My Lords, not-for-profit bus services, or community transport, cover a wide spectrum of services, including those operated by charities. I am the first to praise the extraordinary work the sector does for people who need a lot of support in their daily lives—drivers who walk users to their door to make sure they have not lost their keys and then their carry shopping into the hall are local heroes. The sector can also plug a few gaps in services for the general public where there are not enough passengers to make a route a commercial proposition and the hard-pushed local authority does not have sufficient resources to fund a standard bus service.
However, I urge my noble friend the Minister to resist the amendment. Community transport services are not subject to the same regulatory regime as local bus services. Their drivers are not subject to the same stringent training regime as those driving registered services, nor do they need to satisfy many of the other compliance requirements set down by the traffic commissioner.
Services operated under Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985—it is mainly this type of service we are talking about with this amendment—are exempt from many safety and fair competition rules so long as they are not provided to the general public. So how on earth can they contribute to the success or otherwise of a franchise?
The whole issue of services operated under Section 19, and indeed Section 22, permits has been a bone of contention for many years with the EU. If community transport operators were required to enter the local bus market and operate under the same rules as operators of registered services, it would be a different matter, but they are not. There is no level playing field and, at the moment, community transport operators are able to operate more cheaply but without the regulatory safeguards in place for other operators. I therefore urge my noble friend to resist the amendment as gently as he can.