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I welcome most of the provisions of this Bill. It will greatly assist city regions such as Manchester in improving their transport facilities. Power given to local authorities is something that, as a localist, I always welcome as a sign of trust. In the process of developing a bid for the Transport Innovation Fund, we in Manchester have done a lot of thinking about the importance of transport in modern cities. Not only is it vital to allow the city's economy to flourish, but it enables communities to access the education, health, cultural and social facilities that make a modern city. A lack of investment in the past has created congestion and other situations which can cause a loss of jobs. In Manchester, we are advised that without the TIF bid and congestion charges there could be a cost of some 30,000 jobs in the city.

It also badly damages the environment. When you draw a map of Greater Manchester showing the areas most adversely affected by environmental pollution, you are actually drawing a map of the main rail and road system: it is identical. We hope to get a TIF bid that will bring some £3 billion investment to public transport with road pricing, although we will not introduce road pricing until after public transport has been improved.

I also welcome the holistic approach to transport issues that is involved in the Bill. Bringing road and public transport out of their separate silos into one integrated authority will be an improvement. I hope that we will also integrate into the approach the link to parking, not just parking in city centres. Certainly, in lots of areas there are major problems with free parking in out-of-town retail centres. They can have a

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huge effect on the local road network causing major congestion and we could use the income from such parking to improve public transport.

I want to concentrate, as other noble Lords have, on three things: the governance arrangements, the bus operations and road pricing. At the moment, cities are reviewing their governance arrangements in the context of the sub-national review and the opportunity given under it for the multiarea agreements to further city development. In Greater Manchester, transport is just one of six different areas that we are trying to bring together to create new ways of governing. I welcome what the Bill can do for us as an integrated authority. In particular, I welcome the opportunity to involve stakeholders and partners from outside the local authority. In putting together our TIF bid, we have had great assistance from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, which proofed our proposals against the effect on the local economy. That was very helpful.

I also like the fact that we will see flexibility in the system, as mentioned by the Minister in his introductory remarks. What we want in Greater Manchester may not be what people want in other cities, and that is fine. We can have a system that we want, which will bring in partners—transport operators, users and industrialists who can make a contribution. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that PTAsare not precepting authorities; they are levying authorities. Whatever they want to do needs the approval of the local authorities. Believe you me, later this week we are having a scrutiny of the Greater Manchester transport budget bid for next year and I assure him that it will come down. The relationship with highways authorities needs to be clarified. I am sure that we can do that in Committee to see how much influence local authorities can have over the Highways Agency—an important agency in contributing to transport issues.

The role that buses play in cities is not fully recognised. My noble friend the Minister quoted them as having two-thirds of public transport journeys; they are very important in cities, where it is probably as high as 80 per cent. The experience of public transport in cities, particularly in bus operation, is very different in different parts of the country. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Snape has just left his place, because one of the treasures of your Lordships’ House is that there is always somebody to defend an interest, however oppressed it is. In his robust and entertaining speech, my noble friend defended bus operators. Well, there you go; somebody has to do that. Yet when you look at the reports on their financial dealings and the profits that they make, I prefer to defend the interests of bus passengers. They are getting a raw deal—particularly in urban areas outside London which suffered the consequences of deregulation.

Despite what my noble friend said, the figures on what has happened are quite stark. During the past 20 years, since deregulation, bus fares have risen in London by 50 per cent while patronage on the buses has risen by 57 per cent. In other urban areas, operated through deregulation, bus fares have risen

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by 100 per cent but passengers have fallen by roughly 50 per cent. That is a really different experience from what is going on here, which can be explained by no reason other than the impact of London still having a regulated bus operation. Transport for London and the mayor can therefore decide all sorts of things such as routes, timetables and fares—even the colours of the fleet. It seems to me that we should not have gone away from some of that in the deregulation of 1986.

I think that one reason for this Bill being before us today is that delegates to the 2006 Labour Party conference had an opportunity to see first-hand what was happening in Manchester’s Piccadilly, where there was a queue of bus after bus after bus—all with their engines operating, and therefore polluting the city centre. There were an unbelievable number of rival buses trying to pinch passengers, and that just does not work. It is costly to the bus passengers, as we saw.

I hope that we are trying to get quality partnerships in Greater Manchester, but quality contracts are important. I will not repeat the points made earlier by my noble friend Lord Rosser, but the Bill proposes a complex way in which quality contracts should be implemented. That has to be a serious and relatively straightforward alternative to the quality partnerships regime, if only to get the bus operators around the table in a serious mood to agree to a proper partnership. I hope that we can make some amendments there. In the bus parts of the Bill, I also welcome the ability for transport authorities to own their buses. That could make an enormous difference to those community bus services that require a high degree of subsidisation, and which are so vital to many of our communities.

Finally, on road pricing, I still bear the scars from the proposal to introduce congestion charging in Manchester as part of our TIF bid. Clearly, no one is willing to pay any more tax for using a car, so how did we manage to convince the majority—two-thirds of the public and of the business community—to support the TIF bid? We made sure that they understood that, for a number of reasons, the congestion charge was not a tax. First, there is a choice: motorists do not have to pay a congestion charge in Manchester if they choose to change the mode of travel. Clearly, that encourages people who can do that. Secondly, they can vary the time of travel; we are introducing a peak time congestion charge system, which is doing what it says in charging motorists for the congestion that they create during peak periods. In non-peak periods, there is no cost and it would therefore be wrong to charge them, so if they change the time of travel then they will not pay. The revenue that would be raised from such charges will be reinvested in improving local transport, and people recognised and understood that.

On the question posed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, about the benefits to the rural community of a community charge, it is simply that the money will be going to improve public transport, including things like park-and-ride so that people who live in rural areas can travel to the nearest station, park up and use the train or a bus to travel into the city. There are thus opportunities and benefits there, and we will make sure that there is

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considerable investment in railways as part of the package of improvements to public transport—in both stock, to improve capacity, and in stations, to make sure that they can handle that extra capacity. We will talk to Network Rail and other rail operators to ensure that that happens.

If we are trying to improve lives and opportunities in our cities, transport is now such a vital element that it can no longer be ignored or left on the back burner. I welcome the Bill as a great way forward, and I look forward to working to improve it in Committee.

5.56 pm

Lord Marland: My Lords, there are many areas in this Bill that we all seem to favour. There are, however, pitfalls that do not recognise the investment and commitment that transport businesses have made to the industry or the huge improvement in services.

I am afraid that greater regulation via a quality contract and a PTA will not improve the system. It is therefore palpably flawed. Undeniably, the best transport infrastructures in Britain are in York, Cambridge and Brighton, which, despite initial controversy, shine like beacons. Why? It is because each has a unitary authority, which determined an integrated traffic management system, recognising the coexistence of buses, rail and bicycle and the equal importance of the car. I note that the private car gets a mention only in the last quarter of this Bill. Unitary authorities are, therefore, a proven success in which, if created with a quality partnership—partnership being the operative word—public and private entities can successfully recognise each strength and weakness for a common aim.

Since time immemorial, it has been demonstrated that the Government or the public sector are no managers of businesses, particularly substantial ones such as the transport industry. Many transport companies have become significant multinational businesses, and I fear that some of this legislation treats them as if they were small-time operators. The quality contract is, I am afraid, therefore flawed. It provides greater regulation and greater cost to the taxpayer, potentially jeopardising investment by operators who fear that, at a whim, contracts may be awarded to alternative operators if it is politically, and not necessarily commercially, expedient. I share the CBI’s concerns that no compensation scheme is provided if that occurs, and I have asked the Minister to look into that.

Of course, we need regulation to ensure that targets are being met and that safety standards are being adhered to and there is no reason why that should not be done by a senior traffic commissioner, as is proposed. Yet he must have the independence to marry the political and commercial influences on his decision-making, so I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that such a job specification and remit needs to be carefully considered and crafted. A nationwide code of conduct through that regulator is, surely, the fairest blend between commercial and political influences, to ensure that the general public have best practices and value for money. We all support joined-up thinking that develops an overarching plan, embracing all forms of transport with the highway

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authority at its side. We must ensure that we combine private and public sectors, operating together, as that is the only way forward. It can be done only through a quality partnership, not through quality contracts.

6 pm

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I happened to be watching a television show last weekend in which the Secretary of State for Transport was being interviewed. I did not see the complete interview, but what I did see included some matters relating to this Bill. The Secretary of State said that people would be given “a choice” of the transport that they might use, but for many people there will be no choice. There are the tradesmen, travelling salesmen, taxis, delivery services, to mention but a few—and then there are the people who cannot afford to use public transport. If they are forced off the roads and cannot afford to travel by bus or train, businesses will suffer as well as their own cash flow.

How about blue badge holders? I should declare that I am one. Will they be charged or will they be exempted from any form of charging? How will a local authority know that they are exempted if it is the intention for local authorities to have their own list of exempted drivers? During Question Time today I received a letter from the Minister of State, who wrote:

Does that mean that in some areas blue badge holders will be charged while in others they will not? This seems totally bizarre. How would a local authority know that a particular vehicle was being used by a disabled driver? Equally, how would such a driver know that they are entering a location where charging takes place? Would charging start on a dual carriageway where a driver cannot turn around and avoid it, as happens in Singapore? Would it not be easier for a national register to be set up so that local authorities would know who to charge and who is exempted? In the case of disabled motorists, the register should include the name of the holder of the blue badge, the duration of the exemption, a photograph of the holder and the index number of the vehicle used. In her letter, the Minister of State concluded that there will be an announcement soon within the context of blue badge reform, and I look forward to learning more about this.

I hope that I am not being too simplistic in thinking that the driver of a company car will pass any charge on to the employer if driving is not a part of that person’s employment, or that a company will pay the charge for all their employees. How will local authorities deal with foreign-registered vehicles? I am led to believe that at any one time there are 140,000 such vehicles in this country and some of them will, I am sure, be driving in towns and cities which will introduce charging. How will such a driver know about charging? I was pleased to hear my noble friend mention that anomaly in his opening speech.



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With those cars owned by people who cannot afford to continue driving off the roads, congestion will be reduced, leaving roads clearer for the drivers who are not concerned about the cost. Maybe I am being cynical, but this Bill appears to pay lip service to the poor while encouraging the financially sound to continue motoring. After all, fares on public transport, including the trains, have increased so much over the years that people have been forced to drive as they are unable to afford the fares. Should fares remain the same or be increased so that more and more people are forced on to the roads or should they be heavily subsidised to attract people back on to public transport? If roads become increasingly congested, those people who are adversely affected by longer delays will be forced to seek alternative ways of reaching their destinations. Many people have schedules to adhere to and an increasing number of them will find that public transport is more reliable than the unknown delays imposed on drivers of other vehicles due to congestion. My noble friend referred to the problems being investigated that have occurred between the Department for Transport and local authorities in delivering various improvements. I am glad to hear that that is so.

Those who live in rural areas need public transport in exactly the same way as those who live in urban parts of the country, as many noble Lords have said. Because population density is lower and distances are greater, people have to rely on their cars for transport because public transport is available less frequently. In some areas, bus services have been cancelled, leaving the passengers to drive cars. Subsidies, as I have already mentioned, will be required to keep such services running, because no operator will be prepared to run at a loss.

I wish this Bill well and leave my noble friend with one final thought. Has any consideration been given to nationalising public transport?

6.05 pm

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, I shall concentrate almost solely on Clause 109 and the Welsh issue. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, recently handed over to me the baton of looking after our Welsh friends after a large number of years—I cannot remember exactly how many—involved in Wales and Welsh politics.

I want to draw the House’s attention to Clause 109, although I have to say that it is very questionable whether this clause should be before this House at all, for it seems to me that it creates new powers of taxation for the Welsh Assembly, and, as your Lordships know, in this House we do not debate taxation.

The clause allows the Welsh Assembly to introduce a Wales-wide road-pricing scheme, which is effectively a new tax on Welsh motorists, Welsh farmers, Welsh hauliers, and Welsh tourism. What assessment have Ministers made of the potential effect of this measure on the Welsh economy? There is an enormous gap between local congestion charges and a general power to tax all Welsh motorists. Obviously, if we are to have local congestion charges, it makes sense for trunk

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roads to be part of that scheme, as the law currently allows, but making general provision for a Wales-wide scheme is of a different order of magnitude.

We are told that the Welsh Ministers have yet to decide what role, if any, road pricing should have in Wales. Would it not have been preferable, or indeed more sensible, if Ministers had thought through what use they may or will make of these powers before we are asked to transfer them? It is not abundantly clear that the Assembly will use these powers to the full. At present the Assembly, unlike the Scottish Parliament, has no powers of taxation. Had the Government wished the Assembly to have tax-raising powers they could have put that to the Welsh public at the referendum, but they did not, and we should remember the result of that referendum. To give the Assembly tax-raising powers would be a major constitutional change and should be subject to another referendum, not slipped through as part of a fairly irrelevant Bill. Instead, the Government seem to be giving the Assembly stealth powers to levy another stealth tax.

The money raised from a Wales-wide road-pricing scheme is not restricted to paying for improvements to roads, or even for public transport in the immediate vicinity. Will the Minister confirm that this provision would enable the money raised to be spent on Welsh Ministers’ official cars? The only restriction on the use of this money is that it must be spent on transport, but if the Welsh Ministers could effectively fund their transport spending from a Wales-wide road-pricing scheme, they could transfer the money from the block grant that they currently spend on transport to other uses. Any ring-fencing in this clause simply dissolves; it becomes a general power of taxation.

I am also concerned about how we are now asked to transfer these powers, especially, as your Lordships should know, since there are three more examples of this sort of power sliding coming before us in other Bills. Only last year we passed new legislation setting up a method—admittedly a rather labyrinthine one—for the Welsh Assembly to gain new legislative powers. It is an open, Assembly-led process in which the elected Members request new powers, and Parliament can then decide whether to transfer those powers to the Assembly. Why are the Government not using this process now?

Instead, the Explanatory Notes tell us that it is the Welsh Ministers, not the Assembly, who have requested these powers. Having laid out an open, transparent process for transferring powers, we are now faced with a deal thrashed out behind closed doors between Welsh Ministers and government Ministers in Whitehall. That is not a good way of legislating—in fact it is a very bad way of legislating. Perhaps the Government can also tell us why they are giving Welsh Ministers the power to create a Wales-wide road-pricing scheme when we are assured that Ministers have no intention of creating a nationwide scheme in England. Is this a stalking horse for a national scheme of road pricing? We suspect that it is.

It seems that we are effectively laying the foundations for a general levy on Welsh drivers. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, pointed out, this could have enormous

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repercussions for the Welsh economy and on the Welsh state and wealth. Yet we are asked to sanction a general transfer of powers when the Welsh Ministers cannot or will not say how they intend to use them. We do not support this part of the Bill.

6.12 pm

Lord Bradley: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for not being in my seat at the beginning of this debate. I was unavoidably delayed in Manchester but would like to stress that it was not because of the transport system. I also therefore apologise for repeating anything that was raised in the debate when I was not present.

I give a general welcome to the Bill. In cities such as mine, Manchester, the public will welcome any steps that are taken to address the chaos on some of the main roads into the city; they are particularly pleased that the Bill provides transport authorities with greater influence over bus services and enhances to existing passenger transport authority powers. They are also pleased that the Government’s proposals in the Bill broadly strike the right balance between strengthening the remit and the role of passenger transport authorities—to be renamed integrated transport authorities—in planning and delivering the strategic priorities for a city region such as Greater Manchester while allowing each city region to determine how best the right balance between local circumstances and aspirations can be achieved. I pay tribute to the work of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority in trying to achieve this in the current circumstances.

However, in this brief contribution I will concentrate on issues relating to buses which, through sensible amendment, will further strengthen the Bill. As we have heard, the bus is the main form of public transport. Yet, outside London, bus use has been in decline. This Bill rightly attempts to tackle this by making changes to the way in which voluntary and statutory partnerships can be introduced and operated; bringing in a new process of franchising networks; strengthening the role of traffic commissioners in enforcing better punctuality; and making provision for a new passenger watchdog. I would like to touch on some of these points as they relate to buses.

The first point concerns quality partnerships. I welcome the opportunities afforded by the Bill for authorities and bus operators to form more extensive, voluntary and statutory quality partnerships by amending the competition test in an attempt to encourage the development of more collaborative partnerships. While I welcome the retention of the ability of authorities to set and revise frequencies, timings and maximum fares as part of the statutory quality partnership, it is notable that the Department for Transport seems to have diluted the proposals in the Bill in so far as operators can challenge improvements with regard to frequencies, timings and so on, by making admissible objections.


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