Ministers and departmental officials meet regularly with representatives of bus operators to discuss issues affecting the bus industry, including those relating to the effect of EU legislation on bus operators.
When the Minister comes to consider the European passenger rights legislation, will he bear it in mind that small rural bus operators, which provide vital services in constituencies such as mine, are very different from long-distance, international operators? Does he agree that we already have very effective domestic disability legislation? Furthermore, a date has been set for scrapping buses that are non-wheelchair compliant.
The hon. Gentleman has written to me about this issue, and I am aware of his concerns. I have raised it with the bus company Norfolk Green in his patch, and I have written back to him. It is worth putting it on record that he is right to raise his concerns.
We secured significant improvements to the text of the EU passenger proposal. They included the removal of the public service contract condition from the exemption for urban, suburban and rural buses, which would have rendered it largely unworkable in our deregulated market. The hon. Gentleman will also be pleased to know that we secured the removal of the provision introducing strict liability for bus and coach operators, which would have conflicted with our well-established fault-based system. He and I both used to be lawyers, so we both appreciate the importance of that system.
I wonder whether the Minister could please take a look at the application of European legislation by Lancashire county council? The very existence of much valued transport providers such as dial-a-ride, which we all have in our constituencies, is being threatened by a hurried tendering exercise. So far, that process has seen the contract being awarded in-house, back to the county council, thereby threatening the much valued voluntary organisations that provided the service valiantly over the years.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising once again the way that her council treats some of the most vulnerable people in her patch. I am happy to meet her and to write to the council leaders to make sure that they understand the requirements of the current legislation. We cannot allow people to use the EU as an excuse for punishing those who need help the most. We will not allow that to happen.