Clause 1 - Eligibility for travel concessions: age

Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 20 November 2001.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 5:00, 20 November 2001

Before I call the Minister, may I remind all members of the Committee to switch off their mobile phones and pagers; I take a dim view of anything that goes ring in the night.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

On a point of order, Miss Widdecombe. First, it is very nice to see you in the Chair—welcome back after your absence; we look forward to being under your chairmanship. Secondly, we had a discussion at the end of this morning's sitting about the scope of our debates on the Bill. I also had an informal discussion with your co-Chairman as to whether it was in order to debate other groups that might be included in the Bill.

The long title of the Bill states that it will

``Amend the law relating to the age at which certain persons become eligible to receive travel concessions on journeys on public passenger transport services; and for connected persons.''

The Bill principally seeks to amend section 240(5) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and section 146 of the Transport Act 2000. I have looked up those two sections, which, in addition to talking about people of pensionable age, discuss all other categories of people. I put it to you, Miss Widdecombe that if we are not allowed to talk about those sections of previous Acts which the Bill seeks to amend Standing Committees would become so narrow that it would be almost impossible to amend any Bill. It is unfortunate if we cannot discuss disabled people, blind people and people suffering from mental disabilities. If we are going to be ruled out from discussing those groups, interest groups outside this Room will be surprised. I seek your ruling on this matter.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I have, of course, already been appraised of what has gone on. There is a distinction between amendments, which must be limited to the strict scope of the Bill, and discussion, which it is within the discretion of the Chairman to allow to go slightly wider if it is deemed appropriate. Mr. Stevenson has allowed reference to the impact of age equalisation on other concessionary schemes, for example those concerning disabled and blind people. It is therefore my intention to take a very relaxed view during the stand part debate.

Mr. Clifton-Brown indicated assent.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Not too relaxed. I shall allow the debate to go slightly wide, but not wild.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

Further to that point of order, Miss Widdecombe. How is your ruling affected by the words

``and for connected purposes'' in the long title? It seems to me that that allows scope for amendments in the way in which I have been proposing.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Bill has been drawn up in a narrow way. There has been a ruling, which I cannot overturn, by Mr. Stevenson that there must be a narrow interpretation of the scope of the Bill as far as amendments go, but that does not preclude discussion. The hon. Gentleman must make his case in the course of discussion if he wants us to reconsider that ruling.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Transport)

This clause is the substance of the Bill and directly provides for the age entitlement to concessionary travel to be equalised at the age of 60 for both men and women. Subsections (1) and (2) amend the Transport Act 1985 and the Greater London Authority Act 1999 so that both men and women are eligible at the age of 60 for travel concessions granted at the discretion of local authorities in England and Wales.

Subsection (3) changes the definition in section 146 of the Transport Act 2000 so that elderly persons entitled to the mandatory half-fare concessions on bus services are men and women who have reached the age of 60.

Subsection (4) allows the Secretary of State in England or the National Assembly in Wales to link the provisions in the Bill to the formula in schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 1995, which provides for the age entitlement for state pensions to rise to the age of 65. Should the power be exercised, the link to entitlement to concessionary travel with state pensions would eventually be restored. In fact, orders made under the power would treat a man as if he were a woman born on the same day. The age of entitlement will still be the same for men and women, but it will gradually rise every couple of months, as prescribed in schedule 4 to the 1995 Act, until 2020, when men and women will be eligible for the state pension and travel concessions at age 65.

Subsection (5) provides for any orders made under subsection (4) to be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

After that quick canter through the scope of the Bill, we should perhaps try to get the Minister to expand on what he envisages will be covered by it, by the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and by the Transport Act 2000. As I have said, it is clear that those Acts, which we are seeking to amend, cover a wide range of other categories: the disabled, the blind, those with mental impairment, and all who would otherwise be unable to get a driving licence. It seems quite reasonable for those people to be included in such schemes. They form part of the overall sum that I referred to this morning, which the Government are giving to the people of this country in the form of travel concessions.

We have also discussed the important matter of the scope of clause 1 in relation to cross-border issues. I have already mentioned my local authority, Gloucestershire county council, which has five bordering authorities. Under the Bill as drafted, a person who travels from Mickleton to Evesham to shop, draw benefit or—as my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said this morning—visit the local hospital will be unable to do so. That will put men aged 60 to 64 who fall within the scope of the Bill at a considerable disadvantage. In effect, we are creating two social groups: those who are already eligible by virtue of the 2000 Act and the 1999 Act, and the men who are covered by the Bill. The Bill could therefore perhaps be clearer on cross-border issues. Those Acts refer at length to journeys that are begun in one transport area and end up in the next, or that are begun in one area, cross another and end up in a third.

In particular, the Government need to clarify that issue in relation to the Prime Minister's wish for pensioners to be able to take long bus journeys, because they involve crossing many local authority boundaries. In that regard there is a certain amount of fog, and if the Minister could clear it my constituents would benefit, as would those who live in rural local authority areas that are lot smaller than mine. The chances are that such people will cross county or local authority boundaries much more quickly than do my constituents. The geographical area of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury is much smaller than that of mine, and I have no doubt that many of his constituents will want to cross from Gloucestershire into Worcestershire and Warwickshire, and perhaps further afield into Wales. The example of the pensioner who takes a bus journey to Wales—it is true that the Bill covers Wales, but such a journey would cross from one jurisdiction to another—raises yet another problem. The Minister therefore needs to consider some of these issues carefully.

The Minister dealt with clause 1(4), which relates to schedule 4 to the Pensions Act 1995, a copy of which I have in front of me. I also have a copy of the table, which is quite long, covering two and a half pages. I am not sure where the Minister fits into that table, but I have an interest to declare because I come within it and would not be covered by the scheme until 6 March 2016. The Minister can quickly look at the table and work out my date of birth. We all have an interest in the matter and I suggest that it does not make much sense. If one concedes the principle that everyone aged 60 or over will receive the concession, can we realistically believe that any Secretary of State in the year 2010 will want to increase that age? Imagine him sitting in that chair and saying that he will not put it down to 60 for everyone, but that he will raise it to 67 or 68 for everyone to make it fair. There would be an outcry.

It would be worth putting on the record whether the Minister realistically expects clause 1(4) to be enacted and the pensionable age to be altered. Under subsection (5), an order must be made by statutory instrument in both Houses to do that. Unless the Minister's successor--I doubt that he will still be the Minister in 2010--intends to have the Standing Committee that considers the order particularly well under his control, I suspect that there will be difficulty in getting the order through.

Others matters will be discussed later. During our debates this morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) mentioned waterways and I have some interesting news for him from the 1999 Act in relation to the precise matters that he discussed this morning and the Thames. However, before you rule me out of order, Miss Widdecombe, that is for a subsequent amendment.

Are we to have a reply from the Under-Secretary?

Mr. Spellar indicated dissent.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

No. The Minister of State is going to reply. I hope that his response will clarify what other groups the Bill may apply to, the cross-border issues and whether he realistically believes that his successor will ever enact the pension age changes.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

Thank you for calling me, Miss Widdecombe. I welcome you to the Chair.

I want to retrace our steps to some of the Minister's final words this morning when he gave certain pledges--I am grateful to have heard them--on support for the extension which the Bill requires to apply to non-mandatory as well as mandatory schemes, including cross-border schemes with interoperability of travel concessions between different local authorities. That is not of local interest to my constituents, because, as you know well, Miss Widdecombe, it has no borders. It is a matter of interest to most other right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those outside the metropolitan areas. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) referred to the clash of criteria across the metropolitan boundary of London.

The Minister said that it was possible and, indeed, expected that the Government would support the extension of the scheme to cross-border travel. Miss Widdecombe, I would like to draw attention to a ruling by your co-Chairman, Mr. Stevenson, who said that the Bill does not apply to cross-border travel. I asked him for his definition of a border in that context because the Bill clearly applies across some borders, such as those where there in one scheme, whether it is a statutory or non-statutory scheme. It applies in the London area, where there is a statutory scheme and in an authority, such as Hampshire, between Hampshire county council and Southampton city council. Were there to be such a scheme between those two authorities—I have no knowledge as to whether there will be—the Minister's promise would apply, as would the Bill. I am therefore a little unclear as to which borders are and are not relevant under the Bill.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold 5:15, 20 November 2001

My hon. Friend raises a good point indeed. In the light of the vast Transport Act 2000, under which we are seeking to amend clause 146, I direct him to clause 147 to observe the gobbledygook that we pass in this place. I shall quote that to him, and to the Minister:

``The Secretary of State . . . may by order amend either or both of sections 145 and 146 for or in connection with securing that section 145(1)''.

Section 147(c) contains the real gobbledygook so I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight to concentrate hard. It

``applies to a journey between a place in a travel concession authority's area and a place outside but in the vicinity of that area or to a journey between places outside but in the vicinity of that area (as well as to a journey between places in that area),''

If he understands that, he has done better than me. However, it is incumbent on the Minister to explain it so that we know how the travel concession scheme works.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

I would very much like the Minister to explain that but, as I understand the procedures of this place, I must try first.

It is clear to me that a scheme can operate between, say, a travel concession area, such as Southampton city council, and a place just over the boundary—I take it that that is what is meant by ``in the vicinity of''—or between two places outside the boundary with or without a detour into the travel concession area. I am sure that someone will correct me if I am wrong. That demonstrates that the particular border of the travel concession area is, to some extent, irrelevant as far as travel concessions are concerned.

When I was a member of Oxford city council, if I remember correctly, the scheme provided for people who lived on council estates that were outwith the city boundary. Oxford city council provided for them to be eligible for membership as if they were within the city boundaries. I am still a little unclear as to why certain boundaries cannot be considered under the Bill and others fall under it. I would like the Minister to explain that.

I will now return to questions that I asked this morning and to which, I regret, I received no answers. The Minister may recall them, so I will not state them in detail, but the first referred to the imbalance of concession between, say, the London area and a rural area. If an area already has a more expensive scheme, the Government will effectively spend more on supporting it than on one that is less expensive. I described it as giving money to the rich areas. In fact, it is to them that hath shall be given, and to them that hath not shall be given absolutely nothing—at least, not very much. That seems an unfair aspect of the Bill.

I understand the concern that the Minister would face in London if he supported the extension of the scheme by only 50 per cent. On the other hand, equal concern exists in rural areas that money, which the Minister is putting aside, is being diverted to favour metropolitan areas even though rural areas have more difficulty with transport and schemes in those places may be less expensive per head—I nearly said per man—because of the dearth of transport there. That runs contrary to the Government's objective of enabling more public transport to be provided in rural rather than urban areas.

My other point concerns the types of transport that are eligible for support. I mentioned earlier that there is no reference, so far as I am aware, to water taxis or water buses in any of the legislation. I asked whether the Bill covers travel concessions on those means of transport, but the Minister could not answer this morning. Can he do so now?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

In section 240(6) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, another of the sections that we are amending,

```independent transport service operator' means any person, other than a person to whom subsection (7) below applies''.

It goes on to list those who may become an independent transport service operator, and refers to

``(f) an undertaking providing public passenger transport services on the river Thames or a tributary of the river Thames between places in Greater London or between places in Greater London and places outside Greater London.''

My hon. Friend may have been taken as being wide of the mark this morning, but talking about water taxis gives him a precedent. If people in London can get concessionary fares on transport on the Thames, I see no reason why the Government should not extend the concession to his constituents travelling from the Isle of Wight.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that example. Clearly, by that definition, the river Thames is both above and below the high tide mark. I believe that the tide runs to Teddington, so the provision does not apply simply to non-tidal waters. I therefore expect it to be possible in the future, if not in this Bill, to provide the concession to travel on water taxis, water buses and other passenger ferries plying between places on the Isle of Wight and the mainland.

The Minister does not seem to have provided clearly for that extension and I can understand why: he hopes that it will not take place. We will consider that later. Nor has the Minister provided for traffic generation. Several of my hon. Friends and I asked about the consequences of traffic generation in providing resources to meet the costs of the Bill. As I recall, the only promise that the Minister has made is to reimburse the costs of extending the concession. Does that promise apply only to the first year, which would upset local authorities, does it extend infinitely, which might upset the Chancellor—although I am happy with that—or does it extend to some time in the future, yet taking account of traffic generation? Clearly, traffic generation, as I mentioned earlier, will result from the legislation. The Government have made, or declared, no provision to take account of that and reimburse local authorities for the cost of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's answers.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I retain two areas of anxiety about the impact of the clause. First, although the Minister was pressed quite hard earlier on the likelihood that local authorities will be completely reimbursed for the extra costs incurred, some of his comments—he used the word ``broadly''—left me unconvinced that when the small print is examined in detail by every local authority, they will find every last penny met. The implication is serious, not simply because of the impact of this legislation but because in recent years central Government have developed an unerring habit of introducing new rules, regulations and stipulations, which they require and expect local authorities to implement, but examination of the detail reveals that local authorities end up having to pick up part of the bill. Consequently, year on year, local authorities pile up extra financial burdens, which, however small, leave them with less disposable income to spend on local services.

I hope that the small print of the Bill will not lead to local authorities ultimately incurring extra costs. I take the Minister back to his use of the word ``broadly''. Can he give us an unequivocal statement that if any unforeseen circumstances emerge that affect individual authorities, it will not be a matter for debate because the Government will be committed to picking up the tab?

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

My hon. Friend raises an important point, to which the Minister did not give a clear response this morning. In practice, when a local authority discusses its standard spending assessment with the Government, a range of issues are bundled up into one. I suspect that this would be just one of those issues and unless the situation became extremely serious it would probably be forgotten. Nevertheless, it has an impact on the council tax and we all know about the recent large rises in council tax in shire counties.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. It is often easy for those in central Government to forget the disproportionate impact that small amounts of money can have on the council tax. Such a high proportion of local government finance comes from the centre and only a relatively small proportion is raised through the council tax, that even the smallest adjustment or shortfall in a local authority's available funding can have a significant effect on that tax. The cumulative effect of that happening in several different areas can have a significant effect on the ordinary taxpayer.

Secondly, many authorities, such as mine in Surrey, have not yet been able to develop the breadth of concessionary fare schemes that they would wish. That is the result of various factors. The case that I described to the Minister this morning arose because Surrey has had to divert its resources for public transport into supporting a number of socially necessary bus services. The council retains the aspiration to introduce, as soon as possible, a flat rate 50p fare for buses across the county. The Bill will make it more expensive for it to do so and it will not be entitled to receive any compensation. Will the Minister consider introducing a period—not open ended, but time limited—in which new schemes can be introduced that will still benefit from the compensatory package that is available?

At its most basic level, the content of the Bill presents little reason for debate or question, but when one examines the practical consequences of even the most simple legislation, potentially adverse effects on local communities can become evident. I hope that the Minister will accept the comments of Conservative Members in the spirit in which they are intended.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

Will my hon. Friend press the Minister on another matter that he mentioned this morning—that is, how local authorities will introduce new schemes? We need to know what sort of discussions with the Department will be required in order for them to get clearance to do so. This morning, the Minister made the important concession that the Government will pay for any existing schemes that rely on unequal ages. That seems to give a green light to all local authorities to hurry to introduce schemes before the Bill is implemented, after which there will be a two-tier system.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell 5:30, 20 November 2001

My hon. Friend makes a valuable and important point to which the Minister will be well able to respond. That is another example of the fact that what is at first glance simple proposed legislation can throw up some significant complications. I hope that the Minister will listen to the arguments and take them into account in the structure of the legislation. If, however, we cannot convince him to make the small number of modifications suggested by Opposition Members, then at the very least I hope that he will accept the spirit in which the proposals are being made. When he deals with authorities and sets future funding parameters, I hope that he will remember hon. Members' contributions and take them into account in reaching future decisions.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I start by welcoming you to the Committee, Miss Widdecombe? It is always a pleasure to work with you.

I want to touch on one or two of my earlier arguments that the Minister did not fully address when he wound up the debates on the amendments. I should also like to pick up some points that have already been made.

This morning, I said that the Bill addresses a real concern because transport is important. In my constituency, which is not as large as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) but is nevertheless very big and contains several towns and many villages, transport is a problem. We have bus services but they are inadequate. Whether children are travelling to school or pensioners and older people are travelling to do their shopping or go to hospital, the situation is unsatisfactory. The Bill goes some way towards addressing that problem but, as my hon. Friend said, there are still gaps that we should like further to explore.

Two particular areas concern me. The point about the cost to the local authority has been pressed with great determination by my hon. Friend, but he has not got the answers that Opposition Members were seeking. We are all in constant touch with our local authorities: it is not only the Tewkesbury local authority that says it is being given more to do without being compensated and it is not only Tewkesbury that is complaining about the support that it gets from the Government. When it sees another scheme being proposed, it is naturally concerned about the financial impact. We have heard that there will be general compensation—that was not quite the word that the Minister used, and if he would like to remind me of exactly what he said I should be grateful.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Yes. Local authorities broadly will be covered. Tewkesbury local authority could argue that local authorities broadly get increases in the revenue support grant, which Tewkesbury has not received. The broad concept is unsatisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold has also pressed the question why we do not compensate local authorities for the exact costs that they have incurred, which seems sensible. I accept the Minister's point that that does not always happen in every aspect of local government, but there are aspects in which it does. Several transport schemes are promoted and managed by the county council and the Government give it grants to promote those schemes. However, the borough council will be responsible for administering this particular scheme. There is an obvious gap: an agreement could be made on how much Tewkesbury would receive, but during the financial year Tewkesbury's requirements could change considerably. How broad is the Government's guarantee? It strikes me that this could create a big problem for Tewkesbury.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

My hon. Friend has hit upon an important point. The county council is the precepting authority, but the district or borough council is the collecting authority. The county council sets the scheme and raises the money, but the district council has to collect the money and operate the scheme. This is an anomaly that has not been properly addressed in the Bill.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The county council largely determines the council tax that will be raised because it has the bigger budget. However, Tewkesbury borough council would be blamed for the increase because it sends out the letters. Anything that the county council does directly impacts on what Tewkesbury has to collect. If the Government increased the money for Gloucestershire to introduce new bus routes, Tewkesbury would then have to administer the scheme. I accept that the Government might one day finance that, but there is a big gap in between.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

It appears that there are different arrangements in some shire counties from those pertaining in others. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) said on 4 July that pensioners in his constituency would benefit from the new arrangements in the Government's scheme for half fares. The pass is valid in the area covered by the local authority--in his case, that is Suffolk. That implies that the power is common to both shire and shire districts. In some parts of the country, it is operated by the district and in others by the county. That is anomalous and deeply unfair because some people will be able to travel the breadth of Suffolk, but others will be prevented from travelling the length of Gloucestershire. The Government overlook that unfairness at their peril because boundaries in rural areas are often wholly arbitrary.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for throwing more confusion and complication on what is already a difficult situation. He demonstrates how difficult it is. No doubt the Minister will explain how Tewkesbury can be satisfied that it will be fully compensated for what is, on the face of it, a sensible measure.

My other point concerns costs for places such as Tewkesbury and it will certainly apply also in Cotswold. Under current legislation, the borough council can make discretionary concessions. In areas where there are few buses or in very large areas, there will be more concessions and the requirement on those authorities will be greater. For example, Cheltenham and Gloucester are self-contained and people can live there without leaving them unless they want to, but it is different in country areas where the concessions will have to be greater. Equalisation of the age will increase the cost of the extra concessions. It could be said that Tewkesbury does not have to give them, but I know from my mailbag that there is a great requirement on Tewkesbury to give them. The extra cost arises not only from the mandatory concessions, but from the additional concessions, which the Government will not finance. I want them to be clear about the knock-on effect for Tewkesbury.

We have heard about crossing borders and that it important in my constituency. It is ridiculous that some villagers with Worcestershire postcodes will be unable to travel to Worcestershire because they live not in Worcestershire but in Gloucestershire, although they have Worcestershire postcodes. They will be unable to travel to Evesham, for example. People who live in places outside Gloucestershire with Tewkesbury postcodes will be unable to use the scheme to travel to Tewkesbury. What is even more worrying is that none of the 12,000 people living in Churchdown in my constituency--it is one of the largest villages in the country and only a few miles from Gloucester and Cheltenham--will be able to travel to Cheltenham hospital because they will not qualify for the concession as they will have to cross a borough border. We have only one or two cottage hospitals in my constituency, so if they need even semi-major treatment, the Bill will not cover them when they go to those hospitals. It is difficult to design a scheme to suit everyone, but the Government must deal with the problems that I have outlined.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Transport)

The Bill equalises the availability of concessionary fare passes to men and women. The financial side of the Bill seeks broadly to compensate local authorities for the additional costs that they incur in the course of that equalisation. According to my hon. Friend the Whip, the hon. Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), who was on the Committee that considered the Transport Bill in 2000, some of the measures that cover borders were supported and encouraged by the Opposition, especially because the areas where borders were crossed often related to the activities of specific operators.

Many of the relevant matters are for the discretion of the local authorities. Under the Bill, and subject to discretionary decisions that they take, the Government will compensate authorities for the additional expenditure that they bear as a result of the legislation. Borders, water transport and other such matters have been covered by previous legislation and are for the discretion of local authorities. If we allowed discretion for local authorities on the scheme, we would end up with differential conditions. That is the nature of discretion and of local autonomy.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I want to return to my argument. It is tremendously important, although less so in places like London, which has huge sums of money available to support bus services, than in shire counties where the sums are relatively small for the great demands on them. Will the Minister assure us that those councils will not lose out and will not have to divert resources from other programmes to support the scheme because the Government have not fully funded them? The answer should be a simple yes or no.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Transport)

I have described the re-funding provision at considerable length on several occasions. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members seem to hold the view that the streets of London and other metropolitan authorities are paved with gold. Any examination of the poverty indicators, ward by ward and borough by borough, would dispel that impression. I accept the fact that extremes of poverty and wealth live alongside each other in London and to an extent in other metropolitan areas as well. It should not be assumed that wealth is universally spread across the city.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I would like to dispel the Minister's impression: there is as much poverty in rural areas as there is in London. As I suggested on Second Reading, there should not be a postcode lottery on fairness. The people of London can cross one borough and still receive a discretionary fare, so why should people living in rural areas not cross from one borough to another and still get a concession?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Transport)

Local authorities can come to local agreements to that effect, as they have in London and the metropolitan authorities. That is the nature of local discretion. If the predominant political tendencies in those areas have declined to provide such services, that is a matter for history. It cannot be tackled in the Bill, which has the narrow purpose of dealing with age equalisation and the consequential financial reimbursement to local authorities.

The hon. Member for Cotswold talked about pensionable age and asked whether, when the changeover starts in 2010, a future Parliament will implement the regulation to begin the process towards harmonisation at 65 in 2020. Parliament has already taken the step of moving towards equalisation of pension age, which is a substantial change. He pointed out that a considerable number of people aged between 60 and 65 would still work under the system and would not be in receipt of pension while harmonisation was being attained. The position is logical and will commend itself to a future House, but in no way could we bind that House. I am sure that the Committee and the House will agree that we are providing the mechanism by which a future House can harmonise both the age of attaining pension and that of eligibility for a concessionary fare pass, for the reason why such passes were introduced in the first place.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight 5:45, 20 November 2001

I draw the Minister back to the first part of his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. He spoke of discretion. The point that he has failed to mention—I am sure that he has not failed to grasp it—is that in London there is no discretion. There is a requirement—imposed by a previous Government and reiterated by his Government through legislation—that cross-border travel be provided for. It is unfair that Londoners should be reimbursed at a higher level because there is an obligation affecting London but not other areas.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Transport)

My recollection—I am prepared to check the record—is that the obligation arose out of the abolition of the Greater London council, which had already provided such a facility. Had that abolition been accompanied by the removal of the concessionary fares scheme, I suspect that that move by a Conservative Government would have been even more unpopular than it was.

That scheme was introduced again by the democratic decision of publicly elected authorities in London. Opposition Members cannot keep raising matters that have been decided for good local reasons by the elected local authorities in certain parts of the country. Some have decided not to adopt such a scheme. We are saying to those who have adopted such schemes that the legislation will impose additional costs. We are therefore seeking to provide money to recompense them for that. I commend the clause.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

The Minister has got half way there. I accept that details of schemes already in existence were decided by previous Acts, and that this Bill merely seeks to alter the age. Nevertheless, I do not think that the Minister deviated enough from his definition of ``broadly'' to ensure that every single local authority will be fully reimbursed by this measure. Under those circumstances, we cannot do anything other than vote against the clause.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 6.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 1 - Eligibility for travel concessions: age

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Whereupon the Chairman declared herself with the Ayes, so as to presence the Bill in its existing form.

The Chairman: In accordance with precedent, the casting vote of the Chair must go with keeping the Bill.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

On a point of order, Miss Widdecombe. It is unprecedented in my nine years in the House for a Government to draw on the Chairman's casting vote in a Division on clause stand part, particularly when the Government has a majority of the size of this Government's. It is incompetent management on the part of the Government not to get enough of their people into the Committee to ensure that they can win such votes.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

It is not for me to comment on the competence or otherwise of any Whips who might be members of the Committee. I can only reiterate my decision that the Bill must be preserved in its original form and that therefore clause 1 stands part. However, before I come to clause 2, I make the gentle observation that interventions should be interventions and not speeches masquerading as interventions. Clause 2 Commencement and transitional provision