Clause 43

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Determination of applications for registration where restrictions in force

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 225, in clause 43, page 38, line 14, leave out subsection (5).

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 226, in clause 43, page 38, line 18, leave out ‘that question’ and insert

‘whether to accept the application’.

No. 227, in clause 43, page 38, line 19, leave out ‘those representations’ and insert

‘any relevant representations made by a relevant authority or a relevant operator’.

No. 228, in clause 43, page 38, line 25, leave out subsection (7).

No. 229, in clause 43, page 38, line 28, leave out

‘If subsection (7) above does not apply,’.

No. 230, in clause 43, page 38, line 29, at end insert—

‘(za) accept the application;’.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am speaking to a series of amendments dealing with one particular theme, which we discussed when we looked at the quality partnerships part of the Bill. Local authorities have some powers to impose restrictions on bus services that operate in an area where a quality partnership is also in operation. Clause 43 looks at the issue from the other side—that of the prospective traffic commissioner. My amendments are motivated by a concern that some unnecessary and inappropriate restrictions are being placed on traffic commissioners carrying out their functions. Under the provisions of the clause, when the traffic commissioner receives an application for a registration in an area where a quality partnership is in operation, he must first give notice to the authority and the operator or operators party to the new quality contracts scheme. The authority or the operator may make representations to the traffic commissioner, which he must consider in making his decision.

I am trying to see why that provision is necessary. When traffic commissioners decide whether to accept the registration applications made by the operators, they already take into account all local circumstances that might be affected by such a registration. The traffic commissioner will know about the quality partnership in the area, and will bear in mind the impact that he believes additional registrations would have. I am not clear why he needs to be placed under the obligation to take into account additional representations. It seems to me that an element of the clause is telling the traffic commissioner how to do his job, which is neither necessary nor appropriate.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The clause will give traffic commissioners powers to determine whether applications to register new services, or to modify or withdraw existing ones, would be detrimental to a quality partnership scheme. That is linked to measures in clause 13, which would allow a local transport authority to include registration restrictions in a scheme. When making such decisions, the traffic commissioner must apply the registration criteria contained in the scheme. The clause sets out the procedure to be followed when an application to which such restrictions apply is received. If the traffic commissioner decides that an application would be detrimental to the quality partnership scheme, he may turn it down, he may require the applicant to amend it or he may require them to undertake that they would provide services to the standards specified in the scheme. The clause also  provides a right of appeal to the Transport Tribunal against decisions of the traffic commissioner.

We included the provisions in response to concerns that a successful quality partnership scheme could be undermined by disruptive competition—by competitors not prepared to meet the standards specified in the scheme. The purpose is to protect operators and authorities that might have made significant investment in facilities or standards of service. The provisions also provide protection for the passengers who benefit from the improvements in service that a scheme should bring.

The amendment would prevent the traffic commissioner from making an assessment as to whether a registration application would be detrimental to services provided under a quality partnership scheme. He would instead be limited to basing his decision on the registration criteria and the representations and evidence put before him. He would obviously have to consider representations from operators and authorities as part of the decision-making process. Indeed, if no such representations are made, the legislation stipulates that he must accept the application.

We believe that the changes are necessary. It is important that the traffic commissioner should be able to make such assessments, as that will ensure that quality partnership schemes cannot be undermined in the ways that I outlined earlier. We included the provision for registration restrictions to help prevent destabilising competition—it is often seen in so-called bus wars—which can affect operators that have invested in quality partnership schemes and the passengers who need the services. We believe that limiting the assessment strictly to the relevant representations with authorities and operators would diminish the commissioner’s ability to make an informed decision. That is why I urge the hon. Member for Wimbledon to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:15, 6 May 2008

I listened carefully to the Minister, and I am reassured by her words. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.