HC Deb 07 November 1979 vol 973 cc387-9
8. Mr. Spriggs

asked the Minister of Transport what representations he has re- ceived about his proposals for bus de-licensing.

28. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Minister of Transport what representations he has received about his proposals for bus de-licensing.

Mr. Fowler

Since my proposals for relaxing the bus licensing system were published in August, I have received representations from the trade unions, the local authority associations, the bus and coach operators and many other organisations.

Mr. Spriggs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his proposals constitute a massive threat to the future of bus services in rural areas? Is it not the case that the inevitable result of the proposals will be the entry of cowboy operators who will cream off the profits on the most popular routes, leaving no cash for the National Bus Company to provide bus services out of its resources?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. The aim of the proposals is to encourage new services to develop. The Guardian leader this morning stated that the best hope for rural areas lies in the liberating provisions of the Government's proposed Transport Bill". I agree with The Guardian about that.

Mr. Gummer

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his proposals for bus de-licensing will mean that in rural areas small operations will be improved? In my constituency, one area's service is only two buses a month, which come under the traffic commissioners. They force the buses to stop only three times on seven miles of road in the village of Badinghani—they may not pick up more than that number of times altogether. Will he confirm that that sort of service will cease and that we shall be able to provide the community with the service it wants?

Mr. Fowler

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's remarks. In many rural areas, the bus services are inadequate and, in some cases, non-existent. We hope that we shall be able to encourage new operators to come forward.

Mr. Booth

Will the Minister indicate when the Bill will be published with the bus licensing proposals? Does he agree that it would be unrealistic to expect British Rail to be able to make arrangements with the National Bus Company for it to take over feeder services on loss-making routes while a major doubt hangs over any protection which exists for National Bus Company licensing, in order that British Rail can cross-subsidise such routes?

Mr. Fowler

We have held full consultations with the bus industry and the National Bus Company. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Bill will be published during the course of the next two weeks.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why there must be change is the restrictive attitude of the National Bus Company, with its near monopoly, in objecting to literally every reasonable and inventive proposal to improve rail transport?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend puts forward an additional argument why reform is necessary. The bus licensing laws were set down in 1930. It is not revolutionary to suggest that they now need reform.

Mr. Newens

Does the Minister expect any private operator to undertake an unremunerative bus service? That being so, the unremunerative services will still rest in the responsibility of the National Bus Company. Are we not therefore making it more difficult than ever for the National Bus Company to make a profit and striking a mortal blow at the nationalised service?

Mr. Fowler

We are certainly not striking a mortal blow at the service. We are allowing county councils to be free to give revenue support to operators to run unprofitable services. The change will be that under this system those councils will have a much greater choice than at present.