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Ms Keeble: We do not have the results of that investigation yet. There has been discussion of the impact on some schemes, and I have mentioned them. The matter has also been discussed in Committee and probably on Second Reading, too. In most instances, the matter has been resolved by the original schemes being reinstated. That is largely because of the popularity of concessionary fares. As soon as we get the results of the survey, I am sure that they will be made available to hon. Members, as they will be very important.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. They have been raised in correspondence by a number of hon. Members, and there has been a lot of discussion about them. I assure him that nothing in the Bill will cause any existing scheme to be reduced in scope or otherwise curtailed. With those assurances, I hope that he will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Foster: The Minister provides warm words of encouragement, but unfortunately she cannot yet provide evidence from the survey that she acknowledges is being carried out as to whether similar assurances were given in respect of the introduction of the earlier statutory minimum requirement, and whether its introduction led to such reductions. I note with interest that some schemes, as she rightly said, were referred to in Committeefor example, the west midlands scheme, which, although it was going to be removed, has now been reinstated. She explained that it was reinstated because of the popularity of the scheme, and one can well imagine that local councillors in those areas were put under enormous pressure. However, she did not say that the schemes were reinstated as a result of Government assurances that
The point that I have sought to make throughout is that it would be far better if the Government made it absolutely clear that they will introduce systems within the Bill's purview to ensure that the problems that we have discussed do not occur again. The Minister has said in warm words that it is not the Government's intention that such problems will occur, and that they are working very hard to ensure that they will not. I promise to look closely at the matter over the weeks and months to come, but with that assurance I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
'the day six months after Royal Assent has been signified to the Act.'.
The amendment's basic purpose is to ensure that the Government enact the provisions as soon as reasonably practicable. Since the Minister used the interesting parliamentary device of saying that she could not accept amendment No. 2 because it would delay implementation of the Act, I had anticipated that she would similarly turn down this amendment. I hope that I have anticipated her wrongly, because I am certain that all the men out there aged between 60 and 64 will be looking carefully at this debate to see when they are likely to be able to qualify for concessionary fares. Indeed, no less a person than the Speaker's Secretary made representations to me earlier today, saying that he hoped that the Bill would be on the statue book as soon as possible.
Having rejected amendment No. 2 because it will be simpler to operate the provisions under the standard spending assessment, the Minister is on much weaker ground in rejecting this amendment, as there is now less reason still why the Government cannot enact the provisions sooner rather than later.
The Minister said that she intended that the Act would come into effect on 1 April 2003. I am reliably informed by the Clerks that, as the Bill has completed all its House of Lords stages, theoretically there is no reason why it should not come into operation in a matter of days.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) made a helpful, illuminating comment, showing that if the Government moved with great speed, they could enact the Bill very quickly indeed. However, let us be generous and allow enough time for the parliamentary procedure to proceed at an orderly pace and assume that the Bill could be on the statute book by 1 March. Under our amendment, the provisions would then be brought into effect on 1 Septembera full seven months earlier than the Government intend. The 1 million men who are likely to benefit from the provisions would warmly and heartily welcome that. I therefore urge the Minister to consider the amendment seriously.
Chris Grayling: Has my hon. Friend considered the perhaps mischievous possibilityI am sure that it is not really a possibilitythat those men will have to wait an extra year because it is less convenient for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to spend the money in the next financial year?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sure that there are expenditure implications, and that might be one of them. I hope that it is not, because Mr. Matthews first took his case to the European Court as long ago as 10 October 1997, so the Government have had four years' warning that they would be likely to lose such a case. To delay implementation until 1 April 2003 therefore seems unnecessary, as they should have been able to conduct all the necessary consultation to bring the provisions into effect sooner rather than later.
All those watching this debate will need to hear the Minister make a cast iron argument why that should not be so, particularly because the case has already been lost in the European Court of Human Rights. If such cases are to mean anything, the Government should move expeditiously to implement that judgment, which they
Ms Keeble: Our commitment to equalising the age of entitlement is clear. We introduced the Bill very early in this Session. It made speedy progress through the other place and, hopefully, the House will today give the Bill its blessing and it can go forward for Royal Assent.
If amendment No. 2, which would have changed the basis for the financial calculation, had been agreed to, there would have been a substantial delay in implementation. We expect to have the measure fully implemented by April 2003, and that remains our firm intention.
I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern; implementation a full year off sounds a long way away. However, it is debatable whether the amendment would help local authorities, as they will have set their budgets and be part way through the financial year. As I said, the arrangements were designed for the efficient and orderly introduction of the scheme, as well as to ensure a proper financial basis. There is also the important point about ensuring that equalisation does not lead to any reductions in the number of such schemes.
There are very good reasons for putting new and changed concessionary travel arrangements into operation at the beginning of a local authority financial year, rather than part way through it. Legislation governing schemes in London requires the boroughs and Transport for London to agree their schemes by 31 December for implementation at the start of the following financial year. So, implementation in London would in any case have to wait until April 2003.
Furthermore, implementing the Act in April 2003 will harmonise other legislation to bring about age equalisation for concessionary fares across England and in Wales on the same day. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has been somewhat parsimonious. It would be perfectly possible to introduce the scheme half way through a financial year and to adjust the revenue support grant next year to take that into account. I accept that, from the point of view of the orderly running of government, it is more tidy to introduce it on 1 April 2003, but we are talking about elderly people who may be on low incomes, and every little help makes their life just that much easier. I should have thought that the Government would be only too willing to get the Bill enacted and implemented as soon as possible. From the tone of the Minister's reply, I assume that she will reject the amendment. However, I hope that she will have an open mind on introducing the scheme by the end of the year, if not earlier, outside Londonin the rest of England, which is where the bulk of people live.