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I reiterate that I welcome efforts to raise awareness of transport issues for people suffering from mental health difficulties. As I said in Committee, I shall
continue to ensure that officials meet Mind, which they did most recently last month. I certainly intend that constructive dialogue to continue. However, I draw the attention of Members to the fact that Mind indicated that, in terms of possible amendments to the Bill, the issue raised in amendment No. 6 was no longer of as much priority to the organisation as it had been previously.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to which the amendment refers, is an important piece of legislation and the Department has used its provisions to improve accessibility to transport vehicles for disabled people, but the Act was never intended to determine eligibility for concessionary travel, and it is not appropriate to use it in that way. The amendment would significantly expand the number of people who could become eligible and, as we have discussed many times, the consequence would be the need for a commitment of considerable sums of money to provide such a concession.
It is not simply a question of resources, however. A number of practical and administrative issues would have to be considered and resolved; for example, we would need a robust and fair system for assessing eligibility against the definition of mental impairment. We would need to decide who would do the assessing and set up a process for people to appeal against determinations. It is important that all those with an interest and expertise in the area have the opportunity to feed into the development of such a significant change before legislation, so changing the definition of disabled person on the face of the Bill at this stage would be premature and impractical. However, I assure the House that the Government are keeping these issues under review. Indeed, as part of our plans for the implementation of the national bus concession, we are already considering whether it is necessary to update the guidance to local authorities on assessing eligibility. I hope that hon. Members will now be able to agree that the approach that the Government are taking is a right, measured and practical one. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 would oblige the Secretary of State to issue guidance to travel concession authorities on the issue of sole or principal residence for people applying for a pass. As I have already said, the Department is actively engaging with local authorities and bus operators regarding the implementation of the national bus concession for April next year and it will continue to do so. Let me reassure hon. Members that if we felt, following consultation with local authorities, that such guidance was needed, we would of course issue it, after working closely with local authorities on the drafting.
Mr. Walker: The Minister is making rapid progress, but may I take her back to the beginning of her speech? Can I clarify that the eligibility of Broxbourne councils hospital bus scheme for concessionary fares will be considered in secondary legislation? Am I right in thinking that?
To assist the hon. Gentleman, I refer him to the order that I have already mentioned. Bus operators and local authorities should refer to that. Obviously I cannot comment on specific cases, but
should he require assistance, I would be happy to provide it on the receipt of further details.
On amendments Nos. 9 and 10, the Bill already includes a power for the Secretary of State to issue such guidance, so I see no need for the amendments. In fact, it would be bizarre to be required to implement guidance that was not required by those who would be in receipt of it and that would risk diverting valuable resources from other important work to which I am sure both sides of the House wish us to be committed. The amendments are insufficiently flexible and are superfluous. With that in mind, I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will not press amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 6 and that he will withdraw amendment No. 8.
Stephen Hammond: I was delighted to hear at the outset of the Ministers speech that great minds think alike. There is certainly some agreement. I listened with interest to what she had to say about amendments Nos. 6, 9 and 10. As she knows, they were essentially probing amendments, particularly as she said in Committee that she would make sure that guidance was available to local councils. I therefore take her points on amendments Nos. 9 and 10 and about the continuing discussions with the relevant charities and bodies about amendment No. 6.
Great minds think alike, and my small mind has joined the great minds of the Minister and her excellent officials who have come to the same conclusion as I have, which is that the three extra possible definitions of eligibility should be considered. However, I am slightly troubled by her saying, Lets leave it all to secondary legislation. There are three definitions in the Bill and given that there seems to be a general consensus that we are likely to want to operate the three extra definitions, there seems to be no reason why they should not be in the Bill. I would therefore like to test the will of the House on amendment No. 8.
Stephen Hammond: These are technical, probing amendments, and I am really just looking for some reassurance from the Minister. Amendment No. 11 is designed to remove the powers given to the Secretary of State in clause 13(3). Amendment No. 12 removes subsection (4) of the clause, which relates to subsection (3). Currently, the Secretary of State may
make any amendments, repeals or revocations of any relevant enactment that appear to him to be appropriate in consequence of any provision of this Act.
That seems an extraordinarily wide-ranging power; why does the Secretary of State need it? Presumably, when drafting the Bill, the Government took into account all the adjustments that would have to be made to previous legislation. Does the Minister foresee circumstances in which concessionary bus travel becomes so popular that local authorities start to howl at the financial pressure, but central Government are
not prepared to give a cast-iron commitment? Those seem to be the only circumstances in which the Secretary of State could wish to use the power. Will the Minister therefore explain why it is necessary?
Turning to amendment No. 13, as things stand, the Bill would allow the Secretary of State to appoint the day on which it comes into force, but is it really necessary or right for the Secretary of State to choose the day? We have known all along that the commitment is that the Bill will come into force on 1 April 2008, so will the new Secretary of State for Transport really need that power? I look forward to the Ministers explanation of why the powers referred to in the amendments are necessary, why those powers should be kept in the Bill, and why the amendments should not be pressed to a Division.
Gillian Merron: All three amendments aim to change provisions in the Bill relating to the Secretary of States powers with regard either to minor or consequential amendments or to the commencement of the measure. It is a little strange that hon. Members have waited until Report to raise those points of concern, as there has been plenty of opportunity to do so, both inside and outside the House. I cannot help but wonder about the extent to which the issues in the amendments are of genuine concern. That aside, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will not be surprised to learn that my reasons for not accepting the amendments go beyond the time at which they were tabled.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 would delete two subsections from clause 13. Those subsections have been included in the Bill for good reason, and I hasten to add that the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee accepted that that is the case, as it did not draw attention to the power in clause 13(3) in its report on the Bill last December. The Department was very grateful for the report, as Lord Davies of Oldham made clear in his response of 18 January this year. As the Department explained in its original memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committeethat memorandum is in the public domainclause 13(3) provides a power for the Secretary of State, by order, to make such consequential amendments to other enactments and instruments as may be appropriate in consequence of any provision in the Bill when enacted.
It may be helpful to hon. Members if I reiterate the explanation that we gave to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for the inclusion of the power in subsection (3). It ensures that, should the Secretary of State find, as a consequence of bringing the provisions of the Bill into force, that other primary legislation needs to be amended, they have the power to do so without the need for further primary legislation. The power is limited to such amendments as may be needed as a consequence of provisions made in the Bill. The provision would also provide a single power to enable the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to secondary legislation without the need to rely on a number of different order-making powers from different enactments. That power is intended to deal with matters that cannot be foreseen or which have not been identified at this stage. In the nature of things, it is not possible to predict in any detail the
circumstances in which there might be a need to exercise that power. To provide further clarification, the Bill contains detailed provisions dealing with the relationship between the Transport Act 2000, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and the Transport Act 1985. The issues and provisions have been considered in detail but, given their complexity, it is still possible that there are unforeseen or unanticipated issues. If so, the power might be needed to resolve them without recourse to further primary legislation. Although there is a power to deal with the unforeseen, there are no current plans to use it. Moreover, I assure hon. Members that the power is subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure, which provides Parliament with the opportunity to scrutinise any proposed use. Consequently, I hope that, like the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee before them, hon. Members are reassured about the reasoning behind the power.
Amendment No. 13 would alter the Secretary of States power in clause 15(1) by order to appoint the commencement date of the measure, and to bring different provisions into force on different days. If accepted, it would result in the entire measure being commenced from 1 April next year. I cannot find it in myself to accept such a change. The drafting of clause 15(1) deliberately provides the Secretary of State with the power to commence the Bills provisions at different times if needed, which is common practice in the House. Again, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was satisfied with that power. As part of the Departments work on the implementation of the national concession, we are considering which provisions in the Bill need to be commenced at which point. It is not necessarily as simple or straightforward, as Opposition Members may believe, as commencing everything from 1 April 2008. There are aspects of implementation, such as those relating to the issuing of passes and to reimbursement arrangements, that may need to be commenced before April 2008 if local authorities and operators are to meet their obligations from April. In addition, although we fully intend the national concession in England to come into effect from next April, no final decision has been taken on the exact date, although it is likely to be early in April.
I remind the House that 1 April next year is a Tuesday. We need to consider any operational and practical issues for operators and local authorities alike that may result from commencing a significant change in arrangements part-way through the working week. Discussions with the concessionary fares working group will continue and we welcome the groups assistance. With that in mind, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment and also amendments Nos. 11 and 12.
I was surprised to hear at the beginning of the Ministers remarks that there is a new principle in the House that there is some time limit for the tabling of amendments to be reconsidered. I thought that the purpose of Report stage was for hon. Members to table amendments and to continue to probe and scrutinise the Government. I was therefore somewhat disappointed by the Ministers remarks.
However, her explanation was full and reassuring, and I am grateful to her for that.
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