Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Government may well deny the possibilities that I have raised as contentiously speculative, but they exist, are there and implicit in the proposals to allow charging for trunk road use, especially on trunk roads already paid for and maintained at taxpayers’ expense. I hope that what I have said alerts the Welsh electorate to what may be in store for them, as those who logged on to the No. 10 website were obviously aware.

5.20 pm

Lord Snape: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. That role has fallen to me in this House on at least one occasion and in the other place it fell to me on more than one occasion. I cannot promise to accompany him, whether by road, rail or car, on a tour of the Principality, but listening to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the principal Front-Bench speaker, I am always struck by how adept the Conservative Party is at adopting the role of the motorist’s friend in these debates. Both those speakers made great play of their support for public transport, but at the same time said that there must be no restraints on motor cars and that we cannot have congestion charging.

One of the great weaknesses of the present charging system as far as roads and motorways are concerned is that once one has purchased a car, whether on hire-purchase or directly, and paid for the petrol, the insurance and all the other things, it does not make any sense to leave it on the drive and catch a bus. The sooner the cost of a journey is more accurately reflected in each journey undertaken, the better. If we had a system of congestion charging that made it apparent, so that there was an easy comparison between using the car and using public transport, that would help to get the modal shift that all of us say we are in favour of. However, as long as the principal opposition party sets its face against any congestion charging, that is not likely to happen.

20 Nov 2007 : Column 776

In my younger days in another place when I had some transport responsibilities, I used to try to write—I am going to show how impartial I am going to be in this debate—into Labour Party manifestos the provision that we should abolish the road fund licence and put the cost on a gallon of petrol, which would more accurately reflect the cost of a journey. Needless to say, most of the opposition to that proposal came from the Principality, particularly from the Swansea area, where civil servants who earned their living in the motor tax department could see redundancy looming if my preposterous—in their view—suggestion were adopted.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord talks some sense, but I hope that he does not forget that the principal operating cost of a motor car is the fuel, which is taxed at about 400 per cent.

Lord Snape: My Lords, if it is Conservative Party policy to reduce fuel tax, we will all be interested to hear about it. I am not sure whether the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is senior enough or responsible enough to make that pledge, but it is very interesting that, at a time when we are talking about global warming and the cost of motoring in general, the Conservative Party should be so irresponsible as to make that suggestion. However, let us not bicker among ourselves; there is plenty of time in Committee for that.

It is surprising that so far there has been no mention of the railway industry. If we are to have a different charging regime for local road pricing, such a regime will have some impact on the railway industry. I have a number of questions to put to my noble friend arising from those potential charges. Does he agree that local transport authorities should take account of relevant rail plans—network route plans and other plans—when devising local transport policies and plans? Does he think that they should consider how their proposals will impact on rail capacity and whether they need financially to support enhancements to the rail network in their area from the extra income that they will gain from these proposals? If local areas wish to introduce local road pricing schemes, should they not be required to consult Network Rail and the train operating companies because of the impact that such charges will have on rail carriers? If extra capacity is to be created on local rail and other public transport networks to take care of the additional traffic that will be generated from these road pricing proposals, should local authorities not be able to borrow money against the revenue stream that will arise from a road pricing scheme? I hope that my noble friend will look at those questions, as there is an opportunity for local authorities to be able to finance better public transport in their area without the burden necessarily falling directly on Her Majesty's Government’s taxation policies.

Turning from the railway industry to the impact of these proposals on the bus industry, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the entry in my name in the Register of Members’ Interests. Nowadays I carry out consultancy work for First Group plc and I spent

20 Nov 2007 : Column 777

many years working for the National Express Group—indeed, I was chairman of its major bus operator for some years—and there are a number of matters in the Bill on which I should like to comment and to which I will return at a later stage.

The Bill has come about as a result of quite a few years of lobbying by passenger transport authorities and their executives. The great myth about bus passenger carryings is that it is only since the 1986 Act, which deregulated bus services, that passenger carryings have been falling away dramatically. That is not true but it is the great myth that PTAs and PTEs have tried to instil for many years. Again, there was not a great deal of defence of the 1986 Act in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The Transport Act 2000 and the Bill before your Lordships today arose directly out of criticism of the 1986 Act, much of it based on myths perpetuated by local authorities.

I do not think that the average bus passenger cares who owns the buses or, for that matter, what colour they are. The average bus passenger is concerned to see that the bus arrives at the time stated in the timetable and is not held up unduly by congestion along the journey. It is an oft repeated remark, but it deserves putting on the record again, that we will never tempt motorists out of their cars if the bus that we are trying to tempt them to join is in the same traffic jam as they are in, listening to whichever radio programme they choose in the warmth, comfort and isolation of their motor car.

The Conservative Party cannot have it both ways. It cannot say, on the one hand, that we must have no congestion charging or penalising, as it would put it, of the motorist and, at the same time and in the same breath, that we can have proper bus priority measures. The two are incompatible. To introduce proper congestion-busting bus measures we need to restrain the private car.

Again, there is nothing revolutionary about that. It was the Conservative Government who gave permission and the financial wherewithal for the Midland Metro system to go ahead in the area that I used to represent when I was in another place. They did so on the understanding and the clear direction that car restraint measures were introduced on the adjacent A41 trunk road. That was eminently sensible and everyone supported it. But where are such sensible proposals these days from the Conservative Party? It professes to be the motorists’ friend and says that there should be no car restraint, although proper provision has to be made for public transport. The two are incompatible and it is time that the Conservative Party recognised that.

The other great myth is that London has a successful system and the rest of the country should emulate the London experience if we are to have proper bus services. The Department for Transport, or whatever it is called these days, not too long ago carried out a survey of bus passengers—surely the people who count. The DfT figures showed that 83 per cent of bus users outside London were satisfied or very satisfied with their services, whereas 78 per cent—5 per cent less—were satisfied in the capital. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the capital

20 Nov 2007 : Column 778

experience of investment. The latest figures that I have are for 2005-06, and it is costing £638 million to subsidise London buses. That may be a very good investment—I do not criticise it—but it is a bit more than the £128.6 million that the rest of the country gets. If we were to have an honest and straightforward debate about these matters, the fiscal imbalance between the two would have to be recognised. All too often it is ignored when PTEs and PTAs, in particular, demand a repeat of the London experience in their areas.

The proposals in the Bill envisage three different ways of operating buses throughout the country: the voluntary partnerships, the statutory quality partnerships and the quality contracts. I have some trouble with the English language, as your Lordships may have noticed during the debate, but I do not understand what a statutory quality partnership is. A partnership is a partnership—an agreement between two separate bodies. How can it be statutory? The Labour Party used to demand statutory industrial agreements in the 1970s. I used to point out to the likes of Eric Heffer that there was some contradiction there. Needless to say, I did not get much change from him. I cannot see how one can make a partnership statutory.

In any case, voluntary partnerships in various cities around the country have been extraordinarily successful. However, they need both sides to participate. The great myth that the PTAs and PTEs put around is that the only people who seek to co-operate in these matters are the local authorities. They say that the wicked capitalists who run the buses—they put me in that category at one stage; I cannot understand why—are not interested in partnership, yet I have previously during these debates drawn the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, to the fact that, in Birmingham, where there was a freely entered into agreement between the company of which I was chairman at the time and the passenger transport authority to provide bus lanes along the No. 67 bus route, the city council, which was under the so-called progressive partnership of Conservatives and Liberals, took out that bus lane on a temporary basis four years ago and has still not replaced it.

It takes two to tango. A quality partnership must be a proper partnership and recognised and adhered to by both sides. In Birmingham, there are numerous examples of great growth in bus use on certain routes where proper bus priority measures have been laid down. The city of York, where there are something like 12.5 miles of bus lanes, has also seen extraordinary growth. In Sheffield, where there are fewer than two miles of bus lanes, there has been significant growth on certain routes because of a voluntary quality partnership. Growth can be achieved, but it will not be done by the imposition of statutory quality partnerships or, even worse, the protracted legal wrangling to which they will lead if the local authorities are unwise enough to introduce quality contracts.

I am sure that we will return to many of these matters in Committee. I apologise for detaining your Lordships for so long. It is a matter about which I feel strongly. I shall underline that in Committee, no doubt much to my noble friend’s chagrin.

20 Nov 2007 : Column 779

5.32 pm

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the Bill to us in such detail. As one of those who did not take advantage of the briefing sessions that he provided, I am afraid that I came to this subject a little cold. The Bill contains a wonderful example of the efforts that we make to square the circle of an unequal devolution settlement between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It manages to go quite a long way towards achieving this and, during its passage, I hope that we shall be able to satisfy ourselves that it has managed, however approximately, to do so.

I note that paragraph 37 of the Explanatory Notes states that the Bill does not contain measures that require a Sewel motion from the Scottish Parliament, but it seems that there are one or two areas where the Bill comes fairly close. Numerous permutations involving Scotland in the Bill appear to be designed to overcome any accusations that this is another area where the West Lothian question might arise. I notice that the commissioners for England and Wales will have power to act on any retained matters in Scotland, and the commissioner for Scotland will be able to act on retained matters in England and Wales.

Most matters relating to local transport in Scotland are devolved, so it is of much interest to see in paragraph 47 of the Explanatory Notes that the Scottish commissioner will have full jurisdiction over devolved and reserved statutory functions. Does that not have a Sewel motion implication? Has any assessment been made of the burden of responsibilities that will be faced by the Scottish commissioner as compared to that of his English counterparts? Does it have any relevance to the apparent lack of powers within the Bill to appoint a deputy traffic commissioner in Scotland?

Noble Lords will have noted that both Clauses 1 and 6 of the Bill grant sweeping, Henry VIII powers to the Secretary of State. The reasons for this being thought necessary will require a little probing at a later stage. Are there any such powers in the legislation that already governs this area, or are these new proposals?

As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, the amendments in Clauses 46 and 47 will be seen as very welcome in all rural and remote areas, although they are also bound to benefit anyone who wishes to provide a local service in some urban community. I note that the Countryside Alliance re-emphasised in its brief for this Bill the problems of remoteness in rural areas and the fact that it is estimated that 16 per cent of rural households do not own a car, which puts them at a serious disadvantage in many areas of life. Given the current increases in the price of fuel and the fact that between 600 and 700 petrol stations in rural areas are closing every year, the number of rural households without cars may go up quite dramatically. The possibility of someone who normally runs a taxi service, which is often in the form of a minibus, being able for some part of the day to provide the format of a local bus service should be very beneficial. A similar service in the form of a post bus exists in my own area. I

20 Nov 2007 : Column 780

presume that that will be able to operate under the regulations that we are discussing.

Part 5 of the Bill deals with integrated transport arrangements. Will the Minister enlighten the House as to how many of them are currently in existence, as they are of major importance to the convenience of the travelling public? An active arrangement exists in my home area: the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority has made an enormous difference, as it covers an area in which it has to co-ordinate rail, bus and ferry services. However, it has recently been presented with a further challenge. A new Scottish local transport service provided by a sea plane has just been opened up. It will fly you from the centre of Glasgow to any loch or marine destination in Scotland that you choose, and usually in not more than three-quarters of an hour. I am fairly sure that no attempt is yet being made to integrate it with the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority, but considering that so little regulation of air transport has been devolved, I wonder which government body will license that service. It may well at some point have to be dealt with in a Bill such as this.

5.37 pm

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, this transport Bill aims to do a lot of good, primarily for road congestion and bus services. I hope that it will deliver; I am sure that we will have a better idea about that by the time the Bill leaves this House. Indeed, we have discovered a lot about the Bill today.

I shall examine what the Bill hopes to do for transport in Scotland, where, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, said, transport is largely a devolved matter. Irrespective of the future governance of Scotland, I am generally in favour of one rule of the road in the British Isles.

Much of the Bill hangs on the future performance and independence of the traffic commissioners. It extends the changes for the traffic commissioners to the Scottish traffic area so far as reserved matters are concerned.

I am puzzled by the fact that the new senior traffic commissioner will be able to direct the Scottish traffic commissioner to do work in England or Wales, yet deputy Scottish traffic commissioners may not be so directed. I presume that the deputy traffic commissioners will handle the devolved transport work. There is some confusion about that and its practicality, so I hope that the Minister will clarify it. In doing so, will he tell the House whether the Scottish traffic commissioner is barred from being the senior traffic commissioner?

The opportunity to detain public service vehicles which are being operated without an operator’s licence on the same basis as HGVs driven without such a licence is a welcome and useful provision. The same can be said about the use of taxis and other private-hire vehicles as public service vehicles. This deregulation may well enable small-scale public transport to be extended to isolated Highland clachans, hamlets and other villages where there is a limited but specific demand for travel to work or for a Saturday night out. It may reduce the amount of time that parents in rural

20 Nov 2007 : Column 781

areas spend ferrying the children around and make it more possible for poorer families to live in the countryside.

The relaxation of the permits for charitable sector minibuses and the possibility of payment for the drivers, and by passengers, may well enlarge the scope and scale of that market. However, I expect that communal operators will scrutinise any expansion of such activity like hawks; perhaps fairly so.

I have examined subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 59, which are claimed to extend to Scotland. The provisions imply a power for transport authorities and presumably local authorities in Scotland to subsidise passenger transport. Will the Minister please clarify that?

The opportunity for members of DPTAC seems to be generous, particularly if they have to devote considerable time and travel time to their duties. However, I note that this remuneration must not apply to any devolved matters. Quite how that will work within UK-wide meetings I do not yet know.

Another organisation to get into potential difficulties of this nature will be the Rail Passengers Council. The RPC is to get more non-rail powers. That sounds sensible, particularly when transport is to be integrated. I note that this new work will not apply to the Scottish appointees. How will that work out at meetings?

The Secretary of State is giving herself the opportunity to charge Scottish transport authorities for information supplied under the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001. I wonder how often that will happen, or is it to stop them asking for information?

I am content with the new powers for collecting information about foreign-owned lorries. I suspect that there may be some surprise at the roadside when the child support regulations are enforced. There is considerable concern about these lorries and this may bring them under closer scrutiny.

Those 10 measures are the Scottish content of the Bill. Clearly, the Bill is about bus franchising, the reorganisation of the PTEs into integrated transport authorities and road congestion busting. I have a few comments about the rest of the Bill and its potential for success. The Bill aims at rural proofing. That is commendable, but it is unlikely to reach really isolated and sparsely populated areas, making it difficult for teenagers in particular. Possibly the taxibus system will help.

The Bill enables local authorities to install a range of road charging schemes and other congestion reducers. Without any reduction in vehicle excise duty or fuel duty, these will be seen as unfair by many. My preference is for using traffic orders and higher parking charges. Closing specific roads to certain types of traffic may well solve the congestion problem, which slows up the buses, trams and taxis. Good examples can be seen in Princes Street, Edinburgh and in Stirling where the Springkerse park and ride buses enter the city centre through private roads, involving no expensive surveillance and collection systems. If road charging has to be used, it should be used only during the peaks. Such measures are not needed in Alloa where we have free car parks which are not yet full.

20 Nov 2007 : Column 782

I was impressed by the Bill’s impact assessment, published separately, when it looked at the Bill’s outcomes for gender, ethnicity and disability. It made instructive reading.

To be successful, the Bill will have to demonstrate that it can organise the integration of transport without compromising competition policy. That seems to be a bigger problem than it ought to be and may well defy common sense. Network Rail, in its briefing notes—I was not the only one to receive them—states that it wants to be consulted about the effect of proposed bus franchises and road charging schemes. If they are to be of any use, they are bound to have implications for the railway, so it seems sensible to make Network Rail a statutory consultee.

Finally, I hope that the Bill will be an aid to improving local transport and will give an added fillip to public transport. A central message is that improved punctuality and frequency will lead to increased patronage. I look on with interest. Some people will not give up their cars for anything except positive coercion. Perhaps others will be prised out of their cars by demonstrably quicker bus and tram journeys. I, too, look forward to the Grand Committee.

5.45 pm

Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, first, I remind Members of my various interests. I am leader of Wigan Council and, particularly in this context, chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page