Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords]

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Ms Keeble: I cannot at present give a date for implementation, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman and others who are as interested know the implementation date as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has repeatedly talked about people crossing the Solent to look for work and attend hospital appointments. As has been said, local authorities have the discretion to extend the scheme, and I understand that some health authorities are talking to local authorities about making such a provision.

Mr. Andrew Turner: The point is not so much that the local authority has no power to make the payment, but that it is unfair that part of a long-distance journey undertaken by someone from my constituency that begins with a ferry service and connects with a long-distance coach service is not paid for nationally, despite the fact that it cannot be undertaken by coach because there are no long-distance coach services from my constituency. Instead, Ministers expect the local authority to pay the subsidy.

The Prime Minister boasted that he was providing travel concessions at a national level for coach services, but people cannot access those services from the Isle of Wight unless they first access a ferry. It seems only fair that the provision should be funded nationally.

Ms Keeble: Local authorities throughout the country considered the needs of their communities and provided concessionary fare schemes before the Bill was introduced. Some had extended them to take the needs of their communities into account. They saw doing so as part of their responsibility and service to the public. We have extended the provision dramatically for old people and continue to improve it. However, local authorities, health services and others should play their part as well. The local authorities in the hon. Gentleman's area can use their discretion to provide services for local people. The issue has been dealt with repeatedly on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and we have probably exhausted it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Under-Secretary say something about train journeys? In line with the Prime Minister's statement in column 259 of Hansard for 4 July 2001 that pensioners should be able to get concessions on long journeys, will her announcement on long-distance coach journeys cover pensioners' long-distance train journeys as well?

Ms Keeble: No. We have prioritised buses because of their role in local transport services, and have not included trains. We are providing for concessionary fares on coaches, albeit through a slightly different mechanism.

On the basis of what I have said, and given that Opposition Members hope to get through the remaining clauses reasonably quickly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

6.15 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner: I had hoped that the Under-Secretary would deal more sympathetically with the points made so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. She has not appreciated the fact that not only residents of my constituency travel back and forth from it to the mainland. One reason for the new clauses was the Prime Minister's boast on 4 July. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) said to him:

    ``Pensioners are . . . asking for a concessionary scheme for longer distance travel. What plans does my right hon. Friend have further to extend concessionary travel for pensioners?''

The right hon. Gentleman replied:

    ``We are going to extend it so that it will also be available for long coach journeys.''—[Official Report, 4 July 2001; Vol. 371, c. 259.]

A pensioner from Suffolk can take advantage of the scheme that the Government are proposing, which will get them as far as Southampton, but they cannot then get to the island by taking advantage of a similar concessionary scheme—terrific. The concessionary scheme is funded nationally by the fuel duty rebate and it should enable people to reach all corners of England and Wales, not just those corners that happen to be on the mainland.

New clause 4 is designed to put the concessionary coach fares scheme on a statutory footing because what the Government give today they can take away tomorrow—if not this Government, another one. I would like to make it clear that neither side intends that the scheme should be taken away tomorrow.

New clause 3 is designed to enable a pensioner from any part of the country to benefit from a concession on journeys to the Isle of Wight as they can on journeys to Bournemouth, Brighton, Blackpool or Barnstaple. That is an equitable way of treating pensioners and the only means of achieving it is to extend similar concessions to coach and ferry travel. That is what we are asking for. Lord Falconer, the Minister for Housing and Planning, said:

    ``Our intention is to extend fuel duty rebates to operators of long distance scheduled coach services in return for their offering half price fares to pensioners and disabled people. We are trying to make progress in relation to that.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1901.]

Pensioners from all over the country, not just those from the Isle of Wight, would benefit from the new clause.

Mr. Don Foster: I apologise to the Committee for intervening at this stage. I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight on his valiant efforts on behalf of his constituents. However, he is making rather heavy weather of his case because the issue is simple. We need a clear answer from the Minister so that we can move on.

Under the Government's scheme, as I understand it, and I would be grateful for clarification, any pensioner in Britain who embarks on a scheduled coach journey will be able to pay a half fare for that journey—funded through the fuel duty rebate. In this scheme it should not matter, as it does in other parts of the Bill, where the pensioner is from or where he gets on or off the coach. That would mean that the hon. Gentleman's constituents, as soon as they disembarked from the ferry, would be able to get on a long distance coach and benefit from a half-fare scheme. If that is the case, half the hon. Gentleman's problem is solved. The other half relates to the ferry, with respect to which the Minister will have to suffer the ire and indignation of the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman used the relevant phrase, ``scheduled services''. The Bill is concerned only with scheduled services, so discussion of taxis and other forms of transport is extraneous. We must consider whether people can travel to places where there are scheduled services. That touches on some of the issues that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight was talking about. If places do not have scheduled bus or coach services, that will obviously affect whether pensioners can travel to them, which is an unfortunate limitation.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight said that pensioners should be able to go to a long list of places; he presumably intends them to travel by coach. We are talking about scheduled services, so people who travel by scheduled services as defined in the Bill will receive the rebate. It is hard to say exactly how the coach scheme will work because we are still consulting and we need to know the details of the operation. However, it would not solve the problems that the hon. Gentleman has raised so consistently. I congratulate him on that. In virtually every debate in which I have heard him speak—not only in Committee but in the House—he has consistently spoken about the difficulties that people have in crossing the Solent. That strip of water seems to be a problem for the hon. Gentleman. The fact that people can get a free coach when they reach the other side seems completely irrelevant to him. He must accept that if pensioners want to cross that strip of water, the concession will have to be paid by the local authority. Indeed, discussions are already taking place for hospital services. The hon. Gentleman has been extremely persistent, but that is as far as we can go. We must be absolutely sure to tell the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) exactly when the coach journeys come into effect, because I am sure that he has a particular constituency interest.

Mr. Foster: I hope that I am not pressing my luck. I absolutely understand that the Under-Secretary still has to consult on particular schemes and that she cannot give us the full details today. Will she give the Committee an indication of the scheme that she will be consulting upon? Does she envisage that it will follow the lines that I described a few minutes ago? I suggested that someone living on the Isle of Wight might travel to Southampton by the expensive ferry—it will not be subsidised by the Government in any way, shape of form—but that once in Southampton they could pick up a scheduled coach service and benefit from a half-fare scheme to wherever that person wished to go, perhaps even to Bath, where that person might spend lots of money, because we need it.

Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman always pushes his luck. The answer is yes.

Finally, what the Prime Minister said is happening. We shall extend the scheme, allowing for the possibility of long-distance travel, but the question did not specify whether it was travel by train or by coach. It is all part of trying to provide pensioners with a better deal—

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Keeble: No, I shall not. We have reached the end of our discussion. There has been consistency in what has been said. I ask that the new clause be withdrawn.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I was thinking of withdrawing the new clause, but as the Under-Secretary would not give way I am not so sure. Perhaps that will teach her a lesson. We shall now be here for another five minutes. At least she had the grace to smile at that and I do not wish to carp.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight. He is doing his constituents a huge service by pursuing the matter so doggedly. I hope that they recognise the tremendous work that he does on their behalf. It seems to me that what he has wrung out of the Government is a bit of an anomaly. If, as she promised, the Under-Secretary produces that long-distance bus travel scheme, whereby pensioners can get travel at half fare on all long-distance scheduled bus services, if the bus goes on the ferry from or to the island, the pensioner will get the concession, but if the pensioner goes by foot on to the ferry, he will not. That is daft. The hon. Lady tried to brush the matter aside by saying that the scheme applies only to scheduled services, but I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight that he is talking about scheduled ferry services. Transport for London provides the concessions for the scheduled services on the Thames, as I have demonstrated.

My reason for intervening on the Under-Secretary at the time when she would not give way—which was a pity as it would have been nice to have the matter clarified—was that she said that the question put to the Prime Minister on long-distance journeys did not specify coaches. I take it that the scheme will also include trains.

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