HC Deb 19 November 1984 vol 68 cc10-1
10. Dr. Marek

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the quality of stage carriage bus services in Wales if Her Majesty's Government's plans for deregulation are implemented.

Mr. John Stradling Thomas

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport has already explained to the hon. Member and to the House that the recent White Paper on buses sets out the Government's reasons for removing the present system of road service licensing and their assessment of the beneficial effects of the proposals. Reference to the Government's proposals for the bus industry is made in paragraphs 14 and 15 of the consultation paper "Local Choice in Public Transport", a copy of which was sent to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Marek

Can the Minister give us a guarantee that, if the proposals are implemented, stage carriage bus services will not further decline?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

I do not think that anyone could give such a guarantee. We want greater flexibility and more local choice. I should have thought that that would be welcome, especially in the context of what I said earlier about genuine consultation on these matters.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

What assessment has been made of the concept of cross-subsidy, when it usually comes from passengers who are resident in the least well-off areas and benefits areas with a high car-owning population?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

That illustrates why we want to get the maximum flexibility to achieve the fairest and most efficient transport provision in rural and urban areas.

Mr. Anderson

Is the Minister aware that British Leyland assumes that there will be a substantial reduction in purchases of its vehicles if deregulation comes about? Is the Minister making way for cowboys in clapped-out vehicles, or will there be more inspection of vehicles?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

Far from there being cowboys in clapped-out vehicles, current experience is of safety standards being increased because more modern vehicles are being used. Moreover, British Leyland, like the rest of British industry, must learn to adapt to the needs of the new system.

Sir Raymond Gower

Is it possible for there to be greater consultation between bus operators, potential bus operators and those who control other services such as the distribution of mail, foods and other commodities, as obtains in some parts of France?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

That would be very welcome. The greater flexibility that has been suggested in the consultation document could well lead to such a happy result.

Mr. Wigley

Bearing in mind the fact that the Government plan to introduce private companies, which will come in only to take profits out of money available for buses, will the hon. Gentleman guarantee that local authorities will have that much more money to maintain services in rural areas which would otherwise be disadvantaged by the loss of cross-subsidy?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

The financial provisions are broadly neutral with regard to local authorities. I find it surprising that a company that runs a profitable route should be criticised. We want profitable services, which will provide an efficient service, rather than loss-making services that can never succeed and will ultimately be withdrawn. We have already seen that pattern of decline.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Minister take into consideration the fact that the transport committee of the Association of District Councils does not accept that radical changes are necessary for the road passenger transport industry? Indeed, it has expressed doubts about the knowledge of the people who have drawn up the proposals. In view of the general disquiet about the proposals, does the Minister agree that it would be wise for the Government to turn the White Paper into a Green Paper?

Mr. Stradling Thomas

I see. I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but there are two separate papers for Wales and there is obvious confusion about them. The Green Paper issued by the Welsh Office is a Green Paper— [Interruption.] It is clear from much of what has been said that even hon. Members have completely confused the Green Paper and the White Paper. It is also clear from what has been said upstairs in Committee that the two have been confused. It is therefore right that the matter should be clarified.