Schedule 1 — The London Free Travel Scheme
Orders of the Day
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
I seem to have spent half my adult life defending the London concessionary scheme. I pay tribute to those councillors on the Greater London council who instigated the scheme on a cross-party basis—Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat. The scheme was well in advance of its time, and it brought an advantage to London pensioners that improved the quality of their lives. It was years in advance of its time in terms of its impact on the environment, because it took people out of their cars and on to London transport.
During the debates on the abolition of the GLC, a cross-party lobby of London MPs linked up with pensioners and GLC councillors—the London boroughs unfortunately split on the matter—to insert in the legislation a reserved scheme and arrangements to bring the boroughs together to ensure that the concessionary scheme continued. In my period on the GLC—I was chair of finance and deputy leader—we brought forward investment in the scheme. That improved the benefits for pensioners, of which I am proud. When the GLC was abolished, that legislation protected the scheme.
I was the chief executive of the Association of London Authorities and then the Association of London Government, which brought the boroughs together to protect the scheme. Unfortunately, an axis of malevolence among the boroughs has repeatedly tried to undermine the scheme, either by introducing means tests and charges or by crippling it in some other way. No matter what the intentions of Paul Rowen are, the amendment is another dangerous attempt to undermine the scheme in the long term by passing powers to the Secretary of State and out of the hands of Londoners.
TfL is under the control of the Mayor of London, who is directly elected by Londoners. Londoners will have a democratic say in determining this scheme, and as a result TfL will be held to democratic account through the Mayor. The amendment is incredibly dangerous. If we pass from London government to central Government the opportunity to undermine the scheme and the benefits to pensioners, no London pensioner will forgive the parties responsible.