Monday, 17 December 2007.
The Committee met at half-past three.
[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) in the Chair.]
I remind the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Local Transport Bill [HL]
Clause 54 [Powers of traffic commissioners where services not operated as registered]:
64: Clause 54, page 47, line 42, after “operator” insert “, any Integrated Transport Authority that may be affected by the recommended remedial measures”
The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to Clause 54, which seeks to give additional powers to traffic commissioners,
“where services are not operated as registered”.
The Bill refers, towards the bottom of page 47, to,
“A traffic commissioner who prepares a report under subsection (4)”.
That subsection relates to where a traffic commissioner,
“identifies any remedial measures … which, in the traffic commissioner’s opinion, could be taken … by the operator, or by a local traffic authority”.
Subsection (5) states that they,
“must send a copy of the report to the operator and, if any of the recommended remedial measures are for implementation by a local traffic authority, to that authority”.
The amendment would ensure that, as well as being sent to the operator or, if appropriate, the local traffic authority, copies of reports on remedial measures that the traffic commissioners produced, following inquiries, would also be sent to,
“any Integrated Transport Authority that may be affected by the recommended remedial measures”.
It is difficult to see how an integrated transport authority could not be affected by any recommended remedial measures; hence the amendment, which makes it clear that if it was, the traffic commissioner would be required to send it a report as well. I beg to move.
My noble friend has made a very reasonable request. Having looked at Clause 54 again, it seems rather surprising that there is no requirement to send a copy of a report on bus performance to the authority that is responsible for local transport policy. I am happy to reflect on the points that my noble friend made and see whether we can come up with a suitable amendment on Report. With that reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.
64B: Clause 55, page 50, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Section 160 of the TA 2000 (Part 2: regulations and orders) is amended as follows.
( ) In subsection (2) before the words “shall be subject to annulment” insert “, other than an order under section 155(1A)(d),”.
( ) After subsection (2) insert—
“(3) A statutory instrument containing an order under section 155(1A)(d) shall not be made—
(a) as respects England, unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament;(b) as respects Wales, unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the National Assembly for Wales.”.”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 55 would amend Section 155 of the Transport Act 2000, which empowers the traffic commissioner to impose financial penalties on bus operators who fail to operate their services on the terms of the registered particulars, who fail to comply with the requirements on a quality partnership scheme or who operate unlawfully in the area of a quality contracts scheme. It introduces two new financial penalties in addition to the existing straightforward fine. But there is also a provision for the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers to prescribe additional penalties by statutory instrument. The Bill as introduced makes no special provision for orders under this clause, so they would stand to be subject to the negative resolution procedure in accordance with Section 160 of the Transport Act 2000. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House recommended that, given the broad nature of the power, an affirmative resolution procedure would be more appropriate. The Government accept this recommendation. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 56 agreed to.
Clause 57 [Revival of certain powers of PTEs]:
65: Clause 57, page 50, line 28, after “subsidies,” insert “or where the vehicles concerned are let to a person who operates a vehicle or vehicles under a permit granted under section 19 of the Transport Act 1985,”
The noble Lord said: As I understand it, the Bill proposes reinstating the power of passenger transport executives to own and provide vehicles to operators. This amendment would enhance that power formally to allow passenger transport executives to provide vehicles to community transport operators. I believe that most PTEs do this as a matter of course but Amendment No. 65 would regularise that position.
Amendment No. 66A would give passenger transport executives the operator of last resort powers if a quality contract was terminated or services under that contract ceased, perhaps because the operator had defaulted on the contract. Not dissimilar powers are available to the Government under rail franchising and, I believe, to Transport for London for bus franchises in London. Obviously, the power is intended to be used as a last resort and only for so long as it is necessary for the passenger transport executive to procure an alternative provider of services.
Amendment No. 66 relates to the infrastructure. Depots are an obvious requirement for any quality contract scheme. The incumbent operator will generally own their own depots and is under no obligation to release them to a local transport authority or, indeed, to any other successful bidder to help facilitate an initial quality contract. Reference has already been made to the fact that a prominent bus operator, the chief executive of Stagecoach, was quoted in a Sheffield newspaper in October 2006 as saying:
“If franchising or Quality Contracts are brought in we will put all our depots up for sale in South Yorkshire. That is not a threat, it’s just that we don’t think it is the way to make the system work”.
Local transport authorities may decide to build and lease new, modern, purpose-built facilities to help facilitate the quality contracts schemes. However, as we well know, in some of the largest urban centres with the strongest economies, finding a suitable site and getting planning permission, which is also a headache, could prove to be very challenging indeed. The amendment would allow passenger transport executives to acquire land compulsorily where this is required for the purposes of securing services under a quality contracts scheme. For example, the power might be required to acquire a depot without which services might not be effectively operated.
I have sought to explain the purposes of these amendments. I hope that my noble friend will be able to respond sympathetically. I beg to move.
I do not think that anyone could undermine the principle of quality contracts quite as well as my noble friend just did in proposing these amendments, which would be another raft of public expenditure writ large if QCs are accepted or become commonplace as a result of the passage of this Bill. I should like to put a number of questions to the mover of these amendments, in particular on Amendment No. 66A. Could my noble friend envisage such an amendment being necessary if quality contracts were not part of this Bill? Has there been any example of quality partnerships up and down the country failing in the way he just outlined that they might? My noble friend talked about operators defaulting. Under the 2000 Act, has there been any example of an operator defaulting so far as quality partnerships are concerned and the fairly expensive measures outlined in this group being necessary under existing legislation?
My noble friend referred to the comments made by the chief executive of Stagecoach. I have never been involved in the Stagecoach operation, but it is perfectly legitimate for the chief executive of that or any other company to say that they will dispose of their facilities and premises in any area up and down the country in any way they want if they are no longer necessary because of this legislation and the implementation of quality contracts. I wish that those who advocate quality contracts with such passion—I know that the brief to which my noble friend referred was prepared by the aptly named Mr Jeremy Bray on behalf of the Passenger Transport Executive Group—would acknowledge that their proposals will be extremely expensive. It is not just a question of switching from one operator to another. The problems outlined so ably by my noble friend will happen from one end of the country to the other.
After the Minister has replied, I should be grateful if my noble friend would outline an idea of the amount of public expenditure that will be necessary to meet the cost of the amendments.
I am sorry that I missed a foretaste of this debate among Labour Party Members on this Committee the other day. I very much support these amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser. As he said, they are very similar in intent to what has been done with railway passengers. My noble friend Lord Snape said that there has never been a case of operators defaulting. That may be true, but there was not a case of operators defaulting or failing on the railways until Connex did it. Then there were powers in railway legislation for the Government to take it over until they could find another operator.
I hope that my noble friend will acknowledge the difference between railway franchising and the legislation that brought that into being and the legislation before the Committee. They are as chalk and cheese. They might refer to methods of transport, but the sort of provisions and difficulties to which my noble friend referred were envisaged and drawn up as part of the railway franchising process. They have not been for “bus franchising”—if that is the right term for quality contracts, which I believe it is.
I hear what my noble friend says. Of course, they are completely different, but the effect on the passengers is much the same. The buses would not run, just as the trains would not have run. This attempt by my noble friend Lord Rosser is to ensure that the buses keep going if an operator withdraws. Perhaps it is the wrong way, but if the noble Lord, Lord Snape, could say, “Someone else will step in immediately, even without a contract or bus garages”, that would be fine. But there is a lot to be said for something like these amendments.
My noble friend Lord Rosser has raised some interesting points and some interesting points have been put to him during the debate. Perhaps I should make it plain that the Government cannot accept any of the amendments as they are, but they raise issues that we might want to explore further. I shall explain.
The main purpose of Clause 57 was to put the PTEs on an equal footing with other local transport authorities. Those other authorities do not have a specific power to lease buses to operators, but can do so as a use of their general well-being powers under Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000. That procedure has been used in relation to contracted services and approved by the Department for Transport and the authorities’ auditors. The PTEs are in a different position, partly because they do not currently have well-being powers, although if Clauses 86 and 87 of this Bill are enacted, their parent authorities will have them in future, but more importantly because the power they explicitly had under the Transport Act 1968 was taken away by orders made under the Transport Act 1985 and there is, therefore, doubt whether even the provision of well-being powers would be enough to authorise them to lease buses. That is because well-being powers are limited inasmuch as they cannot confer a power on an authority to do something which they would otherwise be unable to do because of a prohibition, restriction or limitation in other legislation. Therefore, Clause 57 is explicitly seeking to remove the implied prohibition in Section 10(1)(viii) of the Transport Act 1968 in particular circumstances.
The revived power is expressed in narrow terms, linked to the operators providing services to the PTE under contract, either the normal subsidy contract or a quality contract. We are not in favour of giving them an unrestrained power to lease out buses, even for purely commercial operations. We believe that that could create distortions of competition between different operators.
The next amendment concerns the PTEs’ power to acquire land by compulsory purchase. I shall reflect on what my noble friend has said, but the existing power is very broad and would be construed in relation to a PTE’s current statutory functions which, since the Transport Act 2000 came into force, have included, potentially, letting quality contracts. It is not immediately obvious, therefore, that the power needs extending in this way.
Finally, and most intriguingly, there is the question of whether PTEs should get back not only some of their power to lease buses, but also some of their power to operate them. The Government have no intention of restoring the power in full and going back to the pre-1986 position. However, I am persuaded that Amendment No. 66A would not allow them that possibility and scope and could allow them to operate buses only in narrowly defined circumstances where they would indeed be operators of last resort. Noble Lords have pointed out that there are similar provisions on rail franchising and in London bus legislation.
We should not simply dismiss the arrangement out of hand. It raises a number of issues, however. One is whether it is right to give the power to the PTEs themselves, rather than requiring them to set up operating subsidiaries which, as I understand it, is the practice elsewhere and was a requirement under the Transport Act 1985 when the original PTE power was removed. Another is that they would have to have a PSV operator’s licence under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, and if they were to be in a state of readiness to take over services at any time, they would have to get it from the traffic commissioners well in advance. This is not a formality, as any bus operator would explain. It would mean having a transport manager with a certificate of professional competence who, presumably, would have to be available to step in at any time even though he or she would not be needed to manage any transport for most of the time. This may not be a problem for PTEs at the moment, but I suspect it could be in the future, particularly if new European Commission proposals are adopted which would considerably tighten the rules on transport managers and professional competence. I shall certainly ask the Minister of State and officials to look again into some of these matters between now and Report, but I cannot agree to this set of amendments today. It would not be appropriate to do so, and I am not entirely confident that they would work, but it is worth our giving some further thought to some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, particularly in the last amendment in the group.
I apologise for detaining your Lordships for another couple of minutes on Amendment No. 66A, but I get the impression that the Minister is fairly sympathetic to at least some parts of it. Will he say in what circumstances he would envisage its provisions being necessary if he is prepared to take another look at it, as I suspect he is? Most bus companies—I am talking not only about the big five, if that is the right term for them—are fairly reputable organisations. It is inconceivable that many other companies that run buses in the United Kingdom would go bust, so why does the Minister think it necessary to have this fallback position in relation to the amendment, if that is indeed what he thinks?
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, gave my noble friend an example in a sense. One of the operating companies could go into administration, and it might be appropriate in that circumstance for the PTE to step in as a last resort. I have the confidence that my noble friend Lord Snape has that nearly all bus operators are reputable. I am sure that the big five are capable of dealing with most of the problems that sometimes occur in any industry. There may be an occasion—I hope that there will not be—where a small operator, perhaps in extremis, fails and goes into administration and someone needs to step in and be that operator of last resort. As my noble friend has said, we have not had anything close to that yet, but it would offer a measure of public reassurance if another operator did that. Most of us, however, would not envisage or welcome it happening.
I apologise again for returning to the amendment, but it is important. If we are talking about quality contracts, and we are, am I right in thinking that the Minister thinks that the quality contract might go in the first place to a smaller company as I outlined when we debated the whole principle of quality contracts last week? Does it not illustrate the weakness of the whole quality contract franchising business that, all too often, it is likely to go to the lowest bidder, who all too often will not have the ability, the facilities or the financial backing to continue the quality contract in its entirety? Does that not indicate the weakness of the whole quality contract concept?
I do not accept my noble friend’s premise. Nor do I accept his premise that a quality contract would necessarily go to the lowest bidder, because this is not just about finding the lowest bidder for a particular service in those circumstances. As we have already discussed quality contracts, the scope for their development is constrained and, as we found with the operation of the Transport Act 2000, this has not yet been a route that people have particularly wanted to explore. I therefore do not see this as the big threat that my noble friend may see it as. I am not saying that he sees it as a big threat, but we want to explore this particular small issue. We shall take it away and see whether we might need to have recourse to it at some point. As I said, I do not give an absolute commitment to bring something back. There may well be circumstances in which it would be a useful provision to have, but I suspect they would be very rare.
Perhaps I may clarify something about the comparison with the railways. The two franchises that have failed since the process started were GNER and Connex. The quality of service in Connex was reported as being variable, GNER’s was and is pretty good, but they both failed for financial reasons. Interestingly, when the Strategic Rail Authority was responsible for the railways it had a team of people with the necessary expertise, safety case and everything, who were available and ready to step in should anybody withdraw so that the services were not disrupted. I hope that my noble friend may wish to explore that kind of thing as regards the quality contracts on the buses.
We cannot ever have a complete failure in a public transport undertaking because the very nature of the thing is that it is there properly to serve the public. We do not want to see a breakdown in service. We certainly cannot have that. As regards Connex’s operations with rail franchising, the experience was not good—I certainly did not enjoy it.
I understand that my noble friend is saying that he will look at the issue of operator of last resort. I should like to clarify what he said in relation to purchase. I thought he was saying—and I want to check whether I have misunderstood this—that the powers might already be there to enable the purchase. I was not sure whether that was what he was saying or whether he is turning it down straight and not saying that he thinks that the power may be there anyway. No doubt when he responds he will pick that matter up and put it clearly on the record.
The amendment would supply the PTEs with the necessary costs. Cost is obviously one of the things PTEs would have to take account of in the equation—whether they did it, what cost would be involved and whether they thought it was a cost that they were prepared to stand.
The other issue raised is of examples where quality partnerships or quality contracts have failed. My understanding is that we have had only one quality partnership, we have had voluntary partnerships and we have not had any quality contracts. I suppose it is not surprising that one does not have examples of ones that have failed when there has only ever been one in existence anyway. In the hope that my noble friend will respond and clarify what his response was on the issue of the acquiring of land, I will withdraw the amendment.
69: After Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—
“Extension of grant-making powers
(1) Section 106 of the TA 1985 (grants for transport facilities and services) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(a) omit the words “who are disabled”.
(3) In subsection (2)
(a) in paragraph (a) omit the words from “transport” to “; or”;(b) in paragraph (b) omit the words “, other than excepted services”;(c) omit the words from “In this subsection” to the end of the subsection.”
The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to allow a PTA or a PTE and various other councils increased powers to make grants for transport facilities and services. I understand that currently the powers to make such grants are restricted in general to providing, maintaining or improving facilities wholly or mainly for facilitating travel by members of the public who are disabled or elderly.
Section 106 of the Transport Act 1985 is the only grant-making power that is available to PTEs and is restricted in its application. Widening the grant-making powers would give PTEs much greater flexibility in delivering public passenger transport services and would allow such a body to support financially initiatives that were provided by both the commercial and the voluntary sectors. It would allow a PTE to provide grants to community transport vehicles, to commercial operators in connection with contracted services and to landowners, for example, to provide public transport facilities. The basic purpose of the amendment is to seek to widen the grant-making powers as far as the authorities are concerned and to enable them to give over a rather wider area and give them a bit more flexibility in such powers in relation to delivering passenger transport services. I beg to move.
We are inclined to think that this is a somewhat curious amendment. Section 106 of the Transport Act 1985 was always intended as a very particular power to be used specifically for expenditure by local authorities or PTEs that could not be provided under other powers, most notably on vehicles, facilities and equipment for services for disabled people. By omitting the words as indicated in the amendment, it would potentially become a very wide and general power. It would duplicate and overlap in a confusing way with the existing powers in the Transport Act 1985, which enable local transport authorities to subsidise services where particular transport needs would not otherwise be met.
As noble Lords will know, we are proposing to introduce, by means of Clauses 58 and 59, greater flexibility for local transport authorities to subsidise the provision of services to a particular standard. However, we still consider it appropriate to retain the requirement that such subsidy can only be made if the service, or particular standard of service, would not otherwise be provided. Extending Section 106 of the 1985 Act to the generality of services would seem to have the effect of removing that requirement. Broadening the powers in Section 106 to services already provided commercially would, for instance, raise the question of whether such subsidies might be disallowed under the European Community’s state aid rules.
Quite apart from all that it is important, as I am sure noble Lords will agree, that there should be specific grant-making powers for facilities for disabled persons. Such facilities can be expensive to provide, and an operator with an eye purely to profitability may not chose to provide them. We have heard on many occasions how essential it is for many disabled persons to have access to good public transport. If Section 106 were replaced by a much more general funding provision, persons with a disability may be forgotten or given much lower priority. That would be contrary to the many clear messages that we have given and that we have been given, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, at various stages in Committee. While I am sure it was not the intention of my noble friend Lord Rosser, it could well be the consequence if the amendment were accepted. I hope on that basis that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
69A: Clause 64, page 53, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State may by order require the display of specified information about the Committee in such places and formats as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, having regard to the needs of disabled persons.”
The noble Lord said: The noble Lord, Lord Low, was anticipating that his amendments would come up at our last meeting and he asked me if I would move them then. Since he is not here, I assume he would wish me to do so now. I am moving the amendment on his behalf. Noble Lords will understand and will forgive me if to some extent I am reading what he has given me. Amendments Nos. 69A and 70 are grouped. They are probing amendments and their purpose is to seek clarification and a specific commitment from the Government. The effect of one of the amendments is to subject the Public Transport Users Committee for England, if created, to the specific disability equality duty. I understand that an indication may have been given that some action might be feasible on this.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, establishes a general and a specific disability equality duty. The general duty states:
“Every public authority shall in carrying out its functions have due regard to … The need to promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and other persons”.
In tabling this probing amendment, I ask whether the Minister can confirm that the Public Transport Users Committee for England will, if established, be a public authority within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005—a person carrying out public functions—and thus subject to the general disability equality duty.
As I said, the Disability Discrimination Act established general and specific disability equality duties. The specific duty arises from Section 49D of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 made under it. Those regulations list a large number of public authorities and require them to produce disability equality schemes. These are action plans produced with the involvement of disabled people for how those organisations will promote equality. The list of public authorities already covered by the specific duty includes any passenger transport executive, Transport for London, the British Transport Police, all local authorities and joint transport authorities, and Passenger Focus, the operating name of the Rail Passenger Council established under the Railways Act 2005. The last of those is quite significant, as one option in the consultation about the PTUC is to expand the remit of Passenger Focus. The question is therefore whether it is the Government’s intention that the Public Transport Users Committee for England, in whatever form it eventually emerges, will be subject to the specific disability equality duty. I beg to move.
I will speak to my amendment, grouped with the other two, while the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, is briefed as to what has been going on. On Amendment No. 69ZA, as I have said before, it would be really good to have a Public Transport Users Committee to cover bus and rail public transport. It is long overdue, and I commend the Government for saying that they will introduce it. I have had discussions with Passenger Focus, and it certainly welcomes this, which is also encouraging.
In proposed new subsection (8), the first of three in this amendment, it is important to have some regional representation for buses, and probably for rail. Clearly, the Rail Passenger Council’s structure was not ideal. There were far too many regions, and the selection and operation of some members was probably not as good as it could have been. So Passenger Focus is much better, but it would be wrong to expect people with complaints about a bus in Manchester or Leeds to address all their complaints to London, where the head office will inevitably be. Particularly for buses, it is important to have a regional structure.
Proposed subsection (9) may be stating the obvious, but if one does not know how to contact the users’ committee it is no good at all. After many years, there is now, on all railways, the address of Passenger Focus, so that people can get in touch by phone, by e-mail or in writing. That is very important. Proposed subsection (10) probes whether the Department for Transport will pay for any extra resources that are needed for the Public Transport Users Committee and the effective transport commissioners if they are to fulfil that role.
I have one question. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw attempted to table an amendment which was refused and, therefore, I gave notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 64 stand part. Perhaps I can ask the question now to save time later. Could the Minister say a little more about why the Government feel it is necessary to set up a new statutory body to deal with bus users’ representation rather than trying to breathe life into the existing arrangements to see whether they can be improved? Can the Minister assure us that he believes that setting up a statutory body is the best way forward and that the current arrangements are not fit for purpose?
I apologise to the Committee for not arriving in time to move my Amendment No. 69A. I had indicated to the Committee that I would not be able to be present on Wednesday last week, so the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, very kindly agreed to move it on my behalf. However, I heard that you had not reached that amendment on Wednesday and, although it would be in the Marshalled list for today, I was still in difficulty as I had a lecturing commitment in my diary at four o'clock. I managed to get the conference organisers to rejig the programme and I gave my lecture between two o’clock and three o’clock, but I am afraid the Committee has moved so rapidly through the Bill this afternoon that I did not make it in time. However, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for moving the amendment on my behalf. I am sure that he will have done the Committee a much greater service than I would have done.
This is a useful opportunity to discuss a range of issues which have a laudable aim, in particular the aim of ensuring that passengers know how and where they can complain or take forward unresolved issues. It is in bus companies’ interests and in passenger transport executives’ interests that people know how and where to make a complaint because that provides important information and can help to resolve profound problems with the service and improve the quality of that service. It is in everyone’s interests that complaints mechanisms and public fora work well. It is right that where a passenger has an issue or an important comment to pass on that there are well established channels for doing so. It could be argued that placing obligations on bus companies to publicise details will lead to them taking more seriously the comments and complaints. I think we would all want to sign up to that.
While I agree with the sentiments behind Amendment No. 69A, a number of complications arise from it that will need further consideration before the Government can determine how best to deliver the spirit of this amendment. First, the Department for Transport’s consultation document, Options for Strengthening Bus Passenger Representation, details several ways of delivering a bus passenger champion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested, that could be done by enhancing the role of Bus Users UK, a non-statutory body. We could build on that. We are also including powers in this Bill to add functions to the Rail Passengers Council—known as Passenger Focus. That could provide another possible route. However, we need to ensure that any obligation on operators to make information available would apply equally to any of these options. Whatever approach we decide on, we must ensure that each of those options is viable and workable. If the intention behind the amendment is to have complaints procedures publicised so that a passenger knows where to go if they have an unresolved issue, the legislation needs to be more flexible about what information is required.
In the spirit of the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and pending the outcome of our consultation on the best way of approaching passenger representation, I undertake to ask colleagues in the department to ensure that we liaise with the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the Bus Partnership Forum to see what they think can be done. We also might want to consider whether there should be different requirements in different parts of the country, because not everything is the same everywhere, and in some areas in which a local authority has implemented a quality partnership scheme, or a quality contracts scheme, it may be more appropriate to use the local authority and route complaints and concerns through that channel.
In conclusion, I agree that there may well be a place for a statutory obligation. We need to look more carefully at whether a new statutory obligation would be the best and most appropriate way of dealing with the point, or whether it can be dealt with under existing legislation or guidance. If the noble Lord is happy to withdraw the amendment, I will consider the issue further and write to all noble Lords before Report with suggestions as to how we might achieve the objective which I think we mostly all share.
On Amendment No. 69ZA, I am grateful to my noble friend for providing another opportunity to talk about the size and shape of bus passenger champions. I listened with interest to the points that have been made. As I said earlier, we are giving more consideration to how we can find the best way of taking this forward. One reason for that is to ensure that the body will be allowed to influence large national stakeholders, including central government. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of bus services are operated by one of the big five transportation companies, such as FirstGroup and Stagecoach, so it is essential that the new bus champion has the status and standing to get right to the heart of those organisations.
On a further point, we have no formal watchdog, so any new statutory body will necessarily take time to develop and the new process may need to be incremental. I recognise that many will see the need for local representation, and although I have made it clear that the Government’s first position on this matter is that we are consulting, I should make it very clear that we are also listening and will be interested to receive a broad range of views. It is important to us that the legislation is flexible. I assure noble Lords that, as currently drafted, it will not preclude the setting-up of regional offices or regional committees as a network if that were considered to be the best way of dealing with the issue.
I am grateful again to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for tabling Amendment No. 70, which provides an opportunity to consider ensuring that disabled people and their needs are right at the heart of developing a network of committees. The Government have done a lot to improve accessibility in public transport. We introduced regulations that specify the minimum technical accessibility requirements that are designed to make buses and coaches more accessible to disabled people. It is interesting that the number of wheelchair-accessible, low-floor buses increased from 8.2 per cent in 1997-98 to 58 per cent in 2006-07. So there has been a large growth in that particular type of bus. As a product, we can argue for the campaigning in the legislation. We have also introduced regulations to ensure that certain obligations on the providers of services not to discriminate against disabled persons in the provision of goods, facilities and services apply to bus operators.
I entirely agree with the aim behind the amendment but would suggest that there might be a different way of implementing the obligation. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 already places certain general duties on all public authorities in carrying out their functions. If established, we would expect the Public Transport Users Committee to be a “public authority” within the definition in Part 5A of that Act, and therefore subject to the same general duty as all other public authorities.
The purpose of the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 is to ensure better performance by specified public authorities of the duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate disability discrimination. The regulations contain a schedule listing those public authorities to which the obligations apply. An amendment to the regulations was made this year— 2007—adding 28 new public authorities; Passenger Focus, the rail passengers’ committee, is one of them. The Office for Disability Issues carries out an exercise beginning in April to canvass further public body names. If a Public Transport Users Committee is established, we agree that it would be right to include it as a public body in those regulations.
I hope therefore that the noble Lord will accept that the appropriate powers and procedures are in place to enable this to happen, and will agree to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking on board the spirit of both amendments and agreeing to give Amendment No. 69A further consideration. On Amendment No. 70 he indicates that the appropriate powers will be in place. On that basis I am very happy not to press the amendments.
71A: Clause 64, page 55, line 19, at end insert—
“(12) The Public Transport Users’ Committee for England shall make recommendations to the senior traffic commissioner on appropriate national minimum standards for bus services.
(13) The Secretary of State, the senior traffic commissioner and transport authorities shall have regard to the recommendations of the Public Transport Users’ Committee for England.”
The noble Lord said: I suppose that this is a fairly obvious amendment. If we have a Public Transport Users Committee for England, which I hope we do, the amendment sets out a requirement for it to,
“make recommendations to the senior traffic commissioner on appropriate national minimum standards for bus services”.
And it requires the Secretary of State to take these into account.
I again use the railway to make a comparison: one of the real success stories of Passenger Focus has been the fact that before it offers public opinions on various things and tells Ministers what they or other people should be doing, it collects evidence in a proper systematic way and publishes it. It makes its recommendations on the basis of that evidence. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is a much better way of going forward. It would be very useful if that process—and, I hope, with the same organisation expanded—could be used to collect evidence and form opinions about the operation of buses, to have a statutory right to make the recommendations to the traffic commissioners and for the Secretary of State to take them into account. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for allowing us the opportunity again to discuss bus passenger representation and its relationship with the Secretary of State, the senior traffic commissioner and local authorities. It might be helpful if I start by saying that many of the issues that have been raised are ones on which we are seeking views through our consultation, to which I referred earlier. The legislation we are seeking to achieve is one that will give us sufficient flexibility to create a body which will have a strong and influential public role; one which will be taken seriously and have real effect.
It will be necessary to bring forward appropriate secondary legislation whether, following that consultation, the Government decide either to set up the Public Transport Users Committee, or to add functions to Passenger Focus, the rail watchdog. But we need to ensure we have the necessary provisions in primary legislation now to ensure that the Secretary of State can provide the representative body with sufficient power and influence. For those reasons I am grateful to the noble Lord for probing these issues in the amendment.
Specifically in relation to this amendment, the Bill would confer on the Public Transport Users Committee the function of making recommendations to the Secretary of State about prescribed public passenger transport and facilities in England. I accept there may be others that the committee, or Passenger Focus if we extend its remit, would want to make recommendations to. However, the Secretary of State also has powers to confer, in secondary legislation, additional functions on the committee, and this might include the functions of making recommendations to traffic commissioners, local authorities or indeed, I suggest, the bus industry. I therefore suggest to noble Lords that the first part of this amendment is unnecessary. Following our consultation, I hope it will become clear how these relationships might work in detail. Any order made to set up a public transport users committee would also need to be laid before and approved by a resolution of this House and another place.
We need to ensure both that any statutory bus champion can make its voice heard and that those on the receiving end are actively listening and responding where appropriate. I therefore agree that requiring other parties to have regard to the recommendations of the bus champion has merits.
My noble friend’s amendment names the Secretary of State, senior traffic commissioner and local authorities as the bodies that should be taking regard of any recommendations of the bus champion. We do not think it would be sensible to include detailed provision such as this in the Bill as it might limit our options later. However, we agree that we should make sure we have the necessary powers to specify requirements in this area in future secondary legislation.
If my noble friend is content with that approach, I should like to consider further whether the current powers are wide enough and, if necessary, bring forward an appropriate amendment at Report to ensure that the principle to which he seeks to give effect will be covered. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will kindly withdraw the amendment.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that comprehensive response. It is very difficult in the middle of a consultation to discuss something which might not happen and something else which might happen instead. However, I am very grateful for his comforting words. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 64 agreed to.
Clause 65 agreed to.
71B: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Mandatory travel concessions
In subsection (4) of section 145A of the TA 2000, after “area” insert “or to be a person who has been homeless for at least three months”.”
The noble Earl said: This amendment would give a person who had been homeless for more than three months the same right to free bus travel as a disabled person. The purpose of the amendment is to gain from the Minister recognition of the fact that many homeless families suffer from isolation and that this Bill should seek to assist them, or that help should be offered elsewhere. I apologise for not tabling this amendment earlier. Its possibilities became apparent to me only late last week in discussion with the researcher of my noble friend Lord Low of Dalston. The amendment’s purpose is to probe. I should make clear that my goal is a debate about homeless families rather than the general homeless population. The problem is that there are more than 100,000 homeless families, who live in temporary accommodation, much of it private. Some time ago, I visited homeless families in Newham, east London, with a health visitor. I have also spoken to mothers of families in the Barnardo’s families in temporary accommodation project in London. The housing that I saw was on occasion damp, unhygienic and overcrowded.
As important as the poor quality of housing and the overcrowding is the isolation that these families can experience. The research in this area points to the isolation experienced by the many women who are bringing up children in temporary accommodation, often far from their community, family or friends and on their own without a partner. Such isolation tends to lead to despair. In addition, these families are moved far away from the child’s school, so they need assistance to transport their child to their school.
Her Majesty’s Government have taken many steps to reduce homelessness. No family now spends more than a few weeks in bed-and-breakfast accommodation unless it is an asylum-seeking family. Much of the available social housing is being refurbished with money from this Government. The Government promise another 3 million homes under the Housing and Regeneration Bill. However, the effect of the right to buy and the limits on councils reinvesting their money in new social housing has led to a dramatic rise in the number of homeless families to an historic high of more than 100,000, as I have said. Surely it is incumbent on both central and local government to do as much as possible to limit the harm caused by homelessness. Will the Minister say whether this Bill might be used to increase access to transport for homeless families to help to reduce their isolation? If not, what other steps does he propose to improve their access to transport? Does he recognise the difficulties that these families face and the scale and seriousness of their problems?
I apologise once again for not giving the Minister more time to consider these questions. I would be very grateful for a letter as much as an oral response at this time, and perhaps an undertaking to come back with something similar on Report. I beg to move.
Although this is clearly a probing amendment, I suppose one could think of all sorts of technical difficulties in seeking to apply it. I hope that the Minister will say in his response that he supports the amendment, but if he objects to it, will he say whether he objects to it in principle or because of the logistics of trying to implement it? Bearing in mind the spirit of the amendment and the difficulties that homeless people have in finding the money to travel around at all, as well as their need to do so—as we all do on occasions—I hope that he might be sympathetic to it and say something helpful about it.
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for moving the amendment. I do have a modicum of sympathy for it for the very reasons that he and other noble Lords have adumbrated. One sympathises greatly with anyone who is homeless, and the ability to move around, to make connections and to try to resolve one’s problems is clearly very important in those circumstances, so I certainly accept that the intention behind the amendment is good.
The Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 was all about expanding the geographical scope of concessionary bus travel; it was not about extending the concession to other groups of people, as the amendment envisages. It is premature to consider extensions when the Government are still in the process of introducing the national bus travel concession scheme.
The Transport Act 1985 provides local authorities with considerable flexibility to offer more than the statutory concession to their residents. There are numerous examples of local authorities that offer concessions to additional groups of people. My local authority of Brighton in the early 1990s extended its concessionary scheme to assist travellers who had contracted HIV/AIDS. That happened to be a large group of people at that time in that conurbation. That concession was considered to be of some value.
The new national concessionary bus travel scheme does not affect those powers, and local authorities retain the discretion to provide enhancements to the proposed national minimum, taking account of their local circumstances. Although homeless people are not currently listed in the 1985 Act as being eligible for travel concessions, the power already exists for the Secretary of State, in secondary legislation, to add further classes of persons to that list.
As noble Lords will know, the Government have sought to provide local authorities with more freedom and flexibility in choosing how they use their resources so as best to reflect their local priorities. That approach has been generally supported by local government. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the Government have already done a great deal to improve the well-being of older and disabled people, who are among the most vulnerable in our society. From April 2008, the Government will be providing around £1 billion of funding each year for concessionary travel in England, which is a major public spending commitment of which we are rightly proud. The extension from the local to the national entitlement alone involves substantial new money of £212 million for local authorities in England.
We are not ruling out extensions to other groups of people in the future, but extending eligibility to give free travel to homeless people, for example, would need a robust and fair system for assessing eligibility. With a national concession, there is greater potential for fraud. Who would qualify—the family or the individual? I recognise that the amendment is born of good intentions, but I hope that the noble Earl will now feel able to agree that in general terms the approach the Government are taking is the right one.
The key objective for us at the moment is to successfully introduce the national bus concession next April, so now is probably not the right time to make further legislative changes without proper planning, some considerable thought and some fairly in-depth consultation to make sure that we would have the best approach. I offer encouragement and sympathy, but now is not the right time to move on this issue.
How does the noble Lord think that the Government might keep this issue under review? It seems to me that we have a situation where some pensioners are quite wealthy—many are not, but some are—and yet they get free bus travel and can travel the length and breadth of the country. Good luck to them. It seems extraordinary that there are other vulnerable groups who cannot even travel across the same town. It is important that we keep this under review, particularly in the case of such a group, which does not have the benefit of a loud voice. The fact that the concessionary fare scheme for pensioners was announced just before the last election probably says it all.
Obviously, we keep policy under review at all times. We have discussions with local government over time, as the current national scheme has been introduced. No doubt local authorities will want to discuss it with us if they think that it is a particular need. The best thing is to tackle the root cause of the problem, which is homelessness, and we have been doing that very successfully. Our aim is to halve the number of households living in temporary accommodation to something approaching 50,000 by 2010. By the third quarter of 2003, we had already reduced the number of households accepted as homeless under the legislation by some 54 per cent.
The key objective for the present is to successfully introduce the national bus concession next April. Now is not the time to make further legislative changes, without proper planning and consultation.
I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment. We have the lowest number of households in temporary accommodation in some long time. Dealing with homelessness is the priority. It may be that this issue can be returned to in the future, but we currently think it best to concentrate our efforts on making the current scheme workable and seeing how that beds in. If local authorities wish to raise the issue of homeless people and their particular needs at different times as we review policy implementation, no doubt that will be a constructive approach.
I am grateful to the Minister for his careful and generally sympathetic response, in principle at least, and recognise his concerns. I also thank other Members of the Committee who have spoken and asked for some sympathetic response to the principle of the matter.
Perhaps I should have made it clearer that this is a targeted group of homeless people: homeless families. It might be helpful for administration if, before being recognised as being homeless families and given temporary accommodation, they should go through a process where it is determined that they are families in priority need. They would be clearly identified by the local authority and that might ease matters. I have listened with great interest to what the Minister said, and will consider whether to bring this matter back on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 66 agreed to.
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clause 67 [Power to establish a new ITA]:
71C: Clause 67, page 57, line 41, leave out “and efficiency” and insert “, efficiency, integration and sustainability”
The noble Lord said: Recommendation number 34 of the Transport Select Committee makes a good deal of sense. The criteria for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of transport in an area must be more clearly explained for authorities seeking to set up ITAs or review their existing arrangements. With this amendment, I probe the Government’s thinking as to what will be regarded as economic and efficient. The recently published outline guidance on governance reviews does not provide a great deal of information. In Clause 8, the Government propose that when local transport plans are produced they, so the Government say,
“take into account any policies announced by Her Majesty’s government with respect to the protection or improvement of the environment”.
There should be a similar test, perhaps when establishing the criteria upon which integrated transport authorities are created. It would be logical to ensure that the areas being established as ITAs would improve the environmental sustainability of transport within the area, rather than simply meeting an arbitrary level of efficiency determined by the Secretary of State. Our concern is that applicant ITAs could form and that their main transport interest will be to create major road schemes to connect large towns, to the detriment of rural communities between those towns and the general state of the environment. An applicant ITA should be assessed on the potential environmental and social impact of any scheme it intends to bring forward, through scrutiny of any outline local transport strategies for the proposed area.
The amendment is therefore designed to test the Government's definitions of effectiveness and efficiency and ensure that they are intending to scrutinise more than this narrow governance issue when determining where ITAs may or may not be established. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for bringing up those issues which authorities need to consider in carrying out reviews of governance arrangements in their areas. I agree that how far existing transport arrangements in an area are integrated and sustainable are key issues which authorities would have to take into account. For instance, authorities in an existing integrated transport area carrying out a review will want to consider whether the existing arrangements whereby the ITA has overall responsibility for public transport in the area, while roads are a matter for individual councils, enable effective integration, or whether changes are needed. Similarly, authorities in an area where there is no ITA will want to consider how effective integration of transport services is best achieved. The sustainability of present and future transport arrangements in their area is also one of the most fundamental issues which authorities will need to consider.
We consider that transport that is effective and efficient will also be transport which is integrated and sustainable. Similarly, transport which is integrated and sustainable will be transport that is effective and efficient—a rose by any other name. That being so, it does not immediately appear to us that there is a gap in the present intentions of the Bill which needs to be filled.
Although the Bill does not define precisely the meaning of “effectiveness and efficiency”, we are quite clear that reviews should address the whole range of transport issues in an area, including integration and sustainability, as they will other key issues such as safety and accessibility.
As has already been mentioned—we will return to the matter later—Clause 83 allows for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to authorities on carrying out reviews; a draft of the guidance has already been placed in the Library of the House. The guidance will set out those matters which could and should be the subject of a review and which authorities will need to take into account. We are clear that sustainability and integration are to be at the forefront of these, and that will be made clear in the guidance.
However, I am happy to agree that we should take the matter away, consider it further and return to it on Report. Adding the words suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, may have unexpected consequences. He will understand that I cannot give a guarantee at this stage but I am very happy to take the issue away and have another look.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I somehow think that we have to write provisions into everything these days to make certain that they happen. I am grateful to the Government for saying that, even if they will not accept my wording now, they will take the matter back and perhaps put “sustainability”, “environmental impact” or something in the legislation. I am pleased that the Government are going to look at the matter, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 67 agreed to.
Clause 68 [Authorities' review: new ITA]:
[Amendment No. 71D not moved.]
Clause 68 agreed to.
Clause 69 [Secretary of State's power to direct a review: new ITA]:
[Amendment No. 71E not moved.]
On Question, Whether Clause 69 shall stand part of the Bill?
I shall also speak to the Question whether Clause 71 should stand part of the Bill. The clauses will allow the Secretary of State to direct a review of respectively non-ITA and existing ITA areas. I will give reasons why we object to both clauses.
The ostensible principle of this section of the Bill is to allow authorities to review their governance arrangements in a bottom-up manner. I am therefore uncertain as to why these clauses are needed.
Local authorities need to initiate a review themselves to be fully committed to implementing the results that they find. Any imposition will not work and will serve to undermine local authorities, which need to be partners in the recognition and implementation of change. That is especially important in the formation of ITAs, if the formation of ITAs allows the implementation of road charging without the constituent local authority’s consent, through changes to the consultation arrangements or delegation of local authority functions or by conferral of a power to direct an authority. The formation of an ITA through an imposed review should not be used as a mechanism for introducing road charging without local democratic accountability.
Clause 69 provides a power for the Secretary of State to be able to direct two or more authorities to carry out a review in certain circumstances. As well as directing a review, the Secretary of State would also be able to direct that the authorities in question should publish a scheme containing proposals for establishing an integrated transport authority.
Clause 71 would give the Secretary of State a similar power to direct one or more authorities in an existing integrated transport authority area to carry out a review of those matters which could be included in an order made by the Secretary of State under Clauses 72 to 78. The matters which the Secretary of State could direct authorities to consider in such a review include the existing constitution of the ITA and its boundaries and the distribution of statutory transport functions between the ITA, other local authorities and the Secretary of State.
As I mentioned in the context of Clause 68, we are clear that in the first place it should be for local authorities and ITAs themselves to decide whether to undertake a review of governance arrangements in their area. We would intend to make that very clear in the guidance that we issue to authorities on carrying out a review, a draft of which we have already made available. However, the power in the clauses for the Secretary of State to direct a review provides a sensible contingency. It might be used, for instance, in circumstances where governance arrangements in an area were demonstrably not working properly but the authorities were unable to reach agreement that a review should be undertaken, or perhaps to reach agreement as to the area to be covered by a review. A direction from the Secretary of State in those circumstances could be of considerable assistance in resolving issues and providing a way forward.
A further case in which a direction could be of use is to set out for the authorities in a particular area the individual issues which, if included in a scheme, the Secretary of State thinks would be likely to meet the conditions under which he or she can make an order. That could help to ensure that the work undertaken by a review would lead to proposals which the Secretary of State would then be able to bring into force in an order under this part of the Bill. We would also expect to be able to say more in the guidance that we intend to issue under Clause 83 about the particular circumstances in which a direction might need to be issued. I hope that the noble Lord understands that in most circumstances we need that contingency power. In most instances, I hope that a review would be conducted, as the noble Lord suggests, in the best possible terms of being bottom up.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I am pleased with what he said. Obviously, guidance will be very important. He said that it would clarify when the Secretary of State might have to take such powers. Generally, one would want it to be the local authorities initiating it. I will read what the Minister said in Hansard.
Clause 69 agreed to.
Clause 70 [Authorities' review of arrangements]:
72: Clause 70, page 60, line 26, leave out “one” and insert “two”
The noble Lord said: Clause 70 states that any one or more of the authorities in subsection (2) may undertake a review of one or more of the matters mentioned in subsection (3). Those matters could include constitutional arrangements and whether the body should be dissolved. Likewise, Clause 71 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct one or more of the authorities falling within subsection (2) to undertake a review of one or more of the matters mentioned in subsection (3). As I said, they could be matters of considerable import. The outcome of the review could allow the Secretary of State by order to make provisions about the constitutional arrangements of an integrated transport authority. The amendments to Clause 70 would ensure that no single authority on its own could undertake a review, and if a review was undertaken that the integrated transport authority had to be invited to be part of that review.
One can contrast the provisions of Clauses 70 and 71 with those of Clause 68, which provides that two or more authorities are needed to carry out a review of an area that does not have an ITA; so it is not a single authority. Where there is an integrated transport authority, surely it is only appropriate that at least two authorities should be required to commence a review and that the integrated transport authority should be invited to be part of that review, which does not appear to be provided for in the Bill.
Clause 71 will give the Secretary of State the power to direct a review of the arrangements. Again, it would seem appropriate that a review should be carried out by more than one single authority and that, once again, the integrated transport authority should be invited to be part of the review. That is what the amendments seek to achieve. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for his explanation of the amendment, which deals with those bodies that could choose to be directed to carry out a review of transport governance arrangements in an area that is already an ITA area or to which an existing ITA area might be extended.
As has been explained in another context, it is sensible to retain sufficient flexibility in the Bill to allow for different arrangements to apply in different areas according to local circumstances. As part of this, it would be sensible to retain flexibility about which bodies were responsible for carrying out governance reviews, rather than dictating this in the Bill. That said, we would expect that an existing integrated transport authority would have a key interest in any review of transport governance in their area, especially where it was considering the ITA’s own constitutional arrangements and powers.
Clause 83 enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance to authorities carrying out reviews, and we would expect to make clear in this guidance the need for such authorities to consult widely in their area as part of their review, especially where a review was not being carried out jointly by all authorities in that area. Also, Clause 79(4) makes it clear that the Secretary of State would have to consult, as appropriate, the ITA and district and county councils in an ITA area before making any order to implement any proposals emanating from a review.
Taken together, those provisions should ensure that the interests of all authorities in an area are taken into account before any changes are made to existing arrangements. I hope that in the light of the explanation that I have just given, my noble friend will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
Why the distinction between Clause 68, which is about any two or more authorities, and Clauses 70 and 71, which could be just one authority? I understand the argument about flexibility, but there is a contrast between the two clauses. I do not understand—perhaps my noble friend could give an example—the kind of situation where it might be appropriate or necessary for it to be only one authority under Clauses 70 and 71, as opposed to two or more.
Under Clause 68, we are talking about a new ITA with joint arrangements. Therefore, obviously,
“two or more of the following authorities”,
would be needed if a new ITA is being set up, whereas in existing authorities we are talking about perhaps a situation where an ITA may just want to do a small review into its own workings. If it did that, it would not necessarily want other authorities to be involved.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 73 to 75A not moved.]
Clause 70 agreed to.
Clause 71 [Secretary of State's power to direct a review of arrangements]:
[Amendments Nos. 76 to 78A not moved.]
Clause 71 agreed to.
Clause 72 [Constitutional arrangements]:
78B: Clause 72, page 62, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) A change to constitutional arrangements by virtue of this section is to be made only with the consent of the authorities comprised in the ITA area.”
The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 78B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 80A and 80B. These amendments refer to the new arrangements for ITAs in Part 5. It is my view that local authorities that could be affected by new and revised ITA arrangements should be consulted and should consent to any change in their areas, which is very similar to some that we have already discussed. The implications of not having the consent of local authorities are great at present. The Bill would allow the ITA to be the mechanism for imposing road pricing on a local authority which has decided that it does not want such a scheme in its area. That would certainly contravene the asserted principle that these matters are for local authorities to decide. An authority may decide against road pricing because its electors are against it, which would be the most important reason against setting up a scheme.
Amendment No. 78B seeks to ensure that changes to constitutional arrangements are agreed to by authorities in the ITA area. The Bill allows a Secretary of State to appoint non-elected members to an ITA. There are several arguments against having non-elected members on an ITA and there is a real possibility for excluding or watering down the influence of one or more of the authorities within it. Members of local authorities whose powers are to be diluted, in this case giving non-elected members voting rights, should be accountable to voters if they support such a dilution.
Clause 74 allows the Secretary of State to delegate a function of a local authority to an ITA. Amendment No. 80A seeks to ensure that the local authorities whose functions are to be removed consent to that change. In the case of the delegation of road charging functions, the ITA could have the power to introduce road charging without the consent of constituent authorities, as I have said. There is a provision to make it a requirement for some consultation and approval by both Houses of Parliament, but that neglects the need for local accountability. None of the provisions would themselves, or in combination, prevent an order being made against the will of a local authority. Road charging could be imposed in an area by a local authority that does not want it. For similar reasons, Amendment No. 80B seeks to make a requirement that local authorities consent to the direction that can be given to them by an ITA. The potential again exists here for an authority to be directed on road charging without its consent. I beg to move.
As we have discussed previously, any order by the Secretary of State introducing changes to existing transport governance arrangements in a particular area would be made in the light of the reviews and proposals for change put forward by those local authorities which would be affected. These amendments would provide that certain aspects of orders and directions could not be made without the consent of any authority which would be affected.
Amendment No. 78B would have the effect that an order made by the Secretary of State under Clause 72 could not provide for the delegation of a function of an authority without that authority’s explicit consent. This clause—unlike Clause 74 which we will come to shortly—does not enable the delegation of functions of any authority other than the ITA itself and its executive body. It would allow for those authorities carrying out a review of governance to propose that certain functions of the ITA itself should be delegated to an executive or delivery body of the ITA. So, it could allow for instance for certain functions to be delegated to a passenger transport executive which was responsible for delivering the ITA’s policies on public transport in the area or it could enable the functions of a PTE to be exercised by the integrated transport authority itself.
Given that any such functions delegated via an order would remain within the overall ambit of the ITA structure, we do not believe that it is necessary to include an explicit requirement for consent to be given to any such delegation, which I suppose could be tantamount to a form of veto. Amendment No. 78B would have the effect that an order made under Clause 74 could not provide for the delegation to an ITA or its successor body of the functions of a local authority in its area without the consent of the local authority.
As I made plain earlier in our discussions, the series of reports on transport governance which were published recently have identified possible problems with existing arrangements. One issue which is frequently highlighted is the current separation of powers in the metropolitan counties between the PTAs, which are responsible for planning and procuring public transport services, and the district councils, which hold powers over roads as the highway authorities and traffic authorities for their areas. For example, while the PTA has overall responsibility for bus services, the installation of bus priority measures such as bus lanes, which are a key factor in improving services, is a matter for the district councils.
In carrying out governance reviews under Clauses 68 and 70, authorities will want to consider whether changes to existing arrangements for carrying out local authority functions could lead to better integrated decision-making and implementation. In particular, authorities will want to consider how far, if at all, the current division of responsibilities for roads and public transport creates a barrier to improving transport services in the area. It might be that any necessary improvements could be best achieved through joint working, without the need to formally transfer functions. But Clause 74 could enable functions which are complementary to each other, such as bus operations and bus lanes, to be exercised in a co-ordinated manner by one statutory authority, which seems to be very sensible.
As I have reiterated, we are looking for local authorities in an area to come up with their own proposals for improvement, and we would expect that authorities carrying out a review would want to ensure that any transfer of functions to an ITA which was proposed enjoyed the full support of the authorities concerned, otherwise they are less likely to work. I should stress two points here. First, any such changes made by an order would, of course, be subject to consultation with those authorities which would be affected and to the affirmative resolution procedure in your Lordships’ House and in another place. Secondly, given that representatives of local authorities in an area would have to provide a majority of the members of each ITA, they would retain the ability to influence how the ITA exercised any of its functions, including those functions which had been transferred to the ITA from a local authority.
On Amendment No. 80B, Clause 75 offers another way to enable an ITA to influence how an area’s local road network is managed without the need to formally delegate the highway or traffic powers of the local authority. This would enable an ITA to be given a power to direct local highways authorities and local traffic authorities as to how they carry out those functions. The functions to which this power might be applied include the installing of traffic management measures, local regimes for parking, the carrying out of road maintenance works and so on. In existing PTA areas these functions belong to the metropolitan district councils. As with the other powers in Part 5 of the Bill, it would be for the authorities carrying out the governance review to consider whether such a power to direct should be given to an ITA.
An order which gave an ITA this power to give directions would need to specify those individual roads or descriptions of roads on which the authority could be directed—for instance, the roads carrying major bus routes. A direction which was then given under this power could, for instance, specify that the highway or traffic authority either should or should not take a particular course of action. An example might be that a local traffic authority must install a bus lane on one of its roads in order to improve bus reliability on a key radial route in an urban area. Another example of a direction given under this power could be that a local highway authority must not carry out road works on a key strategic road at a particular time or on particular days.
Where an ITA was given such a power to direct, we would not expect a direction to be a frequent event. In London, Transport for London already has a related power to direct London boroughs. In the vast majority of cases, discussion between it and the boroughs has managed to resolve any disagreement over individual works and it has not proved necessary to resort to the direction-making power. There is no reason why the same should not be true in ITA areas, particularly given that representatives of the individual councils in the area would constitute a majority of an ITA's members.
I apologise to the noble Lord and the Committee for the rather lengthy explanation. I thought it would be useful and, perhaps, enable the noble Lord to understand how we see these things working in practical terms, and therefore make him happier to withdraw his amendment.
I did not hear the Minister talk about the appointed members much. There was some concern that, whatever the policies of an ITA, if you have a lot of non-local people on it, some of them might be interpreted as being imposed on local government in that area. Perhaps the Minister might like to comment on that.
We come to that issue in the next amendment, and I shall be happy to deal with it there. I know that the noble Lord is somewhat concerned, perhaps even slightly obsessed, with road pricing. He made a point about road pricing being instituted by the ITA without local authority consent. Perhaps I should respond to that by explaining that the Bill does not allow an ITA to make a road-charging scheme without the agreement of a local traffic authority, which is, of course, a council. That is made clear in Clause 90 of the Bill. The fact that particular functions of a local traffic authority can be delegated to an ITA does not mean that the local authority would cease to be the statutory traffic authority.
In any case, Clause 90 of the Bill makes clear that an ITA can enter into a scheme only with one or more other authorities. If it were the intention that a delegation under Clause 74 could have the result that an ITA could make a scheme on its own, Clause 90 would have to be very differently drafted without requiring there to be a joint scheme within the ITA’s own area. There are checks and balances at work here. It is probably worth the noble Lord reflecting on that as well.
There seems to be the potential for confusion, although I thank the Minister for his fuller explanation. He has clarified what the Government expect from ITAs. We will re-read all that and, if we need to pursue this further, we will do so on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
79: Clause 72, page 62, line 31, after “councils” insert “from among their elected members”
The noble Lord said: I think that the Minister referred to the next amendment; I presume that this was the one to which he referred. The Bill provides for unelected members to be appointed, and the amendment seeks to clarify what could happen. It appears that unelected members could be appointed contrary to the views or wishes of the integrated transport authority. The Bill provides that the majority of members of an ITA must be elected members appointed by its constituent council, but the amendment would ensure local determination of whether an ITA should have unelected members, the appointees, and the status of the appointees on the ITA, including any voting rights. The amendment would clarify that any members nominated by bodies other than local councils must be appointed by the ITA. In effect, that would give an ITA a veto over the members nominated to it by non-constituent councils. I would have thought that that would be required so that an ITA could develop its own governance arrangements and would not be subject to the imposition of unapproved, unelected members.
I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to say something helpful along the lines of the objective sought by the amendment. Although the Bill provides that the majority of members must be appointed by their constituent councils, the rest could be working contrary to the views of constituent bodies and of the integrated transport authority. Surely the ITA should have some rights not to exclude people who are not elected but to have some say at least over whether people who are nominated should be able to come on to the ITA. I beg to move.
I support the amendment, as we need a good deal more clarity in this area. I was very grateful to the Minister for his comments at Second Reading, when he attempted to give some comfort on this issue. Nevertheless, while these clauses remain in the Bill, it is inevitable that there should be some confusion and concern about this role. First, it is not clear whether the powers of the Secretary of State would simply be to tell an ITA that it had to have a certain number of non-elected members and leave it to the ITA to choose who they were. I would have some difficulty with that, too, because it should be for the ITA to decide for itself whether to have other stakeholder members. However, I am not even clear whether the Secretary of State could decide who those members should be. That would be a step further, and so would be even worse.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to road-user charging in this context. It is certainly important that, if an area is to introduce road-user charging—there is no doubt that this will be controversial—the people who are taking responsibility for that should be accountable in some way. However, the larger issue is the levy because, although the ITA has the right to go to its constituents’ authorities and ask them to raise a levy from the general public, it is only right that people should be locally accountable in some way and should not be foisted on the ITA by the Secretary of State.
Finally, I invite the Minister to take a look at Clause 72(5)(f), which refers to the disapplication of Section 15 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which is about the duty to allocate seats to political groups. Will the Minister say in what circumstances the Secretary of State might determine that the political balance should be disapplied?
I, too, have some sympathy with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which covers my earlier points. Non-elected people appointed to ITAs should have some knowledge or be involved in the local situation. Local transport issues are very pertinent to the locality.
This amendment focuses on membership of an integrated transport authority. I understand the sensitivities around these issues. We have had this debate in local government many times as to whether it is right and appropriate to have independent, non-elected members, who should appoint them, what their powers, terms and conditions should be, and so on. At different times, I guess that the local authority lobby has taken a different view on what is or is not right. So it is not an easy matter to get right. There probably has to be a structure that works in the circumstances.
We have discussed some of this earlier. We believe in general terms that existing legislation covering PTAs is too restrictive in that, by setting out much of the detail of how such authorities are constructed and work in primary legislation, it does not allow for different arrangements to be set up in different areas or for these arrangements to develop over time. It is important to retain the flexibility for the membership arrangements for each ITA to be able to be determined in secondary legislation, which would of course be subject to the affirmative resolution in your Lordships’ House and another place. The arrangements for a particular ITA’s membership which are set out in an order would flow from the governance scheme put forward by authorities in that area under Clause 70, which would be subject to widespread consultation. This is not a case of a particular membership being imposed on ITAs by central government. That is not what we are seeking to achieve.
We would, of course, agree that it is important to ensure that an ITA is democratically accountable to the people of its area, which is why Clause 72(3) requires that a majority of an ITA’s members would have to be elected councillors of the authorities whose territory falls within the ITA area. Furthermore, the Bill leaves it open to authorities carrying out a review to propose that the ITA’s membership should continue to be made up of only local councillors, if they felt that to be more appropriate. If they just wanted councillors, that would be fine and the end of the story. Alternatively, they would be able to propose that persons from other sectors should be members of the ITA; for instance, representatives of the business sector, transport users, Network Rail, environmental groups and others who might bring relevant wider experience, knowledge and understanding.
In the debate on the previous group of amendments, the Minister referred to highway powers. Would it be legally possible for an ITA which had taken highways powers from a local authority to make decisions on the highways network when among its members were people who were not elected?
I think that the answer has to be “yes”. I do not think that there can be a different status of member if you have an ITA. That would be wrong. Where the order for a particular ITA area provided for the ITA’s membership to include one or more non-elected persons, it would also need to include a provision covering how those persons would be appointed. That is important to ensure that appointments follow proper procedures. Given that, we do not think that it is necessary or desirable for the Bill to take the inflexible approach that members must simply be appointed by the ITA itself.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked about political balance. The approach would reflect the Local Government Act 2000 and its executive arrangements. In essence, we have to reflect on how that Act works, because it would be hard to achieve political balance between parties where, for instance, a single leader of an executive, as set out in Section 11 of the 2000 Act, operates. We seek to allow ITAs to use the same structures as local authorities have had in place since 2000, so it is not a perfect reflection of political balance. That is how I understand it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I do not in any way wish to rerun the arguments that we had during the passage of the Local Government Act 2000 or the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, but the noble Lord will be aware that here, in another place and in the local government community, moving towards single person and cabinet executives was highly controversial. I suspect that for many current PTA/PTE areas, moving towards that model would be a step too far. They are by their nature very different beasts from local authorities. If it was a step too far for local authorities, I suspect that it would be even more controversial among the passenger transport authorities, because they are a coming together of component local authorities. The idea that one person or even a small group of people could be chosen from among those, without any political balance, would upset the arrangements that have served extremely well for the past couple of decades. The Government will interfere with that at their peril.
I understand the strength of view of the noble Baroness on this. As I was reading the note, I reflected that it could be controversial for some. The benefit is that it provides a model in which you get clearer lines of leadership, which is important. I am sure that the arrangement should work in such a way that, over the piece, there should be a reasonable reflection of party political balance. One has to respect and understand the strength of local feeling. The arrangements have to be endorsed by affirmative resolution in both Houses, so there is a good checking mechanism to ensure that the arrangements satisfy local needs.
I realise that we will probably debate more about this and that it is an issue that noble Lords will want to chew over some more—
That will be covered in the guidance. Obviously, I will reflect before Report stage on what has been said. Perhaps if noble Lords want more clarity, as we usually prepare a compendium letter of outstanding issues that have been raised, I will happily set some of the detail out in that correspondence.
To clarify, will that correspondence also include information on who will appoint those who are not from elected members of the constituent authorities? At the moment, it is not entirely clear to me where they are coming from. I have been told that my amendment is unacceptable; it refers to,
“members nominated by authorities other than the ITA’s constituent councils to be appointed by the ITA”.
Can my noble friend clarify who those non-elected members are likely to be appointed by? Is his answer, “That will be covered in the guidance, because the answer to that question is not known at the moment”? What is the objection to those who are nominated by authorities other than the ITAs’ constituent councils having their appointments confirmed by the ITAs—for example, there are nominations and the ITAs make the appointments? Is it suggested that some sort of party political corruption will take place? Is it suggested that we shall end up with people who do not have the right knowledge? What is the wrong that leads my noble friend to say no to my amendment? What difficulty does my noble friend see with my amendment?
I thought I had made it plain at the outset that the issue is one of ensuring that we have flexibility of approach. We want to try to develop governance arrangements in the locality that work for the locality. That is the most important objective. I understand what the noble Lord is trying to achieve. There will be more consultation on this and as yet we have not spelt out in sufficient detail what we have in mind. Clearly, that consultation will be very important. As I have said, those ITA arrangements can be made only following consideration of an affirmative order.
There is much scope here before we get to a point where the structure of governance is finally determined. I shall reflect further on this debate, as I can see that there are areas of uncertainty. I want to ensure that the guidance fairly reflects what we seek to achieve as a policy objective and that there is flexibility that works for the locality. We are not trying to impose or to constrain; we are trying to develop models of governance that are effective, which is why we think it is worth preserving the opportunity for ITAs to have independent, non-elected members with that broader experience. Some Members of the Committee might disagree with that, but I believe that it would bring some benefits. If the models from local government, like the operation of police authorities and so on, are of value, something similar may work for ITAs.
I would have thought that the ITA and the elected members from its constituent councils might be quite good people to decide what was needed as regards flexibility to reflect local conditions and local arrangements. I shall leave that thought with my noble friend as he has said that he will reflect further on the issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]
Clause 72 agreed to.
Clause 73 agreed to.
Clause 74 [Delegation of local authority functions]:
[Amendment No. 80A not moved.]
Clause 74 agreed to.
Clause 75 [ Conferral of a power to direct]:
[Amendment No. 80B not moved.]
Clause 75 agreed to.
Clauses 76 to 96 agreed to.
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Clause 97 [Abolition of requirement for confirmation of English schemes]:
On Question, Whether Clause 97 shall stand part of the Bill?
I query the effects of Clauses 97 and 98 as they stand in the Bill. Clause 97 abolishes the need for confirmation of English charging schemes by the Secretary of State. While the reasoning behind removing the Secretary of State's responsibility for approving each road pricing scheme is understood, and I have no wish to return to the Transport Act 2000 situation, there should be some form of central government control in ensuring that these schemes are fully harmonised in their objectives and fully interoperable.
Clearly, legislative and statutory guidance from the Government can help to achieve that objective and Clause 100 seems to take a first step towards that, but, in my view, central government should clearly demonstrate what mechanism will be in place to ensure that a local authority, implementing a scheme which fails to meet the statutory guidance, will be brought to account. Currently, that remains unclear and I suggest creates a degree of uncertainty.
The House of Commons Transport Committee echoed those views. I quote from its report:
“Regulations and guidance governing local charging schemes must balance the need for consistency, interoperability and fairness against the need to provide flexibility to tailor schemes to local requirements. The strengths and weaknesses of this framework will play a key part in determining whether or not the local schemes are successful. We believe that Parliament should have a clear indication of the framework the Government intends to put in place”.
If consistency and interaction between schemes is not achieved, it will become extremely complex and confusing for all motorists; for example, there has to be consistency in terms of technology. If motorists are unable to register with one central scheme for payments, each driver must end up with several black boxes or tags in the vehicle at great expense. There has to be consistency in terms of discounts and exemptions. If discounts do not have a degree of harmonisation, a driver could think that his vehicle, which is exempt for being a low-polluting car, say, under a specific local road pricing scheme, is therefore exempt under all other local schemes. That would equally apply to 100 per cent discounts for hybrid vehicles or blue-badge holders.
It would be very wrong to expect motorists to check each time they travel somewhere the particular rules and regulations regarding each local road pricing scheme, or for that matter even to know that they exist. Not all road journeys are planned in advance. One could easily leave a motorway to do some emergency shopping in a town only to find that one has inadvertently strayed into a road pricing scheme.
There has to be consistency regarding equipment and signage. It would be paramount to ensure that all schemes adopt a common approach on road traffic signs warning motorists of the operation of a local road pricing scheme and what they have to do about it. There are also the limits on the charges payable, a degree of standardisation on penalty charges and other provisions in relation to enforcement.
All in all, this clause, which merely abolishes the need for the Secretary of State’s approval without putting any other effective controls in its place, does not seem to be adequate. It is important for the motorist who travels all over the country to have confidence in a fair and just system that does not try to trap him or her into making mistakes and that there is a national template which is statutorily enforceable. I would be grateful if the Minister could let us know what guidelines will be put in place in addition to those in Clause 100, whether local authorities will be legally required to abide by them and how he intends to get that on the face of the Bill.
Clause 98 abolishes the power of the Secretary of State to insist on a public inquiry or consultation as regards road charging schemes in England. While I have no wish to force a public inquiry on anyone, I think that proper consultation is essential. I realise that the local authority may still consult and may hold its own inquiry, but I do not think that is good enough when one considers the effects that these schemes could have on those who might visit the urban centre in question, especially—I mentioned this at Second Reading—those who live in the surrounding parishes and who depend on vehicular access to the particular town or city for their livelihood and services, especially services such as health and hospitals.
Proper consultation is vital in terms of achieving the objective of harmonised road pricing schemes, and, as I say, those who will be impacted by road pricing schemes inside and outside the area where the scheme is to be introduced should be able to put forward their views on a local charging scheme.
Again, this is a view echoed by the House of Commons Transport Committee which stated:
“Proper consultation should not be seen as an obstacle to introducing local charging schemes; it is an essential part of their proper introduction and a means of ensuring that they are well designed, that they meet local needs and that road users understand why they are being introduced and what the expected benefits are. We recommend that”—
“be omitted from the Bill”.
Without consultation, schemes could end up not being fit for purpose for the local and wider community.
When I looked at this clause this morning it seemed that the problem could possibly be dealt with by making a small further amendment to Section 170(1) of the 2000 Act, changing the charging authority's duties from “may consult” to “must consult” and possibly adding, “according to guidelines issued by the Secretary of State”. But however it is done, it is essential that there is some form of mandatory consultation on the part of the charging authority, and just to leave it in the air would be a mistake. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I support what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has just said. I want to make it absolutely clear why we object to Clause 98. Consultation is essential if a proposed road charging scheme is to be in the interests of local people. Above all, a transparent approach will be valued by the public. We would argue that there is a great deal of suspicion from the public around road charging, and neglecting consultation requirements will serve only to increase that and distance communities from their local authorities. I believe that the Government made a pig’s ear of selling national road user charging to the public and allowed scare stories to prevail.
The Minister seemed to agree with our view at Second Reading. Indeed, all of the Government's responses agree that consultation is important. Why, therefore, do we have a clause in the Bill to abolish the requirement to consult for English schemes and why are Welsh schemes different? That is very odd. It may be the case that local authorities considering charging schemes are expected to develop strategies for consultation which are best suited to local circumstances. But this is hardly the approach of other parts of the Bill, where comprehensive lists of organisations and people are given in the consultation requirements. Why do quality partnerships and quality contracts have explicit consultation requirements listed in the Transport Act 2000, when road charging has the potential to be much more contentious and directly affects motorists and is proposed to have no explicit consultation requirements?
In the Government's published response to consultation, it is stated that the general requirement about engagement with citizens in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 will have effect once that Act comes into force. That may be true, but why abolish the absolute requirement to consult? Will that be yet another matter for guidance?
Sometimes one has to feel sorry for the Government because they are damned if they do and damned if they do not. We spend most of our time complaining that the Government are too centralising and set down too stringent targets for local authorities and on the one occasion when they let something go, we all ask them to put it back. It seems to me that any local authority or ITA that attempted to bring in road user charging without effective consultation would be absolutely mad.
However, that links back to the point in previous debates about governance. It seems to me, under the current arrangements, that if a PTA, with representation from across the piece, attempted to bring in a road user scheme that did not have the support of the population, those people would fairly rapidly pay the price. The problem with the form of governance allowed in the Bill is that a single person, whose contact with the wider electorate might be quite tangential, would not be so accountable and, therefore, could bring in a scheme against the wishes of local people.
In a sense, the Government’s bind over this is of their own making, because one can either have robust local democratic arrangements, and leave the local area to get on with it, or, if the Government are to insist on controlling the governance arrangements, this House and, as we have heard, the Transport Select Committee in another place will seek to set limits on how much they can impose on the local area. The Government really need to think very carefully about the relationship between the governance arrangements and what they seek to achieve through road pricing.
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. Under Section 169 of the Transport Act 2000, a local charging scheme can come into force only once the order making it has been submitted to and confirmed by the appropriate national authority. As noble Lords have explained, Clause 97 would remove that requirement for schemes in England only, where the appropriate national authority is the Secretary of State. The purpose of local road pricing schemes is to bring benefits to local areas. We think it is right that democratic accountability for the design and implementation of local schemes should be at a local level.
Removing the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial role in approving schemes will leave the Government freer to offer support and practical advice at the development stage. That will help to provide clarity for local debate about local scheme proposals, increase the likelihood of sound, locally supported proposals being put forward, and remove the uncertainty involved in an approval process. There are a number of checks and balances to ensure that powers are used appropriately. That includes comprehensive guidance produced by the department to help local authorities to develop good quality schemes.
There are also powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations under the Transport Act 2000 proposed in Clauses 100 and 103, which will allow the Government to ensure consistency between schemes where necessary and appropriate. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his opposition to this clause.
On Clause 98, I am grateful to noble Lords for their explanation of their concern. Clause 98 removes the power under Section 170 of the Transport Act 2000 for the Secretary of State to consult or to require an English local authority to consult or hold an inquiry in relation to a charging scheme. The power for Welsh Ministers would remain. The most important thing to note is that this clause does not remove the ability of a local authority to consult or to hold an inquiry in relation to a charging scheme. The clause sits in partnership with Clause 97, which removes the Secretary of State’s approval role. It is the Government’s view that local road pricing schemes should be free from this national government role and that the power for the Secretary of State to order further consultation or an inquiry should also be removed. We have consistently stated that we expect local authorities to consult fully in relation to a road pricing scheme. We believe that it will be in the interests of any local authority to do so and that it would wish to consult for the very reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. Clearly, any local authority that did not consult properly would pretty soon end up in the dog-house with local voters.
While we believe that it is necessary to consult, the Government also feel that it would be inappropriate to impose a set manner of consultation or set consultees. We want local circumstances to dictate such things, rather than a centralist model. We believe that it should be open to local authorities to consult appropriately and proportionately on their specific local road pricing scheme proposals and to ensure that they engage with the public adequately on their proposals.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. He is right to say that it will separately impose a duty on local authorities to involve local representatives in the exercise of any of its functions, as it considers appropriate. There is no change there. That is what we want.
I may be able to clarify a few other points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to harmonising objectives. We agree with that but objectives are, and should be, entirely a matter for the local charging authority. The current need for the Secretary of State’s approval does not affect that, so the removal of the need is not a change to an existing provision.
On interoperability, we agree that there needs to be consistency between local schemes to help avoid unnecessary costs and complexity for road users. We very much take on board the need to provide greater clarity on technical standards for local schemes. Given the existing powers in the Transport Act 2000 and the new proposals in the Bill, we have set aside several powers to ensure that consistency on interoperability between schemes. For example, the Bill allows us to regulate the use of equipment so that standard data formats and equipment numbering systems can be specified, and interoperability between schemes allows a road user to have a single account that covers all interactions with local schemes rather than having to deal separately with each local scheme operator. It is likely that most interoperability issues will be addressed through application of the EU interoperability directive, and that will require electronic charging schemes to be accessible to subscribers through a European electronic tolling service. As yet we have no firm timetable by which the interoperability decisions will be made under the directive but in the mean time we believe that we need explicit powers requiring compliance with the interoperability requirements that apply to all schemes, not just those caught by the directive. So we have included such provisions in the Bill.
It is also hoped that, given the potential benefits to the road user, it will be in the interests of scheme operators to offer an interoperable service and it is very likely that allowing interoperability will be commercially attractive to service providers. Therefore, we think that these objectives will be met through close working and co-operation between schemes without necessarily needing to use regulation. In essence, we are approaching this in a deregulatory spirit.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, asked about drivers knowing where road pricing zones start, and mentioned coming off the motorway and suddenly finding yourself in Durham, which I think is the only place apart from London which has a scheme at the moment. Issues such as where schemes start and finish and informing road users are facts to be dealt with in the detailed design of local schemes. It will be for local authorities developing schemes to consider those points. However, the experience of London, where the scheme is well and clearly advertised, is encouraging. If a charging authority fails properly to promote and identify charging zones, in the final instance the department has the power to direct it to place and maintain traffic signs in connection with a scheme under Section 177 of the Transport Act 2000.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, also referred to rural drivers, as I believe he did at Second Reading. The transport innovation fund guidance on road pricing already recognises that problem. It says that a local authority should consult its neighbouring authorities and use its best endeavours to offer those who regularly enter or have business in the proposed charged area the opportunity to comment on the plans. That sounds as though it does the business. It ensures that they should consult and they would be very foolish not to. I know that it is not unknown for local authorities to fall out but this is an area where it is in everyone’s interests for them to co-operate and work together. If road pricing schemes take off, as I know many wish to see, and bring the benefits that they promise, intra-authority and inter-authority consultation will be very necessary indeed. A duty is also imposed under the Traffic Management Act 2004, which requires local traffic authorities to do all that is reasonably practicable to manage the network effectively to keep traffic moving on their roads, and to facilitate this on the roads of other authorities. There is already an understood obligation.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about the difference between consultation on English and Welsh schemes. Welsh schemes will still be subject to approval by the appropriate national authority, so the existing powers of the Transport Act 2000 will still be appropriate. I think that I covered that point earlier, but it was worth reinforcing. There will of course be an overriding import to consult locally when schemes are proposed. I cannot believe that local authorities will not do that, because it would be politically foolish for them to do otherwise.
I hope that, having said all those things, I have answered most of the questions asked. If I have not, I apologise. This has been a useful little run around this issue.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I accept that, in citing my objections to Clause 97, I was putting down some markers and some points, because I understand that some of these issues may be covered if and when the regulations come in. Without seeing the regulations, however, there remains uncertainty and doubt. I am not convinced that future EU decisions are a way of controlling this. The Minister mentioned that objectives will very likely be met by co-operation between authorities. Again, I am not totally convinced by the natural ability of authorities to co-operate over many issues, but I hope that that will not be the case here.
I am less convinced by the Minister’s reply on Clause 98. As he says, it should be in the interests of the local authority to consult; he makes the point that the local authority will be in the dog-house with its local voters if it does not. My point, however, is that in most cases in rural areas it will not be the voters who have not been consulted but, because it is a district council or a metropolitan authority, the people actually using that town or city, who very often fall outside local authority boundaries; the phrase, “No taxation without representation”, springs to mind. What worries me is that there is no recourse for those who might not be consulted. Nevertheless, I will look very carefully at the Minister’s words, and I hope that he will look very carefully at mine. I hope that we might then get a little more certainty. I withdraw my objections to the two clauses.
Clause 97 agreed to.
Clause 98 agreed to.
Clause 99 [Charges]:
On Question, Whether Clause 99 shall stand part of the Bill?
I can see that there is a reason for road charges to be varied, depending on the means of recording, administering or paying a charge. In the case of paying a charge, it is evident that certain methods will be less costly and will have fewer overheads than others. By objecting to Clause 99, I simply wanted to explore the potential implications of allowing the variation of charges. The payment method should ultimately be up to the road user making the payment to decide. For instance, some methods, such as internet payments, may be more appropriate for those who are more technologically able, and some may be less so. The direct debit is the favoured payment method of companies, and of me, as it allows a near guaranteed payment direct from the customers’ bank accounts. However, that is not to say that mistakes do not occur, and people sometimes object to direct debits because of their long experience of being wrongly charged. That objection should be allowed to stand. However, payment by other means is often penalised through higher charges that do not reflect the true administrative costs. For this reason, customers may base their decision on cost alone.
By allowing charges to be varied, road-charging schemes could make road users decide their means of payment solely on the basis of cost. Users could actually be coerced into paying in a certain manner to which they may otherwise object. Some sections of the community may not even possess a bank account and will automatically be ruled out of any preferential pricing.
I understand that administrative costs, payment methods and overheads vary, and that charges should allow them to vary accordingly. Perhaps the clause could be amended to avoid any potential abuse. If an authority were required to demonstrate that the differential pricing that it proposed reflected the true administration cost of certain methods, there would be no potential for penalising certain methods of payment. I reiterate that if a road-charging scheme is to be a success, it needs to be in the public interest and have a transparent approach. The clause could undermine all this.
My understanding from reading various articles about the technical standards and interoperability coming out of the Commission is that it is very keen on having one system that can be used anywhere in Europe. In other words, you do not need to have six different bits of equipment in your car; you simply have one bit of equipment that can be used everywhere. Europe is scarred with this common system of railway signalling—the RTMS—where there are 20 versions of the same thing. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that there will be one system with which all schemes will have to comply so that you have only one box in your car.
The noble Earl is absolutely right about the different methods of paying for the scheme. There must be different variations for the different types of users, which presumably could be different in different areas, towns or cities. The key is that people know what they are getting and know, as I think the noble Earl also said, how much discount they might be able to get by paying by one means rather than by another. I am sure that each area charging zone will want to charge different rates for different times and different types of car. That is why we are discussing this on a local or regional basis rather than on a national one. For me, the key is to have one family of systems of payment that can be used not only in this country but anywhere across Europe. I hope that the Minister can put my mind to rest.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his amendment. I have given this a little thought. It took me back to my time as a local authority leader when we used to incentivise different means of payment. His colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will know all about that, having been in charge of a large local authority for a long time.
Clause 99 amends Section 171(5) of the Transport Act 2000 by adding a further example of how an authority can vary its road-user charges. It makes it very clear that local authorities can offer different charges for different methods or means of recording, administering, collecting or paying the charge. Of course, this would allow different rates to be applied where a road user chooses his charge liabilities to be recorded automatically by means of different technologies or to pay by different means, such as by a pre-pay account or direct debit. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, rightly said, direct debit is the preferred method of collection for many organisations. It is probably the cheapest and simplest for people to understand, but not everybody has that facility. Clause 99(2) makes a similar addition to the Greater London Authority Act for schemes in London.
It is important that local authorities have the opportunity to provide incentives to encourage the use of efficient payment methods. This clause removes any doubt that such an approach would be permitted. However, local authorities will need to ensure that, in developing their proposals, they recognise the impact that they could have on all groups. The noble Earl rightly drew attention to the needs of different groups. In those circumstances local authorities must act reasonably. If they do not act reasonably they can be challenged for making a decision on the grounds of reasonableness. In designing a scheme they must have regard to all relevant considerations, including the interests of different groups with different abilities to pay. So local authorities have valuable discretion about how they operate. That flexibility enables them to think hard about the impact of road-charging and road-pricing schemes on lower income households.
The impact of the scheme will depend very much on its design. I am sure that local authorities will want to assess very carefully the impact of their proposals before they make definitive decisions about how those schemes might impact on different people.
On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I thought that I had made it plain that we wanted to encourage and stimulate the development of schemes where it was much easier for them to be interoperable, where the technology was consistent and so on. Of course there must be some local variations because of local circumstances. The noble Lord made a very important point. As the process unrolls, as guidance is developed and as the technology changes and is refined, those issues will crystallise as local authorities seek to take up the road-pricing opportunities. I hope that the noble Earl will not press the matter.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I get the impression that he is looking forward to the European regulations on the technical standards, but is suggesting that they should be voluntary rather than compulsory. It might well be that one local authority decides not to go along that route as it will cost more, and will therefore go down another route—then you will have two boxes in your car. It is a very important issue.
I understand what the noble Lord is saying. He is right: we think that the EU Commission has an important role to play. After all, it has set out a framework for pan-European interoperability, the underlying principle being that a subscriber to the European electronic tolling service should be able to use any electronic billing scheme in Europe using a single onboard unit and account, subject to certain exemptions in the directive. That is the approach we all want to see adopted, and which makes the most sense.
I may have to come back at a later stage with a more detailed amendment to tease out this issue of unjustified variations in the charging regime. I am grateful for the general tone of the Minister’s response and we look forward to later discussions.
Clause 99 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 80C not moved.]
Clause 100 [Supplementary provision as to charging schemes]:
80D: Clause 100, page 76, line 23, at end insert—
“(2) After subsection (1)(c) insert “, or
(d) vehicle classification and weight thresholds if variable charging is used”.”
The noble Lord said: This matter is related to our last discussion. The Bill makes provision to ensure there is a certain amount of consistency between charging schemes, as we just discussed. Section 172 of the Transport Act 2000 allows the appropriate national authority to make regulations on charging scheme exemptions and the like.
I think there is a solid argument for allowing vehicle classification and weight thresholds of vehicles to be regulated nationally. The definition of each vehicle should be harmonised to ensure consistency between charging schemes. There is mention in Section 198 of the Transport Act 2000 of vehicle classifications, but it is unclear what this refers to. This amendment would make it explicit that the appropriate national authority could regulate vehicle classifications nationally.
If a scheme is to offer a discount based on vehicle efficiency, type or classification, it is vital that the same definitions are used consistently. As I say, this is very much related to the discussion we have just had. I believe that there are numerous existing definitions used in various pieces of legislation, which only causes confusion. In the case of charging schemes, it is important that drivers are well aware of which category their vehicle falls into when travelling between various pricing schemes, and the costs of entering a particular area’s scheme. This amendment will provide clarity for vehicle drivers and operators if variable charges are introduced. I beg to move.
We share the noble Lord’s concerns and interests and I am grateful for his explanation of the amendment. Our overriding concern is to ensure that we have consistency across local pricing schemes to minimise confusion for users. Section 198(3) of the Transport Act 2000 already allows the class of motor vehicle to be defined or described in regulations made by the appropriate national authority. This power applies to any scheme under that Act. There are already regulations on vehicle classification made under this provision for the purposes of the Dartford Crossing regulatory charge, which the noble Lord will know all about since it strays into Essex.
As local authorities bring forward their own local charging schemes, we will want to review these regulations to ensure that they are appropriate. As part of this we will need to consider work emerging on the European electronic tolling service and ensure that our approach is compatible. It is hoped that this will secure the necessary consistency.
I am not sure whether that answers all the noble Lord’s points but I am happy to answer further questions.
I do not have further questions at the moment but I made a very valid point. I shall read the Minister’s answer to ensure that it clarifies the position sufficiently; otherwise, I may ask further probing questions on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
81: Clause 100, page 77, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) Section 173 of the above Act (penalty charges) is amended as follows—
(a) for subsection (3)(a) substitute—“(a) owner of the vehicle;”;(b) after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) In this section “owner” means the person by whom the vehicle is kept which, in the case of a vehicle registered under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 (c. 22), is presumed (unless the contrary is proved) to be the person in whose name the vehicle is registered;”.”
The noble Lord said: This amendment is designed to ensure that the Bill follows the well established principle of owner liability as opposed to registered keeper liability when it comes to pursuing money owing under the road pricing schemes. The amendment preserves the legal right of a motorist to put in a defence that he or she was not the owner of the vehicle at the time that the road traffic offence may have been committed. This would occur when the vehicle owner has sold the vehicle but the DVLA has not yet updated its records and registered the new keeper details against the vehicle registration number. I gather that this can often take up to six weeks as, apparently, the DVLA has more than 6 million changes of keeper to register each year.
The principle is already enshrined in the Traffic Management Act 2004 and related secondary legislation. This amendment would do no more than bring local road pricing schemes in line with all other legislation for road traffic offences, including parking, bus lanes and other road traffic offences. For instance, in both parking and bus lane enforcement, there is an initial presumption that the keeper registered at DVLA is the owner. However, if the registered keeper can show that he was not the owner at the time of the contravention, he will not be liable for the penalty; it will be the liability of the actual owner. At the moment, unfortunately, the Transport Act 2000 is based on a registered keeper liability, as opposed to an owner liability for farms, which can cause problems for car owners and, indeed, for car hire businesses.
Not much more needs to be said about the amendment, which is very simple and would merely bring the legislation into line with other traffic legislation vis-à-vis the liability for farms. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. The answer lies in an understanding of the Transport Act 2000. Section 173 of that Act already allows the appropriate national authority to make regulations specifying who is liable to pay the penalty charges. Those regulations allow us to accommodate the request that the noble Lord has set out and which does not need to be put into the Bill. We understand where the noble Lord is coming from.
As local authorities submit proposals and we start to make the necessary regulations, we will also consult those who represent the vehicle renting and leasing companies to ensure that we fully understand their requirements. The legislation therefore already addresses the noble Lord’s point. I make the important commitment that we will consult further to ensure that the specific interest group is consulted in detail.
81A: After Clause 107, insert the following new Clause—
“London charging schemes: exemptions
(1) In Schedule 23 to the GLA Act 1999 (road user charging) paragraph 11 is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph (c) of sub-paragraph (2), at end insert—
“(d) and in respect of a low emission zone scheme, the exemption of vehicles taxed as “Recovery Vehicle”, “Private Heavy Goods Vehicle”, “Special Vehicle”.”
The noble Earl said: The amendment is not about the low emission zone in London in general; it is about the adverse effects of the scheme, which have not been properly addressed. The LEZ is clearly aimed at vehicles that regularly deliver in London. These vehicles cover a high mileage, are mostly new or nearly new, and are relatively easy to replace. They can also be used in other parts of the country, although that does of course shift the problem. The Secretary of State has the power to exclude certain vehicles from the charging scheme by virtue of paragraph 11 of Schedule 23 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999. My amendment would invite her to do that.
My amendment refers to three different classes of vehicle: recovery vehicles, preserved vehicles and special vehicles. A recovery operator near London may have some vehicles that comply with the LEZ technical requirements and some that do not. Perhaps he has a heavy recovery vehicle of 60 tonnes gross that is fully compliant with the scheme, so there is no problem there. Perhaps, however, he has a really heavy recovery vehicle of 150 tonnes, which is perfectly safe but is older and non-compliant. It is uneconomic to retro-fit the necessary equipment because it will not be used in London enough. The operator still has a 60-tonne gross recovery vehicle that can do everything that is legally required, so it is simply not worth making it compliant.
Let us suppose that the operator is called out to a loaded 44-tonne artic on Muswell Hill. Noble Lords who know Muswell Hill will know that it is pretty steep. He could of course dispatch his 60-tonne vehicle, which would comply in terms of its gross train weight, but, as someone who has operated heavy recovery vehicles and moved abnormal loads, I would be much happier putting the 150-tonner, rather than a vehicle that is just strong enough, on Muswell Hill. I would use the vehicle that is the strongest and safest, not the one that is the most compliant. The danger we have with the LEZ is some perverse incentives that will make recovery operators not have the full range of vehicles, be unable to use the best vehicle and perhaps unable to use the most efficient vehicle at clearing the obstruction. The operator might say, “Well, I will send this less capable but compliant vehicle out”.
Most lorries are taxed as goods vehicles; that is what the LEZ scheme is aimed at. They are used intensively for business. Each one emits a large volume of emissions on a weekly basis. Vehicles taxed as private heavy goods vehicles on the other hand are used for very low mileages because they are privately funded. An obvious example is a horse box. I know that owners of horse boxes probably will not be voting for Mr Livingstone in the elections.
Of course, the problem is that the Shire horse that would be transported to the Lambeth Agricultural Show might go in a Bedford TK truck that cannot be made compliant. It is not worth spending £200 to go there; it is a totally disproportionate cost. Another example is the historic London to Brighton run; again, the problem is that the vehicles cannot go.
During the passage of the Road Safety Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, was extremely helpful to me when I moved the amendment about the effect of EU regulations on preserved vehicles. This is a similar problem, because I and many others operate preserved lorries and trucks. They are taxed as private heavy goods vehicles, with very low mileage and utilisation. The insurance is only £100 per annum, so we cannot be using them very much or our insurance premiums would be much higher. Yes, of course there is a 1973 exemption for vehicles built earlier than that, but a lot of preserved vehicles are much younger. What tends to happen, for example—which is much better—is that a vehicle is taken out of fleet use for preservation, rather than preserve a complete wreck. We need to preserve our transport heritage. There is a huge vehicle preservation movement in Greater London, and it should be supported not penalised. Of course, these vehicles are based within the LEZ, so what are they to do?
There are similar arguments for vehicles in the taxation class “special vehicles”. Again, these are very low-mileage vehicles, mounting specialist equipment which can often be more valuable than the chassis; again, the cost of complying with the LEZ’s technical requirements is far more than is worth doing to the vehicle.
The amendment is recent, so I do not expect a detailed and definitive answer from the Minister. I lay down a marker at the moment, but advise the Committee that I intend to return to this in more detail at a later stage, perhaps with a better thought-out amendment. I beg to move.
I am most grateful for the noble Earl’s detailed explanation of the purpose of the amendment. I can only say that I am afraid that I cannot be as helpful as I was in the Road Safety Bill. He may see a “Resist” coming down the track on this one.
The London low emissions zone is the responsibility of the Mayor, as noble Lords will know, and has been taken forward on his behalf by Transport for London. The aim of the scheme is to improve air quality for those living in, working in or visiting London, as well as to help London and the UK move closer to achieving national and EU air quality targets by deterring the most individually polluting vehicles from driving in the area. The Government support that aim.
While costs to motorists are of course a concern—I take seriously the emphasis of the noble Earl on the problem of the costs to vehicle owners—Transport for London considers that as private HGVs emit the same level of pollutants per kilometre driven as commercial HGVs, they should not be exempt from the zone. The same applies to the other vehicles mentioned in the amendment.
Recovery vehicles and special vehicles have similar emissions characteristics to the HGVs and LGVs from which they are derived, and as such Transport for London considers that they should be subject to the same emissions requirements under the London low emission zone. Exemptions could erode the benefits that the London low emission zone seeks to achieve. Transport for London has set up a dedicated inquiry service to help operators to understand what the low emission zone means for them and what they may have to do to comply with the scheme. London charging authorities already have the powers to exempt from charging schemes those vehicles they deem appropriate, so that exemption power is there. As with all charging schemes, TfL will keep the scheme under review and will make any appropriate amendments to the scheme design if and when it deems them necessary. Given that explanation, I ask the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.
If I were in the Minister’s position, I would make exactly the same speech. She is quite right that the LEZ is the responsibility of the Mayor, but I believe that I am also right that the Secretary of State has the power to exempt certain vehicles. The Minister said that private HGVs emit as much per kilometre as HGVs taxed as goods vehicles. I have to be honest and say that the vehicles that I am talking about probably emit slightly more, and maybe in some cases considerably more, because we are talking about quite old vehicles. The same applies to recovery vehicles and special vehicles; they will emit more.
My point is that the amount that they use is so small that it will not have any effect on the problem. The objective of the LEZ is that all those delivery vehicles coming into London will be clean. They are coming in every single day, delivering to businesses in London. I am talking about a vehicle that might come in once a year for the London to Brighton run, or the person who is unfortunate enough to live in the LEZ. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to what I have said. I congratulate her on her speech, because I would have said exactly the same thing. I will return to it but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 108 agreed to.
Schedule 6 agreed to.
Clause 109 [Powers of the National Assembly for Wales]:
On Question, Whether Clause 109 shall stand part of the Bill?
Clause 109 should not be in the Bill because it is a tax-raising Bill, and noble Lords will know that we do not debate tax-raising Bills in your Lordships’ House. Clause 109 creates a power for the National Assembly for Wales to gain legislative competence over schemes for charging for the use of trunk roads in Wales and the application of the proceeds of those charges to transport purposes.
Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Welsh Assembly can acquire legislative competence in areas defined in Schedule 5 to the Act. In such areas, the Assembly is effectively a Parliament and can make measures which supplement, amend or repeal any existing Act of Parliament or any subordinate legislation. There are two ways to acquire legislative competence. One is through the legislative competence order, or LCO, procedure, by which the Assembly requests that a matter be added to its legislative competence. The Secretary of State lays a draft order in Parliament. If both Houses approve it the measure is added. Although complicated, we on this side broadly support this process.
The other is through the direct addition of matters to the schedule through primary legislation. Broadly speaking, we disapprove of this process for three reasons: first, a provision on Wales in a broader Bill may not be adequately scrutinised, especially if the Bill is timetabled in the Commons. Secondly, it involves the transfer of powers that the Assembly has not requested. Thirdly, we suspect a trend in which departments transfer competence rather than draft legislation applicable to Wales for reasons of administrative convenience.
With regard to the Local Transport Bill, we are concerned that the power transferred appears to have been requested privately by Welsh Ministers and not by the Assembly as a whole. Ministers have not said how or even whether they intend to use these powers. The powers would allow for a Wales-wide system of road charging. At present, Welsh Ministers can only levy charges on trunk roads to support local road pricing schemes at the request of local authorities. We support this limited, localist level of road charging. However, UK Ministers have rejected the notion of nationwide road pricing under considerable pressure from the Conservatives—this side of the House.
We believe that the provision would allow Wales to become a stalking horse for a UK-wide scheme. We are also concerned that the power effectively licenses the Assembly to levy taxation within Wales. This would be a profound constitutional move as the Assembly, unlike the Scottish Parliament, has no power of taxation. As the only real means of revenue raising, this could mean that road pricing would provide a cash cow for the Assembly. We do not want that, do we?
The money is only hypothecated to transport, not, as Peter Hain appeared to suggest in the other place, for the maintenance of roads or the funding of new relief roads. In extremis, and this may be dreamlike, it could be used to fund the Welsh Ministers’ drivers. Moreover, this limited degree of hypothecation will allow the Assembly to slash what it currently provides from the block grant for transport purposes and use that money elsewhere. Effectively, therefore, the hypothecation would not stop the Clause 109 powers being used as a form of general revenue raising. I repeat, we see this clause as a tax-raising power and believe that it should not be here.
We are not anti-devolution per se, but we are against the way in which the powers in Clause 109 are framed—its vagueness, its constitutional aspects and its ability to be used to impose an unwanted road charging system on Welsh drivers, farmers, hauliers, tourists et al. I beg to move.
In speaking in favour of this clause remaining in the Bill, I declare an interest as the Assembly Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, a beautiful area consisting of a national park and an area of outstanding natural beauty. But I know of no proposals to instigate road pricing there. I was however relieved to hear the noble Lord say that the Conservatives were not opposed to devolution per se, which I am sure will be a great relief to his Conservative friends in Cardiff Bay. But I have to warn him that his arguments at Second Reading—I apologise for not being able to attend—can be seen as constitutionally difficult, if not negative.
The noble Lord has carefully set out how the Assembly and Welsh Ministers achieve powers under the Government of Wales Act 2006. As we have heard, there are two routes: that is, the route of the proposed order which, when it comes to Parliament, is a draft order, the so-called legislative competence order, and the route of framework powers. There is nothing new in establishing devolution by framework powers. What is different here is that we are going into a new field where the National Assembly has powers of legislation through measures, but the route—whether it is the route of the order in council or the route of the framework power—ends up in the same way. It produces measures.
I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord that it is somehow appropriate for this House to take a view on what kind of measures should be put forward by Welsh Ministers, individual Members or committees of the National Assembly. The issue for this House, whether we are talking about proposed orders or framework powers, is whether these proposals to legislate are within—to quote the distinguished Constitution Committee in its recent second report of the Session 2007-08 on the scrutiny of Welsh legislative competence orders—the spirit and letter of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the constitution of Wales, as most recently amended by this House. To argue that the Welsh Ministers and the Government in Cardiff should not have powers of road pricing, or the potential to produce measures for road pricing, is to argue that a very important tool in the armoury of environmental management of traffic congestion as part of the overall transport planning of Welsh Ministers should not be available to them.
There is a further argument. There will be a full opportunity for the noble Lord’s Conservative colleagues to scrutinise any measures that will emerge as a result of these framework powers were they to be transferred. I would encourage them to do that when the time comes, but it is there that that should happen. The measures and the results of the transfer of framework powers are for the National Assembly Members, the Ministers or individual Members to propose, and for those who are opposed, to argue. That scrutiny happens there.
The noble Lord says that there is insufficient scrutiny of the transfer of framework powers, but there is scrutiny in three Assemblies—in the two Houses of Parliament and in the National Assembly—for every one of those things. There is scrutiny of the framework powers as they are developed in UK legislation, and there is scrutiny of the measures in detail when they appear in that form in Cardiff. Therefore, this is not a transfer of competence by default. It is certainly not a taxation power; it is an environmental management power. The idea that tourists to Wales would become indirect taxation payers through the imposition of a heavy congestion charge is totally to confuse the issue. I would advise the noble Lord to consult his colleagues in Cardiff Bay more carefully before Report.
I am delighted to join the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in this short debate to discuss the framework powers, and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.
Members of the Committee will be well aware that the Government of Wales Act enhances the legislative powers of the National Assembly for Wales. The Government have made it clear that they will draft parliamentary Bills in a way that gives the Assembly wider and more permissive powers to determine the detail of how the provisions should be implemented in Wales. In 2005, we made that clear in a White Paper.
Clause 109 has been included at the specific request of Ministers of the Welsh Assembly Government. It is not a private matter. It is part of the normal working of the Assembly Government to request it, and it is consistent with the devolutionary principles established in the Government of Wales Act. Framework powers are being conferred on the National Assembly in a number of other areas of government policy. We are making real progress in enhancing the devolution settlement in the 2006 Act, and it is becoming a reality because of that progress.
Clause 109 inserts a new matter into Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act to allow the Assembly to make its own legislation on the making, operating and enforcing of charging schemes in respect of trunk roads in Wales. Trunk roads comprise the network of strategic through routes that are managed by Welsh Ministers and which account for 5 per cent of roads in Wales by length.
It would be for the Assembly to consider whether, and if so how, it would be appropriate to exercise those powers. That is a very important point to stress today. A memorandum setting out the detail of the framework powers has been published alongside the Bill. Copies of it can be found in the Library of the House. It is a very useful document, and a very helpful practice for Members of your Lordships’ House.
Welsh Ministers have yet to decide what role, if any, road charging may play in addressing current and future transport challenges. They do, however, wish to have the powers available that would allow the Assembly to adopt a coherent approach towards any road-pricing proposals, or indeed any future UK scheme, that local authorities in Wales may bring forward at any time in the future. These powers are entirely consistent with the further development of a devolution settlement in line with the Government of Wales Act 2006. Clause 109 simply devolves the issue to Wales. The issue has already been devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Bill does not provide powers to implement a road-pricing scheme on all roads in Wales. That very important point should offer the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, some reassurance. We are not talking about powers to implement a road-pricing scheme on all roads in Wales. New primary legislation would be required to impose pricing on local authority roads, which make up 95 per cent of the road network in Wales.
Furthermore, Welsh Ministers have made it clear that if they were to take forward a trunk road pricing scheme, it would be focused on the most heavily congested parts of the network, as one would expect. This provision covers most aspects of a trunk road charging scheme. The only exception—and this is for completeness in discussing this clause—is the ability to make provision about traffic signs, apart from placing and maintaining signs. For safety reasons, it is appropriate for UK Government Ministers to prescribe and authorise traffic signs. They are therefore not covered by Clause 109.
The provision also provides that the National Assembly must require any revenue raised by a trunk road charging scheme—we are talking about a scheme that charges for use—to be spent on transport-related purposes. This means that the revenues would be used to implement the Assembly Government’s transport policies and programmes in order to develop the transport network in Wales. Those programmes and policies, and the transport strategy which the Assembly is currently debating and the Ministers are developing, will be much scrutinised.
These powers are not tax-raising powers, and I do not accept that this provision will confer tax-raising powers on the National Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the possible application of scheme proceeds for such purposes as ministerial cars. This little nugget has come up a few times, so I thought it would be worth addressing it. As I have said, the Welsh Assembly Government do intend scheme proceeds to be applied in the implementation of strategic transport policy, transport services and the transport-related infrastructure. My right honourable friend Peter Hain referred to that point. All proposals for the application of scheme revenues will be subject to the full scrutiny of the National Assembly and the Auditor-General for Wales.
It is inconceivable that the Welsh Assembly Government would spend any charging scheme revenue on frivolous items or for self-serving purposes. They are elected and accountable to the people of Wales, and any purported unusual application of scheme revenues unrelated to transport would fall outside the scope of the power and would be ultra vires. I hope that that offers the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, some reassurance. To be absolutely clear for the record, these framework powers were requested by the Welsh Assembly Government. There was a debate in the Assembly on 4 December. I have read the transcript, and it was a very good debate.
The Government are strongly committed to enhancing the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, and the framework powers in Clause 109 are an important part of taking that forward. I hope that, given my reassurances to the Committee, the clause will stand part of the Bill and that these framework powers will be realised in the Welsh Assembly Government.
I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for their contributions. I am not entirely satisfied, but I have been reassured by quite a lot of what the Minister said. Part of my criticism of Clause 109 is that it is so loose. It is badly drafted, and does not make clear the restrictions that there should be. It is also interesting that the Minister has said that part of the Government’s plan is to enhance the legislative powers of the Assembly. That is fine. That is the Government’s business, if that is how they want to go. However, we are there to contradict that. This needs to be properly addressed and properly scrutinised, which can be done positively through the LCO. I wonder why the Government want to slip little gems such as this into a Bill that has very little relation to giving powers to the Welsh Assembly.
I have one comment to make. The difference between framework powers in a Bill and the LCOs is that the LCOs are initiated in Wales. The Local Transport Bill is an opportunity that has come about because of the UK Government’s programme. It is a question of where the initiative started. The initiative began with the UK Government, and Welsh Ministers have seen an opportunity to promote the concepts of devolution through the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, pointed out, the end product, if the Welsh Assembly decided to go that way, would be Welsh matters. There are two routes to get there. There is nothing more complicated about it than where the initiation of the process comes; the end product would be the same.
Certainly the drafting of the legislation in setting up the Welsh Assembly, and all that comes with it, is complex and you need a serious network of by-roads to find your way through it. However, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, believes it is as clear as daylight. We have a duty to ensure that any taxes that might be placed on Welsh people are properly scrutinised and treated and are surrounded by the necessary regulations. That is where we are coming from. Certainly, local authorities have powers already, but when the British Government are not prepared to go down the road of a nationwide scheme, I wonder why the Welsh Government would want to do so for a rather poorer community. I will return to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 109 agreed to.
Clause 110 agreed to.
82: After Clause 110, insert the following new Clause—
“Charging schemes: exemptions
(1) In subsection (1) of section 172 of the TA 2000, omit “may” and insert “shall”.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 11 of Schedule 23 to the GLA Act 1999, omit “may” and insert “shall”.”
The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require that the appropriate national authority is obliged to issue regulations concerning exemptions. There is a class of disabled people for whom using the car is not optional. In particular, blue badge holders cannot be expected not to use their cars for journeys of less than one mile, nor is it likely that they will readily be able to use public transport. Blind and partially sighted people who are not themselves drivers have considerably restricted mobility and may be similarly dependent on the car. Furthermore, they do not necessarily qualify for a blue badge, certainly in the case of partially sighted people.
I am supportive of the principle of local road user charging provided that, as stated in paragraph 4.82 of volume 4 of the regulatory impact assessments of the draft local Bill consultation, disabled people can benefit from the revenues raised and those disabled people who rely on the private car for their mobility, including many blind and partially sighted people, are given an exemption. I also welcome the guidance that supports the particular need to consult disabled people. I note that it will no longer be a requirement for the Secretary of State to approve schemes, including details of any exemptions. While I also welcome the fact that guidance on exemptions and discounts will be produced, I am concerned that by removing the requirement for Secretary of State approval, local authorities may produce exemption schemes for disabled people that do not meet the needs of all those who, because of their impairment, are unable to use public transport and are reliant on a private car for their mobility, either as a driver or a passenger. For example, in London the exemption from the congestion charge is based on the possession of a blue badge, but partially sighted people who struggle with public transport do not automatically qualify for a blue badge.
As the Secretary of State’s permissive power under the Transport Act 2000 and the GLA Act to prescribe exemptions from road charging has not been exercised, the amendment provides that the appropriate national authorities be put under a duty to make regulations concerning exemptions.
I welcome the assurance from the Minister, Rosie Winterton, in a letter to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association that the Government will take stakeholders’ views into account and that local authorities introducing road user charging will be subject to the provisions of disability discrimination legislation. However, Durham city has already introduced a scheme without exemptions for disabled people—I understand that another is planned in Cambridge—and with the removal of the Secretary of State’s approval for road charging schemes, it will be even harder to enforce good practice if there are no regulations specifying minimum exemptions for disabled people. I beg to move.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his explanation of the purpose and thinking behind the amendment. As the noble Lord has said, the Transport Act 2000 provides the appropriate national authority with the ability to set regulations on exemptions and discounts, and on limiting the charges that local authorities are able to introduce. At this time, we do not think it appropriate to change the legislation to compel the appropriate national authority to make regulations. I shall set out briefly why that is the case.
On limiting the charges that local authorities are able to introduce, we believe that it is right for the local authority to propose its own charge level. After careful modelling of the congestion problem, an authority will be best placed to set the charge level that is most appropriate for tackling the problems in its local area. We would not want to set an arbitrary price for all schemes across the country when there is a need for difference, which will depend on location, scheme design and scheme objectives. Exemptions and discounts from local road pricing schemes are, in the first instance, a matter for the local authorities considering introducing such schemes. We have been clear to those authorities bidding for transport innovation fund money that pricing structures should be justified against the objectives of the scheme, and that the impacts on congestion and value for money should be understood.
As part of any stakeholder engagement on a road pricing scheme that a local authority undertakes, it will be important for it to address the exemptions and discounts that a scheme offers. Interested parties will have an opportunity to make their views and any concerns known through the consultation process. It will be especially important for local authorities, as part of the development of a scheme, to assess the impact of the scheme on different groups, including, in particular, those with a disability. In developing local road pricing schemes, local authorities will also wish to ensure that they observe their duties under the Disability Discrimination Acts. That should ensure that disabled people are not unfairly treated through the introduction of a scheme.
The Transport Act 2000 already allows for national exemptions. However, we have yet to make decisions on whether, and if so how, we might exercise those powers. It may be more appropriate to issue guidance to local authorities. Section 193 allows the appropriate national authority to issue guidance to charging authorities and the authorities must have regard to it when exercising their functions. This may be a more suitable method of setting out what approach we would expect local authorities to follow.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned the need to have a national debate, which I guess is part of what we are doing today. We are very committed to taking into account the views of interested parties as we progress these issues. The department believes that there are a limited number of scheme users where exemptions and discounts might be appropriate. This is an area where we seek to develop consistency and interoperability, and we will take stakeholders’ views into account as we progress these issues. We will also be looking at the best way of achieving such aims. That could include issuing guidance on the manner in which exemptions and discounts to a scheme should be administered. We aim to have completed such work well in advance of the introduction of any local road-pricing schemes so that the public and the scheme operator can be clear on what is envisaged. We therefore think it unnecessary to specify in the Bill that the appropriate national authority must make regulations.
This is a debate we have already had in several different ways. We seek to get the benefit of providing locally for local authorities to shape schemes that they envisage working in their area, and devolving as much of the responsibility for those schemes as possible to them. Of course, we have to accept that this must operate within a framework. What the noble Lord seeks through exemptions may well best be served by having those exemptions exercised and thought through at a local level. That is where people will better understand those issues. That of course means that those exemptions must fall into part of a range of exemptions nationally outlined in general terms. The best way to achieve that end is not through legislation, or at least not by putting it in the Bill, nor by retaining the power as the noble Lord has argued.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. The amendment has a point. For those for whom driving is not optional, this is effectively a tax on disabled people, not a charge on congestion. The Government have recognised as much in the impact assessment on the draft Bill.
If local road-charging schemes take off, this will be a growing problem. As I said, Durham has already introduced a scheme, so the Minister and his guidance will not be in time to anticipate that. I understand that others are coming up imminently. However, I hear what the Minister says about alternative ways of achieving the sort of effect that the amendment hopes to achieve. I hope that the Minster will keep the matter under review as schemes develop. If it appears to be a growing problem, perhaps the Minister will be prepared to use some of the powers he has referred to in his reply. For the time being, however, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, in fairness to Durham I ought to put on the record that, as I understand it, disabled persons who book a disabled parking place within the congestion zone under its scheme receive a permit to lower the bollard which provides the access. That is for people with blue badges, and I accept what the noble Lord says about blue badges; that was an interesting point.
To be fair to Durham, it gave some consideration to these issues. It may be that the noble Lord is right and that consideration should have been somewhat wider, but the fact that it considered the needs of disabled people who might want a parking place actually means that it has given some thought to the general issue of those with a disability who might be affected by the scheme. Clearly, it is for local people to make the case for different ranges of considerations. We certainly expect that those who come forward with a scheme through the Transport Innovation Fund will have done exactly that. We take these issues seriously. Clearly, we want the scheme to be popular, workable, accessible and not adversely impact those who need to have access to areas which those with a disability might.
I accept that there is more flexibility to the Durham scheme than I was aware of. I repeat my hope that the matter will be monitored carefully and kept under review. If a problem develops for disabled people, I am reassured by the Minister's observations that there are powers that can be relied on. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 111 agreed to.
Clause 112 [Disclosure of information relating to foreign-registered vehicles]:
83: Clause 112, page 85, leave out lines 43 and 44
The noble Earl said: The measures contained within the Bill to allow the DVLA to approach their foreign counterparts for details of drivers who have caused an offence in this country are to be welcomed. Our objection is only to a small part of this clause, which could have very significant implications if allowed to remain. Clause 112(3)(j) allows the Secretary of State to disclose information obtained relating to foreign-registered vehicles to a person whom the Secretary of State is satisfied has reasonable cause for seeking disclosure of the information. I draw the Committee’s attention to the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002, which similarly empowers the DVLA to make available information from the vehicle register to anyone who can demonstrate reasonable cause.
The present interpretation of “reasonable cause” by the DVLA includes the release of information about a vehicle's keeper to private car park enforcement firms. The Security Industry Authority regulates parking enforcers working on private land by requiring anyone placing a clamp on a vehicle to be trained and licensed, and to pass criminal records checks. Enforcing by ticket rather than clamp means there is no need for staff to have an SIA licence as there is no need to apply a clamp as a means of enforcement. A firm that intends to enforce by issuing tickets can do so by setting up a digital CCTV system to record vehicles entering and leaving a car park; contacting the DVLA to obtain the owner's details of any vehicle they accuse of over-staying, or parking without permission; and issuing a penalty notice by post, often deliberately designed to resemble an official local council penalty notice. As no clamp is placed on the vehicle, there is no need for the firm to employ licensed, criminal-record cleared personnel.
With minimal overheads, firms can offer their services at zero cost to landlords, potentially undercutting reputable companies which follow the British Parking Association's code of practice and putting them out of business. This business model is only possible because the DVLA makes its records available. It is unacceptable that this problem exists, and that motorists' confidential information can be passed on in this way to an organisation that is not a member of a reputable trade association. It is disappointing that the DVLA regards it as its legal duty to facilitate this. The “reasonable cause” loophole should be closed, and not extended to the provision of information regarding overseas motorists. This again brings me to the point on transparency. With regard to road charging, how are the public to trust the DVLA given its casual approach to privacy? I beg to move.
I support the sentiments expressed by the noble Earl. I am not convinced that the issue he has raised belongs exactly in this clause. Nevertheless, he has raised a topic which has certainly given me great concern in recent weeks; namely, the way in which the DVLA gives information to private companies. Given the amount of anguish that there has been over data protection because of recent events with HMRC, it seems extraordinary that private organisations of all kinds can contact the DVLA and get the home addresses and so on of people who happen to have parked on private land. I wonder about the safeguards in place to ensure what then happens to that data once a private company has the details. I am not convinced this point is in the right place here, but if the Minister is not able to deal with the issue today, we may have to return to it on Report.
I am delighted that the noble Earl had the opportunity through this amendment to raise the issue in the way that he did, and his explanation was clear enough. I understand the concerns that were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, put them in the context of data transfer and loss of data, and I understand why she made that point.
It is worth reminding ourselves about the purpose of the clause, which is to safeguard the rights of the private citizen. For example, if a member of the public is unlucky enough to suffer a “hit and run” involving a foreign-registered vehicle in a car park, the police are unlikely to become involved unless there is some physical injury. If the police were not involved, how else would that person be able to seek justice unless the Secretary of State could disclose information to them? That would be the consequence of accepting this amendment. We need to understand what it would do. Also, citizens currently are able to obtain information from the UK register of vehicles if they can demonstrate they have reasonable cause. However, they do have to demonstrate that they have reasonable cause. It would be inequitable not to allow the same access in relation to foreign-registered vehicles.
The noble Earl mentioned the operation of certain parking enforcement companies, and I understand why he did so. As a result of the concerns raised two years ago about the operation of the reasonable cause provision, the Government reviewed those provisions in relation to the release of data from the UK vehicle register. As a result, my honourable friend the Minister for Transport announced 14 new measures to protect vehicle keepers from misuse of their information and to provide clear and robust complaint procedures where misuse is alleged, while still allowing those who do have reasonable cause to get the data they need. Those procedures were introduced in October last year and are working well. I assure the noble Earl that those same enhanced procedures would apply to the release of information on foreign-registered vehicles as well.
The department continues to engage with stakeholders on the issue and to work with them to understand their concerns as we develop our thinking on how best to protect privacy, and we work with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that its proposals address privacy concerns and conform in practice with the Data Protection Act. Our guidance to local authorities that seek transport innovation funding on road-pricing schemes encourages scheme operators to offer a range of methods of payment, including options that will allow them to maximise the privacy of personal information.
No doubt this is an issue to which we will return because the retention of data, their use, transfer and storage, and the contractors that have access to them, are very much topics of current debate. I do not see that that debate will go away. Important issues remain to be resolved, including, no doubt, some technical issues.
I hope the noble Earl accepts that we must safeguard the needs of the private citizen by allowing those with reasonable cause to receive information about foreign-registered vehicles. There is a balance to be struck. I have given assurances, and I hope that in those circumstances the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Obviously the term “reasonable cause” was meant to cover vehicle accidents. Indeed, that is almost its primary purpose. I have one question for the Minister, which I do not know whether he can answer. Can a parking enforcement company get motorists’ details in bulk, perhaps by sending a daily CD or by some electronic transfer of data to the DVLA and getting that data back in bulk or on a CD from the DVLA, or does it require an e-mail or specific application for each and every vehicle? Is it done in bulk, or is it done discretely for each and every vehicle?
As I understand it, a parking enforcement company must make a specific request; it cannot make a bulk application. It must also be a member of the British Parking Association—an important caveat. It must be a reputable operator and accepted as such.
It sounds as though this is fertile ground for further amendments. In the mean time, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 112 agreed to.
Clauses 113 and 114 agreed to.
Schedule 7 agreed to.
Clauses 115 to 118 agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
The Committee adjourned at 7.17 pm.