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Concessionary Fares

Volume 86: debated on Monday 11 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the criteria he intends to use in exercising his power under the Transport Act 1985 with regard to the granting of exemptions from certain requirements in relation to arrangements for concessionary travel schemes and with regard to the form, content and manner of service of certain notices in connection with such schemes; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend will be laying regulations before the House shortly dealing with the reimbursement of operators for providing transport concessions. His criteria in making the regulations, and in considering applications made under them, will be to safeguard the proper interests of operators and authorities.

May I have an assurance that free travel passes for elderly, blind and disabled people will continue in the Greater London area after the abolition of the GLC in April 1986? May I further be assured that they will continue, and be fully operational, as of now, starting at 9 am? Will my hon. Friend repudiate the wicked lies that have been put about at public expense by the GLC for nearly three years that travel passes will be abolished after the abolition of the GLC?

Concessionary fares in London are currently a matter of GLC policy executed by LRT. After April, either the boroughs will get together and organise their own scheme applying to all boroughs uniformly, or there will be the operation of the fall-back scheme if there is no agreement. That scheme provides statutory provisions which come into play at broadly the existing level of benefit administered by LRT, but billed to the boroughs. I can, therefore, give my hon. Friend the assurance that he is seeking. Indeed, I am very angry, as must be many hon. Members, at the way in which thousands of pensioners have been needlessly worried as the result of a political campaign that they would lose their concessions. Pensioners have been used in the worst sense of that word.

It has taken us a long time to force that concession out of the Government—[Interruption.]—who could have put the mind of pensioners at ease much earlier. At what levels will boroughs be able to charge pensioners for the administration of schemes? That will cost pensioners money, will it not?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about pensioners' minds being set at rest is that if he and some of his colleagues had not flagrantly misled them, their minds would not have been in any state of unease, especially in view of assurances that were given during the passage of the Bill through the House, when the position was made absolutely clear.

Further to my hon. Friend's reply to the main question and his comments about words of reassurance to pensioners having been given on previous occasions, despite suggestions to the contrary, may I nevertheless ask him to say why it was not possible to go as far in the West Midlands metropolitan area as apparently it has been possible to go in the GLC area? Is he aware that similar assurances would be welcomed by the people of the west midlands?

That is entirely a matter for the locally-elected voices, through the PTA, in the west midlands. It is up to them to decide how they wish to spend their resources.

What level of charges does the Minister expect will be levied? Will he intervene in the west midlands and explain to the people there why they should have a second-class service?

There is no reason why people in the west midlands should have a second-class service as a result of the proposals in what is now the Act. The expenditure levels permitted for PTAs are intended to allow for the continuation of concessionary fare schemes at existing levels of provision. The campaign led by some Opposition Members to frighten pensioners into assuming that those resources would not be available has been disgraceful.

I repudiate the Minister's hysterical response, because he must be aware that we have never said that concessionary fares would disappear completely. We have said, as has been pointed out by hon. Members already, that the concessionary fares that our constituents enjoy are seriously at risk as a result of the Government's legislation. Will my constituents in Greater Manchester still enjoy the same level of financial support towards their concessionary rail and bus travel as the constituents of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway)?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be sufficient resources for the PTAs to provide the same level of support as in the past. Whether they choose to do so is a matter for them to decide, and not for the Government to dictate.