HC Deb 23 July 1975 vol 896 cc529-31
3. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, if he will make a statement on his future policy on rural bus services.

Mr. Carmichael

The responsibility for securing provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public transport rests with the local authorities. Circular 43/75 makes clear that in considering their transport policies and programmes this year, my right hon. Friend will give relatively high priority to proposals to provide or maintain minimum public transport services in the less densely populated areas.

Mr. Huckfield

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that many local authorities have not been very forward-looking in preparing the kind of transport policy to which he has referred? Is he aware that this is a very difficult problem, with which successive Governments have had to grapple, and will he recommend in the strongest possible terms, particularly to rural local authorities, that it does not benefit the community to let rural transport degenerate into lift-giving on a grace-and-favour basis? Will he also stress to them that it is in the best interests of the whole community that the regular scheduled routes of the National Bus Company should be kept intact as much as possible?

Mr. Carmichael

I agree in general with what my hon. Friend said about the importance of maintaining the local National Bus Company service in rural areas, but the provision of more money is not necessarily the answer. There are many places where extra money would not supply a solution, because the buses would still be travelling almost empty.

Sir David Renton

Is the Minister aware that since the present policy, which places responsibility upon local authorities, was formulated the cost of private motoring has increased so much that there is now a need to revise the rural bus services, not merely to ensure that they are maintained? Will he bear that in mind in his further thoughts on this matter?

Mr. Carmichael

The right hon. and learned Gentleman should be aware that a great deal of work has been done on this matter in the last year. I have met many local authorities, operators and trade unions, as well as other interested people. This complicated subject is one to which we are giving serious consideration, but there is no easy solution to it, as I at one time expected there to be. I hope that we shall be able to make some sort of statement before the recess.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Has my hon. Friend finally abandoned his Socialist view, which is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends, that we need a truly integrated transport system? In Scotland, particularly in the Hamilton constituency, many deaths are occurring on the A74, and it would be advantageous to set in hand a study of the restoration of Hamilton—Stonehouse railway line in order to secure a truly integrated transport system and an adequate bus service for the rural areas there.

Mr. Carmichael

I have no doubt that the Railways Board is aware of my hon. Friend's views on the question of Hamilton—Stonehouse line. The question of any improvement to the A74 is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Fox

Is the Minister aware that it is not only the local authorities which have not been forward-looking in this matter, but the Government, too? The growing feeling of isolation among rural communities is likely to be made worse by further cut-backs in bus services. Will the Minister look again at the Government action in the light of the 1974 road traffic legislation and think again about amending the law, so that people who get lifts in cars are given protection?

Mr. Carmichael

I remember that point being raised during the passage of the Conservative Road Traffic Act 1972. I have travelled around the country and discussed this matter with people of all shades of political opinion in the various areas, and we are now convinced that this would not be a solution.