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application for consideration means an application under section 125A for consideration of a quality contracts scheme;.
(1) Once the appropriate national authority considers the scheme the authority or authorities who proposed it may make it, with or without modifications, at any time not later than 6 months after the date on which the recommendations of the approvals board are published..
(1) Section 125A (consideration of proposed scheme).
authority proposing the continuation of the scheme.
(i) in the event that a quality contract within the meaning of section 124(4) of the Transport Act 2000 is terminated or local services undertaken to be provided under such a quality contract cease to be provided in whole or in part, to carry passengers by road within, to and from that area for the purpose of maintaining local services provided in the area to which that quality contract related, for a period not exceeding 12 months from the date of the termination of the quality contract or the cessation of the local services or such longer period as may be approved by the relevant traffic commissioner as being in the public interest;..
Paul Clark: I am delighted to be able to take the Bill through its Report stage and Third Reading. I genuinely believe that it has the potential to help local authorities, bus operators and passengers alike to achieve substantial change in bus services and other provision to reduce congestion and climate change problems.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): By and large, I welcome the Governments proposals, which I think constitute a move in the right direction. I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues on listening to the comments that were made in Committee. However, this vast raft of amendments was tabled very close to the Report stage. Given that the Committee stage ended some months ago, it would have been helpful if the Government had published their intentions rather earlier.
Paul Clark: I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me and the amendments; I am sure that if we had not introduced them we would have been accused of not listening and of failing to take due account of the deep discussions in Committee, which I have read about and spoken about with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who took the Bill through Committee.
We appreciate that there are many amendments in this group, but they can conveniently be discussed under four separate headings: first, the Governments proposal to replace quality contracts scheme approval boards in England so as to place the decision making squarely in the hands of local authorities; secondly, proposals to strengthen further the employment protections already contained in the Bill for bus company workers; thirdly, provisions to enable local authorities to operate bus services as the operator of last resort in certain very limited circumstances; and fourthly, some technical amendments to clause 44, which enables additional non-quality contract bus services to be registered within a quality contracts scheme area in certain specific circumstances. It might be helpful if I take the time to go through the amendments that stem from those four areas.
There was healthy debate in Committee about the Bills provisions for proposed quality contracts schemes in England to be approved by independent approval boards rather than the Secretary of State. Several hon. Friends, as well as the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech), raised questions about the proposed new approval process, and the Government agreed to consider them further. Members will be aware that we are very much in favour of devolution to local authorities; indeed, much of the Bill is aimed at achieving precisely that. However, it is also important to recognise that quality contracts schemes could have substantial impact on bus operatorsparticularly smaller operatorsin an area and the drivers, maintenance staff and others whom they employ. The Government have consistently made it clear that we see a crucial role for independent scrutiny of local authority proposals for quality contracts schemes, and I stand by that commitment that we clearly outlined in Committee. At the same time, the Government have carefully listened to Members and local authorities who have argued with some passion that the final decision about quality contracts schemes should be placed squarely in the hands of locally elected members.
In the light of those arguments, the Government have tabled new clauses 13 to 19 and amendments Nos. 163 to 265. The amendments would ensure that local authorities took the final decision on whether a quality contracts scheme should be made in their area, but they would also preserve an important role for independent scrutiny to ensure that the legitimate interests of bus operators remain protected. First and foremost, the amendments would replace the proposed approvals boards for England with quality contracts scheme boards, which are called QCS boards in the amendments. Instead of making the final decision as to whether a scheme should go ahead, the role of a QCS board would be to provide an opinion and, where appropriate, to make recommendations to
the local authority. The scrutiny would take place at the end of the consultation process, so that the QCS board could form its opinion in light of the comments made by consultees, but it would be for the local authority to take the final decision having considered the QCS boards opinion and recommendations.
I have taken careful note of the points raised in Committee about the remit of those boards, and the amendments now spell out much more clearly their precise role. There are two aspects to that role. First, the boards are to consider whether the local authority has satisfied the statutory requirements to give notice of their proposed scheme and to consult on it. Secondly, they are to consider whether the proposed scheme meets the public interest criteria set out in the Bill. Those criteria are whether it is likely to benefit passengers, increase patronage and contribute to the authoritys local transport policies in an economic, efficient and effective way, and whether any adverse effects of the scheme on operators are proportionate to the benefits that will result from it. That makes it clear that the QCS boards will be focused on considering the proposed scheme. They will not be delivering opinions or recommendations on wider matters such as the authoritys local transport policies, which are rightly a matter for the authority itself in consultation with the electorate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central, set out clearly in Committee why it is important for the Transport Tribunal to have a role in the QCS process. In particular, the intention is to provide a quicker, more accessible and less costly alternative to judicial review. The role of the Transport Tribunal is equally important under the Governments latest proposals, but at the same time we have listened carefully to the point made by Labour Members that we need to avoid needlessly creating a two-stage process for local authorities.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): On the Transport Tribunal, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 makes provision for two tiers of tribunal, the lower and the upper. On the face of things that may be fine, but under the Bill the first appeal would be to the integrated transport authority itself. Surely we will not then have two further tiers of appeal, as that would be over-bureaucratic. Will he clear that matter up?
Paul Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. He is absolutely right that under the 2007 Act, sectoral tribunals will be done away with in favour of the new first-tier and upper tribunals. Decisions on interim arrangements and which levels will be used are still being consulted on, but we are keen to ensure that processes are not drawn out by any individuals or groups. The Bill contains provisions on that point, which we are keen to recognise. I add that if a QCS board states its opinion that the five public interest criteria are met and that the authority meets the statutory consultation obligations, the right of appeal to the tribunal will be limited to points of law.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend clarify how the public interest criteria that he set out will be determined by elected members rather than an appointed board?
Paul Clark: The proposing transport authority will need to do a cost-benefit analysis using the five public interest criteria laid out clearly in clause 19, including the benefits for passengers and whether they are delivered in an economic way. It will have to follow all five of those criteria. That will have to be set against any disadvantages for operators, and the effect of delivering the revised and new contracts schemes must be proportionate. We would expect traffic commissioners to use other schemes within industries as a benchmark against which to judge if needs be, but in the first instance the authority will need to do a cost-benefit analysis using those five criteria.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I note my hon. Friends comments a moment ago about the Transport Tribunal. May I push him a little further on that point? Will he commit to discussions with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that when the new tribunal framework to replace the Transport Tribunal is finally in place, it is no more onerous for local authorities than the current arrangements? That is a very important point.
Paul Clark: I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are consulting our colleagues at the Ministry of Justice on how the appeals should be handled. Hon. Members will be aware that the provisions are that if the QCS board gives the scheme a clean bill of health on meeting the requirements, an appeal can be made only on points of law. If a clean bill of health had not been given, there would a wider opportunity for an appeal to be taken, and that would happen through the different tiers. It is possible that appeals on points of law would be taken by the upper tribunal and other appeals would be taken through the first tier, but that is open to a discussion, which we will take forward. I hope that clarifies matters on the tribunals.
A number of existing features of the Bill would remain unchanged. For example, a QCS board would still be chaired by a traffic commissioner, who would sit alongside two people from a panel of independent experts to be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would still have the power to specify in regulations a target time limit for the QCS board to complete its deliberations. In contrast to what is proposed in amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and by the Liberal Democrats, the Government are not proposing any significant changes to the arrangements in Wales. As applies now, schemes in Wales would be considered by the Welsh Ministers, which is fully in line with the preferences expressed by Welsh Assembly Members.
Some other refinements to the Bills QCS provisions are proposed. For example, the amendments would give the local authority the optionI should emphasise that it is an option, rather than an obligationto begin the process of tendering for quality contracts while an appeal to the tribunal is in progress. Previously, the Bill would have prevented that, but it should help to speed up the overall process of implementing quality contracts schemes, helping to address another concern expressed by hon. Members in Committee and on the Floor of the House.
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