Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Before Clause 193, insert the following new clause--
(" . No agreement made under section 193 shall reduce provisions for concessionary fares that exist on the day before this Act comes into force.").

The noble Baroness said: This is a simple amendment to ensure that the present concessionary fares system for people aged 60 or over living in London continues. I was in this Chamber when the issue of concessionary fares was debated some years ago. At that time the Government were defeated by an amendment brought forward by Lord Pitt of Hampstead. The original scheme was to start at 9.30 in the morning and cease at four in the afternoon. Lord Pitt moved an amendment to make

5 Jul 1999 : Column 586

the scheme operate from nine in the morning with no interruption. As I said, the Chamber thought that made sense and accepted the amendment.

Afterwards Lord Avon, who was dealing with the Bill on behalf of the government, told me that he was about to have a meeting with the then Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley. He asked me whether I thought that the original scheme should be reinstated. I felt strongly that the new scheme should not be abandoned merely on grounds of political expediency as the Chamber had debated the matter and had decided that the new scheme was worth while. I was fortunate enough to persuade Lord Avon of the validity of my argument. He in turn persuaded the Secretary of State not to overturn the amendment. The people of London have benefited greatly from that decision. One of my main reasons for supporting the amendment was that I was on the GLC at the time and I received many letters of complaint from people who had missed the four o'clock bus because it had not turned up and at that time they had to wait until seven o'clock for the concessionary fare. London Transport was always refunding fares to people because the relevant pre-four o'clock bus had not turned up.

The scheme, which has now been in operation for many years, has worked marvellously well. However, I believe that nothing that is done in the future should damage the present scheme. To alter the start time of the scheme would make a big difference to people's lives. By nine o'clock those who are going to work have gone and the rush hour traffic is over. This scheme does not inconvenience rush hour travellers. I know that for years a group of people known as the "twirlies" have used the buses. These people get on a bus at five minutes to nine. They wave their passes at the inspector. When he tells them it is not yet nine o'clock, they reply, "Am I twirlie?"; that is, "Am I too early?" There are still a few such "twirlies", but whatever time the scheme started I am sure there would still be such people. Of course, on Saturdays and Sundays there are no time limits on the scheme. This amendment asks the Government to ensure that this concessionary scheme, which has huge social benefits for the people of London and keeps them mobile, should continue. It reduces social services costs in terms of employing home helps and people to help with shopping. I ask the Minister to assure us that the scheme will continue. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: I shall speak briefly to my Amendment No. 285 which is in the group we are discussing. In our view the way the Bill is drafted leaves open to doubt whether the travel concessionary scheme would continue as at present. Clause 193(1) states that any local authority "may enter into arrangements". Our amendment obliges Transport for London to make arrangements with the London authorities,

    "within six months of the establishment of Transport for London". The amendment provides that these popular travel concessions which are so valuable for a number of groups, including the old, the blind and the disabled should continue on a compulsory basis. I support my noble friend's amendment.

5 Jul 1999 : Column 587

3.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord who have spoken for agreeing to group their amendments with the Government's amendments as it is sensible to have an overall debate on the future of the concessionary scheme. The Government's amendments should clarify the position.

This Bill essentially provides for continuation of powers which have been in existence since 1984, which may be the period mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. The amendments that the Government are bringing forward essentially update and improve the operation of the current arrangements to the benefit of both users and local authorities. They bring the times of operation of the free travel scheme into line with the times of the scheme that the local authorities currently agree voluntarily. They clarify the costs of the free travel scheme and they give the local authorities powers to set up a statutory joint committee to take decisions on concessionary fares on the basis of qualified majority voting. These amendments have been drafted in accordance with the principle that at the end of the day concessionary fares are a matter for local discretion.

Government Amendments Nos. 286A and 286B are purely technical in nature. Amendment No. 286B relates to penalty fares but is being taken here because it is similar in effect to Amendment No. 286A. Amendment No. 286A ensures that it will be possible for the London local authorities to offer travel concessions on services provided under an agreement with London Transport under statutory powers contained in the London Regional Transport Act 1984, after the relevant sections of that Act are repealed. Amendment No. 287B ensures that the penalty fares schemes currently in operation by the Docklands Light Railway under that franchise will be able to continue. This is already the case for LT services.

Amendment No. 286AA is more substantial. It gives the London local authorities the option of exercising their power under Clause 193 to enter into concessionary travel arrangements with TfL and train operators through a joint committee to which special provisions apply. Decisions of the joint committee would have to be unanimous, unless the authorities themselves had already unanimously decided that all decisions or decisions on particular matters could be taken by a specified majority of the members. The majority so specified could not be less than two-thirds.

These powers, if the London authorities choose to make use of them, could make their decision-making on concessionary fares much more secure. They avoid the risk, inherent in a process which requires the unanimous agreement of all 33 local authorities at every stage, that travel concessions for London's elderly and disabled residents cannot be agreed because one local authority fails to signal its agreement in time. The powers in this amendment will be available to the London local authorities only if they choose to use them. It would not in my submission be right for the Government to seek to impose the joint committee arrangements on the London local authorities.

5 Jul 1999 : Column 588

Amendments Nos. 286B, 286C and 286D change the times of operation of the statutory reserve scheme, bringing them into line with those currently in the voluntary scheme. In the event of the London local authorities failing to agree a satisfactory scheme, TfL will be obliged to put a scheme in place which will provide free travel concessions on all services under its control. TfL would recover the cost of the free travel scheme from the London local authorities. The statutory reserve scheme has never been activated but its presence has always been a reassurance to London's elderly and disabled residents that the travel concessions they rely on will not be taken away. These amendments will reassure users of the scheme that if the free travel scheme is ever activated they will be able to use their travel permits at the same time as they currently do.

Amendments Nos. 286E and 286F require TfL to take into account the costs of travel concessions in previous years when calculating how much the boroughs would pay for the free travel scheme. TfL is also required to take into account fare changes and changes in the information available to it for calculating the costs. In the event of the London local authorities failing to agree a satisfactory scheme, TfL will be obliged to put a scheme in place which will provide free travel concessions on all services under its control. TfL would then recover the cost of the free travel scheme from the London local authorities. I hope that explains the slightly complex, interlocking government amendments.

Perhaps I may now make a few points on the other amendments before us. Amendment No. 284, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, seeks to impose a particular level of concessionary fares provision on the local authorities. The local authorities in London currently choose to fund free travel concessions for their eligible residents on London Transport services, Docklands Light Railway and the railway services. They have provided such concessions for many years and I have no reason to believe that any of the boroughs have plans to change that. Nevertheless, to follow completely the noble Baroness's amendment would mean the Government seeking to interfere with the local boroughs' discretion by prescribing the concessions that they must provide. It is right that the boroughs themselves should make such decisions and be accountable for them. The Government believe that that should remain the position, while recognising the powers that we propose to bring forward in our amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, indicated that the main point of Amendment No. 285 was to require boroughs to enter into agreement rather than that they "may" enter into agreement. The drafting of the Bill follows that of the 1984 Act, which is the basis of the present scheme. That Act also said "may". At the end of the day, for reasons similar to those I have set out, it is for the boroughs to agree the scheme. If the boroughs do not agree, then the reserve scheme comes into play; that will still guarantee concessionary travel. However, in the first instance, it should be a permissive power for the boroughs themselves, hopefully, to agree a scheme. Bearing in mind those reserve powers, I do not think the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon--

5 Jul 1999 : Column 589

which seeks to turn "may" into "must"--is appropriate. I would therefore ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness to withdraw their amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page