Clause 66

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Removal of certain disabilities and requirements for consent

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 266, in clause 66, page 56, line 19, leave out subsection (2).

Subsection (2) repeals the provisions set out in the Transport Act 1985, which state that when a local authority votes on matters relating to the activities of a transport company owned by the council, any councillors who are directors of that company are not allowed to vote without the Secretary of State’s permission. When I read the explanatory note saying that that obligation would be dispensed with, I was slightly at a loss. It seems a perfectly sensible and logical provision that preserves independence of decision making, so I am surprised that the Government want to delete it.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

Would that not be covered under the councillors code of conduct, which precludes councillors from voting on matters in which they have an interest?

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

It may or it may not—the code of conduct certainly requires them to declare an interest—but saying so explicitly on the face of the Bill would add weight to what should happen. I see no reason why the Government should want to repeal that provision. I am sure that in a moment the Minister will use her extraordinary powers of persuasion to tell me why I am wrong, but she will have to go a long way in this case.

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

If enacted, clause 66 will remove two forms of central Government control over bus companies that are owned wholly or partly by local authorities. If those companies include elected members on their boards, which I believe they all do, they must be unpaid, non-executive directors. Current legislation, which goes back to 1985, requires those elected members to obtain a dispensation from the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers before speaking  or voting on matters affecting their company. That was intended to prevent possible conflicts of interest between their roles as councillors and as directors.

Of course that is still important, but local government has changed. Under more recent local government legislation, the conduct regime for councillors allows such dispensations to be granted by local standards committees. The role of the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers is no longer needed, and the clause will fulfil a long-standing commitment to remove it. That is fully supported by the Department for Communities and Local Government and by Welsh Ministers.

The amendment would retain the dispensation provisions in the 1985 Act, meaning that councillors would effectively need two sets of dispensation, one from their local standards committee and one from central Government. The Bill provides an opportunity to get rid of an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and I am afraid that the amendment would deprive us of that opportunity. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

That may be what the Minister wants, but it is not what she has left us with. She says that it will be recognised that the standards bodies are the appropriate bodies to give dispensation, but that point needs to be in the Bill. I am not persuaded by what she says, so I shall press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 15 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 66

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.