Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I would like to dispel the Minister's impression: there is as much poverty in rural areas as there is in London. As I suggested on Second Reading, there should not be a postcode lottery on fairness. The people of London can cross one borough and still receive a discretionary fare, so why should people living in rural areas not cross from one borough to another and still get a concession?

Mr. Spellar: Local authorities can come to local agreements to that effect, as they have in London and the metropolitan authorities. That is the nature of local discretion. If the predominant political tendencies in those areas have declined to provide such services, that is a matter for history. It cannot be tackled in the Bill, which has the narrow purpose of dealing with age equalisation and the consequential financial reimbursement to local authorities.

The hon. Member for Cotswold talked about pensionable age and asked whether, when the changeover starts in 2010, a future Parliament will implement the regulation to begin the process towards harmonisation at 65 in 2020. Parliament has already taken the step of moving towards equalisation of pension age, which is a substantial change. He pointed out that a considerable number of people aged between 60 and 65 would still work under the system and would not be in receipt of pension while harmonisation was being attained. The position is logical and will commend itself to a future House, but in no way could we bind that House. I am sure that the Committee and the House will agree that we are providing the mechanism by which a future House can harmonise both the age of attaining pension and that of eligibility for a concessionary fare pass, for the reason why such passes were introduced in the first place.

5.45 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner: I draw the Minister back to the first part of his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. He spoke of discretion. The point that he has failed to mention—I am sure that he has not failed to grasp it—is that in London there is no discretion. There is a requirement—imposed by a previous Government and reiterated by his Government through legislation—that cross-border travel be provided for. It is unfair that Londoners should be reimbursed at a higher level because there is an obligation affecting London but not other areas.

Mr. Spellar: My recollection—I am prepared to check the record—is that the obligation arose out of the abolition of the Greater London council, which had already provided such a facility. Had that abolition been accompanied by the removal of the concessionary fares scheme, I suspect that that move by a Conservative Government would have been even more unpopular than it was.

That scheme was introduced again by the democratic decision of publicly elected authorities in London. Opposition Members cannot keep raising matters that have been decided for good local reasons by the elected local authorities in certain parts of the country. Some have decided not to adopt such a scheme. We are saying to those who have adopted such schemes that the legislation will impose additional costs. We are therefore seeking to provide money to recompense them for that. I commend the clause.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has got half way there. I accept that details of schemes already in existence were decided by previous Acts, and that this Bill merely seeks to alter the age. Nevertheless, I do not think that the Minister deviated enough from his definition of ``broadly'' to ensure that every single local authority will be fully reimbursed by this measure. Under those circumstances, we cannot do anything other than vote against the clause.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 6.

Division No. 2]

AYES
Keeble, Ms Sally
Spellar, Mr. John
Stewart, Mr. David
Watts, Mr. Dave
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Woolas, Mr. Phil

NOES
Brake, Tom
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Foster, Mr. Don
Grayling, Chris
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Turner, Mr. Andrew

Whereupon the Chairman declared herself with the Ayes, so as to presence the Bill in its existing form.

The Chairman: In accordance with precedent, the casting vote of the Chair must go with keeping the Bill.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Miss Widdecombe. It is unprecedented in my nine years in the House for a Government to draw on the Chairman's casting vote in a Division on clause stand part, particularly when the Government has a majority of the size of this Government's. It is incompetent management on the part of the Government not to get enough of their people into the Committee to ensure that they can win such votes.

The Chairman: It is not for me to comment on the competence or otherwise of any Whips who might be members of the Committee. I can only reiterate my decision that the Bill must be preserved in its original form and that therefore clause 1 stands part. However, before I come to clause 2, I make the gentle observation that interventions should be interventions and not speeches masquerading as interventions.

Clause 2

Commencement and transitional provision

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Spellar: The clause contains the commencement provisions. Subsection (1) allows the Secretary of State in England, or the National Assembly of Wales, to bring the provisions of the Act into force by order. Subsection (2) is necessary due to the different legislative situation in Greater London. The concessionary travel scheme operated jointly by the London boroughs granting free travel under the freedom pass is linked to the boroughs' financial year, commencing on 1 April. Clause 1(2)—the amendment to the Greater London Authority Act 1999—will be brought into force to take effect from the beginning of any financial year.

Subsection (3) is also necessary because of the legislative position in Greater London. The terms of the borough scheme must be agreed between the boroughs and Transport for London by 1 January in any given year if it is to become operative at the beginning of the following financial year. That allows the London boroughs to make advance arrangements for Transport for London under 240(1) and (2) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 on the assumption that there is in force a requirement to grant travel concessions to men aged 60 and over, even before clause 1(2) comes into force.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am not sure what the Government's intentions are. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that, because he has touched on the point that I raised on Second Reading and in the Committee this morning about whether the Government expect to have the Bill on the statute book by 31 December 2001 so that Transport for London can start to operate a revised scheme at the beginning of the next financial year in April 2002. I would be grateful if the Minister were to clarify that matter because it is important for Londoners and for Transport for London, which has the unenviable task of trying to make the scheme work.

Mr. Andrew Turner: I have a simple question, which hardly needs to be dignified with the title of a speech. The commencement of transitional provision will take effect from a date or dates to be nominated by the Government. What is the date on which the Government will determine whether additional resources have to be provided for the implementation of the Bill? Has the date already passed, or is it the date immediately preceding that on which the different elements of the Bill are to be implemented? A local authority or group of local authorities might implement a scheme that did not fulfil the requirements of the Bill, but was otherwise legal and in accordance with the authorities' discretionary powers, between now and the date given by the Minister for the commencement of the Bill's provisions. If certain authorities did so, would the Government accept the obligation—as stated earlier by the Minister—to compensate them for the cost of implementing the Bill on top of their scheme?

Mr. Spellar: On the question of implementation, the arrangements for London are different because of the different provisions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 compared with other local authority legislation. We would obviously aim for a common date for the implementation of the scheme. As we said, that would be in 2003 at the latest.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: That was precisely the point that I was trying to make. If it does not come into operation in 2002, Transport for London will have the unenviable task of having to decide whether to delay implementation until 2004 or to carry the burden itself between 2002 and 2003. Will the Minister clarify that point?

Mr. Spellar: First, we shall be seeking a common date for implementation. Secondly, as we exhaustively set out in the debate on the previous clause, we shall ensure that compensatory arrangements are in place and that local authorities will be broadly compensated. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is assured.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) asked about the level of scheme. Negotiations will be taking place in 2002-03 for funding in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Inevitably, there will be discussions between the local authorities associations and the Department on the precise date for which schemes should be considered for incorporation, of which discussions with the Association of London Government are but one.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Short title, interpretation and extent

Mr. Spellar: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 22, leave out subsection (4).

The amendment removes the standard provision inserted by the Lords to avoid questions of privilege.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

 
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