Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Spellar: Subsection (1) gives the Bill its short title. Subsection (2) defines the appropriate Minister—that is the Secretary of State in England, and the National Assembly in Wales. Subsection (3) provides for the Bill's provisions to apply to England and Wales only.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: What parallel discussions are to be held between the Department and the National Assembly for Wales on bringing the Bill into force on a common date? What arrangements are in place for cross-border issues in Wales? Will the Welsh Assembly treat the whole of Wales as one authority? If so, it gives even more force to the argument that I and my hon. Friend have put, that cross-border issues should be addressed by the Government, even if not in the Bill.

Chris Grayling: My question is more a matter of information than anything else. The Bill clearly relates to England and Wales. Will the Minister assure me that any extra costs incurred as a result of similar steps being taken in Northern Ireland and Scotland will not result in extra costs to the United Kingdom public purse but will be met from existing budgets controlled by the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament? There would otherwise be a question over financial implications beyond purely devolved matters.

Mr. Spellar: My understanding is that they will be met from existing budgets. Indeed, I understand that Scotland is debating the balance of funding between different items on several such issues. As for Wales, we expect equalisation for eligibility for travel concessions to start at the same time as in England—that is in April 2003. Our officials are also talking with representatives from the National Assembly for Wales and are keeping in touch on a regular basis to ensure that there is a degree of common practice.

As to the extent of the concession in Wales, I am not entirely sure what stage the Assembly has reached, but I am more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 3

Scheduled train and ferry services etc. (no. 2)

    `.—(1) The Secretary of State shall, within twelve months of this Act taking effect, bring forward regulations to provide that elderly persons who travel as foot passengers on train, ferry and other scheduled surface or sub-surface services shall enjoy travel concessions no less favourable than those provided under section 1 of this Act; provided that, before bringing forward regulations under this section, he shall consult such service providers as he deems appropriate.

    (2) In this section ``elderly person'' means a person who has attained the age of 60 years.'.—[Mr. Clifton-Brown.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

6 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take new clause 4—Scheduled coach services (No.2)—

    `.—(1) The Secretary of State shall, within twelve months of this Act taking effect, bring forward regulations to provide that elderly persons who travel as foot passengers on scheduled coach services shall enjoy travel concessions no less favourable than those provided under section 1 of this Act; provided that, before bringing forward regulations under this section, he shall consult such service providers as he deems appropriate.

    (2) In this section ``elderly person'' means a person who has attained the age of 60 years.'.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The new clauses principally arose from the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight and cover ground previously covered in the Committee. We believe that other forms of transport should be considered in the concessionary scheme, especially for men aged between 60 and 65. My hon. Friend will speak for himself, but I can imagine that some of his constituents will want to make the journey regularly across the Solent, especially men aged between 60 and 65 who live on the island but work on the mainland. People who live on the mainland may travel to the island for work and use the service regularly. For all those men of that age who use that service, I would be grateful for an explanation from the Government.

I have already quoted the passage in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, in section 240 (6)(f), whereby Transport for London provides a concessionary scheme for

    ``passenger transport services on the river Thames or a tributary of the river Thames between places in Greater London or between places in Greater London and places outside Greater London.''

The principle is therefore already well established in London that concessionary schemes can be operated under those circumstances, and the Government may want to consider it in the exceptional circumstances of people crossing the Solent.

We have not discussed train services at all during our proceedings. How would local authorities operate the scheme for those services, given that most people using them would cross from one local authority area to another?

I will finish with those brief remarks, as time is of the essence, and we should quickly conclude our discussion of the new clauses.

Mr. Andrew Turner: I have little to add to what my hon. Friend said.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): I, albeit rather belatedly, also welcome you to the Committee, Miss Widdecombe.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cotswold for explaining the purpose of the proposed new clauses, but I must ask the Committee to disappoint him. Both new clauses would extend the provision of statutory concessionary fare schemes to other modes of transport, including trains, ferries, metros and long distance coaches. Local authorities have discretionary powers under the Transport Act 1985 to extend their schemes to other public transport services if they consider that to be in the best interests of local needs. Extending the provision of concessionary fares to other modes of transport—rail and ferry services have been mentioned—is an attractive proposition. Some local authorities already offer wider schemes; London is probably the best example, but there are others in which concessionary travel extends to metros and local train services.

Chris Grayling: On a point of order, Miss Widdecombe. If I may, I move that the question be put.

The Chairman: I am afraid that I am going to allow adequate time for debate on this question.

Ms Keeble: Some of the points to which I was going to respond seemed to be of particular concern to Conservative Members. I should have thought that they would have wanted to wait for some response.

There is nothing to prevent local authorities from offering concessions if they think that that will benefit their elderly and disabled citizens. The provisions of the Bill will extend the same benefits to many aged 60 or over. So far as making statutory provision for cheaper fares on other modes of transport is concerned, we have to return to the issue of cost. In England alone, local authorities spend £490 million per year on their schemes. The provisions of the Bill could cost them an additional £50 million a year.

I notice that there is mention in the clauses of sub-surface and ferry services, without any further definition. I assume that that applies to mainland services and does not include, for example, cross-channel services, which would extend the scope of the Bill very widely and add greatly to the cost.

New clause 4 refers to concessionary fares on long-distance scheduled coach services. Hon. Members will recall that I announced to the House on Second Reading that we had agreed in principle to a proposal under which coach operators would offer a half-price fare to older and disabled passengers on long-distance scheduled coaches in England. In return for those concessions, operators would, for the first time, receive a fuel duty rebate, as recommended by the Commission for Integrated Transport. Many older and disabled people rely on coaches to travel long distances, and will welcome half-price fares. The announcement, which is a further demonstration of our commitment to combating social exclusion, has been widely welcomed, not least by the coach industry. We shall now consult the industry to work out the precise details of the scheme.

The Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales are consulting in parallel with a view to agreeing how best to co-ordinate the arrangements throughout Britain. I am sure that the best way of achieving our objectives is to accept the Commission's proposal linking concessionary fares with fuel duty rebates. There is no need to include that proposal in primary legislation, nor would it be appropriate, given that we are talking about long-distance journeys, to bring the arrangements within local concessionary schemes. In the light of the outcome of the discussions with the industry, I shall bring forward regulations during the course of the year that will make the necessary arrangements for the payment of fuel duty rebate.

Conservative Members also raised the matter of a statement by the Prime Minister on 4 July. That stated that concessionary fares were to be extended to long coach journeys through the means that I have described. There is no issue about linking that statement with this Bill. I do not know which statement is being considered, but these arrangements are certainly reflected in the answer that was given by the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has repeated his point about the ability to cross the Solent.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): May I apologise to you, Miss Widdecombe, for being late?

The Government have many transport issues under consideration and, although the Liberal Democrats did well in the last general election and our numbers have swelled, there are not enough of us. In view of the Minister's remarks about the progress that is being made, could she give some clearer indication of the likely date for the implementation of the half-fare scheme on coaches?

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