House of Lords
Wednesday 29 June 2016
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.
HMRC: Call Waiting Times
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has improved its call waiting times. Over the last six months, it has consistently answered calls in an average of six minutes—a significant improvement from earlier in 2015. It is introducing a number of service improvements, including digital tax accounts, webchat and moving to a seven-day-a-week service, as well as ensuring that online guidance meets customer needs.
My Lords, the National Audit Office reported in May that the original cut by one third in staff numbers dealing with personal taxpayers led to a 50% increase in costs to taxpayers, costing them four times as much as HMRC saved. While matters have now improved somewhat, there are still around 3 million cases of discrepancies in personal tax records requiring investigation. Do the Government recognise that it is self-defeating, with £120 billion of uncollected tax, to offer such a poor service to taxpayers and that the situation is being made worse by closing offices, substantially cutting staff and relying increasingly on digital services to which many people do not have access? If so, what do they propose to do about it?
The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the National Audit Office report, which drew attention to things that HMRC had already taken into account. It made five recommendations: one was already superseded because it had been attended to, one was recommended by HMRC itself and three were accepted and are in progress. HMRC has increased the number of its customer services staff. It has undertaken its biggest ever training programme. Call waiting times are coming down significantly and it has a two-minute target. Of course, raising revenue is what HMRC is about, and last year it raised a record amount of revenue, the largest ever in its history.
I am not aware of the precise details of how the telephone queuing system works. All I know is that, in May, the wait in the queue was down to three minutes and that it is getting better. We are aiming to reach two minutes, but I am not aware of the technical reasons why you cannot tell where you are in the queue.
My Lords, does the Minister recall the Answer that I was given to an identical Question a year ago, on 9 July 2015, when the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Gatley, told the House that several promising steps were going to be taken, including the deployment of £45 million and the recruitment of 3,000 further staff to help this situation at his department? Does today’s Answer really show progress over what we had last year, given that the two-minute promise is very far from being implemented?
That is a fair question. In April 2016, customers waited six minutes on average. Last year, it was 18 minutes. In May 2016, it was five minutes, compared with 19 minutes in May 2015. It has now gone down to two minutes 53 seconds, which is progress.
My Lords, the NAO report also identified that HMRC is planning swingeing cost reductions in this area in upcoming years, relying on a shift to digital and online to pick up almost all the questions and requests that it gets in this category. Given the failure to deliver projects like that on time and in a way that works for customers, what is plan B? Is it something other than taking all the back office staff from PAYE and knocking that operation into disarray, which is what happened last time?
The introduction of online services was one of the problems that caused the waiting times. That is now working well. We have the largest number of online self-assessment forms ever, at January this year, and the largest number of on-time assessments. Progress is being made. As far as the estate is concerned, the noble Baroness is absolutely right: HMRC intends to make savings in the order of £100 million per year by reducing the estate down to about 17 offices—I cannot quite remember how many there are now. That is well in progress and will provide a better opportunity for the staff, who will have more opportunities within one large area. Some of the offices before, it must be remembered, had only 10 staff in them.
My Lords, the Minister has done his best to put a gloss on an appalling situation. The National Audit Office made quite clear the deficiencies of the Inland Revenue over recent years. The Minister says that things are now improving. How is it, therefore, that in the most recent poll of 600 people who spoke to an adviser, 63% of them waited for more than half an hour? Have the Government set out to reduce the number of civil servants operating in this department, and are they doing it all to fulfil their dogma of the smaller state, transferring the costs from the Treasury to the individual citizen?
Is the noble Lord aware that many older people are having increasing difficulties in dealing with HMRC, notwithstanding what he has just reported? If more offices close, that means more difficulties for them in the future. Is he aware that a special service needs to be provided for such people, and that there is in fact a charity, Tax Help for Older People, with 600 to 700 people working in it, including ex-Revenue people and ex-accountants? I declare an interest as a patron. Given that more offices are to close and that more difficulties are looming for older people, is the Minister prepared to reveal the possibility of giving financial assistance to that charity?
My Lords, HMRC does realise that different people have different needs. The whole point of the online service is that those who are able and willing to use it can do so, which enables HMRC to deal with people in the more old-fashioned way—face-to face and on the telephone. It will be able to do that more easily, and the figures show that it is improving.
Care Leavers: Life Chances
My Lords, good parenting is essential to ensure that young people can thrive in childhood and as adults. Our Bill brings together for the first time what it means to be a corporate parent. The principles set a high bar for how local authorities should discharge this incredibly important duty when supporting the most vulnerable young people. In addition, by signing the care leaver covenant, private and public organisations will commit to giving care leavers the start in life they deserve.
I thank my noble friend for his helpful Answer. The introduction of this Bill should be welcomed by all sides of this House. For far too long, vulnerable children and care leavers have been left behind. Does the Minister agree that the outcomes for these children should be a matter for the whole of society? Can he explain how these important principles will be adopted by other organisations so that the burden does not fall solely on overstretched local authorities?
I am grateful for my noble friend’s support. I agree entirely that we want the principles to be embraced by a wide group of organisations—charities, the private sector, businesses and public sector agencies—and that is what the care leaver covenant is all about. It will be a promise from the nation to care leavers that anyone who leaves care will be treated fairly and given the support they need to make the best of their opportunity to make a successful transition to adulthood. It will be a commitment to support care leavers through the way in which we deliver services, the opportunities provided, promoting the covenant and getting others to sign up.
My Lords, we have only just started, so we are not at a point where anyone can shout, “This side”. The House seemed to be indicating to the noble Baroness on the Cross Benches.
I apologise; I did not see the noble Baroness. The Minister will know that the children who do worst at school and in life are those on child protection plans, rather than those coming into care. How will the Government ensure that such children have good parenting, either by being maintained in their own homes or being in permanent placements that will give them that life chance?
My Lords, my question is simple. How did we get to the place where we talk about “corporate parenting”? I ask this House to think about that notion. The idea that some children might not be able to stay with their own parents is one thing, but the idea that we talk about corporate parenting in a world like this—what does that mean?
I apologise if the noble Baroness does not like the expression but the intention is to give these children someone who is in loco parentis and can fight their corner. It is about changing and spreading good practice, and making sure that the local authorities’ task in loco parentis does not burden them with a tick-box approach and extra duties.
My Lords, the Minister will know how important personal advisers are for care leavers. How do we ensure that they are of the highest quality? Does he believe that there should be minimum qualifications and requirements? Is he hopeful that this might be agreed in the Bill?
The noble Lord is quite right that personal advisers are very important, as is their consistency—one hears from care leavers that they get a lot of changes—and quality. We are conducting a review of personal advisers which will inform our thoughts on this further.
My Lords, how do the Government reconcile the treatment of those from this country who have been corporately cared for with that of young unaccompanied asylum seekers who, when they reach the age of 18, can be deported with no care at all? How can we help those 18 year-olds by changing legislation or putting in new hope for them?
My Lords, in the light of the Laming report, the Howard League report and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice report, which all draw attention to our inappropriate criminalisation of children in care compared to the rest of the world, what steps are the Government, whether the DfE or the MoJ, going to take to address this issue?
The Minister will know that children leaving care are much less likely to go into higher education than other children. Are there provisions to ensure supportive parenting of some sort to see them right through to the age of 21 or so if they go into higher education, to ensure that more of them go and that they do not drop out?
My Lords, local authorities that have responsibility for these children are usually the largest employers in their area. Like all parents, they should take more responsibility in ensuring that these children and young people have access to apprenticeships and jobs and have a future. Many do not do this, although there are examples of good practice. Will the Minister say how this will be rolled out?
The Government have set out a new life chances approach which will include a set of indicators to measure progress in tackling the root causes of poverty, such as worklessness, educational attainment and family stability.
My Lords, I think I may go down in history as the person who asked only one question of this House—how do we begin the process of dismantling poverty? When we have a situation where 34% of all the money received by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is spent on and around poverty; when we spend 12% of our budget on education and yet we fail 30% of our children in school, who then become 70% of the prison population, who then become 50% of the people who use A&E as a drop-in place, when will the Government and the House get behind the idea that we need a different form of intervention in poverty in order to begin to dismantle it? We are pussyfooting around. We are not dismantling poverty in the way that it should be done. Let us be honest and accept that keeping people in poverty is incredibly expensive.
We are trying to move away from the income transfer approaches that we have seen for some time, to try to handle the fundamental causes of poverty. I agree with the noble Lord that that is where the effort has got to go. It is difficult, but that is the only real way to tackle this problem.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one measure of national poverty is the number of people using food banks? Can he therefore provide a report to this House saying whether that number has gone up or down since the general election?
We do not collect those figures. There have been figures: I believe that the Trussell Trust put out some not so long ago, which showed those figures, from its perspective, flattening out. There has also been quite a lot of research on food banks, and the APPG did a very good piece of work, which showed that what drives people to this emergency support provided by the community—which one welcomes—is a very complex matter.
My Lords, no one chooses to be poor, but of course there are many people in the UK who experience poverty. We are moving into a global era when there is greater emphasis on technology, automation and robotics, and we need to upskill our workforce. What is the Government’s strategy to ensure that those who are trapped in poverty are given the skills needed to be able to contribute in that area? As we move forward, the gap between those who have and those who have not will get greater.
There is a huge amount of work being done on the educational side, which is where this has to start—but clearly there is an element of remediation and later support beyond the school years. That is where, for instance, the apprenticeship programme, which is growing quite steeply, is really important.
My Lords, as someone who welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to social justice and improving life chances, and believes that he will leave a significant legacy to his successor, may I ask my noble friend what plans the Government have to help the most needy and vulnerable benefit recipients in future?
One of the most valuable things I got from this House was during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, when we debated what to do for the most vulnerable in the context of UC. That led to the creation of universal support, whereby we join up with local authorities to try to provide services that join together. We have done that now for two of the barriers people face, in budgeting and in digital competence, and we are now exploring how to expand that approach, which shares information, data and support in relation to other barriers. We have some trials going on at the moment, one in Croydon and one in the London Bridge area, on how to do that most effectively.
My Lords, one of the Government’s more successful innovations in dealing with the long-term implications of poverty has been the introduction of the pupil premium. I have to tell the Minister, from conversations I have had with headmasters in some of the most benefited schools in this area, that they are concerned that changes in the rules about how entitlement to benefit is calculated in future will affect very directly the input into schools through this rather good innovation. Any reassurances that can be given, now or in writing, would be appreciated.
That is one of the topics that I and the Schools Minister are talking about. We now have, as a potential option for future use, far more specific measures of real levels of poverty in universal credit which we can use to record poverty, rather than the much cruder measures that we used in the legacy system.
My Lords, if the Minister wants to measure poverty he could perhaps look at the official figures that came out this week. They show that while average household incomes are finally back to their pre-crash levels, child poverty has actually gone up by 200,000. It is the first rise for a decade, the largest single rise in one year since 1996, and even more of those poor kids are in working families. Ministers were warned by people around this House that this would be a consequence of government policy but the Minister kept telling us that we were crying wolf. I have rarely been sorrier to be wrong. But now that the warning signs are clear, what will the Government do about it? We have not yet had the effect of the cut in universal credit help or benefits for large families. Will he please urge his new Secretary of State, if he genuinely wants a one-nation country, to go back and reverse that catastrophic decision to cut help for working families on universal credit?
Regrettably, the cry of wolf is wrong in this case. As the noble Baroness knows perfectly well, these statistics are fairly odd on a year-by-year basis. We have had quite a substantial rise in the median income, so the relative figure has gone down—although, I am told, it is genuinely not statistically significant. At the same time, there has been a decline in the number of children living in absolute poverty, with 100,000 fewer. These figures can be pretty odd, and this is another good example of it.
EU Nationals in the UK
My Lords, as the Prime Minister has said, there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of European nationals currently residing in the United Kingdom. European Union nationals do not need to apply at present for a resident’s card or a permanent resident’s card to enjoy their free movement rights and responsibilities.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does he not agree that unless we make it clear to European Union nationals, who we have welcomed here to work and make their careers, that in the event of Brexit they will have an unconditional right to remain and to continue in those careers, we will find it impossible to recruit such people for our businesses, particularly in the City, and will do ourselves a great deal of damage?
Any criteria set which enable EU citizens to remain in the United Kingdom following exit from the European Union will depend on the outcome of the negotiations and the scope of any reciprocal agreements concerning British citizens who live in other member states.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House with whom the Government would negotiate to secure the position of European citizens who live and work in this country now? Surely there can be no reason why the decision to allow those people to stay should not be taken by this Government alone.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the social abuse that foreigners have suffered over the last few days since the referendum, and will he kindly look at the offence of threatening, abusive and insulting words and behaviour under the Public Order Act 1936, as well as the offence of acts intended or likely to stir up racial or religious hatred under the 2001 Act? If he comes to the conclusion that they have been very narrowly drafted, for all that they have achieved, will the Government be prepared to legislate on this matter?
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the Prime Minister made it clear that EU citizens who are living in this country, with employment in this country, will be able to remain so? Does he recognise that people are sick and fed up that this fearmongering campaign is continuing after we have made a clear decision? It is important that EU nationals who are resident in this country are reassured of their position. Will he please do so?
My Lords, those EU nationals who are resident in the country at the present time can be reassured that there will be no change, as our membership of the EU continues over the next number of years. Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister has made clear, it is for the next Prime Minister and Government to decide when to trigger Article 50 and to carry on the relevant negotiations.
My Lords, the House was calling for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, before that stronger intervention and then I think it is the turn of the Labour Benches.
My Lords, I am most grateful. Do the Government accept that there are about 3 million EU nationals living at present in the United Kingdom, but there are also 1.2 million British people living in the European Union? When present tensions have calmed down, why would either Brussels or London want to do anything to upset this mutually beneficial situation? Do the Government agree however, that if the EU were to get difficult with our nationals living there, it is we who hold the stronger hand if we retaliate, because so many more of them are living here?
Haberdashers’ Aske’s Charity Bill [HL]
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. Before I do, because this is the first opportunity the Government have had in this House to condemn the horrific terrorist attack in Istanbul yesterday, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in offering our thoughts and prayers to those who have been affected. Details are still emerging, but in response to such attacks we stand as one.
The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on yesterday’s European Council. This was the first Council since Britain decided to leave the European Union. The decision was accepted and we began constructive discussions about how to ensure a strong relationship between Britain and the countries of the European Union.
But before the discussion on Britain, there were a number of other items on the agenda, and I shall touch on them briefly. On migration, the Council noted the very significant reductions in illegal crossings from Turkey to Greece as a result of the agreement made with Turkey in March, but it expressed continued concern over the central Mediterranean route and a determination to do all we can to combat people smuggling via Libya.
Britain continues to play a leading role in Operation Sophia with HMS “Enterprise”. I can tell the House today that Royal Fleet Auxiliary “Mounts Bay” will also be deployed to stop the flow of weapons to terrorists, particularly Daesh, in Libya.
On NATO, Secretary-General Stoltenberg gave a presentation ahead of the Warsaw summit, and the Council agreed the need for NATO and the EU to work together in a complementary way to strengthen our security.
On completing the single market, there were important commitments on the digital single market, including that EU residents will be able to travel with the digital content they have purchased or subscribed to at home.
On the economic situation, the president of the European Central Bank gave a presentation in the light of the outcome of our referendum. Private sector forecasts discussed at the Council included estimates of a reduction in eurozone growth of potentially between 0.3% and 0.5% over the next three years. One of the main explanations for this is the predicted slowdown in the UK economy, given our trade with the euro area. President Draghi reassured the Council that the ECB has worked with the Bank of England for many months to prepare for uncertainty, and in the face of continued volatility our institutions will continue to monitor markets and act as necessary.
Returning to the main discussions around Britain leaving the EU, the tone of the meeting was one of sadness and regret, but there was agreement that the decision of the British people should be respected. We had positive discussions about the relationship we want to see between Britain and our European partners and about the next steps on leaving the EU, including some of the issues that need to be worked through and the timing for triggering Article 50. Let me say a word about each.
First, we were clear that, while Britain is leaving the European Union, we are not turning our back on Europe, and it is not turning its back on us. Many of my counterparts talked warmly about the history and the values that our countries share and the huge contribution that Britain has made to peace and progress in Europe. For example, the Estonian Prime Minister described how the Royal Navy helped to secure the independence of his country a century ago. The Czech Prime Minister paid tribute to Britain as a home for Czechs fleeing persecution. Many of the countries of eastern and central Europe expressed the debt they feel to Britain for standing by them when they were suffering under communism and for supporting them as they joined the European Union. And President Hollande talked movingly about the visit that he and I will be making later this week to the battlefields of the Somme, where British and French soldiers fought and died together for the freedom of our continent and for the defence of the democracy and the values that we share.
So the Council was clear that, as we take forward this agenda of Britain leaving the European Union, we should, rightly, want to have the closest possible relationship that we can in the future. In my view, this should include the strongest possible relationship in terms of trade, co-operation and, of course, security—something that only becomes more important in the light of the appalling terrorist attack in Turkey last night.
As I said on Monday, as we work to implement the will of the British people, we also have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together. We will not tolerate hate crime or any kinds of attacks against people in our country because of their ethnic origin. I reassured European leaders who were concerned about what they had heard was happening in Britain. We are a proud, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society—and we will stay that way.
I turn to the next steps on leaving the EU. First, there was a lot of reassurance that, until Britain leaves, we are a full member. That means that we are entitled to all the benefits of membership and full participation until the point at which we leave. Secondly, we discussed some of the issues which will need to be worked through. I explained that, in Britain, there was great concern about the movement of people and the challenges of controlling immigration, as well as concerns about the issue of sovereignty. Indeed, I explained how these had come together. In turn, many of our European partners were clear that it is impossible to have all the benefits of membership without some of the costs—something that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet are going to have to work through very carefully.
Thirdly, on the timing of Article 50, contrary to some expectations, there was not a great clamour for Britain to trigger this straightaway. While there were one or two voices calling for this, the overwhelming view of my fellow leaders was that we need to take some time to get this right. Of course, everyone wants to see a clear blueprint in terms of what Britain thinks is right for its future relationship with the EU. As I explained in my Statement on Monday, we are starting this work straightaway with a new unit in Whitehall, led by a new Permanent Secretary, Oliver Robbins. This unit will examine all the options and possibilities in a neutral way, setting out costs and benefits, so that the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet have all the information they need with which to determine exactly the right approach to take and the right outcome to try to negotiate. But the decisions that follow from this—including the triggering of Article 50—are rightly for the next Prime Minister. The Council clearly understood and, I believe, respected that.
I do not think it is a secret that I have, at times, found discussions in Brussels frustrating. Despite that, I believe we can be proud of what we have achieved: whether it is putting a greater focus on jobs and growth, cutting the EU budget in real terms for the first time and reducing the burden of red tape on business, or building common positions on issues of national security, such as sanctions to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon, standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine and galvanising other European countries to help with the lead that Britain was taking in dealing with Ebola in Sierra Leone. In all these ways, and more, we have shown how much we have in common with our European partners, as neighbours and allies who share fundamental values, history and culture.
It is a poignant reminder that, while we will be leaving the European Union, we must continue to work together for the security and prosperity of our people for generations to come. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating that Statement, although I think it poses more questions than it answers. In the light of the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie—I see he has now left the Chamber—even more questions have been raised.
First, I want to express our horror at the appalling, evil attack on Istanbul airport last night. Yet again, we are shocked by the hatred that leads to such vicious, indiscriminate violence and murder. Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected, because such horror will never leave them.
Turning to the detail of the Statement, although it includes other issues, clearly, the one that affects us most is that of our leaving the EU. Nevertheless, I noted the comments on the agreement made with Turkey in March. I hope that the Prime Minister, in discussing that agreement, raised the issue of the shocking conditions in the camps in which refugees are being held in Turkey. Did he raise that issue, and if so what response did he receive?
What this Statement reinforces is the massive uncertainty that our country faces. It is clear that the first enemy of our stability and security as a nation is that uncertainty, which has many different forms. There is economic uncertainty for businesses large and small and for consumers. There is uncertainty about who will be the next Prime Minister and whether another general election is looming. There is uncertainty about the Brexit negotiations. At the same time there is uncertainty, now increased, for many local communities where those who do not look or sound British enough are now feeling very vulnerable.
I was going to say that at no point should we forget the uncertainty of British citizens living across Europe, but from the comments just made in Questions by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, it appears that they are to be some kind of negotiating tool in discussions on whether EU citizens living and working in this country are to be allowed to remain. The degree of uncertainty that that will cause in those communities across the country is shocking. Given that negotiations could go on for years, we will have people living or working in this country who do not know what their future holds. We need an explanation or clarification from the Government as a matter of urgency.
The Prime Minister referred in the Statement to estimates of a slowdown in eurozone economic growth of between 0.3% and 0.5%, caused largely by a predicted slowdown in the UK economy because of our trade with the EU. If that is the predicted slowdown for the eurozone, what is the predicted slowdown for the UK economy? If the EU is able to predict such a slowdown across the whole eurozone, I am sure the Government have considered it and made predictions. Can the noble Baroness comment on the report in the business section of today’s Daily Telegraph—not my normal reading material, I confess—that Vodafone and easyJet are now considering moving their headquarters out of the UK, with thousands of jobs leaving these shores, and that Visa could also relocate hundreds of jobs to EU countries? The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, laughs and suggests that I read the Daily Mirror. I can tell him that I do read the Daily Mirror and I commend to him an article from last Friday by the historian Dan Snow about our historic links with Europe and the dangers now presented to this country by this Prime Minister. On the question of jobs, rather than waiting for a new Prime Minister, can the noble Baroness tell me what action the Government are taking today to protect jobs here in the UK?
I welcome the section in the Statement about our relationship with our European partners and its importance over so many years; it is part of our history and part of their history. We should never forget the tremendous contribution of our European allies in the Second World War, particularly in the Battle of Britain, when the role of both Polish and Czechoslovakian aircrew was critical. Perhaps I may tell the noble Baroness about men such as Tony Liskutin. He was a true hero. He first fought with the Czech air force and then with the French. He then joined the RAF to fight on D-day—subsequently teaching our own noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, to fly. However, today, their descendants and families are facing despicable attacks here in the UK. The Prime Minister said in his Statement:
“We are a proud, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society”,
and predicted that,
“we will stay that way”.
I say to the noble Baroness and to the Government that just saying something does not make it happen. You have to do more than that. So, again, rather than just waiting for a new Prime Minister, what practical steps are the Government taking today, and have Ministers discussed this wave of increased attacks?
In the section of the Statement headed “Next Steps”, the Prime Minister said:
“First, there was a … reassurance that until Britain leaves, we are a full member. That means that we are entitled to all the benefits of membership and full participation until the point at which we leave”.
I have to tell the noble Baroness that it does not feel like that. If that is the case, why was the Prime Minister not allowed to attend the most crucial session for the UK in which issues relating to the Brexit vote were discussed? Is the noble Baroness now able to answer two questions that she was unable to answer on Monday? Now that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, has resigned as the EU Commissioner for financial stability and services, when will he be replaced and can she provide an assurance that a new British commissioner will be appointed? Furthermore, if we are still entitled to full membership—as the Prime Minister was assured—is she confident that the UK will still hold next year’s EU presidency? Can she update us on that situation since Monday?
As a nation, we have been able to hold our heads high. We had a European and international outlook on our role in the world and the influence we could bring to bear for the greater good. However, today, not only do we face profound economic change but our long-held cultural and social cohesion faces enormous challenges and risks. We all have friends and neighbours who today feel more vulnerable. The only way we can deal with this is to unite around that common purpose of decency and tolerance. As I said on Monday, at times like this we have to rise to the challenge to ensure that what unites us is bigger, better and stronger than what divides us. That is the only way we can face and tackle these challenges.
The noble Baroness will understand that these risks and challenges can only be increased by uncertainty. I deeply regret that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his answers today, has increased that uncertainty. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will today be able to address these questions and tell us when the Government will clarify the comments made by the noble and learned Lord.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. I share the outrage expressed about the terrorist atrocity perpetrated in Istanbul yesterday. On behalf of these Benches, I offer condolences to the bereaved and say that our thoughts are very much with those suffering injury.
I do not intend to rehearse the sentiments I expressed on behalf of these Benches on Monday—people know the position of my party on the referendum and its result, which we respect—but the Prime Minister, I am sure, had a very difficult task at the Council yesterday. The result of the referendum was not what he had campaigned for and I am sure he would not be human if he did not feel some tinge of discomfort when he walked out the door, knowing that people were going to talk about him as soon as the door was closed. However, I suspect that whatever difficulties he had will pale into insignificance compared with the difficulty our next Prime Minister, whoever that may be, will have when he attends meetings to discuss Brexit.
Or she. The difficulty will be knowing what they are negotiating about, because the leave that Mr Nigel Farage campaigned for is not the leave that the honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Mr Johnson, campaigned for. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the new Whitehall unit she referred to will be preparing dossiers on all the varied positions, whether 57 varieties or more? Will it be putting those forward to the incoming Administration, setting out what the implications are for each of the leave varieties and addressing some of their fundamental contradictions?
I am also concerned that, as we go forward, there will be growing dissatisfaction and frustration as people realise that much of what they have been promised will not be possible. That must pose a threat to liberal democracy in this country, indeed, to parliamentary democracy, which is based on attention to evidence, reasoned debate, willingness to compromise and tolerance. I note that the Statement emphasised that we are not turning our back on Europe and that the European Union is not turning its back on us. This is important as we move forward, so we can demonstrate that there can be constructive discussions on the future.
We know that following this Statement there will be a Statement from the Home Office on hate crime. I share the deep concerns that have been expressed in your Lordships’ House about the surge of resentment, intimidation and blatant racism that we have seen in this country since last Thursday. This is not our Britain. We want a Britain which is a country of tolerance and acceptance. Words are not enough, we want some reassurances of increased police awareness and activity, not just in London but throughout the country.
I have some specific questions about our immediate relationship with the European Union, picking up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said. The Prime Minister confirmed in the other place on Monday that he will appoint a new Commissioner to fill the vacancy. Can the Minister give us an indication of when the position will be filled and what the process will be for appointing a new Commissioner? Following questions on Monday, I wrote to her yesterday querying not when but how Article 50 might be triggered. What are the United Kingdom’s own constitutional requirements in terms of paragraph 1 of Article 50? If she cannot answer today, will she indicate that she will be in a position to do so when we debate these matters next Tuesday? Again, noting what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said about the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which we are due to take up a year this week, can the Minister give us an indication of the Government’s position on that? Indeed, does she think it wise for us to go down that road and, if so, what in the world would we be putting on the agenda? We need a real indication of the Government’s assessment and analysis of that situation.
Finally, it is clear that many people in English regions and in Wales felt let down and left behind, not just by Europe but by politicians and decision-makers at home. People in the north-east and south-west of England voted against London, I believe, as much as against the European Union. But the sad reality is that the alternatives offered by the leave campaign will do nothing much to help those in England’s poorer regions. Those who promised that we can spend the money we get back from Europe on the NHS and wider public services are also people who believe in shrinking the state. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction here. Will the Leader look again at disproportionate cuts in local authority budgets and public investment in places such as Cornwall, the north-east and the north-west? Will the Government address with more urgency investment in training, further education and skills? Will she say how we might be able to secure the hopes and aspirations of younger people, who voted in such numbers to remain in the European Union?
These are domestic issues. They do not have to await negotiation with 27 other EU countries, nor do we need negotiation with 27 other EU countries to determine whether European Union citizens currently living and working in the United Kingdom can stay here post-Brexit. This is something we can do ourselves and surely the Government must start addressing these issues now.
My Lords, it is clear that there are very strong views and feelings right now following the referendum result last week. I understand that. A very important event has taken place and a very important decision has been made. While I feel it is absolutely right that we follow this clear instruction that has come from the British people to leave the European Union, it is important, as the Prime Minister stressed in his Statement, that we are not turning our back on Europe or our European partners, and we must work together with Europe to ensure that we continue our shared security and that we do so in a way that promotes and protects the prosperity of the United Kingdom and all the people living in all parts of the United Kingdom.
As the Prime Minister has been at pains to say, the precise relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe in the future will be one for his successor to decide and is not one that he, in his remaining few weeks as Prime Minister, will be taking the lead on. It is very important that this Government make a big contribution to maintaining the stability of this country in a very uncertain time. I do not dispute that it is a very uncertain time for people, and that is reflected in different ways.
Picking up on the first point raised by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord about the status of British people living in Europe and of European citizens living and working in this country, the first and most important thing to say is, whether you are a Brit living and working abroad or whether you are a European citizen living and working in this country, you are making a valuable contribution. Certainly, the EU citizens living and working in this country are making a vital contribution to our country. The Prime Minister has been at pains to stress that right now nothing is affected by the result of the referendum last week. I very much heard and understand the House’s anxiety about free movement between this country and other European Union member states. We are not trying to negotiate about people’s individual status in the way that some noble Lords are trying to interpret what was said previously. We are saying that although at this moment nothing has changed—all rights are protected—we are going to have to work through a period of deciding the impact of the referendum result. Some of the impacts will come from our negotiations and discussions with Europe in the future and some may sit outside these. Over the next weeks and months, it will be uncertain. We have got to work together to try to provide what reassurance we can that people’s rights are not changed at this time. That is very important.
The noble Baroness also referred to uncertainty around the impact of the result of the referendum on the economy and jobs. To repeat what I have said, and I say this as someone who campaigned for us to remain in the European Union, it is vital for us in getting as soon as we can to that point of greater stability that we focus our energies on our negotiations for the future of this country in terms of its relationship with Europe. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a significant effect from that referendum decision that will lead ultimately to us leaving the European Union. The Government were of course leading the remain camp. We did forecast that there would be potential economic difficulties as a result of any decision to leave. However, in the light of this decision we must now ensure that we mitigate any immediate volatility arising. Over the weekend we have seen from the steps that were taken by the Bank of England and its work in co-operation with other institutions that its contingency planning has had a good impact on the markets in terms of providing some reassurance.
In the weeks that follow we clearly need to prepare for the new Prime Minister being in place and outlining what kind of relationship we want in the future with Europe and how that relationship will work, particularly in respect of the single market and whether we are going to be in it. Between now and then, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Chancellor and others will continue to have meetings with business leaders. The fact that we have a strong economy and are able to withstand this period of uncertainty is also helping stability. The unit that the Prime Minister has set up in Whitehall is there to make sure that at the point at which the new Prime Minister is in place they have at their disposal as much factual information as possible so that when they have got a clear vision of what kind of relationship the UK will have with Europe in the future they can move swiftly to the point of triggering Article 50.
The noble Baroness raised questions about the increase in hate crimes or demonstrations of racism against people. As I said on Monday, these are wholly and utterly abhorrent. Together we must make it clear to anybody who is trying to use the referendum result to promote racism that we reject that—we in the United Kingdom have not given up on our values. The fact that a majority of people in this country has decided not to be a member of the European Union any more does not mean that we should stop promoting the important values of this country. My noble friend Lord Ahmad will say more in the Statement that follows.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is pointing to the clock. The Companion makes it clear that, if necessary, I can go beyond 20 minutes in order to respond to some of the points that have been raised. I will respond to them, but that will not in any way reduce the time allocated for Back-Benchers.
The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord asked some specific questions about the UK Commissioner in the European Union. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we are a fully paid-up member of the European Union until we stop being a fully paid-up member of the European Union and therefore have some entitlements, which include a Commissioner. He has raised this with the President of the Commission and we hope very soon to come forward with a nominee for that post. As for questions about next year’s EU presidency, I understand clearly that we need to get that resolved soon. I expect it will be done in short order, but I do not have any further information to offer at this time.
The noble and learned Lord asked about Article 50. Article 50 is the legal route we will follow in order to exit from the European Union, and I think we have all become familiar with the idea that triggering Article 50 will start that process formally. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not be triggering it and that it will be a matter for his successor. But in his view it is important that they are clear, at the point at which they trigger Article 50, about the kind of relationship the United Kingdom should have with the European Union. That will assist in the negotiations.
As for Parliament’s role in that process, as noble Lords heard me say on Monday, I am very keen to ensure that this House plays an important part between now and the start of any Article 50 process. Neither I nor the current Prime Minister can prescribe what role there might be for Parliament in deciding what the next Prime Minister will come forward with to take to Brussels in terms of the specifics of that process, but as I said on Monday, this House in particular has a wealth of knowledge, experience, expertise and wisdom, and I want to ensure that we use that as best we can. However, I want us to use it and channel it to secure a long-term successful future for the United Kingdom, while recognising that the people of this country have decided that our future will not be as a full member of the European Union.
My Lords, I will raise the question that was raised very clearly by both the Front Benches—by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, quoted directly from the Statement on the “next steps” before leaving:
“First, there was a lot of reassurance that until Britain leaves, we are a full member”.
Can the Leader of the House explain two things to us? First, what was the PM’s rationale for almost creating a precedent for his successor by not attending yesterday’s meeting? Secondly, if we are going to appoint a new Commissioner, what was the rationale for our present Commissioner so quickly deciding to resign? Those two issues show to me that we have already given up on part of the fight.
In response to the noble Lord’s first point, it is worth me clarifying what the arrangements are in terms of what the European Council can and cannot do in light of the United Kingdom’s decision. Until Article 50 is triggered, the European Council cannot meet without all of its member states. The meeting held today was not a meeting of the European Council; it was a meeting that they decided to hold in order to have informal discussions about the United Kingdom’s decision to exit from the European Union. That is a matter for them.
As far as the appointment of a new Commissioner is concerned, my noble friend Lord Hill has been an excellent Commissioner, and I am glad the noble Lord concurs with that point. As I said the other day, my noble friend made clear on Saturday his reasons for resigning from that post, and he obviously speaks for himself on that. However, as the Prime Minister has said, we are entitled to a European Commissioner and that is something he hopes to take forward.
Would my noble friend agree that there are two gleams of light in this rather churlish account of what has occurred in Brussels? The first is that there are reports that the principle of freedom of movement is in fact being re-examined right across Europe; it was said to be immutable, but it seems that, in the real, practical world that we now live in, it will have to be changed and that might be extremely useful for us. Secondly, the central and east European countries—their Governments and, indeed, their peoples—seem to be urging that the present Commission should be removed and that the new Commission formed, and indeed the President of the Commission, should be rather more constructive and friendly towards the United Kingdom and our ambitions.
I would say something else in response to my noble friend and his comment about churlishness or any kind of negativity, and that is to point noble Lords to the comments made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The talks that took place yesterday in Europe were constructive; the tone was warm. We have not reached a point where we are doing anything other than proceeding in a way that is both responsible and constructive and that will lead to, as far as we are concerned, a continuing relationship—albeit a very different one in the future—because we think that is important and in everybody’s interest.
As to my noble friend’s comment about freedom of movement and the prospect of that being changed in some way, I am not sure that the read-out that the Prime Minister has given me, or the comments that he made to the other place, would be quite as encouraging as my noble friend has suggested. On the contrary, the leaders of the other members of the European Union do feel very strongly about freedom of movement—and that being not just goods, services and capital but also people—and what the Prime Minister explained in his discussions with them last night was that a willingness to consider that differently might have made a difference. I think it is also worth noting that this new future arrangement with the European Union, whatever it may be, will not lead to the deal that the Prime Minister did strike some months ago. I do not think we should underestimate him, and perhaps now we can see just how much he did achieve in getting them to agree to those changes to the welfare arrangements as a response to this particular issue.
My Lords, would the noble Baroness the Leader of the House recognise that what the Prime Minister said about the treatment of European Union citizens in this country is that he will graciously apply the law of the land—no more, no less? Does she not think it a little odd that the Prime Minister and the Government should have to say that they will obey the law of this country? That is what that adds up to—nothing more. Could the noble Baroness tell us what figures for growth of the British economy underpins the figures she quoted from the European Central Bank regarding the effect on the eurozone economy? Those figures must exist; otherwise, they could not could not have been produced.
I am not able to provide right now the data that the noble Lord has asked for on the economy. If I can, I will write to the noble Lord with that information. I would say to him again, and to the House as a whole, that we have a strong economy in this country, and it is because of that strong economy that we are in a good position to withstand whatever period of uncertainty we are about to endure.
My Lords, the noble Baroness tells the House that the empty chair today is not because of any legal issues but because it is an informal meeting. She will know that Nicola Sturgeon is meeting the Commission chairman, Mr Juncker, as well as the President of the European Parliament today. Is that an informal meeting as well? Is foreign affairs still a reserved matter, or will they have discussions with the Scottish Government over amending the Scotland Act and consultations about Brexit?
I can certainly confirm that foreign affairs is a reserved matter and that the UK’s relationship with the European Union is just that—the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The decision to leave was one taken by the United Kingdom as a whole. Future negotiations on our future relationship will be United Kingdom led. That said, the Prime Minister has been at pains to stress that, in this period—and, he hopes, that of his successor—the United Kingdom Government will consult the devolved Assemblies. We want to ensure the best result for all parts of the United Kingdom and this Government very much believe that that will be achieved if we consult them.
As for the noble Baroness’s points about empty-chairing discussions on this, that and the other, I point out to noble Lords that, in addition to attending the European Council yesterday, the Prime Minister held bilateral meetings with other members of the European Union, the President of the Commission and so on. He has said today that, while formal negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU will be triggered by Article 50, which can be triggered only by the United Kingdom—and members of the European Union have made clear that, from their perspective, that is the point at which formal negotiations will start—that will not prevent discussions taking place bilaterally. That is something which he very much hopes his successor will continue.
My Lords, on that very point, I have a strictly technical question, for which there must be a very clear answer. If indeed, as far as Brussels is concerned, negotiations can start only after Article 50 has been moved—those negotiations may be satisfactory or unsatisfactory as far as the UK is concerned—at the end of that process, does the UK have the right to withdraw its application under Article 50?
I am sure that we will find over the next couple of years that there will be lots of debates about many of these things, but what is very clear to me is that, once Article 50 is triggered, that is the formal start of the exit process. Unless an agreement is reached between the United Kingdom and the other member states in advance of the end of the two-year period—or at the end, if there is unanimous agreement among those member states with the United Kingdom that it should be extended—once that process starts, it will be completed at the end of two years.
Does the noble Baroness agree that yesterday the Prime Minister was the first in Britain’s history to attend a European Council without a clue as to what the British agenda was? Given that his possible, perhaps likely, successor Boris Johnson wrote a newspaper article on Monday saying that we needed to stay in the single market, only for his aide to say yesterday that he was too tired when he wrote it and did not really mean that, and given that on the doorstep in south Wales, as I can testify, people voted leave because immigration was going to be reduced—a promise also reneged on by the leave leaders—is there not now an irrefutable case for this House to consider a referendum at some point in future after the deal has been agreed, because it is very evident that people voted last Thursday without any idea what was actually going to happen to them?
We are in a situation where, clearly, this Government campaigned for our recommendation to the British people, which was to remain in the European Union, but a majority of the British people rejected that position and decided that we should exit. This Prime Minister is working hard, between now and the point at which he is replaced, to provide as much as he can by way of factual information so that the next Prime Minister is in a strong position, as soon as possible, to outline the kind of relationship that the United Kingdom should have with the European Union. I have explained that the Article 50 process will be the formal trigger process between the United Kingdom and the European Union. As for the point at which other events will occur, once there is that clarity on the type of relationship that the next Prime Minister wishes the United Kingdom to have with the European Union—when that is presented and other contributions, whether from Parliament or anyone else, are made—I cannot say at the moment, as that will be something that the next Prime Minister has to decide.
My Lords, could my noble friend confirm that the Prime Minister is first among equals and that we do not have a presidential system of government in this country? Could she say, on behalf of the Government, for whom she speaks in this House, that any European citizen living in Britain has a right to remain here and that right will not be in any way affected by Brexit, and that the position is not negotiable? She must be aware that many people are concerned about their position and their future and surely it is the responsibility of the leadership of this Government to make it absolutely clear that there is no question mark over that.
I will say what I have said already—which I believe is very clear, although I understand that my noble friend is seeking from me something which goes beyond what I am able to do at this time—which is that, as things stand, nothing has changed. However, I understand and very much appreciate why he and others are raising these questions. These are things which we will have to return to, and I recognise that we will have to return to them as quickly as we can.
Does the noble Baroness understand that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, has enormous force and is understood all around this House? This morning, I heard the French ambassador tell of French citizens in the streets of London—detected as French because they were speaking their language—being told by the crowd to go home. We cannot have this; the Government have to speak up.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has heard me say already today that anybody who is at this time telling anybody that they should go home is completely and utterly wrong, and that is not something which this Government are in any doubt about whatever. What I cannot say to the noble Lord or to the House, I fear, is—at the point at which we exit the European Union—what our relationship will be with France, in order to determine what kind of citizenship rights we want to offer.
The noble Baroness said earlier that we should all now concentrate our energies on the negotiations, if I understood what she said. Can she help me a little bit? How can I concentrate my energies on negotiations when, first, I do not know when they will be negotiating; secondly, I do not know who is going to be doing the negotiating; thirdly, I do not know precisely what they are going to negotiate about; and fourthly, I do not know what our negotiators are trying to achieve?
As the noble Lord knows and the House understands—we all understand—the people of the United Kingdom were offered an opportunity to decide whether we should remain in the European Union or not. They have made their decision; we are now in a period of having to transition between that decision having been made and the next steps being taken. At the moment, what the Prime Minister is doing, and what I am doing, is setting out the information that we have—recognising of course that there is much more that needs to be established. That is something that the next Prime Minister will have to take forward but, in the meantime, the Government are doing quite a bit in order to prepare for that stage.
My Lords, I am almost minded to ask—given that Vote Leave promised us that we could “take control”—whether anybody is in control at the moment. However, I want to point to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments in the Bundestag yesterday when she said that she was concerned about German citizens living in this country who are concerned about their future. We have not even triggered Article 50 yet. The noble Baroness suggested that nothing changes until we leave, but, actually, things have changed already. People are aware that we have taken that vote and that decision. We need some leadership from the Government and we need to know that the rights of EU nationals resident in this country will be secured. That is for the Government to do, not for negotiations.
I am afraid that I can only say what I have already said, which is that the rights of all people from the European Union living in this country are unchanged at this time. As frustrating as it may be for the noble Baroness to hear me say it again, their rights are completely unchanged. It is of course something that we will need to clarify, but it is not something that I am able to do today.
My noble friend made reference to the growth figures and the projected growth of not only Britain but the European Community. Pending the referendum, a large number of decisions seem to have been deferred. To boost economic growth, I ask that some of them are now taken and implemented. I cite two examples, one slightly less contentious than the other: there is a planning application pending in relation to City Airport, which would be a good indicator of future economic growth; and there have been requests from all sides of this Chamber that a decision on runway capacity in the south-east is announced before the Summer Recess. I hope that that is stuck to.
We are now moving on to the next Statement. The noble Lord asks about the time allocated to Back-Bench questions. As he knows—I think that he was here in the House on Monday—I was very happy to extend the time on Monday for Back-Bench questions. I have repeated this Statement today. We have scheduled time on Tuesday next week for a full day’s debate for noble Lords to debate Europe and we will have a series of debates on Thursday. I know that there is much that noble Lords want to debate and question, and there will be lots of opportunities, but I am afraid that we have to continue with our other business. My noble friend Lord Ahmad is about to make a very important Statement which covers some of the topics that noble Lords have been raising. I am sorry, but we are going to move on. I just want to explain to the House what it is that we are doing right now. My noble friend is now going to move on.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement delivered in the other place by my honourable friend, Karen Bradley. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, hate crime of any kind, directed against any community, race or religion has absolutely no place in our society.
As the Prime Minister has told the House today, we are utterly committed to tackling hate crime, and we will provide extra funding in order to do so. We will also take steps to boost the reporting of hate crime, support victims, issue new CPS guidance to prosecutors on racially aggravated crime, provide a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and offer additional funding to community organisations so they can tackle hate crime.
The scenes and behaviour we have seen in recent days, including offensive graffiti and abuse hurled at people because they are members of ethnic minorities or because of their nationality, are despicable and shameful. We must stand together against such hate crime and ensure that it is stamped out.
Over the last week, there has been a 57% increase in reporting to the police online reporting portal, True Vision, compared to this time last month, with 85 reports made between Thursday 23 June and Sunday 26 June, compared to 54 reports in the corresponding four days four weeks ago. However, I would urge caution in drawing conclusions from these figures, as they are a small snapshot of reports as a guide to the trend, rather than definitive statistics.
Much of the reporting of these incidents has been through social media, including reports of the xenophobic abuse of eastern Europeans in the UK, as well as attacks against members of the Muslim community. However, we have seen messages of support and friendship on social media, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in commending those who we have seen stand up for what is right, and uphold the shared values that bring us together as a country, such as those who opposed the racist and hateful speech shown in the recent video taken on a tram in Manchester.
These recent events are shocking, but sadly this is not a new phenomenon. Statistics from the Tell MAMA report, published today, show that in 2015 there was a 326% increase from 2014 in street-based anti-Muslim incidents reported directly to Tell MAMA, such as verbal abuse in the street and women’s veils being pulled away—with 437 incidents reported to Tell MAMA. Worryingly, the report also finds that 45% of online hate crime perpetrators are supportive of the far right. In recent days we have seen far-right groups engaged in organised marches and demonstrations, sowing division and fear in our communities. We have also seen far-right groups broadcasting extreme racist and anti-Semitic ideology online, along with despicable hate speech posted online following the shocking death of our colleague Jo Cox.
Her appalling death just under two weeks ago shocked and sickened people not only in communities up and down this country but in many other countries around the world. As we heard in the many moving tributes paid in this House, her loss will be keenly felt, and we will always remember that a husband is now without his loving wife and two young children will now grow up without a mother.
The investigation of hate crimes is of course an operational matter for the police. But I would urge anyone who has experienced hate crime to report it, whether directly to the police at a police station, by phoning the 101 hotline, or online through the True Vision website.
In this country we have some of the strongest legislation in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. This includes specific offences for racially and religiously aggravated activity and offences of stirring up hatred on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation. It is imperative that those laws are rigorously enforced. The national police lead for hate crime, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, has issued a statement confirming that police forces are working closely with their communities to maintain unity and prevent any hate crime or abuse. Police forces will respond robustly to any incidents, and victims can be reassured that their concerns about hate crime will be taken seriously by the police and courts. Any decisions regarding the resourcing of front-line policing are a matter for chief constables in conjunction with their police and crime commissioner.
Since coming into office, the Government have worked with the police to improve our collective response to hate crime. The Home Secretary has asked the police to ensure that the recording of religious-based hate crime now includes the faith of the victim, a measure that came into effect this April. We have also established joint training between the police and Crown Prosecution Service staff to improve the way the police identify and investigate hate crime. Alongside this training, the College of Policing, as the professional body for policing, has published a national strategy and operational guidance in this area to ensure that policing deals with hate crime effectively.
But we need to do more to understand the hate crime that we are seeing and to tackle it. That is why we will be publishing a new hate crime action plan, covering all forms of hate crime, including xenophobic attacks. We have developed the plan in partnership with communities and departments across government. It will include measures to increase the reporting of hate incidents and crimes, including working with communities and police to develop third-party reporting centres. It will work to prevent hate crimes on transport and to tackle attacks against Muslim women, which we recognise is an area of great concern to the community. The action plan will also provide stronger support for victims, helping to put a stop to this pernicious behaviour.
We also appreciate that places of worship are feeling particularly vulnerable at this time, and that is why we have established funding for the security of places of worship, as announced by the Prime Minister last October. This will enable places of worship to bid for money to fund additional security measures, such as CCTV cameras or fencing. We have also been working with communities to encourage them to come forward to report such crimes and to give them the confidence that these crimes will be taken seriously by the police and courts. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, have today visited the Polish cultural centre in Hammersmith, which was the victim of disgusting graffiti, to express their support. We are working closely with organisations such as Tell MAMA and the Community Security Trust to monitor hate crime incidents, as well as working with the national community tensions team within the police to keep community tensions under review.
The Government are clear that hate crime of any kind must be taken very seriously indeed. Our country is thriving, liberal and modern precisely because of the rich co-existence of people of different backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities, and that rich co-existence is something that we must treasure and strive to protect. We must work together to protect that diversity, defeat hate crime and uphold the values that underpin the British way of life, and we must ensure that all those who seek to spread hatred and division in our communities are dealt with robustly by the police and the courts”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the House of Commons and for the words about Jo Cox MP. Will he assure us that the reason this important Statement, on a matter of real concern, was not made by the Home Secretary in the Commons was definitely due to unavoidable reasons unrelated to internal politics within the Conservative Party?
Since last Thursday’s referendum, there are reports of a fivefold increase in race hate comments on social media channels and a more than 50% increase in hate crimes reported to the police online hate crime reporting channel. That increase is on top of an already rising tide of hate crimes in England and Wales. Last year the police recorded over 52,000 hate crimes—an increase of 18% on the year before—and more than four-fifths of these were racially motivated.
There are also reports, in the aftermath of the referendum campaign and result, of attacks on individuals and incidents of racial hatred against specific communities: a Muslim schoolgirl cornered by a group of people who told her, “Get out, we voted leave”, a Polish community centre daubed with racist graffiti, a halal butcher’s shop petrol-bombed, and a US Army veteran and university lecturer told to “get back to Africa” by three youths on a tram. There are even cases of people who were born in this country, have lived in this country all their lives, and are as British as I am, being told to go back to their own country.
All this was unleashed by the campaigning during, and outcome of, a referendum that was called not in the national interest but because of splits in the Conservative Party. There would have been no referendum if the Conservative Party had not been so divided on the issue of Europe. The result of the referendum has emboldened those with feelings of such hatred, because in the light of the tenor of much of the campaign and its concentration on migration, such people now feel that the result has been an indication of support for their abhorrent views, and has given those abhorrent views a level of respectability that they did not have before.
It is a small minority of people who seek to use a time like this to peddle hatred and violence—but if you are on the receiving end of such hatred and violence, it does not feel like a small minority. I do not know what is happening in our country—or to our country—today. We seem to be becoming an increasingly intolerant society. The question now is: how do we get the evil genie back in the bottle? That will not be easy, particularly in the new world of social media. If the Government take the view that we just have to ride out the next few weeks and months and everything will rectify itself, that will be complacency in the extreme—and a damaging and dangerous complacency at that. It all depends what the measures referred to in today’s Statement mean in practice, as opposed to in words. We all have a responsibility to respect the decision that has been made by the people in the referendum, to work to heal the divisions that it has magnified and to take on directly, and defeat, those filled with feelings of hatred and violence towards others.
The Government have announced an action plan to tackle hate crime, and said that it will be published shortly. This will not be the first plan this Government have had. What is needed are results—positive results. Perhaps the Minister can say when the plan will be published, and why he thinks it is going to deliver. Can he tell us whether it will have specific objectives that can be measured, and what will be included in those objectives which can be measured? Since the Government have said that the action plan is to tackle hate crime, presumably one aspect will be apprehending those engaged in such crime. What more resources, financial and human, will be provided to our police forces, which have been cut and cut again since 2010? From which budget will the extra funding referred to in the Statement be taken, and how much will it amount to?
Hate crime of any kind is abhorrent and has no place in society. It is in itself, and by its very nature, a rejection of the British values that have always bound us together. Non-British nationals living in Britain will today feel worried about their safety and that of their children and families, and will be in need of reassurance. I hope the Minister and the Government will be able to provide it. People need reassurance that action will be taken now. Can the Minister tell us what extra steps are being taken to monitor reports of hate crime, and what immediate advice the Home Office is giving to the police on tackling such incidents? Will decisions on the extra resources that should now be used from police budgets to address rising hate crime and violence be for police and crime commissioners or for chief constables?
Confidence to report such hate crimes will increase if people believe that reports will be followed up. What specific action will be taken to address this point? To provide further reassurance at this difficult time, can the Government say more to provide reassurance to EU nationals in this country about their future status in this country? Frankly, the response by the Government in Oral Questions today about the position of EU nationals who live in this country will not have helped the situation. The referendum is over but its scars remain. We now need to work to make sure that our country remains the open and welcoming place we know and love.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches condemn all hate crime, whatever the target, and deplore the appalling murder of Jo Cox MP—our thoughts are with her family. We need to stand together to have a united, strong, liberal voice against those who try to stir up hatred in our communities. We as Liberal Democrats are prepared to do that. We beg both of the other major parties in this House to stand together to try to fight this issue.
It is difficult to judge what the longer-term impact of the EU referendum will be on hate crime, but far more worrying to us on these Benches is the impact the immigration debate and increasing xenophobia had on the EU referendum rather than the other way round. In addition to the increase in Islamophobia mentioned in the Statement, and as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, just said, in 2014-15 there was an 18% increase in reported hate crime compared with the year before, and anecdotally, those who have rarely experienced hate crime in the past now report becoming victims, including members of minority groups on these Benches.
To what extent does the Minister share my concern that these developments are a worrying reflection of a change in the culture of this country—a shift, of whatever magnitude, away from being an open and tolerant society that welcomes diversity? What will the Government do about it? It is not just about reporting investigations into hate crimes, treating the symptoms, but about treating the causes. What will they do to try to address this shift in culture towards xenophobia and racism? As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and other noble Lords, have asked this afternoon, what does the Minister think the impact on xenophobia will be of the Government’s apparent position—that the status of 2 million EU citizens currently resident in the UK will be the subject of negotiation with the EU? Surely the Minister realises that this will increase hate crime, not decrease it. What will the Government do about it?
My Lords, first, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. Various questions have been asked; I will take some of them head-on.
Questions were raised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, with regard to recent events. As the Statement alluded to today, my noble friend Lady Williams and I went to the cultural centre in Hammersmith to reassure people there, and we were accompanied by the Polish ambassador. The positive element we heard from both the Polish community and the ambassador about reporting such hate crimes since the vote last week was that, while they have been reported, they are pockets and certainly not an emerging trend. That said, we cannot show any degree of complacency. I talked about the True Vision online police reporting stats, and there are two elements to that. It is of course concerning that if you look at some of the statistics, from Thursday to Saturday there was about a 27% increase compared to the same period in the previous month, but if you include Sunday’s figures, it went up to a 57% increase in reported crimes. This is just a snapshot but, nevertheless, it is indicative of how certain mindsets, and indeed criminals, will use opportunities such as the vote last week to demonstrate their criminal intent against minority communities.
Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that during the coming weeks and months—both in my personal work and in my work as a government Minister—I shall leave no stone unturned in ensuring that we eradicate all levels of hate crime. But in doing so, we must work in partnership with all communities. We must also emphasise—coming back to a point noble Lords made about how we tackle embedded culture issues—that part of this is down to education. We must ensure a level of integration in which, not only can someone from any culture, community or faith feel that their identity is protected, but they are also protected through mutual respect of one another’s right to belong to whichever faith or community they choose.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked how the Government are addressing the levels of intolerance in society, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who also asked about the national action plan. We have consulted very extensively on this and we are in the process of getting cross-government sign-off for it. The noble Lord also asked about certain measures that will be in place. We need to ensure we can measure hate crime effectively in all its ugly guises.
In terms of specific measures, asked about by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, we have taken serious steps to address various issues, as I am sure he is aware. Previously, only anti-Semitism was recorded as a specific religious hate crime but, from 1 April this year, any hate crime against any religious community—including anti-Muslim hatred—is now specifically recorded by the police.
We have also seen a much higher take-up in the reporting of hate crime, particularly within the Muslim community, and that is a positive development. People know that they can report hate crime; the fear of reporting it is often forgotten. People increasingly have the confidence to come forward at a local level to report hate crime, but more needs to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about the general immigration debate. There were certain elements of the referendum campaign—there is no better example than when a particular poster was revealed—that all of us across this Chamber felt were best described as vile. They played on fears, division and the history and legacy of a path that we all not only deplore but do not wish to see arising again in our country. Anyone who supports such campaigning needs to reflect very deeply on their own intent, as to what kind of atmosphere and environment they are creating.
The Government have further recently announced that we are in the midst of finalising the governance of how funding will work. As noble Lords will be aware, we work very closely with the Community Security Trust to protect of places of worship—synagogues—and schools within the Jewish community. The Government have now announced funding to protect other places of worship that are coming under attack or are being targeted by extreme right-wing groups, particularly mosques. We have seen instances of gurdwaras being attacked, sometimes due to the sheer ignorance of attackers thinking they are mosques. As I have previously commented to Members of your Lordships’ House, we have to overcome the kind of prejudices whereby, for example, if the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and I were walking down the street, he may be perceived, because of his attire, by an ignorant person as a Muslim while I may not. Those are the kind of ignorant attitudes we must address. They are partly driven by fear, but also partly by hate. We must address these attitudes full-on.
I would be happy to talk to noble Lords across the Chamber to see how we tackle all forms of hate crime. Any form of hate, be it based on religion, culture, community, sexual orientation, race or gender is, frankly, unacceptable.
My Lords, I am very interested in the Minister saying that he will leave no stone unturned. There will be a stone immediately before the House in the next few weeks—the Policing and Crime Bill. There is no point in the police arresting people for these crimes and the Crown Prosecution Service then putting them in front of the courts unless the courts do something about it. I am not a natural hanger and flogger but a clause in the Policing and Crime Bill saying that the starting position for hate crime is a custodial sentence would send a message. We did exactly that regarding the possession of knives during the knife-crime epidemic. We said that the starting point was a custodial sentence, and I firmly suggest that the Government bring forward an amendment to that effect in Committee.
My Lords, I am sure everybody in your Lordships’ House is reassured by the fact that my noble friend is dealing with this subject. He brings great sensitivity to it, as well as great experience. Perhaps I may return to a matter that was raised several times during both the previous Statement and this one. I am sure that the remarks made by our noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie were not ill intentioned but they were extremely clumsily phrased, and they have sent out a message which must cause great anxiety among the EU citizens resident in this country. They are not, and must never be, a bargaining counter in any negotiations. Will my noble friend undertake at the very least to have an early conversation with my noble and learned friend Lord Keen and with the Leader of the House so that we can have clarification of those unfortunate statements before the House rises at the end of this week?
I thank my noble friend for his remarks. I see it as a huge privilege and an honour to serve your Lordships’ House. When it comes to issues such as tackling hate crime—in particular, we have seen a rise in the levels of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia—we have the strength and experience in this House to face the challenges from all types of extremists who seek to disrupt what we have. Those challenges require a unified response, and I shall remain open in the discussions as we tackle some of the more serious issues.
On the specific points that he raised, I am the first to admit that we are going through unprecedented times in terms of how we go forward as a country. However, I am an eternal optimist. I believe in the positive nature of our country and in our resilience. It is important to reassure every citizen who chooses to make the UK their home, including those from the European Union, that their rights, safety and security will be safeguarded, and this is perhaps the most appropriate time to re-emphasise that. Unfortunately, I was not in the House when my noble and learned friend spoke but I will certainly reflect on his comments. However, I was here when my noble friend the Leader of the House spoke, and I think she provided clarity on some of the comments and questions that were raised.
My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has said today, and I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Rosser said in his response. I think back to the wonderful days of the Olympics, when we were a multicultural country. We were delighted to have people here from all over the world and this was a country that showed tolerance. Since then, we have become small, inward-looking and mean-minded. I would like to put two things to the Minister.
First, if ever the country needed leadership to tackle hate crime and to condemn those awful people in our society who take advantage of minorities in this country, it is now. I am dismayed that somebody who wants to be Prime Minister of this country peddled racial hatred and opposition to migration by saying that millions of Turks were going to come to this country. After the referendum, he said, “Oh, it wasn’t about immigration at all”. Anybody who knocked on doors knows that there was one issue that won the referendum for the leave campaign and that was immigration. There were some worthy, decent people in the leave campaign but the fact is that it was the immigration argument that did it and the hate crime is a result of that immigration argument.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes some powerful points. First, let me assure him that, when it comes to dealing with the issue of hate crime, there is no void in leadership—and not just within the Government. Of course, the Government facilitate and demonstrate their intent. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been instrumental in some of the initiatives that I have already talked about. I am sure noble Lords will agree that she is not someone who shies away from difficult and tough calls. She has protected certain police budgets, but at the same time she has been at the forefront of providing the kind of protection and policies that we are seeing coming to the fore. I also pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. When we took up the mantle of new government, I spoke to him about tackling hate crime, particularly within certain religious communities, and ensuring that the fund for the protection of places of worship is instrumental and reflects this.
The noble Lord talked about those who play on the fear of immigration. I have already made my views clear on that. Anyone who plays on these fears to divide society needs to take a long, hard look at themselves.
My Lords, first, I express my appreciation to the Minister for his long-standing, staunch attacks on prejudice. He has been excellent in this regard. Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that one should take a broader view of this. It would be wrong, and we would be burying our heads in the sand, if we thought it was simply the EU and immigration unleashing racism in this country. Sadly, as many of us know, there have been a growing number of attacks for decades on Muslims, for which Tell MAMA can provide the statistics, and on Jews. The Community Security Trust too, of which I am a patron, has statistics. Unfortunately, they spike when there is an incident such as Gaza, but I do not want to go there now. We must ask ourselves: whence comes this racism, which has gone on for so very long? It is not a new phenomenon from last week, although obviously one appreciates the vigour of the condemnation from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, now that it has happened and been brought to our attention in a wider way.
I simply ask the Minister not to forget the forthcoming report of the Chakrabarti inquiry looking into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and the as yet unpublished report from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—on incidents in the Oxford University Labour Club, I am ashamed to say. All these incidents must be taken on board; it is not a narrow phenomenon of the EU and immigration. I do not know whether the Minister will agree with me, but I suggest that one possible theory is segregated education and that university authorities have not been cracking down in the way they should have on the continuation of some of the prejudices, which I fear have been nurtured in segregated education. I do not mean just in regular schooling but unfortunately after school as well.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for the work that she does for the CST. Indeed, I commend the work of organisations such as the CST for the Jewish community and of Tell MAMA in the reporting that it provides within the Muslim community. Our faith communities are central and pivotal in helping us to find and determine some of the solutions for the kind of integration that we want to see.
The noble Baroness makes a point about schools. There are many good examples of schools that are operating according to a particular faith ethos. We need to take those examples and ensure that they are translated across the board. Let me assure the noble Baroness that the Government are not complacent. The challenges that we are facing in certain sectors of society showing fragmentation and isolation need to be tackled full on, and the Government are seeking to do that through various policies, including tackling some of the challenges of radicalisation, both from the far right and from those usurping and hijacking faith, through our counterextremism strategy.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister two specific questions about religious literacy and religious education. First, I welcome the Statement and the responses from the other Front Benches, and of course express my own great dismay at the incidents that we have experienced in recent days. As I said in the House on Monday, the diocese where I serve includes some of the most multicultural parts of this country. I have heard many disturbing stories, and even more of them here today.
My first question relates to religious education. We have discovered in recent days something that is already there within us and that has been stirred up and legitimised by some of the debate, yet religious education has less of a place in the national curriculum than it used to. I wonder whether this is another opportunity for the Government to look again at the place of religious education in schools.
My second question is about religious literacy. I serve on this House’s Select Committee on Communications. We have recently completed a report on the renewal of the BBC charter. Religious broadcasting has almost disappeared from public service broadcasting, and the BBC no longer has a commissioning editor for religious broadcasting. Surely this is a time when we need to do more about this. It is a very practical matter that the Government could address.
I thank the right reverend Prelate, whose question relates to the central issues of literacy and education. It is important that school curricula reflect the diversity of faiths and of communities that demonstrates what modern Britain is. He made a very valid point, too, about religious literacy and spoke of how we might look towards our broadcasters to see how religion can be debated and discussed, because it is relevant to so many people’s lives in our country.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and echo the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I know personally of his dedication and commitment to eradicating the hatred that has reared its head in our society. As somebody said to me the other day, few of us believe that the 52% of the electorate who voted for Brexit are racist. However, the minority in this society who clearly are, and perhaps always have been, seem to think that the 52% suddenly agree with them and that the outpouring of hatred that we have seen has become legitimised. We all have to work together to tackle this, and there must be strong leadership.
Just last week, I was filled with dismay at the sight of the posters, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on Turkey and on a “breaking point”. All of them fed into people’s fears. As we know, 41 people have died so far as a result of three suicide bombers attacking ordinary civilians at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul last night. I have family and friends who have been greatly affected by it, and I still feel shaken by what has happened—I was grateful for the comments and tributes paid earlier. However, those very Turks who faced terrorism last night were vilified in posters around this country. It was said that 78 million were coming here from a country that was full of criminals and terrorists to threaten our way of life. I have not heard the people who led in that campaign—namely, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and various others who repeated the claims and legitimised those posters—distance themselves from them or say that they were not appropriate. I feel very sad that that is the case.
I want to ask two questions of the Minister. Hate crime is taking place in schools and workplaces. Children are being told to go home. Is the Secretary of State in touch with schools, notifying head teachers and giving support to make sure that such behaviour is not tolerated and that children should not be attacked in this way? Also, I have heard reports of people in their workplaces being told to go home, to get back to their country, and of employers turning a blind eye. These are very serious things. A lot of this stuff is not being reported, and we must send out very strong signals that these people will be supported and that employers have a responsibility to support their employees when others are breaking the law.
Finally, what are we going to do to prevent hate crime?
First, I join the noble Baroness, as I am sure do all noble Lords, in that we have all been stunned. Turkey has suffered greatly from acts of terrorisms, as we have seen, and we stand with Turkey at this time after a terrorist attack on Istanbul airport resulting in the loss of many innocent lives.
On the issue that she raised about what people said during the campaign, we are all accountable for what we say, and it is very much for people to look at themselves to see where they stand and the kind of Britain that they want to create.
I for one take heart, with all the negative reporting, from one report that reached my desk. There was a mother having a conversation with her son on a bus in another language. The lady concerned had a veil on. A person on the bus turned round to the lady and said, “This is Britain, don’t you know? You should speak English”. At which point another, more elderly lady on the bus responded, “Actually, we are in Wales and that mother is talking Welsh to her son”. I think that reflects the kind of attributes we find. It does not matter who you are, what you are or what you wear; we are proud of our identities, by faith, by community, by culture and by nationality. Yes, we are proud to be British, but I am heartened by the fact that there are others, who may not be of the same faith or the same community, who will be the first to defend someone’s rights to be who and what they are.
My Lords, I return to the question of the fragile position of new nationals who have made their residence here. It is a matter of supreme importance. I believe, with very great respect, that the Leader of the House failed to touch on the reality of the situation, which is that this is not a matter for the European Union at all. The basic premise, which we seem to have avoided up to now, is that it is a domestic matter, a matter of domestic municipal law. These people have invested their trust and that of their families in us. When they came to Britain they made themselves subject to our law and they are entitled to the protection of that law. To say that we will negotiate with anybody in relation to that is utterly wrong. We owe them that as a matter of trust.
Let me reassure the noble Lord. I have already commented on this, but I have put on record the fact that there are EU nationals, along with citizens of other countries, who have made Britain their home. We celebrate and value their contributions to our economic growth. They have provided jobs, and the noble Lord is quite right to point out that there is a responsibility on the Government of the day to ensure that all citizens, no matter where they come from, are provided with safety, security and a sense that, yes, they belong. I am sure that comments that have been made today will be reflected on.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in such a dangerous atmosphere all minorities are at risk, including Britain’s LGBT community? I refer him to a report in Pink News yesterday of a mob going down Drury Lane singing, “Rule, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. First we’ll get the Poles out. Then the gays”. Will he reassure Britain’s LGBT community that the Government will continue to do all they can to crack down on homophobic abuse and bullying?
I assure my noble friend that we support the sentiments that he has expressed about ensuring that people from the LGBT community are fully protected. Sometimes you get passing racism; I have experienced the question, “Where are you from?”, myself. I assure them that I am from Wimbledon. On a more positive note, we need to demonstrate what we are as a country. I was heartened by the fact that we had Gay Pride week last week and at the front of the Gay Pride parade was the London Mayor. Yes, he is the son of a bus driver, as is often said, but he is of Pakistani heritage and of Muslim faith.
My Lords, it is well recognised—indeed, the Minister has told us this afternoon—that incitement to racial hatred went on during the referendum campaign. Some disgraceful things were done over the nine weeks of the campaign. Do the Government have any plans to prosecute anyone for the crimes that were committed? At the very least, could they not have a government inquiry into what went on, which was instigated by the campaign managers?
I assure the noble Baroness that if a specific crime has been reported to the police, they work hand in glove with our criminal justice system. For those who commit a crime, there is a simple message: you will be brought to justice. I look forward to working together to ensure that the kinds of issues that have been raised today across the board on hate crime are addressed and that we collectively protect, sustain and strengthen the kind of country that we are.
Bus Services Bill [HL]
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Advanced quality partnership schemes
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, leave out “are likely to achieve one or more of” and insert “will achieve”
My Lords, the Bill is a welcome recognition of the need for reform in the provision of bus services. The geographical divide that has existed and grown over the past 30 years has shown a pattern of decline outside London, while London buses have flourished—as, of course, have their passengers. That sharp contrast has been made all the sharper by the recent round of cuts to rural services but it is worth remembering that this situation has already defied two previous attempts to reform it. I said at Second Reading that without additional funding to local authorities it would be very difficult for them to make a difference, and I very much regret that since last Thursday it is likely that local authorities will have even less money because there was a significant amount of EU money in the transport budget.The Department for Transport is bound to recast its plans, and I fear that bus services could face reduced allocations.
Improving bus services is about more than improving their frequency or the number of routes. We have to persuade people to use the buses. We believe that the Bill needs to seize the opportunity to improve facilities for disabled people, to make the use of smart ticketing the norm, to reduce emissions, to encourage young people on to the buses and to put passengers at the heart of the service. The Bill makes a start on some of this, and I welcome that, but in our view it does not go nearly far enough in making the consideration of these issues the norm. Our amendments in this group are largely targeted at these issues.
The Bill is a skeleton. It leaves many crucial issues—the things that will decide whether it works or fails—to regulations to be made by the Secretary of State. Our amendments also seek to probe more of the detail. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is critical of the skeletal nature of the Bill and the lack of a rationale in the Explanatory Notes for some of the powers to be conferred on the Secretary of State by regulation.
I also want to raise the impact assessments. When I picked up the document from the Printed Paper Office this morning, it was literally hot off the press. The Minister will know that I have been inquiring about the impact assessments, as have my noble friends, for some days. It is undermining the serious work of this House to produce impact assessments at this late stage when in practice it is impossible for people who are preparing for the debate this afternoon to take a full look at them. It undermines the purpose of the impact assessments as well.
This Bill has been a long time coming. We have waited over a year since it was first announced in the Queen’s Speech. It seems strangely rushed and uneven in the way in which it has been executed. It reads as if it were drafted by three different people taking on each of the three parallel systems—franchises, advanced quality partnerships and enhanced partnerships—and that those people never quite had the time to get together to make sure that the three parts were consistent. There is inconsistent use of phrases, including references to environmental factors in one part but not another; bus users are specified in one place but referred to everywhere else as “other people”; and in one place bus operators are allowed simply to make an objection to a scheme and in another place they cannot make an unreasonable objection. The purpose behind many of our amendments is therefore to find out more details as to why there are differences from one part to another. As the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee points out, the Bill confers powers on the Secretary of State by way of regulations in one case,
“because the policy has not been finalised in time for introduction”.
These are the words of the committee, not my words.
Of the amendments in the first group that refer to advanced quality partnerships, Amendment 1 is symbolic of a number of amendments trying to sharpen up a Bill which generally reads as a rather a vague proposition. By proposing this we are certainly not seeking to dictate solutions to local authorities. It is simply that we believe that they need to consider certain key factors—not that they may consider them, but that they really have to consider them. It does not dictate the solution. There must be a determination to improve and to consider a broad range of aspects that make up a good bus service. In Amendment 3 we specify advance ticketing. That is a good example, because advanced ticketing is not just convenient for passengers, thereby attracting new users, but it also speeds up bus services. Greener Journeys has done research that shows that it speeds up bus journeys by about 10%, a significant improvement. If you are speeding up journeys and buses are not hanging around at bus stops, there is less congestion, which is good for air quality.
Amendment 4 inserts noise pollution as an additional factor of which local authorities should take account. The Bill is very light on noise pollution, which is a serious factor for people who live near main roads in particular. Amendment 2 specifically provides for a duty to consider rural areas. It is essential that this Bill provides mechanisms to address the rural crisis in bus services because there is a real danger that this will become an urban Bill if we are not careful. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw will address this in his remarks.
If the Bill is to achieve its aims, it has to tackle the core issues mentioned in Amendment 5A and to put them at the heart of these partnerships or franchise requirements. As it stands, the aims of the advanced quality partnerships are going to be pretty modest. The outcomes referred to in lines 19 and 20 on page two of the Bill could mean that they simply reduce the rate of decline. That is a very disappointing line to find in a Bill that asserts that it is about improving bus services.
If we are going to take a rigorous approach to expanding usage, we have to improve accessibility for new groups of users. We are now well into the 21st century and it is unacceptable for access for those who are older or who have disabilities not to be at the heart of the objects of the Bill. We realise that the Supreme Court is considering its decision on a key judgment, but that cannot be used as a reason not to accept the general principles that would be introduced by this amendment. My noble friend Lady Scott will address this issue in her remarks.
To sum up, this is a detailed list of amendments to start with, but the general principle is clear. We want a range of issues to be taken into account regularly by local authorities, whether they are seeking partnerships—of either sort—or franchising, because we believe that that package of issues is essential to improving bus services and attracting new users.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly to my Amendment 5 and to others in the group. I preface my remarks in Committee by reminding the Minister what I said at Second Reading: it is essential that the Bill reaches the statute book to comply with the devolution deal for Greater Manchester and for the elected mayor. I live in Manchester and am obviously grateful to Transport for Greater Manchester for its support for the Bill. Does the Minister envisage any circumstances where this legislation will not reach the statute book and yet fulfil the requirements of the devolution deal?
The purpose of Amendment 5 is, very simply, to add another condition and extend the criteria for an advanced quality partnership scheme, so that a scheme can be introduced to protect the current quality of services for passengers. A transport authority may wish to introduce an advanced quality partnership scheme in order to lock in the quality of services already being provided rather than to prevent decline or increase patronage. This could be used to deter attempts to reduce the current standard of service, for example through an operator using lower-quality vehicles than are currently provided or through it taking other measures that would reduce service quality. This amendment would lock that provision in, and I hope the Government will support this addition.
My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment 5A, which is in this group. When I reread the Second Reading debate and reflected on the amendments which have been tabled, it struck me very forcefully that a huge number of them relate in some way or other to the question of accessibility, whether that is accessibility of ticketing and information or in terms of proper provision for people with disabilities, in rural areas or of different age groups. That led me further to think that perhaps the fact that so many amendments are being tabled about accessibility suggests that there is something fundamentally missing in the ambition of the Bill. I have tabled this amendment because it is important sometimes to have aspiration and to say right up-front that this is not just about stopping the decline, as my noble friend said earlier, but about something more than that and about actually improving the standards of services. That is why I have tabled this amendment. Otherwise, there is a danger that it becomes primarily a sort of regulatory and financial Bill that is not underpinned with aspiration.
I am particularly concerned about rural bus provision—coming from a rural area, I guess that that is inevitable. As I said at Second Reading, I can understand why tiny villages like mine no longer have bus services, but we are now in the position where quite sizeable communities no longer have bus services after, say, 6 pm, or at all on Sundays. Some quite large villages now have no bus services at all. The community transport network has, to a large extent, stepped in to meet that provision, but in Suffolk and other local authorities that is under threat, too. I am disappointed not to have received a written response from the Minister’s department to the points I raised at Second Reading, specifically to one which has emerged in Suffolk, where the retendering of community transport in the Mid Suffolk area, where I live, has resulted in passengers no longer being able to use their concessionary bus passes. The noble Lord is an imaginative man, and I am sure he can understand how much distress this has caused people locally. I would like to review this issue in the regulations which say that a nine-seater vehicle cannot be eligible for the use of bus passes. I did raise this, and I would like him to respond—not today probably, but in writing.
My understanding was that we would also have something about rural proofing in time for this stage, and we have not received that either, unless it is in the impact assessment, which I have not had time to read in detail. I have had a look through and have not spotted very much—my noble friend is now indicating there is very little. I think that means there may be some rural issues that we will have to return to on Report, as we clearly cannot deal with them now.
This franchising approach can really deliver for rural areas if we get it right, so I am very positive about the general provision. I have been in contact with people in Jersey, where they brought in a franchising system. They have 80 buses serving a population of 100,000; yet, in that very small pool, they have had an increase of 32% in passenger numbers in the last three years, and, significantly, they have saved £1 million in public subsidies. This shows that this is not just about scale—you can have a win-win situation of saving money and improving accessibility. I do think that, if we get this Bill right, we can deliver that for our rural areas.
I asked the Minister at Second Reading about links with home-to-school transport, which is again significant in rural areas. It is not just about access to education—although, goodness knows, that is the most important reason for the provision of transport to young people—because there is a close relationship between the provision of education bus services and the normal services. However, it goes deeper than that, because local authorities spend a significant amount of money on public transport for pupils, particularly those with special education needs. Young people and children with special educational needs are encouraged to use public transport as a way of preparing them for leading full lives later. Indeed, the Children and Families Act 2014 specifically encourages the giving of bus passes to young people with SEND. Yet in rural areas there are increasingly no buses on which to use the bus passes. For example, Surrey currently spends £25.5 million a year on SEND transport. If we can find a way of bringing some of this together, we can get much better value and improve the services. But there is a fear among community transport and smaller operators that the Bill as drafted is just there for larger companies, and will not help them.
Finally, there is one way I think this might be dealt with. It came to me rather late, and I apologise for that—otherwise, I might have tabled a separate amendment. We do have the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which includes transport services. I wonder whether the Minister could undertake to include reference to this in the guidance to remind local authorities that, using the social value Act, they can take a broader view of the services they provide in terms of placing a value on social as well as financial outcomes.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, asked my noble friend whether he is confident that the Bill will pass. I hope that my noble friend can be rather more definitive than I can, but I see no reason why it will not pass, although obviously we will want to look at it closely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about impact assessments. I find it a little odd in government—I am talking generally here—that one has a gem of a policy idea, one consults internally within government, publishes a Bill, puts it before Parliament and then publishes the impact assessment. Surely you should have a gem of an idea, then make an impact assessment and use that to inform discussion internally in government. Of course, as the policy develops, the impact assessment may need to be revised, but having it turn up at the last moment devalues having one at all. That is very much a general point, not a criticism of my noble friend.
My Lords, on reflection, I think that this Bill—and I have now studied it a lot—is really nothing to do with the quality of bus services generally. It is a device which has been drawn up by officials because the Chancellor promised to devolve the operation of bus services in certain areas which elect a mayor so that they can go for franchising. If you read the Bill carefully, I think you will find that it will be very difficult for them to achieve that, because there are a lot of obstacles in the way of any franchised service.
My main concern is for areas outside metropolitan areas. The bus service is in a terrible state. All sectors are now recording declines in services. They will get worse, because cuts are being made all the time. When I spoke at Second Reading, I said that more money must be found from somewhere. I realise that the Government are not willing to spend any money and that therefore this is about redirecting the money which is spent. At Second Reading, the Minister drew my attention to the fact that bus service operators grant was to be devolved to local operators. This is a very particular question: is bus services operators grant to be devolved only to the areas that get franchising? Will rural areas get any share of that money? Will it be ring-fenced if it is devolved? Because if not, if it is added to various block grants, it will be absorbed in meeting the Government’s underfunding of all sorts of other services for which local authorities are responsible.
I, too, received the rural proofing in the impact assessment. It is absolutely pathetic. The document is huge, but the intellectual input into it is minuscule. All it says about rural proofing is, to summarise, that local authorities have to decide for themselves how the resources allocated to them are spent. If they want to spend them on bus services, they have to take that away from another cause.
I suggest that the Minister carefully considers the effects of isolation and loneliness on people living in remote rural areas—and there are a lot of them. I use buses every day. I travel on one some days, and there are a dozen old rural dwellers who I know are lonely. The only time they get out is when they go on a bus. I am sure they all voted for Brexit because they are of that generation, but that rather does not cover the point—I am not sure they would be grateful and would suddenly support the other side if they restored their service. Their service is vital; I honestly believe their lives would be hugely diminished without it.
One thing the Minister did say in his letter to me is that there is reconsideration being made to the concessionary fares scheme. I think the last paragraph of his letter refers to this. I urge the Minister to look at this because, first of all, he says—and this is Civil Service-ese—that the Government continue “to review the policy”. Well, we have heard those words ever since I have been here and, I imagine, for the last century. But, there is a glimmer of hope in the last paragraph, which says: “As you may be aware, on 26 April 2016 we laid a Command Paper on the post-implementation review of the statutory reimbursement arrangements for concessionary travel”. Now, that review might explore the issue of whether the money which is available for concessionary fares is well-directed, because I would put a plea in for the fact that more of it ought to go to the rural operators, whose expenses are much higher, than to the urban operators, where it might reduce their costs by a fraction but would have no significant effect on the number of people using bus services.
We should come on to talk later about congestion, because that is another very serious problem, but if the Minister would answer those questions for a start, I would be very pleased.
My Lords, as this is my first time to speak in Committee, I declare an interest as an elected councillor.
The amendments in this group are almost all proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, with support from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with the exception of Amendment 5, in the names of my noble friends Lord Bradley and Lord Berkeley. They are all seeking to make improvements to the Bill, with important clarifications and additions on the face of the Bill, and we are generally supportive of them. I think it is important to give certainty in legislation and clear direction.
As I said at Second Reading, there is a lot in this Bill that we can support and we will play a constructive role in seeking to make improvements to what is before us to halt the decline in bus use outside London that is all too prevalent and has already been referred to today. Putting passengers at the heart of our discussions on buses must be a priority, as well as ensuring improvements for disabled travellers, advanced ticketing and other measures, which we will discuss in our deliberations over the next few weeks and months.
I very much concur with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in respect of the impact assessment and on the putting together of the Bill. It is interesting to note that, on the first day in Committee, we already have government amendments. This is a Lords-starter Bill—it has been nowhere near the House of Commons—and, as we have heard, we have been waiting for a very long time for this Bill to arrive, but straightaway we have got a series of government amendments. This is not as bad as the Housing and Planning Act—we have an impact assessment and other information from the Government—but generally the Government need to sharpen up their act when it comes to presenting legislation to Parliament. They often make things much worse for themselves because Members on all sides get very frustrated when they do not have the right bits of paper in the right order in good time, in proper sequence, which then gives them more difficulties. So the Government themselves should reflect carefully how they present legislation to Parliament, because they may find that they make things much easier for themselves if they get it right in the first place, so we do not have to catch up as we go through the discussions.
The first amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, changes the emphasis from saying that in making an advanced quality partnership scheme “one or more of” the outcomes will likely be achieved. The outcomes mentioned are,
“an improvement in the quality of local services that benefits persons using those services … a reduction or limitation of traffic congestion, noise or air pollution”,
and an increase in bus use or, at the very least, an end to the,
“decline in the use of local services”.
The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness is more ambitious in saying that we “will achieve” these outcomes, whereas the Government use the words, “are likely to”, which does not seem very ambitious for a new piece of legislation.
The next four amendments in the name of the noble Baroness give specific requirements for issues such as services in rural areas. I very much concur with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, in that respect. The amendments refer to “advanced ticketing” and a reduction in pollution, taking into account people with disabilities and other factors, along with geographical location, which should be part of whether a scheme should be made. We are very much supportive of them.
Amendment 5 in this group, proposed by my noble friends Lord Bradley and Lord Berkeley, adds an additional requirement to reduce,
“the deterioration of local services”,
and refers to,
“the maintenance of quality levels of those services”.
It is important to make provision to make sure that there will not be deterioration in services under any new scheme. I very much agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Bradley today, and in particular agree with him that the Bill needs to be an Act so that the devolution deal for Greater Manchester can be brought into effect—although, of course, given where we are now, I do not think that there will be any problem there whatever. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that when he makes his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate on this first group of amendments. On the general point raised by several noble Lords on the impact assessment and its publication and availability yesterday, I assure noble Lords that the intention was not to have a delay in publishing as such. It was reviewed to ensure that additional policies and full detail could be provided. I take the point that noble Lords have made: if a document is produced 24 hours before Committee, that is not the best timing to allow for detailed analysis. A point was made about rural impact, and whether that was considered. Rural-proofing is mentioned in the impact assessment, and some noble Lords have expressed their regret at the very limited assessment. However, open data offer particular opportunities to increase rural services.
On a few other administrative points before I come on to the amendments, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for not responding in full to her questions. I shall follow them up with immediate effect and ensure that she has a timely response. In fact, I am looking over to the Box with a rather hard stare, if not a glare, to ensure that that is done in advance of the next Committee sitting, which is next week. That is something that I shall follow up with officials.
This Bill has a lot of support from around the House, and the Government are making life more difficult for themselves by not getting these things out in advance. We have been waiting for this Bill for well over a year. Why has this stuff arrived literally this morning when the department has had a very long time to get it all ready? The situation is of the Government’s own making. A bit more planning would make things much easier. Although this is not the worst example, it is incumbent on the Government to get things out to Members and to the wider public who are interested.
I will take the noble Lord’s intervention—it sounds like a bit of a school report: “Has improved, but needs improvement”. I take that on board. As I have said, I am very cognisant of the need to ensure effective analysis of the Bill. We may not agree on every element of it but it is important that information is provided. I have certainly sought in the early discussions that we have had with noble Lords to stress—it is something that I will stress again—that it is a priority for me to ensure that we not only share relevant information but do so in a timely fashion. If I were sitting on the other Benches—long may that not happen—I would be making an equally valid case, as noble Lords have.
New Section 113C in Clause 1 stipulates that the local transport authority cannot make an advanced quality partnership scheme unless it is satisfied that the scheme is likely to achieve one or more of the following: improve the quality of local services; reduce or limit traffic congestion, noise or air pollution; increase the use of local services or indeed end or reduce the decline in the use of local services. Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would require the local authority to be absolutely sure that any proposed quality partnership would have the anticipated effect. I believe that, in terms of its practicality, this amendment would make it almost impossible for local authorities to say in totality or with absolute certainty what impact a particular scheme would have before it is introduced. I believe that this more stringent requirement would make the local transport authorities more risk-averse when introducing advanced quality partnership schemes. As a result, authorities may well choose to introduce schemes that fall short of fulfilling their full potential or not bring them forward at all.
Amendments 2, 3, 4, 5 and 5A deal with the content of the tests that I have mentioned. Under the Bill, local authorities may not make an advanced quality partnership unless they are likely to achieve an improvement in the quality of local services, a reduction or limitation of traffic congestion, noise or air pollution, or an increase in the use of local services. It is then for local authorities to decide what package of standards to introduce under an advanced quality partnership scheme to achieve one or more of these outcomes. These standards will depend on local need and may or may not include requirements relating to ticketing, rural bus services and pollution. The circumstances of individual areas vary and I think that it is right that the advanced quality partnership schemes should be able to reflect this.
I agree, however, with several noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon that these are important issues. Local authorities need to think very carefully about whether they should include standards in each of these areas in the advanced quality partnership scheme. We intend to recognise this in statutory guidance on these new partnership schemes, which will be issued under new Section 113O of the Transport Act 2000.
Can the Minister respond to the noble Baroness’s very relevant point that these things depend to a great extent on money available from the Government? If the Government are going to keep cutting back on the resources available to local authorities, these well-merited objectives are surely not going to be met.
The point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, at Second Reading—I was going to come on to it but I will say it now—and I made it clear then that, specifically in terms of the Bill, no additional funding will be provided. It will be very much for local authorities to prioritise as they see fit. While I know that noble Lords will be disappointed, I am sure that they will recognise that that is the reality of the situation.
Amendment 3 in effect makes ticketing a mandatory element of any advanced quality partnership scheme. It might not always be necessary or desirable to include ticketing arrangements as a part of an AQPS. Compelling their inclusion risks fewer schemes being established.
Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seeks to require schemes focused on improving local services to include rural services. While I appreciate his intention, I fear that there may be a risk of unintended consequences. For example, an advanced quality partnership scheme can be limited in its scope to a relatively small geographical area. Requiring any scheme that was dependent on improving the quality of local services to always have a rural component could limit considerably where these powers could be used.
A similar argument exists for Amendment 4. Local air pollution levels can vary considerably. In some urban areas, specific measures may need to be taken to reduce air pollution and, therefore, the requirement suggested by the noble Lord may not be easy to meet. However, these schemes can also be introduced in rural areas where air pollution may not be an issue and where a “significant reduction” in air pollution may not be necessary or may be impossible to achieve.
I turn to Amendment 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley. Before I continue, I shall repeat what I said at Second Reading; my noble friend Lord Attlee also mentioned this. Notwithstanding some of the robust discussions that I am sure we will have in Committee and on Report, I am confident that we will meet the dates set in the devolution deal. I agree with the objectives suggested by the noble Lord in his amendment. However, these overall aims are adequately covered by the existing drafting of proposed new subsection (6). Passengers are the best judge of whether their local bus services have deteriorated or dropped in quality. If a service is unreliable or the buses are dirty or uncomfortable, they will use them less. This outcome is covered by proposed new subsection (6)(c).
I sympathise with the aim of Amendment 5A; it is right that local bus services should be accessible to all—the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made this point at Second Reading—and that passengers should not be prevented from using local bus services for any reason, including their age, disability or geographical location. The Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations already impose requirements on the accessibility of buses. As the noble Baroness may be aware, since January 2016 all single-deck buses have needed to be compliant with those rules. Compliance will be extended to double-deck vehicles after 1 January 2017 and will apply to coaches from 1 January 2020.
I turn to the issue of geographical location that the noble Baroness raised. I appreciate that access to a bus service can be difficult, particularly for those living in rural areas. Where services can be provided commercially, it is for local bus operators to decide whether to do so. If it is not possible to run a particular service on a commercial basis, local authorities already have powers to subsidise it or provide it under a tendering agreement with a local bus operator if the authority believes the service to be socially necessary. The noble Baroness also mentioned the need to look at some of the regulations and supporting advice regarding community transport. She specifically mentioned whether the Social Value Act could be included in guidance. I shall certainly take that matter back and come back to her regarding whether it can be considered in the way in which she suggested.
While I may not have satisfied everyone on the amendments—I am sure that I have not—I hope that I have explained why, in this instance, the Government cannot support them. I have indicated some areas on which I shall reflect further. However, the current wording of proposed new subsection (6) strikes a good balance. It will not tie local authorities’ hands to improve particular elements of the bus service or services in particular areas. Through statutory guidance, we will seek to ensure that all the important issues are given due consideration by local transport authorities as they develop schemes.
There are a few outstanding questions about the Delegated Powers Committee. We are in the process of finalising the response to it and I will seek to publish it in a timely fashion. Famous last words, but we will certainly follow that up. I know that it is in hand.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about the BSOG. Substantial subsidies already go into the deregulated bus service network, including for concessionary travel pass bus service operators grant and to support services that commercial operators do not provide of their own accord. Where an authority implements franchising, the Government plan to devolve the bus service operators grant that would have been paid to commercial bus operators in the area through the local authority. By pooling these subsidies in a franchised system, they can be used more effectively, and authorities will be able to get the most out of the funding already provided.
I hope that I have answered the questions raised by noble Lords. While some may have been reassured, I hope that my explanations have been helpful. In that context, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
I return to my previous intervention and that of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. The Minister expressed concern and disappointment, and hoped to do better, but he did not answer the question that either of us raised. I have seen no notes coming over from the Box, and perhaps he cannot answer today, which I would fully understand. However, I hope that he wants to answer the points that we raised and will agree to write to us.
I want it to be absolutely clear that when the bus service operators grant is devolved to the metropolitan authorities, no more money will be available anywhere, other than that which is devolved, and that the bus service operators grant will remain to be paid to operators outside the franchised area. The balance of that money needs to be looked at, because a smaller subsidy within an urban area as a result of a cut in the bus operators grant may make the service vary in quality and run less frequently, but the same amount of money in a rural area is the difference between having a bus service and none at all. The Minister should reflect on this. I would also like to know when the working party set up in April is expected to report and whether it will take any independent advice or whether there will be some internal arrangement to which no one will have access.
The noble Lord is correct in his understanding of BSOG, and I note the issue that he raised about rural services. He made a valid point about the impact that the proposal will have. I am conscious of that and will reflect further on it. I am always willing to take the advice and suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and I will come back to him on any question that I have been unable to answer to noble Lords’ satisfaction.
Will the Minister agree to look again at the document that we received this morning, which has five and a half lines on rural proofing? That is nothing short of an insult to rural people, and it might be a good idea if the department looked again at that particular impact of the Bill. I am sure that we would all be grateful if he was able to bring forward more information and deeper thought on the rural impacts of the Bill, which go far beyond saying simply that it is up to rural local authorities how much they choose to spend on it.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He is right in his assessment that I am not satisfied with all his answers. I appreciate that some of the criticisms that noble Lords have raised this afternoon reflect the fact that the Minister has been put in a difficult position in respect of the impact assessment and the number of amendments. Having stood in his place in my time, I appreciate that one does not choose to be put in that situation. I hope he will look again at the aspects that have been raised this afternoon, particularly in relation to rural issues and to the general tone of the amendments, which as my noble friend pointed out emphasise access, to see whether the Bill can be sharpened up in a number of places to be more specific and more ambitious for bus operators and local authorities working together in whichever of the various forms of agreement. We are not seeking to tie the hands of local authorities; we are seeking to raise their ambition and to draw their attention to these things when they are considering arrangements. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 5A not moved.
6: Clause 1, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
“(6A) n operator of local services may only provide local services if the scheme under which it provides services—(a) is an advanced quality partnership; or(b) is not an advanced quality partnership, but meets the outcomes in subsection (6).”
Subsection (6) of new Section 113C refers to:
“The outcomes mentioned in subsection (5)”.
I am concerned about two or three things. It refers to,
“an improvement in the quality of local services that benefits persons using those services”,
and begs the question, in rural areas, of whether there are any services for them to use. It also refers to,
“a reduction or limitation of traffic congestion, noise or air pollution”.
Traffic congestion is almost killing the bus industry in many areas. As congestion occurs, more buses are used to maintain a service, more staff are needed, the service gets slower and slower and becomes less attractive, and you enter a spiral of decline. The Minister needs to address this issue because we are at the top of a spiral and I confidently predict that if nothing is done it will continue and get worse. Many people are now looking to what the Government intend to do to tackle congestion.
I have a number of suggestions. In his letter to me following Second Reading, the Minister pointedly said that Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 gave sufficient powers. Part 6 of that Act deals with moving traffic offences. Buses become clogged down by congestion and by people abusing traffic regulations. There are virtually no police looking at this. If people park in bus stops or anywhere else, the bus cannot get through, and nobody does anything about it. This cycle of decline is getting worse. I am also concerned about air quality, even in small market towns like the one in which I live. Air pollution is now well in excess of the limits, and that is a serious problem.
I have moved the amendment for the following reason. When there is an advanced quality partnership and an operator of those services agrees to meet the standards, will it be possible for another operator which does not meet those standards to undermine the standards in any way? In many places people using old buses have tried to benefit from a respectable operator investing a lot of money, with the respectable operator being subject almost to attack by the low-quality operator whose standards barely meet the minimum required or, throughout most of the year, do not meet it at all. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, does the Committee and the industry a great service by moving this amendment. I have bored your Lordships before with stories of my involvement in the bus industry. My experience as a director and chairman of a former municipal bus operator was that there was a significant undermining of those services by the sorts of operators that the noble Lord has just mentioned. Much of this unfair competition has disappeared over the years. The intention of many of those smaller operators was to cause so much of a nuisance to the larger undertaking that it would offer them lots of money to go away. In the West Midlands, we were fairly resolved not to play that game. Indeed, during my time as a bus company director at least two smaller operators in the West Midlands were run by people who had been fired from our company for various misdemeanours. They got their hands on some older vehicles and ran them between 7 am and 7 pm. The thought of running early-morning or late-night services never struck them. Not only did they pay inferior rates, they did not provide the trade union recognition, canteen facilities or maintenance facilities that the major operators—such as Travel West Midlands, the company I worked for at the time—provided as a matter of course. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has put his finger on a very important point. We seek reassurance from the Minister that the unfair competitors that I have just outlined will not be allowed to flourish or, indeed, to exist in future.
There was always a problem in that councillors of all political hues used to say that if those operators were not there then we would be operating some sort of monopoly, and there should be competition. But when those operators were there, the councillors would say that their buses were absolutely dreadful and should not be on the road at all. We spent some years trying to please everybody but pleased nobody. I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that we will not return to those days and that reputable operators operating a quality partnership of the type outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will not face the sorts of conditions that we had to put up with in the early days of deregulation.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and my noble friend Lord Snape have a very good point when it comes to discussing big operators and little operators, because there are competition and quality issues. In Cornwall, where I live, there has, in recent years, been one major operator and one smaller one. On two occasions in the past five years, the smaller operator’s bus garage was torched. Whether it was deliberate or not I do not know, but the fact remains that something nasty went on there. The small operators ran a very good service—as did the big one—and it was good that they were both there. But somebody had something against them. That is something that we must all be careful about, because at that level it is not something for the competition authorities.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, spoke to Amendments 19 and 68, and I do not quite understand his amendments. He wants to leave out, in the case of Amendment 68, a reference to,
“such other incidental matters in connection with franchising schemes as the Secretary of State thinks fit”.
I agree with him, because I am suspicious of that: it allows the Secretary of State to do whatever he likes, if he does not fancy doing what is in the rest of the legislation. I would support omitting those words—but I wonder whether the noble Lord or one of his colleagues fancies explaining what this is all about.
My Lords, I think I can probably help the noble Lord by speaking specifically about Amendments 19 and 68. One of the problems with the Bill is its scattergun approach to giving the Secretary of State additional unspecified powers. As the noble Lord has clearly picked out, these are two examples among dozens of broad powers. The Government have made a list, from (a) to (f), and then they say, “In case we’ve forgotten something, we’ll just give the Secretary of State the power to deal with life, the universe and everything”.
By putting these amendments before your Lordships, we hoped to probe exactly what the regulations might look like. To take up the theme of the Delegated Powers Committee report yet again, I say that the powers are too vague. The Secretary of State is being given very broad powers without specifying properly, even in the Explanatory Memorandum, what those powers will be used for.
Ideally, draft regulations should have been available by now, at least on one or two aspects of the Bill. It is hopelessly optimistic to think that they might be coming out any day now, because we have only just had the impact assessment, and we are still awaiting the response to the Delegated Powers Committee. But that is what we should be doing—looking at drafts to find out about the tenor of a Bill as broad and as dependent on regulation as this one is.
The success of advanced quality partnerships, and of enhanced partnerships and franchising, will stand or fall on the quality of the regulations. If the regulations are too onerous, the Bill will fall into the trap of the 2008 Act and prove impossible for local authorities to manage and implement, and will therefore fail. But the regulations have to be sufficiently ambitious and robust to deliver a true improvement in service.
I have spoken to Amendment 19. Amendment 68 is simply a similar example in the case of franchising. One amendment relates to advanced quality partnerships and the other to franchising. I remind noble Lords of the tenor of the criticism in the Delegated Powers Committee’s report.
My Lords, Amendment 6, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, seeks to insert a new subsection saying that an operator can provide services only if those services are provided within an advanced quality partnership or another scheme that meets the outcomes set out in subsection (6). I support the amendment, as it seeks to ensure that we get some improvement in bus provision as a result of this legislation, and would leave less to chance.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made some important points about congestion, the effect it has on bus services, and the other effects of poor air quality in many areas, including some of our smaller towns, villages and hamlets.
If the Minister is not going to accept the amendment I hope that we shall get a full explanation, because the Bill is driven by the need to improve bus services and save them from further decline outside London, and the amendment would be helpful in that respect.
Amendments 19 and 68, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke, seek to restrict the power of the Secretary of State to make further provision under regulations about “incidental matters”. We ought to be careful when we give powers to Ministers. I suppose it all depends on who defines “incidental matters” and what the scope of those matters is. I am not against giving sensible and proportionate powers to Ministers, but I also want to see clarity and openness, and these provisions have a feeling of opaqueness about them. So I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, responds, we shall get a much clearer explanation about what is intended here; it will help the House enormously if he can give one.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was right to raise this issue. It is important that we get these things on the record, so that we can see what the Government intend to do. There may be a number of incidental matters, but if they all come together they could become one quite big matter, so we should be very clear what the Government’s intention is in this respect.
Before the Minister responds, may I take up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Snape? It is true that some small bus operators may have run services that were not desirable or sustainable but, as the impact assessment makes clear, it is also true that there is often little real competition between the large bus operators. They operate, and have operated—certainly in West Yorkshire—in a predatory manner, to reduce competition and squeeze out smaller and new operators. That side of the reality needs to be included in the balance. That is one of the reasons why I support the Bill, why I commend the Government for their frankness in assessing all this, and why, later, I shall speak strongly in favour of franchising.
My Lords, I again thank all noble Lords for their contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, clarified the point. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, spoke primarily to the next amendment that we shall discuss. We shall come to that, so I will cover the issues of congestion and so on in the next debate. Now, I shall deal with the amendments before us.
In relation to Amendment 6, the aim of the quality partnership under the Transport Act 2000 and the new proposals for the advanced quality partnerships in the Bill is to define a range of measures that are jointly provided by bus operators and the local authority in a defined area. For bus operators, these requirements are binding. To use any facilities, such as new bus stops or shelters, or to take advantage of any other measures introduced by the local authority to make buses more attractive to passengers, those operators must meet the standards of service specified in the scheme. That provides clarity for both sides.
The amendment suggested by the noble Lord seeks to impose outcomes on bus operators outside an advanced quality partnership regime. This would have the effect of mandating that every local bus service in England be governed by some sort of scheme that imposed the requirements of subsection (6). I must remind noble Lords that most bus services in England, outside London, are currently deregulated, in the sense that it is for commercial bus operators to decide how and where those services are provided. The quality partnerships regime is intended for use where a local authority believes, or authorities acting together believe, that particular requirements need to be imposed on operators to improve bus services in particular ways in a defined area. Failure to meet those requirements can result in a traffic commissioner taking enforcement action.
While it may be generally desirable for the outcomes of subsection (6) to apply to all bus services, it is for individual bus operators running services on a commercial basis in a deregulated market to decide to what extent those objectives are achieved or achievable.
The drafting of the amendment also poses a slight challenge. Essentially it creates, within an advanced quality partnership scheme, a separate scheme of its own that seeks to achieve the same outcomes. Both operators and local authorities would find this structure slightly confusing. Under the current drafting, individual local bus services are either within the scheme or outside it. If inside, they have to meet the requirements of the scheme. That provides clarity for all. I hope I have been able to address the issues around that amendment.
On Amendments 19 and 68, among others, the Bill contains a number of important new measures aimed at improving bus services for passengers. We have discussed advanced quality partnerships in some detail already. They will allow local authorities to be more innovative when introducing partnerships and to maximise benefits for passengers. We will come to franchising shortly. It will allow, for those areas where it is made available, the bus market to be provided using the same model that exists in London, with local authorities specifying all aspects of the bus services in the area of the scheme. The Bill provides a clear process for local authorities to follow when making an advanced quality partnership scheme and when implementing franchising. It also sets out which parts of the process will be included in secondary legislation. This power relates to detailed issues about how these schemes will operate in practice.
While the Government have considered the implications of these new schemes, there is a limit to the extent that we can anticipate how these new regimes will work in practice. Over time it may therefore become necessary to introduce further secondary legislation to ensure that the new schemes work as intended. That is why the Bill contains provisions for incidental matters which relate to franchising and advanced quality partnerships to be included in regulations. This follows a precedent set in Sections 122 and 133 of the Transport Act 2000 that enables the Secretary of State to make regulations on other incidental matters in connection with quality partnership schemes or quality contract schemes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised a question on delegated powers and whether we would be able to produce draft documents. We have published a series of policy scope documents that set out what each regulation is proposed to do. This pack also included some draft regulations on AQPS, which we plan to bring forward in the autumn.
I hope that the explanations and the assurance in this regard that the changes introduced under this provision are only incidental will enable the noble Baroness not to move her amendment.
May I push the Minister a bit further on incidental matters—what does he mean by that? In my contribution I said that you might have one incidental matter but if you have two, three or four it can become quite a big issue. Maybe he cannot do it now, but it would be useful if he could clarify the word “incidental” and what he means by that.
The Minister made reference to the quality partnership schemes. Any operator not in the partnership would not be able to use the facilities of the quality partnership—the bus lanes and any other traffic management measures that were put in. What about the vehicles? Does what he said apply also to the fact that vehicles must comply with the standards set down in the quality partnership, so if your vehicles do not comply, you cannot come into a quality partnership area?
Again, that is my understanding, but I will clarify that for the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, among other noble Lords, raised the issue of standards in the deregulated market. I can give further clarification on partnerships operated in the deregulated market: that operators will plan routes, set prices and determine, as they do, the standard of services. They also take the commercial risk, so it is our view it would not be appropriate for authorities to set standards in the deregulated market without operators having a buy-in. For example, if a council wanted to set standards, it would have to take the commercial risk and go down the franchising route. On the other issues, about “incidental” and what lies within it, I shall of course write to the noble Lord. I hope he will withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
7: Clause 1, page 3, line 32, after “relate,” insert “including reducing congestion on those routes,”
My Lords, we have touched on this matter before, but I will be most interested to know what measures the Government propose to take to deal with traffic congestion. So much of the power lies in the hands of Ministers. The Minister referred on Second Reading to the fact that local authorities have certain powers, but he knows as well as I do that many local authorities want more effective powers to deal with congestion. Certainly, if those steps are not taken, with traffic levels rising as more people have cars and with more vans in particular delivering parcels all over the place and obstructing the high streets in towns with narrow roads, we need effective measures to deal with this problem. I beg to move.
Before the Minister replies, I hate to prejudge and pre-empt his reply, but I fear that he will say what Ministers in successive Governments have said over the years—that these are purely a matter for the local authority, which is of course free to introduce measures to control the increase in traffic.
Interestingly, as I am sure the noble Lord who moved the amendment will agree, it has just been revealed in published statistics that far from there being a war on motorists—a phrase that the Conservative Party and Ministers in Conservative Governments have used frequently—the cost of motoring in real terms has been getting cheaper over the past 30 years. Is it any surprise that congestion has got worse in those circumstances? I hope the Minister will say that the Government are prepared to take some powers themselves rather than saying, “It’s not a matter for us, it is a matter for elected mayors or anyone else who is a local authority to do something about congestion”.
All of us who take part in these debates know full well that, faced with the problem of sitting in a traffic jam in one’s own car or on a bus, the bus is very much the second choice. Only proper enforced bus priority and a proper congestion charge will make public transport more attractive, and not just in major cities; understandably, some of the Liberal amendments have been about rural transport. Again, if it were possible to travel as quickly and as cheaply—or more cheaply—on public transport than in one’s own car, the bus would become a more attractive proposition in rural as well as urban areas. The fact is that in current circumstances it is not. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance that in future, in pursuit of the very noble cause of introducing or increasing bus travel, the Government will be prepared to introduce some powers to bring that happy situation about.
My Lords, my general point is that reducing congestion is a win-win measure. First, it reduces your journey times, and we need that reduction in journey times because they are lengthening at an alarming rate. I will give noble Lords one or two examples of recent research.
Research by London Travelwatch shows there is an “alarming” decline in average bus speeds, which are down to nine miles per hour. That deters people from getting on buses, even in London, which we hold up as a wonderful example of success. In the rest of the country, the situation is also very severe. Greener Journeys research shows a decline in bus speeds in Manchester. Why? In the west of England, between 2012 and 2015, there was an 18% increase in the number of vehicles registered. You cannot have that level of increase in the number of vehicles on the roads without a serious congestion problem, and I make the obvious point that the west of England is not perhaps an area that we think of as congested.
Not only will you reduce your journey times if you deal with congestion, you will also increase bus reliability. Research by bus user groups shows strongly that bus users rate reliability very highly indeed. In other words, they probably do not mind that much whether a journey takes 25 minutes or half an hour, but they need to rely on it being half an hour and not 40 minutes. We need to encourage new users, and they want reliability. At the same time, reducing congestion obviously reduces air and noise pollution. I say to the Minister that you may not have very high levels of air pollution in the countryside, but it is still air pollution and it adds to global warming; it matters to us all. It is important that we do not dismiss air pollution issues in rural areas either.
It is entirely sensible to specify reduction in congestion as one aim of any scheme. It is important that we bear in mind that these things fit together like pieces of a jigsaw, and the Bill will not be a success unless those pieces fit together.
My Lords, since we are talking about the west of England, I should say that I met the person responsible for providing bus services in the city of Bristol, and a rather ridiculous situation has arisen there. The Bristol omnibus company, whatever it is called now, has introduced lots of new buses. It has been summoned by the traffic commissioner because its services are unreliable. Bristol City Council has agreed to appear on behalf of the bus company against the traffic commissioner, because it has concluded that it is impossible to run a reliable service. It puts that down not only to congestion, but to the near free-for-all which has been allowed by the utilities to dig up the roads for roadworks. This is not because there is a gas leak or a burst water main, but because somebody needs their telephone connected. Perhaps the Minister would address the whole problem.
My Lords, if the Minister does not accept the amendment to include the need to reduce congestion—bearing in mind what colleagues on these Benches have been saying—it may be that he wants to use it as an excuse not to do anything about congestion. I am sure that is not the case, but we would understand, because congestion in London, as we have heard, is so bad that the buses go slower and slower. The motorist will say this it is because there are too many buses; the bus passengers do not like it, because they could probably walk quicker. But what we really need are measures to allow buses to operate more on time, whether it is bus lanes, traffic lights that give them priority or many other measures that can be used. These all cost a little bit of money, but they are essential. It will be slightly odd if the Minister does not accept the amendment on the basis that it might cost local authorities money to provide the bus lanes that they should have provided anyway. This is terribly important; it applies to London, to other cities and to some places in the countryside. It is quite a serious problem and I think “congestion” needs to appear in this clause somewhere.
My Lords, Amendment 7 —again in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—seeks to put on the face of the Bill another measure that may be specified in the scheme. This one is a requirement to contribute to reducing congestion on bus routes. With increasing bus use and bus service improvements, there will be a reduction in congestion on our roads, particularly in our towns and cities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, that is a win-win measure for us all. It is a welcome prospect for everyone. It means we can breathe cleaner air, there are fewer emissions released which harm our atmosphere, and journey times can be reduced. More people will use buses and car journeys can be reduced, with all the benefits to health; generally this is better for everyone.
The amendment, as I said, puts this aim on the face of the Bill. It is a very good idea; it is one of the proposals that should be specified in the scheme. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, I hope the Government can accept this, or at least agree to reflect on it, before we move to Report. It would be remiss if we could not get something like this on the face of the Bill.
As I have said in previous debates, we need to improve our bus services outside London and reverse the decline we have seen in recent years. One of the challenges of the Bill is to reverse that decline and, by improving bus services, we will have cleaner air. Reducing congestion is one of the ways we can have more people on buses and out of their cars.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked in his opening remarks about how Ministers before and Ministers today might respond, in terms of what decisions to leave to local authorities, and that this was a matter for them. I did at one point think he had advance notice of part, if not all, of my speaking notes. But undoubtedly, one of the new powers under an advanced quality partnership regime is to allow local authorities to introduce a range of measures to improve bus services. The Bill does not define—
Perhaps I can help the Minister. It was the Government who asked KPMG to provide insight into the local bus market in England, outside of London, last year. It reported, presumably to his boss, in January this year and I quote one line from what it said:
“Operators have invested in vehicles and service quality but overall performance is heavily dependent on levels of road congestion”.
I presume the department paid a lot of money to KPMG; these reports do not come cheap. Surely he is not going to cast it aside; surely the Government are prepared to implement the recommendations laid down in a report that they themselves commissioned.
Those reports certainly advise decisions. No Government could claim that, with every report they have ever commissioned, chapter and verse is subsequently implemented. Perhaps the noble Lord could correct me, but I think I am on reasonably stable ground in saying what I have said.
I come back to the amendment. The Bill does not define what these measures are. For example, they could be measures that do not directly affect local bus services themselves, but instead make using buses more attractive. One way of using this power might be a measure to reduce the number of car parking spaces in the scheme area or to increase the cost of using them. While not directly improving bus services, this would make using cars less attractive and therefore encourage car drivers to use the bus instead. It could also have the knock-on effect of reducing congestion.
The current wording in the Bill leaves it to local authorities to decide the intention of the measures they include in the scheme. New Section 113E(2) requires only that they should, in some way, make buses better, either by improving their quality or by encouraging more passengers to use them. The amendment suggests that the “measures” introduced by a local authority must also reduce congestion on the bus routes included in the scheme. I say to all noble Lords that I sympathise with the objectives of the amendment but, on balance, it puts a restriction on the use of measures by a local authority. The general aim of the amendment is also already covered by new Section 113C(6)(b). This introduces a general requirement that advanced quality partnership schemes should, among other things, look to reduce congestion. It allows local authorities to decide how their schemes should meet this requirement, without it being imposed on particular elements of the scheme.
I have been listening very carefully to what noble Lords have said and there is one area that I will certainly take back. I am conscious that we will be revising existing guidance, which will also support the provisions on advanced quality partnerships in the Transport Act 2000, to take into account the AQP scheme. I will certainly consider including within the guidance specific content to deal with traffic congestion and address air pollution. I hope that I have provided a degree of reassurance in that respect and that, with the explanation I have given, the noble Lord will feel minded to withdraw his amendment.
I think that local authorities would be greatly encouraged if they could have access to the power to deal with moving traffic offences. The benefit that was in the Transport Act but has not been implemented was that local authorities could self-finance the scheme. They could provide traffic wardens, or whoever might be used to enforce the scheme, and of course they could pay for them out of the fines—the money would not go to the Treasury. I see the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, shaking his head because I think that he introduced the legislation when he was responsible, but I do not hold him responsible for it never having been implemented. I urge the Minister to look at this very closely because it is probably one of the most important things that we have talked about today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
8: Clause 1, page 3, line 45, leave out second “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, I am very pleased to speak to the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Bakewell.
Amendment 8 would change a “may” to a “must”. I can almost live with the “may”s scattered liberally throughout the Bill, but two “may”s in one sentence weakens the impact to the point where it is hardly worth having the sentence on the page. I draw noble Lords’ attention to line 45 on page 3 of the Bill, which reads:
“The standard of services which may be specified in a scheme may also include”.
I am simply seeking, in a very modest manner, to say that it “must also include”—that is, if you utilise the first “may” in the sentence, you “must” specify certain things.
This relates to the issues that local authorities should consider when entering into advanced quality partnerships. The list of factors to take into account is fine in itself. It includes providing information to the public and a specification on how bus fares should be paid. There is evidence from across the UK that advanced and smart ticketing encourages people to use public transport because it makes it so much easier. By getting rid of one of the “may”s, I would hope to encourage more use of advanced ticketing. It is vital that there is as much as possible in the Bill to encourage it. It is good for bus operators as well as bus users, because they gain a higher income. What really surprises me is that, despite evidence from across Britain that this type of ticketing creates a higher income for bus operators, some still resist it. Over 90% of buses on our roads have the machinery to accept these sorts of tickets, so I think it is reasonable to ask for them to be used.
Amendment 15 is another attempt to bring some specificity to the Bill. It lists the key factors that need to be at the heart of the standards of service.
However, I now want to spend a little time on Amendment 13A, which would introduce a requirement for advanced quality partnerships to specify a reduced concessionary fare scheme for young people. We on these Benches want the UK Government to fund it because we believe it is time to produce a standard concessionary fare scheme for young people. I realise that we probably cannot demand that at this stage in the Bill, but we believe that there should be an obligation on local authorities, working with bus operators, to provide some sort of scheme.
Noble Lords will know that we have raised this issue before. We believe that it is a simple matter of fairness and equality. Young people are more likely than the rest of us to depend on buses to get around. They need them to access education, employment and training, as well as to stay engaged in society. Rural areas present a specific problem for young people because the bus fares are so much higher. Older people in our society benefit greatly from not just reduced fares but free—
I am very much with the noble Baroness, as she will understand, but at this point will she underline that the National Union of Students has emphasised how vital buses are to students, who are finding it increasingly difficult to cope on their limited incomes?
I am very pleased to take the noble Lord’s point. The NUS has produced some excellent research findings. It has discovered that in many cases students are spending upwards of £20 a week, which on a student income is a considerable amount, just getting to college and back. My noble friend Lady Maddock made a point in a recent debate in the House about young people in rural areas. Buses travel for long distances through more than one local authority area, and young people at college studying the same course can pay very different amounts for their travel.
I was beginning to refer to the concession for older people. It has been hugely popular and hugely successful from a social perspective. There are all sorts of technical reasons in relation to reimbursement to bus operators, which I will not go into here, why there are problems with this concession being free. That is why our proposal is to reduce fares, rather than make them free, for young people.
This is a case of taking the long view. This Bill is about building the bus industry up again for the future. If it works, it is about creating a thriving bus industry. You will not have this if you do not encourage young people to get on to buses, to use them whenever necessary and wherever they are going, and quite possibly to discourage them from buying that first car, which inevitably they can never really afford and which becomes a drain on the family’s purse and not just on that young person’s purse.
The most urgent point to make is that the law on this is out of date. As it stands, the law on the rights of young people and the obligations of local authorities to provide concessionary travel relates to the education system and stops at the age of 16. Nowadays, young people have to remain in education or training until they are 18. Many are still there until they are nearly 19 because of the month in which they were born. The purpose behind our amendment is to bring about a bit of fairness. We as a legislature have required them to go to college, to remain at school or to go into apprenticeships, and it is only fair that we as a society make it easier for them to travel to these places with placements on buses. We believe that young people in every area should benefit.
My Lords, I shall intervene briefly to underline one particular point. I agree that pretty much everything the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has said should be taken into account in the setting up of partnerships and in franchising.
There is one point that should be emphasised here and elsewhere in this Bill, and it relates to advanced ticketing and smart ticketing. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was kind enough to remind me just now, although I acknowledged it on Second Reading, that part of my work as a Minister years ago was never implemented. A big chunk of the failure to implement it is why we have this Bill now, and I congratulate the Government on putting it right. One part was successful, however. I was the Minister overseeing the invention and early implementation of the Oyster card. In 1999, I made the very first commercial use of the Oyster card at St James’s Park station down the road.
The Oyster card has utterly transformed public transport in London. There are other factors, but it is at least part of the reason why we have seen such an enhancement of the use of the buses, and indeed the whole transport system, in London, compared with other parts of the country, both in the cities and in the countryside. It is so much easier to make complex journeys, or even a single journey, within other towns and across the countryside if you already have an advance card. As the noble Baroness said, most buses, even some relatively elderly buses on our rural roads, have the machinery to cope with this or can be adjusted to do so.
This ought to be one of the legacies of this Bill and be writ large across the whole of the bus system throughout the country, with some interaction with other forms of transport as well. It should be developed as rapidly as possible. It should be one of the major achievements of this Bill and of the Minister and his colleagues in the department.
My Lords, one thing that my noble friend has forgotten is that these Oyster cards should possibly be called Whitty cards, rather like the bicycles that are called Boris bikes. I am sure he would not want to be related to Boris in that way, but they are a great success.
I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships that the local authority in Cornwall is going to implement a similar thing. It is very long and based on customer focus, but I will summarise it. The big double-decker buses will have wi-fi and tables so that you can put your laptop on them. They are going to run very frequently on the main routes. Smaller buses will go into the smaller areas. They will link in with the railway timetable, and I think that the operators’ ability to talk to each other will be unique. They are proposing a single ticket structure—one standard, one band. I hope my noble friend will appreciate this. It is going to happen within the next year or two.
This is a real example of a local authority taking an initiative. It sees that where you have several different operators, as there are at the moment, they never fit with the train timetable. They are going to. Nor do they fit with the ferries to the Isles of Scilly, but I am not going to go on about that now.
Amendment 54A in my name and some other amendments propose something on the quality of standards and on frequencies. We should probably also include interchange points, but we have not done so yet. Maybe we should also add something about a percentage of the population not having to walk further than X miles to a bus stop and an hourly or better bus service. There are what you might call faster services between the major centres of population—plus ones that you might say wiggle between villages and take a lot longer, although they do get there for people who do not have access to public transport. I believe that TfL has a bus services plan, involving the public transport accessibility level, which takes this into account, as does Transport for Greater Manchester.
Not all these things need to be in the Bill; the amendments here are perfectly adequate. However, they and the initiative that Cornwall County Council has shown would mean that neither partnerships nor franchises would provide a much better quality of service for all types of people who want to use it. The irony is that although it has been suggested that Cornwall will be able to have franchises in the same way as authorities with mayors—we will come on to that later—it is confident that all this will happen without the need for a franchise.
It is encouraging that the Government have produced a structure. I am sure that we can improve it, but at least it is there, and it should enable the volume of bus passenger traffic to go up, which is what we all want, with a much better quality of service. I commend what Cornwall is doing, but I hope that the Government will seriously consider adding something about the standards and the frequency of service, as well as the quality, and perhaps come back with their own suggestions on Report.
My Lords, perhaps I may add a point to what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. Any move towards smart ticketing or reduced fares for young people is revenue-generative. It is not a dead-weight cost. In fact, some bus operators are voluntarily introducing reduced fares for young people and they are finding that they can be almost self-financing. Young people have a very high propensity to travel. They will travel at the weekends and in the evening, provided that the cost does not build up.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the amendments and for explaining their intent so clearly. As she said, Amendments 8, 17B and 54A would all help add clarity and certainty to the standards of provision to be expected from advanced quality partnership and franchise schemes and are therefore to be welcomed. The noble Baroness spoke about there being too many “may”s in one clause. They do rather render the clause ineffective, so we support the proposed changes.
Amendment 15 raises important issues about the elements of a quality bus service that we should expect following the introduction of the Bill, including controlling emissions levels and making travel easier through advanced ticketing schemes. Until I sat here today, I did not know about my noble friend Lord Whitty’s great victory. I congratulate him; it is nice to have a legacy like that. In all the doom and gloom around us, at least he can lay claim to something that we have all appreciated. As we have heard from a number of noble Lords, such travel passes transform the way people use bus services and it is the way that we want to go.
We will explore these issues in more detail in later amendments, but we nevertheless support the amendments in this group. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response. We have got into a pattern of response from the Minister that is slightly disappointing. The first line of defence is, “Don’t be too ambitious, because, if you are, you’ll put the bus operators off and they will aim low if you expect too much of them”. The second is, “Don’t worry, we’re going to put in statutory guidance”. If those are the two responses we hear as we progress through the Bill, we will not get very far, because many of our amendments are about improving quality and people’s expectations. I hope the Minister will meet us half way a little more often on some of these issues than has been the case so far.
We have great sympathy also for the case made by the noble Baroness for Amendment 13A. We all want to encourage more young people to be regular bus users and to make it affordable for them. We would like to take time to consider the cost implications—she acknowledged that there were issues in that regard, particularly for local authorities. If the measure is not fully costed for local authorities, what would be the knock-on effect? However, it is an important debate that we need to follow through. I was interested to hear from the Minister that a review of the concessionary fare scheme is taking place. Perhaps he could clarify whether young people’s fares are included in it. I am not sure what the scope of the review is, but it is one place where we could have that wider and highly relevant debate.