§ `(1) If immediately before 1st January in any accounting year of London Regional Transport it appears to London Regional Transport that there are not for the time being in force arrangements under section 48(1) of this Act for travel concessions for London residents which—
- (a) meet the requirements of section (Requirements as to scope and uniformity of arrangements for travel concessions under section 48(1)) of this Act as to scope and uniformity; and
- (b) will apply throughout the next following accounting year of London Regional Transport;
§ (2) In any accounting year to which the free travel scheme applies it shall be the duty of London Regional Transport to grant, or (as the case may be) to exercise their control over any subsidiaries of theirs and their powers under Part I of this Act so as to secure that there are granted, the travel concessions for eligible London residents required by this section.
§ (3) In this section and sections (Supplementary provisions with respect to the free travel scheme) and (Requirements as to scope and uniformity of arrangements for travel concessions under section 48(1)) of this Act—
- (a) references to eligible London residents are references to persons resident in Greater London who are eligible in accordance with section 48(7) of this Act to receive travel concessions under arrangements under subsection (1) of that section;
- (b) references to categories of such residents are references to the categories of persons so eligible mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of section 48(7);
- (c) "travel concession permit" means, in relation to a travel concession under any such arrangements or under this section, a document in any form indicating that the person to whom it is issued is a person entitled in accordance with those arrangements or (as the case may be) under this section to receive the concession in question;
- (d) "relevant journey" means any journey of a description within section 48(4)(a), (b) or (c) of this Act; and
- (e) references to any services under the control of London Regional Transport are references to any public passenger transport service provided by London Regional Transport or any subsidiary of theirs or by any other person in pursuance of any agreement entered into by London Regional Transport by virtue of section 3(2) of this Act.
§ (4) The travel concession required by this section in the case of all eligible London residents in the blind persons' category is the waiver, on production of a travel concession permit issued to any such resident under section (Supplementary provisions with respect to the free travel scheme) of this Act, of any fare otherwise payable by the person to whom it was issued for any relevant journey on a service under the control of London Regional Transport.
§ (5) The travel concession required by this section in the case of all eligible London residents in any other category is the 974 waiver, on production of such a permit, of any fare otherwise payable by the person to whom it was issued for any such journey beginning—
- (a) at any time on a Saturday or Sunday or on any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971; or
- (b) in the daytime, evening or late-night off-peak period on any other day.
§ (6) Subject to subsection (7) below, for the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (5) above—
- (a) the daytime off-peak period is the period from 9.30 a.m. until 4.30 p.m.;
- (b) the evening off-peak period is the period from 6.30 p.m. until midnight; and
- (c) the late-night off-peak period is the period from midnight until 1.00 a.m.
§ (7) The daytime, evening or late-night off-peak period for the purposes of subsection (5)(b) above may be altered from time to time by London Regional Transport by notice published in such manner as they think fit, specifying the new period or periods and the effective date of the alteration.
§ (8) A notice under subsection (7) above may not specify an effective date for the alteration of a period to which it applies falling earlier than three months after the date of publication of the notice; and before publishing any such notice London Regional Transport shall consult with all London authorities (within the meaning of section 48 of this Act) and with the Passengers' Committee.'.—[Mr. Ridley.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.4.13 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment (a) to the new clause, in subsection (5)(b), leave out, evening'.
§ Amendment (b) to the new clause, in subsection (6) (a), leave out '4.30 p.m.' and insert 'midnight'.
§ Amendment (c) to the new clause, leave out paragraph (b) of subsection (6).
§ Amendment (d) to the new clause, in subsection (7), leave out, evening'.
§ Government new clause 8—Supplementary provisions with respect to the free travel scheme.
§ Government new clause 9—Requirements as to scope and uniformity of arrangements for travel concessions under section 48(1).
New clause 1—Travel concessions on journeys in and around London—
`(1) The Secretary of State shall instruct the London Regional Transport Board to grant travel concessions to those eligible to receive them, in accordance with subsection (4) below, such travel concessions being not less than those provided by the Greater London Council on the appointed day.
(2) The Secretary of State shall recover the cost of such concessions by a levy on the London Boroughs and the Common Council, which shall be a proportion of the rateable income of the local authority.
(3) No charge may be made upon any individual for the issue of any pass for such concessions.
(4) The persons eligible to receive travel concessions under arrangements made under subsection (1) above are persons mentioned in any of the following paragraphs, or any description of such persons, that is to say—
New clause 2—Provisions for the operation of travel concessions by independent transport operators—
'It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State
(2) No direction under subsection 1(a) above shall be made by the Secretary of State for the provision of travel concessions by any independent transport operator unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that financial provision for them will be made pursuant to subsections (1) and (3) of section 48 of this Act.'.
§ Amendment No. 31, in clause 48, page 45, line 31, leave out from 'below' to 'enter' in line 32 and insert `the local authorities which at present fall within the boundaries of the Greater London Council shall'.
§ Amendment No. 32, in clause 48, page 45, line 40, leave out from 'beginning' to 'reimburse' in line 42 and insert 'The local authorities concerned'. Government amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 40.
§ Mr. Ridley
We start the Report stage with the subject which has perhaps concerned the Opposition, indeed, the whole House, more than any other subject in the Bill—the future of concessionary fares for old and disadvantaged people in London. The issues in the Bill are great and important, and it is a pity that we have had to spend so much time on this in the Bill, especially since there was never any threat to the old person's bus pass. It was in fact the Greater London council's best hope of unseating the Bill, by frightening pensioners, and it exploited that ruthlessly.
The opposition to the Bill from the hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench and their hon. Friends in Committee virtually collapsed after I announced on 16 February that we would provide a back-up scheme. Because of the scare campaign by the GLC, I must conclude that it was the only issue in which the Opposition saw any mileage at all. I find that sad, when one considers the important nature of the Bill.
It is strange that those who pressed so passionately for the passes, which we always believed and meant should be provided, have not even bothered to come today to listen to the debate. I can see only two Back Benchers on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friends were never in any doubt about the Government's pledge in the White Paper that the concessionary fare scheme would continue.
I must go through some of the details. London has an especially generous system of concessionary fares. I wish to give the figures, because they show exactly how generous it is. For London, the grant-related expenditure is £28.2 million, but the cost in 1983–84 was £60.5 million, just over twice the GRE. For the shire counties, the GRE for concessionary fares is £105.1 million, and in 1983–84 the expenditure was £57 million, just about half. 976 In rural areas, where old people have just as great a need, if not in many cases a greater need, to be able to travel from villages and remote areas, there is roughly one quarter the financial provisions.
So be it. If London wants to make this its priority—I believe that my hon. Friends representing London constituencies want to make it their priority—it shall be its priority, but, if that is the priority which is attached to the matter in London, it seems absolutely right that Londoners should pay for it, that it should come from the general resources of local government within the London borough areas, and that it should be treated like any other item of local authority expenditure in the future. Next year, it will grow to £65 million, due to further concessions that have been provided by the GLC, and that is a substantial amount of money. That is a priority that Londoners will have to find out of the total budgets of the boroughs when the GLC has been abolished.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) wishes to disregard this expenditure under his new clause 3, which the House will debate at length on a later occasion.
It is totally unacceptable that the expenditure on concessionary fares should be outside the general controls of local authority spending to provide a statutory exemption for one sort of expenditure such as this from the general penalties incurred by local authorities. That would enable boroughs to increase their total expenditure to the detriment of the finances of other parts of the country.
As to the exact treatment—again, it may be better to dwell on this when the House debates new clause 3—as I said in Committee, it is impossible to be precise about the exact financial regime in which the boroughs will find themselves when the time comes for them to shoulder the burden of paying for concessionary fares. Two Acts of Parliament hence and two years hence we shall have a clearer picture.
However, I tried to give a sign of how matters would be when I said that we did not consider it right that there should be an increase in GREs because they apply nationally and are just about in the middle of the range for the national experience of spending. However, we would consider carefully the implications for the targets of the boroughs and their treatment for rate-capping purposes if, as I hope will not be the case, any of them come near to that. We shall, of course, try to preserve the method by which the rate yield of London is distributed from the richer to the poorer boroughs. However, we can debate those matters later.
The Labour party has always agreed that concessionary fares should be a local responsibility, as it said in a Green Paper of 1979. It is odd that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East now wishes to take them out of the items which make up the responsibility of local government and to give them special treatment. We should infinitely prefer a voluntary scheme agreed by the boroughs. However whether it is a voluntary scheme or a compulsory scheme introduced because of the fallback provision, the hon Gentleman must agree that concessionary fares should remain the responsibility of local government. I hope that these clauses will never be implemented and that the boroughs will come to a voluntary agreement.
New clauses 7, 8 and 9 contain the provisions which the Government suggest for the fallback scheme. They place a duty on LRT, if there is no uniform voluntary scheme in place, to provide a scheme for pensioners, the disabled 977 and the blind. Therefore, we are giving pensioners the reassurance that they need. The new clauses will for the first time ever give backing in statute to a London-wide concessionary fares scheme. They provide a watertight guarantee that old people and the disabled will be entitled to free off-peak travel in the future. Never before have a Government been prepared to enshrine concessionary fares in statute. The clauses go much further than anyone has been prepared to go previously. Pensioners have no such protection now, and the GLC could end the scheme tomorrow. These provisions will make that impossible.
Our free travel scheme will come into effect automatically as a fallback should the local authorities fail to agree a voluntary scheme. We do not expect that it will be necessary, as the London Boroughs Association has agreed in principle and is already discussing a voluntary scheme. However, some boroughs — members of the Association of London Authorities — have not been prepared to discuss the scheme, and the clauses will take effect if they remain unco-operative. The statutory scheme will allow pensioners and the disabled to travel free on LRT services at all times at weekends and bank holidays, and at off-peak times on weekdays—that is, on journeys starting between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm and after 6.30 pm until 1 am the following morning. The scheme will apply to travel on buses and underground services. Blind people will have the right to travel free at all times.
New clause 7 establishes the details of the free travel scheme. It places a duty on LRT to provide the scheme if, by the beginning of any year, it appears to LRT that a uniform voluntary scheme will not be in place during the following financial year. The new clause establishes the nature of the statutory scheme by specifying the categories of people to whom it will apply, the services on which the concessions will be available, the nature of the concession, and the times at which it will be available to those eligible for it.
New clause 8 provides for the various administrative procedures governing the free travel scheme. It establishes the way in which LRT will make available permits to the London borough councils and the basis on which LRT will charge for them. It specifies how and when the issuing authorities will pay LRT for permits which they issue and provides a method by which they must account to LRT for the use of the permits supplied to them.
New clause 9 lays down the circumstances that must be satisfied to bring the new statutory scheme into effect. As I said, it will come into effect only if no uniform voluntary scheme is in place. The purpose of new clause 9 is to specify exactly what is meant by "uniform" in this context. Broadly speaking, the voluntary scheme must provide the same benefits to the same eligible categories of persons and must apply the same conditions and the same periods of validity.
Government amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are consequential on clause 47, but Government amendment No. 40 presents a slightly new point. It prevents LRT from having to grant concessions on the services of independent operators which were in existence before they came under clause 3(2). Once they come under clause 3(2), the conditions in the Bill will apply to them, but there could be—although I know of only one case—a transitional need to exclude some services already in existence.
978 Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 in the name of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)—whom I am glad to see back with us in good fettle again — contain defects which I hope will make him believe that the Government's new clauses are superior. Amendment No. 31 provides for the coercion of local authorities to provide a scheme without giving them the chance to come to a voluntary agreement. It does not provide for unanimity — it would be possible under the hon. Gentleman's amendments for each borough to negotiate a different scheme with different benefits—which is one of the good features of the scheme that I am putting before the House this afternoon. It also prevents, I believe accidentally, local authorities outside Greater London from buying bus passes or concessionary fare passes from LRT. Amendment No. 33, which we shall discuss later, deals with the financial consequences for local authorities. I have already given my views about that. The amendment is unacceptable, but the hon. Gentleman might wish to discuss it in more detail when we debate new clause 3.
New clauses 1 and 2 are also largely superseded by the Government's provisions, and they have many defects. I shall not dwell on the drafting deficiencies — for example, the new clauses do not show how the costs of the scheme will be calculated—and I do not agree with their substance, since they provide for a compulsory scheme with no opportunity for the boroughs to come to a voluntary agreement in the first place. Worst of all, they guarantee the continuance of whatever scheme the GLC leaves in place on the appointed day. The opportunities for the GLC to widen the scheme between now and the appointed day to unprecedented costs and privileges are so obvious that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East will not wish to press those new clauses. They are also designed to relieve the boroughs' expenditure from the grant penalties and financial consequences of overspending. Indeed, new clause 1 disallows local discretion in any reasonable charging for the permits.
New clause 2 is misconceived. If the local authority is prepared to pay for concessions, operators will provide them. There is no question but that LRT will provide the bus passes, and there is no need to force it to do so. Local authorities and operators are quite able to come to financial agreement among themselves about the cost of bus passes. To legislate about this would be unnecessary.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The Secretary of State appears to have misunderstood the clause. New clause 2 is concerned with independent transport operators, who will not necessarily be in any agreement with LRT. Presumably they could have obtained a road service licence from the traffic commissioners. Who secures agreement with that kind of bus operator?
§ Mr. Ridley
If they come under clause 3(2), which we debated at length in Committee, the concessionary fares scheme can apply. If they are in existence now and have not yet been brought under clause 3(2), our amendment No. 40, I think rightly, excludes them because they are operating on contracts which did not include that requirement at the time that the contracts were negotiated.
979 There is, however, no reason why any local authority, if it so wishes, should not negotiate extra concessionary benefits, either over and above the statutory scheme, if it comes into effect, or with operators who are outside it.
I believe our scheme to be superior. It is backed by statute, as no scheme has ever been before. It has powers to prevent the boroughs or the GLC from charging a heavy fee for bus passes. No powers of that sort exist at present in relation to London or anywhere else. It concentrates on off-peak periods—9.30 am to 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm to 1 am. That in itself will save the ratepayers £10 million in a full year. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that it is right to keep the concessionary fare scheme to off-peak periods. It is pointless to encourage pensioners to travel when commuters are going to and from work. The origin of the concessionary fares scheme for old people was the fact that in the middle of the day buses were running three-quarters empty. To suggest that the concessions be now extended to peak times seems to me to deny both the logic and the economics of the scheme.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, in his amendments (a), (b), (c) and (d), seeks to abolish the afternoon peak as a period when pensioners are barred from free travel—though not, of course, from travel. However, that would cost a further £4 million on the buses, and I believe it to be unnecessary. There is no point in encouraging pensioners to travel at peak times, even though there may be room occasionally. It discourages commuters from relying on the bus and makes them take their cars instead.
We have powers to alter the peak hours if habits change. If it becomes possible to narrow the peak or change its timing, there are automatic powers in the new clauses to change the definition of peak times.
I hope that the GLC will now stop flogging this dead horse. My hon. Friends who represent constituencies in London are sick of having continually to reassure people, even after 16 February when I made it clear that the Government would bring these clauses forward. On 22 February, the GLC issued a press release saying that if the GLC scheme were transferred to the London borough councils as the Government wished, pensioners' rights were likely to be severely jeopardised. That is simply not true. On 26 March, in an advertisement in The Guardian, the GLC said that old-age pensioners' free travel would certainly be hit. It is not true. In the last few days the GLC has said:The Government has refused to place a legal duty on the boroughs to provide free travel for pensioners.That is from a GLC broadsheet dated 27 March.
What worries me is that, despite all that has been said during many hours in Committee and during the Second Reading of the Bill by way of continued assurances, the GLC can still get it so wrong as to say that the Government have refused to place a legal duty on the boroughs. Here it is, the legal duty, just as we always said it would be. I hope that the GLC will now shut up.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as recently as last week, individuals supporting a movement called "Capital" which is run by ex-Labour Members of the House were hanging about outside Barons Court and West Brompton underground stations in my constituency, telling users that the stations were to be closed, despite statements several weeks ago by both my right hon. Friend and London Transport?
§ Mr. Ridley
This is the sort of reason for which the House set up the Advertising Standards Authority. One of the requirements of advertisements is that they should be vaguely true. I can assure my hon. Friend that not one of the GLC's statements about this Bill would have passed any of the tests of the ASA. If it puts up any posters of that sort, I will make sure that they are referred to that body.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the flagrantly disgusting behaviour of the GLC in trying to frighten the living daylights out of old-age pensioners about their free travel concession has totally obscured the perfectly rational and perhaps reasonable arguments in favour of a London-wide authority? Is this not a reason why Her Majesty's Government feel it necessary to do away with the GLC, because it has been so abusing its powers?
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. Friend is, as usual, absolutely right. The campaign against this Bill, on the GLC's own admission, cost £1 million last year and £1 million for the first quarter of this year, and for May alone a further El million has been allocated. That £3 million could have been used to help the old, the disabled and many other people living in London or, if the council had not wanted to do that, the money could have been left in the pockets of the ratepayers. Using the ratepayers' money to try to scare people quite unnecessarily is a most despicable tactic. As my hon. Friend said, if anything reinforces the case for abolishing the GLC, it is its conduct during the passage of this Bill.
I am happy to give pensioners the reassurance that they want and need—that all that the GLC has been trying to do is to cause them anxiety and worry unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Prescott
If pensioners and others presently enjoying a free pass look to any assurance from the Secretary of State's speech, I am bound to say that they will not receive it. The reality is to compare what the GLC currently gives to the people on free passes with what the clauses before us today will give them. That is the acrid test; not all the rhetoric that has been given us from the Dispatch Box.
The Minister has been talking about the ratepayers' interests yet, at the same time, posing in the Bill the possibility that 100 per cent. of the costs of transport can be put on to the ratepayers of London. That is what is in the Bill. If we take the maximum 66 per cent. and the other little clauses that go with it, it is possible that the full amount of transport costs can be put on to the ratepayers. For the right hon. Gentleman to be abolishing the elections by the ratepayers and yet speaking at the Box as if defending democracy and the ratepayers flies against all the evidence.
What we are asked to consider in these clauses and in the amendments is the comparison between two systems. It tends to reflect what we have always felt about the present transport legislation, where we give the transport executive the responsibility of meeting the needs of Londoners, compared with what we are doing in the Bill, where the executive body—London Regional Transport —has merely to have due regard to them.
We must consider what is meant by "due regard to" and "transport needs". We must study the speeches made on Second Reading on 13 December by the Secretary of State and others about provisions for pensioners and what the 981 Secretary of State said today about referring the GLC's statements to the advertising board, or whatever it may be, to see whether they meant what they were saying then.
On 13 December the Secretary of State was being pressed by both sides of the House to make it clear that it would be the responsibility of local authorities to provide a uniform concessionary fare scheme in London. He said:I give my hon. Friend a complete assurance that I agree with him about the importance of these passes. However, I am not prepared to say that it would be right for the Government to propose legislation to take away what is properly a function of local government. Moreover, it would be wrong to do so in the Bill, because this is a part of the social provision of local government."— [Official Report, 13 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 871.]As that has been changed in the Bill, it represents a U-turn by the Secretary of State. We are prepared to welcome the change, because we are worried that London boroughs will not necessarily face their responsibilities and provide a uniform scheme. The new clauses make it clear that, if the boroughs do not arrange with London Regional Transport to provide a uniform scheme, the Secretary of State can use the powers provided in the clauses to ensure that there will be a uniform scheme. We shall have a local authority service financed by the local authority but controlled by the Secretary of State. The nationalisation of London Regional Transport will deny the ratepayers any possibility of exercising direct control over it as they can at present over a local authority's expenditure.
More than 1 million people benefit from the present free passes. They are mostly pensioners—men over 65 and women over 60 — the blind, the disabled and those whose ability to move about is impaired. We must compare what they have and what they will be given under the Bill. I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not taken the opportunity to extend the scheme to include the unemployed. I understand that Brighton borough council and some Labour-controlled authorities have done so. I am also sorry that he has not extended the scheme further in respect of certain categories of disabled people. He has not, and therefore we must deal with the Bill as it is.
The new clauses change the hours during which the free pass can be used. It will no longer be valid between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm, although the boroughs will be able to negotiate a change with London Regional Transport. That will mean that London Regional Transport will have to negotiate with more than 30 other bodies if it is to provide that so-called uniform scheme.
Pensioners will be denied that peak evening period. It is one of the most valuable times to pensioners, because many of them have to go to hospitals, go shopping, visit their families and get home before dark. We know from our debates in Committee that LRT will not have to provide more buses or underground services to meet the extra demand. It would not lead to extra capital expenditure, but it would lead to more people travelling. The Secretary of State argues that it would cost an extra £4 million to provide what people entitled to concessionary travel presently enjoy. That is a judgment that we must all make. It cannot be denied that the proposal will weaken the principle and lower the service.
982 4.45 pm
New clause 7(7) enables the local authorities to negotiate the times. Presumably they can be decreased or increased. It depends on the interpretation of "uniform scheme".
Can the scheme still be considered free? There will be no charge for travelling, but there will be a charge for the provision of the pass. The borough of Bromley is already suggesting £5. Although it can be argued that expense is involved in providing the pass, it will inevitably become a charge to the pensioner, who now has the privilege of a free pass on the London Transport system. There is the possibility, therefore, of the introduction of a charge, albeit limited, to enable people to enjoy the benefit.
The Secretary of State has said that there can be negotiations about a different system. The GLC is studying the possibility of issuing a five-year pass. Compared with providing a pass every one or two years, the cost of that would go down from £1 million to £250,000. The Secretary of State's proposal will inevitably lead to more people being involved, and more bureaucracy. That is contrary to his attitude towards bureaucracy and civil servants.
There has not been an extension of the present system, for example, to the unemployed, so I am prepared to argue the case on what is presently provided. The uniform scheme proposed in the new clauses will result in a reduction in the availability of the services, the time at which people can travel and the possibility of charges.
There are other serious deficiencies in the Bill to which the Secretary of State has not addressed himself. He gave certain answers in Committee, but I should like to raise the points again. Parts of London are covered by British Rail, and people are therefore dependent upon surface railways. The GLC has an arrangement with British Rail whereby its half-price away-day tickets are available to people with GLC passes. They can therefore enjoy a concessionary scheme, although the fares are higher than on London Transport. To its credit, the GLC attempted to achieve some uniformity of prices between London Transport and British Rail, but the Department of Transport made it clear that if any subsidies were used to reduce the fares for pensioners, the Department would knock the amount off the public service obligation grant given to British Rail.
I have today received a copy of a letter which shows the effect of the new clauses and the Government's attitude towards British Rail. We have not heard from the Secretary of State whether he is prepared to retain the present half-price away-day concession which the GLC has negotiated with British Rail. The letter was sent by Mr. David Kirby, who is the director of the London and South-East services of British Rail, to the GLC about concessionary fares. The GLC had asked whether British Rail would be prepared to reach an agreement whereby free travel could be available for old-age pensioners on British Rail. Mr. Kirby says that British Railwere waiting to see if the Government made any similar arrangements in relation to BRfor a concessionary fare scheme. Is the Secretary of State prepared to do anything about the British Rail scheme?
Mr. Kirby makes it clear thatthe Government would be unlikely to support a free fare scheme for OAP's on B.R. in the future.British Rail clearly has a view about what the Government are likely to do; that is, to do little for those who depend upon British Rail for their travel. To that extent, British 983 upon British Rail for their travel. To that extent, British Rail has rejected the possibility of a GLC scheme that would have allowed London pensioners to enjoy free fares on trains. Already, organisations such as British Rail are beginning to trim their sails and are not considering providing better benefits for pensioners who travel with them.
Mr. Kirby says in the last paragraph of his letter thatwe would however be delighted to continue with a half fare scheme for senior citizens within London.Of course he would like to do that. The GLC at least is prepared to maintain that principle, but what are the Government prepared to do? We must hear from the Minister of State, who I assume will reply to the debate, whether old-age pensioners who currently enjoy the concessionary fares will be able to enjoy them on British Rail services.
I should have thought that the integration of fares was one of the reasons put forward by the Government for introducing later clauses under which British Rail will be combined with the London Regional Transport system. The Government should say exactly what the clauses mean for those categories of pensioners who presently enjoy the privilege of free passes on British Rail services but who are threatened because the clauses give no such guarantee.
The Secretary of State seemed to misunderstand new clause 2, so he did not say much of benefit about it. It refers to the independent transport operators, who would need a road service licence from the traffic commissioners to provide a service in the stage area of London. At present that requires the agreement of the London Transport Executive although, as we know, the inspectors have been ruling against the provision of services such as the shuttle service to Heathrow and the Amos services.
All the evidence is that the Secretary of State will ride roughshod over the recommendations and the reasons given for them. Therefore, the Opposition's concern—it will be further apparent in later debates on the Bill—is that anyone wishing to provide a bus service in London can apply independently to the traffic commissioners for a licence to run buses in the London area and will not be bound by the clause to provide any sort of concessionary system.
The Secretary of State's response is that private operators can negotiate with the local authorities to see whether they can purchase the same service. Negotiations between the 32 London borough have caused so many problems that the Secretary of State has introduced a statutorily enforceable scheme into the Bill. One can imagine the problems faced by the dozens of private bus operators. They will probably not bother to negotiate with local authorities about pensioners' provisions when much more profit can be made from plying profitable routes at peak times, which is likely in view of the Bill.
It is Government policy to intervene and bring more competition into the stage carriage area. It is inevitable that more services will operate under a private banner, and they will not be obliged to provide a concessionary scheme. The London bus service of the future will be known more as the pensioners' bus, on which pensioners can use their passes. A first-class service will be operated in the area by a private operator, but there is no guarantee under the existing system that, if pensioners live on a route operated by privately operated buses, they will be able to use their concessionary passes.
984 New clause 2 has been tabled to make it clear that the Secretary of State, who already has considerable powers to direct the policy, shall so direct private and independent operators to provide a service, including a concessionary service. For other private operators, including those in agreement with LRT, the routes will presumably be conditional upon agreement between LRT and private groups.
If the Bill allows for private agreements with LRT to provide a route from A to B that will carry with it the cost of providing some form of concessionary scheme, why should private operators take on such problems when they can get a licence from the traffic commissioners and operate on the same routes without having to pick up old-age pensioners, whenever they travel? Private operators could operate their services much more profitably without taking pensioners into account.
Those examples of the operation of agreements between LRT and private operators all reflect the doubtful effect of the clauses on the free pass system.
The equalisation principle is another matter of considerable concern, and it was given some attention by the Secretary of State. There is no guarantee for the existing financing arrangements for the concessionary pass scheme set up by equalisation arrangement between all the London boroughs. Both Labour and Tory authorities make it clear that the equalisation scheme is a fair way to carry the costs of transport provisions, but it is not embodied in the Bill.
The Secretary of State has told us that the equalisation scheme costs about £60 million to operate. I believe that that is a 3p rate on the GLC, which is distributed in an equalised form throughout the boroughs, in payments at the same rate. The need for passes and the areas in which pensioners are concentrated, or where passes will be purchased, are not evenly distributed throughout the boroughs. Anyone studying the distribution of pensioners in the London area can easily conclude that some boroughs have more pensioners living in them than, say, the City or Westminster, using the various comparisons between the 32 boroughs.
If the authorities had to pay a charge dependent upon the scale of need in their area, reflected in the number of people likely to claim concessions, boroughs such as Waltham Forest would face a rate increase of between 3p and 7p. Bromley—we feel no sympathy for Bromley—would have its rate increased by from 3p to 5.3p. Bromley would probably want socialisation to result; a sort of equalisation principle under which the wealthier would pay for those whose need is greatest. In that way, the wealthier parts of the City, such as the banks, City institutions and multinational companies would have their debt relieved, whereas it would be increased where pensioners needs' were greatest.
All that the Bill does is to redistribute benefits from the wealthy to the poorer areas of London. That is embodied in the principle of equalisation. Unless the Secretary of State is prepared to recognise that an equalisation principle is essential, he will suceed only in adding greater burdens to boroughs already under pressure to direct their resources to welfare provisions. It is clear that if pensioners are concentrated in certain areas they put considerable demands on the boroughs for welfare facilities, which in turn increases pressure on those boroughs.
The paper that was circulated to Standing Committee Members contained comments on the Bill by the 985 Conservative group on the GLC. It makes it clear that an equalisation principle is essential and says that 27 of the 32 London boroughs will require a rate increase for the payment of concessionary fares on an individual basis because of the loss of the equalisation effect on the London-wide rate precept. Whether boroughs are Labour or Tory-controlled, a case has been made for the equalisation principle, but the Government have ridden roughshod over it. A further disadvantage would thus arise from the Bill.
The amendments are designed to provide an opportunity for the House to maintain a good system guaranteed by the GLC or to vote for one that reduces the provision already enjoyed in the London area by pensioners and others. London Tory MPs should be clear about what they are voting for tonight. Hon. Members from all round the country, will be determining what the quality of local services should be for a particular area. In the rest of the country, that is normally determined by the ratepayers and those elected by them.
§ Mr. Stevens
Is it not the case that the Government originally planned to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman desires—to leave it to the London boroughs, the local authorities, to do what seemed to them right for concessionary fares? As a result of pressure from all parts of the Committee on the Secretary of State, the change was made. For the first time — anyone would think that it was the last time — in history a Government have introduced statutory provisions for concessionary fares. The Secretary of State responded to what we wanted. I dare say that he was not too happy about it, but he did it. Now the hon. Gentleman is saying that he should have left it to the London boroughs, which was his original intention.
§ Mr. Prescott
That was a clever little speech. The hon. Gentleman should have listened to the Secretary of State, who told us in Committee that, with the agreement of Conservative Back Benchers, he had not changed his position. It was his full intention to have this statutory scheme from the beginning. That was the whole point of the Secretary of State's speech. Some Back Benchers spoke to convince us that that was so. At least the hon. Gentleman has told us what he believed to be the position. The Opposition believe that it should be left to the local authorities to determine the services and that the elected representatives should be answerable to the electorate when they determine and provide services.
The Government intend to abolish elections, seek to impose a central system, and then argue that the cost should be met by the local authorities. That is a poor way of dealing with the matter. We must address our arguments to the present Bill, not to the Bill as we wish it to be.
We now know the difference between a free pass and a concessionary clause. To the Tories, a concession is less than a free pass. We oppose the new clause because it reduces the time when the concession applies at crucial parts of the day, reduces the area of coverage and is no longer applicable to half-fare travel on British Rail. The new clause establishes a first and second-class service on London buses. The London bus, as opposed to the private bus, will become known as the pensioners' free pass bus. 986 It institutes the concept of meeting Londoners' needs while making a profit. It introduces changes and charges in the system and greater bureaucracy. Because of the refusal to equalise the cost, the areas with the greatest need will carry the greatest burden. Once again the pensioners will have to carry the burden, while the burden of the wealthy parts of the City will be reduced. Every 1 per cent. increase in fares will lead to a £250,000 increase in the cost of concessionary schemes.
All the disadvantages in the Bill can be compared to the one advantage in it—that the pensioner will now be able to travel free from midnight to 1 o'clock in the morning. I do not know whether Conservative Members know many pensioners who want to travel from midnight to 1 o'clock in the morning. That is not a fair exchange for the disadvantages embodied in the new clause. When we vote, let London Members be sure about the differences and the reduction of services that they will impose on the London pensioner.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I am glad to take part in this debate because it deals with the most controversial part of the whole Bill. It is the part that will be remembered longest, not least by the people of London, but especially by pensioners, disabled and blind people, who will now have a statutory right to concessionary fares that has never been enjoyed before.
I applaud the Government's decision to introduce the new clauses. We have had an argument over mechanics, not objectives. The Government initially felt that such provisions were not necessary in the Bill because the Greater London council continues, and changes would be required only if and when Parliament decided to abolish the GLC. Therefore, there was a certain academic nature to the question. There was some force in this argument, although it was an academic argument. It could be said that this Bill is not the right vehicle for preserving concessionary fares for pensioners. I say loud and clear that, had the Government pursued that course, it would have been misunderstood because people believe that a Bill specifically dealing with the jurisdiction of London Transport is the right measure in which to ensure and guarantee concessionary fares. This precedent is important, and it will long be remembered.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, who listened so patiently and with such courtesy to the arguments put forward eloquently and forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) —at the other end of the line, as I describe him—my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) and myself. I believe that we three were particularly instrumental in getting the change through. The way in which the Government addressed themselves to the difficult task of translating our objective into what was required in legislative form was exemplary.
The Government were right to deal with this important matter on Report, when all hon. Members could discuss its import and impact on their constituents. It was a formidable piece of drafting. I should not have liked to do it myself. I am glad to have been able to defer to the legislative experts in the Department and in the Government.
I do not believe that a concessionary fares scheme enshrined in statute is in any way a poor substitute for a totally discretionary scheme, even if one has to buy one's concessionary pass and even if old-age pensioners, 987 disabled and blind people will not be able to travel free in the evening peak hour. I still do not believe that it is an unfair exchange. It is a generous provision by the Government. That it should bind successor Governments and London Regional Transport in this way is commendable and important.
With regard to the evening peak, GLC does not permit free travel at the morning peak, so I cannot see the logic in not applying the same rule in the evening peak. It is just as important for tired people who have had a hard day in the office to get home in reasonable comfort at the evening peak as it is for them to get to work in the morning.
I understand the argument of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). He was worried that there might be a curfew for old-age pensioners. I suggest that they should take advantage of the change and stay with their relatives for tea, or if they cannot do so. they could go home a little earlier. It is not unreasonable. I am sure that the country will not judge it as such. Londoners will not, any more than they will deem it unreasonable if they have to pay to obtain their pass. Often people say that we are extremely lucky to have the concessionary fares scheme. We appreciate and value it. I am sure that people would be prepared to pay the little that was required for the administrative cost of the pass.
Then, of course, we must not forget, in our understandable preoccupation with the evening peak and rush-hour travelling during the week, that old-age pensioners and disabled and blind people will be able to travel free throughout the weekend and at bank holidays.
Regarding the point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East about free passes for the unemployed, no doubt his intention was laudable and commendable, but to translate such generosity of intention into the financial commitment involved would be excessive. I just do not believe that it would be administratively possible in view of the very often—thank God — transient nature of people's unemployed status. There would be a potential for fraud, apart from anything else.
So, without wishing to derogate in any way from the warm plaudits and generous support that I give to the Government for the way they have handled this measure, I believe that the Conservative GLC members have a point when they refer to the equalisation issue, in that the demographic nature of the London boroughs is not the same. Some have very high populations of pensioners, others do not; some have very high rateable values, others do not. This is the area that worries me a little—not so much in connection with this Bill, but it is the sort of anxiety that we should address ourselves to examine and analyse when we come to look at what legislative arrangements will have to be made after the Greater London council is abolished. It is the sort of argument that lends support to the view that there will be a need for a London-wide elected authority of some kind to fulfil those London-wide functions that will need still to be carried through.
That said, I warmly support these new clauses introduced by the Government and am delighted to do so.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
I do not think that any apology is needed for my presuming to take part in the Report stage when I was not a member of the Committee on the Bill. I have an interest, of course, as a London Member, but I also have an individual interest in that I was 988 among the first London Members of any party to appreciate that there was a problem here. I will come to that in a moment.
The Minister said that these new clauses provided the reassurance that pensioners needed, and those words represent a really big change of mind and heart on his part. This shows that he and the Government—and, I hope, the whole House — recognise that pensioners need reassurance. They have needed this reassurance not since the beginning of a campaign started and egged on by the GLC but since May 1983.
In the first week of the general election campaign I was canvassing—like all other hon. Members, no doubt—in my constituency, when I came across a household with a pensioner couple who asked me rather excitedly if I had seen that the Conservatives intended to abolish the GLC. I said that I had. I had not thought very much about the consequences of that, but naturally I said that I was opposed to it. They then asked me what would happen about their bus passes and I replied that I did not know but would make some inquiries.
I got hold of a copy of the Conservative election manifesto—not just the one put out by my Conservative opponent—and found to my surprise that, although the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan councils was very clearly set out in relatively few words, there was not a word about the future of the free bus and tube travel passes.
I naturally notified my own political colleagues, both in London and in other areas of the country, and in my own constituency I put out a leaflet warning pensioners that this could be one of the casualties of the abolition of the GLC. But even at that stage I do not think that it was really an issue in the general election campaign. Many pensioners and other citizens of London were not really aware of the full implications.
Indeed, I do not believe that the Government, when they put the pledge to abolish the GLC — it was probably a hasty, last-minute decision — into their manifesto, had worked out the full consequences of the abolition of the GLC. Had they done so, they would surely have prepared a defensive brief for Conservative candidates in the London area and perhaps in the areas of the metropolitan councils, pointing out what was going to happen to the free bus and tube pass. But nothing at all was said about this by any national or local Conservative speaker during the general election campaign.
The worries of pensioners, quite rightly, gradually spread, because when the Government were returned to power in June they put more and more emphasis on the abolition of the GLC, and, whatever pensioners may or may not think about the GLC, I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that they certainly love their free bus and tube passes. I believe that it is agreed on both sides of the House that this has probably been the biggest boon and blessing to pensioners since the 1940s and the inception of the welfare state. It has certainly made a great deal of difference to their lives. I do not want to delay the House by expatiating on the merits of the pensioners' free bus and tube passes. I think that we all agree about that.
The Conservative threats to abolish the GLC produced this considerable worry and concern in pensioners' minds even before the GLC decided to mount a great campaign on this issue. The campaign by the pensioners has built up, 989 and they had every reason to be worried from May 1983 virtually until the early part of this year, when the Secretary of State announced that he would be making some concessions.
The scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has announced is to be backed by statute. That certainly represents a major change of mind, if not a climb-down, by the Secretary of State, for my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) pointed out what the right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
On the question of how Conservative candidates handled this crucial issue in the general election campaign, I said from day one that I was certain that, with the removal of London Transport from the GLC, concessionary passes for all categories would continue. I stand by that, and I raised it before anybody else on Second Reading of the Bill. I am very pleased that the Government are ensuring just that. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
§ Mr. Deakins
The hon. Gentleman no doubt had access to information which the Conservatives had from the Government but to which I was not party. I could not have given any such assurances. I would not have presumed to do so, since I had no idea what the impact would be. The hon. Gentleman, no matter what assurances he gave, must recognise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said, the scheme now to be embodied in the statute is not the same as the current scheme.
The pensioners were certainly aided in their campaign by the GLC, but I think that Ministers and other Conservative Members would be doing themselves an injustice if they underestimated the fight which pensioners have put up in London to get the assurances that they felt they needed—some of which they have had from the Minister, although not enough, in my view. Those reassurances have been gained not by the GLC campaign but by pensioner power; I stress that.
We should all congratulate the pensioners of London, whatever their political views, on the fight that they have put up with all hon. Members to retain their free travel concession. They have done a marvellous job and I hope that they will be emboldened—I am sure they will be—by their relative success in this campaign. They have not got all that we would like them to have, but they have got 90 per cent. of it; there are still some difficulties about peak periods, and so on.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens
The hon. Gentleman has told us that, during the general election campaign, when he heard that the GLC was to be abolished, he wrote to his constituents and told them that the future of the concessionary fares, the pensioners' free passes, was in doubt. Can he assure the House that he genuinely thought at that time that that was so?
§ Mr. Deakins
I did not just write to the constituents concerned. I actually produced on our little lithograph press a rather poorly set out leaflet warning pensioners of the possible consequences of the abolition of the GLC in the absence of any assurance to the contrary in the Conservative manifesto. I first studied the Conservative 990 manifesto to ensure that nothing that I said could be belied by a statement in that manifesto, but no such statement was made in it.
I hope that the pensioners, following their success on this issue, will go forward with the pensioners' charter and other rights, including better pensions. Now that they have shown what can be done, not just in London but throughout the country, I hope that they will go on to mount campaigns on other issues of major interest to pensioners.
Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East pointed out, although some reassurance has been given to pensioners, it is not complete, because the evening peak concession will not be put into statutory form. I understand that the GLC was considering allowing passes to be used earlier in the morning. That would not have made it a completely free 24-hour scheme, but the GLC clearly intended to move in the right direction, whereas the Government, although they are putting the matter into statutory form, are moving in the wrong direction and away from the concessions already made.
The Minister said that free or nearly free travel schemes really applied only to off-peak travel. It is in the economics of transport that when buses and tube trains are half-empty they can be filled with pensioners visiting friends and relatives, shopping, and so on. That is all very well, but the Minister missed the important point that pensioners do not choose to travel in the rush hour. It would scarcely be sensible for them voluntarily to choose to travel at such times. Those of us who have to do so know that the buses and tube trains are extremely crowded and uncomfortable, and even if the pensioner does not have a trolley or heavy shopping bag there is no guarantee in these days of equality that anyone will necessarily offer him or her a seat. I put it to the Minister sincerely that pensioners will not travel in peak periods unless they have a compelling reason to do so, such as visiting a sick relative in hospital in another part of London and being unable to get back before the rush hour. They will now face the choice that they faced before the major London-wide scheme was introduced, of having to delay their departure or to cut the visit short so as to beat the evening peak.
I appeal to the Minister to reconsider. It will cost a little more, but I do not believe that it will encourage pensioners to travel in peak periods if they do not absolutely have to do so.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
The hon. Gentleman entirely overlooks the enormous difference in cost between issuing passes that cannot be used in peak periods and issuing them on an overall full-day basis. The Government's proposal will mean a considerable saving for the taxpayer and ratepayer. As the hon. Gentleman said, it will merely mean that when, very occasionally, pensioners need to travel at such times, they will have to pay an unfortunate but luckily quite small penalty in extra cost.
§ Mr. Deakins
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I believe that he agrees that few pensioners would choose to travel in peak periods. For those who must do so, however, it is a source of worry. Many pensioners have told me that they have to delay their visit or their return until after the peak period. Indeed, a pensioner uncle of mine who used to live in my former home area of Tottenham—he now lives in Scotland—would come to 991 visit me in central London at 2 pm or 3 pm but if he had not left by 4.30 pm he would ask whether he could stay for another cup of tea so that he did not have to walk the streets until 7 pm when free travel was available again. Conservatives may not agree, but I believe that it is worth removing that anxiety, even at some extra cost.
Thirdly, I understand that the statutory concession announced by the Minister applies only to pensioners in London and is not available to those in other parts of the country. I hope that the Minister will correct me at once if I am wrong, but I believe that there are no such statutory provisions for transport undertakings in the rest of the country. I wonder how the Minister will justify that to the pensioners in the metropolitan counties. I hope that she will be able to assure us that the Department of Transport —with the Department of the Environment, which is the lead Department in this instance — will consider that aspect between now and next year if and when legislation to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties is introduced. We fully support the concession, but it seems wrong to grant it for pensioners in London and to deny it to those in the metropolitan counties.
Finally, on what basis can the Government justify denying a statutory concession for pensioners outside the metropolitan areas? The Government should consider this seriously, as the pensioners of London have not merely been selfishly concerned about their own passes. On every possible occasion, they have raised the subject of their relatives and others whom they know outside London who do not have such a concession. One does not need to go very far outside London to find areas, not necessarily rural areas, where that is the case. Now that the Secretary of State has put his hand to the plough and is ploughing a furrow that most people in London support, although it does not go as far as we should like, I hope that he will seriously consider the case for making the same provision throughout the country.
§ Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)
The subject of concessionary travel passes for pensioners occupied a great deal of time in the Standing Committee and attracted almost all the publicity and discussion outside. When the Bill was first published, the provision for boroughs to agree a voluntary scheme was considered insufficient and there were calls for some back-up compulsion. The Government have now provided that. The new clauses provide that if the boroughs cannot agree, a compulsory back-up scheme will be enforced under the legislation.
It is perhaps a measure of how far the Government have gone that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) did not actually criticise the scheme at all but concentrated his arguments on more peripheral matters such as the question of British Rail and contractors and the way in which the rate equalisation scheme might need to be adjusted. That suggests that the Government have indeed met all the criticisms and all the requirements made of them.
It is worth reviewing the history of the scheme briefly, as it has not been entrenched since time immemorial. Many of the changes so hotly debated are extremely recent. I believe that the scheme was started in the early 1970s by certain London boroughs and was taken over by the GLC in 1973. It was extended to the tube in 1976, with a 20p flat fare, and fully extended to the tube only in May 1981, when the present GLC administration took over. The extension of the scheme to the evening peak took 992 place just over a year ago, on 28 March 1983, so that concession has certainly not been in existence since time immemorial.
Those changes have cost a lot of money. With such schemes, it is always worth looking at what they cost. It is easy to devise schemes that are popular with, and useful to, certain sections of the community. We have heard it suggested today that the scheme should be extended to include the unemployed or pensioners in the whole country. However, no one who makes those suggestions adds up what the cost will be for the ratepayer and the taxpayer.
When the scheme was first taken over by the GLC in 1974 it cost £9 million. Last year it cost £62 million. That is a substantial increase. Adjusted for inflation, the cost has risen at 1980 prices from £21.5 million in 1974 to £50 million last year. That is an enormous real increase. The cost has more than doubled.
It is interesting to note that, after the scheme had matured at the end of 1975, the cost remained at about £30 million in real terms until 1982, when it jumped to £45 million. In 1983 it jumped to £50 million. Those changes coincided with the change in the administration of the Greater London council and with the extension of the scheme to cover the tube and the evening peak period. Those two changes to the scheme cost the ratepayers of London an additional £20 million at 1980 prices. The extension may well have been valuable, but it should be considered in the context of cost. Over two years, the cost of the scheme to the GLC has increased by 65 per cent. The value of the scheme must be balanced against what the ratepayer can afford. The figure of £20 million is a substantial sum of money for the ratepayers of London to pay.
London is fortunate in having the best scheme in the country. It was the best scheme before the changes were made, and it will be the best scheme after the legislation comes into force. In many areas of the country pensioners have to pay half the fare, and in some areas—I believe that Cornwall is one—there is no scheme at all. Not only will the scheme be the best scheme in the country after London Regional Transport takes over from London Transport, but it will be better than the scheme as it existed only two and a half years ago. It will be extended fully to the tube, and it will also be entrenched in statute. At present, the GLC could change the scheme for better or for worse. A future administration at county hall might choose to remove the concessions altogether. Under this legislation, that will not be able to happen.
It is true that there will be the possibility of a small administrative charge at the discretion of local authorities. There is also the question of the evening peak.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
It is important that we should be able to establish whether the cost is one that the ratepayer—the ratepayer, not the GLC—is prepared to pay. Should it not be the ratepayer who decides? Is it not right that the Government should accept the views of both parties in the GLC, which have successively extended the scheme, and that the Government should not seek to go back on the democratic decisions taken at county hall over the years?
§ Mr. Maples
Yes, that would be so. We can take it as a fact that the GLC is probably going to be abolished. The 993 scheme will therefore have to be organised in some other way. If the GLC were to continue and London Transport's responsibility was simply being shifted to a new body, there would be no problem. The GLC could continue to run the present scheme and finance it by a general rate levied on London. It is because of the abolition of the GLC that another scheme is required. The original idea was that responsibility should devolve to the boroughs, where decisions might, perhaps, be even more democratic because there might be a greater knowledge of what people need. However, because that was not enough for the critics of the Government's proposals, the statutory scheme has been devised. It is only a back-up, and one hopes that the various local authorities will agree.
The provision for a small administrative charge is made only because the Secretary of State has the power to say no to a small administrative charge. It would have been difficult to legislate to the effect that local authorities could not charge anything for the issue of a pass. There will certainly be some administrative costs. The Minister has assured us that nothing other than a minimal charge will be approved.
There has been more substantial criticism about the evening peak period. I feel that the criticism has been grossly exaggerated. The right to use the pass in the evening peak period has existed only for a year. Before March 1983 there was no such right. The local authorities will still have the right, if they wish, to buy in extra time on an individual basis from London Regional Transport. They will be able to pay more and buy a pass covering that period of time.
Many Opposition Members have expressed the opinion that pensioners will not be able to travel during the evening peak period. They will be able to travel, of course, but they will have to pay. It is probable that most of the journeys that pensioners would need to make at that time would not cost more than the minimum fare of 20p or 30p. They will not suffer any awful hardships. They can travel free before 4.30 pm and after 6.30 pm or pay a minimal charge between those times.
There is an economic rationale for having an off-peak fare. The buses are trundling around London with empty seats, and it makes sense to fill those. seats at a minimal fare rather than to leave them empty. The same thing is done in the airline industry. If one wants to fly to New York, one can book a seat a week in advance and have the right to change it and the flight will cost about £450. Alternatively, one can travel stand-by, taking a seat that would otherwise be empty, and get there at a fraction of the cost. That is the rationale of this system.
§ Mr. Deakins
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the rationale for a free travel facility for pensioners is economic—in other words, that it is designed to help the transport undertakings. In my view, the social factor is equally, if not more, important. The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that pensioners should have a right to travel freely. It is one of the few blessings that those of them who are sound in wind and limb can enjoy. When they have leisure to do so, they should not be debarred from going out shopping or sightseeing, or visiting their relations or friends.
§ Mr. Maples
The hon. Gentleman has twisted my remarks in an extraordinary way. I only said that it is a 994 happy coincidence when economic sense and social needs coincide, as they do in this case. It is sensible to fill bus seats at a cheap price at a time when they would otherwise be empty rather than to add to the queues and the delays at rush hours, when people need to get to work or to go home. There is an economic rationale there, and that was why the scheme was originally introduced as an off-peak scheme.
In my view, the extension of the scheme has never made a great deal of sense, and it has certainly cost a great deal of money. My right hon. Friend said that the cost of extending the scheme was some £4 million or £5 million. I am surprised that it is so little, when the real cost of the scheme has risen by about £20 million over the two years during which it has been extended to the tube and to the evening peak. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend's figure is correct.
The GLC levies the rate on a London-wide basis and therefore equalises the cost for the poorer boroughs over the wealthier ones. London Regional Transport will continue to be financed on that basis. The part of its grant that is supported by the rates will be charged on a London-wide basis. However, the concessionary fares scheme will not be financed in that way. That makes sense in that it gives the boroughs some say in the matter, but it would be wrong if the poorer boroughs ceased to get the financial support that, effectively, they have received from the richer ones. I raised this point in Committee. Ministers have said that they are aware of the problem but that it is a problem for the Department of the Environment.
There was a debate on the matter in the House on 25 November last year. My hon. Friend the Minister of State quoted the following words from the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities":The Government consider that there should be no undue financial advantage or disadvantage to any authority as a result of abolition".She quoted those words in the context of the concessionary fares scheme. At the risk of boring hon. Members by reiteration, I ask my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend to continue to press upon the Department of the Environment the point that the London rate equalisation scheme must be altered in such a way as to take care of the additional financial burdens which will fall on 31 out of the 33 London boroughs as a result of this change. It is not good enough to play around with the GREs, targets and penalty systems and to exempt certain expenditure. We need some method by which to change the rate equalisation scheme so that funding continues to be available as at present.
We have a good scheme. The scheme that the Government are proposing as a legislative back-up, possibly to a voluntary scheme, will be the best scheme in the country and the best that London has had except for the past six or 12 months. It is wholly to be applauded and I hope that the few London boroughs that have refused to join the negotiations with the London Boroughs Association for a generalised voluntary scheme —unfortunately, my borough of Lewisham is one—will get together and agree a scheme so that the need for invoking these clauses does not arise.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
As the Member of Parliament for a constituency outside London that does not have a generous concessionary fares scheme, I hesitate to speak. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) has already hit the point that should be made. Vast areas 995 of the country have only small fare concessions for pensioners and most of the local authorities that operate those schemes would like desperately to make them rather better.
Many GLC pensioners have come to the Isle of Wight in the past 10 years. At every election campaign that I have fought they have asked why they cannot have the same type of scheme as they enjoyed in London so that they can travel free on the buses. As the leader of the county council. I have tried extremely hard in the past few years to see what we can do to improve our scheme, but the more we try to put extra money into the kitty to provide perhaps even a half-fare scheme, the more we get complaints from the bus company to keep services going.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow talked about Cornwall, where I believe many rural bus services have disappeared. In the Isle of Wight we have managed to keep some of the rural services going, but we have had to face a complicated choice on whether to keep those services going or to have a concessionary fares scheme. We are now putting between £300,000 and £400,000, which, in our budget, is a large sum of money, into keeping some rural services open and are able to provide only a niggardly scheme for pensioners. We should very much like to change that, but cannot. As we get into the ever-stronger grip of the Secretary of State for the Environment through penalties and the rest, the chances of our ever being able to do more diminish.
I utterly reject the Bill and the abolition of the GLC, but if, as is entirely fair, we are to maintain benefits that pensioners have enjoyed in the past and expect to enjoy in the future, the Government must come up with a complicated scheme. We cannot persuade all local authorities to come into line. Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 make it obligatory, as the Secretary of State rightly said, for London boroughs to run a scheme. Such provision is not obligatory for boroughs outside the London area, such as Essex and Surrey. It is a fact of life that once concessions have been given it is extremely difficult to take them away. No Government have had the courage to face that.
There are the most appalling differences of status with regard to television licences. A person who happens to live in an estate that is constructed with a common community room gets a television licence for about 25p a year, whereas others have to pay the full fee. It was recommended some time ago by an outside body that that concession be done away with, but no Government have had the courage to do so, so we go on dodging the issue. Having given certain undertakings, the present Government will not dodge it now. I must admit that they have honoured what they said they would do, but I shall leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to criticise, as I am sure he will, the fact that what is proposed is not quite as good a scheme as exists now. We are messing about and using a complicated system to ensure that Londoners get their concessions and levying local authorities when they do not come into line.
I put it to the Secretary of State, as, after all, he represents a rural constituency, that it is time the Government took on board the need for a national concessionary fares scheme. A Green Paper produced by the Labour Government tried to introduce a national half-fares scheme. The time for such a scheme has come. I am aware that the Secretary of State will have great difficulty 996 persuading his colleagues and his recent colleagues in the Treasury to provide extra money to create such a scheme, but it would be much fairer for the country.
§ Mr. Maples
What is the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost of extending free pensioner travel to the whole country?
§ Mr. Ross
I agree that there are other means by which to save money, perhaps on Trident rather than cruise. We must grasp the nettle. Even if it is only a 25 per cent. scheme, a national scheme is called for when we are making such provision for London but not the metropolitan boroughs. That criticism must be made.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on and welcome new clause 7 I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for the way in which they have listened to the representations made to them by London Members of Parliament on the need for this concession to be enshrined in statute. Today is a triumph for London as, for the first time, we have a concessionary fares scheme that will be enshrined in statute. New clause 7 consolidates what the London boroughs have been doing for more than a decade and makes it clear to every pensioner in London that their interests are to be protected.
I also pay tribute to the right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee and spent much time debating this matter, not least my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), whose constituencies fall within my borough. We represent an outer London borough in which the travel concession is greatly valued. What the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said was of considerable interest as he compared what appertains in rural communities with what happens in Greater London. There is no doubt that pensioners in Greater London badly need mobility, as they do not live in compact communities in which much activity occurs on their doorsteps. They often live in more urban areas and travel is essential if they are to participate in local functions. That is possibly more true for people in Greater London than for people in rural areas.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) said, the concession on evening peak travel between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm has applied for only a short time. He pointed out that pensioners will not be prevented from travelling during those hours. They will be able to travel free immediately before and after and probably for a small sum during those hours.
I understand that there is to be a local option, exercisable by any borough that participates in the scheme, to buy into the 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm peak if necessary. I am sure that the boroughs will consider carefully whether to buy into that option, bearing in mind the cost and the demand for travel in their areas during that time. It is a matter for local option and councillors will be sensitive to it.
997 Unfortunately, in the past few months there has been a great deal of party political propaganda about concessionary fares as part of the Labour party's campaign to prevent the abolition of the GLC. From time to time, we are all involved in party political propaganda. It would be nice if those who serve on the GLC, as well as Opposition Members who have been generous in their remarks, would combine in welcoming this considerable advance by way of a statutory requirement.
I hope that the London Labour-controlled authorities which apparently are not showing wholehearted support for the scheme will think again. During the late 1960s and early 1970s I was a borough councillor in two London boroughs. As a councillor for the then borough of Paddington and later Westminster, I participated in the work of the London Boroughs Association with colleagues from Labour boroughs in other parts of London. We worked well together and reached agreement on a number of matters important to Londoners as a whole. In recent months, I have been sad that a split has developed between some of the Labour-controlled and Conservative-controlled London boroughs, so that effectively there are now two associations — the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities.
I hope that some of the political in-fighting will be put aside on this important matter, which I believe transcends party politics. It is interesting that, in this debate, which essentially involves London, every hon. Member I have heard has spoken about the advantages the scheme brings to pensioners. We should concentrate on that scheme—that is the job of the House — rather than involve ourselves in a party political fight on other matters. I hope that we can increase that concentration so that opinions become more universal than they have been in the past few months.
I wholeheartedly welcome the new clause. It is a great step forward. Each Londoner who has the privilege of benefiting from the scheme can look at the good work done by the Secretary of State, his colleagues and the members of the Standing Committee in bringing the legislation to the House.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has returned to the Chamber after his absence following his short, sharp speech. "Sharp" may be the right word to describe what his Bill will be for the pensioners. I feared that he would be a long time away from the Chamber. I thought he was off to queue to collect his pass, because the restrictions introduced by the Bill will probably mean that it will be a long time before he can obtain it.
The Government have treated pensioners badly in a number of respects. Grants and organisations have suffered cuts. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the cuts in grants to pensioners in his area. Social services — meals on wheels and home help services—have been caught up in the Government's onslaught on local authorities. Health cuts and hospital closures have badly affected the elderly. An increase in electricity and gas prices will be detrimental to the pensioners. Only a couple of weeks ago housing benefit cuts were made, and 700,000 people were made worse off. The Government's record with the pensioners is not good nationally.
998 Pensioners will suffer because of the Bill's action on transport passes. The Government have been obsessed with abolishing the GLC and with hiving off London Transport from the GLC. Pensioners' passes are being jeopardised, and that has caused anxiety among pensioners, to which the Secretary of State referred. It is no good the Government blaming the GLC for that anxiety, because it is the Government's fault that London pensioners are worried.
I have three examples showing how the Government have spread that anxiety. First, on 10 July, during the weekend before the White Paper was published, The Observer stated:Free travel for pensioners could be scrapped when control of the city's public transport is transferred from the GLC.That could only have been an inspired Government leak. That sentence shows the Government's direction when the Bill was first discussed.
Secondly, people were worried when the Government relied on the London Boroughs Association. Early in the discussions the Government said, while under pressure from Opposition Members, that the LBA would guarantee the scheme. The Government had to wriggle off that hook as the Committee proceeded, because the LBA has no mandatory powers to guarantee such a scheme. When the Bromley case was discussed in the other place, the LBA refused point blank to become involved with the matter of pensioners' passes.
Thirdly, anxiety was caused when, following requests from hon. Members during Adjournment debates to the Secretary of State and the Minister, the Government refused consistently to guarantee the scheme. We should not forget the Government's black propaganda against the GLC.
There is still cause for anxiety among pensioners. It is all right for the Secretary of State to say in the House today, "The passes are safe in our hands," but that statement rings a bell. The Government said that the Health Service would be safe in their hands, yet they are closing down hospitals and wards left, right and centre.
The Government's proposals are still opposed by pensioners' organisations and those professional organisations, including Age Concern, whose job is to care for the elderly. We should never forget that at the core of the opposition to the proposals is the belief that the Government's scheme is worse than the present GLC scheme. The present scheme is about guaranteeing free travel on London Transport—the buses and the tubes—and giving half-price travel on British Rail. Passes are issued free for five-yearly periods. About 1 million London pensioners benefit from that scheme.
Originally, the Government said that they would transfer the scheme to the boroughs. From an early stage it was clear, given rate-capping, penalties and the mean Conservative-controlled councils, that that action would be a recipe for disaster. The result would be that some Tory-controlled councils would scrap the scheme, because of the pressures caused by penalties and rate-capping, or vary the eligibility of pensioners who apply for passes. There would be varying types of means tests in different boroughs, and hence inequality of treatment for pensioners. Pensioners would be charged for the pass or asked to pay a nominal fare when boarding a bus. Pressure from Opposition Members, the GLC and pensioners' organisations forced the Government to scrap their original plan and to guarantee a uniform scheme across London.
999 6 pm
The proposed scheme is worse than the present one. It has many shortcomings. For example, local authorities will be adversely affected because the block grant problem means that they are likely to incur penalties. The Government are trying to have their cake and eat it. The Government say that they are introducing a statutory uniform scheme, but they are not prepared to put up the money for it. They will make local authorities pay for it, and ratepayers will be penalised because of that. Local authorities must pay for the permits—there is not to be the equalisation for which Conservative Members argued in Committee. That will mean rate rises in most London boroughs. My borough of Waltham Forest may find that it has to impose a 4p or 5p rate increase.
The Government's scheme will be more bureaucratic to operate than the present scheme. That, again, will be detrimental to local authorities. Even more serious than that is that the scheme will be detrimental to pensioners. They will probably have to renew their permits more frequently. Currently, the permits last for five years, but an annual renewal may be introduced and pensioners could be charged for each renewal. Indeed, the Government can increase that charge each time if they so wish.
I presume that pensioners will have to go to the town hall rather than their local post office to collect their permits. It is more beneficial to pensioners to collect them from the post office, because that is where they collect their pensions. That scheme works well, so why should they be forced to go to town halls?
At present there is no charge for permits, but there will be a charge under the new scheme. The Secretary of State said that it would be for administrative purposes. That is the thin edge of the wedge. With all the powers given to him under the Bill, he could introduce increased charges later, when the pressure is off. He does not come under the same democratic control as the GLC.
New clause 8(5) states:The issue of such a permit by any issuing authority shall be subject to such terms, limitations or conditions as the authority may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, from time to time determine".Again, the Secretary of State has the ability to alter the terms, limitations or conditions. He could make them more restrictive as time goes on and the pressure is off him.
There is no provision to extend the concessionary fares to British Rail or to private operators. Some privately operated buses may refuse to take pensioners' passes. That is one of the faults of the road service licence scheme in the Bill. That will create confusion among London's pensioners.
An off-peak restriction has also been imposed. The Secretary of State is taking away the opportunity for pensioners to travel in the peak hours between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm and, instead, gives them from midnight to 1 am. That is not a good deal for the pensioners; it will be of little value to them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) said, the restriction on travelling in rush hours should be because it is unpleasant. Most pensioners will not want to travel during those hours, but they might need to do so for such things as a medical appointment. The choice should be theirs. After all, the Government are supposed to be the party of free choice. How about giving 1000 London's pensioners the free choice to travel when they choose rather than adopting the line of phoney paternalism in the Bill?
Pensioners may be thrown off the buses because they are travelling at the wrong time. That will mean aggro for them and for the bus queues——
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
We became accustomed to the hon. Gentleman's style of speech in Committee. I want to assure London's pensioners that there is no question of their being thrown off the buses or the tubes during the period for which their concessionary passes entitle them to travel. They can finish their journey, and will certainly not be thrown off during it.
§ Mr. Cohen
That was not my point. The Minister obviously does not have the examples that I have of such things happening. Pensioners might wait for a bus from 4 pm to 4.31 pm and, because the restriction begins at 4.30 pm, they will be turfed off the bus. Again, if they try to board a bus at 6.25 pm, they will be turfed off. It is an unpleasant experience. We welcomed the GLC's extension of the scheme, because it stopped such occurrences.
There is a catalogue of the considerable reductions in the scheme that will come about because of the proposals. It is only a forerunner to reductions in the concessionary travel scheme nationally. We need the present GLC scheme, which should be maintained. I say that not only because it is popular—which it is—but because there is a genuine social need for it. It brings huge mobility benefits to pensioners.
Much has been said about the cost of that scheme, but it means only a 3p rate. It is a bargain because of the benefits obtained. The pensioners want the present scheme to be maintained, and so do I. The Government's alternative is a poor substitute.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
We have covered this subject in some depth, both in Committee and in the House. Therefore, I do not propose to delay the House. I wish only to underline one or two of the more important points that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) correctly said that this is the first time that there has been a statutory right to concessionary travel in London. That is one of the most important advances that the Bill is making. To give future London pensioners a right to concessionary travel that can be changed only by future statute in the House is a step forward that I am sure they will fully appreciate. The need for such a concession is obvious to all who represent London seats. The pensioners have enormously appreciated and, to a large extent, used the concessionary travel permits with which they have been issued since the GLC first introduced the scheme. I am delighted that the Government have decided to introduce a new scheme.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood said, there was some debate about whether this was the appropriate place to put such a clause. It was largely due to the efforts of my hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), myself and other Conservative Back Benchers that the Government decided to take such a course. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) gave himself and his colleagues unmerited praise for having achieved this, but 1001 he and his friends could have huffed and puffed and the Government would not have budged an inch had it not been for the efforts of my hon. Friends.
The criticism that now comes in a mealy-mouthed fashion from Labour Members is not that this step has been taken by the Government but that it is inadequate. They base that criticism, so far as I can see, almost entirely on the fact that pensioners will not be able to travel free on the rush hour trains, tubes and buses. That is a wholly fallacious attack. As the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) admitted or, indeed, advanced as an argument in his favour, the pensioner would be most unlikely, if he was making a sensible judgment, to wish to travel during the rush hour. It is probably the most uncomfortable form of self-inflicted purgatory. It is absolute murder travelling on the tubes in the rush hour, as any hon. Member who has to do so can vouch. It is right that pensioners should be dissuaded from doing so and should not be encouraged to add to their own discomfort in that way.
Of course, I appreciate that there will be occasions when pensioners feel for one reason or another that that is the only time when they can travel. As I tried to point out in my brief intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, that will happen only rarely and when it does the penalty will only be that the pensioner will, unfortunately, have to pay a small amount extra to make the journey.
Against that it is correct to set the very substantial overall cost to the Government and to ratepayers if the full concession, including peak-time travel, were to be offered in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and others have said that that discretion should be left to individual councils. It is right that this statutory duty should be introduced and also that it should be limited as it is.
The cost of the concession, as hon. Members well know, has gone up from approximately £6 million when introduced less than a decade ago to nearly £70 million. Any future statutory commitment which would index-link it would be a very dangerous step because of the cost both to taxpayers and to ratepayers. Therefore, the limitations which are being set are right.
Pensioners in London suffer a handicap not suffered by their rural counterparts in that in the areas of London most affected by the concessionary right the community spirit is unfortunately very much weaker than it used to be and than it is in villages and small market towns in areas such as I used to represent before I moved to Upminster. I have had an opportunity to see the contrast between the rural community spirit and, sadly, the consequences in some areas of much greater mobility of population where the community spirit has broken down.
No doubt all hon. Members have read the case of Andrew Mizon, the three-year-old boy who was battered to death by his mother and her lover. None of the neighbours noticed that this was happening. It is a symptom of the evil in society that the community spirit that used to be so strong and that is portrayed so often in our folklore and history is no longer a part of many aspects of urban life. This is the case largely in tower blocks and other large buildings, which have been put up to accommodate the elderly and the disadvantaged. It is, therefore, all the more important that the great gift of 1002 mobility and the ability to get out and go shopping, visit relatives and keep in touch with old friends is maintained and secured.
Equalisation has already been largely covered. At the moment the Bill does not deal with it. I hope that Ministers will take this very much into account when considering how the Bill needs to be developed and what other steps should be taken. It would be wrong if some poorer boroughs had to bear an intolerable burden to bring this statutory provision into effect. While I warmly welcome the new clause, it is important that equalisation is brought into effect and that the burden of providing it is more widely and fairly spread.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
We heard from the Secretary of State in his opening remarks about the supposed scare stories put about by the GLC and by my Labour colleagues about the bus passes of pensioners in London being under threat. If one looks back at the Second Reading debate, one will see that, after the speech by the Secretary of State, Conservative Members expressed to him their deep concern at the lack of any clear commitment by the Government that the pensioner's bus pass as we know it in the Greater London area would be protected. We could not get a commitment. We knew of the observations of the 32 London boroughs about the schemes they wanted to introduce should the present scheme not be continued.
It is no good the Secretary of State saying that hon. Members knew all along that the bus pass would be protected. It was not protected until the people who were benefiting from it expressed in the House and in the constituencies their real fear that under the proposals outlined in the early discussions adequate protection was not being given to ensure that the pass would remain in force. That is why the Secretary of State was forced—he did not do it willingly—to make concessions.
As many of my hon. Friends have already said, although there have been concessions, the scheme that will shortly be implemented after the establishment of the new transport authority will not be as good as the existing scheme. The reasons have already been given. Under the Bill, transport in London will be worse. We have not heard much from the Secretary of State about the rights of elected Members after he has appointed the people who will run London transport.
There are many other issues that one could touch on. Those of us, irrespective of the party we represent in the House, who are members of the all-party pensioners group know that the one issue that is always on the agenda at meetings is the need to extend and develop concessionary fares throughout the United Kingdom. Pensioners in other parts of the country look with envy at what we have been able to achieve in London. Looking back to the early 1970s, when the scheme was being developed, one sees that it was because of the lack of a unified scheme throughout London that the GLC took it over. It could not leave it any longer to the boroughs to decide on a scheme that would meet the needs of Londoners, irrespective of where they lived.
The Government would like the people to believe that they intended that a new scheme would be in operation for the elderly and others who use the existing scheme. The Government were forced to do it, and it is our duty to make 1003 the people of London aware that only because of the pressures that they put on the Government were the necessary changes made.
New clause 1(4)(c) relates to the general lack of provision for the elderly and disabled in transport terms, and that is why my hon. Friends and I have talked about the importance of the dial-a-ride scheme. Disabled people have lobbied Ministers and we have had debates urging the Government to develop the dial-a-ride concept because it benefits severely disabled people. We have urged the Government to incorporate that scheme into this legislation.
The various dial-a-ride schemes, which we hoped would be expanded, have provided the severely disabled, many of them confined to wheelchairs, with the opportunity for the first time in their lives to get about. It is to the credit of the GLC, and London boroughs working with the GLC, that the dial-a-ride scheme has been developed. Under that scheme, specially converted ambulances call at the homes of disabled people and take them to visit friends or relatives or to go shopping and so on. Without that provision, many of them would never leave their homes.
Because of the amount of happiness that that scheme has brought to a small but important number of people, we urged the Government to ensure its continuance and development. As I say, for those who use the scheme, it is a lifeline because they are unable to use the normal public transport services. Sadly, we have had no response to our plea that that type of provision be written into the Bill. That is a deplorable indictment of the supposed concern of the Government for the disabled and the elderly. The GLC has shown its willingness to extend the service, but the Government have not given an assurance that the scheme will continue to be developed for the benefit of those who now use it.
We have been told that we can leave it to the London boroughs to buy and provide additional services. Anybody from the London borough of Wandsworth knows that that council would not do anything of the sort. At present, Wandsworth is cutting back on the grants that were made available to certain elderly and disabled groups in the borough. Considering that borough's current record on existing services, nobody can believe that it — sadly, there are plenty of other Wandsworths in the GLC area —will buy extra services. Neither will it develop, for example, the dial-a-ride scheme.
To their credit, many Ministers have assisted in the development of services for the disabled. The dial-a-ride scheme has benefited enormous numbers of people. Although it has proven its worth to the disabled, the Secretary of State has refused to give a commitment that it will continue. We are aware of the right hon. Gentleman's lack of concern on many issues, but we thought that the Minister of State, in view of the sort of meetings in which she has been involved, would have had some influence on her right hon. Friend on this issue.
Hon. Members who are committed to seeing the scheme developed, with the help of those who have benefited from it, will do all in our power to embarrass the Government by showing how heartless they are. We shall do our best to ensure that the scheme flourishes and develops for the people of London who have made it clear that they need it.
§ Mr. Greenway
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), although I must repudiate the strident terms in which he set about the Government on this issue. I remind him that, although the Labour party has held office several times before and since 1945, it never guaranteed concessionary passes or made the slightest effort to do so.
Therefore, how can the hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members berate the Government at a time when passes, for the first time ever, have been guaranteed by the Government? The Opposition are skating on very thin ice indeed. After all, the Lib-Lab pact did not seek to guarantee passes. Let there be no doubt that this is the first Government to guarantee concessionary passes; that must be to our credit.
I was among the first on Second Reading to raise the issue of concessionary passes, for I agree with hon. Members in all parts of the House about the importance of these passes to pensioners. I would—indeed, I did—fight tooth and nail for this concession because pensioners in my constituency and throughout London find the pass a lifeline. It represents a day out, a little time away from the four walls, a chance to visit a relative in another part of London or see a grandchild at school. For people of limited means — which pensioners on supplementary benefit, for example, are, by definition—that is more important than anything else. None of us could have stood by and see that go.
It is fair to point out that the GLC's scheme has been developed by Conservative and Labour administrations at county hall. However, it is wrong for the GLC, aided and abetted by Labour Members, to have spent at least £3 million of ratepayers' money on its spurious scheme to save passes.
I never doubted that the passes were going to continue, and the best way to be sure that they continued was the guarantee that we have had. We have the best, and one cannot do better than that. As I said, no previous Government have ever done that. To have spent at least £3 million—some people say that it was £5 million—of ratepayers' money, much of it coming from old people who find it hard to pay, was disgraceful. A pensioner in my constituency is struggling to find £400 a year in rates. If she lived in Brent, she would have to pay £800 for a similar property. This is wrong, disgraceful and unfair and a gross misuse of public money. The GLC should now apologise to Londoners for having misspent their money.
The central importance of the concessionary pass is to the 1.1 million pensioners and others who have been enjoying the pass, and one could not morally take it away from them. There was no question but that it had to continue, and I am delighted that it did.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to put down on paper the details of the sums which he alleges have been spent by the GLC in this way? Would he not agree that the need for entrenchment of the pass system in legislation, which Sir Horace Cutler dare not take away, is due only to the inception of London Regional Transport? Had it been left to the electors of London, there would have been no need to entrench it in legislation.
§ Mr. Greenway
I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. He knows that Labour Members in the 1005 past have criticised the concessionary pass scheme as operated by their colleagues in county hall and by Conservative administrations in county hall. It is never good enough for any of us. We all want it to be better. Having offered that criticism of their colleagues in county hall, why did Labour Members when they were in government not produce the guarantee that this Government have produced?
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I ask her to consider whether she can make some concession to the unemployed, even if it is not a pass. Is there some way in which unemployed people travelling to interviews in London might have a docket or two from time to time? It can cost up to £3 or £5 to travel to London for a job interview which, if one is unemployed, is of great importance. If one is unemployed, by definition one has little money. Can something be done about that? I would welcome any such concession, which I think we owe to Londoners.
As to the 4.30 to 6.30 pm blank period, during which a pass-holder cannot use a pass, I understand the arguments put forward by the Secretary of State. There is great pressure on transport at that time, and it would be expensive to extend the pass to cover that period. However, I wonder whether there could be an opt-in clause for pensioners who have a special need to travel regularly in those hours. It might be expensive to administer, but perhaps it could be done at a minimum cost. I should be grateful if consideration could be given to that suggestion.
Londoners are second to none as citizens of this nation. All hon. Members know that the people of London are a great people. I wonder whether we might take a leaf out of the French book and reserve a few seats on public transport for pensioners. I accept that this may be difficult to enforce and would need careful consideration. In France, a few seats on underground trains and on buses are reserved exclusively for the use of pensioners, and people who are "mutilés de la guerre"—disabled service men—might be included in that category. I do not expect to see this enshrined in the legislation, but I hope that the Minister might offer some encouragement to London Regional Transport to make such a provision.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
We have heard many immodest claims from Conservative Members about the inclusion of the new clause in the legislation. No doubt Conservative Members—I certainly accept that it is true of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway)—played a prominent part in trying to ensure that the Government changed their mind, as they have, and altered what was said when the Bill was introduced. It is a most unreal situation. The House is being detained to discuss free bus passes for pensioners and is congratulating itself on doing the decent thing by pensioners. The fact is that the scheme that the Government are introducing is not as good as the existing scheme.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Does not the hon Gentleman agree that the posters exhibited by the GLC throughout London, and the Londoner newspaper, distributed at the ratepayers' expense, stated that there would be no scheme after LRT took over?
§ Mr. Banks
The Minister says that it was not necessary. Let me remind her what she said on 25 November 1983 in the Adjournment debate, when I raised the matter of free travel. I asked the Minister to allay the fears of pensioners, whom she said were being stirred up by the publicity issued from county hall. I said, and I repeat, that all she needed to do was to give an unequivocal assurance that the existing scheme would be retained when the new London Regional Transport came into being. She said:I come to the next misconception of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. This has nothing to do with London Regional Tranport. The whole issue of LRT is the management of the provision of bus and underground services in greater London. LRT will be like any other transport undertaking.She continued:The choice is up to the London boroughs, not the Government. It is not an issue arising from the setting up of LRT, as I said, but a consequence of the abolition of the GLC."—[Official Report, 25 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 416.]The Government had no intention then of writing into the legislation the safeguarding of pensioners' fares. Whoever wishes to claim the credit — whether Conservative Members wish to claim that the GLC was stirring it up, or whether they wish to claim the credit for themselves —the Government have changed their mind, and we should welcome that, to a limited extent.
§ Mr. Ridley
What the hon. Gentleman says is rubbish. Can he tell me why the GLC continued to try to make out that pensioners' passes were to be taken away after I made the statement on 16 February? Since then, the GLC has not abated for one moment its mischievous propaganda, which it must now know is not true. Why did the GLC not hear what I said in the House on 16 February?
§ Mr. Banks
The Secretary of State will no doubt feel a little aggrieved when I say that we wanted to see the colour of his new clause. When dealing with such a Government, it is necessary to see the small print. I have always accepted the good intentions of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, but that is not good legislation. We want to see what they said in cold print.
However, the Bill is not good enough, because it does not provide a great improvement in services to London's pensioners. Conservative Members have made great play of the fact that concessionary fares will now be enshrined in statute, but the proposed scheme is not as good as the present one. As long as there was a directly elected GLC in county hall there was no danger of concessionary fares being abolished, because the pensioners had exercised their power through the ballot box. They also exercised their power effectively to ensure that the Government changed their mind and introduced the new clause. Although we must welcome the new clause, it will mean that pensioners will be worse off when the new LRT authority is created. All the flannel, humbug and self-congratulation on the Conservative Benches will not make a whit of difference to that reality.
In many aspects the new scheme will create problems. We shall discuss some of those when we debate subsequent clauses, but one problem will be the 1007 implications of block grant penalties. The GLC scheme costs about £56.8 million to operate, but the GRE assessment allows for only £27.6 million. As several hon. Members have said, the councils will be issuing passes under the new scheme, which will lead to more costs and bureaucracy in the town halls. At present it is convenient for pensioners to obtain their passes from post offices.
The Secretary of State must also address himself to equalisation. All the boroughs, with the possible exceptions of Westminster, Kensington, City of London and Camden. will be worse off if they must issue the passes themselves without the benefit of the equalisation provided by the 3p GLC rate. The Secretary of State should make a statement about this or introduce a new clause. Good intentions are not enough; we must see it in cold print. If the matter is not dealt with, boroughs such as Newham, which has a large pensioner population, most of whom are at the lowest income levels, will be in some difficulty because they must find an extra 2p rate. With rate-capping on its way, that will pose a great problem to the boroughs. The boroughs affected will include many of the outer London Tory boroughs, because London's population is moving outwards, and Barnet and Bromley, for example, will have to find a substantial additional amount of money if there is no equalisation.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that concessionary passes are a valuable asset to pensioners. We should be discussing the extension of this scheme throughout the country. As London Members, we accept that the scheme is necessary in London, but equity demands that we should discuss a national scheme. It is clear from statistics that 66 per cent. of pensioners in London do not have access to private cars. That is an average figure, but the numbers increase in boroughs such as Newham, whose pensioners rely almost entirely on buses and tubes. Therefore, the Opposition must welcome the fact that the Government have had the courtesy and decency to change their mind, although under pressure.
However, no one should misunderstand the fact that, whether the scheme is statutorily backed or not, it is a worse scheme than pensioners presently have. It has been introduced not because the Government wish to incorporate it in legislation but because they have been forced to do so. They would not have been forced to do so, we would not have had this debate and there would be no London Regional Transport Bill were it not for the fact that they intend to abolish the GLC. To make the abolition of the GLC, as will be said in some journals, more meaningful, they found it necessary first to remove from county hall the control of London transport. This debate has nothing to do with their desire to look after London's pensioners.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Most hon. Members are not yet pensioners, but most of us hope to be the pensioners of tomorrow. Pensioners now represent about one fifth of the electorate, and this debate is about the freedom, mobility and happiness of that enormous group in our society.
London now has concessionary fares across the city. That was a logical move, because a city divided into 33 local authority areas does not reflect travel patterns and needs, especially of the elderly — where they shop, where they visit their families and friends, or where they go out. The travel needs of the fare-paying and the 1008 concessionary fare-receiving pensioners must he considered over London as a whole. It was inadequate of the Government to imagine from the outset that the 33 local authorities could have cobbled together an agreed pattern. The matter must be considered comprehensively.
The White Paper last summer said that the concessionary fares scheme might be continued. However, it also said that it might not, because it did not underwrite the scheme. Therefore, although I share the reservations about the campaign, the GLC should not have said that there would be no concessionary fares scheme. That was not clear then. There was a risk that the concessionary fares would be abolished, but no one could be certain. Since then, there has been growing pressure from all quarters and we have arrived at the Government's present position.
The Government's proposals have little logic. They decided to abolish the local authority governing the needs of London, for reasons which we shall debate at length in the coming months. In doing so, they also decided to abolish the authority that was trying to co-ordinate travel in London. That task must be carried out in a co-ordinated way, as the Government have accepted by replacing the GLC with a new authority that will deal with London as a whole. Since local authorities of both colours in county hall have decided that pensioners should have concessionary fares and have devised a scheme for doing so, the Government cannot and should not impose their will by saying, "We shall change that system because we know better." They should accept the way in which evolution has left London with the present system, the best in Britain but certainly not the best that it could be and not as good as one hopes it will be one day.
In principle, it should of course be a local authority decision, not a statutory one. The fact that there is now statutory underwriting and guarantee of the scheme comes about only because the local authority which has dealt with the matter will no longer be there to do so. It is quite clear that, wherever possible, transport should not be a nationalised industry when it deals with one area of the country; it should be the responsibility of the locally elected people.
The Government, having decided to remove a tier of local authority jurisdiction, came up with a scheme which failed to guarantee to the people and to the boroughs of London the money that was previously raised for the scheme through the GLC rates. That was doubly illogical. Local authorities were told that they could have a scheme if they could agree on one but that there was no guarantee that the funding would be provided. Many local authorities, both Tory and Labour, said plainly that they could not afford it.
That is how the whole process has gone on for the past months. It has proceeded from one illogical premise of the Government to another, from which they have had to move as a result of the pressure put on them.
In some ways, it is better that the scheme be guaranteed by statute, although the power and decision should lie with the local authority, but if Members believe that things which are enshrined in statute cannot be changed at the whim of a Government whipping their Back Benchers through the Lobbies, they are mistaken.
I accept that hon. Members from all parties have put pressure on the Government. The pensioners, too, have made a substantial contribution to the pressure. It might even be said that without the concessionary passes they 1009 might have been less effective in doing so, because not as many could have come here to make their feelings known. Nevertheless, it is the pressure from all sides, the pressure of the logic of the argument, which has caused the Government to change tack.
If the Government say that it was always their intention to provide a back-up scheme, may I challenge the Minister in this way? Today is 4 April 1984, the date of the first entry in Winston Smith's diary in George Orwell's "1984", in which he writes about the Ministry of Truth. I challenge the Minister or the Secretary of State to produce to the House an internal Government document, one of those Sarah Tisdall-type restricted documents which were, no doubt, circulating, if what the Minister says is true, last summer, a document which states that the Minister will introduce the reserve power at the right time.
If the Government want it to be believed that they always intended to underwrite the scheme, they must prove their case. If they cannot, we shall not believe it but shall have to conclude that only pressure has bought about their change of heart.
Criticisms remain. We are replacing the present scheme by a poorer one. The new pass may have to be paid for. Once a charge is made, it is likely to go up; that means that out of the pensioner's income, with no additional funds, he or she will have to pay for travel which is now free.
London Regional Transport, a body not elected but totally nominated by the Secretary of State, will have power to change the hours of the concession without any consultation with or, as I understand it, reference to the this place. There will be consultation with the passengers' committee but LRT will retain the power.
There is also the possibility of the matter being reviewed every year. Local authorities are complaining as it is. They ask to be left alone, to be given certainty and to have the threat of annual change removed. This provision has an inbuilt risk of a change of system every year.
Nor is there any guarantee for pensioners who happen to want to use a route that, under the new scheme, may be run by an independent operator. There is no possibility of a concessionary fare there. For many pensioners, that will be a positive disadvantage.
The disabled and the pensioners have very little. They have the worst pensions of any country in the European Community. They already get a bad deal out of our society. It now looks as though even some of that little which they have will be taken away. That is a bad thing.
Although I cannot guarantee the same reward, I repeat some words for the Secretary of State's benefit: "Turn again." He has done so once. He has come back from the brink and produced a concessionary scheme. I ask him, like Dick Whittington, to turn again and give the pensioners what they ought to have had all along. I ask him to equivocate no longer but to produce the goods and serve that important part of our community which has suffered from all Governments for far too long and which deserves to retain what it has achieved by its own fight over the years.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The Secretary of State was keen to accuse the GLC of spending ratepayers' money in a campaign on the 1010 issue of free fares, but the very fact that a concessionary fares scheme is now going into the Bill is justification of the money spent by the GLC. It mounted a campaign which was supported by old-age pensioners and by the disabled and, as a result of that pressure, what should have been in the original Bill is now being added by means of a new clause. That is a simple statement of fact and no argument to the contrary will alter it. The public will see that the Government have had to make a volteface in being forced to accept the logic of the GLC's campaign and the pressure put on them by the electorate.
Had it not been for the fact that the GLC had introduced free passes, there would be no question of defending something that was non-existent. The very fact that the free pass scheme already existed caused the campaign to be mounted and the Government to face up to the necessity to continue with something which the people have and want to keep. If the GLC had not introduced a scheme of free passes in London, it would never have been in the Bill for us to consider.
In spite of all that, however, 1 million free pass holders in London are still most apprehensive about their passes. The first body blow is the suggestion that a charge of £5 or more be made for the pass. That has been suggested in Bromley, the borough in which I live. It is suggested that that figure which could be increased at any time. Such a charge could make a pass prohibitive for old-age pensioners and others. Five pounds may seem a small amount of money to some, but it cannot easily be found by many old people in my area.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does my hon. Friend realise that his concern is well founded? During Question Time we were told, though not in so many words, that the Government were considering withdrawing the free ferry at Woolwich. If they are thinking of that, they may well make a charge for passes for old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Roberts
The old-age pensioners and the disabled will be at the tender mercy of one person— not the GLC, an elected body, but the Secretary of State. Furthermore, there is a fear that the sectors of public transport which are to be sold to private profiteers will not be available for free travel for pensioners and others.
Another fear is that poor boroughs such as Hackney, part of which I represent, will not be able to finance free travel passes because of the large number of old people and invalids in the area. Boroughs such as Hackney, which have so many social problems already because of the Tory Government, will not be able to raise the extra money needed for free passes.
Yet another fear arises from rate capping and the rate penalties that will be imposed on such boroughs. Hackney community transport has a new "dial-a-ride" scheme. There are fears that this scheme will have to go because the borough will not be able to afford it any more than it can afford to pay for free travel for its old folk.
London needs to equalise the cost of free travel as it exists at the moment, with the rich boroughs helping the poor boroughs. The GLC has been able to run an excellent free pass scheme with a 3p rate. With the abolition of the democratically elected body, the Government are throwing the present GLC scheme into anarchy and disruption.
We are pleased to have had a victory and to have compelled the Government to change their mind about free 1011 travel. However, we are still not satisfied that the scheme will be as good or as secure as the present one run by the GLC.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Snape
The debate has been a continuation of one that has lasted for some months and shows the interest of both sides of the House in concessionary passes for pensioners.
The Secretary of State made a predictable speech—if I may put it that way — when he described the Opposition as fighting a ruthless scare campaign. Presumably, those remarks related to our attitude towards the issue. He suggested that the Opposition were stirring pensioners into an unnecessary frenzy. He appears to want the House to believe that it was always the Government's intention to introduce this new clause and that all the fuss that has gone on for so long is completely unnecessary.
As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South, (Mr. Spearing), as recently as November last the Secretary of State was saying that legislation was not the place to deal with concessionary fares. He evidently still believes that. As recently as the Second Reading debate he was saying—I am trying to be fair about this—to some of his hon. Friends that there was no need for such a clause.
It is predictably graceless of the right hon. Gentleman not to mention that today. He has been forced to make a U-turn, and whether that has come about as a result of pressure from my hon. Friends, from his hon. Friends—one or two of whom claimed the credit this afternoon—or, as I think most of us would acknowledge, from the pensioners, the concessions that he has made are welcome as far as they go.
Unfortunately, as my hon. Friends have said, the concessions do not go far enough. They represent a worsening of the concessionary fare scheme for pensioners in London. It is regrettable that those of his hon. Friends who welcomed the Secretary of State's conversion have not thought fit to say that it conceals the fact that the concession, welcome thought it is, represents a reduction in travelling conditions for old-age pensioners and others in Greater London. That is regrettable and reprehensible.
The thrust of the Government's argument in Committee was, and today has been, that the GLC extended the hours during which concessionary parties were available out of bloody-mindedness because of the threat of abolition. That is palpably untrue. It is the kind of thing that the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and Conservative Members have been saying for some months. There is nothing new about the principle of concessionary fares. One or two of my hon. Friends have said that there has never been any need for a Labour Government to introduce legislation because no Labour Government have ever abolished a local authority because they disagreed with its philosophies and policies. The underlying reason behind this deplorable legislation — to paraphrase the courageous words of two Conservative Members of the GLC in a letter to The Guardian—is the abolition of the GLC because the Government disagree with its political philosophy.
Let us have no smokescreen about the Government's interest in pensioners' concessionary fares. The Government could easily have demonstrated that interest 1012 in Committee. During the debates on clause 12 my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) moved amendment No. 41, which provided:(5) The Secretary of State shall make such grant to London Transport as may be required to maintain the system of free travel permits now in operation for pensioners and disabled persons resident in Greater London". — [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 February 1984; c. 543.]It was a simple, stark amendment which would have guaranteed concessionary fares in the future. Unfortunately, every Conservative Member present voted against the amendment. So much for their interest in seeing that concessionary fares enjoyed by pensioners were continued. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and his hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) could not bring themselves to vote for the amendment. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that he did not agree with the Government dealing with these matters by legislation. I accept that to a certain extent he has repeated the same argument today. I do not believe that it is a good argument, but he would not expect me to.
The reasons why the GLC abolished the restrictions during the evening peak hours are simple and they are not new, for all the claptrap we have heard from Conservative Members about it being done only in the past year or so for the reasons that I have given.
As long ago as 1981, free travel for permit holders on the underground was extended to cover the evening peak period. There was a good reason for that. 'The professionals responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation, about whom the Secretary of State speaks so fondly, found that because the evening restriction began at 4 o'clock there was considerable overcrowding on services used by schoolchildren. Pensioners who were anxious to board a bus before 4 o'clock found that it was sometimes impossible to do so because most schools in the London area finished at about that time. The restriction was lifted on the underground to enable pensioners to use an alternative form of transport. That was before the Government were, sadly, re-elected and before they published their shoddy election manifesto threatening to abolish the GLC. There is nothing new about that philosophy. The GLC has believed in it for a long time and it was determined to extend the scheme eventually to the buses.
Such things do not come cheaply. Every social advance during my lifetime has been opposed by the Conservative party on the ground that the nation could not afford it. We have heard the same cant from Conservative Members this afternoon about evening peak hour travel for pensioners. We have also heard a great deal of cant from them about equalisation. Some of them have realised, albeit belatedly, that the legislation, which they have trooped dutifully through the Lobby to support, is likely to have a serious financial impact on their ratepayers. Instead of shedding crocodile tears in the debate, we shall give them the opportunity to do something about it, as the following debate deals with equalisation. Conservative Members can put their votes where their mouths are and show their concern for the financial rectitude of their constituents by supporting the new clause.
The whole question of concessionary fares has exercised the minds of the Committee and the House for a long time. The Opposition desire only to preserve that which pensioners enjoy now. I do not think that we are 1013 asking too much of a country such as ours, or of the House. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will join me in the Division Lobby to help secure that laudable objective.
§ Mrs. Chalker
At the beginning of my remarks I must put to rest an issue that is not germane to the debate. It was raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said this afternoon that the Woolwich ferry will continue to provide services, which is exactly the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman said. That should be put right.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Lady has quoted exactly what the Minister said — "continue" services. The Minister declined to reply when he was challenged to say whether they would be free. I have tabled a written question for Monday next to the Secretary of State, giving him the opportunity to say that the Woolwich ferry will remain a free service. To put my intervention in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that there will be no need for old-age pensioners' free passes on a paid Woolwich ferry.
§ Mrs. Chalker
Hon. Members may wonder why I raised the matter. Knowing the skill of the hon. Member for Newham, South, I am sure that he will be well satisfied with the answer that he receives next Monday.
We have spent some 14 hours discussing concessionary fares. I do not object to that, but I do object to the fact that so many elderly people have been disturbed and worried by the continuing propaganda that has been put about by Labour Members and some members of the GLC for the past 10 months. What a pity that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) did not contact me in May last year. I could have saved him some expense. However, he did not do so.
The Government have made it crystal clear from the beginning that we believe that the concessionary fares scheme should continue and would continue, and that the issue arises not on the London Regional Transport Bill, but as a result of forthcoming legislation dealing with the future of the GLC.
In the Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I quoted a letter from the former Secretary of State for Transport:I can assure you that the Government appreciate the value pensioners place on their concessionary fares and that there is no intention that they should be deprived of travel concessions when the GLC is abolished."—[Official Report, 25 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 415.]I cannot believe that anything could be clearer than that. I repeated what was said in the White Paper, published in July 1983:The Government have always recognised the concern of London's pensioners that a joint scheme for concessionary travel should be available to them.The campaign has gone on. Many people have been worried unnecessarily and have got themselves far more worked up about the issue than could be justified in any political system. I believe that my hon. Friends were right to allay the fears that have been built up. That is why a reserve scheme has been brought forward in new clauses 7, 8 and 9.
The reserve scheme will take effect if the London boroughs do not reach voluntary agreement within the next 1014 two years. I have every hope that they will do so if the Association of London Authorities, those Labour-controlled London boroughs that have so far declined to discuss the matter, change their minds and reach a voluntary agreement.
The concessionary scheme, whether it is introduced on a voluntary basis under clause 48 or has to fall back on the reserve statutory scheme, will provide Londoners with the concessionary fares scheme that they need. The statutory scheme will allow pensioners and disabled people free travel on LRT services at all times at weekends and bank holidays and at off-peak times on weekdays. It will apply to travel on buses and underground services. Blind people will have the right to travel free at all times. If additional provision is wanted, as some hon. Members have said this evening, it will be feasible for boroughs which, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow said, clearly have a social duty as well as a wider financial duty, to add to the basic uniform scheme. That is a matter for them.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East asked about concessions on services operated under a road service licence, not by LRT under a clause 3(2) agreement covered by the concessionary fares scheme. If the boroughs wish to facilitate travel for their pensioners under RSL services, there is no reason why independent operators should not provide those services, and there is no reason for them to refuse to do so. It would be wrong to put a private independent operator under a statutory obligation. That is one aspect that they and the borough must consider when an RSL is applied for, and it can be settled locally.
§ Mr. Prescott
Is the Minister asking us to believe that the many private bus companies that she hopes to encourage to operate in stage carriage areas will undertake individual negotiations with each of the 32 boroughs? There may be as many as 100 buses. How will the scheme be maintained under those conditions?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The hon. Gentleman is neatly forgetting something that I said in Committee. The RSL services would be very limited by comparison with the provision of services by LRT, under clause 3(2) agreements covered by the concessionary fares scheme. It is up to the borough concerned, where those services run within it, to decide whether its pensioners should benefit from it.
In the same way—the hon. member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said this many times — the concessions available must be provided with regard to cost. One cannot make provisions without counting how the concessionary fares will be paid for. I must point out that the fares are not free but must be paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers. We must achieve a reasonable balance while providing a good concessionary fares scheme for pensioners.
I was asked several questions, some of which were answered earlier in the debate. We know that the half-fare scheme was introduced only recently by British Rail. Since its introduction, we have heard all sorts of proposals. It was clear after the Bill's publication that the bill for the services provded by LRT would be picked up not by the GLC but by London ratepayers and future Governments. It is cynical to suggest that things could be done in future by the GLC that cannot be done now.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I really must get on. I shall not give way, on the basis of the agreement that the hon. Gentleman and I have had all along.
I was asked about the length of time for which passes could continue. It is possible that five-year passes could be issued but, sadly, many people of that age do not survive for the whole of the five-year period. There is a problem of control at the beginning because the charge for the passes would be made to cover the whole of the five-year period.
Whereas I can understand the anxiety about having an annual renewal, there is nothing to prevent there being a longer period for the passes to be established. However, I hope that that is one of the things that the London boroughs will achieve and settle, because it is up to them to do so.
§ Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)
When we abolish the other metropolitan councils, is it not clear that a clause such as this will be needed? Is it not unfair that people in my constituency and in other parts of Britain will have to subsidise free bus passes in London and other metropolitan council areas? Is not the inevitable conclusion that, in fairness, free bus passes should be available either all over Britain or nowhere?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I was coming to that point. My hon. Friend has raised an interesting matter. It is notable that, in 1979, the then Labour Government published a Green Paper in which they advocated a national scheme of concessionary fares, but they then rejected it because they believed that the decision should be left to the individual counties.
I shall respond to the other questions about the metropolitan counties. In the metropolitan counties, after abolition, there will be joint boards covering transport, which will be responsible for public transport. They will be able to take a unified decision about the scheme in those areas. However, the Bill is about LRT, and I return to London Transport matters. If the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) is patient, he will find that in a later amendment something worth while is being done for those who benefit so greatly from dial-a-ride schemes. In view of the time, I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to leave that matter until later.
Many hon. Members were concerned about the financing of the concessionary fares scheme and about London equalisation. The Government made it clear in the White Paper entitled "Streamlining the Cities", and we have repeated in Committee several times, that the London rates equalisation scheme would be extended to ensure that London ratepayers were not disadvantaged by the disappearance of the GLC. The London rates equalisation scheme ensures that high rateable resources in central London are redistributed to the benefit of the poorer boroughs. The Government will continue the scheme when the GLC is abolished to maintain the balance between ratepayers so that the poorer boroughs will get compensation for the cost of paying for the concessionary passes through contributions from the richer boroughs under the rates equalisation scheme.
Many and various other comments were made, but owing to the lack of time I shall say just this about the scheme. It is a reserve provision. I believe that the LBA, as it has said many times, can reach agreement on a uniform scheme without recourse to the statute. The 1016 scheme has powers to prevent boroughs or the GLC charging a heavy fee for the passes. No such protection exists now. Any charges would have to be approved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is true that it applies to off-peak travel, but a south-east London bus driver said:Trying to get home after working hours is already a problem for many. Should the GLC decide to carry out this policy"—extending the concessionary passes through the '4. hole of the evening rush hour—I am afraid we will lose what passengers we have.It will incense workers to club together and hire mini-cabs or coaches, or join those already travelling by coach.That bus driver was pointing to the balance that we have to achieve. We want pensioners to enjoy the benefit of concessionary passes in London, but travel in London is not just for pensioner passengers. We must also remember the ratepayer, as well as the taxpayer, who pay the cost of the concessionary passes. It is high time that the oft-repeated and false campaign was laid to rest and that the people responsible for London Transport got on with the job of working out the best way to provide London's pensioners and disabled people with concessionary fares in future rather than engaging in a war of sterile propaganda.
The LBA will continue to make its efforts. The scheme that the Government have proposed in new clauses 7, 8 and 9 and consequent amendments is good, but it is mindful of the real needs of ratepayers. The Government cannot and should not ignore the cost, but we can and will ensure, and are ensuring, as we have always intended to do, that the concessionary fares scheme will continue after the abolition of the GLC.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time.
§ Amendment (a) proposed: In subsection (5)(b) leave out evening'.—[Mr. Prescott.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 273.1019
|Dlvision No. 226]||[7.25 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Campbell-Savours, Dale|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)|
|Alton, David||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Anderson, Donald||Cartwright, John|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Ashton, Joe||Clarke, Thomas|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Clay, Robert|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)|
|Barnett, Guy||Cohen, Harry|
|Barron, Kevin||Coleman, Donald|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Conlan, Bernard|
|Beith, A. J.||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Bell, Stuart||Corbett, Robin|
|Benn, Tony||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Craigen, J. M.|
|Blair, Anthony||Crowther, Stan|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Boyes, Roland||Dalyell, Tam|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Deakins, Eric|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Dewar, Donald|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Dixon, Donald|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Dobson, Frank|
|Buchan, Norman||Dormand, Jack|
|Caborn, Richard||Douglas, Dick|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Campbell, Ian||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Eadie, Alex||Michie, William|
|Eastham, Ken||Mikardo, Ian|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Ellis, Raymond||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wshawe)|
|Ewing, Harry||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Nellist, David|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||O'Brien, William|
|Fisher, Mark||O'Neill, Martin|
|Flannery, Martin||Parry, Robert|
|Foster, Derek||Patchett, Terry|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Pendry, Tom|
|Freud, Clement||Penhaligon, David|
|George, Bruce||Pike, Peter|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Gould, Bryan||Prescott, John|
|Hardy, Peter||Randall, Stuart|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Redmond, M.|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Haynes, Frank||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Robertson, George|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Rogers, Allan|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Rooker, J. W.|
|Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Ryman, John|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Sheerman, Barry|
|John, Brynmor||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Johnston, Russell||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Kennedy, Charles||Skinner, Dennis|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Smith, C.(ISl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Kirkwood, Archibald||Snape, Peter|
|Lambie, David||Spearing, Nigel|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Leighton, Ronald||Stott, Roger|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Strang, Gavin|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Straw, Jack|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Loyden, Edward||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Tinn, James|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Torney, Tom|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McKelvey, William||Wareing, Robert|
|Maclennan, Robert||Weetch, Ken|
|McNamara, Kevin||Welsh, Michael|
|McTaggart, Robert||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Madden, Max||Winnick, David|
|Marek, Dr John||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Maxton, John||Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. John McWilliam.|
|Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Adley, Robert||Beaumont-Dark, Anthony|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bellingham, Henry|
|Alexander, Richard||Bendall, Vivian|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Benyon, William|
|Amess, David||Berry, Sir Anthony|
|Ancram, Michael||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Arnold, Tom||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Ashby, David||Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Body, Richard|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Bottomley, Peter|
|Baldry, Anthony||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Bright, Graham||Hayward, Robert|
|Brinton, Tim||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Heddle, John|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Henderson, Barry|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hickmet, Richard|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hicks, Robert|
|Budgen, Nick||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Burt, Alistair||Hill, James|
|Butcher, John||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Hirst, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Holt, Richard|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hooson, Tom|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hordern, Peter|
|Chope, Christopher||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hunter, Andrew|
|Cockeram, Eric||Jackson, Robert|
|Colvin, Michael||Jessel, Toby|
|Conway, Derek||Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Coombs, Simon||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Cope, John||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Cormack, Patrick||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Couchman, James||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Crouch, David||Key, Robert|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Lamont, Norman|
|Dunn, Robert||Lang, Ian|
|Durant, Tony||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Evennett, David||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Fallon, Michael||Lester, Jim|
|Farr, John||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Favell, Anthony||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lord, Michael|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fletcher, Alexander||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Maginnis, Ken|
|Forman, Nigel||Major, John|
|Forth, Eric||Maples, John|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Marland, Paul|
|Fox, Marcus||Mather, Carol|
|Franks, Cecil||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Freeman, Roger||Merchant, Piers|
|Gale, Roger||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moate, Roger|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Gorst, John||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Gow, Ian||Moyniharr, Hon C.|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Mudd, David|
|Greenway, Harry||Murphy, Christopher|
|Gregory, Conal||Needham, Richard|
|Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)||Neubert, Michael|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Newton, Tony|
|Ground, Patrick||Nicholson, J.|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Normanton, Tom|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Harris, David||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Harvey, Robert||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Pollock, Alexander|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Porter, Barry|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Powley, John|
|Hayes, J.||Raffan, Keith|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Renton, Tim||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Rost, Peter||Trotter, Neville|
|Rowe, Andrew||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Ryder, Richard||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Viggers, Peter|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Walden, George|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Shersby, Michael||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Silvester, Fred||Waller, Gary|
|Sims, Roger||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Watson, John|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Watts, John|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Speed, Keith||Wheeler, John|
|Speller, Tony||Whitfield, John|
|Spencer, Derek||Whitney, Raymond|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wilkinson, John|
|Squire, Robin||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Stanley, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Steen, Anthony||Wood, Timothy|
|Stern, Michael||Woodcock, Michael|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Yeo, Tim|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stokes, John||Mr. David Hunt and Mr. Archie Hamilton.|
|Stradling Thomas, J.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Clause added to the Bill.