Clause 12

Part of – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 24th April 2008.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley 10:15 am, 24th April 2008

I support much of what my right hon. Friend said about the rebalancing that is going on in the Bill to make it easier to have good transport policies in metropolitan areas. All of us who have been involved in transport in metropolitan areas for a long time can recognise the case that she makes. Occasionally there is cussedness, plain awkwardness or political differences between authorities that prevent perfectly good transport schemes from going ahead. I understand that argument, but the purpose of the amendments was to say, “If you are rebalancing, where do the electorate come in, because you are rebalancing to a sort of semi-quango in which the electorate cannot be directly involved?” In doing that, we need to put in safeguards, whether those safeguards involve the councils saying, “No, the ITA has got it wrong,” or—we shall come to the relevant amendments later—the electorate being able to throw the rascals out, as they do to us from time to time.

Those safeguards are not present, so I thought that these were moderate amendments that pointed at that. Although what the Minister says is reasonable, those of us who have worked in two-tier areas for a time know that councillors can be bloody-minded and they can do things because they do not like the other lot—sometimes of the same political party. I shall give an example. When Greater Manchester county council was being abolished, I was involved in the creation of what is now the museum of science and industry in Manchester. I went to do the deal with the then leader of the county council to put the aerospace museum into the slightly bigger, county-run museum of science and industry. Bernard Clarke, who was the leader then, said, “You know the reason the doors of these two museums, which we can integrate if you and I get together, are facing in opposite directions is that the two council leaders when they were set up hated each other and would not co-operate.”

That can happen just as easily in relation to transport, so while we are rebalancing in favour of making it easier to have an integrated transport policy, we must recognise that an ITA could have bloody-minded people on it who are not directly accountable and who could do the equivalent thing in the area of transport to what happened with those two museums. Because we are all human beings, the ITA will not always be able to get its policies right. I live on the boundary of Manchester, Salford and Bury, and at the moment an appalling road-widening scheme is going on for bus lanes. Bury, which is the highways authority, has got it completely wrong, in my opinion and, I would guess, in the opinion of many people who look at it. The amendments are meant to deal with matters that the ITA gets wrong, and to put in some checks and balances.

The answer to that, my right hon. Friend the Minister says, is not the electorate. It is that all the councils that are part of the metropolitan area will send people along, so they cannot really get it that wrong. I have to say that that has not been my experience. If we do the arithmetic, we will find that it depends on the basis of the membership of the ITA. An ITA could be unreasonably repressive to one authority and put forward schemes that may well be part of a bigger integrated transport scheme but are unreasonable to the people who live in the area. It is unlikely, but, in the case of Manchester, 10 hung councils could all send representatives of a particular political party. That would be completely unrepresentative of the districts.

I shall withdraw the amendment, but I think that we will come back later in the Bill not just to this point but to some others that deal with the same core issue. We may come back to it on Report, because while I agree with the balance of the Bill, which furthers better transport, I do not think that we have this right.