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My Lords, we have had several groups of amendments this afternoon, and I am sure that the respective Whips feel like the Grand Old Duke: you march them up to the top of the hill and you march them down again. I fear from the debate thus far that this might not be the case as far as this amendment is concerned, and I acknowledge that many noble Lords have demonstrated a strength of feeling about the effects of Clause 21.
Let me at the outset answer a question that was asked of me. I have said this before and I will say it again: there are existing municipal bus companies, such as Reading Buses and Nottingham City Transport—which the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned—that deliver a high standard of service. They can expect to continue to do so. Their ability to do that will not be affected by this clause; nor will it prevent local authorities working in partnership with a bus company. That is an underlying thread of the Bill.
The introduction of smartcards, the installation of wi-fi, the co-ordination of timetables, and the great strides that have been made in improving accessibility have all been delivered through local authorities working with private sector investment. These innovations benefit passengers and drive up patronage. I have been asked about this several times, and I thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for his intervention in once again emphasising the reasoning behind the Government’s position. As a principle, the commissioning and provision of bus services are generally kept separate, helping to ensure that we retain the strengths of the private sector in this important market. It is about striking a balance between local authority influence and the role that private sector bus companies can play. The Government’s proposal will help ensure that both are incentivised to deliver the best services for passengers.
We want to see local authorities and bus operators working together to improve local bus services for the benefit of bus passengers. I know that this is a sentiment that all noble Lords share. I am sure that many noble Lords also agree—particularly those who have participated in discussions and debates on this Bill—that the Bill as a whole will improve things for passengers. However, as I have said, we have reached that part of the afternoon—or early evening—where there are clearly points of disagreement on Clause 21, but I implore noble Lords to accept that, from the Government’s perspective, it needs to remain part of the Bill.