moved Amendment No. 1:
Clause 39, page 35, line 16, at end insert—
"(6) A person is guilty of an offence under this subsection if—
(a) the person provides information in accordance with a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (5)(c), (b) the information is false or misleading in a material particular, and(c) the person knows that it is or is reckless as to whether it is.
(7) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (6) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale."."
Clause 39 would insert new Section 134B into the Transport Act 2000 to make provision for transfer of employees on TUPE terms when an existing deregulated service is discontinued because a quality contract comes into force. The detailed process for managing the transfer would be set out in regulations. Among other things, such regulations could require the operators of existing services to provide the local transport authority with information about the people whom they employ in providing services which the authority intends to be provided under a quality contract. The reason for this is to facilitate the employees' transfer to a new employer should the contract be awarded to a different operator following the tender process. This information, suitably anonymised, would be made available to tenderers who, if successful, would be obliged to take on any of these employees who were willing to transfer.
The clause would also amend Section 26 of the Transport Act 1985 and Section 155 of the Transport Act 2000, so as to enable the traffic commissioner to impose licensing or financial sanctions against operators who fail to comply with the request for information.
However, as well as simply not making a return, an operator could provide false or misleading information, either through carelessness or deliberate deception. It is no secret, as my noble friend Lord Snape has made clear in the past, that many bus operators who are totally opposed to quality contracts schemes and might need some persuading to co-operate in a task such as this even if it were in their interest to do so. They might not take much trouble to ensure that the information was correct and complete. They might even deliberately spread confusion to complicate the implementation process. More seriously, if they were among the tenderers, they might see some advantage to themselves in misleading their competitors about the number of jobs, pay scales and terms of employment. That way, they might deter some potential new operators from putting in a bid, or persuade others to bid higher than they need.
The question of whether an operator has provided information is one of fact; it is well within the traffic commissioner's competence to judge whether there were mitigating factors or whether the operator has misbehaved and should be penalised. But providing false or misleading information, particularly if it could be done for commercial gain, really requires a criminal sanction and for evidence to be considered by a court of law.
This amendment would make such behaviour a criminal offence, triable in a magistrates' court and with a maximum penalty at level 4 on the standard scale. That is the same penalty that applies to making a false statement to obtain a public service vehicle operator's licence, a certificate of initial fitness for a bus or coach, or various other documents issued by the traffic commissioners. The severity of the offence could vary from fairly trivial to very serious. Even trivial offences could cause undue hardship to individual workers, but the courts would use their discretion in the usual way. I beg to move.
My Lords, given that my noble friend indicated—in my view rightly—that an offence under this amendment could be very serious indeed, how was the decision reached that the penalty set out in the amendment was appropriate? As my noble friend said, the provision of false or misleading information could lead to other operators deciding not to bid or to put in a higher bid than necessary to the advantage of the incumbent operator providing the false or misleading information, who might also be a bidder. Should not the maximum fine that could be imposed, if justified, reflect the financial advantage or gain that could have been secured by the operator providing the false or misleading information? It is surely not much of a deterrent if the maximum fine is way below the financial advantage that might be secured from deliberately or negligently supplying false or misleading data. I should be grateful if my noble friend could indicate why the level of fine indicated in the amendment was deemed appropriate because I do not regard the matters to which he referred as the justification for it as necessarily being commensurate with the potential severity of the offence.
My Lords, my noble friend asks a reasonable question. I believe that we are right to insert a criminal penalty in the Bill. The nature of the offence will have a bearing on the outcome in the court but I cannot prejudge a magistrate's view on this issue. As I understand it, a level 4 fine reaches a maximum of about £2,500. That sends an important and powerful message to those who seek to flout the legislative intent here, and I believe that it is a most helpful approach. The court will reach a proportionate view when considering this important issue. The penalty is based on similar penalties elsewhere in transport legislation. More serious offences can also fall within the terms of the Fraud Act. That would be for the prosecuting authorities to consider when bringing a charge. I believe that we have the balance about right. This is a useful and necessary encouragement and therefore I am sure that the House will welcome the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 49, insert the following new Clause—
"Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs in vehicles providing local services
(1) Section 36 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c.50) (carrying of passengers in wheelchairs) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(b) for "taxi" substitute "vehicle".
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) This section also imposes duties on the driver of a designated vehicle other than a regulated taxi if—
(a) the designated vehicle is being used to provide a local service (within the meaning of section 2 of the Transport Act 1985), and(b) a person falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) has indicated to the driver that he wishes to travel on the service.".
(4) In each of subsections (2), (3) and (4) for "taxi" (wherever occurring) substitute "vehicle".
(5) In subsection (5) after "a regulated taxi" insert "or designated vehicle".
(6) In subsection (6)—
(a) after "at the time of the alleged offence" insert—"(a) in the case of a regulated taxi,";(b) after "it was required to conform," insert—"(b) in the case of a designated vehicle, the vehicle conformed to the accessibility requirements which applied to it,";(c) for the word "taxi" (in the last place where it appears) substitute "vehicle".
(7) After subsection (9) insert—
"(10) The driver of a designated vehicle is exempt from the duties imposed by this section if—
(a) a certificate of exemption issued to him under this section is in force; and(b) he is carrying the certificate on the vehicle.
(11) The driver of a designated vehicle who is exempt under subsection (10) must show the certificate, on request, to a person falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1).".
(8) After subsection (11) insert—
"(12) In this section—
"designated vehicle" means a vehicle which appears on a list maintained under section 36A;
"licensing authority" has the meaning given by section 36A."."
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 9 and 11. When I, as a wheelchair user, became a Member of this wonderful place I accepted the fact that some taxi drivers would not take me. During my second year an incident outside this House, when a taxi driver would not take me, caused much consternation among my fellow Peers in the taxi queue. I realised at that point that no wheelchair user should have to accept that and began reporting every incident to the Public Carriage Office. Much to my embarrassment, during my first year of doing so I complained 17 times. It had no other complaints.
Perhaps I am paranoid, but I doubt that I was the only wheelchair user in London to be refused by a taxi driver. During July 2007 one incident was so bad that the Public Carriage Office decided to take the driver to court as he was in breach of Section 36 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It was at that point that I and many others became aware that Section 36 had not been enforced. That is where the campaign began. I have to say that once that injustice had been brought to the House's attention it was gratifying to see how quickly and widely people have worked to begin to correct the situation and protect the 1.2 million wheelchair users in this country.
Since my appearance on BBC breakfast TV I have had many letters from fellow wheelchair users describing many humiliating experiences and encouraging me to ensure that Section 36 is brought in with as wide a scope as possible. I accept that the scope of the amendments within the Bill is quite narrow but by passing these amendments a clear message will be sent to the 1.2 million wheelchair users and to the taxi drivers who wish to exclude us.
I would like to thank the Minister, the Minister from another place, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, my noble friend Lord Low, noble Lords from all sides of the House, the Bill team, the Bill council, the Convenor of the Cross Benches plus her researcher Julian Dee, and Will Moy, PA to my noble friend Lord Low. My thanks also need to go to the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers and the Public Carriage Office for its support and information. I beg to move.
My Lords, we also support the amendments and accept that they are a partial answer to what the noble Baroness hopes to bring into force. It demonstrates the value of negotiations off the Floor of the House between stages of scrutiny. I suspect that the House looks forward to the next transport Bill, which may be an occasion for further discussion on the matter.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am happy to support the amendment. It has been a good example of government and Cross-Bench co-operation. I congratulate her on having effectively brought the matter to the attention of our House. I pay particular tribute to her, because she is a feisty lady and does a great job campaigning. I do not wish to embarrass her, but she brilliantly demonstrated to us all the problems that some people with particular disabilities experience when making use of taxi services. I am one of those who think that the taxi trade misses a trick when it ignores the opportunity of picking up someone with a particular disability and does not ensure that they can make proper use of taxis.
No one is perfect, but I am proud to say that my city has gone a long way to try to address some of those problems. It has a flexible and accessible fleet. Most of its drivers are responsible, helpful and courteous in the way in which they deal with a range of sometimes difficult customers. More particularly, they do a good service in helping those with particular disabilities.
I made it clear on Report that the Government are committed to delivering more accessible taxis and making it easier for disabled passengers to use public transport generally. The intended effect of the noble Baroness's amendment tabled on Report was to apply the duties in Section 36 of the Disability Discrimination Act to the operators of taxis and private hire vehicles used to provide local bus services, which are generally known as taxibuses, and to have effect from
On Report I highlighted the practical difficulties with the amendment, but, as has been made plain, I was more than happy to facilitate a meeting between the noble Baroness and my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Rosie Winterton. There was a clear consensus in the House that this issue needed to be resolved. In view of that consensus, we were more than happy to assist the noble Baroness in preparing these amendments.
The noble Baroness has explained that the amendment would apply the duties in Section 36 to the holder of taxibus licences who was providing local bus services using a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. The amendment provides for these provisions to come into force two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. This ensures that they will take effect as soon as is practicable.
We are continuing to review the remaining uncommenced sections of the DDA relating to taxis, in which the noble Baroness is very interested. As I explained in December last year in response to her, we are re-evaluating all the options, regulatory and non-regulatory, in light of our better regulation agenda. We will be announcing our proposals shortly.
In that spirit, and in the spirit of excellent co-operation in the House, and with a strong desire on our part to ensure that we make taxi services as accessible as humanly possible, I warmly support the amendment, which I believes takes us a valuable step forward in our wish to improve access to public transport for disabled people. I wish this good luck.
moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 49, insert the following new Clause—
"Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs: supplementary provisions
(1) The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c.50) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 36 insert—
"36A List of wheelchair-accessible vehicles providing local services
(1) A licensing authority may maintain a list of vehicles falling within subsection (2).
(2) A vehicle falls within this subsection if—
(a) it is either a taxi or a private hire vehicle,(b) it is being used or is to be used by the holder of a special licence under that licence, and(c) it conforms to such accessibility requirements as the licensing authority thinks fit.
(3) "Accessibility requirements" are any requirements for the purpose of securing that it is possible for disabled persons in wheelchairs—
(a) to get into and out of vehicles in safety, or to be conveyed in safety into and out of vehicles while remaining in their wheelchairs; and(b) to be carried in vehicles in safety and reasonable comfort (whether or not they wish to remain in their wheelchairs).
(4) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to licensing authorities as to—
(a) the accessibility requirements which they should apply for the purposes of this section; (b) any other aspect of their functions under or by virtue of this section.
(5) A licensing authority which maintains a list under subsection (1) must have regard to any guidance issued under subsection (4).
(6) In this section—
"licensing authority", in relation to any area, means the authority responsible for licensing taxis or, as the case may be, private hire vehicles in that area;"private hire vehicle" means—(a) a vehicle licensed under section 48 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976;(b) a vehicle licensed under section 7 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998;(c) a vehicle licensed under an equivalent provision of a local enactment;(d) a private hire car licensed under section 10 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982;"special licence" has the meaning given by section 12 of the Transport Act 1985 (use of taxis in providing local services);"taxi" includes a taxi licensed under section 10 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.".
(3) Section 38 (appeal against refusal of exemption certificate) is amended as follows.
(4) In subsection (1) after "a magistrates' court" insert "or, in Scotland, the sheriff court".
(5) In subsection (2) for "this section" substitute "subsection (1)".
(6) At the end of the section insert—
"(4) Any person who is aggrieved by the decision of a licensing authority to include a vehicle on a list maintained under section 36A may appeal to a magistrates' court or, in Scotland, the sheriff court before the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the date of the inclusion.
(5) In this section "licensing authority" has the meaning given by section 36A.".
(7) In consequence of the amendments made by subsections (4) to (6), the heading to section 38 becomes "Appeals".
(8) In section 68(1) (interpretation), in the definition of "licensing authority", for "section 37A" substitute "sections 36, 36A, 37A and 38".
(9) In section 70 (commencement etc) after subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) The following provisions of this Act—
(a) section 36 so far as it applies to designated vehicles,(b) section 36A, and(c) section 38 (which has already been brought in force in England and Wales by an order under subsection (3)) so far as it extends to Scotland,come into force 2 months after the passing of the Local Transport Act 2008."."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 59 [Revival of certain powers of PTEs]:
moved Amendment No. 4:
Clause 59, page 52, leave out lines 8 to 12 and insert—
""(viii) to let passenger vehicles on hire (with or without trailers for the carriage of goods)—(a) as part of, or in connection with, an agreement providing for service subsidies, to an operator of public passenger transport services within the meaning of section 9A;(b) to a body holding a permit granted under section 19 of the Transport Act 1985 (permits in relation to the use of vehicles by educational and other bodies);"."
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rosser moved an amendment similar to this on Report. He persuaded me that it would be a useful addition to the Bill, for which I am grateful. The amendment would widen the scope of the leasing power which would be partially restored to passenger transport executives through Clause 59. At present, the clause would only provide power to lease vehicles to operators which are providing bus services under contract to the PTE—either a normal subsidy contract or a quality contract where there is a quality contract scheme in force. These would normally be commercial operators, although they could, of course, include holders of Section 22 permits, who have a right to tender for local bus service contracts.
If the amendment is accepted, it would also allow PTEs to lease vehicles to the holders of Section 19 permits and would not be conditional on a contract to run a service. Section 19 permits are issued to bodies concerned with education, religion, social welfare, recreation or other activities of benefit to the community. However, their most important function is to enable bodies to provide specialised transport such as Dial-a-Ride services for older and disabled people. A condition of the permit's use is that the services are not operated with a view to profit or, incidentally, to an activity which is carried on with a view to profit. The permit authorises only specified classes of passenger to be carried, which can of course be as broad as those with disabilities and their carers, or as narrow as members of a particular club.
Many of the groups that provide transport under Section 19 permits receive funding from local authorities or other public bodies in various forms. One practical way of helping them is to purchase suitable vehicles for them to lease. PTEs are currently prevented from doing so because of the removal of power originally in the Transport Act 1968. The amendment rectifies that.
I know that your Lordships' House has particularly warm feelings for the volunteers who provide community transport services, and I hope that this amendment will be broadly welcomed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 12. We had representations in Grand Committee on this issue, and the Government moved an amendment on Report to allow the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to require prescribed parties to display prescribed information in prescribed places. These provisions now form Clause 68, allowing a requirement to be placed on bus operators to display information about bus passenger representative bodies. The purpose of this group of amendments is simply to clarify the position in Wales. The first two amendments provide that regulations made by Welsh Ministers will be subject to the negative resolution procedure in the National Assembly for Wales, rather than in your Lordships' House and the other place.
The third amendment provides for Clause 68 to be brought into force in Wales by Welsh Ministers rather than by the Secretary of State. The amendments provide for an approach which is consistent with the Welsh devolution arrangements and with that taken elsewhere in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, in welcoming this group of amendments I declare an interest as the Assembly Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. I am particularly grateful that the Government, in contradistinction to the Official Opposition as we may see later, are pursuing the agreed objectives of devolution and, indeed, ensuring that the activity of Welsh Ministers is properly scrutinised in the National Assembly. This has become an important issue and was addressed yesterday when the first measure on the NHS Redress Act was referred to. The question of regulation-making powers by Welsh Ministers and their ability to be subject to proper scrutiny, through negative resolution procedures and by committee in the Assembly, was highlighted as important. I am grateful to the Government for clarifying this matter.
moved Amendment No. 6:
Clause 68, page 59, line 7, at end insert—
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 113 [Powers of the National Assembly for Wales]:
My Lords, I have pursued this point throughout the Bill, always in hope that the Secretary of State would tidy up Clause 113. By that I mean it to say exactly what he said to me in a private meeting in the office of the Leader of the House not very long ago. In that meeting with a number of Peers, he made it very clear what he wanted this part of the Bill for, which was to help to pay for the M4 and the bypass around it. At that time he said absolutely clearly what the purpose of the clause was. The officials were there, and I said, "Peter, why don't you put that in the Bill?", to which I did not get an answer. I am still hoping that this will be put in the Bill before it reaches another place. I am delighted that Paul Murphy is now the Secretary of State for Wales. I have known him as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and as chairman of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. I wish him a fair term and look forward to working with him. In not moving this amendment this afternoon, I am living in hope that the wisdom of Paul will prevail when it gets to another place.
My Lords, I am of course deeply disappointed. I had thought that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, following his recent educational trip to Cardiff, would have heard of the statement so clearly made on the Welsh media by my colleague in Plaid Cymru the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Transport. He indicated absolutely clearly, not at any secret meeting, but publicly on the BBC on "The Politics Show", that it would be the intention of Welsh Ministers to use any powers derived in measure-making form from the framework powers in the Bill precisely to construct new roads. I would have thought that that would have been a very satisfactory response to the official opposition spokesman in this House.
I will just pursue, without repeating myself, the constitutional point that I made a number of times earlier. The noble Lord must understand that the derogation of powers by the framework powers in Westminster Bills will continue to be the road to devolution alongside the Order in Council procedure with the proposed orders. I think that he is setting himself against the position taken during the debates on the devolution Bill on the constitution of Wales, the Government of Wales Act 2006. He prays in aid Paul Murphy. I join him in warmly welcoming Paul Murphy. The return of Murphy as Secretary of State for Wales reminds me of the first sentence of that famous novel by Samuel Beckett:
"The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new".
I say that not to indicate any literary prowess on my part, but just to say how delightful it is to see Paul Murphy returning to that post. He will, I am sure, understand the constitutional situation that has developed since he was there before, and the law-making powers that the Assembly now has, derived by two routes. I hope that he will have an early discussion with the noble Lord, so that the noble Lord too will be enlightened about the many roads of devolution.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but he should take a step backwards to the next Bench, where he will be in order to speak. He is not allowed to speak from the Bishops' Benches.
My Lords, the noble Lord moved his amendment so well, with such eloquence and at such length, that he deserves a full reply from my noble friend—as I can still call him, because he called me so in another place. I was puzzled why the amendment was tabled. It seemed at one level to be a throwback to an earlier view by the Conservative Opposition of the Assembly, but to anyone objective this proposal is four-square within the remit of the devolution settlement. Indeed, any part not within that remit is excluded, namely the traffic signs. Therefore, having hoped to understand the motive for this, I remain puzzled, but I am glad that it will not be pressed.
My Lords, I spoke on this clause and the issues that it involves at Second Reading and I thought that that would be enough. I pointed out that, in my view, it was very unwise of the National Assembly to seek these extensive powers, which are not being sought for England. Indeed, when it was proposed that England should have such powers, there were 1.8 million hits on the No. 10 website objecting to the proposal. Therefore, the powers for England are not in the Bill.
The reputation of the National Assembly will not be enhanced in Wales or elsewhere by the acquisition of these powers. We all know that roads are vital, particularly in Wales, to the national economy. That is especially so for the major east-west routes: the M4 in the south and the A55 and A5 in the north. It is inconceivable that there should be charges for the use of those roads in Wales but not in England. We are assured that these powers will be used only to help to finance the Newport southern bypass. However, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, the powers are not so confined in the Bill. What use is made of them is entirely dependent on Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government; they may decide that other schemes require the use of these powers. I hope that they will not use the powers to the disadvantage of the people of Wales or as a means simply to raise money.
My Lords, does or does not the noble Lord accept the assurances given by Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, a former colleague of ours in another place whom I know the noble Lord respects personally—indeed, he represents the island from which the noble Lord draws his ancestral roots—that his recent statement on the BBC was a description of Welsh government policy?
My Lords, of course I accept the words of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was good enough to tell me the precise intentions personally. However, the whole point is this: the use of these powers will not necessarily be confined to that individual Minister, who holds the important position of Deputy First Minister. What about the future? We transfer these powers for a considerable length of time and irrespective of any individual office holder. This House has never refused the National Assembly for Wales anything and my noble friend on the Front Bench and I do not propose that we deny it these powers. However, we are honour bound to point out the inherent dangers in the misuse or abuse of these powers in Wales.
My Lords, listening to the comments of noble Lords this afternoon, I was initially somewhat puzzled. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, seemed to be both moving and not moving his amendment in the same breath. I might be wrong, but that is how it sounded to me and I wondered why this was. Then I worked it out. He wanted to move the amendment but he also wanted to withdraw it later, having heard what I had to say, so I shall put on record what is in front of me to remind the House why Clause 113 is here.
My noble friend Lady Morgan explained very clearly in Committee and on Report that we have made a commitment to draft parliamentary Bills in a way which gives the Assembly the wider and more permissive powers to determine the detail of how provisions should be implemented in Wales. This clause simply inserts a new matter into Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act to allow the Assembly to make its own legislation in relation to the making, operation and enforcement of charging schemes in respect of trunk roads in Wales. Trunk roads comprise the network of strategic through routes managed by Welsh Ministers, accounting for roughly 5 per cent of roads in Wales by length. It would be then for the Welsh Assembly to consider whether, and if so how, it would be appropriate to exercise those powers. This would be done through an Assembly measure, which would need to be debated in the Assembly and subject to its scrutiny procedures.
I do not know what my right honourable friend Mr Hain said when he met the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I was not there to listen. But in general terms I understand that Welsh Ministers have made it very clear that, if they were to introduce road pricing, it would be to tackle areas with the worst congestion problems. Their intention is very clear, and we have also been very clear that we do not see these powers as enabling tax raising, which was a charge the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made at an earlier stage in the legislation. The Government of Wales Act does not allow us to devolve tax-raising powers. My noble friend Lady Morgan told the House on Report that the application of proceeds does not affect whether something is a tax or a charge. That depends on the link between the payment and the service received by the payer.
It is important for public accountability that revenue raised by road-pricing schemes is spent on transport. We have been clear about that from the outset. The framework provision is clear, too, that the Welsh Assembly Government must require any revenue raised by a trunk-roads charging scheme to be spent on transport-related purposes. That would mean using the revenue on the provision of transport infrastructure and services in Wales to help develop the transport network and, linked to that, economic regeneration in parts of Wales. I am sure those measures would be in line with the Welsh Assembly Government's transportation policies and programme. It has been said before in the House that trunk-road charges are already within the legislative competence of both the Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are therefore not creating a precedent with these Welsh provisions; we are simply following the path as set out in the devolution settlement in line with the Government of Wales Act.
I am looking forward to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, withdrawing his amendment. Some nonsense has been said about the intention behind this part of the Bill. I have been very grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. With all his experience on these matters he has been most helpful. I am clear in my mind and the Government are certainly clear that we are simply acting to ensure that the Government of Wales Act works well and fairly, and that the Assembly can take measures which make much more sense to it in dealing with the problems that it has to tackle on a regular basis, such as congestion on the trunk-road network of Wales. I am sure that the Assembly will make intelligent and forensic good use of that opportunity and that the people of Wales will welcome that.
moved Amendment No. 8:
Clause 115, page 88, line 35, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
"( ) Section 263 of the TA 2000 (addition of specified vehicles to operator's licence) is amended as follows.
( ) In the subsection (6) that is to be substituted for section 5(6) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (c.23)—
(a) in the opening words, after "is not authorised to be used under that licence by virtue of subsection (1)" insert "on or after the relevant day";(b) in paragraph (b), for "a prescribed fee" substitute "the prescribed fee (if any)".
( ) After that subsection add—
"(6A) For the purposes of subsection (6) "the relevant day" is the latest of the following days—
(a) the day on which the vehicle was first in the lawful possession of the licence holder,(b) the day on which the licence came into force,(c) if a day not more than one month after the later of those days is prescribed for the purpose, the day so prescribed."."
My Lords, this amendment has to be considered with Amendment No. 10, so I shall speak to them both. I explained on Report that we were considering tabling a further amendment to the as yet uncommenced Section 263 of the Transport Act 2000, which currently abolishes the "margin concession" for goods vehicle operators. I am sure that that section of the Act is widely understood.
Section 5(2) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 currently requires the registration number of every vehicle used by a goods vehicle operator to be specified on the operator's licence. This is primarily to aid roadside vehicle enforcement by VOSA and the police. However, when a goods vehicle operator adds a new vehicle to its fleet, it has a one-month grace period—a sort of window—before the registration number must be specified on the operator's licence to aid operational flexibility. That is called the margin concession.
I am aware that, understandably, concerns have been raised by the haulage industry that commencing Section 263 to abolish the margin could impose a disproportionate administrative burden, particularly in situations where goods vehicles are hired out to operators on very short-term contracts. VOSA is also concerned about the considerable additional costs that could be imposed on it, which would be passed on to the industry through the fees it charges.
Therefore, following a commitment made in the 2004 White Paper, The Future of Transport, the Department for Transport announced in November 2006 that, as part of a package of reforms to streamline the operator licensing system for buses and goods vehicles, it would consider options for minimising the burden of immediate notification. That work is continuing.
However, we think that it would be sensible to further amend Section 263 of the Transport Act 2000 now to allow further flexibility, should the move to immediate notification not prove to be the best solution. Therefore, the amendment is helpful. It would still allow for immediate notification—either when the vehicle first came under the lawful possession of the operator or when the operator's licence was first granted by the Traffic Commissioner—but it would also provide additional flexibility for the Secretary of State to specify in regulations a grace period of up to one month. This would allow the margin to be reduced in the event that we need to balance improving enforcement against minimising additional administrative burdens. Any changes to the existing margin—either to abolish it or to use the regulation-making power—would of course be subject to full consultation with the traffic commissioners and the goods vehicle industry.
I should add that the amendment would maintain the flexibility introduced in the Report stage amendment on fees to allow the levying of a fee for specifying a new vehicle on the licence to be optional, rather than mandatory as at present. I beg to move.
My Lords, we have tabled this amendment once again, as we feel that the matter that it relates to deserves further attention and we would like the Government to comment further.
We have often questioned the motivation behind the Government pushing forward local road-charging schemes, rather than national ones. That was commented on just now in the debate about Wales. We have argued that local schemes will allow government the huge benefit of observation with none of the political responsibility. As a localist, I welcome local decision-making. That can be justified, provided that local authorities are the drivers behind the introduction of road-pricing schemes.
The provision in the Bill for all revenue raised from road-pricing schemes to be spent on local transport policies is also reassuring. However, another common opinion is that the transport innovation fund provided by central government has helped to push local authorities towards road pricing. We would not like road pricing to be pushed in this manner. One potential method of turning encouragement into coercion could be the reduction of grants given by local government when funds from road-pricing schemes start to be introduced. More subtly, the assumption that a certain amount of money could be raised could force local authorities to raise funds through road charging without the choice to do so—the Government forcing them to do so through funding policies.
I have already stated that one of my main concerns about road charging is that it represents the partial devolution of funding, and that local areas would be better served if they were given all road taxes. If the Bill proposed a radical overhaul of road financing and taxation, we could be more receptive. As it stands, however, I would like the existing forms that local authorities receive to be protected following the enactment of the Bill.
On Report, the Minister stated that road pricing would have no impact on the revenue support grant or on local authorities' ability to raise council tax revenues. However, I am not wholly reassured by this. There are plenty of examples of cases in which Governments of all parties have assumed that local government can do various things—the supposed impact on efficiency savings is one. We would like a further commitment from the Government—which is the reason why I have raised this matter again today—that this will not be the case. These are very difficult times for local authorities, with grants and income frequently being reduced or tipped away in one way or another. I understand that the Government are unlikely to accept the amendment, but it is very important to place it on the record. There is a very strong feeling about this issue in local government, and I would like the Minister to comment further. I beg to move.
My Lords, I was intrigued to see that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, had tabled this amendment again, because I felt that the answer that we received from the Minister went as far as a Minister can go at this stage in giving that reassurance. I share some of the noble Lord's disquiet, but it is very difficult for the Minister to give assurances, simply because local government finance has now become so complex that very few local authorities—I say this in all seriousness—fully understand how their grant has been calculated. When they query it, it is not uncommon for them to find that the civil servants who put the numbers together do not entirely understand it either. It is very common for both government and local authorities to assert opposite things and for both to be correct, bizarrely enough. Regardless of any promises made by the Minister, it would be very difficult in practice to work out whether an authority had been negatively treated. The most important point here is that individual schemes need to be understood; local authorities will want reassurance about how their income will be treated at that level.
I share the noble Lord's concern that central government has rather bludgeoned some local authorities into considering road-user charging simply by saying, "If you don't have a road charging element, we won't give you transport innovation funding". Central government has used that rather heavy stick with which to beat local authorities, but unfortunately while we have the current local authority arrangements whereby central government calls the shots, that is sadly inevitable.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the purpose of the amendment. I am a bit disappointed in him because he is a good localist, and like me he has enjoyed many years' grace and pleasure in local government. I thought that he had listened to what I said the last time around, and mistakenly assumed that we would not see this amendment again. The amendment is very limited, since it would add only to the provisions of Schedule 23 to the Greater London Authority Act, to state, in that instance, that the funding provided to authorities in London should not be negatively influenced by any revenue from a local charging scheme.
As the noble Lord observed on Report—he probably did again today; I did not catch it, but may have missed it—the public acceptability of schemes such as road pricing increases when that revenue is linked to spending on transportation. That has to be the case, as I made clear to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Some of the Government's own research establishes this important point and we acknowledge it. The Bill therefore contains provisions to give charging authorities and the general public certainty that all net revenue from charging schemes will be spent precisely on transport policies. Such provisions have been supported for that reason.
As for central government funding, I am sure that noble Lords will be aware—given her experience, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, will certainly be aware—that block capital funding and revenue support grant are currently allocated on the basis of a broad formula. The noble Baroness says that the formula is difficult to understand, and I agree; it is very difficult. When I used to look at our annual budget with the old borough treasurer—latterly with the director of finance—it took a long time to unravel the various elements. Parts of it always seemed unfair because they did not seem to apply to us while other bits did, and I could see their wisdom. Yet others seemed to relate to London boroughs rather than Brighton. But there we go.
In any case, revenue support grant has to reflect the ability to raise council tax revenues and that relationship has to be understood. However, such formulae generally do not take into account the various alternative sources of revenue available to authorities. Across the country, authorities benefit from different streams of revenue. Portsmouth, I think, earns £5 million a year—perhaps a little more—from its port. Some authorities have bus companies. The director of transportation services in Ipswich, which I visited recently, told me that their bus company returned some three-quarters of a million pounds a year to revenues. So the authority was able to make use of profit it made in one area perhaps to suppress levels of council tax or raise standards of services, whichever it chose to do. There is always that ability to raise revenue support from the locality. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, perhaps Essex has a big profit motive tucked away somewhere in its budget, though I am sure it is not expressed in those terms—they are probably not allowed to express it in those terms. But I am sure that Essex County Council makes income from many of its services which it then applies more generally across the range of services that it provides to its communities.
As I made clear on Report, there are no plans to change our current policy on this. Regarding the allocation of specific grants for major schemes, the department takes into consideration the level of local contribution, including, for example, any developer contributions and any revenue likely to be generated by the scheme. That is an important aspect of an authority's business case and of the calculation of the scheme's value for money. That has always been the situation for major transport schemes, because it is fair that revenue from any transport fares is factored into the business case of a scheme. We do not see that road-pricing or road-charging schemes are any different.
It is perhaps also worth reminding noble Lords that the Government annually provide £1.5 billion in capital funding as well as substantial revenue support for local and regional transport outside London. Indeed, funding for local transport in every English region outside London has more than doubled since 2000. I think that that is a pretty enviable record. If someone had said a decade or more ago that we were going to do that, there would have been gasps of disbelief. As for funding in London, as well as the revenue support grant given to the London borough councils, the Greater London Authority also receives a transport grant from the Department for Transport. That is a substantial amount of money which, as I said, has more than doubled over the past few years. The transport grant up to 2017-18 was agreed between the department and Transport for London as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007.
I also remind noble Lords that the Government are working with local authorities to develop local road-charging schemes. Additional funding on top of what I have already discussed is available from the transport innovation fund to support authorities' packages of local transport improvements combined with road charging. The £200 million a year earmarked up to 2014 is in addition to any other funding sources. This is a substantial commitment of extra funding for areas taking forward local road-charging schemes and the very opposite of the reduction in funding which the noble Lord's amendment suggests.
I refute the allegation that we are bearing down on or pressing local authorities to bring forward pricing schemes. I would not want there to be a suggestion that we are using the transport innovation fund as a form of blackmail, because that is not the case. What we genuinely want to see is innovation. We hope that this legislation will assist in the process so that innovations are brought forward; so that smart and intelligent bids are made to tackle road congestion issues and improve the quality of local transportation; and so that local authorities work closely with their transport providers and the public to ensure that standards continue to rise. What we want to see from the Bill is more people making better use of public transport, particularly bus services. It is in everyone's interest that we get more passengers on to buses. The welcome improvements in bus passenger numbers over the past few years need to be spread across the country so that we achieve a much more effective and efficient use of this form of transportation.
I have given the noble Lord a rather long reply because I want to put his mind at rest on this. I hope he does not feel the need to press the issue to a Division. I would like to think that he will take my assurances at face value.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. As I said when introducing the amendment, I wanted to hear more about this from the Government because this legislation, which is coming to the end of its consideration in this House, could result in innovations and local schemes that improve the transport infrastructure for transport of all kinds. I would rather that such innovation came up from the bottom than have it forced on us by government. That is where this will work well, by leaving it to local initiatives that enjoy local support.
However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, pointed out, local funding is extremely complicated these days. In my other role as leader of Essex County Council I am currently producing a budget worth some £2 billion. We thought that the interest charges on £7 million-worth of transport infrastructure would be supported by national government but suddenly discovered that it was not so. The result is that about another £700,000 now has to be found. I live daily with the uncertainties of local government funding; as I said in my introduction, all Governments tend to maintain those uncertainties. I just wanted to establish on the record that national government will not see this as a substitute for the funding that they provide, and that it will be used for local initiatives and local schemes aimed at improving transport infrastructure—for buses, for rail and so on, as we discussed. I have now put my bit on the record and we shall see what happens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in our debates on the Bill. I especially thank the Bill team and officials, who have done a splendid job. I have already thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, once today. We have given the Bill—which I thought might generate a little more controversy than it did—a good and fair hearing. The Committee, Report and Third Reading stages were very constructive and I congratulate all who took part in those debates. We have a better Bill than we started with. I am sure that we all wish it well as it goes to another place for it to be given fair consideration there. I also thank my noble friend Lady Crawley, who, as ever, has been extremely helpful and supportive in helping us through some tricky times with legislation.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.