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Transport Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 30th October 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 116 [Postponement of scheme]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 105:

Page 71, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) The authority or authorities in question shall compensate any operator of a local service for any losses incurred by it as a result of such postponement.")

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, there is a certain irony in the fact that we are meeting this afternoon to discuss a transport Bill when we have encountered a degree of disruption to the transport system across the country which has reached quite unprecedented levels. Some of that disruption is due, unfortunately, to what I would refer to as human intervention. For that reason, perhaps this afternoon we should draw a veil over that particular subject because, to a certain extent, points have already been made about it. More important, however, is that it would not now be appropriate to embark on that kind of discussion. Other occasions will arise, in particular when more is known about the detailed effects of the storm and the railway engineering works. It will be more appropriate to deal with the subject at that point.

Everyone in the House today will be aware of the difficulties faced by the transport sector as a result of last night's most extraordinary storm. However, the damage and disruption has not been confined to the transport sector. The storm has caused immense personal damage to many ordinary citizens. I am sure that we all wish them a speedy return to what can only be described as the status quo ante. I say that because I believe that, once a little time has elapsed, the disruption that has been caused both to property and to personal health will be seen to be even more damaging than the present disruption to the transport system.

This small group of amendments deals with quality partnership schemes and quality contracts. Amendment No. 105 addresses a small point. Where a quality partnership scheme is brought into being, the authority bringing forward such a partnership scheme has the power to delay its implementation. Having arrived at all the agreements and having set it up, it can at that point unilaterally delay matters. We do not think that that is likely to be fair to the contractor or contractors with whom the transport authority has made the agreement. The amendment therefore seeks to insert additional wording into the Bill which would provide that if costs are incurred as a result of any disruption or delay to the introduction of a scheme, the relevant contractors should be compensated for any financial loss they suffer.

Amendment No. 110 concerns quality contract schemes, which are different from quality partnership schemes in that they set out to create a local monopoly in bus services. We do not like the idea of creating monopolies at all and we do not think this is an appropriate way forward. However, we recognise that the Government are determined to go down this particular route. One also has to recognise that occasionally the problems of providing a bus service are so difficult that such arrangements may appear to be the only way to proceed.

Amendment No. 110 deals with one of the two particular problems that we have in relation to the Bill at the moment. The Bill provides that a scheme may be made if it is the only practical way to implement the policies of the transport authority's bus strategy and if it is economic, efficient and effective. Those words are a well-known mantra with which we all try to work--but they are a mantra. Bearing in mind that a quality contract scheme can last for up to 10 years, we do not believe that that should be allowed to stand.

It is perfectly conceivable that, over the period of a quality contract scheme, circumstances may change before the scheme is due to cease. They could change for a whole host of reasons--developments in the community, new employment moving into an area and so on. Amendment No. 110 seeks to refer back the length of the scheme to the purposes for which it was originally created and, if those purposes are no longer being fulfilled, the quality contract scheme should cease. That is not an unreasonable argument and I ask the Government to consider the issue carefully.

Amendment No. 111 refers back to the question of delay. The same power of unilateral delay exists for quality contract schemes as for quality partnership schemes, where the transport authority can devise a quality contract scheme and then delay its implementation. The amendment seeks compensation for losses as a result of a postponement. These are matters of justice and good practice. I commend the amendments to the Government. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of what lies behind the amendments. I hope that I can persuade him that they are unnecessary. I note his position in relation to quality contracts but, within that, we have to make sure that they operate fairly.

Perhaps I may deal first with Amendments Nos. 105 and 111, both of which require a local authority to compensate bus operators if they suffer loss because the local authority has postponed a quality partnership or a quality contract. We must first recognise that the probability of any loss to a bus operator may not be very great. Indeed, the main reason for the postponement provisions is exactly so that bus operators should not suffer loss. The provisions are there, for example, to cover cases such as where a local authority is not able to proceed as quickly as it had hoped and, therefore, postponing the scheme can also postpone the need for a bus operator to spend money.

It must be stressed also that both postponement provisions have attached to them a requirement to consult bus operators who would be affected by the scheme. Therefore, operators can make their views firmly known. The extent of a postponement is in any case limited to 12 months in the case of a quality partnership and to a period to be specified in regulations in the case of a quality contract.

Moreover, in the very rare case where a loss may arise, a bus operator may also be able to seek judicial review, with the possibility that the court may direct the local authority to proceed. It is even possible in extreme cases that damages may be payable in such circumstances. Such legal rights exist already without the need for a special provision in the Bill.

On Amendment No. 110, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord. I can see that it may well be appropriate to end a quality contract scheme if circumstances change in a way in which the essential criteria for such a scheme--as set out in pursuance of Clause 123(1)(a) and (b)--no longer applied. But I should draw the noble Lord's attention to Clause 131(4)(a), which provides already for a local authority to revoke a scheme if the conditions in Clause 123(1),

"are no longer met with respect to it".

I do not think that Amendment No. 110 is necessary. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord will feel that his objectives have been met already and that he will not pursue these amendments.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 3:15 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. In regard to Amendments Nos. 105 and 110, I note what the Minister said about the possibility of a judicial review in the peculiar circumstances--it is to be hoped that they will be peculiar--where someone may suffer a financial loss. The reason for getting this provision onto the face of the Bill is that it would obviate the need for a judicial review. The process of litigation is inevitably and always greatly expensive, and I had hoped to avoid that necessity.

In relation to Amendment No. 110, I heard what the Minister said about Clause 131(4)(a), which I shall check and cross reference. I shall study the noble Lord's reply. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 118 [Regulations about schemes involving existing facilities]:

[Amendment No. 106 not moved.]

Clause 123 [Quality contracts schemes]:

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

Clause 124 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

[Amendment No. 108 not moved.]

Clause 126 [Making of scheme]:

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 109:

Page 76, line 36, leave out ("earlier than 21") and insert ("later than 6").

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

I rise to move Amendment No. 109, which is tabled in the names of my noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lady Thomas.

Amendment No. 109 seeks to reduce the period required to introduce a quality contract from the 21 months proposed in the Bill to a period of six months. From these Benches we argued in Committee that a shorter period is necessary to preserve the interests of passengers, given that consideration will be given to quality contracts only where there is deemed to be some failing in the bus network.

At that time the Minister said that 21 months represented a reasonable time for the operators to wind down existing operations, to create new networks and to make their preparations. However, since we were in Committee, the Transport (Scotland) Bill has been considered in the Scottish Parliament and a six months introductory period has been agreed there. We touched on the Scottish question in our discussions last week on the inclusion of fares and frequencies in quality partnerships. At that time, the Minister said that it was a matter of policy and therefore for the Scottish Parliament to decide.

I do not disagree with that. But the question of the introductory period is different in that it is a purely operational matter for the bus companies. If operators in Scotland can make these preparations in six months, then operators in England and Wales should be able to make them in the same period. They certainly should not require 21 months, especially when many of them are the same companies. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, when he replies, will the Minister tell us precisely why it would take so much longer in England and Wales to do the work than it would in Scotland. Obviously, the Scots Parliament has the ability to make a separate decision, but is this a sign that in Scotland arrangements are more efficient?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, as I have said previously, this is a matter for Edinburgh. Our decisions do not bind the Scottish Parliament, just as its decisions do not bind us. Arrangements in England and Wales for the introduction of the changes may be different from those in Scotland. Our judgement is that the provision for at least 21 months is an appropriate one.

Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure. The Government do not always get matters right first time. That is why we have taken a power under Clause 126(10) to give ourselves the ability to vary the period by regulation if experience shows that to be desirable. We must start somewhere. We believe that the time periods are reasonable in the circumstances. The transition to a quality partnership will be a significant step. Operators who are unsuccessful in winning a "quality contract" contract will need time to adjust their business operations and to redeploy their assets. That is why Clause 126(2)(b) provides for a period of time to elapse between the point when a QC scheme is made and the point when it can be brought into force.

Some local authorities consider this period too lengthy; certain bus operators may feel that it is too short. That indicates that we are in the right ball park. The maximum period suggested in the amendment seems unduly constrained. We continue to believe that a 21-month period--which may only be 18 months after tenders are invited--is not unduly generous. As I said, authorities will need time to go through the tendering and contracting process.

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. He says that this is a matter for the Scottish Parliament to decide. He is entirely right; and we need not do precisely what the Scots do. However, the variation between the English situation and that in Scotland will surely be so sharp that some fuller explanation is required. There is a substantial discrepancy. Did the noble Lord's officials discuss the matter with officials in Edinburgh to find out why the Scots believe that a shorter period is appropriate in the circumstances described?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, there has been some discussion between ourselves and Scottish Executive officials on this matter. As I understand it, the Scottish provisions will allow for some variation if in due course the Scottish figure proves too low. We are both making a stab at this. Scotland is starting at one end of the scale, and we are starting at the other. At the end of the day, we may well end up somewhere around the 15-month period when the system has been running for five or six years. We believe that we need to provide some degree of stability and reassurance to operators, and 21 months seems about right, working backwards from that to the time that it takes not only to complete the tendering process, but also for an operator to withdraw from existing routes and redeploy resources if that operator is not successful in terms of the quality contracts scheme. I am not being dogmatic; it is just that a longer period seems appropriate and would provide a degree of smooth transition as distinct from a potentially precipitate transition from one operator to another in certain circumstances which might be envisaged by a six-month figure. Our Scottish colleagues take a slightly different judgment. That, for now, is our judgment. As I say, we would take powers, under the subsequent subsection, to vary the period should experience prove us wrong.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's exposition of the difference. Nevertheless, this place would not be doing its duty if it did not probe further the factors behind this division. I appreciate that the noble Lord does not bring a departmental view to the matter. But, for example, could the Public Accounts Committee be given the chance to carry out an investigation? We are talking about a substantial factor in terms of the length of contract and it has caused a great deal of public interest.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that this is Report stage. Once the Minister has finished replying, it is not possible for noble Lords to intervene. Perhaps it would be helpful to the House if my noble friend were to offer to write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, I am more than happy to receive a reply in writing. I apologise for my mistake.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply--although I am slightly disappointed. To those on these Benches, as longstanding advocates of devolution, the principle of the devolved assemblies making their own decisions is the right one. However, I remain firmly of the view that this is an operational matter. Since many of the contractors will be the same bus companies, I am surprised that they will require six months in Scotland and 21 months here. Twenty-one months is a long period of time. I am reminded that we had three transport Ministers in less time than that at the start of the Parliament. Nevertheless, for the present I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Clause 127 [Postponement of scheme]:

[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]

Clause 128 [Effect of scheme]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 78, line 18, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, this group of amendments deals largely with the problems of quality contracts, which create a local monopoly. The amendment seems to me a reasonable one. Paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of the clause states that,

"no local service shall be provided in that area"-- namely, the area of a quality contract--

"unless it is provided under a quality contract", for the duration of the contract.

The contract might be in place for up to 10 years. Circumstances can change dramatically over that time. It is possible to conceive of situations where community developments so change circumstances that an operator might come along and wish to run a service that simply had not been a consideration at the planning stage of the quality contract scheme. Even though the operator might be willing to take a purely commercial decision, because of the existence of a quality contract scheme that would not be possible under the Bill as it stands. We do not believe that to be a reasonable way forward.

Amendment No. 113 has been tabled to provide a greater degree of flexibility. It refers to,

"local services which are additional to the local services to be provided under the quality contract".

In other words, it envisages the consequences of just those kinds of changes which can and do take place from time to time in communities. We do not believe that it is right that additions to services within an area of quality contracts should necessarily be prevented. The amendment seeks to prevent an absolute monopoly being created.

Amendment No. 114 deals with a slightly different situation--where a contractor or service provider is in default for a period of time. It will allow a person who is prejudiced as a result to,

"apply to the appropriate national authority for a declaration that such default has occurred and, upon the making of such declaration, subsection (1) shall no longer apply".

In other words, the contract would come to an end. Once again, we believe that that safeguard ought to be on the face of the Bill. The Minister will undoubtedly have some explanation as to why it is not, but it seems peculiar to me. Such provisions, which are meant to deal with a certain situation, ought to be on the face of the Bill so that everyone can understand them. Indeed, not only should they be in some part of the Bill; they should also be on the face of the Bill in relation to the actual part with which one is dealing so that both pieces of legislation can be read together, thus making everything clear.

Amendment No. 115 deals with a different matter; namely, terms and conditions of employment in respect of a contractor. It says that such terms and conditions should not be part of a an invitation to tender. That phraseology was, more or less, in the original draft of the Bill, but has since been withdrawn. There is unfortunate experience as regards what happens when local authorities intervene in this regard. We do not believe that to be appropriate. The Government have said that the clause is redundant because it represents the current position at law. That may well be so, but I understand that the law is about to change. If that is the case, we need to know that the position is, none the less, secure. We do not believe it to be appropriate that transport authorities should become involved in matters such as the conditions of employment of their contractors. That is why the amendment has been tabled.

Amendment No. 116 has been tabled because we believe that the suggested wording--we love to help the Government in this way--is helpful. It would make the wording of the Bill both clearer and briefer. That is a worthwhile ambition to which we should all aspire. Amendment No. 117 deals with a provision for the termination of a scheme in default. Amendment No. 178 seeks to include quality contracts schemes in the effects of the Competition Act. As I understand it, they are more or less excluded at present. The Government may well argue that, by making these contracts subject to the Competition Act, we are nullifying them. That would be a highly beneficial effect. However, as I said, we object to the creation of artificial monopolies. We believe this to be an appropriate amendment.

This is a slightly diverse group of amendments. I hope that I have worked through them with a degree of clarity, though I suspect that I may have failed. I have no doubt that the Minister will put me right if that is the case. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, there are two amendments in this group tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland. These amendments were originally tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Unfortunately, the noble Lord is not present in the Chamber, and my noble friend is unable to reach us today due to the current weather conditions, living as he does in the far North West. Rather than attempt to put forward the arguments, I ask the Minister to be good enough to supply us with the answers to these amendments that he will have had prepared for him. I believe that to be the best that we can do in the circumstances.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

Perhaps I may begin by dealing with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness and her noble friend explaining our understanding of why those amendments are unnecessary, and shall do so as rapidly as possible.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. There were occasions during his remarks when he could not disguise the fact that he would rather like to delete quality contracts from the Bill. Therefore, even in his eyes, these amendments would be second best. They are, to a significant degree, directed at diluting the principle of exclusivity in relation to quality contracts situations--a discussion that we have had on at least one occasion, though probably more, during the passage of the Bill.

The Government believe that the whole point of quality contracts is the fact that the exclusivity principle is crucial as regards the services covered by them. If, for example, it were possible for other operators to have freedom to continue to run services in competition with quality contracts services, that would undermine the quality contracts arrangements. Frankly, that would be the direct and obvious effect of Amendments Nos. 112 and 113. It is simply not practical to run a quality contracts operation in parallel with a deregulated system for buses for those same services. Therefore, I cannot accept the principle of these amendments.

Amendment No. 114 seeks to provide a more limited mechanism for disapplying the exclusivity provisions. This would apply where there has been a declaration by the national authority that a QC contractor has persistently and materially defaulted on the terms of a contract. Such a declaration could be sought by a person who has been prejudicially affected by the default. The procedure being proposed here is slightly odd. I do not believe that it is an appropriate or a necessary remedy. Like any other contract, a quality contract imposes contractual operations on the operator. As with any contract, the remedy for default rests with the contracting authority--in this case, the local authority--rather than anyone else. Therefore, I do not believe that amendment to be appropriate.

Amendment No. 115 would reintroduce a provision that was, at one point, included in the Bill. It would replicate the provisions of the 1985 Act. As the noble Lord said, it is also true that this amendment is unnecessary under the law as it stands. However, he is also right to say that the law is about to change, although I suspect that the noble Lord and I disagree rather profoundly on the matter. The law is about to change in what I would regard as a positive way: where employees' conditions may be relevant to the achievement of best value, the decision as to whether or not that is written into the contract should be left to the discretion of the local authority. An order is due to be made under the Local Government Act 1998. It will remove the blanket ban that the previous government imposed in relation to transport legislation, as regards when such matters are taken into account by local authorities. While I understand where the noble Lord is coming from, I am coming from almost diametrically the opposite direction. Therefore, the amendment would be contrary to current policy.

If I understand the noble Lord correctly, the general intention behind Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 is that quality contracts schemes must be terminated in various circumstances, including a need for urgent action to keep the services going or to meet unexpected need. This would also include cases where there is no tender, or no acceptable tender, for a quality contract.

Clause 130 is only about exemptions from the requirement to go out to competitive tender; it is not about ending the quality contract altogether. Thus the purpose of Clause 130(1) is to ensure that local authorities can take urgent steps to keep bus services going or to meet urgent needs. Such steps might be accepted if an operator were to go bankrupt or if, for example, a special case arose where something even more disastrous than the weather that we have seen of late were to arise. To cover such cases, we envisage that regulations referred to in Clause 130(3) would fix a limit on the length of such a special contract, after which the local authority would have to go out to tender, as originally intended. Therefore, I do not think that the noble Lord's intended amendment of the clause is appropriate here.

Amendment No. 178 amends Clause 152. The clause provides for the competition test set out in Schedule 10 to apply to the exercise of a local authority's functions under the Bill with regard to quality partnerships, ticketing schemes, subsidised services and so on. The amendment would add quality contracts to that list making them subject to the competition test. There is no obvious need for quality contracts to be brought under the terms of Clause 152. Quality contracts are by definition awarded only after a competitive tendering process. The Bill provides adequate safeguards to ensure that the procedure for making quality contracts is open, subject to consultation and transparent in its proceedings. I therefore do not believe that the amendment is necessary. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will give the House the answer that he would have given to my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland on Amendment No. 182. It is a straightforward amendment. It provides that when an operator fails substantially, the traffic commissioner may disqualify that operator from further operations. A response would be helpful to the House. There is a relatively short period between this stage and Third Reading during which my noble friend may wish to consider what to do.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, my note says that the Liberal Democrats need a reply in writing and orally. There is a slight difficulty about the references in her noble friend's amendment. I understand that the noble Baroness needs reassurance--I can give it to her--that the traffic commissioners will have exactly the same powers to enforce against breach of registered details by what is referred to as an exempted operator under the quality contract scheme as they would in respect of a bus operator outside that area. I believe that that is the assurance the noble Baroness and her noble friend seek.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As he rightly says, we come to this part of the Bill from reciprocal positions. I suspect that there will never be a meeting of minds on these issues. I shall study the noble Lord's explanations with care. While I may understand them, I do not believe that I shall ever agree with them. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 113 to 114 not moved.]

Clause 129 [Tendering for quality contracts]:

[Amendments Nos. 115 to 117 not moved.]

Clause 135 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

[Amendment No. 118 not moved.]

Clause 136 [Making of scheme]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 3:45 pm, 30th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 119:

Page 83, line 26, leave out from ("scheme") to end of line 27.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, this part of the Bill relates to joint ticketing schemes and so on. The amendment relates to that part of the Bill which deals with variations to the scheme.

Any ticketing scheme requires a deal of public notice and public consultation. The public are made well aware, and rightly so, of what is going on and, in so far as that can be done, their views will be taken into consideration during that process. Clause 136(6)--it seems an oddity--provides that,

"The authority or authorities may vary or revoke the scheme; and the variation or revocation is subject to the same procedure as the making of the scheme".

I go along with the Bill to that point. That seems eminently sensible. If one has a scheme which is brought into being with a great deal of public participation and consultation, one should go through the same process to vary or revoke it.

However, the Bill then states,

"except to the extent that that procedure is modified by regulations made by the appropriate national authority".

I have the greatest difficulty in deciding why the appropriate national authority--it may be the Minister or the Welsh Assembly--should wish to vary those conditions.

The Government say that they may need that power in case they have the procedure wrong. If we have the procedure wrong, the whole Bill is wrong. I cannot seriously believe that the Government think that this part of the Bill is flawed. I do not understand the need for those words. They should be struck from the Bill. The amendment gives effect to that.

Amendment No. 120 deals with a small matter of practicality. Clause 137 states:

"During any period in which a ticketing scheme is in operation, operators of local services to which the scheme relates must make and implement the arrangements required by the scheme".

We have simply added--the Minister may say that they are unnecessary--the words,

"provided that it is practicable for it to do so at a cost that is not disproportionate".

Despite my eternal championing of the good sense of local authorities, it is not unknown for them occasionally to make illogical and rash decisions, in particular when they trespass into what I call the commercial field. I believe that the words in the amendment are useful in ensuring that the schemes are sensible, practicable and not too expensive.

These are small amendments. Their effect is not massive. I hope that the Minister will consider them. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, in this context we are dealing with the procedure for revoking or varying a scheme, not making a scheme, although some of the provisions read across. The noble Lord seeks to remove the power to make regulations in regard to revoking or modifying the procedures.

As drafted, Clause 136(6) recognises that it would be appropriate to have some degree of flexibility in order to change by regulation the variation or revocation procedure in the light of experience. In Committee I gave an example of where experience may change circumstances. We would want to vary the scheme, for example, by bringing in other operators or transport modes. That may mean that the procedure would have to be modified in order to do so when, for example, the scheme had been established for one mode or one relatively narrow group of operators. In those circumstances--there may well be others--regulations would be a perfectly reasonable way to modify the procedure. It is with that in mind that we have sought to build in the flexibility in this clause.

Amendment No. 120 could present a serious inhibition on using the powers in the Bill. It would add the proviso that the requirement on operators to make and implement arrangements under the scheme would apply only if those arrangements were practicable and involved a cost which was not disproportionate. In all these cases, the authority is bound to act reasonably. This wording, as in other fields of law, would lead the way for endless and unproductive disputes as to what was practicable and what was disproportionate. Local authorities are already required to consult operators before making the scheme. They would need to take sensible account of any representations. They have a general obligation to act reasonably in using these powers. I believe that that is sufficient safeguard against such schemes leading to disproportionate or totally unreasonable provisions and impositions on the operators and others.

So both amendments would be detrimental. The first deals with a situation that is unlikely to arise frequently, but we need the flexibility to deal with it if it should arise, and I believe that the second could seriously undermine the scheme by potentially giving specious grounds for challenge. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. However, I had some difficulty in following what he said on Amendment No. 119. I understand the need to modify the schemes--the Bill provides for consultation and for schemes to be modified--but I do not believe that the Minister has answered why what is set out on the face of the Bill may need to be varied. The Minister says that such a situation would be a rare occurrence with which I agree--I do not believe that such a situation should exist--but I do not understand why, if there is need to vary a scheme, the existing procedures cannot be complied with.

We can continue to have fundamental disagreements, but at some point the matter must be made plain. Therefore, I believe that it is worth testing the opinion of the House on this issue.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 119) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 57; Not-Contents, 101.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 137 [Effect of scheme]:

[Amendment No. 120 not moved.]

Clause 138 [Information about bus services]:

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat 4:01 pm, 30th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 122:

Page 84, line 13, after ("area,") insert--

("(aa) the fares for such local services,").

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to move the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Shutt, who is not able to be here. This particular baton was passed from the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to my noble friend Lord Shutt, and now to me. I hope that, in transferring it to the Minister, we can arrive quickly at a satisfactory end to this particular race.

The amendment would simply add "fares" to the list of information on a service about which a transport authority is able to inform the public. We all know that, when people make inquiries, they want to know what fare they will be expected to pay. Fares are a complex and important issue, and this amendment would make arrangements for a local authority to pass on information about them. It has nothing to do with setting fares. Amendment No. 124 would allow an authority to collect from the operators a reasonable contribution towards the cost of publicity, including that relating to fares. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, our Amendment No. 123 is in this group and is directed to the same aim. I am happy to support the principles that have just been enunciated.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it has been and remains our view that this amendment is technically unnecessary. Fares are part of the information which could and would come under,

"other matters of value to the public", which already appears in the clause. However, in view of what has been said, I am prepared to accept Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 in principle and to bring forward a government amendment at Third Reading. That is simply so that the technical drafting can be checked by parliamentary counsel.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, did not speak to Amendment No. 124 in the same group.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I did not. That was remiss of me.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, the Minister is optimistic if he believes that that will avoid the need for the issue to arise again at Third Reading. However, he may succeed.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, perhaps I may try because we believe that this amendment is also unnecessary. It seeks to make failure to agree satisfactory arrangements with bus operators as to the apportionment of costs a matter which can trigger the exercise of the default powers in Clause 139. However, Clause 139(1) already states clearly that the local authority can step in where it is,

"unable to make satisfactory arrangements with one or more ... operators".

The word "satisfactory" is not qualified. In our view, the provision would include arrangements that are unsatisfactory in terms of the apportionment of costs as between the authority and the operators. However, it does not seem necessary to spell that out on the face of the Bill. In the light of that, I hope that none of the amendments will be pressed.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in view of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

Clause 139 [Duty of authority to make information available]:

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Clause 142 [Power to obtain information about local services]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 125:

Page 85, line 40, at end insert--

("( ) If information is disclosed in contravention of subsection (4) the local transport authority which required its provision shall be liable to compensate the operator which provided it for any loss suffered by that operator as a result of its disclosure.").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, when transport authorities release information about such schemes, not least of the problems is that occasionally and unfortunately through inadvertence they may release information which causes commercial damage to an operator. This amendment seeks to add words to the clause in order to provide for compensation should that prove to be the case.

I do not doubt that in his response the Minister will say something about the opportunities of judicial review. But that, of course, exposes the operator to considerable costs. A matter that has always caused me concern in relation to justice is that occasionally one feels that the system works extremely well provided that one can afford it. This amendment seeks to ensure that it is not necessary to be able to afford it. The Bill should provide that matters are properly compensated if, through inadvertence, commercially sensitive information is released and subsequently it is shown that it has caused commercial damage. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord is asking the House to decide whether disclosure in such circumstances should be a matter for criminal or civil law, although I believe that he is making it a matter for both. However, my question relates to how that ties in with subsection (4), which deals with disclosures about particular businesses and about the affairs of an individual. The noble Lord seems to be more concerned about compensating businesses than individuals. I wonder where the right balance should lie.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, some reassurance in the sense that I was not intending to and shall not refer to the need for judicial review. I believe that the matter is somewhat simpler than that.

This issue was considered in Committee and I am afraid that I am no more convinced now of the necessity or appropriateness of this amendment than I was then. Clause 142(6) already provides that an unlawful disclosure of information is a criminal offence. However, I must make it clear that the subsection does not remove any existing rights under common law. There is a well established right of action at common law in cases where information which is known to be confidential comes into the possession of a person who then unlawfully discloses it to a third party.

Therefore, it would be open to an operator to take action in the courts, either to restrain wrongful disclosure or to obtain compensation. It would be for the courts to decide whether to grant an injunction or whether compensation, if any, should be paid.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, justifiably may say that action in the court, using the common law, involves expense. Of course, I am sympathetic to the idea that justice should be available without discrimination of means. However, unfortunately in addition the amendment goes too far. It would appear to make all cases of disclosure actionable unless covered by the specific exceptions covered in Clause 142(5). In some instances, the court may consider that it is in the public interest for the information to be disclosed. Under those circumstances, it is preferable that the common law rules and remedies, which give the court flexibility to decide on the public interest in particular cases, should continue to apply. There is no need for an amendment to the Bill to ensure that that is so. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her comment, but I always make the blithe assumption that if I do have a somewhat inadequate amendment someone will show me what is wrong with it. She tends to improve my amendments enormously before bringing them back at Third Reading. However, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, may have obviated the need for that in his remarks that I will study with care. I am grateful to him for those comments. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 143 [Civil penalties for bus lane contraventions]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 126:

Page 85, line 43, leave out ("by approved local authorities").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 126 standing in the name of my noble friend, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, and to speak to the other amendments in this group in his name.

The Government amendments would allow the Secretary of State to repeal the existing legislation that provides for bus lane enforcement in London and to apply instead Clause 143 in its place. This clause, as drafted, provides local authorities outside London with camera enforcement powers to enforce moving bus lane offences. The Secretary of State or the National Assembly will have the powers to make regulations specifying the person by whom a penalty charge in respect of a contravention is to be paid. At the Committee stage we indicated that we intend, at least initially, to make regulations for areas outside London on the basis of driver liability while keeping the matter under review. In London the current system operates on the basis of owner liability. As this is specified in the London Local Authorities Act 1996 it can only be changed by primary legislation.

These amendments will enable existing legislation to be repealed and Clause 143 to be applied in London with the flexibility to impose the basis of liability for charges by regulation, and subsequently to change this basis also by regulation.

We consider it prudent to allow owner liability to continue to apply in London for the foreseeable future, but this will be kept under review.

Transport for London and the London local authorities would be the enforcement authorities for London under the new regime. In fixing penalty charges for bus lane enforcement, Transport for London and the London local authorities will be required to obtain the approval of the mayor before setting penalty charges. The Secretary of State also has a power of objection.

Finally, our amendment also extends the scope of the provision in Clause 143 so that local authorities would have the powers to enforce moving vehicle contraventions that affect the movement of tramcars and trolley buses.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has an amendment down in this group. We will listen to what he says before commenting on that.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, my Amendment No. 134 is grouped with these and it is very simple. It deals with the issue of who should pay the penalty charge for someone who offends against a bus lane. We feel very strongly that it is the driver who is the person committing the offence and is the one who should pay the penalty charge. I accept that all too often, particularly with camera equipment, computers and everything else in this day and age, the owner of the vehicle is the person who can be caught. The fact of the matter is that it is the driver of the vehicle who commits the offence and it is only the driver. It is never the owner if the owner is not the driver. There is a difficulty here and one has to accept that. If the driver happens to be an employee of the owner, the matter becomes even more complicated, but at least the owner knows exactly who to tackle.

We think that this ought to be explicit within the Bill: that it is the person who commits the offence who actually pays the penalty. I accept that this may on occasions cause problems. I do not think that the principle is wrong. I hope that the Minister may be prepared to consider it. If the wording of the amendment is not adequate, perhaps he may be able to bring forward a more acceptable way of dealing with this situation.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the Minister replies, I ask whether the Government are absolutely satisfied that it will be possible to hold someone responsible--driver or owner--without any doubt in the law. We need to have a clear position if we are to go forward.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour 4:15 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, the Opposition are entirely wrong. If the driver is self-employed it follows that he will be liable. If the driver is employed by someone else it follows that that person will be responsible for the fine. It may be that that person will, if he is not lacking in responsibility, take the appropriate moves against the employee. The Government are entirely right about that and the Opposition are, as usual, entirely wrong.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I ask my noble friend for a little clarification on his introduction. Am I correct in thinking that in London it is still proposed that the owner is liable? If he could identify someone else as being the driver, that driver would become liable. If that is not the case outside London, how is it intended to identify the driver? From a camera or some other device?

The second question is: have the Government sorted out the problem of the Scottish case heard at the European Court of Human Rights and the defence that one does not have to divulge the name of the driver?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention of my noble friend Lord Berkeley--in a slightly more subtle way than my noble friend Lord Bradshaw--in connection with whether we were entirely bomb-proof in relation to various proceedings arising in this area under the Human Rights Act. The answer is that time will tell. The reality is that although these cases, including the one referred to in Scotland, have been widely reported as relating to camera enforcement and road traffic offences where the owner is required to identify the driver--where driver and owner are the same, self-incrimination therefore arises--in fact none of those case where the courts have so far ruled, whether in England or in Scotland, relates to camera enforcement in this context. Nevertheless, there may be developments in that area.

That is one of the reasons, but only one, where we require some degree of flexibility. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would impose driver liability for penalty charges imposed by any local authority. We wish to have flexibility to be able to change the basis of liability for payment by secondary legislation. That would be on the basis of experience and practice, both inside London and outside, and if necessary make any changes in the implications of the law. The noble Lord's amendment would remove flexibility.

I hope that the noble Lords will understand why we are unable to support that amendment and that they will agree to withdraw it.

In response to the question from my noble friend, Lord Berkeley, where owner liability applies, already in many areas of the Road Traffic Acts the requirement is on the keeper. The owner, strictly speaking, should identify who was driving the car at that time. That is not altered in this context or in other Road Traffic Act contexts by this amendment or this Bill because it would remove what might prove to be necessary flexibility. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will not press this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 127:

Page 85, line 44, leave out ("bus lane").

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the reason this amendment was tabled is that it is apparent that bus operation in some of our major cities is in crisis. The Minister may know that the traffic commissioners have been pressing bus companies to improve their performance and to ensure that buses run within narrow time parameters of one minute before time and up to four or five minutes late but no more. At a recent hearing in Bristol, where bus operation is in crisis, evidence given by Colin Buchanan and Partners, who are leading consultants in this field, showed conclusively that it is impossible to operate a bus service reliably in that city. Even if extra buses were added to the service, they could not keep within the timetable because of the unpredictability of traffic flows.

I went through the evidence carefully with a senior partner of the firm. He showed me evidence from Birmingham where the bus service is completely breaking down and what is operating bears no resemblance whatever to the timetable. The traffic commissioners, as they are empowered to do under the law, are threatening to withdraw the licence of the operators and ban them operating. If they did that, it is difficult to believe that any other operator would want to enter a market to operate a bus service which, in time, would give rise to complaint and to their finding themselves in court also answering charges of running an unreliable bus service.

The only way to deal with this situation is to manage the highway more effectively. A number of authorities have not taken up the special parking arrangements now available under the law; they do not properly enforce parking restrictions; and we know that the police do not do so because they believe they have other priorities. We need active traffic management.

No doubt camera enforcement of bus lanes will be effective in helping to restore punctuality to bus services. However, when I spoke to local authorities and to bus companies they said that the enforcement of box junctions--many bus lanes end in box junctions--is also of great importance. When we raised this matter at earlier stages of the Bill, we asked from these Benches for more camera enforcement. Ministers said that they were not willing to take powers which they had no immediate intention of using.

The purpose of tabling Amendment No. 127 is to ask Ministers to think again about taking powers in respect of box junctions to enhance the efficiency of bus operation. It was moved solely to help local authorities to carry out the responsibilities placed on them by the Government in the consultation paper From Workhorse to Thoroughbred, and other documents published by the Government. I hope that the Government will take the amendment seriously. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in his amendment. I too had details of the problems arising in Bristol. It is always a surprise to me that we have bus lanes in many places, some enforced better than others, but in many cases the junctions allow cars in or consist of a box junction.

It has been my belief for many years that the only viable way to get buses running on time and to schedule is to have a continuous lane, be it bus lane, box junction or whatever. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is right in relation to the lack of enforcement in that regard. People contravene box junctions with great frequency. If it was possible to have camera enforcement of those regulations alongside those for bus lanes, we might actually get the buses to run on time and therefore more people using them, which is the objective, I believe, of government policy.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I too should like to express a few words in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.

In this country, we seem to have a talent for introducing sensible rules; but the more sensible they are, the less we seem to enforce them. That is truly ridiculous. If an amendment such as this could nudge some of the relevant authorities into something approaching action and stir them out of their habitual lethargy and inertia, it would be a good thing.

Box junctions are not the only example. Parts of London are festooned with notices saying, "No delivery and no collection between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.". But one cannot see the notices for the crowds of vehicles around them collecting and delivering.

When governments take powers, introduce legislation and make sensible rules, they should do so with the determination that they should be enforced, instead of which they tend to walk away--I refer to all governments, not just this one--leave the powers on the statute book and do nothing. Once rules are made, if anyone is to respect the law they must be enforced, and time and again they are not. Motorists are driven mad by that failure to enforce sensible rules. Therefore I support Amendment No. 127.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, our provisions in this context considerably extend the powers of local authorities in relation to camera enforcement in bus lanes. Were we to extend that further into the area of yellow box junctions, we should need to be clear about what we were doing.

As the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, indicated, yellow box junctions are perhaps not the only area where camera enforcement might be helpful in the longer term. However, bus lanes seem to us to be the priority. As I understand it, we have only one limited experiment in which cameras have been used by the Metropolitan Police in Euston Road to enforce yellow box markings at two junctions. At this time that cannot be the basis for moving forward to local authority enforcement as proposed in the amendment.

We are aware of the difficulties generally in relation to bus lanes, and sometimes that can be complicated by yellow box junctions. But in general it is the continuous bus lanes which need to be more effectively enforced. We are aware of problems such as those identified by the Buchanan report in Bristol, which we shall clearly have to consider and are looking into.

I am further advised that the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, are in any case defective. Amendment No. 132 defines a "box junction" by reference to a traffic order, but the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994 revoked the 1981 version, whereby the requirement for box junctions had to be backed by an order. Therefore it is not in the appropriate form in any case.

The amendment also attempts to define "box junction" in primary legislation by reference to the use of road markings prescribed in specific diagrams in secondary legislation. That secondary legislation is expected to be superseded next year and that may well occur again in the future. Primary legislation therefore needs to be more flexible so that it is not overtaken by changes in secondary legislation on the definition of the areas or the traffic signs to which it is expected to apply.

I hope therefore that, in regard to both the rather technical deficiencies of the drafting and the need to approach reasonably cautiously what is a major expansion of powers in relation to bus lanes, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will not press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I accept that the amendment may be subject to technical drafting difficulties. I hope the noble Lord accepts that in such a technical area it is extremely difficult to draft amendments of this kind. However, before we finish our consideration of the Bill, I urge the Minister to consider whether the Secretary of State should take powers. From the evidence that I have seen, in many cities bus operations are at the point of breaking down and, unless something is done, there will be a real problem. It will be impossible to operate bus services economically and to time, and I do not see how that can in any way further the Government's strategy. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 129 to 131:

Page 86, line 1, at end insert--

("( ) Regulations under subsection (1) may provide for the imposition of penalty charges--

(a) by approved local authorities, or

(b) both by approved local authorities and by Transport for London or London local authorities or both.").

Page 86, line 16, leave out from ("buses") to end of line 18 and insert ("(or a particular description of bus), or

(b) only by buses (or a particular description of bus) and some other class or classes of vehicular traffic.").

Page 86, line 18, at end insert--

("(4A) The roads in relation to which regulations under subsection (1) may authorise the imposition of penalty charges are--

(a) in the case of an approved local authority, roads in its area,

(b) in the case of Transport for London, roads in Greater London of a description prescribed by such regulations or all roads in Greater London, and

(c) in the case of a London local authority, roads in its area of a description prescribed by such regulations or all roads in its area.

(4B) Before making any regulations by virtue of subsection (4A)(b) or (c) the Secretary of State shall consult--

(a) Transport for London, and

(b) the London local authorities affected by the regulations.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 132 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 133:

Page 86, line 20, leave out paragraph (a).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 135 to 140:

Page 86, line 30, leave out from first ("the") to ("and") in line 32 and insert ("conduct constituting the contravention is the subject of criminal proceedings or where a fixed penalty notice has been given in respect of that conduct").

Page 86, line 33, leave out ("by approved local authorities").

Page 86, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) Regulations under subsection (1) shall include provision for the level of penalty charges in the case of approved local authorities to be set by the authorities subject to the approval of the relevant national authority; and sections 74 and 74A of the Road Traffic Act 1991 apply to penalty charges in the case of Transport for London and London local authorities as they apply to additional parking charges.").

Page 86, line 36, after ("charges,") insert--

("( ) make provision for discounts or surcharges (or both),").

Page 87, line 5, at end insert--

("( ) Regulations under this section made by the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor may make provision in respect of Greater London different from that in respect of the rest of England.").

Page 87, line 8, at end insert--

(""bus" includes a tramcar (within the meaning of section 141A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984) and a trolley vehicle (within the meaning of that section),").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 135 to 140 with Amendment No. 126. I beg to move these amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 142 to 145:

Page 87, line 9, leave out ("the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984") and insert ("that Act").

Page 87, line 12, at end insert--

(""London local authority" means a London borough council or the Common Council of the City of London,").

Page 87, line 23, leave out ("outside Greater London").

Page 87, line 30, after ("1") insert ("or 6").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 126. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 142 to 145 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 144 [Mandatory concessions outside Greater London]:

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

My Lords, I must advise the House that if Amendment No. 146 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 147 to 149.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

moved Amendment No. 146:

Page 87, line 32, leave out from ("Any") to ("subsection") in line 43 and insert ("person to whom a current statutory travel concession permit has been issued by a travel concession authority and who travels on an eligible service on a journey--

(a) between places in the authority's area, and

(b) beginning at a relevant time, is entitled, on production of the permit, to be provided with a half-price travel concession by the operator of the service.

(2) A travel concession authority must, on an application made to it by any person who appears to the authority to be an elderly or disabled person residing in its area, issue to the person free of charge a permit, in such form and for such period as the authority considers appropriate, indicating that he is entitled to the concession specified in subsection (1).

(2A) In this section "statutory travel concession permit" means a permit issued pursuant to subsection (2).

(2B) The Secretary of State (as respects England) or the National Assembly for Wales (as respects Wales) may issue guidance to travel concession authorities to which they must have regard in determining for the purposes of subsection (2) whether a person is a disabled person.

(2C) Before issuing guidance under subsection (2B) the Secretary of State or National Assembly for Wales shall consult--

(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee,

(b) associations representative of travel concession authorities, and

(c) such other persons as he or it thinks fit.

(2D) A person entitled to be issued with a statutory travel concession permit by a travel concession authority may agree with the authority that he is not to be entitled to the concession specified in").

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My Lords, this group of amendments concerns the important question of concessionary fares for disabled people. Your Lordships' House amended the Bill in Grand Committee so that the statutory minimum concessionary bus fare scheme, which the Bill already provided for elderly people, should apply also to people with disabilities. That change was widely and warmly welcomed. Certainly, these amendments do not change the important principle. However, it was subsequently represented to us that in a practical sense the new provisions could be improved in the interests of clarity and to help those who had to implement the legislation on a day-to-day basis. We have listened to those representations, which came initially from local government but have also been supported by members of the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC).

Accordingly, the amendments do two things. First, they provide for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on eligibility for concessionary fares to which local authorities must have regard. The amendments require consultation on that guidance. Secondly, associated with the guidance provision, the amendments clarify the definitions of the various categories of disability on the face of the Bill so that all concerned can have greater certainty about eligibility and be clearer as to exactly what the guidance is to relate to. Perhaps I may give one example. The Bill as at present drafted refers to people who are "deaf". The amendments clarify that by referring on the face of the Bill to "profoundly or severely deaf", those being two recognised terms for describing degrees of deafness. We envisage that the guidance would speak in terms of people who are, or could be, registered as profoundly or severely deaf.

I stress that we have tabled these amendments only after discussion not only with representatives of local government but with members of DPTAC. The amendments respond to what all those people have said to us. Our objective is to make the Bill a more workable and effective piece of legislation for disabled people and local authorities, and on that basis I hope that noble Lords will feel able to accept these amendments.

I should also refer to the amendments in this group tabled by the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. There are always different ways to express similar ideas in law, but I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord who have tabled these amendments accept that much the same objectives have been achieved by the government amendments. I note that the noble Baroness seeks to provide that the Secretary of State "shall", rather than "may", issue guidance. I understand that "may" is the usual formulation in such cases, but I assure the noble Baroness that guidance will be issued. In view of what I hope will be seen as a large amount of common ground between us, perhaps those amendments will be withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for replying to my amendments before I speak to them. Amendments Nos. 162 and 168 in this group, which raise an important issue, are both slightly controversial, particularly the latter. Do the Government envisage that when a driving licence is withdrawn on account of disability, which is one of the reasons why an individual is granted a concessionary fare, it shall be done permanently on the grounds of permanent disability? Alternatively, if a person has been unable to obtain a licence because of a disability which can be alleviated--therefore, the loss may be only temporary--will the individual be able to have a concessionary fare while he or she is without a licence? I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will have something to say about this complicated matter because it is something about which disability groups are quite concerned. I put forward this matter, with which the noble Lord may not agree, in order to have the Government's views on the record.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

I deal first with government Amendment No. 171. That amendment requires that local authorities should only "have regard to" the issues. I am advised that originally the Government intended to insert the words "must act in accordance with". Guidance is purely advice. No matter how often one gives advice, one cannot make the person take it. The Government may wish to strengthen that particular amendment at the next stage of the Bill.

At the same time, I welcome government Amendment No. 190. However, does it include the aspect that is referred to in my Amendment No. 170, which mainly achieves the same object? My amendment includes,

"persons who have used in-patient mental health services and require continuing support".

As I read it, the Government's amendment does not cover such people. Further, given that the Greater London Authority Act is now in force, does the government amendment include London?

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness, Amendment No. 168 would cover a person who had been refused a driving licence permanently. The government amendments do not echo that. It is possible for a person to be refused a driving licence on medical grounds but to be issued with one if the medical condition improves: epilepsy is one example and blindness through cataracts which are subsequently operated on is another.

The noble Baroness asked whether I believed that a temporary licence would be issued. I believe that that would be the case. But if I am wrong I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and try to sort out the problem.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the question of "having regard to" as opposed to "must act in accordance with", I am advised that the wording, which has been strengthened slightly, is that it "must have regard to". I hope that that added emphasis may be of some use to him there.

Mental health in-patients will not be included as such on the face of the Bill but may be subject to regulation later on. London is indeed covered by the government amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 147 to 149 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

moved Amendment No. 150:

Page 88, leave out line 8 and insert ("the concession specified in subsection (1)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 145 [Mandatory concessions: supplementary]:

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 151 to 155:

Page 88, line 11, leave out from first ("blind") to end of line 15 and insert ("or partially sighted,").

Page 88, line 16, after ("is") insert ("profoundly or severely").

Page 88, line 18, leave out ("seriously impairs") and insert ("has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on").

Page 88, line 20, leave out paragraph (f) and insert--

("(f) does not have arms or has long-term loss of the use of both arms,").

Page 88, line 28, at end insert ("otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 156:

Page 88, line 28, at end insert--

("( ) is a specified companion of an eligible person who, in the opinion of the authority responsible for the administration of the scheme, requires the assistance of a companion to be able to travel on public transport, or

( ) is a person who has used in-patient mental health services and requires continuing support,").

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, we seem to have moved suddenly from Amendment No. 146 to Amendment No. 156. I have a group of amendments which starts with Amendment No. 148 which was originally grouped with Amendment No. 147 standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I was waiting for that to be called.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

My Lords, I told the House that if Amendment No. 146 was agreed to, I could not call Amendments Nos. 147 to 149 because they were pre-empted by Amendment No. 146.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I shall not move Amendment No. 156 but come back to it at a later stage if necessary.

[Amendment No. 156 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 157 not moved.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 159 not moved.]

Clause 146 [Variation of mandatory concessions]:

[Amendment No. 160 not moved.]

Clause 148 [Reinbursement of operators]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 161:

Page 89, line 46, leave out ("for") and insert ("the full cost to the operator of").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, Clause 148 provides that:

"Where an operator provides concessions under section 144(1)"-- that is concessionary fares--

"for persons who reside in a travel concession authority's area, the authority shall reimburse the operator for providing the concessions".

On these Benches we are not clear whether that means providing the operator not just with the actual cost of the concessions but also the administrative costs involved. The administrative costs could be a burden--not an unreasonable one--on anyone obliged to operate the concessions because they must account for the number of concessionary clients they have and for whom they provide services. That cannot be done for nothing. Therefore, we thought it was appropriate to table the amendment which says that the full cost should be reimbursed to the operator. It is a small but not unreasonable point which I hope the Minister will consider. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 4:45 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining the amendment. I can assure the noble Lord that our firm intention is to maintain the present principle. That principle is underlined in the regulations. It provides for the reimbursement to operators of concessionary fares. That principle is that each operator should be left no better and no worse off by virtue of participation in the concessionary fare scheme.

The difference between being reimbursed for providing the concessions and reimbursed the full cost is perhaps a little obscure. But the basic principle makes it absolutely clear. That is embodied in the existing regulations. It is fair to say that on the whole these arrangements have worked reasonably well and they are fairly well understood. It would not therefore be our intention to change that basis. But it does seem right to have the regulation-making power available for future flexibility. In the light of that I hope the noble Lord will not pursue the amendment.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. The amendment was tabled with a desire not to upset anything but to make sure that stability would continue. I think the Minister answered the point when he said that the operator should be no worse off. That seems to cover the point quite adequately. I am grateful for that assurance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 150 [Concessions in Greater London]:

[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendments Nos. 163 to 167:

Page 91, line 36, after ("(5),") insert ("for "are persons, or any description of persons," substitute "by an authority are persons appearing to the authority to be persons" and").

Page 91, line 36, leave out from ("for") to end of line 39 and insert ("paragraphs (b) and (c) substitute--

"(b) who are blind;

(c) who are partially sighted;").

Page 91, line 40, after ("are") insert ("profoundly or severely").

Page 91, line 43, leave out ("seriously impairs") and insert ("has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on").

Page 91, line 44, leave out from ("who") to end of line 45 and insert ("do not have arms or have long-term loss of the use of both arms;").

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I spoke to Amendments No. 163 to 167 with Amendment No. 146. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 169:

Page 92, line 7, at end insert ("otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 170 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

moved Amendment No. 171:

Page 92, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) After that subsection insert--

"(5A) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to local authorities to which they must have regard in determining whether a person falls within subsection (5)(b) to (i) above.

(5B) Before issuing guidance under subsection (5A) above, the Secretary of State shall consult--

(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee;

(b) associations representative of local authorities; and

(c) such other persons as he thinks fit."").

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 171, Amendment No. 172:

Line 3, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this is an amendment to Amendment No. 171. It is the famous "shall" rather than "may" amendment--"shall issue guidance" rather than "may issue guidance". Perhaps we may have an assurance of the Government's firm intention to issue this guidance on the rather complicated subject of who does and who does not qualify for a concessionary fare on grounds of disability and old age. I shall be grateful if the Minister can do that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I can indeed give that assurance to the noble Baroness. I hope that meets her requirements in her amendment to my amendment.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 172, as an amendment to Amendment No. 171, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 171 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

moved Amendment No. 173:

Page 92, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) After that subsection insert--

"(5A) Where a disabled person's impairment prevents them making use of mainstream public transport services concessionary fares shall apply to services operated under sections 19 or 22 of the Transport Act 1985 that are fully accessible to people who travel in their wheelchairs."").

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 173, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 174 and 175. Amendment No. 173 seeks to extend the eligibility for concessionary fares to all eligible English and Welsh residents.

Amendment No. 174 seeks to delete the provision that concessionary fare passes may not be used between 4.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m.

I am concerned that the national concessionary scheme fails to recognise that travel patterns are often independent of local administrative boundaries. Many people from outside London must visit the capital. The voluntary national concessionary scheme for free travel for blind people in Scotland provides concessions throughout the country and across different modes of travel. The proposed scheme would benefit from similar provisions relating to area of operation and integration across modes. I do not see why the same should not apply to people in Wales and England.

I am also concerned that the scheme is limited by the expression "relevant time", meaning that it will not be available between 4.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. The scheme should apply to all journeys in the local area regardless of the time. The restrictions could, for example, mean that someone returning from a night out in town no longer received the concession, making the evening out impossible. More importantly, the provision also means that if the scheme extended to disabled people of working age, they would be unable to benefit from the concessions if working at these unreasonable hours.

As a minimum alternative, I should like to have the start time brought forward to 9 a.m. A 9 a.m. start time applies to the scheme currently running in London and any reserve scheme introduced in future if the boroughs and Transport for London fail to reach agreement. The 9 a.m. start time also applied to the minimum half-price scheme prior to an amendment agreed in the other place.

There are unlikely to be congestion problems in peak periods as people who do not need to travel at those times will not choose to do so, ensuring that they are more likely to be able to travel in comfort. However, removing the restriction will allow people to undertake necessary journeys. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, I warmly support the amendments, particularly the amendment which seeks to remove the time restriction. I very much support the amendment which would publicise the eligibility criteria. There are problems. Many people do not know whether they are entitled. Some people miss out. If those people knew the criteria, they might find that they were able to make use of the concession.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I may add a few words in support of the amendment. It is a good aim that the concession should be available when people want to use it. To say that there is a concessionary fare but that at certain times people are not allowed to use it is merely giving half a loaf rather begrudgingly as opposed to giving the whole loaf, to which they are surely entitled.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am not too clear that the issue of timing arises on any of the amendments to which the noble Lord referred. As I understand it, he is speaking to Amendments Nos. 173 and 174. He also referred to Amendment No. 175. I do not think that those amendments directly deal with the time issue. Perhaps the noble Lord can offer clarification. He is looking as puzzled as I was when he was speaking. There is an issue of timing and I am quite happy to talk about it. We have discussed the matter before; but it does not seem to arise on these amendments.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I am sorry if I muddled the noble Lord. I was speaking also, and should have said so, to Amendment No. 176, which does deal with the issue of timing. I must apologise to the noble Lord because I know that it is not his fault. I gave my preferred groupings some 10 days ago to the Government Whips' Office and I faxed them through again on Friday evening. But I am told that they never arrived, which I find extraordinary because my fax machine told me that they had gone through satisfactorily.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I shall not quarrel with the noble Lord on the efficacy or otherwise of his technology or the Whips' Office technology. Clearly, there has been some confusion. That was compounded by the fact that he did not refer to Amendment No. 176 in his opening remarks.

Perhaps I may deal first with the question of the time restriction and the effect of the 9.30 a.m. cut-off, to which other noble Lords have referred. As with many concessionary fare schemes up and down the country, the provisions in the Bill are relatively generous. It is not a matter of the Government looking for economies. When we first proposed that the restrictions should start earlier, the view was expressed by local authorities that that would impose too great a strain on transport resources at the morning peak--at the busiest time of day. At that point we were dealing specifically with the concessions for pensioners. Those have since been extended to the disabled. If the question is being raised in relation to those disabled who are travelling to work, there is no overwhelming reason why those disabled who are employed should receive a concessionary fare. They are clearly in a different position from pensioners who are covered by a concessionary fare scheme. I am not convinced--

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I do not normally interrupt Ministers when they are in full flow but I think that we are missing a beat here. People who are disabled are for one reason or another often not able to drive themselves to work or anywhere else. It is for that reason, and not because they are receiving a pension or are poor, that they are being offered this concession, which is greatly valued by noble Lords on all sides of the House. I hope that the Minister will consider this point. There is an important difference between concessions for people because they are disabled and concessions for people because they are elderly.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, but if one looks at the issue from the point of view of the operator, it is difficult to see why there should be a concessionary scheme for one group of people with the same scheme operating for different hours for another group of people benefiting from the concession. It is admittedly the case that when we first discussed the issue we were discussing it in relation to pensioners. I still do not believe that if we extended it to the disabled, which everyone has welcomed, we should necessarily alter the time of day at which the concession applies on the ground that it enables a particular group of workers to get to work. Were it to be opened up, I suspect that other groups of workers besides the disabled might well find a special case for having concessionary fares. I admit that different arguments apply to the disabled from those that apply to pensioners, but the case is not so overwhelming that I would wish to confuse the operation of the scheme by having different times. I therefore hope that the House will not be persuaded by the noble Lord's amendment in that respect.

Amendment No. 174 would place an obligation on each London authority to make and review criteria about impaired ability to walk, in consultation with disability groups and taking account of guidance by a joint concessionary fare body. I suggest that the amendment is now overtaken by the government amendment, which provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on eligibility. All local authorities will be required to have regard to that guidance. The amendment also provides for the Secretary of State to consult DPTAC and others in preparing the guidance. What lies behind the amendment is the fact that there are different interpretations by different local authorities. The government amendment already meets that point.

Amendment No. 175 relates to a national scheme. The noble Lord mentioned the amendment but he did not speak in any great detail on it. I assume that he wishes for a reply from me. It advocates a national scheme rather than one based on individual local authorites. The principle of local authority discretion is important. It is open to local authorities to add to the statutory minimum, which would make it even more complicated to provide for national transfer of eligibility. Under the amendment, a bus pass issued by one local authority would provide reduced-fare travel anywhere in the country. I see the attractions but if we were to allow local authorities to be more generous than the statutory minimum, it is difficult to envisage how the scheme could operate. Would a pensioner living in Birmingham, which has a free travel scheme, be entitled to free travel in Cornwall? It is difficult to see how one could transfer differential provisions and eligibility to another local authority area.

As to administration and finance, bus operators are reimbursed by local authorities for carrying bus card holders at reduced fares. If a lot of West Midlands pensioners went to Cornwall for their holiday, who would reimburse who? This straightforward amendment does not address that complex issue and although it may be attractive, I ask the noble Lord not to press it.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he say whether the government amendment would cover my point about publicising the eligibility criteria to make sure they are known by anyone who might be able to apply?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, the regulations would not necessarily cover publicity but guidance would be given to local authorities.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

That they should publicise the scheme well?

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

The Minister has given a full answer, which I shall study with care. If necessary, I shall return to the matter on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 174 to 176 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 30th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 177:

After Clause 150, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:REVIEW OF COSTS OF CONCESSIONARY TRAVEL PROVISIONS

(" . Pursuant to the operation of the concessionary travel provisions set out in this Act, the Secretary of State shall, at the end of the first full year of operation and thereafter at reasonable intervals, undertake a review of the costs incurred.").

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we wholeheartedly welcome the creation of a national concessionary scheme for pensioners and disabled people, which we believe will make a significant contribution to their quality of life. As with all new schemes, there is a significant number of unknown factors. Although every effort is made to produce accurate estimates, they are only estimates.

The Government believe that the scheme's half fare for pensioners will cost in the region of £25 million; the extension to disabled people a further £8 million; and eliminating the pass charge will cost £14 million.

The Local Government Association has received many representations from its members suggesting that those are under-estimates and questioning that adequate financial provision has been made. Given the sad history of central government passing on commitments to local government without sufficient financing and the opaque nature of local government finance, we should sympathise with local authorities. Underfunding will put pressure on other parts of their budgets, with the result that communities will see service reduction or council tax increases. The amendment merely seeks to ensure that costs are quantified and understood once the scheme has been in operation--so that we will be dealing with real figures, not estimates. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I acknowledge the basis of the noble Baroness's points. The Government have said that they will reimburse local authorities the extra cost of running the new statutory minimum scheme and provision is being made in the revenue support grant accordingly. We will clearly have to review the figures because some local authorities have expressed doubts about them. We shall do so in light of experience and any extension of the statutory minimum to new categories of people, different hours of the day or whatever.

The amendment raises some technical issues, such as what is meant by the words "undertake a review". Nor does it describe what would be done in light of such a review--although I am not necessarily tempting the noble Baroness to provide a more complex amendment. The Government recognise what is behind the amendment and are committed to reviewing the scheme in light of circumstances.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that local authorities may undertake a review in any event in light of any unfair provision and that other parties may give a clear indication if a scheme is not working out? The amendment adds nothing to existing practice among individual local authorities.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's intervention. As he says, the Government and local authorities would review expenditure in any case. The anxiety behind the amendment is because some local authorities do not quite understand how the scheme will operate and over whether sufficient provision has been made in the revenue support grant. The Government will review the adequacy of that provision in light of the circumstances, much as the amendment seeks.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister will be glad to know that he has not tempted me down the road of a more complicated amendment next time around. I am obliged for the Minister's reassurance and know that local authorities also will be grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 152 [Competition test for exercise of bus functions]:

[Amendments No. 178 not moved.]

Schedule 10 [Competition test for exercie of bus functions]:

[Amendment No. 179 not moved]:

Clause 153 [Grants to bus service operators]:

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

moved Amendment No. 180:

Page 93, line 42, after ("operating") insert ("and improving accessibility to").

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, with this I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 181, 185 and 186.

Amendment No. 180 extends the provisions for which grants may be made to bus operators for improvements to accessibility. The Bill allows bus operators or authorities to improve the services provided to the public. The cost of introducing bus accessibility across the United Kingdom fleet would be approximately £444 million, yet it is estimated that the additional revenue would be between £26 million and £52 million a year--which roughly equates to 19 or 18 years' purchase. Disability organisations believe that the Government could and should find a funding mechanism to ensure an accessible bus fleet well before the end date of 2017 under the proposed Disability (Discrimination) Act 1977 regulations. That is entirely consistent with the Government's objective of delivering high-quality bus networks. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, my Amendments Nos. 181, 185 and 186 are in the group. Amendment No. 181 relates to fuel duty concessions. Clause 153 makes provision for the payment of grants by the Secretary of State and proposes that the fuel duty concession, which is established to assist bus services, must come to an end at the same time. Until we know how the system and operators work, it must be questionable whether one will equal the other. The problem is that if one does not equal the other, the operator will have to make adjustment to his services.

The purpose of our amendment is to delay the end of the fuel duty concession until six months after the quality partnership schemes come into operation. An operator will therefore have time to discover whether the grant is appropriate. If not, he will be able to make adjustments to the service before he loses too much money.

Amendments Nos. 185 and 186 simply require that the schemes are brought into being by way of competitive tendering. I dare say that the Minister will assure me that that is covered in other parts of the Bill and if he does I shall be content.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 5:15 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will find my reply all too repetitive of the points I made in Committee. Although we sympathise with what he says about accessibility to buses and with all the objectives behind the amendment, we do not see it as being necessary or appropriate.

Clause 153 provides for new arrangements for grants of bus operators towards the running costs of their services. The clause will replace the current legislative basis for the existing fuel duty rebate scheme by more flexible powers to make grants. The clause provides for the making of regulations about eligibility for new grants and for the method of their calculation.

We have asked the Commission for Integrated Transport to consider all aspects of public funding of bus services, including possible changes to the fuel duty rebate. Clause 153 provides flexibility for any future changes to the grant arrangements. But I want to emphasise, as I did in Committee, that we recognise the value of fuel duty rebate as financial support for all local bus services. It off-sets part--currently, more than 70 per cent--of the fuel duty incurred in running those services. But we also need to consider whether changes to the rebate, or even a new form of grant, would represent better value for money and better serve our wider objectives.

I would also again stress that we have no intention of removing or changing fuel duty rebate before we are fully satisfied that change will be of benefit in terms of policy objectives, or before alternative arrangements are in place. I will say more about Amendment No. 181 but I noticed that that was the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Amendment No. 180 would add to the broad terms of the clause the specific point that any new grant paid under the clause may be towards the cost of improving the accessibility to services. I took careful note of the point made the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in Committee and again today and I understand that he wants to provide funding to hasten the process of buses becoming accessible. That process is subject to the mandatory requirements established under the Disability Discrimination Act.

However, Clause 153 is deliberately broadly drawn to provide a flexible grant-making power; that is its strength. It makes amendments such as this unnecessary. In addition to accessibility, one could think of many worthwhile issues relating to bus accessibility which one could add, but I hope to show that there is no point in doing so. Any new grant could be--as FDR is at present--a general payment to operators in support of operating costs without any specific conditions as to what the grant has to be spent on, though even so the effect might be to hasten progress to accessibility.

However, if it were thought appropriate, it would be possible to make regulations which specified particular costs which would be taken into account in the calculation of grant, which entailed a higher rate of grant to services which met certain criteria or had certain characteristics. That could include accessibility requirements.

That is why I believe that Clause 153 as drafted combines the virtues of a general grant with the possibility, through regulation, of the kind of specific grant proposed in Amendment No. 180.

Amendment No. 181 appears to link the new powers to make grants to bus operators with the introduction of quality partnerships. Clause 153(6), which the amendment seeks to change, concerns the replacement of the existing powers to pay fuel duty rebate by the new powers to pay grants for bus operators under Clause 153 as a whole. Subsection (6) merely provides that once the new powers are brought into effect, the old FDR powers--including the old powers to levy a penalty based on FDR for the unregistered or unreliable running of a service--shall cease to have effect.

I am not persuaded that there is good reason for linking Clause 153(6) with the introduction of quality partnerships in an area. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke of a general need to delay until it was certain that everything was in place, but he did not refer specifically to quality partnerships. It does not seem to me obvious that operators who are involved in a quality partnership should be subject to different arrangements for government grant compared with other operators.

Clause 153(6) as it currently stands does no more than provide a necessary part of moving from one set of grant arrangements to another. It is separate from provisions about quality partnerships. It would be odd if new grant arrangements came into operation only in places where there was a quality partnership. That is the effect of the amendment.

As regards Amendments Nos. 185 and 186, I am grateful for advance notice from the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that if I can satisfy him that the provision is provided elsewhere he will not press them. They relate to the power to pay grants to local authorities and to the power to pay grants for public passenger services and for new facilities, or new services ancillary to such services.

I sympathise with the objective but believe that the amendments are not necessary. As regards subsidies for bus services, we must remember that they are already subject to a statutory competitive tendering requirement under the Transport Act 1985. So the amendments add nothing. The same applies to the provision about facilities or ancillary services. Bus service subsidies are subject to competitive tendering and facilities are subject to the usual local authority best value rules. If there were new buildings in facilities--for example, a new bus station--competitive tendering by building contractors would be very much the usual procedure.

I hope that that persuades the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we have covered the water front, if I may use an inappropriate metaphor.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has succeeded in satisfying my noble friend but he tells me that my amendment is unnecessary. He will appreciate that I am constantly trying to press forward improvements for disabled people and I hope that the Government will keep under review the progress which bus companies are making as regards the accessibility of buses. If the Government feel the progress can be improved perhaps they will alter regulations so that accessibility is improved as quickly as possible. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 181 not moved.]

Clause 154 [Penalties]:

[Amendments Nos. 182 to 186 not moved.]

Schedule 11 [Minor and consequential amendments about local transport]:

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 187 to 190:

Page 219, line 25, leave out from ("for") to end of line 28 and insert ("paragraphs (d) and (e) substitute--

"(d) persons who are blind;

(e) persons who are partially sighted;").

Page 219, line 32, leave out ("seriously impairs") and insert ("has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on").

Page 219, line 33, leave out from ("who") to end of line 34 and insert ("do not have arms or have long-term loss of the use of both arms;").

Page 219, line 41, at end insert ("otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol;

(eg) any person travelling as the companion of a person who--

(i) is eligible to receive travel concessions by virtue of any other paragraph of this subsection; and

(ii) requires the assistance of a companion in order to travel on journeys on public passenger transport services;".").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 163 [Local charging schemes]:

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 191:

Page 99, line 26, at end insert--

("(3) Before making a local charging scheme a charging authority which is a metropolitan district council must consult the Passenger Transport Authority for the passenger transport area in which the district is included.").

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we have tabled four simple amendments in this group to ensure that when a metropolitan district council charging authority makes a local charging scheme or a licensing scheme, including joint schemes, it must consult the passenger transport authority for that area. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness and I are running down parallel lines. Amendments Nos. 193, 194 and 195 relate to consultation on congestion charging schemes. When such a scheme is introduced, we believe that there must be consultation. The Bill says that there may be consultation. We have dealt with the theme of "may" and "shall" on many occasions and I do not apologise for bringing it back.

Amendment No. 195 would ensure that any "other persons" who were consulted were interested persons. There is no point in consulting those who are not. It seems odd that an authority could fulfil its legal obligation by consulting someone with no relevance to the issue, even though such consultation would serve no practical purpose.

Amendments No. 200 and 201 repeat those provisions in relation to London. Amendments Nos. 223, 224 and 225 repeat them in relation to workplace parking licensing schemes. Consultation is a significant issue. The provisions should be explicit and not quasi-voluntary because of the use of the word "may". "Shall" is more appropriate in the circumstances.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, Amendment No. 196 relates to road user charging and Amendment No. 219 relates to the workplace parking levy. Employers and their workforce representatives should be involved in the consultation at company and workplace level before the introduction in a particular area of a road user charge or a workplace parking levy. I am a particularly strong supporter of those important initiatives and the amendments have not been tabled to subtract from them.

People rely tremendously on the motor car to get to work. Many noble Lords may be surprised that the Labour Force Survey shows that nationally 70 per cent of people go to work by car. That hides the fact that the figure is higher outside London. In London, where journeys to work are very different, the figures are 13 per cent in central London and 43 per cent for the London area as a whole. That has implications when we consider what changes of behaviour are realistic. We must avoid people in most parts of the country being astonished by what we are saying.

I do not want to make a long speech, but I want to emphasise that we are in favour of the proposed measures and we want to make them more successful, as they are an essential component of the strategy for sustainable development. There is still a good deal of listening as well as educating to be done if we are to get these ideas off the ground successfully.

I do not know whether my noble friend the Minister has a ballpark figure in mind for the revenue to be recycled by these provisions, but the aim seems to be to take money from the pocket of Peter to pay for improved public provisions for Peter and for Paul. I am sure that my noble friend will correct me if he thinks that I have missed the point. Some of us are unsure how the case will come across to those who are directly affected if there has been no prior discussion in their workplace about the extra charges.

The TUC and CBI both argue along similar lines on the issue. We must avoid the idea that the charges exist simply to push up the cost of living. We already know that, remarkably, transport has moved to top spot in the categories of expenditure governing the retail prices index--above housing, food and many other items that we traditionally thought were at the heart of people's standard of living.

I make no apology for reminding the House that I made a broader proposal in Committee in July. The dramatic events of September reinforced the conclusions that we need people to be fully involved in dialogue about the purposes being sought before the arrangements come into force. The consultation procedures of local authorities are the operational mechanism. It is highly desirable that primary legislation should spell out that employers and workplace representatives at each workplace in the local authority area should be involved in consultation.

The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has talked for some time about "green transport plans" as an umbrella process into which the proposals could fit, but the new initiatives in the Bill require a more focused commitment.

I doubt whether it will be equitable to give exemptions to employers below a certain size or those with a limited number of parking places. I remember meeting the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to talk about the problems of small firms when she was Prime Minister and I was wearing my TUC hat. To illustrate the fallacy of a proposal then on the table, John Monks suggested, tongue in cheek, that the Government should exempt small firms from the speed limit. "Take a note of that", said the Prime Minister to the civil servant at the meeting.

Innumerable issues will arise, from the staggering of hours of work to the staggering of deliveries. National reporting and monitoring arrangements would be helpful to gauge how the issues are emerging in practice, as opposed to in theory.

My noble friend the Minister may prefer to say that the issue will be addressed in regulations along the broad lines of the amendment. That would be a second best solution, because there would be uncertainty at the time when local authorities were developing their plans. However, if that is the Minister's answer, we need to know when the regulations are likely to be made, on the assumption of the Bill receiving Royal Assent in the next month; how they will relate to local authorities whose schemes are well advanced by then; and whether they will make provision for worker consultation.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour 5:30 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I, too, wish to support Amendments Nos. 196 and 219 as well as to express my support for road user charging and the workplace parking levy. First, however, I apologise to noble Lords for my hoarse voice.

Whenever the words "tax", "charge" or "levy" are used, they create immediate suspicion, swiftly followed by protective opposition. That is why the involvement of others is so important in discussions. It is vital that both employers and employees understand fully what lies behind any proposals relating to charges or levies. Views must be heard at the beginning of the process when local authorities introduce schemes in their areas.

I wish to concentrate on the effect of the proposals set out in Clauses 169 and 184 on a particular group of workers; namely, women workers. I shall turn first to Clause 169 covering road user charging schemes. These will apply to the registered keeper of a vehicle, who will be responsible for paying the charges. This will therefore impact directly on women workers who rely on their cars to get to and from work and to carry out their family duties, which still lie heavily on women's shoulders.

Women workers rely on their cars, at least equally and if not more, than their male colleagues. Women tend to need to dash from work to collect their children from school or from their leisure activities. It is usually women who need to dash from work to the shops and/or to make sure that an elderly or disabled relative has his or her needs catered for. Women use cars for these undertakings because, in this hectic world, cars are often quicker and more readily available than public transport. However, we hope that in the future that situation will be different.

Most women would say that they wish to support actions that are environmentally friendly. Many polls show that the greening of the environment is very high on women's agendas. Women workers are practical people; they have to be, juggling as they do the demands of work, family and the wider obligations of society. Women certainly understand the reasons for the need to reduce congestion on the roads. That is why it is particularly important for their views to be heard at the earliest possible opportunity in discussions on matters which so directly affect them. Hence I declare my support for this amendment.

I turn now to Clause 184 covering workplace parking levies. The same reasoning as regards women workers applies here. However, unlike Clause 169, under the provisions of this clause, the levy would not apply directly to the user of the vehicle, but would be directed at the occupier of premises where parking is to take place. In this context that would usually be the employer.

This in itself will raise questions in the minds of employees. For example, will any costs incurred by employers be passed directly or indirectly to the workforce? Women tend to earn less than their male colleagues. Will this be recognised in any discussions on the levy?

Already some exemptions have been made in connection with these charges. Certain workers--for example NHS hospital employees, who work unsocial hours and thus at times when transport provision is poor--are to be exempted. In today's changing world of work, an increasing number of women work unsocial hours and thus at times when transport provision may not be adequate. The employees of call centres, who tend in the main to be women, come to mind. Will exemptions also be made for such workers?

Again, the necessity for the views of women workers to be taken into consideration at an early stage in the consultation will enable any proposals by local authorities to have a smoother passage into fruition. This amendment would help that process.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Labour

My Lords, my name is associated with those of my noble friends Lord Lea of Crondall and Lady Gibson of Market Rasen on these amendments. I endorse entirely the comments they have made in support of them.

Some 30 years ago it was my misfortune to become the trade union official in the organisation of which my noble friend Lady Gibson was a national official. At the time, the University of Nottingham decided to introduce parking charges. They did not tell anyone and that proved to be a slight problem. During my six years in Nottingham, of all the issues that resulted in the greatest rise in temperatures, along with proposals such as burning down the university and hanging the vice-chancellor, the introduction of parking charges at the university came out on top.

Rational arguments could be brought forward in support of the charges. However, those rational arguments were put forward after the decision had been made. They did not precede it. Although I endorse entirely the policy here under consideration, it will be a difficult one to render acceptable in most local authority areas, whether the local authority, trade unions or employers are involved in promoting it. The campaign to win over hearts and minds will be extremely important. For that reason, the need to consult employers and workforce representatives will be an absolutely essential prerequisite if local authorities wish successfully to introduce such schemes. If that is not done, they will encounter the kind of backlash I witnessed at Nottingham some 30 years ago and of which I believe I still bear the scars.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in support of these proposals. In particular I should like to support Amendment No. 219. I am a great supporter of workplace parking charges. Indeed, I was sorry to read that the Mayor of London appears to have put the proposal on the back burner for the time being. I believe that such charges could make a major contribution to the reduction of congestion in London; indeed, the same could be said of many large towns.

It is important to consult widely. It is important to consult those who run businesses as well as employees. It will be key to recognise the fact that those who run businesses will probably in any case have their own private parking spaces and will have a rather different view on the need to retain them or to charge for them from those who do not have access to such parking facilities, in particular those women who may be paid less and must rely on a good bus service. It is vital that employees are given an equal say in these matters.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have made a case for these amendments. To that end, I am pleased to be able to start our deliberations on Part III of the Bill by agreeing with noble Lords on the need for full and proper consultation on proposals for road user charging and workplace parking levies.

The amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, would require any charging or licensing scheme brought forward by one or more local authorities in a metropolitan area to consult the local passenger transport authority before the scheme could be introduced. I can assure the noble Baroness that it will not be acceptable for local authorities in a metropolitan area to introduce any new charges without consulting the local passenger transport authority. Consultation at this level will be a fundamental requirement for securing the Secretary of State's approval for any scheme brought forward in a metropolitan area.

The amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would require more general consultation to take place before a road user charging or workplace parking levy scheme could be introduced or varied or--for road user charging--revoked. Again, I can assure the noble Lord that no charging or licensing scheme will be approved by the Secretary of State unless full and effective consultation has taken place on the details of the scheme. I should note in passing that the National Assembly for Wales also attaches similar importance to the need for proper consultation on scheme details.

The amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lord Lea and other noble Lords emphasise the need for consulting with employers and workforce representatives before a road user charging scheme or workplace parking levy scheme could be introduced. I can assure my noble friend that full and proper consultation on scheme details will, of course, include consultation with local employers and the business community, as well as other interested parties, including workforce representatives. My noble friend further asked me to suggest to some ballpark figures for road user charging schemes or workplace parking levies. Such sums would be extremely small in the context of the £180 billion that we foresee being invested in transport over the coming 10 years. However, it will be important to the hypothecation in local transport plans, in particular as regards the effect that charges of this kind may have on such plans.

As regards the question of timing, my noble friend asked when the regulations might be made. I understand that such schemes could be put in place from next year, following consultation with interested parties. He further asked how this would relate to schemes presently being brought forward. We are working with interested local authorities in our charging development partnerships to ensure that schemes will be compatible both with the legislation and with regulations.

Although agreeing in principle with these amendments, I am unable to accept them because they are overly prescriptive. What these amendments seek to put on the face of the Bill, we intend to cover in regulations, guidance and through the approval of individual schemes. This will ensure that, for example, statutory consultees are clearly identified and that the appropriate level of consultation is tailored to take account of different schemes and local factors. I emphasise that the regulation-making powers in Clause 167 for road user charging and Clause 182 for the workplace parking levy provide a means for specifying statutory consultees and consultation procedures that must be followed.

Further, Clause 169 for road user charging and Clause 184 for the workplace parking levy enable the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to direct a charging or licensing authority to undertake further consultation where the charging or licensing authority has not undertaken adequate consultation. This means that there is no possibility that any charging or licensing scheme will be introduced without proper consultation having taken place.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the need for full and effective consultation on scheme details, including consultation with businesses, workforces and passenger transport authorities. I suspect that the issue of what should be placed on the face of the Bill and what should be left to regulations, guidance and scheme approval will be a recurring theme as we debate Part III.

I hope that noble Lords will accept that these amendments are too prescriptive for the primary legislation and that with the assurances I have given they will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response. I shall convey it to my noble friend. I suspect that he also will be satisfied with what has happened. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 164 [Joint local charging schemes]:

[Amendment No. 192 not moved.]

Clause 169 [Charging schemes: consultation and inquiries]:

[Amendments Nos. 193 to 196 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 197:

Page 101, line 27, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 197, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 198 and 199 and to Amendments Nos. 220 to 222. These two groups of amendments both relate to the holding of inquiries--the first group in relation to congestion charging and the second in relation to workplace parking licensing schemes.

We believe that the maximum amount of study, publicity and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, argued, public education is essential if the schemes are to be introduced with any hope of success--and, more importantly, with any hope of there not being a violent, negative public reaction, which probably will be the likeliest outcome. We think that it will help if the holding of an inquiry is obligatory and we therefore seek once again to change the word "may" to "shall".

It is important that if such an inquiry is held, it should be under the chairmanship of an independent chairman. That is not specified in the Bill and we believe that it would help enormously if it were. As I have said before, no matter what the intention may be, such matters should be explicit on the face of the Bill. That is what we are attempting to achieve with these amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 5:45 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of these amendments. As I made clear only a few moments ago, we all attach great importance to the need for effective consultation on the details of road user charging and workplace parking levy schemes. Amendments Nos. 197, 198, 220 and 221 would place a specific requirement on all charging and licensing authorities to hold a public inquiry for all schemes, any variation to a scheme and on the revocation of any scheme.

Holding a public inquiry before a charging or licensing scheme is introduced may well be appropriate. It may also be appropriate to hold an inquiry if there is a significant variation to a scheme or a revocation of a scheme. But it cannot be sensible to make public inquiries compulsory in all circumstances, for all schemes and for any changes to each and every scheme. Some small-scale schemes may simply not justify a full-scale public inquiry. In addition, the amendments would remove the ability of charging and licensing authorities to fine tune schemes or to revoke schemes quickly. Consequently, while the noble Lord's amendments are well intended, they would not be helpful or beneficial.

However, I emphasise again the considerable importance that we attach to the proper scrutiny of the details of individual schemes. Clause 169 for road user charging and Clause 184 for the workplace parking levy give local authorities the power to hold an inquiry when they deem it necessary, and we intend to issue guidance on this matter. We currently envisage that while a public inquiry may not be necessary for the smaller schemes or for minor variations to schemes, it is certainly likely to be appropriate for larger schemes or for more substantial changes to a scheme. Our guidance is currently being drafted and we plan to issue it in draft for consultation in the spring of next year. These clauses also provide the appropriate national authority with the power to cause a public inquiry to be held if it feels this is appropriate.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 199 and 222. I am again in agreement with the noble Lord over the need for qualified and independent persons to hold inquiries. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to write this provision onto the face of the Bill. This is because any inquiry that failed to meet that criterion would be vulnerable to a successful challenge in the courts. But I reiterate our belief and intention that inquiries should be run by independent and suitably qualified people.

Having spelt out why I am unable to accept these amendments, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw them.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I assumed beforehand that his reply would be in line with the spirit of my amendments and--dare I say it?--that, as usual, he would swat me gently over the head and tell me that they were unnecessary.

I am particularly grateful for the points he made about the independence of chairmen of inquiries, but I always feel vulnerable when someone says, "If "X" happens, "Y" could resort to the law in order to prove that the procedure was inadequate". As I keep saying, resorting to the law is expensive, and it is sometimes difficult for people to do that. None the less, I am grateful for the Minister's response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 198 to 201 not moved.]

Clause 170 [Matters to be dealt with in charging schemes]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 202:

Page 102, line 24, after ("vehicles") insert ("(other than powered two wheelers which are excluded)").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, despite the remarks that have been made about proposing exemptions for either small vehicles or small numbers of car parking spaces, I do not apologise for bringing forward these amendments. I do not believe that the two exemptions from congestion charges or the exemption from the workplace levy indicated in the amendments are on a par with everyone asking for an exemption or small employers asking for an exemption from the 30 limit.

Although two-wheeled vehicles may have some disadvantages, they certainly have great congestion advantages. If people could be encouraged to use them rather than cars, congestion may well be reduced. I say "may" because motor-cyclists travelling on roads similar to the appallingly wet ones we suffered this morning could well fall off. If that happened, congestion could be increased as a result of the accident.

The case for doing everything that we can to encourage the small employer is always worth arguing. I do not apologise for seeking an exemption from the workplace parking levy for small businesses. Small industries, if successful, often go on to become much bigger--in which case the community gains a great deal in terms of employment and general social benefit, and, I dare say, in terms of the additional charges that will then arise. On the other hand, it would be unfortunate if small businesses found themselves throttled at birth and this provision happened to be a factor. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord raises some interesting points. However, my instinctive reaction is that these are precisely the kind of matters that need to be argued when a scheme is proposed. Other Members of this House have argued the case for the involvement of employers. Amendment No. 214 is not about small employers; it is about employers of any size who happen to have workplaces with four or fewer parking places.

It is entirely right that those who are liable to be affected by a scheme should have an opportunity to contribute to it. It may be, for instance, that a small number of parking places can be used for those who have mobility problems. Although the points raised are interesting, it is better for them to be dealt with in the context of a particular scheme rather than for Parliament to endeavour to legislate in detail for what might be a range of circumstances in different cities up and down the country.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said it all. However, I am afraid that I shall have to give the official response all the same.

Motor vehicles, as defined in the Bill in Clause 197(1), already exclude certain electrically assisted pedal cycles and other forms of unpowered modes of transport. That leaves us with the question of whether, as the amendment suggests, the Bill should automatically exclude all powered two-wheelers from charges in all circumstances.

We consulted on this matter in Breaking the Logjam. We examined the possibility for a national exemption for motorcycles. Over 60 per cent of responses said that there should not be a national exemption, although many people thought that it should be a matter for local discretion, as the noble Baroness rightly said.

We recognise the merits of an exemption for motorcycles. It is true that motorcycles do not cause congestion in the same way as four-wheeled vehicles--although there are some people who think that motorcycles cause a certain amount of danger in city streets given the way in which some are driven.

We are also aware that under the provisions of the Bill a local authority could charge motorcycles if they contribute to local congestion problems, or it could exempt them if that were thought proper. There are places where one can imagine motorcycles causing congestion--one has only to look at scooters in Rome or Athens to realise that. There is also the possibility of a reduced rate if local authorities think it appropriate. Discretion is the answer.

The same is true of the threshold of four spaces, which I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lea, criticise in speaking to an earlier group of amendments. Again, we made it clear in the consultation paper that there are attractions in applying a threshold. It is administratively convenient to exclude a large number of negotiation and enforcement power duties from a scheme. It may be that some are small businesses--although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, they are not necessarily all small businesses--and there may be advantages which local authorities can and will take into account. Who is to say that four is the right level for every town or city where there might be a workplace parking levy? The requirement could be different in different cities; it could be different with a different pattern of enterprises. Surely it is better to leave it to local discretion in this case as well.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, not least among the pleasures of being a Member of this place is that one learns things all the time. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, always manages to correct me on matters of definition--for which I am grateful, because one does not always think these matters through. I am grateful to the Minister for his response. If he thinks that scooters in Sienna--he said Rome, but Sienna will do--are a problem and that might or might not be a reason for including them, he ought to think of bicycles in Beijing. A congestion charge on those might be deemed worthwhile, but if such a charge were levied no one would get to work at all.

This has been a useful debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 203:

Page 102, line 29, at end (", and

(f) include a provision for any vehicle able to pass through any designated charging area without any charges being incurred once every calendar month").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, this amendment enables us to discuss particular circumstances which merit consideration (although I heard what was said about considering a scheme). I can envisage circumstances--which happen all too often--in which someone takes a family member to the doctor, the doctor says that he or she had better go straight to hospital, and the person's car is suddenly acting as an emergency vehicle. If the hospital happens to be in a congestion charging area, there is a problem. We believe that this matter needs to be considered and we have tabled the amendment to make sure that it is.

The Minister will probably say that such a provision is impractical. He may also take the not unreasonable view that in an emergency people would drive their car to the hospital, not notice and the cost and would, as it were, "bite the bullet" if a charge were levied. But there is a question of whether we should consider these matters in a more lenient way.

Amendment No. 204 deals with a different and more important matter; namely, the question of keeping a charging scheme under review. If a charging scheme fails to meet the criterion laid down in Clause 163(2)--namely, that it is desirable in order to achieve the policies within the transport plan--it should cease.

An authority may not introduce a scheme unless it is desirable in order to achieve the policies of the transport plan. But circumstances can change. One can envisage a situation where that is no longer the case and the transport scheme is not helping the transport plan at all. In such a case we believe that the scheme should be rescinded.

I turn to Amendment No. 205 in this group. As I read the Bill--and I may have misinterpreted it--it requires a congestion charge to be made on a road where a charge is already being made for parking. There may well be a need to control parking but it may not per se be creating congestion. It could be in a residential street where it is highly desirable to control parking but there is no congestion. The matter requires careful thought.

Amendment No. 206 provides for the charge to be used if the money to be raised is used for transport. We debated these amendments in a different form in Committee. If these charges are to be introduced, we believe that it is important for the benefit to go back into the transport system of the communities that are actually paying the money. That is not absolutely explicit in the Bill, although it is implicit as a result of the criteria under which the charges have to be commenced. We need to think about the resulting situation should such criteria cease to apply.

Amendment No. 213 has been tabled for a somewhat different reason. Where a congestion charge applies through a town centre, especially in more rural parts of the country, there will almost certainly be people who will wish to avoid it. If an authority produces a charging scheme in such a situation, it would not be a bad thing if there were a designated and explained alternative route, so to speak. Indeed, it would be very humane and would certainly help people driving commercial vehicles. This is a problem when transport costs are already very high. It would be a good idea to have an alternative route available in areas where people believed it was desirable to introduce a congestion charging scheme.

Amendment No. 226 is the final amendment in this group. It would require the licensing authority to keep every licensing scheme under review and to revoke it,

"if it not longer meets the criteria set out in subsection (2) of section 178".

This reverts to the point that we have already made: an authority may not introduce a licensing scheme, unless it fulfils or facilitates the achievement of policies in its transport plan. It is always necessary to refer such charging schemes back to that original intention, so that they can perhaps be revoked if they are not fulfilling the purpose for which they were initiated. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, it seems to me that, in the main, these are matters that should be addressed in the context of each scheme. The noble Lord may like to consider an alternative to his proposal to deal with an emergency; namely, the arrangement proposed by the Mayor of London, for whom I do not speak. Nevertheless, the proposal is worth considering. Of course, all this will depend on the mechanisms used, but it is proposed that a driver will have up to midnight on the day on which he enters the charging area to make the payment. Therefore, if he has forgotten or is facing an emergency and has not had time to make the payment before entering the charging area, he will have the opportunity to make that good without incurring a penalty. It will be a very limited opportunity, but one which will meet the point. I believe that that is an illustration of how each scheme can be designed to meet particular circumstances. Indeed, we wait to see how the public will react to such a proposal in London.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, all these amendments relate to prescriptions on the face of the Bill which, in most cases, are best dealt with by the provisions of each scheme, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or, alternatively, by regulations. Amendment No. 203 refers to emergencies. Clearly there will be occasions when a motorist will need to undertake a journey in an emergency, but there are many ways in which such circumstances could be accommodated within a scheme rather than giving a blanket concession from charges once per month, irrespective of whether or not that provision is used for an emergency. That seems to me to be the least satisfactory solution. Although I wholeheartedly accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, does not speak for the Mayor of London, that is perhaps a slightly better provision. Indeed, there may be better ways yet for meeting this problem. It is a matter best dealt with by individual schemes rather than spelling out such provision on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 204 and 226 are slightly different in that they require the schemes to be kept under review if they no longer meet the objectives of the local transport plan. This would place some obligation on government. London transport authorities will need to keep schemes under review, but the provisions suggested in these amendments would mean that a scheme must automatically be revoked if it no longer helps to meet the objectives of the LTP. That is perfectly sensible in principle; but, in practice, it would be far too blunt an instrument. Authorities need to be able to give careful thought to how and when they revoke a scheme. Of course, many of these schemes include contractual obligations with other bodies, and the sudden revocation of a scheme may well cause significant financial losses to the authority. We are committed to keeping the schemes under review--indeed, local authorities will need to do so--but the amendments do not seem to suggest the most sensible way to ensure that that is accomplished.

I believe that there is some misunderstanding as regards Amendment No. 205; it is almost the other way round. The aim of the clause is to prevent the new road user charging powers being used simply to impose on-street parking charges. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to open up the possibility of road user charges being levied as a sort of second tier of on-street parking charges. This could be achieved if a charging scheme were introduced and exempted moving vehicles. Therefore, Clause 170(3) provides the safeguard to prevent this happening. The noble Lord's amendment would remove that safeguard.

Amendment No. 206 relates to the setting of charges and would delete the provision that states that a charging authority, when it sets charges, may have regard to how charging revenues are to be spent in accordance with Schedule 12. As the noble Lord said, Schedule 12, and everything that we have said in relation to the Bill, provides that every penny of the net proceeds from road user charging and workplace parking levy schemes will be retained by the charging or licensing authority for at least 10 years to fund transport improvements. However, the effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to increase the number of judicial challenges that a local authority could face were it to charge rates at particular levels with the objective of specifically funding a particular transport improvement, as well as tackling congestion more generally under the local transport plan.

The flexibility with which charging authorities can set charge rates to fund particular transport improvements is an important part of this provision. The noble Lord's amendment would call that into question. That would not be in the interests of improving transport choice--for example, not being able to fund a light-rail scheme, only a general provision in relation to congestion--or of encouraging modal shift.

Amendment No. 213 deals with signing an alternative route for through traffic. Clearly one would approve of such a measure in general; indeed, in some cases, marked alternative routes would definitely help to relieve congestion in city centres where there is a road user charging or a workplace parking levy charging regime. We certainly expect schemes to be designed to give information for motorists stating not only that the scheme is in operation but also giving them a choice of whether or not to enter the charged area; in other words, before the point of no return. It is important that motorists know that if they decide to enter the area they must pay the charges. It also means that they should know whether there is an alternative route. Although that would apply to most city centre schemes--indeed, probably all of them--an alternative route may not be available in certain other situations. For example, there may not be an alternative route as regards the small-scale charging schemes that are being developed by Derbyshire County Council in the Peak District National Park, or in the relatively small city centre scheme being promoted by Durham County Council to preserve the world heritage site within Durham city. Depending on one's destination, there would not be an alternative route. I believe that some degree of flexibility is required and that would not be allowed by the noble Lord's amendment.

In general, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says, these issues are provisions for and tailored to individual schemes. The noble Lord usually wishes to devolve such decisions to local authorities. I should have thought, therefore, that he would accept that point.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her remarks about the considerations of the Mayor of London.

The Minister is always helpful when he replies. It is always useful to have his remarks reported in Hansard. One then has a record of the Government's intent on these matters. That is extremely useful for reference. There will be those who in future will be glad that we have had this debate. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 204 to 206 not moved.]

Clause 171 [Charging schemes: exemptions etc.]:

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords)

moved Amendment No. 207:

Page 103, line 14, at end insert ("including exemptions in respect of people who are registered as disabled and people who have a chronic illness which prohibits them from using public transport").

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in proposing a similar amendment in Committee, my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston mentioned my inhibiting illness which does not allow me to travel by public transport. He then continued to address the problem of disabled people travelling on public transport but said nothing about those people who, for various chronic health reasons, are completely unable to travel by public transport. He may not have understood the problem affecting a small number of people but it is for that reason that I shall take slightly longer than might have been necessary. Notwithstanding the very small number of people affected, the problem should be addressed. I shall not address the problems of disabled people who cannot travel by public transport because my noble friend said that that would be covered by regulations.

In a letter sent to me during the Summer Recess, my noble friend said that he would be working closely with disabled people, representative groups and others in order to ensure that the proposed exemption is both workable and fair and that he intends to consult widely. Even then he referred only to disabled people.

Some noble Lords will be aware of my personal problem which prevents me from travelling by public transport in that I can have a serious allergic reaction to certain allergens in about five to 20 seconds. But I am not--I repeat: not--in any other way disabled in the generally accepted understanding of the description. Within most parameters I can work normally.

My noble friend says that he will consult widely. I assure him that I have written and spoken to the British Medical Association in order to put forward conditions which might be covered by the amendment. Its reply was that this would be difficult because the chronic illness would be in an extreme form. Consequently, it advised me that the only person who could confirm that a patient might be subject to an exemption from road user charging who is not disabled and does not claim disability living allowance would be a general practitioner. Therefore, wide consultation will not bring to the surface any of the problems encountered by this small section of the community.

My noble friend may well say that a GP might abuse the system. This has happened before, as we all know. But this could easily be checked in one way or another and any such GP could have his or her attention drawn to any inconsistency that might become evident. I wonder whether the Minister has considered the possibility of a GP issuing an interim exemption before a government body issues one which will then last for a longer period. In this case the patient would have the immediate exemption with a longer certificate to follow in due course and the government body would have before it a record of the GP's submissions thereby affording a check on individual doctor's submissions.

While it is true that I have a personal interest in the amendment, there are others like me who would benefit from the inclusion of the amendment on the face of the Bill. They might have lung, psychiatric or dermatological problems. This Government like to take care of minority interests and those people who might be worthy of the exemption covered by the amendment are a very small minority. Why should that small minority have to suffer the unfairness of road user charging when they cannot travel by public transport?

I remind my noble friend of his written words to me: that he seeks a system which is fair to everybody who might be affected. Unless the Government agree to the amendment, or make similar proposals, the situation of the few people who, although unable to travel by public transport, find themselves charged despite that inability will be extremely unfair. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 6:15 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, anything that I say does not detract from what my noble friend Lord Whitty said in a letter to my noble friend Lord Simon during the Recess. I hope to be able to build on it because I recognise that a legitimate point is being made even though it is a difficult point to deal with. I recognise also that my noble friend made a particularly constructive speech in which he has made a number of suggestions for ways to tackle the difficulties. I can assure him at the very least that all the points he makes are part of the ongoing consultation process.

I remind the House of the system as set out in Clause 171. The Bill allows the Secretary of State to set national exemptions in England from road user charges or the work based levy through national regulations. Every charging scheme has to comply with such regulations. Local authorities can add their own local exemptions if they wish to, but they cannot take anything away from the national exemption. As my noble friend Lord Simon recognised, we have given our assurances--I repeat them today--that we intend to grant some form of national exemption from both road user charges and the workplace parking levy for disabled people.

I appreciate that my noble friend is not disabled and that he has distinguished his condition and that of others from disablement. He is right in saying that anything we do has to be workable, fair and enforceable. So we are working closely with disabled people, groups which represent disabled people and other interested parties. I can give him an assurance that in so far as there are groups representing those who may not be disabled but are not able for the reasons he set out to travel on London Transport they will be, and are being, consulted as well.

One option we are considering is some form of exemption based on the orange--it will now be the blue--badge system. That is under review. Organisations which represent disabled people, including our own statutory advisers--the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee--recognise that there may be need for some tightening of the rules on eligibility to protect the scheme for those for whom it is essential. As part of the review we also consider the question of what is the best approach for our national exemption for disabled persons formed from the new charges. We hope to issue a new consultation paper shortly and we expect that the overall review process will take about 18 months.

I can assure the House that we intend to consult widely once the details of our proposed exemption are drawn up. I can assure my noble friend that Clause 171(1)(a) is already drafted widely enough to provide the type of exemption that he seeks, if that is our decision following consultation. But we have to consider his concerns, and the helpful suggestions he has made, alongside the concerns of others and as part of the consultation process. I should also add that whatever national exemption is decided on, local authorities can grant additional exemptions if they wish.

On the basis, therefore, that the Bill provides for everything that would be necessary to allow the kind of exemption which is posited in this amendment, and on the basis that it would be better for it to be part of the wide-ranging consultation process which I have described, I hope that my noble friend will find it possible to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response to my amendment. I am glad that he will consult widely, except that those who, as a result of chronic illnesses, cannot travel by public transport, will not be thrown up by that consultation as they are few and far between. That can be ascertained only from a general practitioner. I shall read carefully what my noble friend has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 172 [Penalty charges]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 208:

Page 103, line 37, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert ("by the driver of the vehicle at the time of the offence").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, Clause 172 deals with the payment of penalties for vehicles that have travelled through an area where a congestion charge applies. Once again, we have the issue of whether the owner or the driver should pay. At an earlier stage we said that we believed it should be the driver; we still feel that that is the situation. I suppose that the Minister will say that it is a matter for regulation, but I do not apologise for raising the matter again.

Amendment No. 209 deals with a slightly narrower point. The subsection makes it a criminal offence to remove a notice of a penalty charge unless one is the registered owner of the vehicle or someone acting with his authority. In the amendment we seek to add the words:

"with intent to avoid payment of a charge imposed by a charging scheme under this Part".

I admit to being puzzled. If someone drives through an area in which a charging scheme applies, it is highly unlikely that he will stop in the middle of the area or when he gets to the other end and obligingly wait for someone to put a ticket on his car. I believe that he will either be seen, stopped and obliged to pay the charge or he will be recorded as having been there and a letter will catch up with the owner in due course. I am puzzled as to how someone will remove such papers from a vehicle. Perhaps I have missed the point.

Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 deal with a third matter. As drafted, the Bill enables the national authority, the Secretary of State or the Assembly for Wales to give the transport planning authority the power to charge anyone who removes evidence, and can give them the power to enter a vehicle to obtain evidence if they believe an offence has been committed. It is one thing to give them that power, but the Bill, as drafted, can also make it a requirement of the national authority to do that. I do not believe that is necessarily a good point.

When this matter was discussed earlier the complaint made was that if some authorities had the power to enter to collect evidence and others did not, that may create anomalies. That is perfectly true. It seems to me that the Bill enables the Secretary of State to say in relation to one scheme that someone will enter and in relation to another scheme that someone will have the option to enter. Such anomalies could arise under the present wording of the Bill.

Amendment No. 212 deals with the issue of removing notices that require people to pay the penalty charge from a vehicle with the intention of avoiding payment. I am not sure who will remove notices with an intent to avoid payment. It seems to me that such papers would arrive by post. Perhaps I have misunderstood the matter, but I believe that these technicalities ought to be discussed. If they are debated now, subsequent regulations may be made clearer.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, there may be some misunderstanding. First, I shall distinguish between a criminal offence and a civil matter and, secondly, I shall describe how the enforcement may work.

The criminal offences are contained in Clauses 172 to 174. They cover the intentional acts of non-payment, which include interfering with charging equipment to avoid payment, and offences that are needed to ensure that the civil enforcement of a charging scheme is not undermined, which include the unauthorised removal of a penalty charge notice from a vehicle windscreen.

The noble Lord seems to believe that that is not the way in which the schemes will be enforced. That may or may not be so. In some circumstances, certainly in the initial stages of introducing congestion schemes, prepayment may be shown by a licence on the inside of the windscreen in the same way as parking permits work. If a car is parked without a prepaid permit to enter the congested area, it is likely that a traffic warden or other person may place a penalty notice on that car.

That relates to criminal charges, but the simple non-payment of a charge will be a civil matter, which will be akin to non-payment of an on-street parking charge in areas where that has been decriminalised. As in the case of the 1991 Act, dealing with decriminalising, we propose that the registered keeper of a vehicle should be liable to pay penalty charges that would be due for non-payment of a road user charge.

Amendment No. 208 would make the driver of a vehicle liable for penalty charges in all cases. While superficially attractive, it would prove to be unenforceable as it would be necessary to place the responsibility on someone to identify who the driver was at the time. Therefore, in relation to charging, it would be the vehicle that would have a permit or otherwise, or a payment system or otherwise to enter that congestion area, and it is therefore the keeper or owner of that car who will be required to identify who was driving or to meet the charge himself.

Amendments Nos. 209 and 212 deal with criminal intent. Amendment No. 209 would constrain the offence of unauthorised removal of a penalty charge notice to those cases where it was removed by a person who intended to avoid payment of a charge. Amendment No. 212 is similar in relation to wheel clamping.

Requiring proof of intent would make some charging schemes unenforceable; for example, it would be difficult to enforce them if there were no effective sanction preventing any person from removing a penalty charge notice from a windscreen, whether or not he had a direct financial interest. If the person concerned were a passenger or stranger and not directly liable for the charge, he could act without risk of prosecution. Therefore, logically, I hope that it can be seen that the balance between criminal offences and civil matters is represented in the Bill and that it follows the precedent set in the Road Traffic Act 1991 regarding keeper liability.

Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 would remove the ability of the appropriate national authority to make regulations to prescribe how some important aspects of the charging scheme are to be enforced. Therefore, there would be no central provision and enforcement would be left entirely to the discretion of the charging authority. Some degree of discretion is necessary in this area but, in certain cases, not total discretion. Therefore, in certain aspects of the scheme the national authority must be allowed to prescribe how important aspects are to be enforced. It is not the case that the national authority must so prescribe but, if it does, those prescriptions must be followed. These provisions provide a robust framework from which regulations can be drafted for the fair and effective enforcement of road user charging schemes.

I hope that the noble Lord is reasonably clear about the various distinctions that I have attempted to make and that he understands why I do not believe that his amendments will work. Therefore, I hope that he will withdraw Amendment No. 208.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 6:30 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, as usual the Minister has given a courteous and full explanation, and I am rather more clear than I was. However, I could not help thinking that if someone drove into an area where a congestion charge was in place and was silly enough to park in the middle of it so that a warden could put a notice on his car, he should probably be paying a double penalty for lack of care and attention. I do not believe that drivers are that stupid and, therefore, I do not believe that many people will be caught in that way.

The Minister's reply has been helpful and I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 209 not moved.]

Clause 173 [Examination, entry, search and seizure]:

[Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 not moved.]

Clause 174 [Immobilisation etc.]:

[Amendment No. 212 not moved.]

Clause 176 [Traffic signs]:

[Amendment No. 213 not moved.]

Clause 177 [Preliminary]:

[Amendment No. 214 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 215:

Page 107, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) A licensing scheme shall be introduced only after the majority of the public transport improvements outlined in the local transport plan have been implemented and successfully in operation for the minimum of six months.").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, this amendment reverts to a point raised at an earlier stage. The introduction of these schemes raises a severe question in everyone's mind. In part, they are intended to provide a certain amount of additional funding for transport improvements. By putting up the cost of using a car, they are also supposed to provide a disincentive to using a car. Such a scheme is perhaps worth while. However, I suspect that in the end the effect of such schemes will prove to be inflationary and will be paid for one way or another by us all.

That said, if the schemes work, it is implied that alternative forms of transport will be running reasonably before they are brought into operation; otherwise, they will do no more than generate revenue. We do not believe that they should be simply revenue-generating schemes. They will have validity only if alternative modes of transport are in place before they are introduced. This amendment gives effect to that small and general principle and I believe that it would be well worth sticking to it. I hope that the Minister will treat it with sympathy but I suspect that he may not.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I certainly treat the reasoning behind the amendment with sympathy. However, I am afraid that this is another example of a scheme which needs to be adapted to local conditions rather than being laid down prescriptively on the face of the Bill. The fundamental principle is accepted. We shall want to see improvements in public transport before a charging or licensing scheme is introduced. That will be a condition for securing the Secretary of State's approval of the order to give effect to the scheme. That is the fundamental safeguard which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seeks.

The requirements for securing scheme approval depend on local factors. They depend on the size of the scheme and on the availability of alternatives to the car. Such factors will vary between one scheme and another. Some small-scale schemes may not need extensive up-front improvements to local transport. Larger schemes are certainly likely to need more substantial improvements.

However, it would not be sensible to set out on the face of the Bill the improvements to public transport--or, in this case, the majority of the improvements outlined in the local transport plan--that should be in place for any particular period, whether it be for six months or any other period. It is possible that we shall want to see more of the local transport plan in effect and for a longer period before the Secretary of State approves an order. However, that must depend on the size and scope of the scheme and the nature of the public transport improvements which are possible and necessary. Such factors should not be prescribed on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He has at least treated the principle with sympathy, if not the detail. I shall study his reply and, in the meantime, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 216:

Page 107, line 11, leave out paragraph (b).

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 216, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 217.

Clause 177(2) provides for the occupier of a premises or any person specified by the national authority in regulations to be liable for the workplace charging levy. We believe that, if a tax is imposed, it should be imposed locally. It is not appropriate for the national authority to determine who should pay it but the authority which makes the scheme. After all, that authority will raise the tax and will enjoy the benefit of the revenue, if revenue there be. There is some doubt about the certainty of that under the Bill as drafted but I have tabled subsequent amendments to deal with that point.

We feel quite strongly that there should be a direct link between those who decide to generate a tax and draw the revenue and those who decide how it should be implemented. We do not believe that it is necessary--I return to my local authority responsibility point--for the national authority to make that definition. We believe that it should be left to the authority which makes the scheme. That is the principle which should be followed. If an authority is to receive criticism or praise for what it has done, it should have absolute responsibility for what it has decided rather than being told how to decide it before it sets about the task.

I turn to Amendment No. 217 that deals with a small point that we debated earlier. The Bill provides that a workplace parking levy licence may last for only 12 months. We think that that very often, that is too uncertain certain and the Bill should permit a licence to be valid for a period longer than 12 months. This amendment gives effect to that belief and that is why we have tabled it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I deal first with Amendment No. 217 which may have the opposite effect to the noble Lord's intention. The principal effect of his amendment, if carried, would be to remove an important safeguard for businesses. Our intention was simply to protect businesses by ensuring that a licensing authority could not require a business to take out and pay for a licence for more than one year and therefore could not ask them to pay for several years at once. If the amendment were carried, that protection would be removed. I do not believe that the business community would necessarily thank the noble Lord for that. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not press that amendment.

I did not entirely follow the noble Lord's argument on Amendment No. 216 because its effect would be to remove a degree of flexibility from local authorities and from the way in which the regulations are drawn. It would specify that in all the circumstances, the occupier would be the person responsible for paying the workplace parking levy. In the vast majority of cases it will be the occupier, but there are a very small number of instances where it would be more appropriate to make someone other than the building occupier liable for paying the levy. That is why we have provided that regulation-making power in paragraph (b) of that subsection. It needs, in particular, to cover a situation where someone other than the occupier of the premises was using the car park for his workforce or for a situation where premises are shared by more than one occupier. That is why that regulation-making power exists.

Thus, far from the amendment providing a more direct relationship between the local authority and the payer of the charge, it removes the ability to provide some flexibility in identifying who is the appropriate person to charge. That is the reason for that regulation-making facility. I hope that noble Lords do not pursue that.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, the Minister explained his objections to Amendment No. 216. It is not the regulations that need to define who is going to pay the charge; it is the scheme that needs that definition. I do not think that one needs that to be defined in regulations in order to have it defined in the scheme. It seems to me that if a charging authority is to make a scheme, it will certainly not make it without defining with sufficient precision--in the circumstances in which it finds itself in its own area--who is going to pay. It is a sine qua non of making a scheme that if one is going to do this, one has to define who is to pay and must take account of differing circumstances.

I do not remain entirely convinced by the Minister's response to that particular amendment.

On Amendment No. 217, the Minister is quite right. I suppose that my amendment might make it possible for someone to draft a licence that was for five years and require a payment for five years at the time the last licence was drafted. It tempts me to bring a revised amendment forward at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 178 [Local licensing schemes]:

[Amendment No. 217 not moved.]

Clause 179 [Joint local licensing schemes]:

[Amendment No. 218 not moved.]

Clause 184 [Licensing schemes: consultation and inquiries]:

[Amendment No. 219 to 225 not moved.]

Clause 185 [Matters to be dealt with in licensing schemes]:

[Amendment No. 226 not moved.]

Clause 187 [Licences]:

[Amendment No. 227 not moved.]

Schedule 12 [Road user charging and workplace parking levy: financial provisions]

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 228

Page 222, line 44, at end insert (", a London traffic authority's and the Greater London Authority's").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, the purpose of this series of amendments is to remove what we see as one of the pernicious effects of these schedules as they are at present drafted. The Bill as conceived permits the introduction of both congestion charging and workplace parking licensing with the revenue to accrue to the authority that initiates the tax and brings it into being for 10 years only and may be introduced only if they are in aid of the local transport system. The Bill mentions an initial 10 year period from their introduction and that could be any time for a considerable period--I think it is 10 years--after the introduction of the Bill. One can have these schemes running forward.

A lot has been made of the fact that this is hypothecation of expenditure for the local transport scene. If the idea is good then it is right that the money should be hypothecated. But the problem is that the Bill then goes on to provide a limit to the hypothecation and it will be hypothecated for 10 years in the first instance.

We debated this in Committee and the objection raised, not least from colleagues sitting on my right, was that even if an authority had achieved all the transport improvements that it could ever envisage, a charging scheme might still be desirable for the disincentive effect that that may have on drivers.

It shows a remarkable lack of confidence in what we are about if that can be seen to be so because that statement is an admission that public transport cannot fulfil the needs of the community and one may need to have artificial fiscal incentives to dissuade people from otherwise travelling by car. That is rather a depressing thought.

Being a man of a sensitive nature and, for once in my life, listening to what was said, it occured to me that there is a different way of dealing with the Government's--or my--dilemma in believing that it would be inappropriate to have a local tax devised, set and made locally for local purposes subsequently, as I would put it, purloined by the Treasury because the hypothecation ran out.

We tabled this particular series of amendments with that in mind so that if that Utopian day were to come when there was nothing in the transport field on which the local transport authority had to spend this money, the revenues would accrue to the local rate fund. That would leave the charge in place with motorists paying their contribution. It could be argued that the cost to the local community would subsequently be neutral, and so it would. But, of course, there would be a deal of value being transferred from one particular section of the community to the community at large.

We believe that that idea should be pursued because it would keep the principle of local taxation--set locally and used locally.

I do not like the idea that those specific charges that were originally devised for transport improvement should continue, but if they must do that--and from the debate we had in Committee it seems they must--then at least the benefit should stay locally and the local community should be allowed benefit from it. It seems to me that the amendments follow a very important principle. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My Lords, noble Lords are aware that Schedule 12 of this Bill mirrors the provisions in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which provides for the full hypothecation of new charges for improving local transport for at least 10 years. We recognise that this is a crucial factor in the success and acceptability of each and every scheme. Schedule 12 provides that these ground-breaking hypothecation arrangements will be reviewed in 10 years' time. Regulations will then be made to set out the future arrangements for the use of revenues from charging and licensing schemes.

I am firmly of the view that this approach is a more sensible route to follow than that down which the noble Lord wants to lead us. I can assure him that the review will be wide ranging and will look at all the options. I would add also that the regulations that will be made will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of the other place.

It may be that the review recommends that 100 per cent hypothecation of charging revenues for transport spending should continue for all schemes for a further period. Alternatively, it may suggest that some of the revenues should be used for other purposes, particularly as substantial transport improvements will have been put in place during the original period of hypothecation. But clearly I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the review.

I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that the best place to consider his proposal will be in the review of the use of charging revenues that will take place in 10 years' time, when I trust that he will be present to dispute the matter, if necessary. In the mean time, I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which ran along predictable lines. Ten years hence, of course, a review will be a review. Who will undertake that review at that time is an interesting point. It may or may not be the Minister. The reality is that, whatever the political tides of change might be, the Minister would be appalled at the thought of doing that job in 10 years' time.

So I doubt that it will be the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, undertaking the review. If it were him, I pay him the compliment of saying that I would have considerable confidence in the way he would do it. Unfortunately, I have spent a long time dealing with governments and I have little confidence in what is going on.

The Minister is saying that the Government might follow the principles I am advocating, or they might not; that they might keep the money being used for transport, or they might not. I am innately suspicious of the Treasury. In my experience it likes to get its hands on moneys if it can. I can well envisage that, at the time the review is undertaken, other pressures will exist. There may be a strong argument from the Treasury that hypothecation for 10 years is a good thing. It may say, "Look at all the good that has been done", but that it should now end because it can use the money better nationally. I can also envisage the argument that local authorities are not very good managers and that we should look at how well the Treasury does things; and so on.

I do not like where we are on this matter, but I shall consider the Minister's reply with care. With the charitable hope that he will not have to do this job for another 10 years--with, of course, the best of political intentions in saying so--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 229 to 234 not moved.]

Clause 193 [Information]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

moved Amendment No. 235:

Page 115, line 13, after ("(1)") insert ("or (2)").

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, information obtained by an authority, including the Government, in the course of performing its functions is only protected from disclosure by a contractor to whom it has been disclosed by the licensing or charging authority. But protection from disclosure should extend to disclosure by the authority itself. In other words, if a contractor to whom information is disclosed releases it and it does damage, he can be sued. If the authority inadvertently releases the information to him, there is no claim. We do not feel that that is satisfactory and believe that it should be corrected.

Amendment No. 236, which follows on from that, says,

"If information is disclosed or used in contravention of subsection (4), the charging authority or licensing authority in question shall be liable to compensate the person who provided such information for any loss suffered as a result of the disclosure".

All those schemes will be dealing with matters of considerable commercial worth. It is important therefore that when such matters are being discussed by authorities, the information should not be released in such a way that it can do damage to the person who gave the authority that information. The two amendments run together and sustain what we believe to be a worthwhile principle. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Lord Macdonald of Tradeston Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My Lords, as we debate the final group of amendments to Part III, I am once again pleased to be in agreement with the noble Lord on his intentions, though I hope to persuade him that his concerns are already met.

We envisage that the disclosure of information by public bodies may be essential for the fair and effective enforcement of a charging or licensing scheme; for example, the name and address of the registered keeper of a vehicle may need to be passed on to a charging authority by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

Amendment No. 235 is in fact unnecessary. Clause 193(3)(b) already deals with the noble Lord's concern and refers to the disclosure of information obtained under subsection (2). I can therefore assure the noble Lord that his concern is already specifically catered for.

I agree also with the noble Lord that, where information is wrongly disclosed, people should be able to claim compensation for any damage caused. However, that is already catered for under the common law through our judicial system, to which anyone who feels that they have been caused damage in that way can resort. Proceedings under common law provide appropriate remedies for claims against persons who have wrongly disclosed information.

I do not believe therefore that it is necessary to add this safeguard to this primary legislation and I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Once again we have the question of the cost of going to law. I accept that there has to be a burden of proof. But if a difficulty arises and one is required to have recourse to law, yet there is no automatic provision for compensation--assuming an appropriate element of proof is provided--people can be put to considerable expense. Whatever the justice of the case, it remains a sad fact that in this modern era justice tends to flow with those who can afford it, and some people cannot or will not. I shall study carefully what the Minister said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 236 not moved.]

Clause 201 [Membership and chairing]:

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 7:00 pm, 30th October 2000

moved Amendment No. 237:

Page 119, line 14, at end insert (", and

(c) at least one person representative of disabled people").

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, rather oddly we now turn to railways on a day when hardly any of them appears to be working. However, I hope that by the time proceedings on the Bill are completed the railways of this country will be up and running and we shall have helped them to work a little better.

In moving Amendment No. 237 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 238, 249 and 286. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara will speak to his Amendment No. 260 which is part of this group. The purpose of Amendment No. 237 is to require that at least one member of the Strategic Rail Authority represents the needs of disabled people. My second amendment requires that disabled people are consulted by the authority in drawing up strategies. Organisations of disabled people believe that at least one authority member, perhaps nominated from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, should represent the interests of disabled rail users, and that the needs of disabled people when travelling are specific and should be included in strategic planning decisions. The Bill requires the authority to consult before it develops any strategies, and I believe that that needs to include disabled people and their organisations.

Amendment No. 249 is designed to require that all rail services secured by the authority should comply with the rail regulator's code of practice entitled Meeting the Needs of Disabled People. The code of practice is the result of a lengthy period of consultation which involves both the industry and disability movement. It introduces a number of useful steps to improve access to rail services for disabled people, including the application of the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations to rail vehicles which are refurbished. The code can also be revised to reflect new developments without requiring the introduction of new primary or secondary legislation.

The final amendment in this group, Amendment No. 286, requires that any substitute road services should carry guide and other assistance dogs. I understand that, as the law now stands, a taxi or private hire vehicle driver can refuse to carry an assistance dog. Such a refusal will often lead to an assistance dog owner being stranded without transport or put in a position which jeopardises his or her personal safety. The refusal to carry an assistance dog is a refusal to carry an assistance dog user. In the case of taxis, Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 will place duties on taxi drivers to carry assistance dogs at no extra charge to the owners.

On 17th July the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, announced that consultation would start that week on the final implementation of Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act some time next year. However, private hire vehicles are outside the scope of the DDA. The Disability Rights Task Force recommended that this should be an issue to be considered by the Government in extending the DDA in any future equality legislation. The Joint Committee on Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People has produced a policy statement which highlights the fact that local authorities in their capacity as licensing authorities can already impose conditions on private hire vehicle licences which require the carriage of assistance dogs.

I understand that there is a power available to licensing authorities outside London under Section 51(2) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which enables them to attach such conditions as they consider reasonably necessary to the grant of a private hire driver's licence. However, with exclusive contracts to rail stations and substitute rail services it is essential that assistance dog owners are not left stranded. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a requirement to place conditions on the grant of powers which ensure that exclusive contracts and substitute vehicle services provide for the carriage of assistance dogs by private hire vehicles at no extra charge to the owners. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

I support these amendments. In particular, I make a strong plea for the adoption of Amendment No. 286. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, in effect if one refuses to carry an assistance dog one also refuses to carry the owner. Taxis will not be able to do that when the relevant part of the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force. I urge the noble Lord to have a big think about this matter and perhaps try to meet the point between now and Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, since my Amendment No. 260 is in this group perhaps I may speak briefly to it at this stage. Clause 213 gives the authority power to secure road transport where railway services are temporarily disrupted or discontinued. This amendment imposes a requirement to tender out such services not only where services are discontinued, as provided in subsection (4), but where they are temporarily disrupted. Competitive tendering is the most appropriate way to secure an efficient and cost-effective service. It is a transparent process which is not only fair but is seen to be fair and it should be adopted in these circumstances.

At Committee stage we pointed out that it would be good business practice to have enabling contracts in place just in case such services were required. If not, there would be two consequences: first, any contract would be made on the basis of a distressed purchase, not a willing buyer and willing seller; secondly, if the contractor had no experience of dealing with the authority he would probably be well advised to factor in the difficulty and delay in being paid. Finally, it would avoid the development of over-cosy arrangements and the possibility, unlikely though it might be, of any of the authority's employees being tempted off the straight and narrow.

I do not believe that it would be necessary to have an enabling contract with every operator at each and every locality. It would be necessary to have only a few contracts with substantial operators which allowed for subcontracting based on the use of existing bus and coach industry arrangements to deal with breakdowns and accidents. This is a slightly different point from the main thrust of the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Swinfen in his amendments. However, I believe that as my amendment is in this group it is appropriate to make these points now.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the first two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, call for consultation. Consultation must be worked into the arrangements to deal with the disabled. I hope that the Minister will tell your Lordships that consultation is already taking place; if not, it will leave holes in the overall coverage.

As to the carriage of assistance dogs, if people are denied this facility effectively their powers of movement are restricted by their disability, whether it be hearing or sight. If one is to give people full equality one must ensure that that extension of their senses is available to them. That is all that one asks for in this narrow context, and one hopes that the Minister will be able to provide an affirmative answer.

Photo of Lord Freeman Lord Freeman Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I support my noble friend's amendment. I do so by anticipating the only credible argument that may be advanced against it by the department; namely, that the Secretary of State should have the right to appoint individuals rather than delegates or those who seek to represent a particular organisation. My noble friend argues that someone who is disabled should be a member of the authority and, therefore, should not be a delegate but represent the needs of the disabled. I commend to the House the amendments in the name of my noble friend.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendments. I make a plea to the Minister. I reached York station today and the place was in absolute chaos. There was no communication with the public. If trains break down and trees fall on the lines the public should be able to get through to the station to find out whether trains are running. What happened to me was that I arrived at York station with someone who was going to take my car back. I then had to ring up and get someone else to fetch him while I drove to London. I now have two cars in London. It is a difficult situation. Please will the Minister do something to let the public know what is happening when there is this state of chaos?

Amendment No. 249 is particularly important. We live in a commercial world and our caring world seems to be disappearing. It is important to highlight the needs of disabled people. We are now in a population which is growing older. Many disabled people are old, blind, infirm and need help. Therefore, I think these amendments are important.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should like to speak in support of Amendment No. 237. Clause 201 states that the SRA should include a representative of disabled people. I think the Minister will respond by saying that, if the SRA puts a disabled person on the board, it will have to include a whole list of other people.

I therefore should like to ask him to look at the matter in a slightly different way and think of the phrase "mobility impaired". Many people are mobility impaired. A woman pushing a child in a pushchair is mobility impaired. There are a whole range of other people. An important part of the Government's strategy for transport is that it should be available to everyone. Perhaps it would be a wise move to have someone on the SRA whose remit it is always to remind the SRA of its duty to the mobility impaired.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 7:15 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, the basic framework on which the SRA will be operating includes the fact that it is a condition of passenger and station operators' licences that they comply with a statement of policy which is designed to protect the interests of people who are disabled in their use of trains and stations. That is a central part of this whole section of the Bill and an essential provision on the requirements of operators and station managers throughout the system. In future such policies will be approved by the SRA. Compliance with those policies will be enforceable by financial penalties or any other appropriate sanction for breach of licence conditions.

Noble Lords will also be aware that infrastructure and rolling stock accessibility issues are all covered by the Disability Discrimination Act and regulations made under that Act. So we are talking about a situation where there is a very strong basic requirement to provide access for the disabled to trains and stations.

Given that background, we need to consider the proposed amendments. Amendment No. 237 deals with the nature of the SRA board itself. I would underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that the board is not a board of delegates; it is a board of people with expertise and experience which is appropriate to carry out its function. It is a board which is relatively small--between eight and 15 members. That board must act as a team rather than as a group of representatives. That does not mean that the members should not have a wide range of experience. The approach to the membership of that board would need to include assessment of the need to reflect experience of dealing with the disabled, or being disabled. In practice, the British Railways Board has a member who has experience as chairman of the National Disability Council. He will automatically be offered a place as one of the first members of the SRA. In that context, he will undoubtedly bring welcome expertise on the needs of disabled passengers.

The approach for all future arrangements would tend to fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State in making future appointments. But nevertheless I can assure noble Lords that in making such future appointments the Secretary of State will need to bear in mind that the membership of that board needs to reflect a wide range of expertise and interests, including the whole interest of accessibility, access for the disabled but also access for others such as those referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, just now.

I turn to Amendment No. 238. So far as concerns consultation, there is a problem of starting to list on the face of the Bill all those organisations which should be consulted. The natural effect would be others feeling that they were excluded and indeed deemed to be excluded. Some organisations would be left off, giving rise to doubt about their status. However, I can repeat the assurances that the SRA will consult and that directions given by the Secretary of State will require the SRA to consul DPTAC in all cases where that is appropriate. We will also consult that committee and other interested parties before the Secretary of State gives directions to the SRA.

Amendment No. 249 would seek to make all agreements entered into by the SRA comply with the code of practice. While I recognise the sentiment behind the amendment, it would be inappropriate here. The power in Clause 210 includes a power to channel grants to the passenger service operators through franchise agreements. That raises a whole wider range of issues; for example, it could extend to agreements making land available to the railway network or making freight grants, where there is no obvious involvement with disabled people as passengers.

The authority needs to be able to target the most appropriate mechanisms for protecting the interests of disabled people. But it is not appropriate to have the general power to enter into agreements constrained by a provision which does not discriminate between the various types of agreement in which the SRA may be involved. Some agreements of the SRA would not be appropriate for this stipulation. In any case, the provisions which require the SRA to have regard to the interests of disabled people are fully protected through its duties, including Clause 206, which operates through the licence conditions, as well as the various provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act and its regulations. These are the most appropriate ways of securing protection for disabled people's access to rail transport.

Amendment No. 286 primarily deals with the substitute services. The national conditions of carriage which relate to all rail services also apply to any substitute services which are operated or provided by the train operator. What is at issue here is not the type of road vehicle, but the fact that it is a substitute for a train service. Therefore the conditions of carriage for these substitute services are the same as those which apply to train services. Those already provide for dogs to be carried free. Train operators can enforce that requirement on those vehicles they use for substitute services.

Therefore, I think that the anxieties raised by the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Addington, are unlikely to arise, since the train operators have to ensure the same facilities as they do on their trains. There will also be national conditions relating to that. The national conditions list possible situations arising on substitute services which must be avoided where they may cause injury, inconvenience or damage to property and so on. Those conditions cover luggage and dogs. It is unlikely that under those provisions the carriage of a highly trained assistance dog would be reasonably refused. Therefore, the issue of substitute services is covered, certainly in terms of general provisions. Emergency situations may not always comply fully with those provisions but, in relation to the normal provisions for substitute services, the requirement that those substitute services are equivalent to those provided by the carrier must ensure the provision both for disabled people and for the carriage of dogs.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I very much appreciate what the noble Lord said on Amendment No. 286. However, I am concerned about the private or public owners and operators of the substitute services. If they do not at present have to accept dogs, will the rail authorities be able to force them to accept these assistance dogs?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, the answer is yes. The service that is provided is a substitute for a train service. That substitute service has to make the same provision as the train service. The issue is not whether it is a taxi, a minibus, a PSV vehicle or a minicab; it is whether it is substituting for a train service. If the provisions relate to the train, they relate to the substitute for the train. I hope that that gives the assurance which the noble Lord seeks.

Amendment No. 260 requires competitive tendering. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, that competitive tendering would normally be appropriate for substitute services. However, I do not think that that requirement should be on the face of the Bill. In any case, virtually all substitute services will be procured by the train operators and not by the SRA. The SRA would secure the provision of substitute services only in the rare event of it operating as an operator of last resort. I agree that call-off contracts could be made in case they are needed. But it would hard to predict where and when, if ever, the SRA might need to act as an operator of last resort. In any case, the SRA will be bound by the general provisions where it is so acting. Therefore, the amendment is inappropriately targeted. Where there is an ongoing provision for substitute services, virtually all of them would be likely to be procured by competitive tendering by the operators.

With those explanations and reassurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, I thank all those who supported me on this group of amendments. My noble friend Lord Freeman is right. When someone is on the Strategic Rail Authority, it is to represent. He or she is not a delegate. The field of disability is so wide that one person will not necessarily have a particularly good knowledge of every aspect.

I found the Minister's reply very helpful. I thank him for that and I thank him for the emphasis that he gave, after my intervention in his speech, with regard to assistance dogs. He gave me the answer for which I was specifically looking. I do not think that I shall need to bring this matter back at Third Reading, although I reserve the right to do so if I find holes in the noble Lord's argument. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 205 [Strategies]:

[Amendment No. 238 not moved.]

Clause 206 [Manner of exercise of functions]:

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 239:

Page 121, line 4, at end insert ("including those which involve the use of other forms of transport in conjunction with railway services and the integration of the railway information and ticket booking facilities").

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 259 and 280. Subsection (2) of Clause 206 sets out the objectives of the authority in exercising its functions and includes the promotion of through ticketing between passenger service operators. It does not appear to cover through ticketing across different forms of transport. The amendment makes explicit the need to promote such through ticketing schemes. Eagle-eyed noble Lords will have noticed that subsection (2)(d) provides for the promotion of integrated information and ticket booking facilities. However, no mention is made of different modes of travel, so it does not refer to integration with bus, air or sea travel.

The integration of information and booking facilities is a vital element in a modern integrated transport system. With the sophisticated technology now available, it should be possible for passengers to obtain from one outlet information as to the scheduled times of trains, up to date information on their running, the range of fares and the cheapest for the particular journey, similar information on the bus, air and other connections and the ticket itself. It should be a major priority for the authority to encourage such systems.

In Committee the Government objected to the amendment on the grounds that it is a primary purpose of the SRA to contribute to the development of an integrated transport system. They said that the amendment was therefore unnecessary. Unfortunately, I believe that would also mean that there is no need for the subsection at all. That is because subsection (1) of Clause 206 states:

"The Authority shall exercise its functions with a view to furthering its purposes".

The purposes are laid out in Clause 204 and there is very little difference between them and the matters mentioned in subsection (2). In other words, the subsection is redundant. As it is, by ignoring the interface between rail and other means of transport, which is where the biggest holes are at the moment, the subsection sends the wrong message that this matters less than inter-rail integration.

I turn to Amendment No. 259. The new clause would enable the authority to use the franchising process more proactively in order to promote and secure a truly integrated transport system. All too often rail passengers find themselves stranded on arrival at the station because there are no connecting services. Train operators should be encouraged through the franchising process to explore with bus and other transport providers the possibility of them providing connecting services. Train operators should also make proper provision for disabled people.

Cycling is a means of transport that is environmentally friendly and healthy. It should be encouraged. The Government's downgrading of the previous government's targets for increasing cycle journeys was a retrograde step. At present, it is often difficult for cyclists to use trains.

Train operators should also be encouraged to make appropriate arrangements with Railtrack as to the provision of the kind of facilities at the station which are referred to in our proposed new Section 17(9) of the Railways Act 1993. As it is the authority which dictates the terms on which train companies operate, the authority should be encouraged to use the franchise system to address these issues. The Government's position is that these powers already exist. However, they are clearly not used. Perhaps inclusion in the Bill will encourage the SRA to use them.

I turn to Amendment No. 280. The Railways Act 1993 enables the regulator to secure access for an applicant to a railway facility such as a station. Such facilities include ancillary services, whether provided or procured by the facility owner. The new clause provides that such ancillary services can include those listed in the amendment.

If the transport system is to be truly integrated, people arriving at stations need information not only as to train services but also about connecting bus and other services as covered by my Amendment No. 259. They need to be able to buy tickets that cover their entire journey, preferably by means of new technology which combines fare and travel information with provision of a ticket. If arriving by car or bike or on foot, they need proper directions--this element will build on the memorandum of understanding between Railtrack and the Highways Agency--and somewhere to park securely. Poor and insecure car parking facilities are something that the industry is addressing, but more work needs to be done. People should be encouraged by the availability of cycle hire facilities to leave their cars at home. There should also be good, comfortable waiting areas, especially at night. If disabled, they need good access and facilities. These are all matters which are relevant to the arrangements between train operators and Railtrack and it should be made explicit that they fall within the ambit of the regulator's powers in relation to access contracts.

The Government vaguely say that such matters are more of interest to the public than to the parties to the access contract. We say that that is short-sighted. If the transport system is to develop in the direction of greater integration, such facilities will have to be provided to enable the operating services to market their services more effectively. The amendment is a neat mechanism for enabling market pressure and competition to contribute to the development of an integrated transport system. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat 7:30 pm, 30th October 2000

My Lords, I admit to having some admiration for the amendment. If all the things required of the companies and Railtrack were actually done, the quality of the service would be infinitely improved.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness has hit the nail on the head. I do not believe that all the details need to be on the face of the Bill but, my goodness, they are required. The weekend's crisis has been most telling. One friend tried to travel from Coventry to London but was told there were no trains on the West Coast line and none on the Chiltern line. He drove to Leamington Spa and discovered that there a train was running perfectly normally. It is impossible to underestimate the anger that the public feel when they are given such misinformation. My noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath told me a similar story. There were no trains to London from Doncaster all day, but then one arrived from Edinburgh. The railways must get it right even in a crisis, and the same applies to the buses. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will have some words of comfort.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My Lords, I am not sure that I can comfort my noble friend in respect of what has been occurring this week but I hope that we are beginning to get over those events. It must be seen as a primary and central duty of the SRA to provide integrated information. Where that is not done on time and with accuracy--whether for rail itself or for intermodal transport--one of the central objectives of the Bill and tasks of the SRA is to ensure that that is remedied. The SRA might include integrated ticketing and integrated information as part of integrated transport. Although I accept that stretching logic--as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was doing--might lead me to delete certain other parts of the Bill, because this is such a central part of the SRA's function it does not need to be repeated, which is what the amendment would provide; the SRA already has that requirement.

Amendment No. 259 would give a list of relevant considerations when the authority tenders for or enters into a franchise agreement. We have been over that ground. There are several ways in which the Secretary of State can give direction or guidance on issues covering all aspects of multimodal travel, including integration with bus services, and bicycles. The structures put in place by the Bill will ensure that the SRA has a wide-ranging duty to take account of the interests of all railway users and potential users in the interests of integrated transport. To list them in the way that Amendment No. 259 suggests would not be appropriate.

Amendment No. 280 sets out a substantial amount of new detail that needs to be considered in the provision of access agreements but it is, to a large extent, already covered. Access agreements are the formal permission to use an owner's facilities, through which a train operating company can use Railtrack's network. That provision is already covered by the 1993 Act, which gives a general power for access agreements to cover the provision of ancillary services--whether the railway facility owner provides them direct or secures their provision. If there is any dispute over what ancillary services might be included, it can be resolved by the direction of the regulator under Section 17 of the 1993 Act.

The definition of "ancillary services" in Section 83(1) of the 1993 Act is wide. It covers any service necessary to give effect to access rights. If the regulator considers it necessary that an access agreement should require the facility owner to provide the services, he can already so direct. That is already provided for by a combination of this Bill and the Act's existing provisions.

I hope that I have convinced the noble Lord that the amendments are not necessary and that a major role for the SRA in integrated transport, information and ticketing is central to the Bill.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Crossbench

My Lords, I am encouraged by the Minister's reply, particularly his final sentences, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for supporting the principles behind the amendments. The Minister is probably right--it is impossible to put all the detail on the face of the Bill--but I am glad that we agree on what needs to be done to make the railways more attractive. The provision of accurate information is essential. Given today's difficulties with the weather, I sympathise with the rail operators in not being able to provide information to the degree of accuracy that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I would like. However, although that may have been difficult on the longer-distance routes where all sorts of different conditions pertained, the operators could not even get it right on the District Line from Wimbledon, which one would have thought would be slightly easier, with only half-a-dozen stations. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.