Lords amendment: No. 68, in page 63, line 43, leave out from
("strategies") to end of line 4 on page 64
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill)
I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 69 to 80, 92 to 94, 96 and 145 to 147.
§ Mr. Hill
This group of amendments is concerned with the new powers in the Bill for quality partnership schemes, ticketing schemes and bus information, and with better bus lane enforcement. The amendments respond to various representations made during the Bill's passage in another place.
I wish to deal specifically with the provisions on bus lane enforcement. Lords amendments Nos. 80 and 192 provide that local authorities with decriminalised parking enforcement powers outside London may apply to the Secretary of State to enforce moving bus lane offences. In so doing, the amendments fulfil an undertaking given in Committee by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, on 17 February, when he said that it was our intention to extend local authority camera enforcement of bus lane offences to outside London.
1026 The new clause also provides the Secretary of State with powers to repeal the current camera enforcement regime of bus lane offences in London, under the London Local Authorities Act 1996, and to make regulations to enable Transport for London and London local authorities to operate under the new powers as well. Trials of camera enforcement in a number of London boroughs have shown that where the system is operated and resourced properly, it is very effective in reducing bus lane offences by up to 70 per cent.
We very much hope that the take-up of these powers on a wider scale will substantially reduce the offences. However, the powers will be available only to local authorities with decriminalised parking enforcement powers. That will ensure that local authorities are able to enforce both waiting and driving offences in bus lanes. The new clause does not give local authorities the power to stop vehicles.
The new clause provides for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make regulations in connection with allowing approved local authorities, Transport for London and London local authorities to impose penalty charges for moving bus lane contraventions, and the payment of penalty charges. Regulations can specify the person by whom a penalty charge in respect of a contravention is to be paid. As we said in Committee in the other place, we intend, at least initially, to make regulations for areas outside London on the basis of driver liability. However, the matter will be kept under review.
In London, the current system operates on the basis of owner liability. We consider it prudent to allow owner liability to continue to apply in London for the foreseeable future, but this will be kept under review. If necessary, any changes to liability can be made by regulations, which would be subject to the negative resolution procedure—and I emphasise that.
As the new clause does not remove the power of the police to enforce moving traffic offences, it has been necessary to include the provision that motorists should not be subject to double jeopardy and prosecution by the police and local authorities for the same offence or contravention.
I hope that the House will welcome all the amendments in this group. They will allow the benefits of statutory quality partnership schemes to be extended to a wider range of circumstances, extend the scope of through-ticketing powers, clarify the scope of bus information under clause 128 and provide for better enforcement of bus lanes. They are a further demonstration of our desire for a more effective and joined-up transport strategy.
§ Mr. Syms
I have just one brief point to raise. In Committee, we had a lengthy discussion on the impact of the Competition Act 1998. I note that since that legislation came into force in March a number of bus companies have been raided in order to discover whether they were involved in cartels or any other problems. A number of the amendments in the group relate to improved text on through ticketing. At one stage there were concerns that if bus companies had agreements on through ticketing or even ticket prices they might be caught by competition law. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Bill will 1027 work in the way that was intended and that the concerns about competition are just concerns and are not likely to impact on the strategy for buses?
§ Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)
I welcome the amendments. Before pressing the Minister on one particular amendment, let me say that it was a pity that there was nothing in the pre-Budget statement about fuel duty rebates for buses, community transport or express coaches.
The amendment on which I want to press the Minister relates to quality partnerships. I understand that when the matter was discussed in another place Ministers said that fares and frequency could not be included in quality partnerships, yet I understand that that has happened in Scotland. Does the Minister now think that fares and frequency can be included in quality partnerships or does he still maintain that they cannot?
§ Mr. Hill
I begin my response by congratulating you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your distinguished office. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all hon. Members present in extending those congratulations and felicitations.
Let me deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake), with whom I expect to have a number of exchanges until a relatively late hour this evening. He raised the ability of quality partnership schemes to stipulate minimum frequencies. The matter has been debated thoroughly, and the hon. Gentleman would certainly have known that, had he been present during those long but stimulating 87 hours in Committee. The matter was debated at length during proceedings on the Bill in both Houses. I can only say that nothing has persuaded us to change our views.
If the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive have reached a different conclusion on the matter, so be it. That is democracy and, dare I say it, devolution. We believe that it would be a mistake to go down that road. As I have said repeatedly, it would blur the distinction between quality partnerships and quality contracts and it would give rise to potential legal and practical difficulties.
I turn now to the question of competition issues, which was raised by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). I hope that he will forgive me if I read the words before me with some care, as these are delicate issues with many implications. It is therefore necessary to get the matter exactly right—not something for which I am always noted.
The Government believe that there has been unnecessary anxiety about the potential impacts of the Competition Act 1998. Officials have discussed the point with the bus industry and local government representatives, and have sought to give reassurances. However, if it will help the hon. Member for Poole, I am happy to put the matter on record, although I fear that it may prove to be a little technical.
In short, the issue is whether, in spite of the special competition test provided for in schedule 10, a strategic quality partnership scheme could constitute an agreement that could be prohibited under section 2(1) of the Competition Act 1998. Our considered view, which is shared by the Department of Trade and Industry and the 1028 Office of Fair Trading, is that, in making a quality partnership scheme under the Bill, a local authority is not engaging in economic activity and is therefore not acting as an undertaking for the purposes of section 2 of the 1998 Act.
In such circumstances, the authority would simply be exercising public law powers in the public interest. We know of no case where the exercise of public law powers of that nature has been held to amount to economic activity.
In addition, to argue to the contrary, it would be necessary to demonstrate that the 1998 Act is not disapplied by the Bill. However, in the event that I am wrong in my interpretation—and that the 1998 Act would otherwise apply—it is our belief that the effect of schedule 10 is to disapply it. That schedule expressly gives the Director General of Fair Trading powers of investigation and decision in respect of quality partnership schemes, in circumstances where the 1998 Act would otherwise apply. It would be odd indeed if the general provisions in the 1998 Act were to operate alongside the special provisions in schedule 10.
The Office of Fair Trading, whose view that is, has made it clear that it does not expect to proceed under the Competition Act 1998. All things considered, therefore, we believe that any fear of duplication can effectively be discounted.
The hon. Member for Poole asked about through ticketing. I can tell him that the Office of Fair Trading is still taking forward its examination of block exemption on ticketing agreements between operators. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman, and deals with his concerns.
§ Lords amendment agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 69 to 80 agreed to.