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Clause 11

Concessionary Bus Travel Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 5th June 2007.

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Orders

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 11, page 10, line 19, after ‘10’, insert ‘, [Application to Isles of Scilly]’.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 4, in clause 11, page 10, line 22, after ‘8’, insert ‘or [Application to Isles of Scilly]’.

No. 5, in clause 16, page 11, line 16, leave out ‘Bus’.

New clause 1—Application to Isles of Scilly

‘(1) This Act, in its application to the Isles of Scilly, has effect subject to such exceptions, adaptations and modifications as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe.

(2) In particular, an order under subsection (1) may—

(a) provide for the application of this Act to water-borne public passenger transport services;

(b) amend the categories of person who are entitled to concessionary travel under this Act.’.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Earlier today, we discussed the extension of what might be classed as a committed public service vehicle. One of the classes included the use of a ferry or boat. The amendment, which I have been asked to move by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), relates to the Isles of Scilly. They merit a special mention under clause 2, where the national arrangement is extended to them. As was pointed out on Second Reading by some hon. Members, there are no buses on the Isles of Scilly, and some people have questioned why the scheme should apply there. I am sure that hon. Members know that five islands make up the Isles of Scilly, and that just over 2,000 residents live on those islands. The Isles of Scilly operate as a unitary and county council that runs all its services from a narrow council tax base.

It is for that reason that I am asking the Minister to make a specific and special exception in extending the scheme to the Isles of Scilly. At present, the cost of the ferry boat to the mainland is £7 per trip. The council has reckoned that it will receive no more than £10,000 in the revenue support grant settlement as reimbursement of the costs of introducing a concessionary scheme. There is no way that a council could operate its own special concessionary scheme with that sum of money. Furthermore, it cannot fund such a scheme because its council tax base for providing all the services for just over 2,000 residents is so narrow.

We are asking for the same sort of arrangement that operates for Scotland. Residents from the islands of Orkney or Shetland, for example, are permitted to take one ferry journey a year to the mainland and then use the buses. I have not specified frequency in the amendments, but we are looking for some recognition from the Department that the Isles of Scilly are a special case, and that there is no way that the council, which has to fund all the other services on such a narrow council tax base, would be able to introduce its own scheme.

The amendment would extend the scheme to use of the ferry boat by residents only. The scheme would not apply to tourists who are visiting the Isles of Scilly if they use the boat—they would pay the full price—but it would enable residents to access services on the mainland via a free ferry ride.

Photo of David Clelland David Clelland Labour, Tyne Bridge

Under the Bill, people who live in Tyne and Wear, for instance, will be able to use bus services in London or another part of the country. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that they ought to have their fare from Tyne and Wear to London paid so that they can access services?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

No, I am not suggesting that. We discussed that earlier.

It is clear that the Isles of Scilly are a special case. There are no buses there. To access buses on the mainland, residents have to take the ferry. Given that it is the only mode of public transport available to them, and given that everything is funded by only 2,000 residents, I am asking for an exception to be made for them.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Would not the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s point be that, if individuals live in rural parts of England where there are no buses, they should be given a concession to get to the nearest bus service? Otherwise, they would not be able to use the concession either.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

I accept that, and that is why earlier today we introduced an amendment that would enable the Secretary of State to extend the scheme to other forms of transport. I gave an example from my constituency of a bus service that had been withdrawn. There is now a service that residents have to pay for, although they qualify for the national concessionary bus fare scheme. I would like that to be established and developed.

I would not want an immediate blanket exception—we had that discussion earlier today—but the Isles of Scilly are a special case and, given that, I have asked for an exception.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

The hon. Gentleman has already acknowledged that the Isles of Scilly have no buses. Is he saying that, if his earlier amendment had been accepted, someone in need of community transport on the mainland who went to the Isles of Scilly would be able to access community transport free of charge there?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

The amendment that I proposed this morning gave the Secretary of State the power to implement that change. Clearly, I would not have expected him to introduce a blanket exception right away; I would have expected him selectively to introduce exceptions or to extend the scheme, so that for rural areas without any other services—no bus service, for example—community transport would qualify under the concessionary fares scheme. That is fair.

I do not believe that the biggest cost would fall on rail if the scheme were extended to everyone, as the Minister said this morning. My immediate reaction would be to look at communities, particularly rural communities—the Isles of Scilly would fall under that definition—consider the alternative forms of transport that are available and ensure that those qualify under the scheme. There could be a gradual roll-out, enabling people who would otherwise not benefit from the national scheme to receive some benefit. That is all we are asking the Minister to consider.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

It is interesting to see the excitement with which hon. Members debate the Isles of Scilly. I have not had the pleasure of visiting them yet, but my predecessor did, and officials were there 10 days ago to discuss transport issues with the council. One of the points they reported back to me on, about which I can assure the hon. Member for Rochdale, is that the Isles of Scilly will, as I mentioned earlier, be working closely with Cornwall county council in preparation for April 2008. I commend them for doing so.

The Bill is good news for older and disabled people, because for the first time it makes the council of the Isles of Scilly a travel concession authority, meaning that it will be able to issue concessionary passes to eligible residents that they can use anywhere in England when visiting the mainland.

I am a little bit surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s amendments, because they would give the Secretary of State two powers. First, he would be able, by order, to extend travel concessions to

“water-borne public passenger transport” serving the Isles of Scilly, which in my language means ferries. Secondly, he would be able to change who is entitled to concessionary travel in the Isles of Scilly. The Secretary of State already has the power, under clause 8(1)(a), to expand eligibility for the national concession to new categories of people living in the Isles of Scilly. Similarly, there is a power under clause 8(1)(b) to include ferries serving the Isles of Scilly in the statutory scheme, so that they can offer free travel to all England pass-holders.

In addition, the council of the Isles of Scilly already has the power to agree voluntary schemes with transport providers, allowing discretionary travel concessions to its residents under section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000. That could, for example, include free travel on ferries. The people best placed to take account of unique local circumstances—no or few buses, for example, or being on an island—are those in the local authorities involved in discretionary schemes. That is why we have protected that right.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport

Does the Minister accept that, given that that the Isles of Scilly only has a population of  2,000, the council tax base does not provide the resources to enable the introduction of a discretionary scheme providing the full panoply, including social services and education, which must have priority?

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Second Reading, and earlier in the Committee’s deliberations, some hon. Members mentioned the funding for concessionary travel that goes to the Isles of Scilly through the formula grant system, even though there are currently no bus services operating there. It is worth gently pointing out that the council could use that money to provide travel concessions on ferry services and other modes of transport. The hon. Gentleman might take that constructive message back to the hon. Member for St. Ives, who represents constituents on the Isles of Scilly, because there is scope in that regard.

The amendments constitute unnecessary duplication and they are somewhat inappropriate. I restate my belief that it is right for local authorities, given their knowledge of local circumstances, to decide for themselves what discretionary enhancements are best for their residents. These proposals would simply duplicate powers that are already held by the Secretary of State and the council of the Isles of Scilly. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the proposals to a Division.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Minister, Transport 4:45 pm, 5th June 2007

Having made my point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 11 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.