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Lord Swinfen: I did not believe that the Minister would be prepared to accept the amendment at Committee stage. However, I am grateful for the offer to correspond with him or to meet with him to discuss the matter. In the light of that, and saving my position for a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 172 to 174 not moved.]

Clause 150 agreed to.

10 Jul 2000 : Column 108

Clause 151 [Agreements providing for service subsidies]:

[Amendment No. 175 not moved.]

Clause 151 agreed to.

Clause 152 [Competition test for exercise of bus functions]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 176:

    Page 93, line 38, after ("schemes") insert (", quality contracts schemes").

The noble Lord said: This particular group of amendments has been tabled due to an inconsistency in this Bill compared with other legislation passing through the House. In this Bill we are blithely creating monopoly situations, while a Bill dealing with competition legislation is going through the House that ensures that monopoly situations cannot arise.

At this hour of the night I shall not spend long on this matter. I do not believe that it is an abuse of the time of the Committee to point out the inconsistency between provisions in this Bill and provisions in another Bill. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw: Perhaps I may intervene, because this may be the only opportunity I have to refer to Schedule 10. When we debated this matter in Grand Committee I raised the issue of the competition test and the fact that quite large fees may be demanded of local authorities or operators. We still have considerable unease as to the high level of bureaucracy which may be involved in establishing whether or not a scheme falls foul of the competition rules.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in reply in Grand Committee and again today, said that further discussions are going on with the director-general. I hope that we may hear, either now or on Report, that those discussions have moved forward to give us some reassurance that we are not going to have an extremely bureaucratic ping-pong match between operators and local authorities and the Director- General of Fair Trading as to whether or not a specific scheme meets the competition test.

Lord Whitty: I feel gratified to see that there is a conflict of position between the two Opposition parties. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, wants to keep the competition authorities out and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, wants to bring them in.

We spelt out at earlier stages, both in Grand Committee and earlier today, the position on the competition regime which we introduced for local authority functions as regards quality partnership schemes. They were designed to ensure not only a role for the Office of Fair Trading, but also a public interest defence. We are now in a different area--that of quality contracts. It is clear that the amendment seeks to apply the Competition Act to quality contract schemes, so we would have two competition regimes for quality contracts running in parallel.

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There is a potential difficulty with competition policy. But it is clear that, once a quality contract scheme has been introduced, that overrides the competitive situation. Services will be operated under those contracts and be subject to the terms and conditions specified by the local authority in those contracts. The only exception will be in connection with any special services excluded under Clause 126(4). In other words, there will by definition no longer be any scope for the competition authorities to look at the provision of bus services in the period of the quality contract scheme.

Indeed, even if a quality contract were otherwise caught by Section 2 of the Competition Act, it is the Government's view that it would be excluded by virtue of the provisions in Schedule 3(5) to the Act. That states that conduct engaged in to comply with a legal requirement would be exempted from the Competition Act. We believe therefore that it would be inappropriate to bring quality contracts within the general competition rules, or indeed within the alternative competition regime set out in Clause 152 and Schedule 10.

Therefore I cannot accept the approach of the noble Lord to these matters. However, I can give some degree of assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and we may need to communicate with him further on the question of discussions with the Director-General of Fair Trading.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I feel rather like Mr Rafter must have felt late last night. But I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, in which he went into considerable detail. It was very helpful and I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 152 agreed to.

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 177:

    After Clause 152, insert the following new clause--


(" . Existing non-statutory quality partnerships, ticketing schemes, joint marketing and publicity schemes and tendering arrangements for local bus services may remain in operation until three years after the enactment of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I can be brief with this amendment. I believe we disposed of it in Grand Committee. However, we want to be sure that, where an existing non-statutory quality partnership is in place, that, together with ticketing schemes, the joint marketing and the publicity schemes, remains in operation for the time being at least and the new arrangements do not cause existing arrangements to be terminated early. If all existing schemes were terminated, that would create a great deal of work for others. One may assume that existing schemes, which were entered into voluntarily, fulfil at least some of the Government's purposes in putting them on a statutory basis. We seek an assurance that existing arrangements will remain in place. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I can reassure the noble Lord that the amendment is unnecessary. Little or nothing in the Bill

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would stop specified arrangements continuing, even without the amendment, if all concerned wanted that to happen. The amendment uses the word "may" rather than "must", which implies that it is for the parties involved to determine whether or not a scheme continues.

Lord Bradshaw: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 10 [Competition test for exercise of bus functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 178 to 182 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 183:

    Page 211, line 37, at end insert (", or

(c) any person resident in the area of the authority or authorities in question who is, or is likely to be, affected by the exercise of the function").

The noble Lord said: Schedule 10 provides that either a local transport authority or bus operator can refer a matter to the competition authorities if they feel there is a problem. That is inviting the two parties most interested to complain about themselves--or rather, one would probably complain about the other. The people most affected--those who use the buses--ought to have the right to complain, and the amendment is specifically designed to make that possible. Any individual who thought that he or she was disadvantaged by a non-competitive move between an LTA and a bus company could take his problems to the competition authorities, which would be a good and proper provision. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Amendment No. 183 seeks to ensure that an interested member of the public as well as an operator or local authority can apply to the Office of Fair Trading for a decision. We felt it right to limit formal applications--which involve submitting a form and paying a fee--but it is always open to a member of the public, whatever their role, to contact the OFT about a particular case.

Under this regime, and as set out in paragraph 5 of Schedule 10, the OFT has the power to investigate without a formal fee-paid application. Hence it is possible for all members of the public and others who may consider themselves detrimentally affected by a decision, or potentially so, to approach the OFT. It is the formal application that is limited to these two groups.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, which I found very reassuring. It is good to know that ordinary members of the public have a route down which they can go and thereby do something about it, if they feel that they are being disadvantaged as a result of this legislation. I shall study the Minister's reply but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 184 to 191 not moved.]

10 Jul 2000 : Column 111

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 153 [Grants to bus service operators]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 192:

    Page 93, line 42, after ("operating") insert ("and improving accessibility to").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has been grouped with Amendment No. 193, which is tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara. The purpose of my amendment is to extend the provisions for which grants may be made to bus operators for improvements to accessibility. The Bill allows for grants to bus operators or authorities to improve the services provided to the public.

The costs of introducing a bus accessible across the UK fleet are only £444 million, yet at the same time there would be additional revenue of between £26 million and £52 million a year. Disability organisations believe that the Government could--and, indeed, should--find a funding mechanism that ensures an accessible bus fleet well before the end date of 2017 in the proposed Disability Discrimination Act regulations. That is entirely consistent with the Government's objectives for delivering high quality bus networks. I beg to move.

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