HC Deb 16 December 1970 vol 808 cc1351-4
Mr. George Thomas (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what action he will take following the decision made by the Western Welsh Omnibus Company on 15th December, 1970, that they will close their bus depots and withdraw vital bus services in West Wales on 11th January, 1971, including those bus services that carry children to schools.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)

I understand that the local authorities in Pembrokeshire have decided not to pay grant in respect of six bus services in the county and that the announcement by the Western Welsh Omnibus Company follows this decision. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, had the local authorities decided to pay grant their payments would have qualified for a 50 per cent. Exchequer grant and the remainder would rank for rate support grant. The question of further action is, therefore, in the first place a matter for the local authorities and in Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire they have not yet disclosed their intentions. My Department has already been in touch with the authorities but in view of the more recent developments, I propose to invite the four county councils concerned to a meeting at the Welsh Office in Cardiff.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the Secretary of State aware that the 50 per cent. grant that was made available through the legislation passed two years ago makes it possible for North Pembrokeshire, which will be without any form of public transport communication, to be assisted? In addition to calling the local authorities together urgently, will he give consideration to the question of the postal bus service which operates in other parts of the country? Will he discuss this with the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Certainly I will give consideration to all matters affecting rural transport in Wales; in fact, consideration is being given at the moment. The local authorities in Pembrokeshire were fully aware of the availability of grant, and I regret the decision they took.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large part of Pembrokeshire will be without any form of public transport from 10th January, and that therefore the news that he is calling an urgent meeting of local authorities will be widely welcomed? Is he further aware, however, that Pembrokeshire County Council has offered a 25 per cent. grant and that it is the R.D.Cs. involved which have so far been unwilling to co-operate? Will my right hon. Friend seek to bring home to all local authorities both their responsibilities and powers in this matter?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Yes, I am fully aware of all those matters and I will certainly do my best to see that the local authorities make use of the grants which are available.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Tory Party has a pretty miserable record in public transport in Wales? Does he recall that in September, 1964, a month before his Welsh electors rejected him, his right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) announced the closure of the Ruabon-Barmouth and Montgomeryshire railway lines, the Afon wen—Bangor and Carmarthen—Aberystwyth railway lines, and, because of the failure of the Tory Party to do anything about the Jack Report, subsidies for rural buses had to wait for the 1968 Transport Act before anything was done at all? What are the Government's intentions with regard to the grant-aided railway lines in Wales?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Despite the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that the meeting that we have in Cardiff will bear fruit.

Mr. Ellis

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the policy, so successfully introduced by the former Government, of introducing industries into the Wrexham constituency is now being seriously jeopardised, certainly so far as the Wrexham Trading Estate is concerned, by the failure of management to persuade work people to travel from their homes to their places of work because of the high cost of bus fares? Will the right hon. Gentleman introduce a transport policy to support the successful development policy of the former Government?

Mr. Peter Thomas

I suggest that that is another question. As I have said, I am looking, with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment, into all questions of transport in Wales.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a similar situation will arise in North and Mid-Wales as a result of a similar decision by the Crosville Company? Will the right hon. Gentleman take similar steps to deal with the needs of those areas and consult the local authorities in North and Central Wales?

Mr. Peter Thomas

Yes, I am aware of that. My Department is in touch with the local authorities in North Wales, but they have not yet announced a decision in respect of the threatened closure.

Mr. Roderick

Would the Minister consider consulting his colleagues about increasing the 50 per cent. grant? Is he aware that the local authorities in many of these areas that we are discusing, in the rural parts of Wales, are poor and can ill afford to provide the 50 per cent. which is required of them? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider having consultations with his colleagues with a view to increasing Government aid?

Mr. Peter Thomas

The 50 per cent. grant is laid down in the 1968 Act. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the 50 per cent. to be paid by the local authorities counts for rate support grant as well.