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Commons Chamber

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

House of Commons

Monday 27 October 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Human Trafficking

1. What assessment she has made of the steps necessary to be taken prior to ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings; and what estimate she has made of the cost of such steps. (229769)

Although we are largely compliant with the convention, some changes to legislation and procedures were required before ratification and, following a cross-government effort, the necessary legislation is now in place. The total additional economic costs to the UK of implementing the convention are estimated at approximately £16 million over three years. How that is calculated is outlined in our recently published impact assessment.

Given that only 10 of the 27 European Union countries have ratified the convention, when the Home Secretary ratifies it for us later this year, will she ensure that her approach is compassionate, thoughtful and caring towards the victims of trafficking? They have endured terrible problems and suffered tremendous trauma, and they need help in the form of psychological assistance, accommodation and a thoughtful country that understands the plight that they have been through. Many of them feel that this country wants to throw them out as quickly as it possibly can.

The hon. Gentleman has done some fine work in raising this issue, and he rightly says that victims must be at the centre of our response, as is the case in our action plan. That is why we have announced the 45-day reflection period and the one-year temporary residence permit for victims—both measures exceed the minimum standard outlined in the convention. It is precisely why an important role of Pentameter 2—the enforcement programme—is to identify the best process for dealing with victims, and it is also why we have made additional support available to those who work with victims.

When my right hon. Friend considers the steps necessary to implement the convention, will she consider action against child trafficking? Will she reflect on the fact that, in many instances, children who are trafficked into this country disappear from social services’ care within 48 hours? It appears that problems associated with internal data sharing in health and education bodies and social services are leading to a lack of protection for our children. Will she urgently look at this nationally and internationally?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are very concerned that some children whom we suspect have been trafficked go missing from local authority care. That is why we welcomed the additional support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which, with our support and that of Comic Relief, is running a 24-hour advice line for practitioners. It is also why, last year, we published multi-agency guidance to all front-line staff on how trafficked children can be identified and safeguarded, and why we need to build on the work of the “Young Runaways Action Plan” published on 16 June. I assure her that we will continue to raise these issues across Europe and internationally when we have the opportunity to do so.

Newsquest took the lead in removing sex industry adverts from its local newspapers, recognising that such adverts support a lot of this human trafficking. What can be done to encourage other news organisations to encourage their local newspapers to follow such a good example, particularly when advertising revenue is falling? Newsquest really took the lead on this issue.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. My hon. Friend the police Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality met the Newspaper Society precisely to try to encourage newspapers not to carry the sorts of adverts that promote and expect a demand for women who have been trafficked into this country. Such a demand is abhorrent, and should not be advertised.

Will the Secretary of State have a publicity campaign to encourage people who came to the United Kingdom as children and were used in this country as slaves—modern-day Cinderellas—in their adolescence and childhood to be aware that when, or if, they are able to escape bondage, there is a special place to which they can report that will help to detect those who perpetrated these things against them and who continue to do such things today?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the reasons for setting up and funding the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which has already run some important publicity campaigns and provided fundamental support to police and others for whom this should be mainstream business, was to examine how we can help victims to be confident about coming forward and to recognise that when they do so, they will receive support from the police and others, not only for themselves, but in order to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators.

It is estimated that 43 per cent. of those people who are trafficked end up being sexually exploited. What guidance has the Secretary of State given the police to ensure that such people are properly protected? What more can be done to bring to justice those heinous thugs who are responsible for this modern, 21st century enslavement of people in this country?

The Pentameter 2 enforcement campaign was important because it enabled the police and those supporting victims not only to rescue them, as is very important—167 people were rescued as part of that campaign—but to identify how we could provide support for them. I agree that we need to bring people to justice, and that is why I am pleased that we have so far achieved 90 convictions for trafficking under the legislation that we introduced. I hope that we will see more convictions in the future.

Antisocial Behaviour

There have been three independent reports in the last three years—by the Home Affairs Committee, the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. The NAO report found that antisocial behaviour orders work, and that two thirds of people behaving antisocially stop after the first intervention, rising to more than nine out of 10 by the third intervention.

I am delighted to be the first to put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. I wish him the best of luck in the future.

For the first time, the residents of Black Dog walk in my constituency will have a peaceful time because a person who has been harassing them is now, after three antisocial behaviour orders, in prison. Through the ASBO process, how can we further protect those residents when that person is released?

I know that my hon. Friend takes such matters very seriously, and so do we. Any breach of an ASBO says more about the individual than it says about the law itself. If someone breaches an ASBO, it should be clear that they could face a custodial sentence, as happened in this case. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents welcome the measures that have been taken and will welcome such measures in the future.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that antisocial behaviour is a serious matter to many law-abiding citizens. Could we not treat it more harshly—and transparently harshly—by making offenders, especially young ones, undertake community projects such as removing graffiti and chewing gum, and picking up litter from the streets? In that way, they could help to put right the wrong done to, and improve, the community in which they live. Let us treat such behaviour more seriously, and more transparently seriously.

We do treat it seriously, which is why we have a range of measures in place, not only ASBOs, but a range of powers available to the police and local authorities. The hon. Gentleman raises several important issues, not least of which is community payback. We are seeking to extend its use, so that the community can actually see the punishment and the tough action taken against offenders.

I too welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time. I know that he will do a first class job as a Minister.

Up to 400 car cruisers occupy the Asda car park in Blackwood in my constituency on a Thursday evening. The police have used dispersal orders to try to break up the gathering, but it still takes place. If I had my way, I would seize the cars and put them in a crusher. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss my modest suggestion and ways in which we can bring to an end this antisocial menace that causes grief to my constituents?

Even the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) hopes that my right hon. Friend would want to take the drivers out before crushing the cars. [Laughter.] A range of measures is available, and we would encourage the police and the local authority to ensure that all those powers are not only available, but used. Of course I would be willing to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this important matter.

What does the Minister believe might be the consequences for antisocial behaviour of the recent fashion among some local authorities, my own included, to turn off street lights in the middle of the night?

I would have thought that if a local authority were taking such steps, it would have reason to do so. Local authorities would need to demonstrate that such action would not have a detrimental effect on the level of crime or antisocial behaviour in that area. I hope that they would take such issues into account.

The drinking of alcohol in the street leads to antisocial behaviour. What research has been undertaken into the effectiveness of street drinking bans in local communities, and will he support my campaign for such bans in towns such as Dawley, Oakengates and Madeley in Telford?

I know that my hon. Friend takes this matter very seriously. Of course, we want local authorities, including his, to take account of every power that is available. I do not think that anyone could complain that we had not made a range of powers available to local authorities. It is, of course, up to the local police and local authorities not only to take those powers into account but to show which one is most useful.

When drinking banning orders were launched to curb drink-related antisocial behaviour, the then police Minister, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), said that they could have

“more impact on young people than many of the other things that we pass in the House.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2005; Vol. 439, c. 723.]

However, three years later the current Minister has admitted that they still have not been brought into effect and that he will be taking stock of whether there is any need for them at all. Will the Minister confirm that drinking banning orders will be scrapped, and indicate what other measures he now considers to be unworkable, unnecessary or otherwise surplus to requirements?

We are disappointed that local authorities and some police forces have not taken those powers into account and done something about them. We will be conducting a campaign in the near future, and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for that we intend to scrap the powers.

Kingsnorth Climate Camp

3. If she will investigate the policing of the Kingsnorth climate camp; and if she will make a statement. (229771)

Tactics and strategy on policing major events such as the Kingsnorth climate camp are operational matters for the local chief officer.

I regard myself as a supporter of the police, but I cannot condone what I witnessed when I arrived at Kingsnorth. I think that I was the first MP to do so. I witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators. In the light of what I saw, and of what other MPs witnessed, will the Minister arrange for an independent inquiry into the matter, conducted by either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or by a different police force?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the IPCC is available, as an independent body, to look into any complaints that are made about the police and the way in which they have conducted themselves. I hope that he has made the comments that he has made here to Kent police so that they can be investigated. If he feels that that process is unsatisfactory, he knows that it can then be taken to the IPCC. I would have thought that that would be the appropriate way forward. Notwithstanding the points that he has just made, 70 police officers were also hurt—although none seriously—at that protest.

I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but I had a constituent and friend who was arrested at Kingsnorth for so-called “aggressively picking up litter”, which puts an interesting connotation on what he was trying to do. That case, clearly, is ongoing, but will my hon. Friend at least consider the way in which these major demonstrations are handled and the way in which people who want to demonstrate peacefully about an issue about which they feel strongly have their rights secured? Will he also consider how to ensure that the police who have to control these demonstrations are protected? That did not necessarily work at Kingsnorth.

It is absolutely right that people should have the right to go out and protest peacefully, whether they do so through climate change camps or any of the other demonstrations that we can think of. People in this country have a right to do that. However, it is also right that that should be done in a peaceful and proportionate way, according to the law. If my hon. Friend’s constituent wishes to make a complaint, he should, as I said to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), go to the police force concerned in the first instance. If that is not satisfactory, he should go to the IPCC. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that, in this case, the police struck the correct balance.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that despite what he said about injuries, no protestor has been convicted of any crime of violence at any of the climate camps. It is not just the IPCC that has jurisdiction over the matter, because the Government are offering to pay half the £5.9 million cost of policing. Given what the Minister has just said about peaceful protest, will he assure the House that every Government Department that has been in contact with the police over the policing of the climate camps has given absolute priority to the right of peaceful protest?

I can only repeat that the right of peaceful protest in this country is absolute. The hon. Gentleman mentioned people being charged and so on; 100 people were arrested and, of those, 46 were charged with offences ranging from obstruction and public order offences to possession of a bladed weapon. Of course, the Government will consider representations made to them, but as I say, I think that police have acted appropriately and proportionately in this case.

National DNA Database

4. What her latest estimate is of the number of people without criminal convictions whose records are stored on the national DNA database. (229772)

There are about 857,000 people on the national DNA database who do not have a current criminal record on the police national computer, but that figure includes those who have been convicted and had their records deleted and those for whom proceedings are still ongoing, as well as those who have never been convicted.

The Minister will be aware that two people in the latter category—S, a juvenile, and Michael Marper—have a case that is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Will the Minister confirm that, if their case is successful, he will take steps to delete immediately the records of everybody who falls into that category and will not leave it to people to apply for such deletions to be made?

Obviously, we will consider what actions would have to be taken in that situation, but we believe that we have a strong case and that no breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights is taking place. We believe that there is the right balance between rights and public safety in the system that we operate. We are also clear that the DNA database is an important tool to help police detect crime, and we have no intention of doing anything to undermine their work.

Scandalously, 100,000 children who have never been convicted of any offence are on the DNA database. What about people who work with children, and who have never been convicted of a crime, but who are on the DNA database and find their future employment prospects blighted?

Yes, it is the case that some young people can be on the database if they have been arrested and their DNA and fingerprints have been taken. Those under 10 in England and Wales could be on the database because consent was given by their parent or guardian. On employment, what my hon. Friend says would not be the case. The information to which he refers is not held on the DNA database, and a future employer could not use it to discriminate against a future employee.

Does the Minister agree that if there is a good argument for the retention of DNA samples in the circumstances that we are describing, it would be far better for the Government to make the argument for a comprehensive DNA database straightforwardly to the House and the wider public, so that we could debate the merits of the proposal? If he is looking for an opportunity for such a debate, I notice in the Order Paper that there is a chance for a general debate on a home affairs related topic next Thursday.

The Government have no plans to bring forward such a database, not least because of the cost that that would involve. The hon. Gentleman talks about making a strong case; let me make a strong case to him. In the past year, the DNA database has helped to detect the criminals involved in more than 83 homicide cases, 184 rapes and 7,000 burglaries—that is a strong case.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulty of securing convictions in rape cases, to which he alluded. Will he reassure me, my constituents and the victims of rape crimes—there were 540 such victims last year—that the DNA database will continue, and will continue to be successful in solving rape crimes and other crimes?

UK Border Agency

We are delivering the biggest shake-up of border security for a generation, and we are already seeing the results. The agency—a new single border force that combines the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at the border—sees 25,000 staff working across 135 countries. Already, thousands of illegal migrants have been barred from entering Britain, while millions of pounds-worth of dangerous drugs have been removed from our streets.

May I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new position? One of his first acts in his new job was to write to me about the immigration status of Hammersmith resident Hany Youssef, who has been given discretionary leave to remain, despite the fact that the Home Office itself says that he appears on the United Nations list of those belonging to or associated with the al-Qaeda organisation. Can the Minister tell us why he has been given discretionary leave to remain? What reassurance can he give my other Hammersmith constituents who are, understandably, very concerned?

The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue on a number of occasions and, of course, he is right to do so. My letter goes into some detail about the law and the rationale behind that decision, but let me give him the reassurance that he seeks. The measures that are being put in place to control our borders, to count people in and count people out using the e-borders system, and the introduction later this year of identity cards with fingerprint data on them will mean that we have the strongest and most secure borders for many, many a year.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the agency and posts abroad are prepared to implement the new immigration regulations that come into force later this year? I am thinking specifically of the increase in age from 18 to 21 for spouse visas.

This gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for bravely campaigning on the matter, along with others, over a number of years. I can give her that assurance. It is in the best interests of this country, of our community and of the individuals.

I welcome the shake-up to our border security that the Minister spoke about earlier. Can he tell me how many illegal immigrants we have got rid of in the first 12 months and how many he thinks remain and need to be got rid of?

The hon. Gentleman is right to imply that it is illegal immigration that most concerns the public. That is why I am pleased to be able to report to the House that the successes that have been achieved mean that we are now stopping one illegal immigrant every eight minutes. On the issue of foreign national prisoners, the figures have improved as well. Since April, when the agency came into being—[Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench are chuntering away because they do not like the facts. Facts are very stubborn things, and the facts are that we are getting illegal immigrants out of the country more quickly than we did before.

Does the Minister accept that as the country goes into recession, the defence of our borders becomes more, not less, important? As skilled workers are laid off in our constituencies, what changes to the points system will the Government make to ensure that those workers get first chance for any vacancies, rather than those vacancies being filled by workers coming in from abroad?

The Government are doing everything they can to mitigate the effects of the global economic downturn, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out that the British public will want to see that all is being done so that vacancies and shortages can be filled by people from our country. The points-based system allows us to look at the skills shortages. I am pleased to say that Professor Metcalf and his advisory committee have submitted their report. We are considering that report and, as my right hon. Friend implies, we have the possibility to change criteria to help those jobs go to where we want them to go.

The biggest task for the Border Agency is indeed the implementation of the points-based system, so can the Minister confirm, first, that the only group covered by the points-based system and not covered by our proposed annual limit are foreign students; secondly, that he told the House last week that he would take no steps to cut the number of foreign students; and thirdly and consequently, that the claims that he repeatedly makes that the points-based system will be more wide ranging than our proposed limit are entirely bogus?

So now we have it. We have the admission that the Opposition do not have a population cap. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, first, for clarifying that. Secondly, it is the case, as he confirms, that our points-based system covers more people under the migration system than their system does. On the point about students, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the policy. Under the points-based system, the Government will have the ability to look at the criteria within the different tiers, as he knows, to ensure that the right criteria and policies are being met.

Is the Minister aware that many families in this country have sought asylum from war-torn countries and have very strong cases for gaining permanent residence here? Their cases have been delayed by the UK Border Agency and they are forced to live without any benefits or support. In many cases, they are forced to beg. They are willing and able to work, but are denied that right and forced to live off the largesse of friends and family. Does the Minister not think it time to look seriously at the misery and hardship that many asylum-seeking families and their children face in our society while we parade to the world our regard for human rights?

My hon. Friend raises the difficult issue of delayed asylum cases. The whole House would agree that it is right and proper that asylum seekers should be processed not only firmly, but quickly. That is why the focus of the Government’s effort, with success, is to clear the backlog and ensure that we are processing cases better. We are now processing 60 per cent. of claims to conclusion within six months; 10 years ago, the figure was 22 months just to get to an initial decision.

Police Officers (Morale)

6. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of morale among police officers in Wales and England. (229774)

The police service has a good record at retaining staff; it is one of the strongest such records in the public sector. The resignation rate has remained stable in the past five years, at around 1.5 per cent. I am also delighted that we have reached agreement on a three-year pay deal for police officers from 2008-09 to 2010-11.

A recent survey of members of the North Wales Police Federation found that more than 50 per cent. of the officers questioned reported levels of morale at the lower end of the scale. When they were asked what measures could be put in place to enable them significantly to improve their performance, the top three answers were that there should be more police officers, that bureaucracy should be reduced and that there should be fewer targets. Does the Minister consider that the low morale found in north Wales is representative of the police in general? What is the Home Office doing to address the bureaucratic, target-driven culture that is clearly contributing to it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that police officer numbers are at historically high levels. He will also know of the measures that we are taking to reduce bureaucracy, not least the appointment of Jan Berry as the reducing bureaucracy champion. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will know of the confidence measures that we are taking to reduce the number of targets and to have a single force area target. No doubt all those measures will be welcomed in north Wales, as they have been across the rest of the country.

I know about the survey that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but should point out that resignations in north Wales fell between 2006-07 and 2007-08. As well as talking about the problems, we can point out the successes of the police in order to raise police morale. Not least of those successes has been the huge reduction in crime in north Wales and across the rest of the country.

On the subject of morale, the Minister will be aware that the National Black Police Association recently called for a boycott of the Metropolitan police. Will my hon. Friend continue to work with the association on issues of recruitment and retention and does he agree with me that a boycott is not ultimately in the interests of the police force or of the communities that the association seeks to serve?

My hon. Friend has been a champion of the police and of policing in his constituency. He speaks from a position of strength when he talks about the importance of diversity in the police force. Recently, I met representatives of the National Black Police Association and I have been at the launch of a branch of the National Association of Muslim Police in the City of London. I will continue to have such meetings and make such visits.

As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to look into the whole issue of diversity and ethnicity in the police service. I have just given my right hon. Friend that report. The point is extremely important, and we will look to do something about it in the not-too-distant future.

Does the Minister agree that one way to improve police morale is to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service does not lose evidence and that its staff turn up on the correct date at the correct time so that the police’s hard work in bringing people before the courts can produce a hearing in the court and, I would hope, secure some sort of conviction?

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, nobody would disagree with those comments. The relationship between the police and the CPS is crucial, which is why Crown prosecutors are now resident in police stations in order to work with the police so that those prosecutors do not make mistakes in respect of the process and there is a better chance of getting measures to court. He is right to point out the need for that close co-operation. We discuss that with our ministerial colleagues and, in the light of his question, I will do so again, because it is an important matter.

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities. He was very effective in his previous role, and I look forward to working with him in his new one.

One aspect of police pay that is causing a problem for morale in the police forces around the border of the Metropolitan police area is that fact that the Metropolitan police get £4,393 a year more, as well as free travel into the Met police area, than the police in my constituency, who work side by side facing similar levels of crime? Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he is considering that issue?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks.

We are aware of the issues to do with the so-called south-east allowance in terms of officers leaving forces around London and going to work for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers that a serious issue and is discussing it at the Police Negotiating Board. Far from cutting that allowance, as is being discussed by the Conservatives, we continue to see it as important and we will try to reach a proper and fair conclusion to those discussions.

I welcome the Minister to his new role.

The police were demoralised by the Home Secretary’s shocking breach of trust over pay last year. In the light of her decision on 15 October to end consultation on the new police pay review body during this Parliament, will the Minister confirm to the police service that it is now the Home Secretary’s principled view that the Police Negotiating Board and arbitration represent the best machinery for deciding police pay and conditions?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the police pay deal recently announced by my right hon. Friend has been welcomed by all sides. He will also know that as part of that deal, we said that the new pay review body would not be part of the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill, and the Government do not intend to introduce that body during this Parliament.

I welcome my hon. Friend and east midlands neighbour, the son of a policeman, to his present role.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a good proxy measurement of morale in a police force can be higher than average levels of absence in that force? Is he aware of the yardsticks that are used by HM inspectorate of constabulary to establish what is wrong when there are higher levels of absence than average? Does he think that local management can be improved, as it probably can in one northern force that has reviewed the shift system in an ill-considered way without properly consulting the police officers in that area, with the result that morale has sunk and absence has soared?

I thank my east midlands neighbour for his kind remarks.

As regards local consultation and negotiation, all the things that one would expect to happen should happen, and they usually do. Notwithstanding recent media reports, the sickness and absence rates for each police officer have reduced by three and a half days since 2001. In many respects, using the sickness and absence rates, which show the number of days for which each officer is absent from their police service, is a good proxy to show a decline in those absence levels. I hope that has been achieved because of some of the things that my hon. Friend pointed out as good practice.

Drug-Related Crime

Recorded acquisitive crime—to which drug-related crime makes a significant contribution—has fallen by 28 per cent. since 2002-03.

We have invested heavily in the drug treatment system and we know that treatment works. For every £1 spent on treatment, at least £9.50 is saved in crime and health costs.

Will the Minister confirm that between 2005 and 2007, the number of successful police raids on cannabis factories doubled from 2,500 to 5,000? Does he believe that there is any correlation between the increase in cannabis factories and the reclassification of cannabis as a class C drug?

The number of successful raids on cannabis farms has increased, and one of the ways we wish to deal with supply is through the reclassification of cannabis from C to B. In particular, it is important that we take account of the sort of cannabis that is now available on our streets, which is skunk, a super-strength cannabis. That is why we intend to put before Parliament the necessary measures to reclassify cannabis from C to B. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition has also changed his position on what class cannabis ought to be.

There are very few people in this House who have done as much as this Minister to tackle the drugs issue over the years, so I congratulate him. Is he aware of the terrible problems caused by the date-rape drug, gamma-butyrolactone, and will he take action to control that drug?

I will have a look at the date-rape drug that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—I will not attempt to pronounce it. We will, of course, consider any drug that is brought to our attention, whether old or new, and take the appropriate and necessary action.

Would the Minister confirm that, according to a number of measures, Britain has the worst drug problem in Europe? Would he further confirm that four fifths of all drug treatment and testing orders have come to an unsuccessful conclusion, and that only 5 per cent. of drug treatment in this country is abstinence based?

I can confirm the following to the hon. Gentleman: if he looks at the new 10-year drug strategy that we published, he will see the use of the word abstinence, and will see that abstinence is part of the menu of options that should be made available to people who have a drug problem. Indeed, he will also know that we have received clinical advice that we should ensure that it is part of a menu of options, rather than the only option available to someone abusing drugs. I also point out that by any standard—for example, the British crime survey measurement—overall drug use is falling in the adult population, and it is falling among young people in particular. We ought to celebrate those facts, as well as deal with the issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights.

Local Crime Mapping

8. What assessment she has made of the effect of local crime mapping on levels of public confidence in policing. (229776)

The Association of Chief Police Officers tells me that from December this year, all forces will be able to publish neighbourhood crime maps as part of the policing pledge that I announced in July. The minimum standard required will be thematic maps of the same-crime categories, such as burglary, robbery, theft, vehicle crime, violent crime and antisocial behaviour incidents. That will be at least at ward level, and the information will be presented through easily accessible local crime information websites, which will make it possible for the public to make simple comparisons between neighbourhoods.

I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. In Swansea, East, the police have been successfully using crime mapping to identify areas where they can target their resources. An excellent project is being undertaken in my constituency with Pentrehafod school, where young people are working with the police to tackle the causes of crime. Will she ensure that money continues to be invested in crime mapping, particularly when it is so successful in raising public confidence in tackling crime and the causes of crime?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was pleased to be able to visit south Wales recently and hear from the chief constable about the work that is being undertaken to develop local crime information and make it available to the public. As my hon. Friend rightly says, we need local people, who are the best weapon in helping fight crime, to have the information to work shoulder to shoulder with their local police forces and to continue to see crime come down.

Although I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments about the publication of local crime maps so that the local community knows what is going on, does she share my concern that Essex police have recently regularly refused to provide information about individual crimes to the local media? The public do not know what is going on in their neighbourhoods, which contrasts with the Home Secretary’s comments about the publication of crime mapping.

It is obviously important that local police forces, such as the Essex police force, make the appropriate decisions, but I am clear—as is ACPO—that we must reach a position whereby, alongside crime mapping, we provide much better information to local people and at least monthly opportunities for them to engage with their neighbourhood policing teams, which are now in every neighbourhood throughout the country, to know what is going on and what, together, they can do about it.

Migration Policy

9. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the co-ordination of migration policy. (229777)

Home Office Ministers discuss migration policy with ministerial colleagues on a regular basis through the Cabinet Committee structure, in particular the Ministerial Committee for Domestic Affairs Sub-Committee on Migration.

Several Departments are represented on the Migration Advisory Committee and the Migration Impact Forum. We also work closely with individual Departments on a range of more specific issues about migration policy.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is it not the case that, when he said that it has been too easy to get into this country in the past, he was right, and that is the reason for the failure of the Government’s attempts at welfare reform? In the past three years, 365,000 fewer UK-born citizens were in work, while 865,000 more foreign migrants were in work. I listened to his answer to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Even if he takes the steps that he announced, are they not too little, far too late?

No, I do not accept that. If the hon. Gentleman is fair—I know that he is—he will examine the policies of a range of Departments, including the changes that have been introduced today to incapacity benefit to help the welfare-to-work programme. Of course, the needs of the economy are being put first, as he says, by the points-based system. I therefore disagree with him—I believe that the steps will be sufficient.

Last week, the immigration Minister unrepentantly and repeatedly made it clear that he supports an upper limit on immigration to the United Kingdom to prevent excessive population growth. The Home Secretary has made it clear that she does not support an upper limit. Which is Government policy?

I thank the hon. and learned Gentlemen for the question. There has been much debate in the House, including last Tuesday, although he did not take part, about the population trend that the Office for National Statistics published and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead so articulately highlighted. It identifies the total population, including the impact of migration. The Government’s point, with which my right hon. Friend agrees, is that the points-based system allows for controlling migration for workers by a method that ensures that the trends do not come to fruition. That is the policy.

I detect that, when the immigration Minister is in the sight of the Home Secretary, he suddenly starts to lose his independence of thought. It is clear that two Government positions are coming from the Home Office—the immigration Minister’s and the Home Secretary’s—and they cannot be reconciled. If the immigration Minister wants to achieve what he says, and prevent a population of 70 million, there must be curbs on immigration. The Home Secretary does not accept that. Given that the Prime Minister appears to endorse the immigration Minister’s view, are we to assume that we should defer entirely to the immigration Minister on those matters and forget what the Home Secretary tells us?

I think that we have confirmation that those on the Conservative Front Bench have no credible policies. The Government have repeatedly stated that had the points-based system that we have introduced been in place 12 months ago, 12 per cent. fewer migrants would have come to this country to work than otherwise. In that way—it seems to be almost a primary-school mathematical point that the hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to make political mischief out of—the policy is reconciled. I wish that he could say the same of his.

Topical Questions

My Department is responsible for protecting the public from terrorism. I am now strengthening the rules to exclude from the UK individuals who foster or spread extremism. There is no place in our society for people who encourage violence or preach hatred, and we will create a presumption in favour of exclusion of all those who have engaged in this behaviour. Where it is in our interests, we will name those whom we stop from entering the UK. Those who have courted extremism will have to have retracted such views publicly before they can be allowed in. I am also taking action to exclude European economic area nationals and their families before they travel here if they pose a threat to public security. Coming to Britain is a privilege. We will refuse to extend that privilege to anyone who wants to use hatred to undermine our way of life.

I welcome that statement. On a different subject, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the high level of concern about alcohol-related crime. Is she considering introducing proposals to tackle binge drinking and especially the heavy price cutting by retailers?

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on the issue, not only in Northampton, but through the legislation that she sought to bring forward. As we made clear when we published the consultation before the summer, we are looking carefully into how we can strengthen the current voluntary code on promotions to tackle irresponsible promotions. As the consultation comes to a close, we will have more to say about that in the near future. I agree with her that we need to take further action to help to prevent binge drinking and irresponsible promotions.

T3. I was delighted in the summer when the Home Secretary appeared to indicate that the Government would support my campaign to make it mandatory for licensed premises to offer 125 ml measures of wine alongside other measures. Doing so would improve consumer choice at the same time as improving awareness of how much individuals were drinking. Are the Government proposing to bring forward such a proposal and will she meet me and the various organisations that have supported the campaign, including Alcohol Concern and “The Good Pub Guide”, to discuss how we can take it forward? (229795)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a point precisely about promotion and how alcohol is marketed, which is the subject of the current consultation. I am sure that he will have made representations to that consultation, and I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue.

T2. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Mayor of London about the damage to police morale caused by his action in sacking the most senior police officer in the country for what appear to be purely political reasons? (229794)

The Mayor of London did not choose to consult me before he made the points that he did to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who incidentally I believe to have played an important role in helping to reduce crime and develop neighbourhood policing across the Metropolitan police area. The Mayor, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Secretary have a responsibility to work together for the benefit of policing in London and nationally. I hope that from now on that is what we shall be able to do.

T4. My constituents and the people of Britain are deeply concerned about the level of both legitimate and illegal immigration to this country, which has apparently led to a forecast of 70 million Britons in the not-too-distant future. To his credit, the immigration Minister also shares that concern. Could the Home Secretary specifically please say whether she believes there should be an upper limit on immigration and whether she views the prospect of 70 million Britons in the next 20 years with equanimity? (229798)

My hon. Friend the immigration Minister has completely reinforced the view that I expressed last week in the debate on immigration, which was called in Opposition time but to which the shadow Home Secretary did not feel it appropriate to contribute. I have made it completely clear that assumptions about population levels increasing to 70 million fail to take account of the points-based system that we are introducing. As my hon. Friend has identified again today, had that system been in place last year, it would have resulted in lower numbers of people coming through those routes into this country. So it is completely consistent that our points-based system places a strong control over three fifths of those who come into this country, as opposed to the policy of the Opposition, which proposes to place an arbitrary cap—whose number the Opposition will not give us—on only one out of five people coming into this country.

The Home Secretary will know that, last week, the Home Office was forced to admit that many police forces had incorrectly recorded serious violent crime, with the result that the figures gave the impression that levels of violent crime were lower than they actually were. What steps is she taking to ensure that that kind of situation can never arise again? Did it arise as a result of her Department’s guidance, or was it a mistake made by the police forces themselves?

I am sorry: I do not often have to correct my right hon. Friend, but I have to correct something that he has just said, which was that the change in the counting rules, which had been agreed alongside police officers and independent statisticians, meant that the levels of violent crime had been misreported. That is wrong. The levels of violent crime have not been misreported. In fact, the reduction in violent crime of 7 per cent. that we saw reported last Thursday is reliable and can be depended on. We were clear that we needed to ensure that, within the category of violent crime, everything that should be counted as most serious violence was so counted. That is why we, alongside the police, reviewed the counting rules and why some of the changes announced last week were made. It is right that, within the category of violent crime, the subsections that crimes are recorded in should be complete and consistent across the country.

The consultation on the transposition of the EU directive in the communications data Bill will end of Friday. However, this is currently a menu without any prices. What estimate can the Home Secretary give of the likely cost of the proposed database containing every e-mail, voice-mail and mobile phone call made in this country?

The hon. Gentleman is—knowingly, I suspect—conflating two issues. The consultation on the EU data retention directive is designed precisely to help us to identify the cost of implementing that directive, as will happen in every other country across Europe. I have also made it clear, however, that as we look to the future and to changes in technology and the requirement to maintain the capacity of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use current capabilities in communications data, we will publish a consultation document that will make clear the challenges and the proposed options for dealing with them. I look forward to widespread consultation as we take that work forward.

T5. In the past two weeks, more than 2,000 residents of the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have registered their objection to a lap-dancing club seeking a licence in a residential area close to local schools. However, the task of opposing those establishments is made difficult because of a lacuna in the Licensing Act 2003. Will my right hon. Friend use the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill to ensure that local communities are given greater control over the licensing of lap-dancing clubs—[Hon. Members: “Reading!”]—by allowing councils to license such venues as sex encounter establishments— (229799)

Order. I do not expect hon. Members to be reading out a supplementary question, especially during topical questions. Briefly, Minister.

We recognise that there is public concern about this matter, and agree that current licensing arrangements are inadequate. Local people have legitimate concerns for objecting to the planned location of a lap-dancing club, and we want to empower local authorities to take account of those legitimate concerns. The Home Secretary has committed the Government to bringing forward changes as soon as is practically possible.

T6. I would imagine that Members on both sides of the House would deplore the use of animal experimentation for the testing of cosmetic and other similar products. However, the situation is different for the testing of medical products when there is no alternative. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that, when a licence for such experimentation is given, there is no persecution of the people undertaking those tests, be they in universities or other places of experimentation? In my own constituency, a couple of years ago, several people were persecuted for undertaking work to save the lives of others. (229800)

We take this matter very seriously, and the Home Office is keen to stamp out extreme crime—indeed, any crime. In the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, after a lengthy police operation involving more than 50 police officers, the individuals concerned received 12 years each in the case of the three men who pleaded guilty and four years in the other case. I think that those sentences speak for themselves, as the maximum possible would have been 14 years, so I think that that is a good result. We have strengthened the law to enable us to prosecute people who take this unacceptable action. The Home Office tries hard to ensure that we get the right balance—the hon. Gentleman properly alluded to it—between allowing experimentation where no other alternative is possible and making sure that extremists are caught.

May I tell the Home Secretary that the people in Blackpool and its police force are delighted at the extra funding made available for tackling knife crime, particularly in schools? May I ask my right hon. Friend also to press the trading standards authorities throughout the country to follow the example of Blackpool council in cracking down vigorously on those who sell knives to under-18s, which remains a big issue despite changes in the law?

The issue is not just about knives sold in shops, but those sold on the internet. My hon. Friend should be commended for his efforts in promoting awareness of knife crime for many years. It is interesting to note that Lancashire—including Blackpool, of course—is one of the areas involved in the tackling knives action plan. When the police used their search equipment, they found no weapons, but their test purchase operations during the weekend of 18-19 October, which concentrated on markets and discount shops, recorded a 40 per cent. failure by those shopkeepers to follow procedures when they sold weapons to under-age people. Prosecutions are now pending; I look forward to the results coming through.

T7. Is the Secretary of State aware of the real concern across my constituency about antisocial behaviour? Does she agree with the Police Federation that 24-hour drinking has stretched the police to breaking point and contributed to rising levels of antisocial behaviour? (229801)

The Police Federation and I have discussed the issue and it has recognised that changes in the licensing legislation have not, in most cases, led to much longer opening hours and that there has been an overall reduction in violent crime against individuals during the evenings. The Police Federation will continue to work with us on the work that I mentioned earlier, which is intended to make sure that we clamp down particularly on irresponsible promotions in areas where the link to crime and disorder is most obvious.

I met several hundred members of the Bristol Somali community on Saturday at a conference that was set up to discuss gangs and knife crime, including some of the issues raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Will the immigration Minister agree to meet me and some of my hon. Friends to discuss some of the issues that are particularly affecting the Somali community in the UK?

T8. The very easy availability of very cheap alcohol obviously causes a problem in this country, but the deeper problem is a cultural one, especially when we compare behaviour here with that in some foreign countries. What do the Government think causes that bad cultural behaviour and what can be done about it? (229802)

I think that it is right to say that the vast majority of young people—over 18, of course—drink alcohol responsibly, but there is a minority for whom the way in which alcohol is promoted and their lack of understanding of its impact have had a detrimental effect. That is why we, as a Government, have worked hard through the “Know your Limits” advertising campaign and through the work of my colleagues in the Department of Health to bring home to people the potential danger that irresponsible drinking can cause. People need to behave responsibly both for their own health and on account of the impact of their behaviour on the wider community, and we will continue to make that case.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement about undesirable people who visit the UK? Is she aware that many have wondered over the years why we have allowed into this country people whose sole purpose while visiting Britain has been to encourage violence and, in some cases, terrorism, albeit in other countries? What my right hon. Friend said today is very welcome and I hope that it will be implemented.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take you back to the start of the Session, when you correctly reminded Members about their obligations in relation to the new parliamentary boundaries? You told us:

“Those boundaries do not change until the next election, so we must obey the convention of not involving ourselves with another Member’s constituency until that time.” —[Official Report, 6 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 2.]

I seek your advice. The neighbouring Labour MP, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter), has written to the Department for Communities and Local Government seeking the calling in of a planning application in my constituency. I was not informed of that involvement in my constituency.

Further, may I ask you whether it was proper for a Minister to write to that Member about the planning application—indeed, announcing that it was to be called in? That seems to me to be entirely contrary to the advice that you gave the House at the start of the Session.

We all have to obey the conventions of the House and we have to remember that, while this is a parliamentary boundary proposal, it is up to the electorate as to whether we are returned as Members of Parliament after the general election. We are presuming too much when we say that we are going to be the Member of Parliament for somewhere.

First, I will deal with the question of the Minister. If a Member of Parliament writes in good faith to a Minister, or a Minister receives in good faith a letter from a Member of Parliament saying, “This is my constituency,” the Minister concerned could easily make a mistake and reply in good faith.

I do not want these disputes coming up in points of order. Everyone knows what a constituency boundary looks like. They get a map and look around it. They must say, “This is within my boundary or without.” I would add that, sometimes, there are circumstances in which an hon. Member could ask about a matter that is outwith his or her constituency. That could happen. The question could be about a hospital. In my own case, there might be a hospital in the city of Glasgow that is outwith my constituency, but I could ask a question about facilities, although health is a devolved matter.

I want to assist proceedings, but I do not want this dispute to go on.

Order. Mr. Slaughter, you will understand that you have a boundary and you have a map. I tell you this: older Members of Parliament like me are very territorial. We do not like anybody getting our constituencies. You will need to be become territorial and stay within your constituency boundary.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am most grateful for that guidance. For the avoidance of doubt, the issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) affects my current and my prospective constituency to a great degree. It is simply a matter of regret that he and the Conservative council did not oppose this overdevelopment.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I must point out that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush has been writing about the matter to individuals in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. For it simply to be suggested that he has involved himself—[Interruption.] I am a recipient of the correspondence. It is an involvement that goes beyond that.

Order. I am going to stop the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have told two hon. Members to get their act together and keep it out of this Chamber. The last thing I want is a Front Bencher making things awkward for the Speaker.

No. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any indication that a ministerial statement might be made today? Ever since early this morning, well before the House started sitting, there have been reports on the news wires that the Secretary of State for Transport is to allocate £20 million to some local authorities to entice them to use electric vehicles. The report went on to say, “And he will be making a statement later.” One wonders to whom he is making the statement, because it appears that there is no provision for an oral statement to be made today.

Is not this something that you deplore, and that the House should rightly deplore, particularly as today we are dealing with transport business? The Secretary of State is on the Treasury Bench. All he has to do is walk a few feet to the Dispatch Box and tell us what this is all about.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that the Government have made a commitment to publish an impact assessment spelling out the costs, benefits and alternatives of any major measure, piece of legislation or change in policy before introducing it, so that the House can debate it in a fully informed manner.

Last week the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced in the House that he was raising the target for reducing carbon emissions from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.—a one third increase. If that results in a corresponding increase in costs, it will increase the costs of the programme by some £70 billion. However, when I wrote to the Secretary of State asking him whether he intended to publish an impact assessment and if so, when, I received the reply that the Government did intend to publish such an assessment, but not until after Royal Assent. That means that tomorrow, if things do not change, the House will discuss a measure not knowing to the nearest £70 billion what it will cost, or the corresponding change in benefits. I believe that that is an insult to the House and to our tax-paying constituents. Have you any powers, Mr. Speaker, either to require the Secretary of State to rush forward an impact assessment so that we know what we are debating, or to delay tomorrow’s debate until an assessment has been published so that we can debate it in a well-informed manner?

The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me some notice of his question. I have no powers to require such an assessment to be produced, but his comments will have been heard by Ministers.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I think that the immigration Minister, who is no longer present, may have inadvertently misled the House just now when he told my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) that he had written to my hon. Friend in great detail explaining why someone on a United Nations list of al-Qaeda terrorists had been given indefinite leave to remain. I have seen the letter, and apart from an apology for the long delay, there is no detail whatsoever.

I am not responsible for ministerial replies, and I do not expect the hon. Lady to read the letter out during a point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if you would tell me whether you have power to review the point of topical debates. Last Thursday’s debate, which was on the important subject of work and skills, was attended by only one Labour Back Bencher throughout. It is clear that Labour Back Benchers see no point in such debates.

Those are matters for the Leader of the House, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the issue with her. However, topical debates are usually very well attended. Back Benchers on both sides of the House usually want to speak in them, and have pleaded with me to ask Front Benchers to try to curtail opening speeches.

Orders of the Day

Local Transport Bill [Lords]

[Relevant documents: The Ninth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2006-07, on the draft Local Transport Bill and the Transport Innovation Fund, HC 692, and the Government’s response, HC 1053.]

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 9

Power of authorities to provide services in exceptional circumstances

‘(1) After section 132B of the TA 2000 insert—

“132C  Power of authorities to provide services in exceptional circumstances

(1) This section applies where a person who has agreed to provide a service (“the old service”) in accordance with a quality contract ceases to do so before the end of the period for which the contract was intended to have effect.

(2) The authority, or any one of the authorities, who entered into the quality contract may, in accordance with subsections (4) to (8) and section 132D, provide a local service (an “interim service”) in place of the old service or any part of it.

(3) Subsection (2) has effect notwithstanding any prohibition, restriction or limitation contained in any other enactment on the power of the authority to provide local services.

(4) An authority who provide an interim service of any description must hold a PSV operator’s licence to which no condition is attached under section 26 of the Transport Act 1985 (power of traffic commissioner to attach conditions to licence) prohibiting the authority from using vehicles under the licence to provide services of that description.

(5) Subsection (6) applies if—

(a) an authority provide an interim service in place of an old service or any part of an old service, and

(b) the authority or authorities who entered into the quality contract for the provision of the old service propose to enter into a quality contract for the provision of a replacement service in place of that service or (as the case may be) that part.

(6) The authority, or the authorities acting jointly, must invite tenders (in accordance with section 130) for the provision of the replacement service—

(a) as soon as reasonably practicable after the authority providing the interim service begin to do so, and

(b) in any event no later than three months after the date on which provision of the old service ceased.

(7) But subsection (6) does not apply if the authority, or the authorities acting jointly, decide to secure the provision of the replacement service under section 131 (circumstances in which quality contracts may be entered into without inviting tenders).

(8) The particulars of an interim service, or of a replacement service, need not be identical to the particulars of the old service, or that part of the old service, which it replaces.

(9) In this section—

“enactment” includes an enactment comprised in subordinate legislation (within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978);

“interim service” has the meaning given by subsection (2);

“the old service” has the meaning given by subsection (1);

“replacement service” means a local service provided under a quality contract in place of an old service or any part of an old service.

132D Period for which interim service may be provided

(1) This section applies for the purpose of determining the period for which an authority may provide an interim service which is provided in place of—

(a) an old service (“the relevant service”), or

(b) part of an old service (“the relevant part”).

(2) If the authority do not, within the period of three months beginning with the date on which provision of the relevant service ceased,—

(a) enter into a quality contract to provide a replacement service in place of the relevant service or (as the case may be) the relevant part, or

(b) issue an invitation to tender in pursuance of section 132C(6),

the authority must not provide the interim service after the end of that period.

(3) If the authority enter into a quality contract to provide such a replacement service within the period mentioned in subsection (2), the authority must not provide the interim service after the earlier of the following dates—

(a) the date on which the replacement service is first provided;

(b) the date falling nine months after the date on which the interim service is first provided.

(4) If the authority issue invitations to tender in pursuance of section 132C(6) within the period mentioned in subsection (2) (but do not enter into a quality contract to provide such a replacement service within that period), the authority must not provide the interim service after the earlier of the following dates—

(a) the date on which a replacement service is first provided in place of the relevant service or (as the case may be) the relevant part;

(b) the date determined in accordance with subsection (5).

(5) The date is the later of—

(a) the date falling nine months after the date on which the interim service is first provided;

(b) such date, not later than three months after the date mentioned in paragraph (a), as may be determined by the traffic commissioner on the application of the authority.

(6) The traffic commissioner may determine a date under subsection (5)(b) only if satisfied that there is a realistic prospect that, if the determination is made, a replacement service will be provided in place of the relevant service or (as the case may be) the relevant part on or before that date.

(7) An application under paragraph (b) of subsection (5) must be made—

(a) to the traffic commissioner for the traffic area in which the interim service is provided (or, if the service is provided in more than one such area, to the traffic commissioner for any of those areas), and

(b) not later than one month before the date mentioned in paragraph (a) of that subsection.

(8) The authority must not make more than one application under subsection (5)(b) in respect of any interim service.

(9) In this section—

“interim service” and “replacement service” have the meaning given in section 132C;

“the relevant service” and “the relevant part” have the meaning given in subsection (1);

and, in any case where the authority entered into the quality contract for the provision of the relevant service jointly with one or more other authorities, references in this section to the authority entering into a quality contract for a replacement service, or issuing invitations to tender for such contracts, are references to those authorities acting jointly.”.

(2) In section 162(4) of the TA 2000 (provisions where references to Passenger Transport Authorities are to be read as references to Passenger Transport Executives) at the appropriate place insert—

“section 132C,

section 132D,”.

(3) In section 66(1) of the TA 1985 (exclusion of powers of certain councils to run bus undertakings) after “subsection (2) below” insert “and to section 132C of the Transport Act 2000”.’.—[Paul Clark.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendments (a) to (j) to Government new clause 9.

Government new clause 13—Advice by boards or their Commissioners.

Government new clause 14—Consideration of proposed schemes by boards.

Amendments (a) to (c) thereto.

Government new clause 15—Appeals against the making of schemes for areas in England.

Amendments (a) to (d) thereto.

Government new clause 16—Exempt continuation proposals.

Government new clause 17—Continuation of schemes for areas in England: procedure.

Government new clause 18—Continuation of schemes for areas in Wales: procedure.

Government new clause 19—Exemption from s.132 for specific variations directed by Transport Tribunal.

New clause 6—Approval of proposed scheme—

‘In the TA 2000, for section 126 (approval of proposed scheme) substitute—

“125A Consideration of proposed scheme

(1) If, having complied with section 125, the authority or authorities wish to proceed with the proposed scheme, they must apply to the appropriate consulting authority for its consideration.

(2) In this Part “the appropriate consulting authority” means—

(a) where the area to which the scheme relates is in England, an approvals board for England; and

(b) where the area to which the scheme relates is in Wales, the Welsh Ministers.

(3) The application must include—

(a) the authority’s or the authorities’ reasons for wishing to make the scheme; and

(b) such other information as the appropriate consulting authority may reasonably require.

(4) The appropriate consulting authority shall give its opinion on the proposed scheme within 28 days of the latter of—

(a) the application for its opinion; and

(b) the receipt of any further information requested under subsection (3)(b).

(5) The appropriate consulting authority may recommend modifications to the proposed scheme.

(6) Following receipt of the appropriate consulting authority’s opinion, the authority or authorities must take that opinion into account and may then proceed to—

(a) make the proposed scheme;

(b) discontinue the proposed scheme; or

(c) make the proposed scheme with modifications.

(7) If the authority or authorities propose to make the scheme with modifications, they must first consult such of the persons they consulted under section 125(3) as would in their opinion be affected by those modifications.”’.

New clause 7—Approval of proposed scheme (No. 2)—

‘(1) Section 126 of the TA 2000 (approval of proposed scheme) is omitted.

(2) After section 125 of the TA 2000 (notice and consultation requirements) insert—

“126 Consideration of proposed scheme

(1) In this Part “the appropriate consultation authority” means—

(a) where the area to which the scheme relates is in England, a consultation board for England; and

(b) where the area to which the scheme relates is in Wales, the Welsh Ministers.

(2) Where the area to which the scheme relates is in England—

(a) upon receipt of a notice under section 125(1)(a), the senior traffic commissioner shall within 7 days of receipt of the notice appoint a consultation board to give its response on the proposed scheme; and

(b) once appointed under paragraph (a), the consultation board shall begin its consideration.

(3) Where the area to which the scheme relates is in Wales, the Welsh Ministers shall begin their consideration upon receipt of a notice under section 125(1)(a).

(4) The appropriate consultation authority shall consider whether the proposed scheme as a whole satisfies the criteria set out in section 124(1).

(5) In carrying out its consideration, the appropriate consultation authority shall consider—

(a) the consultation document produced by the authority or authorities in accordance with section 125,

(b) any information received by the appropriate consultation from the persons listed at section 125(3),

(c) any other information that the appropriate consultation authority may reasonably request from the authority or authorities proposing the scheme, and

(d) any other information that the appropriate consulting authority obtains from any other source which the consulting authority deems to be relevant.

(6) If the appropriate consultation authority believes that any of the criteria set out in section 124(1) are not satisfied, it shall give reasons for that belief in its response and may suggest ways in which the scheme could be modified so as to ensure that the criteria are satisfied.

(7) In giving its response, the appropriate consultation authority may recommend modifications to the proposed scheme.

(8) Following receipt of the appropriate consultation authority’s response, the authority or authorities proposing the scheme shall forward the response to the persons listed at section 125(3).

(9) The authority or authorities proposing the scheme must take that response into account and may then proceed to—

(a) make the proposed scheme;

(b) discontinue the proposed scheme; or

(c) make the proposed scheme with modifications.

(10) If the authority proposes or the authorities propose to make the scheme with modifications, it or they must first consult such of the persons it or they consulted under section 125(3) as would in its or their opinion be affected by those modifications.”’.

New clause 8—Review of validity of schemes—

‘(1) After section 126B of the TA 2000 insert—

“126C Review of validity of schemes: areas in England

(1) This section applies where the area to which the proposed scheme relates is in England.

(2) If any person who was consulted by the authority or authorities in accordance with section 125(3) or the consultation board desires to question the validity of a quality contracts scheme, or of any provision contained in it, on the ground—

(a) that it is not within the powers of this Act; or

(b) that any of the relevant requirements have not been complied with in relation to that scheme,

that person or the board may, within the period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the notice is required by section 127(8) is published, make an application for the purpose to the Transport Tribunal.

(3) On any such application, the Transport Tribunal—

(a) may suspend the operation of the quality contracts scheme, or of any provision contained in it, either generally or in part, until the final determination of the proceedings, and

(b) if satisfied that the quality contracts scheme or any provision contained in it is not within the powers of this Act, or that the interests of the applicants have been substantially prejudiced by a failure to comply with any requirement imposed by or under this Act, may quash the scheme or any provision contained in it, either generally or in part.

(4) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) and without prejudice to any right of appeal from the Transport Tribunal, a quality contracts scheme shall not, either before or after it has been made, be questioned in any legal proceedings whatever.

(5) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 8 of Schedule 4 to the TA 1985, the jurisdiction of the Transport Tribunal in relation to this section shall be limited to the consideration of the matters set out in subsection (2).’.

Amendment No. 5, in clause 19, page 18, line 15, after ‘relates’, insert

‘which are greater than those that would pertain under existing arrangements,’.

Amendment No. 6, page 18, line 22, leave out paragraph (e) and insert—

‘(e) there are shown to be no adverse effects of the proposed scheme on operators or on persons living or working in the area to which the proposed scheme relates’.

Government amendment No. 163

Amendment No. 30, page 18, line 27, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) Leave out subsection (2)(b) and insert—

“(2) (b) have consulted the appropriate consulting authority in accordance with section 125A”’.

Amendment No. 65, page 18, line 27, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) In subsection (2) omit paragraph (b) and the word “and” before it.’.

Government amendment No. 121.

Amendment No. 66, page 18, line 39, at end insert—

‘(6) After subsection 13 insert—

“(14) For the purposes of determining whether or not the criteria set out in subsection (1) would be satisfied by any proposed scheme, an authority or authorities may cause to be held such inquiries and in such manner as it or they think fit.”’.

Amendment No. 67, in clause 20, page 18, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 19 and insert—

‘(2) For subsection (1) substitute—

“(1) Prior to making a quality contracts scheme the authority or authorities must—”’.

Amendment No. 68, page 19, line 2, at end insert—

‘( ) Give notice of the proposal to make the scheme—

(a) if the area to which the proposed scheme relates is in England, to the senior traffic commissioner; or

(b) if the area to which the proposed scheme relates is in Wales, to the Welsh Ministers,’.

Amendment No. 7, page 19, line 3, leave out ‘in such a manner as they think fit’.

Amendment No. 8, page 19, line 6, after ‘subsection (3)’, insert—

‘(c) supply a copy of that document to—

(i) the chief fire officer for each fire area covering the whole or part of that area;

(ii) the head of the local ambulance service for each area covering the whole or part of that area;

(iii) all persons living within 150 metres of any part of the route as specified in the proposed scheme;

(iv) representatives of local groups representing disabled people’.

Government amendments Nos. 164 to 166.

Amendment No. 69, page 19, line 30, at end insert—

‘(f) a statement that all consultees may copy any comments they wish to make to the appropriate consultation authority, setting out details of the appropriate consultation authority.’.

Government amendments Nos. 167 to 169.

Amendment No. 70, page 20, line 1, leave out clause 21.

Government amendments Nos. 170 to 177.

Amendment No. 71, in clause 22, page 20, line 21 , leave out ‘approvals’ and insert ‘consultation’.

Government amendment No. 178

Amendment No. 72, page 20, line 22, leave out ‘an approvals’ and insert ‘a consultation’.

Government amendments Nos. 179 and 180.

Amendment No. 9, page 21, line 7, leave out subsection (8).

Government amendments Nos. 181 to 186.

Amendment No. 73, in clause 23, page 21, line 16, leave out ‘approvals’ and insert ‘consultation’.

Government amendments Nos. 187 to 189.

Amendment No. 74, page 21, line 19, leave out ‘approvals’ and insert ‘consultation’.

Government amendments Nos. 190 and 191.

Amendment No. 75, page 21, leave out line 24.

Amendment No. 31, page 21, line 24, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Amendment No. 76, page 21, line 25, leave out from beginning to ‘to’ in line 26 and insert

‘provision for a confirmation that the consultation board is considering a proposed scheme’.

Amendment No. 77, page 21, line 29, leave out ‘an application for approval has been received’ and insert

‘the consultation board is considering a proposed scheme’.

Amendment No. 32, page 21, line 29, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Amendment No. 78, page 21, line 32, leave out ‘application’ and insert ‘proposed scheme’.

Amendment No. 23, page 21, line 32, at end insert—

‘(e) provision that the role of the Approvals Board will be restricted to verifying that the authority seeking approval has followed the proper procedures for making a Quality Contract Scheme.’.

Amendment No. 79, page 21, line 34, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 35 and insert

‘any consultation board for England should normally give its response on any proposed scheme.’.

Government amendments Nos. 192 and 193.

Amendment No. 33, page 21, line 35, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Government amendment No. 194.

Amendment No. 80, page 21, line 36, leave out ‘an approvals’ and insert ‘a consultation’.

Government amendment No. 195.

Amendment No. 34, page 21, line 37 , leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘publish its recommendations’.

Amendment No. 81, page 21, line 37, leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘give its response’.

Amendment No. 82, page 21, line 37, leave out ‘on any application for approval’.

Amendment No. 35, page 21, line 38, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Amendment No. 83, page 21, line 38, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘a response’.

Government amendment No. 196

Amendment No. 84, page 21, line 39, leave out ‘an approvals’ and insert ‘a consultation’.

Amendment No. 36, page 21, line 39, leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘publish its recommendations’.

Amendment No. 85, page 21, line 39, leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘give its response’.

Amendment No. 37, page 21, line 40, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Amendment No. 38, page 21, line 42, leave out ‘reached its decision’ and insert ‘published its recommendations’.

Amendment No. 86, page 21, line 42, leave out ‘reached its decision’ and insert ‘given its response’.

Amendment No. 39, page 21, line 44, leave out ‘reach a decision’ and insert ‘publish the recommendations’.

Amendment No. 87, page 21, line 44, leave out ‘reach a decision’ and insert ‘give a response’.

Amendment No. 40, page 22, line 1, leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘publish its recommendations’.

Amendment No. 88, page 22, line 1, leave out ‘reach its decision’ and insert ‘give its response’.

Government amendment No. 197

Amendment No. 89, page 22, line 7, leave out ‘made the application for approval’ and insert ‘is or are proposing the scheme’.

Amendment No. 41, page 22, line 8, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consideration’.

Government amendments Nos. 198 and 199.

Amendment No. 42, page 22, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert

‘ “application for consideration” means an application under section 125A for consideration of a quality contracts scheme;’.

Government amendments Nos. 200 to 203.

Amendment No. 91, in clause 24, page 22, line 26, leave out ‘approvals’ and insert ‘consultation’.

Amendment No. 92, page 22, leave out lines 27 to 35.

Amendment No. 93, page 23, line 34, leave out ‘126C(8)’ and insert ‘126C(5)’.

Government amendment No. 204

Amendment No. 44, in clause 25, page 23, line 40, leave out ‘applications for approval’ and insert ‘Quality Contract schemes’.

Amendment No. 45, page 24, leave out line 3 and insert ‘authority proposing to make the scheme’.

Amendment No. 46, page 24, line 5, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 47, page 24, line 28, leave out ‘, or to the approvals board for England,’.

Amendment No. 48, page 24, line 34, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 49, page 24, line 40, leave out paragraph (e).

Amendment No. 50, page 25, line 3, leave out subsection (4).

Amendment No. 51, page 25, line 8, leave out ‘or (e)’.

Amendment No. 95, in clause 26, page 25, line 13, at end insert—

‘(1A) For the heading “Making of a scheme” substitute “Requirements of a quality contracts scheme”.

(1B) Subsection (1) is omitted.’.

Government amendment No. 205

Amendment No. 96, page 25, line 14, leave out subsections (2) to (4).

Amendment No. 52, page 25, line 14, leave out subsection (2), and insert—

‘(2) Leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) Once the appropriate national authority considers the scheme the authority or authorities who proposed it may make it, with or without modifications, at any time not later than 6 months after the date on which the recommendations of the approvals board are published.”’.

Amendment No. 53, page 25, line 24, leave out ‘approvals board for England’ and insert ‘authority proposing to make the scheme’.

Government amendment No. 206.

Amendment No. 97, page 26, line 15, leave out ‘periods mentioned in subsection (1), (1A) or’ and insert ‘period mentioned in subsection’.

Government amendments Nos. 207, 208, 122, 123 and 209 to 221..

Amendment No. 54, in clause 30, page 28, line 36, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consulting’.

Amendment No. 55, page 28, line 37, leave out ‘section 126’ and insert ‘section 125A’.

Amendment No. 56, page 28, line 40, leave out ‘approval’ and insert ‘consulting’.

Government amendments Nos. 222 and 223.

Amendment No. 57, in clause 31, page 29, leave out line 4 and insert

‘(1) Section 125A (consideration of proposed scheme)’.

Government amendments Nos. 224 to 235.

Amendment No. 58, in clause 32, page 31, line 28, leave out ‘approval by appropriate approval’ and insert ‘consulting by appropriate consulting’.

Government amendments Nos. 236 and 237.

Amendment No. 59, in clause 33, page 31, line 39, leave out from second ‘the’ to ‘as’ in line 41 and insert

‘authority proposing the continuation of the scheme’.

Government amendments Nos. 238 to 242.

Amendment No. 60, in clause 34, page 32, line 19, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

‘(a) leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

“(a) requires the consideration of the scheme by the consulting authority which published recommendations on the scheme in accordance with section 125A, and”.’.

Government amendments Nos. 243 to 254.

Amendment No. 61, in clause 35, page 33, line 25, leave out paragraph (c).

Government amendments Nos. 255 and 256.

Amendment No. 62, in clause 36, page 33, line 30, at end insert—

‘(2A) In subsection (1)(b) leave out “approval” and insert “consideration”’.

Government amendments Nos. 257 and 258.

Amendment No. 63, page 33, line 33, at end insert—

‘(3) (b) in paragraph (e) leave out “approval” and insert “consideration”’.

Government amendments Nos. 259 to 263, 124 and 125 to 138.

Amendment No. 98, in clause 61, page 55, line 9, leave out from ‘it’ to end of line 10 and insert—

‘(a) it provides that a PTE shall cease to have the power under section 10(1)(viii) of the TA 1968; or

(b) it would prevent the carrying of passengers by road by the PTE in pursuance of the power inserted into the TA 1968 by subsection (7).’.

Amendment No. 99, page 55, leave out line 15.

Amendment No. 100, page 55, line 17, at end insert—

‘(7) For subsection (1)(i) (power of PTE to carry passengers by road) substitute—

“(i) in the event that a quality contract within the meaning of section 124(4) of the Transport Act 2000 is terminated or local services undertaken to be provided under such a quality contract cease to be provided in whole or in part, to carry passengers by road within, to and from that area for the purpose of maintaining local services provided in the area to which that quality contract related, for a period not exceeding 12 months from the date of the termination of the quality contract or the cessation of the local services or such longer period as may be approved by the relevant traffic commissioner as being in the public interest;”.’.

Government amendments Nos. 264 and 265.

I am delighted to be able to take the Bill through its Report stage and Third Reading. I genuinely believe that it has the potential to help local authorities, bus operators and passengers alike to achieve substantial change in bus services and other provision to reduce congestion and climate change problems.

By and large, I welcome the Government’s proposals, which I think constitute a move in the right direction. I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues on listening to the comments that were made in Committee. However, this vast raft of amendments was tabled very close to the Report stage. Given that the Committee stage ended some months ago, it would have been helpful if the Government had published their intentions rather earlier.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me and the amendments; I am sure that if we had not introduced them we would have been accused of not listening and of failing to take due account of the deep discussions in Committee, which I have read about and spoken about with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who took the Bill through Committee.

We appreciate that there are many amendments in this group, but they can conveniently be discussed under four separate headings: first, the Government’s proposal to replace quality contracts scheme approval boards in England so as to place the decision making squarely in the hands of local authorities; secondly, proposals to strengthen further the employment protections already contained in the Bill for bus company workers; thirdly, provisions to enable local authorities to operate bus services as the operator of last resort in certain very limited circumstances; and fourthly, some technical amendments to clause 44, which enables additional non-quality contract bus services to be registered within a quality contracts scheme area in certain specific circumstances. It might be helpful if I take the time to go through the amendments that stem from those four areas.

There was healthy debate in Committee about the Bill’s provisions for proposed quality contracts schemes in England to be approved by independent approval boards rather than the Secretary of State. Several hon. Friends, as well as the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), raised questions about the proposed new approval process, and the Government agreed to consider them further. Members will be aware that we are very much in favour of devolution to local authorities; indeed, much of the Bill is aimed at achieving precisely that. However, it is also important to recognise that quality contracts schemes could have substantial impact on bus operators—particularly smaller operators—in an area and the drivers, maintenance staff and others whom they employ. The Government have consistently made it clear that we see a crucial role for independent scrutiny of local authority proposals for quality contracts schemes, and I stand by that commitment that we clearly outlined in Committee. At the same time, the Government have carefully listened to Members and local authorities who have argued with some passion that the final decision about quality contracts schemes should be placed squarely in the hands of locally elected members.

In the light of those arguments, the Government have tabled new clauses 13 to 19 and amendments Nos. 163 to 265. The amendments would ensure that local authorities took the final decision on whether a quality contracts scheme should be made in their area, but they would also preserve an important role for independent scrutiny to ensure that the legitimate interests of bus operators remain protected. First and foremost, the amendments would replace the proposed approvals boards for England with quality contracts scheme boards, which are called QCS boards in the amendments. Instead of making the final decision as to whether a scheme should go ahead, the role of a QCS board would be to provide an opinion and, where appropriate, to make recommendations to the local authority. The scrutiny would take place at the end of the consultation process, so that the QCS board could form its opinion in light of the comments made by consultees, but it would be for the local authority to take the final decision having considered the QCS board’s opinion and recommendations.

I have taken careful note of the points raised in Committee about the remit of those boards, and the amendments now spell out much more clearly their precise role. There are two aspects to that role. First, the boards are to consider whether the local authority has satisfied the statutory requirements to give notice of their proposed scheme and to consult on it. Secondly, they are to consider whether the proposed scheme meets the public interest criteria set out in the Bill. Those criteria are whether it is likely to benefit passengers, increase patronage and contribute to the authority’s local transport policies in an economic, efficient and effective way, and whether any adverse effects of the scheme on operators are proportionate to the benefits that will result from it. That makes it clear that the QCS boards will be focused on considering the proposed scheme. They will not be delivering opinions or recommendations on wider matters such as the authority’s local transport policies, which are rightly a matter for the authority itself in consultation with the electorate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central, set out clearly in Committee why it is important for the Transport Tribunal to have a role in the QCS process. In particular, the intention is to provide a quicker, more accessible and less costly alternative to judicial review. The role of the Transport Tribunal is equally important under the Government’s latest proposals, but at the same time we have listened carefully to the point made by Labour Members that we need to avoid needlessly creating a two-stage process for local authorities.

On the Transport Tribunal, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 makes provision for two tiers of tribunal, the lower and the upper. On the face of things that may be fine, but under the Bill the first appeal would be to the integrated transport authority itself. Surely we will not then have two further tiers of appeal, as that would be over-bureaucratic. Will he clear that matter up?

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. He is absolutely right that under the 2007 Act, sectoral tribunals will be done away with in favour of the new first-tier and upper tribunals. Decisions on interim arrangements and which levels will be used are still being consulted on, but we are keen to ensure that processes are not drawn out by any individuals or groups. The Bill contains provisions on that point, which we are keen to recognise. I add that if a QCS board states its opinion that the five public interest criteria are met and that the authority meets the statutory consultation obligations, the right of appeal to the tribunal will be limited to points of law.

Will my hon. Friend clarify how the public interest criteria that he set out will be determined by elected members rather than an appointed board?

The proposing transport authority will need to do a cost-benefit analysis using the five public interest criteria laid out clearly in clause 19, including the benefits for passengers and whether they are delivered in an economic way. It will have to follow all five of those criteria. That will have to be set against any disadvantages for operators, and the effect of delivering the revised and new contracts schemes must be proportionate. We would expect traffic commissioners to use other schemes within industries as a benchmark against which to judge if needs be, but in the first instance the authority will need to do a cost-benefit analysis using those five criteria.

I note my hon. Friend’s comments a moment ago about the Transport Tribunal. May I push him a little further on that point? Will he commit to discussions with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that when the new tribunal framework to replace the Transport Tribunal is finally in place, it is no more onerous for local authorities than the current arrangements? That is a very important point.

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are consulting our colleagues at the Ministry of Justice on how the appeals should be handled. Hon. Members will be aware that the provisions are that if the QCS board gives the scheme a clean bill of health on meeting the requirements, an appeal can be made only on points of law. If a clean bill of health had not been given, there would a wider opportunity for an appeal to be taken, and that would happen through the different tiers. It is possible that appeals on points of law would be taken by the upper tribunal and other appeals would be taken through the first tier, but that is open to a discussion, which we will take forward. I hope that clarifies matters on the tribunals.

A number of existing features of the Bill would remain unchanged. For example, a QCS board would still be chaired by a traffic commissioner, who would sit alongside two people from a panel of independent experts to be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would still have the power to specify in regulations a target time limit for the QCS board to complete its deliberations. In contrast to what is proposed in amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and by the Liberal Democrats, the Government are not proposing any significant changes to the arrangements in Wales. As applies now, schemes in Wales would be considered by the Welsh Ministers, which is fully in line with the preferences expressed by Welsh Assembly Members.

Some other refinements to the Bill’s QCS provisions are proposed. For example, the amendments would give the local authority the option—I should emphasise that it is an option, rather than an obligation—to begin the process of tendering for quality contracts while an appeal to the tribunal is in progress. Previously, the Bill would have prevented that, but it should help to speed up the overall process of implementing quality contracts schemes, helping to address another concern expressed by hon. Members in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new post. I welcome the amendments and new clauses that the Government have tabled. They are very much in the spirit of local responsibility and local accountability, and that is what Labour Members believe in. Does he have any idea of how long the board’s deliberations might take? Will he assure us that, as part of those deliberations, there will be no requirement to go back to any of the operators to seek their views on the board’s comments, and that if there is a discussion between the board and the transport authority, there will be no obligation to involve the operators in it?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments in welcoming me to my post. How long the process takes will depend, in part, on the nature of the scheme. Obviously, a city-wide scheme will take longer than a localised scheme because of the advance work needed build up to having a scheme to work with, regardless of any provisions in the Bill; the time needs to be taken for that to be done.

The Secretary of State will have the power to specify time limits for boards and we will consult on the time limits in the next few months. As I recall it, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central indicated in Committee that we are considering time limits of six weeks and, as I have said, allowing invitation to tender to happen while the appeal is taking place. Such an approach will focus minds on ensuring that the goal is to deliver quality bus services that are fit for purpose in our cities and towns, and fit for passenger use today.

I hope that my comments have reassured hon. Members that the amendments will address the key concern expressed in Committee that it should be for elected local authorities to take the decision on whether quality contracts schemes should go ahead.

I was trying to tease an answer out of my hon. Friend on a second question. Is it the case that once the transport authority has consulted and set out a scheme, the board will look at it? From then on, the discussion is between the board and the transport authority, without the operators having the right to be consulted again or have further input into the process.

My hon. Friend is right that there would be no requirement to consult the operators again. In fact, the QCS boards will consider the scheme only after the consultation process, when everyone has had the opportunity to participate.

I thank my hon. Friend for his clear delineation of the role of the QCS boards, but can he assure me that any future guidance given to them will reiterate their role as being to determine whether a scheme has met the statutory criteria, not whether it is the only or even the best scheme to deliver best practice on buses?

The role of the QCS boards is clearly laid out. They judge whether due process has been followed and whether a scheme meets the five public interest criteria. It is not their role to make a judgment about a local authority’s overall transport policies. I hope that my hon. Friends and the Liberal Democrats will conclude that the Government amendments address their concerns and will therefore not seek to press them.

Government amendments Nos. 124 to 128 deal with TUPE and pensions issues. There was a good debate in Committee about the ways in which a quality contracts scheme could affect bus workers in the area concerned. I agree wholeheartedly with those who argued in Committee that we need to ensure that appropriate protections are put in place to safeguard bus workers’ interests. That is why the Government tabled amendments in the other place, so that the protections afforded by the TUPE regulations would apply where employees transfer to a new employer on the coming into force of a quality contract. Those amendments were a considerable advance on the Transport Act 2000 as it was originally enacted, which contained no provisions about TUPE. Nevertheless, we listened with great care to the points raised in Committee by several hon. Members, and especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer). In light of that debate, I am pleased to be speaking to Government amendments Nos. 124 to 128 today. These amendments will further enhance the protections that the Bill already provides.

Government amendment No. 124 describes an additional situation that is to be treated as a “relevant transfer” for the purposes of the TUPE regulations—that is to say, an additional situation where the protections of TUPE will apply. When a local authority has awarded a quality contract to somebody other than the incumbent operator, there is a risk that the incumbent might decide to withdraw from the local bus market before the contract comes into force. That could lead to a short-term gap in bus service provision, which the local authority may well decide to fill by means of a subsidised service agreement with another operator. The amendment provides for such a situation to be treated as a “relevant transfer” for the purposes of the TUPE regulations, so that the incumbent operator’s workers can benefit from the same protection as the Bill already provides in relation to services that transfer straight to the quality contract operator. Government amendments Nos. 125 and 126 are consequential on Government amendment No. 124.

I echo the comments made a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), and welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his role on the Front Bench. I also warmly welcome the Government’s efforts to ensure that TUPE provisions apply when a quality contract is introduced. Will my hon. Friend confirm that where the amendment refers to the

“coming into force of a quality contract”

it means the point at which the scheme comes into operation?

That is my understanding of the exact operation of the amendment. It affords protection from that very moment.

Government amendment No. 127 is a technical amendment, intended to provide certainty that the pension protections afforded by sections 257 and 258 of the Pensions Act 2004 will apply when there is a TUPE transfer in connection with a quality contracts scheme in exactly the same way as those protections apply to a normal TUPE transfer. Those sections of the Pensions Act set out the minimum level of pension provision that must be made available to a person who is subject to a TUPE transfer and who had pension rights before that transfer.

Amendment No. 128 is also about pension protection. It provides a power to make regulations to specify pension protection requirements over and above that afforded by the Pensions Act. It also places a duty on the Secretary of State to exercise that power to ensure that workers involved in the provision of bus services in the scheme area before the scheme was made do not lose out in pension terms as a result of the scheme.

The Government’s intention is to draw on the existing arrangements that apply where a local authority outsources activities that were previously undertaken by the authority in house. Under those arrangements, workers who transfer from the authority to the contractor are granted rights to acquire pension benefits that are the same as, or count as being broadly comparable to or better than, the pension rights that they had before the transfer. Our amendments will provide a similar level of protection.

The detail of how that protection will work will be set out in regulations, which is consistent with the local authority analogy, where the details are set out in directions. That will enable the Government to consult fully with trade unions, local authorities and bus operators before finalising the detailed provisions. The amendments provide, on the face of the Bill, a clear minimum level of protection that future regulations will have to provide for particular employees.

I am pleased to hear about the developments that the Government have placed in those amendments, but will my hon. Friend clarify that the trade unions can now enter into discussions and negotiations with the employers about pensions on the basis that he has outlined?

We are making that provision in the Bill, and as I said, we will be consulting on our guidance and so on with trade unions and bus operators alike to take the provisions forward. They are clearly laid out on the face of the Bill to give a true minimum position.

I shall now turn to Government new clause 9, together with Government amendments Nos. 121 and 122. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and other hon. Members made an eloquent plea that passenger transport executives that are running a quality contracts scheme should have the power to take over operating the buses if the contractor goes into liquidation or for some other reason is no longer able to provide services under the quality contract before that contract is due to end. They accepted that such a power would not be easy to use and would be used only in an emergency, and they drew attention to similar powers with regard to franchised railway services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central promised to consider the matter further in the light of the debate. The Government have now done so, and I am pleased to have moved new clause 9.

My hon. Friends have also tabled amendments similar to those that they tabled in Committee. There is not an enormous difference between the two sets of amendments, so I shall describe those tabled by the Government. They consist of a new clause whose effect would be to empower a local transport authority to operate interim services, and two minor consequential amendments. The proposed new power would allow a local transport authority to provide services as an operator of last resort in a quality contracts scheme area. That would be possible only when a quality contracts operator ceased to provide the contracted services before the quality contract was due to expire. The power could be exercised by the local authority only for a time-limited period. In one respect, the power goes further than amendments Nos. 98 to 100, tabled by my hon. Friends, as it would apply to any local transport authority in England or Wales that has made and brought into force a quality contracts scheme, whereas their amendments would apply only to areas with passenger transport executives. It is nevertheless a modest and limited power; it applies in only a very specific set of circumstances, and it certainly would not give local authorities a general power to run bus services.

I entirely understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, and new clause 9 is very welcome. He says that the power will be time-limited. What will happen if the time runs out, but a new operator has not been found?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The power is time-limited; the proposal is that the time should be limited to nine months, with the option of having a further three months thereafter. It is, in our opinion, highly unlikely that a transport operator would not be found, because if things got to that stage, I suspect that the proposed scheme would not have met other criteria. Our genuine belief is that it is highly unlikely that we would end up in the situation that he describes.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the new clause as a sensible step in the right direction. My only question is about the difference between the nine-month period and the 12-month period to which the Minister referred. The last three months are subject to approval by the traffic commissioner. Is the Minister planning to publish guidelines on the circumstances in which the traffic commissioner would be empowered or encouraged to give that three-month extension? As the times—nine and 12 months—are quite limited, presumably any discussion with the traffic commissioner would have to begin some time before the nine-month limit was up.

Obviously, in the situation that we are describing, the traffic commissioner would watch things closely in the interim period in which a local authority was acting as an operator of last resort. As I have indicated, we are consulting on how provisions in the Bill will operate, and that is another way in which consideration will be given to the matter. Now that my hon. Friends have heard what I have said about the new clause—in particular, now that they know that it would apply not just to PTEs but to local transport authorities elsewhere in England and Wales—I hope that they will be persuaded not to press amendments Nos. 98 to 100.

Finally, I turn to Government amendments Nos. 123 and 129 to 138. Clause 44 will, in certain circumstances, enable local bus services to be registered in an area covered by a quality contracts scheme. The amendments are essentially technical amendments to improve the clause. They look rather complicated—they certainly did to me—but the intention is fairly straightforward; it is to set up a procedure for varying bus registrations when, exceptionally, they apply within the area of a quality contracts scheme. The general rule is that bus operators cannot register services in the area of a quality contracts scheme, but clause 44 provides a procedure for them to do so if the authority that made the scheme is satisfied that the proposed service would not be detrimental to the scheme. A service that has been registered under those new provisions may subsequently be varied or cancelled. Clause 44 makes no provision for that, so the normal process for varying registrations under section 6 of the Transport Act 1985 would apply. Under the Bill as it stands, that means that it would be possible for an operator to register a service that the local transport authority is happy to accept, but then to vary it in a way that the authority would not be happy with.

Clause 44 as drafted does not adequately address the issue, and neither does the Transport Act 2000. The purpose of this group of amendments is to rectify that. Some variations to the registrations—probably most of them—would be perfectly acceptable to the authority that approved the service in the first place, but others could totally change the nature of the service in ways that the authority could not have anticipated and which would have an adverse effect on services within the scheme. It is only right that the authority should have an opportunity to comment before the traffic commissioner accepts the variations.

The Government have considered whether a similar procedure for cancelling registrations is also needed, but have concluded that it is not. As the local transport authority did not make provision for these services in its quality contracts scheme, it would presumably not be detrimental to the scheme if they were withdrawn. If the authority thought subsequently that the services were valuable, it would have the option to vary the scheme so as to include them. The amendments therefore deal only with service variations.

I have spoken at some length about the amendments, but I make no apology for having done so. They are significant amendments, nearly all of which have been tabled in response to right hon. and hon. Members in the Public Bill Committee. I conclude by thanking all those who have contributed to the development of the Bill. I hope the amendments will substantially improve the Bill, and I hope right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will support them.

I welcome the Minister to his new role and commend him for his courage in taking on the Bill at this stage. I agree entirely with the intervention made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker).

The Government’s management of the process and of this part of the Bill has been shambolic, illogical and discourteous—shambolic because in the past 10 days they have produced no fewer than 165 new amendments and 12 new clauses, and illogical because a number of those new clauses make a nonsense of what the previous Minister told us in Committee was absolutely necessary. Some of the concerns that she raised to objections to the approvals board and some of the justifications that she gave us for the approvals board have proved to be a nonsense. Finally, the Government’s management of this part of the Bill has been discourteous to the House. We finished consideration of the Bill in Committee on 8 May. The Government chose to wait until 17 October to produce the bulk of their amendments. Last Thursday, the very last business day before Report, they produced another three amendments and another new clause.

Some of the amendments in this large group are substantive, some are technical and some are consequential. A number of amendments have been tabled by my hon. Friends and me to Government new clause 9. I understand the necessity for the new clause, if it is a clause of last resort. The Minister has just assured us that he sees it as such, and that there is no chance of its being a back-door way for local authorities to start running bus companies again.

There is a real possibility that bus operators, particularly small operators, may go out of business in the current climate. We are already seeing operators struggle as a result of the iniquitous distribution of funds for the concessionary fares scheme. The underfunding of the national scheme is threatening the scheme and already driving bus services off the road. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) and I were both contacted last week by Mr. Peter Shipp, the chairman and chief executive of the East Yorkshire Motor Services Group, who described the difficulties facing his firm. He spoke of “disastrous consequences” and a

“situation that is getting worse, not better”

because of the underfunding of the national concessionary scheme.

Furthermore, in an age of rising fuel costs and the uncertainty surrounding the bus service operators grant, more small operators will find it difficult to survive. The clause provides for that and for the scenario where an operator gets into trouble because it is tied into a quality contract and can no longer fulfil its obligations. If an operator goes out of business, it is clear that those who use its services need to be protected. It is therefore right that local authorities should be able to step in as operators of last resort, but only for a limited period. Provided that it is for the limited period that is the premise of the Bill, I understand the necessity for it and will support it. However, I am concerned that people may use it as an excuse to return bus services for a prolonged period to be run by local authorities, thus depriving the sector of the private sector funds and innovation it needs if it is to flourish.

I see the necessity for the new clause, but it must not be a back-door route. Normal services should be resumed as quickly as possible in the event of an operator going out of business, and my new amendments (a), (b), (c) and (d) would place an obligation on the local authority to invite tender for the provision of replacement services no later than a month after the termination of the original service. Amendment (b) is of particular significance because it would firmly place an obligation back on the local authorities to ensure that they did not take their time, that services continued and that the tender was put out. That strikes me as reasonable and generous.

It cannot be beyond the organisation of local authorities—be they local transport authorities or councils—to arrange the tender for a new route within a month. Failure to do so could jeopardise the service and the route, and they would have to accept that urgent action should be initiated. My amendments (g), (h), (i) and (j) would ensure that once arrangements had been made for a replacement service to begin, the authority would cease to be the operator within six months. That is a sensible and generous period; after all, the Minister has just reassured us that he does not expect anyone not to wish to be involved in the tendering process.

Amendments (e) and (f) are inspired by my firm belief that partnership arrangements are considerably preferable to quality contracts. As we have seen in a number of cases, partnerships have brought innovation and good and efficient services, and they are proven to work. When an operator has failed, for whatever reason, to fulfil its obligations under a quality contract, surely it is irresponsible and short-sighted to replace that quality contract with another. That method has been tried and it has failed. If something is broken, why would we replace it using the same broken method? That would be illogical. I suggest that we at least provide the option of it being replaced with something that works. There should be an option to replace a failed quality contract with a voluntary or statutory quality partnership.

All three parties agree that we are discussing a matter of last resort. However, I am struggling to understand how on the one hand we can tell local authorities to look at alternatives to what was in place, while on the other trying to reduce the time that they have to discuss the matter before they have to go out to tender again.

I do not think that the local authorities would have any difficulty in putting in place a statutory quality partnership or a statutory quality contract. Like me, the hon. Gentleman knows that if local authorities wish to operate a route, they will do so and get a tender for it very quickly.

Quality contracts have seemed to be failing. I have looked for hard evidence of where local authorities are looking to implement quality contracts because they think that there will be an improvement over and above quality partnerships. I have seen no evidence of quality contracts having delivered anything more beneficial than a quality partnership has.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If the quality contracts under this new law prove successful, as Labour Members truly believe they will, will the hon. Gentleman’s party commit itself to not repealing this legislation if it forms a Government in future?

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She knows the answer, as I made my position clear throughout the whole Committee stage, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby made his clear on Second Reading. We do not believe that quality contracts will be successful. We believe that they will be detrimental, and a future Conservative Government will repeal them.

My point was this: if Labour Members are right and they prove to be successful, will the Conservatives change their minds?

As I said, we do not believe that they will be successful. Throughout the passage of the Bill, I have asked for someone to produce evidence of any reason why a quality contract would provide benefits over and above a voluntary partnership or a statutory quality partnership, but no passenger transport authority from anywhere in the country, or anyone else, has produced that evidence.

If the Conservatives form a Government, what will be their position if a quality contract has been entered into by a local authority? Will they require it to withdraw from that contract?

The hon. Gentleman and I share one ambition—that the next general election should be fairly soon. Even if it were 18 months away, I would advise that quality contracts should not be entered into.

I accept that new clause 9 is necessary, but it would be much improved by the amendments that I have outlined. We will test the will of the House at the appropriate time, particularly on amendment (b), which would give a clear statement and clear guidance on this point.

I turn to Government new clauses 13 and 14 and my amendments thereto. The Minister took some time to talk about scrutiny boards. This is undoubtedly the most controversial element of the Bill, and it makes what we have seen today all the more astounding. We spent many sittings of the Public Bill Committee discussing the proposed approvals boards for quality contracts schemes. The then Minister, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), went to great lengths to spell out the benefits of approvals boards, telling us that

“if an appeals process is in place, it is much more difficult to get leave to go to judicial review.”––[Official Report, Local Transport Public Bill Committee, 29 April 2008; c. 160.]

We were told that approvals boards were more flexible, would help to introduce quality contracts, and aided local autonomy. Since then, operators, local authorities and other stakeholders have formed their response to the Bill around the concept of approvals boards, yet at the very last minute the new Minister has introduced a whole new approvals process. I cannot be alone in being surprised and dismayed by this last-minute change of heart. Over the past 12 months, I have had countless meetings with various stakeholders to discuss the merits and demerits of approvals boards.

As always, I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he accept that he is being inaccurate when he says that local authorities have formed their plans on the basis of what was said in Committee? Passenger transport executives and authorities, and other transport authorities, have continued to lobby the Government for something along the lines of these Government amendments, so his comments are completely inaccurate.

The hon. Gentleman might think so, but I do not agree. Several local authorities have formed a response on this basis. Would we have had these amendments if this Report stage and Third Reading had been on 8 July, as they were due to be? I do not think so. We have been given just a week to examine these proposals. What is the point of having long consultations if the goalposts are to be shifted at the 11th hour? The Government’s conduct over the summer beggars belief. We are all prisoners of their whims, but not, I hope, for much longer.

Let us consider some of the detail that the new Minister described. In his letter to the Chairman of the Public Bill Committee, he said that the amendments would replace existing provisions about quality contracts and put in place quality contracts schemes scrutiny boards. We have not even had a chance to see whether the approvals boards will work, but we are replacing them with scrutiny boards. If approvals boards were so necessary in May, why are they now redundant? The Minister seems to be making a fool out of the previous Minister: his amendments wreck her “much needed protection” of May. The amendments undermine the credibility of his Department. If a Department is thinking one thing in May, why would it suddenly be thinking another thing in October? It has listened to one set of legal advice in May, and is now contradicting itself after listening to another set of legal advice in October.

The assertion that new quality scrutiny boards

“respond to concerns raised in Public Bill Committee”

may or may not be true, but it does not seem very true. If the Government wanted to respond, they could have done so in any of the numerous sittings of the Committee, but they did not. It simply will not do. If the approvals board would have reduced the risk of a judicial review, it seems only logical—and the new Minister did not answer this point—that quality contracts scrutiny boards will increase that risk. A quality contracts scrutiny board offers only a non-binding opinion, potentially allowing the will of local authorities to prevail whatever happens. It brings into serious doubt the Minister’s comments in his letter about

“preserving safeguards for legitimate operators”.

The boards clearly do not do that, and there is a clear prospect of many more costly judicial reviews.

The Minister claims that if a quality contracts scrutiny board provides an opinion that the authority’s proposals meet the statutory public interest criteria, the rights of appeal will be restricted to points of law, but he forgets the law that his Government passed. There is considerable legal opinion suggesting that the Human Rights Act 1998 will simply not allow that, and legal opinion has been given saying that that point will be tested time and again in the courts. If operators can appeal on points of fact at any stage, is it not likely that each new quality contract will be different, and challengeable on each point of fact?

It seems fairly clear that the Government’s change of heart on this matter is nothing to do with ensuring that the much needed protection the previous Minister described is in place, but is more designed to appease and pacify those who still live under the illusion that re-regulation is the golden ticket to increased bus patronage. I cannot help but suspect that the new clauses will not have the impact the new Minister desires, and will lead to a huge number of costly judicial reviews for operators, and more importantly, for local authorities.

The provision of the boards and the inclusion of due process and the five public interest criteria is about recognising the balance needed between the legitimate requirements of operators currently running those services and—quite rightly—the decision-making process of democratically elected authorities. The due process and the five public criteria tests are intended exactly to ensure that minds are focused and that we avoid long, drawn-out judicial review processes.

Yet again, the Minister has not answered my point about the Human Rights Act. I am sure that we will come to that again later.

There are a number of further questions that the Minister needs to answer if he is to convince anyone that the scrutiny boards are going to work. What is the purpose of such a board if it has no powers? We are told that its role is advisory, which is fine, but if in practice the board throws out a proposed scheme and the authority seeks to go ahead with it anyway, is it not true that an appeal can be made to the Transport Tribunal? Is it not therefore the case that the Transport Tribunal holds the ultimate power? How will the QCS boards carry out their functions? If an authority says to a board, “Our scheme will increase patronage by 5 per cent.”, how will the quality contracts scrutiny board determine whether that is a valid prediction? Will it have to conduct as thorough a consultation as the authority, or does the Minister claim that due process does not involve consultation? In what circumstances does he believe that the outcome of an application for a quality contracts scheme will be different under the new arrangements from that under the previous arrangements, or, indeed, from that under the arrangements that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) proposes in his amendments? Is it not true that the same unelected people who would have sat on the approvals board will now sit on the tribunal? Is it not therefore unlikely that they will reach a different decision?

I repeat that concerns have been expressed for a long time that the provisions that we are considering might contravene the Human Rights Act and will be challenged in the courts. I fear that the new arrangements that the Minister is attempting to introduce today will make a possibility a probability. The new clauses are so important and so potentially detrimental to bus services that I will, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, test the will of the House at the appropriate time, especially with regard to new clause 13.

We went into great detail in Committee about the composition of the boards, and my concerns remain. I urged the Government to ensure that the people on the boards were appropriately qualified and experienced and, of course, independent. I also urged them to ensure that the Secretary of State could not interfere too much in the boards’ processes and procedures. I tabled a host of other amendments, which were designed to fine-tune the role and procedures of the boards. I do not intend to revisit all those issues, because we do not have time, but the amendments would have improved the Bill.

Let me explain the rationale behind the amendments that I have tabled to the new clauses. Amendment (a) to new clause 14 would ensure that when a local authority began to consult on its quality contracts scheme, it sent a copy of the consultation document to the QCS board. It would also ensure that, at the end of the consultation procedure, the board was sent copies of all further documents that the authority issued as part of the consultation—for example, replies to any responses that it received. Those changes are essential if the board is to take a complete and fair view of the consultation that has been carried out. After all, that is one of the board’s main roles. I hope that the Minister accepts that the amendment is fair and uncontroversial. It would not place a significant burden on local authorities and would greatly help the QCS board to reach a fair decision about the consultation. I cannot foresee any reason for the Minister refusing to accept the amendment.

Amendments (b) and (c) would slightly extend the QCS board’s mandate. If a board decided that the local authority that proposed a quality contract had not fulfilled its public interest criteria, it should be able to recommend that the authority consider scrapping the scheme. If the board decided that the local authority that proposed a quality contract had not fulfilled the Bill’s the requirement to consult, it should be able to recommend remedial action to ensure compliance. These amendments would preserve the advisory function of the board while allowing local authorities to benefit from the expertise of those who serve on the scrutiny board.

I deal now with the amendments to new clause 15. There are two overriding reasons for my opposition to quality contracts schemes. First, the innovation of private sector investment working in partnership with local authorities throughout the country has meant that bus services improved in quality and quantity. I am worried that quality contracts will reverse that process, and that the travelling public will suffer. Let us remind ourselves that private investment in the bus services slowed the decline in patronage.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be lauding the success of deregulation and privatisation, but patronage in passenger transport authority areas has halved since bus deregulation. Although there has been a slight increase of 9.5 per cent. over the past 10 years, most of that is down to increases in patronage in London. The situation outside London is no better—in fact, it is a lot worse—than it was in 1985.

Yes, but there are two points about that. One is that patronage in county council areas has increased. More importantly, 86 per cent. of the decline in bus patronage since 1950, which is when bus patronage started, happened while buses were still regulated, not in the period of deregulation.

The hon. Gentleman is very gracious, but I am not going to make quite the same point. Given his party’s obvious antipathy to any form of regulation, no matter how diluted through quality contracts, will he extend that principle to London? Does he plan to tinker with a system that has delivered such great improvements in bus transport for passengers in the capital?

My party is not opposed to all regulation. As the Minister does not know, but as his predecessor does, I supported the statutory quality partnership scheme throughout Committee and on Second Reading. As the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) knows, the issue in London is a devolved matter and not something over which we have competence. However, my constituents in Wimbledon would say that the huge increases in the precept that the previous Mayor exacted from them were the reason why there might be more buses on the road, not regulation. There is no clear evidence that regulation has brought better bus services anywhere.

What has happened in Cambridge is often cited as an example of the success of partnerships. Nevertheless, the increase in bus patronage in Cambridge had rather more to do with the geography of an historic town, which allowed the county council more scope in restricting car traffic, and with the city council, unusually for a district council, offering a subsidy for buses. People in Cambridge would not reject the option of a quality contract, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing, which would have the additional benefit of allowing them to control fares. If a bus company has a local monopoly, the way it makes money is by restricting services and increasing fares.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is looking forward to explaining to his constituents why a quality contract is necessary when all the benefits could be derived under a statutory quality partnership.

The point is that local authorities would benefit from having the option of moving to a quality contract if the current improvements continued, especially if fares continued to be high and if the volume of services was restricted. Having the option is fantastically beneficial, even if local authorities do not use it.

But the hon. Gentleman has just given the lie to that argument. Everything that local authorities wished to achieve under a quality contract could be achieved under either a voluntary partnership or a statutory quality partnership. That is the key point.

The other reason I am concerned about quality contracts is that there is a chance that operators will challenge them in the courts. Quality contracts have damaging implications, the first of which is financial. In this day and age, the last thing that local authorities want is heavy legal costs. Quality contracts also have the potential to damage the relationship between the local authority and the bus operator. It is essential that that relationship should be good if good services are to be provided.

Proposed new section 127A(2) of the Transport Act 2000 says that anyone who was or should have been consulted by a local authority wishing to make a quality contract scheme has the right of appeal to the Transport Tribunal. Under normal circumstances, that could be done on either a point of law or a question of fact. However, new clause 15 says that if the QCS board has decided that a local authority has followed due process, the appellant loses that right.

As I have said before, that is likely to be tested in the courts under the Human Rights Act. My amendments therefore restore the much needed protection that the previous Transport Minister talked about when she did not want judicial reviews. My amendments (a) and (b) to the new clause would end that discrepancy and restore the right of appeal on a question of fact. That would be a major step forward in reducing the possibility of a judicial review.

The second part of new clause 15 deals with the powers of the tribunal, were an appeal to be made. My amendments (c) and (d) would allow the tribunal to quash the decision of a local authority, not only where there were specific details in the scheme to be remedied. The right of appeal is undermined by the new clause, which would be undemocratic and unaccountable. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the amendments that we have tabled.

New clause 16 provides that certain extensions to quality contracts will be exempt from having to go through the approvals process. It is my view that a suitably equipped and independent approvals regime is the key to this whole process. Every quality contracts proposal, and every quality contracts extension, should go through the approvals process. I do not believe that we should be able simply to extend a quality contract without it being subject to the procedures and processes of the expert and independent scrutiny board that has supposedly been set up for that very purpose. I hope that if the Government are still in listening mode, they will have regard to the concerns that were expressed in Committee and that are still being expressed on this matter.

There is a tranche of Government amendments in this group that are of a consequential nature. However, the substantive amendments Nos. 124 to 128 discuss the application of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations—the TUPE regulations. As employees are now to be afforded greater protection under TUPE in the case of the quality contracts scheme, and if there are extra costs to be borne as a result, who does the Minister think will bear those costs?

Amendments Nos. 224 to 239 relate to certain circumstances in which a quality contract is extended, but where the extension is deemed to be exempt from having to go through the full approvals process. I commented on this matter in Committee, and I have done so again today, so I shall not go into it again at length. However, I ask the Minister to consider seriously whether, having put in place an independent scrutiny process, he thinks it is right that a local authority should be able to extend the schemes without those processes and procedures being undertaken. Amendments Nos. 240 to 244 are in a similar vein.

I want to probe the Minister on amendment No. 262. It seems to provide that the Secretary of State may make provisions relating to individual quality contracts schemes, and even interfere in the whole approvals process. It seems, therefore, to be extremely significant. Will the Minister tell us in what circumstances he anticipates the measure being used, and for what reasons?

The Minister will have noticed that we have tabled five amendments in this group. I should like to explain the rationale behind them. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are crucial, as they seek—as I did in Committee—to tighten up the public interest tests that must be passed by any proposal for a quality contract. I have already said that I oppose quality contracts, but if they are to be placed on the statute book, even for a limited period, they must be introduced only when the benefits of voluntary partnerships and statutory quality partnerships have been exhausted. The places where bus services have improved the most are those where there are strong partnership arrangements between the local authority and operators. That is absolutely the best way to align the local authority’s priorities with the investment and innovation of the private sector, and such arrangements should be encouraged.

Amendment No. 5 therefore modifies the second of the five criteria that must be met by any proposed quality contracts scheme. It would ensure not only that the scheme brought the benefits and improvements for people using bus services covered by it, but that those benefits would be

“greater than those that would pertain under existing arrangements”.

This is a straightforward, important and fundamental amendment, so I will seek your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at an appropriate time to test the will of the House on it.

Amendment No. 6 would modify the last of the five criteria, which is slightly clumsy in stating that

“any adverse effects of the proposed scheme on operators will be proportionate to the improvement in the well-being of persons living or working in the area to which the proposed scheme relates”.

That brings up a whole host of problems, as we discussed in Committee. How can personal well-being be quantitatively, or, indeed, qualitatively, measured? How can the effects of the scheme on local people be usefully compared with the effect on an operator?

The Minister’s predecessor wrote to me on this subject on 20 May, following the Committee’s final sitting, citing the European Court of Human Rights in explaining how this might work out in practice. I remain wholly unconvinced, as I do not believe that we are talking about like for like. My amendment would thus get rid of that ill-defined and awkward test and replace it with one that is not only simple, but measurable and more effective—namely, that there be

“no adverse effects of the proposed scheme on operators or on persons living or working in the area to which the… scheme relates”.

My other amendments in the group relate to clause 20, which deals with the consultation document that any local authority must issue if it desires to make a quality contract. The local authority is required to publish the document

“in such manner as they see fit”.

Amendment No. 7 would remove those words. Unlike other words in the Bill, I do not think that “publish” is open to wild misinterpretation. Government Members will recall our enjoyable time spent in Committee trying to define “economic”, “efficient” and “effective”, but we did not try to redefine “publish”, which I do not think is subject to wild misinterpretation. The phrase

“in such manner as they see fit”

is unnecessary. The subsequent subsections of clause 20 prescribe quite tightly what must be included in the consultation document, so it is extremely unlikely that the authority would be able to get it wrong. I hope that the Minister will thus look kindly on amendment No. 7.

Amendment No. 8 extends the list of people to whom the consultation document, once published, is to be distributed. Those people are: the chief fire officer for each fire area, covering the whole or part of that area; the head of the local ambulance service; all persons living within 150 m of any part of the specified routes; and representatives of local groups representing disabled people. The problem is that the Government have set out a list that already includes certain people such as the chief of police; it seems odd that others who should be included are not. There is already a list of consultees, so it is difficult for the Government to argue that people who should be consultees are not on that list.

There was considerable support in Committee for this type of amendment. I had hoped that the Minister would revisit the issues through Government amendments on Report; I have looked for them in the huge barrage of Government amendments that the Minister tabled 10 days ago, but I did not see them there. I still hope that he will give these amendments serious consideration.

Amendment No. 9 re-addresses an issue that was brought up previously. We are going to have quality contracts scheme boards, which are to be chaired by a traffic commissioner, who is to be appointed by the senior traffic commissioner on the basis of his or her knowledge of the local area. Clause 22(8) states:

“If the senior traffic commissioner is unable to”

appoint a traffic commissioner, the Secretary of State will do so. I would be interested to hear from the Minister in what circumstances a senior traffic commissioner would not be able to carry out this duty. It is hardly his most arduous duty. When does the Minister expect the measure to be necessary and how will the Secretary of State consult to ensure that the traffic commissioner he appoints is an appropriate person?

Finally, I see that some new clauses have been tabled by the Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley. I do not propose to speak to those at length because in many ways they are similar to some Government amendments and I have already given our critique of those.

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 98 to 100, which stand in my name, Government new clause 9, new clauses 7 and 8, Government new clauses 13 to 19 and Government amendments Nos. 124 and 128, but before doing so I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) for all the times, not just in Committee, that she debated the issues with right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as for the time that she took out to have discussions with us, the trade unions, bus operators and local authorities to try to get the Bill right. What she did was above and beyond the call of duty.

With all due respect to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), I think that, thanks to the amendments, he and my right hon. Friend are presenting us with a much improved Bill. I am delighted with some of the amendments, and I will have one or two things to say about them, but there is no doubt that the Bill is going in the right direction and is much improved.

The position taken by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is extraordinary. He expects a Minister taking a Bill through Parliament, having listened to arguments from all sides, never to change her mind. If we believed that, as he seems to, we could all save our time and not turn up for Public Bill Committees. His is an absurd position to take in a parliamentary democracy.

As I said in my speech, the right hon. Lady listened in the Public Bill Committee, but gave no indication that she was going to change her mind. She told us that the process she was putting in place was essential and dismissed any objections, including those of the hon. Gentleman. That is why I said what I did.

We could look at the Official Report to find out, but my recollection is that my right hon. Friend, while arguing the case in defence of the Bill as it then stood, also made it quite clear that she would continue to discuss the matter with hon. Members and interested parties from both sides.

When answering my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith), the hon. Member for Wimbledon exposed his position. He wants to fight with the facts. He is at odds with the evidence. My hon. Friend asked him whether he would change the Conservatives’ position and support a quality contract, once it was up and working, and once the evidence showed that it provided a better public transport system, better use of public money and that the travelling public liked it more. His answer was, “That can’t happen.” No. He is arguing with the evidence. That is because, unusually for him, he has taken up a completely ideological position. I do not know whether that has been forced on him from the centre of the Conservative party.

We have had the argument many times on Supply days, in Adjournment debates, in Bill Committees and on Second Reading. The evidence is overwhelming. I will not repeat it all, but we can compare London with the rest of the country, and also make comparisons with every other part of Europe. Every continental city has a regulated system. There may be more public subsidy or less, but the public transport systems in all those cities are better than the deregulated system that we have in this country.

Is there not another fatal flaw in the argument of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond)? He talks of the benefits of competition, but we know—especially those of us whose constituencies are in passenger transport authority areas—that such competition simply does not exist. We have de facto monopolies: evidence of that is seen every time a tender is made for a subsidised service. Usually there is only one tender, in some cases there may even be none, and, despite increasing levels of public subsidy for private operators, we are seeing no commensurate increase in services.

Precisely. My hon. Friend has exposed the aim of the Conservative party, which is to defend the vested interests of private bus companies rather than those of the travelling public outside London. Since deregulation, bus fares in passenger transport executive areas have doubled in real terms and patronage has halved. The profits—the bottom lines—of the bus companies are two or three times as great as before. Companies are making the same profits outside London as they are in London, where there is a better public service. Not for the first time in the Conservative party’s history, it is on the side of vested interests and against those of public transport and the travelling public.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon is not just trying to fight the evidence from an ideological position. As may become clear when we discuss later amendments, he is also fighting against local democracy and local decision making. He recalled the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central in Committee about the need to protect the process of moving from judicial review to quality contracts. The arguments were advanced for perfectly good reasons. The bus companies that are making two or three times as much profit since deregulation are going to fight like ferrets in a sack to prevent the introduction of quality contracts. It is not a question of partnership in most of the passenger transport executives.

There is, however, a major principle in opposition to the pragmatic facts that my right hon. Friend had to consider. Labour Members believe that matters that can be determined locally should be determined locally, by locally elected people. The hon. Member for Wimbledon would clearly prefer such matters to be determined by appointed people such as traffic commissioners, if that is possible.

I believe that my new clauses 7 and 8, and the Government’s new clauses 13 and 19, solve the practical difficulty posed by the need to respect the wishes of locally elected people by proposing the establishment of a super-consultative body, the quality contracts scheme board, which must be consulted by means of a special process. It will be able to judge whether the public-interest criteria have been met, and, if there is agreement, the position for which we argued in Committee will be achieved. Bus operators will be able to appeal only on matters of process and procedure, which is as it should be.

I have one worry, and I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on it. There is some ambiguity to the way in which the QCS board can view public interest, and one can go into all sorts of detail about whether a proposal is viable or is meeting the better public transport criteria—these are difficult issues. I have been either associated with or a part of local government for most of my adult life and I am a great supporter of local democracy, but I acknowledge that—very occasionally—local government introduce crazy schemes. I hope that there will be some guidance on this measure, even if only in response to my hon. Friend saying that it is intended to weed out any extraordinarily badly conceived or wacky scheme that local authorities might propose by making it possible to say to them, “This simply isn’t going to work, chums, and you should go back to the drawing board”, and that the intention is not to go into intricate details such as, for example, the percentage differences in the cost-benefit analyses of one route as opposed to another. This is an order of magnitude issue, and I would like some reassurance from my hon. Friend on it. I do not intend to press my amendments to a Division, however, and I shall support the Government new clauses.

On the TUPE amendments, I never had any doubt that the Government wanted to get TUPE right. This is a difficult issue, as there might be a gap between one operator moving out and another operator coming in. I understand that a defining time for when a quality contract comes into operation appears in the Bill, but does not appear in the amendments. I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to say whether there is any significance in that, whether it is a difference without meaning, and whether it might be better if we were to use the same clear definition throughout the Bill.

On the operator of last resort and amendments Nos. 98 to 100 and Government new clause 9, as we argued in Committee, an operator of last resort is necessary; otherwise, large areas of the country and considerable proportions of the population could be left without any public transport. I do not share my Government’s worry that such operators might try to re-municipalise bus services—I would welcome it if they did. However, leaving aside that possible back door to municipalisation, there is the possibility of a gap lasting longer than nine months plus three months on appeal. This is a particularly testing issue and bus operators might make a challenge on human rights or procedural grounds, leaving an area without services for longer than that period. My hon. Friend the Minister rightly proposes to allow quality contracts to start during this process. Where an integrated transport authority or a transport authority is searching for new operators because the operator has pulled out of an area, I do not think the market will be attracted to the area for what might be only a very short period. If there is a dispute in the courts, I can foresee times the process taking longer than 12 months. Will my hon. Friend reconsider that? The first nine months, to be used under normal circumstances, may well cover virtually all situations, but if a fight was going on, a three-month extension with all the safeguards that he has included may well not be long enough. Again, however, I shall not press my amendments on that point.

Finally, a matter that is not currently dealt with in the Bill, but may well be later in secondary legislation, is the deregistration period. The short period of deregistration is one issue that has destabilised public transport in many areas, and I would welcome a clear statement from my hon. Friend of whether the deregistration period will be increased, and to what. I hope that it will be doubled compared with the previous period.

In many ways the engine of the Bill is improving bus services and allowing local determination of transport priorities, such as the control of bus fares and networks. My hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessor have done a good job of proposing improvements to the Bill.

I welcome the Minister to his new role. I am not sure whether he or his predecessor is responsible for the amendments that the Government have tabled, but either way they are sensible and take the Bill forward productively, and I thank Ministers for listening. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is a very affable chap, but the idea that Ministers should not listen during debates, and that if they do they should disregard what is being said no matter its validity, seems a rather curious proposition. If the Government had accepted amendments tabled by the Conservatives in Committee, heaven forbid, I wonder whether the same argument would have been forthcoming. I suspect not.

My criticism is the point on which I intervened—the time at which the Government amendments were tabled. It was very close to Report, a gap of some months from the termination of the Committee stage. There may well have been detailed discussions going on that were so complicated that no earlier date was possible, or it might be the Machiavellian reason that the Government wanted to give bus operators little notice of the amendments. Be that as it may, we have had to absorb a number of amendments in very little time. However, that is a small point if the amendments are broadly right, which I think they are. No doubt if I read the small print afterwards I might find something slightly wrong with them, but that seems to be the case at the moment.

I wish first to pick up on the issue of quality contracts, which are at the heart of the Bill in many regards. In my view they are certainly the most important proposal in it. I think that the hon. Member for Wimbledon might agree about that even though he objects to them somewhat, because he recognises the importance of the proposal. Many of us are concerned that although the original arrangements in the Transport Act 2000 went in the right direction, they did not work in encouraging local authorities to bring forward quality contracts. I made that point in Committee, as did Labour Members. Above all, we did not want a repetition of the Government bringing forward powers that no local authorities actually wanted to take up.

I felt, and I think other members of the Committee agreed, that the hurdles that were in place—the quality contracts boards, the Transport Tribunal and the possibility of judicial review—were one hurdle too many for local authorities that wanted to go down this road. Therefore, the move towards the arrangements that the Minister has set out today was right. He neglected to mention that the proposal introduced today to make the quality contracts board a consultee was one that I made in Committee—I am sure that was an oversight on his part, so I put it on the record for his benefit—and it is an eminently workable solution.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Wimbledon, I should make the comparison with a planning authority that is receiving a planning application in respect of a flood area, because the quality contracts arrangements in the Bill are similar. Such an authority would have to consult the Environment Agency, which may recommend refusal or approval. The local authority still has the right to approve, against the recommendations of the Environment Agency, but it would have to make its decision stand up if an appeal was made to the Government inspector—the Transport Tribunal is the equivalent in this case. The arrangements in the Bill have a direct parallel with those in respect of planning in flood areas—those arrangements work, as will the ones being placed in the Bill today.

I am also pleased that the Minister has sought to define more closely the role that the, now advisory, body may have in picking up points of law, being satisfied that statutory requirements have been met and analysing the closely defined public-interest criteria. A concern was expressed in Committee that the quality contracts board, as it then was, was far reaching and might have adopted powers outwith its responsibility—or outwith that for which we thought it should be responsible—even though that was not closely defined. In particular, it might have had a view on the democratic decisions that a local council or transport authority had reached on its local transport plan. To be fair, the Minister has tied that matter down. I, for one, no longer have a concern about it, because the Bill has been improved significantly.

Improvements have been made to the quality contracts process, and I hope that local authorities will have the confidence to take the quality contracts route in a way that they would not have done had the amendments not been introduced. That is a significant step forward, because over the past 20 years the cost of travelling by bus has increased significantly, particularly outside London; the increase has been far higher than inflation. Even in the past 10 years, the cost of travelling by bus has increased by 13 per cent. above inflation, whereas the cost of motoring has reduced—we must remember that. In addition, bus usage has decreased, except in London and in one or two other isolated examples; services have dropped off, particularly in some rural areas, where it is almost impossible to get a bus unless it is 3 pm on a Tuesday, and then one is given only half an hour to go to the bank and come back again, if one is lucky; and bus company profits have rocketed. If those four factors are put together, they do not add up to a success story for public transport or for public administration.

Something has to be done to correct that situation, and I believe that the quality contract route is one such way forward. It provides the opportunity for local authorities to have responsibility for transport in their areas—why should they not have that responsibility? The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is right about that, because local authorities are elected, they have their own mandate and they should be responsible for transport. Equally, there needs to be an external check to ensure that statutory requirements are being followed, and that is provided by the mechanism being put in the Bill now. We must also bear in mind the possible effect on small bus operators, who could be disadvantaged. I think that the balance will now be right in the Bill, so I have nothing but approval for the amendments that the Government have tabled in that regard.

It is also right that tendering should be allowed to begin while appeals are under way. Local authorities will take their chances on that. If they wish to take a chance and incur some expenditure with the possibility that they might lose in the end, that is their problem. They should have the right to take that course of action if they believe it is the correct one. I suspect that, on most occasions, authorities will weigh up the matter carefully and all they will do is to ensure, in line with their intention, that a hiatus is not created. That will be the right course of action, but if they want to take a risk, that is up to them.

The same point applies in respect of judicial review, which has been mentioned. A successful judicial review is no more likely as a consequence of these amendments. Judicial review may be more likely, but it is unlikely to be successful. However, that is a matter for local authorities to judge in the circumstances, as democratically elected bodies. It is a local responsibility, so they should make that judgment. If they get it wrong, they should be held to account for that, but it is not for us to second-guess them, or to impose unelected bodies to regulate what is properly a local function.

The Minister also mentioned the TUPE regulations. I welcome the fact that Ministers have considered the points made in Committee. I have not had much time to look at the amendments, given how many have been tabled in the last week, but they appear to be sensible ones that meet the concerns expressed in Committee.

It is also important to close the loophole relating to operators of last resort, even though those provisions may never be used. Indeed, their very existence makes their use less likely, and that is welcome. I concur with the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley about what happens when the nine-month period begins to run out. According to the arrangements set out in the amendments, the last three months of the 12-month period will be subject to approval by the traffic commissioner. Obviously they will consider the matter at that point, but they will also need to be involved at some time before the nine months is up. They may be persuaded to grant an extension for three months, but it is not clear what would happen if no solution had been found at the end of that time. When the Minister winds up, he must tell us what would happen then. If that is not made clear, individuals who have an interest in a lack of clarity at the end of the 12 months may be encouraged to drag matters out and ensure that clarity is not achieved. We need an answer on what would happen if the matter were still unresolved at the end of the 12-month period.

The technical amendments sensibly address points raised in Committee, and I have no quibble with that. I do not wish to make a Third Reading speech now, so suffice it to say that we broadly welcomed the Bill on its introduction, although we identified room for improvement. To be fair to the Government, many of those improvements have been made, so if the points identified by the hon. Member for Wimbledon are pressed to a vote, we will support the Government.

I support the amendments on the approvals process for quality contracts, the operator of last resort and the TUPE regulations. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) and other hon. Friends—and indeed the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—I am delighted that we are considering the amended Bill today. It is much improved and, like my hon. Friend, I am very grateful for the work done by the previous Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton). She did a great job in getting the Bill into shape after Committee and ensuring that the points raised were fed into the Bill before consideration on Report. I also commend the new Minister on the speed and competence with which he has grasped those points. The result is before us today and is very welcome.

A demand for change led to the tabling of this Bill and it should not be ignored. That demand is underpinned by the evidence. The overall subsidy levels for the bus industry in this country have now risen to 40 per cent. of bus industry income at £2.5 billion. At the same time, the use of buses in passenger transport executive areas has declined by 8.6 per cent. in the past 10 years. More subsidies are going into the bus system, but the level of patronage, in PTE areas in particular, has declined by 8.6 per cent. At the same time, patronage in London has increased by 54 per cent. It is quite clear that the issues to do with patronage and subsidy versus regulation are not quite as clear cut as the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) would have us believe. There is a relationship between regulation and whether or not a bus service can succeed.

If that is true—if the hon. Lady believes that and thinks that she has the evidence for it—why is it that in regulated Belfast patronage continues to fall?