Motion to Consider
My Lords, I will refer to this order as the transfer order. The purpose of the order is to transfer the quality contract scheme jurisdiction of the Transport Tribunal into the Upper Tribunal. The Transport Tribunal currently sits outside the unified tribunal structure. Most of the jurisdiction of the Transport Tribunal was transferred to the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal in 2009. However, the Transport Tribunal could not be abolished at that time as it remained necessary to hear appeals resulting from proposed quality contract schemes, introduced by the Transport Act 2000, as amended, and to hear appeals under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 for bus timetabling.
Article 2 of the order transfers the functions of the Transport Tribunal that relate to quality contract schemes to the Upper Tribunal. Schedule 1 makes consequential amendments to the Transport Act 2000, and Schedule 2 contains transitional and saving provisions. Transitional provisions ensure that if any existing case were to start before this order is approved, it would start in the Transport Tribunal and would not be adversely affected by the transfer. A case that has begun but is incomplete will be determined by a panel comprised of the same judicial members. Directions and orders made by the Transport Tribunal prior to the order coming into force will continue in force as if they were directions or orders of the Upper Tribunal.
Under powers in the Transport Act 2000, local authorities are able to determine local bus services by establishing a quality contract scheme, which suspends the deregulated bus market in a defined area and specifies what bus services will run in that area. Other than specific exceptions, no other bus services are then permitted. Before doing so, the authority must undertake a consultation exercise with affected parties. If the local authority wishes to pursue a quality contract scheme after consultation, its final proposal must satisfy a public interest test that involves the proposal being examined by a quality contract scheme board chaired by a traffic commissioner, who determines whether the making of a quality contract scheme by the local authority is the only practical way of implementing its transport policy in the area in an economic and effective manner. Statutory consultees currently have a right of appeal to the Transport Tribunal, as does the local authority.
Why are the Government taking this action? Integrating the quality contract scheme jurisdiction into the unified tribunal structure will provide the flexibility to utilise the pool of Upper Tribunal judges and panel members who already have the necessary expertise in the law of their jurisdiction to hear transport-related appeals as the need arises. The Senior President of Tribunals could ticket appropriate judges to hear the quality contract scheme cases.
Although it would still be necessary to retain the Transport Tribunal to deal with any potential appeals under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 for bus timetabling, it is expected that these will be transferred to a suitable devolved tribunal in Scotland in due course via secondary legislation made under the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014, once the necessary structures are in place.
The Government are committed to the ongoing transformation of our tribunals, placing the user at the heart of the service. This order further implements the legislative changes enacted by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 by transferring the quality contract scheme jurisdiction of the Transport Tribunal into the Upper Tribunal. The Government believe that the transfer of the quality contract scheme jurisdictions to the unified tribunals structure will benefit all users of the jurisdiction who seek judicial redress and will provide access to a more coherent, swift and responsive system. I therefore commend this draft order to the Committee.
My Lords, I have no wish to detain the Grand Committee any longer than necessary. I have no issues with the order. As the noble Lord said, the transfer of the functions of the Transport Tribunal which relate to the quality contract schemes to the Upper Tribunal is another step along the way to a unified tribunal service which, as the Minister said, came from the previous Government which put the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 on the statute book.
Will the Minister tell the Grand Committee why the Government opted for the Upper Tribunal as the preferred outcome, which was suggested by a number of responders, including local authorities, rather than the First-tier Tribunal, which was the bus operators’ proposed option? The hybrid option was ruled out by the Government, which was sensible and right as it would not provide clarity but would have caused confusion. I note that two schemes are going to come forward. I will not make a joke about two coming at once on the day of the bus strike but will leave it there.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support for this proposal. As he rightly said, this is pursuant to the previous Government’s attempt to bring all the tribunals under one umbrella.
In answer to his question about why the Upper Tribunal of the unified tribunal system was chosen to hear quality contract scheme appeals rather than the First-tier Tribunal, the Upper Tribunal was considered the appropriate appeal designation to hear these appeals as it would avoid two rounds of appeal within the tribunal system, which could unduly delay the implementation of schemes where they are in the public interest.
Taken together, the quality contract scheme board and the other tribunal will provide two levels of independent scrutiny and will utilise the existing Upper Tribunal judges and panel members, who already have the necessary legal expertise, to hear these transport appeals. There will also of course be an onward right of appeal on a point of law and exercisable only with the permission of the Court of Appeal, which provides an additional safeguard.
This instrument supports the Government’s continuing commitment to implement the provisions of the 2000 Act and to provide a unified tribunal structure to meet the needs of users. In those circumstances, I commend this draft order to the Committee.