HC Deb 30 June 1971 vol 820 cc381-2
19. Mr. Awdry

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will consider reducing the amount of rate support grant to local authorities which fail to provide grants for their unremunerative rural bus services.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend is certainly anxious that these grant powers should be widely exploited and one powerful inducement is a 50 per cent. contribution by the Government; but the final decision to assist these services rests with the local authorities.

Mr. Awdry

I have no complaints about Wiltshire County Council, but does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities should make better use of their powers for making grants for rural bus services, and will he say how many local authorities are providing grants at the present time?

Mr. Griffiths

I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact number, but I will write to him. I agree that local authorities could and should make better use of their powers. I emphasise that my Department makes available the Government's share of the grant with the minimum red tape and form-filling, and that the Section 34 grant can be made available not only to existing bus services but also to private operators running mini-buses and where appropriate, even to taxis and private cars.

Mr. David Clark

When does the Minister hope to publish his study of public transport in rural areas, and will the study provide solutions for semi-rural areas?

Mr. Griffiths

My right hon. Friend hopes to publish both surveys, for Devon and West Suffolk, before long, and I think the hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed with the suggestions put forward for help for both rural and semi-rural areas.

Mr. Mulley

I am sure the Minister agrees that it is very important to try to halt the decline in rural bus services. Will he consider sending to local authorities a circular setting out what he has just told the House and urging them wherever possible to make grants available?

Mr. Griffiths

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend has already circularised local authorities urging them to make use of this power, but I take the point which he makes. At the time of publication of the two rural transport surveys, my right hon. Friend may be minded once again to draw the attention of local authorities to the availability of the grants.