§ 4. Mr. Freeman
asked the Secretary of State for Transport what specific definition of rural areas he proposes should be used for the purpose of transitional grant aid for bus services in such areas.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)
For the purpose of the rural bus grant we propose to define rural areas as being areas outside metropolitan counties and the larger towns as measured by data provided by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. We shall listen to the views of Members as to the size of small town which should qualify as rural.
§ Mr. Freeman
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. On the assumption that the new levels of rate support grant will compensate the county councils for the loss of the revenue element of the transport supplementary grant, how will the £20 million of transitional aid in the first year to the rural areas be distributed so that the benefit goes to the rural areas?
§ Mr. Spicer
The switch to capital only TSG will make no difference to revenue support, which will continue to be at the discretion of local authorities. The rural bus grant will be given through the fuel duty rebate mechanism. Operators will apply for the rural bus grant element on the basis of the services registered in rural areas.
§ Mr. Haynes
Why does the Secretary of State keep saying that we shall receive a better bus service under the Bill? Does the Minister not realise the serious effect that the Bill will have upon rural areas? It is no good talking about the transitional period, because we are talking about regular periods afterwards, bearing in mind that bus services will be seriously reduced in rural areas, particularly in my constituency.
§ Mr. Spicer
Rural bus services— indeed, all bus services—have declined in the last 10 years by over 25 per cent. The trial areas in which we have experimented show that we can stop the rot and increase the quality and number of buses.
§ Mr. Adley
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us applaud the theory behind the Bill, but have doubts about the practice? In the past few years in this place some of us have had experience of Governments who have had good ideas in theory but who have finished up a few years later wishing that they had done nothing of the sort.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the success in Hereford and Worcester was due largely to the enthusiasm and support of the county councils for the scheme? If he tries to bulldoze the proposals through in the face of hostility from county councils, he may well find a difficult situation. As the Bill has been delayed, will he please bear in mind that willing support should be a prerequisite to what he is trying to do?
§ Mr. Spicer
Yes, Sir. I can confirm that the Association of County Councils has given the proposed Bill its support.