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.
My Lords, once again, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, introduced the amendments by saying that she was finding living with “may”s a little challenging. I for one can say that it may be a good thing if we are living with “may”, but time will tell.
There is an important distinction to be drawn between “may” and “must”. The Bill sets out a range of standards of service that may be included in an advanced quality partnership scheme. However, it is for individual local authorities to decide what standards of service to introduce as part of such a scheme. The intent behind introducing an AQPS is to provide flexibility, because the standards introduced will depend entirely on the local bus market and the needs of existing and potential bus passengers in an area. Amendment 8 would remove this flexibility. Local authorities would be compelled always to impose all the standards of service specified under new Section 113E(5). This is not a desirable approach, as some of the standards may not be appropriate in all circumstances. For example, the provision of information about bus services to passengers may already be perfectly adequate in an area that is proposing to introduce such a scheme. The amendment would also require the imposition of maximum fares even if a local authority considered such a move unnecessary. It is also worth bearing in mind that some requirements, including maximum fares, can be included in the scheme only if there are no admissible objections from any relevant operators. This is provided for in new Section 113E(7). If there were a requirement for a scheme to include maximum fares, each operator in the area would hold an effective veto over the introduction of the whole scheme.
There is another reason to be cautious about the amendment. In a deregulated market, there is no obligation on bus operators to run services that they do not wish to run. Local bus operators may not be prepared or feel able to run on a commercial basis services that comply with those requirements and may simply choose to withdraw them. If accepted, the amendment therefore runs a serious risk of undermining or even removing the viability of many existing and future schemes.
I do not believe that Amendments 15 or 17B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, respectively, would enhance the Bill. New Section 113E sets out what standards of service can be specified in an advanced quality partnership scheme. Requirements as to emission standards of vehicles and the frequency or timing of services are included in subsection (4). Requirements regarding ticketing are included at subsection (5)(b). If these standards are specified as a part of the scheme, they will have to be included in the notice.
New Section 113H also sets out the aspects of the scheme which must be specified when it is made. Requirements regarding the standards of services are included in subsection (2)(c) and requirements regarding registration restrictions are included in subsection (2)(d).
On Amendment 13A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, she knows that I sympathise with its aims and I know that buses can act as a lifeline to many, particularly younger people, although I disagreed with her slightly when she said that the amendment would stop people wanting to invest in their first car. I think we were all there once; it was one of those exciting things that we all chose to do and it was infinitely more exciting than taking the local bus, even though it might get there more quickly and efficiently. I am aware that a range of existing offers across the country provide young people with discounted travel and we will look to ensure that good practice is shared. The noble Baroness spoke about how we might share such good practice and I am open to suggestions as to how we can reflect it in some of the work that we are doing. I understand the importance to young people of affordable, accessible local transport. We will encourage the bus industry to improve its offers for this group. However, I would not want to tie the hands of local authorities looking to establish advanced partnership schemes, as a mandatory youth concession would of course bring with it significant costs for local authorities and bus operators.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, proposed Amendment 54A, which would require a franchising authority to set out the minimum standards of service and minimum frequencies of services when they made their franchising scheme. I agree entirely that a franchising scheme should set out the frequency of bus services to be provided under it and hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that the Bill already addresses this issue. If an authority chooses to move to a model of franchising, the scheme will have to specify the local services intended to be provided under local service contracts. I would expect the specification to include the routes, frequencies and standards of services, and aspects such as livery and tickets available. I sympathise with the noble Lord’s concerns relating to the need to set minimum standards of service and minimum frequencies when making the franchising scheme. We aim to address this further in the guidance that we develop to complement the Bill, as I agree that it will be important for service standards to form part of the franchising scheme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the review of concessionary fares. The review is looking at the statutory reimbursement structure of the national scheme, but we have no intention of introducing new national concessions. She asked whether issues of young people would be looked at in the review. I shall take that question away and confirm whether it is the case. I hope this discussion has reassured noble Lords that I am sympathetic to their concerns and that they will agree not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I urge the Minister to look again at the legislation relating to the entitlement of young people to concessionary fares. It is out of date and it ensures that they have concessions only to the age of 16. That is not fair and has not kept pace with the changing educational legislation. I urge him to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Education and discuss this with them, because it is an important issue of fairness.
I take issue with the noble Lord’s response that bus passengers’ needs vary from area to area. I understand that, of course—some areas have far more older people than others, and so on—but there are certain basic tenets, such as reliability, which local authorities, wherever they are in Britain, really should be looking at. I was disappointed in the noble Lord’s answer, because I thought the point of advanced quality partnerships was to raise the level of service above the lowest common denominator. Unless we have more ambition in what we ask local authorities to consider, without forcing them down a particular path in the way they deliver on it, the Bill will not be as successful as it needs to be. I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
9: Clause 1, page 4, line 10, at end insert—
“(e) requirements as to the standard and type of vehicles to be used, taking account of emission levels.”
At a time when the key spots in our towns and cities regularly breach EU limits on air pollution, I believe it is essential that the Bill reinforces the need to improve emission levels. Of course, some people in this country this week may be rejoicing at the idea that we will no longer have to worry about EU emission levels in a couple of years, but the fact that we have emission levels that we have to adhere to is a wonderful example of the advantages and huge benefits that being part of the EU has brought us. Whatever emission levels we choose to adopt in future years, bad and polluted air will still kill you. Therefore, it is important that we have stringent levels.
Many operators are doing an excellent job of reducing emission levels from buses. They are investing heavily in fleets which have very low, sometimes zero, emissions at the point when they are actually being driven. I have in recent weeks been on two electric buses and they were very impressive. However, this does not apply to all operators; some are lagging behind. The technology exists and it does not necessarily involve investing heavily in new buses. TfL has retrofitted buses with scrubbers in order to reduce emission levels—exhaust scrubbers have taken out many of the emissions from diesel vehicles.
I want to deal briefly with the other amendments in this group. I support the other amendments but I re-emphasise my point about retrofitting. The other amendments are very specific about new vehicles, but there is potential for dealing positively with older vehicles and I believe that the general tenor of the amendment in my name means that those operators which may have small fleets and less access to large amounts of capital could still manage to improve the quality of the emissions from their vehicles.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group which go in broadly the same direction as that of the noble Baroness and were intended to apply to existing as well as new vehicles. It seems extraordinary to me that the Bill as first drafted does not contain a need to have regard to environmental standards—even through the word “may”. Over recent months there has been increased attention to air quality in our cities and sometimes in our countryside as well; quite rightly, because the health effect and the environmental effect of air quality deterioration, plus the Volkswagen scandal, and so forth, have underlined the need to move more rapidly on all sources of air pollution, in particular in relation to vehicles.
I should declare that I am the current president of Environmental Protection UK, the successor organisation to the National Society for Clean Air; it was the leader of the successful lobby that led to the Clean Air Act 50 years ago this year, which seriously cleaned up visible forms of air pollution and, indeed, many invisible forms as well. We need now to finish the job and we have the technology, both in retrofit, as the noble Baroness has said, and in new standards. Buses may not be a huge component of air pollution but, per person and per trip, they are large contributors if they are not treated or the standards are not met.
I hope that the Minister will take away, if not the wording of any of these amendments, a need to write into the Bill, both in this section and the subsequent section on franchising which my second amendment deals with, that some of the requirements must relate to the environmental standards of the vehicles and the total environmental impact of the fleets of franchisees or contract holders. If it does not, it is a serious omission and a serious lack of joined-up government between the Department for Transport, DECC and Defra when we are trying to tackle both climate change and air pollution. Whatever final form of words we come up with before the Bill leaves this House, this ought to be reflected in both sections of the Bill.
My Lords, I have my name to two of these amendments. I support what my noble friend has said. Let us remember that even in London, which probably has some of the newest and now cleanest buses in the country—even if they do not have any air conditioning, which does not seem to affect the emissions, luckily, but does affect the passengers—the then Mayor of London, who may even be our next Prime Minister, had to cover up the monitoring stations along Euston Road before the Olympics in order to keep the levels of pollution below those which had occurred in Beijing during its Olympics. With all the money that TfL had and has, it had to fiddle that. It was not a problem caused by buses but by other vehicles, but it was still a fact. It happens in many other cities and it is essential that some regulations or clauses such as those proposed by these amendments are included in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the EU component of emissions standards. As a good Eurosceptic, I point out that economically you can only do it as a European standard. You cannot have each European state having its own standards. It just will not stack up. To balance that, I also point out that one needs to consider the business case for very low-utilisation buses because there simply might not be a business case for doing it, even if you considered the damage to health.
My Lords, Amendments 12, 23 and 88 are in my name. I very much endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Whitty. I think we all accept that buses are part of the solution rather than the problem when it comes to tackling environmental pollution and climate change. More passenger journeys on public transport and less car usage will inevitably have a positive impact on CO2 emissions. This is one reason we should be concerned by the overall drop in bus usage in metropolitan areas outside London.
Sadly, the truth is that outside the great success story of London, bus patronage is around 36% lower than it was on the eve of deregulation in 1986. At the same time, as my noble friend Lord Whitty has stressed, we are facing a growing crisis in air pollution in urban areas. The Government have already been shown to be in breach of the Clean Air Act and thousands of people are dying each year. This is a public health emergency, which the Government are failing to tackle with significant vigour. At the heart of the problem is the amount of diesel fumes being pumped out by cars, lorries and buses in urban streets.
Increasing bus usage is only part of the environmental solution. Equally importantly, we need to ensure that new buses on the roads meet the highest environmental standards. I take the point made by the noble Baroness that there is also a role for retrofitting. Our Amendments 12, 23 and 88 would require all new vehicles under franchising, advanced quality partnerships or enhanced partnerships to,
“meet the specifications of the low emission bus scheme as set out by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles”,
in its 2015 document. These specifications are part of the government-backed scheme, with a £30 million grant available. They aim to increase the number of low and ultra-low-emission buses, improving air quality, reducing the impact of road transport on climate change, and supporting UK manufacturing. As such, these amendments gel perfectly with the policies being pursued elsewhere by the Government. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will recognise the sense of being consistent and will feel able to support these important amendments.
My Lords, I align myself with much of the sentiment that has been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that we should be clear in the Bill about reducing emissions and I think that that is a general sentiment we can all share. He referred in a previous discussion to innovation and how we look at technologies and, indeed, the Oyster card. I am sure if it was called the Whitty card we would feel a lot happier travelling on public transport. Perhaps that is a thought for the London mayor to contemplate. He was talked about just now as the next Prime Minister. We are certainly going to have one Prime Minister before that, if not more, from the Conservative side. Let us bear that in mind as the factual reality we have to face.
Coming back to the Bus Services Bill, I understand the aims behind these amendments and I agree totally that buses have a huge part to play in solving some of the country’s air quality problems and, indeed, combating global warming. I further agree that it would be beneficial to local people and our local environments if low-emission technologies were adopted more widely.
Starting with Amendments 9 and 11, the advanced quality partnership scheme allows the local authority to take a judgment on the vehicle specification that is most appropriate on individual corridors. These could be vehicles of no more than a certain age, a type of vehicle that best suits local road conditions or passenger needs, or vehicles that meet certain emissions standards. Provision for local authorities to continue fully to specify the type and standard of vehicle used under the advanced quality partnership scheme is already provided for in new Section 113E(4). This provision would also allow the local authority to specify the emissions standards of the vehicles concerned.
It would not be legally possible for the scheme to set standards for vehicles that are not used on routes covered by the scheme. The environmental performance of vehicles, beyond mandatory requirements, in the deregulated bus market outside partnership or franchising scheme areas or low-emission zones is very much a matter for individual bus operators. In view of this, the amendments submitted by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would simply duplicate this existing provision. I hope that with the explanation I have given she will feel able to withdraw and not move her amendments.
Amendments 12, 23 and 88, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, would require advanced quality partnership schemes, franchising schemes and enhanced partnership schemes to prescribe the specifications of the low-emission bus scheme. I stress again that the Bill is about devolution—giving local areas a broader suite of tools to enable them to improve local services in a way that suits them. I am concerned that the amendment as drafted may unnecessarily tie the hands of authorities looking to implement franchising, advanced quality partnerships or enhanced partnerships, requiring them to specify higher standards for vehicles than in other parts of the country.
Of course, it is important to note that these higher standards will bring extra costs. In franchising in particular, the authority must, among other things, describe the effects that the proposed scheme is likely to produce and consider whether the scheme is affordable. Requiring a higher standard for vehicles may well bring extra cost to the authority, which may lead it to decide that the scheme is not viable. There would also be a cost implication for operators. Where those standards are necessary, the legislation already allows local authorities to bring them forward. Where they are not necessary, they could end up being provided instead of other benefits for passengers that may be more important to local passengers and politicians.
Amendment 36 would require franchising authorities, as part of their assessment of their proposed franchising scheme, to consider the effects of the proposed scheme on air quality and carbon emissions. I am very sympathetic to the aims of this amendment and hope I can reassure the noble Lord that the Bill as drafted will already require authorities to consider how their proposed franchising scheme will impact on air quality and carbon emissions.
Franchising authorities have to conduct a thorough assessment of their proposed scheme, and then consult. I agree entirely with the sentiment expressed by several noble Lords that air quality and carbon emissions should be two of the areas that are considered by authorities when they are conducting their assessments. I assure noble Lords that we are in the process of developing statutory guidance to complement the provisions in the Bill and to which franchising authorities must have regard, and we will be looking to use that guidance to provide further explanation of how franchising authorities should conduct their assessments of their proposed franchising scheme. That guidance will of course mention the need to assess the impact of the proposed scheme on the air quality of the local area and on the levels of carbon emissions.
There are many ways in which we can encourage authorities and bus operators to utilise lower-emission vehicles. Under the green bus fund, government funding has helped put more than 1,200 low-emission buses on our roads since 2009. Building on that success, the current £30 million low-emission bus scheme should deliver hundreds more such buses over the next three years.
I hope this discussion has persuaded noble Lords that I agree about the importance of encouraging the take-up of low-emission vehicles, but I think there are more effective ways to achieve these aims across the country. On the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, made, I am happy to discuss with her how we could look at drafting amendments—perhaps not to look at things retrospectively but, as we have discussed in meetings outside the Chamber, for future vehicles—to ensure the kinds of standards she asks for. Perhaps we could take some time to discuss how we can move forward on that front. But with those explanations of where we are currently, I hope noble Lords will be minded to withdraw and not move their amendments. I hope my final comment may have at least brought a smile—which it has—to the noble Baroness’s face that we are in listening mode. I agree with the sentiment expressed by many noble Lords that this is an opportunity. We have waited a long time to bring this forward. The legislation is now in front of us and it is up to us to improve it to provide the kinds of services we need around the country.
I am pleased that the Minister is willing to review at least one of the amendments in this group. This is part of future-proofing this Bill. The technology on low-emission vehicles is moving on so fast that if such a requirement is not in the Bill, the Act as it will become will look anachronistic in four or five years’ time. I remind noble Lords that we are seeking to put right problems caused by a transport Act from 1985. Such Acts last a long time and we have to make them fit for the future. I was disappointed that when I read the Bill through I could find only one reference to emissions levels. I might have missed one but I would not have missed many. They were hard to find. That is simply not good enough in 2016. We have to do all that we can to re-emphasise to the industry and to local authorities that we are talking about particularly the health of young children but also the health of the population as a whole. On this occasion I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.41 pm.