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Concessionary Fares

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, in view of the representations made about the difficulty of operating concessionary fares schemes for retirement pensioners, evidence of which had been supplied to him by the hon. Member for Cannock, he will now decide to introduce a uniform nationally financed scheme to provide concessionary fares for retirement pensioners and the disabled ; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. I have nothing to add to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on 11th December 1974.—[Vol. 883, c. 190–1.]

Is my hon. Friend aware that I read that reply with some dismay? Does he accept that the present situation is one of absolute chaos? The concession depends on where a pensioner lives. In some areas pensioners get entirely free travel and in other areas, mostly Tory-dominated, they get nothing at all. The concession also depends on the bus route as a pensioner moves from one area to another. Does my hon. Friend accept that a simple solution would be to have an automatic system for old-age pensioners applicable both to buses and to rail?

My hon. Friend is calling for a national scheme. I think he should realise that the joint circular on local expenditure which went out to local authorities showed that present expenditure amounted to about £35 million. This varies throughout the country. Not all authorities have these schemes, and there are marked differences between them. It would not be practical in the present state of our economy to introduce a national scheme, because it would cost much more than £35 million.

Does not the question posed by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) illustrate the chaos existing in public transport when some fares are subsidised by ratepayers, some are subsidised indirectly by taxpayers and others are not subsidised at all, and when services are being reduced and many people are finding it impossible to afford to travel on public transport? Is it not time that the Government, having been in office for over a year, got down to producing a coherent policy on public transport?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that we have been in power for only a year. During that year the cost of public transport has increased tremendously. Oil and petrol have multiplied the cost factor by five during that period. We must accept that mobility will in future be more expensive all over the world. The Government have tried to help. For instance, there is a general scheme for rebates on fuel duties and the purchase of new buses. Local authorities are empowered to operate their own local services under the transport supplementary grant.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that there is something basically absurd about priorities when we can find resources for mile after mile of motorway which communities do not want and for supersonic air transport but not for decent, basic rural transport for those who cannot afford motor cars, especially when we do not want them to run motor cars in view of the energy crisis?

There are always ways of getting better services by pouring more and more money into them.

The problem is in deciding on the best value to be obtained from any expenditure. That is what the Government intend to do. I know my hon. Friend's attitude to a particular motorway, but I get many delegations asking for motorways because they are the only way of making life tolerable in certain parts of the country.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that pensioners find it difficult to understand why, when they go to urban areas like Merseyside, they can have free travel at certain hours whereas companies in the same National Bus Company in rural areas not only offer no free transport but are closing down services? Will he reveal the Government's transport policy in this area?

This is, of course, a question for local authorities. The National Bus Company does not pay for concessionary fares ; it is the local authority which has this power. It must be realised that bus operators are working on a very slim margin all over the country, so that any concessions in one part of their services must be made up by the local authorities or by other travellers.