HL Deb 10 July 2000 vol 615 cc43-72

(" . The Secretary of State shall, within 5 years of the coming into effect of this Act, publish revised guidance for the making of local speed limit orders in the context of a speed management strategy forming part of a local transport plan.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 121 is a new departure compared with the amendments that the Committee has been considering. The amendment seeks to add to the Bill a mechanism whereby the Government can carry out a major plank of their road safety strategy when they are ready to do so, or at any rate within five years from the date of implementation of the Act.

The Government's road safety strategy clearly indicates that they believe it necessary and desirable for local authorities to be able to classify the roads in their districts and apply different speed limits to them, preferably on the basis of particular areas rather than one road, or part of a road, at a time. The Government made clear in their strategy that a legislative framework was required to enable them to give guidance to local authorities as to how to apply various speed limits in different ways. Obviously, speed is closely connected to safety and what might be called a better way of life. Speed is also a frightening element of traffic movement for pedestrians and cyclists. I believe that in the country horse-riders are one of the most vulnerable groups. This amendment is part of an attempt to enable local authorities to provide safer roads within their areas by considering strategic, long-distance routes and those suitable for heavy traffic in a different way from minor roads in villages or small towns.

I am grateful to the department for the assistance provided to me in framing the amendment. I hope that I have done it correctly. No doubt what is good about it stems from the department's advice and what is bad about it stems from my failure to understand the exact way in which to insert an amendment into a Bill. I hope that the amendment will find favour with the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

I support the amendment, bearing in mind the danger to horses and riders. Some rural roads, in particular minor roads, are narrow, bending and with high hedges over which neither drivers nor riders can see. In areas where there may be a lot of riding, it would be advisable to have some speed limits on roads outside the built-up areas.

Lord Berkeley

I support the amendment. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, had some drafting help. The amendment refers to a period of five years. Therefore, nothing will happen very quickly.

I draw the Committee's attention to the White Paper which is now two years old. Page 61 contains almost identical words to those used by the noble Baroness. It refers to 20 miles per hour speed limit zones; and to the fact that the frequency of accidents has been reduced by about 60 per cent, with those to children being reduced by 67 per cent. Something needs to be done. The amendment is in line with the transport strategy. I hope that it can be accepted by the Government who might consider reducing the period of five years to three years.

Lord Whitty

As the Minister responsible for the Road Safety Strategy, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness's desire to smooth its path in respect of speed limits. I am not entirely clear that a requirement to issue guidance is the key point although there is a need for guidance in that respect. The current guidance is helpful in technical detail so far as it goes, but the speed review we conducted last year in parallel with the Road Safety Strategy indicates a need to ensure greater clarity, greater consistency and more of the area approach to which the noble Baroness referred.

The speed review recommended using the DETR's New Approach to Traffic Appraisal as a basis for developing an assessment framework for setting speed limits. The safety strategy indicated some moves and broad objectives in relation to residential areas, and villages in particular. We are completing this new advice which will be issued to local authorities. It is complex and cannot be issued instantly. I would expect the next advice to be issued on that basis within the next three years and, therefore, well within the noble Baroness's time-scale.

I ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment now. We shall consider whether the appropriate formulation would require new guidance. If it relates only to guidance, it may be unnecessary. On the other hand, were there to be regulatory provisions we need to see whether the present powers of the Secretary of State are sufficient. While understanding the objective of the amendment, I should like to consider the issue further. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I thank the Minister for that reply. I knew that I would make some major error. I shall consider his reply. Before Report stage, perhaps we can consider whether there is a need for legislative provision. This aspect of the Road Safety Strategy was clearly ticked off in the "legislation required" column. If the provision needs to be phrased differently, we have time between now and Report stage to get it right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 109 [Bus strategies]:

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 121A: Page 07, line 3, at end insert— ("() In developing their bus strategy, a local passenger transport authority, including Passenger Transport Executives, must have regard to the pay and conditions of their employees and best employment practice.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I first declare that I am a member of the Unison Parliamentary Group.

This part of the Bill aims to improve local transport services by facilitating quality partnerships and quality contracts designed to improve the standards of bus services throughout England and Wales. Everyone supports the need for better bus services and the need to encourage more people back on to public transport in an effort to reduce congestion and environmental pollution. However, there is concern that in its present form the Bill fails to make explicit provision for the needs of employees, within the context of both local bus strategies and quality contract schemes.

Paragraph 11.17, on page 40 of the Government's daughter document to the transport White Paper, From Workhorse to Thoroughbred, states: A well trained and well motivated workforce, with decent pay and conditions is essential if we are to realise the full potential of the industry in meeting passengers' needs". However, at no point in this Bill is it acknowledged that employee terms and conditions are a fundamental component of quality services. The Bill fails to ensure that employee terms and conditions are a material factor when drawing up local bus strategies and hence when entering into quality partnerships and quality contracts. As such, I and others, including Unison and other trade unions, are concerned that contracts and partnerships will be entered into on the basis of cost and frequency alone, without regard to the important and crucial needs of staff who are, as acknowledged in the consultation document, key to successful partnerships and better services. Happy and contented staff make for good and punctual services, and civility attracts passengers. Discontented staff make for surly service and drive away passengers—the reverse of what the Bill seeks to do.

Problems are also likely to occur in the tendering for quality contracts. The consultation document also acknowledges that there are disadvantages to the quality contract schemes. These include the fact that, as stated in the Government's own document, Experience suggests that contracting can become a competition between operators for the lowest cost wages and conditions for staff'. That is unacceptable.

Local authority owned bus companies, trading at arms' length, may find that they lose contracts because they are obliged to observe pay and conditions standards that exceed those found in many private bus companies. The lack of a level playing field in this area may, in the worst case scenario, not only lead to loss of jobs and low staff morale, it would also have a negative impact on services.

Despite the Government acknowledging the problem in the consultation document, the Bill fails to make any arrangements to help to counteract the practice by making sure that bus strategies, quality contracts and quality partnerships consider the terms and conditions of employees. Without employees, one will have no bus services. If employees are badly paid, there will be bad bus services. Greater value would be added to quality partnerships and to quality contracts if all companies were required to present high standards of pay and conditions similar to other competitors in the field.

The amendment would ensure that in drawing up local bus strategies, local transport authorities must have regard to best employment practice. This would help to ensure that such conditions were a factor when entering into quality partnership schemes and quality contracts. By amending Clause 109, a clear and positive statement would be sent out to employees and employers alike that best value means best employment practice.

Why have the Government failed to include in this part of the Bill provisions for employees' terms and conditions? Furthermore, will the Government assure the Committee that local transport authorities and bus operators will be obliged to incorporate best employment practice within their bus strategies? Best employment practice should include the protection of core terms and conditions and mirror image pension rights from equal opportunities policies, health and safety commitments, trade union recognition and training opportunities. I feel sure that my noble friend will agree with those aspects and will want to incorporate them.

In conclusion, in order for best value to be a success, it is essential that best employment practices are encouraged and facilitated in relevant legislation. In my view, the Government have not taken sufficient measures to demonstrate to staff that best value is a positive step forward. Moreover, it is time that staff were seen to be the solution to poor and unattractive services and not the culprits. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

I support the amendment. It is difficult to put into words what my noble friend is trying to achieve but he has made a good attempt at it. Unless the quality of service on buses is improved in many places, we shall not achieve the wholesale diversion of passengers which everyone wants.

I understand that in many parts of the country there is a shortage of drivers. There is a shortage of train drivers and there will soon be a shortage of lorry drivers. They cover surface transport. If we cannot recruit such drivers, properly train them and persuade them to stay in the industry, we shall not achieve the quality of service, frequency and reliability that is essential.

As many Members of the Committee have said, sadly, one has to be something of an acrobat to stay on a bus! If one suffers from a disability, it is even more difficult. I live in Oxford where, as my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, we have special buses with a floor that can be lowered so that passengers can climb on. But if they are not sitting down by the time the driver moves off they will probably be more disabled than when they started the ride! That is not the way to attract more people onto the buses.

Only yesterday, when I was standing at a bus stop, a lady complained that the bus went by without stopping. She said, "I had my hand out but the driver took no notice". The bus was not full but he was probably in a hurry. We must do something about such incidents. I am not sure what the answer is, but I commend my noble friend for raising the issue and for tabling the amendment.

Lord Whitty

I appreciate much of what was said by my noble friends Lord Stoddart and Lord Berkeley. It is true that if the morale and commitment of the staff are not right we shall not be able to deliver effective improvements in service to the public. However, the Bill is primarily about delivery of service to the public; it is not about industrial relations and the terms and conditions of those who are employed.

Clearly, the transport authorities can take into account issues relating to terms and conditions if the effect of those terms and conditions is to undermine the performance of the service. It is open to local authorities to specify, for example, training standards for bus staff as part of the quality partnership standards. However, the broader question of how to deal with the staff of the local authorities, including those of passenger transport executives, is perhaps better addressed in a local government Bill rather than in a transport Bill.

My noble friend's amendment addresses, the pay and conditions of their employees"; that is, local passenger transport authorities and passenger transport executives. An additional problem with the drafting of the amendment is that the passenger transport authorities, not the executives, have responsibility for the strategy. However, by and large, the employees of the operators might be affected and not those of the local authorities or the passenger transport executives.

Clearly, we would wish for a good and positive best employment practice within all areas, particularly those of local authorities, but I do not believe that the Bill is the place to prescribe that. If anything, it should be in a local government Bill. As regards the employees of the transport authorities, as my noble friend's amendment does not address the employees of the operators it does not achieve what he intends. In any event, I do not believe that the provision would be appropriate here.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I thank my noble friend for his helpful reply and I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for his intervention in support of my amendment. It was difficult to frame and it is appreciated that there may be other means of achieving the ends.

I want to ensure that in the PTEs and the PTAs there is a realisation that transport services will succeed only provided the employees are satisfied, well remunerated and like their jobs. I speak as a former chairman of the Reading Corporation transport undertaking, so I know a little about negotiating procedures. It is necessary to have a well paid staff who are motivated to serve the public. People who are not satisfied and are frustrated will start their buses off sharply and will not consider the passengers who are standing in the rain at the bus stop. They should instead realise that the passengers are their livelihood and because they are properly considered they will give them good service.

I want to consider what my noble friend said. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

Clause 109 agreed to.

Clause 110 [Consultation and publicity about bus strategies]:

[Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 124: Page 67, line 11, at end insert— ("() the traffic commissioner for each traffic area covering the whole or part of the area to which it relates").

The noble Lord said: Before speaking to the amendment and to others standing in my name, I must declare an interest. I am a member of the Commission for Integrated Transport, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred, and a member of the British Railways Board. I make it clear that the amendments are my personal work and that I have received no advice or guidance from anyone connected with either of those two bodies.

I propose the amendments, with the support of my noble friends, because I believe that they will improve the Bill and make a useful contribution to the implementation of the policies contained in the Government's integrated transport White Paper, with which I am almost totally in agreement.

I want, first, to talk about the traffic commissioners. This is the first of a number of mentions in the Bill of the traffic commissioners and of the duties attaching to them. When we discussed Part I, which relates to NATS. a great deal was said about safety. A commitment was expressed on all sides of the Committee to safety. The Government's road safety strategy makes it clear that road safety is a key aim of the six traffic commissioners who license bus, coach and heavy goods vehicle operators.

One of my concerns is that traffic commissioners are under-resourced. I believe that they are also under-utilised. However, we must not be complacent about safety in the whole area of road transport. I mention the fact that in the last year for which records are available 576 people lost their lives as a result of accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. In the context of our discussion on NATS last week, that represents two air crashes. Tremendous horror was expressed in the Chamber at the prospect of air transport safety being in any way compromised. However, we compromise safety in road transport every day, every week and every year.

The traffic commissioners are one of the principal groups of people whose duty it is to promote safety, and they work with the Vehicle Inspectorate. We must remind ourselves that on average 20 per cent of vehicles over 3.5 tonnes fail their test by the Vehicle Inspectorate and 12 per cent do so the second time that they are tested. Passenger service vehicles do not do a great deal better: 15 per cent fail the test and 9.1 per cent do so on a repeat test.

Therefore, in moving the amendment, I want to ask the Government whether they intend to review the resources available to traffic commissioners in order to enable them to carry out all their duties properly. What we propose and what the Bill says is that traffic commissioners are to have additional duties—referred to on pages 70, 71 and 74 of the Bill—particularly in regard to quality bus partnerships.

In my view, it is axiomatic that if a traffic commissioner is to play a part in the administration of a quality bus partnership, he should be a consultee of the bus strategy of a local authority. Either the traffic commissioners are important people in whose judgment the Government place trust or they are not. If they are important and if they are to be involved, they should be consultees at the beginning of the development of a bus strategy. As the Bill is written and as we continue with the subject of quality partnerships, there comes a point when the traffic commissioner must be part of the enforcement process of that quality partnership further down the line. Therefore, the amendment makes the traffic commissioner a consultee at the beginning of the process.

However, in order to play his full part in the administration of quality partnerships, in the whole realm of safety and in the proper regulation of road transport, I readily accept that the traffic commissioner must have adequate resources at his disposal.

Before we move on from the question of resources, all operators—freight and road passenger operators—have always said that they would be prepared to pay a little more for their operator's licence if that money was spent on the enforcement resource available to the traffic commissioner. Again, it is a principle of fair competition that people should obey the rules: they should not overload; they should not allow their drivers to work excessive hours; and they should maintain their vehicles properly. The effect of not enforcing the rules is to move one of those principal pillars away from fair competition.

Amendment No. 125 deals with the issue of users. However, I shall stop at this point and ask whether we may have a response to Amendment No. 124. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If I am to respond properly to this amendment—I believe that I am responding only to Amendment No. 124—I must say quite a lot about traffic commissioners as well as something about the bus strategy. Perhaps I may explain the main responsibilities of the traffic commissioners and the powers that they are given under the Bill. I shall then refer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with regard to the resources available to them.

The main responsibility of traffic commissioners is to ensure that bus services meet the necessary statutory operating requirements and comply with their registered details. The Bill provides for traffic commissioners' involvement, but at the level of the detailed schemes which local authorities bring forward under the Bill rather than the bus strategy. They will be consulted on quality partnership schemes, quality contract schemes, ticketing schemes and information. That is referred to in Clauses 114, 124, 135 and 138.

Of course, the commissioners will he kept informed of the outcome of the matters on which they have been consulted. That is because they will have enforcement functions in the event of contravention by a bus operator. Failure to comply on the part of the bus operator will leave him open to action by the commissioners for breach of his registration conditions, except in respect of a quality contract operator, who will be answerable to the contracting authority. That is provided for in paragraphs 10 and 22 of Schedule 11.

Therefore, we believe that we have made appropriate provision for the traffic commissioners in the matters with which they are concerned. They have important powers, which they are well qualified to exercise, to oversee entry to the bus industry in terms of financial standing and professional competence and to monitor bus services to ensure compliance with their registered details. We are widening that activity under Part II of the Bill to include enforcement of quality partnership schemes, ticketing schemes and passenger information. Those will all be similarly enforced under the existing registration system.

The mechanism to which I referred is set out in paragraphs 10 and 22 of Schedule 11, which provide that operating in breach of the provisions will attract the sanctions available under Sections 26 and 111 of the Transport Act 1985. They include the power to levy a financial penalty on the operator, currently in the form of a requirement to repay 20 per cent of the fuel duty rebate received for the previous three months. That can be a sizeable sum, and in the past the traffic commissioners have shown themselves ready to impose those penalties on under-performing operators.

Clauses 154 and 157 of the Bill provide for greater flexibility, both in the circumstances in which penalties can be paid and in the size of those penalties. That ensures that the financial penalty available is effective and flexible and the traffic commissioner can vary it up to specified limits to suit the circumstances of a particular case.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, raised the issue of traffic commissioner resources. He wanted an assurance that we recognise the need for resources. We do, indeed, recognise that it is important for the commissioners to have adequate resources to carry out the enforcement role that I described. That is why last year we made additional resources available to cover the cost of using Vehicle Inspectorate staff to undertake monitoring of bus services. I am pleased to say that we have recently agreed that that arrangement should become permanent. We have made available £0.5 million annually in order to enhance the monitoring role.

I have gone into some detail about the work of the traffic commissioners because that is the context in which I say, with some regret, that we cannot accept the amendment. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to require the traffic commissioners to be involved in the bus strategies. By definition, they are strategic policy documents designed to set out in broad terms how the local authority intends to exercise its bus functions. We do not consider those to be matters on which it is appropriate to trouble the traffic commissioners. They do not have responsibilities as regards overall judgments about the local bus network, whereas user representatives, who are referred to in Clause 110, may well be expected to have a view on those matters. Nor do the commissioners have wider interests of the kind that justify other local authorities and bus operators being consulted on bus strategies.

I hope that by setting out the difference between the two roles I can persuade the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, not to press the amendment.

Lord Bradshaw

I thank the Minister for his reply. Bus quality partnerships may become quite complex documents in time. It may be difficult for the traffic commissioners to carry out their duty of enforcing them when it comes to excluding non-compliant operators from use of the facilities. There may be difficulties ahead for the Government.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on that, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 125: Page 67, line 15, leave out paragraph (d) and insert— ("(d) users and potential users of such services or organisations appearing to the authority to be their representatives.").

The noble Baroness said: I have also tabled a series of similar amendments that have been grouped with this.

The amendments would make a slight change to the wording of the clauses that refer to the consultation process for bus strategies, quality partnership schemes, quality contracts and bus ticketing schemes. The Bill says that the local transport authority must consult, organisations appearing to the authority to be representative of users of such services". The amendment would require the authority to speak to users of the services as well.

The difference may not seem profound, but it is important for bus travel. Bus travel is not as well represented by user organisations as rail travel. There is a structure of rail user organisations that works fairly satisfactorily at a regional level and even at a lower level than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, may have accused me by implication of being näve, but it is important to try to find out what bus users feel about new services. After all, good ideas often come from the users. That is as true for a service as it is for a tool or instrument. The people who use the service know how it affects them day to day. The amendments do not need any further explanation. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

I have several amendments in this group. However, before I speak to them, I should explain that I have notified the Government and those who have put their name to it that my Amendment No. 134 has been degrouped. I shall speak to it with Amendment No. 131, because that makes more sense. I spoke to my Amendment No. 149 when we were dealing with Amendment No. 117.

I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, because they are better drafted than mine and would achieve the same end. Many people have little faith in the local democratic process, particularly when it comes to safeguarding the interests of disabled people. Disabled people are in a minority and their needs are not necessarily well known to the non-disabled majority. Consequently, the demands of the non-disabled majority generally overwhelm the needs of disabled people. Local democracy understandably generally favours majority interests, because that is where votes are.

I should like local transport authorities to be specifically required to consult disabled people and their organisations, regardless of whether they are bus users. Accessible buses are coming and must be in service by the end of 2017. With accessible buses will come far more potential users. They should be consulted, together with existing users, on the services that they would like. If not, their needs may well not be met.

Lord Bradshaw

I should like to add to what my noble friend Lady Thomas has said about bus users. As £500,000 was confirmed as going to the traffic commissioners on the previous amendment, I shall have another go.

Until recently, I was the chairman of the bus appeals body. That task has now been taken over by the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, who is not in his place, but will be here later. It became apparent to me that bus users are different from rail users. Rail users are generally articulate and well able to complain. They do so at length—usually, I imagine, with somebody typing their letter for them.

The bus appeals body received complaints from bus users who were dissatisfied with the treatment that they had received from bus companies. Often, the letters that came were not well written and had obviously been produced with great trouble on very poor notepaper. Such people find it difficult to make their views known.

The National Federation of Bus Users is a largely voluntary organisation that is gradually expanding its activities. It seeks to bring together the complaints of users and to present them in a way that forces bus companies to face up to the shortcomings in their services. It has very little funding. It receives some money from the Confederation of Passenger Transport, hut, like all user bodies, it is uneasy about being dependent on the provider for its funds.

I have raised with the Minister in another place on a number of occasions the possibility of finding some means of making a modest sum of public funds available to help the federation to make its presence known to a wider audience and to formulate complaints so that they can be addressed. Mr Hill has said that he is looking for a way of providing some assistance. Can the Minister say whether some means has been found of providing modest assistance to the National Federation of Bus Users? If he is not able to say anything today, I should be glad if he could write to me. We have to try to do something for bus users, whose welfare is not being well catered for. They include the disabled people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred. This is a modest measure that would not involve large sums of money, but it would do a great deal to help a disadvantaged group of transport users.

Baroness Wilkins

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. I should like to emphasise in particular the importance of consultation with potential users of services. The Royal National Institute for the Blind's recent report entitled Rights of Way said that 40 per cent of blind and partially sighted people never used public transport, because it was too difficult or too inaccessible. Unless potential users, those who are not already using the services, are consulted also, the services will never reach a standard at which they can use them. For that reason and the other reasons already expressed, I support the amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Addington

I support the aim of the amendments. We must bring in potential users and those who have traditionally found it difficult in order to ensure that they are considered in the process.

Lord Whitty

The amendments which relate to a requirement to consult are unnecessary because there is already provision in the Bill to ensure that there is consultation with user groups, organisations representing the disabled and others involved in the community when drawing up the local transport plans.

Some of the specifications are quite difficult to achieve; for example, the reference to potential bus users. I am not entirely sure which organisations represent potential bus users except in so far as t hey are already designated by, for example, organisations for the disabled and others. Clearly, there are organisations representing the deaf and partially sighted. Those people have difficulty hearing announcements or reading the printed word, to which my noble friend Lady Wilkins referred.

The Bill already acknowledges the needs of such disabled people by requiring authorities to have particular regard to their needs in the local transport plan set out in Clause 111. In general, we require local authorities to be inclusive in their consultation and policy-making processes with clear public involvement, participation of relevant organisations and so on. To some extent, we must allow local authorities to draw up their own lists of particular organisations which they should consult as guided by the Bill and the further guidance under this Bill and earlier Bills.

Therefore, it is not sensible to engage in listing all the groups of users that should be consulted. By definition, one interest group is bound to be omitted and the more organisations that are listed, the more likely it is that a body will be excluded whereas the general provisions will cover the requirement to include.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, spoke to amendments relating to passenger information for those with particular needs. He raises a very valid point in that regard and I hope that I can give him some reasonable reassurance. Clearly, our objective must be that information should be accessible to all—disabled and non-disabled and potential users alike. We are making a start on that by honouring our commitment to the provision of public transport information over the telephone from a single national number covering all modes. That will be known as "Traveline". It is being developed across the country through collaboration between operators and local authorities and will be in place nationally later this year. That will provide a one-stop shop.

I am pleased to say that from the outset, the "Traveline" service will include, for example, a minicom facility for deaf people. That is only a start. We intend to enhance the initial service once it is in place. We are continuing discussions with DPTAC, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. Additional requirements can be built in to address the particular requirements for those who suffer from a disability.

As to local bus information, Clause 138 requires authorities to determine what information should be available and the way in which it should be provided. Again, in the consultation process which precedes that, local authorities are required to be, and will be, inclusive in their consultation process. Some time ago, DPTAC produced guidelines on the legibility of timetable information, for example, and it has been working with local authority officers to produce new guidance.

Amendment No. 141 is slightly different. It requires that quality contract applications to the national authority should show evidence of support from users. Again, that is already covered in that the consultation, which is to assess the degree of support, will be reported to the national authority. On the other side of the argument, under Clause 125(3) there is provision for written representations to be made to the national authority when it is considering a quality contract application and before determining that application. The national authority will obviously be expected to take such representations into account.

Therefore, the provision for consultation already exists. In some ways, the specification of user groups may make matters worse rather than better. With a general provision on inclusiveness of consultation and the provision of information, we are meeting the main points raised in the debate.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

In my efforts to be brief, I may have been difficult to understand. I do not propose any additional clauses except that proposed in Amendment No. 141. My main objective is to ensure that when consultation is mentioned in Clause 110 on bus strategies, in Clause 114 on quality partnership schemes, in Clause 124 on quality contracts and in Clause 135 dealing with bus ticketing schemes, that consultation should not just be with organisations of bus users which, as we have said, are rather thin on the ground, but with bus users and their organisations. That is all that I suggest.

However, I shall read with care what the Minister said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

Clause 110 agreed to.

Clause 111 [Plans and strategies: supplementary]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 127: Page 67, line 30, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 128. They are separate amendments. I can understand why they are grouped together because they both deal with the same subject, but they are separate in the sense that the first seeks to remove absolutely the Government's power to issue guidance in this matter and the second seeks to limit the contents of the guidance.

I recognise that these amendments are, in a sense, an attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted because the guidance was issued in March. However, we need to think extremely carefully what we are about because Clause 111 says that in drawing up transport plans, local transport authorities "must have regard to" the guidance. My view—and it may be a narrow view—is that that makes the guidance statutory guidance. This Bill has 342 pages, 265 clauses and 30 schedules. As if that is not enough, in effect, those words which I have quoted from Clause 111 add another 150 pages to the Bill.

It was because I could not see quite how to debate that guidance that I tabled these amendments. I hope that Members of the Committee will tell me that I am not abusing the process by doing so when they have heard what I have to say.

The guidance is a very significant document. I simply begin with the introduction: "What is an LTP?" It states: LTPs have replaced the Transport Policies and Programme (TPP) system of bidding for capital resources, which was no longer delivering efficiently". When I asked under which legislative authority the transport policies and programme system is derived, which has distributed money for highways purposes to local authorities for so many years, I did not receive an answer. I went to the Local Government Association, to my own local authority and to the Library. The best answer I found came from the Library, "Because this is the distribution of funds the Treasury can just do it". Therefore, they can change the system. I assume that in this instance we are concerned with a deal that has been struck between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Treasury. I hope that there is complete agreement between the two departments on this matter. I hope, when the Minister replies, that he will give me an absolute assurance that there is complete agreement and understanding as to what is taking place.

It is interesting that we are able to change completely a system of financial allocation without reference to statute at all, which as a local authority man—I am sorry to mention my local authority background—I find quite fascinating. Nobody in any local authority has been able to do anything without statutory backing, until now. In recent legislation we have begun to put in aspects of a general power and a general competence. However, that is as it may be.

The document also states: Under TPP, authorities were allocated funding for individual schemes. This meant the Government took decisions on very small schemes, often costing as little as a few thousand pounds. It wasted time and resources and meant decisions were taken in isolation, often on purely financial grounds"— and so on.

What does this wonderful document achieve? We may have thought we were heading for an easier, simpler system. On the next page, there is a section headed, "What will LTPs deliver?" The contrast between local transport plans and the transport policies and programme are set out at the top of the page. We find that a local transport plan, does not require detailed list of schemes, but rather indications of where the main problems are and how they will be tackled … Plans will be assessed on the quality of the strategies they contain"— and so on. We are dealing with a bidding programme. As one reads on, one finds that another line reads: Ministers will be looking for evidence that a local transport plan is of a high standard across the board, as assessed against the criteria in Annex D". Annexe D is wonderful; it is a mine in which one can dig for ideas for a long time. Annexe D includes a whole series of identified problems and talks about objective settings, about the minimum requirements of a plan and about the characteristics of a good local transport plan, which, in principle, as we have heard, should not be detailed and need not go into individual schemes and the reasons for them.

I turn to "Strategy development". It is tempting to read out the whole document. Of course, if I were rash enough to do so, it would be seen to be a patent Filibuster. What is required under "Strategy development" is, Clear evidence of a fundamental review of existing strategy … a robust analytical or evidence based approach … Alternative solution(s) tested, in particular alternatives to major schemes … a clear link between objectives, strategy and the specific measures in the LTP … Identifies cross-boundary issues … Steps being taken to ensure consistency with the local authority development plan and the national and regional planning guidance … Programme of public participation reported, with indication of how this has influenced strategy … consideration of links with other relevant local strategies (e.g. Health Improvement Programme, education policies)"— and so on. Those are only "Minimum requirements". Then we find "Characteristics of a Good LTP". They are, Full range of potential solutions tested and appraised … topic based … and local area-based strategies pulled together in a coherent way in over-arching strategy … Strategy incorporates measures to tackle cross-boundary issues in partnership with neighbouring authorities … Clear evidence of close integration with other relevant local strategies … Principles of good participation have been followed in developing the strategy, in particular, evidence that public fully involved in consideration of alternatives".

Under "Implementation Programme"—I shall be a little briefer this time—it states: Clearly identifies the level of resources bid for … Identifies the cost and timing of all major schemes (£5 million) proposed … realistic about the level of available resources". We have already heard about the reliability of available resources. That may or may not be all right. It continues: Indicates effectively the scope for modifying the implementation". In other words, what do you do if you do not receive the money?

The document refers to, Clear indication of priorities … Identifies contribution of the private sector … commitment of partners clear … Identifies clearly any significant statutory or other consents that may be required … includes details of planned revenue expenditure". Again, that is a minimum requirement. A good LTP will also contain, contingency plans in case statutory or other consents are not forthcoming … Maximises contribution of the private sector, both as a source of funds and as a provider of services … Groups small scale projects into appropriate programmes". If you believe the preamble, small projects are not supposed to be considered at all.

The document states: Clearly explains what part of the programme is supported by revenue resources … explains how this relates to the proposed capital programme". and so on. I have not counted the sectors, but there are about 16 or 20 of them, all of which set out what is to be in a good local transport plan.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

Perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. There are 27 paragraphs like that and he has read out only two. Perhaps I have made the point!

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I did not want to bore the House with these wretched things. However, this is exceedingly important because local authorities are obliged to comply with all—I stress "all"—these matters in intimate detail.

The result is that Hampshire has a plan that has to be submitted some time this month—I do not remember the precise date and that is not relevant to the point that I seek to make. It is 800 pages long and cost over £300,000 to produce. This is supposed to be a simplified, straightforward, non-detailed system of planning highways expenditure allocation, among other things. Of course, the programme is more than that, but this procedure would not be necessary if it were not for the fact that this is also a bid process for financial allocation. The reason that it becomes so intrinsically detailed and appallingly hard work is because, as it is a competitive bid programme, every local transport authority must perforce ensure that its plan has the characteristics of a good local transport plan, as defined. Therefore, each has to produce all the detail.

Another result is that Kent, which wanted to purchase 20 reflective jackets for those manning road crossings on dark, winter nights, felt that it had to include that in the plan. Otherwise, simply putting 20 more people on its crossings did not make sense; they had to have reflective jackets for the winter; and if the council wanted a good plan, it had to fill in all the detail.

There are 150 pages of such details. They receive no supervision from Parliament at all. That produces a serious constitutional issue; that is, the question of the status of statutory guidance and. Parliament's supervision of it. Unfortunately, technically, we have no means of looking at that. That is my excuse for tabling these amendments.

Amendment No. 127 simply seeks to remove the power to make that guidance. I recognise that the stable door has been opened and the horse bolted, so there is not much point in that amendment. Amendment No. 128 seeks to limit the power. I raise this issue not in the sense of the detail, but in the constitutional sense; that is, that we need to think carefully what we are about. It is my view that this Bill is not 342 pages long; it is 492 pages long, and 150 pages contain no supervisory powers whatever. That must be wrong. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Elton)

If the Committee agrees to Amendment No. 127, I shall be unable to call Amendment No. 128.

Lord Whitty

I suppose I should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for not reading out all 150 pages. Nevertheless, he rather misled the Committee in his description of the use of the guidance.

In this guidance the Government are attempting to provide a steer to local authorities as to how they should construct their plans and we will assess bids, which were previously assessed on a one-off basis, against their holistic approach to transport within their areas. It is something which sensible local authorities will be doing in any case and something which needs now to lock into the process which the Government are requiring. But it is not a straitjacket. It is not legislatively forcing local authorities to do something which it is not in their interests to do. They must have regard to the guidance. The bids—if we continue to call them "bids"—will be judged against their total approach to planning. But they will not be constrained, in the way that direct legislation may constrain them, to meet all the objectives of the guidance document.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seems to be suggesting that we should delete all requirements to "have regard to". He also seemed to be suggesting that, in so far as the Government were to go down this line, all of it should be on the face of the Bill. That is entirely the wrong approach and a totally different argument from that put forward when we discussed local government legislation; namely, that local authorities should be given as much flexibility as possible. There should certainly be guidance and a general indication of what national policy is; but it should not be prescriptive in the way that both primary and secondary legislation are.

Guidance is the right approach. It is not intended to be unduly prescriptive. It seeks to guide local authorities on specific issues. The requirement that local authorities should "have regard" to guidance means that a local authority must not disregard it; but neither does it have to follow it slavishly. That is the purpose of guidance and the balanced approach of its effect. One of the amendments would delete that constructive relationship and the other would seriously constrain what could be put into guidance. Neither would be healthy for the relationship between the national and local transport policies.

One can argue as to the bits and pieces in guidance. But in that sense it is not binding. There will always be differences of emphasis. But the approach we have taken in the Bill is the most appropriate. Any other approach would be more prescriptive and less able to convey the relationship between national and local government decisions. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not pursue either amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The Minister misunderstood my motives in tabling these amendments. It was certainly not to put 150 more pages on the face of the Bill. It was to debate the issue of parliamentary supervision of statutory guidance. I am sorry that others chose not to take part in this debate. An issue arises in this regard which, on a day when we regulate and legislate in increasing detail across the broad spectrum of society, is wider than this Bill.

The Minister said that local authorities will continue to tender their bids because it is in their interests so to do. He is perfectly correct. If they do not tender their bids, they will not receive any money. But he who pays the piper also calls the tune. The Minister said that the Government, in considering the allocations, would consider the total plans. I have set out in these amendments a limited number of the things that the total plans must contain. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out that I described only two sections, and there are, in fact, 27. Every local transport authority in the land will sweat through those 27 because of the fear that, if they do not, they will not receive the money they require.

But it is worse than that. A local authority with independence of mind may disagree with the Government on certain policy issues and wish to treat the whole matter in a different way. It would be reassuring to know that a local authority that was sufficiently bold to hold its own opinions would still receive the money. But the way that governments have worked in the past does not give me confidence that that would be the case.

I listened to the Minister with a great deal of interest and there is a wide gap between us. I shall consider what he said. On the whole, at this stage, I feel that I should leave the matter of the guidance being on the face of the Bill. But I feel that I ought to test the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 128, which deals with the issue of the content of the guidance. For my part, the Minister has not given a satisfactory response to that issue which is much wider than the question of placing the guidance on the face of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon Smith moved Amendment No. 128: Page 67, line 38, at end insert— ("() Guidance issued under this section shall be confined to that necessary to ensure consistency of information and presentation within plans, and consistency between plans and with national policy.").

6.29 p.m.

On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 128) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents 130.

Division No. 1
Astor of Hever, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Attlee, E. Lawson of Blaby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lucas, L.
Blackwell, L. Luke, L.
Blatch, B. Lyell, L.
Boardman, L. McConnell, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Bridgeman, V. Masham of Ilton, B.
Burnham, L. [Teller] Miller of Hendon, B.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Byford, B. Moynihan, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Northesk, E.
Colwyn, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. O'Cathain, B.
Craig of Radley, L. Onslow, E.
Craigavon, V. Palmer, L.
Cranborne, V. Park of Monmouth, B.
Crathorne, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Denham, L. Plumb, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Rees, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Elton, L. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Ferrers, E. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Fookes, B. Seccombe, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Garel-Jones, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Glentoran, L. Strathclyde, L.
Goschen, V. Swinfen, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Trefgarne, L.
Haslam, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L.[Teller] Waddington, L.
Higgins, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hooper, B. Wakeham, L.
Howe, E. Young, B.
Acton, L. David, B.
Addington, L. Davies of Coity, L.
Ahmed, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Amos, B. Desai, L.
Andrews, B. Dixon, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Donoughue, L.
Bach, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Dubs, L.
Berkeley, L. Elder, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Blackstone, B. Evans of Temple Guiting, L
Blease, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Borrie, L. Falkland, V.
Bradshaw, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bragg, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Brennan, L. Filkin, L.
Brett, L. Gale, B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Gavron, L.
Brookman, L. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Burlison, L. Gilbert, L.
Carter, L. [Teller] Gladwin of Clee, L.
Christopher, L. Goudie, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Grabiner, L.
Crawley, B. Grenfell, L.
Hamwee, B. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Nicol, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Patel of Blackburn, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Harrison, L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Hayman, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B. Renwick of Clifton, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Hoyle, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Sawyer, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor) Scott of Needham Market. B.
Sewel, L.
Islwyn, L. Shepherd, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Shore of Stepney, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord Privy Seal) Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon. V.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Jeger, B. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Judd, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kirkhill, L. Strabolgi, L.
Laird, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B
Lea of Crondall, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Lipsey, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Thornton, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Tomlinson, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller] Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B. Uddin, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, Warner, L.
Mallalieu, B. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Mar and Kellie, E. Weatherill, L.
Marsh, L. Whitaker, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Whitty, L.
Massey of Darwen, B. Wilkins, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Molloy, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.39 p.m.

Clause 111 agreed to.

Clause 112 agreed to.

Clause 113 [Quality partnership schemes]:

Lord MacKenzie of Culkein moved Amendment No. 128A: Page 68, line 15, after ("authority.") insert ("Passenger Transport Authority and Passenger Transport Executive,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 137A, 153A to 153C, which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Perhaps I may declare interest at this stage, as I am a member of UNISON.

This part of the Transport Bill aims to improve local transport facilities through the implementation of best value and the further establishment of quality bus partnerships and quality contracts within local authorities. The purpose of these amendments is to seek further clarity as to whether passenger transport authorities and passenger transport executives fall within the best value remit of the legislation.

Over the years, the six PTAs and PTEs, which, between them employ over 5,000 workers, have been extremely successful in fostering the development of integrated public transport involving bus and train and, where appropriate, ferry and air services. Indeed, they provide much of the infrastructure such as bus stops and bus stations. Moreover, in the case of Tyne and Wear, they own and operate the Metro system. In Manchester and South Yorkshire they were instrumental in the planning and operation of the new light rail services in both Manchester and Sheffield. They also play a major role in securing the provision of socially needed bus and train services by way of the subsidised tender system, including rural services and special community transport services. Elsewhere, some of those responsibilities are undertaken by local county councils.

PTAs and PTEs have, therefore, a great deal of responsibility in relation to the provision of integrated transport services in their particular areas. It is important that they should be obliged to abide by the same standards of high service as other local government transport authorities. However, as I understand it, they are not currently subject to the same best value legislation as local government transport authorities. In its current form, the Transport Bill does not appear to provide for any measures that will make their position clearer and thus provide the necessary safeguards.

The proposed amendment to Clause 113 and to Clauses 123 and 140 would ensure that both PTAs and PTEs are subject to the same legislative provision as local transport authorities, especially when entering into quality bus partnerships, quality contracts and subsidised tendered services. This also applies to the new national passenger information service. Without such direction on the face of the Bill, I have concerns that PTEs will not feel it necessary to follow best value principles and procedures in setting up contracts, partnerships and when procuring tendered services. Therefore, it would be most helpful to hear from my noble friend the Minister how the Government intend to ensure that both PTAs and PTEs will abide by the same legislative rules as their local authority counterparts. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I should point out to my noble friend that there is a distinction between PTAs and PTEs in this context. This amendment seeks to add references to both of them alongside the current references to local transport authorities. As regards PTAs, I can assure my noble friend that such reference is unnecessary, as these authorities are already included within the definition of a -local transport authority" in Clause 107.

As for PTEs, we do not believe that it would be appropriate to give them identical powers to the PTAs. That would lead to some overlap and confusion. In any event, the two bodies have different powers and functions: essentially, the PTE is the executive arm of the PTA. Therefore, the Bill rightly gives to PTAs the same powers as other local transport authorities—county councils and unitary authorities—to develop and implement schemes for quality partnerships and quality contracts and arrangements for passenger information.

At points, the Bill recognises the particular role of the PTEs by providing in Clause 109(4), for example, for their advice to be taken into account by the PTAs in connection with the bus strategy. But it is the PTA that remains the body with the principal powers and duties. That is already covered in the same way as applies to other transport authorities. In the light of my remarks, I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment.

Lord MacKenzie of Culkein

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his reassurance about PTAs. I note what he said about PTEs; namely, that. in his view, this amendment is not appropriate for them. I shall certainly read his response in Hansard to consider what was said in that respect. However, having been reassured on the position of PTAs, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 129: Page 68, line 30, after ("congestion.") insert ("road accidents.").

The noble Lord said: As drafted, the Bill requires those who initiate quality bus partnerships, among other things, to consider the question of reducing traffic congestion, noise or air pollution. This is a very small amendment, which seeks simply to include "road accidents" among those matters that should be considered for reduction. I believe this to be an unexceptionable issue. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will consider this to be a helpful amendment, as it was intended to be. It has been grouped with Amendment No. 175, which makes precisely the same point regarding a different part of the Bill. Nevertheless, it is relevant. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I should normally be very responsive to the noble Lord's call to register road safety in various parts of the Bill, but I do not think that it is appropriate here. There is a direct relationship between the level of bus take-up and the provision of bus services with congestion, pollution and air quality, which means that such issues can be built into the quality partnership or contract. However, the relationship with road accidents is less clear.

In one sense the increase in bus take-up provides a safer mode of transport because travelling on a bus is statistically safer, for example, than travelling by car. But the total effect may not he so direct because a smoother bus journey and less congestion may actually lead to faster speeds and, therefore, the possibility of further accidents. Indeed, when considering road safety, one has to take the whole journey into account, such as walking to the bus stop before the journey and away from it afterwards.

It is therefore within the total transport plan that the issue of road safety has to be addressed, rather than in the particular instrument of quality partnerships or quality contracts. The link between better bus provision and fewer road accidents does not seem to us clear, unlike the link between better bus provision and a reduction in congestion and pollution, which is already included in the Bill.

The link with the payment of bus subsidy in Clause 151—which Amendment No. 175 seeks to amend—is even more tenuous in our view. The primary purpose of subsidy is to ensure an adequate bus network, plugging gaps in what is offered commercially by providing non-remunerative services. Subsidy may also be paid to enhance services, perhaps with a view to promoting public transport use—hence the relevance to congestion and pollution in Clause 151(2). However, to link the payment of bus subsidy with the prevention of road accidents does not seem appropriate. The important issue is the total approach to preventing road accidents rather than giving a subsidy to a particular form of transport. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment, although I accept that it is well intended.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful for the Minister's comments and for his sympathy with the objective behind the amendment, even if he does not think that it is appropriate. I shall study his comments with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 130: Page 68, line 38, leave out from ("facilities") to end of line 40.

The noble Lord said: Clause 113(5)(b) addresses quality partnership schemes and states that the facilities which may be specified in a scheme, may not he facilities which are required to be provided as a result of section 138 or 139", which refer to the provision of information about services to the public.

I do not know how one can provide a quality service if one is not required to provide information about that service to the public. I am a little puzzled at that exclusion. I hope that the Minister will comment on the Government's thinking on that matter. I do not believe that a service will be of a high quality unless the public are fully informed about it. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

In our estimation the proposal seems sensible.

Lord Whitty

I reassure the Committee that there is nothing sinister about the proposals. It is certainly possible for a quality partnership scheme to include requirements as to bus information to passengers, and many will do so, as is the case at present, although practice varies throughout the country. Subsection (5)(b) is simply aimed at avoiding duplication of powers. Thus any facilities which relate to information and are required to be provided under the separate powers on passenger information under Clauses 138 and 139 may not also be covered within a quality partnership scheme. It is not intended that in other circumstances they should not be included. I hope the Committee will accept that reassurance.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The Minister is reassuring. I shall study his comments and, as always, do my homework. However, on the strength of his comments, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 131: Page 68, line 43, leave out from ("meet") to end of line 45.

The noble Lord said: Clause 113(6)(b) addresses the requirements of a quality partnership scheme. It states that the standard of services which may be specified in a scheme, do not include requirements as to frequency or timing of the services". That seems rather an odd requirement to exclude from a quality contract. I believe that such a scheme should refer to the frequency and timing of services. I accept that, given the vagaries of traffic, the British weather and the accidents of life, these are hazardous matters to try to predict in a contract with any precision. Nevertheless, it seems to me completely wrong that they should be excluded. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

Amendment No. 132, which stands in my name, is grouped with Amendment No. 131 and tries to achieve much the same result but by slightly different means. Clause 113(6) determines the standards that can be specified in a quality partnership scheme. Clause 113(6)(b) excludes local transport authorities from adding frequency and timing of services to those standards. Amendment No. 132 states not that they must do so, but that they may do so. I hope that that will meet the "flexibility test" as it is not a demand.

However, these standards can be specified in a quality contract. We understood that the Government consider that, as regards the provision of bus services, quality contracts may be, as it were, younger sisters or less important members of the clan. However, if one can obtain these standards only by going down the quality contract route, that is what these authorities may be tempted to do, bearing in mind that the two matters that passengers most frequently cite as being important are precisely timing and frequency of services.

Lord Swinfen

My name is attached to Amendment No. 131. As I mentioned when we discussed Amendment No. 125, I degrouped from it Amendment No. 134 and said that I would address that amendment with Amendment No. 131.

As I see it, the purpose of Amendment No. 131 is to allow quality partnerships to specify details of timing and frequency of services. Amendment No. 134 would require local transport authorities to consult organisations of disabled people before introducing quality partnership schemes, whether or not they are users.

Timing and frequency of services are key factors that stop disabled and elderly people from being able to go out independently. Timing has a bearing on when to shop, when to visit friends and places of entertainment, and on how disabled people get to work. If an authority or authorities propose to make a quality partnership scheme, they must give notice of the proposed scheme and, inter alia, consult such organisations appearing to the authority or authorities to be representative of users of local services as they think fit.

For reasons that I stated earlier this evening, I should like to see local transport authorities specifically required to consult disabled and elderly people and their organisations, whether or not they are current users. It is extremely important that both elderly people and disabled people without their own private transport know the frequency and the timings of public transport.

7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

In responding to these amendments I am very conscious that this is an issue relating to Part II of the Bill which is of concern to several noble Lords. I respect their views, but I should like to argue that there is another point of view, which I shall try to set out for the Committee.

I begin by looking at some matters of legal principle. We have two quite separate concepts in the Bill: quality partnerships give local authorities new powers to set overall standards for bus services as a condition for the use of facilities that the local authorities provide; quality contracts give local authorities powers to determine all the details of bus services in a particular area, including the specific details of timetables.

There are different procedures for the two concepts. Quality partnerships are a matter for a local authority's own discretion, subject to various consultation requirements; quality contracts require the consent of the relevant national authority, which seems only right for such a significant and substantial departure from the present arrangements under which bus operators have quite a margin of commercial discretion.

These amendments would seriously blur the distinction between quality partnerships and quality contracts. They would give local authorities a very significant degree of control over the details of the bus operators' timetables and frequencies in the circumstances of a quality partnership. The result would be that the quality partnership would take on some of the crucial characteristics of a quality contract and other important aspects of quality contracts would be side-stepped; in particular, there would be no need for the consent of the national authority to such a quality partnership.

So we would have legislation with two blurred and overlapping concepts; we would have something which looked very much like a quality contract but achievable by the quality partnership procedures—achievable by the back door, some might say. I cannot think that it would be right to put such provisions on to the statute book.

Perhaps some noble Lords may seek to argue that I am relying on technical legal arguments. I would therefore seek to underline my point by looking not at the legal issues but at the practical ones. As the Bill stands, quality partnership provisions in Clauses 113 to 122 give local authorities the power to set mandatory standards for bus services as a condition for the use of the facilities which the local authority has provided. A typical example of a facility might be a new bus lane; an example of standards set by a local authority might be that all buses must be less than three years old.

A key feature of these standards is that they apply to all bus operators even-handedly; the local authority does not need to negotiate separately with individual bus operators. The standards are set and publicised and all bus operators therefore know where they stand; they either meet the standard or they cannot use the bus lane. Enforcement is for the traffic commissioner. So if a new operator wants to come in, he does not need to seek any approval from the local authority; he merely registers his service with the traffic commissioner in the usual way. In making that registration, he will confirm to the traffic commissioner that he meets the published standard for the use of the bus lane.

However, if the local authority had the power to set standards in respect of timetables or frequencies, we would find ourselves in an entirely different world. No longer would we have the even-handed approach as between different operators; instead, the local authority would have to take a view not only on each individual bus operator but on each individual bus service. So every operator would need to go to the local authority and negotiate over the timings of each service before they could be allowed to run.

We can see, therefore, what the inevitable result of these amendments would be. Even if we look only at frequencies rather than at detailed timetables, it is clear that different frequencies will be appropriate for different services. The frequency that is right for a service to an outlying rural village will be quite different from that required to link a city centre to a railway station or for a busy commuter route. So one frequency fitting all simply will not work. The local authority will have to take a detailed view, case by case. The same will be all the more true if the local authority is looking not at overall frequencies but at full timetables. So the local authority will be taking detailed control over services run by operators.

I hope that I have made it clear that this amendment is much more significant than it might at first sight appear. It would upset the balance that underlies the idea of quality partnership—the balance between the local authority (which should be given new powers, as we firmly believe) on the one hand, and the bus operator (who should be allowed a measure of commercial discretion) on the other.

Certainly, the present position is not perfect. That is why we are giving local authorities the important new quality partnership powers in the Bill. For the first time, these will allow local authorities to require bus operators to meet certain standards. That is a significant step forward.

The Bill retains the principles of balance and of quality partnership, with local authorities and bus operators working together. Local authorities will use their skills in traffic management and provide facilities, and they will be able to impose legal conditions on the use of those facilities. Bus operators have their own skills, too, and they will be able to contribute their operational judgments on timings and frequencies.

The Committee can find the definition of "quality partnerships" in Clause 113(2), where that idea is reflected on the face of the Bill. The Committee might then look at the definition of "quality contract" in Clause 123(4) to see the clear difference between the two.

Let us not forget that we already have a range of success stories up and down the country with voluntary quality partnerships, which have already produced examples of significant increases in bus patronage without detailed local authority powers over timings and frequencies. We believe that it is right to strengthen local authority powers, as I have indicated. That way, both local authorities and bus operators can invest with confidence, knowing that low quality bus operators will not be able to make free use of facilities and undermine the quality standard.

Given those success stories, I am not persuaded that detailed powers of local authority control over timetables are appropriate. I should stress, as the Committee will know, that it remains open to local authorities and bus operators to reach voluntary agreements on matters of timing and frequencies. That has been done successfully in the past; it can be done in future—in ways, incidentally, that keep the Office of Fair Trading happy. I suggest that it is the appropriate way ahead, offering the prospect of successful partnerships rather than a relationship based on control.

It has been suggested that this is all very well but that we are now working under a new Competition Act regime, and concern has been expressed about the attitude of the Office of Fair Trading to such voluntary agreements. It is not for me to speak for the OFT, but I believe that these fears are unfounded. I see no reason to think that voluntary agreements between operators and local authorities on frequencies and timings—even if they are caught by the Competition Act—will inevitably be outlawed by the OFT. Of course the OFT is concerned for the travelling public—as are we all—and it wants to be sure that operators are not making cosy deals under the guise of a voluntary quality partnership. But the OFT will also be concerned with the public interest; the important point is to discuss the issues with it openly and to show how the public will benefit. If there is doubt, the OFT can always be approached informally for its view.

I recognise that many in local government and the bus industry are keen to see guidance from the OFT on its approach to both voluntary and statutory quality partnerships. Frankly, I share that view and I shall make representations to the Director-General of Fair Trading accordingly. I very much take the points made by noble Lords over time in that respect.

I have deliberately spoken at length because I know that this is an important issue and I felt that the Committee was entitled to a full explanation of the Government's view.

I turn now to Amendment No. 134, which seeks to add organisations representing disabled people to the consultation process. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said earlier, the Bill already acknowledges the needs of disabled people in Clause 111, which requires authorities to have particular regard to their needs in the context of the local transport plan and bus strategy. We shall be encouraging local authorities to be inclusive in their consultation and policy making. I am concerned that if we were more prescriptive than that by seeking to put such organisations on the face of the Bill, it would be more likely than not that we would probably omit one particular interest group or another. I would argue to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that we can safely leave it to the authorities to decide how best to meet the spirit of what is required by way of consultation in the light of the guidance on local transport plans which has been issued.

I submit that the provisions in the Bill on quality partnerships already give local authorities significant and valuable extra powers which, on all the evidence, will provide the basis for successful partnerships in future. The Bill already lays a firm foundation for such future success. These amendments would entail a significantly different approach. Therefore, I cannot recommend them to the Committee.

Lord Bradshaw

I thank the Minister for that very full explanation. Viewed from the point of view of a local authority, when a quality partnership is set up facilities previously enjoyed by people are often taken away. For example, streets are closed to motorists or carparking charges are substantially increased. People then feel forced into using the public transport provided. If a facility which people have heretofore enjoyed is taken away from them, they need some reassurance that what is to be put in its place is suitable. Setting aside fares, in judging the suitability of any transport service, frequency and reliability are consistently at the top of people's lists of requirements. When designing an integrated transport policy one would wish to ensure that buses actually meet trains at the station. That involves timing. Buses should start and finish at certain times of the day. When spending several million pounds on a park-and-ride scheme, a sufficient frequency of buses should run in order to make the scheme convenient to users. It should not be a matter of helping the bus operator to fill every bus regardless of how long people have to wait. By providing a park-and-ride system and taking away the ability to park in the centre of a town, people are to some extent being forced to use the bus service.

What my noble friends propose is not that frequencies and timings should be a compulsory part of a quality partnership. They cannot be so because by its nature it is a voluntary agreement. Towards the end his speech the Minister offered some comfort. He said that there is no harm in these matters being covered in a voluntary quality partnership; they can be part of a voluntary quality partnership. I should like to be sure on that point. If one had to go out and sell to the electorate a scheme which involved them giving up their previous method of travel and adopting a new method, in a democratic process, some reassurance would need to be given that what they would receive was at least as good as, and one would hope better than, that which they had previously enjoyed. Taking away road space to create bus lanes inevitably means that the facility for people to park in front of their house or in front of shops is denied to them. It is a bargaining process between the local authority and the electorate and between the local authority and the bus companies.

What we are seeking is that nothing should be ruled out of the discussion. Using the word "may" in our amendment is intended to make it clear that a quality partnership does not allow a local authority to specify in detail the timings and frequency of services but rather requires it to give a broad specification of the kind of service which people can expect.

I am also concerned, as is the Minister, about the influence of the Office of Fair Trading. We can probably return to that issue at a later stage. I shall leave my remarks there, save to say that many voluntary quality partnerships are extremely successful and many of them include reference to timing and frequency.

Lord Berkeley

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will consider something a little less prescriptive than what he has proposed. My noble friend the Minister gave a very clear exposition of what is expected from the partnerships. If a local authority is introducing bus lanes, or whatever, obviously the local authority will want to see something in return. Some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, were probably more relevant to quality contracts, but perhaps not.

At the moment we seem to have the standard of service being confined to special types of bus and so on. I wonder whether it is possible to introduce a minimum level of service without specifying timetables. That would get over the concerns raised by my noble friend the Minister and make the provision a little less prescriptive. It would mean that at least some services operated rather than none.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I am happy to reconfirm what I said earlier. It remains open to local authorities and bus operators to reach voluntary agreements on matters of timing and frequency. Just as it has been done in the past, so it can be done in the future. In reply to my noble friend Lord Berkeley, I would simply say that we can leave the matter to the creativity and the self-interest of the parties involved to ensure that they develop new levels of service.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am grateful to the Minister for an extremely comprehensive reply which ranged over the field rather more widely than the specific amendments. The fact that he had the full attention of the Committee shows that it was recognised as a significant response.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for what she said about her amendment. I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for supporting the argument. However, in his response the Minister certainly gave us serious cause for thought. We shall need to study with care what he has said, but I do not think that we shall find it necessary to return to the subject, which will be of intense relief to the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 132 not moved.]

Clause 113 agreed to.

Clause 114 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)

If Amendment No. 133 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 134.

[Amendments Nos. 133 and 134 not moved.]

Clause 114 agreed to.

Clause 115 agreed to.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 135: After Clause 115, insert the following new clause—