HL Deb 10 July 2000 vol 615 cc87-109

  1. (" .—(1) The appropriate national authority may issue guidance concerning the carrying out by local transport authorities and metropolitan district councils of their functions in this Part in relation to quality contract schemes.
  2. (2) Those authorities and councils must have regard to any such guidance.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 151 and 154. The amendments would make the same provisions in different places in the Bill, making it possible for the appropriate national authority to issue guidance in relation to quality contract schemes, ticketing schemes and the provision of information.

The amendments are linked to a previous set of amendments that I spoke to on the consultation processes. As those previous amendments have fallen, it may be best to treat these as probing amendments. We want to be sure that we understand the Government's intentions on guidance in those three areas.

If our previous amendments on consultation had been accepted, the way in which it was carried out would have been a major part of any guidance that the appropriate national authorities put forward. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have any idea of using best practice as a way of informing guidance.

So I really have two questions in relation to these amendments: first, whether there is already or is going to be guidance on those particular items—and I repeat they are quality contract schemes, ticketing schemes and the provision of information; and secondly, if so, whether part of that guidance will propose the use of best practice in areas where it may not be very widely used at present. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

These amendments would empower the appropriate national authority—the Secretary of State or National Assembly for Wales—to issue guidance with respect to quality contract schemes, ticketing schemes and passenger information, and would require local transport authorities and metropolitan district councils to have regard to that guidance.

Of course we already have equivalent provisions in the Bill for local transport plans and bus strategies. That is because central government have particular policy objectives that they wish to have taken into account in those contexts; and because we are making statutory what is currently a non-statutory process.

We have also made an exception in the case of quality partnership schemes. To some extent, those build on experience with existing voluntary quality partnership arrangements on which the department is already preparing a good practice guide. I shall return in a few moments to the issue of good practice. Under those circumstances, we felt that it might be helpful to develop that in the context of the move to statutory quality partnerships. We have taken the power to issue guidance in Clause 122.

But the focus of much of Part II of the Bill is on the delivery of local solutions to local problems. These are primarily matters for local authorities to decide in the light of local needs. We have no particular wish to burden authorities with central guidance on every issue.

It could be said that our existing guidance on non-statutory local transport plans is already too long. We do not agree. We are responding to requests from authorities to be clear and to address issues in some detail. But we do not see the same need for general guidance on schemes for ticketing or passenger information, for example. These are not areas where we think it is necessary to be prescriptive from the centre. Decisions are really down to local authorities, and then only where there has been a failure to secure satisfactory arrangements with operators without recourse to statutory powers. Clause 134(7) requires local transport authorities to co-operate with one another in relation to ticketing schemes. The Bill makes similar provision in connection with quality contracts and bus information.

So we do not accept the need to add these additional provisions on guidance to the Bill. There is always scope for informal guidance on any relevant matter. There is always scope for the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to collect together and to publicise examples of good practice. It may well be that the Secretary of State will want to do that in the light of early experience of the powers in the Bill.

But we should avoid giving any impression that local authorities cannot get on with implementing their new powers without waiting for further guidance from Whitehall. In fact, I am slightly surprised that the Liberal Democrat party should be seeking to turn a Labour Government into control freaks. We are certainly not control freaks and we have no intention of either being type-cast in that way or being dragged into giving guidance to which local authorities must have regard. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue the matter.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

When the Minister said that he was not interested in sending out too much guidance, my noble friend on my left said, "I hadn't noticed"! We can return the compliment or the tease with good measure!

I listened carefully to the Minister's clear response and, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 134 agreed to.

Clause 135 [Notice and consultation requirements]:

[Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 not moved.]

Clause 135 agreed to.

Clause 136 [Making of scheme]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 150: Page 83. line 26, leave out from ("scheme") to end of line 27.

The noble Lord said: This is another amendment designed with the good reputation of the Government in mind. It is designed to help them. Page 83, line 26 of the Bill deals with ticketing arrangements under which authorities may vary or revoke a scheme. Under Clause 135 a ticketing scheme is subject to certain notice and consultation requirements. Subsection (6) of Clause 136 states: The authority or authorities may vary or revoke the scheme; and the variation or revocation is subject to the same procedure as the making of the scheme"— which seems to be entirely reasonable. If one has taken fully into account the views of the public, it seems perfectly appropriate to follow that procedure if one wants to vary or revoke the scheme. If there had been a full stop there, I would have been content; but the sentence continues: except to the extent that the procedure is modified by regulations made by the appropriate national authority".

Should the regulations ever be promulgated, we shall have an opportunity to discuss them. I hope that the Minister will take the course of greater discretion and accept my amendment which would prevent him having the embarrassment of standing up at some point in the future and explaining to the House why it was that the legislation passed so recently—you can bet your bottom dollar it will not be that far away—requires modification.

I do not believe that it is reasonable for that little escape clause to be in the Bill. What is written on the face of the Bill is not unreasonable. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I believe that the boot is on the other fool. If I were to accept the amendment, I believe that someone would have to return to the Dispatch Box to say, "Sorry, chaps, we did not think about the implications that varying or revoking a ticketing scheme may have, and we may now need to introduce regulations for making a modification". We are getting into pretty recherché stuff now. We are talking not about making a ticketing scheme, but about revoking or varying such a scheme, which would relate to a small minority of cases anyway.

I can assure the Committee that there is nothing sinister in subsection (6). We include the regulation-making power to ensure flexibility. Over a period of time—the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, may be right to say that it may be a short period of time—the normal procedures for making a ticketing scheme would benefit from some modification in the event of a scheme being varied or revoked. It is difficult to predict precisely what would be needed. But it is also possible that ticketing schemes will need to be varied over time to bring in operators or modes, for example.

In Grand Committee we introduced government amendments that recognised the fact that there are through-ticketing schemes between buses and trains or trams. For instance, if we had suggested 15 years ago including trams in the Bill, everybody would have thought we were talking about Blackpool and not about the considerable number of cities which are now introducing trams. We would not have anticipated that. There may be an OFT investigation of the ticketing schemes which makes it necessary for us to issue regulations. All we are looking for is a degree of flexibility to respond to future developments. If we made regulations, they would of course be the subject of prior consultation with the relevant interests. There is nothing sinister in that.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I do not suggest it is sinister; I suggest it is misguided. It shows a remarkable lack of confidence in the legislative process in which we are engaged if the Government have to keep writing in escape clauses to cover something different happening in the future.

The Minister gave an interesting reply, but not a satisfactory answer. He said that legislation should be a legislator's charter. If we pass a law, we should pass in that law the right to pass more laws. I do not approve of that. I have always felt that we already have far too much law on the statute book. When we add regulation to law and guidance to regulation, heaven help us, but that is what we are doing in this Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Before the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, decides what to do, I should point out that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made no objection to this regulatory power.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am aware of that, but that does not prevent me having an opinion on the matter. However, I shall study with care what the Minister said, though I believe I shall disagree with him. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 136 agreed to.

Clause 137 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]:

Clause 138 [Information about bus services]:

[Amendments Nos. 152 and 153 not moved.]

Clause 138 agreed to.

Clause 139 agreed to.

Clause 140 [Bus information: supplementary]:

[Amendments Nos. 153A to 153C not moved.]

Clause 140 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 154 not moved.]

Clause 141 agreed to.

Clause 142 [Power to obtain information about local services]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 155: Page 85, line 40. at end insert— ("(7) If information is disclosed in contravention of subsection (4), the local transport authority which required its provision shall be liable to compensate the operator which provided it for any loss suffered by that operator as a result of its disclosure.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 142 deals with the collection of information on services. It gives local authorities, of necessity, the power to collect information which may be commercially sensitive.

That of itself is not a problem. If we go through the Bill, we find that under certain circumstances it permits the disclosure of that information. But there is nothing in the Bill which compensates a commercial organisation if it is financially disadvantaged as a result of either the improper or inadvertent disclosure of information which it had been required to provide. There is an important principle of commercial justice behind the words such as "inadequate though they may be" that local authorities are used to acknowledging—in general very well and with the greatest propriety. There have been occasions when the usual high standards have slipped. Where that happens, the operator who is disadvantaged as a result should be entitled to compensation.

Such occurrences may be rare but when dealing with legislation one has to anticipate difficult situations. One hopes that they will never occur, but they might. So it is necessary to incorporate the right of redress. The amendment has that intention. Even if the wording is not appropriate, I hope that the Minister will at least consider the principle. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Clause 142(6) already makes the unlawful disclosure of information obtained by an authority a criminal offence. Moreover, a statute does not change existing common law unless it expresses an intention to do so. The Bill expresses no such intention. There is a well-established right of action at common law in cases where information known to be confidential comes into the possession of a person who unlawfully discloses it to a third party in breach of his duty of confidence. Incidentally, the third party is himself placed under a duty of confidence in such circumstances. He may also be sued and cannot simply plead that the information was in the public domain.

Information obtained under statutory powers is subject to such a duty of confidentiality. It would be open to an operator in such circumstances to take action in the courts to restrain wrongful disclosure by means of an injunction—a remedy not mentioned in the amendment—or to obtain compensation. Then it would be for the courts to decide whether to grant an injunction or order that compensation should be paid.

However, it is not the case that any disclosure of that information would always be unlawful or actionable. In some instances the court may consider that it was in the public interest for the information to be disclosed. The court is able to exercise its discretion in the matter. The amendment would appear to make all cases of disclosure actionable—except in so far as they were consented to or allowed under subsection (4). That cannot be right. The general common law rules are preferable and should continue to apply. A provision of the kind proposed is not needed when a civil right of action already exists. I hope that the noble Lord agrees and will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The Minister says that I have got it wrong, that existing legislation has got it right and that the principle behind the amendment is covered. I am sure that the situation that the noble Lord describes is correct, because we can rely on what he says. None the less, I am sufficiently sceptical of everything that I am told to check. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 142 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 not moved.]

Clause 143 [Civil penalties for bus lane contraventions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 157A: Page 85, line 43, leave out ("approved").

The noble Baroness said: I shall try to be quick and straightforward in moving this amendment and speaking also to Amendments Nos. 157B and 159A. These amendments all refer to the new clause which provides civil penalties for bus lane contraventions, which we welcome, and specifies which local authorities may operate the scheme. The clause was introduced by the Government in Grand Committee. At that time, I questioned what criteria would be required for a local authority to be "approved" for the purposes of this clause. The Minister replied that such "approved" authorities would be those which have a "decriminalised parking regime". He said that the provision for approval is there, primarily to ensure that schemes can be checked to ascertain whether appropriate regimes are in place to ensure that the schemes are operated fairly". He then added that the provision, might also allow a degree of flexibility in relation to decriminalised parking regimes as far as the national authorities are concerned".—[Official Report, 27/6/00; col. CWH 34.]

I have tabled these amendments not only to make the point again that I should like to see every local authority able to deal with bus lane contraventions, but also to question the Minister about the "degree of flexibility" that he mentioned. I take the point that schemes should be fair, though whether it is necessary for central government to judge whether or not they are fair is another matter. But if they are also to be flexible, I wonder how that equates with fairness. Perhaps the Minister could spend a few minutes on the description of the criteria for approval and tell us how the system will operate. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I believe that I may have slightly exaggerated the degree of flexibility in these arrangements. Although the provisions in the Bill imply a degree of flexibility, in the present circumstances the intention is to ensure that only local authorities with decriminalised parking enforcement powers may be approved under the system. There are a number of reasons involved. First, we must ensure that those powers will only be exercised by authorities that have the means to do this properly; in other words, they will already have in place an administrative system on the basis of the decriminalised parking regime.

Secondly, we must avoid the anomaly that local authorities without decriminalised parking enforcement powers would be able to enforce moving offences in bus lanes but not at the same time be able to enforce parking offences in bus lanes, which would be the case in those circumstances. Thirdly, there is the question of the appeals system. The existence of a decriminalised parking regime would allow motorists who dispute penalty notices to make use of the National Parking Adjudication Service, membership of which is limited to authorities that have taken on decriminalised parking enforcement powers.

Therefore, although it is conceivable on the first criterion that an equivalent regime could be established, there would still be problems as regards the second and third. In practice, we are limiting it to those local authorities that are, or will be, operating a decriminalised parking regime. Authorities outside London that have not taken on decriminalised parking enforcement powers would need to establish their own separate adjudication system which would simply not be practical.

In Grand Committee I said that the vast majority of local transport authorities within England are now moving towards decriminalised parking enforcement powers. Therefore there would be a relatively small number, certainly in the urban areas, which would fall outside this provision once all those authorities come through the pipeline. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

Before I do not press the amendment, I hope that I may ask a further question for clarification. Clause 143(2) provides that a local transport authority is an approved authority if it has decriminalised parking enforcement powers and if an order has been made approving it. The Minister has explained that an authority needs to have decriminalised parking enforcement powers before it is approved. Does he envisage that all authorities that have decriminalised parking enforcement powers will he approved, or are there other hurdles to be cleared before approval is given?

Lord Whitty

I doubt whether there are circumstances where an authority with an up-andrunning scheme for decriminalised parking would not be approved. However, representations may be made to the Secretary of State at the time of approval which he would have to take into account. Therefore, I cannot give an absolute guarantee on that point.

Baroness Hamwee

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 157B not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 158: Page 86, line 13, at end insert ("where the existence of the lane is clearly signed and marked on the road surface").

The noble Lord said: Clause 143(3) defines a bus lane contravention as, a contravention of any such provision of—

  1. (a) a traffic regulation order,
  2. (b) an experimental traffic order, or
  3. (c) a temporary traffic restriction order,
as relates to the use of an area of road which is or forms part of a bus lane". Clause 143(4) states, And an area of road is or forms part of a bus lane if the order provides that it may be used—
  1. (a) only by buses, or
  2. (b) only by buses and some other class or classes of vehicular traffic specified in the order".
Nothing in that measure states that a bus lane must be clearly identified on the surface of the road and—this is equally important—clearly signed. There may be a provision to that effect elsewhere, but I have not been able to discover it in the time that was available to me to study this complex Bill.

It seems to me that an experimental traffic order would be introduced temporarily and therefore might not be deemed to warrant appropriate signing and marking. A temporary traffic restriction order could also cause difficulties in that regard. Therefore, I believe that it should be stated on the face of the Bill that a bus lane is a bus lane only where the existence of the lane is clearly signed and marked on the road surface.

The Minister will probably tell me that a bus lane could not possibly be a bus lane without that. If he gives me that assurance, I shall be delighted with his reply and withdraw the amendment. However, as I was in a state of blissful ignorance, I felt that it was necessary to table the amendment to assure myself and the wider world of the situation. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I reassure the noble Lord that a bus lane is not a bus lane unless it is marked as a bus lane and the markings comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations 1994. That signing requirement applies equally to orders enforced by the police and to orders enforced by local authorities under decriminalised procedures, and to temporary arrangements. The matter is therefore already covered in regulations and the amendment is not necessary.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I am delighted with that reply. It gives me great pleasure to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 159 and 159A not moved.]

Clause 143 agreed to.

Clause 144 [Mandatory concessions outside Greater London]:

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 160: Page 87. line 32, after second ("person") insert ("or young person under the age of 19 years and undergoing full-time education and training").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 160, which stands in the name of my noble friends, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 164 in the group.

We on these Benches welcome the creation of a national concessionary fares scheme to replace the rather piecemeal provision that exists at the moment. We further welcome its extension to those with disabilities. Amendment No. 160 seeks to extend the scope of the scheme to young people up to the age of 19 who are in full-time education. It seems to us that we should be doing everything we can to encourage people in this age group to stay on in further education. It is fairly obvious that most of them will not live within walking or even cycling distance of their chosen place of education. Outside London they will fall back on either buses or private motor cars, and there will be a significant financial burden which we know is acting as a deterrent to many of them staying on at school or going to college.

Young people of this age should also have a reasonable expectation of being able to access leisure facilities and other activities which give them a meaningful social life. This is particularly important in rural areas. Many of them are feeling pretty irritated at being lectured about yob culture when they are given little opportunity to access the kinds of facilities they ought to have. Some are probably looking forward to being marched to a cashpoint as a kind of distraction from their normal life.

We feel that the absence of some kind of concessionary fare scheme for young people of this age is depriving them of access to these facilities and forcing them into a position of having to run a car. Apart from the fairly obvious fact that this adds to congestion, we should consider that this age group is significantly at risk from accident. We should not encourage them to use cars more than they have to. It is an age where the travelling habits of a lifetime are likely to be settled and we should do everything we can to encourage them to use buses, at least as part of their normal travelling arrangements. It is a habit which will stay with them for life.

I am sure the Minister will comment on the cost of such a scheme, but our original discussions with the bus companies suggest that this will be fairly modest. All the evidence suggests that increased use will offset most of the cost. It is possible for local authorities to run concessionary fare schemes for young people—some do—but, of course, if we rely on that we shall have exactly the same kind of piecemeal provision for young people that we are trying to get away from with pensioners.

Amendment No. 164 seeks to equalise at 60 years the age at which the concessionary fare scheme for older people operates. I know the arguments have been well rehearsed in other areas but the current scheme perpetuates a glaring inequality which has no place in modern legislation. Parliament has already agreed that the pension age should be equalised—although it is a very slow process and will not be complete until 2020—and, having accepted that this kind of inequality is wrong in principle, it is quite nonsensical to enshrine it in new legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

Grouped with the two amendments to which the noble Baroness has spoken are Amendments Nos. 165, 170 and 173. Amendments Nos. 165 and 170 put bones into the situation about which the noble Baroness has spoken—that is, the disparity of rights between men and women when it comes to receiving benefits because of old age and being encouraged to use local transport in old age. This is an important matter. As the noble Baroness said, the principle has already been conceded. We have here an opportunity to accept an important provision. I regard it as one of the most interesting issues raised in today's discussions. I certainly hope that the Government will be able to accept the amendment.

Lord Swinfen

I shall not speak to my Amendment No. 173 with this group. I shall speak to it with Amendment No. 171 later on. I find the groupings rather peculiar. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 161, 163, 167 and 169 in one group; I shall speak to Amendment No. 169A on its own; and I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 171, 172 and 173 as a group. I have advised the Front Benches and the Lord Chairman of my intention.

Baroness Hamwee

Perhaps I may say a few words in support of my noble friend and, in particular, in support of the amendment on concessionary fares for elderly people. I was struck by two comments in briefings on this matter. The first was from the Equal Opportunities Commission. I am sure that such an organisation would not make the comment without considering the point very seriously. It considers that there is no legal or moral justification for linking a scheme for concessions to the elderly with the state pension scheme. I accept that point. The second comment was from PARITY, of which I am a vice-president. PARITY says that it is not aware of any state, apart from the UK, that has or permits such discrimination. It also points out the irony that until now local authorities have had the power to set at 65 eligibility ages for concessions, subject only to the minimum ages of 60 and 65 respectively for women and men. It now seems that this is not to be allowed. PARITY makes the point that it seems wrong to oblige local authorities to discriminate on grounds of sex.

Lord Whitty

One feels a degree of sympathy for both the points raised in this group of amendments. Nevertheless, I shall have to reject them. Concessionary fare legislation has always linked retirement age to the provision of concessionary fares. It would be odd and cut across other principles if we were to change that in this context. As Members of the Committee have said, the Pensions Act 1995 envisages eventual equalisation at which point the knock-on benefits would also apply. In that context there is some justification for maintaining that. I do not accept that there is no argument for so doing.

There is an even more difficult case in relation to young persons. I accept many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Market Needham. Do I have it the right way around this time?

Baroness Hamwee

Needham Market!

Lord Whitty

My apologies again. I certainly would not wish to rule out such a provision. However, we have to consider the costs. Were we to subsidise this directly, we would have to take on some of the costs of services that were already provided locally and therefore the net benefit would not necessarily be evident.

Clause 146 contains a power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to extend the eligibility by statutory instrument. In that sense, we have deliberately kept the door open for developments such as this at an appropriate time. Extension of such concessions to young people would be one of the areas that in the future we would address. I hope, with that partial reassurance, that these amendments will not be pressed.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

I thank the Minister for his reply. Perhaps I may extend an invitation to the noble Lord and other noble Lords to cone to Needham Market. I am sure that, following a good lunch at one of our many wonderful pubs, noble Lords will remember the name. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 161: Page 87, line 34, leave out from ("area") to end of line 35.

The noble Lord said: As I mentioned earlier, in moving Amendment No. 161, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 163,167 and 169. They all deal with the same subject; namely, mandatory travel concessions outside Greater London.

The purpose of the amendment is to extend the minimum half price concessionary fare to groups of disabled people not covered by the recent government amendment and to allow them to use door to door transport where mainstream public transport is accessible. Amendment No. 161 would remove the time restrictions on the scheme.

The Bill will introduce a national concessionary fare scheme for elderly people between places in a given area and beginning at a relevant time. I welcome the Government's recent amendment to extend that concession to certain disabled people, but I should like to add to that the groups of disabled people that I have already mentioned.

I am also concerned that the scheme is limited by the expression, "relevant time", meaning between 9.30 a.m. and 11 p.m. That implies treating adults like 14 or 15 year-olds who have to be home and ready for bed by 11 p.m. I believe that this scheme should apply to all journeys in the local area regardless of the time. The restrictions could, for example, mean that someone returning from a night out in the town no longer received the concession, making the evening out impossible.

Of greater importance, it also means that if the scheme is extended to people of working age, they will be unable to benefit from the concessions while working. In my view there are unlikely to be problems of congestion during peak periods because people who do not need to travel at those times will choose not to do so, thus ensuring that they are more likely to travel in comfort. However, removing the restriction will allow people to undertake their journeys as necessary.

I am concerned that the national concessionary scheme fails to recognise that travel patterns are often independent of local administrative boundaries. The voluntary national concession scheme for free travel for blind people in Scotland provides concessions throughout the country and across different modes of travel. The proposed scheme would benefit from similar provisions relating to the area of operation and integration across modes.

Any elderly person—any person of pensionable age—residing in a travel concession authority's area who travels on an eligible service on a journey between places in that area, and beginning at a relevant time, is entitled to be provided with a half-price travel concession by the operator of the service. That is fine for those who can jump on and off buses. Regrettably, it inequitably leaves out those whose impairments prevent them from using buses and whose age may have made them ineligible for the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance. I think that these disabled people should, like their more mobile colleagues, enjoy a statutory minimum rare concession scheme on transport services set up specifically to meet their needs. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

Because Amendment No. 167 is also being spoken to with this amendment, I should point out that if Amendment No. 167 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 168.

Lord Addington

These amendments would mean that the disabled would receive a concession allowing them to travel in a more civilised manner; that is, more often at the times that they probably want to travel. We are attempting to ensure that the disabled have the right to travel at times which are more in line with working.

In this Chamber we have often heard how the disabled have higher costs generally. If they work, they would probably benefit from these fare concessions to a far greater extent than would normal working people because their income will need to cover higher costs, thus the marginal benefit is higher. If someone does not have very much money, any amount of saving will go that little bit further. Also, moving the times for concessionary travel will bring disabled people much more into the mainstream. That aim is laudable. I hope that the Government will at least give the principle behind the amendments a good hearing.

Lord Whitty

I think I follow the grouping of the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. There now seem to be three different items covered in the grouping: the question of the timing of concessionary fares; the question of carers and other groups of disabled; and the form of transport. Perhaps I may take the issue of the times first, and make two points.

Before doing so, I should mention to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the original change from 9 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. was made in Committee in another place as a result of a Liberal Democrat amendment. Admittedly, at that point it applied to pensioners and not so much to the disabled; and the bulk of those who will take advantage of the concession will continue to be pensioners.

My first substantive point is that these are minimum criteria. There is nothing to stop local authorities going beyond that minimum, by continuing or introducing an earlier start time for concessionary fares, either for the whole group or for some of the group if they believe that that accords with local priorities. The shift to the later time of 9.30 a.m. was not made lightly. There was a significant number of representations from local government, initially from the PTE group which deals with transport in our larger cities. It urged the later time because it was worried about the pressure of undue demand on public transport facilities at that point, given the number of school journeys still being made at that time of day, the need to reposition vehicles following delays and congestion in the morning peak, and so on, and the fact that buses need to be back at the right time. The group said that 9.30 a.m. was a common start time in metropolitan areas. Since then, similar worries have been expressed by local government. So there is a balance to be drawn, and there is room for debate as to what is the best solution. But bearing in mind that these are minimum criteria and that local authorities can vary them, I believe that we have struck the balance reasonably. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press that amendment.

Amendment No. 163 seeks to extend the provisions to other areas. I was particularly struck by the issue of companions travelling with a disabled person. There are clear administrative difficulties. In the case of companions, there would need to be a proper identification procedure and an assurance that the companion would use the concessions only when travelling with the disabled person. A variety of different cards might be necessary in those circumstances.

In relation to people who have used in-patient mental health services, also included in the amendment, such people are not at present among those for whom local authorities can provide concessionary fares on a discretionary basis. The principle underlying our national proposal is that we are merely building on existing statutory eligibility to make this a national system and not adding new categories of people. A particular difficulty may arise in the case of people who have previously had in-house treatment for mental health problems in terms of the time that has elapsed since treatment, the kind of treatment received and so on. It is not clear to me that continuing support is necessary in this area.

Having said that, I do not dismiss out of hand the possibility of looking at these extensions and I undertake to consider them further. There is a case to be considered particularly in relation to carers. We shall need to look at cost and administrative complications. If I conclude that it is right to make a change, there is already an order-making power in Clause 146 which is available to implement that decision.

The noble Lord seeks by this amendment—there are later amendments which relate to the same matter—effectively to extend the concession to community transport. These amendments provide that the statutory minimum concessionary fare should apply also to services operated under Sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act 1985 for disabled people who cannot use mainstream public transport. Section 19 deals with specific services for such people, and Section 22 is about services that are run for a similar purpose but are available to the general public. There is a question as to how the concession will apply. There is also a question as to how it relates to the separate issue of providing fuel duty rebate for such services.

I shall need to give further consideration to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord to see whether it can be fitted into the system. However, we are talking here about a very different matter from the provision of a concessionary fare on a scheduled, or near-scheduled, route; it is an on-demand service that may already be provided free, or nearly so. A number of matters must be taken into account before we can take this further. However, we shall look at this further. I hope that, with those remarks, the noble Lord will not press the amendment tonight.

Lord Swinfen

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to consider these matters further. If in a particular area a good number of disabled or elderly people need to travel outside the relevant time, they will probably use their own vehicles and add to congestion. Therefore, the removal of the relevant time provisions will ease rather than worsen congestion. I hope that in the case of door-to-door transport provisions the Minister will bear in mind that often severely disabled people have the smallest incomes and, therefore, can be described as the poorest of the poor in this country. I am sure that they would very much appreciate any help that the Government could provide. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 162: Page 88, line 8. at end insert— ("(6) Where a flat fare scheme is provided which overall offers better value than a half-price travel concession the flat fare scheme may be substituted by the authority. (7) An appeal against such substitution may be made to the traffic commissioner for the area.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 162 is a very important amendment related to flat fare schemes. The Bill proposes that a half-fare scheme should be introduced for people of pensionable age. In many towns and cities the local authority provides a flat fare which for most people is a distinctly better option than a half-fare. Where one has a flat rate, which is often 30p, the ordinary single fare may be 40p or 50p. However, the vast majority of fares are 60p, £1 or £1.50. A flat fare in a city is extremely valuable to an operator in terms of its simplicity.

Elderly people make up a large proportion of bus passengers. They become used to tendering 30p. They have the money ready, drop it down, and the bus moves off. A change to a half fare scheme involves calculation. The lowest fare may be 50p. Therefore the half fare cost is 25p for a short journey and a 30p flat fare scheme is a more generous offer and would be allowable. But one still has two different fares within that company's area. In many cases the situation would be far more complex.

The amendment seeks to provide that where there is a flat fare scheme at present, provided that it gives better value to the vast majority of users than the half fare scheme, it should be possible to leave the flat fare scheme in place. It suits better the vast majority of users. It suits the bus companies. It is less complex to administer. One of the most important factors is that the boarding of buses should take place as quickly as possible so that the bus does not hold up the traffic flow.

We recognise that someone has to exercise a judgment as to whether a flat fare scheme is better than a half fare scheme. The amendment provides that that person could be the traffic commissioner. In other suggestions it is the regional office of government. The traffic commissioner might provide a faster route to obtaining an answer to a local problem.

Perhaps the Minister can reassure us about the resources to meet the costs of these schemes. The sums mentioned in Committee in another place fall short of the likely cost; a large sum might fall on local authorities. In another place, the Minister said that he expected local authorities which had different schemes in operation to allow existing schemes such as token schemes to operate and for users to have a choice of both schemes. A local authority might have to fund the half fare scheme and continue to fund a parallel token scheme which some individuals might choose instead of the half fare bus pass.

It is a complex but serious issue for bus operators who seek to simplify travel by bus. In many cities bus companies and local authorities are united in their view that flat fares should be left in place provided they pass the test of being best value for the user. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

I appreciate that there is concern on this issue. However, there are three reasons why we should stick with our present position.

First, the White Paper promised travel at half fare on buses. There was no reference to "most buses", "except where there is a flat fare" or, to use phraseology in the noble Lord's amendment, "overall". We should need to be more convinced than at present to abandon that commitment.

Secondly, it will be difficult for someone to make a judgment on whether one scheme "overall" offers better value than others. "Overall" is a difficult word when we refer to individual fares for individual journeys and have to weigh one journey against another. There is plenty of scope for serious grievance and, possibly, legal action. That is a difficult task to put on the hard-pressed traffic commissioner, particularly since he otherwise has no involvement in the concessionary fare scheme.

Thirdly, cheap fares for short journeys may be particularly valued by the elderly and disabled—those facing mobility difficulties. They may value their short journey to the shop and it might be hard to explain to them why, when the flat fare is more than half, we were not giving them what we had promised. I hope that those in local authorities and among the operators who are concerned about the matter will think around those difficulties.

I would not rule out alternative answers. One answer might be to have a lower fare for short journeys and a higher fare for longer trips. However, that begins to move away from the simplicity of the initial approach. I hope that a solution can be found and that we can deliver a provision which meets most concerns. For the moment, I am not convinced that we should move away from the principle.

As regards funding, in Grand Committee my noble friend indicated that the cost of moving to a concessionary fare scheme on a half-fare basis would be fully funded. It may be that some local authorities will continue to run existing schemes, but that will be a matter for them. The additional cost would be met by central government and that is clearly provided for.

Lord Bradshaw

I thank the Minister for that reply. There is a danger that people who at present enjoy a flat fare may find that in its place they will be paying a half fare which costs more. That will not be seen to be fulfilling the hope in the White Paper, which is cheaper bus fares.

I hope that before Report stage the Minister will consider the issue carefully and perhaps talk to people in the bus industry and local authorities to see whether he can put forward a satisfactory test. It might be, for instance, that 90 per cent of journeys must be cheaper. I realise that there is a judgment to be made in such issues—there often is—but there is genuine concern among many people. It is not just a matter of me talking late at night in order to pass the time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 144 agreed to.

Clause 145 [Mandatory concessions: supplementary]:

[Amendments Nos. 163 to 167 not moved.]

Lord Islwyn moved Amendment No. 168: Page 89, line I. leave out ("9.30") and insert ("9.00").

The noble Lord said: It has been a long vigil to move Amendment No. 168, which is short but important. An issue of principle is involved.

The issue in question is referred to on page 89 at lines 1 and 2. The same subject is also referred to on page 92 at lines 30 and 31. It relates to the time of implementation of concessionary fares for elderly and disabled people, who are particularly concerned about hospital appointments.

It was said earlier that as regards public transport, the disabled were miserably looked after. Perhaps the same can be said of pensioners.

In London the time of 9 a.m. has worked perfectly well for approximately 20 years. The county of Essex also operates a 9 a.m. start for the concessions, and it is applicable in other parts of the country, too. Therefore, why does it not apply throughout the whole country? I should have thought that this would be the time to bring some rationality to the whole issue. As it is set out in the Bill, this is a somewhat restrictive measure.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister to tell the Committee what consultation has taken place with pensioner organisations and the disabled. I am sure that they would have voiced the strongest objections to this provision. As a friend of this Government, I also say to the Minister that it is time for them to take more notice of pensioners. I should like to know who was the skinflint who brought about the alteration in the Bill. I understand that originally it was proposed that the scheme should commence at 9 a.m. Perhaps the Minister can give the Committee answers to those questions. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

I support the amendment, having spoken to a similar one earlier.

Lord Whitty

I am in danger of repeating myself. In answer to my noble friend's last question regarding a skinflint, I do not believe that the proposal reflects a skinflint move. As a result of substantial representations to both Opposition parties and to ourselves, it was agreed in Committee in another place that the present provision of 9 a.m. led to an excessive demand on the public transport system and that it would be easier, both for pensioners and for the operators, if the concession were to start at 9.30 a.m. That view was fairly widespread across the country. It relates partly to the fact that school journeys are still taking place at 9 a.m. and partly to the fact that in some parts of the country people are still travelling to work at that time.

My noble friend is of course right that in the past in London and in many other parts of the country a 9 a.m. start has operated relatively well. There is nothing to stop local authorities which believe that they can operate it well expanding the time in any direction, including a start time of 9 a.m. Therefore, where there are particular local circumstances and particular problems about journeys to hospitals, for example, local authorities can extend the time. However, I believe that we should have been foolish to ignore completely the widespread view of local authorities and operators that a shift from 9 a.m. should take place.

I understand the problems in relation to hospital appointments, although even at 9 a.m. some problems would arise in that regard. I also understand the point regarding disabled people who travel to work at that time, but I do not believe that that issue was raised when the Committee in another place changed the time. At that point, the concession related only to pensioners. Therefore, to some extent, our generosity has now raised an anomaly.

In answer to another point raised by my noble friend, I have received representations from various pensioner organisations about this matter. We must balance those against the representations made by local authorities and operators. For the moment I am not convinced that we should change the provision, but I have no doubt that we shall return to this issue at a later stage.

Lord Islwyn

Does not the Minister appreciate that the provision will divide the country? People in Wales could say, "Well, they've got it at 9 o'clock in London. Why can't we have it at 9 o'clock?" I am disappointed with the Government's attitude. I shall take every opportunity to raise the issue again. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 169 not moved.]

Clause 145 agreed to.

Clause 146 [Variation of mandatory concessions]:

10.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 169A: Page 89. line 25, at end insert—

The noble Lord said: Any elderly person of pensionable age residing in a travel concession authority's area who travels on an eligible service on a journey between places in that area and beginning at a relevant time is entitled to be provided with a half-price travel concession by the operator of the service. I welcome that. I also welcome the amendment made in the Grand Committee to extend the statutory minimum concessionary travel scheme to disabled people.

That is fine for fit people of pensionable age who can jump on and off buses, but it will not help disabled people of pensionable age whose disabilities prevent them from using public transport. To travel anywhere beyond the confines of their home, many of them have to resort to door-to-door services such as taxis and Dial-a-Ride. Regrettably, the current provisions inequitably leave out those whose disabilities prevent them from using buses and whose age may have made them ineligible for the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance.

Like their more athletic colleagues, those disabled people should enjoy a statutory minimum fare concession scheme on transport services set up specifically to meet their needs. The amendment is a question of fairness. The Government pride themselves on being fair, so I hope that they will agree to it. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The amendment refers to transport facilities covered by Sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act 1985. However, the Bill treats those two categories of service differently. The statutory minimum concession applies to all services that qualify for the fuel duty rebate. That includes the bulk of services under Section 22, because they are counted as local services and details of their routes are registered with the traffic commissioner. There are a few that are not eligible for fuel duty rebate, but the majority of Section 22 services are eligible for the concessionary fare.

Section 19 services are not eligible for the fuel duty rebate, so they will not initially be eligible for the concessionary fare scheme. However, the order-making power in Clause 146 will enable the Secretary of State to extend that concession to other categories of public passenger transport, including Section 19 services. We shall consider that further, but we do not need an amendment to the Bill to enable the Secretary of State to extend the concession.

Lord Swinfen

I thank the Minister for that answer. I shall read carefully what he has said. I may come back to the issue at a later stage, but in the meantime beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 146 agreed to.

Clauses 147 to 149 agreed to.

Clause 150 [Concessions in Greater London]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 171: Page 92, line 7, at end insert—

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 172 and 173. The purpose of these three amendment is to require London councils to draw up criteria as to what is a disability or injury which seriously impairs a person's ability to walk, in consultation with organisations of disabled people and having regard to any guidance issued by a joint authority drawn up to run the London concessionary fares scheme.

The amendment also extends the powers given to local authorities outside London under the Transport Act 1985 to issue concessionary fare permits for London. Finally, the amendment provides for disabled people to use accessible door-to-door transport where they are unable to access mainstream door-to-door transport.

During the passage of the Greater London Act 1999, the Greater London Action on Disability identified the problem of a wide variation in the eligibility criteria for the Freedom Pass; in other words, concessionary fares in London. Some boroughs were also adopting the poor, if not illegal, practice of making disabled people choose between the Freedom Pass and the Orange Badge.

Greater London Action on Disability therefore promoted amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill which required each London borough, in conjunction with organisations of disabled people, to draw up criteria of what constitutes a disability or impairment which seriously impairs a person's ability to walk. In drawing up such criteria, the boroughs would have to have regard to any guidance issued by the TfL or any other joint authority responsible for the scheme. Both the TfL and the London borough criteria would have to be publicly available.

Earlier this year, the London Borough of Merton proposed that current legislation did not allow it to offer the Freedom Pass to people with learning difficulties. Fortunately, that problem has now been overcome but it has highlighted the need to update the legislation. Outside London, the Government widened the groups that local authorities had the discretion to offer concessionary fares to by introducing regulations. The criteria, which I describe in my own, not the legal, language, were: persons who have mental or severe mental handicap; persons who have been denied driving licences on medical grounds; persons who are deaf and dumb; persons who are without the use of both arms; specified companions of those who are so severely disabled that they need the assistance of the companion in order to travel on public transport; and finally, persons who, in the opinion of the authority, would be likely to be refused a driving licence on medical grounds if they applied for one.

The Transport Bill before us could be used to resolve the difficulties. The Bill has a very wide Long Title which specifically covers concessionary fares in London. Therefore, there are unlikely to be difficulties because of the scope of the Bill.

I suggest that the groups eligible for concessionary fares under the discretionary criteria be widened to make sure that there are no disputes over the powers of local authorities. The legislation currently applying outside London, preferably with appropriate improvements in language, would form a basis For that. Also, I should like to have the requirement introduced to produce publicly available local eligibility criteria in consultation with organisations of disabled people.

Those disabled people who are unable to use mainstream public transport because of their impairment need to be able to use door-to-door transport. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I support these amendments and look forward to hearing the Minister's answer.

Lord Whitty

The whole purpose of this part of the Bill relating to London is to ensure that the provisions in London are equivalent to those that we seek to introduce in the rest of the country. Many of the points raised by the noble Lord are met in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 171 and 172 reflect the position in London to which we have already referred in a previous group of amendments. Amendment No. 171 relates to the definition of who is covered. I dealt with that when I said I would look at the matter further. In relation to Amendment No. 172, we have just dealt with the equivalent situation in the rest of the country as regards Sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act 1985.

The new material is contained in Amendment No. 173, which seeks to put on the face of the Bill the definition of those who would be entitled to the concession. That includes a definition of "disabled person" as someone whose ability to walk is seriously impaired by disability or injury. The amendment would require local authorities to establish, and to review with organisations of disabled people, criteria as to what constitutes such an impairment.

It is certainly open to local authorities to review the position. In many circumstances, I would expect that they would do so. I am not clear that it is right to place them under a duty to do so. Nor does it seem right, on the face of the Bill, to concentrate on the definition of one category of disability rather than another.

I believe I understand the intentions of the noble Lord but it is not advisable to specify it in this form, related to one of the criteria. The definitions used in Clause 150(4) are essentially only those that already exist in legislation—both primary and secondary legislation—relating to concessionary fares. If the noble Lord feels that there is a particular problem that I have failed to pick up, perhaps he will write to me or I can meet him and we can discuss the matter between now and Report stage. At the moment I am not prepared to accept his amendment.

Lord Swinfen

I did not believe that the Minister would be prepared to accept the amendment at Committee stage. However, I am grateful for the offer to correspond with him or to meet with him to discuss the matter. In the light of that, and saving my position for a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 172 to 174 not moved.]

Clause 150 agreed to.

Clause 151 [Agreements providing for service subsidies]:

[Amendment No. 175 not moved.]

Clause 151 agreed to.

Clause 152 [Competition test for exercise of bus functions]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 176: Page 93, line 38. after ("schemes") insert (", quality contracts schemes").

The noble Lord said: This particular group of amendments has been tabled due to an inconsistency in this Bill compared with other legislation passing through the House. In this Bill we are blithely creating monopoly situations, while a Bill dealing with competition legislation is going through the House that ensures that monopoly situations cannot arise.

At this hour of the night I shall not spend long on this matter. I do not believe that it is an abuse of the time of the Committee to point out the inconsistency between provisions in this Bill and provisions in another Bill. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

Perhaps I may intervene, because this may be the only opportunity I have to refer to Schedule 10. When we debated this matter in Grand Committee I raised the issue of the competition test and the fact that quite large fees may be demanded of local authorities or operators. We still have considerable unease as to the high level of bureaucracy which may be involved in establishing whether or not a scheme falls foul of the competition rules.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in reply in Grand Committee and again today, said that further discussions are going on with the director-general. I hope that we may hear, either now or on Report, that those discussions have moved forward to give us some reassurance that we are not going to have an extremely bureaucratic ping-pong match between operators and local authorities and the Director-General of Fair Trading as to whether or not a specific scheme meets the competition test.

Lord Whitty

I feel gratified to see that there is a conflict of position between the two Opposition parties. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, wants to keep the competition authorities out and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, wants to bring them in.

We spelt out at earlier stages, both in Grand Committee and earlier today, the position on the competition regime which we introduced for local authority functions as regards quality partnership schemes. They were designed to ensure not only a role for the Office of Fair Trading, but also a public interest defence. We are now in a different area—that of quality contracts. It is clear that the amendment seeks to apply the Competition Act to quality contract schemes, so we would have two competition regimes for quality contracts running in parallel.

There is a potential difficulty with competition policy. But it is clear that, once a quality contract scheme has been introduced, that overrides the competitive situation. Services will be operated under those contracts and be subject to the terms and conditions specified by the local authority in those contracts. The only exception will be in connection with any special services excluded under Clause 126(4). In other words, there will by definition no longer be any scope for the competition authorities to look at the provision of bus services in the period of the quality contract scheme.

Indeed, even if a quality contract were otherwise caught by Section 2 of the Competition Act, it is the Government's view that it would be excluded by virtue of the provisions in Schedule 3(5) to the Act. That states that conduct engaged in to comply with a legal requirement would be exempted from the Competition Act. We believe therefore that it would be inappropriate to bring quality contracts within the general competition rules, or indeed within the alternative competition regime set out in Clause 152 and Schedule 10.

Therefore I cannot accept the approach of the noble Lord to these matters. However, I can give some degree of assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and we may need to communicate with him further on the question of discussions with the Director-General of Fair Trading.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I feel rather like Mr Rafter must have felt late last night. But I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, in which he went into considerable detail. It was very helpful and I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 152 agreed to.

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 177: After Clause 152. insert the following new clause—