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The Local Government Act 1985 is the origin of the reserve scheme. The scheme has never been used, but it is still in statute. The objection is that it allows the operator to set the price for travel if he invokes the reserve scheme, without recourse to appeal to anyone. It is therefore objectionable on those grounds alone. The reserve scheme does not protect against a policy change, so if the London boroughs decided that people were only going to get half their travel in future, it would not protect them against that. However, the reserve scheme generally is thoroughly objectionable. It ought to be got rid of, and that is what these amendments seek to do.

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I understand that there is some publicity from the mayor today, saying that this would put the whole of free travel in London in jeopardy. That is a view with which I most profoundly disagree. There is every likelihood that the authorities will continue to negotiate in favour of the scheme. I am trying to draw the Minister’s attention to the existence of the reserve scheme which I believe puts too much power in the hands of the providers of the transport service. I beg to move.

4.45 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for pressing a point on which he elaborated in Committee. I recognise the importance of his representation on this matter. He quoted the Mayor of London’s press release and comments today and said how much he disagreed. He will not mind my saying that I will pray in aid the fact that the Mayor of London, who has some responsibility to Londoners, thinks that this is an important weapon in his armoury with regard to guarantees for Londoners. We agree with him because the purpose of the scheme is to guarantee concessionary travel in London in situations where there is no agreement among the London boroughs or between the boroughs and TfL. Amendment No. 9 seeks to alter Section 240 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 to replace what is currently a voluntary ability for London boroughs and TfL to enter into arrangements to provide travel concessions with a compulsory obligation to enter into these arrangements. That is a pretty significant change, and I am not surprised that it has caught the attention of the Mayor of London.

I recognise that arrangements for concessionary travel are different in the capital. The 1999 Act secures that the boroughs are able to agree schemes voluntarily with TfL. These voluntary arrangements are underpinned by a safety net—the reserve scheme, which the noble Lord says is unnecessary. If the voluntary arrangements do not meet certain minimum requirements, the reserve scheme is triggered. This has been successful in the past; it has delivered uninterrupted concessionary travel in the capital these past eight years and there would have to be some very strong arguments for removing it.

There is a problem with the noble Lord’s contention. The ability to enter into arrangements implies that both parties do so voluntarily and by agreement, but the amendment says that the parties have to agree. How do you force parties to agree? That interesting little exercise has caused great minds to think throughout the course of industrial relations in this country. How does the noble Lord think that this would occur in London?

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I wonder, in view of his comments, whether the Minister is aware that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which his Government are putting through, puts a statutory duty of co-operation between local authorities and the health service.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, a statutory duty of co-operation is different from an agreement about a scheme. Against a background where we know there

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are grounds for disagreement, the amendment says “By law, you will agree”. There are difficulties with this concept.

I recognise the strength of the noble Lord’s contention. He has undoubted support outside, and there is no doubt that the London boroughs are concerned about the fact that in circumstances in which agreement is not achieved, they are effectively faced with a fait accompli. But the Bill subscribes to the greater cause; it wants to see co-operation and agreement where that can be achieved. The structure in place under the Greater London Authority Act, with which the Bill does not interfere, guarantees that that process can take place. But if that fails, the reserve power has the supreme virtue of reaching the end position to which all of us who have contributed to debates on this Bill have subscribed—namely, that concessionary fares and the geographical extent of them is an excellent concept. Of course, we all applaud the fact that London has been very much in the van of all this work.

I hear what the noble Lord has said but I am not persuaded. I recognise the interests that he represents, and it would be far from me to do anything other than respect those interests. But there is a difficulty with regard to the amendment, and on this occasion I have not the slightest hesitation in siding with the Mayor of London in saying that he needs the reserve power to guarantee that concessionary fares obtain in the capital. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that that is the Government’s position on this matter.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Reserve free travel scheme]:

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 13 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [The London free travel scheme]:

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Requirements as to scope]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 15:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 18:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.]

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Clause 7 [Requirements as to uniformity]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendments Nos. 21 to 23:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 9 [Variation of reimbursement and other administrative arrangements]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 24:

“(b) altering the provisions about appeals by operators in connection with reimbursement (for example, by altering who is to hear the appeals, the functions of the person or body hearing the appeals or the circumstances in which appeals may be brought); (c) for establishing a body to hear the appeals; (d) imposing requirements as to consultation; (e) repealing section 145A(9) to (11) of the 2000 Act; (f) conferring on the Secretary of State power to make regulations— (i) for any purpose corresponding or similar to any purpose for which regulations may be made by the Secretary of State under sections 149(3) and 150(6) and (7) of the 2000 Act (as those provisions have effect immediately before the coming into force of this section); (ii) about any matter ancillary to the reimbursement of, and appeals by, operators (for example, how to claim reimbursement).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bradshaw moved Amendment No. 25:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the last substantial amendment that we shall deal with today. There has been a great deal of disquiet over the period of 28 days within which operators who are dissatisfied with the agreement that they have reached with the local authority must notify the Secretary of State of their intention to appeal. That period is far too short; it almost means that people have to put the appeal in without any experience whatever of what is happening on the ground. I should have thought that

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it was reasonable to extend the period to at least 56 days so that there is a reasonable opportunity for a month of experience before an appeal is submitted. Of the appeals made already, a great many were withdrawn after they had been put in by operators who had no option but to put in an appeal as a sort of longstop until some experience was gained. I have tabled a short amendment and hope that the Minister will reply in the affirmative. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who recognised some of the reservations that the Government had in Committee on an amendment that insisted that the period be 28 days. The noble Lord now suggests 56 days, which is certainly a more reasonable approach. However, I am as yet not convinced by the virtues of that proposal.

I have more grievous worries about the second part of the amendment. The deadline of 120 days for determining appeals would be very difficult to operate in practice. Putting the deadline in the Bill would make it a completely fixed and possibly unhelpful feature, which would require primary legislation to change if we ran into real difficulties meeting it. The deadline would certainly guarantee quicker justice. I recognise that justice delayed is justice denied, but faster justice may not result in better decisions. Experience has shown that the time it takes to determine an appeal is largely dependent on the quality and transparency of the evidence provided by both parties. We have not had particularly good examples of that. The noble Lord will recognise that we are still working through early days of appeals, so we are bound to have reservations about the 120 days within which a determination would need to be in force. If the Secretary of State were forced to determine appeals within a specific deadline irrespective of the quality of the evidence available, poorer decisions might be arrived at.

The noble Lord is right that the Secretary of State ought to determine appeals in the shortest time possible. However, I am not quite sure what would happen if he failed to meet the 120-day deadline. What if the operator wanted to defer an appeal to try to reach a local solution through further negotiations? If the rigid 120-day period were in place, it would inhibit such a development. Appeals need to be considered fairly and consistently, which sometimes takes time. I have real reservations about the measure.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, what advice does the Minister offer to local authorities with appeals in abeyance that have been on the books for some time? In many cases, in the large PTE areas, they amount to several millions of pounds. They are currently setting their budgets, which is very difficult if there is an open-ended appeal process. Will the Minister comment on their situation?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I recognise the force of that point, and the tabling of the amendment in Committee and today provides the opportunity to voice that justified grievance. Although I accept that

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that puts an incubus on the determination of the appeal in a reasonable time, a 120-day deadline might well result in an unjust decision.

On the 56 days, I recognise that the noble Lord sought to meet the objections that I had in Committee. In any appeal system there needs to be an appropriate balance between the needs of the operators and those of the local authority. I am not at all sure that 56 days meets that requirement. Under current arrangements, local authorities are obliged to notify operators of new reimbursement arrangements some four months in advance of their coming into force. That gives operators sufficient time to make authorities aware of any concerns about a proposed scheme. To negotiate an appeal no later than 28 days after the arrangements come into force seems an appropriate last resort—which is what it is—if negotiations break down.

I know that the noble Lord feels very strongly that 28 days is too short. If he were prepared to withdraw the amendment today, I would be prepared to consider this further and meet him to see whether we can get a meeting of minds on the appropriate time. But largely because of my reservations about the second part of the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw it today.

5 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said. I will certainly be very happy to meet him. I draw his attention to the fact that negotiations over reimbursement tend to take place over time. I know that some negotiations for this year’s settlement continued even after the new scheme had started to operate. Although local authorities should give notice four months in advance, they notified the operator of an unsatisfactory settlement some time in advance and negotiations continued. I am talking about 56 days from the point at which the operator knows what it will get. It is not a long time, and I would be grateful if the Minister made a concession in that direction. Meanwhile, I shall take the opportunity to reflect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendments Nos. 27 and 28:

“(a)” “(b) insert at the appropriate place—

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Repeals and revocations]:

[Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 not moved.]


Lord Grocott: My Lords, we shall have more than enough time to deal with the remainder of today’s business, including day five of the Committee stage of the Mental Health Bill, if Back-Bench contributions to the Welfare Reform Bill last 10 minutes. This is an

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advisory time. Ten minutes is 2,000 words or thereabouts. One cannot quite put the world to rights, but one can certainly do reasonably well in that time. The reason for this is that when we scheduled day five of the Committee stage of the Mental Health Bill, only 10 names had been put down to speak at Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill. One has to make plans a few days in advance, and that was the best guess at the time. Co-operation would be greatly appreciated.

Welfare Reform Bill

5.02 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The reforms in this Bill mark a watershed in the history of social security in this country. They break the link between welfare and dependency; they destroy the old notion that sickness or disability equates to a life on benefit; and they replace the concept of incapacity with a new focus on capability, delivering on the Government’s commitment to reform incapacity benefits, while ensuring security for those who cannot work.

The Bill is premised on the belief in an active, enabling welfare state that matches rights with responsibilities and puts tackling poverty and social exclusion at its core. It enshrines a new and very welcome consensus, founded on clear progressive values of opportunity and security. It is supported by an evidence base that highlights both the crucial importance of these reforms in meeting the challenges of an ageing society and the potential of developments in the management of health conditions for helping people to realise their ambitions in the workplace.

Soon, there will be more people celebrating their 85th birthday each year than starting primary school. The potential implications of this rapid demographic shift are profound, whether in terms of the potential tax burden, the demand for state services or the pensions that people receive. Ultimately, as an economy and as a society, we cannot afford to be denied the skills and contributions of any of those who want to work. Indeed, our economic security and future prosperity hinge on the opportunity for work being open to all.

However, the rewards of work are much more than just economic. A report published only last year concluded that work is central to a person’s individual identity, their psychosocial needs and their physical and mental health. It found that unemployment can lead to higher mortality rates and poorer health, while returning to work improves health by as much as unemployment damages it.

From the amalgamation of the Benefits Agency and Employment Service to the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act, extending the opportunity to work has been at the core of our welfare reform agenda since 1997. We have made work pay through the minimum wage and tax credits, and through record

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investment in the New Deal and Jobcentre Plus we have begun to create an enabling welfare state that responds to the needs of individuals, pioneering new active welfare support to overcome specific barriers to work. The Bill marks the next stage of that journey, building a modern welfare state, allowing people to exercise this fundamental right to work. Importantly, it takes us a step closer to our aspiration of an 80 per cent employment rate, aspiring for a million fewer people receiving incapacity benefits, as well as a million more older people in work and an extra 300,000 lone parents off benefit.

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