Clause 4

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 5th June 2007.

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Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 4:00 pm, 5th June 2007

We now come to a specific group of amendments, which deal with London and the London boroughs. Members will have had representations from the London boroughs about the current operation of the concessionary fares scheme. Most Members will be aware that London is unique in that the arrangements for reaching a decision about the funding of the London scheme do not allow the boroughs to use an appeals mechanism if they, Transport for London and the Mayor fail to reach agreement. That is an anomaly, and the amendments would ensure that the funding of the freedom pass for London runs along the same lines as the scheme that exists in the rest of the country.

When the amendments were discussed in the other place, the Mayor of London made all sorts of ridiculous statements to the effect that, in seeking to put London on the same footing as every other authority, we were in some way or other opposed to the freedom pass, but that is not the case. We seek to ensure that the London boroughs and Transport for London can arrive at an orderly and fair agreement as to the costs of the scheme. If no annual agreement is reached, we want to ensure that there is a mechanism similar to that in the rest of the country and to extend it to involve the Secretary of State, so that there can be some form of appeals mechanism. Notwithstanding that, amendment No. 22 would ensure that the current scheme, as agreed and funded, continues while the review takes place. That is only right and fair.

The London boroughs have no say over how the scheme operates, while the Mayor has total freedom to impose any changes that he wishes. We fundamentally believe in devolving decision making as far down as possible, and giving one person the right unilaterally to impose a policy on 20-odd democratically elected London boroughs is, in our view, not satisfactory. As with the other parts of the Bill, we are talking about regularisation and a national scheme, and I hope that the Minister will see that the funding situation in London is an anomaly. We want the appeal mechanism for the London boroughs to be on the same basis as those for other authorities and passenger transport authorities. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that will be a right and proper way to proceed.