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Lord Whitty: I doubt whether there are circumstances where an authority with an up-and-running scheme for decriminalised parking would not be approved. However, representations may be made to the Secretary of State at the time of approval which he would have to take into account. Therefore, I cannot give an absolute guarantee on that point.
It seems to me that an experimental traffic order would be introduced temporarily and therefore might not be deemed to warrant appropriate signing and marking. A temporary traffic restriction order could also cause difficulties in that regard. Therefore, I believe that it should be stated on the face of the Bill that a bus lane is a bus lane only where the existence of the lane is clearly signed and marked on the road surface.
The Minister will probably tell me that a bus lane could not possibly be a bus lane without that. If he gives me that assurance, I shall be delighted with his reply and withdraw the amendment. However, as I was in a state of blissful ignorance, I felt that it was necessary to table the amendment to assure myself and the wider world of the situation. I beg to move.
Lord Whitty: I reassure the noble Lord that a bus lane is not a bus lane unless it is marked as a bus lane and the markings comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations 1994. That signing requirement applies equally to orders enforced by the police and to orders enforced by local authorities under decriminalised procedures, and to temporary arrangements. The matter is therefore already covered in regulations and the amendment is not necessary.
We on these Benches welcome the creation of a national concessionary fares scheme to replace the rather piecemeal provision that exists at the moment. We further welcome its extension to those with disabilities. Amendment No. 160 seeks to extend the scope of the scheme to young people up to the age of 19 who are in full-time education. It seems to us that we should be doing everything we can to encourage people in this age group to stay on in further education. It is fairly obvious that most of them will not live within walking or even cycling distance of their chosen place of education. Outside London they will fall back on either buses or private motor cars, and there will be a significant financial burden which we know is acting as a deterrent to many of them staying on at school or going to college.
Young people of this age should also have a reasonable expectation of being able to access leisure facilities and other activities which give them a meaningful social life. This is particularly important in rural areas. Many of them are feeling pretty irritated at being lectured about yob culture when they are given little opportunity to access the kinds of facilities they ought to have. Some are probably looking forward to being marched to a cashpoint as a kind of distraction from their normal life.
We feel that the absence of some kind of concessionary fare scheme for young people of this age is depriving them of access to these facilities and forcing them into a position of having to run a car. Apart from the fairly obvious fact that this adds to congestion, we should consider that this age group is significantly at risk from accident. We should not encourage them to use cars more than they have to. It is an age where the travelling habits of a lifetime are likely to be settled and we should do everything we can to encourage them to use buses, at least as part of their normal travelling arrangements. It is a habit which will stay with them for life.
I am sure the Minister will comment on the cost of such a scheme, but our original discussions with the bus companies suggest that this will be fairly modest. All the evidence suggests that increased use will offset most of the cost. It is possible for local authorities to run concessionary fare schemes for young people--some do--but, of course, if we rely on that we shall have exactly the same kind of piecemeal provision for young people that we are trying to get away from with pensioners.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: Grouped with the two amendments to which the noble Baroness has spoken are Amendments Nos. 165, 170 and 173. Amendments Nos. 165 and 170 put bones into the situation about which the noble Baroness has spoken--that is, the disparity of rights between men and women when it comes to receiving benefits because of old age and being encouraged to use local transport in old age. This is an important matter. As the noble Baroness said, the principle has already been conceded. We have here an opportunity to accept an important provision. I regard it as one of the most interesting issues raised in today's discussions. I certainly hope that the Government will be able to accept the amendment.
Lord Swinfen: I shall not speak to my Amendment No. 173 with this group. I shall speak to it with Amendment No. 171 later on. I find the groupings rather peculiar. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 161, 163, 167 and 169 in one group; I shall speak to Amendment No. 169A on its own; and I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 171, 172 and 173 as a group. I have advised the Front Benches and the Lord Chairman of my intention.
Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may say a few words in support of my noble friend and, in particular, in support of the amendment on concessionary fares for elderly people. I was struck by two comments in briefings on this matter. The first was from the Equal Opportunities Commission. I am sure that such an organisation would not make the comment without considering the point very seriously. It considers that there is no legal or moral justification for linking a scheme for concessions to the elderly with the state pension scheme. I accept that point. The second comment was from PARITY, of which I am a vice-president. PARITY says that it is not aware of any state, apart from the UK, that has or permits such discrimination. It also points out the irony that until now local authorities have had the power to set at 65 eligibility ages for concessions, subject only to the minimum ages of 60 and 65 respectively for women and men. It now seems that this is not to be allowed. PARITY makes the point that it seems wrong to oblige local authorities to discriminate on grounds of sex.
Lord Whitty: One feels a degree of sympathy for both the points raised in this group of amendments. Nevertheless, I shall have to reject them. Concessionary fare legislation has always linked retirement age to the provision of concessionary fares. It would be odd and cut across other principles if we were to change that in this context. As Members of the Committee have said, the Pensions Act 1995 envisages
There is an even more difficult case in relation to young persons. I accept many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Market Needham. Do I have it the right way around this time?
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