Bus Services Bill [HL]
My Lords, I shall also speak to my Amendment 60. My two amendments would make a rather significant change to new Section 123I of the Transport Act 2000: they would prevent a franchising authority from revisiting a failed franchise proposal for a period of five years.
One of the things that any business dreads is uncertainty. Consider the current situation in the UK: it adversely affects investment plans, recruitment decisions and the conduct of everyday activities. Bus operators are understandably concerned that through the measures in the Bill they could find their businesses under threat and, in the worst-case scenario, eliminated.
I will avoid rehearsing the arguments against franchising. My amendments seek to ensure that if a franchise proposal fails, for whatever reason, or if the franchising authority decides not to progress its plans—again, for whatever reason—the franchising authority must wait for five years before revisiting the issue and seeking to bring forward a new scheme. I am not necessarily wedded to the five-year period but the point I am making is that there must be a sensible gap before the process can start again, and five years seemed as appropriate a period as any other, particularly when the kind of investment decisions and long-term planning that transport providers make is taken into account. Most authorities do not change their political complexion very regularly but, in those areas that do, it is important that bus operators’ commercial decisions are not adversely affected.
The amendments would give some certainty to bus operators, and would allow them to continue to develop and improve their services, invest in new technology, innovate and react to changing and growing passenger needs. While quality contracts have been possible for the best part of 16 years, the process for bringing forward a franchise will be less onerous, and we know that these powers could be used as soon as they are brought into operation. So the threat would be very real and would be a constant dark cloud hovering above operators’ heads, even if a proposal had just been found to be unviable.
It may also be that authorities in scope might secretly welcome the amendments. The burden on local authorities grows and they are under huge pressure to deliver an enormous range of local services, from bin collection to care for the elderly to keeping the street lights on, with ever-dwindling financial resources. Having spent considerable time, energy and money on a franchise scheme that in the end was not progressed, authorities may value a legal reason that they can offer for why they cannot revisit the issue despite pressure to do so. I beg to move.
I rise to speak to Amendment 61A in my name and to Amendment 66 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. On Amendment 61A, although the franchising authority should seek to enforce breaches of registration requirements by reference to the traffic commissioner, there are circumstances where that will not provide a swift, effective remedy. The right to request a court to exercise its discretion to grant an injunction is a more appropriate and proportionate measure for use in urgent cases to prevent serious breaches of the registration requirements.
The amendment is based on a similar provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. A reference to the traffic commissioner would result in an investigation, followed by the possible imposition of sanctions, including a financial penalty and compensation. However, the process might require weeks to complete, during which an operator could continue to run services in breach of the registration requirements. The ability to apply for injunctive relief would allow the franchising authority to safeguard the franchise scheme in critical circumstances. It is anticipated that it would be used only in rare and specific circumstances, but it would give the franchise extra protection.
The purpose of Amendment 66 is to ensure that the franchising authority should not be obliged to issue a service permit where it would have an adverse effect on the financial and economic viability of the wider bus franchising scheme. It should not have to provide one if, for example, it would adversely affect tram, light rail or heavy rail services within the area. The service permit regime in the Bill is the way in which, first, cross-boundary services can be provided—in other words, services that go in and out of a franchised area—and, secondly, services can be provided where no service has been provided for in the franchise contract. The franchising authority has to grant permission for such permits, but the Bill prevents operators using these provisions to cherry pick and, in doing so, to undermine the wider franchise by enabling the franchise authority to refuse a permit where it would have an adverse effect on any service provided in the franchise.
Amendment 66 would extend the safeguard explicitly to include consideration of any impacts on the wider economic and financial viability of the bus franchise scheme. It would also enable consideration of wider public transport services. There would otherwise be a loophole whereby an operator could undermine other forms of public transport by, for example, running a bus service in parallel with and in competition with a bus rapid transit system or a light rail system, both of which currently operate within the Greater Manchester footprint. This could undermine the wider integrated public transport network, of which the bus franchise forms a part, by undermining its economic position and its fully integrated nature. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views on these points.
My Lords, my Amendment 67 raises in relation to bus users the same issue of principle that was raised earlier. Before I briefly explain in detail, may I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the assurances he gave earlier today? We are very grateful to him for the progress we have made on this issue.
In the case of franchising, before an authority publishes or withdraws a franchising notice, the Bill specifies that, quite reasonably, it has to consult
“persons operating local services in the area to which the scheme relates”.
According to the Bill, it also has to consult,
“other persons whom, in their opinion, it would be appropriate to consult”.
What is wrong with saying that it is right to consult bus users? It is obviously right to consult bus operators and it is clearly right to consult bus users. Greater prominence and guarantees simply must be given to the views of bus users, whether they choose to make their views known either locally, through small and informal groups, or nationally—for example, through Transport Focus. I urge the Minister to encompass this amendment with the other amendments which relate to bus users.
My Lords, I will be brief. I support the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Bradley and the noble Baroness in this grouping. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has a point about why franchises should be postponed or cancelled. It brings to mind the situation in which a franchise is advertised and several companies respond, spending quite a lot of money in the process. If it is then cancelled for no particular reason, they could probably reasonably ask for their tendering costs to be reimbursed, although that will probably never happen. However, it behoves the franchising authority to produce a franchising document against which companies will bid, and if nobody bids, it will not have achieved anything. Therefore it is not all one-way. My gut feeling is that if it makes a mess of it and then issues it again within six months or so, that is much too short a time, but on the other hand five years is too long. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made some good points in his amendments, but I would reduce the time to two years or so, which is a more reasonable time in which to do this.
My Lords, I will first speak to Amendments 59 and 60 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which specify that any decision to postpone or cancel a franchising scheme cannot be revisited for five years.
There are many legitimate reasons why these decisions are postponed, and we believe that there is a danger that this amendment would have the converse effect of forcing imperfect schemes to proceed, to avoid the five-year moratorium. On the other hand, we believe that there are enough checks and balances in the Bill to allow decision-makers to reflect and rethink their proposals, so a ban for five years on revisiting the option is unnecessary and we would not support it.
Amendment 66 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bradley seems to provide a safety net for franchise providers to ensure that service permits which are issued do not undermine the viability of franchise schemes as a whole. This seems sensible, so we support the amendment.
Finally, we support the concept in Amendment 67 that any franchise service permit issued should first be subject to consultation, not only with the service providers but with the service users. This theme has run through a number of our amendments and we support it in this context. I therefore hope the noble Lord will agree with the sense of that amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I will take each amendment in turn, beginning with Amendments 59 and 60.
Amendment 59 would enable franchising authorities to cancel the date on which local service contracts may first be entered into for a franchising area or sub-area. I admit to being unclear as to the purpose of this amendment and would welcome further clarification from my noble friend. The amendment that my noble friend proposes is to the section in the Bill which enables franchising authorities to postpone the date on which local service contracts can first be entered into, for example to deal with a situation in which the procurement exercise takes longer than anticipated.
My Lords, I am grateful for all contributions from noble Lords. I said that I was not wedded to the five-year period, but noble Lords may have drafted their comments before they had heard what I had to say. Amendment 59 might be defective, but it was intended as a precursor to Amendment 60. I can understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but the five-year period—or whatever period it was—would encourage local authorities considering franchising to make sure that they got it right first time rather than have a half-hearted attempt at it.
I am grateful for the positive response of the Minister both to my amendments and to those from other noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, subject to the usual caveats.
My Lords, I shall be brief on this amendment, which pertains to new Section 123X, which is headed:
“Local service contracts: application of TUPE”.
The explanation for the amendment is that it should be possible to ensure that responses to requests for information under this section are provided within a specified timeframe. To ensure that the overall process is achievable in a timely way, the amendment would ensure that an authority could set a timeframe for the provision of such information. It would also reduce the scope for gaming or playing for time to frustrate the development of a franchising scheme. Information under this section of the Bill is essential for the effective introduction of franchising. I would be grateful for the Minister’s views on the timescale appropriate for the provision of this essential information on TUPE arrangements. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will be very brief in saying that we fully support the amendment from my noble friend Lord Bradley. As he said, it aims to ensure that responses are received in a specified time and to reduce the scope to drag things out to play for time. He has the full support of these Benches.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for tabling his amendment, and I appreciate his intentions in bringing it forward. It is important that information on employees is provided in a timely way, so that informed decisions can be taken by the franchising authority.
However, I am not sure whether there is a need for this amendment because subsection (7) sets out the provisions that may be made by regulations made by the Secretary of State. Clause 123X(7)(c), into which this text would be inserted, already makes it clear that the regulations may prescribe the time at which information is to be provided. This would, in effect, set out the timescale within which information must be provided.
Noble Lords will be aware of the policy scoping notes that I circulated on 16 June. These notes summarise our intentions for the use of the regulation-making powers in the Bill. Let me assure noble Lords that on page 22 of that document we confirm our intention that the regulations to which this amendment would apply,
“will also set out the time periods within which operators must comply”,
with the requests made for employee information. Therefore, while appreciating the intent behind this amendment, I trust that with the clarification and reassurance that I have provided to the noble Lord that this matter is already addressed in the Bill and in our plans for secondary legislation, he will be minded to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I will look carefully at the sections he has identified to reaffirm the assurances he has given. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 72A, 72B, 73 and 73A. I do not think I need to detain the Committee very long on this because it is the same issue of timescale that my noble friend Lord Bradley spoke to on Amendment 69. It would be good to hear some comfort from the Minister that all these issues could be addressed and responded to in a suitable timescale, and it would be good to see some of these amendments, if not all of them, in the Bill.
My only other comment is on Amendment 70, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Information about environmental impact and air quality data is essential, not only linking them to vehicle emissions but also to the surrounding air quality, which we have spoken about in Committee before, as well as to the safety records of bus operators. That is an essential part of providing the evidence that they are of quality and intend to maintain that quality, if and when they run the franchise. I beg to move.
I rise to speak briefly to Amendment 73. I will not repeat the arguments I made for the previous amendment, but this amendment suggests an upper limit of 30 days, which is reasonable and justifiable in the context of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s further comments on that proposal.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendments 71 and 72 in this group. Amendment 71 is fairly simple but none the less deals with an important matter. Its purpose is to ensure that local authorities which have acquired what will doubtless be highly sensitive company information for the purposes of preparing a franchise scheme may use that information only for the sole purpose for which it was provided. At Second Reading I expressed my concerns about the provision of this type of information to local authorities. I am not convinced that it is right that bus operators should be under a legal obligation to provide what could be highly sensitive information about such things as revenue received from the running of a particular service, employment, staff details and so on. It is quite a list.
I am certain that it is important that, having been given the information, local authorities be restricted from using it for any purpose other than that for which it was intended. They should not be able to use it willy-nilly. They should not be able to dip in and out or, even more important, to pass that information on to a third party. In that case, who knows where the information would end up? It is not inconceivable that it could end up in the hands of a competitor, and that simply cannot be allowed to happen. This is a serious issue and my amendment is intended to give some assurance to bus operators that, having provided the information, it will be protected and used for one purpose only.
The purpose of Amendment 72 is to require local authorities to pay local bus operators for the information that they must provide to assist in the assessment of a franchise scheme. This follows up on a point I made at Second Reading. I find it unacceptable that bus operators should be under a legal obligation to provide what could be highly sensitive information absolutely free of charge. Information of the type sought is part of the good will of the company, and anyone in business knows that good will is built up over many years and is hard fought for. Operators work extremely hard to develop their services and to provide the best possible journey experience for their passengers. That is what they do and it is why they are in business: to provide a decent product that people want and that they will buy. It is the same with a bus service. So to expect operators to hand over all the operating details to the very organisation that is looking to take the business off them—thank you very much—seems quite odd. It simply would not happen in any other business transaction.
The noble Earl is asking that bidders be paid by the franchising authority for submitting information in preparing a bid. Is that what happens with London buses? Does TfL pay bidders in order for them to produce a decent bid? I am asking the question because I do not know the answer.
The noble Lord will know that London bus operations have been regulated for some time, so the issue does not arise in London. It is a new situation.
Under any other circumstances this practice would be prohibited under the provisions of the Competition Act, so why is it okay in this case?
I remind the Committee that when the passenger transport executives sold their bus operations after deregulation in the mid-1980s, such data were a huge factor in the price they sold those businesses for in the private sector. That slightly answers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. However, 30 years on, such data appear to have no value and local authorities can get back for nothing what they originally sold for rather a lot of money, with operators providing the means to determine their own execution.
My amendment does not put a monetary value on the data simply because they will be different in each case; I am suggesting that operators and the authority should come to an agreement on their worth. I am under no illusion—such agreement is not likely to be easy and may not actually be achievable at all. In that vein, I hope that my noble friend the Minister does not regard this as a wrecking amendment. That is certainly not my intention and I will not be seeking to test the views of noble Lords on this point at any stage. However, I hope that he will be able to give some words of comfort to bus operators. Intellectual property must surely have a value, as does good will.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 74 tabled in my name. Before I address it specifically, I will say that we are supportive of Amendment 70. It deals with air quality data, which I have addressed on several occasions in discussions on previous amendments. However, we would certainly not be supportive of the noble Earl’s Amendment 72. For a start, it is about information that any reasonably good operator will have at their fingertips. We are not asking operators to do a great deal of work to find these data; they are all easily available. Secondly, the noble Earl states that this is a reasonable request but this information is publicly available as regards the railways, for example, and there is no reason why we should have this level of information about the railways but not about bus services.
Does the noble Baroness agree that if, without the benefit of the legislation, one operator shared this information with another operator, it would be in serious difficulties with the competition authorities?
That is a separate issue. The issue here is enabling local authorities to make a reasonable judgment in order to produce a good franchising scheme. I accept that there are separate issues to be addressed in relation to competition.
I turn to Amendment 74, on the power to obtain information about local services and franchising, and the handling of that information. This is purely a probing amendment designed to investigate the unevenness within the Bill. I have referred to the uneven approach to the three types of schemes and simply wish to point out to the Minister that on page 58 of the Bill appear identical words to those in my amendment, which set out the circumstances in which information could be disclosed in the case of enhanced partnerships. However, in the case of franchising, on page 33 there are no such caveats or restrictions on the use of the information. I am interested to find out from the Minister the legal reason behind this—or is it just chance that there is a long list of things that one can and cannot do with that information in the case of enhanced partnerships, but which are not included in the list on franchising?
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 70, which requires bus operators to publish data. A number of noble Lords have commented on this already. Data on the environmental impact of operators’ fleets, including the impact on air quality, the level of CO2 emissions and their safety record, should be available to local authorities and passenger organisations alike. It would be our intention that this information could be independently verified. These amendments build on our earlier debates on the need for buses to play their part in making our towns and cities healthier places to live and work. We believe that the bus operators have an obligation to deliver higher environmental standards and meet the requirements of low-emission buses. To be held to account for these commitments, the data have to be available to those who can best judge operators’ performance. The same arguments apply to safety standards, so that all passengers can be assured that their provider is working towards zero tolerance on safety failures.
I, too, disagree with Amendments 71 and 72 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. Amendment 71 aims to restrict the information provided to a franchising authority. We accept that some information needs to be identified as commercially sensitive but we do not accept that most of the information listed falls into that category. We need to be clear what is commercially sensitive and what is not. However, in most other comparable public services, the sorts of information we are talking about would be made public and shared. It would go beyond just giving it on a private basis to the local authority, and would be made more public. That is what we would expect in this instance.
Meanwhile, Amendment 72 requires bus companies to be paid for providing that core service information which, of course, would be crucial to a franchising bid, such as journeys taken, passenger numbers and fares. The point has already been made that operators will already have this information, so there is no additional cost involved. We contend that local authorities should have the right to this information and it would be standard practice to provide this service information in other contract bids.
We also believe that there should be more open sharing of data so that passengers and communities can have a greater input into the types of services they would like, and can have that input on an informed basis. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the principles of openness set out in our amendment and oppose those attempts to have a more closed and secretive regime.
My Lords, there are a number of amendments in this group—I will take them in turn—which relate to enabling franchising authorities to request information from local bus operators in connection with their franchising functions.
My noble friend Lord Attlee made some important points on Amendment 71 in relation to the purpose for which authorities may use information. The powers given to franchising authorities in this clause are designed to ensure that they can obtain the information they need to take informed decisions about franchising schemes. We want the elected mayors and local transport authorities who take these decisions to have an appropriate understanding of the local bus market and robust information to inform their views of potential benefits, costs and risks.
Franchising authorities are able to request relevant information in connection with their functions only in relation to franchising schemes. They are not able to request the information for any other purpose under this section and would not be able to use this section to require information in the context of developing an enhanced or advanced partnership or an advanced ticketing scheme.
I can see that the industry might have concerns if this power were used regularly by authorities which were repeatedly contemplating high-level options—perhaps even without the agreement of elected members, or if the information, once obtained, was used for a different purpose. I also recognise that there are some potentially significant commercial risks for operators in providing this information.
It may be helpful if I clarify that the Bill ensures that franchising authorities are not obliged to publish information if they could refuse to disclose such information under freedom of information or environmental information legislation. There is nothing to prevent a bus operator informing a franchising authority of any concerns it may have about the impact of releasing certain information on its commercial interests. Let me assure the House that I expect all franchising authorities to consider such concerns before deciding how to use the information provided. I hope that reassures my noble friend that I have sympathy with the spirit of his amendment. I do, however, have some concerns about how the change he proposes would work in practice.
First, the amendment would prevent the use of information in a franchising context after a scheme has been developed or made, such as at the procurement stage, which could have a material impact on the ability to implement a franchising scheme in practice. Secondly, the amendment could prevent appropriate information being included in the published consultation document or provided to third parties, such as the auditor of the scheme, who has an integral role in the process. I would therefore like to reflect on the helpful contribution from my noble friend on this issue and take time to consider how his points could best be addressed.
Amendment 72 in my noble friend’s name would require franchising authorities to pay a fee to local bus service operators from which they have required information in connection with their franchising functions. I know that my noble friend spoke very eloquently on this subject at Second Reading, and I understand that he is concerned about the commercially sensitive nature of the data, and value of those data. I also know that bus operators across the country have put years of hard work into developing their businesses, and have built up strong reputations and good will with customers and local people. I sympathise with the concerns that my noble friend expresses on behalf of the bus industry, but I need to balance those concerns against a desire to see well-informed decisions being made.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my Amendment 71, which he obviously understands. I admit that Amendment 72 was slightly tongue in cheek. I said that I would never press it to a vote. However, it is important that the Committee understands that operators will be giving valuable commercial information to the authority.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to Amendment 69A and the other amendments in my name. I recall that he said that he would write to my noble friend Lord Bradley in connection with Amendment 69. Given that Amendments 69A, 72A, 72B, 73 and 74 all have time-related issues, I wonder whether he could extend his letter to cover those as well. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I will be brief as I am very conscious of the hour. This amendment is another of those which seeks to replace “may” with “must”, this time in relation to advanced ticketing as part of franchise schemes.
Research by Greener Journeys shows that smart ticketing across all services would improve bus journey times by 10% at a time when congestion is a very serious problem on our roads. Some 90% of buses on our roads nowadays have smart ticket readers, so there is very little practical reason why schemes such as this should not be part of franchising. We want to encourage advanced ticketing in all arrangements for the provision of bus services. I believe it is a reasonable expectation that it should be required above all in franchising services.
The Bill makes some very admirable attempts at future-proofing in certain respects, for example, in relation to information. We live in a time when I can order a theatre ticket online and take my phone along to the theatre as proof that I have bought the ticket. My Oyster card is rapidly being overtaken by the ability to use a credit card or a smartphone. Tickets for flights, trains or whatever you mention are rapidly being converted to smart applications. In that respect, the Bill is downright unimaginative and unambitious because it does not maximise the potential that is growing, literally by the month, for advance ticketing schemes. On that basis, I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall be even briefer. I fully support Amendment 77. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is absolutely right. We have talked about ticketing before and the word “shall” should go in there. It is an excellent amendment.
Amendment 78 would require the ticketing system to be extended to demand-responsive transport and flexible bus services, assuming that the operators agree. I am sure they will but, as the noble Baroness said, if we do not put something like this in, they could argue that it should never be and we will be left for the next 30 years without a flexible bus ticket that you can interchange. That is why I tabled this amendment.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. As noble Lords have heard me say many times, this is an enabling Bill. It will make powers available that local authorities may adopt to improve bus services in their area. Noble Lords will know that this Bill also forms part of our approach to devolution, giving local authorities the tools for local decision-making on these important issues. I believe and, indeed, expect that local authorities will give full consideration to these new powers and adopt them where they can show that they will make a clear improvement to bus services.
Based on these contributions, I do not think it is necessary to amend the Bill as proposed. As it stands, the Bill provides the carrot in the form of practical powers while local interests provide the stick. I would argue that this is the right balance for local decision-making. I am also confident that local authorities will implement advanced ticketing schemes where they conclude that such schemes would both be in the interests of the public and contribute to the implementation of their local transport policies. I assure all noble Lords that we have taken ticketing seriously across the whole of the Bill, not just by making changes to the existing ticketing provisions but also through the powers available under two new types of partnership and franchising schemes. I fully expect to see some significant developments across the country in the next few years, in part enabled by this Bill.
Ultimately, however, I believe that decisions about new local ticketing arrangements should be taken locally. On that basis, and given the undertaking I have given, I hope the noble Baroness is minded to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for tabling Amendment 78. I know he has a close personal connection to Cornwall, where community transport delivered under Section 22 of the Transport Act has done much to improve connectivity for rural communities. I understand that the aim of this amendment is to extend the proposed powers to make advanced ticketing schemes, so that such schemes may also cover tickets for journeys on services operated by educational and other bodies, and on vehicles used under a community bus permit, where operators of such services agree to be part of such a scheme. This is an issue I would like to consider further. I can see some merit in bringing community bus services operated under Section 22 of the Transport Act 1985 into advanced ticketing schemes. It could generate additional income for operators of such services and help integrate community transport into the wider network. Noble Lords will note, however, that services operated under Sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act are not classified as local services and, as such, are exempt from the franchising and partnership provisions of the Bill. It is right that these services remain outside the scope of franchises and partnerships, as they are particularly focused on the needs of the local community.
Services operated under Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985 are those operated by bodies concerned with education, religion, social welfare and other activities of benefit to the community. Therefore, apart from the issue of extending the scope of ticketing schemes, the noble Lord’s amendment would require a change to existing legislation, given that vehicles used under a Section 19 permit cannot carry members of the general public. Any change to the way services are provided under Section 19 would require consultation and careful consideration.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has some merit in enabling community transport to be part of a ticketing scheme; it raises important issues regarding services operated by educational and other bodies; and edges towards the area of total transport, in which the Government have a growing interest. As such I would like to consider it further.
I turn briefly to government Amendments 79 to 82 and Clause 7. These amendments concern the procedures for varying or revoking an advanced ticketing scheme, so that the consultation requirements for variation and revocation mirror those for making a scheme. This corrects the drafting of the Bill—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy will not suddenly rush to his feet and ask me to give way at this late hour—but I assure the noble Lord that it does not change the policy intention. It was always the Government’s intention that variation and revocation of an advanced ticketing scheme should be subject to these procedures, and as such I beg to move the amendments in my name.
My Lords, as ever, I appreciate the understanding of the Minister, but I hope that he will give serious consideration to a more even approach towards advanced ticketing throughout the Bill. On that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
59: Clause 4, page 19, line 46, after “postponed)” insert “or cancelled”
The Bill already provides for revocation of a franchising scheme where the franchising authority thinks that local services are likely to be better if the scheme did not apply, where the continued operation of the scheme is likely to cause financial difficulties for the authority or where the burdens of continuing the scheme outweigh the benefits of doing so. If the ability to revoke a franchising scheme and move back to the deregulated model of bus service delivery is what my noble friend is concerned about, then I can reassure him that the Bill already provides for this.
Amendment 60 would prohibit a franchising authority from reconsidering a franchising scheme for five years from the point at which it decides to cancel a scheme. Moving to a model of franchising is an important decision and one which will have an impact on bus operators, local passengers and the local authority itself. We have developed the Bill with this in mind and included a number of processes which franchising authorities must follow before they can introduce a franchising scheme. The processes are designed to ensure that the proposed scheme is assessed, the relevant parts of the assessment audited and that stakeholders have a chance to respond to a consultation on a proposed scheme before any decision to move to a model of franchising is taken.
I agree that any decision to revoke a scheme is important. I also fully recognise the disruption it would cause to local passengers and the uncertainty caused to bus operators in the area if a scheme were to be revoked only to be followed, a short time later, by the introduction of another scheme. However, I have concerns about the amendment as drafted, particularly as it has been drafted in relation to the section in the Bill which relates to postponing the time at which local service contracts can be entered into. I will consider, however, how best to ensure that the Bill achieves the objective of the amendment.
Amendment 61A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, provides that a franchising authority may apply to the court for an injunction to prevent a person from continuing to operate a service in a franchising area if it is not operating under a local service contract, is not an interim service and is not provided under a service permit. I agree entirely that there must be suitable mechanisms in place to enable authorities to take action against bus operators which should not be operating in franchised areas. That is why we have included provisions in the Bill to enable traffic commissioners to impose sanctions in relation to such operators. These provisions enable traffic commissioners to impose financial penalties and attach conditions to operators’ licences preventing them from running services in certain areas in future.
I recognise the issue the noble Lord raises regarding occasional or event services where the time for a traffic commissioner to act may be limited. However, the traffic commissioners’ powers are wide-ranging and include an ability to impose fines on operators. This is not an issue that I am aware has been raised widely by local transport authorities. If it is likely to be a particular issue in Manchester or any other local area, I would encourage the relevant local transport authorities to discuss with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner whether it would be possible to expedite decisions in particular circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, also raised the issue that bus services operating under service permits could undermine rail services. I note his point about the ambition to deliver integrated bus, tram and rail services. However, I remain concerned that passengers should be given a choice as to how they travel, as it may be, for example, that a bus service is a cheaper option than the tram or train alternative. I hope this discussion has reassured the noble Lord that the Bill as drafted includes sufficient mechanisms to deal with operators which are not authorised to operate in a franchised area.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also proposed amendments to the service permit provisions in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, proposes Amendment 66, which would prevent franchising authorities from granting applications for service permits unless they are satisfied that the service proposed would not have an adverse effect on the authority’s ability to afford the franchise scheme. The intention of the service permit provisions is not to enable bus operators with service permits to compete with franchised services on the road. I agree entirely that it would be unreasonable for a franchising authority to be required to grant a service permit to a bus operator who was proposing to run a service that would have an adverse effect on a franchised service. That is why we specifically stated in the Bill that service permits should be granted only where the proposed service will benefit local people and where it will not have an adverse effect on any local service provided under a local service contract. As such, I think that the Bill already achieves many of the aims of the noble Lord’s amendments.
Amendment 67, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would further reinforce the need for authorities operating a franchising scheme fully to consult passengers on the conditions that may be attached to the operation of certain services running in a franchised area under a service permit. The Bill enables franchising authorities also to attach conditions to service permits, which could include, for example, a condition that required the operator to accept certain tickets or display certain information on services. Before such conditions could be imposed, the franchising authority would have to consult on a notice which set out those conditions and publish that notice. I agree entirely that passengers should have an opportunity to comment on the proposed conditions, as it is possible that they could make services more or less attractive to local people. I will therefore consider how best to ensure that the Bill achieves the objective of the amendment.
I hope that my comments have reassured noble Lords that I understand many of their concerns and that they will therefore choose not to press their amendments.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Amendment 60 not moved.
61: Clause 4, page 20, line 46, at end insert—
“(7) The effective time, in relation to a local service contract, is the beginning of the day on which a local service may first be provided under the contract (see sections 123K(4) and 123L).”
Amendment 61 agreed.
Amendment 61A not moved.
Amendments 62 to 65
62: Clause 4, page 21, line 16, leave out from “until” to end and insert “—
(a) the expiry of the period that, under the scheme, must expire between the making of the contract and the provision of the local service under the contract (see section 123H(2)(d) and (3)(c)), or(b) such later time as may be specified in the contract.( ) Subsection (4) is subject to section 123L.”
63: Clause 4, page 21, leave out lines 17 to 22
64: Clause 4, page 21, line 37, leave out from beginning to “if” and insert “A local service contract may specify as the time when a local service may first be provided under the contract a time before the expiry of such period as is described in section 123K(4)(a), and that service may be provided from that time,”
65: Clause 4, page 22, line 21, at end insert—
“(6A) The references in subsections (1) to (6) to the franchising authority or authorities in relation to a franchising scheme include a reference to a franchising authority who are not operating the scheme but would do so under a proposed variation.”
Amendments 62 to 65 agreed.
Amendments 66 to 68 not moved.
69: Clause 4, page 30, line 18, after “time” insert “and within such timescales”
Amendment 69 withdrawn.
Clause 4, as amended, agreed.
Clause 5: Power to obtain information about local services
69A: Clause 5, page 32, line 1, after “them” insert “, in a timely manner,”
I am therefore concerned that this amendment will act as a block to authorities getting the information they need to make those informed decisions, which I think acts against the interests of all parties. I hope that this discussion has persuaded my noble friend that, though I am very cognisant of the issues and sensitivities raised by the requirement to provide information, the provisions in the Bill are designed to make the franchising decision-making process as robust as possible.
Moving on, I agree with the spirit of Amendments 69A, 72A, 72B, 73 and 73A. It is not in the interests of passengers or other stakeholders for the development of a franchising scheme, for example, to take any longer than necessary. Extended uncertainty is also likely to hold commercial operators back from innovating or making significant investments in their existing services.
Amendment 73 specifies a 30-day timescale within which a bus operator is expected to have taken all reasonable steps to provide the information requested. However, the amendment does not place any obligation on an operator to take action within the 30-day period proposed. Rather, it requires the franchising authority to notify the traffic commissioner if it appears to them that an operator has not taken reasonable steps to provide information within that period.
I also remain to be convinced that 30 days is an appropriate timescale to specify in the legislation. There may be some circumstances where a more rapid response may be necessary and others where a longer timescale is needed. I do, however, appreciate the purpose of these amendments and wish to consider further how the issues might best be addressed. I hope that this reassures noble Lords that I am sympathetic to the views expressed through the amendments and will be considering carefully the valuable contributions they have made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, proposes Amendment 70, to require bus operators to provide information to franchising authorities about the environmental impact of bus services and their safety records. The Bill includes provision to allow franchising authorities to request information from bus operators about their services, to enable the authority to develop a robust assessment of their franchising scheme. The Bill lists types of information that can be requested, including information relating to revenue and patronage. The Bill also enables further categories of information to be specified in regulations, and I know that officials are working closely with local authorities and the bus industry to determine the nature of further categories of information that could be usefully specified.
Let me assure the noble Baroness that I agree entirely that the environmental impact of bus services and the safety of the public are issues that the franchising authority is likely to consider, and may look to address through its franchising proposal. However, some of the information that the amendment would enable franchising authorities to require will already be held by local authorities, such as the environmental impact of buses on the local area, and I am concerned about additional burdens being placed on bus operators. Therefore I would welcome further discussion on this topic, to determine how best we can achieve the objectives set out in the amendment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, proposed Amendment 74, to ensure that franchising authorities are not prevented from releasing information acquired from bus operators if that information is required for certain purposes, including for the purposes of criminal or civil proceedings. As she herself said, this is a probing amendment. In earlier Committee debates, she highlighted the differences in drafting between sections of the Bill. It may be helpful if I say a little more to explain the reasons behind this.
Once franchising is introduced in an area, there will be competition for contracts rather than competition on the road. Enhanced partnerships are a different scenario, with bus operators continuing to compete with each other on the road, albeit within the partnership framework. That is why different approaches are taken to the protection of information in the franchising and enhanced partnership sections of the Bill. Information acquired from operators in connection with enhanced partnerships must not be released if the authority could refuse to disclose it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by relying on certain exemptions, particularly the exemption relating to commercial interests.
The aim is to protect bus operators’ commercial interests, as they will be competing with each other on the road. It would therefore be unfair for such information to make its way into the public domain where it could be used by a competitor. However, the enhanced partnership provisions make it clear that authorities are not prevented from disclosing certain information—for example, for the purposes of civil or criminal proceedings. The Bill simply makes it clear that the obligation to publish certain documents and information, such as the assessment of the franchising scheme, does not require franchising authorities to publish information that they could refuse to disclose in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, so I think the Bill already addresses many of the noble Baroness’s concerns and the objective behind her amendment.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I hope that the detail I have outlined has addressed most of the concerns which noble Lords have raised and therefore that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 69A withdrawn.
Amendments 70 to 74 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6 agreed.
Schedule 2: Further amendments: franchising schemes
Amendments 75 and 76
75: Schedule 2, page 79, line 3, leave out “123K(5)” and insert “123J(7)”
76: Schedule 2, page 79, line 27, at end insert—
“Local Transport Act 2008 (c. 26)
24 The Local Transport Act 2008 is amended as follows.25 Omit sections 22 to 25 (QCS boards in England).26 Omit section 27 (appeals against making of quality contract schemes in England).27 Omit section 33 (continuation of quality contract schemes for areas in England).28 Omit section 36 (appeals where proposed continuation of scheme considered non-exempt).”
Amendments 75 and 76 agreed.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 7: Advanced ticketing schemes
77: Clause 7, page 33, line 14, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendment 78 not moved.
Amendments 79 to 82
79: Clause 7, page 34, line 38, after “make” insert “or vary”
80: Clause 7, page 35, line 34, after “authorities” insert “to whose area or combined area the scheme relates”
81: Clause 7, page 35, line 34, at end insert—
“(6A) If the proposed variation would result in the scheme relating to all or part of the area of another local transport authority, the reference in subsection (6) to the authority or authorities includes that other authority.”
82: Clause 7, page 35, leave out lines 35 to 46 and insert—
“(7) The variation or revocation is subject to the same procedure as the making of the scheme and in the application of that procedure—(a) a reference in sections 134C(1) to (9) and 134D and subsections (1) to (5) to making a scheme is to be treated as a reference to varying or revoking a scheme,(b) a reference in those provisions to the proposed scheme is to be treated as a reference to the scheme as proposed to be varied or to the proposed revocation of the scheme, and(c) a reference in those provisions to the date on which a scheme comes into operation is to be treated as a reference to the date on which the scheme as varied comes into operation or the date on which the scheme comes to an end.”
Amendments 79 to 82 agreed.
Clause 7, as amended, agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 9: Enhanced partnership plans and schemes
Amendment 83 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.17 pm.