HC Deb 19 March 1984 vol 56 cc694-5
10. Mr. Parris

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how the number of long-distance express coach services and the level of fares compares now with the number of services and level of fares prior to the Transport Act 1980.

Mr. Ridley

No central record is kept of express coach services or of the fares charged.

I understand, however, that there were about 1,200 express services running in the summer of 1980, and that 700 new services were running by the summer of 1983.

Fares have varied considerably from service to service, but on major long-distance routes I understand that average fares have fallen in real terms by almost 40 per cent.

Mr. Parris

In considering those welcome figures, does my right hon. Friend agree that the last major constraint on the further development of coach services is the difficulty of getting into and out of London and the need for a new terminus in London? Will he encourage British Rail and the National Bus Company to reach a sensible agreement about the use of Marylebone station and the railway line out of it?

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend that those figures are startling. They show what competition can do in this industry. The new terminal is a more difficult matter, because it is up to British Rail first to obtain consent for the closure of the line and Marylebone station. If there is an appeal, I shall have to make a decision. British Rail is required by the Transport Acts to sell its property for the maximum price it can get. It is almost impossible to speculate whether that action will result in the station becoming a bus terminal.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Have not cheap express coach fares been introduced at a cost to motorway safety as can be seen from the increased number of coach accidents? Is it not true that the cheapest public transport is available from British Rail under its "Rail Saver" tickets?

Mr. Ridley

Much worry has been expressed about coaches speeding. Coaches have been speeding on motorways, as the recent speed survey showed. Action has been taken in the very short term to enforce the speed limit on motorways in the ways I described 10 days ago. The connection between accidents and speed is not as well established. Coach services provide probably the cheapest transport for inter-city distances.

Mr. Moate

In view of the outstanding benefits conferred on tens of thousands of travellers through fast and cheaper services and the obvious benefits of competition, is it not surprising that deregulation was opposed by the Labour party? Do not those benefits offer the Labour party an opportunity to stand up and admit it was wrong and say that it welcomes the deregulation?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend is right, but Labour Members have not so far sought to make that point. I understand why, as it is disappointing when all that one has argued against turns out to be for the great benefit of the public.

Mr. Snape

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the National Bus Company has reduced its passenger mileage by 30 million miles since the passage of the Transport Act 1980 and that rural users of buses are suffering from the nonsensical over-capacity and competition on coach intercity routes?

Mr. Ridley

I do not confirm that. In 1982 National Express made a profit of £1.6 million on a fully allocated cost basis without cross-subsidy. That shows that cheaper transport can be made available without companies operating at a loss.