|Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]
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.
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 mentionI am sure that he has not failed to grasp itis that in London there is no discretion. There is a requirementimposed by a previous Government and reiterated by his Government through legislationthat 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 recollectionI am prepared to check the recordis 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]
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.
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