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and section 90F of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. [Paul Clark.]
I should begin by congratulating my right hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) and for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who until a fortnight ago were responsible for the Bill. Their tireless efforts to take account of all the views of all those with an interest in local transport means that we are debating what I believe to be an excellent Bill, and the amendments that the House has accepted today have improved it still further.
I pay tribute to the countless others whose invaluable contributions have shaped the Bill that I hope we are about to send back to the other place. The rigorous pre-legislative scrutiny carried out last year by the Select Committee on Transport, then under the chairmanship
of the late Gwyneth Dunwoody, helped to lay the foundations. I am sorry that she will not be giving me the benefit of her trenchant advice. I well recall that she once observed about one of my speeches on Europe that she thought that she disagreed with just about every single word that I had said. I hope that the advice of her successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), and her Committee will be a little kinder, not least when we meet officially for the first time on Wednesday.
More than 200 organisations and individuals responded to the Governments public consultation on the draft Bill, contributing valuable new ideas. The Bill has been further improved at each stage of its progress through the other place and through this House. I am grateful to Lord Bassam of Brighton and to Baroness Crawley for their careful stewardship of the Bill, and to all noble Lords who participated in the debates in the other place. I am similarly grateful to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of this House who participated in the Public Bill Committee debates and who have joined in todays discussions.
Many other organisations have worked with the Government as the Bill has evolved over the past couple of years, and I am most grateful for the constructive dialogue and healthy debate that has taken place. I emphasise how much we want these relationships to continue as we work to implement the Bill in the months ahead. I know that many have already contributed to the development of various draft regulations and guidance, and we look forward to further contributions from all those with an interest, within the House and beyond.
The Bill forms a crucial part of the Governments strategy to empower local authorities to improve public transport and to tackle congestion. Our priority is to reverse the downward trend of bus usage that we have seen outside London since the disastrous deregulation following the Transport Act 1985, as well as to put right the legacy of underinvestment that we inherited in 1997. This Bill, together with the Governments huge increases in public transport investment since 1997, is our response to local communities saying, Enough is enough, to worsening services and declining patronage.
Bus services are at the heart of public transport in Britain, with more than 5 billion journeys made each yeartwo thirds of all public transport journeys. A reliable, high-quality public transport system makes a real difference to people in their everyday lives. People depend on buses to get to work, to the shops and to essential services such as schools and hospitals, and to visit their friends and familyand it is often the most vulnerable in our society who depend on buses the most. With this Bill, we aim to move beyond the failed deregulation of the 1980s and to do more to provide the transport services that the public deserve. By devolving decisions to those who understand the needs and requirements of their local area, we are empowering local authorities to secure the services that people want: buses that go where people want to go and when they want to go there, buses that turn up when they are expected to, and buses that are clean and comfortablein short, an attractive and affordable alternative to the private car.
There are already some areas where bus operators and local authorities are working well together to deliver improvements that benefit passengersoperators such
as Trent Barton, in my own part of the country, which are highly regarded by the travelling public and provide a modern, up-to-date bus fleet for their passengers. However, we need to ensure that all our communities have the opportunity to make the same progress on transport as some are already enjoying. We also need to ensure that the governance arrangements in our major cities outside London, designed four decades ago, remain fit for purpose. This is why we have introduced this Bill.
We have heard today, as we did at earlier stages of the Bills progress, a range of views about how best to secure those changes. Those on the Government Benches have argued forcefully in favour of greater decentralisation of powers and opportunities for local areas to take decisions about local transport in their own communities.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): On the question of decentralisation, and even devolution, I am sure that the Secretary of State welcomes, as I do, the powers given to the Welsh Assembly that will allow it to charge for road pricing where it thinks it appropriate. The Assembly should have that power.
At heart, the Bill is a decentralising one, whether by enhancing opportunities for operators and authorities to work in partnership to improve bus services, or by making quality contract schemes a more realistic option where there is a clear and demonstrable public interest case. The Bill is about empowering local areas and communities to take the decisions that are right for their areas. It is also about empowering individuals, particularly by providing for the creation of a statutory bus passenger champion to give passengers a stronger voice.
Mrs. Ellman: Would my right hon. Friend give me an absolute assurance that in interpreting the public interest, note will be taken of what locally elected people want to happen, rather than letting unelected people to interpret what local policy ought to be?
Mr. Hoon: It is clear in the Bill what is meant by public interest. That will be a matter ultimately to be decided by elected members of those communities, but of course on the advice given by the quality assurance boards. That is an important part of the balance and compromise that lie at the heart of the most recent Government amendments.
Mr. Betts: I come from the city of Sheffield, where bus ridership has declined to a third of what it was before deregulation. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill, particularly the provisions dealing with quality contracts and the rights of local authorities. On climate change, there is a requirement for transport authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that authorities cannot get away with simply making that a tick-box exercise, and that there is a real requirement to deal with climate change? Would he consider asking local authorities to make an annual statement in their local transport plans about the progress they are making on this matter?
As far as climate change is concerned, we need to develop matters in partnership, not least with the bus operators. I am keen that they should play a part in the improvement of emissions as far as buses are concerned. I hope that we will get into serious discussions on that in due course, and I hope that that was what he meant by saying that it should not be a tick-box exercise. I am clear that it should not be.
The hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) have consistently sought to limit the new opportunities that the Bill creates. I found it rather perplexing that they chose to oppose the Bill on Second Reading, despite clear support for its aims and approach from local authorities, including a number of Conservative ones, bus operators and the travelling public. Their resistance to the Bills decentralising approach was at its most transparent in the debates on quality contracts, which the Opposition seem to rule out at all costs. Even where there is a demonstrable public interest case, they have argued that quality contracts schemes should not even be an option for local authorities, but they still have to say whether they would seek to abolish bus franchising in London.
I read the speech of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet on Second ReadingI actually read it twice, on the basis that I could not identify at all what the hon. Lady is in favour of. It is clear what she is against, and it is clear that she and those on the Conservative Front Bench have become better in the ways of opposition, but until we know what they are for, I doubt that the country will entrust them with the responsibilities of government.
Stephen Hammond: If the Secretary of State had read that speech more carefully, he would understand our position, which has been set out clearly. We are in favour of voluntary partnerships and statutory quality partnerships. He questioned our localising credentials. Presumably, on that basis, he would have supported our new clause 3, which would have required local validation of local congestion charging schemes.
Mr. Hoon: As I said, I read the speech twice, and there is probably no time at this stage to perform a close textual analysis, but the scheme for encouraging the use of buses in this country was far from complete. All I detected was a healthy dose of scepticismthere is nothing wrong with that from an Opposition, but if they have the ambition to form a Government, we expect rather more from them in clear and constructive policy on a vital matter for the British public.
I emphasise that there must be appropriate safeguards to protect the legitimate interests of bus operators, and the Bill provides for those. However, perhaps I need to remind Conservative Members that the measure is ultimately about passengers, and not for bus operators.
The Bill, which we are about to send to the other place, is a significant improvement on the one that was introduced in another place nearly a year ago. I have no hesitation in commending it to the House and wishing it a speedy completion.
Stephen Hammond: The Secretary of State made an interesting speech. At least he recognised that the Opposition were entitled to scrutinise and criticise the measures that they considered. The Minister of State previously dealing with the Bill became somewhat hysterical about any clauses that we opposed either in Committee or on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the management of the Governments business has been such that the Opposition had no time to consider successfully, properly and democratically the amendments that the Government tabled. They tabled 162 amendments and 11 new clauses on 16 October. There was little business the next day, so few people saw them until the following Monday, thus granting less than a week to consider 162 amendments and 11 new clauses. On the last possible day, they tabled another phalanxthree more amendments and another new clause. It is impossible for the Opposition to scrutinise proposed legislation properly if the Government cannot table their amendments more quickly.
Mrs. Ellman: Does the hon. Gentleman intend to deal with substantive issues, such as the fact that 40 per cent. of transport operators revenue comes from public sources, while there is evident public dissatisfaction with the deregulated bus service?
Stephen Hammond: Indeed. The Government have performed U-turn after U-turn on national road pricing so that they are going round in circles. It was interesting that the Secretary of State refused to confirm whether the Government were prepared to use local road pricing as a Trojan horse for further stealth taxes. New clause 3 would have made it impossible for local government to impose local charging schemes without local validation.
We cannot support the quality contracts. We believe that the reregulation of the bus services for reasons of political dogma is not born out of any desire to improve services for the travelling public. Labour Members should remember that bus patronage has decreased consistently since the second world war. It fell most dramatically when bus services were regulated, not when they were deregulated.
If the Government genuinely want to do something about the bus service, they must wake up and confront the problems that face the industry. Patronage is declining not because the bus service is deregulated but because people use their cars for short journeys, buses spend half their time stuck in traffic and passenger information
is poor. Throughout the country, partnerships are delivering better bus services for the travelling public. Clearly, if the Government had followed the partnership route, they would have had our support this evening.
As I have said several times before, the Bill is truly a curates eggor should I say the son of the manses egg?for it is good in parts, but fatally flawed in others. It is because of those flaws that I shall ask my colleagues to vote against it on Third Reading.
Norman Baker: I am pleased to have the opportunity to say that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches support the Bill. It represents a step forward for public transport, ensuring that local authorities have more control and dealing with the problem of bus passenger numbers dropping, fares increasing and bus companies
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