I beg to move amendment No. 1, in schedule 2, page 13, line 22, at end insert—
‘1A In section 98 (travel concession schemes: further provisions with respect to participation notices), after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) But if the participation notice was served on the person by one or more authorities in England only—
(a) subsection (3) above shall have effect as if for “twenty-eight days beginning with the date of the participation notice” there were substituted “fifty-six days beginning with the date provided for in relation to the participation notice by virtue of section 97(5)(a) above”; and
(b) subsection (4) above shall have effect as if for paragraph (a) there were substituted—
“(a) if the person is required by the participation notice to give a prescribed number of days’ notice (or, if no number of days is prescribed, seven days’ notice), at least that number of days before the date of the notice given to the Secretary of State under subsection (3) above; or”.”’.
The amendment moves our discussion on to the important issue of the deadline that applies for operators wishing to appeal to the Secretary of State against local authority concessionary travel reimbursement arrangements. As I explained in my letter to members of the Committee on 23 May, Lord Bradshaw raised the issue of the appeals deadline in the other place. The deadline is 28 days from new or varied reimbursement arrangements taking effect, and he suggested that that was not sufficient time for operators to make an evidence-based decision on whether to submit an appeal to the Secretary of State.
Lord Bradshaw’s amendment on Third Reading on 5 February extended the deadline by which bus operators could appeal to the Secretary of State against English local authority reimbursement arrangements under the Transport Act 2000 from 28 days to 56 days from the time new or varied reimbursement arrangements come into force.
Lord Davies of Oldham, for the Government, responded favourably to the amendment on the grounds that provision of extra time should offer scope for the full gathering of high-quality data. That would mean that any appeals that operators felt compelled to make would be more firmly grounded in empirical evidence. It should also help reduce some of the uncertainty that local authorities might otherwise face from more speculative appeals.
On Third Reading, Lord Bradshaw tabled a second amendment on the issue to make changes to the Transport Act 1985, but in the event, it was not moved. Amendment No. 1 brings back the principle behind that second amendment. Under the current arrangements regarding local authority travel concession schemes, under the Transport Act 1985, an authority running a local scheme can serve an operator with a participation notice, which requires the recipient to participate in the scheme. The operator can appeal to the Secretary of State against that, and the deadline for the appeal is currently 28 days from the date of the participation notice.
I hope that the Committee will accept that the amendment would largely mirror the changes already made to the Transport Act 2000 by virtue of clauses 3(4) to 3(6), by extending the appeal deadline to 56 days from the date the operator’s obligation to participate in the scheme would start. That would help to align the provisions for appeals under the two concessionary legislative regimes. As appeals under both sets of legislation are, in practice, often made jointly by operators, the proposed changes to the 1985 Act would help to facilitate the practice.
The last part of the amendment would make a connected change. At the moment, an operator intending to appeal against a participation notice must give the authority notice of his intention to do so, either before the operator appeals or, if the participation notice requires it, before the end of a period specified in the notice. Regulations provide that that period cannot exceed seven days. That provision, which allows a local authority to specify that operators must give the authority notice of their intention to appeal within seven days, undermines the purpose of extending the appeals period and negates the benefits of giving operators more time to get the data and so on before appealing.
The amendment tackles that problem by providing in effect that the local authority can specify that the operator must give seven days’ notice, or such other period as may be specified in regulations, before they can lodge an appeal. In other words, operators can give notice of an appeal at any time before they lodge the appeal, except in cases when a local authority specifies that it would like seven days’ notice, or any such other time as may be specified in regulations, when at least that notice must be given. The amendment would only apply in England. I hope that hon. Members can see the benefits that it will bring and will support it.
For my part, I can see the benefit of the amendment and I am grateful for the letter of explanation that we all received dated 23 May. There is one point, however, that I want to raise, on which I hope that the Minister will reflect. It is the illogic of what she has just argued considering the rejection of my amendment No. 19. If we were to change the wording of her letter to read “an authority running a local scheme can serve an operator with a participation notice”, TFL, running a local scheme, would be able to serve a London borough with a participation notice, yet in London there would be no possibility of appeal. We have just gone through that. The Minister accepted that my amendment, which would have given the London boroughs some appeal process, did not in any way affect the minimum guarantee. Although the amendment brings some consistency and order to the Bill, it highlights yet again the completely iniquitous state that London boroughs are left in.
I thank the Minister for the amendment. I know that my noble Friend Lord Bradshaw attempted to extend the period to 56 days. The amendment tidies up his amendment and will allow, as the Minister says, proper data to be available from which decisions can be made. The point was made in the other place that 28 days was insufficient time, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has agreed to that.