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Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment, bearing in mind the danger to horses and riders. Some rural roads, in particular minor roads, are narrow, bending and with high hedges over which neither drivers nor riders can see. In areas where there may be a lot of riding, it would be advisable to have some speed limits on roads outside the built-up areas.

Lord Berkeley: I support the amendment. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, had some drafting help. The amendment refers to a period of five years. Therefore, nothing will happen very quickly.

I draw the Committee's attention to the White Paper which is now two years old. Page 61 contains almost identical words to those used by the noble Baroness. It refers to 20 miles per hour speed limit zones; and to the fact that the frequency of accidents has been reduced by about 60 per cent, with those to children being reduced by 67 per cent. Something needs to be done. The amendment is in line with the transport strategy. I hope that it can be accepted by the Government who might consider reducing the period of five years to three years.

Lord Whitty: As the Minister responsible for the Road Safety Strategy, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness's desire to smooth its path in respect of speed limits. I am not entirely clear that a requirement to issue guidance is the key point although there is a need for guidance in that respect. The current guidance is helpful in technical detail so far as it goes, but the speed review we conducted last year in parallel with the Road Safety Strategy indicates a need to ensure greater clarity, greater consistency and more of the area approach to which the noble Baroness referred.

The speed review recommended using the DETR's New Approach to Traffic Appraisal as a basis for developing an assessment framework for setting speed limits. The safety strategy indicated some moves and broad objectives in relation to residential areas, and villages in particular. We are completing this new advice which will be issued to local authorities. It is complex and cannot be issued instantly. I would expect the next advice to be issued on that basis within the next three years and, therefore, well within the noble Baroness's time-scale.

I ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment now. We shall consider whether the appropriate formulation would require new guidance. If it relates only to guidance, it may be unnecessary.

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On the other hand, were there to be regulatory provisions we need to see whether the present powers of the Secretary of State are sufficient. While understanding the objective of the amendment, I should like to consider the issue further. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I thank the Minister for that reply. I knew that I would make some major error. I shall consider his reply. Before Report stage, perhaps we can consider whether there is a need for legislative provision. This aspect of the Road Safety Strategy was clearly ticked off in the "legislation required" column. If the provision needs to be phrased differently, we have time between now and Report stage to get it right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 109 [Bus strategies]:

Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 121A:

    Page 67, line 3, at end insert--

("( ) In developing their bus strategy, a local passenger transport authority, including Passenger Transport Executives, must have regard to the pay and conditions of their employees and best employment practice.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I first declare that I am a member of the Unison Parliamentary Group.

This part of the Bill aims to improve local transport services by facilitating quality partnerships and quality contracts designed to improve the standards of bus services throughout England and Wales. Everyone supports the need for better bus services and the need to encourage more people back on to public transport in an effort to reduce congestion and environmental pollution. However, there is concern that in its present form the Bill fails to make explicit provision for the needs of employees, within the context of both local bus strategies and quality contract schemes.

Paragraph 11.17, on page 40 of the Government's daughter document to the transport White Paper, From Workhorse to Thoroughbred, states:

    "A well trained and well motivated workforce, with decent pay and conditions is essential if we are to realise the full potential of the industry in meeting passengers' needs".

However, at no point in this Bill is it acknowledged that employee terms and conditions are a fundamental component of quality services. The Bill fails to ensure that employee terms and conditions are a material factor when drawing up local bus strategies and hence when entering into quality partnerships and quality contracts. As such, I and others, including Unison and other trade unions, are concerned that contracts and partnerships will be entered into on the basis of cost and frequency alone, without regard to the important and crucial needs of staff who are, as acknowledged in the consultation document, key to successful partnerships and better services. Happy and contented staff make for good and punctual services, and civility attracts passengers. Discontented staff make for surly service and drive away passengers--the reverse of what the Bill seeks to do.

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Problems are also likely to occur in the tendering for quality contracts. The consultation document also acknowledges that there are disadvantages to the quality contract schemes. These include the fact that, as stated in the Government's own document,

    "Experience suggests that contracting can become a competition between operators for the lowest cost wages and conditions for staff".

That is unacceptable.

Local authority owned bus companies, trading at arms' length, may find that they lose contracts because they are obliged to observe pay and conditions standards that exceed those found in many private bus companies. The lack of a level playing field in this area may, in the worst case scenario, not only lead to loss of jobs and low staff morale, it would also have a negative impact on services.

Despite the Government acknowledging the problem in the consultation document, the Bill fails to make any arrangements to help to counteract the practice by making sure that bus strategies, quality contracts and quality partnerships consider the terms and conditions of employees. Without employees, one will have no bus services. If employees are badly paid, there will be bad bus services. Greater value would be added to quality partnerships and to quality contracts if all companies were required to present high standards of pay and conditions similar to other competitors in the field.

The amendment would ensure that in drawing up local bus strategies, local transport authorities must have regard to best employment practice. This would help to ensure that such conditions were a factor when entering into quality partnership schemes and quality contracts. By amending Clause 109, a clear and positive statement would be sent out to employees and employers alike that best value means best employment practice.

Why have the Government failed to include in this part of the Bill provisions for employees' terms and conditions? Furthermore, will the Government assure the Committee that local transport authorities and bus operators will be obliged to incorporate best employment practice within their bus strategies? Best employment practice should include the protection of core terms and conditions and mirror image pension rights from equal opportunities policies, health and safety commitments, trade union recognition and training opportunities. I feel sure that my noble friend will agree with those aspects and will want to incorporate them.

In conclusion, in order for best value to be a success, it is essential that best employment practices are encouraged and facilitated in relevant legislation. In my view, the Government have not taken sufficient measures to demonstrate to staff that best value is a positive step forward. Moreover, it is time that staff were seen to be the solution to poor and unattractive services and not the culprits. I beg to move.

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5.30 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: I support the amendment. It is difficult to put into words what my noble friend is trying to achieve but he has made a good attempt at it. Unless the quality of service on buses is improved in many places, we shall not achieve the wholesale diversion of passengers which everyone wants.

I understand that in many parts of the country there is a shortage of drivers. There is a shortage of train drivers and there will soon be a shortage of lorry drivers. They cover surface transport. If we cannot recruit such drivers, properly train them and persuade them to stay in the industry, we shall not achieve the quality of service, frequency and reliability that is essential.

As many Members of the Committee have said, sadly, one has to be something of an acrobat to stay on a bus! If one suffers from a disability, it is even more difficult. I live in Oxford where, as my noble friend Lord Stoddart and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, we have special buses with a floor that can be lowered so that passengers can climb on. But if they are not sitting down by the time the driver moves off they will probably be more disabled than when they started the ride! That is not the way to attract more people onto the buses.

Only yesterday, when I was standing at a bus stop, a lady complained that the bus went by without stopping. She said, "I had my hand out but the driver took no notice". The bus was not full but he was probably in a hurry. We must do something about such incidents. I am not sure what the answer is, but I commend my noble friend for raising the issue and for tabling the amendment.

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