§ 8. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)
If he will make a statement on the progress of bus quality partnerships. 
§ The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)
Quality bus partnerships are helping to attract more people to public transport by improving the quality of local bus services. A survey undertaken for my Department recorded that 134 voluntary quality bus partnership agreements were in place in England and Wales in 2001. Some authorities are actively considering statutory quality bus partnership schemes as part of their bus strategies.
§ Judy Mallaber
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Outside my constituency office, wheelchair users can now board scheduled buses to Nottingham because of investment by Trent Buses and four local councils in low-boarding buses and boarding platforms. A range of action by the partnership, including improving Alfreton bus station, which my right hon. Friend visited earlier this year, has increased the number of passengers using buses by 10 per cent. Will he give an assurance that funding will continue to be maintained to existing bus partnerships that are successful as well as extending them elsewhere? Will he also join me in regretting—
§ Mr. Spellar
I certainly join my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) in regretting the action of Amber Valley council, which I think that she wanted to mention, in moving away from the quality bus partnership. The key issue that we need to address is real partnership between local authorities and the bus companies for the benefit of the travelling public. There has been an increase of about 10 per cent. on the route that she mentioned, which is certainly good news for those who use the buses and it is also a significant contribution to achieving the shift from car to bus use that we are all trying to achieve.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
Does the Minister agree that an important part of quality bus partnerships is the proper use of bus lanes? Will he join me in condemning the activities of his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who abused the bus lane to avoid a traffic jam that was created by his friend Ken Livingstone?
§ Mr. Spellar
I am certainly glad to hear that an Opposition Member supports bus lanes and we shall certainly note that for the future.
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
In considering quality bus partnerships, will my right hon. Friend impress on bus companies the importance of provision for disabled—especially wheelchair-bound—people and the elderly to ensure that we can offer a full quality partnership to all our travelling public?
§ Mr. Spellar
As my hon. Friend will be aware, a considerable number of bus companies have introduced low-floor buses with their new bus stock. Many community transport schemes are using a wide variety of vehicles that are much more accessible not only to people in wheelchairs but to those with walking difficulties. Indeed, I was recently near his area—near Rotherham—visiting Optare, a company that produces 498 many such vehicles for local use. We are seeing real partnerships, with the bus companies and local authorities producing that sort of service to achieve the widest possible range of transport and to reduce social exclusion.