Standing Committee A
Tuesday 20 November 2001
[Miss Anne Widdecombe in the Chair]
Eligibility for travel concessions: age
The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, may I remind all members of the Committee to switch off their mobile phones and pagers; I take a dim view of anything that goes ring in the night.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Miss Widdecombe. First, it is very nice to see you in the Chairwelcome back after your absence; we look forward to being under your chairmanship. Secondly, we had a discussion at the end of this morning's sitting about the scope of our debates on the Bill. I also had an informal discussion with your co-Chairman as to whether it was in order to debate other groups that might be included in the Bill.
The long title of the Bill states that it will
``Amend the law relating to the age at which certain persons become eligible to receive travel concessions on journeys on public passenger transport services; and for connected persons.''
The Bill principally seeks to amend section 240(5) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and section 146 of the Transport Act 2000. I have looked up those two sections, which, in addition to talking about people of pensionable age, discuss all other categories of people. I put it to you, Miss Widdecombe that if we are not allowed to talk about those sections of previous Acts which the Bill seeks to amend Standing Committees would become so narrow that it would be almost impossible to amend any Bill. It is unfortunate if we cannot discuss disabled people, blind people and people suffering from mental disabilities. If we are going to be ruled out from discussing those groups, interest groups outside this Room will be surprised. I seek your ruling on this matter.
The Chairman: I have, of course, already been appraised of what has gone on. There is a distinction between amendments, which must be limited to the strict scope of the Bill, and discussion, which it is within the discretion of the Chairman to allow to go slightly wider if it is deemed appropriate. Mr. Stevenson has allowed reference to the impact of age equalisation on other concessionary schemes, for example those concerning disabled and blind people. It is therefore my intention to take a very relaxed view during the stand part debate.
Mr. Clifton-Brown indicated assent.
The Chairman: Not too relaxed. I shall allow the debate to go slightly wide, but not wild.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Further to that point of order, Miss Widdecombe. How is your ruling affected by the words
``and for connected purposes''
in the long title? It seems to me that that allows scope for amendments in the way in which I have been proposing.
The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Bill has been drawn up in a narrow way. There has been a ruling, which I cannot overturn, by Mr. Stevenson that there must be a narrow interpretation of the scope of the Bill as far as amendments go, but that does not preclude discussion. The hon. Gentleman must make his case in the course of discussion if he wants us to reconsider that ruling.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): This clause is the substance of the Bill and directly provides for the age entitlement to concessionary travel to be equalised at the age of 60 for both men and women. Subsections (1) and (2) amend the Transport Act 1985 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 so that both men and women are eligible at the age of 60 for travel concessions granted at the discretion of local authorities in England and Wales.
Subsection (3) changes the definition in section 146 of the Transport Act 2000 so that elderly persons entitled to the mandatory half-fare concessions on bus services are men and women who have reached the age of 60.
Subsection (4) allows the Secretary of State in England or the National Assembly in Wales to link the provisions in the Bill to the formula in schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 1995, which provides for the age entitlement for state pensions to rise to the age of 65. Should the power be exercised, the link to entitlement to concessionary travel with state pensions would eventually be restored. In fact, orders made under the power would treat a man as if he were a woman born on the same day. The age of entitlement will still be the same for men and women, but it will gradually rise every couple of months, as prescribed in schedule 4 to the 1995 Act, until 2020, when men and women will be eligible for the state pension and travel concessions at age 65.
Subsection (5) provides for any orders made under subsection (4) to be subject to the negative resolution procedure.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: After that quick canter through the scope of the Bill, we should perhaps try to get the Minister to expand on what he envisages will be covered by it, by the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and by the Transport Act 2000. As I have said, it is clear that those Acts, which we are seeking to amend, cover a wide range of other categories: the disabled, the blind, those with mental impairment, and all who would otherwise be unable to get a driving licence. It seems quite reasonable for those people to be included in such schemes. They form part of the overall sum that I referred to this morning, which the Government are giving to the people of this country in the form of travel concessions.
We have also discussed the important matter of the scope of clause 1 in relation to cross-border issues. I have already mentioned my local authority, Gloucestershire county council, which has five bordering authorities. Under the Bill as drafted, a person who travels from Mickleton to Evesham to shop, draw benefit oras my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said this morningvisit the local hospital will be unable to do so. That will put men aged 60 to 64 who fall within the scope of the Bill at a considerable disadvantage. In effect, we are creating two social groups: those who are already eligible by virtue of the 2000 Act and the 1999 Act, and the men who are covered by the Bill. The Bill could therefore perhaps be clearer on cross-border issues. Those Acts refer at length to journeys that are begun in one transport area and end up in the next, or that are begun in one area, cross another and end up in a third.
In particular, the Government need to clarify that issue in relation to the Prime Minister's wish for pensioners to be able to take long bus journeys, because they involve crossing many local authority boundaries. In that regard there is a certain amount of fog, and if the Minister could clear it my constituents would benefit, as would those who live in rural local authority areas that are lot smaller than mine. The chances are that such people will cross county or local authority boundaries much more quickly than do my constituents. The geographical area of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury is much smaller than that of mine, and I have no doubt that many of his constituents will want to cross from Gloucestershire into Worcestershire and Warwickshire, and perhaps further afield into Wales. The example of the pensioner who takes a bus journey to Walesit is true that the Bill covers Wales, but such a journey would cross from one jurisdiction to anotherraises yet another problem. The Minister therefore needs to consider some of these issues carefully.
The Minister dealt with clause 1(4), which relates to schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 1995, a copy of which I have in front of me. I also have a copy of the table, which is quite long, covering two and a half pages. I am not sure where the Minister fits into that table, but I have an interest to declare because I come within it and would not be covered by the scheme until 6 March 2016. The Minister can quickly look at the table and work out my date of birth. We all have an interest in the matter and I suggest that it does not make much sense. If one concedes the principle that everyone aged 60 or over will receive the concession, can we realistically believe that any Secretary of State in the year 2010 will want to increase that age? Imagine him sitting in that chair and saying that he will not put it down to 60 for everyone, but that he will raise it to 67 or 68 for everyone to make it fair. There would be an outcry.
It would be worth putting on the record whether the Minister realistically expects clause 1(4) to be enacted and the pensionable age to be altered. Under subsection (5), an order must be made by statutory instrument in both Houses to do that. Unless the Minister's successor--I doubt that he will still be the Minister in 2010--intends to have the Standing Committee that considers the order particularly well under his control, I suspect that there will be difficulty in getting the order through.
Others matters will be discussed later. During our debates this morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) mentioned waterways and I have some interesting news for him from the 1999 Act in relation to the precise matters that he discussed this morning and the Thames. However, before you rule me out of order, Miss Widdecombe, that is for a subsequent amendment.
Are we to have a reply from the Under-Secretary?
Mr. Spellar indicated dissent.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: No. The Minister of State is going to reply. I hope that his response will clarify what other groups the Bill may apply to, the cross-border issues and whether he realistically believes that his successor will ever enact the pension age changes.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Thank you for calling me, Miss Widdecombe. I welcome you to the Chair.
I want to retrace our steps to some of the Minister's final words this morning when he gave certain pledges--I am grateful to have heard them--on support for the extension which the Bill requires to apply to non-mandatory as well as mandatory schemes, including cross-border schemes with interoperability of travel concessions between different local authorities. That is not of local interest to my constituents, because, as you know well, Miss Widdecombe, it has no borders. It is a matter of interest to most other right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those outside the metropolitan areas. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) referred to the clash of criteria across the metropolitan boundary of London.
The Minister said that it was possible and, indeed, expected that the Government would support the extension of the scheme to cross-border travel. Miss Widdecombe, I would like to draw attention to a ruling by your co-Chairman, Mr. Stevenson, who said that the Bill does not apply to cross-border travel. I asked him for his definition of a border in that context because the Bill clearly applies across some borders, such as those where there in one scheme, whether it is a statutory or non-statutory scheme. It applies in the London area, where there is a statutory scheme and in an authority, such as Hampshire, between Hampshire county council and Southampton city council. Were there to be such a scheme between those two authoritiesI have no knowledge as to whether there will bethe Minister's promise would apply, as would the Bill. I am therefore a little unclear as to which borders are and are not relevant under the Bill.