that are safe, integrated, efficient and economic. I argue that, if we intend to elevate such principles to the front of the local transport plan, it would be an omission not to include—these days particularly—environmental sustainability.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I do not intend to let the hon. Gentleman get away with running away from definitions so easily. I have asked at least 10 Transport Ministers to define “sustainable”. They have not come up with the same answer. Some of them have not come up with any answer. I should be interested in his definition of “sustainable” under the amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I shall happily do my best. The most significant challenge that we face is climate change, so we must move towards a transport system that minimises as far as possible the emission of carbon. That is not the entire definition of sustainability. There are other issues, such as whether to take up the countryside with new roads and so on, but my primary objective in tabling the amendment and amendment No. 153 is to deal with climate change.

Before the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, I was saying that our objective is to elevate the concept of the environment to the same position of importance as the other criteria of safe, integrated, efficient and economic. It is not appropriate merely to have the issue placed somewhere else in the Bill. The Minister might come back to the reference under clause 8(4)(2ZB)(b) to having regard to the “improvement of the environment”. That is true, but it is not placed in the same elevation as  the four adjectives of safe, integrated, efficient and economic, which it should be in these days of concern about climate change.

A moment ago, the Minister referred to the importance of transport underpinning the economy. That is perfectly true. We must have a good transport system to enable the economy to function. She will also recognise that, when people move from A to B, there is an environmental consequence. A footprint is generated by that movement—more if it is aviation, but less if trains are involved. When drawing up plans, it is important that local transport authorities have such a matter at the forefront of their thoughts to ensure that they taking it into account when formulating their policies. It would not be a good transport plan if it met the four conditions presently required of safe, integrated, efficient and economic, but had total disregard for the environment and a largely negative impact on carbon emissions, in particular.

The Minister will tell me that the Government are the first Government in the world to introduce a Climate Change Bill, and many of us are very pleased about that. The Climate Change Bill will require each section of society that is responsible for carbon emissions to significantly minimise those emissions by 2050. The Minister will also be aware that the transport sector is responsible for about a third of the carbon emissions in the country—perhaps marginally less. Therefore, what local councils do with their transport policies, with guidance from central Government, is crucial if we are to meet the carbon reduction targets that the Government have rightly identified to take on the climate change challenge that we all face. The Department for Transport will have to meet its own targets, which must be counted in with the Government’s efforts to try to cut carbon emissions. It would be peculiar if, at the same time as recognising this huge challenge facing society and the huge cut in carbon emissions that is needed, we do not even mention, as one of the primary objectives in the local transport plans, the question of environmental sustainability.

Amendment No. 153 goes even further. It recognises that we should be asking local transport authorities to set targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the activities in their area over which they have influence. We are all going to have targets. We have national targets, Government targets, and internal targets for each Department. Why should the local transport plans not be proactive and help the Government deliver their overall national strategic policy of carbon cuts by having their own reduction targets? Without that specific requirement up front, local transport plans will carry on very much as they have done, delivering a mish-mash service with a bit of economic development here, and helping people to get from A to B. The traditional objective of the local transport plans will carry on. Unless we highlight the environment in a way that has not been done previously, I have no confidence that the local transport authorities will respond to the climate change challenge that we all recognise needs to be met. The Government will be in danger of having a national target that is not being delivered locally because local transport plans are not pursuing it.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am interested in the argument that the hon. Gentleman is making in respect of amendment No. 153, but how would a local authority enforce it? If  their targets have been met, would they then say that a major city or town, for example, will have no more diesel-powered buses for the rest of the year? Surely, such a measure is unenforceable at a local level.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I do not think that the measure is unenforceable because when the local transport authorities draw up their plans, they will have consultations with a number of bodies, as indeed they should. That will include bus operators. If my amendments are accepted—I think that the hon. Member for Wimbledon has similar amendments—they will include discussions with the rail operators in a particular area. As part of the discussions for fulfilling the contract, they can start specifying the sort of buses that they wish to see. They could have influence over the timetable and the frequency of buses. Through such measures, we can realistically identify ways of reducing the carbon footprint in the transport sector. I do not think that it is impossible. I agree that it is not possible to tie it down to the last possible degree and say that we will achieve it by 8.3 per cent. However, it is possible to highlight environment sustainability in a way that is not presently done and to try to hold some discussions that are not taking place now. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to my arguments and I look forward to her response.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy PPS (Rt Hon Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

I agree to some extent with the sentiments that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Lewes although I do not think that his amendments are necessary to achieve the objectives that he espouses. I may be pre-empting the Minister, but I think that the provisions in clause 8 outlining the new duties on local authorities with respect to the protection or improvement of the environment will be sufficient. In my constituency and in Bristol as a whole, there is incredibly strong support for the sort of environmental objectives that he mentioned. I probably get more letters on climate change than on any other topic. Bristol aims to become the green capital of the United Kingdom—a laudable ambition.

There is particularly strong support for cycling in Bristol; apart from walking, it is most environmentally sustainable system of transport. That is already reflected in the local transport plans, but I hope that this new provision will give greater impetus to it. Sustrans, which is based in Bristol, has just won £50 million from the People’s £50 Million contest for developing a national network of cycle paths.

On a slightly more controversial note, the strength of support for cycling was demonstrated when it was suggested recently that there might be a rapid transport bus link alongside the Bristol to Bath cycle path. More than 10,000 people signed a petition and more than 1,000 marched in order to demonstrate their support for that project. I am glad to see that Bristol city council is working with Sustrans on developing schemes to improve bus travel in the city and to improve cycling provision—although the former should not be at the expense of the latter. When considering moving forward with the local transport plans, that is the sort of partnership that we need.

While talking about sustainable forms of transport, the Minister recently visited my constituency and travelled on the showcase bus route, the second in the city. I use this opportunity—perhaps somewhat audaciously—to  make a plea for her to release the further money needed for the third showcase bus route and a bus lane on the M32. Now that that is out of the way, I turn to the amendments.

As suggested by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, it would be incredibly burdensome for local authorities to have to meet specific targets. We are always being urged to reduce the number of targets and to give local authorities the freedom to decide how to operate and the flexibility to decide what is best for the locality. With something like transport—by definition, it means moving in and out of local authority boundaries—I do not see how local authorities or integrated transport authorities, which are responsible for everything that happens within their boundaries, could be held to legally binding targets. The Liberal Democrats support that in terms of the national climate change targets, and I accept their good motives, but it needs to be expressed as general guidance to local authorities rather than something that ties them down.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

As the hon. Member for Lewes said, the provision places certain obligations on local authorities under their local plans. He wants to place two more obligations on them. The obligation of environmental sustainability seems sensible, although I assumed that it was already there. One person’s definition of “integrated” and what it implies is another person’s mis-definition, which is why I thought it was probably included. It is certainly there in clause 8.

The hon. Gentleman would have overcome the definitional questions about which he was being probed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley if he had used the words “with respect to protection or improvement of the environment” as the criteria. None the less, I have spoken several times today about the principle of including in the Bill a clear interpretation so that mistakes cannot be made.

I would have sympathy with the hon. Member for Lewes if he wished to press amendment No. 145 to a Division. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, East about amendment No. 153. First, a plethora of Government targets is already imposed on local authorities. What she said about transport moving and therefore being more difficult to capture in a discrete area is also relevant. Although I have some sympathy with the aim of amendment No. 153, if the hon. Member for Lewes were to press it, I would not ask my colleagues to support it. We may not vote against it, but we certainly would not support it.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 5:30, 22 April 2008

This has been a short but instructive debate with lots of interesting observations. I am worried about my speech because most of my points have been anticipated by other members of the Committee, but it is important that we have discussed issues relating to sustainability and the reduction of transport emissions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East on cleverly raising the issue of the third showcase bus route. I visited her constituency and I  was impressed at the enthusiasm for looking at other forms of travel, particularly cycling. I managed to congratulate Sustrans on the work that it has already done to promote cycling in the constituency. It is something that my hon. Friend is very keen on and I know that she was concerned about the other bus route and that cycling in her city should not be undermined as a result. I am pleased to see that it looks as though some accommodation has been reached on that.

Hon. Members have raised a number of points about amendment No. 145. That would add an explicit reference to environmental sustainability to the duty under section 108 of the Transport Act 2000 for transport authorities to develop and implement policies on transport. The sustainability of present and future transport arrangements in a local authority area is clearly one of the most fundamental issues to be considered when drawing up policies and plans. As was anticipated in the opening remarks, clause 8 already places a new duty on local authorities to take account of the Government’s policies

“with respect to the protection or improvement of the environment,”.

It also requires those authorities to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to that.

In such guidance, we would expect to cover issues such as air quality, noise and climate change—matters that local authorities would need to address when devising and implementing their transport policies and local transport plans. That is further supplemented by the Government guidance issued in September last year as part of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006. In exercising any of its functions, every local authority must have regard to that report, which includes guidance on transport among a full range of other advice. In that light, I would expect the environment and sustainability to be at the forefront of a local authority’s mind, both in developing and implementing its transport policies, and in producing local transport plans. We expect any guidance that we issue to address questions of sustainability and the environment in relation to transport in local areas. I understand the points raised by the hon. Member for Lewes—he obviously takes the issue extremely seriously, as do we all—but I do not think that there are any obvious gaps to fill in the existing duties for local authorities as amended by the Bill.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

There is indeed guidance—I referred to it in my opening remarks—but the Minister has not yet given me an explanation why, in respect of the four key words “safe, integrated, efficient and economic”, which are elevated above all others in the Transport Act 2000, there is no reference to the environment. That is what concerns me. The environment is effectively second-tier compared with those four criteria.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I have tried to explain the various other duties, particularly those relating to the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, in clause 8. We feel that there is adequate guidance and instruction to local authorities to consider the effect of any plans on the environment. Amendment No. 153 would create a new duty on local authorities developing and  carrying out transport policies to reduce the total level of greenhouse gas emissions from local transport in their area, taking Government targets as the minimum standard to be achieved.

Of course the Government seek to reduce emissions across the economy and not just within transport. The Stern report highlighted the need for flexibility to take action where it costs least in order to ensure that the cost of mitigation is manageable. The Climate Change Bill, which recently came to the House from the other place, will provide binding legislation for this country to meet its climate change obligations. It will also set a long-term framework for cutting total UK domestic CO2 emissions by 26 to 32 per cent. by 2020 and by at least 60 per cent. by 2050.

The transport sector will have to make a deliverable, measurable and cost-effective contribution to those targets. In October 2007, the Government published a new framework document, “Towards a Sustainable Transport System”, with the aim of delivering a transport system that both supports the economy and reduces carbon emissions. We are discussing our climate change challenges with stakeholders and will publish our thoughts in a Green Paper later this year for more formal consultation. We will also identify potential emissions reduction pathways for transport, considering the full range of options for putting transport on a less carbon-intensive path and including different types of journeys and transport modes.

Although I understand entirely what the amendment is meant to achieve, introducing such a duty on local authorities on a local level relating to transport alone could prove counter-productive by reducing their flexibility to contribute to the achievement of national targets—a point that was made earlier—and preventing them from achieving the best value reductions for their resources. I believe that the Government’s proposed approach offers a better way forward, and I hope that, given that reassurance and the other commitments, the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

The suggestion that flexibility should be applied is, on the face of it, entirely reasonable, but flexibility in this matter all too often makes some people think that they have a licence to carry on as normal and that others should make cuts to achieve the Government’s targets. Some will interpret flexibility as an excuse to do nothing. Although industry has made significant cuts in carbon emissions and they are even now being made in the home sector, transport emissions continue to rise. I am sorry to say that the Government’s policies, particularly on aviation, suggest that those emissions will rise significantly more, rather than being cut. I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument that flexibility will necessarily deliver the overall cuts that she implied.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask local authorities to consider not simply the totality of their carbon emissions reduction targets, but what they are doing sector by sector. Local government acts in silos, just as central Government do. It is the natural function of government to behave in that way. If we can get integrated government, great, but that is how people behave.

My question to the Minister is, if she does not like amendment No. 153—I freely accept that there are difficulties with it—what confidence can we have that what she is putting in place will deliver carbon reduction targets from transport locally, and that the impetus will be there for local councils and others to take the movement forward to meet the Government’s national targets? I am not convinced that that impetus is there, and the Government are in danger of having a national target that they cannot enforce because, locally, the action has not been taken to render it effective.

My other concern is on amendment No. 145. The Minister can find arguments against amendment No. 153 that are to some extent legitimate, although I do not think she has come up with an alternative, but on amendment No. 145 she is on more difficult ground. On that amendment, I have argued that sustainability, however we wish to define it, is a key issue—there is no getting away from it. I have heard no argument to justify the fact that it should not be on the same level as “safe”, “integrated”, “efficient” and “economic”. If she is arguing that it is highlighted in other legislation as being central, it is difficult to understand why the Government wish to be inconsistent and exclude it from the list of criteria that apply under the Bill. The reality is that the transport sector generally has not been good at dealing with carbon emissions; it has seen itself as being above and exempt from that, whether at local or national level. The amendment is a way to highlight that.

I fear that even with the intentions referred to in clause 8, which I readily acknowledge as a step forward, the Government are saying, “Well, let’s make sure that your transport is safe; we must do that. Let’s make sure that it’s economic, however we define economic. Let’s make sure it’s efficient and integrated”—most people think that buses and trains together is the normal understanding of that word—“and once you’ve done all that, you can pay some regard to the environment.” It is a second-tier requirement and the Minister has given no explanation of why the environment should not be a first-tier requirement. I feel quite strongly about this issue, so I shall ask the Committee to divide on amendment No. 145.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 4 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 7

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.