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1 Feb 2010 : Column GC1

Grand Committee

Monday, 1 February 2010

Arrangement of Business


3.30 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn): My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in the case of each statutory instrument, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. I should perhaps make it clear that the Motions to approve the statutory instruments will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Passengers' Council (Non-Railway Functions) Order 2010

Passengers' Council (Non-Railway Functions) Order 2010
5th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Considered in Grand Committee

3.31 pm

Moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Passengers' Council (Non-Railway Functions) Order 2010.

Relevant Document: 5th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: This draft order would extend the statutory remit of the Rail Passengers' Council-the rail passenger watchdog commonly known as Passenger Focus-to bus, coach and tram issues. The draft order has been subject to full consultation, which showed wide support for a statutory body to represent bus, coach and tram passengers' interests, as already exists for rail passengers. The draft order would require Passenger Focus to keep under review and investigate matters relating to the provision of road passenger transport services or facilities in England.

Passenger Focus will work collaboratively with the leading players in the industry. However, the draft order would give Passenger Focus powers to request information if co-operation was not forthcoming when carrying out an investigation. This was strongly supported by respondents to the consultation. The recipient of a request for information must provide it unless they do not have it, or if it would impose an unreasonable burden on them.

Following an investigation, Passenger Focus would be able to make representations to organisations which may have had an impact on the quality of the service. These include the providers of services and facilities, local traffic and transport authorities, and the Highways Agency. They would be obliged to consider any representation made by Passenger Focus, and to reply in writing within a reasonable time.

There may be occasions where collaborative working cannot achieve a satisfactory outcome on its own. So the draft order would enable Passenger Focus, as a last

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resort, to refer a matter to another body with powers to take action. A matter involving a bus or coach operator could be referred to a traffic commissioner, although it would be for the traffic commissioner to decide whether to exercise any of his powers in response. Similarly, tram matters could be referred to the scheme promoter.

Where the problem may be due in part to the actions of a local traffic authority, Passenger Focus would be able to refer the matter to a traffic commissioner if use of its new powers to direct the authority to provide information might be appropriate. Or Passenger Focus could refer the matter to the Secretary of State, if it thought that it may be appropriate for him to exercise his intervention powers under the Traffic Management Act 2004.

The draft order would also make some minor changes to the constitution of Passenger Focus, such as removing the word "Rail" from its statutory title to reflect its wider remit, and enabling additional members to be appointed.

While the draft order does not prescribe how complaints appeals should be handled, I am aware that this has been an important issue for some stakeholders. Therefore, it might be helpful if I set out the Government's position on this. As the Bus Appeals Body already deals with bus complaints appeals, we did not intend that Passenger Focus should assume this role. To confirm what role Passenger Focus should have in dealing with complaints, we asked it to review the current complaints system. It submitted the results as part of its consultation response.

Having considered its findings carefully, alongside the comments made by other stakeholders, the Government accepted Passenger Focus's suggestion that it should work with the industry, Bus Users UK and the Bus Appeals Body to address any shortcomings. The Government have also asked Passenger Focus to work with tram stakeholders over the next year to develop its understanding of the complaints system and drive up standards if necessary.

Passenger Focus will bring an independent research-based approach to the bus and tram sector, which already works extremely well for rail passengers. I am pleased to commend the order to the Committee.

Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for introducing this order, which seems to provide a sensible extension of the role of the Rail Passengers Council to cover bus and tram services. As the Minister said, the feedback to the consultation has indicated that there were concerns about the lack of a nationally recognised body to represent the interests of passengers on these and other modes of transport.

Questions arise from the extension of the remit, and from the amount of additional work that the council will be expected to undertake. The order enables the board of the Rail Passengers Council to be increased from the current 12 to 14 for the new Passenger Focus. What will be the role of the members of the board? Will any of the additional members represent one of the new additions to the council? Will the new members have a broad remit, or will they be confined to the areas that they represent, if indeed they do? Will this be simply a general increase in the number of board

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members? Will the Minister also indicate what additional costs he anticipates are likely to be incurred by Passenger Focus because of its extended remit? Will Passenger Focus require extra staff to undertake extra work? The Minister talked about research. Will there be a requirement for extra researchers? Has anybody looked at what additional costs are likely to be incurred and, if so, what is the estimate of the amount that will be required?

The Minister touched on investigations. I would like to find out a little more about the investigations that can be undertaken, and about what happens as a result of them. As I understand it, Passenger Focus will not by itself be able to bring penalties or recommendations directly to those who are being complained about. The Minister said that either the traffic commissioner or the bus operators would have to decide whether to accept the recommendations. Is that too limited? Will Passenger Focus be able to impose sufficient sanctions as a result of its investigations? Will it have the bite that is needed to ensure that this is recognised as a proper process for the whole transport system?

I return to the issue of funding. Will the Minister tell us who currently funds the Rail Passengers Council, and who will fund the new body? When I have the answers to those questions, we will be content with the order, and I thank the Minister for presenting it.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that I was chairman of the Bus Appeals Body for some time, and I have worked considerably in the bus industry. I start by expressing my great disappointment that the order is necessary. Bus Users UK and the Bus Appeals Body fulfil quite adequately the functions described in the order, at no cost to the taxpayer. It is interesting to note that, in the papers that we were given, attention was drawn to the fact that there was wide support for the order. I wonder whether there was wide support from other than very interested and partial supporters of the order. I am sure that a lot of the support came from places such as the Passenger Transport Executive Group, which has adequate consultation procedures within its own boundaries.

It is important to understand that the way in which the Bus Appeals Body worked was that people who had made representations to a bus company and had failed to get a satisfactory answer were able to come to the Bus Appeals Body. While I was chairman, we made representations to bus companies, up to almost managing director level. In every case, except for one very small operator in Norfolk which should not have had a licence anyway, the complaint was always satisfied.

When the Local Transport Act, to which this order is attached, was going through the House, I explained all this, but it fell on deaf ears. I am afraid that the Government are too fascinated with creating more bureaucracy and more steps in the complaints process than is necessary. If another body is put in, the complaint will be referred up until it gets to the top. I have great respect for Passenger Focus. This legislation is unnecessary and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister has any more justification than he had when he turned down my amendment during the passage of the Bill.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have contributed to our short debate. This is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, as chairman of the Bus Appeals Body. I shall attempt to answer the questions from both noble Lords. We should remember that something like 4.7 billion bus passenger journeys are made each year. But, unlike rail passengers, bus passengers do not have a statutory watchdog.

The consultation on bus passenger representation started in 2007. It showed clear support for a publicly recognised statutory body to represent the interests of bus passengers and provide them with a visible and influential voice. I will provide to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, details of that consultation and I can answer the point about who took part in it. As the noble Lord said, Passenger Focus is a respected watchdog and has a strong reputation for representing rail passengers. The predominant view was that its remit should be extended to cover buses and coaches in addition to its rail functions. The consultation responses suggested that tram passengers might also benefit from statutory representation. So we took powers in the Local Transport Act 2008, under which the Secretary of State could extend the remit of Passenger Focus, through secondary legislation, to bus, coach and tram services and facilities in England.

In 2009, we carried out a further consultation on the detail of the draft order we have considered today. It also sought views as to whether Passenger Focus should represent tram passengers. The proposals were well received and there was clear support for the proposition that tram passengers should benefit from the same representation as rail and bus passengers. The draft order we have considered is needed to confer statutory duties and obligations on Passenger Focus in respect of bus, coach and tram matters. It would also set out the responsibilities placed on others in terms of how they respond to Passenger Focus. The draft order also makes a number of minor changes to the constitution of Passenger Focus to reflect its widened remit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked me about the composition of Passenger Focus. The intention is to increase the number of members to 14. The two additional members will have a wide remit like the others. No one will be a specific representative of one section or another. She also asked about the costs of Passenger Focus. It is funded by the Department for Transport. Its budget for 2009-10 is £7.6 million, of which more than one-third is spent on research.

3.45 pm

In 2009-10, £6 million will be spent on the railway, £4.8 million on railway representation, and £1.2 million on the national passenger survey. The intention is that bus and coach funding will cost £1.5 million, and an additional £100,000 will be spent on the mystery traveller survey. The total amount of bus and coach funding is therefore £1.6 million, making an overall total in 2009-10 of £7.6 million. The figure for 2010-11 is £8.7 million. The sum of £1.6 million is being spent on bus and coach work in the current year to enable the necessary structures to be put into place to represent

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bus and coach passengers effectively from April 2010. That obviously anticipates parliamentary approval being given for this secondary legislation.

The Department for Transport is satisfied that Passenger Focus can take on the necessary preparatory work on bus and coach issues, in co-operation with the department, using existing powers under Section 76 of the Railways Act 1993, which confers a duty on Passenger Focus to co-operate with other bodies that represent the interests of users of public passenger transport services.

Baroness Hanham: If I understand correctly, the £1.5 million for this year-

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: The figure is £1.6 million.

Baroness Hanham: The £1.6 million, plus another £100,000, are the set-up costs to bring in all this. I am more interested in what the total costs are likely to be, once this new body is up and running, to do all the work, including research on buses and trams, in the future. I accept that the total will be £8.5 million, or thereabouts, for 2010-11, but is it anticipated to be the base figure for the future? By how much is it likely to increase?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: In 2010-11, total bus and coach funding is anticipated to be £2.25 million, and the railway figure will rise slightly from £6 million to £6.45 million. That is how we get to the figure of £8.7 million. There will be a recruitment exercise for the extra members of the board later this year.

The noble Baroness also asked about enforcement powers for buses and coaches. That lies with the traffic commissioners, and we have taken the view that it is right that it should remain with them, as they are the independent regulator for the industry.

The powers that Passenger Focus has and will have on buses, coaches and trams will be similar to those for rail, and it will be able to make representations and recommendations.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to the consultation. There was very strong support for giving Passenger Focus the power to request information from service and facility providers, and to enable it to make representations to those who have an impact on the quality of service that is provided. The respondents also supported the placing of obligations on those who receive a request for information or a representation to respond in writing.

Lord Bradshaw: I was chairman for three years and, except in the case of one small operator with one bus in Norfolk, I never knew an operator to refuse to co-operate. I just feel that the order is unnecessary and overstresses the problem.

Who made the representations? Other than representations from what I would call the professional consumer industry, I am not sure that there were very many.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: There may be two views about the effectiveness of the old representation arrangements to which the noble Lord has referred. The Bus Appeals Body, as I indicated in my opening remarks, said that it will continue and that it will continue to be funded by the industry, but research has shown that many passengers have not received the response that they would want to their complaint. The situation may have changed since the noble Lord ceased being chairman. Passenger Focus has statutory powers, which the Bus Appeals Body does not have. It does not look just at complaints and the wider powers are therefore important. I assure the noble Lord that support for the change, as evidenced by the consultation, was very considerable.

I should also make it clear that Passenger Focus will not consider matters already dealt with by the London Transport Users' Committee, commonly known as London TravelWatch. Passenger Focus and London TravelWatch have a good record of co-operating on issues affecting rail passengers and will extend these arrangements to offer a joined-up approach to buses, coaches and trams. The order would also not prejudice or diminish the independence of traffic commissioners, to whom I referred a moment ago. They will continue to act as the industry regulator for buses and coaches.

Although the draft order does not prescribe how complaints appeals should be handled, I recognise that the Government's decision for bus complaints appeals to remain with the Bus Appeals Body, rather than being transferred to Passenger Focus, might be disappointing for some stakeholders, though not, I suspect, for the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. However, I assure the Committee that Passenger Focus will be working with the industry, Bus Users UK and the Bus Appeals Body to ensure that complaints appeals are dealt with appropriately, and improved where necessary.

The draft order would give bus, coach and tram passengers' statutory representation for the first time, a proposal which has received very widespread support. Passenger Focus has secured many benefits for rail passengers through evidence-based campaigning and advocacy. We are confident that it will be able to transfer this capability to champion the interests of bus, coach and tram passengers. I therefore recommend the draft order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2010

Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2010
4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Considered in Grand Committee

3.51 pm

Moved By Lord Faulkner of Worcester

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2010.

Relevant Document: 4th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

1 Feb 2010 : Column GC7

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, on 21 October 2009, the European Union adopted a group of three Community regulations known as "the Road Transport Package". This order makes consequential amendments to Article 5 of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975 to update references to Community legislation, in particular on account of two of the regulations in the package; that is, EC Regulations 1072/2009 and 1073/2009.

By way of background, I should explain that Regulation 1072/2009 on common rules for access to the international road haulage market, sets out new rules governing hauliers transporting goods by road for hire or reward in the EU. This regulation also introduces clearer rules and evidence requirements as to when cabotage is allowed. Cabotage is domestic goods operations by operators registered in another EU state. The regulation also repeals and replaces existing EC rules governing the carriage of goods by road.

Regulation 1073/2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, sets out new rules for operators engaging in international journeys in the EU using vehicles designed to carry 10 or more persons, including the driver, either on their own account or to carry passengers for hire and reward. The regulation amends EC rules governing such journeys. As the Committee will know, European Community regulations here are directly applicable.

Article 5 of the 1975 order exempts from vehicle excise duty certain categories of vehicles engaged in international operations, including cabotage, and brought temporarily into the UK which are regulated by EC rules. The amendments being made to the 1975 order serve simply to update references to EC legislation, in particular that being replaced by Regulations 1072/09 and 1073/09. They do not make any changes to our policy position. The order applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. Vehicle excise duty is an excepted matter and so does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I should explain to the Committee that Regulations 1072/2009 and 1073/2009 were negotiated over two years. Overall, the Government regarded the outcome of those EU negotiations as positive, and satisfactory and we believe that the deal achieved was a good one because it balances the need to maintain and improve road safety standards with those of the industry and consumers. It should also help to improve the environmental performance of the international road haulage industry by reducing the number of empty runs. The Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association Limited and the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK have welcomed the new regulations and indeed, industry representatives participated actively in their development. Close contact was maintained with industry bodies throughout the decision-making process, which led to the adoption of the regulations. I commend the order to the Committee.

Baroness Hanham: Once again, I thank the Minister for introducing the order, which I am relieved to note has been welcomed by practically every association involved in transport, such as the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association Limited

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and the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK which have also been involved in decisions on the adoption of these amendments to European regulations.

It is clear that in the interests of ensuring that there are consistent standards across the EU on safety compliance and fair competition, the regulation of vehicles and their journeys and conditions remain essential. We believe that the standards adopted and maintained by operators in the United Kingdom are very high, but there are concerns about the number and condition of some of the vehicles arriving from the continent and leaving this country, particularly those from the new EU countries. How will the new regulations affect them when the conditions are considered to be unsatisfactory? Also of interest is the work that they undertake while they are in the process of a job-that extraordinary word "cabotage", which I presume is a mix of French and something else. It sounds like cabbage or something-very strange.

In this country, can the techniques used to select UK vehicles for testing be used on foreign vehicles to ensure that they are safe and that the drivers are in a fit state to drive? Will the Minister say what progress has been made regarding the new graduated fixed financial penalty deposit and immobilisation schemes that came into being in May last year and whether we have had time to see whether they are effective in reducing non-compliance by any national vehicles on our roads? Could he also tell us whether the new amendments in the order will bring the rest of the European Union up to UK standards and that other states will raise their game to comply with them? Otherwise, as usual there is the danger of us complying with what the EU puts forward while nobody else takes it very seriously. We can then ensure that vehicles in our country are meeting those standards.

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