HC Deb 21 May 1985 vol 79 cc896-937

  1. '(1) Arrangements made in pursuance of a travel concession scheme under section 85 of this Act with any operator of a registered local service qualifying for fuel duty grant may require the operator to give notice, of such length and in such manner as may be provided by the arrangements, before withdrawing from participation in the scheme.
  2. (2) Subject to subsection (5) below, where arrangements so made include such a requirement, the operator in question shall be obliged to provide travel concessions in accordance with the arrangements until he gives notice of withdrawal in accordance with the arrangements and the period of notice has expired
  3. (3) The authority or authorities responsible for administration of any such scheme may at any time by notice in writing served on any operator of a registered local service qualifying for fuel duty grant (including an operator already participating in the scheme) impose on him an obligation to participate in the scheme in respect of any such service operated by him to which the notice applies, to be effective as from a date immediately following the end of such period as may be specified in the notice.

A notice under this subsection is referred to below in this section and in sections (Further provisions with respect to participation notices) and (Supplementary provisions) of this Act as a participation notice.

(4) Subject to subsection (5) below and section (Further provisions with respect to participation notices) of this Act, where a participation notice is served on any such operator, he shall be obliged, as from the date immediately following the end of the period specified in the notice in accordance with subsection (3) above, to provide any travel concessions required by the scheme on journeys on any service to which the notice applies either—

  1. (a) in accordance with any arrangements agreed between that operator and the authority or authorities responsible for administration of the scheme before that date; or
  2. (b) in default of any such agreement, in accordance with the arrangements currently applicable to reimbursement of operators participating in the scheme or to any class of such operators to which that operator belongs.

(5) An obligation imposed on any operator by subsection (2) or (4) above shall, except as provided by the following provisions of this section, cease to apply in relation to that operator by virtue of the requirement mentioned in subsection (2) above or (as the case may be) by virtue of the participation notice mentioned in subsection (4) above if, following—

  1. (a) in a case within subsection (2) above, the making of the arrangements including that requirement; or
  2. (b) in a case within subsection (4) above, the date there mentioned;
there is any variation of the travel concession scheme in question or of the arrangements applicable to reimbursement of operators participating in the scheme or to any class of such operators to which that operator belongs.

(6) Where it is proposed—

  1. (a) to vary a scheme under section 85 of this Act; or
  2. (b) to vary the arrangements for the time being applicable to reimbursement of operators participating in any such scheme or of any class of such operators which consists of or includes operators of registered local services qualifying for fuel duty grant;
the authority or authorities responsible for administration of the scheme may, not less than such period before the variation is to take effect as may be prescribed, by notice served on any operator of any such service who is eligible to participate in the scheme require him to indicate, within such period and in such manner as may be prescribed, whether or not he is willing to participate or (as the case may be) to continue to participate in the scheme after the variation takes effect.

(7) Where in pursuance of subsection (6) above an operator indicates that he is willing to participate or (as the case may be) to continue to participate in the scheme after the variation takes effect, that variation shall be disregarded for the purposes of subsection (5) above.

(8) Where the authority responsible for administration of a scheme under section 85 of this Act is a Passenger Transport Executive, the exercise by the Executive of the power to serve a participation notice on any operator shall require the consent of the Passenger Transport Authority for the Executive's area.'. — [Mr. Ridley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

It will be convenient for the House to consider at the same time the following: New clause 11 — Further provisions with respect to participation notices.

New clause 10— Supplementary provisions.

New clause 16 — Enforcement of participation in travel concession schemes.

Government amendments Nos. 96, 99, 100, 101, 103 and 111.

Mr. Ridley

In Committee, a number of hon. Members expressed concern that there should be a mechanism available to local authorities in cases where they considered that the participation of an operator in a concessionary fares scheme was necessary but that operator was unwilling or downright recalcitrant. The Government appreciated that the purely voluntary participation of operators might in some cases leave gaps in the coverage of schemes whose benefits ought to be available either more widely or throughout their area.

We undertook to bring forward amendments on Report to honour our commitment to give councils a discretionary power to insist that operators should opt in unless, through some special appeal mechanism, good reason could be shown why they should not. Some Opposition Members greeted our reaffirmation of this commitment with the utmost scepticism. But today the mechanism is before us, and it will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) acknowledges that we have delivered.

Under these new clauses, an authority may serve notice on recalcitrant operators, who will be bound to provide the travel concessions required. The clauses also give authorities powers to require operators who are participating voluntarily to give advance notice of any intention of withdrawal. This will allow authorities to ensure continuity of provision by serving a notice obliging continued participation. There is also a mechanism for the operator to apply to me or my successors, on grounds which are quite specific. to have the notice cancelled.

I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that it would be wrong to compel operators to enter into arrangements which were onerous, inappropriate or unfair. If the Secretary of State finds that the terms of the scheme or of reimbursement are inappropriate, not just for the appellant but for all operators in that position, he must spell out the aspects of the scheme which led him to that view.

New clause 16 makes it a criminal offence for an operator who is under an obligation—perhaps having appealed, or perhaps not—to provide concessions to fail systematically to do so. If an operator accepts a participation notice, or if the Secretary of State determines that it should take effect, he cannot be allowed then to refuse with impunity to provide the travel concessions.

I hope that all hon. Members are now satisfied that we have kept our word and that they will support these amendments. I hope, too, that this will bring to an end the insinuation or scurrilous rumours that have been spread by Labour supporters that concessionary fares schemes will come to an end or in some way be affected by the Bill. They are affected by the Bill in that they are made more comprehensive on all operators. To have acknowledgement of that from Labour Members would give my hon. Friends and I great pleasure.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The new clauses and associated amendments arise out of a commitment given by the Secretary of State in Committee in March, when he said: It should be a matter of opting out of the scheme rather than opting in, Therefore, I undertake to table an amendment, or possibly a new clause, on Report to meet that requirement".— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 19 March 1985; c. 668.] We have four new clauses and a number of amendments, the net effect of which is to place on the statute book a great deal of verbiage which barely conceals the Secretary of State's reluctance to give effect to his undertaking.

Mr. Ridley


Mrs. Dunwoody

The spirit of the Secretary of State's comments about concessionary fares is exemplified by the fact that subsection (1) of new clause 9, which is entitled Compulsory participation in travel concession schemes", specifies that schemes may lay down conditions and that the operator may withdraw, which is hardly what we would call an enthusiastic and positive approach. Subsection (2) goes on to say: where arrangements so made include such a requirement, the operator in question shall be obliged to provide travel concessions in accordance with the arrangements until he gives notice of withdrawal That seems to be a "put up with the children, the elderly and the disabled until you find an excuse not to do so" attitude.

Mr. Forth

Will the hon. Lady at this early stage put us out of our misery and tell us whether she will thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for bringing forward this measure which was requested in Committee? We are waiting to hear whether the hon. Lady welcomes its inclusion in the Bill.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I understand the hon. Gentleman's passion to know what I think about these matters, so I shall do my best to satisfy his interest. The Secretary of State did not want to bring this concession forward. He has brought forward a small concession and still has not answered the real question concerning the funding of these schemes. We have been offered a poor substitute for the proper concessionary fare schemes which are applied by many local authorities who believe that such schemes are not a way of filling empty seats when it happens to suit the operator. Many people in local government and throughout the country see concessionary fare schemes as a means of changing the lives of those most in need of the freedom to travel, including the elderly and the disabled —those in need of the right to get out of their homes and not feel trapped by their poverty or inability to move about.

I am thinly convinced that not only the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) but the Secretary of State regard concessionary fare schemes as an irritation which they have had to consider because of the pressure put on them in Committee. The clauses which have now been brought forward do not show that, even at this late stage, the Government are prepared to discuss seriously how the schemes should be funded or to say that their suggestions will be an adequate alternative to what exists.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire may regard it as a political point for me to say that I am not flinging myself upon the kindness of the Secretary of State and saying how grateful I am to him for the crumbs that fall from his rich table. I shall explain why. Concessionary fares should be provided to people as a right. They have contributed to the economy throughout their working lives, and they have the right to be able to move about, not to be subjected to a substitute scheme under which they receive any old token that happens to be available from an authority which can manage to scrape up sufficient funds from its rate-capped finances to provide an alternative. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire does not like that point. That confirms me in my view that what we are offered is inadequate.

Mr. Ridley

Will the hon. Lady therefore tell the House the Labour party's plans for the concessionary fare schemes, the level at which she would like them imposed and the mechanism that she would use to impose them? Will she not just wrongly criticise what the Government are doing but state her alternatives?

Mrs. Dunwoody

If the Secretary of State would like to listen to the rest of my speech, he might discover what I think is wrong with his legislation.

Mr. Ridley


Mrs. Dunwoody

"Oh," says the Secretary of Sate. Even though the Labour party might find itself at the end of two years with no public transport system of any size to talk about, he thinks that Labour Members should today say, "We can somehow weld the independent operators into a scheme that will provide concessionary fares." I shall give the Secretary of State one undertaking. I hope that he will accept it because it is meant in the kindest way. I believe in public transport. I use it, and I know what it means to those who are unable to afford a motor car or to those who are but do not always have one available. A Labour Government will restore a public transport system to this country because the Labour party understands the importance of such a system and would not simply look at it in terms of the cost of the bus subsidy. A Labour Government would look at transport questions in wider social ways, not merely in terms of the cash implications.

6.15 pm
Mr. Ridley

It really will not do for the hon. Lady to dodge the question that I asked her and to answer unspecifically a completely different one which has nothing to do with the subject we are debating — concessionary fares. I asked her whether her party will in this legislation or in a wider context change the arrangements that this Government have made. The hon. Lady had dodged that question by saying that it is not really for her to say, two years before an election, what she would do. After criticising this Government's actions, the hon. Lady should state the way in which she would change the schemes.

Mrs. Dunwoody

It is clear that the Secretary of State is frightened that we are actually discussing his concessionary fares, because he does not want to talk about what his legislation states. I repeat: in two years from now, we may not have a public transport system that is recognisable by that name. My party intends when in government to set up concessionary fare schemes that will restore to the elderly, the disabled and those most in need a scheme that genuinely allows them to travel freely. If that means going back to proper passes, and not the absurdity of tokens and insisting on inadequate schemes of the type that will inevitably arise from the chaos and nonsense entailed by the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will find that the general public will rapidly understand the difference between our proposals and what he plans.

Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)

My hon. Friend should remind the Secretary of State that we are questioning his legislation. She should ask him why his Government saw fit to undertake to underwrite concessionary fares in the London Regional Transport Bill. Perhaps she will also ask him why, in the grant-related expenditure, 50 per cent. is the level of concessionary fares. Is that the Government's standard?

Mrs. Dunwoody

My hon. Friend reminds us of the basic point that the Secretary of State was forced by London Members to write in an undertaking to protect concessionary fares in that earlier Bill. I do not know for how many sittings the House considered this point or how many words were spoken on it in Committee, but it must have been a great many. Not once was the Secretary of State prepared to give an undertaking in this legislation that he would underwrite concessionary fares. Not once was he prepared to write into this Bill a similar guarantee to the one that he wrote into the London Regional Transport Bill. The reason is simple—he did not intend the rest of the country to have proper concessionary fares schemes. The right hon. Gentleman knows that.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Although the Secretary of State did not give that undertaking in Committee, his hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) gave the game away when he suggested that the Tory policy on concessionary fares was for bus companies to make a profit before considering granting concessionary fares to the old and disabled. Before these private entrepreneurs can deal with the disabled or the old, they must first make a profit. Under the Government's policy during the next two years, until all these entrepreneurs make a profit, the disabled, the blind and the old-age pensioners will be prisoners in their homes.

Mrs. Dunwoody

There is no doubt that this is the thought behind the whole of the Government's attitude towards concessionary fare schemes. The concession was given reluctantly. It was not a genuine underwriting of concessionary fares. The Secretary of State has never been prepared to discuss the fact that it will be extremely difficult for rate-capped authorities to find the money necessary for genuine concessionary fare schemes. He has never discussed the financial implications, preferring to say that this is a matter for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Ridley

I have asked the hon. Lady twice what her policy is and the rather pathetic attempts of the hon. Members for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) and for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) do not obscure the point. The hon. Lady went so far as to say that a Labour Government would enable elderly people to travel "freely", but she did not say that they would travel free. Why is she so shy about answering my question? The only conclusion that one can draw is that she is not prepared to go one inch beyond the Government's position.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am flattered that the right hon. Gentleman regards my undertakings as so much more genuine and real than his own. He may not be Secretary of State next year, let alone for another two years. [Interruption.] Let us not be too unkind. He may make it to the autumn but not far beyond that, especially once this legislation becomes law. The effects of the Bill will be so wide ranging that we may have to create an entirely new public transport system, but if the Secretary of State is so worried I will give this undertaking. A Labour Government would regard the provision of concessionary fare schemes as one of the first priorities in transport policy. That is as firm as anyone can expect me to be at this stage. Unlike the Secretary of State, however, I can give a further guarantee. Under a Labour Government there will be a public transport system for old-age pensioners to travel on. The right hon. Gentleman has been careful not to claim that that will be the case after two years of the chaos and bewilderment that will inevitably result from this legislation.

Let us now consider the right hon. Gentleman's new clause, which he is anxious to obscure even further. Subsection (3) finally reaches the original objective—an authority may require an operator to participate in a concessionary fares schemes by serving a participation notice upon him. Participation notices are dealt with in new clause 11. New clause 10 provides the framework. Some authorities are very worried about the way in which this insistence will work. It is a pity that there is no blackboard, as I have a marvellous flow chart showing what will happen. It is clear that some authorities will have to go through the most complicated procedure if they want to operate a concessionary fare scheme under clause 85. I shall not bother the House with all the highly complex implications, but it will certainly not be simple to produce a workable, sensible scheme with a number of different operators. Inevitably, those most in need of concessionary passes will be affected by that.

The Secretary of State has created an extremely complex appeals procedure. As he is so keen to answer questions, perhaps he will tell us why the traffic commissioners, rather than the Secretary of State, cannot act in disputes as arbiters between local authorities and operators. The commissioners will have that role in relation to traffic regulation conditions — a matter in which they are arguably less expert.

Subsection (4) provides that an operator is to provide concessions in accordance with his individual agreement or with any general conditions applying to this scheme, unless subsection (5) applies and the operator has managed to find a way out of the scheme altogether. That being so, it is scarcely surprising that we do not regard this as the best thing since sliced bread.

Subsection (6) allows an operator, on receiving notice of a variation, to find yet another way out. Subsection (7) provides that if an operator is willing to participate or … to continue to participate in the scheme after the variation takes effect the cop-out in subsection (5) will not apply.

Subsection (8) requires the passenger transport authority to give its consent to the passenger transport executive before a participation notice is served. Presumably the Secretary of State believes that there is just a chance that the executive will have misinterpreted the authority's policy on concessionary fares and he wishes to give the operator further protection from the dreaded participation notice.

In Committee, the Secretary of State dredged up the word "otiose", meaning redundant and unnecessary, to describe some of the legislation that he had been sitting on for years. Much of what is said in the new clauses is also otiose. Despite the grudging attitude that they display, however, there is no option but to accept that half a loaf is better than no bread. Nevertheless, we should make it clear who will be affected. In the six metropolitan counties alone, more than 1. million people are covered by concessionary travel arrangements. Pensioners travel free of charge at off-peak times in four of the metropolitan counties and travel passes are provided. In Greater Manchester and in west Yorkshire they travel at half fare or at a flat rate throughout the day. The physically disabled are entitled to similar concessions throughout the day and the blind travel free throughout the day in all metropolitan counties.

Concessionary travel payments for 1984–85 are expected to exceed £100 million — almost half the aggregate VLS. Widely differing methods apply to the calculation of concessionary travel payments. Greater Manchester will be required to find between £12 million and 14 million. Is the Secretary of State seriously suggesting that a rate-capped authority will be able to make good a gap of that size? Of course he is not. What he really intends is clear from the figures that he has given for the amount to be spent on transport this year. He intends that there should be a direct cut in the amount available. He knows that authorities will find it extremely difficult to underwrite the sums required by the changes proposed in the Bill. Any authority or group of authorities can establish travel concesssion schemes, but they will find it very difficult to fund them and many existing schemes will be severely damaged.

Throughout our discussions on the Bill, the Secretary of State has said that it is entirely up to the local authority to decide not just on the type of scheme but on the way in which it is administered. Even with the minimal conditions included in the Bill, it is clear that, instead of useful bus passes and access to transport almost all day, many people will suddenly be offered an inferior system. It may involve tokens, which are easily used up and do not allow as many journeys as the present passes. In addition, the provision currently made by the larger authorities may well not be replaced when individual operators take over the services and, due to their size, cannot provide the same type of scheme or even the same kind of vehicle.

I do not believe that the new clauses genuinely undenvrite the type of scheme required by the elderly and the disabled. At best, they are a smokescreen for the Secretary of State, who did not want to write anything into the Bill. He could easily have given an undertaking to ensure continuation of the present level of concessionary fare schemes, but, for one simple reason, he did not want to do that. To him, transport is simply a matter of pounds, shillings and pence and concessionary passes are merely a way to provide, grudgingly, a lower standard of service when it suits him and at times when he cannot get enough fare-paying passengers. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made that clear in Committee. To the Conservative Government, concessionary fare schemes are an indulgence and an extravagance, and should be abolished.

6.30 pm
Mr. Dixon

In fairness to the Secretary of State, will my hon. Friend acknowledge one point? When the question about private operators taking part in the scheme was first raised in Committee—it was raised by some Conservative Members as well as by my hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends — the Secretary of State suggested that the private entrepreneurs should not pick up the old-age pensioners and the disabled, in case the prospect of a full load of full fares should be jeopardised, and that a ghost service should be run alongside to pick them up. The present suggestion, although wholly inadequate, is a massive improvement on the original one.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I accept that. However, there is no provision for the mentally handicapped, and throughout the Committee stage the Secretary of State consistently refused to accept many of the amendments that would have dealt with the problems of the disabled. It is clear that adequate schemes will be replaced by token schemes. The Bill in no way provides a proper service for the disabled or for those most in need.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Surely the hon. Lady is not suggesting a special bus service for the mentally handicapped. Of course one must provide services for those less fortunate than the very fit and healthy, but surely the hon. Lady is not suggesting that there should be a special bus service for all the disadvantaged.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Listening to the hon. Member for South Hams one would not believe that he had been a member of the Committee. Even though he appeared only briefly after dinner from time to time, I would have thought that even he was present when we debated at great length the changes that would have to be made to the Bill to safeguard the interests of the disabled. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman should try to divert attention away from the complete inadequacy of the scheme.

Mr. Flannery

I am familiar with the sheer arrogance and contempt of the Secretary of State. I once described him—he has got worse since then—as the only hon. Member in the House who could strut sitting. We are falling far behind when even the poverty-stricken Republic of Ireland has concessionary fares on everything except aircraft. Many countries are miles ahead of us. Even the Labour party should take note of that. The Government will take us back a long way. I do not know how they can defend what they are doing. We tried private enterprise and it failed. That is why we municipalised and nationalised public transport.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The Secretary of State knows exactly what he is doing. He has given us figures. In case anyone missed them, I will repeat them. The public expenditure White Paper shows a reduction in actual expenditure on concessionary fares from £245 million in 1984–85 to £197 million planned for 1985–86. That is almost 20 per cent.

Mr. Ridley


Mrs. Dunwoody

Public transport in metropolitan areas will be rate-capped. It is clear that there will be a reduction in the availability of concessionary fares in metropolitan areas.

Mr. Ridley

If I may say so, that is a piece of deliberate deception. The true figures are as follows: for 1982–83, a provision of £163 million; for 1983–84, £173 million; for 1984–85, £188.5 million, and for 1985–86, £197 million. There is an ever-increasing total. The outturn in each case is greater than the provision, but the hon. Lady compared the provision with the outturn. She did not say that she was confusing the figures. I invite her to withdraw what can only be described as a deliberate deception.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The Secretary of State should tell us himself what the changes were. Let him give us the figures. They are his figures. They were produced by his Department.

Concessionary fares will suffer under the Bill. There has been a slight concession. If the operators cannot find a way out—and, by heaven, there are enough ways of getting out of the schemes if the determination exists to do so—the independent operators will have to comply. In no way will that concession protect the public. When travel conditions deteriorate, the public will make its judgment.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

The House might well wish to award to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) an Oscar for outrage. Her response to the new clauses is as ungracious and mealy-mouthed as it could be.

The hon. Lady has tried to play down the contribution made by the Secretary of State in Committee. It has become evident from the hon. Lady's speeches throughout the four months of the debates on the Bill that she knows very little about public transport. When referring to the Secretary of State's undertaking, she omitted to recall that he had said: I am not resisting the principle of the amendment— I would undertake to meet the spirit of my hon. Friend's amendment"— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 19 March 1985; c. 668.] If the hon. Lady had mentioned that, she might have received a different response from the House.

Much later in the Standing Committee proceedings we debated clause 85, and this humble Member suggested a five-line amendment. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State gave us a full undertaking. Indeed, I was able to say that I could not have wished for a more fulsome undertaking. Some Labour Members did not understand the word "fulsome", so I had to spell it out.

Conservative Members are very grateful for the way in which the matter has been handled. However, I thought that I had said in five lines what was necessary. That what was said in five lines in Committee now requires 150 lines demonstrates what fun the parliamentary draftsmen and the lawyers have in this place.

The hon. Lady has made considerable play of the value of concessionary fares in general, but she has failed to respond to the Secretary of State's request for her own specific views. We became used to that in Committee. Our understanding is that concessionary fares — whether tokens, passes, or off-peak passes — currently vary between £20 and £80 in value from the most generous to the least generous authority that offers them. The fair city of Nottingham seems to take a central place in terms of its generosity as well as geographically. Our concessionary fares scheme—free pass, off-peak—is currently valued at £48.

Perhaps in this case one could speak of a blanket subsidy, although blanket benefit may be the better phrase. A blanket benefit may be described as generous, but it usually means that those who are in need do not get enough while those who are not in need receive a benefit that they could do without. Conservative Members have often been worried about such benefits. This, however, is one of those benefits which satisfy everybody. It confers a benefit and fulfils the needs of a group of people who, as the hon. Lady said, can claim to be entitled to it, at a value that I doubt any Chancellor of the Exchequer could equal.

For less than £1 a week, we can give senior citizens in greater Nottingham the mobility of which the hon. Lady spoke so passionately. There is no way in which the Chancellor, by giving pensioners an extra £1 a week, could confer such a benefit. Even in our fairly compact city, £1 a week in cash would mean that somebody who lives comparatively close to the centre of Nottingham could make three or four return journeys a week whereas somebody who lives further out might be able to make only one. The system is excellent value for money and benefits senior citizens. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for accepting the spirit of the amendment that we tabled in Committee. I could not have wished for a more fulsome undertaking from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State.

It is right that the Bill does not set down a mechanism by which concessionary travel should be provided. I am satisfied that the system will vary in different parts of the country. I believe fervently in the concessionary pass system, but there are parts of the country for which the token system is better. It is right, therefore, that local authorities should be allowed to choose a system that suits local needs. Local authorities and operators must be able to fix the value of a pass clearly and fairly.

Mr. Steen

I should merely like to repeat what I said in Committee. Neither side of the House has a monopoly on compassion. The proposals for concessionary fares are as fair as possible and it is wrong for the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) to imply that it is the Labour party's prerogative to protect the weak and the handicapped. New clause 9 gives such groups as much protection as they had before.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My hon. Friend is right. The Labour party seems also to believe that if it bobs up and down and tables new clauses saying that if would provide this, that and the other, it has expressed its sincerity. Labour Members know full well that what matters is the practicality, not the volume of words used.

6.45 pm
Mrs. Dunwoody

Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) that it was he who said that, before concessionary fares should be offered to the elderly, independent operators would have to make a profit? It was he who said that, much as such operators would want to help the elderly, they would have to make a profit before being able to consider them. How many of the areas where no concessionary fares are provided are Conservative controlled?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

It was monstrous that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was criticised in his absence from the Committee—

Mrs. Dunwoody

He was never there.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

—and that he was not given an opportunity to repeat what he said in Committee which, taken in the round, was quite different from what the hon. Lady has suggested. As to the hon. Lady's second question, I do not know how many authorities do not provide for the elderly, nor do I know whether all or any of them are Conservative controlled. I hope, however, that when the Bill is on the statute book all local authorities will respond to my right hon. Friend's generous provisions.

Mr. Caborn

Is the hon. Gentleman recommending to the Secretary of State that the concessionary fares system in the city of Nottingham should be the minimum in the rest of the country? Does he agree that some local authorities, because of rate capping, will have difficulty in supporting concessionary fares? We have just gone through one round of rate capping and the next one might involve considerably more local authorities who will have enormous trouble supporting schemes such as that in Nottingham, which I gather is free.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I can confirm that the scheme in Nottingham is free, off-peak. As the generosity of the scheme is about average, I hope that it is an example of schemes that my right hon. Friend would be more than happy to approve. He will be able to comment later.

Rate capping is the only shot left in the Labour party's locker. Few, if any, local authorities would be unable to provide a scheme such as we have in Nottingham if they cut out some of their ridiculous spending and applied the rules of normal prudent housekeeping.

Mr. Ridley

If any local authority controlled by the Labour party cared a fig for old people — I do not believe that many of them do; they care for their votes —they would never mention rate capping because they would make it their priority to support a concessionary fares scheme at the expense of almost any other rubbish that they might spend money on.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He has, as we say, scored a bullseye. Indeed, it was the Conservatives who introduced the scheme in the city of Nottingham.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Should not the hon. Member be retorting to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it was in Birmingham in 1955 that, in the case of Prescott v. Birmingham Corporation, the local authority was banned from operating a concessionary fares scheme? It took 10 years until a Labour Government were in power to rescind that judgment. An Act of Parliament of a Labour Government introduced concessionary travel.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I do not dispute what the hon. Gentleman has said. The law was as it was at the time of the case in Birmingham. It is to the credit of the Labour Government at that time that they changed the law. However, one could say that about almost anything that comes before Parliament: we change law because we perceive the law or the existing situation to be unacceptable.

Mr. Wareing

But the Conservative Government did not do it in 1955.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

There are many things that Governments do not do. There are just so many hours in the day, and we are demonstrating very ably just how long we can take over the most acceptable clauses in the Bill.

Mr. Parris

Will my hon. Friend ask himself how it can be that Sheffield, under rate capping, feels that it cannot afford a concessionary fares scheme yet at the same time can afford £16,000 a year for an anti-nuclear co-ordinating officer?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Opposition Members may say, "Ah, yes, but you can't provide a concessionary fares scheme for just £16,000", but I am certain that, if one went through the Sheffield books, one would discover countless instances of such amounts which, put together, would provide sufficient to fund a concessionary fares scheme.

Mr. Ridley

I am sorry to have to disagree with my hon. Friend, who perhaps too readily agreed with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). My hon. Friend might like to know that in 1955 legislation was introduced by the Conservative Government to give powers to municipal authorities, including Nottingham, to grant concessionary fares immediately after the judgment to which the hon. Member for West Derby referred.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting my ignorance. I trust, therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if the hon. Member for West Derby catches your eye he will be gracious enough to accept that and withdraw his earlier remark.

Mr. Steen

I wish to put right the unfortunate slur which has been made too often with regard to the proceedings in Standing Committee in what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) tried to infer. Does my hon. Friend agree that we on the Government Benches, by accepting the principles behind the Bill, realise that private operators running without a subsidy have to run a profitable service? They cannot run an unprofitable service because they are not eligible for Government subsidy. Therefore, they have to be profitable. Only when they are profitable and are going concerns can they provide the much needed help from which the elderly, the mentally ill and others can benefit. Until the profit is there, unfortunately, they cannot provide the widescale facilities which the Opposition seek to have provided. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is concerned with the ability to make a profit? Does he also agree that under the Bill we hope to provide more facilities for a wider cross-section of people so that more people travel by bus and more profits will be made?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I see nothing untoward in the way that he puts his case. My hon. Friend is saying that one cannot offer an operator a concessionary fare scheme unless operators exist in the first place, and operators will not exist in the first place unless there is a mechanism by which they can operate. If that is what my hon. Friend seeks to say, I do not think that any hon. Member could question it. I say again that I think that my hon. Friend's name was grossly abused in his absence in Standing Committee.

There are two matters that I hope the Secretary of State will clarify in replying. When I set out in Standing Committee the scheme which operated in Nottingham, I said that the mechanism was under the control of the traffic commissioner. That scheme was agreed between the then local authority in 1967 or 1968 and the traffic commissioner, and that formula has remained ever since. In clause 11, it seems that the Secretary of State can designate somebody to act for him. I hope that I am not being presumptuous, but by implication that person appears to be the traffic commissioner. If that is so I think that nobody will regard that as unreasonable. It seems a sensible way forward.

New clause 16 seems to suggest that an operator can only be fined for failure to comply with the scheme. I hope that by implication that does not mean that, if an operator persistently abuses the facility of a concessionary fare scheme, the traffic commissioner will not have the power to take away his operator's licence. No one surely would wish to permit to remain in operation an undertaking that constantly infringes the scheme within the area of its activity. We owe it to the elderly and to the disabled who will have passes to ensure that they are not persistently denied access to the buses in their area because there is an operator who flies close to the wind.

If indeed clause 16 is just one of the mechanisms, I suggest that clause 25 might be the mechanism by which a traffic commissioner could withdraw an operator's licence for persistent abuse of a scheme.

Mr. Cowans

I have been following closely the hon. Gentleman's speech, and up to now he has sounded more like the sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood. There is now a glorious opportunity for him to be Robin Hood. Would he at my invitation like to place on record a categorical assurance that the scheme that he has praised in Nottingham will be the same scheme after the Bill is enacted, because new clause 9 provides for opting out rather than opting in, which could be the death knell of the scheme that he has so greatly praised?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Standing Committee, and clearly has not bothered to read the report of the proceedings in Standing Committee. Nor has he bothered to read new clause 11. These four new clauses have to be taken in the round. It would not be possible for any one to stand alone. They are inter-related and inter-dependent. One cannot opt out under clause 9 if there is not a scheme and, if there is a scheme under clause 11, clause 9 would operate. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is unable to understand that.

Mr. Cowans

Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to tell his constituents that the scheme will still exist after the enactment of the Bill?

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I am perfectly happy to say that I am satisfied that the undertaking that the Secretary of State gave in Standing Committee and the undertaking that the Minister gave in Standing Committee were such that it would be impossible for them to renege on those undertakings under the clauses that they have included in the Bill and to stay in office. I do not have the power to give such an undertaking. That is a matter for Ministers and the law as it is. However, I believe that it is a reasonable assumption that the Bill allows local authorities to operate a concessionary fares scheme.

The Bill and the new clauses suggest to me that the scheme that we are running in Nottingham will also be allowed. As much as that scheme costs—£2.4 million—it is a sum of money that has bipartisan support in the city of Nottingham. It is a provision of first priority. It is entirely up to the local authority to decide whether it wants to run its affairs so badly that its highest priority, provision for the elderly, is at risk. I say to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) that, if the Conservatives control Nottingham, the commitment to the old-age pensioners will be honoured to the full. If Labour remains in control for much longer—some of the mad schemes that Labour representatives have up their sleeves might put that at risk—that is for the local authority, and the local authority alone. There is nothing that the Secretary of State can say or do that will change that.

I restate what I said at the beginning of my remarks. We had a long debate in Committee. We were given undertakings which have been honoured. My constituents and I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends are grateful to the Secretary of State.

7 pm

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Although I recognise that the Secretary of State has fulfilled the promise to introduce new clauses that give some assurance to hon. Members that the concessionary fares schemes will continue, I think that he will agree that they are excessively complicated and full of qualifications. I wonder whether the question put by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) can be answered by the Secretary of State.

Subsection (6) of new clause 9 states: Where it is proposed—

  1. (a) to vary a scheme under section 85 of this Act".
In new clause 11, someone participating in a scheme has to give special reasons why his participation in the scheme would be inappropriate. Tomorrow we shall discuss amendment No. 97, which also refers to exemption from that obligation. New clause 16 refers to enforcement and a fine. I cannot help believing that somebody somewhere will find a way through that mire of legislation. If people have financial difficulties in maintaining the service, they may wish to use some of those ways out.

I can only bore the House with the experience that I have had over the past few months, which is driving me crazy, with regard to the provision of services by Sealink, which the Secretary of State privatised. In my constituency, it is part of the public transport system which links two sections of the railway system. The latest concession that has been withdrawn by Sealink is the half fare for service men. Men serving in the Royal Navy who live in my constituency have written to me complaining bitterly that whenever they wish to come on leave or visit home for a weekend they now have to pay full fares on Sealink whereas on the railway they have to pay only half fare. The railway gives a travel concession, but Sealink does not do so now. Also, visitors to the Isle of Wight who are unlucky enough to live near a station where they cannot buy a printed ticket that goes through a computer have to buy a separate ticket when they arrive at Portsmouth harbour. When there are hundreds of them and the boat is going in five minutes, that is no joke. Many of those people are writing to me.

I realise that I am off the point about concessionary bus fares, but that is an experience that I am now having with a private operator. I know that a commitment was not written into the sale, but a wish to maintain through booking was expressed. I pay tribute, as I did in Committee, to the role of the Minister when he tried to help put that right in April, when I pleaded with him over the Easter period. The through fare was withdrawn at the peak period of Easter. There is no legal obligation on the operator of Sealink to maintain the through fares.

The new clauses are complicated. Surely the provision could have been written in without all this verbiage. They are full of qualifications. I suggest that some operators will wish to find ways out. I know that they may be fined, but I hope that the Secretary of State will give us stronger assurances. He moved the new clause 9 very quickly. It and the others are complicated, and I find them difficult to understand. I am sure that other hon. Members do too, if they are honest about it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give stronger assurances that the clauses mean that if a concessionary fares scheme is operating at the moment, as far as he is aware, there is no earthly reason why it should not be continued, and adequate finance will be provided to local authorities such as Nottingham so that they can maintain the scheme. Let us think again of the situation in London. It is what cities such as Nottingham and other great cities deserve. It was granted to London, and it should be granted to the rest of the country.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I declared on the Second Reading my interest in the National Bus Company, but I happily declare it again.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State two fairly short questions about new clause 11. One concerns the use of the word "inappropriate" in subsection (3). It is an unusual word. Why has my right hon. Friend chosen it rather than "unreasonable"? If a participation notice were unreasonable, there could be quite clear reasons for it. For example, operators could be required to carry passengers with concessionary tickets at peak times, or the scheme may not sufficiently compensate the operator for the service provided. Therefore, would it not be better to use the word "unreasonable"? The word "inappropriate" seems slightly odd. For example, if there were a successor transport authority to South Yorkshire, it might impose some unreasonable conditions in the notice, which need not necessarily be inappropriate in terms of its own transport policy. I should like my right hon. Friend to answer that point.

Secondly, when participation notices are served, the operator might decide that the scheme is not appropriate for him, yet the local authority might still wish him to continue. I know that the new clause gives the operator the right to appeal, but the problem is that he could find himself operating at a considerable loss while that appeal procedure went through. I understand how the system works, and at the end either the notice is confirmed, in which case the operator must decide whether to carry on, or the appeal is allowed. Will my right hon. Friend explain why operators, who will presumably be running tight under his new regime, should have to run at what could be considerable financial losses? In the event of an appeal, will they receive compensation?

Mr. Pike

The new clauses are important because the threat to concessionary fares is the most serious threat in the Bill. In Committee, when we were assured that amendments would be made to take care of the points raised by Conservative Members, they accepted the assurances and withdrew their amendments. They believed that the Minister would come forward with some proposals to safeguard the position. At that stage my hon. Friends and I thought that they were being conned and buying a pig in a poke, and that they would not get genuine safeguards.

The hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and for South Hams (Mr. Steen) accepted those assurances, but the safeguards which are supposed to be included in these amendments show that they were not sincere about wishing to safeguard concessionary fares. These proposals take a short pace forward, but do not provide the type of security for concessionary fares that we wish.

Although I am prepared to accept that some Conservative Members may have a social conscience and believe that there should be some provision for the elderly and disabled, when the desire to meet that commitment is set against the cash required, I know which they choose and where their judgment lies. During our debates on this important Bill, Conservative Members have shown themselves to care more about financial implications than about protecting services and concessionary fares.

I accept that the new clause is a slight improvement to the Bill, but it is only slight. If Conservative Members were sincere, they would have secured amendments to safeguard concessionary fares for people throughout the country on the same basis as those in London.

Mr. Ridley

Does the hon. Gentleman share my horror and aghast feeling that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was not prepared to tell the House what scheme her party would operate, if it were ever in government again, or even to guarantee that the present scheme would continue? Has the hon. Gentleman ever known such hypocrisy as that of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends, who doubt the Government's intentions about concessionary fares, and refuse point blank to answer my three questions about whether they have any plans to introduce anything better themselves, if they ever come to office?

Mr. Pike

There is no hypocrisy on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). If there is any, it is on the part of the Government, who say that they believe in concessionary fares but who do nothing to safeguard them. Whether the Secretary of State likes it or not, the Labour party is democratic. It will determine its policies at party conferences before we fight the next general election. No Secretary of State in a Labour Government would determine the policy. The opposite is true of the Conservative party, which formulates its policy after winning an election. The hypocrisy in this debates shown by the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends, who are not prepared to write into the Bill any safeguards to protect concessionary fares.

7.15 pm

In Committee, we requested that the Bill should include provisions for concessionary fares on the same basis as that which was forced on the Secretary of State in the London Regional Transport Act 1984. If they are good enough for London, they are good enough for my constituents, the people of Lancashire and the nation as a whole. That request was perfectly reasonable. Failing that, our fallback position of asking for an amendment to ensure that there would be no detriment to concessionary fare systems as a result of the Bill is absolutely reasonable. I do not conceive how any Conservative Member can debate this: issue without supporting such safeguards, if he genuinely believes that there should be concessionary fares.

In Committee, I drew attention to the fact that Hyndburn borough council was already preparing for the Bill, and had announced that 16 to 18-year-old students will no longer be eligible for concessionary fares. It said that concessionary fares could continue if the county council was prepared to meet the bill and pay the additional cost. That is nonsense. It is worth mentioning that that council is Conservative-controlled. However, if it continues to pursue that policy, it will not be Conservative-controlled for long.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South referred to many bad local government decisions. He shares the 'view of his hon. Friends that Labour authorities are extravagant, wasteful and inefficient, but that is not true. It is a fallacy put about by Conservative Members and the Conservative party. Labour councils try to tackle the problems that face their communities, which they have been elected to do. Unfortunately, because of the financial restraints placed on them by the Government, they cannot tackle the problems to the extent that they would wish.

The implications of rate capping and penalties severely affect the future of concessionary fares. The question is not merely whether a local authority is rate-capped, but whether it receives a penalty as a result of overspending or raising an additional penny in the pound rate. The penalty can be equivalent to a 7p rate, and it is that which makes councils think carefully about what they can do.

It is not sufficient for the Secretary of State to say that local authorities have the right to provide concessionary fares, when he will not give them the money to do the job. It is strange that he says that local authorities should have the power to determine what concessionary fare schemes they should provide, when the Secretary of State for the Environment increasingly ties down local government with every act and statement that he makes. If the Secretary of State believes that local government should have the freedom to determine concessionary fares, he should say to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, "If that is the Government's policy on transport, why is it not their policy on the environment? Why do we not allow local authorities to determine their expenditure on all local services?"

The Secretary of State shows his insincerity on this issue by not being prepared to follow that line. We must put some safeguard in the Bill. However, having been a member of the Committee and having read the Second Reading debate, I doubt whether any amendments will come from the Government to provide the guarantees that are needed.

Although the new clauses are a slight improvement, they are extremely difficult to understand, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said, and will not give the protection to concessionary fares that we would wish. If the Secretary of State, his colleagues in the Department and Conservative Members want the disabled, the blind, the elderly and others to continue to enjoy concessionary fares, even at this late stage, they should introduce suitable amendments to protect such fares. However, I believe that they will not. The procedure involved in the new clauses will be extremely difficult to administer. Although the Secretary of State will not accept it, most of us recognise that local authorities will almost certainly be forced to use tokens as a result of the Bill. Most hon. Members must recognise that tokens are not the most suitable form of concessionary fares, and that the pass is a much better system.

Lancashire county council has made great strides in co-ordinating all the concessionary fare systems in the county. The chairman of the county council's transport committee wishes Lancashire to merge its schemes with those in Greater Manchester and Merseyside, so that those who live in the north-west can enjoy much wider concessionary travel. That will be a tremendous step forward. However, when the Bill is enacted, such steps forward will become more difficult to introduce. There will almost certainly be reductions, not improvements, in the provision of concessionary fares.

Although we hear words of sympathy from Conservative Members, we have yet to see them vote to support their words. I doubt whether, when we vote later on other issues, any Conservative Member will have the courage to support protection for concessionary fares.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) said more than once that it was not only pressure from Labour Members in Committee on the London Regional Transport Act 1984 which forced the Secretary of State to make a concession. There was also pressure from Conservative Members, who had the courage not only to utter words of sympathy but to vote when it mattered.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Conservative manifesto stated that concessionary fares would be protected, which is why those hon. Members voted as they did.

Mr. Pike

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. It is hard to imagine that the Conservative party tried to honour some of the pledges in its election manifesto, but I accept his assurance that Conservative Members did so on that occasion. If the Conservative Members of that Committee had not been prepared to support what they believed and to tell the Secretary of State, "If you do not protect concessionary fares in London, we will not support the Bill," it would have gone through unaltered. If Conservative Members had had the same courage in respect of this Bill, we could have been debating amendments much more meaningful than the present ones, which, while they may satisfy Conservative Members, do not satisfy me and my hon. Friends.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) that it will be impossible in Lancashire to operate a system other than tokens. In half of my constituency, tokens are used; the only snag is that many people cannot use them, either because there is no rural bus service or because they are too disabled to get on the buses. Therefore, my constituents will welcome the fact that, in future, they can use their tokens on regular taxi routes.

In my constituency, it is essential to have concessionary fares, for the simple reason that existing bus fares are extremely high. For example, it costs £2–10 to get from Lancaster to Abbeystead, and £1–90 to get from Pilling to Garstang. A great problem is that, when one gets to the centres of population, one cannot get back home because the buses leave so quickly. That means that passengers must rush to do their shopping and certainly cannot pause to have coffee or tea with their friends. There is a mad scramble to get back. However, when they can use their tokens for taxis, their visit will be more leisurely. They may go to the town by bus, as they do now, but they can use their tokens to return home.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

No; I have finished.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Conservative Members, led by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, have taken another step in a cynical and fraudulent conspiracy to mislead pensioners and to give the impression that something is being done, whereas they know perfectly well by now — the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) gave the game away—that what they are doing with the new clauses is saying to local authorities, "We give you the licence to do the impossible if you can find out how to do the impossible." Nothing in the clauses explains how local authorities will continue to fund the good schemes that exist now.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, in an almost throwaway remark, say that if some authorities would stop wasting section 137 money, they would be able to fund concessionary fare schemes. Given that the maximum spending under section 137 is the equivalent of a 2p rate, that gives us some idea of the Mickey Mouse notion of concessionary travel—

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me that, in the city of Nottingham, the 2p rate raises just under £l million? I understand that in the county of Nottinghamshire it raises three times that amount. Although he may believe that that is Mickey Mouse money, I do not, and I doubt whether anyone else in the Chamber does.

Mr. Clay

The hon. Gentleman explained that the present, somewhat limited concessionary travel scheme in Nottingham cost £2?2 million. Therefore, from his figures, it appears that Nottingham's section 137 money provides less than 50 per cent. of what it costs to fund the existing scheme. But in Tyne and Wear, with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar to some extent, the concessionary travel scheme costs about £22 million. The equivalent of a 2p rate in Tyne and Wear, which at present would be only £2 million, comes nowhere near meeting our requirements.

That is the key to the deception that is being perpetrated on the public. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South tried to wriggle away repeatedly—we shall look at his answer with interest in the Official Report —from the question whether he could put his hand on his heart and say that even the scheme in Nottingham will exist after the Bill is enacted.

I challenge the Secretary of State to put his hand on his heart and say that every existing concessionary travel scheme will still be in place after the Bill is enacted. I do not see that he could say that some of the best schemes in metropolitan country areas and in some municipal areas can exist when the grant-related expenditure that he will allow in the rate precept will be the equivalent of half fares. He has already said that. That might be the case at the moment. but metropolitan counties and other authorities have more flexibility to do something more generous if they wish.

7.30 pm

If the GRE is to be based on the assumption that concessionary travel means half fares, that shows the true philosophy of the Government Front Bench. It fits in with the remarks of the Minister of State at the Bus and Coach Council dinner when he said that the shire counties had got it about right. Given the assumption that concessionary fares will be based in half fares, given that the transport joint boards in the metropolitan counties are effectively rate-capped, and given that the Secretary of State will determine the rate precept for concessionary travel, I do not know how it will be financially possible for authorities which at the moment provide a completely free scheme or which make generous provision for children, such as the 5p flat fare in my county, to maintain those services under the financial arrangements that will result not only from this Bill but from other legislation that is going through Parliament.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman must turn his wrath on the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She has made it clear that she has no intention, if she ever comes to power, of financing concessionary fares on a full repayment basis. Three times I challenged her and three times she denied it. The cock crowed thrice. Would the hon. Gentleman please take the hon. Lady outside and have his argument with her in private? There is no point in blaming me for what she has said.

Mr. Clay

I have no wish to have any argument with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) because she is not sitting where the Secretary of State for Transport is sitting. If she were, and if we had a Labour Government, I and my hon. Friends might be making complimentary speeches about restoring the public transport system that the Secretary of State is about to wreck, or we might be having arguments about how fast we could go along that road. However, it is the Secretary of State who is responsible, and he has not answered the specific points I made.

It is disgraceful to try to distract hon. Members into arguments about what a Labour Government would do if they were in power. We are arguing about what the Secretary of State is doing. I was making a specific point, that it is fraud and hypocrisy to claim continually that clauses are being put in the Bill to enable people to have concessionary travel schemes. The people who benefit from such schemes at the moment do not understand the kind of parliamentary deception that is being practised. They have believed, not unreasonably, that when Ministers say they are protecting concessionary travel, that means that what exists in their area will stay. The Secretary of State knows very well that that is not what it means and that that will not happen. Therefore, it is deception and fraud.

Mr. Parris

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) say that the new clauses are capable of improvement. How would they improve them?

Mr. Clay

I am arguing that these clauses could have more teeth. I am not arguing specifically about the requirement on operators to provide a scheme. I realise that I am somewhat wide of the clause but much of the debate has been in the same vein.

There is no dispute about the fact that these clauses are the Government's response to the promises made continually in Committee to come back on Report with something that guaranteed concessionary travel. We are arguing that concessionary travel is not guaranteed by the new clauses because they do not provide the means for local authorities to finance even existing schemes, let alone enable local authorities which wish to improve their concessionary schemes to do so.

Mr. Ridley

Why did the hon. Gentleman not table a new clause seeking to achieve the objective that he is now putting forward? Was his arm twisted by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who has made it clear that it is Labour party policy to cut concessionary fares? Will he tell his constituents that, instead of spreading all this rubbish?

Mr. Clay

It is absolute slander to say that it is Labour policy to cut public transport. The Secretary of State is misrepresenting what has been said by anyone on these Benches.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will my hon. Friend explain to the Secretary of State that we debated the matter at great length in Committee? The Secretary of State knows very well that, had we put down the same amendments that we debated in Committee, we should have been ruled out of order. He is well aware that the Labour party has spelt out time and time again its commitment to concessionary schemes. What is more, the Labour party has brought them into effect when it has been in control in local government. All his party does is seek to destroy existing schemes and refuse to give the finance that is necessary.

Mr. Clay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. She is right that in Committee many amendments about concessionary travel were tabled by Labour Members. Those amendment would have specifically enabled local authorities to have concessionary travel schemes and to require operators to be involved in them. Conservative Members consistently defeated the amendments because the wording would have put an obligation on the Secretary of State to supply adequate funding.

I well recall the Under-Secretary of State arguing that, if we passed an amendment which would have provided free concessionary travel for old people throughout Britain at all times, it would have cost, in his estimate, the scandalous sum of £230 million. He thought that the possibility of something costing £230 million would convince us all that not even a Labour Government could contemplate it. That brings to mind the absurd runway that has just been laid in the Falklands. If we could provide free travel at all times for every old age pensioner at £230 million, that would be chickenfeed for such an achievement.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I hope the hon. Member will dissociate himself from the deception— I cannot find another word for it—that has been perpetrated by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She told the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) that the reason why the Labour party had not tabled amendments specifically on this matter was that they would be ruled out of order. May I suggest that that is a rather lame excuse? To its credit, the Liberal party—now absent from the Chamber—tabled an amendment to leave out clause 1, which is the kernel of the Bill. If the Liberal party can put down an amendment to underline what it wants to say, why should it have been so difficult for the Labour party?

Mr. Clay

We are straying off the debate about this new clause. I am not answerable for what the Liberal party does about anything. This matter was debated at great length in Committee and I remind hon. Members that we were told—

Mr. Dixon

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that anyone can put down any amendment, but it is up to Mr. Speaker whether or not it is selected? Will he also bear in mind the fact that the amendments about concessionary bus passes that the Secretary of State suggested should be tabled would not be accepted because that could have an effect on the money resolution?

Mr. Clay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should prefer not to give way on this point again. We have had red herring after red herring about Labour party policy and why we did not put down amendments. Conservative Members have been deceiving pensioners and the disabled.

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Clay

I will give way only if the Secretary of State will explain, for the first time, how local authorities with good concessionary fare schemes will still be able to fund them when, after another Bill becomes law, the metropolitan counties are abolished, joint boards have rate precepts fixed by the Secretary of State and other financial restrictions are placed on local authorities. Can he guarantee that Tyne and Wear will still have a 5p flat fare for children and free travel for the disabled and that other counties will have the same?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is getting himself into extremely deep water, and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) made the water a little deeper for him. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Labour party tried to amend the Bill to achieve permanent guarantees for concessionary fares? That did not work, because the Bill is not about the finance of the concessionary fare schemes but about arrangements for the bus industry. There is no way that the Bill could be amended in the way suggested. He knows that perfectly well. Will he come clean and admit for once that he is talking about the wrong Bill?

Mr. Clay

The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that a Bill can deal with taxis as well as buses, with virtually every aspect of the bus industry, and with banning smoking on buses—which has nothing to do with deregulation—could have had clauses which would have guaranteed concessionary travel and placed the financial responsibility for that on the Secretary of State.

Mr. Pike

It is important not to be led down the line that the Labour party has tabled no amendments on concessionary fares today. New clause 18, in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is about our fallback attempt, which we made in Committee, to ensure that existing concessionary fare schemes are protected. We realised that we would not have got any further than that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. Hon. Members are dealing with a number of clauses and amendments, but we must deal only with the ones selected in this group. Hon. Members must stop talking about what is in order—the Chair decides that.

Mr. Clay

I am grateful for that protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I said that I should like to return to this new clause instead of having to deal with the disruptions from Tory Members designed to disguise the central fact that the Government have been deceiving the public with their promises about concessionary travel being protected.

There is no explanation of how local authorities will negotiate the basis of reimbursement with the operators concerned. That is a very complicated matter. Repeatedly in Committee, we said that we expected that when this famous set of clauses, for which we have all been waiting, was finally revealed to the light of day, something in it would explain how the local authorities and the operators would agree the basis of reimbursement for whatever scheme the local authority wished to apply.

It is significant that, at the end of the day, after the complicated and bureaucratic procedure of appeals and the rest laid out in the new clause, if an operator still refuses to participate in a scheme, the case will go to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can, if he wishes, go back to the local authority and say that the scheme that it wishes to impose on the operator is unreasonable for certain reasons. Effectively, he can say to the authority that, if it wants the operator to participate in the scheme, it will have to have a certain scheme.

Mr. Parris

That is correct.

7.45 pm
Mr. Clay

I am glad that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has agreed that I have that right.

In that case, the Secretary of State, far from guaranteeing concessionary travel, has given himself powers that he has been after for some time. They are powers to tie down authorities and to shape the kind of concessionary travel schemes that they will have. It is obvious that, with this Secretary of State, if the more generous schemes are resisted by operators, he will say that the authorities are unreasonable. He will side with the operator and tell the local authority that it will have to have a different scheme if it wants him to force the operator to come into the scheme.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Will the hon. Gentleman restate his last few sentences? I find it difficult to follow the logic that an operator is likely to refuse the more generous schemes. Surely this clause is to protect both local authorities and operators when the scheme is ungenerous. That is the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

Mr. Clay

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. There is a difference between generosity to receivers of concessionary travel — the old, the young and the disabled—and generosity to operators. It may be that a generous scheme that provides free travel at all times for the disabled and the old and cheap flat fares for children will not, because of the way it operates, be particularly attractive to certain bus operators. On the other hand, a less generous scheme may be more attractive to bus operators. There may be disputes about this, and what is best for passengers may not always be most attractive to the operator. In such a conflict, the case will end up with the Secretary of State, whom I am fairly certain will come down in favour of the operator.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State still has not explained, although this question was asked repeatedly, how on earth a local authority, particularly when it is faced with the complex mechanism to oblige operators to participate in the scheme, will estimate how to pool the concessionary travel money that it will need to finance schemes in a particular year—assuming that it can get the money from somewhere. Operators will be able to register and pull out again and will be able to argue about whether they want to participate in the scheme. How will a local authority, at a particular point in its year, be able to estimate what amount of concessionary money to allow for the following year, when it does not even know what operators there will be in the scheme, what rate support grant there will be or any of the other factors required to make a judgment?

Even if generous funding and central Government support were available, the rest of the Bill and the instability that may be created in the industry will make it impossible for the PTAs to be able to estimate what money to allocate for such schemes. How will they be able to say to an operator that if he operates on a particular rate for a year he will be paid so much if he participates in the concessionary travel scheme? Once the authority has named a sum of money and secured an agreement with an operator, what happens if another operator registers along that route to compete with the first? Does it promise him the same sum of money, or does it go back to the first operator and say, "Despite the agreement that we made with you, we shall pay you only half the amount we originally agreed to pay, because we have to give the other half to somebody else who has just decided to register and to operate a service in competition with you?" These fundamental questions have not yet been answered by the Secretary of State, or by anybody else.

For these reasons, as well as the fundamental reason of a persistent refusal to explain how the existing schemes, let alone better ones, will be funded, these clauses are a fraud and one of the most cruel deceptions that this Government have inflicted. The pensioners and the disabled now realise how they have been deceived and misled by the Government's phoney promises on concessionary travel. The Government will reap the whirlwind because of the deception that they have practised.

Mr. Parris

Good heavens, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If that is the kind of speech that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and his colleagues make when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has honoured every undertaking that he gave in Committee, I wonder what kind of speeches they would have made had he not honoured those commitments. Everything that my right hon. Friend said in Committee that he would do he has now done in the new clauses. They lay down in clear and uncompromising terms precisely the obligations upon operators which the Committee asked my right hon Friend to lay down. A considerable burden is laid upon operators. If there is any cause for raised eyebrows about the new clauses, it should be about the burden that the obligations lay upon operators, a point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) referred.

No mention has been made of the position under the existing regime. There are no formal statutory powers under which a local authority may oblige operators to participate in concessionary schemes, but local authorities have an effective power to encourage operators to participate. As a local authority is involved in the licensing of routes, it can withdraw the licence of an operator who refuses to operate a concessionary scheme, or somebody else can be licensed to operate on the same route. That is not very different from providing the ghost service which my right hon. Friend suggested might be included in the Bill, which would be a sufficient weapon in the hands of local authorities but upon which the Opposition poured so much scorn.

Mr. Dixon


Mr. Parris

The hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense". Would he care to explain why?

Mr. Dixon

How on earth could a local authority run a ghost service to pick up the disabled and the elderly who will not be catered for by the private entrepreneurs?

Mr. Parris

The same question could be asked about the powers which are available to local authorities under the existing system. If an operator refuses to participate in a concessionary scheme, the only power that is available to a local authority is to say that a licence will be given to somebody else to operate on that particular route or that the local authority will subsidise the running of a service on that route. If all local operators wanted to call the bluff of the local authority, they would be in a strong position, but they have rarely, if ever, done so and concessionary schemes have been imposed quite effectively upon operators.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North said that this was a roundabout way for the Secretary of State to determine what kind of concessionary schemes a local authority ought to run. If it is, the Secretary of State already has such a power under the existing system. Appeals against the withdrawal of a licence or the refusal to grant a licence are now determined under the same kind of system as is proposed in the new clauses. My right hon. Friend's arrangements make it absolutely clear that wherever a local authority has a reasonable travel concession scheme it can oblige operators to take part in it. The local authority will have all the means necessary at its disposal to ensure that operators co-operate. What more can we ask from my right hon. Friend than that?

All that we could ask for is what the Opposition have been pressing for but for which it is unreasonable to ask: that the Secretary of State should undertake to underwrite financially every concessionary fare scheme which any local authority may wish to operate. My right hon. Friend refuses to do it under the new provisions, he refuses to do it under the existing provisions, and the last Labour Government certainly did not do it during the many years when they had the opportunity to do exactly the same thing.

At a time when public transport in many parts of this country had declined substantially and seriously, the Labour Government were not prepared to step in and underwrite concessionary fare schemes. My right hon. Friend is not prepared to do that, nor would it be reasonable for him to do it. All that my right hon. Friend is doing in the new clauses is saying to local authorities, "Work out a reasonable and sensible concessionary fares scheme. If the local operators will not participate, I shall give you the power to force them to participate." My right hon. Friend has done everything that he said in Committee he would do, and Conservative Members are grateful to him.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and I both serve on the Select Committee on Transport, but I did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee which examined the Bill. I have been stunned by some of the remarks which have been made, to which I have listened carefully. I have also been listening carefully to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have said that we should try to deal with the clauses and not roam all over the globe.

Hon. Members will recall that I have already said that I am disturbed about the nature of the Bill. The Transport and General Workers Union is also disturbed by it. That is why continual lobbying is taking place. Hon. Members who support the Bill are being asked to discuss it with the union because union members feel grave disquiet about their future wages, conditions of work and pensions. Their suspicions and fears have not yet been allayed, nor have the suspicions and fears of the elderly about the concessionary fares which the new clauses attempt to wrap up as much as possible. Concessionary fares in London, however, are almost enshrined in law.

The Secretary of State has never lacked nerve, but he has great nerve when he suggests that the Opposition do not care about the elderly and that it is only the Conservatives who care. That is ridiculous. I concede immediately to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) that the care felt in local government cuts right across party political boundaries. It may be that in Nottingham the Tories were persuaded by the attitude of the then Labour Government and by what was taking place in Birmingham, which is not very far from Nottingham. When one scheme gets under way, great pressure is exerted, which works to the advantage of the elderly.

Many Conservative and Liberal members of local authorities would prefer that kind of scheme to be applied as generously as possible. Vying with that would be the philosophy of hon. Members who hold similar views to those of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South: that such a scheme should not impose too heavy a burden upon ratepayers and taxpayers. If the hon. Member for Nottingham, South does not hold that view, I shall accept what he says. However, that is the general attitude of the Tories and of the Secretary of State, who has been forced to try to allay people's fears.

Many questions about new clause 11 have to be asked. If a private operator backtracks upon his supposed obligations under the local authority scheme, what kind of policing is there to be? If reports are made because of certain misdeeds, will the private operator be able to use lawyers to try to safeguard his scheme? How many cases do we envisage? The answer to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West is that people in general have greater faith in local authority and municipal transport schemes.

I have lived a bit longer than the hon. Gentleman and I well remember the substandard private bus operations that we heard about when we visited Hereford and Worcester. There were ample tales about that. I want to know more about the consequences of such things—the charging of people who should not be charged when only one vehicle is in sight. The whole gamut of the Bill opens the way for the slick operator and to cowboy activity. We shall see it in full measure in due course.

8 pm

I want particularly to allude to the climate in which the free fare—not the concessionary fare—on London buses and tubes came into being. That was accepted in the longer term by Tory members of the GLC. It was in their election manifesto and they could not backtrack on that. But they certainly did not spearhead the free fair system. It is not customary for concessionary fares or free travel for pensioners to be spearheaded by Tories, despite their importance. Mostly they go along with initiatives taken by Labour Members on local authorities, and that is what happened in the GLC.

Labour Members have had the most powerful lobby that they have ever experienced, financed by the Labour-controlled GLC. Old people have been encouraged to keep smothering us with representations on the necessity to safeguard their free travel on London's buses and tubes. They are now worried about the extent to which privatisation will mean that they will not get the same deal that they have been accustomed to under the GLC's management of buses and tubes which has now long gone. That is why Tory Members in Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill had to get up on their hind legs and insist that the Secretary of State dare not do anything other than safeguard the situation in London.

I do not know why the Secretary of State is making such a meal of the Bill tonight. Of course, one cannot spell out exactly what would occur under a Labour Administration, but at least tonight, in response to this debate, he must state clearly that the present concessionary fares are safe in his hands. Conservative Members should also be insisting on that. If the policies of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State's close associate, on social and hospital services and so on are anything to go by we must be doubtful about that. However, that is what he should do in an attempt to allay some of the fears.

I assume that we shall seek to divide the House on the new clauses, but much will depend upon the reply that the Minister gives tonight. He is an architect of confusion. He loves cut-throat competition and thinks that market forces can go where the hell they like in order to determine fare levels. Therefore, one imagines that he had to be forced further than his philosophy allowed him to go in order to write safeguards into these new clauses.

The Secretary of State has introduced a crackpot Bill. We wait anxiously to get away from that audacious assertion that we do not care about old folk and their travelling facilities which are enormously important. Jack Jones, the former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, together with the trade union movement, has been at the forefront of demands that concessionary travel should be safeguarded as well as many other matters which affect the poor working class. It is in its interests that we battle here tonight. We are trying to extract some humanity from the Secretary of State. The ability of old folk to travel, leaving the car at home so that they are no longer burdened with it, is of enormous importance to Britain's social structure. The Bill and many other measures put through by the Government put old folk in jeopardy.

Mr. Wareing

It was clear in Committee that the Secretary of State was looking for some fig leaf with which he could cover his nakedness over this issue. He has come along with these new clauses and none of them adequately satisfies Labour Members. The Committee was stuffed with one-term Tory Members who will not be in the House when, after the next election, the Labour Government are asked to restore public transport and the right which our senior citizens and disabled people now have—the right to concessionary travel passes. They will not be here, but they were a little worried so they tabled amendments. One related to concessionary travel and another to disabled people and their rights.

Labour Members felt that there might be courageous souls among Tory Members, but when it came to the vote we found that the Tory Back Benchers had the courage only of the Secretary of State's conviction. They were not willing to take their amendments to the vote. It was the Labour Members in Committee who had to vote against the withdrawal of amendments tabled by Tory Members. Presumably, they believed the gobbledegook of the package promised by the Secretary of State. We see now that the reality of that package is not one that even the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) can respond to by saying honestly that the scheme in his city will remain in existence if the Bill, with the new clause, reaches the statute book.

Mr. Parris

It would be an example of courage to see a Labour Member admit that the Opposition's argument on this is completely bogus and that the Government have delivered everything that they promised in Committee. That would take courage.

Mr. Wareing

No, I am afraid that the Government have not come up with what Labour Members demanded in Committee. Despite pretending otherwise, the Government have not fulfilled their promise to the disabled and the elderly or to parents with young children, in the latter category to enable them to take children to and from school.

Although the Secretary of State made promises in Committee which seemed to placate Back Benchers, the real spokesmen on the Conservative Benches — those who were saying out loud what was in the Secretary of State's mind — included the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) who has honoured us with his presence today, though he was often conspicuous by his absence from Committee.

Mr. Steen

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong.

Mr. Wareing

During one of the hon. Gentleman's brief excursions into the Committee Room he said — speaking, no doubt, for his party — that commercial undertakings had to make a profit and that he regarded public transport as a commercial undertaking and not a social service. Indeed, that is the gap that divides the parties on this issue. He said that profits must come first and that then we might consider what facilities could be provided for the disabled, the elderly and the rest.

He was supported in that assertion at a later stage by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeec)—who is conspicuous by his absence today — who told the Committee that hon. Members should not be overwhelmed by arguments about assisting the disabled. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol, East is never disabled, although he seems to suffer from a degree of mental handicap.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman referred to concessionary fares for children. Does he agree that, for the first time, the Bill enshrines a provision in that respect for children and that he, like every other member of the Standing Committee, received letters from county councils welcoming that provision?

Mr. Wareing

There is no guarantee in the Bill that services which are at present provided—for example. by Merseyside county council to enable children to travel for half fare—will continue once the Bill becomes law. It was made clear in Committee that Tory Members were concerned with the cowboys who can be trusted to support them at subsequent elections.

Let us not forget that the White Paper which was a prelude to the Bill went so far as to say that it would be easier to administer a token system. All the evidence appears to prove that, if the Government are not willing to provide the financial resources to enable the pass system to continue, any concessionary scheme that is permitted will probably be the token system. I shall deal with some of the difficulties to which that would give rise.

Mr. Steen

We had the pleasure of speeches from the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) many times in Committee. Indeed, the only time that I was absent from the proceedings was when the hon. Gentleman was speaking; he was so tiresome and repetitive that I felt it preferable to be outside. Other than on those occasions, I was one of the most regular attenders and contributed in a positive and constructive way to the Committee's deliberations.

Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that transport systems should be seen as social services?

Mr. Wareing


8.15 pm
Mr. Steen

As he knows, I am one of the few trained social workers in the House, a point that I made in Committee. I repeat it because, with many of my hon. Friends, I am experienced in the welfare of the elderly, the handicapped, the ill and the mentally sick. The last thing that my hon. Friends and I want is to see that group of people being disadvantaged.

However, we believe—the hon. Gentleman cannot yet absorb this—that it is not inconsistent to have a commercial undertaking and at the same time to help the disabled, the handicapped, the poor, the mentally sick and the rest. The hon. Gentleman wants guarantees. That is the difference between a totalitarian, monopolistic approach and a private enterprise commercial approach. Does he accept that it is not inconsistent to have a commercial enterprise which cares for others?

Mr. Wareing

That intervention was almost as long as the one that the right hon. Gentleman made in Committee when I permitted him to interrupt a speech that I was making, and he made the statement to which I referred. He reveals the great divide between the two sides on this issue. He sees public transport as a commercial enterprise, and the motive of commercial enterprises is profit. Thus, profit must come before people —[Interruption.] — be they the elderly, the disabled or whoever. The very raison d'etre of private enterprise is profit, whereas the raison d'etre of a social service is to provide for the needs of people. We do not ask whether a particular NHS hospital makes a profit. Legislators have a duty to look after the whole community.

The hon. Member for South Hams may have received training in social work, but it did not teach him much. He may remember, before he emigrated from Liverpool, Wavertree to the safer seat of South Hams in Devon, that many old folk and young disabled people lived on the outskirts of Liverpool in council and residential estates and that the only way to relieve their isolation and loneliness, perhaps by visiting relatives and friends, was by using the bus passes provided by nearly all the district councils on Merseyside—with the exception, of course, of the ultra Right-wing Tory council of Sefton district, which consistently refused to provide for the needs of its senior citizens.

Mr. Dixon

If the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), a qualified social worker, believes that the disabled, the old and the infirm should not have concessionary passes until the bus companies make profits, one is bound to wonder what view the accountants, banisters and company directors on the Tory Benches take of concessionary fares.

Mr. Wareing

I agree with my hon. Friend. If a Conservative social worker cannot find it in his heart to overcome the Tory private enterprise ethic on behalf of the elderly and disabled, it will be hard luck on those folk if they are left to the mercy of the 100 banisters on the Government Benches.

Labour Members have to speak for constituencies such as mine, where 75 per cent. of the people, including the able-bodied as well as those who need concessionary fares, do not have the use of a private car. This is a social service. That is why we on Merseyside decided, after the Labour party was in control, to provide concessionary travel passes to the poor senior citizens of Tory-dominated Sefton district and to reduce fares on the buses to enable more people to travel. We turned the tide after years of Tory rule during which the number of passengers using the buses declined. Since 1981, the Secretary of State has argued that there has been a decline in the use of buses. We know, however, that on Merseyside patronage of buses has increased by 13 per cent.

A lesson can be learned from concessionary travel. It costs Merseyside county council and other local authorities on Merseyside £18. million a year to provide concessionary travel, £16 million of which is provided by Merseyside county council. The Secretary of State for the Environment, however, is determined that GRE to cover the cost of concessionary travel should be £4. million. I raised this matter in Committee with the Secretary of State, who has not yet answered me. What on earth will be the real cost of providing the same scheme to the people on Merseyside when the council is abolished and the joint board has its budget fixed for the first three years by the Secretary of State for the Environment? Obviously, the cost will be much more than £18. million. It will be much more than the GRE which the Secretary of State for the Environment is willing to provide for concessionary travel.

After this Bill becomes law, the authority that runs transport on Merseyside after 1985 will have to abandon the present concessionary scheme. It might have to go over to the ludicrous token scheme, with its accompanying disadvantages of a black market, with tokens being transferred and used as currency. This measure might ensure — this is the crux of the matter — that public expenditure on concessionary travel is cut. Every clause in every Bill introduced by a Conservative Secretary of State is aimed at redressing the imbalance for the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the person who really determines policy.

The Government have chided Labour Members, asking why the Labour party did not ensure that concessionary travel passes were provided when it was in power. The Secretary of State has been busy chiding my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) about the actions of a future Labour Government. It was not the Labour Government of the 1970s which, year in and year out, cut transport supplementary grant or reduced rate support grant from 61 per cent. to 48 per cent. The Labour Government did not introduce the draconian rate-capping legislation which this Government have introduced during the past three years.

We can say, "The next Labour Government would not be allowed to retain such a Bill on the statute book." No Labour Member of Parliament would be allowed by his constituents — by the activists living in Crewe and Nantwich, in Liverpool, West Derby or elsewhere—to retain this Act for longer than was absolutely necessary. It would be months rather than years before this legislation was repealed, local authorities again had democratic rights and transport undertakings were provided as a social service.

When the people see what is behind this fig leaf, which does not fully cover the nakedness of the Secretary of State, and understand this folly, they will realise the effect of deregulation. Indeed, as was shown in Committee, people in the Secretary of State's constituency are up in arms about the deregulation of buses.

We should clearly say to the Government, "This measure may make the Bill a little better than it was in Committee, but it does nothing to safeguard the interests of our people. As soon as the Labour party is in power, it will ensure that those interests are resurrected."

Dr. Marek

I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has shown a jack-in-the-box attitude and is not present at the moment. A short time ago he said that he was the only social worker in the House.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Trained social worker.

Dr. Marek

He said that he was the only trained social worker in the House. He said that there was no possibility of helping the handicapped or the elderly until bus services were profitable. I am paraphrasing him, but that was the essence of his argument. The hon. Gentleman's argument is deplorable and must be brought to the attention of the country. That argument rang somewhat hollow. Conservative Members, using their favourite phrase, have said that the Labour party has no monopoly of compassion for the aged or the handicapped. I hope that Conservative Members will help the aged and the handicapped. They mouth platitudes and make noises but, when it comes to voting, they obey their Whips and troop into the Lobbies as directed like sheep.

Some Conservative Members say that it takes some courage to state that this clause is an improvement. I believe that it is an improvement, although I am worried about some aspects of it. I can see that it takes some courage for Conservative Members to vote in the Lobby with the Opposition against aspects of the Bill that clearly will not help the handicapped, the disadvantaged or the elderly.

Although the new clause makes the Bill a little better, I am not happy with it, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing). The metropolitan counties are to be abolished and it is by no means clear that the existing level of concessionary fares will be maintained. With the exception of London, where a special case has been made, the provision of concessionary fares will be left to the boroughs and is likely to deteriorate. It is no use the Government arguing that the Labour Government did nothing about this because the Labour Government should have done something about it and that is certainly no excuse for the Conservatives doing nothing about it either. In many ways, we seem to be going backwards into the 19th century rather than forwards into the 21st century. This is an evil Bill, the new clause does little to improve it, and I shall vote against it.

8.30 pm

There is also the problem of the shire counties, where existing concessionary fares schemes are much more rudimentary. If the financing of such schemes is moved out of the transport supplementary grant and into the block grant there will be great pressure on authorities from all the other problems that have beset them in the past five years—education cuts, inadequate housing provision, and so on. It is likely, therefore, that nothing will be done in the shire counties. If concessionary schemes continue to exist at all, old-age pensioners may receive £20, £30 or £40 worth of tokens each year. More enlightened shire counties may operate half fare schemes, although I am not aware of any such provision in my area. In any event, it looks as though such schemes as now exist will suffer as a result of this legislation, so we are going backwards. That is why I object to the new clause and to the Bill.

The fact that an operator cannot leave the scheme without the authority's consent is a welcome provision, but I fear that shire authorities may allow operators to leave the scheme. An operator may say that his service is unsuitable, that he must catch the commuters and so has no time to help women with children or shopping. Rather than face the possibility of the operator ceasing to provide a service in a rural area and the authority having to consider supporting it through subsidy, the authority may well allow the operator to withdraw from the scheme.

Even if the authority says that the operator must remain in the scheme, the operator can appeal to the Secretary of State, and who knows what attitude the Secretary of State will take? He may take decisions that are utterly unacceptable to us. Experience certainly suggests that that will be the case with the present Secretary of State, although the next Labour Secretary of State will doubtless take the first opportunity to repeal these provisions. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State may laugh now, but he will not be laughing in a little while. The right hon. Gentleman may well not last beyond October, but any Tory Secretary of State might allow operators to opt out on a purely arbitrary basis. We do not know whether any criteria will be laid down in regulations. Again, therefore, it is clear that the old and the disadvantaged are likely to suffer.

The new clause does not meet the need to provide a service for the elderly and the disabled. Ideally, I should like to see concessionary fares abolished because I would like everyone to have a free pass for local stage carriage services. That should be the aim of the whole House. If the actions of the Conservatives were not perpetually clouded by dogma about profit and the market, the) might realise that the hassle and the administrative problems involved in counting and issuing tokens is simply not worth it in terms of the additional revenue to be extracted from old-age pensioners. It is far simpler to give them all photocards stating that they are old-age pensioners and allowing them to travel free on any local stage carriage service. That is an equitable solution. It is also a social solution. From the Government's point of view, the economic value may be greater for pensioners in rural areas because it costs a great deal to travel 12 or 15 miles into the nearest town to visit the shops, the community centre, the cinema or the bingo hall. Old-age pensioners simply cannot afford to do that, and even if there are concessions the tokens will run out after three or four journeys.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool Garston)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has said, even if the Conservatives do not accept the social need for mobility, medical evidence shows that it is beneficial and therapeutic for the elderly and the disabled to be able to get about. If the Government do not accept the general point, they should regard concessionary schemes as an important social service in that sense.

Dr. Marek

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Whether pensioners live in the country or in the town, they have paid their taxes throughout their lives and society should help them by providing free local travel. Under this legislation, private operators will be running parallel services subject to withdrawal or alteration at whim. If a bus driver going in one direction sees more potential passengers on the other side of the street, he may turf out the old-age pensioners and go off in the opposite direction.

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I fear the worst. We shall see what happens after D-day in September. I believe that chaos will reign, as it did in Hereford, with buses crowding in on one another and trying to get as many passengers as possible. The old and the handicapped will suffer because they will not be able to race from one stop to another trying to catch the buses. The situation will be as chaotic as it has been in the Hereford trial area. There are fewer services in Hereford now, there is competition only on one route and many rural towns such as Kington and Presteigne have fewer services than they had before. I believe that this legislation will result in chaos. It will be difficult for the next Labour Government to end the chaos and set up a proper regulated system once again. I am not in favour of regulation for its own sake. I am in favour of regulation because of the service and the integration of transport that regulation can provide.

Unless we reintroduce regulation, it will be very difficult for us to establish a system of completely free local stage carriage services for old people. That has always been my aim, regardless of which party has been in power. I hope that Conservative Members can agree with that aim even if they cannot agree with the methods that I would use to bring it about. It would be nice just to hear hon. Gentlemen say that such a system is desirable because it would provide proper mobility for our old people whether they live in the towns or in the country.

I hope that the Conservative party will see the light. I do not think that the Government will do so. They are a lost cause. However, the argument is not lost yet. I hope that when we find ourselves in chaos — I assure the Secretary of State that I shall not speak for more than another minute—

Mr. Ridley

A minute?

Dr. Marek

The Secretary of State should listen to some sense for once. It may be presumptuous of me to say so, but I think that he might find it instructive to listen to what I am saying. When D-day arrives and the initial regime is set up, many of our old people will be severely disadvantaged. If we cannot amend it now, or if it is not amended in another place or when it returns to this Chamber, I hope that once it becomes apparent that the legislation is making a mess of the transport system the Government will do something about it then.

8.45 pm
Mr. Dixon

It is true that these changes improve the Bill slightly. Rather than opting in, contractors must opt out of the concessionary scheme. That is the only concession that the Secretary of State has given us, after all the discussions in Committee on concessionary fares.

My hon. Friends and Conservative Members tabled amendments on concessionary fares in Committee, and the Secretary of State made his famous statement that local authorities should run ghost services to pick up elderly and disabled people left at the bus stops by the entrepreneurs or cowboys, as we call them, who would be more concerned about putting backsides on seats than about allowing time for the elderly or disabled to get on to the bus.

Will the Secretary of State say why pensioners in Tyne and Wear should be treated differently from pensioners in Greater London? During the Second Reading of the London Regional Transport Bill two London Conservative Members who were concerned about concessionary passes for London pensioners challenged the Secretary of State to amend the Bill so as to safeguard those passes. At that time, the Secretary of State refused to do so. However, the members of the Committee showed much more backbone than the members of the Committee on the present Bill. They forced the Secretary of State to underwrite concessionary passes for London's pensioners.

That is what we want for the rest of the country. What is good enough for London is good enough for pensioners in my area. Pensioners in my area and in areas represented by Conservative Members will ask why we did not provide in the present Bill what was provided in the London Regional Transport Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said that, although Tory Members tabled amendments about concessions for the disabled, they disappeared when it was time to vote. There was a memorable occasion, after dinner one evening, when the Tory Members rebelled. It was a bogus rebellion. One after another, the Tory Members said that under no circumstances would they accept clause 22. The Minister said that in that case clause 22 would be deleted. What was the effect of clause 22? It was the only clause that gave ordinary people the right to make representations to the traffic commissioner about the take-over by private people of bus services in their area and the probable destruction of those services.

Concessionary passes are as important as home helps to old-age pensioners. Indeed, if the passes are withdrawn, more will have to be spent on home helps. Many people in my area, living just across the water from Whitley bay, never had the opportunity to visit that holiday resort until Tyne and Wear introduced concessionary passes.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Gentleman is becoming extremely passionate. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has only just walked in. If he had bothered to listen to the rest of the debate, I do not think that he would have opened his mouth.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Yes, I would.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) is kicking at an open door. My hon. Friends are satisfied that concessionary pass schemes can be continued. The Opposition have spent the past two hours playing to their private galleries back home.

Mr. Dixon

I will be perfectly satisfied about concessionary passes if the pensioners of Tyne and Wear are given the same assurance in this Bill as pensioners of London were given under the London Regional Transport Act. Why should people outside Greater London be treated differently?

Mr. Parris

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dixon

No. I am sorry.

Mr. Parris

There are only half fares in London.

Mr. Dixon

I believe that, apart from the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) is the only Conservative Member present who was a member of the Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill. When the Secretary of State made that provision in the Bill, it referred to restricted hours. The restrictions were lifted in the other place, so that London pensioners are now enjoying a provision that will not be given to pensioners elsewhere. We too want concessionary passes for our people.

We cannot vote against these provisions, because they improve the Bill. But I would not say that they are good or that they are what we want. Perhaps the Secretary of State, even at this late stage, will give us some assurance that in another place the same clause will be added to the Bill as appeared in the London Regional Transport Bill.

Mr. Ridley

We have had two interwoven debates and I shall try to deal with both. The first concerns what I might call the Brandon-Bravo clauses as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) led the campaign for them. The second concerns concessionary fares and how they can be made more sure.

I hope that the House will bear with me if I consider the new clauses fairly fully to reassure hon. Members who have asked questions about them. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said that they are long and complex. They are, because we are dealing with a complex matter and have tried to anticipate all manner of events and configurations which might arise so that the legislation deals adequately with everything. I hope to demonstrate that I have already spotted one matter in regard to which we have not got it right. This is a very complex business.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) asked the reasons for the word "withdrawal". She seemed to imply that, under new clause 9, an operator can apply to withdraw from a concessionary fares scheme. I am sure that she read it wrong. If an operator threatens to withdraw or gives notice of his intention to withdraw, the local authority can appeal to prevent him from withdrawing. It is the other way round from how she presented it.

Like many other hon. Members, the hon. Lady mentioned tokens. There is nothing in the Bill which prevents local authorities from continuing with pass schemes. If they want, they can select token schemes or stick with pass schemes. With modern technology, pass schemes become even easier and many local authorities operate them with several bus proprietors.

Mr. Wareing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will press on the Secretary of State for the Environment the need to provide the necessary funding if existing schemes are to be continued if local authorities want them?

Mr. Ridley

It is always a great mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He knew that I would consider concessionary fares and their financing later. The hon. Gentleman has simply wasted my time and that of the House. I shall deal with that matter at the correct time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich mentioned delegation of the power to settle appeals. My hon. Fr: end thought that perhaps it was intended that delegation should be to the traffic commissioners and the hon. Lady thought that perhaps it should be to the traffic commissioners. It was not intended that delegation should be to the traffic commissioners. It will probably be to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which would appoint an impartial expert to decide. The reason for that is that appeals might often be about remuneration for bus passes. There can be difficult decisions about the system for rewarding bus companies which carry old people and about whether that system is sufficient, proper and accurate and reflects the cost to the bus company.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said that the bus pass in Nottingham is worth £48. If, having got a scheme in place, the local authority said that it would pay £24 rather than £48 and that the bus operators would have to carry the difference, that would be a variation of the scheme and it would be perfectly right for operators to withdraw. They would then be appealed against and I should have to make a decision. In those circumstances, I think that the House would believe it right for me to say that I am not prepared to uphold the local authority's appeal because the level of remuneration is clearly inadequate. Such matters, which are economic and could become on the verge of political, are not the right ones to be decided by the traffic commissioners. On a more technical side, it is right that there should be a power to delegate the decision of appeals to CIPFA or a body.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Secretary of State convinced that, on that basis, sufficient information will be available to CIPFA? Would it not be better to have an input from a transport planning authority as this is rather more than an argument about cash? I know that the right hon. Gentleman sees all of this in terms of an argument about cash, but it is rather more complicated.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Lady must not impart prejudice into every question. It is a transaction between a bus company and a local authority. The local authority offers money to a bus company to carry old people with passes. If the transaction is to be enforced by law, we cannot leave the price of that transaction to the local authority without providing arbitration. If the hon. Lady goes to a grocer's shop and the grocer has, by law, to sell her butter, she cannot tell the grocer that she will pay only half the asking price and that he can stand the loss. If we are passing that sort of law, we must set up an appeals procedure. I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight about penalties. If an operator is fined under clause 16 for failing to operate a concessionary fare scheme when he has lost an appeal or has not appealed and he is fined, probably quite heavily, the second time, there would be no doubt in my mind that the traffic commissioner would find him not a fit or proper person to run a bus company, and the commissioner would have the power to take away the operator's licence. The same point was made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) who was concerned about whether the criminal sanctions were adequate. I believe that I made it clear that they are backed up by operator licensing sanctions. I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about the variation of a scheme. If a local authority varies the terms of recompense or the requirements, it is clearly right that the operator should be able to go to appeal. I am afraid that the whole process will bring the Government into a certain amount of arbitration, at least until case experience is established to the extent that schemes begin to work sensibly.

9 pm

The first point of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) was, I thought, a slight verbal quibble as to whether the grounds upon which an operator could appeal if he wanted to come out of the scheme should be described as inappropriate or unreasonable. I think that we are trying to do the same thing. I have a slight preference for inappropriate as against unreasonable. If the remuneration of a local authority is inadequate, it would be inappropriate for somebody to have to stay in the scheme. Taking the case, say, of a long-distance luxury coach service which the local authority might seek to bring within the scheme, it would be inappropriate rather than unreasonable for that type of service to be included. With all due respect, I believe that "inappropriate" is better than "unreasonable". It is something that I would be happy to pursue with my hon. Friend over a glass of refreshment on another occasion if he feels dissatisfied.

As to my hon. Friend's second point, he is right to draw attention to the unclear position about what happens to the operator in the course of an appeal and whether he should continue to operate the scheme. I give an assurance that in another place we shall seek to rectify that omission and to clarify the position. My preference is for those who are operating schemes and appealing against staying in to be required to stay in, and for those who are not in schemes and are required to come into them to be allowed to stay out until the appeal is determined. However, that is not the last word on the subject. We shall seek to put right in another place the point that my hon. Friend correctly made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) raised the important point of the great new opportunities for taxi owners and, more importantly, for pensioners arising from the provisions of the Bill which allow concessionary fare schemes to include taxis running in the configuration of a bus service. As she rightly said, in many villages only a few people wish to travel, it is not economic to run a bus and at present no buses are running. Therefore, when smaller, cheaper vehicles such as taxis can run, as provided for in the Bill, concessionary fares can be applied to them also. Indeed, under these clauses local authorities can force taxis in such a configuration to carry passengers when a concessionary fares scheme is currently running.

I deal next with the more general argument. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) said that it was his dream and aspiration that one day there would be a system of free travel for all elderly and disabled people throughout the country. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that The Government is clear that our national resources simply will not stretch to the level of expenditure required for universal free travel for all those entitled to concessions". Opposition Members will be interested to know that I was quoting from the Labour party's White Paper of February 1979 on the subject of concessionary fares. That is why I turned on the hon. Lady the Member for Crewe and Nantwich earlier to inquire whether she has departed from that White Paper. We have already had some long speeches, and I think that we will have a few more. The White Paper states: It is sometimes argued that the best way of securing uniformity is to raise all schemes to the level of the most generous, in other words to provide free travel for everyone eligible for a concession. This would however cost well over £200 million a year, even if the concession were available only in a person's own locality. Local authorities who wish to provide more generous schemes should retain the option of doing so, since local discretion to take account of local conditions and priorities is valuable and must be retained…It could be argued that it is not enough for the concession to be available for local travel and that it should be possible for concessions to be available on longer-distance journeys. On average some 30 per cent. of the passengers carried on National Travel's express service coaches are elderly and mandatory half-fare concession could lose the National Bus Company a substantial amount of revenue with insufficient compensation in terms of generated traffic. That is the language of the Labour party in office. That Government said, "We can't afford it. It costs too much. We shall leave it to the local authorities to top up if they wish." Where in that White Paper is the guarantee that all Labour Members have been calling for?

In the light of what I knew of the hypocritical gramophone record that we would hear during the debate, before we got under way, I asked the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich whether she went beyond that White Paper, and was prepared to guarantee to the people about whom she is talking that the Labour party was in favour of full fare concessions in some way being written into statute. Three times I asked her the question, and three times she dodged it. Therefore, Labour Members should forget it. All their aspirations and dreams, and the fibs that they have been telling their constituents, will be shattered by the hon. Lady herself.

Let me take the House into the full horror of it. The second time that I asked the hon. Lady what Labour's schemes for concessionary fares were, if it had the chance to put them into practice, she said that all elderly people should be able to travel freely. She added the two letters "ly". Everybody is enabled to travel freely. Nothing stops us travelling freely. However, when I asked her the third time, I said, "The hon. Lady said `freely'. Does 'freely' mean 'free'?" She sludged off it. She went into a quagmire about how much she loved public transport, and refused to answer the question. So now we know. All Labour Members can forget their bogus, hypocritical and humbug campaign about concessionary fares because the hon. Lady has made it as clear as clear can be that she believes in a half fare scheme, that it is too expensive to have a full fare scheme, that there is no guarantee that those schemes will continue in the future, and that we should leave it to the local authorities alone, unguided, to decide on the scheme that they prefer to put into practice.

Let me take the House through the last stages of the argument.

Dr. Marek

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

The Government have—

Dr. Marek

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

All right.

Dr. Marek

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way as he was referring to me in his speech. He would receive more respect from me and the House if he quoted me correctly. I talked about free travel on local stage carriage services. If the Secretary of State reads the record tomorrow, he will see that that is correct. I am not ashamed of having aspirations or dreams, as he calls them. If he does not have them, that is so much the worse for him and so much more impoverishment for him and his kind on the Government Benches.

Mr. Ridley

There is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has those aspirations. I would even claim to share them. However, the point that he must take on board is that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich does not share them. She does not have the faintest intention of imposing concessionary fares schemes on local authorities if she ever has the misfortune to find herself on the Government Front Bench. The hon. Lady made it clear before the February election, and that was when she was trying to win votes. February 1979 was a time to make promises to the electorate, but the Labour party did not promise to impose concessionary fares. It said that it could not afford it, that half fares were enough, that the matter should be left to local authorities and that it could not give a guarantee. That was the Labour party electioneering. When I asked the hon. Lady about the matter today, she said, "We have not moved from that position. I could not answer that. I would get into trouble from the deputy leader of the party, who has not sanctioned extra public expenditure." What a hypocritical campaign.

I shall give the House the figures and the method of financing for concessionary fare schemes. For the past four years, including 1985–86, the provision made for local authorities' concessionary fare schemes was £163 million, £173 million, £188. million and £197 million. That is a progressive increase, which takes account of changes in living, but not much has changed. The outturn of local authorities for each of those years was £202 million, £219 million and £244. million.

Mrs. Dunwoody

What about the outturn for the fourth year?

Mr. Ridley

The outturn has not yet happened. I cannot tell the hon. Lady what the outturn for 1985–86 is. She is becoming increasingly stupid. She started off very stupid, but for her to suggest that I can give her the outturn figure for 1985–86, she must be off her nut.

Every local authority gets a GREA for concessionary fares based on the Labour party's policy that there should be half concessionary fares throughout the land. The Labour party's White Paper of February 1979 said that there should be GREAs for all local authorities to enable them to finance a concessionary half fare for every old-age pensioner. This Government, who have not departed one iota from that Labour party policy, instituted a UREA, based on a concessionary half fare throughout the land. The result has been that money goes to local authorities based on a half fare. Again in accordance with the Labour party's policy we have allowed authorities to go to full concessionary fares if they wish, but at their own expense and from their own finances. In no sense has that position been changed by the Government in other legislation, in the abolition legislation or in this Bill.

Opposition Members referred to the precept control, which we shall exercise over the PTAs in their first three years of operation. In using the powers to set rate precepts, Ministers will certainly wish to take account of the existing pattern of expenditure in the metropolitan areas, especially their existing concessionary fares schemes, and they will not necessarily be bound to the levels of expenditure implied by the GRE formula. In other words, Ministers may go above it. It is wrong to suggest that our freedom of action is limited in that respect by the GRE provision. It would be equally wrong to make any provision which would prevent the authorities from making their choice of priorities within the level of the overall resources available for transport.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire West (Mr. Parris) said, these new clauses are good for pensioners because they extend the right to concessionary travel to every normal stage bus operating in a local authority which is operating a concessionary fare scheme. Therefore, in two respects we have improved on the Labour party's policy. It will now be possible to force operators to operate concessionary fare schemes, and we have said that we shall go beyond the financial provisions of the Labour party 's White Paper.

Despite the great campaign that was fought by the Labour party, and which was still being fought this evening, it is wrong to suggest that concessionary fares will be reduced or will end because of the Bill. The truth is that the Government have improved the provision, which is more than the Labour Government did. The hon. Lady denied that she had any plans even to match what we have done. I hope that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will take this message to Lancashire, Merseyside, Birmingham and Crewe: Labour Members have been talking rubbish for the past three months.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ridley

I ask the House to approve the new clauses, which are a great improvement on what the Labour party did.

9.15 pm
Mrs. Dunwoody

I believe that the Secretary of State has given way.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

He has not given way. He sat down.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Perhaps he would answer—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had sat down, and had not given way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

It is difficult for me to judge whether—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

He did not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady raised a point of order, and I hope that she will allow me to respond to it. It was difficult for me to decide whether the Secretary of State had given way or whether he had concluded his speech.

Mr. Ridley

I had sat down, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I shall give way.

Mrs. Dunwoody

How kind. The Government's present assessment of Merseyside's need for concessionary fares is £4. million, but that council spends £18. million on them. Is he genuinely saying that if the new passenger transport authority is rate-capped the Government would be prepared to provide that 75 per cent. difference to support the concessionary fares scheme?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Lady must understand that there are two sources of local authority finance—Government money and ratepayers' money. The difference between what the Government pay and what is spent is met by resources out of the rates. When we set the precept limit for metropolitan areas, we will not set it on the Government's contribution—on what is left of the block grant or the transport supplementary grant. We shall set a precept that will contain an element of Government money and an element of ratepayers' money, and I assure the hon. Lady that concessionary fares will be accommodated within the precepts set.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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