Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
10: Clause 1, page 4, line 10, at end insert —
“(e) requirements about providing drivers with continuous training.”
This amendment applies both to people employed on buses and to the vehicles. We can return to the issue of the vehicles when we discuss the duties of traffic commissioners.
At Second Reading, a number of disabled Members spoke passionately about the Bill. One of the things they said was that it was so important that bus drivers got out of the bus, took down the ramp, put it back and helped disabled people to their places. It occurred to me that most operators give only a one-off spell of disability awareness training to their drivers at some stage after they commence employment. Nothing in the law states that such training has to be given or that it has to be repeated so that drivers know what they are doing.
The bus industry is characterised by a lot of people who do not work for very long. It is an extraordinarily unsociable job involving coping with bad-tempered drivers of other vehicles and bad-tempered passengers who often abuse the bus drivers. It is not a job that people want but they must be adequately trained. The purpose of the amendment is to make it clear, whether we are talking about franchises or advanced quality partnerships, that some provision is made for disabled people to be properly helped on to and off a bus, and to manipulate their wheelchairs, sometimes buggies, into place. I know that a court case about who should have priority between wheelchairs and buggy users is pending, but the driver needs to know what he has to do. This ought to be spelled out in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall add a brief word of support for the intention behind the amendment. Within the realm of disability and meeting the challenge of disability, it is not just a matter of clearing our conscience by having something on the statute book but of making sure that what is on the statute book is delivered. Delivery is the issue. It is quite wrong not to have continuing training and a monitoring programme to ensure that the training is being followed. I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me that the overriding challenge for us all in this society, bus drivers included, is the cultural attitude that understands issues of disability and wants to respond in a humane and decent way.
My view is that bus drivers are greatly undervalued. They do a hugely complex job. They do not just have to drive the bus safely; they also have to manage the passengers, not all of whom are easy people to deal with. Training and refresher training for drivers is essential. It is very important in dealing with disability and with customers as a whole. At the moment, bus drivers undertaking training do not have to achieve anything. They have to attend, but they do not gain a qualification as a result of achieving a set standard. It is time that we empowered bus drivers, if I can put it that way, with further information, knowledge and skills by making sure that they get regular training of sufficient standard and quality that it enables them to do their difficult job better. They deserve to have the very best possible skills and training to do their job. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seeks to put in the Bill a provision to provide drivers with continuous training in the standard of service that may be specified in an advanced quality partnership scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, set out very clearly the reasons why this amendment is necessary and welcome, and I agree with the points which the noble Lord and other noble Lords have made.
Anyone in a professional job, particularly one in which there is responsibility for people’s safety, should be given continuous training to ensure that they are delivering their job to the required standard, are aware of particular issues, problems, ideas and practice that have come into play and know how to resolve disputes and issues in a proper manner when they are doing their job. I agree that being a bus driver is not only a responsible job but a very difficult one. I have seen it myself. You get on to the bus and you see the way some people abuse bus drivers. It is dreadful. I come from a family of cab drivers. All my family, other than me, have driven black taxis in London, so I know the problem of dealing with people. Bus driving is a very difficult job, and bus drivers deserve our support.
The amendment could apply to all sorts of things, not only to professional driving standards but to how to deal with difficult and abusive people and how to deal with the prams and wheelchairs issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, there is a court case pending. It is a very difficult and sensitive issue. How do you deal with disability issues in general, people travelling home late at night sometimes a bit the worse for wear, young people with no money and other issues? If there are no procedures or training, problems can often occur that can damage the reputation of the company and cause problems for individuals in positions where they are responsible for public safety. All sorts of things come into play. It is important that we have proper professional training for our bus drivers.
This amendment raises a number of important issues, and I hope the Minister will give a full response. If he cannot accept the amendment today, I hope he will agree that this is an important issue that should be looked at and reflected upon. It raises an important issue that we should be sure we deal with properly.
My Lords, I once again thank all noble Lords for their participation in this short debate, although I am mindful that the next time I get into a black cab having just finished a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I will be glowing in the remarks I make.
We will, of course, return to the issue of accessibility, which the noble Lord also touched on, at a later stage in our proceedings. I have met various noble Lords on this issue, and I assure the noble Lord, and all noble Lords participating in the debate, that the Government take it very seriously.
One of the new powers under an advanced quality partnership regime allows local authorities to specify the standards of service that operators must meet in order to run local bus services on routes covered by the scheme. These standards are set out in new Section 113E(4) and (5) of the Transport Act 2000, as set out in Clause 1 of the Bill. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord would add to this list of standards of service.
Amendment 10 would allow a local authority to specify the training regime for bus drivers on local services on the routes included in the scheme. Driver training is in two parts. The first is the mandatory training that all bus drivers must undertake in order to hold and retain the appropriate licence to drive buses. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about achievement, but I think many bus drivers would say that they do achieve a particular standard. These mandatory training requirements are set out elsewhere in legislation.
The second area, which noble Lords also mentioned in various contributions, is customer training. Such training is generally a matter for the employer. In this case, the driver is often the sole customer face of the bus company, and how they deal with passengers can have a big impact on how that bus service, and the bus operator more generally, is perceived. Noble Lords have referred to dealing with those with disabilities, and dealing with wheelchairs and pushchairs. Of course, as has been mentioned, there is a court case pending on that subject—so noble Lords will appreciate that there is little I can say at this time. How bus drivers are perceived, in terms of the service customers get from the driver, is often how the operator is also then perceived. Good customer training ultimately benefits the bus operators, and by providing a better service they increase the number of passengers.
In presenting this amendment, the noble Lord may also have had disability awareness training in mind. The mandatory disability awareness training provisions of EU Regulation 181/2011, due to come into force in 2018, would have required all bus drivers to undergo disability awareness training. But I am mindful of the situation that we now find ourselves in. Let me assure noble Lords that we are considering how to take forward the issue of such training in the longer term in the light of the referendum result. This important issue cannot be considered piecemeal, so the Bill is perhaps not the appropriate place to start that process. As I have already said, we are looking into how we can ensure that those mandatory requirements are met.
However, in practice, as noble Lords will know, most bus drivers already undertake this training as part of their certificate of professional competence, for which they must complete 35 hours of training in every five-year period. This is another obligation under a European law which we will need to consider over the coming months. We are also developing guidance on disability awareness training to provide consistency across the industry.
In view of this, I believe that, other than with the mandatory requirements, it should be for the bus company, as the employer, to decide what further training is most appropriate, taking into account the type of service, where it runs, and the range of passengers using the service. I hope that with that explanation, and with the assurance that we are looking at certain requirements in the light of the result of the referendum vote last week, the noble Lord will feel minded to withdraw his amendment.
I am minded to withdraw the amendment, but I would like to see something being done. Noble Lords will remember the very strong representations we heard on Second Reading, and I am sorry that no disabled Members are here to press this now, as it is a very serious issue for many people. But I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendments 11 and 12 not moved.
13: Clause 1, page 4, line 22, at end insert—
“(10) ach advanced quality partnership scheme must specify as a standard of service that free bus travel must be provided for homeless families placed outside of their local authority area.”
My Lords, I will also speak to my Amendments 24 and 89 in this group.
The purpose of these amendments is to seek help and advice from the Government and your Lordships on how the Bill might be used to ease the plight of homeless families placed outside their local authority. At the end of 2015, one in four homeless households in England and one in three homeless households in London lived in temporary accommodation in another local authority area. The benefit of these kinds of amendments to these families is clear. Many families moved to a neighbouring borough or somewhere else within travelling distance of their home area could use this free travel to maintain links with their crucial support networks: services such as GPs or a civic centre; employment support from their council, and employment in some circumstances; travel to school—either doing the school run for young children or, less frequently, visiting for parents’ evenings and meetings with teachers; and, importantly, visiting friends and family, who may also be a source of childcare.
Over several years I have spoken with homeless families, and I have been struck by how fragile and vulnerable they are, particularly when they are isolated. We all become vulnerable when we are isolated. Perhaps we can particularly appreciate the experience of homeless families at the present time. We all feel uncertain about the future—our future within the European Union and within this country, and the future of our Government—so this feeling is familiar to us all. In some senses we are all homeless at the moment. I am therefore concerned that we do all we can to mitigate the situation of these families.
Over 100,000 children in England currently live in temporary accommodation—the highest level since 2006—so an increasing number of young children are living in such situations. For instance, I am in contact with a mother who was moved out of her local authority to another authority in London and shares one room with her 15 year-old daughter and one year-old granddaughter. Obviously, living with a teenage daughter is challenging. She is somewhere far away from her church, which is important to her, and from the community that she knows, having lived for many years in another authority.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Will he take away this issue and see whether the Government can do something to help in this area? I recognise that the offer would perhaps need to be made locally and left up to local decision-making, and that perhaps, given the current financial climate, there would need to be a clear cap on how much money could be spent across the country in this regard.
I would also appreciate the Minister’s looking at the issue of homeless families and the action taken by the Government. I know that the Government have done good work on preventing families becoming homeless, and of course their homeless housing strategy will produce more houses, which will help this issue to some degree. I am interested to learn what the Government are doing specifically to mitigate the harm experienced by homeless families displaced in this way. What specific preventive measures are in place to prevent harm coming to them? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, periodically meets his opposite number in the Commons to discuss these issues. I would appreciate it if the noble Lord would write to me to say what recent thoughts and developing policy there have been in this area. If he could encourage this matter to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that would be welcome, too.
I therefore seek noble Lords’ advice on how the Bill might be made to mitigate the harm experienced by these families, and I beg to move.
My Lords, this group of amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, seeks to provide free bus travel to homeless families placed in accommodation outside the local authority they normally reside in, with free bus travel under the various schemes referred to in the Bill. These amendments raise an important point, which is that homelessness and the housing crisis is resulting in people and families being housed in temporary accommodation, many miles away from where they normally reside.
As the noble Earl said, this then brings a whole raft of problems—about living in isolation; about being part of the community and then being taken away from that community; and about having to change schools or make a very long journey to get to school or work, or to see family and friends. Bus fares then become prohibitively expensive. The noble Earl raises a valid point in his amendments, but I think that the situation is much worse, particularly for homeless families in London. These families can find themselves sent to Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham and other cities in England and Wales, hundreds of miles away from the place they normally reside, way beyond the distance of a reasonable bus journey.
This is no way to treat people. We have to deal with the housing crisis so that people can have stability in their lives and live in homes they can either rent or buy, be that in the public or private sector. These homes need to be warm, safe, dry and affordable. We all know the rents charged in London can be truly shocking. Our society needs to create a situation where people can live together side by side, in homes where they can be part of the community.
My view is that these amendments raise an important issue due to the crisis we face. I am not sure they solve the practical problem, but I do think the noble Earl is right to highlight this issue. The reality is that people’s other problems are compounded by their being placed so far away. That is the difficulty. I do not know whether assisting with bus travel will deal with these matters. As the noble Earl said at the end of his remarks, the issue of cost comes into this too, as implementing the proposal could be prohibitively expensive.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in thanking the noble Earl for bringing this important issue to the fore. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has said, the amendments in front of us require operators of services delivered under franchising or enhanced partnerships, or advanced quality partnerships, to provide free bus travel for the homeless families placed outside of their local authority area. Like the noble Lord, I am sympathetic to the broad aims of the amendment and know that buses provide a lifeline for many in our local communities. However, having listened very carefully to the noble Earl, I think there may be more appropriate ways to address the issue, and I will of course pass on the issues he has raised to my noble friend Lord Freud.
As I have said before, this Bill will enable devolution. Reflecting on the noble Earl’s contribution, I would say that it will give local areas more control over their bus services. The issue highlighted may be another of the issues that particular authorities are looking to address. If so, they will be able to explore the options open to them through the tools provided in the Bill. I remain concerned that, as drafted, the amendment will perhaps unnecessarily tie the hands of authorities looking to implement franchising, advanced quality partnerships or enhanced partnerships. I fully accept that that is not the intention of the noble Earl’s amendment in requiring authorities to provide free travel where the benefit is not available in other parts of the country. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I believe it is an important point to raise.
I hope our discussion today and my comments have indicated to the noble Earl that we are sympathetic to the broad aims of the amendment. However, I maintain that there are more effective ways of tackling the problem that he has raised. I hope this has assured him to the extent that he feels able to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their supportive comments and their recognition that this is a very serious issue for the many families involved. I am also grateful to the Minister for saying that he will raise these concerns with his noble friend Lord Freud. On that basis, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendment 13A not moved.
14: Clause 1, page 5, leave out line 3
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 18, 57 and 58, relating to Clauses 1 and 4.
Amendment 57 amends new Section 123H to make it clear that a franchising scheme cannot co-exist in an area where an enhanced partnership or advanced quality partnership scheme is in operation. The amendment is intended to tidy up the Bill rather than change the policy outcome.
Advanced partnership schemes and enhanced partnership schemes operate in a deregulated market. In such a market, operators can plan bus routes and charge their own fares. Both schemes require local services to comply with certain standards but do not allow the authority to dictate what services should be provided and at what price.
Under a franchising scheme, the deregulated bus market is suspended and services can operate in the franchised area only if they are run under contract or a permit or are an interim service. In practice, therefore, the partnership arrangements would cease to have effect when a franchising scheme came into force in the same area. The amendment provides for an enhanced partnership plan, enhanced partnership scheme or advanced quality partnership scheme to be revoked or varied so that it ceases to relate to the area in which the franchising scheme is being introduced.
Amendment 58 amends new Section 123H to provide that the authority or authorities to whose area or combined area the varied plan or scheme continues to relate may vary the remainder plan or scheme as they consider appropriate. The amendment stipulates that authorities varying an enhanced partnership plan or scheme in these circumstances do not have to satisfy all the tests described in the section that deals with variation of an enhanced partnership plan or scheme. For example, they will no longer have to have regard to the desirability of varying a plan so as to include in the area to which the plan relates any part of another authority’s area. However, the authority would still need to seek the support of operators and could vary the plan or scheme only if a sufficient number of operators did not object.
Amendments 14 and 18 make consequential amendments to new Sections 113F(4) and 113M(6) respectively. The reference to “section 123H(6)” has been deleted as a consequence of Section 123H(6) being removed by Amendment 57.
The letter explaining these government amendments was sent to noble Lords on, I believe, 16 June. I beg to move.
I am not against the amendments as such. I made the point in earlier contributions that this is a Lords starter Bill, and here we are on the first day in Committee and the noble Lord comes to the Dispatch Box with some tidying-up amendments. It would be useful if he could explain to the Committee how the Bill got here. I assume that there is a meeting in the department in which things are looked at and signed off, with people saying at some point, “We think the Bill is all ready to go”. However, it has been in this House for three weeks and we have a raft of these tidying-up amendments. That says to me that there is surely something wrong with the signing-off process in the department. The Government have already uncovered issues and problems that should perhaps have been discovered before the Bill was brought to the House. So it would be helpful if the noble Lord could explain who signed off the Bill and how it got here. Maybe that needs to be looked at, because clearly something has gone amiss.
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, Bills are drafted and consultations and further discussions are held. If any piece of legislation can be improved, no matter at what stage—this applies to any Government and any piece of legislation—I think that Governments are duty bound to introduce amendments that provide clarification or stipulate changes. This is not unprecedented. It is not the first, and will not be the last, time that changes are effected by the Government at different stages. We would be living in a rather perfect world if the first draft of any Bill went through unamended without any government amendments, consequential or administrative. I take on board his comment that we are on the first day in Committee and that there is a series of amendments, but it is better to do it early rather than late.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Of course no Bill is perfect. I accept that entirely. If it can be improved then we want to improve it. My point was more about the procedures in getting here. Most Bills that come here start in the other place. They have had a pretty good going over there and we give them a good going over here. Your Lordships’ debates highlight issues that the departments then reflect on. Here there has not been not much reflection but clearly, between the moment you published the Bill and coming here today, you found that there are some issues. I am glad that you have spotted them, but that says to me that maybe the procedures are not as good as they should be.
My Lords, the noble Lord needs to be quite careful because he does not know what is going to happen in a few years’ time. He may find himself in my noble friend’s position, dealing with exactly the same problem. Then I will enjoy teasing the noble Lord.
My Lords, I hope that very much. I am not so sure how long I shall be here at the present time but I am sure, if the position were reversed, I would probably give a very similar answer to the one the noble Lord has given.
Amendment 14 agreed.
Amendment 15 not moved.
16: Clause 1, page 5, line 30, after “Authority,” insert—
“(fa) recognised trade unions or other representatives elected or appointed by employees,”
My Lords, the two amendments in this group in my name are on the same issue—one relates to advanced quality partnerships and the other to franchises. They simply relate to the pre-consultation process. In new Section 113G(3), there is a list of everybody that,
“the authority or authorities must consult”.
They include a wide range of people. I am not disputing that any of them should be excluded from that list. Obviously, the operators, the users, the local authorities, the traffic commissioner, the chief of police and the Competition and Markets Authority should be there, but it does not include the workers or any representatives of those workers.
In previous discussions, we have heard of the importance of the skill of the drivers and the way in which they deal with passengers—particularly disabled passengers, but passengers in general. It is not just the drivers. The maintenance department is required to keep the vehicles up to scratch without encountering safety issues. The workers in that industry know the problems; they know how the old system works and, if there are proposals to change it, they will have a view on whether those changes are desirable, viable and workable. For the most part in this industry, they are represented by trade unions and there needs to be a clause which, if not precisely in the words that I have here, needs to require the consultation to involve the representatives of these workers. It is a highly unionised sector. There are, therefore, recognised unions in most parts of the country. That is why I refer here to “recognised trade unions”. Local authorities and the department would be wise to make sure that the trade unions are included in that consultation when they are proposing change.
There are some sectors where there are no unions and there is a reference in the amendments to alternative means of representation. Some of my more purist colleagues in the trade union movement may not like that particular phrase, but I have used it because it is used in the department’s own guidance as to how consultation should be carried out in relation to changes to the existing system. It is important that, on the face of the Bill, we refer to consultation with the workers and representation of those workers. I hope it would be in roughly the form that I am proposing. The department has, in a parallel context, used it in their own secondary legislation and guidance and it is therefore important that it should be here.
There is of course the usual catch-all in the final paragraph of subsection (3), which refers to,
“such other persons as the authority or authorities think fit”.
They may or may not judge the people who are currently operating the system or might potentially do so to have been incorporated in that category. I think that we need to be explicit about it; there needs to be reference to the representatives of workers. In this industry, that is mainly recognised trade unions, and it would be wise to reflect that in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment proposed by my noble friend is sensible, practical and altogether helpful for an effective operation. We have discussed already on other amendments the interface between those driving the buses and the public. It is not just a public service; it is a public service in which the person central to the provision of that service is in constant contact with the public. They will bring a wealth of understanding about the real issues on the front line. I cannot think of any better way of ensuring that decisions are made in the light of the realities out there in the bus—what actually happens in the bus. The amendment therefore deserves full-hearted support.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. This is one of these usual discussions that we have in this House on lists and on who should be included and who should not.
There are many similarities between the list on page 5 and that on page 42. Amendment 91, which my noble friend will probably speak to, makes the extraordinary suggestion of adding in the customer or the customer’s representative. That is missing from both lists. It is quite extraordinary that stakeholders and their representatives—whether it is any of the bus passenger representative groups, local or national—are not included. As my noble friend said, they might be,
“such other persons as the authority or authorities think fit”,
but I think that we all know of instances where authorities have chosen not to consult a particular body of stakeholders because they do not like them for some reason. That is not a good reason, but it happens and I have plenty of experience of it happening. It would therefore be good to include the two amendments in my noble friend Lord Whitty’s name and the two similar amendments to do with stakeholders’ involvement.
While I am on my feet, I might say that it is interesting that paragraph (d) in both lists refers to “a traffic commissioner”. If I lived in Cornwall, it would be no good consulting a traffic commissioner for the south-east of England. He or she as a traffic commissioner would probably not know much about the area. Given that the subsequent paragraph in each list states,
“the chief officer of police for each police area covering the whole or part of that area”,
it seems to me that the traffic commissioner should be relevant to wherever the services will run. I have not put down an amendment on this, but perhaps the Minister will consider it for the next stage.
Amendments 16 and 46, in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, and Amendment 92, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would require consultation on an advanced quality partnership or franchising scheme to include recognised trade unions or other representatives elected or appointed by employees affected by the proposals.
Both Section 113G(3), on page 5, and Section 123E(4), on page 17, list who should be consulted. It is both surprising and disappointing that the recognised representatives of the employees are not included in this list. These amendments seek to correct that, and I hope that the Government will give their full support to this, since why would we not want to hear from the employees? They have an absolute wealth of knowledge and experience that would be very valuable to the company in putting these schemes together, and it seems obvious that we would want to include them. I am in full agreement with the comments of all my noble friends who have spoken in this short debate and I look forward to what I hope will be a positive response.
My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would add further requirements to the consultation provisions relating to franchising and the partnership proposals. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate. I sympathise with their aims and I accept that this is an important point to raise. I agree that it is important that employee groups are consulted appropriately on proposals to improve local bus services. I agree particularly that significant changes to local bus services could well impact local bus industry employees, so it is only fair that they are given the opportunity for input in such circumstances.
In that regard, I encourage any authorities thinking of using any of the new tools in the Bill to engage with all the interested parties as proposals are developed. The likely impact on employees will, however, be materially different in the context of franchising, where it is more likely that service patterns, and potentially the operators of those services, will change than under partnerships schemes. So I agree that employee groups and others affected by the proposals should always be consulted formally on franchising schemes and I will consider how best to ensure that the Bill achieves the objectives of Amendment 46, as proposed by the noble Lord.
There are a number of ways in which this might be achieved. These range from the use of statutory guidance to an amendment to the Bill along the lines that the noble Lord proposes. I will take the comments from this short debate back, reflect on them and, I hope, work with the noble Lord to come back with something that represents what has been expressed. To pick up briefly the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the need for passenger representatives to be consulted on schemes, this is already included within the advanced quality partnership clauses, the franchising clauses and the enhanced partnership schemes in Clause 9. Coming back to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I hope I have demonstrated that, as Committee progresses, the listening goes beyond acceptance and sympathy to due consideration of some of the valid concerns and issues that noble Lords have raised. I hope that, with that reassurance, the noble Lord is minded to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friends for their support for these amendments and I particularly thank the Minister for being so constructive about the substance of this clause. I hope that he and his department can come up with a form of words which meets my point and that of my noble friends. I congratulate him on not reading out the usual departmental guff about not being able to add somebody else to a list when you already have a list, on the grounds that you then have to add everybody else. The employees are key to the success of both the current and the future operation and I therefore think the noble Lord has done us a favour tonight by not taking the usual ministerial line—which I confess I have used on occasion—but seeing reason. I hope that the employees of this industry will be duly grateful to him and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
17: Clause 1, page 5, line 37, at end insert—
“(e) national park authorities in England.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 17, I will speak also to Amendments 37, 47 and 94, which are in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, whom I am glad to see here—as good as her word—supporting the cause. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, is really rather upset that he cannot be here but he has a long-standing commitment that he simply could not break. He wants to apologise to the Committee and say that in spirit and commitment he is very much here with us.
The national parks are a unique and precious national asset. They were created by social visionaries in the aftermath of the Second World War, who were determined to see a better, more creative—more spiritual, in some ways—life available for a far wider cross-section of the community. They have been sustained, very positively, by successive Administrations ever since. They are there for everyone to enjoy. As well as being priceless, beautiful landscapes, rich in biodiversity, they are crucial to people’s health and well-being, psychological as well as physical, and a rare opportunity for people to get away from the accumulated stresses of everyday life. Making sure that they are accessible to all, not just those with a private car, is therefore essential, and rural bus services are vital for both residents of and visitors to the national parks.
I really do welcome the Government’s aspiration to see more people benefit from the inspiration of the parks. Importantly, their 8-Point Plan for England’s National Parks also sets out the desire to encourage more diverse visitors to national parks. It states:
“We will also work with National Park Authorities to scale up projects to reach visitors from a diverse range of social groups, and to alleviate any barriers that stop more people from enjoying National Parks”.
As I reminded the House at Second Reading, at the launch of the Government’s national parks strategy, Rory Stewart said:
“I’d like to make sure that everyone in Britain and more visitors from around the world have the unique experience of going to our National Parks”.
That strategy has as its central objective increasing the diversity and number of visitors. It hopes to move from 90 million to 100 million people a year. These are great aspirations. How they are actually fulfilled is quite another thing.
As the Government highlight in their impact assessment for the Bill:
“People in the lowest income groups make three times as many trips on buses than those in the highest income groups”.
The assessment also states:
“People in the 17-20 and 70+ age groups make the most trips using the bus”.
The Campaign for National Parks has just concluded a three-year project which worked with more than 1,600 16 to 25 year-olds who live close to but not within national parks. These young people came from the more deprived areas and many had never visited a national park before. When asked, the most frequently mentioned barrier preventing these people visiting parks on their own was the lack of sufficient and affordable public transport to the parks.
I will put just a little flesh, at this late hour, on the statistics of all this. I have frequently been struck by the experiences of those visiting parks. One vivid example that will remain with me for the rest of my life concerned a youth vacation centre by Lake Windermere. It was when I was president of the YMCA, which ran this centre. I was talking to a dedicated youth worker there who was anxious to tell me this story. A few days previously she had seen a young girl, probably about seven, eight, nine or something like that, who was looking animated. She asked the girl what she had been doing that day and the girl said with wide eyes, “I saw far”. A few days later, she saw this girl again looking even more animated and fulfilled and again asked her what she had done that day. She said, “I saw very far”. It is difficult to overestimate the impact that this kind of experience can have on those who are living sometimes in pretty grim physical environments and pretty grim general circumstances.
Improving the provision of rural bus services both to and within national parks is an important opportunity to alleviate one of the barriers that people currently face. Many of us are grateful to the Minister for his assurances at Second Reading that the proposed guidance will include references to the statutory duty on all public bodies to take account of national park purposes when taking any decisions that may affect them. I was glad to hear that, because I fear that too often this duty is overlooked. I also thank the Minister for having been so ready to receive the chief executive of the Campaign for National Parks and me to discuss some of the issues at stake. He and his officials had an open discussion with us. I am a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks and a patron of the Friends of the Lake District, where I live.
Both the specific amendments to which I speak are about the importance of national park authorities being included in the Bill as relevant local authorities. This is to ensure that they are consulted by local transport authorities, just as district councils would be, when plans and schemes are being developed. National park authorities are not, of course, local transport authorities, so none of the measures in the Bill will apply to them directly. However, national park authorities have played a key role in delivering bus services, particularly in recent years, and have a good understanding of the travel needs of both visitors and those resident in the area. If the national park authorities remain excluded from the list of relevant local authorities, it could put at risk many bus services currently operating successfully in national parks.
I am convinced of the Minister’s intentions to ensure that there is good guidance, but it is not the same thing. I speak, although it was a long time ago, from ministerial experience. It is one thing to have things in guidance and another to have them in the Bill. With the best will in the world, over time things that are in guidance may slip in significance and it becomes quite important that a particular body is not on a specific list because it undermines its status in discussions. Indeed, on this point, I drew attention at Second Reading to the experience of the New Forest National Park, where the park authorities play a tremendously active part. The material I quoted is there in the Second Reading debate for all to see.
Quite as important as all the other points I have been making is that it is critical to remember that the national park authorities are local planning authorities for their area: they lead the development of local plans, as do district councils. Through those plans, they set a vision and a framework for future development in the area and seek to address the needs and opportunities in relation to affordable housing, the economy and community facilities—all in the context of the purposes of the national park. If areas, whether national parks or not, are to thrive, spatial and transport planning needs have to be sufficiently integrated. This vision and framework for future development as set out in local plans needs to be considered at all costs when changes to bus services are being planned to make sure that bus service proposals are sustainable and meet the needs of the local area. It is therefore essential that the national park authorities should be statutory consultees, just as district councils will be, and included in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to this amendment with great pleasure. I have no particular interest to declare with regard to national parks except as someone who visits them and loves them, and I want to make sure that everyone else has those same opportunities as far as possible. I was thinking on the way here about the Peak District National Park, which has, within an hour’s travelling time, very many millions of people who live close to it and for whom access to it is an important part of their lives. I would hate to think about that being an opportunity that is available only to people with cars. That would be a great inequality issue. If we are sensible about this, we should remember that there are people who live in cities who would rather not have a car, so it helps cities too. It would be ridiculous to punish people by not providing access to a treasure that is on their doorstep.
In particular, we have to remember that national parks are not museums. They are areas of the countryside where people live and work, and there is a really interesting tension for the national park authorities themselves between wanting to encourage visitors and managing the impacts of that, such as congestion; we have all seen problems where people park and cause damage and so on. There is a very difficult balancing act for national park authorities. On the whole, they do it extremely well and they act as very good brokers between the people who live there and the people who want to visit. It could only make their job more difficult if they were to be ignored and not consulted when some of these important decisions about local transport are made. They know their area best.
The other point about national parks is that they do not entirely conform to the same rules as some other areas. Bus services on Sundays, for example, are often seen as unimportant, whereas in a national park Sunday is the most important day that you need to provide transport for.
Finally, there is the question of jobs. The briefing that I received said that something like 68,000 jobs are dependent on tourism to national parks. We want people to have access to the jobs as well, and if people without cars want to have access to them, we need to manage public transport too. I hope the Minister will look favourably on this, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is much more powerful to have something like this in the Bill rather than in guidance.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I live near a national park and am affected by its presence. I see no harm in these amendments; in reality, local bus operators can and do work with whomever they need to in devising high-quality bus services. Our national parks are to be treasured. They contain some of the most beautiful and stunning scenery that our country has to offer. We want people to be able to access and enjoy it, and buses can play a vital role in this regard, especially for those without access to a private car. We must not forget that there are many people who do not drive or use a car and so rely on buses for tourism purposes.
I want to see many more people walking in national parks. I do not see enough people walking at home. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made an important point about the need for bus services on a Sunday. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, there are already a number of local bus services serving national parks, so in a way collaboration and co-operation between authorities and bus operators is already happening.
Governments of all political persuasions tend to shy away from lists in primary legislation on the basis that they can become overly prescriptive: the more you add to a list, the more you exclude. But the Minister has already succumbed to the persuasion of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this evening. Nevertheless, I suspect that the Minister still has the word “resist” on his brief in view of the legal and technical reasons. Yet as I said at the start of my short remarks, I know that bus operators will work with national park authorities, and indeed any authorities, in pursuit of meeting the needs of their passengers to enable them to enjoy the delights of our national parks by bus.
My Lords, this next group of amendments, which are proposed by my noble friend Lord Judd and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and the noble Lady, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, concern national parks authorities in England and how they need to be involved in any proposals for advanced quality partnership or franchising models.
This whole issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Judd and others at Second Reading of this Bill on 8 June. My noble friend told the House then, and again today, that it was puzzling and not right that transport authorities had a duty to consult relevant local authorities but that did not include national park authorities. Many national parks have seen bus services decline, and that brings problems of people wanting to visit these wonderful, natural and beautiful places by other means of transport. I lived in Nottingham many years ago, not far from the Peak District National Park, and traffic congestion in the summer months was, and still is, a huge problem around the towns of Matlock, Matlock Bath, Ashbourne and Bakewell and many other beautiful places there. I think the bus service in the Peak District could be better. It would add to people’s enjoyment and reduce car use, which is a huge problem, particularly in the summer months, and causes problems for all sorts of people.
To make all that happen, we have to have these authorities properly involved and consulted on what is proposed and how they can work with the authorities to deliver real benefits for the area. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, all public bodies have a statutory duty to take account of the potential effects of their decisions and activities on national parks. Of course, that is not always monitored and enforced effectively, and the greater risk here is that these large and combined transport authorities will not get involved in that and that it will not happen. These amendments, by putting that into the Bill and not into guidance or any other sort of regulation will ensure that there is proper consultation. I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, will give a positive response tonight and that we can get these amendments into the Bill.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, my noble friend Lord Attlee and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their contributions. The noble Lord proposes a number of amendments to the Bill, reflecting the importance of local bus services in promoting opportunities for public enjoyment of our national parks. I thank the noble Lord for tabling these amendments and share his enthusiasm for our country’s national parks. I recognise the negative impact that traffic and congestion can have on the tranquillity and the natural environment of some of our national parks, and I agree that good bus services can help address the problem and increase the number of people who can access the parks in a more sustainable way.
Further, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s stance on this matter and am keen to consider how we can ensure that national park authorities are fully consulted as new approaches to delivering local bus services are developed. I further agree that national park authorities’ views should also be obtained by any authority consulting on a proposal in relation to an area that lies near or within a national park, as the quality of bus services available in the area will have a huge impact on people’s ability to visit their natural environment.
I therefore may cause further surprise to my noble friend by saying that I will now consider how best to ensure that the Bill achieves the objectives outlined by the noble Lord. I hope that with the assurances I have given that I will consider what he has proposed and how we can incorporate the very sentiments he has raised in the Bill, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my fellow proposers and all those who spoke in this brief debate. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in particular, made a splendid speech, which had absolutely the spirit of what we are all concerned about, and it was good to hear him.
I was very reassured by a conversation with the Minister in his office that he really has taken the point on board. What he said tonight underlines that. There is only one thing about which I might quibble. It is the principle that is being raised. National park authorities have the same responsibilities and role to play as local authorities. That is the long and the short of it. That is why it becomes significant they are not listed. Is this some change of policy? Are they not to have quite the same responsibilities? The Government have assured us at every turn that they are. This point needs to be met convincingly but, in view of what the Minister has said, both in and outside the Chamber, I am prepared at this juncture to withdraw my amendment on the understanding that we will come back to it at Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
17A: Clause 1, page 6, line 14, leave out from “or” to end of line 16
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee, because Amendments 17A and 17B should have been grouped. We have already discussed Amendment 17B: it is to do with standards and frequencies. I do not intend to repeat everything now, but if one took the two amendments together, the effect would be to remove sub-paragraph (iii) on page 6, line 15, and turn it into separate paragraphs (h) and (i), which would put frequency and service under the same level of specification as all the other items in that list.
I hope that I have explained that properly and put it on the record. I do not need to detain the Committee with it too much tonight, because when one gets a wet towel and looks at it, it will be obvious. On that basis, I beg to move.
My Lords, the proposals for an advanced partnership scheme include the ability for local authorities to impose standards of service on bus operators running services on routes included in the scheme. These standards are set out in new Section 113E(4) and (5) of the Transport Act 2000. The Bill does not currently require all those standards to be imposed at once when the scheme is made by the local authority. New Section 113H(2)(g) allows a local authority to phase in the requirements of the scheme. This might be because the local authority needs time to introduce certain facilities or measures—for example, new bus lanes, bus shelters or bus stops. For bus operators, it might be that they need time to procure new vehicles that meet a particular emissions standard or to recruit and train new staff. The amendment as tabled by the noble Lord would not allow the local authority to phase in the standards of service that apply to bus operators. They would be required to meet all the requirements when the scheme is introduced.
We believe that this would be an unnecessary restriction. As I have already explained, there may be very good reasons why some of these standards may need to be introduced after the scheme is made. The inability of a local authority to phase in standards may mean that those standards are not included in the scheme, or that some bus operators are forced to cancel services. I am sure that neither of these outcomes is the intent behind the proposals because neither would be in the interest of passengers. Therefore, it is right that local authorities should have flexibility to tailor the introduction of a scheme to suit local needs and circumstances. On the basis of the reasons I have stated, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister’s explanation and shall read it with interest. For now, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 17A withdrawn.
Amendment 17B not moved.
18: Clause 1, page 11, leave out line 2
Amendment 18 agreed.
Amendment 19 not moved.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 2 agreed.
Schedule 1: Further amendments: advanced quality partnership schemes
20: Schedule 1, page 75, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (3)
My Lords, passenger transport executives are local government bodies responsible for public transport within large urban areas. They are accountable to bodies called integrated transport authorities or, where combined authorities have been formed, to those authorities. The Bill originally amended Section 162(4) of the Transport Act 2000 to provide that references to integrated transport authorities in specified sections of the Transport Act 2000 should be read as references to the passenger transport executive for the integrated transport authority concerned. After further consideration of whether provisions of this nature would be required for advanced quality partnerships, enhanced partnerships and franchising, we concluded that it was not necessary to make explicit provision. Therefore, this amendment removes the amendments to Section 162(4) of the Transport Act 2000.
In this group, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, whom I cannot see in his place, tabled Amendment 22 to make it clear that the executive of an integrated transport authority or combined authority must exercise the franchising functions on behalf of the franchising authority. For the record, I am sympathetic to the aims of the amendment; devolution is an important theme which has influenced the development of this Bill. I want to ensure that franchising is a realistic option where it makes sense locally, and I agree entirely that there will be different governance arrangements in different areas that must be accommodated.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, is not here, but I hope I have highlighted the Government’s intent.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Bradley on Amendment 22. It is one of these odd arrangements when you have, in one group, the Minister moving a government amendment and then somebody else proposing an amendment, so the Minister answers before you have stated the case. But I do want to state the case. My noble friend is very apologetic.
The purpose of this amendment is to make it possible for a passenger transport executive to enter into a local service contract with operators once the ITA or combined authority has decided to implement a franchising scheme. New Section 123A(4) of the Transport Act 2000 sets out which bodies qualify as franchising authorities, but the list does not include passenger transport executives. In a number of metropolitan areas, the PTE continues to be the executive body for transport responsible to the combined authority. This amendment would explicitly allow a PTE to be the contracting body if that was judged most appropriate locally.
The amendment would also help to future-proof the legislation, given the way the Government’s arrangements continue to evolve in different ways in different areas. I would be very pleased to hear the Minister’s response to this. That is the message from my noble friend Lord Bradley.
My Lords, very briefly, first, we accept the case made by the Minister that Amendment 20 is a tidying-up amendment and that it is not necessary to make explicit provision in the Transport Act 2000 for advanced quality partnerships, franchising and enhanced partnerships. We are therefore content with this change.
We also support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Bradley, which would extend the prescriptive proposals on franchising authority functions to the executive of an integrated transport authority if needed. This reflects the reality of decision-making in a number of larger authorities and is therefore a more practical application of the Bill. We were very pleased to hear that the Minister has agreed to take that away and do more work on it. We look forward to hearing the outcome of those further deliberations.
I will be very brief in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, but I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her support of the government amendment. As I have said, I am supportive of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke.
At Second Reading I highlighted the importance of strong governance and accountability for the success of franchising. As such, the Bill makes clear that the decision to franchise, together with the decisions to vary or revoke a franchising scheme, should be made by the mayor when there is a mayoral combined authority. Beyond those fundamental decisions, I want to ensure that local governance arrangements can be accommodated. I know that some existing combined authorities have executive bodies, such as Transport for Greater Manchester, which are tasked with delivering the policies laid down by the combined authority. But I also know that other combined authorities do not have separate executive bodies and the combined authority both sets the policy direction and delivers it.
I agree entirely that where executive bodies have been established, they should be able to deliver the combined authority’s policy on bus services, be that via franchising or another model. The Government’s view remains that local governance arrangements with respect to the delivery of local transport should be established through the orders required to establish combined authorities and mayoral combined authorities. This will enable different arrangements in different places to suit local needs.
I welcome the discussion, albeit brief, this evening and I hope I have illustrated that we are alive to the complexities of local governance arrangements. As I have said, I will give further consideration to the approach taken in the Bill and consider whether this is the best way to enable bespoke local governance arrangements. With that reassurance, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will feel able not to move the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley. I beg to move Amendment 20.
Amendment 20 agreed.
Schedule 1, as amended, agreed.
Clause 3 agreed.
House adjourned at 10 pm.