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The other issue raised is of examples where quality partnerships or quality contracts have failed. My understanding is that we have had only one quality partnership, we have had voluntary partnerships and we have not had any quality contracts. I suppose it is not surprising that one does not have examples of ones that have failed when there has only ever been one in existence anyway. In the hope that my noble friend will respond and clarify what his response was on the issue of the acquiring of land, I will withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to allow a PTA or a PTE and various other councils increased powers to make grants for transport facilities and services. I understand that currently the powers to make such grants are restricted in general to providing, maintaining or improving facilities wholly or mainly for facilitating travel by members of the public who are disabled or elderly.
Section 106 of the Transport Act 1985 is the only grant-making power that is available to PTEs and is restricted in its application. Widening the grant-making powers would give PTEs much greater flexibility in delivering public passenger transport services and would allow such a body to support financially initiatives that were provided by both the commercial and the voluntary sectors. It would allow a PTE to provide grants to community transport vehicles, to commercial
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Baroness Crawley: We are inclined to think that this is a somewhat curious amendment. Section 106 of the Transport Act 1985 was always intended as a very particular power to be used specifically for expenditure by local authorities or PTEs that could not be provided under other powers, most notably on vehicles, facilities and equipment for services for disabled people. By omitting the words as indicated in the amendment, it would potentially become a very wide and general power. It would duplicate and overlap in a confusing way with the existing powers in the Transport Act 1985, which enable local transport authorities to subsidise services where particular transport needs would not otherwise be met.
As noble Lords will know, we are proposing to introduce, by means of Clauses 58 and 59, greater flexibility for local transport authorities to subsidise the provision of services to a particular standard. However, we still consider it appropriate to retain the requirement that such subsidy can only be made if the service, or particular standard of service, would not otherwise be provided. Extending Section 106 of the 1985 Act to the generality of services would seem to have the effect of removing that requirement. Broadening the powers in Section 106 to services already provided commercially would, for instance, raise the question of whether such subsidies might be disallowed under the European Communitys state aid rules.
Quite apart from all that it is important, as I am sure noble Lords will agree, that there should be specific grant-making powers for facilities for disabled persons. Such facilities can be expensive to provide, and an operator with an eye purely to profitability may not chose to provide them. We have heard on many occasions how essential it is for many disabled persons to have access to good public transport. If Section 106 were replaced by a much more general funding provision, persons with a disability may be forgotten or given much lower priority. That would be contrary to the many clear messages that we have given and that we have been given, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, at various stages in Committee. While I am sure it was not the intention of my noble friend Lord Rosser, it could well be the consequence if the amendment were accepted. I hope on that basis that my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.
( ) The Secretary of State may by order require the display of specified information about the Committee in such places and formats as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, having regard to the needs of disabled persons.
The noble Lord said: The noble Lord, Lord Low, was anticipating that his amendments would come up at our last meeting and he asked me if I would move them then. Since he is not here, I assume he would wish me to do so now. I am moving the amendment on his behalf. Noble Lords will understand and will forgive me if to some extent I am reading what he has given me. Amendments Nos. 69A and 70 are grouped. They are probing amendments and their purpose is to seek clarification and a specific commitment from the Government. The effect of one of the amendments is to subject the Public Transport Users Committee for England, if created, to the specific disability equality duty. I understand that an indication may have been given that some action might be feasible on this.
In tabling this probing amendment, I ask whether the Minister can confirm that the Public Transport Users Committee for England will, if established, be a public authority within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005a person carrying out public functionsand thus subject to the general disability equality duty.
As I said, the Disability Discrimination Act established general and specific disability equality duties. The specific duty arises from Section 49D of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 made under it. Those regulations list a large number of public authorities and require them to produce disability equality schemes. These are action plans produced with the involvement of disabled people for how those organisations will promote equality. The list of public authorities already covered by the specific duty includes any passenger transport executive, Transport for London, the British Transport Police, all local authorities and joint transport authorities, and Passenger Focus, the operating name of the Rail Passenger Council established under the Railways Act 2005. The last of those is quite significant, as one option in the consultation about the PTUC is to expand the remit of Passenger Focus. The question is therefore whether it is the Governments intention that the Public Transport Users Committee for England, in whatever form it eventually emerges, will be subject to the specific disability equality duty. I beg to move.
Lord Berkeley: I will speak to my amendment, grouped with the other two, while the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, is briefed as to what has been going on. On Amendment No. 69ZA, as I have said before, it would be really good to have a Public Transport Users Committee to cover bus and rail
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In proposed new subsection (8), the first of three in this amendment, it is important to have some regional representation for buses, and probably for rail. Clearly, the Rail Passenger Councils structure was not ideal. There were far too many regions, and the selection and operation of some members was probably not as good as it could have been. So Passenger Focus is much better, but it would be wrong to expect people with complaints about a bus in Manchester or Leeds to address all their complaints to London, where the head office will inevitably be. Particularly for buses, it is important to have a regional structure.
Proposed subsection (9) may be stating the obvious, but if one does not know how to contact the users committee it is no good at all. After many years, there is now, on all railways, the address of Passenger Focus, so that people can get in touch by phone, by e-mail or in writing. That is very important. Proposed subsection (10) probes whether the Department for Transport will pay for any extra resources that are needed for the Public Transport Users Committee and the effective transport commissioners if they are to fulfil that role.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I have one question. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw attempted to table an amendment which was refused and, therefore, I gave notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 64 stand part. Perhaps I can ask the question now to save time later. Could the Minister say a little more about why the Government feel it is necessary to set up a new statutory body to deal with bus users representation rather than trying to breathe life into the existing arrangements to see whether they can be improved? Can the Minister assure us that he believes that setting up a statutory body is the best way forward and that the current arrangements are not fit for purpose?
Lord Low of Dalston: I apologise to the Committee for not arriving in time to move my Amendment No. 69A. I had indicated to the Committee that I would not be able to be present on Wednesday last week, so the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, very kindly agreed to move it on my behalf. However, I heard that you had not reached that amendment on Wednesday and, although it would be in the Marshalled list for today, I was still in difficulty as I had a lecturing commitment in my diary at four o'clock. I managed to get the conference organisers to rejig the programme and I gave my lecture between two oclock and three oclock, but I am afraid the Committee has moved so rapidly through the Bill this afternoon that I did not make it in time. However, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for moving the amendment on my behalf. I am sure that he will have done the Committee a much greater service than I would have done.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This is a useful opportunity to discuss a range of issues which have a laudable aim, in particular the aim of ensuring that passengers know
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While I agree with the sentiments behind Amendment No. 69A, a number of complications arise from it that will need further consideration before the Government can determine how best to deliver the spirit of this amendment. First, the Department for Transports consultation document, Options for Strengthening Bus Passenger Representation, details several ways of delivering a bus passenger champion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested, that could be done by enhancing the role of Bus Users UK, a non-statutory body. We could build on that. We are also including powers in this Bill to add functions to the Rail Passengers Councilknown as Passenger Focus. That could provide another possible route. However, we need to ensure that any obligation on operators to make information available would apply equally to any of these options. Whatever approach we decide on, we must ensure that each of those options is viable and workable. If the intention behind the amendment is to have complaints procedures publicised so that a passenger knows where to go if they have an unresolved issue, the legislation needs to be more flexible about what information is required.
In the spirit of the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and pending the outcome of our consultation on the best way of approaching passenger representation, I undertake to ask colleagues in the department to ensure that we liaise with the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the Bus Partnership Forum to see what they think can be done. We also might want to consider whether there should be different requirements in different parts of the country, because not everything is the same everywhere, and in some areas in which a local authority has implemented a quality partnership scheme, or a quality contracts scheme, it may be more appropriate to use the local authority and route complaints and concerns through that channel.
In conclusion, I agree that there may well be a place for a statutory obligation. We need to look more carefully at whether a new statutory obligation would be the best and most appropriate way of dealing with the point, or whether it can be dealt with under existing legislation or guidance. If the noble Lord is happy to withdraw the amendment, I will consider the issue further and write to all noble Lords before Report with suggestions as to how we might achieve the objective which I think we mostly all share.
On Amendment No. 69ZA, I am grateful to my noble friend for providing another opportunity to talk about the size and shape of bus passenger champions. I listened with interest to the points that have been made. As I said earlier, we are giving more consideration to how we can find the best way of taking this forward. One reason for that is to ensure that the body will be allowed to influence large national stakeholders, including central government. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of bus services are operated by one of the big five transportation companies, such as FirstGroup and Stagecoach, so it is essential that the new bus champion has the status and standing to get right to the heart of those organisations.
On a further point, we have no formal watchdog, so any new statutory body will necessarily take time to develop and the new process may need to be incremental. I recognise that many will see the need for local representation, and although I have made it clear that the Governments first position on this matter is that we are consulting, I should make it very clear that we are also listening and will be interested to receive a broad range of views. It is important to us that the legislation is flexible. I assure noble Lords that, as currently drafted, it will not preclude the setting-up of regional offices or regional committees as a network if that were considered to be the best way of dealing with the issue.
I am grateful again to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for tabling Amendment No. 70, which provides an opportunity to consider ensuring that disabled people and their needs are right at the heart of developing a network of committees. The Government have done a lot to improve accessibility in public transport. We introduced regulations that specify the minimum technical accessibility requirements that are designed to make buses and coaches more accessible to disabled people. It is interesting that the number of wheelchair-accessible, low-floor buses increased from 8.2 per cent in 1997-98 to 58 per cent in 2006-07. So there has been a large growth in that particular type of bus. As a product, we can argue for the campaigning in the legislation. We have also introduced regulations to ensure that certain obligations on the providers of services not to discriminate against disabled persons in the provision of goods, facilities and services apply to bus operators.
I entirely agree with the aim behind the amendment but would suggest that there might be a different way of implementing the obligation. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 already places certain general duties on all public authorities in carrying out their functions. If established, we would expect the Public Transport Users Committee to be a public authority within the definition in Part 5A of that Act, and therefore subject to the same general duty as all other public authorities.
The purpose of the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 is to ensure better performance by specified public authorities of the duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate disability discrimination. The regulations contain a schedule listing those public authorities to which the obligations apply. An amendment to the regulations was made this year
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Lord Low of Dalston: I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking on board the spirit of both amendments and agreeing to give Amendment No. 69A further consideration. On Amendment No. 70 he indicates that the appropriate powers will be in place. On that basis I am very happy not to press the amendments.
I again use the railway to make a comparison: one of the real success stories of Passenger Focus has been the fact that before it offers public opinions on various things and tells Ministers what they or other people should be doing, it collects evidence in a proper systematic way and publishes it. It makes its recommendations on the basis of that evidence. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is a much better way of going forward. It would be very useful if that processand, I hope, with the same organisation expandedcould be used to collect evidence and form opinions about the operation of buses, to have a statutory right to make the recommendations to the traffic commissioners and for the Secretary of State to take them into account. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for allowing us the opportunity again to discuss bus passenger representation and its relationship with the Secretary of State, the senior
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