HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc912-3
5. Mr. Booth

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what reductions in bus services were contained in the submissions made to him by county transport authorities for the purpose of determining their approved transport expenditure for the calculation of the 1981–82 transport supplementary grant; what is his best estimate of the extent to which those reductions arise from the operation of the licensing provisions of the Transport Act 1980; and to what extent they arise from the fare increase brought about by the reduction of transport supplementary grant for 1980–81.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

County councils explain their policies to the Government as the basis for our decisions on transport supplementary grant, but the detail of these policies is for councils themselves. The Transport Act will help by giving low cost operators more chance to compete in running bus services. I have no evidence to suggest that the Act has caused or will cause any reductions in services whatever.

Mr. Booth

Does not the Under-Secretary of State accept that all the evidence that I have is of reduced services and reduction in staff on bus services? If he is right, will he give one single example of a metropolitan or even a shire area in this country which has been able to organise improved stage carriage services under the transport supplementary grant regime and the licensing provisions introduced by his Government?

Mr. Clarke

By way of examples of new services, I can think of a new bus service between Grimsby and Saltfleet in Lincolnshire, the five busmen at Bexhill who have opened up a new service, and there are two one-man operators in Leicestershire, one operating to Lutterworth and one operating to other small villages. Many councils throughout the country are working with us in planning new services. We are distributing revenue support to the counties, roughly at the same level as previously, and they are now in a better position to make sensible use of it. The decline of bus services that took place last summer took place under the old regime, which accelerated that decline rather than halting it.

Mr. Dobson

Does not the Under-Secretary of State agree that, despite the myriad researches by the 13,000 civil servants at his disposal, he has apparently been able to identify only three new bus services, which spring from the allegedly revolutionary changes in the 1980 Act? Does he not further agree that, in view of his answer to this question, his answer to the question from his hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Williams) was misleading?

Mr. Clarke

We have a limited amount of time at our disposal, and a tour round the bus routes of England would probably encroach on the time of the House. The market for bus services has changed, and the ability of county councils to respond to it has changed. We shall now have a better ability to get value for money from the taxpayers' money that goes into bus services, and a better ability to match those services to real public demand.