Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I want to discuss reasons why we might not need to extend the sittings of the Committee too much.

It is unfortunate that any such Bill should be introduced. It demonstrates yet more interference in our affairs and, more importantly, it would be far better if transport undertakings and local authorities were free to determine such concessions as they felt appropriate, in association with other authorities. However, we start not from that position, but from one of a great deal of complex legislation, so I ask the Minister for Transport whether he can explain some of the differences between the various pieces of legislation that apply to different authorities, which will be altered by the Bill.

The Minister might help to reduce the number of sittings if he clarifies two statements made by the Prime Minister—one on 4 July and the second last Wednesday, on the coach concession scheme that the Government are introducing. On 4 July, the Prime Minister said that he would bring the scheme forward in association with the Bill, but it does not refer to the scheme. That is why my hon. Friends and I have tabled an amendment to incorporate it in the Bill.

If the Minister intends to deny what the Prime Minister said on 4 July, it would be helpful if he could do so before we got to the amendments. The right hon. Gentleman told me in answer to a question last Wednesday that the Government had already delivered the coach concessionary fare scheme. There is a press release on the subject, although I am not sure whether it was issued by the Minister's Department or with his authority. If he brings a copy to the Committee, we might not need to sit this Thursday and certainly not on subsequent Thursdays, as the hon. Member for Bath suggested. If the Minister deals with those issues, we may be able to get home before Christmas.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the range of amendments that Opposition Members have tabled. The Bill presents us with a unique opportunity to improve the methodology behind the allocation of funds for travel concessions. Huge iniquities in the allocation of public funding exist behind an opaque screen of decisions on funding allocations and the practical end result is that individuals lose out.

The most profound example of that is found at the fringes of London, as I shall discuss in an Adjournment debate tonight. Individuals in adjoining streets encounter totally different frameworks for concessionary fares.

The Chairman: Order. I am prepared to allow wide-ranging debate on the sittings motion, but amendments have been tabled on the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. Perhaps we can return to the motion.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Stevenson, and look forward to working with you. It remains to be seen whether that will be for a long time.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, I welcome our fairly open-ended timetable—if that is not a contradiction in terms. We must discuss important issues, including the introduction of the equal ages qualification in the Bill. The proposal is eminently sensible on the face of it, but I wonder what impact it will have on other aspects of life. Perhaps the subject is a little too wide to get into at this or, indeed, any stage of the Bill, but we should bear it in mind.

Another issue is the Bill's impact on local authorities, which is more important and more relevant. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold touched on the difficulties that our areas experience when trying to provide transport in the first place. I receive many letters from constituents on the issue, although I do not know whether other hon. Members do.

Mr. Clifton-Brown indicated assent.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: My hon. Friend indicates that he does, too. Perhaps that is because we represent large areas. It is difficult to travel from one area to another in my constituency as Tewkesbury covers only one tenth of it. It is important that we allow enough time to consider such problems to determine whether the proposals are relevant to the people of Tewkesbury.

We must also discuss what impact the measures will have on local authorities. Authorities such as that in Tewkesbury are hard pressed and we must ask whether the proposals will place another financial burden on them. If that is the case, we shall need to hear what will be done about that. We shall also need to consider how the other concessions that local authorities are allowed to provide will be dealt with.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That during proceedings on the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords] the Committee do meet on Tuesday 20th November at half-past Ten o'clock and Five o'clock, and thereafter on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and half-past Two o'clock and on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock.

The Chairman: Before we consider the amendments I remind hon. Members that there is a financial resolution in connection with the Bill. I am told that copies are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule my co-Chairmen and I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee. Finally, will hon. Members turn off their mobile phones. I am sure that they have already done so.

Clause 1

Eligibility for travel concessions: age

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—

    `(7) The appropriate Minister shall publish each year a breakdown of the cost of travel concession schemes by local authority area.'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 7, in page 1, line 21, at end insert—

    `(8) The appropriate Minister shall publish each year at the time of the Revenue Support Grant Sub-committee the proportion of the Revenue Support Grant for each local authority being allocated to meet the costs of the concessionary fares scheme.'.

No. 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

    `(6) The appropriate Minister shall consult local authorities over the methodology for compensating local authorities for the cost of the scheme and shall also consult further if there is to be any change in such methodology.'.

No. 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

    `(7) The appropriate Minister shall ensure that the methodology for compensating local authorities for expenditure under subsections (1) to (4) above is published.'.

No. 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, at end insert—

    `, and

    (c) not be made until there is agreement with the relevant local government associations concerning the funding provision for the scheme in the annual Revenue Support Grant negotiations.'.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have great pleasure in speaking to the four amendments that I have tabled, which form a logical set that is clear and straightforward. I hope that the Government will be able to accept them or, if not, that they will provide clear answers about how local authorities can be fully reimbursed for the costs of the travel concession scheme under the Bill.

In the past, there has been too much of a pattern of placing additional duties and burdens on local authorities without their being fully reimbursed for those obligations. I hope that the Committee will not impose another burden on local authorities. I emphasise that we welcome what is being done, but I want local authorities to be reimbursed.

The amendments are in a logical order. Amendment No. 6 would provide for the appropriate Minister to

    ``publish each year a breakdown of the cost of travel concession schemes by local authority area.''

That is pretty straightforward. We want to know what the scheme is costing each local authority area. Once that has been done, we want the Minister to publish each year when the revenue support grant is announced the proportion of revenue support grant for each local authority being allocated to meet the costs of the scheme. We want to know what cost each local authority has incurred and what amount the Government have reimbursed to them. That will enable us to see clearly whether each local authority has been fully reimbursed.

Next, we want the Minister in question to consult local authorities about the methodology for compensating them when there is a shortfall or surplus and we want to ensure that the methodology is correct. Finally, we want the Minister to ensure that the methodology fully compensates local authorities. On the face of it, that is a pretty straightforward request. We know, just for the record, that bus companies are to be fully reimbursed. The amendments in no way touch on that matter. The amendments are concerned purely with how the Government will reimburse local authorities.

The Government already spend £571 million on concessionary schemes of one form or another under the Transport Act 1985. The measure will cost the Government about £50 million. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the original calculation was for about £47 million. The Bill will affect 1 million men aged 60 to 64 who cannot use the concession scheme at present. Of those 1 million men, it is calculated that 147,000 are still at work, of whom 10 per cent. are in the disabled category. There are probably 127,000 men who travel regularly to work, which is particularly important for some local authorities.

11 am

The Bill will place an extra burden on authorities that deal with large numbers of commuters. I mentioned the matter on Second Reading, but I do not think that we received a full reply from the Minister. We need to cover the so-called generation factor in our discussion of the amendments. It is easy to calculate for retired people and disabled people who have a normal weekly journey pattern, but it may be less easy to calculate the effect of the Bill on local authorities dealing with large numbers of commuters.

On Second Reading, the Minister for Transport brushed us aside—I do not mean that in a critical sense—

 
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