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Concessionary Bus Travel

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

I believe that you, Mr Speaker, and the Opposition Front-Bench team will know that my ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), is unable to be here today as he is abroad at a piracy conference—or, hopefully, an anti-piracy conference.

We have no plans to introduce means-testing to assess eligibility for concessionary bus travel for older people. The right to free bus travel for both older and disabled people is enshrined in primary legislation. In the 2010 spending review, the Government said they will protect the statutory entitlement to concessionary bus travel.

I am pleased the Minister has dropped the Deputy Prime Minister’s ridiculous idea—presumably because he can envisage situations in which a pensioner who qualifies for a pass, under a means test, gets on a bus and produces their pass, and everyone can see that they are poor enough to qualify. We would end up with better-off pensioners not getting a pass because they would be means-tested out, and the poorer pensioners not using a pass because they would be too embarrassed to do so.

I thought the hon. Gentleman might have wanted to congratulate the Government on giving £25 million to South Yorkshire yesterday, or on proceeding with the Rotherham to Sheffield tram-train trial, about which he has been so keen, and which his Government did nothing to advance over so many years.

The Deputy Prime Minister raised no such idea, and I made our position clear to the hon. Gentleman in a letter of 2 April. He is well aware of the Government’s position.

Before the election, the Prime Minister pledged to keep the free bus pass. We know the Deputy Prime Minister and his Lib Dem colleagues did not agree, and now we learn that the Work and Pensions Secretary wants it scrapped as well. Can pensioners be sure they will not face a means test in order to receive their bus pass, or is this going to be another U-turn the Chancellor has not told the Transport Secretary about?

The hon. Lady clearly does not want to take yes for an answer. I do not know how many times we have to say from the Dispatch Box that the concessionary fares arrangements will not change over the lifetime of this Parliament: end of story.

After the shambles of the last week, I am not sure that pensioners will be reassured by that commitment. After all, the Transport Secretary began the week by ruling out a U-turn on fuel duty. The fact is that pensioners are being hit now by cuts to bus services, which Age UK and the National Pensioners Convention warn are leading to concessionary bus pass holders having no buses to get on. The Government were right to respond to our call to do something for motorists, but as the Department for Transport has now admitted to under-spending its budget by £500,000—the amount needed to restore bus funding—is it not time to show a similar commitment to public transport and restore the bus cuts?

If I may say so, Mr Speaker, that question strays a long way from the tabled question about concessionary bus passes, and if I were the hon. Lady I would not have asked it, because the latest figures, out this week, show that bus passenger journeys in England increased by 0.6% between 2010-11 and 2011-12. They also show that bus fares outside London fell by 4% in real terms between March 2009 and March 2011. I think that, on this occasion, the Eagle has crash-landed.