HL Deb 26 October 2000 vol 618 cc589-604

(" .—(1) In addition to containing the proposals and policies required by section 107 above, the local transport plan—

  1. (a) shall contain the Authority's proposals for the provision of transport which is accessible to disabled people;
  2. (b) shall specify a timetable for the implementation of the proposals contained in the transport strategy by virtue of paragraph (a) above.

(2) In preparing or revising the transport strategy the Authority shall consult—

  1. (a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee; and
  2. (b) such other persons or bodies which represent the interests of disabled people as it considers appropriate to consult.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 93, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 94 and 95. I had originally asked for Amendment No. 118 to be grouped with Amendment No. 94. I must admit that I do not understand why nearly all my suggested groupings have been changed. There was a logic in the groupings that I had proposed. However, I shall do my best.

The purpose of Amendment No. 93 is to require that transport plans include provisions for disabled people. The plans should be drawn up in consultation with organisations of disabled people and include an action plan for improvements to accessibility. The Greater London Authority Act 1999 contains a provision in Section 142(2) and (4) to that effect. That forms the basis of the amendment. If it is in the Greater London Authority Act, why should it not be included in this Bill which, when an Act, will cover the whole country?

The purpose of Amendment No. 94 is to ensure that in statutory consultations over their local plans, local authorities include and make the consultations accessible to a range of disabled people—the blind, deaf and those with learning difficulties—for whom ordinary printed material will not be effective.

The purpose of Amendment No. 95 is to require local authorities to have a local walking strategy as part of their local transport plan in order to ensure proper improvements to the street environment.

I welcome the placing of local transport plans on a statutory footing and see the Government's transport strategy as a considerable opportunity for local public transport to be greatly enhanced to the benefit of disabled people. Those plans have a vital role to play in providing more coherent and comprehensive solutions and creating a safer street environment for everyone, particularly those with disabilities.

Each local transport authority must develop and implement policies for the promotion and encouragement of safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from and within their area. I note that the transport facilities and services include those required to meet the needs of persons living or working in the authority's area or visiting or travelling through that area.

I am pleased that Clause 111(2) requires authorities to have regard to the needs of those with mobility problems in preparing local transport plans. However, the disability movement's experience is that many well-intentioned proposals for making transport more accessible to disabled people failed because of a lack of consultation with disabled people themselves. Therefore, that provision should be on the face of the Bill.

In Clause 108(4), the authority must publish the plan, or the plan as altered, in such a manner as it sees fit and subsection (4)(c) provides that a copy, or any part of it, must be supplied to any person on request either free of charge or at a charge representing no more than the cost of providing a copy. But I should expect that the provision of information would be in the preferred format of the individual requesting it, thus ensuring that service providers meet their obligations under the DDA 1995.

The quality of a pedestrian environment seriously affects disabled people's independent mobility and the ability to reach bus services. Organisations of disabled people consider it vital that a walking strategy is required to ensure access within the pedestrian environment. The requirement of a local walking strategy would help to ensure the implementation of the Government's strategy to encourage walking, which is designed to address the decline of walking. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I support these amendments most warmly. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has given an extremely comprehensive introduction. I am not sure that there is much that I can add.

I agree with the noble Lord when he says that the provisions need to be on the face of the Bill. There has been much experience of well-meaning local authorities simply not knowing what are the needs of people with disabilities. The reference to disabled people's needs should be spelt out on the face of the Bill. It is essential that local authorities should be required to consult the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, just as the mayor of the GLA must do.

As regards Amendment No. 94, I agree that it is important that the consultations should reach those with sensory impairments and learning difficulties and, indeed, the deaf-blind, although I am not sure how one does reach them with that sort of information. Perhaps someone may enlighten me or think of something in0020relation to that. They are the most excluded of all people and I feel that we should try to do something for them.

I support Amendment No. 95, the local walking strategy without which, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, disabled people will not be able to get to buses. It is also useful for mothers and children with prams.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments. I am sure that the Minister may be thinking of replying by saying, "Don't worry; it's all covered." However, it is 10 or 12 years since I first heard discussion on these provisions. The fact that we are now returning to the issue means that the lobby groups outside think we need to remind people who make these decisions to bear disabled people in mind.

Unless we are told to consider these problems, we often do not realise that they exist. It is also the case that when we talk about the disabled, we receive the reply, "Oh, that's somebody in a wheelchair", or "That is somebody who is blind" and the problem is not taken further. We must try to reach a situation where people look across the whole spectrum of disability and ensure that all needs are addressed. Unless we have this type of legislation, and are permanently prompted, something will be missed and we will not move forward. That is one of the battles that is constantly being fought. That is why we shall keep returning to this issue until we have something conclusive in law which means that people must take such problems seriously.

I support the noble Lord when he says that Amendment No. 118 should be included in this grouping. It follows almost directly from Amendment No. 94. We need to reach those who have difficulty with print. That includes the visually impaired and those with literacy problems. We must try to help them overcome the barrier of the printed word, which excludes people from what is available to the rest of the community. The technology is now available. We may find it irritating on buses and trains to be told when we are stopping, but for those who cannot read the signs, it is necessary.

The amendments are necessary, not because they are not implied in law but because in practice these areas are simply missed.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment No. 95. A walking strategy is important, both for able bodied and disabled people. I do not know whether or not the wording is right. However, I continue to find that people who produce strategies and local authorities who mend pavements or roads travel only in cars. I have been soaked on pavements recently because the drains were blocked and cars were rushing past. Even in the local authority of Oxford where the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sometimes has an involvement, five miles of road have been beautifully resurfaced but the road gullies are about two inches higher than the surrounding road just by the bus stop. As a result everybody who is waiting for a bus is soaked by the bus.

How on earth can one get local authorities, and the politicians who run them, to realise that walking needs to be enjoyable without having to wear oilskins and gumboots, while those in cars have air conditioning and heating? If the amendment contributes to that view being accepted, I support it.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I sometimes find the groupings illogical. However, we will probably have to deal with them as they are. I, too, am anxious to make clear through the Bill that the Government want disabled people to have the kind of transport facilities which are accessible to them so that they can play a full part in the life of the community. We have made clear, both in the White Papers and guidance that we have given through the local transport plans, that that is the objective. Current guidance is clear about precisely how local authorities should address the transport needs of the elderly, mobility impaired and so on. That specific criteria in relation to disability issues has been supported by our statutory advisers, DPTAC, to which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen referred. Like DPTAC, we acknowledge that the emphasis in the guidance may need to be changed or strengthened over time. But guidance included under Clause 111 gives us the means to do so. Of course, we shall work with DPTAC in developing the guidance in relation to the transport needs of disabled people. Clause 111 (2) makes clear that authorities, when developing their policies under Clause 107 and their bus strategy, must, have regard to the transport needs of persons who are elderly or have mobility problems". Amendment No. 93, therefore, is not necessary. The requirements are already placed on the authorities and developed in that guidance, and we are developing the strategy very clearly in conjunction with the main national body which represents the needs of disabled people.

Amendment No. 94 seeks to amend the requirement upon a local transport authority that when requested to supply a copy of its local transport plan it must do so in the chosen format of the person making the request. Part III of the DDA places specific duties on those providing goods, facilities or services to the public. The Act makes it unlawful for service providers to discriminate against disabled people in defined circumstances. Those circumstances include where a service provider has failed to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments if the effect of that failure is to make it impossible for a disabled person to read, understand or receive the service.

Sc the position is already covered in the DDA. Since our discussion in Committee it has become more apparent that there is uncertainty about whether an LTP is covered by the requirements of the DDA. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on that point. Because that position is not straightforward, we consider that the best approach will be to issue guidance to local authorities in relation to alternative formats. I want to put on the record that that is our commitment. Of course, in drawing up that guidance we will be consulting DPTAC as our statutory advisers in this area. I believe that meets the objectives of Amendment No. 94.

Amendment No. 95 relates to a walking strategy. Again, integrated transport has already been defined as including the needs of pedestrians and specifically requires authorities to include facilities and services for pedestrians. So it is already clear, without spelling out the structure of a walking strategy as the amendment seeks to do, that walking is a major dimension of our transport strategy. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said in relation to an earlier amendment, a move to more appropriate modes definitely includes moves to modes which involve our own two feet. We are certainly keen that walking should be part of the structure. But that is already covered without it being specified in detail as Amendment No. 96 attempts to do.

I hope that, with those remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will feel that we are committed to the same objectives as himself and that these amendments are not necessary in order to achieve them.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am not sure that I heard him speak to Amendment No. 95. Does the requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act to make physical adjustments to premises, which I appreciate does not take effect until the year 2004, affect the physical adjustments to streets? Is that included under the Disability Discrimination Act?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I shall need to take advice on that matter. The answer is that it probably is not, except in so far as the streets provide facilities to access premises. It may be therefore that the noble Lord has a point. With his leave, I shall write to him on that matter.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I should be delighted to receive another letter from the noble Lord and I thank him for his letter of 20th October. I appreciate that he took the trouble to write to me after the Recess.

I appreciate the support which I have received from around the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was right in saying that in had weather one sees many pedestrians being splashed. The local authorities, when looking after their roads, could do something about that if they took the trouble and so could their contractors. Such incidents are not unusual; sometimes they occur accidentally but on other occasions they are due to nothing more than the drivers' lack of consideration. Inside their nice cosy cocoons, they are not prepared to realise that other people are freezing outside in the slush of January and February.

I have commented on Amendment No. 95 and I wonder whether Amendment No. 94 is properly covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. The Minister said that my Amendment No. 93 was not necessary and the issues would be covered by guidance. He also stated that in his letter to me. Most of us in the Chamber have children and grandchildren and we know that we give them guidance. The trouble is that they do not follow it—neither do local authorities! The law does not state that they must do so. If they have not followed the guidance and something goes wrong, they have a deeper hole to climb out of. I believe that the measure should be on the face of the Bill and if it were not so late at night I should be inclined to ask the opinion of the House. But it is late at night and due to that—and that alone—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I shall not move the next two amendments but reserve my right to return to them at Third Reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 108 [Further provision about plans]:

[Amendment No. 94 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Clause 109 [Bus strategies]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 96: Page 66, line 29, after ("authority") insert ("or where appropriate. Passenger Transport Authority").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 96 has slipped through the net. I had not intended to move it as it is answered elsewhere in the Bill. However, Amendment No. 97 is important. Clause 109 is worded obscurely, to say the least. It provides that an authority should provide whatever bus services and facilities it, the authority, thinks it should provide. One must ask: to what end, for what benefit and for whose purpose that is directed? All that is completely avoided on the face of the Bill.

The Bill should not be about an authority providing bus services to suit itself. What are we talking about?

And so I thought that a more appropriate purpose was required. We have therefore tabled the amendment, which proposes that authorities should develop bus services in their area on behalf of their communities and those wishing to travel in those communities having regard to the economic and social well-being in their area". Even that is a dreadful generalisation but a least it is a purpose above and beyond that of their own requirements as authorities. I accept that an authority acts on behalf of its community and all those other matters. However, we are framing legislation which people are to follow. If we cannot come up with something better than Clause 109 as it is presently drafted, in that regard we fail in our duty. Certainly, the Government have failed in their drafting. I hope that the Minister will consider my amendment, however unpalatable it may be. I do not believe that the Bill as drafted is a suitable piece of legislation.

Amendment No. 98 which is also part of this group simply draws attention to a very simple problem. In developing a bus strategy the authority should have regard to the need for school transport. For those authorities which are involved in education school transport is a vexed issue. When I was involved in this matter at local government level I remember impassioned debates as to whether an education authority should be required to provide transport. If somebody did not provide transport, education could not be provided because children could not get to school. These may be basic statements of the facts of life. However, in this Bill transport authorities are specifically directed to consider what is involved in bus strategies and how they can help their communities. If school transport is not part of that I do not know what is. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we accept that school transport is important. However, Clause 109(3) already requires an authority to have regard to any measures that it is required, or proposes, to take to meet transport requirements in carrying out its functions as a local education authority. The issue of school transport is already covered.

I understand that the noble Lord does not intend to press Amendment No. 96. Therefore, in effect he spoke to Amendment No. 97. Whatever the noble Lord may see as the inadequacies of the present clause, I do not believe that his amendment does what he suggests. From the way that the noble Lord described the objective of his amendment, I would have thought that it was not desirable. It would substitute alternative wording for much of subsection (1), with the loss of important requirements on local authorities, particularly in paragraphs (a) to (c); for example, the need to consider the standard of bus services, any additional facilities and services connected with bus services, which would mean items such as bus stops, waiting facilities, interchanges and so on. The clause was drafted to reflect the fact that local authorities would have a wider range of bus functions as a result of the Bill. The noble Lord's amendment would delete some of those functions. I am not convinced that the present drafting is all that wrong, but in my view the amendment would make it worse. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I have an awful feeling that the Minister and I have a simple difference of opinion over this matter. I do not regard Clause 109 as presently drafted as in the least satisfactory. The clause is convoluted and unclear and does not direct the attention of a transport authority to the need to serve its community. I accept that my amendment may delete certain parts of Clause 109, but that is a matter which I can address at Third Reading. I shall study the Minister's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 not moved.]

Clause 110 [Consultation and publicity about bus strategies]:

[Amendment No. 99 not moved.]

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 100: Page 67, line 16, at end insert (", and representatives of potential users of such services").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 100, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 104, 108 and 121. I have already spoken to Amendment No. 118. I asked for Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 to be grouped together because that is the logical grouping. Therefore, I shall include Amendment No. 103 in my remarks.

At the moment, not all disabled people can use buses because many are still inaccessible to them. Amendment No. 100 requires local transport authorities to consult disabled people, whether or not they are currently able to use buses. As buses become accessible they will be able to use them. Therefore, why not consult them now and make certain that they will use them? It will reduce congestion if they no longer use their cars on the public highway. Part of the Government's agenda is to reduce congestion.

Amendment No. 103 seeks to allow quality partnerships to specify details of timing and frequency of services. Amendment No. 104 requires local transport authorities to consult organisations of disabled people, whether or not they are users of local services, before introducing quality partnerships. That is why I wanted the two amendments grouped together.

Amendment No. 108 requires local transport authorities to consult disabled people and their organisations, whether or not they are current service users, before introducing quality contracts. Amendment No. 121 requires local authorities to have regard to the needs of those with sensory impairments and learning difficulties in deciding the appropriate way to provide information.

The organisations for disabled people tell me that they have little faith in local democratic processes when it comes to safeguarding the interests of those with disabilities. Disabled people are in a minority. Their needs are not generally well known to the non-disabled majority. Consequently, the demands of the non-disabled majority generally overwhelm the needs of disabled people. Therefore, I should like local transport authorities to be specifically required to consult disabled people and their organisations, whether or not they are currently local transport users. One should bear in mind that transport suitable for people with disabilities is also suitable for the elderly, those whose health is deteriorating and also parents with small children and large quantities of shopping.

Noble Lords will frequently have seen young mothers with two or three small children struggling with numerous plastic bags, baskets and packages of one form or another. It is terribly difficult for them to get on to an old-fashioned bus. It is quite a hike up. Transport which is suitable for people with disabilities would be suitable for them as well.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 103 and 104. Timing and frequency of local transport are key factors that often stop disabled people being able to go out independently. If an authority proposes to make a quality partnership scheme, it should give notice of the proposed scheme and, inter alia, consult such, organisations appearing to the authority to be representative of users of such services", as it thinks fit That includes organisations of those with disabilities. The same applies to quality contracts.

Local transport authorities, either alone or jointly, are required to determine what bus information should be made available and how to arrange with operators for its provision. If such an agreement cannot be made, the local authority will provide the information and the bus company will be charged. Before making such a decision, the authority must consult such organisations as it thinks fit. particularly those who use local services. That should include disabled people and should be in an appropriate format that all disabled people can use. I beg to move.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

I support these amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has covered comprehensively. This business of not consulting non-users seems curious to me. If the intention is to improve the bus service and make buses suitable for more people, those who for one reason or another do not use the services at that moment should be consulted. That is particularly important in the case of disabled people because those who use the services will inevitably be non-disabled people who will not understand what disabled people need.

A manufacturer who is selling a new product or a new version of an existing product does not survey only his satisfied customers; nor does a company seeking to expand its services to new customers ever only survey its existing customers. In Surrey recently there was a survey of bus services which had the aim of increasing the number of passengers carried. The survey was sent to non-users but became the subject of ridicule throughout the area because it did not ask why non-users failed to use any of the services. All the questions were directed at users and, what is worse, at users of the existing services.

As a result, those conducting the survey did not discover either the need for a new service to a neighbouring town or the need to move several bus stops and adjust schedule timings to attract more passengers.

Experience has shown that local authorities need to be told exactly who to consult. They will not make progress if they are not told clearly to consult new users. Amendment No. 121 provides that the local authority must have regard to those with visual and hearing impairments and people with learning difficulties. I hope that the Minister can give a positive response to these amendments.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, I was inclined to think that the groupings rather suited me. But perhaps they do not after all. I rise to speak to Amendment s Nos. 106 and 179. However, as I want really to speak to Amendment No. 103, and Amendment No. 103 has now been referred to, perhaps it is right to speak to it at this stage.

Several amendments stand in my name which were previously in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who cannot be with us today. There has been a kind of trans-Pennine transfer and have taken the amendments on. It appears to me that Amendments Nos. 106 and 179 can be left alone if we look carefully at Amendment No. 103, which has been referred to, particularly with reference to disabled people. However, there is far more to this issue than just the needs of disabled people.

Clause 113 is about quality partnership schemes and about implementing the policies in bus strategies. It is about the authority providing particular facilities and the operators of local services providing local services of a certain standard. The clause refers to facilities, which will include bus shelters and so forth, and then states: The standard of services which may be specified … do not include requirements as to frequency or timing of the services". Little could be more fundamental to a bus service than when it operates and whether the service is frequent. For example, if an environmentally friendly bus with full facilities for the disabled turns up on1y once a day at three o'clock in the morning, I do not believe that that would bring quality to the service. Furthermore, I do not believe, if that is what is provided for in this clause, those who will be required to produce facilities to meet a certain standard will have the confidence to invest in bus shelters, bring in traffic regulation orders and so forth. They will not implement those measures unless they know, with some confidence, that a "quality of service" will be introduced.

Frequency and timing are imperative as regards bus services. For that reason, I believe that paragraph (b) should be deleted from this subsection. Indeed, most people who need to use buses would consider that frequency and timing are rather fundamental.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, perhaps I may also speak briefly to Amendment No. 103, which has joined this grouping. The noble Lord is right: frequency and timing are absolutely essential. I believe that we argued this point at some length at an earlier stage in our deliberations.

The Transport and Environment Committee of the Scottish Parliament discussed exactly the same issue a few days ago, on 24th October. It is interesting to note that the Scottish Transport Minister has herself proposed an amendment to the Transport Bill (Scotland) which states that: Any specified standard— may include

  1. (i) requirements which the vehicles being used to provide a service shall meet; and,
  2. (ii) requirements as to the minimum frequency of services".
I believe that we should welcome what is being done by our colleagues in Scotland. I hope that my noble friend will agree that, on this occasion, they appear to be taking the lead on us here in Westminster. Perhaps we should use their example as a precedent and accept that setting a minimum level of frequency would be useful in this subsection.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I should like to speak briefly on this point because my name has been added to amendments in this grouping. It is essential to consult those groups that will form part of the improved client base if there is to be any chance of meeting their needs.

It has been said before, but I cannot repeat it often enough, that when it comes to considering the needs of the disabled, all too often those groups are simply left out. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House a further assurance that sufficiently wide consultation will take place. All too frequently such groups are either not consulted at all or not consulted widely enough.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I can assure all noble Lords who have spoken that it is our intention that consultation carried out under this Bill should be both effective and inclusive. We want in particular to take account of the needs of those who are disabled in various ways. We want to ensure that matters such as ticketing arrangements and accessibility are developed for the convenience of all users, not only the fit and able.

The question that arises from these amendments—or at least the amendments that were originally included in the grouping—is whether further provisions are required to deal with that. Amendments Nos. 100, 104, 108 and, indeed, Amendment No. 99, refer to potential users. I accept some of the points made in relation to the need for consultation to involve those who are not already users of a service, but exactly what are organisations representing potential users? I find it difficult to envisage the kind of organisations that might be included here, other than those representing disabled people—which is one specific area and which the general requirements on consultation contained in the Bill would require local authorities to consult in any case.

I suppose there are other potential users. For example, bus users may be members of motoring organisations or motor cycling organisations and so on. I am not entirely sure whether it is intended that such organisations should have a specific role, other than the one they have in relation to the integrated transport plan in general. References to "organisations of potential users" require definition before we can take such a change seriously.

Amendments Nos. 104 and 108 relate specifically to organisations representing disabled people. The Bill already acknowledges the needs of disabled people in Clause 111. It is an overarching duty on local transport authorities to have regard to the needs of disabled people, including within quality partnerships and ticketing schemes. They must be taken into account. The consultation requirements therefore. follow that and it is not necessary to make an additional reference to them here.

The procedures are made abundantly clear in the guidance—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will come back with his general view of the guidance—and that will specifically gear local authorities into following them in detail. The guidance will state the minimum requirements for a local transport plan, which should show a clear commitment to meeting the needs of disabled people and evidence of consultation with organisations which represent them in the decision-making process. That is all spelt out clearly in the guidance in pursuit of the general requirement to meet the needs of disabled people.

Amendment No. 103 raises the wider issue of the nature of quality partnerships. It is an issue on which we had lengthy debates at earlier stages of the Bill. It concerns the inclusion of frequencies and timings within statutory schemes. Clarity is needed. First, we need to explain the legal principle involved here. A key feature of a quality partnership is that the local authority can set quality standards which are applicable to all-comers. Any bus operator who wishes to enjoy the benefits of the scheme must meet the standards imposed.

The legal requirements would mean that if we conceded this amendment we would blur the distinction between quality partnerships and quality contracts. Quality partnerships are about giving local authorities new powers, following consultation, to set these overall standards. Quality contracts concern giving local authorities the powers to prescribe the details of bus services in a given area, which includes a detailed timetable of frequencies and services. If we were to rewrite frequencies and services into the quality partnership part of the Bill we would blur that distinction.

It is, of course, always open for local authorities voluntarily to reach agreements with operators which specify frequencies and services, but to give that statutory backing without moving into the area of quality contracts would blur the distinction.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the position in Scotland. It may be that our colleagues in Scotland see these matters slightly differently. That is a matter for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. We wish to maintain a clear distinction between what are basically voluntary arrangements with bus operators and what is an imposition by local authorities where other methods have failed under the quality contract provisions. That kind of detailed intervention, with statutory backing, is appropriate in the quality contract scheme but not in the quality partnership area.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, is he saying that quality partnerships in Scotland are the same as quality contracts in England? That will be very confusing. If quality partnerships in Scotland—given the different Parliament, the different legal system and so oh—require prescription of the minimum requirement for services, it is a bit odd to have the same title for something which is different here.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, one of the consequences of devolution is that bits of policy operate differently in different parts of the United Kingdom. I personally regard that as relatively healthy. It may be that the Scots have a better prescription than we do; it may be that ours is better than theirs. Time will tell. All I am saying is that the UK Government, in legislating for the English provisions on this matter, want to maintain a clear distinction so far as statutory requirements are concerned between the voluntary partnerships and the quality contracts.

On a voluntary basis, anything can be included on an agreed basis between the operator and the local authority. That includes frequency and timing. But to give statutory backing takes us into a different field. We want to maintain that distinction, whatever the Parliament in Edinburgh wants to do.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I think the Minister should talk to his noble friend Lord Sainsbury whose firm has for generations attracted potential new customers to its stores. I am sure that he would receive a few clues on how public transport companies could encourage potential users and on how to advertise what is on offer.

The proposal that there should be a definition of potential users is interesting. However, I should have thought that anyone who is not a regular user of public transport is, ipso facto, a potential user. I should not have thought that there was a great deal of difficulty on that point.

I shall read carefully the Minister's response to Amendment No. 103 on the difference between quality partnerships and quality contracts. Like his noble friend Lord Berkeley, I am rather puzzled by his reply. To be honest, I do not think that it holds water.

While voluntary quality partnerships can be entered into, as I understand it no bus company would do so—because it would not be protected from being sued for anti-competitive practice. I understand that a bus company would potentially be abusing a dominant position if other bus companies did not have access to certain facilities which it had because of the voluntary quality partnership scheme. It would also be the bus company and not the local authority that would be sued.

As I said, I shall consider what the Minister has said on Amendment No. 103, which we have not actually come to. Technically speaking, it is not in this grouping. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?

Lord Whitey

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord made it clear that he wanted to transfer Amendment No. 103 into this grouping and indeed spoke to it at some length. I therefore replied at some length.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, it was the noble Lord's noble friend who, I thought, was disagreeing with me. I am quite happy to have spoken to the amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 100.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 111 [Plans and strategies: supplementary]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 101: Page 67, line 30, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 111 is important. It states that, In carrying out their functions under sections 107 to 110, a local transport authority must have regard to any guidance concerning …the content of any local transport plans (and bus strategies)", and so on. I do not apologise to the House for returning to this matter—not so much for the content of the clause, but for what I see as the implications for our legislative process of what we are doing. I have in mind the document on guidance. I do not intend to talk about it in any particular detail. It was issued in March this year and is a revision of the guidance issued about nine months earlier.

In the olden days, guidance used to be issued under the authority of existing legislation. I believe that it was customary to say what that authority was, but I have found no reference to that in this guidance. I have no doubt that the Minister will take care of my ignorance in his response and tell me exactly how the guidance came into being. My concern is that what we are doing here is turning this document into legislation. I say that because a local authority "must have regard" to it. Of course, that is a common form of words and guidance is commonly used; indeed, it is an increasing trend. However, in this instance, we are changing the funding system for local authorities in relation to highways programming. We are changing it from transport policies and programmes that are produced annually to local transport plans that are quinquennial, with what I would call "rolling reviews".

When you go into the detail, you actually find that this is a bidding document; in other words, the content and quality of the document regarding the local transport plan will be used by the Government to assess whether or not this or that authority receives the funding for which it is applying. I then turn back in the document to Annex D and the 27 paragraphs that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, reminded me about in Committee, because I had not counted them properly. 'Those paragraphs are directed at defining the contents for the criteria for assessing the quality of local transport plans.

However, the situation is worse than that because there are 133 defined characteristics of a "good local transport plan". If you are bidding for funding from the Government, would you dare put in a plan that is not a good one? What are we about here? Indeed, the Minister has criticised me for trying to get a slightly greater degree of definition here and there on the face of this Bill. This is an amazing situation. But that is as may be.

We have this document being given the force of statute by Clause 111. I do not raise that issue in order to criticise; I raise it because the amendment that I have moved seeks to remove subsection (1) of Clause 111, not so much because I think that I will have any success with it but because I believe that this House—and, indeed, the whole parliamentary process—now needs to consider quite carefully what it is about when it allows this sort of procedure to continue. I do not believe that we can stop it, but I do believe that we need to be very wide awake as to what it is that we are agreeing to and how far we are eroding the system of parliamentary control with which we expect to run our country. I do not apologise for raising that matter in the House although I do not expect that the Minister will be able to give me a satisfactory answer.

Amendment No. 102 is grouped with Amendment No. 101. Here I am simply concerned with clarity and trying to simplify the wording of the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is relieved at that. It seems to me that subsection (2) of Clause 111 is somewhat obscurely worded. It refers to "policies under section 107(1)" in relation to a bus strategy. However, bus strategies are defined under Clause 109. It seems to me that subsection (2) needs to concentrate on the transport needs of elderly persons or those with mobility problems. Amendment No. 102 seeks to remove the extraneous words "under section 107(1)". I consider that would render the subsection much clearer. I believe that that was a worthwhile effort even though the Minister has on other occasions resisted my attempts to improve and simplify the wording of Bills. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, As regards Amendment No. 102, I am always grateful to the noble Lord for attempting to edit the Bill. His amendment would certainly simplify it in seeking to delete three words but I am not entirely sure that it would clarify it. I understood the noble Lord's explanation of what he is trying to do but I am not sure that the amendment achieves that. However, we shall, as ever, consider the amendment but I do not think that it achieves what the noble Lord thinks it does.

As regards Amendment No. 101, I believe that the noble Lord knows perfectly well that the guidance he mentioned in relation to local transport plans is currently non-statutory. However, future versions of it will become the guidance mentioned in Clause 111.

Amendment No. 101 would delete any requirement to have regard to that. I understand the noble Lord's desire to have near complete autonomy for local authorities but that measure goes a little far.

As regards transport objectives, any government must provide a comprehensive and consistent framework while avoiding being unreasonably restrictive in guidance. If we did not issue any guidance at all, we would have to put more measures on the face of the Bill which would reduce the flexibility that the noble Lord seeks. That is why we provide guidance. The requirement in subsection (1) of Clause 1ll to have regard to guidance means that local authorities cannot disregard the guidance but does not require the guidance to be followed slavishly, as the noble Lord implied. There is plenty of scope for authorities to develop their own policies having regard to the guidance. The purpose of guidance is to provide a relatively light touch. The alternative of putting everything on the face of the Bill would make it inordinately longer, or even more inordinately long—as I am sure the noble Lord would say. I do not think that that would be appropriate. It certainly would not give local authorities the flexibility they need. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the Minister has given me the reply that I expected. He will not be disappointed in that, even though he knows that I must be. I am not disappointed in what he said in relation to the purposes of the Bill. I was not criticising that. The point I raised concerned the wider issue in relation to the way in which we approach legislation, guidance and control.

In that regard the Minister avoided the issue that I attempted to raise. Therefore, I infer that I may not have raised it with sufficient clarity. It may be that it is an issue which needs consideration at a different time and in a different place. Would the Minister consider what I have said in relation to Amendment No. 102? I ask no more than that. He might find it helpful if he does. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]

Clause 113 [Quality partnership schemes]:

[Amendment No. 103 not moved.]

Clause 114 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

[Amendment No. 104 not moved.]

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at one minute past eleven o'clock.