HC Deb 25 February 1985 vol 74 cc9-11
10. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what benefits to the consumer he expects from immediate implementation of the Transport Bill.

Mr. Ridley

Implementation puts the customers first and brings a better standard of service, lower fares on many routes and the prospect of ending a 30-year decline of bus services. The main provisions of the Bill will be implemented during the course of 1986.

Mr. Dixon

Is not the opposite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said in fact the truth—that not only will it eliminate early morning, evening, weekend and rural services, but will put in jeopardy the Tyne and Wear integrated system and threaten pensioners' concessionary passes?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. It will do none of the things that he alleges. It will, indeed, improve rural services and allow concessionary fares and other such concessions to continue. If the Tyne and Wear metro is as good as he and many others think—myself included—I do not see what the threat to it can be. The hon. Gentleman may not know that I have asked my officials to consider with the local authority associations whether the GRE formula can take account of the extra revenue support costs of the metro. That is already the case, as he may know, with BR services under section 20. We are prepared to look at the problem, but I do not believe that it would be right to deny customers the freedom to go how and where they like just because a metro is in existence.

Mr. Sayeed

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Avon the bus subsidy has increased from £66,000 to over £4½ million in 10 years, representing a real increase of 2,100 per cent., while services have declined? As exhortation has failed in the past, is it not now time for legislation?

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend. I visited Avon last Friday and discussed the matter with representatives of Avon county council and others in the area. It appears to be breaking on party lines, with the Labour-controlled councils, with their usual reason of resistance to change and new thinking, now being the main opponents of the Bill.

Mr. Pike

As the Bill states that, when inviting tenders it is not possible to lay down conditions of employment, is it the intention of the Secretary of State that the main benefits to consumers shall be achieved on the backs of the workers in the industry by way of poor working conditions and low pay?

Mr. Ridley

Not a bit. The local authority associations asked, and we were happy to agree, that there should be greater flexibility in the rules of tendering, and that is allowed for in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman may know that the Midland Red Bus Company in Hereford and Worcester achieved a 25 per cent. increase in productivity without any of the scare stories that he is now peddling.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been besieged with protests from ratepayers in my area at receiving through their letter boxes—every ratepayer in Lancashire has received one—a copy of this expensive looking glossy leaflet which I hold in my hand, which tries to mislead the public about the situation applying to buses? Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of my rural constituents are looking forward eagerly to the day when we get more frequent and more flexible bus services and when we do not have 72-seater buses running round country areas, each carrying only one or two people?

Mr. Ridley

I entirely share my hon. Friend's views. If the money that has been spent on publicity by some county councils had been spent on improving rural services, we might have a very much better system of services.

Mr. Hoyle

In view of the considerable volume of correspondence that the Secretary of State has received from those protesting about the Bill, will he drop it? Is it not true that it will provide a worse deal for the consumer? Many consumers will have no bus services and there is a risk to safety because of the pirates that the right hon. Gentleman will put on the road.

Mr. Ridley

I never understand why the Labour party is incapable of thinking that anything new can be done. It is unable to contemplate actions that are taken on behalf of customers. Is it dominated totally by interest groups and the unions?

Mrs. Dunwoody

If the Bill is so marvellous, why has the Women's Institute produced a number of surveys showing that over 40 per cent. of women in rural areas have no access to cars during the day, and in many instances do not have cars available to them at the times that would be most useful to them? As we know from the Hereford experience that many rural areas will not have any services, why does the right hon. Gentleman think that communities are protesting if they can see that the Bill will be of benefit to the consumer?

Mr. Ridley

It is because so many people in rural areas, especially women, are dependent upon bus services that we seek to improve rural bus services. Perhaps the hon. Lady will take on board the representations of consumers. The National Consumer Protection Council has welcomed the provisions in the Bill. It believes that they will lead to better rural services, as in Hereford.

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