The amendment would extend further the new competition test that will apply only to voluntary partnership agreements and certain agreements between bus operators. Through the changes that we are making to the competition test, we have tried, for example, to allow two operators to agree to co-ordinate their timetables to provide even patterns or services that connect with each other. That was in response to representations received from local authorities and bus operators about obstacles in the way of them working in partnership, through voluntary partnership agreements, and agreeing with local authorities on improvements, in the best interests of passengers.
When the Bill was introduced in another place, the new competition test applied only to agreements between one or more bus operators and one or more local authorities. However, the Government were persuaded to extend it, so it now applies also to certain agreements between operators only, provided that the local transport authority has certified the agreement as meeting the necessary requirements, which are that the agreement is in the interest of persons using local bus services in the relevant area and does not impose unnecessary restrictions on the operators concerned. It may impose only restrictions necessary to achieve what are referred to as the bus improvement objectives. Those objectives are identical to those used to assess whether potentially anti-competitive measures in a quality partnership scheme may be justified.
As I said, those amendments were made in another place. I think that bus operators were pleased with the changes, as too were the Campaign for Better Transport and local authorities. Furthermore, it is right to put on the record my thanks to the Office of Fair Trading for its help in preparing the provisions. However, my problem with the amendment is that it would allow bus operators to come to an agreement without the local authority having certified that it meets the requirements that I set out. Such an agreement should not be allowed unless the local authority agreed that it would improve public transport in the area and that it was to passengers benefit.
I appreciate that the amendment is probing and aimed at finding out the reasons for the changes made in another place, which further extend the requirement. However, we do not believe that agreements should be made without the local authoritys endorsement and certification.