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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that a Select Committee of this House is currently examining precisely what role Select Committees should have. In view of the concern among members of all parties that Select Committees should be allowed to do their job properly and to scrutinise the work of Government, will you take it on yourself to tell the Modernisation Committee that, if there are loopholes in the Standing Orders, as implied a few minutes ago, they should be assessed again in order to ensure that the views expressed by the Chairman of the Select Committee concerned and of members of all parties are urgently considered?

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Is it not clear that although the witness concerned may not be able to give the Select Committee the results of his study, he should at least be able to appear before that Committee to indicate his remit, the advice and support that he has received, and what job he is doing, especially bearing in mind the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has indicated that the purpose of the exercise is just to keep Lord Birt occupied?

Mr. Speaker: The Chairman of the Select Committee concerned will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I say to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House, who gave me some notice of his point of order, that a Committee's power to send for persons other than Members of either House is not limited in this way. Generally, of course, witnesses attend Committees without compulsion, sometimes after discussion. Full details are set out on page 646 of Erskine May and later pages.

Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 June 2001],

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Eligibility for travel concessions: age

1.34 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 5, at end insert—

'(1A) In section 94(1) of the Transport Act 1985 (administration of schemes: reimbursement, etc), after paragraph (a), there is inserted—
"(aa) the method by which the authority is to be reimbursed, whether through the Revenue Support Grant or otherwise, in respect of any expenditure arising from the operation of the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Act 2002.".'.

The Bill is narrowly drafted and it was with only some ingenuity that we managed to table an acceptable amendment. A layman may find its purpose more clearly set out in new clause 1, which states:

The Bill provides for additional costs to be reimbursed through the normal SSA mechanism. The full compliance cost has been subject to debate. It was originally estimated to be £50 million. On receiving better particulars, however, the Government increased it to about £54 million, and I hope that that is the full cost.

The problem is that some small local authorities—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will raise the case of his particular authority—receive no reimbursement through the SSA system. The Government are inflicting an imposition that is one of a long list of impositions that they have placed on local authorities that are not being fully funded. The best value initiative is the most expensive, but others, such as the increased cost of pensions as a result of the abolition of additional advance corporation tax requirements, are also a problem.

The Bill imposes a requirement on local authorities and not all of them will be fully reimbursed for implementing it. That is not true of some larger metropolitan authorities. Under the SSA, a global figure is calculated for each authority and included in the rate support grant settlement each year. Whereas a large chunk of money will be allocated to the larger metropolitan authorities, a small amount, or none at all, will be allocated to smaller authorities.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Is that not the story of local government across the board? Broadbrush figures are produced, as in this case; no effort is made afterwards to discover whether they are fair; and smaller and typically rural authorities almost always lose out.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is right: smaller and largely rural authorities are likely to lose out.

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Having outlined the problem, let me turn to the solution. The amendment would ensure that local authorities are specifically reimbursed for the actual costs that they incur. That is a simple requirement. If the Government are to fund the scheme in full, it should be largely revenue neutral. Some larger metropolitan authorities will be overcompensated and other authorities will be undercompensated, so the net cost should be little, if any.

The Government have increased a number of special grants. Surely it would be very simple either to allocate a block of money through the SSA system and make a reimbursement afterwards, or to let authorities make an estimate at the beginning of each financial year, in which case an adjustment could be made before the next financial year on production of properly audited records of the scheme's costs.

We consider the amendment to be eminently fair and eminently workable. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): As was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), my purpose in tabling the amendment was to draw attention to a gross and unjust anomaly affecting the two district councils in my constituency, Christchurch and East Dorset. The concessionary fares legislation in the Transport Act 2000, implemented last year, has required them to incur additional costs that are some £250,000 higher than the Government's so-called reimbursement. That is very unsatisfactory.

The amendment would add to the list of matters in respect of which regulations can be made under section 94(1) of the Transport Act 1985, and would enable the Secretary of State to produce regulations relating to the method by which an authority responsible for the administration of a travel concession scheme is reimbursed in respect of any expenditure arising from the operation of the Bill.

We cannot do anything in this Bill about what has happened as a result of the earlier legislation. What we can do is try to prevent the Government from making the same mistake again. Obviously, extending the scheme to cover men aged between 60 and 65 as well as those over 65 will involve an additional cost. It was estimated for the purposes of the 2000 Act that local authorities' total costs would be £54 million. At the time, the Government said that they thought it fair for Government to pick up the tab—for the national taxpayer to pay; because this was Government policy, they would reimburse local authorities.

If we ascribe to the word "reimbursement" the meaning it is assumed to have in common English parlance, it means giving back to an individual or an organisation money that that individual or organisation has spent on a particular project or for a particular purpose.

Mr. Brazier: Surely my hon. Friend does not wish to stretch the House's imagination by suggesting that the Government use English in the way in which most of us are accustomed to use it.

Mr. Chope: That is an excellent point.

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It is interesting that the Minister for Transport is not replying to this debate, because he dealt with the issue in Committee. During the Committee's first sitting, he said

If that is indeed the Government's objective, they manifestly failed to deliver on it in relation to the original scheme. They already have the power to change the reimbursement system—the amendment is not necessary in that regard—but they have decided not to do so. I do not understand why, but I suspect that the councils that are losing out as a result of this new Government imposition are largely Conservative-controlled, and those which will gain disproportionately, and have already done so, are Labour-controlled.

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