Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 169:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 170 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 171:

    Page 92, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) After that subsection insert--
"(5A) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to local authorities to which they must have regard in determining whether a person falls within subsection (5)(b) to (i) above.
(5B) Before issuing guidance under subsection (5A) above, the Secretary of State shall consult--
(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee;
(b) associations representative of local authorities; and
(c) such other persons as he thinks fit."").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 171, Amendment No. 172:

    Line 3, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is an amendment to Amendment No. 171. It is the famous "shall" rather than "may" amendment--"shall issue guidance" rather than "may issue guidance". Perhaps we may have an assurance of the Government's firm intention to issue this guidance on the rather complicated subject of who does and who does not

30 Oct 2000 : Column 695

qualify for a concessionary fare on grounds of disability and old age. I shall be grateful if the Minister can do that. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I can indeed give that assurance to the noble Baroness. I hope that meets her requirements in her amendment to my amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 172, as an amendment to Amendment No. 171, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 171 agreed to.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 173:

    Page 92, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) After that subsection insert--
"(5A) Where a disabled person's impairment prevents them making use of mainstream public transport services concessionary fares shall apply to services operated under sections 19 or 22 of the Transport Act 1985 that are fully accessible to people who travel in their wheelchairs."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 173, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 174 and 175. Amendment No. 173 seeks to extend the eligibility for concessionary fares to all eligible English and Welsh residents.

Amendment No. 174 seeks to delete the provision that concessionary fare passes may not be used between 4.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m.

I am concerned that the national concessionary scheme fails to recognise that travel patterns are often independent of local administrative boundaries. Many people from outside London must visit the capital. The voluntary national concessionary scheme for free travel for blind people in Scotland provides concessions throughout the country and across different modes of travel. The proposed scheme would benefit from similar provisions relating to area of operation and integration across modes. I do not see why the same should not apply to people in Wales and England.

I am also concerned that the scheme is limited by the expression "relevant time", meaning that it will not be available between 4.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. The scheme should apply to all journeys in the local area regardless of the time. The restrictions could, for example, mean that someone returning from a night out in town no longer received the concession, making the evening out impossible. More importantly, the provision also means that if the scheme extended to disabled people of working age, they would be unable to benefit from the concessions if working at these unreasonable hours.

As a minimum alternative, I should like to have the start time brought forward to 9 a.m. A 9 a.m. start time applies to the scheme currently running in London and any reserve scheme introduced in future if the boroughs and Transport for London fail to reach

30 Oct 2000 : Column 696

agreement. The 9 a.m. start time also applied to the minimum half-price scheme prior to an amendment agreed in the other place.

There are unlikely to be congestion problems in peak periods as people who do not need to travel at those times will not choose to do so, ensuring that they are more likely to be able to travel in comfort. However, removing the restriction will allow people to undertake necessary journeys. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I warmly support the amendments, particularly the amendment which seeks to remove the time restriction. I very much support the amendment which would publicise the eligibility criteria. There are problems. Many people do not know whether they are entitled. Some people miss out. If those people knew the criteria, they might find that they were able to make use of the concession.

Lord Addington: My Lords, perhaps I may add a few words in support of the amendment. It is a good aim that the concession should be available when people want to use it. To say that there is a concessionary fare but that at certain times people are not allowed to use it is merely giving half a loaf rather begrudgingly as opposed to giving the whole loaf, to which they are surely entitled.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not too clear that the issue of timing arises on any of the amendments to which the noble Lord referred. As I understand it, he is speaking to Amendments Nos. 173 and 174. He also referred to Amendment No. 175. I do not think that those amendments directly deal with the time issue. Perhaps the noble Lord can offer clarification. He is looking as puzzled as I was when he was speaking. There is an issue of timing and I am quite happy to talk about it. We have discussed the matter before; but it does not seem to arise on these amendments.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I am sorry if I muddled the noble Lord. I was speaking also, and should have said so, to Amendment No. 176, which does deal with the issue of timing. I must apologise to the noble Lord because I know that it is not his fault. I gave my preferred groupings some 10 days ago to the Government Whips' Office and I faxed them through again on Friday evening. But I am told that they never arrived, which I find extraordinary because my fax machine told me that they had gone through satisfactorily.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall not quarrel with the noble Lord on the efficacy or otherwise of his technology or the Whips' Office technology. Clearly, there has been some confusion. That was compounded by the fact that he did not refer to Amendment No. 176 in his opening remarks.

Perhaps I may deal first with the question of the time restriction and the effect of the 9.30 a.m. cut-off, to which other noble Lords have referred. As with many concessionary fare schemes up and down the country, the provisions in the Bill are relatively generous. It is

30 Oct 2000 : Column 697

not a matter of the Government looking for economies. When we first proposed that the restrictions should start earlier, the view was expressed by local authorities that that would impose too great a strain on transport resources at the morning peak--at the busiest time of day. At that point we were dealing specifically with the concessions for pensioners. Those have since been extended to the disabled. If the question is being raised in relation to those disabled who are travelling to work, there is no overwhelming reason why those disabled who are employed should receive a concessionary fare. They are clearly in a different position from pensioners who are covered by a concessionary fare scheme. I am not convinced--

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I do not normally interrupt Ministers when they are in full flow but I think that we are missing a beat here. People who are disabled are for one reason or another often not able to drive themselves to work or anywhere else. It is for that reason, and not because they are receiving a pension or are poor, that they are being offered this concession, which is greatly valued by noble Lords on all sides of the House. I hope that the Minister will consider this point. There is an important difference between concessions for people because they are disabled and concessions for people because they are elderly.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, but if one looks at the issue from the point of view of the operator, it is difficult to see why there should be a concessionary scheme for one group of people with the same scheme operating for different hours for another group of people benefiting from the concession. It is admittedly the case that when we first discussed the issue we were discussing it in relation to pensioners. I still do not believe that if we extended it to the disabled, which everyone has welcomed, we should necessarily alter the time of day at which the concession applies on the ground that it enables a particular group of workers to get to work. Were it to be opened up, I suspect that other groups of workers besides the disabled might well find a special case for having concessionary fares. I admit that different arguments apply to the disabled from those that apply to pensioners, but the case is not so overwhelming that I would wish to confuse the operation of the scheme by having different times. I therefore hope that the House will not be persuaded by the noble Lord's amendment in that respect.

Amendment No. 174 would place an obligation on each London authority to make and review criteria about impaired ability to walk, in consultation with disability groups and taking account of guidance by a joint concessionary fare body. I suggest that the amendment is now overtaken by the government amendment, which provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on eligibility. All local authorities will be required to have regard to that guidance. The amendment also provides for the Secretary of State to consult DPTAC and others in preparing the guidance. What lies behind the amendment is the fact that there

30 Oct 2000 : Column 698

are different interpretations by different local authorities. The government amendment already meets that point.

Amendment No. 175 relates to a national scheme. The noble Lord mentioned the amendment but he did not speak in any great detail on it. I assume that he wishes for a reply from me. It advocates a national scheme rather than one based on individual local authorites. The principle of local authority discretion is important. It is open to local authorities to add to the statutory minimum, which would make it even more complicated to provide for national transfer of eligibility. Under the amendment, a bus pass issued by one local authority would provide reduced-fare travel anywhere in the country. I see the attractions but if we were to allow local authorities to be more generous than the statutory minimum, it is difficult to envisage how the scheme could operate. Would a pensioner living in Birmingham, which has a free travel scheme, be entitled to free travel in Cornwall? It is difficult to see how one could transfer differential provisions and eligibility to another local authority area.

As to administration and finance, bus operators are reimbursed by local authorities for carrying bus card holders at reduced fares. If a lot of West Midlands pensioners went to Cornwall for their holiday, who would reimburse who? This straightforward amendment does not address that complex issue and although it may be attractive, I ask the noble Lord not to press it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page