HC Deb 05 July 1978 vol 953 cc447-9
16. Mr. Grocott

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will encourage local authorities in the West Midlands region to adopt a regional policy on concessionary fares for the disabled which would be based on the best scheme currently being operated.

Mr. William Rodgers

I welcome local authorities getting together to agree common policies. My recent circular advocated half-fares for disabled people, but I am pleased where local authorities can do better than this.

Mr. Grocott

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the whole question of concessionary fares is far too important to be left to largely Tory-controlled local authorities which could not care less? Does he agree that there is a need, if not for a national policy, at least for a regional policy, and to this end will he summon a conference in the West Midlands to make the recalcitrant local authorities adopt a decent scheme?

Mr. Rodgers

I agree that this matter is too important to be left to local authorities, and that is precisely why I issued my circular and why I clearly indicated —I know this to be the view of both sides of the House—that schemes are needed where there are no schemes and that better schemes are needed where there are inferior schemes. Certainly, however, the local authorities should get together. There are two forms of elected government in this country—central and local. Both have responsibilities and both should behave responsibly. I recognise that there are special problems in the West Midlands to which my hon. Friend has drawn my attention, and I hope that they will be resolved.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I appreciate very much the context of the Minister's reply. What action would he propose by local authorities to meet the needs of disabled people who live in rural areas which have no public transport? How can those people be helped by a concessionary fare scheme when there is no public transport for them to travel on?

Mr. John Evans

Persuade the Cheshire Tories to pay some subsidies.

Mr. Rodgers

If I may intervene in this discussion for a moment, I think that it is the case that the neglect of public transport which is clearly more the responsibility of the Conservatives than of Labour is the cause of the problem which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) described. I hope that he will speak loud and clear everywhere in the terms that he has used this afternoon. In the meantime, with the extra sums that we are providing in the Transport Bill, against which the Opposition voted on Second Reading, there is the prospect of improving public transport in rural areas and of introducing new and helpful forms of public transport.

Mr. Greville Janner

When considering concessionary fares, does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is a most powerful case for giving concessions to schoolchildren who are required to stay on at school but who, on public transport, are treated as adults for fares purposes? Is he aware that the lack of such a scheme, combined with the abolition, in Leicestershire and other areas, of concessionary rights for everyone from old people and the disabled to home helps, causes grave hardship and anger among people who can do nothing whatever about it because the matter is under the control of Tory local authorities?

Mr. Rodgers

Those authorities may be controlled by the Tories now, but that will not last for ever. The opportunity will arise to make some improvement then. However, my hon. and learned Friend makes a point which is very much in my mind. I hope that operators will do what they can to ensure a reasonable level of fares, not only for the disabled, the sick and the old, but for young people, because fares can represent a major item in the household budget when young people stay on at school after 16.

Sir A. Meyer

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best concessionary fare schemes, whether for the disabled or the elderly, are those which give travellers the maximum amount of choice? Does he agree that such schemes are perfectly consistent with making the maximum use of existing carriers in off-peak periods?

Mr. Rodgers

Yes, I agree with that. It is for the operators, in widely differing circumstances in different parts of the country, to try to devise a form of scheme which uses the fare capacity but which enables people to travel when it is important for them to do so.