HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc145-7
9. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

What recent action his Department has taken to review the operation of pensioner concessionary fare schemes in England. [184923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty)

We are considering what improvements can be made to the administration of concessionary travel schemes in England for the benefit of local authorities, transport operators and concessionaires. We have no plans to change the statutory minimum requirement for concessionary travel for older and disabled people, or to prevent local authorities from offering more generous schemes.

Mr. Pike

The operation of a statutory scheme for minimal provision throughout the whole country is very welcome, but does my hon. Friend recognise that people in many parts of the country have considerable concerns when they look at the London scheme, which offers the freedom pass, and other parts of the country that offer free travel? Why cannot people living in every part of this country have as good a scheme as London has?

Mr. McNulty

As part of the spending review White Paper, we have undertaken to review the administration of concessionary fare schemes to see whether there is scope to simplify their operation, particularly in relation to the examples quoted by my hon. Friend. I accept that disparity between neighbouring authorities' schemes does not work in many people's favour.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con)

When the Minister conducts his review, will he consider devising some means whereby local authorities can calculate the value for money that they get for their contributions to schemes such as the London-wide freedom pass? Authorities such as the London borough of Havering have no means of knowing how many journeys they receive in return for their contributions. As we know, some pensioners make extremely good, frequent use of the pass, whereas others who are entitled to it put it behind the clock where it gathers dust, but both cost the council the same.

Mr. McNulty

If that is the emergence of a nascent Tory policy on concessionary fares—that they should be means-tested, and that pensioners in Havering should have their number of journeys restricted—I will pass that on to the local Labour party in Havering. I am sure that it will review it with some interest.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab)

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the Yorkshire regional assembly of local councils, which, following a campaign by the Wetherby, Boston Spa and Tadcaster News, has set up a feasibility study to examine the possibility of mutual recognition of bus passes across the county of Yorkshire? If that comes off, it will allow pensioners from Selby district, for example, to travel in West Yorkshire and enjoy cheaper bus fares?

Mr. McNulty

I will be more than happy to congratulate the assembly, not least because that is precisely what we are trying to do by reviewing the entire administration and bureaucracy of concessionary schemes. It must be right that pensioners throughout a region such as Yorkshire know what is available, and not just in their district.

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