HC Deb 25 February 1981 vol 999 cc875-6
18. Mr. Iain Mills

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what information he has upon the relative effectiveness of the different fare schemes applied by public road transport undertakings.

Mr. Fowler

I am collecting information on this but what we do know is that indiscriminate subsidies to keep fares artificially low have meant soaring bills for the ratepayer and can force a loss of jobs and investment in industry. Local authorities would be well advised to scrutinise very closely just what benefits the public get from costly policies of this sort.

Mr. Mills

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he recall that the experience of the South Yorkshire fares experiment has often been put forward by Opposition Members as a good example of a beneficial scheme? Will he let me know today, or at some other time, the cost of the South Yorkshire scheme to the domestic and industrial ratepayer in South Yorkshire?

Mr. Fowler

My information is that revenue support in South Yorkshire, leaving aside concessionary fares, is at present costing £35 million a year and is likely to go up to £47 million next year. Although this is apparently now the policy of the Opposition, it was opposed by the Labour Government. The Minister of Transport at that time described the policies as wasteful. I think that is right.

Mr. Prescott

Does the Secretary of State accept that that level of support is recognised as normal in Europe and America? Does he accept that more people travel on that system than on Tory metropolitan authority systems, where there are high redundancies and high fares? Does he understand that the Opposition believe that it is important that a transport policy leads to more people travelling on the buses?

Mr. Fowler

It is true that the number of passengers has increased by 2 per cent, between 1976 and 1979. However, the evidence seems to suggest that people are not leaving their cars but that bus users are making more journeys by bus. The attitude expressed by the Opposition is a U-turn because they completely opposed the policy when in Government.