HC Deb 04 February 1976 vol 904 cc1189-91
15. Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the individual amounts provided for the county of Lancashire in the year 1976–77 for bus revenue support and other transport services, including road maintenance; how this compares with the national average; and whether he will make a statement on his future intentions for supporting bus services where there is a recognised revenue shortfall.

Dr. Gilbert

The total expenditure accepted for transport supplementary grant purposes for Lancashire for 1976–77 is £16.4 million, equivalent to £12 per head compared with a national average of £l6 per head. Of this, £1.6 million is for bus revenue supoprt, which is equivalent to £1.14 per head, compared with a national average of £1.85 per head. The Government's policy on bus revenue support is set out in Circular 125/75 issued by the Department.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. However, will he take it from me that he has recognised the problem and realises that there is a need? Therefore, why does he not give more help?

Dr. Gilbert

Alas, I am unable to give as much help in as many directions as I wish.

Mr. Hall-Davis

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is great anxiety in Lancashire about the length of time being taken in producing a co-ordinated policy on passenger transport, and that this is making it very difficult to provide economic services for bus passengers?

Dr. Gilbert

The introduction of the transport policies and programmes system has been a great help for county councils in focusing their thinking on priorities in the areas for which they are responsible. We shall fairly shortly be coming forward with a consultative document dealing with wider national considerations.

Mr. George Rodgers

Is my hon. Friend aware that the cost of travel by public transport, buses in particular, has risen much faster than the rate of inflation generally? Does he agree that there is a danger that the services in Lancashire will disintegrate totally unless further funds are made available?

Dr. Gilbert

Rates of increase depend on the base year. There was a considerable period in which fares did not rise nearly as fast as the general rate of inflation. I certainly take my hon. Friend's point. That is why last August I invited all the county councils to come back and bid for additional supplementary grant to assist with bus revenue problems. I am glad to say that a great many did so, and I was able to accept virtually all the higher bids.

Mr. Norman Fowler

As it is the Government's declared policy that bus fares should rise, what action does the Minister propose to take in relation to authorities that ignore the Government's advice and put the extra cost on the rates?

Dr. Gilbert

We on the Government side of the House meant what we said when we made it clear that we thought that authorities should be able to decide how to deal with local problems in the light of local needs and that the decision was to be devolved locally. That is quite different from the situation that existed under the previous Administration.

Mr. Les Huckfield

What does my hon. Friend say about his policy in reply to my hon. Friend's Question, particularly the latter part? He has not so far said what he intends to do with bus services with a recognised revenue shortfall. Surely he is not pretending that the circular, which his Department sent out just after Christmas, advocating the liberalisation of licensing laws and allowing minicabs and things like that is the answer to the problems of the National Bus Company.

Dr. Gilbert

The National Bus Company has serious and continuing problems, many of a secular nature deriving from the increase in the ownership of private cars and, in part, the present economic circumstances, which are leaving people with less disposable income.

As regards the relaxation of licensing restrictions, as my hon. Friend is aware, we hope to introduce legislation along those lines, but it will be confined to three or four experimental areas.