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 Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:00 pm, 5th June 2007

I rise to support what the hon. Gentleman has said about the inequities in the scheme in London. I want, too, to mention amendment No. 19, which gives the Committee the opportunity to revise an iniquitous section of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, namely, the reserve free travel scheme, which is imposed on London boroughs when Transport for London or the Mayor cannot agree the annual increase. Effectively, TFL has the upper hand in negotiations and extremists can hold London boroughs to ransom. Although the scheme has never  been invoked, its existence weighs too heavily in favour of TFL in negotiation and is heavily resented by the London boroughs. Indeed, all hon. Members will have received a briefing to that effect from London councils.

Since TFL was formed seven years ago, the cost of providing the pass has risen by some 52 per cent., resulting in cuts to services elsewhere and higher London council tax. TFL is now attempting to use that power to hold London council tax payers to ransom over its takeover of the north London line. TFL wants almost to double the cost of providing the pass on that line. The Association of Train Operating Companies is paid £600,000 by London boroughs, and TFL wants £1 million for the same service. Again, I venture to suggest that that will be iniquitous and will result in cuts in services and higher council tax.

The Mayor of London will claim that anyone who wishes to affect the reserve free travel scheme has some evil plan to abolish the freedom pass. Any sensible person knows that that is complete nonsense. Indeed, on Second Reading I raised the issue and the Mayor suggested in a press release that I wanted to see the pass go. That was clearly not so, and we made that point clearly. However, sometimes truth and reality do not seem to strike the Mayor. We want value for money and a better deal for Londoners, which are something that the free-spending, profligate Mayor all too often fails to understand.

Elsewhere in the Bill the Minister has introduced proposals, which we support, to ensure that disputes between operators and travel concession authorities are equitably decided. Indeed, the operators have been granted an extra 28 days to appeal if in dispute. In London, TFL—the operator—can impose the cost on those who pay, namely, the boroughs. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that he had no clear plans to change the reserve free travel scheme. However, in the spirit of fair-mindedness, the Minister must recognise that the arrangement is iniquitous and unacceptable.

Amendment No. 19 would give London authorities the right of appeal against the imposition of an increased fare amount that they consider excessive. As the Minister grants and extends that right elsewherein the Bill, it would be pernicious and unfair not to extend the same rights to London authorities. Amendment No. 19 would give a period of only seven days for a London authority to register its appeal, while elsewhere others get the advantage of 56 days. The Secretary of State or his delegated authority, rather than TFL, should then decide the cost of the scheme if no agreement is reached in the negotiation period. Although it would impose some extra duties on the Secretary of State, it would bring London into line with the rest of the country. That can only be fair, justifiable and equitable.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has already expressed some concerns about the robustness of the appeal process outside London, whereby an operator can appeal to the Secretary of State if it believes that the amount that it is awarded for carrying concessionary pass holders is inadequate. I guess that that is partly recognised in the increase in the appeal period to 56 days.

As there is no mechanism in London whereby the boroughs can appeal if they consider the amount that  TFL determines, as an operator, excessive, this matter must be considered of even more concern than the issue that the Joint Committee was raising in the first place. Therefore, I urge the Minister to confirm to the Committee that the Government will reconsider the matter and offer support to the amendment that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends. If she is unable to give us reassurance, I should like, with your discretion, Mr. Bayley, to find some way of testing the Committee’s view on the matter.