Clause 12

Part of – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 24th April 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00 am, 24th April 2008

The clause gave me considerable concern when I read it, and had the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley not been faster in getting to the Clerk, I would certainly have tabled probing amendments—and perhaps not just probing ones. The hon. Gentleman argued powerfully—some of us will have experienced this either as councillors before we had the honour of joining the House or as Members of Parliament—that sometimes regional transport authorities either completely override or do not listen to constituents’ concerns. As directly elected Members, we have almost no power to influence or persuade them. I have direct experience of that previously as a councillor and now as a Member of Parliament.

The explanatory notes on clause 12 indicate that the intent is to remove the duty to produce plans jointly and place that responsibility solely on the integrated transport authority. As the hon. Gentleman said, his amendments would maintain the status quo, which strikes me as not such a bad thing, unless the Minister can provide some reassurance. I am sure that she will tell us that the amendments are unnecessary because the integrated transport authority will inevitably act in consultation, but in my direct experience that is not always the case. A local authority might not be able to push its points, concerns and local transport wishes forcefully enough if it is not a statutory consultee. The regional authority would be bound to listen to the concerns of local people, communities and local elected members, if they were statutory consultees. Amendment No. 6 would provide for that obligation instead of leaving it to ministerial discretion, guidance or secondary legislation. Although in many cases it would be preferable to leave the list of consultees to guidance, in relation to clause 12, owing to the juxtaposition of the unelected regional body and the elected local bodies, I am in favour of putting it in the Bill.

Equally, amendment No. 7 becomes valuable only if, as a result of consultation, it can effect the desired outcome. In many cases, the outcome that is hoped for might be achieved through the consultation process, but what happens if it is not? Local communities’ needs and wishes and the expressed views of local, directly and democratically elected representatives can easily be overridden by the regional transport authority.

Amendment No. 8 attempts to correct that error, although perhaps it is worded less fully than I would have preferred. I would have preferred it to say, “or any part of that plan” rather than just “plan”, because that would have allowed people to support the plan overall, but to disagree with parts of it. Notwithstanding that deficit, amendment No. 8 has considerable merit. I recognise that, in the hon. Gentleman’s mind, these are probing amendments, but I think that the Minister really needs to reassure us on how the wishes and views of the local, directly and democratically-elected members expressed on behalf of constituents will not be completely overridden by regional transport authorities, as is the experience of some of us at the moment.