Bus Drivers’ Working Hours — [Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 6th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:28 pm, 6th June 2019

I will certainly pass that request on. I know that my hon. Friend is already planning to write to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, but I will pass that request on very happily.

Following its inquiry, the Select Committee on Transport published its report entitled “Bus services in England outside London” on 22 May. One recommendation in the report is that the Government consult on whether legislation governing GB drivers’ hours is still fit for purpose or should be amended. The Government are currently considering the recommendations in the report and will of course publish a response in due course.

The Department for Transport did conduct an extensive review of the effectiveness of the GB domestic drivers’ hours rules in 2009-10. That looked at whether these vehicles should fall under any of the provisions in the EU drivers’ hours rules. At that time, the Government decided not to make any changes, concluding that the existing rules are both important and appropriate in ensuring the safety of drivers and others on the road and that any further restrictions could risk placing further burdens on the sector, but it is clearly appropriate to keep monitoring this. As new data becomes available, it should obviously inform our decision making.

I understand from the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, the main trade association representing the bus industry, that the accident that we have been discussing and the resulting court case have already had an impact on the sector. The public inquiry illustrated that a complex chain of organisational and management factors or unsafe acts contributed to this terrible incident.

As the hon. Member for Reading East highlighted, buses are a vital industry. It is important that we support the bus industry to thrive, while ensuring that safety is at its heart. I absolutely agree with that. It is why we have the Bus Services Act 2017. We of course need to have a transport sector that has safety at its heart.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the decline in passenger numbers since 2010. I should perhaps point out that we have actually had a decline in passenger numbers for several decades. It did not start in 2010—frankly, it probably started long before I was born.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about investment in the sector. We have obviously seen pressures on local government finance in particular, but the national support for buses, through the bus service operators grant, has been protected at a quarter of a billion pounds, and that has been in place for many years.

The Bus Services Act is all about giving greater powers to local authorities. At the heart of those is partnership, but there could be franchising as well. We want to see a thriving bus industry, with safety at its heart and passengers at its heart, providing for the sustainable, secure movement of people around our country. That new set of powers, which are still being worked through by local authorities up and down the country, is at the heart of how we are seeking to take that forward.

In addition to the Bus Services Act, the industry is currently considering a bus safety strategy. As a Department, we welcome the bus safety strategy. Industry groups such as the Urban Transport Group have been considering what a strategy might include and delivering research into other sectors, such as rail and aviation, that have effective near-miss reporting systems in order to understand how near misses are reported and acted on. If there are lessons to be learned from other sectors, we should seek to learn them. The aviation sector has a very good track record, and interestingly that has been used as a template for how we can do reporting and for changing the culture in areas of public life such as our health service.

The public inquiry illustrated that in this case there were multiple reports of unsafe acts or near misses, and the failure to act contributed to this terrible incident. Department for Transport officials are working with the Urban Transport Group as it develops the strategy, and I know that the lessons learned from this incident will be fed in to the development of the strategy. It is important to know that. I hope that it will be of some comfort to the families of Rowan and Dora that the lessons from this incident are being fed in to the development of safety strategies.

Both the industry and the Government are determined to minimise the chances of this crash ever being repeated. There is strong consensus across the industry that there is no substitute for a closely managed culture in which safety is paramount. As a Government, we take this issue very seriously and will continue to press the bus industry at every opportunity to continue to improve its policies and procedures and ensure that it complies with all its legal duties, so that no driver gets behind the wheel of a bus who is not safe to drive that bus.

As I have said, I will be meeting the bus Minister next week so that she knows the content of our debate. I will ensure that all the points made by colleagues here are taken forward and she is fully sighted on them, and that we maintain the progress that is being made on road safety in general and bus safety in particular. I would like to finish by paying tribute once more to Rowan’s family for their bravery and dignity in handling what must be so difficult an issue and seeking to draw something so positive from it.