Bus Services Bill [Lords]

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 1st March 2017.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 5:19 pm, 1st March 2017

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, as the Chair of the Select Committee, Mrs Ellman, will recall, my preference was for a hierarchy that starts with all authorities being required to go down the partnership route. If that route does not succeed, authorities would then move to bringing in franchising. If that does not succeed, municipals would be there as a last resort.

I have spoken about how Cornwall is delivering a good partnership and how its sword of Damocles is therefore not required. Having made that point, it would be difficult for me to contradict the right hon. Gentleman, even though I am sure his suggestion will not always find favour with Conservative Members. I am alive to the fact that, in the other place, Lord Ahmad talked about keeping the eight remaining municipal providers and wanting to see them continue to thrive. He said that it is perhaps an area for discussion and further debate, which is what we have just had.

Finally, I will address some of the Bill’s other provisions and some of the amendments made in the other place. As the Select Committee report mentions, new powers for partnerships to control moving traffic offences, as currently exist in London, are well worth considering. I also take the point about compulsory concessionary travel schemes for 16 to 19-year-olds. I am not sure where Opposition Front Benchers got to with their policy but, in all fairness, given that we require young people to stay at school or in some form of training to the age of 18 and that over-65s are able to get a free concessionary bus pass without means-testing, such a policy would support our young people, if funding were available. The Select Committee heard yesterday that young people facing crippling insurance costs are unable to drive and are therefore unable to get around.

I also warmly welcome the move to get open data into the system. Open data are vital for getting new entrants into the market, opening it beyond the big five. There has been talk of turning bus routes into assets of community value, in the same way that pubs can be. If open data are in place, with any bus company having the ability to apply for a route, perhaps there is no need to keep the notice period open for six months because the information will already be there. I also welcome the improved ticketing schemes. Having audio-visual media on all buses is hugely welcome and is a good example of how the Government have taken a lobbying proposal one stage further to deliver an enhanced deal.

Overall, I absolutely welcome the Bill, which will shake up the industry. I hope some of my suggestions will also be thrown into the mix. I wish the Bill well in its passage.