Report (1st Day)
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Additional functions of local councils with respect to local bus services in areas other than passenger transport areas
After section 63 of the Transport Act 1985, insert—“63A Additional functions of local councils with respect to local bus services in areas other than passenger transport areas(1) It shall be the duty of the county council in each non-metropolitan county of England to—(a) consult on the needs for local bus services within the county, including by issuing a consultation document,(b) give notice of the consultation mentioned in paragraph (a) in such manner as the council considers appropriate for bringing it to the attention of persons in the county to which it relates,(c) following that consultation, prepare and publish an assessment of the needs for local bus services within the county,(d) demonstrate that the assessment has fully considered and responded to the outcomes of that consultation, and(e) secure such provision of local bus services as the county council considers reasonable and appropriate, to meet the needs identified in the assessment which would not, in its view, otherwise be met.(2) The Secretary of State must issue guidance concerning the preparation of an assessment under this section, and that guidance may, in particular, include guidance about the extent to which the county council must set out—(a) the ways in which it has considered and responded fully to the outcomes of the consultation under subsection (1)(a), and(b) how it will meet the needs for local bus services identified in the assessment.(3) A consultation document issued under subsection (1)(a) relating to an assessment of the needs for local bus services must include—(a) a description of the existing provision of local bus services in the county,(b) a description of any substantial proposed change to the provision of local bus services in the county, and(c) the date by which responses to the consultation must be received.(4) During the consultation under subsection (1)(a), the county council must consult at least—(a) all persons operating local services in the county,(b) all other persons holding a Public Service Vehicle operator’s licence or a community bus permit who may, in the opinion of the county council, be affected by the assessment,(c) a traffic commissioner, and(d) such organisations appearing to the county council to be representative of users of local services, including where appropriate and applicable—(i) parish and town councils,(ii) representatives of persons who are elderly or disabled,(iii) representatives of young people, and(iv) organisations, or types of organisation, specified by the Secretary of State in regulations made by statutory instrument,in accordance with criteria published by the Secretary of State.””
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 113.
In Committee I tabled a similar amendment to Amendment 113 and indicated that it should perhaps come early on. I therefore had the temerity as we approached Report to try to get at least one amendment on overall strategy before Clause 1. I have supported most of the provisions in the Bill and there is a reasonable consensus on most of it. I am very grateful to see a significant number of government amendments, not all of which I completely agree with, but nevertheless the Government have moved generally in that direction.
Two things are still missing from the Bill. One is a requirement on local authorities to ensure that services meet the social and economic needs of their area, and the other is that this needs to be put in a context of a national strategy for bus transport in the same way in which other modes of transport are subject to a national strategy.
The first of my amendments, which I submitted before Clause 1, places the responsibility on local authorities. It requires them to look at the need for transport in their area, how well their bus services are meeting that or whether such services could be reconfigured, and whether not only the scheduled routes but socially provided buses are meeting the various needs of their area. That should be right across the board, not simply for their mayoral areas or areas that decide to take advantage of some of the provisions of this Bill. In particular, this applies to rural areas. All of us who live in or occasionally visit rural areas know that the frequency of buses and effectiveness of coverage of bus routes within those areas is diminishing—the number of buses, take-up, and the level of fares for people who do not have concessionary travel. There is a real problem within many rural areas in England as to whether there is an adequate bus service meeting local needs for employment, education and other social needs.
I suspect that most noble Lords who come from rural areas will be able to cite examples of routes being cut, services diminishing or fares becoming too high for students or people with part-time jobs to undertake those journeys without concessionary fares. In many parts of the country, that hits people’s lifestyle and life prospects, because if you cannot afford to go on a bus to the interviews or training centre your ability to get a job and engage in employment is diminished. There are many parts of otherwise prosperous rural areas where young people in particular are unable to get jobs or travel from their village or small town to a larger, market town where there are better possibilities.
The proposed new clause would require all local authorities to undertake a survey and take measures to meet the needs of their area. I know that there will be objections that this is yet another burden on local authorities, but legally speaking it is not. Ever since a legal decision in the Three Rivers case, there are already requirements on local authorities to undertake such assessments and meet such needs. Therefore, it is not an additional requirement on local authorities—it is making more explicit one that already exists. I hope that, in understanding that, the House or Government will be prepared to accept if not the precise wording of this amendment then the principle of what it is driving at, and recognise that there is a very real problem in a lot of areas. In my apparently relatively prosperous part of North Dorset, on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset, we are faced with very serious cuts in bus services, which up until a few weeks ago were being denied by the local authorities and the operators. That will hit a number of people in those areas rather badly—and the situation is repeated up and down the country, north, south, east and west, so we should recognise it in this Bill and place the requirement on local authorities. It puts some of the other provisions on the basis of consultation on franchising or advanced partnerships and bus service provision generally back on local authorities.
The second amendment in this group relates to government responsibilities. It is important that in all forms of transport there is a national strategy and that it indicates what government support will be available to various modes of transport. There is a national strategy for railways and aviation, and an overall strategy for transport infrastructure. There is no reason why buses should be the poor relation. We need to ensure that buses have a strategy that local authorities and operators and those who depend on and work in the bus industry know about—and they should know what other forms of funding and support will be available. That would come towards the end of the Bill, but it is right that we should register that responsibility on government at this early stage of Report. I beg to move.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I live in a rural area. I travel on the bus every day and I have noticed that, for the bus services in the county of Oxfordshire that have been cut and which the county council has decided in future not to subsidise, the people who were using the bus services concerned were mostly concessionary fare holders. I could get on a bus with 16 or 17 people yet nobody was paying a fare. But those 16 or 17 people valued that bus as a contact with civilisation. I am quite clear that these are not people who have a car; many do not have access to a car, but they formed the staple part of the bus route. The bus operator was able to extend the day somewhat in the knowledge that he would receive a subsidy and a reasonable concessionary fare for carrying the people using the bus.
I know that the Government are not likely today to spray money at the problem, but I ask them—and I have put this in Amendment 114, which we are not discussing today, because it seems to me that there is a case—to make concessionary fares weighted in favour of deep rural areas. The gearing is such that a fraction of a penny on major bus services, if targeted at deep rural services, would solve the problem without the Government having to spend any more money. There are problems, but I do not believe that they are insuperable. I know that operators have to be no better off and no worse off. That is very difficult to tell, but we can assume that if an operator has the subsidy withdrawn and its concessionary fare level is kept low, the natural result will be that it is worse off.
There will also no doubt be some obstruction from those operating bus services in urban areas, but I am talking about taking a very thin top-slice off the concessionary fares that are used in urban areas and devoting those to deep rural buses, where subsidy has been withdrawn and where this appears to be the only way of maintaining a decent bus service. Otherwise, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said. I too have some doubts about whether the beleaguered local authorities will have the resources to undertake the survey, but it should be among their duties to look after not just the core of their county but the peripheries as well.
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who I thought made an excellent case for Amendments 1 and 113 in his name and, in so doing, I should say that I am the vice-president of the Local Government Association. I simply add a little for the Minster to take away, because the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked a great deal about the importance of bus services for employment opportunities and for training purposes.
In the consultation that is talked about—a huge amount of consultation will take place on this Bill, not just in terms of this amendment—one type of organisation that should be automatically consulted is employers’ organisations. There can be huge problems for people who often are on a low income, live in remote places and have no access to a car and who, therefore, need to be able to get to employment and training opportunities, often at unsocial hours, by public transport. Therefore, it is important to consult those people. Proposed new subsection (4)(d)(iv) in Amendment 1 refers to,
“organisations, or types of organisation, specified by the Secretary of State in regulations made by statutory instrument”.
I hope very much that employers’ organisations and jobcentres will be included in that list.
My Lords, as this is my first contribution to the discussion on Report of the Bus Services Bill, I refer noble Lords to my register of interests: I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I should also say that, generally, we on these Benches welcome the provisions in the Bill.
Bus use in London has grown while outside it the picture has been very different. We are hopeful that when the Bill passes into law, it will help to halt the decline in bus use outside London, particularly in rural areas. The two amendments in this group are in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty. As we have heard, Amendment 1 seeks to place a duty on county councils in non-metropolitan areas to consult on the needs for local bus services. It would require them to issue a consultation document and, following the consultation, to issue an assessment on the need for local bus services in the county and, further, to seek to secure the provision of bus services that address the needs identified that would otherwise not be met, as my noble friend outlined. The amendment is very focused and requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to assist county councils in making sure that they have properly responded to the outcomes of the consultation. The amendment goes further in setting out what the consultation must address and who, at a minimum, must be consulted. I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about ensuring that employers’ organisations are properly consulted. However, the amendment gives considerable scope to the Secretary of State to set out and shape the consultation to be undertaken.
Amendment 113, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, would place a requirement on the Government and the Secretary of State to issue a national strategy document within 12 months of the Act coming into force. Noble Lords will recall that that was discussed in Committee. As we have heard, there is no need for the bus industry to be the poor relation of other transport services. I fully support this amendment’s objective of requiring a proper national strategy. As we have heard, this document will set out the objectives, targets, plans and funding mechanisms for the delivery of bus services over the next 10 years. That is a very welcome idea. We have heard and seen the decline in bus services outside London. The Bill is an attempt to halt that decline. It seems sensible for the Government to pull those things together into one document. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response.
My Lords, as my county was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for which I thank him, I thought that I should respond. I do not think this amendment is necessary. Many counties such as Wiltshire already know exactly what is happening with bus services in their areas and the importance of them to their communities. Wiltshire has just finished a review which took place over the last six months. We have had nearly 12,000 responses, which is excellent for our county. We are looking at our bus services in response to those responses. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, bus services rightly need to be provided for vulnerable people and people trying to get to work but also for people in rural communities trying to access leisure facilities. We are doing that. It is interesting to note that we will save half a million pounds this year by not retaining the bus services that are not required by the people of Wiltshire.
However, a much more important aspect of this concerns the number of buses used by public services in our local authorities. Health, for example, spends as much money in Wiltshire on supporting transport in our county as we do. Therefore, it is important that we work together with other public services to ensure that we obtain the most efficient service for moving people around our areas as we possibly can.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I will speak to both Amendments 1 and 113 in this group.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the spirit in which discussions on the Bill have taken place, and I support his sentiment. From the Government’s perspective there has been a willingness to listen and to take on board comments that have been received, as well as to provide explanations when they feel that provisions already cover various aspects of amendments.
Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would require all non-metropolitan county councils to assess and consult on the needs of local bus passengers, with an associated duty to subsequently secure the provision of such bus services as the authority considers “reasonable and appropriate”. I appreciate what this amendment seeks to achieve, particularly in ensuring that local authorities consider the benefits that good bus services bring and undertake a proper assessment of local transport needs. However, as noble Lords may well know, the Transport Act 2000—as amended by the Local Transport Act 2008—already obliges local authorities to produce local transport plans. Authorities are obliged to develop policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport. This ensures that transport needs are looked at collectively rather than on a mode-by-mode basis. Local transport authorities are then required to prepare a local transport plan which must, among other things, contain such policies.
Under the original provisions of the Transport Act 2000, each local authority was also obliged to produce a bus strategy. These bus strategies contained authorities’ general policies on how best to secure services that met passenger needs. Again, the Transport Act 2000 provisions had a similar focus to the amendment tabled today by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. The requirement to produce separate bus strategies was removed by the Local Transport Act 2008. The rationale for this was to allow bus measures to be integrated more effectively into the core local transport plan and to remove the burden of producing two different but related strategies from local transport authorities. The Government’s view is that this remains the correct approach.
The Bill also already requires any local transport authority that plans to go down the enhanced partnership route to produce an enhanced partnership plan that will set out policies and objectives relating to bus services. The authority must also consult on such a plan. In effect, it would require the local authority to undertake an assessment addressing very similar issues to those which would be addressed in the assessment required by the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I would not want to impose additional burdens on authorities that choose to pursue an enhanced partnership.
On the new duty included in this amendment, which requires county councils in non-metropolitan areas to secure the provision of local bus services, again I recognise the noble Lord’s intention, but the amendment would not make a practical difference. As my noble friend Lady Scott has already pointed out, local authorities are very much aware and indeed practiced in implementing sound policies. This is because there is already a very similar duty on non-metropolitan county councils, which local authorities are aware of, under Section 63 of the Transport Act 1985. I therefore hope that the noble Lord understands why I cannot support the amendment and as such will feel able to withdraw it.
Amendment 113, also tabled in the noble Lord’s name, would require the Secretary of State to produce a national strategy for bus services. As I have said at previous stages of debate on the Bill, devolution is an important theme that has informed the development of the Bill. Indeed, the essence of and the intent behind the Bus Services Bill reflect the Government’s own perspective on how bus services should be progressed and taken forward. This Bill is all about providing authorities with new tools to enable them to improve their local bus services in the way that best suits their areas. It is not about imposing particular models.
Central government of course has a valuable role to play in setting the wider agenda through policy initiatives such as the low-emission bus scheme and our Total Transport pilots, but centrally determined strategies for local bus services would not help authorities to address particular issues relevant to them and to their area. As such, it does not seem sensible for central government to set a national strategy when local authorities and bus operators working together will be designing services and setting standards locally.
Additionally, as I have previously explained, the Department for Transport helps to support local bus services outside London by paying some £250 million per year through the bus service operators grant. We are already reviewing the BSOG system, with the aim of ensuring that funding is targeted where it is most needed in line with local authority objectives. Through that work we should establish and set out central government’s priorities and objectives for the funding that is provided.
I hope that my explanation has given the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, sufficient reassurance to enable him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am a bit disappointed with a less than promising start to this part of the Bill, but I am sure it will get better.
On Amendment 113, I think that the Minister misunderstands me. It is designed not to introduce top-down instructions and targeted interventions by the Department for Transport but to ensure that local authorities, operators and those who are dependent on bus services understand the overall framework of support, or otherwise, for buses. It is odd that the form of public transport most used by the poorer elements in our society both in towns and in the countryside does not seem to merit a national strategy and a national framework. I am not talking about instructions coming down from Whitehall to county level; I am talking about every county, and indeed every local authority, understanding how the Government see the development of buses. I appreciate that some of the things that the Minister referred to are clear—particularly about improving the environmental effect of buses and so forth—but we need a comprehensive view of how the bus industry is to develop. Therefore, I am sorry that the noble Lord is not prepared to accept Amendment 113.
On Amendment 1, the argument is little more subtle. The Minister is clearly right that the Transport Act 2000 laid down some of these provisions, but the reality—which is not due just to the amendment in 2008—is that a number of local authorities have not observed that requirement. Indeed, there have been a number of cases—at least two, to my knowledge—where local authorities have been found in court not to have carried out that duty. This is an attempt to codify the duty more clearly and to put the new possibilities provided for in the Bill in the context of that responsibility, which lies with all local authorities, not just metropolitan ones.
A lot of rural authorities have carried out consultations but, frankly, some of them have been better than others. A number have been found wanting. Cambridgeshire is one case that the noble Lord is perhaps familiar with, and I would also mention the Three Rivers case. Clearly, the present requirements are not working and I would like to strengthen them.
I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said about the Wiltshire exercise—I live across the border so I am not one of her constituents in this regard—but I do not believe that that consultation exercise, or certainly its final outcome, is seen as adequate by a number of groups in Wiltshire. On the other hand, I totally agree with her that we need to look at the totality of services and not simply at scheduled bus services. It is important that we optimise the use of resources and of the available forms of transport, whether they are scheduled bus routes, quasi-taxi services, on-demand services, health service providers, education providers or social services providers. All that needs to be taken into account, and in a sense that is partly what the amendment is about. We need a comprehensive approach, and we need to put an obligation on local authorities to take all that into account and to consult widely— and, I hope, wisely—and to come up with a solution.
At the moment, I do not believe that the law is fully working. In view of the Minister’s greater confidence in this regard, I therefore assume that he and his department are trying to ensure that local authorities take this more seriously and that perhaps at least the spirit of the amendment might be achieved by administrative means as well as by the example of a number of legal cases. I therefore do not wish to press the exact wording of this amendment today.
I hope, however, that between now and the final stages of the Bill, the Minister will indicate that some moves have been made by the department, along with the LGA. I apologise that I failed to acknowledge my interest as a vice-president of the LGA, as are two or three other contributors to the debate, but I do not speak for the LGA in this regard because I think that local government needs to take a bigger responsibility here. It would be useful if the Minister could assure us all, before we finish with the Bill and before it goes through the Commons, that he is taking steps to ensure that what is already an obligation is actually delivered by local authorities. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Advanced quality partnership schemes
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“( ) An advanced quality partnership scheme must include a description of the authority’s or authorities’ plans for consulting such organisations appearing to the authority or authorities to be representative of users of local services as they think fit in order to seek their views on how well the scheme is working.”
My Lords, I turn, if I may, to the amendments tabled by the Government, beginning with Amendment 2, tabled in my name. A number of noble Lords tabled amendments in Committee on the theme of passenger representation. Those amendments aimed to involve passengers in the ongoing monitoring and review of franchising and partnership schemes. In Committee, I expressed my sympathy with the aims of the amendments and promised to consider how best the Bill could be amended to help achieve those objectives. I am now tabling a number of amendments that aim to incorporate ongoing passenger consultation as a core component of franchising schemes and partnership plans and schemes.
The amendments require authorities to set out, as part of their plan or scheme, arrangements for consulting organisations that are representative of users of local services. As I said in my opening remarks on the previous amendment, one of the core principles of this Bill is local devolution, and it should be for individual authorities to determine exactly what form that consultation should take. It could be that one authority chooses to set up a dedicated board and consult with it regularly, while another may choose a more light-touch approach, more in line with the scale of the proposals they are considering. I trust noble Lords will agree that these amendments are useful and will help ensure that authorities implementing partnerships or franchising thoroughly consider how best to capture the views of passengers throughout the life of their scheme.
I turn now to Amendments 9, 30, 40 and 68 in this group. These amendments, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, would explicitly name bus users as statutory consultees when franchising or partnership schemes are proposed. I would certainly encourage authorities to consult bus passengers when major changes are proposed to the local bus network. However, creating a statutory obligation to consult bus users would, in my view, create practical difficulties for local authorities. It would be impossible for authorities to identify who falls within that category of people to ensure that they comply with any such obligation.
I appreciate the importance of engaging with bus users and propose to address the issue specifically in guidance. For this reason, the Government have included organisations appearing to the authority to represent bus users as statutory consultees when a franchising or partnership scheme is being made. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is reassured by my explanation and feels able not to press her amendments. I beg to move Amendment 2.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendments in my name in this group. I believe that the Bill is improved by the numerous amendments that the Government have put down. I want to make it clear that, on these Benches, we appreciate the fact that the Minister has responded to concerns on a range of issues. It is indeed a much better Bill than it was. It is no longer, as I described it at one point, the buses Bill that does not refer to passengers. We have gone beyond that point.
The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that bus users are consulted at every stage in a variety of ways, and to bring a more consistent approach in the Bill to consultation generally, because there were huge inconsistencies and variabilities between the way consultation was referred to on enhanced quality partnerships, for example, versus franchising. No matter what the arrangement on buses, bus users deserve to be consulted.
Amendment 68, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refers to not just bus users but the organisations that represent them. I wanted to be clear that consultation should be routinely undertaken at both levels: organisations representing users, both large and small, local and national, and local consultation of individual users—the old-fashioned notices on the bus stop when the service will change.
I appreciate very much that the Minister has brought forward amendments that take on board amendments we put forward in Committee. We now have a much clearer view of the guidance and what it will contain. Because of that, I will not push these amendments to the vote, but I would like the Minister to give us some further information when he sums up. Passengers need to be at the heart of the whole thing. Therefore, the guidance needs to ensure that local publicity to passengers is good enough and comprehensive. It is no good advertising in some London-based newspaper; it has to be at an appropriate level.
I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the comments from Transport Focus. In its guise as the passengers’ council—that being its official, statutory name—it has emphasised that passengers need to be consulted in the design of the service, and that there needs to be a clear statement of promises for passengers and continuous assessment and feedback from passengers via, for example, research or feedback about cleanliness, punctuality and so on. It must be both qualitative and quantitative research. Transport Focus says that there is no substitute for asking passengers themselves. Those are very wise words. It also emphasises that changes to the service, whether it is timetables, fares or ticketing, and an effective complaints process are essential if you are to get proper consultation.
Please can the Minister reassure us that the guidance, when it is completed, will address those issues?
My Lords, the Minister is to be commended on having introduced these amendments. The points that have just been put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, are very important and should be considered seriously.
We still dare to talk about bus services as services. I do not understand how you can run an effective service if you are not making very specific arrangements for consulting the people for whom it is supposed to be a service on how they see and experience it, and on how it could be enhanced or changed as appropriate.
If I have one doubt about the amendments, and I hate to have it, it is that experience too often demonstrates that these things can become a pretty hollow formality; they have to be done by officials but they do not really put their heart into them. In supporting the Minister, we should do our best—I am not sure how much effect it will have—to bring home that this is a serious provision: you are providing a service, and it is absolutely essential that the people for whom you are claiming to provide that service have a real say in what they are experiencing and what should be done.
My Lords, these amendments concern mainly the consultation process and we support them. It is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and his colleagues have listened to points raised by noble Lords at earlier stages of the Bill and we are grateful to them.
Amendments 9, 30, 40 and 68, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would improve on the Government’s proposal, in that they would put “bus users” into the Bill. The Minister said that he was not prepared to accept the amendments, but I do not agree with him. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, correctly talked about the need for consistency in the proposed consultation and for bus users to be at the heart of it. I am sure that the Minister will explain further why he is not prepared to accept the amendments, but it would be quite simple to consult people—you could have adverts on the tops of buses, inside the buses and on the website, asking them to get back to you. That is how you consult bus users in addition to statutory organisations, and it would not be that difficult. Having bus users explicitly involved in the consultation process would be very welcome. I hope the Minister will set out further why he cannot accept the noble Lords’ amendments.
Having said that, I do not intend to delay the House further. We are genuinely grateful for the other amendments the Government have brought forward today.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords and in particular the noble Baroness for their amendments and contributions, and for their broad support for the government amendments. I assure noble Lords that the intent behind the government amendments, together with the guidance, is to put the customer, the passenger, at the heart of this Bill. We want that sentiment to be reflected in respect of all modes of transport. To provide perhaps further reassurance to noble Lords, I have made a note of the noble Baroness’s suggestions and will make sure that they are reflected in the further detailed guidance. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke of good practice on the part of some local authorities whereas others are perhaps not quite up to the mark. I hope that the Bill and the strengthened guidance, taking on board the comments I have heard during today’s short debate, will together ensure that passengers are truly at the heart of local bus services.
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 40, at end insert—
“(11 ) Where a local transport authority or authorities make an advanced quality partnership scheme, the Secretary of State may by order make provision to confer upon that authority or authorities the functions to enforce traffic offences. (12) The Secretary of State may make an order under subsection (11) only if a proposal for the making of the order in relation to the local transport authority or authorities has been made to the Secretary of State by the appropriate authority or authorities.”
It will not come as a surprise to any of your Lordships to know that the bus industry is in quite deep crisis. The number of passengers is falling, bus speeds are declining, and the quality of service that buses offer is getting worse. Considering that we want more people to use buses, the causes of the congestion afflicting the bus industry need to be addressed.
In a letter to me on 8 August, the Minister said that mayoral combined authorities will have the ability to seek additional functions or equivalent legislative provisions to enforce moving traffic offences if they wish. The enforcement of moving traffic offences is an extremely important power. Provisions were made in the Traffic Management Act 2004 for that power to be granted to local authorities but London and recently Cardiff—which is outside the scope of our discussions this afternoon—are the only two places to adopt this ability to tackle the points of traffic congestion that really hold up buses.
Oddly, the Minister’s letter makes no reference to authorities that seek not franchises but advanced quality partnerships. If the Government are willing to grant those powers to franchising authorities, they should be willing to grant them to authorities that decide instead to go for advanced quality partnerships. My amendment would give effect to this so that, if a local authority wanted, it might apply to the Secretary of State for permission to adopt the provisions in the Traffic Management Act.
This amendment is very important to the bus industry which, as I said, suffers severely from traffic congestion. That, among other things, is leading to services being withdrawn because they cannot be operated profitably. More buses are needed to maintain the service, the buses go slower and carry fewer people, and they become less profitable. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is a bit of a conundrum at the heart of the Government’s attitude to this. They offer franchising powers to local authorities and, according to the Minister’s letter to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, they offer additional powers to ensure that such franchising works well. That is logical but surely the most effective and efficient way forward is to ensure that those local authorities that do not want to go for franchising—it will be difficult and complex anyway—are enabled to make their bus service as efficient as possible to avoid the necessity for franchising. If you take that situation together with the views of the Competition and Markets Authority that franchising should be gone for only in very extreme situations—we will return to that later today—there is a bit of a contradiction. I cannot see why the Government are so unwilling to use statutory powers that already exist to implement the provisions of the 2004 Act.
It is not as if we do not have evidence that those powers work. They work in London and I can give noble Lords an assurance that they are beginning to work well in Cardiff. Those powers were given to Cardiff because it was part of the devolution settlement that Cardiff could ask for them. I was actually the Minister in the Wales Office who took that through this House in order to ensure that Cardiff had those powers. Noble Lords will probably be aware that I live in Cardiff so I have personal experience of the way in which the system is working.
Clearly, these powers are having an impact. You can measure that impact in the number of people who are fined for contravening the local road traffic regulations. It is clear that motorists started off with a brazen disregard for bus lanes, yellow boxes, right turns that they should be not making and so on, but that they learned pretty quickly. We know that because the fines start off very high but fall off pretty quickly. By the way, the council also learned because it started moving the cameras round. When it moves the cameras, the amount taken in fines goes up; then, after a while, people have learned and it goes down again. We want a very low level of fines because we want people to obey the rules. This is having an impact. All we are asking is that the Government use existing legislation to give local authorities the tools to do the job, whether they are going for franchising or any other partnership arrangement.
The evidence right across the country, as my noble friend has said, is of increased traffic congestion slowing down bus travel. The impact on passengers and bus companies is considerable. I draw noble Lords’ attention to a discussion I had with an operator in Bristol which said that it had had to put on well over 30 additional buses to maintain existing timetables because of congestion, and that much of that congestion is avoidable—if people do not park in bus lanes or drive along them, and so on. Of course, the financial impact on bus companies of having to put on additional buses is passed on to the passengers. The combination of higher fares and slower journeys deters people from using the buses. To my mind, it is only sensible to use the powers that exist.
My Lords, I support this amendment. Obviously, if we are to tempt people out of their motor cars and on to public transport, that public transport has to be reliable. Its reliability, it is readily acknowledged, is affected, particularly in our towns and cities, by traffic congestion and by careless and indiscriminate parking by private motorists.
I worked for some years in the bus industry. The problem seems to be the lack of support from local newspapers for proper bus lane enforcement measures against motorists who transgress and park at bus stops or in bus lanes or drive in bus lanes. By and large, journalists do not travel on buses and the editorial policies of most local newspapers appear to be against bus priority measures as a whole. It is a sad fact that a Labour mayor in Liverpool has already taken out bus lanes in that city. A Labour-controlled council in Coventry is considering doing the same there as well.
When it comes to the bad publicity that bus lanes receive, all too often the local newspaper will pick a particular camera and say, “That camera has raised X millions of pounds in fines”, as though it has been deliberately placed in a bus lane to penalise motorists. It is placed there to try to ease congestion and to see that bus lanes are used for their proper purpose. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned that franchising is, quite rightly, seen as a last resort. If we are to avoid that last resort, proper enforcement of bus priority measures is essential. I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic response to this amendment.
My Lords, Amendment 3, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has considerable merit and we on these Benches will support him if he wishes to test the opinion of the House. As we have heard in this short debate, the amendment seeks to enable the Secretary of State by order to confer powers upon a transport authority to enforce traffic offences where it has applied for them. The powers will enable authorities to deal more effectively with moving traffic offences, which in turn will help with reliability and punctuality issues for buses, as we have heard. It is not an automatic right: a case will have to be made for why the powers would be desirable in a particular area.
The Government should not in any way be concerned by this proposal as the power to grant, or not to grant, rests with the Secretary of State. The Local Government Association also has indicated its support for the amendment, although, as it points out, the Government already have the power to enable local authorities to enforce moving traffic offences. Ministers could announce from the Dispatch Box today that they will enable that power, which was referred to earlier. I will not detain the House any further on this but, for the benefit of the House, I state clearly again that if the noble Lord wishes to test the opinion of the House, we on these Benches will be with him in the Content Lobby.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate on Amendment 3. In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, reiterated that it would give all areas where an advanced quality partnership scheme is in place the powers to enforce moving traffic offences. I agree with him that congestion can have a major impact on local bus services, as other noble Lords have said, but I would also stress that local authorities have many options to address it, from infrastructure measures and technological solutions to the enforcement of moving traffic offences in bus lanes.
For instance, local authorities can designate bus lanes to provide dedicated road space for buses, enabling them to bypass traffic queues. Buses can also be exempted from restrictions such as no-entry signs. This can allow buses to benefit from a shorter, more convenient route than other traffic, sometimes by bypassing locations where there are known congestion issues. These are exactly the sorts of measures that local authorities can bring to an advanced quality partnership as their side of the bargain. I also confirm that English local authorities outside London that can enforce parking violations already have the powers to enforce bus lane contraventions, including moving traffic violations in bus lanes. This means that over 90% of the 293 English local authorities outside London can already enforce bus lanes.
I recognise that the noble Lord’s amendment would broaden these powers further and allow the enforcement of moving traffic contraventions, such as at yellow box junctions. There are already provisions available, as noble Lords know, in Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to permit enforcement of other moving traffic violations by English local authorities outside London. Although the Government have made no current decisions on whether to bring these powers forward, we discuss them regularly with the Local Government Association and other key organisations—as I am sure noble Lords recognise, since we have many a vice-chair of the LGA here. Given the existing powers available to local authorities and the existence of Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act, additional legislation in this context, particularly where it relates solely to the narrowest type of partnership, is not necessary.
A question was asked about why only franchised areas or mayoral combined authorities can get this power. First, the devolution orders for mayoral combined authorities provide a legal mechanism to grant these powers to enforce moving traffic offences to those authorities. The mechanism does not exist for all types of authority. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to consider the case to grant these powers to all local authorities. However, for the time being, I cannot accept this amendment. I hope my explanation and the reassurance I have provided will allow the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am very sorry to disappoint the Minister. When local authorities, such as Reading, for example, have powers to enforce bus lanes, they still have great problems enforcing things such as yellow box junctions and right turns. This legislation passed on to the statute book 12 years ago and it is time that it was brought into effect. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
4: Clause 1, page 3, line 45, after “meet,” insert “including requirements about emissions or types of fuel or power,”
My Lords, I shall now speak to Amendments 4 to 6, 15, 19, 21, 63, 64 and 66 in this group, which all deal with emissions from buses.
As I recognised during our debates in Committee, buses have a huge part to play in solving some of the country’s air quality problems and challenges and combating global warming. I share the desire of many noble Lords for low-emission buses to be adopted more widely, and I thank those noble Lords with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss the issue in more detail. I undertook in Committee to consider how the Bill could best achieve this outcome.
Amendments 4, 15 and 64 in my name make it explicit that emission standards can be specified as standards in partnership schemes or included in local service contracts in the context of franchising. Emission standards can be included in the schemes, thus giving local transport authorities flexibility to determine an approach that best suits their area.
I also wish to ensure—as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, urged me to do in Committee—that all local transport authorities that use the new powers properly consider the potential to achieve better environmental outcomes. The draft guidance, which was circulated last week, achieves this and provides important information about how the tools in the Bill link up with other government initiatives in this area.
I turn to the other amendments in the group. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tabled Amendments 5, 21 and 63, which have a similar effect to my amendments. I therefore hope that, on reflecting on the government amendments, she will be minded not to press hers.
Amendments 6, 19 and 66, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require all advanced quality partnership, franchising and enhanced partnership schemes to prescribe specifications previously used for the department’s low-emission bus scheme. These amendments sit somewhat uneasily with the devolutionary nature of the Bill. They would in part tie the hands of authorities looking to implement franchising, advanced quality partnerships or enhanced partnerships, requiring them to specify higher standards for vehicles than in other parts of the country—whether they have an air quality issue to address or not.
It is our view that this centralist approach would bring unnecessary additional costs that could make the difference between schemes being economically viable or not. The likely consequence is that many local transport authorities will simply not pursue the schemes at all.
I believe that this is an important issue—I know that that sentiment is shared across the House—but the Bill needs to strike the right balance between giving authorities the right tools for the job and not being overly prescriptive about how improvements are to be achieved. That is the objective of Amendments 4, 15 and 64, and I beg to move.
My Lords, we are pleased that the Minister has responded to our concerns and that the Bill now steers both local authorities and bus companies in the direction of less-polluting buses. That is very much to be welcomed, because we must bear in mind that technology is moving very swiftly. Electric buses are developing very fast. For example, I recently travelled on London’s first double-decker all-electric bus. There are biofuels—methane and so on. All sorts of opportunities are opening up very fast.
We must also bear in mind that this will become an Act that will probably last for decades—the previous one has lasted for more than 30 years—so we need to look to the future. It is essential that we make sure that new buses are non-polluting and encompass the best of technology at the time. Of course, as the noble Lord implies, there will be a cascading down of old buses but there are other ways in which local authorities and bus companies can manage to provide a less-polluting service. For local authorities, low-emission and ultra-low-emission zones must surely become more popular and common in the future.
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord that, as a devolutionary party, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches are also an environmental party. Therefore, there are times when we have to balance one principle against another and say that for the sake of the environment, which I remind noble Lords means for the sake of the health of our children as well as the natural world, we have to go with the best possible option. I believe that the Labour amendment has more detail because it refers to a very specific scheme so it is seriously worth supporting. We will not push our amendments to the vote but we will support the Labour Party on this occasion.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 6, 19 and 66 in this group, which will require all new buses commissioned under franchising advanced partnerships or enhanced partnerships to meet the low-emission requirements set out by the government-sponsored Office for Low Emission Vehicles. As has been acknowledged, they go further than the amendments proposed by the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, whose amendments are permissive and simply allow local authorities to specify reduced emissions in their scheme rather than requiring them to do so.
Although we welcome those amendments as far as they go, with the greatest respect, we do not feel that they go far enough. We face huge challenges in tackling climate change and moving to a low-carbon economy. We need to play our part in contributing to the global strategy agreed at the Paris declaration. However, to be successful, government departments right across the board, including transport, have to be prepared to set clear, achievable objectives at national and local level. There is some urgency to this. The UK Committee on Climate Change in its recent report to Parliament raised concerns about the lack of progress in tackling carbon emissions in the transport sector—for example, with increased car use and the demand for travel offsetting improved vehicle efficiency.
There is so much more that the department could do to promote green technology in transport. As part of this approach, public transport has an important role to play. We need to encourage people out of private-use vehicles and into low-carbon trains and buses. We believe that low-carbon buses have a crucial role to play in meeting our 2% reduction in carbon as well as boosting public health and improving air quality in urban areas.
The low-emission bus scheme created by the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles provides a blueprint for a transition to low-carbon vehicles, so we feel that this is the right way forward. It has been working with manufacturers and there are already 3,500 low-carbon buses on our roads. As the Government’s draft guidance note acknowledges, these represent only 9% of buses in service in England. Of course we welcome the Government’s grant of £30 million to help local authorities and bus operators purchase more low and ultra-low emission buses, so at least we are on the same page on that.
However, we need to go further by making low-emission standards a requirement for all buses purchased by transport operators and local authorities in the future. This is why we propose that all new buses purchased after 1 April 2019 should meet these new environmental standards. That deadline gives people time to prepare and time for manufacturers to create low-emission buses as a standard offer. There is no reason why we should not do this; the technology already exists to make this a reality, and it presents a real opportunity for UK bus manufacturers to become market leaders in this sector.
When the issue was discussed in Committee, the Minister expressed some sympathy for the proposal but stressed that the Bill was about devolution and emphasised the need for local areas to improve local services in the way that suits them. I know that he has echoed that response this afternoon. But there is a clear trade-off between devolution of decision-making and national government priorities when it comes to delivering our Paris commitments. It is not good enough to say that these decisions should be taken at a local level when the consequence might be that we miss our international obligations on this matter. We believe that our amendment would harness our technological advances, create a level playing field for bus manufacturers and bring enormous public benefits to people who live in diesel-choked urban areas. Therefore, I urge noble Lords to support the amendment.
I have listened to what the Minister has had to say on this matter so far. There are higher priorities than simply the issue of devolution and, unless he can give further commitments on the matter, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, this is a very important amendment. Either we take our commitments on climate change seriously, or we do not. As we go into a new phase with the administration of bus services, it seems almost unthinkable that this is not taken for granted—that this is not in the front line and a practical issue on which we can make a positive contribution. But it is not only on the great issues of climate change that we should consider this; it is also in terms of local health. I have no doubt whatever that in some of our conurbations the burdens on the health service are increased by pollution in our local cities. We are only adding to the problems and the cost of the health service if we do not make provisions of this kind. The buses are there—it is not as if they are not—so it is a very sensible and important amendment, and I hope that it is acceptable to the Minister.
My Lords, all noble Lords understand the importance of emissions controls, but when the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, decides what she is going to do with her amendment could she tell the House what she thinks is more important—fuel efficiency, related to carbon emissions, or pollutant emissions such as PM10 or PM5 or nitrous oxides? Does the Office for Low Emission Vehicles determine which is the priority, fuel efficiency or pollutant emissions, or do the Government tell the office which is the priority?
My Lords, I once again thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am a tad disappointed in the response that I am hearing. The Government have taken a balanced view in line with their intent, reflected across the Chamber, to tackle the issue of emissions. I fear that what the Opposition propose or support in the amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will in certain areas where there is no issue put a prescriptive obligation on local authorities. The other question, which we have discussed outside the Chamber with both noble Baronesses, is that of the smaller operators, which will be more challenged by the setting of such particular prescriptive limits. When we look at legislation we must look at its application in a national context—notwithstanding the fact that some operators provide essential services, which will be disadvantaged by this proposal—and in other areas where these prescriptive obligations are set, where there is not the same issue prevailing.
I fully accept—as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned—that there are now, in terms of manufacturing of course, vehicles being produced. May I suggest, perhaps as I have previously on this Bill, a small olive branch? I think that we are on the same page here; we all want to tackle this important issue. We can look to see how, within the guidance that will accompany the Bill, the issue raised by noble Lords about OLEV can be reflected.
I feel, and I emphasise again, that the amendments presented by the Government are not just about devolution. They are also about, as I said in my opening comments, economic viability and ensuring that we get the level of take-up on some of the issues. I fear that other amendments, as they currently stand, would disadvantage passengers and perhaps even end up stopping partnership and franchising schemes happening in certain areas. I think that the Government’s amendments strike the right balance but, as I said, in the spirit in which this Bill has been discussed, we can certainly ensure that the issue of OLEV is better reflected and specified in the guidance.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Amendment 5 not moved.
6: Clause 1, page 4, line 26, at end insert—
“(10) Each advanced quality partnership scheme must, as a standard of service, require that new vehicles delivering local services meet the specifications of the low emission bus scheme as set out by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles in its 2015 document “Low Emission Bus Scheme: Guidance for participants” if the vehicle comes into service after 1st April 2019.”
My Lords, I just respond very briefly regarding the olive branch that the Minister has just referred to. I have to say that it would require quite a substantial rewriting of the guidance, because the whole emphasis of that guidance is based on a devolutionary approach, which, as I have made clear, I do not feel is appropriate on this occasion.
On the issue about whether it should be targeted in particular areas where there is a problem of air quality, all I will say is that our Paris commitment is a 2% reduction in carbon emissions overall, not just in urban areas. It is a national and international issue. The challenge for us is not just to pinpoint particular areas where there is particular pollution, it is to move overall and UK-wide to a low-carbon economy. This is where we have a difference in approach on this matter. Without wishing to take up any more time, I wish to test the opinion of the House on this matter.
7: Clause 1, page 4, line 26, at end insert—
“(10) Each advanced quality partnership must specify, as a standard of service, that a reduced fare concessionary scheme is put in place for young people ages 16 to 19.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 16, which is in my name.
The purpose behind these amendments is to right an unjust anomaly. The law now requires young people to stay in education or training until they are 18, but their entitlement to concessionary or free fares lasts only until they are 16. Of course, at the time this legislation was enacted the two dates matched, but we now expect very much more of young people. They are not getting a fair deal from this Government. The statistics show—and the Government know it—that they are getting a much less generous financial deal than older people are. The Government choose to ignore that situation at their peril. They may be confident that young people will not express their views in large numbers through the ballot box, but they need to think about them as they mature in the future.
Young people and their future prospects have already been very hard hit by the Brexit vote. I do not blame the Minister for that, but I think that the least the Government and we as a society can now do is to help those young people—whose future prospects are less rosy than they were three months ago—on the road to a better education and greater skills so that they are able to prosper in Britain in the future. In order to do that, they have to be able to get to school or college.
An NUS survey showed that many young people spend well over £20 a week on getting to a place of education or training, or indeed to part-time employment. Young people are hardest hit in rural areas because of the long journeys that many of them have to undertake. They may have to transfer from one bus company to another, each one having separate rules—where any rules exist—on concessionary fares, which are not transferrable from one company to another. Of course, it is true that many local authorities and some bus companies offer concessions, and I would say that it is the wise bus companies that do so because, quite rightly, they see young people as their customers of the future. However, there is no consistency and we need more of it.
The result is that we have young people in college sitting side by side on the same course but paying totally different amounts to get there because they happen to come from different areas. The distance they travel might be the same, but the bus companies that they use charge different amounts.
Free bus passes for older people have been hugely successful. They are an important social and health engine, and they have a huge impact on our society. However, when drafting our amendments, we did bear in mind that we have to be careful to refer to “concessionary” fares. For all sorts of legal reasons, it would be easier to implement a scheme of reduced fares rather than free fares. I understand that the Government would have huge reservations about free fares, but we believe that we have taken a wise and moderate approach by talking about concessionary fares. We have also tried not to be prescriptive. Although we would like a nationally consistent scheme, we are dealing with this issue in the way it is possible to in this Bill.
To those who say that it is not practical, let me give some information about the scheme that exists in Wales. The mytravelpass scheme offers a one-third discount on all journeys for young people aged 16, 17 and 18. It is a free pass that young people can get hold of easily, online or via the post.
It is important we send a message to young people in Britain that, wherever they live, they are valued and we want them to make the most of their education and training opportunities. This is one way of ensuring that they are able to do that, and with the greatest good will, so that they go into school or college not resenting it as something that is costing them money, is a nuisance and is unfair, but in a frame of mind to make the most of it. We on these Benches feel very strongly about these issues and will seek to test the view of the House.
My Lords, I support the comments made by my colleague and noble friend Lady Randerson. As she has said, young people between the ages of 16 and 19 are required to be in training or education, and there are a great deal of inequalities across the country around the provisions that they receive—in many cases none—to help with transport.
In deep rural areas, such as where I live, there is no transport at all. Therefore, unless young people have parents or friends to take them to their college or training provider, they are stuck. From my village to the FE college it is walk of five miles, down a road that is simply not safe for people to walk on because it goes through a sandstone cutting and there is no refuge. There needs to be provision of transport in rural areas and reduced concessionary fares for young people.
As my colleague already said, these huge inequalities result in people sitting next to each other on training and FE courses who, having travelled different routes, have been charged different rates. I cannot add anything to what my colleague said, except to say that many young people could choose not to further their education because of the cost of transport. That would be a great shame. Young people need to have every opportunity to advance their futures and this is a small way of helping them to do that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the amendments. We return to an issue that I know we have discussed before. As the noble Baroness is fully aware, I have sympathy with the intention behind Amendments 7 and 16. I accept that affordable, accessible local transport is important for many young people’s lives—to ensure greater social integration, for education and for those young people embarking on careers.
As noble Lords will recognise, many local councils already have their own schemes and use their existing legal powers to provide discounted fares for those living in the area. Bus companies also know that helping young people to use bus services by offering concessions of their own may make them customers for years to come. I would certainly encourage councils and operators to continue to build upon the offers they have already put in place. Let me assure noble Lords—I am sure that all those who have participated thus far realise this—that the Bill provides exactly those new opportunities to do so, not least through the ability to standardise eligibility for concessions across operators through an enhanced partnership scheme.
However, the Government do not support a mandatory youth concession being a requirement relating to either advanced partnership schemes or franchising schemes, which is what these amendments seek to achieve. It may be that a local authority would seek to deliver a youth scheme through either a partnership or a franchising scheme. Such a concession would be costly to both the local authority and bus operators. Therefore it is right that any such decision to implement a youth concession for a particular area should be taken locally. That, after all, is what the Bill is about: enabling local authorities to work with bus operators to improve their bus services in ways that address local needs.
I have already said that if you build a relationship with young people, as many local authorities and bus operators do through such concessionary schemes, they will become customers for the long term. However, we do not wish to tie the hands of local authorities when it comes to taking decisions about concessionary youth fares. There are good reasons for this. If we look across the country, only a handful of local authorities have no council co-operator youth concession schemes. If we were to impose a national scheme there would be winners, but there would be losers as well. The precise cost of such a scheme will vary. Depending on its nature, it could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
Therefore, while the noble Baroness knows that I sympathise and empathise with the need to encourage greater participation of young people using our buses, we feel—I believe it is the right way forward—that it is for councils and local bus operators to take that decision locally in the best interests of their communities.
My Lords, I am disappointed that the Minister is not more enthusiastic about this. I argue that the Bill as amended by the Government gives some opportunities, but we feel that local authorities need to be nudged a lot more firmly in the right direction on this issue. We are respecting devolution with this because the amendment simply specifies reduced fares, not the level of reduction. It gives flexibility to local authorities, within an obligation, to deliver in the way they wish. It allows them a great deal of freedom in how they do this, but it would ensure that young people receive a message that they are welcome in our society and that they should be enthusiastic about their education and training. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
8: Clause 1, page 5, line 20, at end insert—
“( ) the plans described in the scheme for consulting in order to seek views on how well the scheme is working,”
Amendment 8 agreed.
Amendment 9 not moved.
9A: Clause 1, page 5, line 30, at end insert—
“(ca) appropriate representatives of any affected employees,”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 9A, I will speak also to Amendments 10, 32 and 35. First, I apologise to the House and the Minister in particular that we have a manuscript amendment here. I thought I had submitted these amendments previously, and it was due to a mix-up between myself and the office. However, the wording is exactly the same as the wording later on which relates to franchising, and it concerns the consultation of employees’ representatives in both the advanced partnership and franchising contexts.
There are some very welcome government amendments relating to consultation with a range of bodies, some of which I spoke about in Committee, particularly representatives of passengers and consumers. Indeed, there is a reference to the Passengers’ Council, which is the proper name for Transport Focus. I welcome the general approach of the Minister in recognising that there were some omissions or a lack of clarity about who was to be consulted on both the advanced partnerships and franchising.
Indeed, in relation to franchising, the Minister has tabled Amendment 29, which, as far as it goes, is very positive. It refers to,
“such persons as appear to the authority or authorities to represent employees of persons falling within paragraph (a)”;
that is, the operators. The Minister has recognised, as he undertook to do in Committee, that there is a need to consult with the representatives of employees in this industry. I would say that that applies to not only franchising but the introduction of advanced partnership schemes, where the employees of existing operators and others affected also need to be taken into account, but, slightly strangely, the Minister has not tabled an amendment in that respect.
I hope to try to reach an accommodation with the Minister in this area but there is an additional issue. My amendments in Committee referred specifically to recognised trade unions. This is a highly unionised sector in many parts of the country. It has had relatively stable industrial relations for many years, and a relatively high proportion of employees in the industry are represented through recognised trade unions. However, there have been one or two instances where other organisations have attempted to represent the workers, legitimately or otherwise, and there have been one or two inter-union disputes over recognition. Therefore, when you refer to a consultation with representatives of employees, where there are recognised trade unions, you should say so. That stops any confusion, whether between unions or other methods of recognition.
Therefore, I have added in both the franchising and advanced partnership contexts an explanatory note which says “appropriate representatives” are either recognised trade unions or representatives who have been properly elected or appointed by the employees so affected. That seems to cover a pretty wide range of recognition, as well as possible alternatives to the trade unions. It is therefore not a direct attempt to enforce trade unionism on people who do not want it but a recognition that trade unions exist and operate very effectively, frequently in very close co-ordination with management and the authorities in these areas. Therefore, the list of consultees needs to include reference to representatives of employees. I am quite happy to accept the Minister’s wording, or something like it, in relation to franchising, but it then needs to go on to say that where there is a recognised trade union, that means a recognised trade union. I therefore have two detailed points of contention but not, I think, two points of dispute.
If the Minister is of a mind to discuss this further between now and the final stages of the Bill, or to accept my amendments, I am sure that we could reach an accommodation. However, it is important to recognise in both contexts within the Bill that it is likely to improve the chances of the new situation—the new schemes in franchising and the new advanced partnerships —operating smoothly and effectively, with the engagement and consent of the employees involved. That seems to me common sense. The Minister has conceded the principle with his own amendments but I would like him to be prepared to go a stage or two further. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much welcome the fact that the Minister has taken on board the need for consultation with employees as well as with the passengers we referred to earlier. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has just pointed out, the Bill is uneven from one part of it to another, and something taken for granted in one section is neglected in another. As I said in an earlier debate, it is as if the Bill had been written by several different people who had not got together to make sure that the same terminology was used from one part to another. We in our party—not a party run by the trade unions; far from it—believe in the trade unions. They are an important part of a stable industrial relations picture and it is important that they are referred to, where appropriate, in the Bill.
This group contains some very helpful government amendments following our deliberations in Committee and we are grateful to the Minister for putting them before us today. The Government have clearly listened to noble Lords on many of the points they made. I am particularly pleased with Amendments 11 and 36, where the Government responded to the eloquent points on national parks made by my noble friend Lord Judd in Committee. However, I support my noble friend Lord Whitty when he carefully set out the importance of a proper consultation with representative employees and trade unions and I am pleased that he has tabled his amendment today.
I was also pleased to see that the Passengers’ Council is included in the amendments before us. There are other important amendments here but when the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, makes his contribution I would like him to explain how the government amendments cover the points made by my noble friend Lord Whitty in respect of his Amendment 35 and my Amendment 38 regarding consultation. I am, though, generally content with the thrust of the amendments that have come from the Government.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate thus far. As they have acknowledged, in our constructive debates in Committee I talked of the importance of going back to look at consultation as far as franchising and partnership proposals are concerned. Noble Lords have already alluded to the amendments in my name which add the Passengers’ Council, the national parks authorities—on which I know the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was particularly focused—and the Broads Authority as statutory consultees in relation to partnership plan schemes and franchising schemes. It is also appropriate that representatives of employees of operators of local services in the area, or areas, to which the proposals relate should be consulted by the local authority on its franchising proposals.
The Passengers’ Council, which is the legal entity better known as Transport Focus, as noble Lords have said, has a duty to keep local bus services under review and to investigate such services if referred by passengers, passenger representative bodies or the Secretary of State. Adding them as a statutory consultee in relation to franchising and partnership consultation provisions in the Bill provides further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to ensuring the importance of consultation with passenger groups. I hope these amendments also address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and that he will feel able not to press his Amendment 31.
On Second Reading and in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke passionately about the importance and value of our national parks. I appreciate the time that he took to come to see me with representatives to ensure that this important issue was also reflected in the amendments. I want to ensure that authorities that are considering implementing any of the new plans or schemes in the Bill will consult the relevant national park authority, or the Broads Authority, if they think that its area is to be affected. I also thank him for his Amendment 23, which would make national park authorities relevant authorities in proposed new Section 123B. This section deals with the business case and concerns primarily the authorities that will make a franchising scheme. As I said, although I take the role of the national parks seriously, I feel that it would not be appropriate to include them in this section. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, feels reassured by my earlier amendments and the amendments tabled by the Government and will not move his amendment.
I turn to Amendment 29. In response to the helpful words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in Committee, I recognised that franchising proposals could have a material impact on employees in changes to service patterns and, potentially, operators of services. This amendment seeks to ensure that employees who may be affected in this way are consulted appropriately. It is similar in many ways to Amendments 32 and 35, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and to part of Amendment 38, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I recognise that my approach perhaps does not go as far as Amendments 35 or 38 in defining exactly which employee groups an authority should consult—a point made by both noble Lords. I will tell them the reason why. We think that the franchising authority is best placed to determine precisely which organisations to consult, as is the case elsewhere in the Bill. I hope that that wider definition will allow them to reflect on this and that they will not press their amendments.
As we are debating consultation with employee representatives I should say that I see mandating this as a wholly appropriate measure under a franchising scenario that has significant impacts on employees. The Government do not believe that it is necessary when forming a partnership. I am therefore not in a position to support Amendments 9A and 10A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Only in a very particular set of circumstances will an enhanced partnership lead to changes for employees that are similar to those arising from franchising, so it does not seem appropriate to mandate consultation, as the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would do.
Let me also briefly touch upon Amendments 57 and 59. They clarify which local authorities should be consulted when advanced ticketing schemes are made. At the same time, they add the national park authorities and the Broads Authority as statutory consultees. As I said earlier, consultation is important. As the Bill supports devolution principles, I believe that local authorities are best placed to set out how consultations should be conducted. They will know how long such a consultation should last to ensure that all those consulted have the ability to respond and what the best formats are for it in their area, addressing any specific needs which arise. Best practice guidance already exists for consultation and I encourage local authorities to take notice of it. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will agree that Amendments 38 and 72 are therefore not necessary.
My Lords, I am rather disappointed in the Minister. We are not that far apart: he recognises that the employees of bus companies are an important part of making these schemes operate, whether under advanced partnerships or franchising. I do not really understand the distinction between the two. It may well be that there are less drastic changes in the method of working and the coverage of companies within the advanced partnership. Nevertheless, there are potential changes. It is extraordinary that the Minister’s advice concludes that in the list of consultees under advanced partnerships, which is almost the same in all other respects as the list of consultees under franchising, the one element missing is representatives of employees who are affected by those changes. I do not think that that is logical. If the Minister thinks about it, it is not logical. The two lists of consultees should be pretty much the same. It may be that one group of consultees in one context has less leverage or less effect than the other, but they need to be consulted in both contexts.
I would be prepared to go along with the Minister’s substantive amendment, Amendment 29, in relation to franchising if he also accepted the qualification to that in my Amendment 35, or something very like it, which indicates that where there is a recognised trade union—we are not asking the franchising authority to impose a form of industrial relations on a company that has not already recognised trade unions—it should be consulted and, in other respects, there should be proper representation of workers outside the trade union. That is the best way forward for stable industrial relations. It is the best way forward for having constructive engagement with the workforce in the beneficial changes that we all hope this Bill will deliver. The Minister’s argument is a bit illogical in excluding that from advanced partnership and in not being prepared to go the extra mile in defining what he means in relation to franchising. I shall put in a final plea to the Minister to consider this again, come back to us and have some discussions between now and the final stage, because this is an important matter. I will offer an olive branch in that direction to see whether he is prepared to move a little bit and consult further.
That is an open invitation. I am open between now and any stage to meet any noble Lords, but I have outlined the Government’s position at this time. I assure noble Lords that in reflecting on the contributions in Committee, the Government have carefully considered all elements. I agree with the noble Lord in that I do not think that there is that much difference between us, but I have outlined where we currently stand, and it is for the noble Lord to consider where he stands on the basis of the discussions we have had.
10: Clause 1, page 5, line 33, at end insert—
“( ) the Passengers’ Council,”
Amendment 10 agreed.
10A: Clause 1, page 5, line 35, at end insert—
“(3A) In subsection (3)(ca) “appropriate representatives of any affected employees” means—(a) representatives of a recognised trade union, if an independent trade union is recognised by existing operators in the area of the proposed advanced quality partnership scheme;(b) in any other case, employee representatives appointed or elected by the affected employees who have authority from those employees to receive information and be consulted on their behalf.”
Amendment 10A agreed.
11: Clause 1, page 5, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) National Park authorities,( ) the Broads Authority,”
Amendment 11 agreed.
Schedule 1: Further amendments: advanced quality partnership schemes
12: Schedule 1, page 76, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) In paragraph 5 (investigations of CMA), at the beginning insert “Subject to paragraph 5A,”.”
I hope the Minister may be able to agree with me on this occasion, which will make a slight change to the proceedings. The Competition and Markets Authority has adopted a very strange response to the letting of railway franchises and has created, in the case of the northern franchise and Arriva buses, a situation which has cost the taxpayer and the companies millions of pounds in looking at the overlap between Northern’s rail services and those of Arriva buses. The northern train franchise had gone out to consultation some time before. The Competition and Markets Authority had sight of that, and after some extremely complicated negotiations, the franchise was let. Immediately, the Competition and Markets Authority started to nitpick over the franchise, saying there was a bit of overlap here and a bit of overlap there. In none of the cases was it a significant issue.
In the Bill, the Competition and Markets Authority is nominated as a consultee in some cases. The purpose of this amendment is to say that if there is a consultation over a franchise, or for that matter over an advanced quality partnership or a railway franchise, there should be some restriction on the ability of the Competition and Markets Authority, having been a consultee, to reopen the matter. It wastes a huge amount of time setting up a franchise if the authority comes back again to raise points that are small or trivial in contrast to the large scale of the businesses concerned. I have not said it should not get involved, but I have tried to lay down in this amendment some conditions or limitations on when it should become involved, and I believe it should have to have received significant complaints. I do not think it received any in the course of its intervention between Arriva trains and Arriva buses. Secondly, there would need to have consequently been a significantly adverse effect on competition.
It is important that we have a Competition and Markets Authority, but it should concern itself with real matters of competition in or between industries that restrict competition between large-scale participants. I do not think the law was ever meant to deal with very small-scale altercations between bus companies and train companies. In any event, Arriva gave undertakings that it would not alter fares in a way which diminished competition—not that in most cases any real competition existed. I hope the Minister may give us a reasoned answer to this, because what we have in mind is a lot of unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy that is likely to surround the franchising services. Provided that they have had the opportunity to be involved beforehand, it is quite wrong that after the event, they should be able to come back again and raise what are virtually trivial points. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for introducing his amendment. I find it quite interesting and I look forward to what counsel the Minister gives us. I understand why the noble Lord has put the tests in new subsections 5A(a) and (b), but I am worried that subsection 5A(a),
“unless … it has received complaints about the operation of the franchise”,
could be used as part of a spoiling process by an aggrieved third party. On subsection 5A(b),
“unless … there has consequently been a significant adverse effect on competition”—
admittedly, it talks about an adverse effect—the problem I have is that it is bound to have an effect on competition because it eliminates competition. So I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord’s amendment, subject to what the Minister says, but if we are going to go down that route the tests might need better drafting. It will be very interesting to see how the Minister advises the House.
My Lords, the noble Earl is raising a legitimate concern but, as much of the Bill is in a skeleton form with guidance to follow, I would have expected the spoiling process that he is warning about to be addressed in those guidance notes.
I remain seriously concerned about the tone and content of the CMA letter about the Bill to the Department for Transport, to which I drew noble Lords’ attention in Committee. It sets what I regard as an impossibly high bar: franchising should be allowed only if it is the only way to improve services. That is effectively impossible to prove. It is reasonable to ask local authorities to demonstrate that franchising is designed to improve services or that services need improvement. However, it is not possible for them to prove that there is nothing else they could possibly do, other than franchising, that would provide that improvement.
The Department for Transport has responded to the CMA, saying that it accepts the recommendations of the CMA letter in full. I am anxious to hear from the Minister in some detail about what impact accepting the recommendations will have on the Bill and its subsequent guidance. The CMA view seems to run counter to the thrust of the core aspects of the Bill, rendering it in practice likely to become yet another overcomplex piece of legislation on buses—sadly, along with the two attempts made by the previous Labour Governments—to reverse the impact of deregulation. We support the Government’s intentions with the Bill and we think they are working very strongly on the right lines, but we are concerned that inadvertently, as a result of the CMA’s response, their approach might be undermined.
Our concern, expressed in these amendments, is that the CMA could be seen to be overpowerful in this context. Given that it is clearly at odds with the thinking of the Department for Transport in some respects, it is important that the CMA is not allowed to become judge and jury in these cases. If it is consulted beforehand, it should not be allowed to come back after decisions are made unless there are genuine causes for concern as to how the franchise is working.
My Lords, Amendments 12 and 13 bring back to your Lordships’ House an important issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised in Committee. I recall her bringing to the attention of the Committee a statement made by the CMA in July. Concern was expressed that, after being consulted, the CMA could come back again and again, which would deter a local authority from seeking arrangements, partnerships or franchises since it would view the arrangements as impossible hurdles to overcome.
The two amendments seek to set out some parameters for a CMA investigation in less than two years, and they arrive at a series of complaints or an adverse effect on competition. I think that is sensible, and I hope the Minister can address the issues raised by the amendments as it is important that we get the balance right here, rather than again making little progress, despite the Bill’s good intentions, due to other factors such as those highlighted in this short debate.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions in this regard. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has proposed a number of amendments that aim to restrict the ability of the CMA to investigate franchising schemes for a period of two years unless it has received a complaint or it becomes aware of a significant adverse effect on competition. As noble Lords have already stated and will be aware, the CMA issued a letter on the Bill on 29 June that contained nine recommendations. Our response to those recommendations was issued on 10 October and is on the GOV.UK website. One of the recommendations was for the CMA to be listed as a statutory consultee in relation to consulting on franchising proposals. The Government have accepted that recommendation, so I am pleased to support Amendment 34.
I agreed that it would also be helpful for franchising authorities to work with the CMA as they develop their proposals. I am sure we are agreed that that should help to ensure that the CMA is made aware of the potential effects on competition and the benefits or impacts it could have on bus operators and local people. The CMA is responsible for conducting market studies and investigations in markets where there may be competition and consumer problems, and for investigating instances where there may be anti-competitive agreements or abuses of a dominant position. If an authority has consulted the CMA on its franchising proposals and taken account of any recommendations made by it, I do not believe that the CMA is likely to have further concerns.
I turn to a technical issue. Schedule 10 of the Transport Act 2000 does not give the CMA the power to investigate franchising schemes. If the authority had any concerns about the impact of the introduction of a franchising scheme, it would make its views known as part of the consultation and would have to consider whether it had any powers available to it under general competition law. Any restriction of powers available to the CMA would send the wrong message about the important role that it plays in protecting consumers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the issue of the Government’s acceptance of the CMA’s recommendations, particularly regarding whether the LTA should assess or test partnerships before moving to franchising. I shall provide further detail at this juncture, if I may. Under the new Clause 123B of the Transport Act 2000 inserted by the Bill, authorities are already required to compare a franchising scheme to other options. These other options are highly likely to include partnerships and a do-nothing scenario, whatever the CMA has recommended. We have been clear in our response to the CMA’s recommendation that there will be circumstances where partnerships or the deregulated market simply cannot achieve the outcomes that elected politicians are working towards. A single fare structure across a wide geographical area and transport modes, as in London, is a good example of such an outcome. So we are not creating an overly high or impossible hurdle for franchising authorities or setting a particularly high bar.
I hope the assurances I have given have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that the CMA has an important role to play, as we all accept, and that local authorities should work with it as proposals are developed to ensure that local bus passengers get the best possible service. With those assurances, I hope the noble Lord is minded to withdraw his amendment.
I am sorry, but those assurances do not satisfy me at all. The fact is that the Competition and Markets Authority defines markets very narrowly. It takes a town—Morpeth, for example—and looks in minute detail at what is going on. Of course you can find anomalies, but that does not mean that they are prejudicing choice or competition.
This whole matter requires much further study. I have not seen the letter of 10 October to which the Minister referred, and I will of course study it. He has not given me the assurances I want. He has not referred to the almost disputatious relationship that the department has with the CMA over the northern franchise.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. When he has read the letter, I am very willing to meet him between now and Third Reading to see how we can address his further concerns, if he is not satisfied with the Government’s response. I assure him that our intention in accepting Amendment 34 is that the statutory consultation happens in advance, as we have said in relation to other consultees.
I thank the Minister for that. It would be sensible for me to accept his suggestion of a meeting, but I have serious reservations about the role of the Competition and Markets Authority, particularly as it affects the transport industry. Perhaps, in preparation for the meeting, he will find out how many inquiries the Competition and Markets Authority has made into the local transport market, as opposed to large-scale industries such as steel or cement. He will find that a totally disproportionate amount of its time has been spent investigating the transport sector, often in minute detail.
With that offer of a meeting, I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but reserve the right to return to this matter at Third Reading.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Clause 4: Franchising schemes
14: Clause 4, page 14, leave out lines 36 and 37
My Lords, Amendment 14, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, returns to a key part of the Bill raised both at Second Reading and in Committee. Under the Bill, only mayoral combined authorities can automatically opt for a franchise scheme if they believe that that is right for their area. All other categories of authority have to seek the permission of the Secretary of State to go down that route; that in turn would need to be approved by the affirmative procedure.
Our amendment, and Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, would put the whole question of franchising on a level playing field. We support the Bill in general, as I have said, and there are many good measures in it which we believe would improve bus services outside London. We have evidence that franchising works here in London and, where an authority thinks that that is the right model for it, we want it to be able to take it up, improving the number of passenger journeys and driving up standards.
With the change of government, I hope that there has been and continues to be a period of reflection on the whole question of mayors and the exclusivity of powers under the Bill that can come only when having a mayor. If an area wants a mayor, that is fine; if it does not, that is fine too. I hope that we can move away from effectively forcing authorities down a certain path if they want to have certain powers to a much more consensual approach, where it can be determined locally what is the best model for a locality and the full suite of powers be available, no matter what model is chosen.
Amendments 24, 26 and 27, also in my name in this group, are complementary, although in my opinion Amendment 25, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, works better. I beg to move.
I support this group of amendments. The issue is whether a distinction should be drawn between the powers of a mayoral combined authority and an ordinary combined authority, the difference between which is only whether an elected mayor chairs the authority’s meetings. A second issue is whether a distinction should be drawn between a mayoral combined authority and a county council or an integrated transport authority.
It is very difficult to see why the Government are drawing the distinction they are. It is also very difficult to see why other bodies with transport responsibilities are being excluded from an automatic right to propose a franchising scheme without the Secretary of State’s agreement. Devolution of power implies devolving that power and devolving responsibilities associated with it. I would be content with the right to propose franchises to be extended to authorities other than mayoral combined authorities.
My concern relates in part to a later amendment, Amendment 28, about the independence of the audit function. If we have a robust audit system in place to examine proposed franchising schemes, it is much easier to allow other authorities, beyond mayoral combined authorities, to propose the franchising route. If a local transport body feels that franchising is right for it, and if it is subject to that rigorous independent scrutiny, it should be allowed to proceed.
There is an issue about the future of elected mayors where some combined authorities have turned into mayoral combined authorities and others have not. There could well be a change of heart within the Government anyway about the application of elected mayors—whether they will be compulsory in areas with substantial devolved powers. We are writing now into legislation that the extra powers that go with the right to franchise can go only to mayoral combined authorities, when not all combined authorities may end up being mayoral.
I hope that the Minister will look carefully at this because there is a very strong case to extend the power to franchise to authorities other than just mayoral combined authorities.
My Lords, I am a very strong supporter of the Bill and, like the previous speaker, I do not see why its benefits should be confined to mayoral combined authorities—why other authorities such as county councils cannot automatically invoke a franchise in the same way as mayoral combined authorities. That argument, which was stated at some length in Committee, has only been added to in the intervening time. First, we have Brexit, which means that there is far more for the Government to do than was ever envisaged when the Bill was first thought of; and, secondly, there has been a change of government, which means that there is perhaps less drive for the mayoral combined authorities, as opposed to other authorities, then under the previous regime. For both those reasons, we should think again about this proposal and widen it as far as possible so that everyone has the opportunity to franchise. After all, we all want bus services to be better, and this is a way to do it.
I hope that the Government will think again, either here or in another place, about taking a more relaxed attitude to the clause.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I was around in the 1970s, when he was a Transport Minister in a Labour Government. I do not remember him being quite as radical in those days, although he has been around the political spectrum quite a bit since. It is a change to hear him advocating greater participation for local authorities, which, as far as I remember, was not at the top of his list when he was a junior Transport Minister in the 1970s. That is a change, although I have to concede that I have changed myself. I have never been in favour of franchising and I have made it quite plain in the debates in your Lordships’ House. Because of the time factor I will not repeat anything that I have said before, but in some ways I must congratulate my noble friend on the Front Bench. If this amendment becomes law he will have, in effect, repealed the Transport Act 1985. I am not sure what the noble Lord opposite will feel about that. We moved from a regulated system to deregulation, and presumably through this amendment we will be moving back to a more regulated system.
When the Bill was first published, combined authorities with a mayor were the only ones with the right to apply for franchise. Since then, at least under this amendment, that has been widened enormously. To quote my noble friend, or misquoting him perhaps, it seems to me that every local authority that feels that franchising would be suitable is entitled to so apply. All God’s children, presumably, can have a franchise if that is what they want. All I can say to him is that if he talks to the industry at large, it will say that such a widening of the existing proposals would mean a drying-up of investment in the bus industry and certainly a massive recruitment campaign in local government.
A franchise operation cannot be run on the basis of one director. He or she will need a complete department. There will need to be bus and crew rosters. Obviously the existing ones are not satisfactory, otherwise the local authority would not be seeking a franchise in the first place. It is a great job-creation scheme but at the same time it will have the impact of drying up investment in buses. Again, without repeating anything I said earlier, it would be difficult to persuade a finance director of a private company—that is what we are talking about as far as buses are concerned—to invest millions of pounds in a bus fleet if some local authority or town hall throughout the country is going to say how much to charge and where to run those buses. Life is not like that.
I have yet to hear from either side of your Lordships’ House the passenger view on the future of the industry. When Passenger Focus carried out such a survey couple of years ago, more than 80% of bus passengers expressed their satisfaction with the system as it was at present. It is possibly apparent that I have been around a long time—as a Member of this House and the other place, and a bus company director and chairman—and I have yet to hear a passenger say, “This service is so bad I want the town hall to run it”. That has never happened in my experience, although perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench knows differently.
If this amendment is carried and becomes law, it will be bad for the industry and I do not see any great benefit for passengers. For that reason I am afraid that I cannot support it.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 25 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. We support Labour’s Amendment 14, which fits together with Amendment 25. Neither is complete on its own. To be consistent the two need to go together. If the Labour Party decides to press this to a vote and in the event that there might be a government defeat, accepting Amendment 25 might be considered as part of the package.
I should say briefly that arguing about mayoral authorities could seem irrelevant in a couple of months’ time because all the signs are that the Government are abandoning the idea. There is a lot of support across the House for abandoning that idea, as well as the preconditions for giving local authorities more power. If the Government do not go ahead with creating more mayoral authorities, the right to franchising is likely in effect to be restricted to a handful—three local authorities. Franchising will not be an easy step for local authorities to undertake. My view is that probably very few would wish to do so. There are lots of checks and balances already in the Bill ensuring that local authorities do it only in a thorough and highly professional manner. It will not be done in any sort of off-the-cuff way by any local authority. Therefore, what is the reason for trying to restrict it to mayoral authorities? I invite the Minister to give that consideration at this stage in the debate.
My Lords, I have to say that I remain unconvinced by the arguments advanced by noble Lords in support of the amendments and, once again, I urge my noble friend the Minister to resist them.
As I said in Committee, combined authorities with elected mayors or any other local authority with an elected mayor are very different beasts from local authorities which have not gone down the route of an elected mayor. These authorities have thrashed out a devolution deal with the Government and are fully accountable to their citizens, so will be granted the powers to introduce local bus franchising. Even the mere suggestion that a local authority is thinking about franchising will cause uncertainty for industry. Of course that uncertainty could go on for years, indefinitely perhaps—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Snape.
There are few things that serve to stifle innovation and investment more than uncertainty. All the while, bus operators would have no incentive to adapt their services to meet the needs of their passengers. Who would blame them, given that they could be out of business should the local authority actually make a decision and use the powers? Services would inevitably deteriorate and passengers would be the losers.
Local bus franchising, and indeed the whole concept of devolution, are not steps that can be taken lightly. There needs to be due process and proper scrutiny. Those areas with agreed devolution deals have taken that brave political step. It is absolutely right that there be a separate process for areas that have not secured a devolution agreement, and a process that will require the affirmative procedure giving Parliament the final say is, in my view, exactly what we need. I really cannot support these amendments and my noble friend will have my full support in resisting them should they be pressed to a Division.
My Lords, listening to my noble friend Lord Snape and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, makes me think that some of the reasons they are putting forward are really to do with the fact that they do not like the idea of franchises at all. I can accept that view. I think that franchises could be a very useful contribution to better bus services in many areas. However, I do not understand why a mayoral authority, but nobody else, is allowed to do this without the permission of the Secretary of State. Maybe the Minister can explain it. I mentioned Cornwall, which is one of the few authorities that, as far as I can gather, will be allowed to do it. If one thinks that all mayoral authorities are the epitome of perfection and all the other schemes in proposed new Sections 123B to 123F in the clause need a great deal of supervision from the Department for Transport, one could look at the “Rotten Boroughs” column in Private Eye every fortnight and count up which ones are mentioned most often for having allegations of sleaze, fiddle or something else. I fully support this amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s answers.
In response to the question posed by the noble Lord to me and the noble Lord, Lord Snape, I say that we oppose extending the right to franchising without the authority of the Secretary of State to provide certainty for the operators unless the local authority can get permission from the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I must admit that we are getting to this juncture slightly later than I anticipated. Nevertheless, we have again had a robust discussion—and this is one of those areas of the Bill that has caused a great deal of discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has proposed a series of amendments, which would enable all authorities listed at Section 123A(4), rather than just mayoral combined authorities, to access franchising powers without the need for regulations to be made or for the Secretary of State’s consent to be given. I want to focus on that first element—on regulations to be made. There would be a further opportunity for Parliament to discuss other authorities that fall within and wish to embark on a franchising route. That is a positive, because it allows Parliament to debate this important issue of franchising further; that should not be forgotten. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also seeks to remove the Secretary of State’s consent from the process of accessing franchising powers.
I have had time to reflect on the various contributions and have met with various noble Lords outside the Chamber post-Committee, but it remains the Government’s position that the decision and model we are pursuing is the right one. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, mentioned passengers; we believe that it is the right one for passengers, British businesses and employees in this important sector. Bus companies invest in their staff, buses, new services and improvements for passengers because they expect to achieve long-term benefits. If a local transport authority automatically has the power to pursue bus franchising at any point, the period of investment certainty is reduced. Operators in that area will think twice about these investment decisions. Let us be clear that we are not excluding anyone; we believe that the mayoral authorities have the key differential of having strategic transport as part of their direct responsibilities. When other local authorities see benefits for passengers in bus franchising, the risk of seeking access to franchising will have to be weighed up by the local authority, and their decision may be that the risk is worth taking. Similarly, where a mayoral combined authority has automatic access to franchising powers, there will be a single, elected individual with a fixed term of office with whom the decision on whether to pursue franchising rests. I would be surprised if most mayoral candidates did not set out their position on this issue at hustings or in their electoral manifestos. That remains to be seen.
For the risks that I have outlined to be present in relation to every local transport authority area, whether the authority is interested in franchising or not, is, however, another thing altogether. That is particularly true for investment in buses, where the ability of larger operators to assume they could get a return on their investment by moving a vehicle from one part of the country to another could be compromised. My issue with the amendments is not to do with protecting bus companies or anything to do with a principle of giving franchising powers automatically only to elected mayors. Rather, it is about the period of uncertainty there would be for operators, as my noble friend Lord Attlee said, if all local transport authorities had access to franchising powers as a matter of course. This would have real impacts on bus passengers, British bus manufacturing jobs and employees in the sector.
During our previous debates, noble Lords wanted to understand the kind of criteria that the Secretary of State would be considering as part of giving his consent to franchising. I am sure that noble Lords have received them; we provided them in the draft guidance and policy statement document that was issued to Peers last week—but it is important to summarise those criteria at this juncture. Noble Lords have referred to the issue of the Secretary of State and the powers that the Secretary of State would have. Let me be clear how that decision on franchising would be made.
First, an authority would need to articulate why and how franchising would deliver better bus services and improve the day-to-day experience of passengers. That puts passengers at the heart of that decision. It should also explain why the same outcomes could not be achieved in other ways.
Secondly, a local authority should have the powers to make franchising a success. Controlling local roads and parking policy, as well as having planning responsibilities, are key to being able to manage many of the factors that affect bus usage. If an authority does not have all those levers, it should explain how it will work with other authorities to do so.
That brings me to the third aspect: any decision to implement bus franchising needs to be transparent and accountable. An authority seeking to take up franchising powers should demonstrate clearly how this will be achieved. A named individual, such as a council leader, might be an appropriate approach.
Fourthly, an authority would need to illustrate why the geographical area that it proposes is appropriate. This should take into account travel patterns and consider the potential impact on other local authority areas.
Finally, it is vital that the authority has the capability and resources to deliver franchising. Those that can demonstrate a successful track record in delivering complex projects, a real commitment to improving public transport and explain how they will resource a franchising system would be best placed to apply for consent.
Those are the criteria that the Secretary of State will apply in any decision. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber or beyond would challenge them, because they are the right checks and balances to have in place to make an important long-term investment decision on the provision of local bus services.
We have talked about the differentiation with mayoral combined authorities. I am sure that many noble Lords would acknowledge that they already meet the vast majority of these criteria and have a genuine interest in bus franchising. So it is pragmatic to give them those powers in the Bill. It has been suggested that we are denying other local authorities the model, but that is not the case. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about Cornwall. As part of devolution discussions, when those criteria can be met, clearly there is a case for other authority structures to be given exactly those powers—but there is a process to be followed. There will be secondary legislation and an affirmative instrument introduced on the type of authority; then it is right that a local authority on a case-by-case basis should show to the Secretary of State that the criteria that I have just illustrated, which are important criteria in making franchising decisions, can be fully met. That is why the Bill requires the Secretary of State’s consent to be sought, following regulations that make the class of authority a franchising authority.
These are important issues that can be considered on a case-by-case basis. It is about long-term investment in the passengers’ interests. Under the criteria that I have outlined, franchising will be an option when it makes sense for passengers, it is clear that the authority can deliver on its promises and the authority concerned is clear how it will reach transparent and accountable decisions.
The prior requirement for regulations to enable other categories of authorities to become franchising authorities also serves an important purpose. It ensures that all of us here and in the other place—all of us in Parliament—are able to scrutinise the appropriateness of such a category of authorities before becoming a franchising authority. The existence of this step on the route to accessing franchising powers provides for that clarity and certainty of investment for bus operators serving types of authority that do not have automatic access to franchising powers.
The removal of such a parliamentary process, and the removal of the need for the Secretary of State’s consent, would reduce the period of certainty in the bus market with the potential for reduced investment and less—
The Minister spoke of categories of authorities, which are referred to in the Bill. In the case of non-mayoral combined authorities, for example, would an individual non-mayoral combined authority be able to apply under these regulations separately from the others or would the Minister seek to judge whether any such non-mayoral combined authority would qualify? If it were the latter, an individual non-mayoral combined authority could very well be placed under the criteria that the Minister has set out, but other non-mayoral authorities may not be. Can the Minister explain whether these regulations in the first part of the Bill relate to categories of authorities or individual authorities?
That is an important question. Parliamentary approval would be for the category, then it would subsequently be for the individual authority to apply to the Secretary of State and to ensure that it meets the criteria that I have illustrated. The noble Lord sought an important clarification and I trust that it is now clear.
I hope that in my detailed contribution, I have demonstrated to noble Lords that the Government’s approach to accessing franchising powers is sensible and practical, and that it ensures long-term investment decisions, putting passengers at the heart of those decisions and ensuring that they reflect the needs of passengers locally. It is, I believe, in the best interests of bus passengers, business, and employees in the sector.
I hope that noble Lords, including the noble Lord and noble Baroness who tabled these amendments, have been reassured by what I have outlined. I hope that what I promised in Committee about the criteria upon which the Secretary of State would make that decision and the sharing of that criteria has provided further reassurance.
I raise a final technicality: the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about grouping and treating these amendments as a package, but that is not how the Government view them. I hope, through the reassurances, clarity and extra information that I have provided between Committee stage and now—I am really pleased that the Bus Services Bill is attracting your Lordships’ interest and attention—that the noble Lord will be minded to withdraw his amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has gone on for a bit longer than I envisaged as well. I have to say that I am disappointed with the noble Lord’s response. He has been very accommodating through the whole passage of this Bill up to now; he and I have worked very well together, but I am disappointed.
I agree with many of the comments made around the House, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Horam. With all the doom and gloom about franchising, you would think that if it were that bad, the Government would be seeking to end it. This is more about an obsession with mayors. I hope that the Government will reflect on that and that some other point will deal with it. It is certainly wise to give powers to a wider group of authorities and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
15: Clause 4, page 15, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) The terms as to standard of service that may be specified include terms about requirements which vehicles being used to provide the service must meet, including requirements about emissions or types of fuel or power.”
Amendment 15 agreed.
Amendment 16 not moved.
17: Clause 4, page 15, line 9, at end insert—
“( ) A franchising scheme must include a description of the franchising authority’s or authorities’ plans for consulting such organisations appearing to the authority or authorities to be representative of users of local services as they think fit in order to seek their views on how well the scheme is working.”
Amendment 17 agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned.