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My Lords, We are back at Clause 21, which without doubt is the most contentious clause in the Bill. It is totally unnecessary; it is pure political dogma from the Government and despite the opposition expressed to it by noble Lords both at Second Reading and in Committee, it is still here. It is a clause that does not belong in this Bill. It does nothing whatever to improve bus services for people. That is a great disappointment. As I have said many times from this Dispatch Box, this is generally a very good Bill which we have been happy to support. The Minister has listened carefully to all sides of the House, to good points well made, and he has responded positively, which is much to his credit.
Then we get to Clause 21 which runs against all that. As I said earlier, it is merely a piece of political dogma. Local authorities have powers under the Localism Act 2011 and associated powers under the general power of competence provisions. What is wrong with allowing a company to be formed and for it to compete on the open market and win contracts if it can demonstrate better value for money and a better service? Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us when he responds to the debate. We have heard that the present municipal bus companies often run some of the most competitive and best bus services in the UK. Nottingham City Transport has one of the highest number of passenger journeys per head outside London. It has been praised for its innovation, praised for its service delivery, and was awarded Bus Operator of the Year in 2012 and 2014. For many years I lived in Nottingham and the company runs a really good bus service. My reaction to that is “Well done. How can we learn from you because we want to be as good as you?”. Reading Buses, which won Bus Operator of the Year in 2015, has been praised for its,
“combination of innovation, strong operational performance and award-winning marketing initiatives”.
It goes on. UK Bus Awards gave Nottingham and Lothian gold awards in 2015 and 2013 respectively, silver awards to Nottingham in 2014 and Reading in 2012 and 2013, along with Reading again getting a bronze award in 2015. So what do the Government do; what is their response? It is this: “We had better put a stop to any more springing up then; we can’t have the public sector doing a good job, being recognised as delivering some of the best services in the country, winning awards and leading the way”. I hope that when the noble Lord responds to this debate he will pay tribute to the municipal bus companies for their innovation and service delivery.
This clause goes too far and it does not belong here. I would like to meet the person who thought it up and understand their reasoning. For me it is certainly not about a sensible, improved service delivery or business case reason. If we want to improve passenger services and increase passenger numbers, all the options should be on the table at the very least. I hope that the noble Lord will agree to accept the amendment and remove this clause tonight. If he does not, I will divide the House and hope that noble Lords do it for him. I beg to move.