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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, tells us what she proposes to do with her amendment, perhaps I may welcome some of the government amendments, in particular the change of period in Schedule 12 from what it was to, in effect, 9 a.m. until 4.30 the following morning. That satisfies many concerns about the concessionary schemes. After all, quite a lot of people will be able to use them go to work; previously it was difficult for them to go to work at all on a concessionary ticket.

We also welcome Amendment No. 286AA and the arrangements for the joint working of the London authorities in relation to the setting up of the schemes. The reserve scheme will be at least as good as the existing scheme and not, as it has been in the past, slightly less good. One can unreservedly welcome the government amendments.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: The noble Lord asked me whether I would withdraw my amendment; I have not yet moved it. However, I am grateful to him for his explanation. I shall read what he said, but I think I am satisfied that my amendment is not necessary at this stage. I join with the noble Baroness in welcoming the government amendments.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I am delighted by the Minister's explanation. My one objection to Schedule 12 concerned the hours set out there because the fallback scheme was just not good enough. The amendments have changed the fallback scheme and have answered our concern. This carries on the marvellous work done by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, many years ago. I am delighted that it is no longer necessary to move my amendment. It is appropriate that the boroughs should take the first decision and that the matter should be in their control. However, the fallback scheme is very important in case some of the boroughs fail to meet what we hope they will achieve. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 193 [Travel Concessions on journeys in and around Greater London]:

[Amendment No. 285 not moved.]

Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved Amendment No. 286:


Page 103, line 32, at end insert--
("(5A) Each local authority shall, in consultation with organisations of disabled people, make and keep under review criteria as to what constitutes a disability or injury which seriously impairs a person's ability to walk, having regard to any guidance issued by a joint authority established to run the concessionary fare scheme.
(5B) All criteria and guidance under subsection (5A) above shall be made available to the public.").

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The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 286, which stands in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and myself. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, regrets that he cannot be here today. He is setting up a telemedical link between Bangladesh and hospitals in this country. Noble Lords may consider that that matter is every bit as important--I see that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is impressed--and perhaps even more exciting than taking part in the debates on the Bill.

Amendment No. 286 seeks to reduce the wide variations which exist at present in the criteria used by different boroughs to determine eligibility for the disabled person's freedom pass. Many boroughs say that a disabled person who is an orange badge holder is not eligible for the disabled person's freedom pass. I am told that that stance is illegal. A disabled person's eligibility for a disabled person's freedom pass should not depend upon in which borough he or she happens to live.

The London Accessible Transport Alliance, which has been mentioned before in Committee, is formed of groups of older and disabled people who are all door-to-door transport users, including the Greater London Action on Disability. I should declare I am a patron of GLAD. Perhaps if I declare that once today I need not do so again, otherwise the Committee may be bored rigid during the course of the evening.

The London Accessible Transport Alliance believes that the boroughs should frame their local eligibility criteria for the disabled person's freedom pass in the light of guidance issued by the joint authority running the scheme London-wide and that organisations of older and disabled people should be consulted in the preparation of the guidance. Amendment No. 286ZA, standing in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, omits the requirement to consult disabled people and their organisations. I do not know whether they feel that that is unnecessary because the matter is covered elsewhere or because they feel it is undesirable. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her colleagues have to say, and to the Minister's reply.

Lady Thomas of Walliswood: We support the amendment. Amendment No. 286ZA seeks to do the same thing in a slightly different way. I accept that the consultation element may well be desirable. At present I think it is more important to press the principle involved. In our last debate in Committee a number of issues affecting people with mobility disabilities of one kind or another were raised. At that time, the question was raised--I cannot remember by whom--of how one determines who is disabled and who is not. These amendments attempt to answer that question. Perhaps the Government can say how that question is answered in the legislation before us. It is obviously important that the determination of who is to receive concessionary travel is perceived to be fair, both by people who have disabilities and impairments of one kind or another and by others. I do not need to bore your Lordships with the whole question of

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special tags for cars and how irritating that can be. That was also mentioned during the course of our debates in Committee. Can the Minister say how the question of defining criteria is resolved at the present time and in the Bill?

3.30 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: I welcome this further opportunity to debate the problems and needs of disabled people with severe mobility handicaps. In doing so, I am again most grateful to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for having tabled his amendment in close rapport with Greater London Action on Disability of which, as my noble friend the Minister knows, I am, like the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, a patron. I am most grateful also to her for moving Amendment No. 286. As she said, its purpose is to reduce the wide variation that now exists in the criteria that different London boroughs use to determine eligibility for the disabled person's freedom pass.

For my part, I do not believe that a disabled person's eligibility for a freedom pass should depend on which borough he or she happens to live in. I believe that boroughs should frame their local eligibility criteria for the pass in the light of guidance issued by the joint authority running the scheme London-wide.

I believe also that organisations for disabled and older people should be consulted in the preparation of the guidance. I do so on the basis of the recent experience of organisations of and for disabled people of contacting 18 London boroughs and asking for the criteria they operate when determining eligibility for the disabled person's freedom pass. A number were unco-operative. The City of London Corporation required prior permission from the Lord Mayor's office.

Amendment No. 286 is important to disabled people and their organisations. I know that my noble friend the Minister will want to reply to it as helpfully as he can. Meanwhile I am most grateful to him for his letter to me of 5th July, which I received by hand during this debate, about the amendments I moved earlier in Committee on exempting disabled people from road user and workplace parking charges. My noble friend informs me:


    "The Government will endeavour to agree the structure of concessionary arrangements for disabled persons in local authority schemes in time for them to be included in the GLA Bill at Lords Report". That is a most welcome response to my amendments. When I moved them, I said that I knew my noble friend's reply would be a positive one. He has been as good as his word in promising carefully to consider the case I argued and I am sure that Members in all parts of the Committee who have taken part in our debates on the problems and needs of disabled Londoners will honour him for his reply.

Lord Whitty: I am deeply grateful for my noble friend's response. I had not realised that my letter had

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reached him. I am glad that it has done so in time for this debate, although the issue to which it refers will arise later in the proceedings. My response indicates that the Government are trying throughout the Bill to meet the concerns of disabled people.

My noble friend may not be so positive about my response to Amendment No. 286. As I indicated on the last group, the principle, at least in the first instance, should be that discretionary affairs are a matter for local discretion. The section of the Bill dealing with disabled persons' permits is drawn from previous legislation, which says that they should be issued to people who suffer from a disability or injury that, in the opinion of the local authority, seriously impairs their ability to walk. Although that definition is fairly broad, its intention is clear.

I regret that my noble friend encountered some difficulty in getting information from particular local authorities. Nevertheless, we believe that local authorities themselves should decide whether they need to draw up further criteria for issuing permits to disabled people or rely on the definition in the Bill. Regardless or whether or not they have such criteria, if a London borough refuses to issue a pass to those considering themselves eligible under the Bill, the borough would be open to legal challenge over its decision. Anyone who felt they had been treated unfairly would have recourse to the local government ombudsman.

As to whether such criteria should be made public, both existing and planned legislation cover that area. The present access to information rights in the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 mean that all papers put to a council are open to the public. Under our new proposals in the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill, such papers will continue to be made available. In addition, if decisions are taken at an official level, those decisions, together with the reasons for them, must also be made public. I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and others who support the amendment to consider whether current and planned legislation providing rights of access deals with the issue of publication. The Government are bringing forward an amendment that would give boroughs the power to establish a joint committee to take decisions on the arrangements for concessionary fares. I quickly look around to make sure that my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon is not in his place. Those decisions would be on the basis of qualified majority voting, which is an issue on which he jumps up in a different context. That also reflects our commitment to subsidiarity and the hope that boroughs will act jointly. Then there is the reserve scheme we debated earlier. If the London boroughs decide that the criteria for issuing disabled persons' permits ought to be drawn up and published, they could use the joint committee to do so.

Although I have some sympathy with the experience of my noble friend Lord Morris and others who tabled the amendment, I cannot agree that it is the appropriate

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vehicle for achieving their objectives. I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, to withdraw the amendment.


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