Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 6:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 5 because I find the wording of Clause 110 at best unfortunate and at worst potentially damaging and misleading. Clause 110(1) states:

"Each local transport authority must prepare a document to be known as the bus strategy ... in order to secure that--

(a) bus services meet such of the transport requirements of persons within the authority's area as the authority consider should be met by such services,

(b) bus services meeting such requirements are provided to the standards to which the authority consider that they should be provided".

The Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not have difficulties with paragraph (c).

The first two paragraphs would be appropriate if the whole bus service were to be run under a quality contract system; but that is not what the Government envisage. They envisage that, wherever possible, bus services will run commercially. Where they do not run commercially, the next line of defence to ensure that bus services run where they are provided would be that there would be quality partnerships. Only as a last resort does one go into the business of quality contracts.

If one is dealing with a commercial service--a local authority's transport plan must take into account and provide commercial services, and the same would apply as regards quality partnerships--surely the operator of those services must have a very strong say in relation to the service that he is going to provide and what its frequency and quality will be. Equally, passengers--customers, curiously enough--should have a very strong influence over which bus services are provided or required in their locality.

Therefore, my own problems with Clause 110 are plain because Clause 110 makes the authority the arbiter of those matters in all circumstances. That clearly should not be the case. So I find myself in some difficulty.

I accept entirely that when one gets into subsidising bus services, the authority comes into the business and at that point--and certainly in relation to quality partnerships--the business of the authority is to decide the level of the subsidy. It should be left to the person running the service, perhaps in the light of that subsidy, to decide exactly what the quality and frequency will be of the service which he is going to provide and the price at which he will provide it. He will be taking a commercial decision in the light of what he thinks he can generate by way of income in addition to the subsidy that he has already received.

My feeling is that the wording of the clause as drafted is, at best, unfortunate. The purpose of Amendment No. 5 is to remove paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) from the face of the Bill and replace them with,

"develop bus services in their area on behalf of their communities having regard to the economic and social well-being of their area".

That means that the authorities have to look out instead of in; they have to look to their communities and at what they require. That is a far more positive definition of "purpose" than the present wording of the Bill provides.

The Minister will of course say that my intention is also that of the Government. I do not doubt that that is the case, but anybody sitting quietly and reading the Bill would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I beg to move.