Bus companies: limitation of powers of authorities in England

Bus Services Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 27th March 2017.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:30 pm, 27th March 2017

I beg to move amendment 1,  page 78, line 4, leave out clause 22.

This amendment would remove Clause 22.

Amendment 1, which appears in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass), would remove the clause that bans county and district councils in England, combined and integrated authorities in England and passenger transport executives in England from setting up companies to provide local services. In short, we seek to overturn the Government’s ban on municipal bus companies.

This clause is a piece of ideological dogma that has no place in an otherwise agreeable piece of legislation. We visited this issue in Committee and I fear that the Government are not minded to budge, but I and many others found the Government’s arguments there extremely unconvincing. In Committee, the Minister said:

“Our view is that passengers will see the most benefit where the commissioning and provision of bus services are kept separate…as such we do not think authorities should be able to set up new bus companies.”––[Official Report, Bus Services Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017;
c. 57.]

The Opposition also want passengers to see benefits; we simply do not agree that municipal bus companies cannot be a part of achieving those benefits.

The latest annual Transport Focus bus passenger survey, which was published just last week, demonstrates once again that municipal bus companies provide some of the best services in the country. Nottingham City Transport and Reading Buses—municipal bus companies —had higher overall satisfaction results than the big five private national bus operators. The Government’s attempted ban on new municipals therefore flies in the face of all the evidence.

The ban also flies in the face of the Government’s purported commitment to the spirit of localism and devolution, which they claim the Bill encapsulates. Although they say that the Bill will provide local authorities with a range options and tools, and that local authorities are best placed to make a decision about how local bus services are organised and run, they are imposing an arbitrary ban on one of those options—and not just any option, but one that has been shown to work very well for passengers.

Of course, many of us suspect that the clause is about pacifying some private bus operators, which the Minister once said

“are already on a journey here”.

Without wishing to rehash every fine point from the Committee, we do not see municipalisation and competition as necessarily antithetical. In fact, it is the Government who are undermining their long-held admiration for competition by imposing barriers to the market to stop municipal bus companies from competing with private bus companies. Are the Government really afraid that local authority-run bus companies might just be better? The Competition Commission has reported that it has seen no evidence that municipal operators distort competition in the bus market.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Ministers have short memories about how an awful lot of the big bus franchise companies came about in the first place. Some of them were based on old municipal bus companies, which were sold off at a pittance with their entire estates of bus depots, bus parks and vehicles, only to be floated on the market a matter of months later for 10, 15 or 20 times the value at which they were bought in the first place.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some of the people who worked on the buses in that period still feel very aggrieved by the process that was gone through 30 years ago, which left so much of our country with services far poorer than the universal coverage that was available at the time.

The Competition Commission suggested that municipal companies might be minded to run services and routes that make less sense for economic reasons—perhaps those unprofitable routes and services that bus operators have been cutting left, right and centre. The Institute for Public Policy Research has also described municipal bus companies as an innovative transport solution that demonstrates that

“conventional commercial operations are not the only option.”

Sadly, they soon will be if the Government have their way with this measure.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Two have come at once! Does my hon. Friend agree that, aside from the reasons given by the Competition Commission, municipal bus companies can provide a benchmark? In a rational debate, we should be able to get from the Government a reason why, when municipal bus companies have performed in an excellent way, they are not allowed to compete. Does he agree that that reason was not forthcoming in Committee?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The point about keeping the market honest is important. When I was first elected as a local councillor, the housing officer told me that one of the roles of an in-house operation was to keep the market honest. That is an important role.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

Is not one reason that Ministers have given for objecting to municipal operations that they would prevent the market from operating effectively? When we look at the latest bus passenger survey, is it not interesting that Nottingham City Transport has the highest value for money of any single operator in the country?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend consistently makes the case for Nottingham. That is made far easier for her by the excellent local services she has. People from my city of Cambridge have gone to Nottingham to see how to do it. Part of the lesson is that a municipal can do it really well, but according to the Bill, that will not be possible.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

The Minister stressed the importance of vigorous competition. Is it not the case that if a franchising process were used, the existence of the municipally owned option would enable those doing the franchising to drive an even harder bargain on behalf of the public, because there would be that fall-back option if the private sector could not come up with the goods? Therefore, would it not enhance competition and enable the passenger transport authority to get an even better deal for the public?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

My right hon. Friend is correct yet again. Interestingly, much of the discussion in Committee was about moving competition from on the road to off the road. I think we agree that in areas where there has not been competition, franchising would be far from a less competitive system. People in London talk about just how competitive the system is, so no Government Member should be worried about a lack of competition. My fear—this is why it is so important that we have protection for the workforce—is that if we are not careful, competition can bring the risk of a race to the bottom. That is why we believe that we should have the provisions that we have just debated. I think the evidence is clear that the franchising system would benefit from having municipals as an alternative.

The conclusion of the Opposition is that banning local authorities from running their own bus companies is slightly unworthy of the spirit behind the Bill. The evidence is clear that they work for bus passengers and are able to put social values at the heart of what they do. This measure has drawn the attention of the public more strongly than other parts of the Bill. It has rightly brought a strong reaction from local councils across the country. They do not understand why they should be prevented from doing something that they strongly believe is in the interests of their local constituents. Some trade unionists feel strongly about this measure, as do passengers, and I pay particular tribute to the organisation We Own It, which has campaigned strongly against it. We believe that this is a petty measure that sits uneasily with the rest of the Bill, and I urge the Government to look at it again and accept our amendment today.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

I just wish to say that I am grateful to the Minister for his response to my amendments in the previous group. I was not quick enough on my feet to catch your eye at the time, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I have been in this place long enough to know that one should quit when in front. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that my amendment 25 is going to be incorporated into the guidance and for the useful reassurances he has given me on amendments 15, 26, 27 and 28. I was disappointed on the issue of compensation, but, as he pointed out, there can indeed be scope for the authorities to compensate if need be. On that basis, I will not seek to press those amendments to a vote, although I say so a touch belatedly.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee

I rise to support amendment 1, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner. This is all about devolution and local transport authorities deciding what is best for their areas. No good reason has been put forward for not permitting new municipal operators as an option. The Government have expressed concern about possible conflicts of interest, but that cannot be taken seriously. We need look no further than the experience in Nottingham, as cited by my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, and in Reading to see that there is the perfect ability—this has already been done in those areas—for the proper distance to be established between the local authority as a local authority and the transport operator as an operator in terms of letting out franchises. The Bill is about giving more local choice, and it is entirely unjustifiable to remove from local authorities the option of having a municipal operator. The Department has found a way to put forward complex regulations on franchising and if it still has concerns about this topic, regulations could also be introduced on setting up municipal bus operations. I therefore urge the Government to think again.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

I want to support amendment 1, and we had a long discussion on this issue in Committee. I spoke then and on Second Reading about the success of Nottingham’s municipal operator, and so, much as I love Nottingham City Transport, I will restrain myself and not repeat myself.

I continue to question the Government’s motivation for their determination to ban local transport authorities from establishing new municipal bus companies, as Ministers have simply not made the case for such a ban. The Transport Committee, chaired so ably by my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman, describes it as a “disproportionate response”. Clearly, this measure is anti-localism and it prevents councils from acting in the best interests of their residents. In Committee, the Minister said that there should be a split between the commissioning and the provision of bus services. I do not disagree on that, but this ban goes far beyond that. As was noted in Committee, local authorities with municipal operators have proved themselves very capable of managing just such a split when tendering for supported services.

In Committee, the Minister also suggested that the existence of municipal bus operators

“could easily deter investment from the private sector”.

When I asked him what evidence he was drawing on in making such an assertion, he admitted

“of course we do not have any evidence for it. I am just looking at what the risks may be.”––[Official Report, Bus Services Public Bill Committee, 14 March 2017;
c. 67.]

The Minister’s risk aversion is simply unnecessary and can be shown to be such. Nottingham has an excellent municipal operator, but it does not deter private sector investment; as Robert Jenrick mentioned, we have excellent private sector operators in Nottinghamshire, such as trentbarton. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will rethink their commitment to what I can describe only as an ideological obsession, and take this opportunity to end their unreasonable position and accept amendment 1.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

This amendment, tabled by the hon. Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), proposes to remove clause 22. We debated this at length in Committee and I wish to reiterate that the several existing municipal bus companies, including Nottingham City Transport and Blackpool Transport, which serves the area of the rail Minister—my hon. Friend Paul Maynard—deliver a high standard of service, and I will expect that to continue. Their ability to provide that is not affected in any way by this clause. The franchising and enhanced partnership tools in the Bill will provide authorities with more influence over bus services than they have now, and striking that right balance between local authority influence and the role that the private sector bus operator can play is important. Our view is that passengers will see the most benefit where the commissioning and provision of bus services is kept separate. As such, we do not think that authorities should be able to set up new bus companies.

We have seen encouraging innovations from the private sector—although not exclusively within that sector—such as the introduction of smartcards, the installation of wi-fi and increased accessibility in our bus network. Those improvements have all been delivered through private sector investment and they show overall that the industry is always innovating and delivering a good deal for its passengers.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

The Minister will be aware that over the past six and a half years local authorities up and down the country have seen significant and ongoing reductions in their revenue support grant. Ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government have always been encouraging local authorities to be entrepreneurial and enterprising, and to go out there and earn money to backfill where the RSG once existed. By this measure, the Minister is precluding local authorities from doing just that.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, but it is also fair to say that no local authority has either set up a municipal bus company or approached me with a view to doing so. Therefore, this is in some ways a slightly notional or theoretical debate—[Interruption.] Making sure we get clarity is the entire point here.

This Bill seeks a balance between local authority influence—we are providing local authorities with a variety of tools to address local issues—and the role that private sector bus operators can play, in order to ensure that both are incentivised to deliver the very best services for passengers. This Bill is about local authorities and commercial bus operators working together to improve local bus services. It is about co-operation, all designed to improve the benefits for bus passengers. I hope that this has made the Government’s position clear and that the hon. Member for Cambridge will not press this amendment to a vote.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister has finally let the cat out of the bag. If there has not been a queue of local authorities coming to him with requests to form companies, he does not really need to legislate to ban them from doing so. This is pure ideology. There has been a great deal of agreement on the Bill—we have found a lot of common ground—but on this issue, I assure the wider world that there is clear red water between the Opposition and Government Benches. We will press the amendment to a Division, and its effect will be achieved by a future Labour Government.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 188, Noes 276.

Division number 190 Bus Services Bill [Lords] — Bus companies: limitation of powers of authorities in England

Aye: 188 MPs

No: 276 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Consideration completed. I will now suspend the House for no more than five minutes in order to make a decision about certification. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes. Following my certification, the Government will be tabling the appropriate consent motion, copies of which will be available shortly in the Vote Office and will be distributed by Doorkeepers.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 7:16 pm, 27th March 2017

I can now inform the House of my decision about certification. For the purposes of Standing Order No. 83L(2), I have certified the following provisions of the Bus Services Bill [Lords] as relating exclusively to England and within devolved legislative competence: clauses 1, 3 to 7, 9 to 14, 16 and 18 to 22 of, and schedule 2 to, the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, and including amendments made on Report. Copies of my certificate are available in the Vote Office.

Under Standing Order No. 83M, a consent motion is therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Does the Minister intend to move a consent motion?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

A simple nod of the head would suffice, but the Minister said it with eloquence and charm to which he is no stranger.

The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M).

[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote on the consent motion.

Resolved,

That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses of, and schedule to, the Bus Services Bill [Lords]:—

Clauses and schedule certified under Standing Order No. 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and being within devolved legislative competence

Clauses 1, 3 to 7, 9 to 14, 16 and 18 to 22 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Bill as amended in the Public Bill Committee (Bill 158) including any amendments made on Report.—(Andrew Jones.)

Question agreed to.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.

Third Reading

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 7:19 pm, 27th March 2017

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have engaged so constructively with the passage of the Bill, and demonstrated their shared commitment to improving bus services and increasing bus passenger numbers.

Buses are already England’s most used form of public transport, accounting for more than 4.5 billion passenger journeys a year. They are vital to the economy, connect our rural and urban communities to employment, schools, hospitals and leisure, and are used by people of all ages. That is why the Bill has bus passengers at its heart. It allows local authorities and operators to adopt measures to improve services and grow passenger numbers. This is, therefore, an enabling Bill that is fundamentally about improving bus services for passengers, and that recognises the need for local solutions to local transport problems.

By working together, local authorities and operators can tackle key transport issues, such as pollution and congestion. They can support local businesses and help to drive the local economy. The Bill introduces a range of tools that will achieve those aims. It builds upon the success of partnership working. Local authorities and operators can agree the standard of services in a particular area. This could include multi-operator tickets, better connections between transport modes and improved vehicle standards, all of which will drive an increase in bus usage and increase performance. I emphasise that this part of the Bill has been widely welcomed by local authorities, operators and hon. Members, although it is, of course, not the only opportunity that the Bill brings.

The Bill will bring the opportunity to refresh powers for local authorities to franchise, delivering on our devolution agenda. It is only right that many of our larger cities have the opportunity to make franchising a success, just as TfL has done in London. Of course, franchising is not for everyone, and authorities must have a compelling case to implement such a scheme. I am of the firm belief that the Bill, as amended by this House, will deliver a better standard of bus services. It reinstates automatic franchising powers to mayoral combined authorities, which will preserve a degree of commercial certainty and help to maintain the significant private sector investment that we have already witnessed in the bus market. In addition, the requirement of an independent auditor as part of the assessment for franchising schemes will ensure that a scheme is implemented only with proper scrutiny.

A necessity to buy separate tickets or to pay with cash when travelling by bus can be frustrating and costly. Authorities will, therefore, have improved advanced ticketing powers to create multi-operator ticketing schemes that cover not only buses but other modes of transport such as tram or light rail. They can also make use of emerging technologies such as contactless and Bluetooth ticketing. The Bill will make it easier for passengers to access information on timetables, fares and routes. App developers will be encouraged to develop innovative products that will make this information available to passengers. I firmly believe that these improvements will deliver significant benefits to passengers, and will therefore attract more people on to public transport.

The Bill will also deliver accessibility improvements. Indeed, the audio-visual provision introduced in the other place has attracted more public attention than any other part of the Bill. It has certainly dominated my inbox more than any other matter by a factor of many. The provision will ensure that bus services in England, Wales and Scotland are accessible to those with a hearing or sight loss disability and, at the same time, will provide valuable information to all passengers. I know from personal experience the importance of next-stop announcements in London and elsewhere. All passengers will benefit from this significant improvement.

I want to see the bus market thrive and encourage more people on to public transport. As I said at the beginning of this speech, the Bill will have significant benefits for the environment, congestion and the local economy. Ultimately, we seek to reverse a decline in bus usage and put passengers at the heart of bus services. I thank all hon. Members who have engaged and contributed to the Bill, especially those on the Bill Committee, as well as the Committee Clerks and parliamentary counsel for all their work. I particularly thank my team within the Department. A significant amount of hard work has got us to this point. We have a good Bill that has been welcomed widely and reflects the importance of buses in local communities. We want the bus industry to thrive, and that is what has driven the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 7:24 pm, 27th March 2017

I will pick up where the Minister left off and thank everyone who has contributed to the Bill, especially my hon. Friends who served on the Public Bill Committee, and the officials. I pay tribute to the wonderful work of the Transport Committee and everything it has done on this matter. I also thank hon. Members’ staff for their efforts, particularly Juliet Eales, who is soon to leave the shadow Transport team, but whose contributions have been invaluable throughout the passage of the Bill.

The Bill is ultimately underlined by broad consensus, which has been reflected in the generally cordial spirit of our debates. At its heart, the Bill offers local authorities the opportunity to improve the way in which buses are run in their areas, should they choose to take it. We have fought for this over many years—first, 17 years ago through legislation that failed to make the impact we had hoped, and then from the Opposition Benches for seven years. Since 2010, we have sadly heard, time and again, of bus routes axed, constituents campaigning hard to keep their vital local bus service, and disabled people, jobseekers and students unable to afford the rocketing cost of travel. We have heard these issues, and we have fought for a revision of the bus market to give local areas the power and flexibility to control their bus services as local circumstances best allow.

Although the Bill is not perfect and is certainly not the silver bullet to fix the bus system across the whole country, there is much to be positive about. Mayoral combined authorities will now be able to unlock powers to regulate their bus services, increasing parity between areas such as Greater Manchester and London. We have fought to ensure that those powers can be accessed without delay, and that the process for bringing in those powers will be clear and free from hidden barriers. We had hoped that all areas of the country, whether they have an elected mayor or not, would have access to those powers, but we will have to continue that argument another day.

The Bill provides new partnership options to local authorities for working alongside bus operators. We hope that local authorities will be encouraged to use these new tools to improve journey times and vehicle standards, and consequently to reduce congestion—huge environmental and health issues that affect us all. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations requiring buses providing local services to have in place audio-visual information systems. We are so pleased that the Government included this provision following strong pressure from Labour in the other place, and an excellent campaign from Guide Dogs. That measure could make a real difference to people’s lives.

What is missing? Stronger employment protections, clearer accessibility provisions and bus safety improvements. We fought for those and we won the arguments, but we lost the votes. That is the tragedy of being in opposition. The Bill could have been better, and we were disappointed by the lack of movement from the Government in these areas. The Bill is not perfect, but it will go some way to reversing the damage of deregulation that we have fought to fix for three decades. Going some way to reversing that damage is better than going no way at all. For that reason, and on behalf of all those constituents waiting at bus stops right now, we will support the Bill on Third Reading.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 7:28 pm, 27th March 2017

I assure the House that my contribution on this important Bill will be brief.

The partnership provisions in the Bill are welcome and important. Partnership working between local authorities and private sector bus companies have delivered a whole range of improvements for passengers in many parts of the country. The goal of the Government here should be to focus on encouraging that kind of co-operation, whereby the business acumen and expertise of the private sector can work alongside the local understanding and commitment of local authorities, so those provisions in the Bill are welcome. During the passage of the Bill, hon. Members have cited a number of positive examples of different parts of the country, such as Brighton, where partnerships between private sector operators and local authorities have had a transformative and positive effect on services.

I regret that I was not able to be here for the debate on the amendments tabled by myself and my hon. Friend Sir Henry Bellingham, but I very much welcome the assurances given by the Minister on a number of them and the recognition of the importance of a number of the principles contained in them. In particular, I urge him to take seriously the objectives of amendments 14 and 15, and I hope the guidance issued will clearly set out that franchising schemes should be a last resort and will be approved only if partnership working will not deliver the benefits that are sought for passengers.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s support for amendment 2. Ensuring that those who audit a franchise assessment are properly independent significantly strengthens the Bill. It would be unfortunate if those checking out a franchise assessment were not independent of the local authorities essentially making the decisions on franchising authorities.

To return to a theme I talked about at some length on Second Reading, I hope the Government will do everything they can to facilitate certainty in the private sector bus operators market, because that certainty is the key to investment in new fleet, better ticketing measures and a range of passenger improvements. Anything that leads to uncertainty could jeopardise investment, which would have a negative effect on passengers. I particularly have in mind the importance of delivering smarter ticketing, which is crucial not only for passengers’ convenience but in persuading them that the bus can more often be an attractive and viable alternative to the car.

There is a certain irony in the fact that it is a Conservative Government who are taking through this Bill, which, as the House is aware, partially rolls back one of the major privatisations of the Thatcher era. There are mixed views on the role of private sector bus operators in delivering transport services, but I believe they have brought significant benefits for passengers, and I hope nothing in the Bill is allowed to jeopardise the reliance on the expertise and investment that the private sector has brought to bus operations over the years.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I am afraid I am about to conclude, but the right hon. Gentleman will get his chance very soon.

I close by once again thanking the Minister for his assurances that he takes seriously the points raised in the amendments and for commending partnership working between the private sector and local authorities, which is one of the best ways to deliver improvements for passengers.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee 7:32 pm, 27th March 2017

The Bill is an important step in achieving a modern, thriving bus sector, and I welcome it. In doing so, I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleagues and to the shadow team for the work they have done. I also commend all the members of the Transport Committee for the work they did in scrutinising the Bill. Although some of the points we made have not been acted on, some have been considered, and this is now a better Bill.

I first spoke on bus deregulation a very long time ago. When it was introduced through the legislation in 1985, I was the leader of Lancashire County Council. I opposed the legislation very strongly because I was concerned it would result in a reduction in bus patronage outside London, and the intervening years have indeed shown that it did. The Bill does not repeal that legislation, but it does make substantial changes to it, which I very much welcome.

A thriving, comprehensive bus network across England is not an optional extra but an absolute necessity. The basic principle of the Bill—that there should be more devolution, and that local transport authorities should decide what is best for their areas—is the right one, and I welcome it very much. Although I am disappointed that the Government have not gone as far as I would have wished in some areas, I welcome the Bill as we have it now.

I welcome the provisions on the accessibility of buses, and particularly those on access and information for people who are impaired. If information about bus services and the operation of individual buses is made more accessible to people who have a disability, everybody else benefits as well, so it improves the bus sector as a whole.

I thank everyone who has been involved in the Bill. It makes major strides in producing better bus services for the people of this country—those who currently use our buses and those I hope will do so in future—and I am pleased to support its Third Reading.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh 7:35 pm, 27th March 2017

Bus services are the mainstay of the public transport system, yet, historically, the House has given them comparatively little attention, and I am pleased that the Bill begins to correct that.

I congratulate the Secretary of State, the Minister and, indeed, the Government on the way they have stuck to the terms of the devolution deal and delivered a Bill that will bring real benefits to the travelling public in Greater Manchester and beyond. I also congratulate those on the Labour Front Bench on the constructive way in which they have engaged in this debate.

It is also appropriate to congratulate council leaders in Greater Manchester. The Bill was a clear demand of Labour leaders in Greater Manchester as part of the devolution deal struck with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it is, in effect, as I think Mrs Villiers was hinting a moment ago, a Labour Bill and, I am proud to say, a Greater Manchester Bill. In that sense, the Opposition take great pride in it clearing its Third Reading tonight.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

My right hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech, but he should not put bad ideas into the Government’s mind—they might change their mind and vote against the Bill.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

Well, I will call it a partnership Bill, if that makes my hon. Friend feel a bit more at ease. It is certainly a rare example of common sense breaking out on both sides of the House.

I want to pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman. As she said a moment ago, she has consistently spoken of the damaging effects of bus deregulation—the free-for-all, the decline in the quality of services and the increase in fares. She has been consistent, and she is vindicated tonight as the Bill finally goes through the House. So, too, is my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, who made the same argument throughout the years, including under the Labour Government, and who has waited a long time to see this Bill come to pass.

To be successful in the new role that I seek, I will seek to use the powers in the Bill for the benefit of the travelling public in Greater Manchester. For 32 years, we have had a bus service that has been run for private vested interests rather than in the public interest. Only last week, a whole new series of service alterations were announced that will decrease the quality and coverage of services across Greater Manchester, with no real ability for communities to challenge those decisions. Well, that way of running bus services is coming to an end.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

I am very much enjoying my right hon. Friend’s speech. Does he agree that, contrary to what Mrs Villiers said, the Bill seeks to enhance competition and the role of the private sector by having really effective competition off the road? On-road competition has not delivered for passengers.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

That is absolutely the point. If we construct a franchise process that really puts the public interest first, and we then ask the private sector to meet that public interest, that will be a much better system; indeed, it is the system the right hon. Lady’s constituents benefit from in London. The question I was going to ask her was, why, if she thinks that is okay for her constituents, is she seeking to deny it to ours? That is not an acceptable position for her to take.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Obviously, I do not want to go back over the whole debate we had on this, but there is a range of ways in which the bus sector is very different in London, not least the fact that Londoners pay millions of pounds in congestion charges, which support the bus network. That is one of the major reasons why bus services in London are different from those in the rest of the country; it is not necessarily the regulatory structure that makes the difference.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

That is, if I am honest, the kind of London-centric argument that gets this House a bad name—“London’s different and therefore it needs different rules and all the extra attention.” If the system works in London, why cannot it work in a city region like the west midlands, Merseyside or, indeed, Greater Manchester? If the principles are good ones that deliver a good bus service for people here, then surely they should be extended to the other major cities of our country, and those decisions should be devolved.

If I am to be in a position to use the powers in this Bill, I would use them to bring fares down. Fares are much more expensive in Greater Manchester than they are in London, for instance. I would use them to increase and improve disability access, including audio-visual provision. I would use them to pave the way for an integrated ticketing system. We are currently denied an Oyster-style system. Because of the free-for-all, all the operators use different ticketing systems and cannot provide an integrated system. I would use the powers to give every community a decent, reliable service. I would use them to introduce a free bus pass for all 16 to 18-year-olds.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Will my right hon. Friend muse for a moment on why companies are making twice as much profit on routes that they operate in places like Tyne and Wear and Greater Manchester than on routes that they operate in London? They are the same companies, but the operating profit on the routes that they run in those two places is twice as much as it is in London.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Labour, Leigh

It is simple, is it not? We have, in effect, an unregulated system, and because of that companies are able to increase fares outside London faster than they have been increasing in London. That is how they make those profits. There are good bus operators out there, and I would not want to punish them. I have a smaller operator, Jim Stones Coaches, in my constituency —a brilliant bus operator. We would want those good operators to be part of the new regime. It is time to call time on the profiteering off the backs of the travelling public in places like Greater Manchester.

The decline in quality and the rise in the cost of bus travel in places like Greater Manchester has, over the 32 years since buses were deregulated, put more and more cars on the roads, to the point where conurbations like Greater Manchester are becoming increasingly congested. As I said earlier, it is cheaper for young people in some parts of Greater Manchester to get a taxi than to use a bus service. That cannot possibly make sense. It tells us that something is seriously wrong with the way that the system is operating. I say to the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet that the people of Greater Manchester deserve a bus system equally as good as London’s, if not better. That is what, using this Bill, we will now seek to deliver.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On Monday last week I asked for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 24. I do not seek to reapply for that debate, but last week Mr Speaker said that he would

“hope and anticipate that the usual channels would find time for it to be debated.”—[Official Report, 20 March 2017;
Vol. 623, c. 655.]

Business collapsed at 4.35 pm last Tuesday and it is finishing at 7.43 pm tonight. This is completely illogical to me and to everybody else watching elsewhere. Can you advise on how I could get a debate on the significant concerns that I still have about the Tories’ two-child policy and rape clause before it is implemented in 10 days’ time? If now is not the time, when is?

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means

That is not a matter for the Chair but it is a matter for the Government. The main thing is that it is definitely on the record, and I would hope that the usual channels would have picked up on the comments that have been made.