HC Deb 04 June 1964 vol 695 cc1247-9
Q5. Mr. Driberg

asked the Prime Minister what representations he has received from the Borough Council of Leyton, supported by the Borough Council of Barking and other local authorities in metropolitan Essex, on the subject of concessionary fares for old people using public transport; and what reply he has returned thereto.

The Prime Minister

The Council asked for legislation to allow concessionary fares for all old people on all public transport. It was told that my view is as expressed in the House on 28th April.

Mr. Driberg

Has the Prime Minister at least taken the trouble to look into the particular anomalies pressed on his attention on that occasion by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and also by one of his own back-bench supporters, because they are very serious and real anomalies? If I may say so, he did not quite seem to grasp the point on that occasion.

The Prime Minister

I grasp the point now and I have repeated the reply which I gave last time. This raises the whole problem of whether benefits for old-age pensioners should be in cash or in kind. I said quite clearly then that the Government believed that the right method of helping the elderly was to help them with cash. This view seems to be supported by the journal of the old-age pensioners' association. At any rate, at best they are not agreed on this matter.

Mr. Montgomery

Could my right hon. Friend please look at this matter again? I think that there are terrible anomalies throughout the country, and I am sure that there are many places in the United Kingdom—Newcastle is one—where old people are losing their concessionary fares because of a change of route or a change of bus. Genuine hardship is felt by many of these people and I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could look at this matter again.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member's Question was directed to the national position because that was the subject of the letter sent to me by the Leyton Council. However, if there are anomalies which are eroding the spirit of the 1955 Act, I am willing to examine them.

Mr. H. Wilson

Does not the Prime Minister yet realise that the spirit of the 1955 Act, which was an interim Measure, was to allow these concessions to continue on routes in force in October, 1954? Since that is now nearly 10 years ago and there are many more housing estates, routes and old-age pensioners losing the concession, it is nonsense to talk about eroding the spirit of the 1955 Act. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the matter should be dealt with by monetary provision and not by routes, why did the Government find time in 1955 to legislate in respect of those particular routes, and would not the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's position be—which we would oppose—that he should repeal the 1955 Act or, as we say, bring it up to date?

The Prime Minister

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery), if old people are suffering, which was not the intention of the 1955 Act, then I will examine those anomalies. But on the general proposition I must stand absolutely firm on what I said, namely, that cash is the right way to deal with this matter rather than by giving concessions.

Earl of Dalkeith

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the granting of concessionary fares would create a great many more anomalies, for the simple reason that a large number of pensioners would not be able to derive benefit from them? Surely, it is much better to follow the Government's present method of frequently increasing pensions generally.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; I think that that is true. That is why my examination of anomalies must be very limited.

Mr. Short

The Prime Minister has always been under the misapprehension that public money is involved in this. Is he aware that this would not cost the Exchequer or any rate funds throughout the country anything? There is a great deal of evidence that it is good business to give old people cheap fares in off-peak hours. What is wrong with this? Would not the Prime Minister agree even to this?

The Prime Minister

It could, in certain circumstances, certainly increase expenditure from the rates. The London Transport Board, for instance, has a scheme about which I should like to speak to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), because it could apply to his constituency. One cannot generalise and say that this would not add to public expenditure or rates.