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Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [HL]

Volume 688: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.

Clause 1 [The national concession]:

We seek not to oppose the Bill but to improve it and to make it more useful without adding inordinately to the expense to the Government of the new legislation. This very long list of amendments deals with smartcards. The Bill talks about permits as the means by which people obtain access to bus services at no charge. We believe that permits are very outdated technology, and the opportunity should be taken to convert the permit currently in use in most places to a smartcard. This is worth doing for several reasons. It would reduce the opportunities for fraudulent use by passengers, by bus operators or by bus drivers.

More importantly, there is a need to obtain the maximum amount of useful and accurate information about bus journeys so that the subsidy available is accurately targeted. By subsidy, I mean all the public funding of bus services, and particularly the bus service operators’ grant, which was formerly known as the fuel-duty rebate. The question of how the fuel-duty rebate might be replaced has been investigated at least twice—I think it has been investigated more often—on the assumption that the fuel-duty rebate, or the bus service operators’ grant, is paid for the mileage operated, when we are in fact trying to subsidise people for carrying passengers. All attempts at reform have failed because of the considerable obstacle of very little reliable information about passenger mileage, and because any other way of making the information available would be bureaucratic and expensive to administer.

The introduction of smartcards, which are held by the passenger, and the necessary smartcard readers on buses would provide the opportunity to target the subsidy very accurately on the passenger carried. The smartcard is intelligent and, if necessary, would enable the facility of free travel to be available at particular times. Governments of whatever colour would find themselves paying for useful outputs rather than generalised inputs. That is a practical consideration in the targeting of a subsidy, whatever you are subsidising. You want to subsidise the benefit rather than the input.

That is why I have moved this series of amendments. They provide for the use of smartcards and the provision on buses of smartcard readers. I should also make it clear that it may be necessary to pay for the equipment needed by bus operators. But, having put all this in place, a plethora of information would become available to government. Further, smartcards should be ITSO-compliant to a national standard that should apply throughout Britain and probably elsewhere in due course.

What is the Government’s attitude towards smartcards? I am not proposing that we would all have smartcards by April 2008 because I realise that that is impossible, but is it the Government’s wish or even their intention—

—to move towards a smartcard system once the technical problems have been ironed out? I have been told today—I did not know this before—that a good time to do this would be 2010 because that is when the present London Freedom Passes, of which I have two examples with me, expire. At that point it will be necessary to replace all the current London smartcards, which constitute a high proportion of the passes issued in England as a whole.

Without the introduction of this new technology, not only will it prove difficult to abolish the bus service operators’ grant, it will also be difficult to reimburse local transport authorities fairly and accurately what they spend on subsidising bus travel. Although she is currently detained because her mother is unwell, that is a subject to which my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market will return because there is a problem with the present system in that money is distributed through the block grant to local transport authorities in a rather crude fashion. Some have enough money; some have too much, but we do not hear from them; some have too little, and from them we hear a lot. That is the way with any form of grant distribution, but I am moving this series of amendments because I really want to hear about the Government’s intentions and we can return to this subject once I have heard from the Minister. I beg to move.

In general I support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. However, first I want to wish the Minister a happy new year. We are going to be talking a lot in the coming months so we should start on a good note. Although I know I should not do it too much, I shall draw on my position as leader of Essex County Council when speaking to these amendments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has said, much of this concerns capturing accurate data in order actually to deliver a smartcard. While we all support the aims of this legislation, the timescale for the Government to deliver it is tight and I want to offer them some help by explaining what is already happening in Essex. I do so because I agree totally with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that smartcards are the long-term answer and we need to develop this system. It is the obvious way to stop misuse of this legislation, and to have effective administration and control of public expenditure.

I would like to say what happens in Essex. Essex County Council co-ordinates a very effective concessionary fares scheme. It involves 12 district councils and a unitary authority—1.6 million people. We are developing considerable relationships with some of the leading experts in intelligent transport systems around the world; so we have already done a lot of work on it. We have established a forward programme of work that will easily be adapted to smartcard technology. We are demonstrating a project in Essex that could be rolled out nationwide. We are adjacent to London and are likely to work with London on it.

We were going to come on to this later, but there was a suggestion that the Secretary of State might need to operate the scheme nationally. I suggest that local authorities could develop—and I am happy to volunteer Essex to pilot the scheme—a smartcard regime that could be operated by local authorities nationally. You could have an identical card with different logos. The south-west, the north-west, Manchester or London could have different logos on the same sort of card. We have already made progress on this. We are developing it. We have all sorts of contacts around the world regarding what is happening and contacts with companies developing this. This is probably not the appropriate time, but we could pass on our developments and volunteer our help in turning it into a national scheme. That is my contribution to this part of the discussion. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say to that.

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for his best wishes for the new year, which I reciprocate. I am glad to see that he is starting off in a most constructive vein. He has partly made my case on the amendments by indicating that there is much work still to be done on the development of the eventual smartcard ticketing that is required, but I am very grateful to him for his constructive suggestion. It may well be that the department takes it up. Certainly, we have a considerable amount to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was generous enough to say that 2010 would be an appropriate time by which to have a fully operational smartcard. I cannot give him that assurance, but I recognise the significance of the date. I am only too eager to facilitate any help he needs with his particular cards.

I want to emphasise that I understand that on the whole these are probing amendments. I reassure the Committee that the Government regard the aim of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, as entirely laudable. We are entirely supportive of these proposals, but do not think that the amendments are necessary or desirable.

The Bill makes provision for the specification of the permit in regulations; so we will be able, entirely properly, to use secondary legislation to implement the nature of the fully fledged national scheme on smartcard principles—possibly after the help of Essex local authority and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, if that proves to be an illustration of how this can be done, or possibly through other routes.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, did not want to pre-empt future debates, but he made reference to the fact that the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to take responsibility for all this if necessary. I want to reassure the Committee that we have this objective in mind. Equally clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, was perceptive enough to recognise that if we made this a requirement of the legislation our target date of 2008 would be unrealisable.

No one in this Committee, no one who spoke at Second Reading and no one in the country would want to see a delay in implementing this wholly beneficial measure because of substantial technical problems in introducing the most desirable form of permit, which is a smartcard. Nevertheless, in the Bill we indicate that one of the bases is the permit, because that is the concept with which we have to work at present. It is an all-embracing concept, and one that is readily transformable into the smartcard. I assure the Committee that we will work towards those objectives as rapidly as we can, and that we are at one with the spirit behind them. I think it will be recognised, however, that if we accepted the amendments, which are numerous but follow the same theme, that could lead to difficulties with regard to early implementation of this legislation. We are not prepared to do that.

I emphasise that we are not fixed in our views on how to arrive at the desired state. We are mindful of the fact that there are many players in this situation, not least, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has reminded us, the local authorities, who play a significant role. Although we will discuss later whether the Secretary of State might be empowered to implement the scheme, we also recognise that there is much merit in working through existing schemes and existing local authorities and establishing best practice as the basis for the nation. By “the nation”, in this case, I am referring to England, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already have their schemes.

I could go into a great deal of technical detail in explaining to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, why I could not accept each of the amendments at present, but that would be otiose when we are discussing the desirable principle upon which these permits should be implemented. I give the obvious rider that we could not possibly introduce the scheme in 2008 on the basis of smartcard principles, but we intend to work towards those objectives as early as possible. The Bill provides the permissive framework, subject to the will of Parliament, whereby we will be able to implement the most desirable form of smartcards at the earliest possible time. I hope the noble Lord will accept, in the spirit of that response, that he can safely withdraw his amendments today.

Before the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, comes back, I have a request for the Minister, who has given some fairly positive indications on this matter. As I said, there is a lot of work going on, particularly in the large local authorities—for example, in London—on smartcards and IT development. We all accept this will take time to develop. We have all been involved in technology, and we know we cannot always deliver quite as quickly as we might like; schemes do not always get off the ground quickly. But as we take the Bill through different processes, it would be helpful if, before Report, the Minister could say that the Government will work with local authorities to see what is going on. We have come back to this question about the Secretary of State. That might have an effect on how the noble Lord and I react at a later stage. That work could be utilised and capitalised on to develop a national scheme, which we all support, rather than saying that we will start all over again. I am sure the Minister’s civil servants are talking to local authorities, and it would be useful to co-ordinate and pull all that work together.

I welcome the opportunity to give an assurance on that front. I understand that we will be discussing the Bill at subsequent stages as well, but in so far as it is within my power to allay anxieties on this front, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that the department is of course fully aware of the sophisticated nature of some local authority schemes, which have cracked some of these problems in certain areas. He will also recognise that we are talking about a multiplicity of different authorities with very different perspectives on how this all works. Consequently, we have to carry out substantial consultation, but I assure the noble Lord that the department regards this exercise as one for which local authority consultation is essential, particularly given the successful work that they have carried out on this.

I thank the Minister for his remarks. I suggest that one way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I could be assured that matters would progress would be an early move to advertising in the European journal. That would be necessary in the provision of a smartcard system and would indicate to us that the Government were moving forward with the issue. This is a long process, but there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, many suppliers out there which would be keen to be involved. It would reassure us to hear that the first small step had been taken.

Perhaps I may be a little sceptical and introduce a sour note; we are still waiting for the regulations regarding the Traffic Management Bill that we passed some 18 months ago. Our credulity is sometimes stretched a bit when we are told that matters are being dealt with in the department, given that the months and years roll by and the thing does not happen.

Having said that and given that we can talk about the matter elsewhere, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, after “bus” insert “, train, underground train, tram or ferry”

The noble Lord said: This important set of amendments would, first, extend the current scheme to other forms of transport, including buses, the underground, tramways and ferries, both inside and outside London. Secondly, it would abolish the time restrictions that are currently in place. In short, we are probing why the Bill has been drafted to include only buses and time restrictions, which we may discuss at some length.

It is clear that certain groups of disabled and elderly people would benefit greatly from the application of concessions to a wider range of transport modes. For example, people with autism prefer to use door-to-door services because they often have difficulty in judging road safety and can experience anxiety on scheduled bus transport services, especially when routes and timetables are frequently changed. The difficulty in accessing the higher mobility rate of disability living allowance for some disabled people means that door-to-door transport is currently not an option for them, because of the additional costs associated with its use. In some areas, concessionary fare passes can already be used in taxis, community transport and other door-to-door transport. That is particularly important in rural areas.

In Scotland, many ferry journeys are also covered by the concessionary fares scheme in recognition of the local transport services that ferries provide between the Scottish islands and the mainland. We heard much about that at Second Reading. We would encourage the same approach for similar services throughout the UK. In urban areas, concessions are often available to be used on local rail and light railway services. This is important when train and tram services are used for local journeys as an alternative to buses.

The second set of amendments in this group would allow travel at any time, both inside and outside London. Restriction of concessionary travel during morning peak periods has a severely detrimental effect on disabled people travelling to or looking for work. That is the strongest issue raised by these amendments. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will follow me, but his organisation, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, has suggested that only 27 per cent of blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment—and that where people are employed, they are more likely to be in lower-paid jobs. I do not like to keep citing the situation in my own county but, in Chelmsford, where we now have only about 1 per cent unemployment, we would like to get many more disabled people back into work. Allowing them to use transport at peak times would be very helpful in enabling that to happen.

Access to Work is often incorrectly thought to be an alternative to concessionary fares but this support is only available to disabled people who are unable to use existing transport. That is why I feel very strongly about this matter. In addition, disabled people often need to travel early for medical appointments, education and leisure and, indeed, because it is easier for them to access less crowded places. That is another reason for reconsidering the timings.

It is pleasing to note that the Bill would not prevent local authorities from continuing to offer concessions which are more generous than the statutory minimum. However, as the Government have improved the minimum concessionary fare scheme for older and disabled people, some local authorities have reduced their existing schemes to the statutory minimum. For example, pressure has been put on a number of schemes which provided free morning peak travel for blind people but not for older and disabled people. There needs to be some clear statement from the Government as to their philosophy and policy on this matter.

When this issue arose in London, the Association of London Government, as it was then, extended free travel to all disabled people in the morning peak. There have been no time restrictions on using the Freedom Pass in the morning peak in London on buses, the Underground and the DLR since April 2003. This has not caused many difficulties despite the huge pressure on public transport in London at that time. The Scottish and Welsh schemes also provide free travel in the morning peak.

I hope the Minister will rethink on this matter. It is a big issue which I am sure will be discussed during the passage of the legislation. I beg to move.

It gives me pleasure to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I have not so far received notice of the grouping of amendments in an accessible form. I intend no criticism but I wish the Committee to be aware of this in case I trip up over the grouping of amendments. We are working with the authorities of the House to find ways of ensuring that I get papers of this kind in time before debates. I am sure that any problems that remain will be resolved shortly but I wish the Committee to be aware of that circumstance before we go any further.

I do not wish to speak at great length because the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has covered many of the points I want to make. I wish to stress that bus travel should not be seen as separate from the rest of the transport network but as part of an integrated system which is always going to be as weak as its weakest link. Thus, if part of a journey involves a mode of transport on which no concession is available, the purpose in granting the concession substantially fails or, at least, is substantially undermined. This group of amendments, particularly Amendments Nos. 3, 28 and 30 in relation to London, therefore provides that concessions should be available on trains, Underground trains, trams and ferries, all of which can play a part in meeting the transport needs of an area.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, in Scotland many ferry journeys are covered by the concessionary fares scheme in recognition of the local transport services that ferries provide between the Scottish islands and the mainland. We would want to encourage the same approach for similar services throughout the UK.

Similarly, as regards London, Amendments Nos. 3, 28 and 30 seek to substitute “London Transport Network” for “London bus network” to 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 the buses in meeting the transport needs of the capital, and rail and light railway services also play an important part.

On Amendment No. 4 and corresponding amendments in relation to London, at Second Reading the Minister stressed the role of the Bill in combating social exclusion. He said,

“The Government recognise that buses are particularly important for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They often provide a vital lifeline to services such as shops, leisure facilities and hospitals and are an important connection to the community”.

He went on,

“We recognise that the places to which people need to travel are no respecters of sometimes arbitrary local authority boundaries”.—[Official Report, 12/12/06; col. 1453.]

I suggest that they are also no respecters of arbitrary time zones.

If social inclusion of those who are most disadvantaged in our community is the goal, we have to enable them to travel at the same times as others want to travel to work, to shop or to the hospital. Hospitals do not have regard to concessionary travel schemes when making appointments. The restriction of concessionary travel during the morning peak period has a number of untoward consequences. As the Government have improved the minimum concessionary fare scheme for older and disabled people, some local authorities have curtailed schemes that previously offered more than the statutory minimum; for example, some schemes which provided free morning peak travel for blind people and other old and disabled people have come under pressure. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, when the matter arose in London, following representations by disabled people the scheme was levelled up and free travel was extended to all disabled people in the morning peak as well as at other times.

At Second Reading, the Minister laid great stress on the fact that there are acute pinch points in transport usage at peak hours in many parts of the country. I can say only that there have been no time restrictions on using the Freedom Pass during the morning peak in London since April 2003. That has not caused difficulties, despite the huge pressure on public transport at that time in the capital. We would probably all find it difficult to envisage any part of the country with more acute pinch points than London, yet this does not seem to have presented any particular problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has covered most of the points I wanted to make, but in conclusion I want to underline a point which he stressed; namely, the importance of concessionary travel schemes in helping disabled people to get to work. If they are to be effective, they need to be available at peak times no less than at off-peak times. The importance of that in the Bill is the way in which it underlines the Government’s welfare-to-work agenda. It could be of material assistance in helping disabled people off welfare and into work if concessionary travel were available to them at peak times no less than at off-peak times. I support this group of amendments.

I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate on important amendments. I recognise the case that has been put. The Committee has great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Low, on how we provide for him adequate documentation when the documentation becomes available only late in the day, shortly before the Committee meets. We will do all in our power to ensure that the problem is overcome. As he addressed himself to this group of amendments with accuracy, he does not have to worry unduly today.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, emphasised that local authorities might find a reduction in their enhancements in certain of their schemes. That happens from time to time, but he will recognise that local authorities have a discretion to offer travel concessions on other forms of public transport and at other times. Indeed, some of them offer enhancements to the statutory minimum scheme and we would want to do nothing that does not encourage that. The Bill preserves the flexibility of local authorities to offer concessions on other forms of public transport or at other, and earlier, times on a discretionary basis if they choose to do so. The Bill is about statutory provision and the reason we have no plans to extend the statutory concessions to other forms of public transport or to travel at other times is straightforward.

First, this is about legislation. Nothing in the Bill inhibits the Government in being able to do that in future: we have powers in the Bill for extending these opportunities when resources become available. But Members of the Committee will recognise that extension involves substantial sums of money. They will be aware of the substantial commitment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to funding the principles behind the Bill in order to implement it in 2008. If we accepted Amendments Nos. 3, 28 and 30 to include travel on trains, the Underground, trams and ferries, it would cost an extra £300 million a year. He says that it is done in Scotland and they may do so in Wales. They have to meet the bill and from what one learns it is not decreasing: it is increasing substantially. That is a choice that they must make and it is the principle of devolution. We are talking about extending the provisions right across England, which will have a larger impact and will be more expensive. I emphasise that in our estimate Amendments Nos. 3, 28 and 30 alone will cost an extra £300 million a year and that Amendments Nos. 4 and 29 will cost an extra £100 million a year. That is almost double the amount made available by the Chancellor for the principle of the scheme.

I am not saying that these things are not desirable; I say merely that we cannot readily accept such extensions, with their significant resource implications, without due consideration. We have to work hard in order to create the resources available for the implementation of the scheme in 2008 implicit in the Bill. For us to be subjected to amendments which more than double the cost would be regarded as somewhat unreasonable.

I want to emphasise that the Bill does not inhibit these developments in due course as resources allow. However, I am resisting adding amendments to the Bill which would place immediate additional costs on the Government. We have to be realistic about these matters. Of course I understand the case that can be made for any enhancement of opportunities for people to travel. The noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned the point I made at Second Reading that we regard it as crucial that social inclusion must involve transport and the opportunities of transport for the disabled. But he will recognise, as will the Committee, that this Government have been very concerned to develop this policy over the years. They introduced the first statutory concession for older and disabled people in 2000. In 2002, eligibility for both men and women was equalised at 60 years of age. In April 2006, the statutory scheme was again improved to offer free local concessionary travel; and under this Bill, from 2008 the statutory scheme will be improved further.

All I am saying is that we could not by additional amendments to this Bill readily accept that we could make such a significant leap forward in the allocation of resources in this area, however desirable they are. I want to assure the Committee that—in so far as what is at stake here is the nature of the Bill and the powers it gives in order to ensure the development of this policy—the Bill contains the necessary powers for additional enhancement and improvement of the scheme as years go by. What I am not prepared to accept in this year of grace, having seen the successful allocation of a substantial sum of money for the implementation of the scheme implicit in the Bill, is additions which more than double those costs in circumstances where I cannot guarantee that resources are available.

Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will recognise that we are at one with him in desiring these objectives; that this legislation creates a framework in which those objectives can be realised in due course; but that his amendments are hugely costly—and I do not think they would be likely to find entire favour with his side if in fact his Treasury team were in government rather than where it is at present.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I totally accept that the overall cost is very extensive. There are parts to this—for example, extending the scheme to the use of buses at peak times and using the Tube rather than buses. There is no doubt that for some journeys the Tube or a short train journey might be more suitable for disabled people than buses. They would not be using the provision twice; it would be an alternative use. I can think of various places where a short train journey from one town to another might be better or more accessible than a bus journey, which does not actually cover those two small towns. So sometimes it would be an alternative use. Certainly the use of the provision at peak times in the morning is my main plank, as I said in my introduction of this, that I would like the Government to consider.

I know that my own party would consider some of these things because they might be a priority. Before we next discuss them, perhaps the Minister could give us a breakdown of how that money is calculated because there are, as I say, some areas of higher priority. I wonder if, for example, he could estimate how much it would cost to extend the provision. Obviously it is extended in London to peak times, and London is an enormous conurbation with a lot of use at peak times. That does not seem to have bankrupted London. Therefore, that is one part I would particularly like to look at more than others. Perhaps they could give me a break down of how that £300 million comes about, so that I might consider before further stages what areas we might look at in more detail.

That could be very helpful indeed. I, too, am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He displayed a great deal of sympathy with the thrust of the amendment—its principle—and his reluctance to accept it was principally on the ground of available resources. Of course one completely understands that, but if the desirability of the amendment is recognised, perhaps the best way forward would be to try to break down the additional costs of additional modes of transport for different categories of user, so that if the whole sum cannot be afforded, smaller parts could be.

The arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I advanced apply to both disabled and elderly people, but for disabled people, there are particular reasons for disregarding the distinction between peak and off-peak travel times. First, it is often necessary even for short journeys for disabled people to use public transport rather than walk either because of restricted mobility or because they cannot find the way. Also, for persons with restricted mobility, the pedestrian environment is often either inaccessible or unsafe. For all those reasons, free bus travel at peak times can be especially important to enable disabled people to integrate into the community. It would be very helpful if the Minister could consider how much of the total sum to which he referred is made up of expenditure on disabled people.

I am grateful to both noble Lords for the extension of their arguments. I must say that I do not think that we can meet the objective of the noble Lord, Lord Low, of costings for particular categories of the disabled. We will look at how we can help. I am eager to be helpful because the noble Lord will recognise that we appreciate his point, but it may be difficult for us to achieve and I do not hold out too much hope to him in that respect.

In broader terms, I think that I can do a bit more for the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. If it is not enough, we will do more work for him before we reach Report. Our initial analysis is that the estimated annual cost of extending the statutory minimum to trams would be in the order of £15 million, to local rail—trains—about £250 million, and to community transport, at least £25 million. I think that the Committee will recognise that we have all sorts of difficulties with the definition of community transport and therefore the implicit cost. That is as far as I can go in being helpful at this stage.

I would be grateful if the Minister could come back because the figure for trains is obviously the very big one. One accepts that one could not have a UK-wide free train service—that would throw up multimillions of pounds. The specific means that we are looking at are getting people to work, to hospital appointments and around. Perhaps we could do a bit more analysis before the next round. I accept that providing concessionary free train travel for everyone would cost multimillions of pounds. That is where his big amount of £250 million came from.

That is true, but that is what the amendment says, so the noble Lord cannot expect me to do anything other than to identify the cost of the amendment. If he is going to be more subtle, surgical and precise on Report, if I can help in any way in that precision, I shall seek to do so.

I thank the Minister. That has been a useful discussion. If he can provide us with more information before Report so we can look at this matter further, I will be grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 9 not moved.]

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

“(4A) 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, or(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 (physical fitness) otherwise than on the ground of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol,”

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 10 and 16 would put in the Bill the definitions for the eligibility of concessionary fares that are in the Transport Act 2000, and would add to them an additional section covering those with mental health difficulties. The additional Amendment No. 16 would make it mandatory for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on those definitions. A number of organisations that represent those with some form of disability are concerned that Clause 1(4) requires the issuing of concessionary fares to those who “appear” to be disabled. We believe that is not clear enough, and that a definition should be included in the Bill along the lines of that in the Transport Act 2000.

Furthermore, Clause 1(6) says that the Secretary of State “may issue guidance” to which local authorities “must have regard”. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 introduces similar provisions for Wales. We have this debate on a great number of Bills; we toy with the “mays” and the “musts” on most occasions. We want the word “may” in Clause 1(6) to be changed to “shall”, to ensure that similar guidance is issued to the very clear guidance issued following the introduction of the minimum concessionary fare for disabled people under the Transport Act 2000.

Paragraphs (f) and (g), which would be added by the amendment, relate to people with mental health issues. It is clear that eligibility for concessionary fares is one of the major factors in determining an individual’s chance of recovery and reintegration into society. Access to community centre, drop-in therapeutic communities, counselling or self-help groups and medical appointments can be essential to their recovery. Many service users rely on public transport. Even when they still hold a driving licence, poverty and a fluctuating health condition may make driving impossible.

Most of those with mental health issues who currently 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. Section 92 of the 1988 Act refers to five categories of people who would be refused a driving licence. The second of these are people with a severe mental disorder. It is under that category that people with mental health problems may become entitled to concessionary fares. The definition is medical, not social, and our view is that it is not appropriate in the field of disability, and is one key reason why those with mental health problems have difficulty in obtaining concessionary fares.

Should the issue of definition prove intractable, we would welcome an assurance by the Government that they will consult with mental health service users in voluntary bodies working in mental health, and organisations of mental health professionals, with a view to establishing a less exclusive medical definition of serious mental health problems, and one that would target real need without being too broad, to enable these people to access the concessionary fare system. I beg to move.

I support the amendment. I was grateful at Second Reading for the Minister’s reassurance that the definition of “disabled” in the Bill will not change. He said that in this legislation the Government will use the same definition as the one which governs entitlement. That is very welcome as far as it goes but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has explained, there is a need for the definition to change a little to incorporate those with mental health difficulties. The Minister may feel that such people are adequately covered already, in the way indicated by the noble Baroness, under the Road Traffic Act, but it would be clearer if the definition were consolidated. One could then see on the face of the Bill all of the groups of disabled people to whom the concession applied and would not have to grub around in different Acts of Parliament in order to find a comprehensive statement. On that basis, I support the amendment.

I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken. I agree about the importance of access to transport in reducing social exclusion and the Government are committed strongly to these objectives. That is why we are spending £1 billion a year on statutory concessionary travel to improve the mobility and well-being of older and disabled people. The Committee will recognise that we have already delivered significant improvements in this respect, but we are not in a position to commit further funding to concessionary travel beyond that which is established as the basis of the Bill. In any case, until the extension of the national bus concession has been evaluated, both in its effectiveness for the categories we are discussing and the efficiency of the scheme, we do not think we should at this stage take the scheme further. We can only intelligently do that once the impact of the national scheme has been fully considered and evaluated.

The Transport Act 2000 sets out the groups of people to whom travel concessions must be provided by law. In addition, under the Transport Act 1985, local authorities have the discretion to offer travel concessions to other groups. As I emphasised earlier in our discussions, the Bill preserves the flexibility of local authorities to offer concessions to any group or individual, at their discretion, based on the assessment of the benefits of doing so. There is also a corresponding power to include new categories of people to benefit from the new national scheme. We believe the ability to extend the concession on the basis of local and national need is the most appropriate way to proceed, not by an amendment to the Bill as proposed in Amendment No. 10.

I am also obliged to ask the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment No. 16 which would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities as to the definition of whether a person is a disabled person. Given that the Government are not presently in a position to extend the eligibility for the national concession, it is not necessary to require the Secretary of State to issue such guidance. He would of course continue to issue guidance as required. Guidance exists at the present time and we retain that capacity. Such an extension would increase the scope of the scheme in ways which, for obvious reasons, as I have indicated, we are not prepared to contemplate at the present time.

Of course, as resources become available, we recognise that we must have in place legislation which enables us to enhance what already exists. The Bill preserves that in its entirety. It creates a scope for the Secretary of State to act if necessary, and preserves the right of local authorities to enhance and extend definitions of beneficiaries as they see fit. On that basis, I believe the Bill meets the broad objectives of the amendments. The Government are not in a position at this stage to accept the specific requirements of the amendments.

I thank the Minister for that not very helpful reply. Interestingly, he has been very adaptable on the last two amendments but we do not seem to be getting quite the same response on this matter. That is unfortunate because mental health disability, as everyone now recognises, is of significant importance in people’s lives. We should probably encompass mental health whenever we talk about disability. My amendment would extend the definition of disability in the Transport Act 2000. It would probably not be a very expensive concession either, given the number of people who might be involved in it, but I have not costed it.

I am also slightly surprised that the Minister does not accept that it would be helpful to reproduce in the Bill the definitions in the Transport Act 2000. That is what my first amendment was about, although it was extended to include mental health. It is quite important that people understand and know the intention behind legislation. Far too often, we put forward legislation that is a bit wobbly and does not really help people when they see it. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, you have to go fumbling around other legislation to find out what is intended. We will consider whether we want to press the matter further but the amendment does have merit.

I am not in a position to withdraw Amendment No. 16 at the moment. The wording of subsection (6) is interesting. It seeks to change,

“The Secretary of State may issue guidance to travel concession authorities”,

to “the Secretary of State shall issue guidance to travel concession authorities”. If when determining whether a person is a disabled person for the purposes of subsection (4) you have to have regard to any guidance that may be issued, it is sensible that the Secretary of State should have to issue guidance to which you have to have regard. It is a question of the conditional against the positive and it would be of benefit if the Secretary of State were to issue that guidance to which people must have regard, otherwise we might have to turn the conditionals around within the terms of the sentence.

For today, I will withdraw the amendment and not press the other amendment to a vote but I do not promise that we will not return to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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

“(4B) 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.

(4C) Where a person whose current statutory travel concession permit is marked in accordance with subsection (4B) they shall be entitled to a waiver of the fare for a journey when using a dial a ride vehicle, community transport service, hackney carriage vehicle or other door to door transport.

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

(4E) Before issuing guidance under subsection (4D) 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.”

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 11 and the other amendments in the group are probing. I acknowledge immediately that they would have the financial implications that we have been talking about and I am sure the Minister will be able to enlighten us on how much they would be. However, I shall put on record the principle behind the amendments. They would allow for the provision of door-to-door transport for those unable to access mainstream public transport and would also allow a companion to accompany them who, under this scheme, would be exempt from cost.

Even where more accessible vehicles have been introduced on public transport routes, they will never be a viable option for some disabled people, even with assistance. Concessionary fares should therefore also be available on community transport and door-to-door services.

Other disabled people may need door-to-door transport because of the inaccessibility of the pedestrian environment already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Low, or because it is a rural area and too far to go on foot. For example, there may be a lack of dropped kerbs or barriers on the footway—all the things that impact on making it difficult for people with disabilities to walk.

The amendments would also allow for a companion to travel free with a disabled person, both inside and outside London, where it is necessary for the disabled person to be able to make the journey because of their impairment. Not all disabled people are able to access mainstream public transport on their own and it is not only people with physical or sentient disabilities who are so affected. There are also particular issues for people with phobias or who experience high levels of anxiety or disorientation in busy or unfamiliar places. Those people may also need someone with them for support.

Concessions should be available to allow a companion to travel free of charge where it is necessary to access mainstream public transport. That is already provided for under both the Welsh scheme, on which the amendment is based, and the scheme in Dorset. I beg to move.

In supporting the amendment, I draw attention to the problem caused by the infrequency and lack of availability of buses, which is a particular problem for people living in rural areas. Organisations representing older people have welcomed the move to free cross-border transport in England in 2008 and, in due course, across the UK, but remain concerned that people living in areas without bus services or those unable to use buses will continue to be disadvantaged.

The Minister laid considerable stress at Second Reading on the role of concessionary travel in promoting social inclusion. It seems inequitable that the concession continues to exclude older people who are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion because they are dependent on forms of transport other than the bus, whether because they cannot use public transport for mobility reasons or because they live in a rural area with no access to a car. It is currently estimated that 27 per cent of people over 65 living in rural areas have no access to a car. We also know that rural areas are those where a proportion of the older population is growing the fastest.

In a recent survey which asked what alternative transport arrangements people would have to make to access similar services if their local post office closed, Age Concern found that only 46 per cent of respondents said that they would use the bus; 36 per cent said that they would use their car or that of a relative or friend; but 33 per cent said that they would need to use a taxi, with smaller numbers ticking the box labelled dial-a-ride or community transport schemes. Obviously, if we add up those percentages, we see that some people were ticking more than one box.

There is thus a powerful case for extending the scheme to modes of transport other than the bus. The Bill continues to provide powers for local authorities to offer more generous provisions than the statutory minimum but we know from past experience that local discretion simply results in a postcode lottery. Funding pressure on local authorities to meet the requirements of improved statutory concessions has also resulted in the withdrawal of more generous schemes.

Thus there is a case for extending the Bill to provide access to transport for all people over 60. Age Concern has estimated that a concession for community transport would cost in the region of £25 million, and that has been confirmed by the figures referred to earlier by the Minister when we were discussing Amendment No. 3. At the moment we do not know how to estimate the cost of those who are able to access buses but whose problem is the frequency or availability of the service.

Age Concern would like to see a provision in the Bill for people to have the choice of applying either for a bus concession or for tokens to an annual maximum that would enable them to access alternative forms of transport, such as taxis or, more probably, community transport schemes. Some local authorities, such as Portsmouth, already offer such a scheme. If such provision is not seen as possible at this stage, perhaps the Government could produce a report within the next year or so on a concessionary solution for people who do not have bus services in their area or who, for various reasons, are unable to use buses.

I apologise to the Committee that I have been coming in and out but the Committee on the Mental Health Bill is taking place simultaneously. I took part in the pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill and so I will be coming in and out of this Committee.

It may seem odd that I, who live and work in Wales, would take part in a Bill that affected England but I was asked by Help the Aged to table the amendment in my name. I agreed to do so because of the patient population that I know of only too well who cannot access bus travel. We should not underestimate such people, particularly those who are older, who have bone disease, whose balance is perhaps not always what it could be and who cannot travel on buses. Some of these patients have tried to do so but have fallen and sustained fractures. I know of such cases personally.

As my noble friend Lord Low has said, in areas where there are flexible concessions, they are well taken up, are extremely popular and are certainly not abused. In many areas there are flexible concessions but the individual also has to top them up in order to travel a further distance. Those are also very popular because they allow people to get out of the isolation of lonely living, where they see nothing but the four walls in which they live—day in, day out. It is incredibly important for the health and welfare of our population that they remain as mobile as possible. In some parts of the country there are no reasonable bus services for such people to access.

The principle of the amendment in my name is not to make the Government do anything at this stage but simply to give the Secretary of State powers that he can use in future, if he so wishes. I hope that the Minister will not turn his back on putting such increased powers on the face of the Bill. They would allow the Secretary of State to put pressure on local authorities to look at flexible concessions and to introduce imaginative schemes in their locality. For those that do not, the Secretary of State would ultimately be able to wield a stick, rather than simply a carrot, in trying to persuade them.

It is vital that in a Bill as important as this for maintaining mobility in the population we do not ignore the very people whose mobility and mental health are under greatest threat by allowing them to remain isolated because they are too old or too disabled to fall within the provisions of the Bill and able to use it in a practical way.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments in the group. I want to emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that if I have been less constructive in my response to her amendments, there is nothing personal intended—it is the nature of the amendments that dictate the quality of our exchanges.

I am not sure that I will be much more helpful with regard to this group than I was with regard to the last. I emphasise to the noble Baroness that local authorities have the discretion to offer travel concessions on other forms of public transport, such as dial-a-ride services and taxis, and for accompanying companions for disabled persons. A national scheme, however, raises profound issues of cost. The noble Baroness’s amendments do not constrain the extent of these provisions. It is one thing to talk of concessions on buses, which we can define in terms of the services being provided, it is another to talk of offering the same support to taxi services. It is not indicated here that there would necessarily be any mileage constraint on that, nor is it clear who the accompanying person might be, by any definition.

Not that the noble Baroness’s intention is anything but entirely proper and to be supported in terms of objectives of enhancing opportunities for these categories of people, but one can see the open-ended nature of these amendments and the implications for costs. She has sufficient local government experience to recognise—but I am sure a word with her local friend, who also plays such a prominent part in local government, would confirm—that it is unlikely that local government would accept such an open-ended commitment without some idea of the potential costs and how it would guarantee that they were adequately reimbursed.

Local authorities that exercise their role in this area are doing so responsibly and with care. The trouble with these amendments, if they were to be introduced into the Bill in national terms, is that local authorities would lose the discretion and would be obliged to meet the requirement. The Committee will recognise just how extensive those commitments might be. I assure the Committee, however, as I have done on the previous amendments, that the Bill preserves the flexibility for local authorities to offer concessions on other forms of public transport and to offer alternative travel token schemes, if they wish to do so, under the discretionary schemes set up under the Transport Act 1985. There is also a power, under the Transport Act 2000, for the Secretary of State to extend a national concession to other modes of public passenger transport, including accessible community transport services.

We have the legislative powers, therefore, to make progress in these areas. I am obviously hesitant—rather more than hesitant; reluctant—about accepting amendments that appear to impose upon local authorities not areas of discretion, but obligations, some of which look very open-ended indeed. We are not in a position to accept amendments that extend the principles of the scheme that far.

I also recognise the strength of the representations made again by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on the question of the problems of disabled people with regard to the infrequency or inadequacy of local buses, particularly in rural areas. I emphasise to the Committee that there are many users of rural buses and we are concerned to improve the quality of those services. We are providing over £50 million a year to local authorities to help them support rural bus services. The grant has risen from £32 million a year when it was introduced in 1998 and will provide more than £55 million in 2007-08. So we are committed to increasing support for rural buses. I recognise the valid point of the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the availability and accessibility of these services, but I emphasise that we are concerned to improve them, both for the disabled and for the general community as a whole.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke to her amendment and emphasised the progress that has been made in Wales. I am well aware of her extensive experience of that. Even before she bobbed out from the Committee, the noble Baroness might have already detected that I was a little reluctant to accept examples from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in relation to the Bill. This is not because I am discriminating against the Welsh, being Welsh myself, the Scots or the Northern Irish, but simply because their circumstances, the provisions they make, the extent and costs of their schemes, are very different from the provision in England. It is entirely for the Welsh Assembly to make its decisions in these matters—I would be the last to intrude upon such deliberations—but that does not mean that its experience is automatically translatable into the English experience.

I do not see why we should oblige local authorities to offer any particular concession. If we oblige them to do so, by definition we take away the discretionary nature of the schemes they employ. They have the power to make concessions if they wish to do so. Some English local authorities are very large indeed. They have populations which, although not as great as the whole of Wales, are certainly as great as a substantial part of it, and it is only right that they should have elements of discretion too.

As I indicated earlier, we have no plans to extend the statutory concession to other forms of transport or to accompanying companions. Any such extensions are possible in the future. I have no doubt that noble Lords on the Committee and elsewhere and others of like mind—there are many in government who will join with them on this—will look in the future towards the enhancement of the present schemes. Any extensions can be effected under this legislation; we have the provisions in place. It will therefore be recognised that while the amendments may look valuable in extending the scheme, they would not actually increase the powers to achieve their objectives in the future. They would present a hefty bill immediately the legislation became law rather than when a more mature reflection had been made and resources were available.

The noble Baroness will recognise that I am not against the principle she is putting forward—far from it. I am saying that we have the legislative framework within which such a principle could be implemented in due course. To avoid unintended consequences, any decision to extend the national statutory entitlement would have to be fully funded and the impact fully considered. The problems with regard to certain forms of transport and companions will need definition lest the opportunity for abuse completely overwhelms the scheme and the confidence of those who implement it is lost.

This is true also in regard to Amendments Nos. 11 and 31. There is no limit on when services can be used, on whether or not the travel must be local, on the use of taxis and on the other services to be provided for free. Travel is a valuable and important resource and we recognise that categories of our fellow citizens benefit significantly from it. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, put the case very forcefully indeed for people whose health might otherwise suffer because they are confined within a limited framework; but, in tackling that problem—I agree it is an issue which has to be assessed and tackled—we cannot create in legislation a framework that offers the potential for such widespread availability and access as to render the situation quite unmanageable from the Government’s point of view.

With our proposed new national concession, the Government’s spending on concessionary travel will be approximately £1 billion a year. We are committed to accessible public transport for disabled people. Regulations requiring buses and other forms of public transport to be accessible have been introduced, but we must be realistic. It would not serve the interests of the disabled or the wider interests of the country to accept amendments that would open the door to such a wide entitlement to travel that would be ill defined and hugely costly.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am not indulging in a burst of paranoia; I have seen the Minister often enough to know that he will not accept all my amendments. I am, however, simply feeling a bit tweaked in the early new year that I am not getting anywhere. I can see that I will get nowhere again. I shall say only two things. I did say that the outset that this was a probing amendment and I acknowledged that there were financial implications to it. It was tabled to hear the Minister’s reply to a very important point.

The Minister has said that this can be done in future. I presume that these schemes can be extended only by order of the Secretary of State. They would therefore have to be extended by secondary legislation and across the board. Now that this is a national scheme, it would have to be accepted that people wanted it to be applied nationally, rather than by each local authority. The Minister may know the answer. If he does not, I would be grateful if he could ensure that I received an answer before we reach the next stage. This is what we are really looking for.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, put it when speaking to her amendment, this is about the acceptance of the principle that people who are not in a position to manage public transport are therefore in effect being denied access to a reasonable life and a reasonable existence. They might be able to have that access with a companion to help them. That is what I was alluding to when I talked about a companion travelling for free as a concession on public transport.

I heard what the Minister said in reply. We need to look a little further at the permissiveness of other legislation, but the extent of the permissiveness of the current legislation without secondary legislation is also important. I expect that is what we are talking about.

For today, I will withdraw the amendment. Perhaps we will return to this when we have looked at the matter in more detail, but I put on record the fact that I accept that there could be financial implications, so that people understand that I am not simply off on a flight of fancy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 12 to 18 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Reimbursement of operators]:

19: Clause 3, page 3, line 19, after “journeys” insert “, including journeys by residents of other travel concession authorities in England,”

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 19 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 21 and 40, all of which are tabled in my name and those of my noble friends. These amendments each concern in a different way the issue of how the scheme will be funded, and it is this aspect of the Bill which is giving local authorities most concern. We therefore see this as an opportunity to explore some of the issues they have raised.

There are two broad aspects to the question of funding, the first of which asks whether enough money will be available; that is, is the quantum sum to be made available for the scheme large enough? This is vital because there is evidence to show that when you alter the concessionary fares scheme, as happened last year in England and before that in Wales and Scotland, demand increases. In fact it would be ridiculous if demand did not increase. One of the reasons for providing this sort of scheme is in order to facilitate bus travel by pensioners and the disabled. Clearly there will be higher costs and one can only estimate how they are going to work out. We know that more people are now taking up passes than was the case previously and that those who hold passes make more journeys. Further, bus fares are rising above the level of the retail prices index, partly because of industry costs which are rising above the inflation rate. However, we must also recognise that in bringing in a group of people who will not be paying their bus fares, it will alter the way in which bus operators look at fare increases. No longer will they feel so worried about increasing fares because they will not have to deal with irate passengers. That has an inflationary effect. Given this, can the Minister explain how the Government will keep under review the actual costs being met by local government generally, which relates closely to what is happening in the bus industry?

Secondly, and probably more important, is the impact of the scheme in specific locations and on specific local authorities. The proposed system for reimbursement is to be via local authority block grant to district and unitary councils. There are two problems with this. First, district and unitary authorities are not usually the transport authorities. In metropolitan councils passenger transport authorities provide bus services, while in two-tier areas they are provided by county councils. There is therefore no requirement for district councils to pass on the sums they receive to the authority providing the service.

Secondly, I think it is accepted that the block grant is a fairly crude instrument based on variable inputs such as population and demographics. What it does not measure is the main output; that is, the number of bus journeys made. For the reasons I have given, it is likely that they will increase. The danger is that in areas where high and improving quality bus services are well promoted and provided, demand will increase still further and in a sense those authorities are going to be financially penalised for increasing demand for bus journeys. We know that this happened in the past when the scheme was introduced on a local authority basis. I gave some examples at Second Reading such as in Tyne and Wear, and in Bath and North East Somerset, which is currently facing a shortfall of around £680,000—a lot of money for a relatively small local authority. Devon County Council faced a shortfall of around £2 million. We have to recognise that the impact of the scheme in certain areas will be greater and cannot be dealt with in the average way. So while we welcome the fact that the scheme is to be extended into a national one, something we have called for, there will be difficulties in some areas which can only be described as honey pots, those in which extra journeys will be created. I know that authorities such as Blackpool are rather worried about this issue.

Local authorities have only two ways in which they can deal with a shortfall in their funding. Either they can raise council tax—which is clearly not entirely desirable, and of course they face capping to prevent them from raising it too much—or they can make cuts in services. What usually happens is that a local authority will not cut other areas of service provision in order to pay for concessionary bus fares. They are more likely to make cuts in spending on public transport. That means cutting highly subsidised services in rural areas, Sunday services or evening provision. Ironically, concessionary fares are provided for a higher number of people but they will have fewer bus services on which to use them, while of course those without concessions are heavily penalised because there are fewer services available.

Broadly these are the financial concerns which local authorities are raising, and one way or another they are all covered in the amendments in this group. While technically the amendments may not be perfect, I am sure the noble Lord understands that they are a mechanism to use in Grand Committee to air these concerns. I beg to move.

I rise to support these amendments and to speak to Amendment No. 22 in the group, which is similar in intent. Indeed, many of the arguments I shall put forward have already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and therefore I shall keep my remarks to the minimum.

It would not be incorrect to say that this entire scheme is dependent for its success on effective co-operation and administration by local authorities. I fully support that objective and it is a welcome move on the part of a Government who for too long have been unable or unwilling to trust local government to do this. I shall speak on that issue in more detail later. I feel strongly that this scheme should be administered by local authorities and it is therefore vital that we all recognise the important role they have to play in delivering it. However, there must be national funding to ensure its success.

The mechanism for the actual delivery of the scheme has not been determined. As the noble Baroness has just made clear, if it is to be made through the block grant, that might not be as satisfactory as it should be. Whatever arrangement is settled on, the key principle must be that local councils are fully funded and suffer no financial risk. We have talked about the concessionary and other elements that local authorities might take on, which is up to them. As everyone is aware, local government is under severe cost pressures in the form of adult social care provision, waste and so forth. Local authorities want to support this scheme and the Government have said they want them to do that, and therefore we must find the funding nationally to support the provisions that come out of this legislation.

I am not normally in favour of specific grants. Generally I prefer local authorities to be able to decide on their spending, but this might be an exception. I think the Government recognise that there may also be capital costs in setting up the scheme initially. Given that, will the Minister explain how he sees this being provided for? That is why we have tabled subsection (2) of the proposed new clause. Effectively it would allow local authorities to claim back any expenses they incur in setting up the scheme during its first year of operation. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response explaining the work being done in this area. I beg to move.

I intervene to offer an explanation of why I have not supported the amendments concerning disabled people moved by noble Lords. We are very unhappy about the funding of the scheme as it is and we want that put right before we talk about extensions to it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I am very uneasy about whether there is enough money, or whether such money as there is is properly targeted to those who need it. That is why I emphasise the need to move as quickly as possible to a better scheme based on smartcards, which would enable us to direct the funding to where it is needed and to pay it directly.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and my noble friend Lady Scott, I am extremely anxious to hear what the Minister has to say about investigation of a scheme which is showing huge promise in its first few months in terms of the number of people using it. In my locality, an increase in bus use of 43 per cent has been far more dramatic than that of any other initiative taken by the Government. The cost implications of such a scheme merit further careful consideration.

The real issues are being joined here by noble Lords who, I am conscious, have far greater experience of local authority finance than I have enjoyed. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his contribution. When I was struggling with the issue of how far we should extend the scheme, I automatically assumed that his preserved silence was one of assent for the government position, because I always assume silence on the part of opposition parties as assent to what the Government are doing. I know that we have got it just about right if they are quiet. I am now grateful that he has reinforced that impression. We must tread with care on the question of how extensive the scheme is to be, because it must be properly funded. That is why I resisted earlier amendments; I was anxious to guarantee that we are working within the means available.

We are confident in broad terms that the £1 billion that we will be spending in total on concessionary fares will be sufficient to meet all demands in the system. The extra £250 million related to the Bill includes provision for increased pass take-up—the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made the point that there are early indications of the enthusiasm with which people who are qualified will take advantage of the new opportunities—and assumptions about costs and fares. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, had to say about the increased cost of bus fares, but we think that we have taken those adequately into account.

I respect her point that the impact of free or concessionary travel may be disproportionate for some authorities, which will take much more of the strain than others because of the nature of what they provide and the advantages that concessionary travellers will see of going to those “honey pots”—I think that that was her term. I have heard Blackpool described in many terms—generally favourable but sometimes unfavourable—but never have I heard it called a honey pot before. On behalf of the good folk of Blackpool, I shall take that as a compliment. We are working very hard to ensure proper collaboration between local government and the Treasury so that when we allocate the £250 million, it takes into account the disproportionate effects. There is no doubt that a national scheme has disproportionate effects on local authorities.

I should like to put the issue of local authority funding to bed. Amendments Nos. 20 to 22 seek to ensure that local authorities are adequately funded by central government to provide reimbursement for the national concession. I am aware that issue of local authority funding goes far wider than the scope of the Bill. I bore in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that he was beginning to think in terms of hypothecation on this issue in relation to local authorities. We are aware that powerful voices will still argue against that for all sorts of reasons, but local authorities will certainly want to be assured that they will be adequately refunded for the costs of operating the scheme, which was the burden of the noble Lord’s remarks. Concessionary fares reimbursement is only one of many obligations that authorities must face, and we know their skill in managing matters in this area.

We have made provision for the principles of the Bill to be adequately funded. There is the issue of how the funding should be distributed, but that will involve extensive discussion and collaboration with local authorities and I cannot come forward with a blueprint at this stage. No noble Lord in the Committee would expect me to do that. However, the Committee does expect reassurance over the proportions and difficult funding allocations and that funding should follow the needs. We fully take that argument on board and recognise its importance. Speaking on behalf of the Government, it is in our interests to ensure that local authorities are adequately funded for providing these statutory concessions.

Amendment No. 40 drifts into the general issue of how passenger transport authorities are funded by their metropolitan districts. I see no reason why concessionary fares should be different from other aspects of transport policy that a PTA, through its executive, delivers on behalf of the districts of which it consists. The proposed change interferes with a well established and adequate system for funding the PTAs. It is also worth pointing out that under our proposals in the Bill, no PTA would be obliged to agree a joint scheme with a metropolitan district council. If the PTA felt that funding was not forthcoming, it might reasonably refuse to agree to the joint scheme. I can therefore see no reason for changing that mechanism, which has worked in the past. I recognise the challenges posed by the Bill, but they should not create difficulties in this area.

On the issue of operator reimbursement, at the moment local authorities are required to reimburse bus operators only for concessionary journeys made wholly within their area. From April 2008, elderly and disabled people resident in England will be able to travel for free on off-peak local bus services anywhere in England. Therefore, the basis on which operators are reimbursed also needs to change. Amendment No. 19 is not the right way in which to go about that, and the concern that may have prompted it has already been addressed in the Bill. Section 149 of the Transport Act 2000, as it would be amended by the Bill, will require travel concession authorities to reimburse operators for providing the national concession on journeys beginning in their area. The national concession must, under Section 145, be provided to those holding passes issued by any travel concession authority in England, as well as those issued under the London schemes. Hence, travel concession authorities will already be obliged to reimburse operators for trips begun in their area and made by concessionaires resident outside their area.

This approach renders the authority in which the eligible person resides totally irrelevant. This must be right under a national scheme. It also negates the need for unworkable billing arrangements whereby 300 local authorities could be billing each other for trips made by each other’s eligible residents. The whole Committee would react in horror to any such concept. We reacted in horror in advance of the concept being adumbrated in the Committee, which is why we are putting forward these proposals.

Amendment No. 20 also calls for a standard scheme for reimbursing the bus operators for all the costs incurred in carrying concessionaires. Current legislation already requires that operators should be no better or worse off as a result of carrying concessionaires. As such, operators are entitled to be fully reimbursed for any additional costs incurred. There are acknowledged problems with the current arrangements for reimbursing operators, which are complex and open to various interpretations, but Clause 3 provides a deliberately flexible regulation-making power so that the tier at which concessionary fares are administered and for which reimbursement is provided could be changed in future years if we felt it necessary to do so. A more standard approach to reimbursement can also be achieved through existing regulation-making powers, which the Bill preserves. I can give the Committee that reassurance.

We are working with operators and local authorities to put in place revised and more efficient arrangements for the new 2008 concession. It is important that we secure the best deal for the taxpayer and reduce the burden placed on the industry. Any decision to make a change via an order will, of course, be after proper consultation and a regulatory impact assessment.

It is clearly premature to adopt the amendment at this stage. It is best to conclude this work by passing the Bill and making any changes through regulations rather than by seeking to pre-empt them, which the amendment would do. The amendments identify with total accuracy the problems of the national scheme that we have to confront and the impact of the scheme on local finances. I seek not to minimise those problems but to reassure the Committee that they have been anticipated effectively and that the Bill provides a framework in which the necessary regulations can work.

I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to go through the points that I have made. I appreciate, as I am sure local authorities will, what he said about ensuring that the scheme is fully funded. Ultimately, we need a scheme that works for the passengers, that local authorities can afford to provide and that provides bus operators with a commercial opportunity. We need to recognise that, because this new scheme is being built on a scheme that was amended only a few months ago, and we are to a certain extent working on assumptions that may need to be reviewed if the scheme is to remain sustainable.

I am very keen to avoid the results of this scheme being added to the long list of matters on which local authorities are taking issue with central government, so that it does not become part of the annual ritual of local authorities saying, “This is where we are short of money”, and the Government saying, “No, you are fine. Look, we have given you X amount of money”. Although that may be quite good for scoring debating points, it would not achieve very many bus journeys if local authorities ended up cutting services, which is usually what happens when they are short of money.

I will stick with my assertion that Blackpool is a honey pot, not least because my revered leader comes from Blackpool and I am sure there must be extra brownie points to be stored up through mentioning it. Nevertheless, the local authority there is as concerned as others are about this element of the Bill. I fear that there are a lot of problems with that concept.

Finally, like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I am normally against ring-fencing, but there are occasions on which we must at least consider it. The noble Lord and I feel that this is different because we are now moving to a national scheme. If we were starting from a blank piece of paper, I imagine that the Government would introduce and run the scheme nationally. It would probably not be administered by local authorities in any event. Where local government is in effect acting as an agent for a central government scheme, as it is here, that makes us feel less sensitive about the notion of ring-fencing, because it does not restrict the scope of what a local authority can do. It is simply a mechanism to ensure that the funding is adequate.

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I made a slight slip that I would like to correct. I said that the deliberately flexible regulation powers of the Bill appeared in Clause 3. They actually appear in Clause 9. I apologise for that slip and hope that the Committee will accept my apology.

I thank the Minister for his reply and concur totally with what the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said. I know that we are having a Comprehensive Spending Review next year and that there could be different systems of funding beyond the winter of 2008, but the basis of local government funding now was sorted out two or three years ago.

Essex, like all the southern counties, has a fixed-floor grant, so that, whatever happens, we get only 2.7 per cent. It therefore frustrates us enormously when the Government say that we have extra money, because we cannot have extra money. The Government say that they have included £250 million for rail fares. Essex gets none of that because we get only 2.7 per cent regardless, and the same will be true next year. I do not think that many people understand that, but it frustrates me enormously when Ministers say that there is £500 million here and £400 million there when most of the counties get none of it. We get 2.7 per cent regardless. Although everyone else gets more than that, we get none of that money. When the Government impose new duties—as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, this is a national scheme—there must be some way of giving those who spend more money more money. All we will get next year is 2.7 per cent again. We know that now. There must be some new way of funding those new things. Otherwise, that builds up enormous problems. We cannot continue to absorb the extra cost of extra legislation at the level of 2.7 per cent. I do not think that many Ministers understand that. They think that they have given us money when they have not. We do not get any of it.

We all want this scheme to succeed, so money somehow needs to get directly to where things will happen. I am sure that we will come back to this matter. I cannot agree with the Minister, although I often do, that we must wait for regulation. We need to know where the Government are going on the funding of the scheme before we complete the legislation. We need to understand that the money will go to where it is needed, rather than into some big pot that no one ever sees again. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

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

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Reserve free travel scheme]:

24: Clause 5, leave out Clause 5 and insert the following new Clause—

“London concessionary travel

(1) After section 240 of the 1999 Act (travel concessions on journeys in and around Greater London) insert—

“240A London concessionary travel

If immediately before 1st January in any financial year it appears to Transport for London that there are not for the time being in force arrangements under section 240(1) in relation to bus travel for the next financial year, the arrangements for the current financial year will be carried forward with such adjustment to take account of inflation as the Secretary of State may in writing specify.”

(2) Section 241 of the 1999 Act (reserve free travel schemes for London residents) is amended as follows.

(3) In subsection (1) after the words “London residents” insert “other than for bus travel.””

The noble Lord said: The amendments, which are supported by London Councils—by the way, that is the body that represents all councils in London, not some of them—are intended to remove the London reserve free travel scheme in Section 241 of and Schedule 16 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999, following the introduction of the mandatory national bus concession. The free reserve scheme applies only to London and, in negotiating travel concessions, London Councils has to reach agreement with Transport for London for a scheme on its services by 31 December before the financial year of the scheme comes into effect.

If agreement is not reached, the statutory reserve scheme comes into effect at a cost determined by Transport for London. This puts London Councils at a disadvantage when negotiating with Transport for London, because Transport for London can determine the costs of the reserve scheme. Uniquely in London, the costs of the concessionary fares scheme are in effect determined by the operators who benefit, whereas elsewhere they are determined subject to appeal to the Secretary of State by the local authorities. We shall come to that matter later.

With the introduction of a national free fare concession on buses, there is no real need for elaborate special legislation to ensure a concessionary fares scheme in London. London Councils would like the Bill to be amended to remove the application of the reserve scheme for buses, and for the Government to undertake to remove the other elements of the reserve scheme when a parliamentary opportunity arises. This, I grant, is an extremely complicated amendment which the Minister and officials may need to consider carefully, but it does appear that the free reserve scheme in London is redundant. It needs removing, and perhaps the Minister might like to consider this before we return to the Bill at a later stage. I beg to move.

As I was completing a 12,000-mile air trip yesterday, I had a nightmare that there might be at least one amendment that I would not understand at all. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has kindly provided that amendment. As he said, this is an extremely difficult issue, but he will rest assured that the all-seeing, all-knowing Government have talents at their disposal besides my own humble ones. Therefore, people have been working on this issue and can do rather better than he foresaw; namely, that we can give him some kind of answer, although not one that he will wholly approve of because we do not agree that his amendments, which seek to remove bus travel from the reserve free travel scheme that guarantees concessionary travel in London, are in the interests of either Londoners or the rest of the country.

The Committee will be well aware, because the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has already informed us, that the purpose of the reserve scheme is to ensure that, should there be no agreement between the London boroughs or between the boroughs and TfL on arrangements for concessionary travel in the capital, a fallback scheme guaranteeing certain minimum concessions applies. This arrangement has been in place since the Greater London Authority Act 1999. What the noble Lord suggests will not help. The amendments do not serve the interests of Londoners or, indeed, the interests of others from outside London who want to enjoy concessionary travel in the capital when the Bill becomes law.

The amendments would be to remove the fallback arrangements that guarantee the delivery of the national concession in the capital. I understand the argument the noble Lord puts on behalf of the local authorities. He said that it weakens the bargaining position of the local authorities vis-à-vis TfL because of the fallback position, but the proposed replacement for this guarantee would be the rolling-over of existing arrangements for another year.

If there are no arrangements offering the free concession on buses in London under Section 240(1) at the end of a year, then rolling the same arrangement on for a further year will make no difference: there will still be no arrangements for free bus travel. Amendments Nos. 24, 52 and 62 remove the obligation for free bus travel for eligible people at off-peak times on local bus services. Therefore, arrangements might offer a half discount with no consequences.

Under the legislation, there is no obligation to make arrangements under Section 240(1). They are voluntary. While at the moment the reserve travel scheme guarantees the national concession, if it were disapplied as envisaged, there would be no such guarantee. If no arrangements existed at the end of a year, perhaps because a party had terminated the agreement for whatever reason, there may be no arrangements to roll over and the result would be no concession at all in London.

Even if there were existing arrangements to roll over, this will still not guarantee free travel. The agreement specifying these arrangements is voluntary. There is nothing in the legislation which would prevent a party to the arrangements from terminating its agreement if it wanted to for whatever reason. It is also possible that the parties can vary the terms of the arrangements by agreement. They could, for example, agree only to offer half-price travel rather than free travel.

In summary, complex though the issue is, it comes down to a straightforward question of whether the amendments proposed by the noble Lord would be workable and in the interests of Londoners. I do not think that it would be right for us to rely on a voluntary agreement that could disappear at any time, and which includes terms that were not consistent with the national concession, which is the underlying principle of the Bill.

I recognise where the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is coming from. I see the force of his representation, but I fear that his amendments might have the most deleterious consequences for free travel in London just when we are seeking, under the Bill, to guarantee free travel across the nation. Therefore, I think that the Committee will recognise that I must oppose his amendments.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but I think that that brief might be slightly out of date. Whereas it was the case that in London one or more boroughs could disagree and sabotage the scheme, there is now a system in place whereby there needs to be only a two-thirds majority of boroughs to agree the scheme. Usually that agreement is forthcoming. In the past, odd maverick boroughs objected. That system has now been supplanted in subsequent legislation. The legislation now is such that I believe—I stand to be corrected—that only two-thirds of the boroughs have to agree for a new arrangement to take place. Therefore, the reserve scheme is not necessary.

However, I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. If indeed he is right, we will withdraw the amendment. If, indeed, I am right, then we would seek to return to the matter later.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I just want to point out the obvious fact. The noble Lord is absolutely right that only a two-thirds majority is required. But I am absolutely right to say that if agreement was reached by those two-thirds, we would be in exactly the position I described. Whether it is unanimous, one holding a veto or two-thirds, if, as a consequence of the amendments, we end up with no concession scheme in London, I think that I am right to resist them.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The London free travel scheme]:

[Amendments Nos. 25 to 27 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Requirements as to scope]:

[Amendments Nos. 28 to 32 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Requirements as to uniformity]:

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Variation of scope of the national concession]:

[Amendments Nos. 34 to 34A not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

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

35: Clause 9, page 6, line 34, leave out subsection (1)

The noble Lord said: Clause 9 will, among other things, allow the Secretary of State actively to centralise the operation of the scheme, including reimbursement and/or other administrative functions of English travel concession authorities under Sections 145 to 150 of the Transport Act 2000. I have tabled the amendment as I am keen to probe the reason why the Government feel the need to keep such a power, albeit in reserve, in the Bill. I would also be grateful if the Minister could explain in what circumstances the Secretary of State would consider using such a power to take over the running of a national concessionary scheme. This will be a national scheme, but the Government’s White Paper and all three national parties have said that we need to do things more locally rather than centrally. To nationalise this sort of thing at the moment would go totally against the grain of our attempts to make things happen more locally. We have talked about the problems of finance and I am sure that those might be resolved, so I see no need at all for the Secretary of State to take these powers, which are totally contrary to all the things that all three parties across both Houses of Parliament are trying to do at the moment. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why we need this reserve power. I beg to move.

I understand that this amendment and Amendment No. 36 have been grouped together. I advise the Committee that I cannot call Amendment No. 37 if Amendment No. 36 is agreed to, but we shall come to that in due course. Amendment No. 35 has now been spoken to.

I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. The complications of administering the scheme are such that it may be necessary to centralise the powers. I do not say that it will be necessary, but it has proved to be so in Scotland and Wales. The local authority’s badge might appear on the pass—indeed, even the Freedom Passes in London say at the bottom, “This pass is paid for by your local council”, although the system run in London is centralised—but I fear that there are complications in administering the scheme, particularly in view of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made about the flaws in many areas, certainly in the south of England. I want at least to hear what the Minister has to say, but this power probably ought to remain in the Bill because it may be the best way in which to implement the scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, does not have to wait for the Minister to say something because he has expressed the argument more cogently than I could have done. I agree with him entirely.

I recognise the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that any powers accruing to a Secretary of State are to be investigated, examined and challenged in order to see whether they are in the national interest. We have no intention of implementing a national scheme on the basis of the Secretary of State taking responsibility for it but we are conscious of the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, eloquently described, that these are complex operations. There are 291 authorities outside London and potentially each one could have to negotiate schemes with all operators in its area.

There is no doubt that the new national scheme will put a greater burden on administering authorities and involve more complex reimbursement arrangements. We are aware that many operators are reluctant to undertake so many negotiations; that they would prefer a single negotiation with government. Full centralisation would provide greater consistency in the level of reimbursement made to operators, which is why they are interested in it. But we have not accepted the argument that we need to implement the scheme on a centralised basis and do not intend to work that way if and when the Bill becomes law. We think it is right to preserve the power because to remove it would remove flexibility from the Bill against a background where we are not, and cannot be, entirely sure that the national scheme can be implemented on the basis of such a large number of potential negotiations being carried out.

Local government and bus operators have been working together for a number of years now, with a great deal of success in many areas, and there may well prove to be a satisfactory implementation of the scheme. No one will be happier than this Administration if that proves to be the case. We do not intend to implement the power unless we are forced to do so but, for ourselves and any future Administration, we cannot see the scheme fail through a breakdown of negotiations. We think it is right to have in the Bill a power for the Secretary of State to act if this important concept proves to be unrealisable through the other methods I have described. That is why I have spoken at great length, but with somewhat less conviction than the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on why the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, should withdraw his amendment.

As we are in Committee, perhaps I may ask a question. I hope the Minister will forgive me if the answer is buried in the Bill. I am not sure about the negotiations over these concessionary schemes. I can see that each local authority can deal with its own local bus services but innumerable bus services criss-cross the country. These are national services which are nationally organised and nationally run. Is it the intention that each of the concessionary authorities will deal with these national companies—for example, National Express—on its own, or will there be some kind of central negotiation which will enable them all to come to the same arrangements in national travel schemes?

As I have indicated, the department does not see the Secretary of State playing that role. The way in which the structure evolves is for others to determine. I have not the slightest doubt that local authorities will see that it is in their interest, when they are dealing with a body like National Express, for some negotiations to take place on a broader basis than just each individual authority. In the first instance we are looking for the arrangements to be derived on that basis rather than a national scheme implemented by the Secretary of State. While I cannot quite call it a reserve power in the Bill, the Committee will recognise that we have here the potential for the Secretary of State to take responsibility for the scheme if we are not successful with our other arrangements. National Express is not a particularly good example because it largely runs coach rather than bus services, but I recognise what the noble Baroness says. Bus companies can be very big operators and a lot of complex negotiations will take place.

We start off on the premise that local authorities have developed their discretionary schemes over a period of time. They have a great deal of expertise at their disposal and they know the contours within which they are working. They will know the framework for reimbursement and the Bill provides for that. We will see how it goes. We merely think it wise to have a power for the Secretary of State within the framework of the Bill in case such arrangements do not work out.

I am not questioning the power particularly, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. It was just something that jumped up into my mind as we were going along, as the scheme is clearly being extended from local authorities out to those seeking to travel further afield. As I understand it, the noble Lord’s expectation is that local authorities will come together where necessary to negotiate outside and beyond their current boundaries. This is something we may need to bottom out.

I do not want to disagree at all with my noble friend, but taking the example of Essex, 90 per cent of all journeys will still be made within the county, whether to the shops or to hospital. It would be lovely for people to take advantage of the scheme and go to Aberdeen or wherever, and hopefully many will do so, but most of these journeys—millions of them—will be within the local authority. This is something that should be administered locally rather than nationally. Governments—I am not talking about any particular government—do not have a good record in delivering local services; local government has a much better record than when those services are nationalised. This scheme will work much better if it is delivered locally.

I do not know where the figure of 291 comes in, but it seems to be a lot. At Second Reading we looked at reducing the numbers in the counties, for example, by using the county as the transport agency rather than all the districts as well. There could be a way of simplifying that number. I spend my life doing this all the time. Local government can deliver this scheme rather better than setting up some national administration to do it, but I agree that we need reserve powers. Will the Minister slightly expand on the figure of 291 because it sounds like a lot of authorities? I am not certain how that works out. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, talked about the problems of money going to districts and counties having to get it back again. That mechanism probably needs to be simplified. Sorry to expand this topic, but as we are in Committee it is good idea to try and get some of these answers for further debate later on.

Two hundred and ninety-one is the number of travel concession authorities outside London. They will not all be negotiating units.

The Government take pride in local authorities and we recognise the value of their work in this aspect of transport policy. However, a national scheme introduces a much more challenging dimension than that which has obtained in the past, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said, local authorities make sure that in all sorts of ways they come together and authorise someone to do the work on their behalf when it comes to negotiations with big providers.

We know also that the moment the scheme comes in, someone will travel from Brighton to Berwick for free by using their bus concession. They will get into the Guinness book of records as the first person to do it. Someone else will then do it faster and earn their own place in the record book. But a bus is not a coach, which does not stop as frequently as a bus, and in essence this is a scheme for local services. So of course it is right for us to say that local services ought to be negotiated by the local authority concerned. All we are doing with regard to this provision in the Bill is not abrogating that position; far from it—that is not the basis on which we are doing this. However, it is a power we require in case things go wrong. There would be no point in introducing the Bill if it were not for the fact that the scheme itself is universally considered an asset to the nation.

We have had an interesting debate on a point that we should try to discuss further, but with that response I shall not pursue my amendment today.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

37: Clause 9, page 7, line 13, at end insert “, by allowing such appeals to be submitted at any time rather than 28 days after the commencement of a scheme as provided for by the 2000 Act”

The noble Lord said: This is the last amendment and I rise to move it in the fond hope that having given us no concessions at all this afternoon, the Minister may feel that I have hit upon something here which is an anomaly. At the moment, appeals have to be submitted within 28 days of the commencement of a scheme. That is a perilously short time during which neither the local authority nor the operator will have any idea of whether the scheme is a good or a bad one. The present rules on this state that unless an appeal is lodged within the first 28 days, it cannot be made. Earlier I gave figures for the use of bus services in Oxfordshire and I know very well that appeals were made. In the event, those appeals were withdrawn because the volume of business was much greater than had been anticipated either by the local authority or by the operator. But that will not always be the case. Other operators which have been badly affected have in fact been ruled out by the 28-day time limit. It is a very short period in which to judge the development of a bus business, one that depends on seasonal fluctuations and many other things.

The amendment provides that appeals can be “submitted at any time”. The Minister may decide that an appeal should be submitted with a certain period and I would accept that, but my main submission is that 28 days is far too short a time in which to make a sound judgment as to the efficacy of a scheme and the price at which it has been purchased. I ask the Minister at least to say that this is something that, in the light of our brief experience we have had of the operation of the scheme, he is prepared to look at again. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, because he has identified an important issue. It is right that bus operators have the capacity to appeal the amount they are being reimbursed if they think it is unfair. There have been a number of appeals to the Secretary of State by bus operators against the level of reimbursement provided by local authorities for carrying concessionaires during this financial year, and a number have already been determined. The process has worked reasonably well, and it is fair, but I have no doubt that we could improve upon it, and I shall listen to those who present a case for changes to the appeal process.

I cannot support the principle of appeals being submitted at any time—although the noble Lord may have kept the amendment open and wide in order for it to be probing. It is important that appeals are a last resort. We want the negotiations to succeed, and appeals to take place only when negotiations have effectively broken down. Allowing appeals at any time could risk undermining local negotiations, and the noble Lord will recognise the problems there. Any appeal creates some uncertainty for the local authority. Under the current arrangements, they know the magnitude of any claim at the end of the 28-day period, and can put appropriate contingency measures in place. The possibility of an appeal being submitted at any stage of the year would make it mighty difficult for local authorities. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, will recognise that point. Also, it is common legislative practice to set a deadline by which time appeals must be lodged. After all, there is a similar deadline in respect of appeals against reimbursement of discretionary schemes made by local authorities under the Transport Act 1985.

I do not think that the noble Lord’s concept of open-ended appeals in Amendment No. 37 is acceptable, but I hear what he says: that he is just testing the Government at this stage. We are open-minded about this question. We have not been working the system for long, and there is no doubt that improvements can be effected. However, we would certainly continuously resist the concept of the open-ended appeal, which has profound implications for local authorities. No doubt the noble Lord will pursue this issue further.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 38 to 40 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Reciprocal arrangements for providing travel concessions]:

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 51 not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clauses 11 to 13 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendments Nos. 52 to 61 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Repeals and revocations]:

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 14 to 16 agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

The Committee adjourned at 6.04 pm.