Community transport operators provide vital services to the people of Wales. The Government have recently consulted on how to align domestic law on section 19 and 22 permits with EU legal obligations, as well as updating existing guidance on permits. We are now analysing the responses and will respond in due course.
As the Minister said, community transport operators in Wales have many valuable functions, including helping isolated people get to the shops, doctors, friends and family. They will be hit very hard hit by Government changes in terms of extra licensing and certification. The Community Transport Association says that this will affect 95% of operators, so what will the Minister do to help the Department for Transport listen and make changes?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that community transport operators provide vital services, particularly in Wales, where there are an estimated 2 million passenger journeys over a total of 6 million miles. But we do have to align ourselves with the EU regulations, so we are consulting widely and looking at the responses in detail to ensure that we come up with the right answers.
The Minister will be aware that community transport providers along the Welsh border play a vital role in helping patients get to hospital and undertake some school contracts. I encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure that these vital services continue, irrespective of the court ruling, so that these services can be maintained in rural areas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These services often carry some of the most vulnerable and isolated members of society, which is why we are being careful to consult widely. I assure him that I already have an appointment in the diary with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman.
Bridgend Community Transport has some specific concerns about having to employ a transport manager costing in excess of £35,000. There is a real risk of that if the regulations go through after the consultations by the Department for Transport. May I ask the Minister, with all sincerity, to please be aware that these measures will have real implications if the Government simply do nothing to support community transport organisations?
I am aware of the real concerns of many operators. I have seen a lot of letters that have come in. There have been more than 500 responses to the consultation, and 550 operators attended each of the events around the country. We will ensure that we look at this in detail. [Interruption.]
Order. We are listening to exchanges about the effect of section 19 and 22 permits on community transport providers in Wales, upon which we need to hear the inquiry of Mr Clarke.
Will my hon. Friend press his colleagues in the Department for Transport to query the legal advice that has changed the interpretation of these European Community rules, because it seems to be ultra-cautious? Will he ensure that genuine community services with unpaid, voluntary drivers and unpaid staff—providing services that no commercial operator would provide—are not put out of business by quite unnecessary regulations and costs?
Yes, indeed, in Wales, Mr Speaker. Well, I defer to my right hon. and learned Friend’s expertise in all matters legal. I would therefore, perhaps, in preparation for my meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, ask for my right hon. and learned Friend’s guidance and advice so that I can present a case for the people of Wales.