Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Liberal Democrat 6:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, this amendment to Clause 145 will add to those receiving concessionary fares young people between the ages of 16 and 19 who are in full-time education. We tabled the amendment in Committee and would have debated it again at Report. However, the groupings rendered it technically unavailable for discussion.

The benefits are obvious. Pupils who find the bus fares a problem would pay a lower fare, thereby encouraging them to stay on at school. Young people without their own cars would be better able to interact socially with their peers because of the lower cost of travelling by bus. There would also be a beneficial effect on transport policy. It is most important to encourage younger people to travel by public transport. An excellent example of that is the young person's rail pass, which encourages young people to travel by rail. Indeed, it is no drain on the resources of the rail companies and the overall effect of the card is beneficial to turnover, profits and so forth. Encouraging people of that age group to travel by public transport rather than by car will contribute to lowering congestion and perhaps accidents because they are particularly susceptible to them. The amendment may have the additional benefit of encouraging more people to use the bus services established by the Government's rural bus grant and other subsidised bus services maintained by local government.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, suggested that the cost of the extension would be prohibitive. Since then, we have worked to estimate the costs. Without going into a detailed consideration of the final figure, it suffices to say that a major bus company commissioned research on subsidising travel for people in this age group. The conclusions showed that if government policy were to extend half-fare bus passes to everyone in the age group the total subsidy in England and Wales would be £50 million. While that sounds a large sum, it is probably reasonable because in Derbyshire, a large county which runs such a subsidy, the cost is about £1 million. That shows that the two figures are in the same ball park. We believe that it would be a rational investment in achieving an important result.

In Committee, the Minister drew our attention to what is now Clause 147 under which the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales has powers to amend the details of the concessionary fares scheme. Will the Minister say when the Government might reconsider the proposal? In answer to an amendment tabled by us at Report, he told us that it was his intention regularly to assess the cost and effectiveness of the concessionary fares scheme. We believe that a good time to reconsider the people who might benefit from an extension of the scheme would be after an assessment. We should be interested to know whether the Government have in mind a structured reconsideration of who might have the benefit of the concession and, in particular, if and when they will consider its extension to the age group we have in mind. I beg to move.