Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 29th January 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Report received.

Clause 1 [The national concession]:

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 15, 18, 21 to 24, 27 and 28. These are minor technical amendments intended to clarify or improve the drafting of the Bill, together with a concessionary amendment addressing a point raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its report on the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 18 are needed because, in two places in the Bill, we have used the word "bus" when we should have used, for consistency with the Acts being amended—the Transport Act 2000 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999—the technical expression "public service vehicle". Those amendments, however, change neither the definitions of "public service vehicle" or "eligible service" nor the substance of the definition of "eligible journey".

We tabled Amendment No. 15 to put beyond doubt the fact that more generous concessions can be provided within London, should the boroughs and TfL agree them. Currently the wording of the change to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 made by Clause 6(2)(b) might be read as preventing more generous concessions being granted to London residents than the concession specified in Clause 6(4). That has never been our intention. Londoners already get concessions that are in some respects more generous. Amendment No. 15 ensures that there is no doubt about that. It is not in any way a policy change.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are needed because Clause 7(2)(b) replaces the words,

"issued to him in accordance with the arrangements", in Section 243(1)(b) of the 1999 Act with some new words, which do not include any equivalent of the words "to him". These amendments therefore insert the words "to the person" to rectify that error. Again, there are no policy implications.

Amendment No. 23 changes the word "document" to "permit" in the definition of "travel concession permit" in Section 243(5) of the 1999 Act. This is to avoid any argument that smart cards or perhaps certain types of smart card do not readily fall within the description "document". Although the meaning of "document" may be thought to have the flavour of a piece of paper or something similar with writing on it, "permit" does not have the same connotation and is consistent with the rest of the legislation.

Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 merely add a signpost to Section 162 of the Transport Act 2000, the general interpretation section for Part 2 of that Act, to the new definition of "London Authority" inserted by Clause 2(2). That definition already applies for the purpose of Part 2 of the Act so there is no change of any substance. The inclusion of a signpost in Section 162 is consistent with the general approach taken in that provision.

We have given careful consideration to the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Bill, and I am grateful to it for its work. Amendment No. 24 addresses a point raised at paragraph 13 of the report. The committee commented on Clause 9(3)(g), regarding the regulation-making powers of the Secretary of State should he make an order to take over responsibility for the reimbursement of bus operators. We had an interesting debate in Grand Committee about the wider purpose of Clause 9, and I see no reason for this amendment to reignite that debate. Instead, its purpose is simply to improve the clarity of the Bill as it sets out the specific powers provided by Clause 9(3). The amendment now limits, via proposed new paragraph (f) in Clause 9(3), the scope of the regulation-making powers that an order made under Clause 9(1)(a) can confer on the Secretary of State. It also requires at proposed new subsection (3A) any such regulations to be subject to the negative resolution procedure. This maintains the existing procedure for regulations relating to reimbursement and appeals matters as set out in the Transport Act 2000.

New Clause 9(3)(f) enables regulation-making powers to be conferred on the Secretary of State that correspond with or are similar to the Secretary of State's existing regulation-making powers in Sections 149(3), 150(6) and 156(7) of the 2000 Act. It also includes a sweep-up provision to cater for other ancillary matters for which regulations might be needed, for example for how to claim a reimbursement. As the scope of the regulation-making power is now more specific, we have also sought to be more specific about the kind of amendments to the 2000 Act that an order under Clause 9(1)(a) might make by virtue of Clause 9(3). In particular, we hope that the wording of the proposed new Clause 9(3)(b), by referring to "altering" current provisions about appeals, will reassure the House that there will be an appeal mechanism, should the power to centralise reimbursement ever be used. I hope, therefore, that Amendment No. 24 reassures the House of our intentions.

In drafting these amendments, our intention is to make the Bill more accurate and explicit, and I hope it will be recognised that we have achieved that goal. Accordingly, I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I have no problems with the amendments. From what the Minister has said, I understand that they will make the Bill clearer. However, I want to be absolutely certain that no change will be made to the provision in London and that that system will carry on as it is now.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, we turn, once again, to the idea of extending the concessionary scheme to modes of transport other than buses. We discussed that principle at some length in Committee; therefore, I shall keep my remarks as concise as possible today.

Every noble Lord, including the Minister, who spoke on this issue in Committee supported in principle such an extension of the scheme. There is no dispute that many people would benefit greatly from the application of the concessionary scheme to a wider range of transport modes; it would give even greater flexibility and freedom to many citizens. The problem, of course, is its financing. The Minister made the point in Committee that one has to be realistic about the funding of such projects, and I have a fair degree of sympathy with his comments.

I asked for a breakdown of the estimated cost of extending the scheme, and the Minister was kind enough to write to me with the relevant information. As he mentioned in Committee, by far the largest cost would be the inclusion of travel by train, which would cost some £250 million each year. Although we all hope that one day we will be able to offer such a service to senior citizens, its financing clearly needs careful thought. In tabling the amendment, we have taken on board the associated costs and tried to make the proposal slightly more palatable to the Minister and the Treasury by seeking to extend the scheme only to trams, the Underground and ferries.

This arrangement would bring the concessionary scheme in England into line with similar schemes already in operation in Scotland and Wales. The powers of devolved institutions and the provision of services within each of those nations, and in turn within England, is an entirely different debate. I will not go into that today, except to say that it would seem sensible and right to extend the scheme in England to those transport modes already covered in the rest of the UK. That would give greater clarity and understanding to all those involved.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 would allow travel on buses at any time, inside and outside London, and would cover all modes of transport which exist to meet the transport needs of Londoners. We all know that the Tube is just as important as buses in meeting the transport needs of the capital. Rail and light-railway services also play an important part and will increasingly do so. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, Amendment No. 3 is grouped with Amendment No. 2. I recognise that the Government will be extremely hard pressed to extend free travel by other means at the moment. I further recognise that there is a serious funding problem, about which my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will speak when we come to the appropriate amendment.

Amendment No. 3 does not seek immediately to extend the facility to anyone. It allows the Secretary of State, through regulations, to make provision for an eligible journey to be extended on to another mode where he considers it appropriate to do so. I raised in Grand Committee the question of the Croydon Tramlink, which for part of its journey—from New Addington to Croydon—is a substitute for a bus service that was withdrawn. People in those circumstances may have a legitimate complaint, which the Secretary of State may wish to alleviate. Similarly, if we go to Merseyside, a ferry journey from Birkenhead to Liverpool is part of the journey in many cases.

I seek merely to draw the Minister's attention to this amendment, which simply makes the facility available to the Secretary of State and would not necessitate further amendment to primary legislation in this House.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contribution to this short debate. I recognise that we all benefited from the debate in Committee, which helped to frame these amendments in somewhat different terms from the originals. We are, however, covering old ground; the Bill is about extending the geographical scope of the statutory minimum concession to guarantee that older and eligible disabled people can access important services outside their local authority by bus for free. The Bill is not about extending the concession to other forms of public transport, such as trains, trams, the Underground and ferries.

I recognise that noble Lords are not pressing the Government quite as far as in Committee, but, as I pointed out then, local authorities have the discretion to offer travel concessions on other forms of public transport, and the Bill preserves that flexibility.

As I also said in Committee, the Government have no plans to extend the statutory minimum concession to other forms of transport. There would be costs involved, and any extension would have to be fully funded, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, recognised. Estimating just how much it might cost to extend the concession to other modes is difficult, and we have not done that work yet, but clearly we are talking about significant sums. As the noble Lord has heard, we reckon that extending the scheme to rail would cost about £250 million a year. It might cost about £15 million to extend the scheme to trams.

The Government have already committed to spending £1 billion on concessionary travel to improve the mobility and well-being of older and disabled people. Until we have worked that through and got the system in place, it would be injudicious to seek to extend the forms of eligible travel. Older and disabled people already qualify for one-third off most rail journeys, as the Department for Transport requires train operators to participate in the senior and disabled person railcard schemes. This is an extensive and important step forward in providing concessionary fares. It will cost a substantial amount of money. The Government are not unsympathetic to the noble Lords in pressing for extra consideration; however, the scheme has to be fully costed.

If the Secretary of State wanted to extend the national concession to other modes of public transport, he has the ability, under Part 2 of the Transport Act, to do so. At this stage, though, we are merely considering whether the resources are available for the extension, and it is only right that, until we have worked through this particular concession, we should postpone consideration of other modes of travel. The Bill will not inhibit that consideration when it is eventually passed.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is not unexpected, given our debate in Committee. We all support the Bill in principle, and it will probably evolve as time goes on. With a small amount of money, some categories covered by the legislation could be improved. I know that money is never available, but it might have been wise to have added a few more millions to this and taken them off something else—easier to say than do, I know—to make this scheme acceptable to everyone. However, I heard what the Minister said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 4:

Clause 1 , page 2, line 11, at end insert—

"( ) For the purposes of this section, a disabled person is a person who—

(a) is blind or partially sighted, (b) is profoundly or severely deaf, (c) is without speech, (d) has a disability, or has suffered an injury, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to walk, (e) does not have arms or has long-term loss of the use of both arms, (f) has a learning disability, that is, a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning, (g) would be defined as having a mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities in accordance with section 1 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as amended, or (h) would, if he applied for the grant of a licence to drive a motor vehicle under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1988, have his application refused pursuant to section 92 of that Act otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol."

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment No. 4 would modify and place in the Bill the definition of a disabled person in the Transport Act 2000 which determines eligibility for concessionary bus travel to ensure that those with mental health problems who would have difficulty accessing public transport are covered in the Bill and not elsewhere in legislation—that is, under the Road Traffic Act 1988. If the amendment is agreed to, a comparable amendment would need to be made to the Bill in relation to London.

I welcome the assurances given by the Bill team that the definitions of disabled people for the purposes of concessionary travel in Section 146 of the Transport Act 2000 and Section 240(5) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 will be unchanged by the Bill. However, coverage of people with mental health difficulties remains a problem. I am reintroducing the amendment to ensure that people with mental health problems are explicitly covered in the Bill.

Eligibility for concessionary fares can do much to aid an individual's chance of recovery and reintegration into society. Severe mental ill health often leads to social and physical isolation, discrimination and an inability to play a full part in economic and community life. Access to community centres, drop-in therapeutic communities, counselling or self-help groups can greatly aid recovery, but many service users rely on public transport. Even where they still hold a driving licence, poverty and a fluctuating health condition may make driving impossible. The ability to travel to education centres to take up job opportunities and access community health and social care facilities is vital. Inability to access these can lead to serious consequences for the individual.

Currently, most of those with mental health problems who qualify for concessionary fares do so by virtue of the fact that they would, if they applied, be refused a driving licence under Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, pursuant to Section 92. That section refers to five categories of people who would be refused a driving licence, the second of which refers to people with a severe mental disorder. It is under this provision that people with mental health problems may become entitled to concessionary fares.

I believe that it would conduce to clarity to insert that provision in the Bill. The Minister rejected that suggestion in Committee, but I think he may have been under the misapprehension that it was intended to extend the scope of the legislation. That was not the intention. In moving her amendment in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, merely wished to consolidate diverse existing provisions in one place. It would be helpful to have this consolidating amendment in the Bill.

By importing paragraph (h) into this Bill from the Road Traffic Act 1988, we do not intend to extend the scope of concessionary travel legislation. Since the debate in Grand Committee, the Minister has supplied information estimating the cost of extending concessionary travel to carers at £9 million. It is possible, due to uncertainties surrounding the precise scope and impact of particular definitions in legislation, that there might be a marginal extension of coverage, but it is my contention that it would be entirely marginal. The Minister's estimate of the cost of extending the provision to carers is less than £10 million, which—although it is a substantial sum to you and me, in terms of the Government's expenditure on concessionary travel, is a drop in the ocean. I would have thought that the Minister might be able to take it on the chin.

However, if the amendment in this form is not acceptable to the Minister, I can think of other ways in which to achieve a similar effect, so perhaps it might be possible to have discussions before Third Reading to find a mutually agreed way forward. Alternatively, we can continue the discussion at Third Reading itself, but it would be in every way more profitable if we could have discussions outside the Chamber before we got to that stage. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 3:30 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, my name is also on this amendment. I particularly wanted to speak about the definition and, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, the clarity in that regard. My noble friend Lady Hanham, who cannot be here today, was concerned about the wording in the Bill and the fact that mental disabilities might not seem to be covered. We do not want to increase the scope of the Bill, as some amendments to this part of the Bill would do; we simply want to achieve a clearer definition. I hope that the Minister might be able to give us something on that and improve the wording.

On carers, I hope that the Minister will take up the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on how we might cover some of those people even without any extra costs. I look forward to the Minister's reply with interest.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for moving the amendment. I have considerable sympathy with his case. Although I cannot accept this amendment as it stands, we have an intervening period before Third Reading and I am only too willing to meet him and see whether we can get a meeting of minds on how to tackle the problem that is rather more to his advantage than he may see in my straightforward rejection of his amendment. I shall identify some of the difficulties that we have to overcome, some of which I identified in Committee.

The noble Lord said that he thought that Amendment No. 4 was an exercise in consolidation, but we will have to beg to differ on that. To the department, paragraph (g) looks like more than consolidation; it looks like the introduction into the Bill of an extra and quite significant concept. I hear what he says about aspects of the marginal costs involved. We will have to discuss those costs more extensively. I am not sure that they are quite as marginal as he suggests.

However, the amendment breaks new ground. If it were carried, the implications for this legislation and the Government would be considerable. We accept exactly what the noble Lord says as a main principle—that access to transport has an important part to play in reducing social exclusion. This is why we are extending the geographical scope of the statutory minimum concession to guarantee that older people and the groups of disabled people provided for in the Transport Act 2000 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 can access important services outside their local boundary by bus for free. That is where the costs of this legislation obtain.

The Bill is not about extending the concession to other groups of people by changing current definitions. If we want to change those definitions, we can do so by order under the Transport Act 2000 powers. If local authorities want to do so, they have a discretion under the Transport Act 1985 to offer travel concessions to groups other than those specified in present legislation. However, as I stated in Committee, we are not yet in a position to commit further funding to concessionary travel. The Bill and existing provisions will cost £1 billion per year in statutory concessionary travel to improve the mobility of older and disabled people. That is a very substantial spending commitment. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will in all fairness recognise the progress which has been made in extending this provision to the most vulnerable in our society.

Estimating how much it might cost to extend the concession to people with a mental impairment is very difficult as it depends very much on the exact definition. When one is aware of the extensiveness of diagnosable mental health problems in our population, one recognises that a very large number of people might be covered by the provision. We are talking about significant numbers. Our initial estimate is that it might cost as much as £50 million a year, but we cannot be definitive about that figure. It could be more. It is not just a question of resources. Practical and administrative issues would have to be considered and resolved before we made such an extension. We would need to set up a robust and fair system for assessing eligibility against the definition of mental impairment. That is no straightforward matter.

It is also important that all those with an interest and expertise in the area are consulted before we legislate in those terms. Changing the definition of disabled person in the Bill, which is what the amendment would do, is somewhat premature because we have not been involved in such consultations, as that was not part of our intent with this legislation. We must focus on the task in hand—the delivery of the new national bus concession. A lot of work has been done to deliver this major improvement, which will benefit many disabled people without having to implement a further change on which they have not been consulted.

I recognise the strength of the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Low. I reiterate that I am prepared to meet before Third Reading with him, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, if he would like to be involved, and any other noble Lords interested in the matter. However, I hasten to add that Third Reading is not that far away. I am certainly prepared to discuss the matter further, but I should like the noble Lord to reflect on what I have said today and what we said in Committee and recognise that there are real difficulties for the Government in accepting an amendment of this kind. I hope that he will reflect on the matter and withdraw the amendment today. Perhaps we can advance the matter further in discussion when this stage is completed.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full and careful reply. He replied in considerable detail. As he suggested, I will read carefully what he said and reflect on it. However, I am grateful to him for being flexible and forthcoming, and for indicating that he would be willing to have further discussions about the amendment, whatever his reservations about it. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 5:

Clause 1 , page 2, line 11, at end insert—

"(4A) If a disabled person requires the assistance of a companion to travel on journeys on public transport services, the travel concession authority in England outside London must mark that clearly on the permit.

(4B) Where a person whose current statutory travel concession permit is marked in accordance with subsection (4A) is entitled under this section to a waiver of the fare for a journey, one companion travelling on the journey with the person (and nominated by the person as the person's companion for that journey) is also entitled to a waiver of the fare for the journey.

(4C) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to travel concession authorities in England to which they must have regard in determining for subsection (4B) whether a disabled person needs a companion in order to travel.

(4D) Before issuing guidance under subsection (4C), the Secretary of State shall consult—

(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee; (b) associations representative of travel concession authorities; and (c) such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit."

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, the amendment would require travel concession authorities outside London to issue permits for free travel for companions who travel with a disabled person who needs a companion because of their impairment. Amendment No. 19 would introduce a similar provision for London.

Not all disabled people are able to access mainstream public transport on their own. Concessions should be available to allow a companion to travel free of charge where this is necessary to enable a disabled person to access public transport. The amendment is designed to enable the principal purposes of the Bill—namely, to extend concessionary travel to disabled people—to work effectively. If disabled people cannot access public transport on their own and need a companion to enable them to do so—for example, to get on a bus—it is clearly not possible for them to avail themselves of the concession for which the Bill legislates unless they have the services of a companion. If taking a companion with them is not to increase the cost of the journey, it follows as night follows day that it is necessary for the companion to be able to travel free of charge.

Perhaps my remarks about the Minister's information regarding the cost of extending the concession to carers would be of even more relevance to this amendment. As I argued on the previous amendment, the Minister's costings appeared to be marginal to the total expenditure under the Bill. Most of the companions to whom the amendment relates would fall into the category of carers. I am therefore proposing simply a marginal amendment to the Bill.

A concession of this kind, for companions to travel free of charge, is already provided for under the Welsh scheme. There is no good reason why the English scheme should be inferior. It is invidious that distinctions of this kind should operate in different parts of the United Kingdom.

It is not only people with physical or sensory disabilities who are affected in this way; there are particular issues also for people with phobias or who experience high levels of anxiety or disorientation in busy or unfamiliar places. Those people, too, may need someone with them for support.

Concessions should therefore be available to allow a companion to travel free of charge where this is necessary to enable a disabled person to access mainstream public transport. As I said, this extension is already provided for under the Welsh scheme. The amendment is based on similar legislation which already exists in Wales. I ask that the provision be imported into the English scheme as well. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 3:45 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, again, I support the noble Lord, Lord Low, on his amendment. The Minister has said several times today that we are asking him to spend £1 billion a year on this scheme. It seems that we could rejig this provision to cover the most vulnerable and deserving of discretionary free transport.

The Minister said several times that local authorities have that discretion. We will talk about the funding of local authorities in a little while. I suspect that if we have the funding of local authorities right they might want to provide some discretionary transport, but we shall talk about that later. There might be some room at the edges to facilitate this amendment which, I repeat, would help the most vulnerable and needy.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. I do not have a great deal to add to my reservations on the previous amendment. The Bill is about expanding the geographical scope of concessionary travel, not adding new eligible groups, although I recognise the force of the presentation of the noble Lord, Lord Low.

The noble Lord is right that this is a more marginal cost than the previous amendment, but our estimate amounted to about £10 million a year for carers. The term "companion" could of course be interpreted very widely, and our estimate of £10 million was in the context of a rather narrower concept of carer than that, heightening the importance of getting definitions right. We would also have to be fair about applications, with a robust system for assessing whether a disabled person required the assistance of a companion to travel on public transport services—otherwise, it could be wide open to extravagant claims. Who would qualify as an accompanying carer—a nominated person as specified on their pass, or a considerate and helpful fellow passenger? We would have to answer a lot of questions before we had a robust scheme in place. The noble Lord says that it will not cost too much. These matters never cost a great deal, although millions are millions.

The noble Lord will recognise that it is unfair to say that Wales already has this. One of the sublime beauties of devolution is that countries will move at a different pace. If we say that devolution develops a fast engine at the front and everybody just hooks their wagon to it, that would reduce a great deal of our decision-making; we would just be following what has been done elsewhere, sometimes at quite considerable cost. I will not have that, particularly as local authorities have the power to be more extensive in their definitions. If they choose to do so, it would not then be fair to say that the whole nation must automatically follow suit. We have circumscribed these matters with relative powers by legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, will therefore recognise that the Bill generates substantial costs in extending concessionary travel across England. England is bound to be much more expensive than Wales because of its population and area. By the same token, it is much more expensive to do this in Scotland. There are large costs involved in this Bill, and there are therefore bound to be reservations about extending categories when the Bill is largely concerned with extending the concession to England.

I hear what the noble Lord has said. I am certainly prepared to discuss this matter with him further—I cannot imagine that I would talk with him about the previous issue without him putting the case for this matter at some stage. I shall be prepared for that eventuality, and we shall see how those discussions work out. As it stands, however, I have some difficulty with the amendment, and hope that the noble Lord will at least withdraw it for today.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, in view of the Minister's clear and careful presentation of the Government's views on the amendment, I am prepared to withdraw it for today. As he said, there will be an opportunity at Third Reading, however soon it comes, for us to debate the scope of the amendment and whether there might be some way of accommodating it, at least in part. I am grateful to the Minister for his offer in that regard and I would be happy to have discussions with him before pressing the amendment, which I am happy to withdraw today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 6:

Clause 1 , page 2, line 11, at end insert—

"(4A) If a disabled person is unable to access mainstream public transport as a result of their impairment, the travel concession authority in England shall mark that clearly on the permit.

(4B) Where a person whose current statutory travel concession permit is marked in accordance with subsection (4A), he shall be entitled to a waiver of the fare for a journey when using a community transport service.

(4C) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to travel concession authorities in England to which they shall have regard in determining for subsection (4B) whether a disabled person needs the use of community transport.

(4D) Before issuing guidance under subsection (4C), the Secretary of State shall consult—

(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee; (b) associations representative of travel concession authorities; and (c) such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, in moving the amendment and in speaking to Amendment No. 7, I acknowledge immediately that there are financial implications to them, as there seems to be in everything that we have discussed today. However, in this amendment a wider point is to be made—and I would like to hear the Government's views on it—about the acceptance of the principle that efforts should be made to assist people who are not able to use public transport and are, therefore, denied access to a reasonable life and a reasonable existence.

That is particularly the case for people living in rural areas. It is currently estimated that 27 per cent of people over 65 who live in rural areas have no access to a car. We also know that the proportion of older people is growing fastest in rural areas. The Minister, in reply to that point in Committee, effectively stated that his hands were bound, due to costs of implementing such a scheme. That is why we have looked at this matter again. I have dropped from the amendment any mention of taxis or door-to-door services. The benefit of that is that local authorities and other providers could tailor existing services to meet the needs of those that need them most and, in turn, benefit from inclusion in the national scheme.

To give noble Lords some idea, the existing community transport sector is vast and growing. Over 100,000 minibuses, serving over 10 million passengers every year, are operated for use by voluntary and community groups, schools, colleges and local authorities or to provide door-to-door transport for people who are unable to use other public transport. Door-to-door transport is not limited to minibuses; there are many voluntary car schemes throughout the UK in which volunteers use their own cars to provide transport for individuals. Therefore, a ready-made network is already in place that would benefit countless millions.

In a helpful letter, the Minister stated that extending the concession to community transport would equate to some £25 million a year. However, we have seriously to ask whether we should not look on such a scheme as a price to pay for bringing huge benefits to some of the most vulnerable in our society. I declare an interest as leader of Essex County Council, because community transport is an area of major growth there sometimes replacing existing bus services because that might be a more worthwhile and cheaper form of transport. That philosophy will grow considerably over the next few years.

I suspect that the Minister will again be unable to support the amendment, but I hope that he might give an undertaking that the Government will look again at the whole issue of people without bus services in their areas or who, for various reasons, are unable to use buses. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I have some reservations about the amendment. It is a fact that many ordinary bus services which are used by a lot of people are being withdrawn because there is not enough money to pay for them. In my appreciation, in many cases community transport and the like is only provided in the first place because the local authority has committed a good deal of money to subvent it. For people then not to pay any sort of fare may be gilding the lily a little—you are letting them off a little bit but you have already contributed a great deal in putting the service in place.

Only this morning, I was told by a bus operator at home, who operates a service along a main road between Witney, Abingdon and Wallingford, conveying several hundred people a day, that the funding for it is to come to an end in June because there is no money to support it. It is somewhat contradictory to argue that there is a need for extra funding for a part of the network to which much funding is already directed while core bus services are being taken out because there is not enough money to pay for them.

I return to what I said at the beginning: the Bill is more about funding and, more particularly, about how that funding is directed to the places that need it—we know that some of it is being misdirected—and rather less about the small amount of money that people are paying for community transport. I am all for community transport but let us not forget that we are seeking to protect the mainstream bus services.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for reminding the House of a homely truth: you cannot spend the same money twice, and that which goes in one direction may be at the cost of another service which may be more valued.

Of course, I recognise, as I am sure do the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and all noble Lords, the value of community transport services—they clearly meet areas of real need—but, like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I do not think that these amendments represent the best way forward at this stage. Providing free travel on community transport for those who cannot access mainstream bus services, as suggested by the amendment, would throw up a lot of difficult and complex practical issues. How would the ability to access be defined and assessed, and who would carry out the assessment? What would the arrangements be for appealing against such determinations?

The trouble is that the amendments do not even tell us what community transport is. It is a fairly general term widely in use in our communities but it has different interpretations and covers different people. To introduce, as the amendment would do, a full waiver of the fare for a somewhat ill defined large number of people would represent a seismic shift in community transport in this country. It is not on the margins; it would represent a significant change.

Do we know whether the community transport sector could meet the extra demand generated from such a significant change? What about the extra administrative burdens that would be placed on the sector? After all, we are not talking about government implementation here; this is a voluntary sector serving the community and it might find that very heavy burdens are placed on it—a point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. What would be the impact on existing rural bus services, and might it not damage services which are important but are operating very much on the margin of profitability and effectiveness?

I recognise that community transport as a concept is welcomed and admired in our society; nevertheless, introducing into the Bill free access to community transport would throw up a range of very difficult problems. We need to spend £1 billion, and we intend to do so, on this geographical extension of free bus travel. This amendment would add a complicating factor whose cost we would have difficulty in assessing and whose implications may not be wholly benign.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the debate has shown that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not the leader of a council but a member of one, whereas I have to grapple with the problems of community and other transport in a very large county. I do not like to go over all the problems I have on Essex County Council, but it spends £75 million a year on transport of one kind or another. We have a sophisticated process dealing with school children, special educational needs, the elderly, rural areas, buses—you name it. We are trying to get the best value out of that £75 million and therefore we are conducting a sophisticated analysis of how we can serve the county better and, we hope, spend less than £75 million a year.

Sometimes there are no rural bus services and there are not likely to be, even in a county such as Essex. Therefore, community transport is the saviour of that area. Sometimes we want to ensure that children, the elderly and people who want to get to hospitals are served by the same transport, and community transport is involved in that. Therefore, using community transport effectively is the way forward for many multi-users of transport. I am disappointed that neither the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, nor the Minister has understood what we are talking about.

I will withdraw the amendment today but I will table a further amendment for next week so that people understand what local authorities are grappling with in trying to find transport for the masses they are trying to serve. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 4:00 pm, 29th January 2007

moved Amendment No. 7:

Clause 1 , page 2, line 17, at end insert ", or

(c) that is compliant with the ITSO standard, as detailed under Crown copyright in 2004."

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, as the Bill stands, there is ambiguity about the specification of the proposed national smart card. We debated this at length in Committee and there was general agreement. The issue is how it will happen. The Bill does not specify the format that the smart card should take. That would not be a problem were it not for the fact that there is a national standard in smart-card technology, known as the ITSO standard. Detailed specifications of that were published in 2004 under the Crown copyright.

In my view, the lack of rigid specification on this matter theoretically allows the Government to deviate from the ITSO standard, which would be a senseless waste of the significant work already completed in introducing the scheme. I know that the Minister supports the implementation of smart cards of this specification and the Government have been working to develop the scheme. Formalising this intention is important in order to provide clarity to local authorities whose duty it will be to deliver the scheme on the ground. It is important that the scheme is not nationalised and that it is operated by local authorities. However, there must be some consistency in a national scheme and I believe that that is possible.

Furthermore, the Minister indicated that local authorities already have, and will continue to have, a significant input into the development of the scheme. The Minister indicated that in his letter to us a week or so ago. I applaud the recognition that local authorities have the capacity to deliver on this initiative and would like to see the amendment pressed so as to guarantee that the work continues. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, this is one of the two important issues in the Bill. In Grand Committee, the Minister said that the Government are sympathetic to the introduction of smart cards. However, I reiterate that not only are they a method by which people can buy their tickets, but, more importantly, they would be a measure of bus use. Admittedly, in this case that would relate to smart card holders only, but it is a considerable advance on what we have now and a much better way of distributing the £1 billion to which the Minister referred and the substantial sums that are paid to operators in bus-service-operator grant. That grant is paid for the mileage run rather than the passengers carried, which is the output that we are seeking to cover.

There is a tremendous risk that without the introduction of an agreed standard, individual local authorities might begin to develop smart cards themselves. Although they could be extremely successful within their areas, they may not be compatible with schemes introduced elsewhere. In the area where I come from, I am aware that the Oxford Bus Company is launching a smart card. I have no idea whether it is ITSO-compliant, but it is important that such schemes are. I point out to the Minister that while it is possible to extend the range of the cards used in London until 2010, it will then be necessary to reissue them. It would be helpful if by 2010 there was a national standard to which London, a big part of the English market, could contribute. If we have a multiplicity of small schemes, not only will the bus companies and local authorities spend more money introducing them, but the schemes will have to be amended later on.

We want to see momentum stepped up to get a fully fledged national scheme based on smart cards. There may be some problems; I am aware that there is a need for up-front investment by operators to have machines which read smart cards on buses and to have the back-office facilities to take the information off the machines and use it. I would like to hear what the Government are going to do about smart cards because it is tempting to table an amendment at Third Reading setting a timescale for an ITSO-compliant smart card. Perhaps the Minister has some good news for us and will tell us that we need not bother because he has information that will cheer us on our way.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, nothing would please me more than to bring cheering news to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and, indeed, to the House about smart cards. I shall in one respect because we entirely support the motivation and aims of this amendment, which is seeking to ensure the faster and wider spread of smart ticketing, an issue we discussed extensively in Committee. I hope that I indicated that the Government are committed to that objective. Where we differ is that we do not think we need an amendment to the Bill.

The department has already done a great deal to promote the use of smart ticketing. It sponsored the ITSO standard and is already working with local authorities in various parts of the country to develop projects using it. We are supporting the migration of three legacy schemes, introduced before the development of ITSO, so that they comply with it. Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and Southampton's migration schemes are expected to be completed in the next 12 months, and they will join the ITSO standard. We are also working with other local authorities developing ITSO pilot schemes in their areas. For example, the NoWcard scheme in Cumbria and Lancashire, and the Yorcard pilot in South Yorkshire. The department is also working with TfL and ATOC to agree the implementation of ITSO in London.

Our work is not confined to smart ticketing on buses; it extends to the national rail network. The south western franchise, of which there has been some criticism in the House recently, includes a commitment to implement ITSO smart cards across the network by January 2009. The East Midlands and West Midlands rail franchises also include a requirement to provide ITSO-compliant ticketing by 2010. That is clear evidence and proof of our considerable commitment to the use of smart cards and to their effective and rapid development. I repeat what I said in Committee: I do not believe that the issue should appear through amendment to the Bill. Clause 1(5) makes provision for the specification of the permit in regulations. These regulations could—and I have no doubt that the tenor in the House is that we hope that they will—permit an ITSO-compliant smart card in due course when the necessary arrangements are in place.

The amendment as drafted does not actually require the permit to be in smart card form, but allows local authorities to offer ITSO-compliant smart cards as an alternative to permits being in such form as local authorities wish, subject to regulations stipulating form and duration made by the Secretary of State. The option to offer cards in ITSO-compliant form is already available to local authorities, so in an obvious sense this amendment does not add anything to what we already have and are doing. The amendment has the unfortunate effect of taking away the current guarantee that the appearance and function of cards, including ITSO compliance, will be uniform, which is what we are working towards.

Under current provisions, the Secretary of State can ensure that permits issued by local authorities both outside and within London are in a form which he stipulates. This can cover a unified appearance and ITSO compliance. This power to unify is undermined if an option is offered to local authorities instead simply to offer ITSO-compliant cards of whatever appearance, and regardless of any regulations issued by the Secretary of State.

So we think that we are better placed with the legislation as it stands to reach the objectives which we all share and that we have done the work to show that we are going about this in earnest. I hope that noble Lords are reassured by that response.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that we are all agreed about where we want to get and that we could have something in the legislation to ensure that that happens. There are all sorts of things in legislation that we on these Benches do not support. The Minister went on to talk about the wording of the amendment. Clearly, one wants to look at that. As we are all agreed about this, perhaps we can come up with something in the legislation to ensure that it ultimately happens. We are agreed that we want a national scheme, and obviously that may take time, but we want local authorities to implement it along the lines of the ITSO regulations. I will look at the wording again before next week. If the Minister has anything to add before next week perhaps he could contact us. We are all agreed on the matter, it is just a question of how we get there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 8:

After Clause 3 , insert the following new Clause—

"Reimbursement of travel concession authorities

After section 149 of the 2000 Act insert—

"149A Reimbursement of travel concession authorities

(1) Where a travel concession authority has responsibility for the administration of mandatory travel concessions under section 145A, including the administration and issuing of permits under section 145A(4) and the reimbursement of operators under section 149, the Secretary of State shall reimburse the authority the full costs of administering mandatory travel concessions by means of a direct annual revenue grant.

(2) The Secretary of State shall reserve an agreed proportion of the funding allocated to the mandatory travel concession scheme to provide a contingency fund.

(3) A contingency fund under subsection (2) shall be used to reimburse any travel concession authority for all unforeseen capital and set up costs incurred by that authority in introducing a scheme to comply with this section.""

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, in this amendment, I return to the question of costs. I know that we spent a certain amount of time on this in Grand Committee. I hope that the intervening period has given the noble Lord a chance to consider some of the points raised.

The first question at issue was whether the government have allowed enough money in total to fund the concessionary fares scheme. I accept that it is notoriously difficult to make precise estimates of how much a scheme like this will cost. We have evidence from the introduction of the scheme in Scotland and Wales and also when the full fare scheme was brought in locally. We know that the tendency always was to underestimate the costs. That is not intended as a criticism of anyone, but we need to take it into account that all the evidence is that the take-up of concessionary passes has always exceeded expectations. The use of the fares and the use of the buses have always exceeded the estimates, and operators costs were always higher than planned. Therefore, it seems important that we have more of an understanding of how the Government will keep these costs under review so that local authorities receive the right amount of money for the scheme.

The second set of problems is rather more intractable. I hope that the noble Lord has had some time to think about them because the difficulties faced by individual councils can be quite profound. That is fundamentally because of the Government's decision to link the funding of the concessionary fares scheme with the overall local government financial settlement. Funding is related to all sorts of strange demographic equations and the complexities of local government finance but is not linked to how many people are actually using the buses. That will cause difficulties for certain councils. Some authorities will receive much less money than they need. That may be because their eligible population is higher than the average that has been allowed for, or it may be because they have more bus-friendly policies, which have created a higher than average demand.

We discussed the issue of honeypot authorities. I referred to Blackpool, but the noble Lord was rather damning in his assessment of Blackpool as a honeypot. Nevertheless, pensioners will want to visit areas such as Blackpool and to use these cards. Therefore, that local authority, which is not particularly well-off, will have to meet higher costs. In that sense, certain local authorities are going to have difficulties.

However, the most intractable problem is the way in which the rollercoaster of local government finance has left some councils with, in effect, a cap on how much money they can receive from central government in grant in any form at all. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who I am sure will intervene on this, that government departments can tell us as much as they like how much money they are putting into Essex but Essex is in effect capped in terms of how much it can get from central government. The danger in this scheme is that, although there might be a theoretical amount of money coming in, it will not amount to anything in practice.

The real problem for local authorities is that, if there is a shortfall in this scheme, where will they get the money? Most of them will not want to put up the council tax to meet these costs and some will not be able to because they will be capped. They can have a look at other areas of spending, but they cannot touch education because that is ring-fenced and the social care budget is under huge pressure. What is likely to happen is that, if there is a shortfall in this scheme, local authorities will go back to their transport revenue budget and make their savings there. The biggest single item of spending in those budgets is buses. Therefore, the chances are that we will see a reduction in bus services. Consequently, pensioners will have free fares on buses that do not exist. That is what happened in Tyne and Wear last year, and we do not want to see that situation replicated across the country.

In Grand Committee, the Minister said that he could not provide a blueprint for dealing with this issue. I am sure that that is right and that the House would not expect a detailed, blow-by-blow discussion of exactly how this will be done. However, I think that the House and local government need a bit more assurance that the Government have understood how difficult this is going to be for local authorities and have ensured that mechanisms are in place to deal with this.

It struck me on re-reading the Second Reading debate that a similar question arose about how these concessionary fares are to be refunded along the borders with Wales and Scotland. That was another area on which the Minister said, "Well, it will all happen in the fullness of time". We do not expect everything to be worked out in finite detail, but neither can we accept the "Trust me, I'm a politician" reply that everything will all right if we only have faith. I do hope that the Minister will take the opportunity simply to put a little more flesh on the bones and say how these difficult issues will be resolved. Local authorities are currently putting their budgets together for next year, and several of them have been in touch with me to say that this area is causing them some difficulty. The authorities that will be the beneficiaries tend to keep quiet; that is in the nature of these things. We hear from the authorities that are in trouble. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 4:15 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, I support the amendment. We had an extensive debate on this in Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has referred to my local authority again today. There are basically three settlements now in local government. It is nice to know how much money you will get for three years, but a lot of new legislation is introduced in those three years. The Government do not stand still for three years. The amount of money that local authorities will receive for three years is announced, and it is all floors and ceilings and all very technical. My authority is on a floor, as are the local authorities of 15 other counties, and will receive only 2.7 per cent. The Government may bring in new legislation and say that money is available, but that money does not get through to those authorities at all. The authorities must cope with the same amount of money that they have received for three years, plus 2.7 per cent, under not only this legislation but all other legislation that is introduced in that time. This varies a little—as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, there are demographic changes—but the true effect of this money does not come through. There will be another Comprehensive Spending Review and another resetting of things for the next three years, but I do not know whether things will be any better. Indeed, I suspect that they will be even worse than they are now.

I do not normally support specific grants or ring-fenced money but, as the noble Baroness said, under legislation such as this, the money must go to where the expenditure happens. As I said in response to another amendment, we spend £75 million altogether on transport in Essex. That money subsidises buses, community transport, school buses—you name it. We try to get best value by seeing how we can use the money to get a better service and how we might introduce some of the other things that we talked about today, such as helping disabled people use facilities. If we are never going to get any extra money—we are not likely to get any more, the way things are going—bringing in this new legislation will not help us.

There must be some way, not only in this legislation but in others, of getting the money that Ministers announce. When you ask Ministers about that, they do not know. I hope the Minister knew before we told him the last time that some authorities do not receive any extra money. Ministers may think that they have put £200 million or £500 million into a pot, but none of that materialises for many of us. Ministers look at you as though you are daft, but it is true; we do not receive that money, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has said. We must find some way of delivering the money if this legislation is to be fair. We all support this; we all want to make it work. We even want local authorities to have some of the discretionary things that we have talked about today—I know I do in Essex—but we must at least have a little of this money to be able to do that. I therefore hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points that we made in Committee so that the money actually goes to local authorities that need it to provide this service.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for contributing to the debate. I must roundly disabuse the noble Baroness of the notion that I cowered at the idea of Blackpool as a honeypot. This busy bee has been there quite often, so I would not dream of suggesting that Blackpool did not have singular and attractive features. I would not be rash enough to engage in a great deal of detail—or principle, for that matter—with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, or the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about local government finance, as I am all too aware that they know a great deal more about the difficulties in that area than I do. I reassure them both that the Government heartily subscribe to their sentiment that local authorities should be adequately funded by central government for the costs of administering this mandatory concession. We intend to fund fully the new statutory burden. That is why the money was quoted in the Budget Statement and why we have clear figures for each of the next three years for how much it will cost and how much will need to go to local authorities.

The reason why we are not including money in the Bill is that we recognise that circumstances change. Flexibility needs to be built into legislation, otherwise we would never be able to effect improvements except through continual changes to primary legislation. The nature of concessionary travel is that there will be improvements as time goes on, when resources allow. The noble Lord, Lord Low, was fertile this afternoon with areas in which he thought that for what he regarded as quite marginal costs, improvements can be effected. It would not help at all if we had a rigid framework of resources in the Bill.

I hesitate to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, this question—he may well answer me and take me down paths that I shall not follow very far—but is he actually saying that the solution to this is a hypothecated grant or a specific grant? I have the greatest sympathy with him; I am all too well aware of the difficulties that local authorities face—and I am delighted to give way to him.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I think that, in this case, I am saying that. I repeat that I am not normally in favour of that, but we want to see the benefits of the Bill and that is probably the only way to do that. Will the Minister comment further?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. That is not a representation that we have been receiving widely on the issue. In fact, we are still working on the premise that the last thing that local authorities want is to be tied down by hypothecated funding schemes. Concessionary fares are an important issue and I am delighted that the noble Lord is treating them with the great seriousness that he is. As he said, this is only a part of even his overall transport budget, let alone of the total expenditure of his local authority and the obligations that it must meet. I am surprised that he is arguing that the Bill should introduce a hypothecated fund.

I hear what the noble Lord says. I must say that issues of local government finance are rather wide of my immediate brief, but the Government do not share that perspective, nor are the present discussions on settlements premised on the assumption that the legislation should have a hypothecated element. The noble Lord will forgive me if I am slightly leery of that argument. The Secretary of State anyway has the power to fund local authority concessionary fares via direct grant if he wishes. If a local authority puts up a case that shows how it can constructively extend the scheme and persuades the Secretary of State of its virtues, that power exists. It would be inappropriate to require in the Bill the use of a funding mechanism in perpetuity in circumstances where we have not discussed the matter with any of the organisations that we consulted on the Bill.

Photo of Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Transport, Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I repeat what both I and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said: it is important that the money goes where the expenditure is. Some way must be found to do that. It would be nonsense to make a request to the Secretary of State for expenditure. We must find a way of delivering the scheme that ensures that the money does not go into a big black hole and disappear but goes where the extra expenditure will take place. I do not think that that is impossible to do. I am sure that the noble Baroness and I can talk to our colleagues in the LGA, and so on, to make certain that they back that approach. There must be a new approach, otherwise the whole system will collapse. I am sorry to be difficult.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I point out that while the Minister tells us that expenditure in Essex is very large and that the authority spends £75 million, many transport authorities on which the Bill will bear heavily are very small, with overall budgets a good deal less than Essex's transport budget. He must understand the pain being suffered by those authorities. I hope that he can say something a bit more encouraging.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 4:30 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, it is ever my bent to be encouraging. I am merely indicating that I am not going to have this provision in the Bill because I do not think it is the solution. What I will be encouraging about is this. The Department for Communities and Local Government settlement working group will shortly start discussions with local authorities on the formula grant system and the provision of funding to local authorities over the next few years. Consideration of the funding of the new national bus concession will be taken forward as part of that forum. So there is already a framework for the discussions on which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is pressing me. But I hear what he says, as will the members of the Government taking part in that exercise. They will be all too well aware of the strong representations made in our debates on the Bill.

I am not convinced that the Bill should be changed to take account of these particular problems. Subsection (2) of the noble Lord's proposed new clause specifies that a contingency fund will be set up. The extra funding for the national bus concession, up to £250 million a year, already includes an adequate contingency. We are confident that the extra funding we have earmarked is sufficient to cover the total extra costs to local authorities. We are also sensitive to the issue of set-up costs, and the department is working on that in dialogue with the concessionary fares working group. While I recognise the difficulties, what I think the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is seeking to do is to recast a significant concept of local government finance within the framework of the Bill. There are virtues in the points he has made, but there are other fora in which those have to be deliberated upon and resolved.

Reference has been made to Wales during our debate. The current approach whereby local authorities pass on the full costs of their schemes to the Welsh Assembly Government is leading to some very substantial additional costs, and those costs have been increasing every year. In an obvious sense, the Assembly is underwriting all negotiations and all costs being produced by the schemes. We maintain that that is not a good basis on which to ask local authorities to act in developing these schemes. We need to make sure that public funds are spent wisely and, quite straightforwardly, we want an incentive for local authorities to reimburse their costs effectively and by a fair amount. We also want the right of appeal for operators who believe they have been disadvantaged. We have a system where we think the moneys being provided by the taxpayer will be used fairly by operators and taxpayers alike and we are wary of an open-ended position. I am sure noble Lords will recognise the significance of that in the context of the much greater costs in England than obtain in Wales.

I recognise the importance of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. This Bill is not the basis for recasting the whole of local government expenditure. We believe that it provides and guarantees a structure within which the resources to which both the Chancellor and the Government are committed for each of the next three years are sufficient to meet the costs of the scheme. They are built into the forward projections on national expenditure. I hope it will be recognised that it would be inappropriate to change the Bill for a concept of local government finance which is still wide open to substantial debate. Indeed, it is not a debate into which we have entered with our partners in quite the way envisaged by the amendment. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

I thank all noble Lords who have supported the amendment.

There is an issue here in how the Government regard their relationship with local government. We are moving from the historical position where free bus fares were a concession given by local authorities, to a national scheme. If we were starting from first principles and the Government were introducing a concession, I have no doubt that the Government would bring in a national scheme and that local authorities would have almost nothing to do with it. But we are at an intermediate point. As a result of this legislation, local authorities will simply be the administrators of a national scheme. They will retain discretionary powers to extend the scheme in certain ways if they wish, and it is right that they should pay the costs when they exercise that power; but in situations such as this where local authorities are required to implement legislation introduced by central government, central government should find the means of enabling local authorities to meet the costs.

It may not be necessary for the Bill to specify minute details of the financial settlement, but the House should consider whether implementation of the legislation will be properly funded and whether local councils can meet its intentions. There are severe doubts whether that is the case.

It is interesting that on such occasions we hear from Ministers arguments about why we should not have a specific ring-fenced grant, and yet local authorities are completely tied up with all kinds of specific grants from all sorts of sources. I wonder why the Government are so resistant in this case when in other instances such grants are usually their first port of call. I would have more respect for the non-specific grant route if the Government had the courage of their convictions and allowed local authorities to spend their money as they wished in every other sense. In fact, local councils would not be in this position if they had more freedom. But they do not, and because they have so little flexibility in their financial dealings, it is difficult for them to manage when a scheme such as this is brought in.

The Minister has not answered the question of what will happen if local authorities face a significant funding shortfall for this scheme. On quantum, the Government may allow the right amount, but if you are local authority X and facing a huge shortfall, the fact that local authority Y next door has made money from the scheme is of very little benefit. There has to be a mechanism that links the provision of the grant with expenditure. That is not unreasonable and brings me back to the question of the use of a specific grant. I hope the Minister will give a little more thought to this issue. Simply saying that a DCLG working group will look at the formula grant system and come back in, say, two years' time with a convoluted formula which may tangentially touch on the question of concessionary fares will not help the local authorities that have to fund the legislation from April.

When the noble Lord referred to the problem in Wales, he highlighted the kind of situation we can already see coming down the track. The bill to the National Assembly is increasing not because local councils are doing anything wrong but simply because the scheme is so successful. It has to be funded by someone, either the authorities or government, and we are seeking clarification on who will pay.

I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage, but we will have to return to the matter at Third Reading because I do not think that local government will be happy with the responses received today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, she is certainly aware of the guidance in the House that major points of principle should be decided before the end of Report stage.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the noble Lord. We gave notice to the Government that we expected to have a reply today that would satisfy us, and that if we did not, we would press the matter at Third Reading. That has been accepted by the Government Chief Whip. We have been extremely quick in handling this Bill, mindful of the pressures of time on the House. In this case, we have gone to great lengths to ensure that the time of the House is used to best advantage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [The national concession: journeys beginning on London bus network]:

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 9:

Clause 4, page 3, line 34, at end insert—

"( ) In subsection (1) for "subsection (3) below" substitute "subsections (1A) and (3) below."

( ) After subsection (1) insert—

"(1A) The London Authorities shall enter into arrangements with Transport for London under subsection (1) above in respect of journeys falling within section 242(2) below.""

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, I return to the effect of the Bill on London. The Minister will recall that I raised the issue of the London reserve scheme in Committee on 8 January. I sought to raise it on behalf of London Councils, the representative body of the 33 local authorities. With Amendment No. 9 and those grouped with it, I am returning to the subject today.

Briefly, the statutory requirement for concessionary fares in London differs from that for the rest of England. Uniquely in London, the powers for local authorities to negotiate concessionary fares are underpinned by a reserve scheme, should the local authorities fail to reach agreement with Transport for London by 31 December each year for the following financial year. If a reserve scheme were invoked, Transport for London would determine the cost of the scheme. We have to bear in mind that Transport for London is the bus operator. London boroughs are therefore at a disadvantage when negotiating with Transport for London. In no other part of the country does the bus provider have so much power. In effect, Transport for London is able to call the shots, when elsewhere in the country concessionary fare schemes are determined by local authorities, subject to appeal to the Secretary of State.

With the national concession on buses provided for in the Bill, there does not seem to be a need for elaborate special legislation for a reserve scheme in London, which takes up a whole schedule to the Greater London Authority Act. With these amendments we seek to take away that reserve scheme; we are simply saying that rollover would apply at 31 December each year if an agreement had not been reached between Transport for London and the London local authorities. I want to point out that London local authorities negotiate collectively for the concessionary travel scheme, and they now have a system that if two-thirds of the authorities agree, the agreement is binding on the remainder of the authorities.

A rollover would apply after 31 December each year, with an appeal to the Secretary of State if there was not agreement. That is not at all different from the rest of the country. The Minister will know that if a bus operator is not satisfied with the settlement, he may appeal to the Secretary of State.

The Local Government Act 1985 is the origin of the reserve scheme. The scheme has never been used, but it is still in statute. The objection is that it allows the operator to set the price for travel if he invokes the reserve scheme, without recourse to appeal to anyone. It is therefore objectionable on those grounds alone. The reserve scheme does not protect against a policy change, so if the London boroughs decided that people were only going to get half their travel in future, it would not protect them against that. However, the reserve scheme generally is thoroughly objectionable. It ought to be got rid of, and that is what these amendments seek to do.

I understand that there is some publicity from the mayor today, saying that this would put the whole of free travel in London in jeopardy. That is a view with which I most profoundly disagree. There is every likelihood that the authorities will continue to negotiate in favour of the scheme. I am trying to draw the Minister's attention to the existence of the reserve scheme which I believe puts too much power in the hands of the providers of the transport service. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 4:45 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for pressing a point on which he elaborated in Committee. I recognise the importance of his representation on this matter. He quoted the Mayor of London's press release and comments today and said how much he disagreed. He will not mind my saying that I will pray in aid the fact that the Mayor of London, who has some responsibility to Londoners, thinks that this is an important weapon in his armoury with regard to guarantees for Londoners. We agree with him because the purpose of the scheme is to guarantee concessionary travel in London in situations where there is no agreement among the London boroughs or between the boroughs and TfL. Amendment No. 9 seeks to alter Section 240 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to replace what is currently a voluntary ability for London boroughs and TfL to enter into arrangements to provide travel concessions with a compulsory obligation to enter into these arrangements. That is a pretty significant change, and I am not surprised that it has caught the attention of the Mayor of London.

I recognise that arrangements for concessionary travel are different in the capital. The 1999 Act secures that the boroughs are able to agree schemes voluntarily with TfL. These voluntary arrangements are underpinned by a safety net—the reserve scheme, which the noble Lord says is unnecessary. If the voluntary arrangements do not meet certain minimum requirements, the reserve scheme is triggered. This has been successful in the past; it has delivered uninterrupted concessionary travel in the capital these past eight years and there would have to be some very strong arguments for removing it.

There is a problem with the noble Lord's contention. The ability to enter into arrangements implies that both parties do so voluntarily and by agreement, but the amendment says that the parties have to agree. How do you force parties to agree? That interesting little exercise has caused great minds to think throughout the course of industrial relations in this country. How does the noble Lord think that this would occur in London?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I wonder, in view of his comments, whether the Minister is aware that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which his Government are putting through, puts a statutory duty of co-operation between local authorities and the health service.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, a statutory duty of co-operation is different from an agreement about a scheme. Against a background where we know there are grounds for disagreement, the amendment says "By law, you will agree". There are difficulties with this concept.

I recognise the strength of the noble Lord's contention. He has undoubted support outside, and there is no doubt that the London boroughs are concerned about the fact that in circumstances in which agreement is not achieved, they are effectively faced with a fait accompli. But the Bill subscribes to the greater cause; it wants to see co-operation and agreement where that can be achieved. The structure in place under the Greater London Authority Act, with which the Bill does not interfere, guarantees that that process can take place. But if that fails, the reserve power has the supreme virtue of reaching the end position to which all of us who have contributed to debates on this Bill have subscribed—namely, that concessionary fares and the geographical extent of them is an excellent concept. Of course, we all applaud the fact that London has been very much in the van of all this work.

I hear what the noble Lord has said but I am not persuaded. I recognise the interests that he represents, and it would be far from me to do anything other than respect those interests. But there is a difficulty with regard to the amendment, and on this occasion I have not the slightest hesitation in siding with the Mayor of London in saying that he needs the reserve power to guarantee that concessionary fares obtain in the capital. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that that is the Government's position on this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Reserve free travel scheme]:

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 13 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [The London free travel scheme]:

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Requirements as to scope]:

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 15:

Clause 6, page 5, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) After subsection (1) insert—

"(1A) Paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1) above are not to be taken as restricting the concessions that may be provided to eligible London residents on the London bus network by virtue of paragraph (a) of that subsection.""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 18:

Clause 6, page 5, line 24, leave out "bus (in one direction)" and insert "public service vehicle (in one direction); and for this purpose "public service vehicle" has the meaning given by section 1 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Requirements as to uniformity]:

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendments Nos. 21 to 23:

Clause 7, page 5, line 33, after "issued" insert "to the person"

Clause 7, page 5, line 36, after "issued" insert "to the person"

Clause 7, page 5, line 38, leave out "after "in any form" insert "(subject" and insert "for "document in any form" substitute "permit in any form (subject"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 9 [Variation of reimbursement and other administrative arrangements]:

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendment No. 24:

Clause 9, page 7, leave out lines 11 to 18 and insert—

"(b) altering the provisions about appeals by operators in connection with reimbursement (for example, by altering who is to hear the appeals, the functions of the person or body hearing the appeals or the circumstances in which appeals may be brought); (c) for establishing a body to hear the appeals; (d) imposing requirements as to consultation; (e) repealing section 145A(9) to (11) of the 2000 Act; (f) conferring on the Secretary of State power to make regulations— (i) for any purpose corresponding or similar to any purpose for which regulations may be made by the Secretary of State under sections 149(3) and 150(6) and (7) of the 2000 Act (as those provisions have effect immediately before the coming into force of this section); (ii) about any matter ancillary to the reimbursement of, and appeals by, operators (for example, how to claim reimbursement).

(3A) Any power to make regulations conferred by virtue of subsection (3)(f) must be exercisable by statutory instrument which must be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

moved Amendment No. 25:

After Clause 9 , insert the following new Clause—

"Appeals

For section 150(4) of the 2000 Act substitute—

"(4) An application under subsection (3) shall be made by notice in writing given not later than 56 days after the date on which the arrangements, or the variations, come into operation.

(4A) The Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the Welsh Ministers (in relation to Wales) shall determine the outcome of any such application not later than 120 days after the date on which the application was made.""

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, this is the last substantial amendment that we shall deal with today. There has been a great deal of disquiet over the period of 28 days within which operators who are dissatisfied with the agreement that they have reached with the local authority must notify the Secretary of State of their intention to appeal. That period is far too short; it almost means that people have to put the appeal in without any experience whatever of what is happening on the ground. I should have thought that it was reasonable to extend the period to at least 56 days so that there is a reasonable opportunity for a month of experience before an appeal is submitted. Of the appeals made already, a great many were withdrawn after they had been put in by operators who had no option but to put in an appeal as a sort of longstop until some experience was gained. I have tabled a short amendment and hope that the Minister will reply in the affirmative. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who recognised some of the reservations that the Government had in Committee on an amendment that insisted that the period be 28 days. The noble Lord now suggests 56 days, which is certainly a more reasonable approach. However, I am as yet not convinced by the virtues of that proposal.

I have more grievous worries about the second part of the amendment. The deadline of 120 days for determining appeals would be very difficult to operate in practice. Putting the deadline in the Bill would make it a completely fixed and possibly unhelpful feature, which would require primary legislation to change if we ran into real difficulties meeting it. The deadline would certainly guarantee quicker justice. I recognise that justice delayed is justice denied, but faster justice may not result in better decisions. Experience has shown that the time it takes to determine an appeal is largely dependent on the quality and transparency of the evidence provided by both parties. We have not had particularly good examples of that. The noble Lord will recognise that we are still working through early days of appeals, so we are bound to have reservations about the 120 days within which a determination would need to be in force. If the Secretary of State were forced to determine appeals within a specific deadline irrespective of the quality of the evidence available, poorer decisions might be arrived at.

The noble Lord is right that the Secretary of State ought to determine appeals in the shortest time possible. However, I am not quite sure what would happen if he failed to meet the 120-day deadline. What if the operator wanted to defer an appeal to try to reach a local solution through further negotiations? If the rigid 120-day period were in place, it would inhibit such a development. Appeals need to be considered fairly and consistently, which sometimes takes time. I have real reservations about the measure.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, what advice does the Minister offer to local authorities with appeals in abeyance that have been on the books for some time? In many cases, in the large PTE areas, they amount to several millions of pounds. They are currently setting their budgets, which is very difficult if there is an open-ended appeal process. Will the Minister comment on their situation?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I recognise the force of that point, and the tabling of the amendment in Committee and today provides the opportunity to voice that justified grievance. Although I accept that that puts an incubus on the determination of the appeal in a reasonable time, a 120-day deadline might well result in an unjust decision.

On the 56 days, I recognise that the noble Lord sought to meet the objections that I had in Committee. In any appeal system there needs to be an appropriate balance between the needs of the operators and those of the local authority. I am not at all sure that 56 days meets that requirement. Under current arrangements, local authorities are obliged to notify operators of new reimbursement arrangements some four months in advance of their coming into force. That gives operators sufficient time to make authorities aware of any concerns about a proposed scheme. To negotiate an appeal no later than 28 days after the arrangements come into force seems an appropriate last resort—which is what it is—if negotiations break down.

I know that the noble Lord feels very strongly that 28 days is too short. If he were prepared to withdraw the amendment today, I would be prepared to consider this further and meet him to see whether we can get a meeting of minds on the appropriate time. But largely because of my reservations about the second part of the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw it today.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport 5:00 pm, 29th January 2007

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said. I will certainly be very happy to meet him. I draw his attention to the fact that negotiations over reimbursement tend to take place over time. I know that some negotiations for this year's settlement continued even after the new scheme had started to operate. Although local authorities should give notice four months in advance, they notified the operator of an unsatisfactory settlement some time in advance and negotiations continued. I am talking about 56 days from the point at which the operator knows what it will get. It is not a long time, and I would be grateful if the Minister made a concession in that direction. Meanwhile, I shall take the opportunity to reflect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

moved Amendments Nos. 27 and 28:

Schedule 2, page 14, line 33, after "Part 2)" insert—

"(a)"

Schedule 2, page 14, line 34, at end insert—

"(b) insert at the appropriate place—

""London authority" has the meaning given in section 146,"."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Repeals and revocations]:

[Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 not moved.]