Section 1 — Establishment of regional Transport Partnerships

Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:36 pm on 29th June 2005.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 2:36 pm, 29th June 2005

Group 1 concerns non-establishment of regional transport partnerships and retention of transport functions. Amendment 65, in the name of David Davidson, is grouped with amendments 66, 67, 70 to 76, 82 and 83.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I apologise to members who cannot hear me because of my bad throat.

Amendments 65 to 70 would make the power to establish regional transport partnerships permissive rather than obligatory. More important, they would allow existing models to remain intact if they are delivering. It is entirely wrong to force local authorities to form statutory partnerships: they are sick and tired of being told what to do by the Executive, so rather than tell them that they shall join regional transport partnerships and that is that, we should give councils the option of joining RTPs if they wish to do so and we should allow them to choose which one to join.

Some councils might prefer to stick with the existing voluntary arrangements—the north-east Scotland transport partnership in my region, which is also Nicol Stephen's region, works extremely well—but others might decide to form a unitary RTP. Therefore, I ask the minister to confirm that he will allow any council that requests unitary RTP status to be granted it, as was sensibly done for Dumfries and Galloway Council. Other local authorities might decide that they would rather do without the increased bureaucracy that will be involved in setting up an RTP, and prefer to sit it out.

If existing voluntary or statutory arrangements work, it is also wrong for the Executive to impose a top-down model in a bid to create a uniform structure throughout Scotland. The case of Strathclyde Passenger Transport deserves particular mention. As my Conservative colleagues argued at stage 1, we do not need major structural changes to transport delivery in the west of Scotland because SPT functions perfectly well as it is. As SPT's chair Alistair Watson asked, why commit time and resources to reinventing the wheel? Amendment 71 would specifically allow Strathclyde Passenger Transport to continue operations in its current form without the disruption of being morphed into an RTP. If the Executive refuses to acknowledge the logic of my argument, I seek an assurance from the minister that the well-recognised SPT name and branding—replacement of which would be hugely expensive and retrograde step—will be retained for the new partnership.

Arguably, the most disturbing section of the bill is section 12, which seeks to strip SPT of its rail powers, which have proved to be an unprecedented success. Amendments 72 to 76, plus amendments 82 and 83, seek to address that by removing section 12 altogether.

During stage 2, the Minister for Transport was at pains to emphasise that, as amended, section 12 would apply only to the rail powers of SPT, but those rail powers are the subject of much concern. The minister should remember that SPT provides almost 70 per cent of ScotRail services with just 55 per cent of the ScotRail subsidy, and that residents of the west of Scotland make more use of rail journeys per head than do people in any other part of the United Kingdom apart from London. Clearly, the system is doing its job, but the minister has been less than clear about what will happen to SPT's rail powers. At stage 2, he said that SPT's successor will have

"a continuing role in the development, management and monitoring of rail services".—[Official Report, Local Government and Transport Committee, 10 May 2005; c 2486-87.]

The bill will strip away those powers, but also appears to give them back so that they can be administered on behalf of the new national transport agency. That sounds like a recipe for confusion, and we are none the wiser as to exactly what will happen in practice.

At best, the changes are unnecessary and disruptive. At worst, they threaten to undo entirely SPT's hard-won gains for rail commuters in the Strathclyde area in recent years. It is not Parliament's job to pick apart a successful model of delivery merely in the interests of administrative uniformity. I urge members, particularly those who represent constituencies in the west of Scotland, to support my amendments.

I move amendment 65.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

David Davidson's amendments seek to undermine the bill completely. The establishment of regional transport partnerships has come before Parliament from the Labour manifesto of 2003. The issue was debated fully in Parliament months ago and David Mundell and his colleagues were roundly defeated in that debate. When the Local Government and Transport Committee was considering the establishment of regional transport partnerships, Mr Mundell—Mr Davidson's predecessor—was the sole member of the committee to dissent completely from the intention to introduce RTPs. The other members of the committee, including SNP members who had expressed reservations, argued that if we are to have regional transport partnerships, they should be strong partnerships.

Mr Davidson's argument becomes incoherent. He praises SPT—quite rightly—for its successes over the years in delivering transport improvements in the west of Scotland, but he still wants weak partnerships for other parts of Scotland, instead of sharing the strengths and record of SPT throughout the country. On that basis, I encourage members to reject every single one of Mr Davidson's amendments, so that we can build on the success that SPT has had in the west of Scotland through delivery of strong regional partnerships throughout Scotland.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I agree with some of what Bristow Muldoon said. I think that David Davidson described the bill as a recipe for disaster. If I have ever seen a recipe for disaster, it is some of the amendments that Mr Davidson has lodged, which would result in a disjointed and unintegrated patchwork hotch-potch of different authorities acting in different ways across Scotland.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Does the SNP support the Executive in the view that it knows best and that we must have a centralised system in Scotland, which the Executive will decide on?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I will come to the Executive's position when we talk about the powers of RTPs. There can be improvements in that area, as have been proposed by Fergus Ewing.

On David Davidson's amendments, there was in respect of Dumfries and Galloway a well-argued case that rested on geographical circumstances and which suggested that that authority should have its own powers. However, no other part of Scotland emerged in that light, as the Conservatives suggest might happen in the future.

In effect, the Conservatives' proposals would deliver a situation in which there was no continuity throughout Scotland in any way, shape or form. Major projects would not be deliverable and there would be a disjointed and unintegrated system. That would be madness and would reflect much of what we have heard from the Conservatives today.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 2:45 pm, 29th June 2005

There is no doubt that a major strength of the Scottish Parliament is the co-operative and constructive way in which its committees tend to work. The bill reflects that, in that we now have a better bill than we had at the beginning of the process. The amendments in David Davidson's name are therefore disappointing—they are essentially wrecking amendments.

The bill seeks to establish throughout the country a consistent and coherent system of regional transport partnerships, under arrangements that are similar to those for which Mr Davidson praises SPT. The RTPs are intended to address issues that we want to deal with, such as integration of transport systems, but David Davidson's amendments would prevent that from happening. For that reason, the Liberal Democrats will oppose them.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I will oppose the amendments for reasons that are similar to those which Bristow Muldoon gave. It is all well and good for David Davidson to support Strathclyde Passenger Transport, but it is a pity that such support was not given in the mid-1990s to Strathclyde Regional Council.

I make the serious point, which Bristow Muldoon made well, that we must replicate SPT's success throughout Scotland. The bill gives us the opportunity to do that.

I seek assurances from the minister that while we follow the process of examining the new model of regional transport partnerships, solutions that organisations such as SPT produce will be considered seriously.

I make it clear that the Dumfries and Galloway model is specific to Dumfries and Galloway. Elsewhere in Scotland, we will look for a uniform approach to regional transport partnerships.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

We have seen it all now—the Tories as the champions of local government, of Strathclyde Passenger Transport and of the west of Scotland. I remind David Davidson that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities supports the changes and the introduction of regional transport partnerships and is very supportive of the significant extra resources that we are putting into transport and into public transport, in particular.

The amendments from David Davidson were a surprise. The Executive and the Local Government and Transport Committee worked well and hard together on the bill through stages 1 and 2. Difficult issues were identified, and resolved in virtually every case, and the bill that is now before Parliament commands the broad support of the committee and the Executive.

Amendments are to be worked through this afternoon, but they will largely make refinements or respond to points that were made at stage 2. None of David Davidson's amendments was lodged or suggested at stage 2 and none has had the benefit of analysis or consideration by the committee. His amendments have two main objectives. The first is to remove the requirement on ministers to create regional transport partnerships and instead to allow them to establish in some areas hybrid public bodies. The second objective is to remove the provision that will enable Scottish ministers to transfer SPT's rail powers to ministers.

Now is not the time to shrink from a bold step forward in delivery of better transport. I urge David Davidson to withdraw amendment 65 and not to move his other amendments.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

We have heard all that time and again. To be fair, I was not involved in the committee at the beginning of stage 2; I came in late to replace my colleague David Mundell. However, I had long conversations with him and what he was concerned about at stage 1 is manifesting itself again this afternoon: everything is about central control and a one-size-fits-all prescriptive approach to running Scotland, although organisations such as NESTRANS in the minister's and my region were formed voluntarily. If it is not broken, why fix it?

The Executive constantly drives for a one-size-fits-all approach. We have seen that in the health service, where it is patently not appropriate, and we see it again today. I intend to press amendment 65.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 65 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 4

For: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Johnstone, Alex, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Tosh, Murray
Against: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 14, Against 89, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 65 disagreed to.

Amendments 66 and 67 not moved.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Group 2 is headed "RTPs: membership, administration, and remuneration, etc". Amendment 68 is grouped with amendments 69, 10 to 12, 15 and 60.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I will speak first to amendment 69 because it is the reason for amendment 68.

Given the need for fair representation of all local authorities on the new regional transport partnerships, there might be a case for larger local authorities to have five seats rather than the four that the bill currently provides for. Amendment 69 would not change the levels of representation but would simply allow a debate on such issues to take place.

Having previously expressed concerns about the position of SPT in the west of Scotland, I want to ensure that the bill as it will be enacted will work. Therefore, I want to ensure that my local authority—Glasgow City Council—has appropriate representation on the new RTP. Local authorities will have their representation on SPT reduced because of the requirement for fewer members on the new transport bodies, but the reduction needs to be proportionate. Agreement to amendment 69 would not per se change the current weighting of local authorities, but if the maximum number of council members is kept at four, it will never be able to be increased without primary legislation.

Amendment 69 would simply delete "four" and insert "five".

Amendment 68 is designed to ensure that, although the representation of individual local authorities might be increased, the maximum number of local authority members would never go above 20. That would be in keeping with the desire to keep the regional transport partnerships small.

I will support amendment 10 in the name of Nicol Stephen. Although I strongly support the committee's decision at stage 2 to remove full voting rights from private sector representatives, I believe that amendment 10 will achieve the right balance by allowing partnership authorities to decide on which matters non-elected members should be able to vote.

I believe that SPT is an organisation that has worked well and that it is broadly the right model to be followed. I do not want to see a huge departure from its structure, so I support the amendments that the minister has lodged because they will make the transition much easier.

I move amendment 68.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I start by speaking to Executive amendments 10 and 15. At stage 2, the Local Government and Transport Committee voted to remove voting rights from external members of RTPs. I acknowledge the concerns of committee members about the role of non-councillor members, which were shared by a number of witnesses who gave evidence at stage 1. Some balancing arguments were made by others—I know that in some parts of the country councils and existing voluntary partnerships very much want outside, non-councillor members to continue to be able to vote on issues.

I do not expect many issues to go to a vote in the RTPs. They will work well only if there is a partnership approach and broad consensus. However, having considered the issue further and having reflected on the committee's concerns, I believe that amendments 10 and 15 are appropriate. The intention behind the amendments is that regional transport partnerships will be permitted to allow outside representatives serving on the partnerships to be full and equal voting members when councillor members want that. There is one exception, which reflects a concern of all members—I refer to situations in which a regional transport partnership is deciding on requisition of funds from local councils and on requests for transfer of new functions to RTPs from councils, which is covered by Executive amendment 10.

I will support Pauline McNeill's amendment 68, which would limit the number of councillor members of any RTP to a manageable figure. I agree that partnerships should be effective and focused on decision making and that they should have a relatively small number of members to help them to achieve that. The intention that was set out in the draft order that was submitted to the committee ahead of stage 2 was that the largest partnership—for the west of Scotland—should have 17 councillor members. In broad terms, that number is consistent with amendment 68, which would cap the number of councillor members of any RTP at a maximum of 20.

Amendment 69 would increase from four to five the maximum number of councillor members that would be appointed by each council. As Pauline McNeill correctly said, the amendment would not change the allocation that has already been suggested. I had some reservations about making the change. Discussions have already taken place between councils on the structure of the new regional transport partnerships in their regions, so I did not want to cause uncertainty or delay in the creation of RTPs and shadow RTPs, which I encourage. However, the prospect of one council having five votes rather than four—which will not be universally popular, especially with some of the smaller councils—offers a bit more flexibility in the allocation of councillor members and votes. On balance, the Executive supports amendment 69.

Amendment 11 responds to an amendment that Paul Martin lodged at stage 2. I was grateful to Paul Martin for not moving the amendment and thereby allowing the Executive time to consider issues further. First, he wanted the order that will establish RTPs to empower the partnerships to establish committees. I assure him today that they will be able to do so without provision for that having to be made in primary legislation. That provision will be included in the order on regional transport partnerships, which will be laid before Parliament in due course.

Secondly, Paul Martin wanted regional transport partnerships to be able to devolve certain decisions to committees or their convener. Amendment 11 provides for decisions to be devolved to committees. The provision does not extend to committee conveners or chairs, because I do not regard delegation to one individual as being good practice. I accept that there may be occasions when a decision needs to be taken quickly—[Interruption.] However, I think that we can put in place pragmatic arrangements that will avoid one RTP member's being made responsible for a decision that would bind the rest.

Amendment 12 is a response to another amendment that Paul Martin lodged at stage 2. I am grateful to Paul Martin not only for raising the issue of remuneration of RTP members, but for giving the Executive the chance to come up with a solution. As I explained at stage 2, the review of councillor remuneration post 2007 is on-going. As none of us can predict its outcome, I am keen that we have flexibility to ensure that the RTPs have the necessary powers when the need arises. For the sake of simplicity, I have added the provisions on expenses that were agreed to at stage 2. Amendment 60 is consequential and will delete that provision from its position in schedule 1.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 3:00 pm, 29th June 2005

I point out to the minister that, in the last line of amendment 10, the word "section" appears to have been omitted.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

On amendment 10, the minister knows that I successfully raised concerns at stage 2 in the form of an amendment about voting rights of non-elected members of RTPs. I felt strongly that such members should have the same voting capacity because I did not see why they should be prevented from voting on financial matters, but could take part in other aspects of the regional transport partnership. My colleague Richard Baker made a powerful case that the partnership with non-elected members works successfully in the regional transport partnership in his area.

I am satisfied that it will be up to the elected members whether they want that power to be exerted. I will support amendment 10 on that basis.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I raised the subject that is now in Nicol Stephen's amendment 10 several times in committee. All of us in the north-east have received deputations, e-mails and letters from NESTRANS, which is concerned that its basis as a transport partnership would be lost and that some people in the proposed new RTPs would be more equal than others. The current partnership of four organisations works extremely well and rarely goes to a vote on anything because it is a proper partnership.

I was asked by NESTRANS to have available an amendment to lodge should the minister not lodge his late and welcome amendment 10. I am surprised that he did not lodge the amendment earlier because as far as we are concerned, it is absolutely correct that transport partnerships should decide on their own voting arrangements.

I understand where Pauline McNeill is coming from with amendments 68 and 69. However, her concerns are covered by the idea that if a transport partnership were left to its own devices, it would come to a suitable arrangement that would match needs in its locality. I would be worried if some partnerships had as many as 20 councillor members because that would lead inevitably to a whole new bureaucratic system of sub-committees that tried to examine different matters at the same time, which would be a problem. However, I am content to accept Pauline McNeill's arguments. The minister obviously accepts them, too.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

First, I apologise to the minister for kicking over my glass as he was speaking. I am just glad that we are not discussing the Licensing (Scotland) Bill or people might have thought that I had been somewhere else previously.

I am glad that the minister accepts amendment 69 in the name of Pauline McNeill. If we look forward to the 2007 local government elections under the single transferable vote system that was announced by the new Minister for Transport, judging by the circumstances that have been outlined by Professor Curtice, it is likely that five councils in Scotland will remain under overall Labour control. In those circumstances, it is likely that councils will take much more of a rainbow approach to ruling councils and to membership makeup. An increase in the number of members of an RTP to five will begin to take cognisance of that inevitable change from 2007. The amendment is worth while in that respect alone.

On amendment 10, the committee thought at stage 1 that it would be inappropriate for non-council members of RTPs to vote. However, given the check mechanism that will be included by the minister's party in amendment 10, and the argument that has been made in other parts of Scotland that that might be a positive way forward, we are prepared to accept amendment 10.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Amendments 68 and 69 sensibly seek to give the Executive greater flexibility by acknowledging that some larger local authorities will not only be responsible for bringing to the table much of the funds for regional transport partnerships but, as in Glasgow, will act as a focal point for much of the region's transport network. I welcome the proposal to give such authorities more recognition in the RTPs' voting structure. In amendment 68, Pauline McNeill has included the backstop of stipulating the maximum number of councillors on RTPs to ensure that we do not end up with so many people on them that they become unworkable. I welcome that proposal, and the fact that the minister supports those amendments.

On whether non-councillor members should be able to vote, councillor members are different from non-councillor members because they are elected by the people in the area and come from the appropriate local authorities. Moreover, they are responsible for public resources. The bill already contains a protection in that only councillors will be able to vote on the requisition of local authority funds. However, amendment 10, which seeks to allow each partnership to decide whether to extend the voting powers of non-councillor members, is acceptable because it comes with the proviso that such powers will not apply to requisition of local authority resources. I feel that it would be inappropriate for a non-elected person to exercise such a power.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Over the past few weeks the existing voluntary partnership NESTRANS has lobbied members strenuously to give non-councillor members voting rights. I understand the committee's concerns about that and feel that amendment 10, in the name of the minister, meets the general concern that people who are not elected should not have the right to disburse public money, which is, after all, appropriately the function of elected members. I am sure that other members will have received representations from the private sector members of the north-east voluntary partnership to the effect that, although they value the opportunity to serve, they feel that their role would be devalued if their position in the new partnership were different from their current one. They are content—in fact, delighted—with amendment 10. I commend the minister for lodging it, and committee members for taking the view that it should be accepted.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I have very little to add, except to say that officials have assured me that the drafting error that has been drawn to my attention can be tidied up. I thank Fergus Ewing for pointing out the error.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I have nothing further to say, other than to welcome the minister's acceptance of amendments 68 and 69.

Amendment 68 agreed to.

Amendment 69 moved—[Pauline McNeill]—and agreed to.

Amendments 10 to 12 moved—[Nicol Stephen]—and agreed to.

Amendment 70 not moved.