HC Deb 06 April 1977 vol 929 cc1191-3
1. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further representations he has received on the reform of the traffic commissioner licensing system.

29. Mr. Mates

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further representations he has received about the reform of the traffic commissioner licensing system.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

In response to the consultation document on transport policy the county councils have asked for road service licensing to be transferred to them, the Association of District Councils and both sides of the bus industry have opposed such a transfer, and a handful of private individuals have supported each side.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, which seems to leave an indeterminate situation in terms of making the decision. Is he aware that commuters in Hove and Brighton find it unacceptable that their fares have increased by 130 per cent. in four years? When the traffic commissioners take account of the question whether a route is adequately served, as they are required to do in determining whether to grant a road service licence, does he think it reasonable that they should also take account of the price charged for the service, and whether it includes a degree of cross-subsidisation by British Rail of one route by another?

Mr. Horam

There is certainly no cross-subsidisation in British Rail. That is evident if one looks at the allocation of costs within the system. The House has had a number of debates about commuters. The Government are very sympathetic to commuters who have been faced by very steep increases of over 100 per cent. in a period of two or three years. We are looking closely at this question in our review of transport policy.

Mr. Mates

Irrespective of who has responsibility for issuing these licences, will the Minister recognise that there is a growing feeling that some bus companies are more concerned with preserving monopoly routes than with providing services for the public? In the light of the situation in rural areas particularly, will he make it absolutely plain that the needs of the public must come first, even if this means stepping on the toes of some monopoly interests?

Mr. Horam

Of course the needs of the public come first, but the hon. Member must realise the real fragility of the situation in rural areas, where many services are running very close to what is economically possible. If we were to accept the letting in of competition in a totally free manner, we might do more harm than we intend.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Will the Minister consider proposals that have been suggested for experiments with commuter coach services? Will the Government seek to promote a number of experiments with such services from towns around London? We should not turn our backs on any scheme that promises to cut the cost of travel for commuters who are most hard hit by fare rises over the past two years.

Mr. Horam

Experiments may be made on private initiative. I believe that one has been carried out by the Brighton Line Commuters Association, but this has not done so well because it takes much longer to get to London by bus than it does by train. If the journey takes two hours, it is not really a viable proposition. However we are anxious to encourage experiments wherever we can.

Forward to