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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:
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
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
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 on--require prescription of the minimum requirement for services, it is a bit odd to have the same title for something which is different here.
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 Whitty: 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.
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