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Local Transport Bill [ Lords ] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 8th May 2008.

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Guidance

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I had tabled an amendment to the clause, but because of the bank holiday and my misunderstanding of the rules, it went in too late, so I want to test in the stand-part debate the issues I would have tested with the Minister in that amendment. They are similar to those raised in our earlier stand-part debate, and to what the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley has just been saying. I am looking for some clarification about the provisions of the clause, because they enable the Secretary of State to issue guidance about anything that could be done by a local authority under this chapter; local authorities must then have regard to such guidance.

We have already discussed the issue several times; the power is extremely wide. The chapter covers the change of names and areas; the power to establish; the need for review, which the Secretary of State already has powers to direct; the review of arrangements; which again the Secretary of State has powers to direct; the delegation of powers, which the Secretary of State can direct; the conferral of powers, where the Secretary of State can intercede; and the changing of boundaries and dissolution of areas, where again the Secretary of State can intervene. It seems to me that clause 89 allows the Secretary of State to issue guidance about anything.

The chapter already includes huge powers for the Secretary of State and it is, once again, a wide-ranging catch-all. In extremis, if the Secretary of State fails to gain the affirmative order that we were talking about in relation to the amendment to clause 87, she simply needs to issue guidance that must be taken regard of. The Secretary of State could issue guidance to an ITA, completely ignoring the local authority and the residents’ feelings, views or wishes, but, more important, she could completely ignore the affirmative order. As the Secretary of State already has huge, wide-ranging powers, can the Minister tell me why, on top of those powers, this provision is needed and can she give some specific examples of the issues it is intended to address?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I rise to support my hon. Friend, and to say to him en passant that if the Committee had the power to sit beyond today, his amendment would no longer be starred and we could have had a debate on it, so that adds to my earlier concern about the matter. I would like to hear from the Minister why she feels it necessary to include the provision, because it just seems to be a means of providing central interference in what ought to be local matters. The only possible justification for the clause would be that a Minister wanted a national plan or policy to be pretty much followed in every part of the country. However, when one looks at subsection (3), that supposition is blown out of the water, because it gives the Minister the power to issue completely different guidance to different parts of the country. It states:

“Any such guidance may make different provision for different cases and different provision for different areas.”

In that case why is she giving Ministers the power to make completely different recommendations to different areas? Is the clause nothing more than a provision to enable continued Whitehall meddling in what ought to be local issues?

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

The right hon. Gentlemen and the hon. Member for Wimbledon need to reflect back on some of their earlier comments about their desire that local authorities consult with passenger user bodies. I have made it very clear that we want to be able to issue guidance to local authorities about the powers that will be exercised under these clauses. We cannot put everything on the face of the Bill: it is a well-established principle that guidance can be issued to assist local authorities—

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

The hon. Gentleman asked for examples; I will give way to him in a moment.

Guidance can assist local authorities in deciding how they might carry out governance reviews, in judging whether existing arrangements are effective or whether there is a need for a greater strategic overview of transport in their area, and in issues relating to consultation. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said that, in a sense, there needs to be a greater degree of control over such things. The hon. Member for Wimbledon wants to put that on the face of the Bill, but what we need is the flexibility we can gain through the guidance we are drawing up, which takes into account the views of local authorities, because they say they find that a helpful way of operating. I will return to the right hon. Gentleman’s point when I have taken his hon. Friend’s intervention.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister must concede that we have been consistent, in the passage of the Bill through Committee, in wanting to ensure that there is local consultation and that it is dealt with in the Bill so that all the necessary parties are statutory consultees. It is only the Minister who says she needs guidance. That is not what we have been saying.

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

Let me give an example. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said that if there was consultation, it would be appropriate to ensure that people who did not necessarily have access to the internet could look at proposals to set up an ITA or to make a quality contracts scheme. That is not the sort of thing that can be put in the Bill, but it can be put in guidance. The right hon. Gentleman welcomed my assurance that we would take that sort of thing into account.

We issued draft guidance in December 2007. Local authorities have said they find it very helpful in deciding how they might prepare for the enactment of the Bill, and we will be redrafting, revising and expanding that guidance in light of comments received from local authorities and to take account of changes to the Bill as it passes through Parliament.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why there might be different guidance for different parts of the country. Different parts of the country may face different issues. The guidance might be different if we were talking about establishing a new ITA in a rural area as opposed to an urban area. It might be different if we were talking about expanding a different ITA. We have to be able to reflect the fact that local circumstances might dictate a different approach in different areas.

I hope that is a helpful explanation of clause 89, and that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that it is the right approach.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 89 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 90 and 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.