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We have already had much discussion on the nature and appropriateness of admissible objections to setting fares, frequencies and timings. It is my view that much of this lengthy process could be avoided through effective discussion in the period prior to decision-making. In that way, a true partnership approach would be fostered.
One of the Ministers objections to the amendment was that local transport plans could be prepared at stages that did not coincide with the introduction of a quality partnership. Of course, we would not seek to make the production of a bus partnership scheme obligatory. The requirement to produce a local transport plan at intervals has already been corrected in the Bill, with flexibility introduced as a result, and we welcome that. Therefore, I argue that his objection is unfounded.
The Bill contains a range of tools that local authorities can choose according to their circumstances, and I feel that getting operators around a table to discuss bus needs could prove a useful exercise in most cases. Furthermore, I do not believe that accepting the amendment would mean that freight and road safety partnerships would necessarily have to be produced, as the Minister contended last time. There is a strong case for fostering a partnership approach from the outset between authorities and bus operators, and I feel that the amendment would encourage that. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his exposition of the purpose of the amendment. As he highlighted, it was also tabled in Grand Committee. The Bill already includes, at Clauses 12 to 17, provisions for quality bus partnership schemes. The Transport Act 2000 and the amendments made by the Bill include provision requiring consultation on these quality partnership schemes. Their coverage already includes routes, frequencies and fares. Therefore, some of what the amendment proposes has already been provided for elsewhere.
Local planning authorities already have an administrative duty to have regard to all such schemes where they are relevant to their functions. A specific duty for local planning authorities to have regard to bus partnership schemes would create a precedent for having a similar express duty related to many other
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The quality bus partnership schemes created under the Transport Act 2000 and Clauses 12 to 17 of the Bill can be made when local transport plans are being prepared or at any other stage in their lifecycle. However, bus partnership schemes, as proposed in the amendment, would be restricted to being created merely during the preparation of a local transport plan. I cannot see the benefit of that.
I argue that the approach that we propose elsewhere in the Bill will enable much of what is in the amendment to be achieved. Secondly, the proposal could simply clutter up the process and create unnecessary confusion. I do not see a great benefit in it. The Bill will also provide far more flexibility about when it can be achieved. I hope the noble Lord will find some reassurance in those words. I do not see the need for this and I worry that it could offer itself as a weaker distraction to the overall thrust of the legislation. I am sure that is not what the noble Lord is seeking. For those reasons I cannot accept the amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. The amendment is tabled to try and make quality partnerships work better. Perhaps we have not always got the wording right but we prefer quality partnerships over quality contracts. The intention behind this amendment was to make them more effective. As the Minister and everyone else knows, I am involved every single day of my life in local government and we sit round the table trying to sort things out and get some agreement with outside partners more often now than ever before. This amendment was intended to make things work rather better with bus operators. I do not think the Minister has quite acknowledged that. It is time we had a bit of exercise so I would like to test the feeling of the House on this issue.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Section 112 of the Transport Act 2000 places a duty on local transport authorities, when developing their local transport policies, to have regard to the needs of persons who are elderly or who have mobility problems. Amendment No. 3
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I hope that this captures the spirit of what the noble Lord, Lord Low, was seeking when we debated this in Grand Committee, and I certainly pay tribute to him for reminding us of the importance of adopting this step so that we can put beyond doubt that there is this vital obligation. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended in 2005 already places a duty on local authorities in the carrying out of functions, but we believe that there are benefits in extending the specific duty in relation to the development of local transport policies so as to ensure that local authorities take into account the needs of all disabled persons when developing and implementing those policies.
We ought to acknowledge the valuable work done by local authorities with transport undertakers and the progress that has undoubtedly been made in recent years. However, it is only by bringing into play legislation that works in the way in which this is intended to work that such great strides have been made. We think that this provision will underline the value of disability-proofing, and for those reasons I am delighted to bring forward our amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for having taken on board so fully the point that I made in Committee. I was indeed concerned that the Government should take some steps to disability-proof the Bill, as I put it. I am grateful for the extent to which the Minister took me at my word by moving this amendment.
In Committee, I was concerned that operators would be able to use admissible objections to veto requirements in quality partnership schemes covering frequency, timing and maximum fares. The Minister said that he had not anticipated that the admissible objections process would be used or abused in that way, but he undertook to look at the matter further. The result of those considerations is the amendment that he has just put before us, which is indeed very welcome.
The Minister may see why it was relevant to reiterate that point on admissible objections, which he might think was more properly the subject of our next debate, when I ask this question: does Amendment No. 3 mean that a local authority, when it is modifying a quality partnership scheme in response to an admissible objection, will have to have regard to the needs of disabled persons? If the Minister could reassure us on that point, I feel sure that it will facilitate considerably our discussion of the next amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that that is the case, and I am happy to give that reassurance to the noble Lord. It would be most appropriate that a local authority took those things into consideration, because the value of this is all in the development of policy. It is important to give proper consideration to people with a whole range of disabilities at the policy development stage.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment and its group is to remove the operator veto from statutory quality partnerships. I will refer later to a particular comment that was made in Committee.
Under a statutory quality partnership arrangement, local transport authorities put in place improved infrastructure such as bus priority measures. Operators that wish to use that improved infrastructure must meet specified vehicle quality standards. The Bill addresses some weaknesses in the existing legislation, and allows a statutory quality partnership to specify frequencies, timings and maximum fares. However, the Bill also gives relevant operators a potential veto on these provisions where they have admissible objections. The definitions of relevant and admissible objections are set out in the December 2007 draft guidance and are very widely drawn. The operator veto on frequencies, timings and fares was not a feature of the draft Local Transport Bill; it has been put in following lobbying from operators. The draft guidance makes it clear that a wide range of operators will have a broad scope to veto key provisions of statutory quality partnership deals, which will reduce the ability of local transport authorities to negotiate soundly based deals with operators and will reduce the attractiveness of statutory quality partnerships as a policy tool.
As I have said, the original draft Bill allowed statutory quality partnerships to specify frequencies and timings, and there were references in relation to fares, but without an operator veto. That was quite widely welcomed because if a local accountable transport authority is investing significantly in new facilities and in line with its wider transport strategy, then it should, having undertaken the consultation requirements set out in the legislation, be able to specify standards on issues such as frequencies and timings. With the right of veto over fares, timings and frequencies, the bargaining position of the operator vis-Ã -vis the local transport authority is strengthened further from the present situation where it already has, and will continue to have, the significant power to deregister services at any time on giving the appropriate period of notice.
All parties now put emphasis on reviving the democratic processon delegating decision-making down the line, and enabling as many as possible of the decisions affecting local areas and local communities to be made by those affected and their elected representatives. That was the thinking behind giving, for example, the Mayor of London and the GLA the powers they have in relation to transport. No doubt it was also behind
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My objection over what has happened is not to the bus operators exercising their right to lobby in their own interests, but to the Government having backed downin this instance on their basic principles over where decision-making power should preferably lieat the first sound of gunfire without being able or willing to give any detailed, credible reason for their major change of tack, which will reduce the prospects of statutory quality partnerships being made.
Presumably the original proposal in the draft Bill was not put in by the Government without considerable thought and without them carefully weighing up the pros and cons. Therefore, one would have thought that significant new evidence, information or arguments of which the Government had not previously been aware would have had to have been advanced for the Government to make such a fundamental change in their approach. If that was the case, the Government have not yet said in any detail what the new evidence, information or arguments have been which have overridden the compelling case in favour of the Governments original stance.
In Committee, the Minister described the circumstances in which a local transport authority might attempt to pursue a statutory quality partnership which set out unreasonable requirements in relation to maximum fares, frequencies and timings as highly unlikely. This must indeed be the case, because it would not be in the interests of a local transport authority to promote a statutory quality partnership which was manifestly unreasonable or unworkable. Operators would not sign up to such a partnership, thus rendering the whole exercise pointless from the local transport authority perspective. There must be a feeling that the Governments change from the draft Bill is to address an issue which in my noble friends view, on behalf of the Government, is highly unlikely.
Even were that potential guidance resolved, the local transport authoritiesthe promoters of the statutory quality partnershipwould still not be party to the appeals process. Thus a non-elected body, the local traffic commissioner, would be able to veto key elements of a statutory quality partnership. He would be able to do this on the basis of a broadly based right of objection from commercial operators, without any reference to the locally accountable transport authority,
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In addition, by extending the right to object beyond those operators directly affected by the statutory quality partnership, there is the risk of an operator who does not operate the statutory quality partnership services being able to object and to veto a quality partnership that the LTA and incumbent operator have developed and accepted. If a local transport authority is to pursue, for example, a bus priority scheme, which can often be pretty controversial locally, a guarantee of regular clock-face frequency and caps on fares for those services which will use the bus priority lane are helpful incentives from the local transport authority perspective.
As we know, there has only been one statutory quality partnership scheme under the 2000 Act. That is one reason why we have this Bill today. What is needed is a radical overhaul of the arrangement, and not the measures proposed in this Bill. The Government have agreed that it is highly unlikely that a local transport authority would promote an unreasonable statutory quality partnership, and bus operators are under no obligation to operate within a statutory quality partnership in the first place if they consider it unreasonable. There is then no need for the admissible objection veto on the specification of maximum fares, frequencies and timings, which could add many months of unnecessary and costly delay.
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