With this we may take the following amendments: No. 7, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—
`(8) The appropriate Minister shall publish each year at the time of the Revenue Support Grant Sub-committee the proportion of the Revenue Support Grant for each local authority being allocated to meet the costs of the concessionary fares scheme.'.
No. 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
`(6) The appropriate Minister shall consult local authorities over the methodology for compensating local authorities for the cost of the scheme and shall also consult further if there is to be any change in such methodology.'.
No. 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
`(7) The appropriate Minister shall ensure that the methodology for compensating local authorities for expenditure under subsections (1) to (4) above is published.'.
No. 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, at end insert—
(c) not be made until there is agreement with the relevant local government associations concerning the funding provision for the scheme in the annual Revenue Support Grant negotiations.'.
I have great pleasure in speaking to the four amendments that I have tabled, which form a logical set that is clear and straightforward. I hope that the Government will be able to accept them or, if not, that they will provide clear answers about how local authorities can be fully reimbursed for the costs of the travel concession scheme under the Bill.
In the past, there has been too much of a pattern of placing additional duties and burdens on local authorities without their being fully reimbursed for those obligations. I hope that the Committee will not impose another burden on local authorities. I emphasise that we welcome what is being done, but I want local authorities to be reimbursed.
``publish each year a breakdown of the cost of travel concession schemes by local authority area.''
That is pretty straightforward. We want to know what the scheme is costing each local authority area. Once that has been done, we want the Minister to publish each year when the revenue support grant is announced the proportion of revenue support grant for each local authority being allocated to meet the costs of the scheme. We want to know what cost each local authority has incurred and what amount the Government have reimbursed to them. That will enable us to see clearly whether each local authority has been fully reimbursed.
Next, we want the Minister in question to consult local authorities about the methodology for compensating them when there is a shortfall or surplus and we want to ensure that the methodology is correct. Finally, we want the Minister to ensure that the methodology fully compensates local authorities. On the face of it, that is a pretty straightforward request. We know, just for the record, that bus companies are to be fully reimbursed. The amendments in no way touch on that matter. The amendments are concerned purely with how the Government will reimburse local authorities.
The Government already spend £571 million on concessionary schemes of one form or another under the Transport Act 1985. The measure will cost the Government about £50 million. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the original calculation was for about £47 million. The Bill will affect 1 million men aged 60 to 64 who cannot use the concession scheme at present. Of those 1 million men, it is calculated that 147,000 are still at work, of whom 10 per cent. are in the disabled category. There are probably 127,000 men who travel regularly to work, which is particularly important for some local authorities.
The Bill will place an extra burden on authorities that deal with large numbers of commuters. I mentioned the matter on Second Reading, but I do not think that we received a full reply from the Minister. We need to cover the so-called generation factor in our discussion of the amendments. It is easy to calculate for retired people and disabled people who have a normal weekly journey pattern, but it may be less easy to calculate the effect of the Bill on local authorities dealing with large numbers of commuters.
I hope that we can deal with the matter in more detail. The Minister brushed us aside by saying that we should not worry because the Bill applied to people travelling between the hours of 9.30 am and 11 pm only and most eligible people who work will travel before 9.30 am. I doubt that that is the case. I suspect that because of flexi-working and because people aged 60 or more are likely to work either in senior positions or part-time jobs, they will travel outside peak hours, particularly in the morning. The so-called generation factor will therefore affect certain local authorities, because people will be encouraged to travel more once the concessions have been implemented and will perhaps travel into work more than they would otherwise have done. That issue must be dealt with.
The issue of London and reimbursement is a core matter. Approximately half the London boroughs run a 100 per cent. concessionary scheme for all eligible people travelling on the London underground, docklands light railway, London Transport buses and the Croydon tram link. Under the Bill, the boroughs will be eligible for concessionary reimbursement from the Government of only 50 per cent. The boroughs are faced with a considerable problem. Either they will have to offer men aged 60 to 64 a half-price scheme and everyone aged more than 65 a full-price scheme, or they will have to pay the difference out of their own pockets.
The Government need to tell us clearly how the London boroughs will be reimbursed, if they will, because it would contravene the spirit of the Bill if men aged 60 to 64 were still allowed only a half-price concession whereas women in that age group were allowed a full-price concession. Under those circumstances I would not be surprised if a man who felt disadvantaged could go back to the European Court of Human Rights and win his case, necessitating another Bill. The Government must concentrate seriously on that area and give us some answers.
Following the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument—with which, incidentally, I entirely agree—does he accept that the Government's decision on the Bill has wide ramifications for any form of concession? In 1990, the House of Lords made a ruling relating to Eastleigh borough council that stated that the use of pensionable age as a basis for determining concessions would be against the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government must be clear today about how they understand the implications of the Bill and say whether they understand it to relate to a wide range of concessions, not only in London but elsewhere?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I was about to mention some of the other schemes, in Birmingham and elsewhere, through which people are already disadvantaged. I hark back to what the noble Lord Falconer said on Third Reading in another place, which I hope that the Ministers will repeat today. He said that no concessionary scheme operated anywhere, by any local authority, would be eliminated or reduced. It would be a terrible indictment of the Committee if any of these schemes, which are aimed at helping some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, were curtailed as a result of the Bill.
No one could argue that it would be wrong for the Minister to publish the local authority costs, but we should address how that would relate to the revenue support grant. If a local authority is out of pocket, we should be told how that has arisen and what the Government will do about it. An assurance from the Minister today that, if a local authority is out of pocket, it will subsequently be reimbursed, would go a long way to reassuring local authorities, the Association of London Government and other local authority bodies that they have nothing to fear from the Bill. Otherwise, some local authorities will be doing some figures and burning a lot of midnight oil to decide what they will do about it.
My hon. Friend refers to extra costs. Does he agree that to some extent the situation in his constituency and mine will be open ended because of the extra concessions that local authorities will be allowed to provide, which will be discretionary. If they do not provide those extra concessions in our areas—they cannot provide help when there are no bus services—will not the cost be open ended and does that not reinforce the need for the amendment?
The Bill has a number of shortcomings, not least given the paucity of buses in rural areas and the fact that the schemes cannot cross local authority boundaries.
I cite an example of why the Bill will make it difficult for authorities such as my hon. Friend's and mine. Let us imagine someone travelling from Inverness to Ullapool, which is a distance of 100 or more miles—although that journey is used only as an example, because the Bill has a different effect in Scotland. If that distance were covered in England, one would get a half-price ticket. A long journey within one local authority area is no problem, but if one of my constituents travels from Mickleton in the north of my constituency to Evesham, which is six miles away, he crosses a local authority boundary.
Unless the local authorities pay out of their own pocket without being reimbursed by the Government, that will not be covered by the Bill. That is a good, practical example. It is far easier for someone living in Mickleton to shop in Evesham than Cirencester, which is some 25 miles away. The journey from Mickleton to Cirencester would be more expensive for the Government, but it lies within one local authority area so the concession could be provided.
The Government need to think carefully about the cross-boundary issue and about long distance journeys. I suspect that eventually there will be one national concessionary scheme for all pensioners, although it may not happen in this Bill. It may, in fact, be some years away and not under consideration at the moment.
The one national concessionary scheme for all pensioners may sound attractive to those for whom there are lots of bus services, but it would be no earthly good to those for whom there are none.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. I have been talking about that with regard to constituencies in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury and I represent the most rural of all the constituencies represented on the Committee. There is a particular problem in rural areas. The Government recognise that in various White Papers and they will be using separate mechanisms to deal with that issue. It may not be strictly appropriate for the Bill to tackle the paucity of bus services, although if there are no bus services, there are no bus services on which to promote concessionary schemes.
Amendment No. 6 would provide for each local authority's costs to be published. Amendment No. 7 would provide that the Government published what they had given to local authorities. Amendment No. 4 would deal with how the Government worked out the methodology for distributing grants to each local authority, and this is where I run into a problem. As a chartered surveyor—a declaration that is in the Register of Members' Interests—I know something about that. I know that the Government, to their credit, have taken steps to simplify the SSA methodology. Formerly it contained some 100 elements, including some highly complicated mathematics that dealt with regression analysis. The methodology is still complicated and not transparent, and I am certain that, for some of the reasons to which I have alluded, it will give rise to considerable anomalies for some local authorities.
The Government are not prepared to alter the SSA methodology for at least two years, although they are considering it. The constituencies that my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury and I represent do not get the area cost adjustment and our local authority in Gloucestershire suffers considerably compared with neighbouring local authorities in terms of the amount of money that our schools receive. It would be especially unfortunate if the Bill added to that anomaly and I hope that the Government will not simply rely on the existing methodology to distribute the money under the Bill, but will consider carefully how anomalies arise and how they can quickly be put right.
I want the Government to tell us why they must distribute the money in that way at all. In London, the money is reimbursed on the number of journeys made. One could not ask for anything simpler. Each year, an estimate is made of the number of journeys and an amount is paid. At the end of the year, an audit is carried out, a reckoning is made and the Government are either reimbursed or pay out the extra money.
I am a great believer in keeping things as simple as possible. There are those in government who like to make matters complicated, because it makes them less transparent. I believe in a good democracy and total transparency. Part of the problem with all Governments, but especially this one, is that they need to keep amending the regulations and making more bureaucracy. Let us have less bureaucracy and keep things simple. The kernel of the Bill revolves around that fact. Why cannot we simply reimburse on the number of journeys made? After all, that is what happens in London. Why cannot that happen in the rest of the country? I am concerned about this complicated methodology and how the Government will reimburse local authorities.
Amendment No. 5 states:
``The appropriate Minister shall ensure that the methodology for compensating local authorities for expenditure under subsections (1) to (4) is published.''
One hopes that the Minister will publish some indication from the Government as to how they will deal with anomalies arising from the methodology, because to publish the methodology would be to say that the following local authorities are disadvantaged and the following advantaged, which would be unhelpful. It would be useful if the Minister would publish the information in a form that was helpful to local authorities.
Amendment No.3 to clause 2 would insert the paragraph on the amendment paper. Local government organisations represent local authorities, which can make representations to the overarching bodies, which can then discuss matters with the Government. The Government need to focus on the methodology; perhaps they have, but neither House has been told their conclusions. If we can be told how the local authorities will be reimbursed, those on local authorities who are listening to the debate and reading the report of proceedings will feel that the Committee has done a good job today and have much less anxiety about the Bill. If they are confident that the Government will fully reimburse them, they may be able to say, ``We have a bit of extra money so we can offer the additional scheme to some of the most vulnerable in society.''
The amendments are straightforward, but they have considerable knock-on effects. If the Government do not accept them, they should answer my questions so that we can decide whether or not to divide the Committee.
I agree with almost every word that the hon. Member for Cotswold said. I was interested in his enunciation of the virtues of the various amendments; he gave the impression that amendment No. 3 was in his name, but it is not. However, I am delighted to learn that he would support it in a Division.
Without wishing to score debating points, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that although I agree with amendments Nos. 6, 7, 4 and 5, without the crucial amendment No. 3 they would be in vain. Amendment No. 3 would ensure that the scheme would not proceed until there was agreement between central and local government about the cost of introducing it.
The hon. Gentleman is right; I support his amendment No. 3. I hope that accepting the amendments will not give the Government an excuse to delay implementing the Bill, because it needs to be enacted before 31 December for the concessionary scheme to start working in London.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but I suspect that the problems in London may be far greater than has been suggested. Indeed, the problems in implementation in other parts of the country may also be far greater than we anticipate.
I tabled amendment No. 3, and I support the other amendments in the group, in order to give effect to the commitments made on behalf of the Government in another place. On 24 July in Committee Lord Falconer said:
``We accept that the funding for delivering the increased concession—which means extending it to men between the ages of 60 and 65, which is not the present position—will cost money. That money will come from central government. A process will need to be developed whereby, properly, the amounts of that extra cost can be assessed between central government and local government. I made it clear at Second Reading—I make it clear again—that that is the objective that central government and local government must work towards in trying to reach a solution in relation to the funding. It will be done through the revenue support grant.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1905.]
Lord Falconer made it clear that the entire cost of the measure would be met by central Government. I hope that that commitment will be reaffirmed by the Ministers today. Like the hon. Member for Cotswold, I should like to know what progress the Government and the local government associations have made in developing a process whereby those extra costs can be assessed and then allocated to the individual local authorities. Those issues must be sorted out before the provisions of the Bill are implemented.
In an intervention on the hon. Member for Cotswold I raised another important issue that will have a significant bearing on the costs that will be borne by local government. There have been a number of concessionary fare schemes since the Eastleigh borough council case in 1990 when the House of Lords decided that the use of the pensionable age as a test for concessions was in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The vast majority of concessionary fare schemes have continued to be in breach of that Act. In view of the Williams case, the Government have now accepted the principle that it would be wrong to have concessionary fares at different ages for men and women.
I hope that we will hear a clear statement from the Government about what they believe to be the implications of that decision on all other concessionary fare schemes that are currently operating in the country. The London case raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold is a good example, but it is not the only one. If the Government are now saying that they accept that any concessionary fare scheme that discriminates by gender would be in breach of legislation, there will be a huge financial impact on many local authorities and London boroughs in particular. The Government must explain how that additional cost will be borne, not just the cost of the 1 million men already identified.
I hope that the Minister will make a clear statement about the issue. If we do not have a clear statement about the Government's view and the financial consequences, I suspect that organisations such as Parity will take all sorts of further cases to all sorts of courts at huge cost, when a decision was made by the House of Lords more than 10 years ago and long before there was a need to go the European Court. It is vital that we have some clear answers from the Government about these funding issues. Our decision whether to press the amendment depends on the Minister's answers on this important issue, so we will be listening carefully to every word that he has to say.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that one basis on which Williams brought the case in the European Court of Human Rights was the equal rights directive. It would be extremely unfortunate if, in passing the Act, we created a situation, particularly in London, in which someone could successfully return to the European Court. The Government will have to consider carefully how to deal with London, because it is clearly a major part of the scheme.
I for one would not mind if someone had to return to the court on a similar issue as long as they succeeded, as I am sure that they would. The hon. Gentleman's point was that that would be a fatuous exercise to have to undertake and, given the fact that one case has succeeded, the principles should now be applied across the board to all forms of concessionary fare schemes. On that point, we agree.
We have debated funding, and I want to find out whether the money that the Government are saying will be necessary for the scheme is the right amount. As well as answering the more detailed points, will the Minister tell the Committee whether the original proposal of £53 million is still deemed to be adequate?
I am sorry to keep interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but his points are important. Is he aware that the Association of London Government estimates that reimbursement in London alone will cost £28 million? That puts the Government's total figure of £50 million under severe scrutiny.
I am aware of those figures, and we could trade figures backwards and forwards. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that Plymouth, for example, has said that it will need about £250,000. Questions are being raised about the Government's global figure. The point is that it is difficult for the Government to form a view unless they have worked out a mechanism to calculate the figures that is agreed with the local government associations. The amendments address the mechanism and its agreement with local government associations on behalf of the councils that will have to operate the scheme. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to hear whether the Government are having second thoughts about the global figure as well.
I shall begin by referring to amendment No. 4, which is about the methodology for reimbursement. I served on a local authority that ran a reimbursement scheme based on usage, which seemed to work satisfactorily both before and after the Transport Act 1985. There was an obvious traffic generation issue, but the local authority, Oxford city council, was able to meet the cost of the bus companies, which competed effectively after the Act carried through by predecessors of my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold and for Tewkesbury. That was an excellent and successful Act in that city. It is possible to devise a scheme that reimburses fully the number of journeys made, rather than one that makes predictions at the beginning of the year and then finds that there is not enough money at the end. That was a parenthesis on amendment No. 4.
I will pose a few questions about possible ways of reimbursing local authorities for the scheme's implementation and ask Ministers whether there are perverse incentives associated with different methods of reimbursement. Let us imagine the situation in three hypothetical authorities. Authority A offers no concessions to anyone under the age of 65; authority B offers the current requirement—a 50 per cent. concession for women, but not for men between the ages of 60 and 65; and authority C offers a 100 per cent. concession for travel to all women, but not to men between 60 and 65. Authority A is breaking the law, but requires reimbursement to be able to meet its obligations under the Bill. Authority B is providing exactly what the Government want at the moment, but will incur additional costs in providing what the Government want under the legislation.
The Government are committed to a 100 per cent. reimbursement of the additional costs of meeting the minimum requirements under the legislation. However, in my example, authority C is already providing more than is required and to extend the rights in the Bill to men, it would require twice the amount of expenditure per man—assuming equal use of public transport. Does the Government's promise to reimburse the full cost of meeting the requirements extend to paying £2 a head in London, for example, for every £1 a head paid on the Isle of Wight? If so, it is a wholly unfair system based on historical provision rather than a rational method of allocating resources between local authorities.
If the Government intend to provide £2 a head to people in London and £2 a head to people on the Isle of Wight, my local authority will not have any objection—but the Chancellor may have. Much additional money will be necessary and it may not end up being spent on bus concessionary travel. Will the Minister clarify the Government's commitment on that? An authority providing the minimum may get £2 a head for doing nothing. If an area did not have bus services but had the potential for them, would £2 a head be provided for every bus journey subsequently undertaken? The point is that £2 a head for London and £1 a head for the Isle of Wight would mean a significant imbalance. Obviously, I use those merely as examples and I am talking in general terms about metropolitan areas and areas that have provided generously on the one hand, and rural areas and areas with less generous schemes on the other. It is pouring money into areas of the country where a large amount of money has historically been spent and not into areas where little money has been spent.
My hon. Friend is on to a good point. The Minister needs to tell us to which schemes the concessions will apply. His constituency, like mine, probably has a number of community bus schemes run by volunteers. Does the Bill apply only to schemes that get a bus grant or will schemes that get other grants also be eligible for concessionary fares?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is certainly a range of different types of bus service and other public transport services, which I shall come to shortly.
The second issue relates, again, to the imbalance in the size of areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold mentioned the journey from Inverness to Ullapool, which I confess I have never made. However, I have undertaken a number of bus journeys in my time from, say, Westminster to Walworth road. That journey takes me through the areas of three local authorities in London. If I were a pensioner and I went through three local authorities outside London, perhaps in Gloucestershire, my journey would not be eligible for any mandatory subsidy and in some areas no subsidy would be provided. However, there is a requirement on London authorities to get together to provide a scheme. Therefore, people in London have a benefit that I assume—I do not know the details—does not apply to people travelling from Cheltenham, through the Cotswold district, to Tewkesbury. That is unfair.
Again, additional resources will be put into London, because it already has a scheme. I am referring to a large area with 10 million people who can all travel by bus because a dense network of bus routes has already been provided. We can therefore assume a high take-up per person of bus journeys. If reimbursement is on the basis of the number of journeys made, we shall start with a heavy disposition of resources in favour of one of the richest cities in the country. The corollary is that that is paid for by some of the people with the least dense network of bus services, who are least likely to use those services or even to have an opportunity to travel on them.
Will the Minister comment on the fairness of a system that pours more money into London, because it happens to have many bus services and an area-wide scheme, as compared with the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold and for Tewkesbury, where there may be no such scheme?
The law provides that an authority may make agreements with neighbouring authorities. The Isle of Wight, however, has no neighbouring authorities, so the local authority cannot make an agreement about reciprocal arrangements for a scheme even if it were willing to do so, which for the time being it is not.
My third point relates to local government reorganisation. The Government spokesman in the Lords said that it was likely that county councils would be abolished in the near future. We have already seen the results of that in my near neighbouring authority of Hampshire. Until recently, it had one local transport authority, but now there are three. I do not know what the particular arrangements are in Hampshire, but there is no requirement on Portsmouth city council, Southampton city council and Hampshire county council to formulate one travel zone so that travel concessions can be inter-operable. They are permitted to do so, but there is no obligation on them to do so.
Let us consider people who live just outside Southampton city in, say, Totton, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). Is the Minister saying that Hampshire county council should not benefit from the money that the Government are putting aside to assist authorities to meet the costs of the Bill, because there is no legal obligation on that council to provide a concessionary scheme between Totton and the centre of the city of Southampton? Or is he saying, conversely, that where local authorities have got together to form an inter-operable scheme, the Government will provide for that scheme too?
I should like to know for which of the different modes of transport the scheme in London provides. I understand from the Library brief that
``the scheme provides free travel for passholders on bus, underground and the Docklands light railway (DLR) services.''
The hon. Member for Bath mentions the Croydon tram. I should like to know to which of the services the Government promise of reimbursement applies. Does it apply only to bus services?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold tells me that it applies to all such services, but will it apply to the Gosport tram, which is being constructed? Does it apply to water bus services in London? There is no mention of that. If it applies to water bus services in London, why does it not apply to water bus services elsewhere, such as between the Isle of Wight and Southampton, the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth or the Isle of Wight and Lymington?
A ferry is not different from a large water bus: it goes from A to B, it goes on water and it stops at various points. In most cases, two stops could easily be extended to three or four. Does the scheme apply to water taxis, which are merely a different kind of water bus? Some of them operate on an on-call basis, but others operate what is, effectively, a scheduled service. There was a scheduled service during the America's cup jubilee week between the Black Watch, a large cruise ship that was moored off Cowes, and the parade in Cowes, where champagne was drunk and entertainment took place. That would be a popular service on which to provide a concessionary fare for the many hundreds of rich Americans who stayed on the Black Watch and drank champagne on the parade at Cowes—at the expense of the Isle of Wight council, I might add and I am thankful for that—during the America's cup jubilee week. I hope that the Minister will deal with those questions when replying.
Finally, I endorse the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold about traffic generation. It is well recognised that consumption increases if the cost of a commodity is lowered. That will surely be the case if we lower the cost of transport for a large group of elderly people. Whether they travel to work, as my hon. Friend suggested, or for leisure or education purposes, I have no doubt that there will be a great deal of additional travel. To what extent are the Government committed to dealing with the additional traffic generated by people taking advantage of the concessions?
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) mentioned the differences in support provided within London and elsewhere and the consequences of that support. My greatest concern about the Bill—it is one reason why I strongly support the amendment—is that it sets financial support in the context of what exists today. It does not reflect the fact that many authorities, particularly those around London, are struggling to implement concessionary fare schemes because they have been forced to divert available funds into supporting socially necessary bus routes. The problem with legislation that bases compensation on current schemes is that it ratchets up the costs for any county councils that aspire to introducing a concessionary scheme but have not yet been able to do so. It makes it much more difficult for them to do that.
I will give the Minister a practical example from my county of Surrey. Its bus services suffer from great pressure, which comes from two sources. First, the bus routes in several areas are not adequately used by the population but, because they remain an essential artery for those who genuinely need them, the county council has rightly judged that it needs to support them. Secondly, bus routes in Surrey are adversely affected by the degree of financial support that is provided by central Government to transport in London; it is hugely disproportionate to that provided to services outside London. That has manifested itself most recently in the question of the survival of one route that runs across the border from Kingston-upon-Thames, through my constituency and into southern Surrey. The problem is that the introduction in London of a £1 flat fare for buses has meant that, on that route, operators that come out from central London as far as Epsom can charge £1 on their route, but operators that come back from Surrey into the fringes of London do not receive the same subsidy and so cannot charge the same fare. The inevitable consequence is that those operators will be driven off that route.
The knock-on effect of the operators losing what is probably the busiest and most profitable section of a long route that covers much of the rest of the county—it goes all the way down as far as Guildford—is that the remainder of the route is now under threat. The remainder of the route contains the only principal artery to several villages on the way, but it also represents the major bus service to one of the principal local hospitals. It is inevitable that if the subsidy that is provided to operators in central London causes Surrey operators to lose the most profitable part of the route and they ultimately decide that they can no longer provide the full service, the county council will have to step in and provide additional subsidy from the small amount that it has to support bus services in the county to enable the key parts of the route further into Surrey to survive.
In the past few years, Surrey county council has been working towards achieving a concessionary scheme that offers a 50p flat rate to pensioners in the county. It has so far been unable to do that, simply because so many of the resources at its disposal for public transport are being gobbled up in supporting bus services in the way that I described. The dilemma is that if Surrey county council continues to aspire to deliver a 50p flat rate concessionary fare scheme, it will cost it more money to do so. The only reason that it will not receive the funding that will be provided to other authorities that can provide such a concessionary scheme, is that it has had to support socially necessary schemes elsewhere.
The legislation fails to take into account that several local authorities in this country are working hard to develop and introduce concessionary schemes, but have yet to do so. There is a real danger that unless the financial support provided to local authorities that operate schemes is extended to those authorities that have schemes on the table and have realistic, short-term ambitions to introduce them, there will be fewer schemes, not more.
I urge the Minister for Transport to consider that issue as he considers the detail of the Bill and to realise, as he considers the amendments, that there must be complete transparency in setting out the parameters whereby local authorities receive funding as a result of the changes and Government support and decisions on concessionary fares in general. It is important that those people who are frustrated by the absence of concessionary fare schemes in their areas can see exactly what is being decided, where the money is going and why.
That becomes apparent with regard to concessionary fare schemes for people who live close to boundaries, especially in and around London. Many people live on the fringes of London and look with jealousy and frustration at their neighbours a few streets away across the London boundary, who enjoy totally or partly paid-for concessionary schemes, as a result of the additional subsidy in London. I receive endless complaints from pensioners in my constituency, who ask why their neighbours get a concessionary fare scheme but they do not. I suspect many Members receive similar complaints. That frustration will increase as they see the change come into force and men between the ages of 60 and 65 become entitled to concessionary fare schemes and yet their neighbours across the boundary cannot do so because of the distortion in public subsidy. That is why it is so important that we set out clearly the funding mechanisms and that the process becomes more transparent. People must be aware of the amount of money that goes to different authorities and of the fact that they have the right and ability to challenge that process.
My hon. Friend raised an interesting point, which the Minister must tackle. If a local authority wishes to change the range of services eligible for a concessionary scheme during the year, will it be reimbursed at the end of the year? At the moment, the Government make a calculation at the beginning of each year, which determines the total amount that a local authority receives. That sets in aspic the range of services that a local authority can offer.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. If we are going to operate in a prescriptive environment, a national scheme may be needed to ensure that disparities of funding do not occur among different authorities and neighbourhoods. The Government must consider that.
I hope that the Minister will welcome the amendments in the spirit in which they are intended and that he will offer the Government's support. Conservative Members have no desire to undermine the aspirations of the Bill; our goal is to ensure that it is improved when it leaves the Committee and that those improvements can make a difference to a subject that is a minefield for many.
Transport is important, especially these days. I acknowledge the great car-owning democracy, but many people do not own cars and cannot get about as they wish. Whether transport is for leisure purposes, to do vital shopping, or to visit hospitals, it is important to do what we can, particularly in the sort of areas represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and myself. Our constituencies include a few towns and villages with big spaces in between. I welcome the Bill and hope that it will help my constituents. I have received many letters on this issue, not only because of the difficulty of getting from one place to another, but because of the unfairness of the present situation. At the moment, local authorities have to offer concessionary bus tokens. They can offer further concessions at their discretion, but it can be controversial if they do not.
The national cost for the change of age qualification will be about £50 million. Presumably, administering the changeover will incur an extra cost. That cost may not be significant, but will local authorities be able to cover it? On the extra concessions that local authorities can provide, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, authorities are under greater pressure to grant concessions where the bus service is inadequate. I presume that if they do so, they will not be compensated. Counties such as Gloucestershire experience great unfairness. For example, Cheltenham borough is not under pressure to give further concessions because it is a small area and it is easier to get about. Someone living there who needed to get to hospital in Cheltenham would easily be able to do so, but it would be more difficult for someone living in Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury borough council or Cotswold district council will therefore be under pressure to give further concessions.
My hon. Friend touches on a real problem in our area—I suspect that it is a problem in other rural areas. He will know that the health authority has tightened considerably the criteria for using hospital transport. In one or two cases, I have persuaded the county council to re-route bus services so that they pass Cheltenham hospital. I presume that people using those bus services will be eligible for the concessionary fare. That aspect of bus travel will become ever more important for people wishing to travel to hospital. Elderly people who need to go to hospital are the most vulnerable group and the scheme could help them.
My hon. Friend demonstrates that extra pressure will be placed on some areas and not others. He touched earlier on a further problem. I said that someone living in Cheltenham who wanted to go to hospital in Cheltenham could get there easily, and without the extra concessions they would be able to do so under the ordinary bus permit scheme. However, those who live in Tewkesbury would probably need an extra concession, but that will not be available. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the journey would cross borough borders and would therefore not qualify.
Order. I confirm that cross-border arrangements are outside the scope of the Bill and that the amendments do not come within its scope. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to confine his remarks to the scope of the Bill.
On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. Your ruling has raised an important point. The operation of cross-border schemes is clearly a matter of great concern. It seems to me—I should be grateful for your guidance—that the long title of the Bill is very wide. It says that it is a Bill to
``Amend the law relating to the age at which certain persons become eligible to receive travel concessions on journeys on public passenger transport services; and for connected purposes''
Why cannot cross-border schemes be included in the Bill if an appropriate amendment is moved?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall try to reflect that in the course of debate, but I was referring specifically to the amendments on cross-border facilities. I am advised that they are outside the scope of the Bill. However, in the ensuing debates, I have tried to allow the maximum flexibility to hon. Members so that they can make their arguments. Secondly, we shall have a clause stand part debate, when reference may be made to cross-border facilities. I simply point out that the amendments are outside the scope of the Bill.
Again, I am advised that amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are outside the scope of the Bill because they attempt to change the format of existing travel concessions geographically rather than changing the age at which people become eligible for benefits. I realise that it is an important distinction, but as Chairman, I have to make it. The point of order raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold leads me to repeat that I have tried to allow the debate to be as flexible as possible. I intend to call a stand part debate and I am sure that hon. Members will want to refer to matters outside the Bill. However, I feel obliged to point out what is within the scope of the Bill and what is not.
I think that the net result of that exchange is that I must move on to a different point—but that I may be allowed to return to my original subject later.
We are talking about publishing a breakdown of the cost of travel concession schemes. How certain will the cost be? Many areas have two-tier local government, and bus transport schemes seem to be administered by the county council. However, the district council or borough council will run the scheme under discussion. To a large extent the provision of transport will be determined by the county council, possibly influenced by Government grants given as an encouragement. What impact will that have on the scheme, which will be run by the district council? It may be a matter of logistics or of finance coming through in one year rather than another. However, it is an important point, and I would be grateful if the Minister picked up on it.
Amendment No. 7 refers to the revenue support grant, one aspect of which always puzzles me. Can we be sure that local authorities, which will have extra requirements, will receive the total sum due to them through the revenue support grant system? Is there any possibility that the extra sum is given with one hand, while the other chips away elsewhere to withdraw money from another area? If an authority was given, say, a baseline figure of 100 and something cost five, would it receive 105 under the revenue support grant or 104 because one had been taken away from something else?
It is important that we consider that issue, as local councillors always tell me that extra work and burdens are placed on them yet the resources do not come their way. That has especially been the case in Tewkesbury, which has not received very generous revenue support grants during the past few years, forcing the council to decide whether to continue to provide services and to put up council tax. It is in that dilemma now, as it has to decide whether to put the council tax up after it has cut back on services. That brings us back to the issue about the further concessions that councils would like to offer but are not necessarily in a financial position to offer.
Given the restrictions that you rightly placed on me, Mr. Stevenson, I do not want to make any further remarks.
The debate has certainly been quite discursive, especially on an underlying issue that has run through debates on local government for several decades. If there is discretionary expenditure as well as minimum standards, that will inevitably lead to differences and anomalies, which will inevitably lead to arguments about whether people in different authorities are treated fairly by comparison with their next-door neighbours. Equally, there will inevitably be border issues in respect of service provision, be the differences perceived or real. That goes to the heart of the question of local discretion, because the only way in which to iron out such differences is to have national uniformity.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I fear that he might inadvertently have misrepresented the argument of this side of the Committee. When discretionary schemes become mandatory schemes, the discretionary ones tend to disappear. We saw that with student grants. We are concerned that the Bill, by introducing a mandatory scheme of which we wholly approve, will cause existing discretionary schemes to disappear. We have already heard anecdotal evidence of that from Birmingham and elsewhere. I should be grateful if the Minister would give an assurance that he does not wish discretionary schemes in Birmingham or elsewhere to disappear.
First, I understand that the situation in Birmingham has been or is in the process of being remedied. I believe that that is happening under a number of other authorities. We certainly should not wish to see people becoming worse off as a result of the improvement. However, as has become apparent, local authorities have differences in priorities. Those differences can lead to anomalies between their residents and, inevitably, to comparisons being made. As I said, that goes to the heart of discretion in local Government and of the ability of local authorities to make distinctions.
While I accept that the differences between authorities and the differences in funding provided to local authorities is not at the heart of the Bill, my point was that we should ensure that the financial action taken to accompany the Bill should not add to those differences and should not make it more difficult for local authorities to launch schemes in future.
Yes, but authorities have to, and do, make different decisions according to the requirements of their local populations. The Government have to deal with a different dilemma—to decide the extent to which national minimum standards are set and to deal with the financial consequences of that and of ensuring that local councils do not lose money. I appreciate that that is not the immediate purpose of the Bill, but it is an issue that has been underlying the debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cotswold for explaining the purpose of the amendment. As has been clear throughout the debate, funding is an issue that will arise throughout our deliberations. I have listened to hon. Members, but I feel that I must disappoint them and urge the Committee to reject amendments Nos. 6 and 7. My explanation, in terms of the amendments, will not necessarily relate to all the issues that we have discussed, as we have covered broader issues.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are unnecessary. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounts already publishes information for each authority on concessionary travel scheme expenditure, along with information on other areas of local authority spend. In addition, amendment No. 7 is defective, because the rate support grant is only one element of the funding that councils receive for their revenue expenditure. It is not, therefore, appropriate to talk about a certain proportion of the grant being used to meet particular expenditure.
Yes, but a wide range of grants goes to local authorities for a wide range of expenditure. Therefore the percentage formula might not provide an accurate representation.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 would add a further unwelcome layer of consultation into the local government finance settlement. As hon. Members are aware, the Government are already consulting local government on the review of grant distribution methodology in 2003-04. We know that local authorities are actively engaged in that discussion. In addition, the Government already consult local government on each year's provisional local government finance settlement.
Finally, amendment no. 3 would effectively hold the Government to ransom by preventing the Act from coming into force until an agreement had been reached with the local government associations on the level of funding. As I am sure the Committee realises, the danger is that that could delay the benefits of the Bill being enjoyed by men aged between 60 and 65. I am sure that that was not the intention, but it is the logical consequence of the amendment. It would gridlock the system.
We are already involved in widespread discussions on the mechanics of the local government financial settlement. Ultimately, it is for the Government to decide. In the arcane intricacies of local government finance, the Government wish to engage with local authorities associations to achieve the best outcome and to modify the system to take account of circumstances. That is why those complicated negotiations are taking place, and why local authorities are deeply immersed and interested in them.
It would be very helpful if the Minister were to explain how it will work in practice. He is negotiating with local authorities now on what they will receive. Will an audit system be in place at the end of the year to uncover discrepancies—for example, in the generation of extra traffic—so that local authorities that are disadvantaged will be reimbursed?
It is a regular problem for local government, and not only with regard to transport finance, that when an assessment of anomalies is made an adjustment is proposed to take account of them. However, it has always been recognised that there will be winners and losers at the margins. That is a continuing feature of local government finance, and local authorities are not backward in coming forward in telling the Department of significant problems if such anomalies arise. Those changes then become incorporated into the methodology. We do not think that the suggested mechanisms are the right way to do it, because the process is already being undertaken.
Will the Minister confirm that in the other place, Lord Falconer made it clear that the entire cost of the implications of the Bill would be borne by central Government; yet he has said today that there will be winners and losers? The implication is that the Government will seek to demonstrate that the total costs have been met in the round, but not for individual authorities. However, all local authorities will want to know that the full cost of implementing the legislation will be met by central Government. I hope that the Minister will explain how.
The mechanism will be that the extra costs will be fed into the rate support grant, at the lower end of the environment protection and cultural services block. All other things being equal, local authorities will broadly receive additional funding in proportion to their current share of the EPCS lower tier.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am grateful. I pick up on a point that the Minister made a moment ago. If the process of consultation is happening, why should he object to amendments Nos. 4 and 5? If it is not happening, and he does not believe that the results of the process should be picked up by central Government—again, why would he object?
Quite simply, we believe that the amendments are unnecessary because they would create an additional layer of discussion as opposed to the discussion that is taking place already. It is very straightforward. They are unnecessary because, as I said to the hon. Member for Bath, we are committed to the new burdens principle, which requires us to reimburse local authorities the extra costs that they will face. We are working with the local authorities associations as we finalise our estimates of the financial implications for councils. I am aware that the Association of London Government made an estimate of £28 million of additional costs for London authorities. Our officials are engaged in discussion with them on those figures.
I am still concerned, and I can see that the hon. Member for Bath is too, by the Minister's use of the word ``broadly'', which implies that there will be winners and losers among authorities. If that is to be the case, let us have it clearly on the record so that local authorities know where they stand. Will the Minister say why it is impossible to reimburse local authorities for the actual number of journeys taken, so that they are reimbursed precisely for the costs incurred, as is the case for London boroughs, which are reimbursed for each journey on which they give a concession?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the way in which the rate support grant works in any case. Discussions are taking place about the methodology for the rate support grant, and it is difficult to pick out one particular element. If significant anomalies arise, however, they will be drawn to our attention and taken into account in future settlements. That is the normal procedure for handling such a matter in local government.
Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Bath, who asked for specific reimbursement of additional costs, will the Minister say whether that will benefit the people in the authorities who are already getting additional benefit beyond the minimum laid down by the Government and disbenefit proportionately the people in those authorities who are not getting benefit beyond that minimum? Is the Minister saying, in fact, that he will pay to authorities—broadly or otherwise—only the sum that enables them to pay for the minimum laid down by Government?
No. We are saying clearly that the change in legislation places an additional burden on local authorities. Accordingly, the Government will make money available to cover that additional cost. We are in discussion with the local authorities as regards the methodology involved, following the well-established procedure for the rate support grant. If that procedure throws up significant anomalies, local authorities, as the hon. Gentleman will probably accept, will not be backward about raising the issue.
The hon. Gentleman can see that there are several balancing items within the procedure that we are following. The funding of the extra provision needed for men aged 60 to 65 will be included in the annual local government settlement. As we always do under the rate support grant, we will consider the anomalies.
I assure hon. Members that local authority associations will be consulted on our proposals for the local government settlement and that we will listen carefully to their comments alongside all the other representations that will inevitably be made on other elements of the scheme. That will happen before we take the final decisions on the local government settlement. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold will feel free to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister. Since he clearly intends to draw his remarks to a close very shortly, will he answer an important question that I raised, and which other hon. Members touched on, about the Government's view on other current concessionary schemes involving an age distinction between the sexes? Those include London schemes in which, over and above the arrangements that the Government are concerned with, free passes are offered at different ages to men and women. Will the Minister categorically state whether it is the Government's view that any scheme with a different starting age for men and women is now in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 or, equally, that it would be likely to cause problems in the European Court, were a case to go before it?
We would have to look at the detail. We would certainly examine the current state of affairs as to concessionary fare passes. I am not sure what other concessions the hon. Gentleman had in mind. Obviously, the local authorities in question would have to adjust their procedures to take account of our understanding of the legal position.
In that case will the Minister accept that the Bill will give rise to additional financial burdens for some authorities, in view of the clear opinion that he has given of the status of the relevant provisions? Will those additional costs also be covered by central Government?
It is for local authorities to draw to our attention particular schemes that they run, so that we can examine them together. The Bill deals with the specific issue of concessionary fares and prescribes a remedy for the problem in question. It also allocates Government funding to local authorities to cover that. If the hon. Gentleman believes that other schemes might give rise to similar legal requirements, the local authorities in question should raise the matter with the Department.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again, and I apologise if I appear to be badgering him, but the point is an important one.
The Minister will know that in different parts of the country there are already travel concession schemes that are of greater benefit to the people there; nevertheless, those schemes—the freedom pass in London is just one example—operate at a different age for men and women. The Minister has just said that he believes those schemes would now be considered inappropriate and in need of change, in the light of the Government's decision about their own scheme. If the local authorities running relevant schemes are to make the changes, they will incur additional costs. The Minister has agreed that they can raise those matters with the Government. The question is how the Government will respond.
At this stage we are dealing with the Bill. It is not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the freedom pass is not a concessionary fare scheme in the sense used in the Bill and covered by it accordingly. Is it not a concessionary fare scheme?
If concessionary fares are covered by the Bill, the Government will deal with that. We are committed to the new burdens principle, which means that we will reimburse local authorities for the extra cost that they face as a result of local authority concessionary fare schemes requiring action under the Bill.
So in the case of a scheme that is not mandatory, such as an interoperable travel concession scheme between, say, Southampton unitary authority and Hampshire county council, which is available at the moment to men aged over 65 and women aged over 60, the Government will meet the additional cost to those two authorities to men aged between 60 and 65?
If it is an existing scheme that must be amended to comply with the Bill, the Government will reimburse local authorities for the extra cost.
I am grateful for another opportunity to comment on the amendments before I decide whether to divide the Committee. The Minister has been helpful in that he has put it on the record that if any existing scheme, wherever it operates, currently operates a system of different ages for men and women, it will be reimbursed by the Government. That clearly included London, and the hon. Member for Bath is right—the Association of London Government has produced a figure of £28 million. I assume, therefore, that the Government's current estimate of costs of £50 million for the implementation of the whole Bill is a serious underestimate. If I have got that wrong I should be grateful if the Minister would intervene. The issue is very important. When considering the measure, we need to know the Government's best estimate of the cost of implementing it.
I am grateful for that. However, the Minister has still not answered a number of points. I know that he is trying to be helpful to the Committee, so I would like to press him on them.
The standard spending assessment methodology is all very well, but I have been involved with councils who have met the Minister to talk about why they have been disadvantaged. All councils do that—the Minister will have seen delegations from several of them. Unfortunately, a range of issues get put in a melting pot and so particular issues tend to be ignored. I cannot understand why, with modern accounting mechanisms, the actual cost of the schemes cannot be reimbursed. It seems so simple—the local authority would produce a complete list of all the journeys undertaken that qualified and the costs incurred and the Government would reimbursement it. There would be no question of any local authority being out of pocket.
I fail to understand why the Minister cannot adopt that system. It is at the heart of the amendments. We need a clear answer from the Minister as to why we must go through a complicated process involving the SSA, the revenue support grant, total spending assessment and all the other things that apply to local authority spending. The reimbursed sum will represent a very small part of the environment block grant and will therefore get lost in the wash. If the Minister gives me a clear answer to that question, it will be easier for us to decide whether to withdraw the amendments or press them to a vote.
I hope that I was clear, even if the hon. Gentleman does not agree with my answer. I am advised that we can be confident in our £50 million estimate for England. We understand that the Association of London Government has estimated that the measures will cost more and we are therefore meeting its representatives soon to discuss the matter. Obviously, we cannot respond until those discussions have taken place. Although several interesting issues have been aired during the debate, we will resist the amendment for the reasons that I have given.
I still have not heard a clear answer from the Minister on why the actual costs cannot be reimbursed. He makes various statements that do not address that key issue. Unless I receive a clear answer, I shall press the amendment. I am giving the Minister one more chance. Why can local authorities not be reimbursed for the actual costs that they incur?
With this it will be convenient to take new clause 5—Concessionary fares schemes (publicity)—
`. The appropriate Minister shall publish each year a list of the scope, benefits and eligibility requirements of every mandatory concessionary fares scheme offered by each individual local authority, and make such information available on the Department's website.'.
Having had that opening canter in the debate on the finance of the measure, we now come to the subject of the people involved. Amendment No. 8 would add an important provision to the Bill. Unless we had published information of the sort suggested in the amendment, we could not easily evaluate how well the scheme worked.
I have already referred to the problem of generation of use, especially in relation to men still in employment, and the effect in different areas. Of the 1 million men between 60 and 64 who will benefit from the Bill, 147,000 are still in some paid employment. If we estimate that 10 per cent. of them may be disabled, that leaves 127,000 non-disabled men still in work who would gain the benefit of the scheme. We wholly welcome that. However, it is incumbent on the Government to help us gather better information.
We need to know if, for example, the take-up of the scheme is low in an area relative to the number of pensioners, because we must ensure that individual local authorities have the appropriate advertising or other methods to inform pensioners that the scheme is available. There is no point in having a scheme unless it is used. Today, we have heard about a number of schemes; it is important that they continue. For example, we know of the scheme that had been operating in Birmingham since 1913 and was ended without any consultation with blind and partially-sighted people. The Minister told us in passing that the problem in Birmingham had been sorted out. I should be grateful if he would say how it has been sorted out, and that the scheme will be reinstated.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind has made a number of points. Blind people with white sticks have particular difficulty in travelling. If the schemes from which they have previously benefited are withdrawn they, more than the rest of us, face a real problem.
It is essential that we ensure that the scheme is taken up and that we help people with their quality of life. If we do not, people will become increasingly isolated, particularly in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury has mentioned the decline in the number of bus services—and do not forget that the scheme applies to bus and rail services. In rural areas such as his and mine, there are not that many services. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell has made the point that in city areas there is often more than one mode of transport. Amendment No. 8 is necessary so that we can be clear which schemes are being used in which areas. There is no point in operating a scheme unless we can persuade people to use it. If we cannot persuade them to use it, we should operate a different scheme—we need to be inventive.
The Minister has been very helpful in telling us that existing schemes where there is an age differential will be fully reimbursed. However, he did not explain—and I press him now—how local authorities will be reimbursed for new schemes that they might wish to operate. Nobody wants such provisions to be set in concrete. We want local authorities to come up with innovative schemes and it would be useful to know what mechanism will be available when a local authority proposes to change a scheme. I presume, but the Minister will tell us, that the local authority will have to consult his Department and it will have to approve such schemes. Perhaps authorities will have discretion in the matter. If they do, how will they be reimbursed for all the changes?
New clause 5 requires the Minister to publish each year a list of the scope, benefits and eligibility requirements of every monetary concession fares scheme offered by each individual local authority and to make such information available on the Department's website. That is a thoroughly good idea. All of us, in representing the people, want to improve people's quality of life. None of us has a monopoly of wisdom. Where one local authority operates a particularly innovative scheme, it would be useful for it to be detailed on the Department's website as that would allow other local authorities to gain from the knowledge. There might be a cost to that, but few benefits come without some cost. Details of best practice can be disseminated faster than ever using modern electronic communications. That would be a useful innovation to come out of the new clause. It would help if the Minister could say something about that.
It would also be useful if the Minister could say something about rail schemes. We have hardly mentioned rail today, but in many areas rail and tram services are becoming an increasingly useful form of transport. I know that the Government want to encourage such services. How does the Minister expect the Bill to benefit pensioners aged over 60—and those other groups covered by the Bill? We should not forget that the Bill covers disabled people over the age of five, people with impaired vision and learning difficulties and anyone who cannot apply for a driving licence. That wide range includes mentally impaired people.
One reason why the information should be published—officials are now scrabbling for their papers, so the Minister will doubtless tell me if I am wrong—is that, for one reason or another, blind people or mentally impaired people living near a mental hospital might not be benefiting from an existing scheme. I shall let the Minister answer; we shall then know whether we need to probe further.
On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. I understand that the Bill amends the Transport Act 2000. According to the House of Commons brief, Ministers announced on 5 June that the existing concessionary travel scheme would be extended to the disabled people described under section 146. Will you clarify your ruling as to whether the scheme does or does not include disabled people, because it is clearly an important consideration?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the Minister can help, but my advice is that the Bill amends the age requirement from 60 to 65 and that it does not deal with travel concessions for blind or disabled people. That is my advice and that is my ruling.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cotswold for explaining the purpose of the amendments, which deal with the annual publicising of details of each local authority's concessionary fare scheme. We are not clear what effect the changes might have, but I shall deal with what I think are the main issues.
The Transport Act 2000 places a duty on all local authorities to offer their elderly and disabled residents a free bus pass giving them half fares or better on local buses. It is up to individual authorities to decide whether to offer further concessions over and above the statutory minimum. The Bill will change the statutory minimum requirement and provide the related funding.
The extent of concessionary fare travel schemes over and above the statutory minimum is best decided locally, in the light of judgment of local needs and circumstances and local authorities' overall financial priorities. I alluded to that in my previous remarks. Against that background, it would be difficult for Ministers to justify through statute regularly publishing information detailing each local authority's concessionary fare scheme, especially in the way in which it is described in the amendment. To obtain meaningful data, it would be necessary to undertake detailed on-bus surveys of the estimated age and employment profiles of users, and that would impose extra costs on local authorities that would produce marginal benefits. Concessionary fare schemes are the local authorities' responsibility within the statutory framework.
Most local authorities and bus companies will already be undertaking the collection of such data—the authorities to assess the costs of their existing concessionary fare schemes, otherwise they would have no data on which to base their budgeting for the provision of those schemes, and the bus companies to be able to judge where to provide bus services in future. It would be a peculiar scheme if that kind of data were not being collected.
Local authorities and central Government will from time to time assemble data to evaluate the success of schemes and best practice, but it would be a different thing to write that into statute and to have a statutory requirement on all local authorities on an annualised basis.
We are keen to see what changes local authorities have made and we are surveying all local authority concessionary fare schemes to get a snapshot and identify the changes. The results of that survey will be published next year. Ensuring that we have clear evidence and data available is not at issue; the real question is whether we need to enshrine that in statute and create a legislative matrix. We believe that that is unnecessary and bureaucratic and hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold will withdraw his amendment.
I can well understand that the Minister does not want to incorporate the requirement in the Bill. He says that it would create a lot of what he terms unnecessary work for local authorities. Nevertheless, I would have hoped that he might have accepted the purpose behind the amendments, because most of the work that I have outlined is sensible, especially the dissemination of best practice. If the Minister had told us today that local authorities should be doing that work and that his Department would co-ordinate it and make best practice available on its website, we could dispose of the amendment and not press it to a Division.
We are very much in favour of pursuing that idea, either through our mechanism or through the local authority associations' information network, which also has websites. I do not think that the mechanism is a point of issue between us. The hon. Gentleman wants to encourage best practice and make specific information available, and I fully support him in that. I am sure that we can discuss with the local authority associations the best way to facilitate that. I hope that I have been helpful.
That is extremely helpful. The Minister has given an undertaking that, in addition to funding, his discussions with the local government associations over the implementation of the Bill will include the implementation of best practice. That is helpful and, on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Woolas.]
Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to One o'clock till this day at Five o'clock.