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Baroness Hamwee: Needham Market!

Lord Whitty: My apologies again. I certainly would not wish to rule out such a provision. However, we have to consider the costs. Were we to subsidise this directly, we would have to take on some of the costs of services that were already provided locally and therefore the net benefit would not necessarily be evident.

Clause 146 contains a power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to extend the eligibility by statutory instrument. In that sense, we have deliberately kept the door open for developments such as this at an appropriate time. Extension of such concessions to young people would be one of the areas that in the future we would address. I hope, with that partial reassurance, that these amendments will not be pressed.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I thank the Minister for his reply. Perhaps I may extend an invitation to the noble Lord and other noble Lords to come to Needham Market. I am sure that, following a good lunch at one of our many wonderful pubs, noble Lords will remember the name. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 161:

The noble Lord said: As I mentioned earlier, in moving Amendment No. 161, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 163, 167 and 169. They all deal with the same subject; namely, mandatory travel concessions outside Greater London.

The purpose of the amendment is to extend the minimum half price concessionary fare to groups of disabled people not covered by the recent government amendment and to allow them to use door to door transport where mainstream public transport is accessible. Amendment No. 161 would remove the time restrictions on the scheme.

The Bill will introduce a national concessionary fare scheme for elderly people between places in a given area and beginning at a relevant time. I welcome the Government's recent amendment to extend that concession to certain disabled people, but I should like to add to that the groups of disabled people that I have already mentioned.

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I am also concerned that the scheme is limited by the expression, "relevant time", meaning between 9.30 a.m. and 11 p.m. That implies treating adults like 14 or 15 year-olds who have to be home and ready for bed by 11 p.m. I believe that this scheme should apply to all journeys in the local area regardless of the time. The restrictions could, for example, mean that someone returning from a night out in the town no longer received the concession, making the evening out impossible.

Of greater importance, it also means that if the scheme is extended to people of working age, they will be unable to benefit from the concessions while working. In my view there are unlikely to be problems of congestion during peak periods because people who do not need to travel at those times will choose not to do so, thus ensuring that they are more likely to travel in comfort. However, removing the restriction will allow people to undertake their journeys as necessary.

I am concerned that the national concessionary scheme fails to recognise that travel patterns are often independent of local administrative boundaries. The voluntary national concession scheme for free travel for blind people in Scotland provides concessions throughout the country and across different modes of travel. The proposed scheme would benefit from similar provisions relating to the area of operation and integration across modes.

Any elderly person--any person of pensionable age--residing in a travel concession authority's area who travels on an eligible service on a journey between places in that area, and beginning at a relevant time, is entitled to be provided with a half-price travel concession by the operator of the service. That is fine for those who can jump on and off buses. Regrettably, it inequitably leaves out those whose impairments prevent them from using buses and whose age may have made them ineligible for the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance. I think that these disabled people should, like their more mobile colleagues, enjoy a statutory minimum fare concession scheme on transport services set up specifically to meet their needs. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): Because Amendment No. 167 is also being spoken to with this amendment, I should point out that if Amendment No. 167 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 168.

Lord Addington: These amendments would mean that the disabled would receive a concession allowing them to travel in a more civilised manner; that is, more often at the times that they probably want to travel. We are attempting to ensure that the disabled have the right to travel at times which are more in line with working.

In this Chamber we have often heard how the disabled have higher costs generally. If they work, they would probably benefit from these fare concessions to a far greater extent than would normal working people because their income will need to cover higher costs, thus the marginal benefit is higher. If someone does

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not have very much money, any amount of saving will go that little bit further. Also, moving the times for concessionary travel will bring disabled people much more into the mainstream. That aim is laudable. I hope that the Government will at least give the principle behind the amendments a good hearing.

Lord Whitty: I think I follow the grouping of the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. There now seem to be three different items covered in the grouping: the question of the timing of concessionary fares; the question of carers and other groups of disabled; and the form of transport. Perhaps I may take the issue of the times first, and make two points.

Before doing so, I should mention to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the original change from 9 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. was made in Committee in another place as a result of a Liberal Democrat amendment. Admittedly, at that point it applied to pensioners and not so much to the disabled; and the bulk of those who will take advantage of the concession will continue to be pensioners.

My first substantive point is that these are minimum criteria. There is nothing to stop local authorities going beyond that minimum, by continuing or introducing an earlier start time for concessionary fares, either for the whole group or for some of the group if they believe that that accords with local priorities. The shift to the later time of 9.30 a.m. was not made lightly. There was a significant number of representations from local government, initially from the PTE group which deals with transport in our larger cities. It urged the later time because it was worried about the pressure of undue demand on public transport facilities at that point, given the number of school journeys still being made at that time of day, the need to reposition vehicles following delays and congestion in the morning peak, and so on, and the fact that buses need to be back at the right time. The group said that 9.30 a.m. was a common start time in metropolitan areas. Since then, similar worries have been expressed by local government. So there is a balance to be drawn, and there is room for debate as to what is the best solution. But bearing in mind that these are minimum criteria and that local authorities can vary them, I believe that we have struck the balance reasonably. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press that amendment.

Amendment No. 163 seeks to extend the provisions to other areas. I was particularly struck by the issue of companions travelling with a disabled person. There are clear administrative difficulties. In the case of companions, there would need to be a proper identification procedure and an assurance that the companion would use the concessions only when travelling with the disabled person. A variety of different cards might be necessary in those circumstances.

In relation to people who have used in-patient mental health services, also included in the amendment, such people are not at present among those for whom local authorities can provide

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concessionary fares on a discretionary basis. The principle underlying our national proposal is that we are merely building on existing statutory eligibility to make this a national system and not adding new categories of people. A particular difficulty may arise in the case of people who have previously had in-house treatment for mental health problems in terms of the time that has elapsed since treatment, the kind of treatment received and so on. It is not clear to me that continuing support is necessary in this area.

Having said that, I do not dismiss out of hand the possibility of looking at these extensions and I undertake to consider them further. There is a case to be considered particularly in relation to carers. We shall need to look at cost and administrative complications. If I conclude that it is right to make a change, there is already an order-making power in Clause 146 which is available to implement that decision.

The noble Lord seeks by this amendment--there are later amendments which relate to the same matter--effectively to extend the concession to community transport. These amendments provide that the statutory minimum concessionary fare should apply also to services operated under Sections 19 and 22 of the Transport Act 1985 for disabled people who cannot use mainstream public transport. Section 19 deals with specific services for such people, and Section 22 is about services that are run for a similar purpose but are available to the general public. There is a question as to how the concession will apply. There is also a question as to how it relates to the separate issue of providing fuel duty rebate for such services.

I shall need to give further consideration to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord to see whether it can be fitted into the system. However, we are talking here about a very different matter from the provision of a concessionary fare on a scheduled, or near-scheduled, route; it is an on-demand service that may already be provided free, or nearly so. A number of matters must be taken into account before we can take this further. However, we shall look at this further. I hope that, with those remarks, the noble Lord will not press the amendment tonight.

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