As Conservative Members have said, the clause will require traffic commissioners to keep records of community transport permits granted by them and copies of permits submitted to them by designated bodies. It is important that we have a better record than we do at the moment of what community transport services operate. The existing legislation does not place an obligation on the traffic commissioners to keep records of permits, although we understand that records are held by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency on their behalf. As I said, we believed that it was important to improve our record keeping of community transport operators and that it was right to impose a requirement on traffic commissioners similar to that on designated bodies.
As for how long the data would need to be kept, obviously it would need to be retained while the permit was in force. Other provisions in the Bill will introduce time-limited permits. One of the issues that has come up is that some permits were given out that had perhaps expired a long time before. For the community transport sector as a whole, it is important to have not only good records, but up-to-date records and to know exactly what is in operation at a particular time. Some difficulties had arisen previously where permits had been given out, the service had completely stopped operating, but nobody had any idea about it. As to who will be able to see the records, I shall have to write to the hon. Member for Wimbledon about that. I cannot see that there would be any problem with there being a public record of what permits were available. However, I would like to take the opportunity to check that and ensure that in any consultation we have done with the community transport world we have explored the options, so I shall come back to the Committee on that.
I do not want to make a meal of this. I think that the Minister has been helpful, but may I make two points? First, would she write to all members of the Committee and not just to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon on that particular point? Secondly, would she be prepared to reflect on the length of time these records should be kept? For example, there did not use to be a legal duty on lawyers in the United Kingdom to keep the papers when they had finished a case, but most lawyers now keep the papers for about seven years in case an issue arises after the matter is finalised, where the papers can be of help. I realise that this situation is not entirely on all fours with what lawyers do with case paperwork, but an issue may arise after a permit expires for which it would be helpful to see the document itself, to see if any conditions were imposed in it and so on.
Perhaps the Minister could reflect on that and tell us on Report whether she feelsI am not suggesting that it should go into the Bill, but perhaps it should be in practice directionsthat it is something on which she would want to advise the traffic commissioners.
I shall certainly consider whether there might be circumstances where retaining the paperwork was appropriate, and the reasons for doing so. I would not like to ask the traffic commissioners to maintain excessive amounts of information, but I am prepared to ask the community transport sector whether that is something that would be helpful. I do not think that that would be a matter for the face of the Bill, but it might be something that we could talk to the traffic commissioners about in guidance.