Transport minister Andrew Jones has said he will seek to overturn amendments to the Bus Services Bill, in a move that could restrict councils' automatic right to franchising powers.
Last month the Government was defeated in the Lords over an amendment to the Bill that would allow a list of councils to access franchising powers without going through an onerous approval process.
Transport minister Andrew Jones
Asked by Transport Network what his approach to recent amendments to the Bill would be when it reached the Commons, the transport minister, who is responsible for buses, said: 'We are probably going to be overturning the majority of those amendments. The amendments have been pretty varied and some of them have not been particularly well-evidenced.
‘The Bus Services Bill will have its third reading in the Lords tomorrow. When it emerges, and we could be getting amendments through to that stage, although that’s quite unusual for a third reading, I will have a look at the Bill but my intention is not to leave it unchallenged in the Commons. I don’t think the Commons wants that [to leave it unchallenged].
‘The Government voted against many of the amendments as it passed through the Lords. I will await to see what comes but I would expect a change.'
The key amendment by peers would give a range of councils franchising powers without the need to ask for the secretary of state’s approval. The councils include:
- a mayoral combined authority
- a county council in England for an area for which there are district councils
- a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council
- a non-metropolitan district council for an area for which there is no county council
- an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England
- a combined authority which is not a mayoral combined authority
It was passed after months of lobbying from Labour, which also opposes a clause in the Bill that would prevent councils setting up new municipal bus companies.
Daniel Zeichner MP, Labour’s shadow transport minister responsible for bus policy, told Transport Network: ‘The minister’s comments are disappointing but sadly not surprising. For decades, the Tories have put profit margins above passengers, and those passengers have experienced rising fares and cuts to vital services as a result.
‘The Bus Services Bill currently going through Parliament builds on Labour arguments and is a step in the right direction - but what we need is a step-change.
‘We won key amendments in the House of Lords to make the Bill better - to ensure all local communities have the power to take control of their bus services, and to run them themselves if that’s the best option. Labour will continue to stand up for bus users when the Bill comes to the Commons.’