HC Deb 21 May 1984 vol 60 cc668-9
7. Mr. Snape

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many of the metropolitan county councils operate countywide schemes for concessionary fares for pensioners and disabled people.

Mrs. Chalker

All of them.

Mr. Snape

In view of the Secretary of State's somewhat belated announcement during the Report stage of the London Regional Transport Bill guaranteeing free off-peak travel for the old and disabled in the London area, may we expect a similar announcement in respect of the metropolitan counties? Does he accept that that announcement, when it comes, albeit belated as was his previous one, will be welcomed by the Opposition?

Mrs. Chalker

If the hon. Gentleman looks up his records he will find that the announcement was made, not at the Report stage of the Bill, but on 15 February last. All that did was to follow what was stated in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts straight, because the new joint passenger authorities will inherit the full powers of the metropolitan county councils in relation to concessionary fares. They do not, therefore, need the guarantee, which would not have been needed in London but for the members of the Association of London Authorities, who refused to co-operate with the London Boroughs Association in determining the scheme.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

As the joint boards will take over the full responsibilities previously held by the county councils, is it not absolutely right that they should also have discretion regarding concessionary fares?

Mrs. Chalker

Absolutely right.

Mr. Cowans

Will the Minister give an unequivocal assurance that, whatever management structure is set up after the abolition, the present concessionary schemes, particularly the scheme in Tyne and Wear, where there are free concessionary fares, will not be worsened, but will be maintained?

Mrs. Chalker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is entirely up to the passenger transport authorities, which will have that responsibility following abolition of the metropolitan authorities. I believe that these matters are rightly decided by the district councils concerned. I am sure that they will take careful note of all that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends say.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Although money is undoubtedly better spent on increasing non-means-tested cash benefits, is my hon. Friend aware that many old people complain that the system is patchy across the country? Is there not a case for convening a conference of transport operators to see whether some kind of uniform national scheme could be operated?

Mrs. Chalker

The Labour Government turned down that idea, which appeared in their Green paper of 1979. I believe that there is such variation in different parts of the country that the local authorities are in a far better position to know what their elderly and disabled people need and thus to decide what should be provided.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the Minister agree that when people in London are guaranteed a continuation of their free bus service it is wrong that people in the metropolitan counties and elsewhere have no such undertaking from the Government?

Mrs. Chalker

First, it is not a free bus service, but a concessionary fares scheme paid for out of the rates and taxes. Secondly, people in London have been guaranteed the safeguarding of a basic scheme, but it will still be up to the boroughs to pay for the scheme provided by London Regional Transport. In other parts of the country local authorities will be making their own provision for the services which they believe it is right for their people to have.