HC Deb 03 June 1981 vol 5 cc911-2
3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will conduct an investigation into the different schemes of concessionary travel in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Fowler

No, Sir.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Minister afraid that such an investigation might reveal that some of the meanest local authorities in that respect are Tory-controlled? In view of the unfair anomalies and the wide discrepancies between different areas, will the Government consider funding a national scheme of concessionary or even free travel for all pensioners and also disabled people, especially as this is the International Year of Disabled People?

Mr. Fowler

There is a balance in the matter. As a nation we are already spending about £120 million a year on concessionary fares. A half-fare scheme would raise the annual cost to £200 million. A free fare scheme would raise the cost to £300 million. Frankly, I must advise the hon. Gentleman that in the present circumstances that is not something which we can afford.

Mr. Trippier

While I appreciate the natural reluctance of the Government to circumvent the powers given to local authorities to determine the cost of concessionary bus passes for the elderly, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to make a direct appeal to the neighbouring local authorities where significant anomalies exist, in the hope that a more uniform system could be applied, which would be more equitable to those who cannot avoid cross-boundary travel?

Mr. Fowler

We should be prepared to do anything we can to make possible a closer co-ordination of those schemes on a local basis. The responsibility lies with the local authorities. The vast majority of district authorities provide such schemes. I am prepared to consider my hon. Friend's proposal.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is it not ludicrous for a progressive council such as the GLC——

Mr. Garel-Jones

The previous one.

Mr. Lewis

The previous one and the present one, to give concessionary fares, and now impose higher rates to allow free or cheaper travel for all when the sick, the disabled and old age pensioners, who already have concessionary fares, are to be taxed to allow Members of Parliament and people earnings £10,000 or £20,000 a year to have cheap fares? That cannot be right.

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have been strongly putting that case for the last few months. I agree that in London it would be wrong to have such indiscriminate subsidies. The fact is that the people who will pick up the bill are the ratepayers of London. Many will regret that when the bill comes through later this year.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is not my right hon. Friend entirely right that the path to pursue is to make services available, particularly on a more informal basis, which helps in rural areas where there is no service at all, even if one has tokens? That must be the right path to tread.

Mr. Fowler

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. Many local authorities will take the view that it is better to provide support for a service than to talk in terms of concessionary fares. That is why the policy which we are pursuing, and which the previous Government pursued, is right.