HC Deb 01 February 1971 vol 810 cc1230-1
13. Mr. Elystan Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has recived from Wales in respect of the financial difficulties currently experienced by Welsh rural bus operators; and what replies he has sent.

Mr. Peter Thomas

Much concern has been expressed about the future of many of the rural bus services in Wales. I have drawn the attention of local authorities to the statutory provisions which enable them, with Government help to assist the operators. My officials have also had a number of meetings with local authorities at which there have been full discussions of the steps being taken to overcome the immediate difficulties.

Mr. Morgan

Does not the Secretary of State appreciate that most rural bus operators in Wales have suffered a very serious decline in custom over the last 12 months, that the losses are increasing, and that the amount of grant they are asking for is becoming much more considerable? Although the provisions of Section 34 were realistic in 1968, they are not realistic now. Will the Government pay a larger share of the grant?

Mr. Peter Thomas

This is a very complicated matter which involves the finances of the National Bus Company and its ability to pay its way, and the decision of that company to ask local authorities to give assistance to rural buses. I can say that there is no prospect of increasing the direct Government contribution above 50 per cent., which is the percentage decided upon by the Labour Party when the arrangements were embodied in the Transport Act, 1968.

Sir A. Meyer

Would the Secretary of State not agree that the policy of ever-increasing subsidies from central Government for rural bus services can at best be only an interim solution, and that a long-term solution must be found by a greater and more flexible use of private transport in rural areas accompanied by tax concessions, the easing of various regulation, and so on?

Mr. Peter Thomas

These are matters which must be considered. Happily, this is a period in which we can get down to details and consider the future very carefully. Steps are afoot for that to be done.

Mr. Alec Jones

Would not the Secretary of State take into account that any attempt to give further tax concessions to private transport would rebound and make far more difficult the prospects of maintaining a public transport system by rail or bus?

Mr. Peter Thomas

If private transport could provide a viable service, I am sure that it would command the support of everyone in the House.