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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.

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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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.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 naive, 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

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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, but, 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,

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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 they 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.

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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.

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