HC Deb 12 November 1984 vol 67 cc406-7
15. Mr. Haynes

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what conclusions he has drawn on the efficiency of bus deregulation following his Department's experiments in trial areas.

Mr. Ridley

Experience in the trial areas has confounded the prophets of doom and shown that in a rural area deregulation and tendering for uneconomic services produces large savings of subsidy, and lower fares, without loss of services or safety.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Secretary of State aware that the policy set out in his White Paper and the proposed Bill will be a complete failure? His Department carried out an exercise, looking at certain transport services, and found that many of them were not up to standard, and most were well below. Will the Secretary of State drop his plans and leave everything as it is, so that the people can have the decent transport services to which they are entitled?

Mr. Ridley

On the contrary, in Hereford and Worcester the cost of subsidies in the trial area fell by £62,000, or 38 per cent., and the cost of school transport fell by £65,000 per annum. Fares in Hereford town went down and the number of services increased by 78 per cent. Under the impetus of this competition, the Midland Red—a subsidiary of the National Bus Company—was able to increase its productivity by between 25 and 30 per cent. Surely even the hon. Gentleman welcomes such wonderful results and would like to see them applied to his constituency, where they would be of great benefit to his constituents, despite his rather grudging acquiesence.

Mr. Adley

We all welcome any evidence that changes that have been made in whatever sector have produced benefits. Does my right hon. Friend agree on the following two simple points: first, that an adequate public transport system is the benchmark of a civilised society; and, secondly, that the elimination of cross-subsidy in public transport is likely to mean fewer off-peak services and fewer weekend services?

Mr. Ridley

There is everything to be said for having an adequate public transport system, but there is even more to be said for having one that operates at minimum cost to those who have to subsidise it. Secondly, cross-subsidy is a strange form of redistribution, because it happens mainly from the industrial north to the south of England and from the centre of cities to the country districts, and from the poorer areas to the leafier subsidies—

Mr. Snape

That is what the right hon. Gentleman represents.

Mr. Ridley

The right way to use ratepayers' and taxpayers' money is to provide socially desirable services rather than to subsidise the bus industry as a whole.

Mr. Foster

Is the Secretary of State aware that no one in rural areas believes what he says—not the county councils, the district councils, the passengers or the bus operators? Is he further aware that they resent his taking risks with their services for reasons of narrow party political dogma?

Mr. Ridley

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been got at by operators, local authorities and unions, but he might take care to consult the passengers. It is they who will benefit from this policy, and they want it. If the hon. Gentleman goes to Hereford or Worcester he will find that the passengers there would be loth ever to see the policy ending, because it has brought them such enormous benefits. I make it clear that the Government's transport policy is not about unions, operators and councils, but is about those who go on transport, and it is those whom we wish to benefit.

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I shall take points of order after questions.


Mr. Speaker

May I say to the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) that I hope his point of order is not an attempt to prolong Question Time. Unhappily, I was not able to get him in.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

My point of order arises out of the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). I took a note of what the Minister said. He said that my hon. Friend had been got at by certain interests such as unions and district councils. I take exception to the phrase "been got at". It implies that my hon. Friend has been subject to undue influence and that he has succumbed to it. Such language is not parliamentary and it did not arise in the heat of debate. It implies that hon. Members are not allowed to put to the House information that has been given to them by third parties. I am merely asking that the Minister be asked to withdraw the expression.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the expression is unparliamentary. I do think that we must be careful about our language, but surely this place is about pressures.

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