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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will give the House the answer that he would have given to my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland on Amendment No. 182. It is a straightforward amendment. It provides that when an operator fails substantially, the traffic commissioner may disqualify that operator from further operations. A response would be helpful to the House. There is a relatively short period between this stage and Third Reading during which my noble friend may wish to consider what to do.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my note says that the Liberal Democrats need a reply in writing and orally. There is a slight difficulty about the references in her noble friend's amendment. I understand that the noble Baroness needs reassurance--I can give it to her--that the traffic commissioners will have exactly the same powers to enforce against breach of registered details by what is referred to as an exempted operator under the quality contract scheme as they would in respect of a bus operator outside that area. I believe that that is the assurance the noble Baroness and her noble friend seek.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. As he rightly says, we come to this part of the Bill from reciprocal positions. I suspect that there will never be a meeting of minds on these issues. I shall study the noble Lord's explanations with care. While I may understand them, I do not believe that I shall ever agree with them. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Any ticketing scheme requires a deal of public notice and public consultation. The public are made well aware, and rightly so, of what is going on and, in so far as that can be done, their views will be taken into consideration during that process. Clause 136(6)--it seems an oddity--provides that,
I go along with the Bill to that point. That seems eminently sensible. If one has a scheme which is brought into being with a great deal of public participation and consultation, one should go through the same process to vary or revoke it.
The Government say that they may need that power in case they have the procedure wrong. If we have the procedure wrong, the whole Bill is wrong. I cannot seriously believe that the Government think that this part of the Bill is flawed. I do not understand the need for those words. They should be struck from the Bill. The amendment gives effect to that.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in this context we are dealing with the procedure for revoking or varying a scheme, not making a scheme, although some of the provisions read across. The noble Lord seeks to remove the power to make regulations in regard to revoking or modifying the procedures.
As drafted, Clause 136(6) recognises that it would be appropriate to have some degree of flexibility in order to change by regulation the variation or revocation procedure in the light of experience. In Committee I gave an example of where experience may change circumstances. We would want to vary the scheme, for example, by bringing in other operators or transport modes. That may mean that the procedure would have to be modified in order to do so when, for example, the scheme had been established for one mode or one relatively narrow group of operators. In those circumstances--there may well be others--regulations would be a perfectly reasonable way to modify the procedure. It is with that in mind that we have sought to build in the flexibility in this clause.
Amendment No. 120 could present a serious inhibition on using the powers in the Bill. It would add the proviso that the requirement on operators to make and implement arrangements under the scheme would apply only if those arrangements were practicable and involved a cost which was not disproportionate. In all these cases, the authority is bound to act reasonably. This wording, as in other fields of law, would lead the way for endless and unproductive disputes as to what was practicable and what was disproportionate. Local authorities are already required to consult operators before making the scheme. They would need to take sensible account of any representations. They have a general obligation to act reasonably in using these powers. I believe that that is sufficient safeguard against such schemes leading to disproportionate or totally unreasonable provisions and impositions on the operators and others.
So both amendments would be detrimental. The first deals with a situation that is unlikely to arise frequently, but we need the flexibility to deal with it if it should arise, and I believe that the second could seriously undermine the scheme by potentially giving specious grounds for challenge. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. However, I had some difficulty in following what he said on Amendment No. 119. I understand the need to modify the schemes--the Bill provides for consultation and for schemes to be modified--but I do not believe that the Minister has answered why what is set out on the face of the Bill may need to be varied. The Minister says that such a situation would be a rare occurrence with which I agree--I do not believe that such a situation should exist--but I do not understand why, if there is need to vary a scheme, the existing procedures cannot be complied with.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.