HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc908-9
2. Mr. Delwyn Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with progress in improving rural bus services since the provisions of the Transport Act 1980 have been implemented.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Yes, Sir. I welcome the range of transport initiatives now being taken in this area to counter the decline of the past 20 years, and will continue to encourage them.

Mr. Williams

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that a bus is becoming a rare sight in Mid-Wales—almost as rare as the red kite? Is he aware, further, that many small bus operators on market town routes are being squeezed out of business by local authorities giving school transport contracts to State operators?

Mr. Clarke

The bus has been a declining feature in rural areas for many years. That is why we legislated last year to make it easier for new operators to enter the business and easier for less conventional forms of transport to be developed. I hope that local authorities in Wales will join many local authorities in England in collaborating with my Department in looking for ways to bring services to scattered and isolated areas.

Dr. John Cunningham

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that some of the provisions of the Act to which he referred, namely those which allow private operators to seek to cream off traffic in urban areas, will only redound to the detriment of the already inadequate services in rural areas such as Cumbria?

Mr. Clarke

I do not believe that there is any evidence that that has happened as a result of the Act. Nor do I believe that there is any sensible evidence that it will happen. What my hon. Friend the Member of Montgomery (Mr. Williams) referred to was the ability now for new operators to enter this area and to provide new services for the public, competing sometimes on fares and quality. That can only be to the advantage of the travelling public. It will change the status quo, sometimes in a very beneficial direction.

Mr. Iain Mills

Will my hon. and learned Friend consider taking special measures to encourage parish councils to consider the provision of certain services?

Mr. Clarke

I am glad to say that we are closely involved, through the agency of some counties, with parish councils because they are a valuable way of spreading information about what can be done with unorthodox transport such as car sharing, taxi sharing, community buses, and so on. I agree that parish councils are very well placed to be in touch with real local demand.

Mr. Penhaligon

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, in the real world, in rural areas such as Cornwall, of the 80-odd bus routes that still exist in the county only three currently make a profit? Why does he believe that the private operator will move in a substantial way to take up the slack?

Mr. Clarke

Private bus services in Cornwall cannot be attributed to the Act. The Act came into force only in 1980. Revenue support is still required, which is why we continue to give grants to counties to provide revenue support. The Act enables counties to make more sensible use of their resources and to bring on new operators and new resources where, perhaps, they might be better than the old declining, conventional, bus services.

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