asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his discussions with the National Bus Company on the question of concessionary fares for the elderly.
I am told that the National Bus Company's studies will necessarily take some months to complete; therefore, I cannot yet add to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member on 21st March 1977.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although he has tried to make the difference between rural and urban areas a matter of party politics, this has nothing to do with the problem, and that it is related to the fact that in many urban areas the municipal bus services are run by local authorities which are free to make their own arrangements, and that Bournemouth, which is not, I think, a Labour-controlled area, has a scheme for concessionary fares? Does he agree that my suggestion that the National Bus Company should sell bus passes on a similar basis to the scheme operated by British Rail would not involve extra public expenditure and that it would help to eliminate the unfairnesses that exist among ratepayers in adjacent local authorities served by the same bus company where some enjoy concessionary fares while others do not?
I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman said about such a scheme not adding to public expenditure. If we could get a sensible scheme within the overall financial regime of the NBC, that would help. I am anxious to encourage it, as the hon. Gentleman knows because we have talked about this. Indeed, the initiative that the NBC is taking arose partly from our discussions.
When discussing concessionary fares for the elderly, will my hon. Friend also bear in mind those at the other end of the age scale, namely, schoolchildren over 14 and up to 17 or 18 who are being charged the full adult fare by most bus companies, both public and private? Does he agree that there is a widespread wish in the House and outside that a concession should be granted to these schoolchildren?
My hon. Friend is right. As a result of the raising of the school leaving age, a problem has been created for schoolchildren, who do not benefit because the age limit for concessionary fares has not been raised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is looking into the matter, and local authorities have discretionary power to help children who have to travel more than three miles.
Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the public enterprise bus services to introduce, before the report, concessionary fares on certain days when some country buses travel all but empty during mid-morning and mid-afternoon? Would this not be of great assistance to elderly people living a long way from towns, and should it not be done immediately?
The NBC has taken this point on board. That is why it is undertaking the study. It is an important matter, and I am sure that the whole House would urge the NBC to do something about it.