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Mr. Clarke: I appreciate the excellent commitment given by my hon. Friend the Minister. I am 100 per cent. behind the whole scheme and the difference it has made to the lives of large numbers of the people. However, he is right that there is an issue about distribution. The hon. Member for South Norfolk, who is no longer in the room, will know that some councils in Norfolk have benefited more than others. In Norwich, there have been real issues, about which lobbying has taken place, and I am delighted by the Minister’s comments about the review.
If I can blow the trumpet of Norwich, we have one of the most developed park-and-ride systems in the country. It has been extremely effective and councils of all political colours have supported it. The Government approach on this is right. Given my hon. Friend the Minister’s reassurances, I think the park and ride system can be made to work even better. He has the right approach.
The Chairman: Order. May I just say gently to right hon. and hon. Members that interventions, though learned, are also becoming increasingly lengthy?
Mr. Khan: I accept everything that my right hon. Friend has said. We hope to come back with the outcome of our review shortly.
David Tredinnick: I will be brief. I have been tempted out of the Bosworth bunker by the Minister’s rather harsh remarks. Far from ranting at him, I was trying to point out that the problems on the ground relate not just to long-distance buses with fancy bars at the back. I am talking about basic services for pensioners in a main town in the midlands. I have yet to hear anything that I can go back and offer them. Notwithstanding the redefinition and problems such as park and ride, which have been mentioned this afternoon, some of the basic services are affected. We need more clarity about those basic services.
Mr. Khan: May I tell you why I am troubled, Mr. Bercow? On the one hand I am lectured by Conservative Members about devolving power down and trusting local authorities, about Whitehall command and control, about being control freaks, and yet I am asked to give further guidelines to what the hon. Gentleman tells me are sensible local authorities about what they should do. I believe passionately that local authorities are best placed to make these decisions. They are responsible for assessing which services are primarily for the purpose of tourism. We made it clear in our consultation response that we believe there is a clear difference between local services that stop at tourist stops—the example given by the hon. Member for Wimbledon—and an open-top tourist bus with a commentary, which is primarily for tourists.
I was asked about rail replacement services. They are not always for the exclusive use of rail passengers, but it is clear that people without rail tickets cannot board them using their concessionary pass. They probably were not included before, but the statutory instrument makes it absolutely clear that they are not included now. The other question related to bus operators.
Stephen Hammond: I appreciate that the Minister is new to the role, but he cannot really get away with what he has just said about tourist purposes. Will he define a tourist purpose? It is no good saying that it can be left to local authorities because, as I pointed out in my example, there is a large ambiguity as to what could be construed as a tourist service. Equally, most rail replacement services are exclusively for rail passengers. I can think of no rail replacement service that allows other passengers on it at the moment. I am happy for him to give me chapter and verse on where there is one. Why is the provision necessary?
Mr. Khan: I will deal with the tourist bus example first. Proposed new article 4(1)(c) makes it quite clear what the exclusion is. A service is not eligible if
“it is operated primarily for the purposes of tourism or because of the historical interest of the vehicle”.
That clarifies a 2002 statutory instrument. We have had a consultation on this. The hon. Gentleman did not respond to the consultation. He did not ask for clarification on this point. We have provided clarity. He now asks me for further clarity because local authorities like his cannot understand what the provision means, but I believe that it is sufficient. Anyone with some common sense will understand how to apply it in a way that does not involve skulduggery, as he suggested some Tory councillors might want to do.
The second point relates to bus substitution or rail replacement services. This exclusion is designed explicitly to exclude temporary rail replacement services from the concession. The hon. Gentleman asked why those services should not be included in the statutory concession. The concession is for local bus services only, as I said in the first sentence of my speech. Rail replacement services are for rail passengers and therefore do not fall within the scope of the concession. If a local bus service that meets the eligibility criteria was established as a permanent replacement for a withdrawn rail service, it would qualify for the concession. The exclusion is intended for temporary rail replacement services such as those operated to cover engineering works.
Stephen Hammond: This is mad.
Mr. Khan: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position.
Stephen Hammond: I will happily say it standing. I did not ask the Minister about that point. He has accepted that temporary rail replacement services are for rail passengers exclusively and are therefore excluded. I am asking why that needs to be in the statutory instrument. It is unnecessary.
Mr. Khan: If he says it is superfluous, I welcome that. [Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. We cannot conduct the debate by chuntering from a sedentary position.
Mr. Khan: I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman thinks that this provision is superfluous and unnecessary. We were told in the consultation that it was a source of confusion by operators and local authorities that deal with these matters every day, unlike Members of Parliament, and by passengers who use these services every day, unlike Members of Parliament.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I congratulate the Minister on his elevation. To help him, may I say that it is possible for somebody to arrive, knowing when the rail replacement service will be operational, get on the bus and show their concessionary fare pass and then refuse to pay the railway company for that travel? I therefore think that it makes sense to include this provision.
Mr. Khan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for throwing me that lifeline. It is very kind of him.
Mr. Leech: In light of what the Minister has said about keeping the issue under constant review, I will not continue to press my objections to the order.
Mr. Khan: I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said, and thank him for the constructive way in which he has raised his concerns. I hope that I have been able to dispel colleagues’ concerns.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Travel Concessions (Eligible Services) (Amendment) Order 2009 (S.I. 2009, No. 575).
5.17 pm
Committee rose.
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