In the 2019 Queen’s Speech and 2019–21 parliamentary session, the Government made several commitments relating to transport policy. This included plans to legislate to provide for minimum levels of service on railways during strikes and to protect consumers should an airline or travel company collapse.
Railways minimum service levels legislation
In the Queen’s Speech 2019, the Government outlined its intention to introduce legislation to provide for minimum levels of service on railways during transport strikes. The Government hoped this would reduce the disruption caused to the public during such strikes, whilst also “preserving rail workers’ right to strike”. The legislation would provide for minimum service agreements, which would set out the minimum service pattern to be provided during rail strikes. The agreements would also set out the minimum number and the nature of staff that will be working to provide a service during a strike.
In its 2019 Queen’s Speech briefing, the Government had stated that any strike against a rail employer shall be considered “unlawful” unless an agreement was in place. This, in turn, could result in damages and injunctions against a union. The Government stated that it would be consulting on how to implement this proposal in a “proportionate way”, which included ensuring sanctions were not directed at individual workers.
The Government intended to introduce legislation during the last parliamentary session. However, no bill emerged before the session ended.
Airline insolvency legislation
In 2017, the Government launched the Airline Insolvency Review, an independent review into consumer protection in the event of an airline or travel company collapsing. In particular, the review would draw on lessons from the collapse of the Monarch airline, and would consider repatriation and refund protection for consumers of insolvent airlines. A consultation inviting views on possible solutions for such situations took place between April and May 2018.
In March 2019, the Airline Insolvency Review published its full report. It called for new arrangements to be put in place to finance the cost of protecting consumers. This would be based on requiring all airlines serving the UK market to pay for financial protections to cover the estimated cost of repatriating their UK-originating passengers to the UK in the event of insolvency. To deliver this protection, the review stated it would require “a number of improvements to the current legislative and regulatory arrangements” for UK airlines. The Government has yet to respond to the review.
In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced it would be introducing airline insolvency legislation. The main elements of the legislation would:
- introduce a special administration regime for airlines to support the needs of passengers post-insolvency and to keep aircraft fleet flying long enough for passengers to be repatriated;
- enhance the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulatory powers to “improve their oversight of airlines in distress” and mitigate the impacts of a future airline failure;
- reform airline insolvency to “strike a better balance between strong consumer protection and the interests of taxpayers”;
- extend the Civil Aviation Authority’s remit to apply the repatriation of both Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) and non-ATOL protected passengers; and
- establish and enhance a repatriation toolkit of mechanisms for companies and passengers, such as making it easier for the Civil Aviation Authority to grant a Temporary Airline Operating Licence to ensure an airline can continue repatriating passengers following an insolvency.
National bus strategy for England
On 10 February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced £5 billion of new funding to “level up local transport connections” throughout the country. The Government said the investment will “boost bus services” by focusing on several priorities, including:
- higher frequency services, including evenings and weekends;
- new priority schemes to make routes more efficient, so that buses avoid congested routes and can speed passengers through traffic;
- more affordable, simple rates; and
- at least 4,000 new zero emission buses to make greener travel the “convenient option”, to progress the UK in its net zero ambitions.
In March 2021, the Government published its national bus strategy for England, which contained several measures announced as part of the Government’s priorities for bus services. The strategy called for statutory enhanced partnerships or franchising arrangements between transport operators and local transport authorities. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government said it wanted all local authorities to commit to one of these options by 30 June 2021 to receive further emergency funding from the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant. At present, the Bus Services Act 2017 (the 2017 act) prevents further municipal (local authority-owned) bus companies being set up. The Government also expected local transport authorities, in collaboration with operators, to have produced local bus service improvement plans by the end of October 2021. These plans will detail how authorities use their powers to improve bus services.
In April 2021, the Government was asked whether it planned to bring forward legislative proposals to amend the 2017 act. In response, the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Transport, Rachel Maclean, said the national bus strategy committed the Government to review whether it “remains right” that the 2017 act prevented further local authority-owned bus companies being created. Ms Maclean said that if the review concludes it should be changed, a legislative proposal would be brought forward in “due course”.
- In January 2021, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Andrew Stephenson, announced that the Government expected to publish the Integrated Rail Plan in early 2021. This plan will examine how best to integrate High Speed 2 Phase 2b and wider transport plans in the North of England and the Midlands. Mr Stephenson said that following the plan’s publication, the Government would confirm plans for legislation covering the eastern leg of High Speed 2 Phase 2b.
- In March 2021, the Government stated it was continuing to develop legislation to bring personal watercraft, such as jet skis, within the safe use and conduct provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. It also announced that a public consultation on the draft legislation would be published once this process has been completed.
- The Government has been asked when it will bring forward legislation on electric scooters. Rachel Maclean explained that electric scooter trials were live in 31 areas and will shortly begin in London. She also stated that the evidence gathered from the trials would inform whether electric scooters should be legalised in the future.
- On 28 April 2021, the Government announced that self-driving vehicles could be on UK roads by the end of the year. It noted that vehicles fitted with automated lane keeping system (ALKS) technology could legally be defined as self-driving, as long as they receive approval and that there is “no evidence” to “challenge the vehicle’s ability to self-drive”. It had previously stated that Department for Transport officials were developing amendments to legislation, the Highway Code and procedures in Great Britain ahead of ALKS vehicles reaching the UK by late 2021.
- House of Commons Library, Aviation: Frequently Asked Questions for 2021, 31 March 2021
- House of Lords Library, ‘Covid-19 regulations: electric scooter trials’, 25 September 2020
- House of Lords Library, High Speed Rail: Route, Speed and Station Locations, 5 March 2020
- House of Commons Library, ‘HS2: what happens next?’, 25 February 2020
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