Clause 4: Franchising schemes
1: Clause 4, page 18, line 17, at end insert “, and
( ) the Competition and Markets Authority.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I shall speak also to Amendments 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who has tabled a number of amendments that aim to restrict the ability of the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate franchising schemes for a period of two years unless it has received a complaint, or has become aware of a significant adverse effect on competition.
Let me start with government Amendment 1. As noble Lords will recall, the Competition and Markets Authority issued a letter on the Bill on 29 June which contained nine recommendations. Our response to these recommendations was issued on 10 October and is now on the GOV.UK website. One of these recommendations was for the CMA to be listed as a statutory consultee in relation to consulting on franchising proposals. The Government accepted this recommendation and tabled Amendment 1.
The CMA is already a statutory consultee in relation to advanced quality partnership, advanced ticketing and enhanced partnership schemes. I take the view that it would be helpful for franchising authorities to engage with the CMA as they develop their proposals. This should help ensure that the authority developing its franchising proposals is made aware of any potential effects on competition, and the benefits or impacts this could have for bus operators and local people.
I now turn to Amendments 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. As I mentioned on Report, the CMA will not have any specific powers to block bus franchising schemes. However, it is important to remember that their role is to conduct market studies and investigations in markets where there may be competition and consumer problems, with the aim of improving the situation for passengers. We believe that any restriction of the powers available to the CMA would send the wrong message about its important role in protecting consumers. As such, I urge the noble Lord not to move his amendment.
In addition, as the noble Lord may be aware, Schedule 10 to the Transport Act 2000, which the noble Lord seeks to amend, does not give the CMA the power to investigate franchising schemes. The schedule provides a competition framework in which partnership schemes should operate. As such, the noble Lord’s amendment does not appear in the relevant section of the Bill.
I hope that this explanation and the assurances I have given—we have met in this regard as well—have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I know he recognises the important role that the CMA has to play, and that local authorities should look to work with it as proposals are developed to ensure local bus passengers get the best possible services. However, I do not feel that the amendments are necessary as the CMA is not being given any specific powers to block bus franchising schemes. I trust that has reassured the noble Lord to the extent that he is minded not to press his amendments. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord for what I regard as a minimal response to the inquiries I have made. The Competition and Markets Authority seeks to interfere in the proper conduct of business. Can the Minister reflect on the extent to which the authority is working in the public interest or whether it is in the interest of the people employed by the Competition and Markets Authority, to give themselves work? The Minister will be aware of the enormous ongoing inquiry into the Northern Rail franchise, and the effect on Arriva buses. A long time and a lot of expenditure—both public expenditure and that of Arriva—has resulted in a settlement that could probably have been achieved without anything being done by the Competition and Markets Authority. There is very little overlap between the services of Arriva as a bus operator and the services of Arriva as a train operator—and, of course, it won the franchise for a train operation and went ahead without realising that this would be raised. It has been raised and it has cost a lot of money, and a Government who are so anxious to save unnecessary public expenditure should seriously consider what these people are doing.
The future of bus franchises has been covered by what the Minister has said, but when future rail franchises are let—a number are coming along—it would be just as well if the Competition and Markets Authority was, in this case, put into a position where it was a statutory consultee. It should also be told, however, once the franchise had been let and the franchisee is trying to establish services—which takes a long time, because you need rolling stock or buses to run a new franchise—that it should keep out of the way for a time, unless there is a significant public complaint. I am not aware, although I may not be very well informed about it, of a groundswell of opinion in the north of England about the issues that the CMA has raised.
Could the noble Lord assist me? He was forthright in his condemnation of the CMA, although he appears to believe that it has a part to play in rail franchising. I do not want to take noble Lords down that road because I would be out of order in doing so. However, it is a slight contradiction in terms, though no more so than in my own party, which is in favour of franchising for buses but against it for trains. I think that is the right way around, but I am not quite sure; perhaps my noble friends could advise me on that.
To stick strictly to the CMA and the Bill, the CMA made nine eminently sensible recommendations, including the one that, somewhat belatedly, the Minister has now decided to accept. Given the noble Lord’s condemnation of the CMA, which of those recommendations does he feel are unnecessary with regard to the Bill?
I am perfectly satisfied with what the Minister has said in so far as it concerns bus franchising, but the bus and rail industries are very much linked together. I am trying to bring to his attention the fact that the work of the CMA in the latest case has probably been fruitless. It has been very expensive and, in future, rail franchising should be subject to the same discipline now proposed for bus services. With that, I should like to withdraw the amendment.
It may be for the convenience of noble Lords if I remind the House that we are debating government Amendment 1, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has been speaking to Amendments 4 and 5, which are grouped with that amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing his amendment, which closely mirrors one that I brought forward in Committee what seems like quite a long time ago. The success of the Bill will to a very large extent be determined by the attitude of the Competition and Markets Authority. In its advice to government, it has made it clear that it sees this form of franchising very much as an inferior form of competition compared to on-road competition. That is an attitude I find extraordinary. After all, we do not have on-road bin collection competition, with companies whizzing around fighting over who collects the bins. We accept that, under those circumstances, it is a perfectly rational thing to do—and there is absolutely a case to be made with buses. The problem is with the insistence that it must be the only way, which is likely to prove a hurdle that most local authorities will simply not be able to reach. I am very keen that this amendment should go through, not because it can do anything to halt the CMA but because if it is cited at an early stage and then has a problem, at least it will become clear to the franchising authority very quickly. That authority would not spend a huge amount of money on developing a scheme that is likely to fall foul of the CMA later.
My Lords, Amendment 1, as moved by the Minister, adds the Competition and Markets Authority as a statutory consultee when a combined authority has decided, after receiving the relevant reports, to proceed with a franchising scheme. The issue regarding the Competition and Markets Authority was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in Committee and we should all be grateful to him for his persistence in this matter. He has identified an important issue and concern. It would be most regrettable if, after passing the Bill into law, the bar had been set so high that no authority could ever meet the requirements and be able to establish a franchising scheme to improve services for their residents.
To be clear, in nominating the Competition and Markets Authority as a statutory consultee, the Minister is saying to us that he does not see a situation where a plan for a franchising scheme could run into difficulties with the CMA if it has been worked with and been made aware of the potential effects on competition, and if its concerns have been taken account of. If that is the case, I am very pleased. However, can the Minister confirm in his response one of two things? Is that the view of the Department for Transport alone, or has it spoken to the CMA so that when informing the House of the Government’s position in this respect, he does so with the knowledge and agreement of the CMA? I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for bringing his amendments forward. As I said earlier, he has identified a real problem and his intervention may well avoid all sorts of problems as authorities seek to make use of these powers. I am sure we are all very grateful to him.
My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lords who have contributed to where we are on this issue. Let me briefly address the issue by assuring noble Lords that when it comes to the passage of the Bill, we will continue to discuss options with bus operators, local authorities and the CMA. We particularly intend in this respect to consult specifically on our proposals for secondary legislation later this year. I am sure that any issues which are still pending or need to be clarified will come up in those discussions. However, the Government have been clear that we have taken it on board that engaging with the CMA at an early stage should assist those local authorities which take forward franchising, to ensure that issues can be addressed at an early stage.
Is the Minister saying that he and his department have talked to the CMA and that it is clear on that as well?
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the CMA wrote to us and we responded accordingly to the recommendations that it made.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Before Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
(1) An operator of a local service may not participate in any scheme, and an authority or authorities may not approve the participation of an operator as party of any scheme, unless the operator has given a written undertaking to the applicable authority or authorities that—(a) it has subscribed to a confidential safety reporting system that—(i) is suitable for bus operations staff;(ii) can demonstrate it is adequately experienced, resourced and staffed; and(iii) is entirely independent of any bus operators’ control,(b) it has used its best endeavours to ensure that all staff of the operator have been made aware of their right to use this confidential safety reporting system to enable bus operators’ staff to report incidents, unsafe acts, concerns and safety-related issues that they do not feel able to report through normal channels, or where normal reporting channels have not resolved the issue,(c) it will collect and monitor bus casualty data in a manner to be prescribed by the applicable authority or authorities from time to time, and(d) it will make its bus casualty data available to the applicable authority or authorities by way of a report on at least a monthly basis.(2) The authority or authorities must publish on their own website, every quarter, the bus casualty data that they have collected from operators.”
My Lords, I was very pleased with the support, sympathetic noises and comments that I had from other Peers when I first tabled this bus safety amendment and I have brought it back at Third Reading, with thanks to the Minister for not disallowing it. The amendment was drafted with the assistance of the Campaign for Better Transport’s “Save our Buses” campaign and benefited from written evidence submitted to the Transport Committee by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, or PACTS. It was largely rewritten by the campaigner Tom Kearney, who has been the victim of a bus crash.
The amendment seeks to do two things. First, it would help with confidential reporting, meaning that bus drivers would have access to a system that has long been happening on the railway and within the air industry. This is called the confidential incident reporting and analysis system, or CIRAS, and it means that bus drivers could report anything about faults or problems that they perceived with their vehicles or their routes.
Secondly, it would allow for the quarterly publication of bus casualty data. When we were on the London Assembly, the Greens persuaded Boris Johnson, when he was London Mayor, to improve operational safety performance monitoring and reporting of TfL’s bus routes by adopting this measure. As a result, confidential safety reporting has been in place in London since 4 January this year. TfL has also made its bus operators’ subscription to CIRAS a precondition for running a bus service contract. These safety practices have made London’s bus system, which is about 25% of the UK’s entire bus fleet, substantially more safety conscious. London also has access to casualty data reporting, which has been in operation for nearly three years, since January 2014. TfL publishes bus safety data every quarter, clearly identifying the bus operator involved, incident location, type of injury, sex and age of the injured party, general cause, mode of transport involved, and borough and month in which it happened.
The importance of confidential safety reporting is shown by the statistics now published by Transport for London. The latest statistics suggest that every TfL bus driver has a 0.2% chance per annum of killing someone; a 63% per annum chance of injuring someone; and a 0.016% chance of sending someone to hospital every single day. Given that safety incidents impose costs and cause delays, one would think that bus operators would be motivated to encourage such reporting by their employees. Surprisingly, even though London’s bus operators have franchises across the UK, only their London franchises are subscribed to CIRAS. While I support the idea of localism, it seems strange to me that London’s bus franchises should have a manifestly better operational safety reporting system than any other locality in the United Kingdom.
In the rail industry, 2015 marked the eighth year in a row with zero rail crash fatalities. This year of course we have had the Croydon tram fatalities. I do not know whether the Croydon tram was operating under CIRAS conditions; I would be interested to know whether it was, if the Minister knows and can tell us. We have acted for many years to prevent rail crashes and deaths, so I fail to understand why we so readily accept crashes, injuries, incidents and deaths on our roads.
As a result of the Minister’s previous comments, I have redrafted this amendment so that the section on confidential safety incident reporting conforms to existing rail standards and CIRAS’s name no longer appears, which would mean that it is not quite so time-limited as it might have been before. I hope that these tweaks will remove the barriers to the Government’s acceptance of this incredibly common-sense proposal. I beg to move.
My Lords, I cannot recall what position I took on the noble Baroness’s amendment in Committee, but I am not sure that it is one that we should accept. The reason is simply that air crashes and rail crashes are extremely complex events and it is not always clear what has caused an accident. The accidents that the noble Baroness refers to are road traffic accidents where, generally speaking, it is obvious what caused the accident. This is not an amendment that I would support.
My Lords, I do support this amendment; my noble friend has set out the need for this confidential safety reporting very clearly. I do not accept the comment from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that rail and air accidents are complex and therefore need confidential safety reporting but that road is quite simple—you have an accident and it is quite clear who caused it.
There is also a marine confidential reporting system, which noble Lords may know about. You could argue that you hit something or you hit another ship and it is clear what the cause was, but I think that it is a slightly simplistic argument. We are talking about a confidential reporting system that may include something that is wrong with the equipment—whether ship or aeroplane—that a person is operating. There may be something he or she feels that their employer should have done something about and has not. One likes to think that, with confidential reporting, that could be put right without employees’ putting their jobs at risk. That does not always happen but in other sectors such a provision is an incentive to report issues. I think the systems are exactly the same as between air, road, rail and marine. As my noble friend said, it is interesting to note that confidential reporting has worked well with the railways. Indeed, she has changed the amendment to reflect the situation that operates on the railways.
A few years ago, both the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and I tried to get the Office of Rail and Road, as it is now called, to take responsibility for road safety on the trunk road network and the motorways in the same way as it does for the rail network. We argued that the conditions on the respective networks were much the same. That office had the expertise not just to say, when investigating an accident, that things could be done better, but to go into all the information, statistics and safety rules and bring in one consistent policy, at least for road and rail. I argue that air and marine are slightly different areas but road and rail are very similar land surface forms of transport.
I consider that the confidential reporting mechanism gives comfort to drivers and other staff employed on buses. They are mostly operated by one person, the driver, so we are talking about just drivers. I think that it would also give comfort to passengers. It is evident that most London bus services are extremely good. However, I think that other bus operators sometimes put their drivers under pressure to bend the rules, whether on drivers’ hours, speeding or not looking after their passengers properly. If confidential reporting were in place, people would have the ability to make complaints if they wished to do so. It would also give operators an incentive not to abuse the system and to improve the quality of journeys generally, which is what this whole Bill is about.
My noble friend said that bus operators in London have introduced confidential reporting. That is wonderful but there is no reason why London bus passengers or employees should be treated any differently from those in the rest of the country. Another reason for introducing this Bill is to bring the quality of services in other parts of the country in line with that of the service in London.
This is a good amendment which we have discussed several times at various stages. Frankly, if the Minister rejects it now, I would have to ask him whether the Government consider that bus accidents, bad driving by bus drivers or bad quality of bus services—buses are a form of public transport, as are rail, ferries or air transport—and the necessity of having good-quality, safe bus services are less important for buses than for other forms of transport, perhaps because not so many Members of your Lordships’ House travel by bus as by other forms of transport. I hope that is not the case. However, if the amendment were rejected, that would be my perception. As I say, this is a good amendment and I support it.
My Lords, having heard the exchanges on both sides, I wish to raise a couple of points with the noble Baroness who moved this amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a relevant point when he talked about the difference between accidents involving buses and those involving trains and aeroplanes. The Croydon tragedy has just been mentioned. All I will say about that is that three separate inquiries into that tragedy are taking place at present. If a similar number of passengers had been killed by a bus overturning on a bend, there would not be three separate inquiries but an inquest into the deaths. That might go some way to underline my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s point but it also supports the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that we have different procedures. Just because we have different procedures does not mean that we are any less concerned about bus safety.
The noble Baroness’s proposed new subsection (1)(a)(iii) states that the confidential safety reporting scheme has to be,
“entirely independent of any bus operators’ control”.
There are hundreds of smaller bus operators in this country. Again, I give way to nobody in my concern for safety with regard to bus operations. I reassure my noble friend Lord Berkeley that I travel on buses from time to time. Indeed, during a previous debate on the Bill I was unwise enough to criticise the sounds and display on a particular bus route and pointed out that hearing the audio at every bus stop was considerably annoying if you are on the bus for 40 minutes. For that I was quite roundly denounced by one or two noble Lords who are in the Chamber at present and, while I did not exactly receive hate mail, people on Facebook and its ilk—I am not a participant—certainly expressed some strong views about my comments. Indeed, it was suggested that I should be barred from LRT henceforth because I had had the temerity to say that I found the noise somewhat obtrusive. I therefore hope that I can reassure my noble friend that I travel on buses from time to time.
I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the amendment would place a considerable extra burden on private operators, particularly smaller ones. Of course, most of the companies that operate in London are major bus companies with garages in various other parts of the country, while that is not true for smaller operators. Has the noble Baroness thought about the additional burden that would be placed on such operators, and would she consider exempting operators with a significantly smaller number of vehicles from the amendment?
My Lords, the noble Baroness who proposed the amendment has the gift of coming up with interesting and appealing ideas, and this is one of them. I think that obviously we are all sympathetic to the issue of safety on buses; some instances recently, even in London, have been a matter of concern. I think also of the cycling situation in London, which is a problem. However, on this occasion I have to agree—they might be surprised to hear this—with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and my noble friend Lord Attlee. There are problems in this area which are not solved by this rather heavy-handed approach, and there is a difference between the sort of situation you find yourself in with buses on the one hand and with rail on the other. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, made the point that his own party is in favour of franchising when it comes to buses but against it when it comes to railways, so there are clearly differences in the way we approach these two important industries.
As someone who takes an interest in the Bill, I am also concerned that we get it off the ground. People who have followed the bus industry know that previous attempts to get franchising going in the rest of the country failed because of the complexity of the legislation. For example, Newcastle upon Tyne made a big effort to get franchising going but failed after many years of trying because of the complexity of the legislative procedures. I do not want this admirable Bill, which I fully support, to fall foul of the same problems. Let us please keep it as simple as possible. We have made amendments in this House which on the whole have been wise, and which I hope the Government will keep, as they have not been adverse to the spirit of the Bill. This may be music to the ears of my colleagues on the Front Bench: I hope that they do not mess around too much with it in another place. We should keep it where it is. It is a very good Bill. As my wife said the other day, I am a bit of a bus junkie. People are asked whether they travel on buses; I travel on buses all the time in London because they are so good. I want something similar to be available to residents in other parts of the country and I trust that this Bill will achieve that. I strongly support it and I do not want any further amendments to be made to it.
My Lords, the recent tram tragedy should make us all think again about safety in general, and that should apply not just to franchised services but to partnerships and any kind of regular service run with some element of public money and with public support. I very much hope that the Minister will accept the principle of the amendment and acknowledge that there is an issue to be considered. I want to make it clear that I believe the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is incorrect in trying to distinguish between different types of accidents—the causes of bus accidents can be just as complex. Speculation since the tram accident has shown us all that perhaps there was a long-term issue that could have been addressed by having a system akin to the one suggested here.
My Lords, would it be better not to agree this amendment because of the reasons adduced by my noble friend? At the same time, taking up what the noble Baroness said, there is a growing understanding in society that we have to provide people with the opportunity to report things that worry them in a way that does not endanger their position as, for example, drivers. I do not think that this issue is about buses; it is about the society in which we live. We need to enable people in a complex society to issue warnings so as to increase levels of safety. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will refuse to accept the amendment, which I think would be otiose and rather heavy-handed in this excellent Bill.
I also hope that he will take on board the principle that we should offer people the opportunity to issue warnings whenever we can. If we do not do that, all sorts of things that could be avoided are not avoided. It is becoming less easy to draw a distinction between buses and trains. What do we do with guided bus routes, for example? Are the vehicles classified as trains or buses? We have talked about trams, but the noble Baroness could not tell us whether the same rules operate on trams as operate on buses. We have to recognise that this issue is more complicated than we think, but it is most important that we give people the opportunity to warn in a way that does not imperil their jobs.
My Lords, I support the approach taken by my noble friend Lady Randerson and I echo the points that have just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Right across society we are gaining a better understanding that the first indication that something is wrong in an organisation usually comes from the people who work in it. The importance of a whistleblowing policy is well understood. Surely the purpose of this proposal is not necessarily to look back following an accident but to prevent accidents happening in the first place.
My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would insert a new clause into the Bill. We discussed this on Report and I am very pleased that it is back here today to be considered further at Third Reading.
As we have heard, the amendment is about safety. A scheme similar to what is proposed here operates in London and in the rail and aviation industries. Schemes for the confidential reporting of incidents are already up and running, contributing to the safety of everyone in those industries and the passengers who make use of those transport services. Therefore, in principle the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and his department should have no reason not to accept the amendment.
We have heard about the number of fatalities and serious injuries that have taken place in the past year in the bus industry, and anything that contributes to a reduction in those figures should be welcomed by everyone. Publishing the information and identifying bad or sloppy practices, or something that is an unintended consequence, means issues can be highlighted and action taken to deal with them, if we have the data necessary to identify the problem.
It is also a well-known fact that just having a system of confidential reporting can do much to improve the safety culture. Amendment 2 is a very positive amendment and I congratulate the noble Baroness for bringing it back again today. I very much hope that she will get a positive response from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, as she is seeking to bring forward a sensible and proportionate measure that is already operating in other transport industries and in the bus industry in London—and all the large bus operators that operate outside the capital also operate in the capital.
Doing everything we can to avoid death and serious injury in an industry that transports millions of people around every day, often on short local journeys, is something we should all want to support. The costs are not great for operators and, as we have seen in London, the system clearly can operate without any great burden to the industry.
In conclusion, the amendment as worded may not be what is needed, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, the Government can accept the principle and work with noble Lords in this House and with campaigners to get it right. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, we need to enable people to have the ability and opportunity to warn of potential problems. I think that that is very important and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will move forward on that basis.
I first thank all noble Lords who have participated in this important debate, and in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for proposing an amendment that would prevent bus operators participating in any scheme unless they give a written undertaking to the relevant authority that they will subscribe to a confidential safety reporting system. Operators will also need to provide an undertaking that they will collect and monitor bus casualty data and then provide the relevant authorities with a monthly report.
Several noble Lords have made points about safety. Let me make it clear again that road safety is a matter of national importance—we are all agreed on that. The DVSA in particular plays an important role, with traffic commissioners, in seeking to ensure that drivers and vehicles are both licensed and safe. The department collects and publishes data on reported road accidents, which provide details of the type of vehicle involved and the consequent casualties. I am pleased, but far from complacent, that we saw a fall in the number of accidents involving buses and coaches in 2015 from the previous year. However, we must ensure that we continue to monitor this important area.
Let me turn to the amendment more specifically. As I said on Report, I agree with the sentiment behind this amendment; several noble Lords have also said that this afternoon. An efficient reporting system captures health, safety and security concerns raised by employees, which are then recorded, and this is the first step towards resolving any issues raised—indeed, it addresses the concerns so eloquently put by my noble friend Lord Deben.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for acknowledging some of the issues raised on Report and for omitting the specific reference to CIRAS. The Government believe that it would not be appropriate to include such a reference in primary legislation. I also thank the noble Baroness for the very productive meeting we had on this issue, together with Mr Kearney. That in itself served as a very informative meeting for the Government. That said, I am conscious that the proposed amendment has come quite late in the passage of the Bill through this House. As several noble Lords acknowledged, the issue was first raised only on Report. The Government, therefore, do not have sufficient time to consider the issue before the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House. I therefore cannot accept this amendment today.
That said, and for the reasons that I have explained to the noble Baroness already, we are keen to explore further the issues raised by the amendment. In the spirit of the sentiments expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Scott, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Deben, we wish to look at this amendment carefully, and it would be appropriate to do so in the other place. This approach would allow us to consider the objectives of the proposed amendment carefully and to explore what the best solution may be to resolve any specific issues.
Let me assure the House that I have listened very carefully to the debate this afternoon and understand the importance of making sure that bus travel is safe for all—we all share that view. I will not be able to accept the amendment today but I anticipate working with the noble Baroness on this matter as the Bill progresses in the other place. I can also assure her that I have already asked my honourable friend Andrew Jones, who is the Bill Minister, to continue the constructive discussions we have had thus far.
With the assurances and the explanation I have provided, I hope that the noble Baroness will be minded to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his generous reply. Obviously he did not go as far as I would have liked and I hope the House will allow me a little leeway in demolishing—or commenting on—some of the comments that have been made during this debate.
Earl Attlee: complexity. I have never driven a train or a bus but, as a train is taken along tracks with no steering wheel, it could be argued that a bus is more complex to drive and that there are more complex issues on roads. So that is quite a feeble argument.
Lord Snape, I did not quite follow what you were saying but I can assure you that, from an extra burden point of view—if you are talking about a financial burden, for example—if a company has a turnover of up to £1 million, it would cost it £300 to subscribe to the scheme. If its turnover is from £1 billion to £2 billion, it is £12,000. That is not onerous. You might argue that the data collection is onerous—but I would say, “No data, no measurement”. We cannot judge whether a company is safe if we do not have the data to look at. So this is money well spent.
Lord Horam, you talked about my interesting ideas—I think that was a criticism rather than a compliment—and you also called this heavy-handed. I can only say to you that this is tried and tested in London and it works for the majority of bus companies. You talked about London buses being so good, but they are so good partly because they subscribe to this scheme and bus drivers are allowed to comment on their vehicles and the problems they face. I thank the Peers who commented in a positive way and I shall come to the Minister’s comment in a moment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has done a fabulous job in moving her amendment and has had success in her reply from the Minister—but will she undertake to study the Companion on the use of the word “you”?
I do apologise. I have no idea about that. Perhaps you would like to give me a seminar afterwards.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, questioned whether or not he was consistent between my bringing the amendment last time and now, I can assure the noble Lord that he was completely consistent. He did not like it then and he does not like it now.
I thank the Minister for the productive meeting and it was good to hear that he was sympathetic to the issues. This is a relatively minor change. Other people have called it heavy-handed but it is a minor change. It saves lives. I cannot think of a higher, nobler cause than saving lives—especially those of the people we purport to govern. We are saving lives and preventing injuries and devastation to families—and the numbers we are talking about are not inconsequential. This is a relatively light touch for something that has such heavy consequences. I am of course disappointed that the Government have not snapped up the amendment but I look forward to it being picked up later.
Its impact on society and on the taxpayer is much heavier than we realise. Every crash has a cost—whether it is in delays to business, to the service or to commuters—that we do not assess. When we talk about the cost to industry, we should also think about the cost to the life of the towns, cities and roads where it happens.
I appreciate the noble Baroness giving way. Does she agree that one of the key duties on any board of directors is the management of health and safety? It is a legal requirement, so it is inconceivable that bus operating companies do not already collect this information. What we are talking about here are two things. The first is the matter of transparency in reporting and the second is the further step that the noble Baroness wants to take in terms of it being a barrier to granting a franchise. But the point about collecting data is that companies will be doing that already because they are legally obliged to do so.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for that comment. I actually do not know the answer to that and I will find out.
I hope that the economic impact of deaths and injuries will be taken into account by the Government when they assess the importance of this amendment. Having said all that and feeling only slightly better—I mean bitter—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 24: Extent
3: Clause 24, page 79, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) Sections 22 to 26 extend to England and Wales and Scotland.”
My Lords, Clause 17 was inserted on Report and introduces the accessible information requirement. Certain provisions in the clause extend to Scotland whereas the rest of the Bill extends to England and Wales. A further amendment is required to extend the Bill’s general provisions to Scotland; namely, the power to make consequential provision, the power to make transitional, transitory or saving provision, extent, commencement and the Short Title. These general provisions already extend to England and Wales, and this is very much a technical amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for suggesting in a letter today that I should make a momentary intervention on the accessibility of bus services. Noble Lords will remember that I moved an amendment on Report to make bus companies, as a condition of their licence, produce and publish policies to assist disabled people in using their services. The intention of the amendment was to bring buses completely into line with trains. I also offered the Minister an alternative if he rejected my amendment, which was to follow his own model on AVs and introduce a regulation-making power under the Equality Act to require bus companies to make accessibility policies, again enforceable as a condition of their licence. The Minister kindly said that he would reflect on my offer, and true to his word, a week later we had an extremely helpful and constructive meeting to discuss my proposal in more depth. He said that he would revert to me in around a week.
Unfortunately, he was not able to do so until this morning when I received a letter telling me that while he cannot make a firm commitment today, the dialogue will continue. The Minister emphasises in his letter the need for strong guidance as a back-stop that should be developed with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee to make bus services more accessible for disabled people. Of course I welcome that, although the Minister knows my views on the deep limitations of guidance incredibly well by now.
I want to express my appreciation to the Minister for his openness and willingness to discuss this issue in depth—and I really mean that. Transport is a lifeline for disabled people as it underpins their inclusion in society. An amendment is not on the table today, although I had hoped it would be, but I am grateful for the offer to work with Andrew Jones MP, the Bill Minister in the other place. I am happy to take up that offer and I thank the Minister for his collaborative approach, which reflects my preferred way of working. As I say, I will definitely take him up on his offer and I have already garnered support from MPs, organisations representing disabled people and disabled people themselves for taking this forward. I hope further discussions in the other place will result in an amendment to enable disabled people to use buses with confidence and with the assistance they need to live independently. At the moment that is not the case, but I believe it can be.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving us his time in meetings, and I thank his officials for their work. We are grateful for the care with which he has considered our amendments and has responded to them, even when he was rejecting them.
We on these Benches support the principles behind the Bill and we are pleased that the Government are attempting to improve bus services. For some 30 years, since the Thatcher Government introduced deregulation, bus services outside London have been a story of decline. In contrast, buses have thrived in London within a much more regulated system. Although franchising may not be the whole answer—indeed, may not be the answer used in much of the country—we believe that partnerships have a much more active role to play for local authorities as well as for bus companies. They mark an important way forward.
Good bus services are an important part of a thriving economy. They are the most frequently used form of public transport and are essential to the mobility of older people, young people and, in particular, those who are less well-off. They are essential to the sustainability of rural communities and for a healthy environment. Air quality is a major issue of public concern, as the Government are painfully aware at this time, so frequent, reliable and reasonably priced bus services are key to discouraging car use. We hope the Bill will improve bus services and I hope our contributions on the issues of emissions, disabled access, youth fares and so on have helped to focus the Minister’s mind and those of his colleagues on ways the Bill needed to be improved and on ways in which a more ambitious approach might future-proof the Bill and make it more robust for the years ahead. I hope our work here in this House has done enough to make it strong enough to succeed in its aims.
My Lords, as is customary at this stage in the passage of a Bill, I shall be brief. Obviously the amendment moved by my noble friend the Minister is a good one. As he has said on several occasions, the overall aim of the Bill is to make bus services even better, and I agree with everything just said by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the importance of bus services. There is much to support in the Bill, not least because it will pave the way for even greater partnership working between bus operators and local authorities. I was especially delighted to see the Government amend the Bill to ensure that passengers will have greater access to bus service information. This will make travelling on buses easier and perhaps a less daunting experience not only for those with disabilities, but for everyone.
However, not all the changes we have made were, I believe, so welcome. Giving any and all local authorities access to franchising powers is, in my view, a mistake. It will just serve to introduce uncertainty into the bus market and bus companies will have no incentive to invest. There will be no incentive to buy new vehicles, to keep passengers happy or to react to their needs, which runs counter to the overall aim of the Bill. This House prides itself on being a revising Chamber and it has certainly revised the Bill, so let us see what becomes of it when it reaches the other place. I hope that the next time we see it, the Bill will do what it says on the tin and enable local bus services to flourish and deliver for passengers.
My Lords, I briefly make a contribution as the Bill comes to the end of its passage in this place. I know the Minister is aware of the importance of the Bill to Greater Manchester. The option to franchise bus services is something that leaders of all political organisations across Greater Manchester have requested as part of the 2014 devolution agreement. It is integral to that agreement’s success.
Bus franchising has the potential to truly transform transport across the city region, allowing Greater Manchester to develop an integrated transport network. I am therefore delighted that we are moving a step forward with the Bill. However, as the Minister is aware, the Greater Manchester mayoral elections in May 2017 are less than six months away. A number of clauses include provisions that allow the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation and guidance.
I would therefore like to make two brief requests to the Minister. First, it will be essential that the regulations and guidance issued are robust and clear in their intent and content so as to limit any delays in implementation. Secondly, the guidance and regulations must be available as soon as practicably possible so that the incoming mayor can make informed decisions on the options available to them. I would be grateful for the Minister’s response on those points.
Transport devolution across Greater Manchester has the potential to bring significant benefits for passengers, industry, residents and visitors across the conurbation. Reform of bus services in Greater Manchester is crucial if we are to unlock these benefits and create the excellent integrated transport network the area deserves.
My Lords, I endorse some of the things that my noble friend said. I too give a qualified welcome to the Bill and to the amendments, in particular those aspects of the Bill that would genuinely improve services for passengers and those clauses that encourage the development of partnership working between operators and local government. Those arrangements have proved to be successful in many parts of the country.
I have misgivings about franchising that I have expressed ad nauseam. The Minister has said time after time that there is no extra money available to local authorities that wish to go down the road of franchising. The Liberal party spokesperson and my Front Bench made the point that franchising has worked extremely well in London. Of course it has. The one aspect of franchising in London that people do not talk about, and which has rarely been mentioned in the Chamber, is money. We have thrown £1 billion at franchising in London. That is the nearest estimate I can come up with. My objection to franchising would be considerably reduced if the Minister stood up and said that he has £1 billion for Manchester—that might please my noble friend Lord Bradley—£1 billion for Birmingham, £1 billion for Tyneside and £1 billion for the other conurbations in this country. We know full well that that will not happen.
At a time when local government’s finances have been considerably cut back time after time, to pursue franchising is a snare and a delusion. To my knowledge this is the third attempt since the 1985 Act to bring some degree of franchising back to local bus services outside London. In my view, it will be as unsuccessful as the previous two for the reasons I have outlined.
It is very rare when we debate bus services that we hear the voice of passengers. We have heard from the Local Government Association. I do not object to democratic organisations seeking more power—that is what democratic organisations do—but I object to the view that these powers can somehow be granted to Manchester, Birmingham and other parts of our great nation without any money to fulfil them. In that way inevitably lies cynicism and disappointment.
A report on bus services in the West Midlands was published as recently as last week by Passenger Focus—an eminently respectable group that I know commands the respect and affection of both sides of your Lordships’ Chamber. Some 82% of passengers using bus services in the West Midlands expressed satisfaction with the services provided. When that 82% was asked whether they had any problems, virtually every single one of them said, “Yes, there is a problem. It’s called congestion. We hate being caught in congestion”. Local authorities have responsibility for alleviating congestion. They do not have the money, of course, as I am the first to acknowledge, but by and large many of them do not have the will to do something about congestion either. If buses ran on time in our major conurbations we would not be having this debate on franchising.
My noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench will talk about the London experience. London is a unique city. It has hundreds of thousands of commuters entering and leaving every day and millions of tourists in the course of a year. With all due respect to Manchester, Birmingham and Tyneside, we do not have millions of tourists; we have thousands of commuters and perhaps thousands of tourists. That is why London was exempted from deregulation in 1985—read Hansard in both Houses of Parliament. That is why franchising was introduced in London rather than in the rest of the country.
Having sat through virtually every debate on the Bill I am in danger of repeating myself, but I do not believe the provisions for franchising will ever be enacted. I can see those provisions being filleted in the other place when the Bill gets there. I have one last sad word to my Front Bench: we seem to pretend that the passage of the 1985 Act was year zero as far as buses were concerned. The decline of bus passengers in our major conurbations started in the 1950s with the spread of the private car. In the 1950s there were 5 million cars on our roads; there are more than 35 million now. It is not surprising that people, having acquired a private car, decide to use it rather than the bus. To pretend this decline started in 1985 with the passage of the Act is a delusion. It did not; it started a long time before that.
If we are to go forward sensibly as far as the provision of bus services is concerned, I believe—I hope I have not boasted, but I have reminded your Lordships that I have had some experience in the bus industry—that partnerships are the way forward. If the Bill leads to greater partnership I wish it a fair wind, but I very much doubt it will return from the other place in the same state as it leaves us.
My Lords, I could not let the opportunity of a bus Bill prevent me stating that, in my opinion and that of many people I know who drive in central London, we are constantly impressed by the way that bus drivers are driving in a thoughtful manner. They are difficult, large buses, but they do not act in a way that offends other traffic. I would like this short tribute to be made to them and put on the record.
My Lords, as we are on the last amendment at Third Reading, I want to say that I genuinely believe that this is a good Bill. It leaves this House in a better shape than when it arrived. We wish it well as it goes through the Commons. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. He has been courteous, engaging, responsive and willing to listen. I know that I and all other noble Lords are grateful to him for that. I also thank the Bill team, who have been very kind to us, and helpful and supportive. We appreciate very much the work they have done all round the House.
We have made many positive changes to the Bill. I am glad that we said goodbye to Clause 21. I am pleased we have extended further franchising powers to non-mayoral authorities. I am pleased with the additions on audio-visual and environmental protections. I am well aware that the Bill will go to the other place and that one or two issues may come back to us at some point in the new year. We will certainly then want to state our case again and try to persuade the other place, if they are not persuaded already, of the soundness of our proposals.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, those I have agreed with and those I have not agreed with. There have been very positive debates here during the whole course of the Bill. We have generally done a very good job.
I thank in particular my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I knew her for many years before either of us was in this House and we have always worked very well together. I also pay tribute to Hannah Lazell, who works in the opposition office. As my noble friend Lord Watson said in the debate on the previous Bill, we have only a small number of staff and Hannah has worked particularly hard for us throughout the Bill.
This is a good Bill; we have improved it; we wish it well. If it comes back to us in an amended form, I am sure that we will defend our position at that point.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. Although the amendment is somewhat technical, it has nevertheless served as a pretext for noble Lords to acknowledge the work that has been done in your Lordships’ House on this important Bill. I acknowledge the tribute paid by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes to bus drivers; I am sure that we all echo that. We should perhaps pause for a moment to reflect on the fact that while, unfortunately, a minority receive attention, the majority of bus drivers, as my noble friend so eloquently put it, serve their cause, fulfil their duties and demonstrate the courtesy required of them in ensuring that people reach their destination efficiently, safely and on time. I align myself totally with the remarks of my noble friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, has raised the issue relating to Manchester on repeated occasions. I assure him, as I have done before, that we are working closely with local authorities, including Transport for Greater Manchester, to achieve the objectives that he has outlined.
We have reached that time in the Bill when, in acknowledging the comments of other noble Lords, I too wish to thank those Members of your Lordships’ House who have contributed to debates. We have sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed, and sometimes agreed to disagree, but those debates have been lively and always conducted courteously. I am grateful for the time that all noble Lords have given, particularly in meeting me directly on a bilateral basis—it was greatly appreciated. In particular, I put on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, with whom I have worked on various issues in the Bill. He and his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, have together led a very able charge from the Labour Benches in what have been robust but positive and proactive discussions. I am equally thankful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her contributions and for the exchanges that we have had. I also thank my noble friend Lord Younger for his support during the passage of the Bill. It would be remiss of me not to mention my very able Bill team, who have had to endure many long hours of review and many requests from me as the Minister. I thank through the Bill manager all the officials at the DfT and in my private office for their support.
On accessibility, I am grateful for the meetings that we have held with noble Lords, many conducted over the summer—sometimes, people perhaps forget that work continues and that was true in the case of this Bill. I am sure that we can all agree that the Bill is in a much stronger place for the inclusion of the accessible information requirement. I thank again the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I shall continue to reflect on her contributions and acknowledge the constructive way in which she has engaged with the department. I thank her, too, for the comments that she made today. I assure her that my honourable friend Andrew Jones has committed to continuing the productive discussions that we have had thus far. I am equally grateful for the contributions on accessibility of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, who regrettably are not in their places today. Their contributions have also been valuable. I am sure that there will be further discussions on this important issue as the Bill progresses through the House of Commons.
It is fair to say that, for all of our shared belief that buses play a vital if at times underrated role in people’s lives, the passage of the Bill in this place has not been entirely easy. There has been much agreement on it, but there remain areas where this has not been the case. In particular, it remains important that the Bill reflects the Government’s original intent on who has access to franchising powers, for all of the reasons that I have explained—we have had robust debates in that regard. Nevertheless, throughout all stages of the Bill, there has been genuine co-operation and a willingness to work together across all Benches. I assure noble Lords that the Government will continue to work from a perspective of positive engagement, particularly on the issues that I have again highlighted today. We all seek to ensure that the Bill can fulfil its ultimate purpose of delivering improved services for bus passengers.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Schedule 1: Further amendments: advanced quality partnership schemes
Amendments 4 and 5 not moved.
A privilege amendment was made.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.