Consideration of Commons Amendments
Motion on Amendment 1
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 3
My Lords, it will also be convenient at this time to speak to Amendments 2 to 4, Amendment 6, Amendments 12 and 13, Amendments 15 to 19 and Amendments 21 to 23. These amendments cover a range of issues demonstrating the variety of important topics debated during the passage of this Bill through both Houses. I know that all noble Lords will agree that bus passengers should be at the heart of this Bill. Its provisions will enable improvements to bus services where they are needed, and help grow passenger numbers. By working together, local authorities and operators can tackle key transport issues such as pollution and congestion. They can support local businesses and help drive the local economy.
I recognise that congestion in particular can have a major impact on local bus services. This brings me on to Amendment 1, which relates to powers to enforce moving traffic offences. The other place debated the changes made to the Bill by this House, which confer powers to enforce moving traffic offences such as those in yellow box junctions on authorities that have established an advance quality partnership scheme. However, it was recognised that Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 already provides the Secretary of State with the ability to confer powers to enforce moving traffic offences on authorities. It was also further acknowledged that local authorities already had the ability to address issues of congestion, be that through using new infrastructure measures or technological solutions or by enforcing moving traffic offences in bus lanes. Additionally, through franchising and partnership schemes local authorities and bus operators will be able to further work together to address local congestion in a more targeted way.
A key concern remains that such powers could be misused to generate revenue for local authorities rather than for traffic management purposes. Instead, we shall be encouraging local authorities and bus operators to use the powers in the Bill to develop local solutions to local congestion pinch points.
Amendments 2, 6 and 15 respond to what I know were well-intentioned moves by this House to seek the greater use of low-emission buses. We are all in agreement that we should encourage these sorts of behaviours. Following early discussions in this House, the Government set it out explicitly in the Bill that emissions standards may be included as part of both franchising and partnership schemes. However, I believe that the Bill needs to strike the right balance between giving authorities the right tools for the job and being overly prescriptive about how improvements are to be achieved. There is a real danger that requiring all new buses used to deliver services as part of a partnership or franchising scheme that come into service after 1 April 2019 to be low emission would simply mean that bus schemes could become prohibitively expensive, with the real risk of authorities being unlikely to pursue these schemes at all. This could lead to less bus use and, with that, worse environmental outcomes than would have been achieved without these provisions. I hope that my further explanation as to why we have taken the approach that we have to these subjects will mean that noble Lords can support the current Motion.
I turn now to Amendments 16 to 18 on the open data provisions. There has been a positive welcome to Clause 18, which will facilitate the provision to passengers of information about timetables, fares, routes and tickets, and live information. Since the Bill was last in this place, my officials have held workshops to develop further the practical delivery of these provisions. Stakeholders have stressed the importance of two existing datasets that are currently maintained by local authorities which accurately and uniquely describe and locate all bus stops in a common format. These datasets are vital to the production of meaningful journey-planning information for passengers. However, they are currently maintained by local authorities on a voluntary basis. These amendments simply ensure that if it becomes necessary, regulations could be made that require local transport authorities to provide information other than in the context of franchising, and information about stopping places to be provided by local transport authorities or operators.
I turn now to those who work for local bus companies. In this House we quite rightly had a great deal of debate about the importance of consultation in relation to bus partnership and franchising schemes and who must be consulted. The Government accepted and were happy to include Transport Focus and the national park authorities as statutory consultees. Special thanks must go to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is not in his place this afternoon, for his passionate advocacy of the latter’s importance.
We also introduced amendments to require authorities to consult employee representatives about proposed franchising schemes. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, provided helpful input to our thinking on this matter. I completely understand the need for employee representatives to be consulted on franchising schemes, as those proposals could have a direct impact on bus industry employees in such an area. Following a debate in the other place, it was agreed that some of the potential duplications in the Bill relating to the consultation of employee representatives and trade unions on franchising schemes should be clarified. This is reflected in Amendments 12 and 13. It was also felt that authorities should have greater freedom on who to consult in relation to the advanced quality partnership schemes than had been provided for in the Lords text. This is reflected in Amendments 3 and 4. The Bill, therefore, now provides for an authority to be required to consult employee representatives on franchising schemes, and it may choose to do so for partnership schemes should it consider that appropriate.
Finally, this group contains Amendments 19 and 21 to 23, which address housekeeping matters and remove the privilege amendment. The latter is a procedural technicality. I hope noble Lords feel that I have given the variety of topics justice here and will agree to support the Motion to approve these Commons amendments.
My Lords, throughout its passage, the Liberal Democrats have supported the principles behind the Bill and we believe that it is a long overdue response to a fairly chaotic situation with bus services in many parts of the country outside London. Indeed, while we have been debating the Bill, the number of bus services and miles covered by those services throughout England outside London has reduced significantly as the number of local authorities’ subsidised routes has reduced and some bus companies have ceased to function. There is a desperate need to do something and we agree with the general tenor of the Bill.
We would have wished to make the Bill more radical, as I have made clear on a number of occasions. We would have wanted more devolution and powers to local authorities, more action to assist disabled passengers, more measures to protect the environment and the health of our citizens and more consultation. Indeed, some of our amendments were accepted and have remained in the Bill throughout the Commons process, but not all of them. I am disappointed that so many were removed.
However, we are grateful that in this group there are government amendments to clarify the role and independence of auditors. The first amendment in the group was put forward by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw in relation to giving local authorities powers over moving traffic offences. The Minister said just now that the Government feared that local authorities would use that power simply to make money. That is a fairly flimsy excuse for rejecting the idea because it would be so easy for the Government to produce an amendment that restricted local authorities’ ability to do that. That could have been dealt with within the regulations that will flow from the Bill or within the Bill itself.
In relation to the Minister’s comments on emissions and the speed with which we can replace bus fleets, London is of course well under way with the process, as are several other local authorities and cities. The technology is there. The alternative fuels are there. It is the Government’s role to at least push businesses into operating in the most environmentally friendly way. On bus emissions, of course there is the pressing issue of the health of our citizens. The Government are only too aware, despite their failure yesterday to produce a plan to address this issue, of the need for urgent action on this. Not only am I disappointed that the Government failed to meet the legal timetable for producing a response on air quality in general, I am disappointed that they have taken the view on this particular Bill that there does not need to be a stronger government steer on the issue of emissions from bus services.
I support the Government’s changes on the provision of data. That is very important. Evidence shows that many people are deterred from becoming bus passengers because of a lack of knowledge and information about where the bus stops and how they pay for a ticket. How one pays for a ticket can vary from one local authority area to another. That kind of information can be so easily supplied and the Government have rightly emphasised that in the Bill. We support that.
Having said all that, we are grateful for the hearing the Minister gave us and for the way many organisations involved in bus services across Britain engaged in the process of the Bill so we could use and harness their knowledge and expertise, which has helped. My final point is that we shall not seek to oppose the changes made in the Commons, but we accept them with some sadness.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening to and taking away the concerns I raised with my noble friend Lord Shipley on independent audit. It is an important point. These schemes, however welcome, are potentially extremely expensive. The risk, as always, will fall on local council tax payers and therefore robust independent audit is key. We look forward to seeing the regulations and guidance as they emerge.
My Lords, I remain generally supportive of the thrust of the Bill, but I have been dismayed by some of the measures taken by the Government in the Commons with some of the amendments in this group and others. It is regrettable because during the process of the Bill in this House there has been a high degree of consensus and the Minister has been very helpful in a number of respects. However, in some areas he has been chopped off at the knees by his colleagues steamrolling it through the House of Commons.
I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said on the low emissions provisions. If the Government were concerned about the timescale and the economics, they could have amended the timescale and put in a few qualifications. Instead, they have deleted the requirements in Amendments 2 and 6 that new vehicles should meet new low emissions standards. This is a very poor signal. As the noble Baroness said, it comes a day or two after the Government’s attempt to use the election to defy the previous court injunction that a new air quality strategy should be produced because of the inadequacy of their earlier air quality strategy produced by Defra.
The Government’s record on this is shaky and they are extremely vulnerable. Buses are one of the main diesel-based pollutant vehicles in many of our towns and villages. There was an opportunity to put in the Bill that we would do what a number of local authorities in London and elsewhere are already doing and replace those buses immediately when a new vehicle is brought on with one with high-quality emissions standards. As I said, we could have put in slightly different dates and slightly greater qualifications, but nevertheless that needed to be in the Bill. It undermines the Government’s commitment to do something about air quality on which they have been and will continue to be widely criticised. I regret that and I think the Government will come to regret it too. As was said in this House yesterday by my noble friend Lady Nye, it is a major public health issue. There are provisions for avoiding the purdah prohibitions concerning air quality that were already in the Bill when it reached the Commons. The Government chose, wrongly, to delete those provisions, and I regret that profoundly.
I also regret the deletion or dilution by Amendments 3, 4 and 13 of the provisions we inserted in this House that worker representatives in the bus industry should be clearly consulted on any changes, whether an advanced quality partnership or the new franchising operations. The Minister has continued to make positive noises in that respect, and I appreciated his acceptance of the principle in our earlier proceedings. However, his colleagues seemed to have deleted most of that, which is a mistake. We are talking here, whether the Government like it or not, of a pretty highly unionised sector where by and large there are good relations between the bus companies and their employees. Anything which deletes a continued commitment to those outcomes makes some of these provisions more problematic when they never needed to be. Again, the Government may live to regret that; I hope not. I know that the unions intend to be constructive and by and large welcome the objectives of the Bill, but from a long list of those who are required to be consulted about these changes, the people who are omitted are the ones who actually drive and operate the buses. That seems to me a triumph of ideology over common sense and the Government should not have done it.
The Minister will no doubt be relieved to hear that I intend to intervene only once on this Bill. I have some concerns about the third group of amendments in relation to the reinstatement of the clause which prohibits local authorities from setting up their own companies. That is a restriction on local authority strategic decision-making. I do not intend to belabour that point because we will come on to it in a moment.
I hope that the outcome of the Bill is positive. It is regrettable that these changes have been made by the Government at this relatively late stage because they make it more difficult to achieve what the Minister himself set out as the objectives when he introduced the amendments. Taking the changes together, I hope that in the coming weeks the population will recognise that even in this relatively minor area of legislation the Government have decided, contrary to what was a pretty consensual view in this House, to delete commitments on environmental standards, commitments on the rights to representation of workers, and commitments on flexibility and devolution of powers to local authorities. All of that amounts to an unnecessary and significant reduction in my enthusiasm for what in general is a positive Bill.
My Lords, I intend to speak relatively briefly on this group of amendments. The Opposition have generally supported the overall aims of the Bill. We have welcomed it and see it as an important step towards increasing the number of bus journeys, particularly outside London where there has been a collapse in the number of journeys in recent years. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, we would have liked the Bill to have gone further, but equally we accept that we have made welcome progress on it; as I say, we support its overall aims. Like other noble Lords, we generally accept the changes on data. The deletion of provisions in respect of emissions is regrettable. Air quality is now a very big issue in terms of people’s health. The number of deaths which can be attributed to poor air quality is something we should all be concerned about and I think that the Government have taken a retrograde step.
My noble friend Lord Whitty mentioned consultation of employees. That is very important and again it is a shame that the Government have largely deleted or watered down the provisions in that regard. Whether the Government like it or not, the bus industry is heavily unionised, which has generally been of benefit to it. The unions work well with the various bus companies and seek to provide a public service. I do not see any benefit in what the Government have done. As my noble friend suggested, I suspect that other forces in the Commons are at work here who do not quite see it that way. What the Government have done is a mistake. I will come on to other things I regret when we consider further amendments.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords for participating in this short debate and for the broad support for the Bill. Indeed, that was quite clear during its passage through your Lordships’ House. Particularly on the issue of data sharing, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their evident welcome for data sharing, which we all believe is a positive step forward. On the issue of emissions, I suggest that this is not a low priority given that quite specific reference is made to it in the provisions in the Bill. Indeed, local authorities can specify this element in any proposals they make when procuring bus services.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked about me being cut down at the knees. When you stand at only about five feet six you are quite protective of your knees anyway so any further cutting down is not welcome. I assure the noble Lord that the sentiments of your Lordships’ House were fully expressed and I challenge the assumption that employee representatives are not being consulted. On the contrary, they will be. I suggest to the noble Lord that trade unions are an important employee representative. Of course, trade unions fall within the scope of what an employee representative body is, so in that sense I disagree with him. In saying all that, I again welcome the contributions that were made during the passage of the Bill and the broad support for the proposed Commons amendments.
Motion on Amendments 2 to 4
2: Clause 1, page 4, leave out lines 37 to 42
3: Clause 1, page 6, leave out line 1
4: Clause 1, page 6, leave out lines 8 to 16
Motion on Amendment 5
5: Clause 4, page 15, line 11, at end insert—
“But each of paragraphs (b) to (f) has effect only if the Secretary of State by regulations so provides.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 7 to 11. Bus franchising has received a great deal of attention both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, as well as across the country. In particular, there has been discussion about which local authorities in England should be able to access the franchising powers within the Bill.
It was felt in your Lordships’ House that in the spirit of fairness, all local authorities should have automatic access to these powers regardless of whether a local authority is serious in its intent to franchise and without any consideration of its suitability to take franchising forward. Moving to franchising is a serious step and should not be undertaken lightly. That is why Amendments 5 and 7 are so important. During the debate in the other place, there was significant concern that the ability of any local authority to move to franchising at any time would lead to operators across England thinking twice about their investment decisions, thus reducing the quality and attractiveness of local bus services. Given this risk, it was agreed that automatic access to franchising powers should be available only to mayoral combined authorities.
I am sure that noble Lords who wish to see franchising happen want it to be successful, as indeed we all do. We want to ensure that franchising powers can be made available to authorities which have the ability, powers and, most importantly, the financial capacity to make a success of franchising where that franchising will benefit passengers. Combined authorities with mayors, when established, will provide clear, centralised decision-making for transport across a relatively wide local area, such as a city region. However, let me stress that other areas should also be able to access franchising powers where they are well placed to make franchising a success and have a clear plan to benefit passengers. These amendments enable other authorities to apply to the Secretary of State to access the powers.
Let me be clear: the Secretary of State will not take the final decision on whether franchising proceeds in those areas. That will be a local decision. The Bill sets out clearly the process that any authority needs to follow before the mayor or a named individual such as a council leader can take the decision to move to franchising. This refresh of bus franchising powers honours our devolution deal commitments. Included in this process is the development of an assessment of the proposed franchising scheme—essentially a business case. Within this assessment, the authority would need to consider value for money and the affordability of the proposal.
Amendments 8 to 11 clarify further the independence of the auditor—a point we covered briefly in the previous debate—that a franchising authority is required to use to produce a report on certain aspects of its proposed scheme. This report must set out whether, in the opinion of the auditor, the authority has relied on information of sufficient quality in its assessment as well as whether its analysis is of sufficient quality.
There was particular concern in this House about ensuring the independence of the auditor employed to do this important work. Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I am pleased that noble Lords’ concerns have led to these amendments. The Bill now makes it explicit that the auditor must be independent, and requires franchising authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State when selecting their auditors. In addition, the amendments made in the other place require appointed auditors to have regard to guidance on the matters to be taken into account when compiling their reports, to assist them in reaching a view on the relevant aspects of the authority’s assessment.
Collectively, Amendments 5 and 7 to 11 will help ensure that franchising is implemented in a way that will deliver better services and outcomes for passengers and that it will be a success. I hope noble Lords will agree to the Motion to agree with the Commons amendments.
My Lords, I will say just a few words about this group of amendments. I do not wish to repeat anything I said during the passage of the Bill. My scepticism about franchising without proper funding is on the record. I say in passing—contradicting myself—that if the rest of the country received the sort of money that London receives for its franchising, it might be worth while. Without that sort of financial backing, I do not think it would be.
I thought that the Minister was, for once, less than generous with his comments on Amendments 8 to 11. If it is sensible to ensure that the auditor is independent of the franchising authority—which it is, in my view, and I said so during the passage of the Bill—why did he oppose it at the time? I would like to think that it was my own wise words that swayed the other place to change the Minister’s mind for him, but I fear I would be deluding myself. The fact is that the Minister was against the amendment on independence, which I supported during the passage of the Bill. If I may say so, there have been some comments about his stature. His stature did not diminish—like me, he can ill afford for such a thing to happen. But I am surprised, given his customary fairness, that he did not refer to the fact that he had obviously changed his mind about the amendment.
Like other noble Lords from both sides, I hope the Bill does improve bus services. Again, consulting passengers is something that we do not often do. The latest independent survey of thousands of bus passengers throughout the country indicates that around 80% of them are satisfied with existing bus services. In my view, that does not reflect the sort of discontent with bus service standards that was mentioned during the passage of the Bill. But there was virtual unanimity among those passengers about the problems of congestion, which are countrywide. If the Government are not prepared either to tackle congestion themselves or to give local authorities the proper powers to tackle it, those fears widely expressed by bus passengers are not likely to be allayed. I talk about the war on motorists that this Government’s Ministers have sometimes waged. In my view, this is not helpful so far as improving bus services is concerned.
I repeat that I hope the Bill brings about the improvement in bus services that the Government so obviously desire, and that the amendments that were passed in the other place, as well as the debates that have taken place in your Lordships’ House, have helped improve the Bill from when it was first introduced.
My Lords, I too was uncomfortable with the idea that the appointment of the auditor should have rested with the franchising authority. This would have allowed the franchising authority to be judge and jury of its own proposals—to mark its own homework, if you will. Auditing a franchise assessment is perhaps one of the most critical steps on the road to franchising. If the auditor says that the franchise stacks up and meets all the other—let us face it—quite onerous requirements, there is little more to be said. For that reason, the person carrying out the audit should have no ties with the franchising authority and certainly no vested interest in seeing the franchise proceed, or otherwise. On something as important as this proposal, which could see bus operators lose their businesses, surely we must have something that is very transparent and democratic—and, perhaps just as importantly, is seen to be transparent and democratic. In my view, these amendments do just that.
However, I wonder whether I might push my noble friend the Minister a little further to ensure, perhaps through guidance, not only that the auditor is independent of the franchising authority but that he or she has no recent commercial relationship with the authority. That would really cement the concept of a truly independent auditing process.
My Lords, as this group of amendments refers to mayoral combined authorities I should probably remind the House of my declaration of interests. I am a locally elected councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
Generally, these are wider issues in respect of local authorities and combined authorities but we have now brought them into the Bill. I accept that it is through another department, but there is an obsession in government with mayors and it needs to be dealt with. I have never yet had it explained to me clearly why, to get these powers, you have to have such a mayor. I still do not understand why, although we keep asking. I am sure we will get something today, but I am not sure whether the Government are clear why they have to have this: you may be a combined authority, but unless you have a mayor, you cannot have these franchising powers. We are still not clear on that, and they will have to deal with their obsession with mayors at some point.
This makes a wider point about the question of the devolution of local government in England, which is, to say the least, now very confused. I remember that in an earlier debate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who is not in his place at the moment—I am sorry, he is in his place—explained that there would now be four tiers of local government in Cambridgeshire. That seems to me at least one or two tiers too many. I accept that that goes wider than the issue of mayors in these authorities today, but it will have to be dealt with.
Franchising is the way forward. It has been enormously successful in London. I am delighted that these authorities with mayors can get these franchising powers and I hope that other authorities, if they come together to apply for them, will be successful. But at some point the Government will have to look at the much wider issue of what bus services they want in England. I think they will have to go further down this route; equally, I accept that they have made a move in the right direction here.
My Lords, I once again thank all noble Lords for their contributions during this brief debate. Perhaps I may briefly pick up on a few points.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, raised the specific issue of congestion and said that the Bill perhaps still does not address this. I disagree with him. The new types of partnership and franchising powers give authorities new ways to work with operators to improve journeys for passengers.
On the issue of the independent auditor, I accept the fact that the Government’s position differs from when we introduced the Bill—that point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, among others. As a Minister, I feel that it is sometimes odd—I am sure I am not alone in this, whether among Ministers from a previous Administration or the current one—first, that Ministers are told that they do not listen. Then, having listened and reflected, if we make a change which perhaps reflects the feelings of Members, as it did on this occasion in your Lordships’ House, we are told that we are taking a contrary position to what we had originally after we have listened. I suppose there is a lesson for all in that. It is important that what is said, discussed and debated in your Lordships’ House is reflected in the discussions we have in government, and I am pleased to say that the very discussions and debates we had in your Lordships’ House are reflected in the amendments that the Government have made in respect of the independent auditor.
I understand the point my noble friend Lord Attlee makes about the need for the auditor to be independent. As ever, we will fully consider his helpful advice as part of the guidance. I thank noble Lords for their broad agreement on this issue.
My final point is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. This is not an obsession with mayors or mayoral authorities. As I have said before during the passage of the Bill, the route to franchising is open to all authorities which can make a justifiable business case. We have previously detailed the criteria required, and that remains the case.
Motion on Amendments 6 to 13
6: Clause 4, page 15, leave out lines 41 to 45
7: Clause 4, page 16, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) A franchising authority or authorities may not prepare an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme under section 123B unless the Secretary of State consents to their doing so.
( ) The Secretary of State’s consent is not required if the proposed scheme relates only to—
(a) the area of a mayoral combined authority, or
(b) the combined area of two or more mayoral combined authorities.
( ) The Secretary of State must publish a notice of a consent given under this section.”
8: Clause 4, page 17, line 4, after “an” insert “independent”
9: Clause 4, page 17, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must issue guidance as to the matters to be taken into account by a franchising authority when selecting a person to act as an auditor.
( ) Franchising authorities must have regard to any such guidance.
( ) The Secretary of State must issue guidance concerning the matters to be taken into account by an auditor when forming an opinion as to whether the information relied on, and the analysis of that information, by an authority is of sufficient quality for the purposes of subsection (2).
( ) Auditors must have regard to any such guidance.”
10: Clause 4, page 17, leave out line 14 and insert “For the purposes of this section an auditor is independent, in relation to an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme, if the person would not”
11: Clause 4, page 17, line 19, leave out from “person” to end of line 20 and insert “eligible for appointment as a local auditor by virtue of Chapter 2 of”
12: Clause 4, page 18, leave out line 3
13: Clause 4, page 18, leave out lines 12 to 20
Motion on Amendment 14
14: Clause 4, page 24, line 41, leave out “21” and insert “(Bus companies: limitation of powers of authorities in England)”
My Lords, Amendments 14 and 20 reinstate the original provisions of the Bill which prohibit local authorities establishing companies for the purpose of operating local bus services. The role of municipal bus companies has received a good deal of debate in your Lordships’ House and the other place. There are a few fundamental points worth making. First, we all agree that there are some very good municipal bus companies, such as Reading Buses and Nottingham City Transport. They deliver a high standard of service, and I expect they will continue to do so. Let me assure noble Lords that their ability to operate will not be affected by this provision.
However, very few municipal bus companies remain, with many having been sold to some of our more successful private bus companies—for example, in February, Thamesdown Transport in Swindon was bought by the Go-Ahead Group after many years of making a loss—so I do not think this amendment is likely to impact on the plans of many, if any, local authorities. The Bill is all about improving services for passengers, and authorities should now start thinking about utilising the knowledge and skills of existing bus companies to get the best results. This amendment ensures that we get the balance right between local authority influence and private sector delivery in order to ensure both are incentivised to deliver the best services for the benefit of passengers.
I hope that noble Lords will understand that, because of the importance of this balance to the overall Bill, our view remains that passengers will see most benefit where the commissioning and provision of bus services are kept separate, and we do not think that authorities should be able to set up new bus companies. I hope that noble Lords will agree these amendments will enable the important business of the implementation of the measures contained in this Bill, which we all acknowledge to be important, to begin so benefits to bus services and, more importantly, bus passengers can start to be delivered on the ground. I beg to move.
My Lords, although it is not the subject of the Bill, as it operates in Wales, I shall say a word about Cardiff Bus. It is a municipal bus company with a good record. I still do not understand how it is so important to the Government to remove this power, which has been in the local authority armoury for decades. As the Minister has just pointed out, it has not been used as a general issue at all.
I am also confused as to why these examples of really good bus companies run by local authorities at arm’s length are not a template for possible future development. It is blindingly clear at the moment that local authority finances in Britain are so poor that authorities are not going to be using this power in the near future in some kind of aggrandisement. There is not going to be a mass use of this power by local authorities wanting to build up vast transport empires. It is simply not on the cards.
So why on earth are the Government removing this power? Purely for dogmatic, political reasons, and I am really disappointed about that. As I and my noble friend Lady Scott pointed out in earlier debates, it is rural areas that we have to be most concerned about, due to the isolation of rural communities and the rapidly declining bus services in many of those areas. This power could have been very useful, particularly in rural areas where there is still no bus service because the local bus company has ceased to operate one and where a local authority might therefore wish to rent some buses and set up a bus company, possibly only for the short term, in order to fill that gap for local people.
This is an own goal by the Government. This is about areas where there are elderly and very often isolated people, who will really feel the problems that will flow from the local authority not having the flexibility to provide this service. I am extremely disappointed that this was removed in the Commons again. However, I was not surprised, because I guessed from the vehemence of the Minister’s response when we debated this earlier that this was an issue of party, not practical, politics.
My Lords, I very much agree that, as we have heard, the amendments in this group are just about party-political dogma, and it is a shame that the Government have reversed the decision we made in this House some time ago. I was disappointed but, again, maybe not surprised. There never was going to be a stampede of local authorities charging off to create municipal bus companies. It was never going to happen and I never really understood why the Government were so obsessed with this particular clause in what generally was, and is, a very good Bill—we welcome the Bill but I just never really understood that.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I agree that there are some very good municipal bus companies, such as Nottingham City Transport, Ipswich Buses and many others, and I accept that this amendment will not affect them in any way whatever. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made the point about what a local authority maybe could do to deal with a problem, even if for a very short period of time, and it is disappointing that that will now not be possible. That is a great shame, particularly in rural areas. For that reason, I think the Government have made a terrible mistake here and I wish they were not going to do this, but clearly they will not listen on this occasion. It is most regrettable.
My Lords, first, I again thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their contributions. I accept of course that there was great strength of feeling on this issue as it passed through your Lordships’ House, but clearly, when you have a Bill with wide application, there will be areas of disagreement between government and opposition parties. On this issue, as I have already stated, the Government have acknowledged and indeed accepted the important role that existing municipal bus companies play, and that will continue to be the case. However, this Bill is designed to enable bus operators and authorities to work constructively together to deliver better services for passengers, and it is the Government’s belief that the creation of further municipal bus companies would actually significantly stifle competition, particularly in terms of private sector investment in buses. Although we accept noble Lords’ sentiments on this, the Government maintain their position.
Motion on Amendments 15 to 23
15: Clause 9, page 42, leave out lines 15 to 20
16: Clause 18, page 74, leave out lines 7 to 12 and insert “which have one or more stopping places in their areas”
17: Clause 18, page 74, line 22, after “routes,” insert “stopping places,”
18: Clause 18, page 74, line 23, at end insert “stopping places,”
19: Clause 19, page 76, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) In this section “local transport authority” has the meaning given in section 108(4) of the Transport Act 2000.””
20: Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—
“Bus companies: limitation of powers of authorities in England
(1) A relevant authority may not, in exercise of any of its powers, form a company for the purpose of providing a local service.
(2) Subsection (1) applies whether the relevant authority is acting alone or with any other person.
(3) In this section—
“company” has the same meaning as in the Companies Acts (see sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Companies Act 2006);
“form a company” is to be construed in accordance with section 7 of the Companies Act 2006;
“local service” has the same meaning as in the Transport Act 1985 (see section 2 of that Act);
“Passenger Transport Executive”, in relation to an integrated transport area in England or a combined authority area, means the body which is the Executive in relation to that area for the purposes of Part 2 of the Transport Act 1968;
“relevant authority” means—
(a) a county council in England;
(b) a district council in England;
(c) a combined authority established under section 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009;
(d) an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England;
(e) a Passenger Transport Executive for—
(i) an integrated transport area in England, or
(ii) a combined authority area.”
21: Clause 26, page 79, line 37, leave out subsection (2)
22: Schedule 2, page 84, line 35, leave out “123A(4)(b) to (f)” and insert “123A(4)”
23: Schedule 4, page 84, line 35, leave out “123A(4)(b) to (f)” and insert “123A(4)”
My Lords, I take this opportunity once again to thank all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, alongside my noble friend Lord Younger for their support during the passage of the Bill. I thank other noble Lords too; while we may not have agreed on everything, I think we agree on the principle of the importance of getting the Bill through because it is important for improving bus services for passengers across the piece. I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 15 to 23.
My Lords, before we do, I would equally like to say that I have very much enjoyed working with the Minister on this Bill. Generally it is very good. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Younger, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the Bill team. Generally we are happy. As I say, I have enjoyed working with the Minister; he has been very courteous at all times during the passage of the Bill.