HC Deb 05 November 1980 vol 991 cc1261-2
1. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied with the procedures for payment of bus grant.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister assure the House that it is possible for him to identify, and if necessary to publish, the amount of grant available to each bus? If that is the position now, why was it not so in the past?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman knows that, when the scheme was in its earlier stages, stage payments were allowed to local authorities. That appears to have given rise to an enormous amount of paper work. When the hon. Gentleman pressed me about the individual cost of fleet line buses, I found that the first 17 buses gave rise to 50 pages of paper work. The local authorities bought more than 2,000 buses. I do not agree that we should spend all the time and money involved on providing individual costs for each bus, going back into the past. The present system allows us to know exactly how the money is being spent.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister confirm, or deny, the reports in both The Guardian and the Financial Times about the rather peculiar bus grant that we are told the Minister proposes to make to private operators in those areas where, the Ministry is trying to bribe county councils to introduce trial areas?

Mr. Clarke

The stories are ill-founded. The new bus grant has nothing to do with the creation of trial areas. Currently, we are considering transport supplementary grants for all local authorities that made bids this year. We shall consider the bids made by counties contemplating trial areas for any transitional costs that might arise.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is much better to have competition in bus transport than to adopt the sort of plans proposed by the London Labour Party—at great expense to London ratepayers if the Labour Party ever comes to power—whereby free transport will be provided out of the rates?

Mr. Clarke

The first fruits of competition that we are seeing in the context of inter-city coaches, following the Transport Act 1980, are all to the good of consumers. They are leading to an extension of better services. I agree that if the London Labour Party introduces in London the sort of policies that have been introduced in South Yorkshire by the South Yorkshire Labour Party, the eventual cost to the ratepayers will be ruinous. Presumably, the Labour Party will then be obliged by reality to abandon its policy.