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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he say whether the government amendment would cover my point about publicising the eligibility criteria to make sure they are known by anyone who might be able to apply?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the regulations would not necessarily cover publicity but guidance would be given to local authorities.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: That they should publicise the scheme well?

Lord Whitty: Yes.

Lord Swinfen: The Minister has given a full answer, which I shall study with care. If necessary, I shall return to the matter on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 174 to 176 not moved.]

5 p.m.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 177:


REVIEW OF COSTS OF CONCESSIONARY TRAVEL PROVISIONS

(" . Pursuant to the operation of the concessionary travel provisions set out in this Act, the Secretary of State shall, at the end of the first full year of operation and thereafter at reasonable intervals, undertake a review of the costs incurred.").

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we wholeheartedly welcome the creation of a national concessionary scheme for pensioners and disabled people, which we believe will make a significant contribution to their quality of life. As with all new schemes, there is a significant number of unknown factors. Although every effort is made to produce accurate estimates, they are only estimates.

The Government believe that the scheme's half fare for pensioners will cost in the region of £25 million; the extension to disabled people a further £8 million; and eliminating the pass charge will cost £14 million.

The Local Government Association has received many representations from its members suggesting that those are under-estimates and questioning that adequate financial provision has been made. Given the sad history of central government passing on commitments to local government without sufficient financing and the opaque nature of local government finance, we should sympathise with local authorities. Underfunding will put pressure on other parts of their budgets, with the result that communities will see service reduction or council tax increases. The amendment merely seeks to ensure that costs are quantified and understood once the scheme has been in operation--so that we will be dealing with real figures, not estimates. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I acknowledge the basis of the noble Baroness's points. The Government have said that they will reimburse local authorities the extra cost of running the new statutory minimum scheme and provision is being made in the revenue support grant accordingly. We will clearly have to review the figures because some local authorities have expressed doubts about them. We shall do so in light of experience and any extension of the statutory minimum to new categories of people, different hours of the day or whatever.

The amendment raises some technical issues, such as what is meant by the words "undertake a review". Nor does it describe what would be done in light of such a review--although I am not necessarily tempting the noble Baroness to provide a more complex amendment. The Government recognise what is behind the amendment and are committed to reviewing the scheme in light of circumstances.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that local authorities may undertake a review in any event in light of any unfair provision and that other parties may give a clear indication if a scheme is not working out? The amendment adds nothing to existing practice among individual local authorities.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's intervention. As he says, the Government and local authorities would review expenditure in any case. The anxiety behind the amendment is because some local authorities do not quite understand how the scheme will operate and over whether sufficient provision has been made in the revenue support grant.

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The Government will review the adequacy of that provision in light of the circumstances, much as the amendment seeks.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, the Minister will be glad to know that he has not tempted me down the road of a more complicated amendment next time around. I am obliged for the Minister's reassurance and know that local authorities also will be grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

[Amendments No. 178 not moved.]

Schedule 10 [Competition test for exercie of bus functions]:

[Amendment No. 179 not moved]:

Clause 153 [Grants to bus service operators]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 180:


    Page 93, line 42, after ("operating") insert ("and improving accessibility to").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 181, 185 and 186.

Amendment No. 180 extends the provisions for which grants may be made to bus operators for improvements to accessibility. The Bill allows bus operators or authorities to improve the services provided to the public. The cost of introducing bus accessibility across the United Kingdom fleet would be approximately £444 million, yet it is estimated that the additional revenue would be between £26 million and £52 million a year--which roughly equates to 19 or 18 years' purchase. Disability organisations believe that the Government could and should find a funding mechanism to ensure an accessible bus fleet well before the end date of 2017 under the proposed Disability (Discrimination) Act 1977 regulations. That is entirely consistent with the Government's objective of delivering high-quality bus networks. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, my Amendments Nos. 181, 185 and 186 are in the group. Amendment No. 181 relates to fuel duty concessions. Clause 153 makes provision for the payment of grants by the Secretary of State and proposes that the fuel duty concession, which is established to assist bus services, must come to an end at the same time. Until we know how the system and operators work, it must be questionable whether one will equal the other. The problem is that if one does not equal the other, the operator will have to make adjustment to his services.

The purpose of our amendment is to delay the end of the fuel duty concession until six months after the quality partnership schemes come into operation. An operator will therefore have time to discover whether the grant is appropriate. If not, he will be able to make adjustments to the service before he loses too much money.

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Amendments Nos. 185 and 186 simply require that the schemes are brought into being by way of competitive tendering. I dare say that the Minister will assure me that that is covered in other parts of the Bill and if he does I shall be content.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, will find my reply all too repetitive of the points I made in Committee. Although we sympathise with what he says about accessibility to buses and with all the objectives behind the amendment, we do not see it as being necessary or appropriate.

Clause 153 provides for new arrangements for grants of bus operators towards the running costs of their services. The clause will replace the current legislative basis for the existing fuel duty rebate scheme by more flexible powers to make grants. The clause provides for the making of regulations about eligibility for new grants and for the method of their calculation.

We have asked the Commission for Integrated Transport to consider all aspects of public funding of bus services, including possible changes to the fuel duty rebate. Clause 153 provides flexibility for any future changes to the grant arrangements. But I want to emphasise, as I did in Committee, that we recognise the value of fuel duty rebate as financial support for all local bus services. It off-sets part--currently, more than 70 per cent--of the fuel duty incurred in running those services. But we also need to consider whether changes to the rebate, or even a new form of grant, would represent better value for money and better serve our wider objectives.

I would also again stress that we have no intention of removing or changing fuel duty rebate before we are fully satisfied that change will be of benefit in terms of policy objectives, or before alternative arrangements are in place. I will say more about Amendment No. 181 but I noticed that that was the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

Amendment No. 180 would add to the broad terms of the clause the specific point that any new grant paid under the clause may be towards the cost of improving the accessibility to services. I took careful note of the point made the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in Committee and again today and I understand that he wants to provide funding to hasten the process of buses becoming accessible. That process is subject to the mandatory requirements established under the Disability Discrimination Act.

However, Clause 153 is deliberately broadly drawn to provide a flexible grant-making power; that is its strength. It makes amendments such as this unnecessary. In addition to accessibility, one could think of many worthwhile issues relating to bus accessibility which one could add, but I hope to show that there is no point in doing so. Any new grant could be--as FDR is at present--a general payment to operators in support of operating costs without any specific conditions as to what the grant has to be spent on, though even so the effect might be to hasten progress to accessibility.

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However, if it were thought appropriate, it would be possible to make regulations which specified particular costs which would be taken into account in the calculation of grant, which entailed a higher rate of grant to services which met certain criteria or had certain characteristics. That could include accessibility requirements.

That is why I believe that Clause 153 as drafted combines the virtues of a general grant with the possibility, through regulation, of the kind of specific grant proposed in Amendment No. 180.

Amendment No. 181 appears to link the new powers to make grants to bus operators with the introduction of quality partnerships. Clause 153(6), which the amendment seeks to change, concerns the replacement of the existing powers to pay fuel duty rebate by the new powers to pay grants for bus operators under Clause 153 as a whole. Subsection (6) merely provides that once the new powers are brought into effect, the old FDR powers--including the old powers to levy a penalty based on FDR for the unregistered or unreliable running of a service--shall cease to have effect.

I am not persuaded that there is good reason for linking Clause 153(6) with the introduction of quality partnerships in an area. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke of a general need to delay until it was certain that everything was in place, but he did not refer specifically to quality partnerships. It does not seem to me obvious that operators who are involved in a quality partnership should be subject to different arrangements for government grant compared with other operators.

Clause 153(6) as it currently stands does no more than provide a necessary part of moving from one set of grant arrangements to another. It is separate from provisions about quality partnerships. It would be odd if new grant arrangements came into operation only in places where there was a quality partnership. That is the effect of the amendment.

As regards Amendments Nos. 185 and 186, I am grateful for advance notice from the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that if I can satisfy him that the provision is provided elsewhere he will not press them. They relate to the power to pay grants to local authorities and to the power to pay grants for public passenger services and for new facilities, or new services ancillary to such services.

I sympathise with the objective but believe that the amendments are not necessary. As regards subsidies for bus services, we must remember that they are already subject to a statutory competitive tendering requirement under the Transport Act 1985. So the amendments add nothing. The same applies to the provision about facilities or ancillary services. Bus service subsidies are subject to competitive tendering and facilities are subject to the usual local authority best value rules. If there were new buildings in facilities--for example, a new bus station--competitive tendering by building contractors would be very much the usual procedure.

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I hope that that persuades the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we have covered the water front, if I may use an inappropriate metaphor.


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