Clause 47

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Fees for registration of services

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment No. 242, in clause 47, page 41, line 26, leave out subsection (2).

The purpose of this probing amendment is to encourage the Minister to explain to the Committee why a bus operator should be required to pay a fee for cancelling the registration of one of its services, if that fee is beyond that which covers the administration. A fee is already payable when a service is registered under the provisions of the Transport Act 1985. The circumstances in which a fee is payable are extended by this clause so that a fee can also be incurred when a service is continued or cancelled.

I would like to be reassured by the Minister that the only purpose of charging a fee is for recovering administrative costs. If so, could she give us some indication of how she intends to give guidance on how these costs will be calculated and how the traffic commissioners are going to set these fees? Can she reassure us that they are set only at a level that covers administrative costs. I am sure that in the interests of maximum patronage, in certain areas operators must be given flexibility to respond to the demands of the travelling public. If it were a punitive fee, there would be some serious issues about what was being provided. I understand that costs must be covered, but I seek a guarantee from the Minister that the purpose of the clause is to cover administrative costs only. What guidance does she intend to give on how those administrative costs might be assessed?

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

It might help if I put it in the context of what we are trying to achieve in clause 47, which will allow the Secretary of State to update the range of fees payable by the operators of local bus services. I stress that any new fees would be set out in regulations and subject to further consultation.

The regime covering the fees paid by the operators of local buses has remained unchanged for the past 20 years. Before an operator can start running a bus service, he must register the particulars of that service with the local traffic commissioner, and a fee is payable then. If he wants to vary the details of the scheme—for example, by introducing a new timetable or changing the number of services—a further fee is payable. However, he does not have to pay a fee if he cancels the service altogether, which carries a transaction charge, or if he simply leaves it as it is.

The clause will allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for fees to be payable in additional situations. For example, a fee could be charged for the cancellation of a local service. What is known as a continuation fee could also be charged—perhaps an annual fee where registration particulars are unchanged. Holders of a bus operator’s licence already pay a fee in order for their licence to continue in force. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out that we need to ensure that the traffic commissioners are properly resourced. They are at the heart of ensuring that bus operators deliver good services and will play an important role in enforcing the new punctuality regime. I stress that no decision has been taken to increase the fees burden on operators at this stage, but it is important to think ahead. That is why we have taken the powers. I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will understand why we have done so and withdraw his amendment. [Interruption.]

Stephen Hammond rose—

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was listening carefully and attentively to the Minister, as ever, but I was worried that the Whips need to make progress and that the door handle might have come off. I listened carefully to what she said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 48 and 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.