|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: The point I pick up from the noble Lord, Lord Snape, is that many bus companies do this at present but they do not have to.
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC72
Lord Snape: I think the noble Earls remarks were addressed to me as a former railwayman. I do not want to pre-empt the Ministers reply. So it should be: driving a train is a bit more complicated than driving a bus. That is not to undermine the skills necessary to drive buses. I was always full of admiration for our drivers for coping as well as they did with the present-day traffic conditions, not to mention the present-day drunks late at night. These drivers are enormously talented.
I hesitate to stir up problems between the T&G section of Unite and ASLEF or the RMT, but there is a considerable disparity in wages for driving a bus when compared to driving a train. Although that is not strictly relevant to the passage of the Bill, it is possible, within six months, to start on the railways and then drive a Pendolino train at 125 miles an hour between Euston and Manchester. I do not want to undermine in any way the skills necessary to drive modern trains, but the railway is a vastly different place from what it was in the days of steam. These are dangerous watersI might get letters from ASLEF about thisbut it is a lot easier to drive a train these days. Conversely, given present day traffic conditions and modern society, it is a lot more difficult to drive a bus.
Bus companies are as keen to see proper standards of training for their drivers as the railway industry or anyone else. I realise it would create many more opportunities in local government, but I have yet to hear how incorporating the amendment into the Bill will in any way benefit bus passengers as a whole.
Lord Rosser: I have listened with interest to my noble friend and, on the basis of what he saidwhich was an extremely complacent and smug contribution on behalf of the bus industry about how it trains its staffthere would not be any problem in agreeing these annual skills targets because the bus industry does not need any improvement at all. It has already reached the highest possible level and therefore there would not be any costs.
But I do not believe that. I do not believe, for example, that every time you go on a bus you can be guaranteed that it is always going to be driven to the highest standard from a passengers point of view. I do not believe that the bus companies do not get complaints about customer service; that they have 100 per cent satisfied customers; that disability awareness is not an issue; and I do not believe that the communications are always as good as they might be.
As I mentioned in my opening contribution, there has been a new emphasis on skills in the light of the Leitch report and the Government are urging a raising of skills standards. These amendments simply seek to assumeI accept what my noble friend saidthat the bus industry is not perfect, which I think is the basis behind his contribution. They seek to insert a reference to a requirement for annual skills targets to be agreed between the authorities and the
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC73
Earl Attlee: I am neutral on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but I hope that the Minister does not forget that she will be writing to me about my partners experience of being in a bus that parked on a level crossing.
Baroness Crawley: No, I shall not forget that. I thank noble Lords for their very important and lively contributions. There are always two views, if not more, on important issues such as this. My noble friend Lord Rosser asked me to respond positively to his amendments. I hope he will believe that I am responding positively, but perhaps not quite in the way that he anticipated.
My noble friend Lord Snape also raised some very important issues concerning the scope and possible consequences of the amendments. My noble friend Lord Rosser has enormous experience in this area. He rightly set his amendments in the context of the national importance of skills and improving skills and referred to the ground-breaking Leitch report. I, for one, am proud of the Governments record on encouraging skills throughout our country.
My noble friend raised some very important points about driver skills. We certainly recognise the importance to the bus industry of having a skilled workforce and of the industry being able to recruit and retain in sufficient numbers skilled drivers, mechanics and other essential staff. In this regard, I take the opportunity to welcome the work of GoSkills, the sector skills council for the passenger transport industry, in raising the profile of skills and training in the industry, building on much existing good work by the industry. The Department of Transport works closely with GoSkills and has given it financial support over the past two years.
I agree that local authorities and the industry should work together on these issues, and I want that to be more than a platitude, as I hope will be recognised throughout our deliberations on the Bill. Indeed, one product of them working together closely has been the publication by the Bus Partnership Forumon which local government, the industry and the department are representedof a best-practice guide on staff recruitment and retention in the bus industry. The guide shows what can be done on this issue and I commend it to all those involved with this aspect of the industrys performance. A copy is on the Department for Transport website.
It is also important to note that in the autumn of 2008 the requirements of the EU training directive with regard to a certificate of professional competence for bus drivers will be introduced in this country. Introduction of this new requirement, on which the Driving Standards Agency is in the lead,
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC74
Against that background, the two amendments are not necessary or appropriate. The legislation on quality partnership schemes in the Transport Act 2000 is drafted in broad terms. Operators must undertake to provide services to a particular standard. The definition of standard is not exclusive, and there is no reason to think an authority could not, in appropriate circumstances, specify driving standards.
The Bill, as my noble friend Lord Rosser has said, makes a great deal of detailed provision about frequencies, timings and maximum fares which are outside the current scope of a standard of service as part of the quality partnership scheme. That is because there are particular difficulties and sensitivities that need to be addressedone of the reasons, no doubt, why they were not dealt with in the 2000 Act. However, there is no similar problem about making provision for drivers skills or a host of other issues that contribute to the standard of a bus service. If we start to specify that, we shall end up having to specify everything that a scheme could possibly include, and inevitably we will forget one or two. The amendment, while very well intentioned, would not improve the Bill.
My noble friends second amendment would add a provision to the definition of a quality contract. As drafted, the amendment would make that not an option but rather a mandatory feature of every contract let under a quality contract scheme. Among other things, it implies that there is always a driver skill deficiency that needs to be improved and that one cannot get satisfactory driver standards without a quality contract scheme or a quality partnership scheme. As I have said, evidence suggests that that is simply not the case. The driving test for passenger-carrying vehicles, PCVs, is itself very stringent, as many Members of the Committee will know. There are training requirements to be met, including regular refresher training. The accident rate for buses is extremely low compared to any other form of travel by road. With a response that I hope is positive, but which may not go so far as my noble friend would like, I hope I can persuade him to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Snape: Before he does soif he is about to do soI have a specific question.
It is regrettable when words like smugness and complacency are thrown around. Members, including my noble friend, might not agree with the views I have expressed but they are based on 15 years of experience as either director or chairman of a bus companyin fact, the biggest municipal bus company at the time in the United Kingdom. I took the trouble to consult the main body for bus and coach operators, the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, about this specific amendment. That might be smug and complacent, but at least it is based on some degree of experience. I did not read out a brief provided by a third party.
Incidentally, GoSkills, which the Minister mentioned, wrote to all of us who took part at Second Reading asking for support for this amendment. Is it not true that GoSkills is largely funded by the bus industry? A considerable amount of GoSkillss income comes from it. I say that not out of any desire to prod my noble friend into further action, because the brief he read out earlier might not mention that. But it indicates, as I hope the Minister would agree, not only that the bus industry is concerned to see proper safety and driving standards maintained, but that it is prepared to fund an outside body like GoSkills to bring about the happy situation that my noble frienderroneously, in my viewbelieves can be brought about by local authorities.
Of course there are complaints about people with disabilities and their poor treatment on some bus services. Of course there are some drivers out of the many thousands in the United Kingdom who, despite the amount of training they have had, do not do their jobs properly. The same thing applies to local authorities, I am afraid. Unlike my noble friend, who spent most of his years as a general secretary or an officer of a trade union, I had considerable experience as a Member of Parliament in the other place dealing with local authorities. The same specific complaints that my noble friend evidently believes apply only to the bus industry were frequently used about local authoritiesthe very bodies to which he wants to give powers which, I repeat, they are in no way qualified either to administer or to enforce.
Baroness Crawley: I was asked a specific question by my noble friend Lord Snape about the funding of GoSkills. I confirm that the bus industry funds GoSkills, along with funding from the department. As he knows, that is how sector skills councils work.
Lord Rosser: I do not particularly wish to prolong proceedings with a lengthy response to my noble friend. I have had my say; I have put my point of view and he has put his. One key aspect of the leaked report was setting goals for improvements in skills development. That is basically what the two amendments to which my noble friend objects so strongly were seeking to achieve. I will leave it at that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Rosser moved Amendment No. 15:
Clause 12, page 14, line 7, after descriptions, insert or for tickets or travel permits of a particular type,
The noble Lord said: The amendment also relates to Clause 12. New subsection (6A) states:
The standard of services which may be specified in a scheme may also include requirements as to the maximum fares that may be charged for particular journeys, or for journeys of particular descriptions.
The amendment proposes to add the words,
Unless my noble friend is going to tell me otherwise, the current wording seems to specify maximum single and return fares, but only, it seems, in statutory quality partnership schemes as that is the part of the
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC76
The amendment seeks to extend the range of fares and tickets covered by this subsection. If my noble friend is not able to go along with the amendmentand I await with interest what he has to sayI hope he will explain fully the reasons for that and why the Government believe that what is in the clause is adequate. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue. I assure him that there is no problem legislatively about the meaning of fare in the clause. The wording would be inserted in Part 2 of the Transport Act 2000. Section 162 of that Act applies the definition of fares used in the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. That definition reads as follows:
Although the term contract ticket is no longer in common use, we all understand what a season ticket is. Anything like a weekend travelcard or even a day rover ticket would be included in the term. It is therefore safe to say that any payment for a ticket that entitles a passenger to one or more journeys is constructed as a fare. The term covers all eventualities. I hope that having heard that brief explanation my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Rosser: In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Low of Dalston moved Amendment No. 16:
The noble Lord said: This amendment is tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I have tabled a number of amendments to the Bill which are designed to disability-proof it. I hope we shall reach Amendment No. 38 tonight, which is my next amendment, but I think we are unlikely to reach Amendments Nos. 69A, 70 or 82 which are also tabled in my name. I am unfortunately not able to be here on Wednesday as I have to go to Brussels, but the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has kindly agreed to take them over for me and I hope the Committee will allow him to do that. In moving Amendment No. 16, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group.
Amendment No. 16 is a probing amendment. Its effect would be that the proposed new subsection (6B) would not be inserted into the Transport Act 2000 and operators would not be able to veto the requirements falling within proposed new subsection (6A) and subsection (6)(b), which cover maximum fares, frequency and timing, from being included in quality partnership schemes by making admissible objections. It would remove the ability of bus operators to submit admissible objections to the inclusion of such requirementsthat is, requirements on frequency, timings and maximum fares in quality partnership schemes.
The removal of the obstacles that have prevented the setting up of quality partnership schemes and quality contracts has been welcomed by disabled peoples organisations, which believe that it will encourage bus operators to provide buses and bus services that are more accessible to blind and other disabled people. The Government have indicated that quality partnerships can be used to facilitate the introduction of a key accessibility feature for blind and partially sighted people; namely, visual and audible announcements. The proposal to remove the bar on quality partnership schemes specifying minimum standards relating to frequencies, timings and maximum fares is also welcome. Difficulties with frequencies, timings and the bus timetable can make using the bus difficult for disabled people, particularly blind and partially sighted people.
However, Clause 12 provides that quality partnership schemes will be able to include requirements on frequency, timing and maximum fares only if there are no admissible objections from operators. We are concerned that objections may be admissible that would jeopardise the ability of quality partnership schemes to provide for the needs of disabled people. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 16.
As I have explained, Amendment No. 16 seeks to remove the words,
Those subsections are inserted by Clause 17(3) and so, if Amendment No. 16 removes the reference to Section 122(3) to (5), it would seem logical to remove Clause 17(3) which puts those subsections into the Transport Act 2000. Amendment No. 18 is largely consequential on Amendment No. 16.
However, in case these provisions are not removed, I shall say a word or two about Section 122(3). Clause 17(3) inserts Section 122(3) to (5) into the Transport Act 2000 and provides for regulations about schemes that specify frequencies, timings or fares. Section 122(3)(e) provides that regulations may make provision as to the meaning of admissible objection. I do not necessarily object to the idea of admissible objections, but they ought to be scrutinised carefully. I am therefore not quite sure about Amendment No. 16A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which would leave the meaning of admissible objection as a matter for guidance from the Secretary of State and thus almost entirely outside parliamentary scrutiny. I would prefer to see draft regulations. I would be grateful if the Minister will commit to publishing draft regulations for the Committee stage so that we can have a good look at them. Will he make available the equality impact assessment on the Bill?
Draft guidance on the meaning of admissible objection has been published this morning. It states:
The Government also considers, again subject to consultation, that an objection should be an admissible objection
if it satisfies a number of conditions, the first and third of which are procedural. The first is:
The traffic commissioner has certified that the evidence submitted by the relevant operator is sufficient to substantiate the objection.
The second qualifying condition, however, is more substantive. It states:
The grounds of the objection are eitherthat it would not be reasonably practicable for relevant operators to meet the standards of service specified at the time they would come into effect (e.g. because relevant operators would need more time to procure more vehicles, or to take on more staff), orthat the likely demand for the services would not be sufficient to enable operators to provide services, to the standard specified, on a commercial basis.
That guidance goes in the right direction but it would be helpful to see the regulations that will provide the basis for the guidance. I would be grateful if the Minister would commit to bringing them forward during the passage of the Bill so that we can scrutinise them.
Can the Minister clarify whether this guidance implies that every bus service must be profitable as a whole, rather than requiring each individual bus service to be profitable? Obviously the services mandated by the quality partnership scheme as a whole must be commercially viable, but I presume that it cannot be the Ministers intention that an operator can object to running any unprofitable services.
Operators are able to exercise a veto power by lodging admissible objections, so these must be carefully limited. Disabled people may depend on services that, taken on their own, are not profitable and it would be very helpful to have the Ministers assurance that it will not be a requirement that each individual bus route or service should be profitable.
Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 make less drastic changes to Clause 17(3) than Amendment No. 18, which would strike it out altogether. I do not need to say any more about those amendments; they merely restrict the regulation-making power in different ways. I am happy to leave it to the noble Lords who have tabled them to explain their effect. I beg to move.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): It may be appropriate for me to draw attention to the fact that were Amendment No. 18 to be agreed, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 19 to 21 due to pre-emption.
Lord Rosser: I support the amendment. Do the lines that the amendment seeks to leave out represent a change from the draft Bill? I had an impression that in the draft Bill PTEs and local authorities would be allowed to set frequencies, timings and maximum fares as part of quality partnership schemes without being vetoed in the way they are now. I may be wrong in thinking that, but has there been a change in that regard from the draft Bill? If, and only if, that is case, what was the reason for the Government deciding to alter the terms of the draft Bill? As it is currently
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC79
Reference has already been made to the guidance documents that have appeared but I have had no chance to look at this one; I do not know whether my noble friend knows it from back to front; no doubt he will tell us. I notice in the top right-hand corner it has the words Office of Fair Trading. It would be helpful if my noble friend explained what the role of the Office of Fair Trading will be, if any, in the determination of, or challenge to, quality partnership schemes. Presumably it has a role as its name appears on the cover of the guidance.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|