§ 10. Mr. Campbell-Savours
asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met representatives of shire and metropolitan counties to discuss the impact of the Transport Act 1985.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities on 16 January. I have met various representatives of both shire and metropolitan counties at a series of seminars organised by the Bus and Coach Council earlier this year.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is it not true that deregulation, cuts in transport supplementary grant and cuts in bus grant have reduced the national demand for buses from 5,800 in 1980 to 2,400 in 1985? Is that not the real reason for the question mark over the bus plants at Lowestoft, Preston and Workington?
§ Mr. Mitchell
No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman deplores the phasing out of bus grant, but it was announced by the Labour Government in 1977, and it fell to this Government to carry out that intention. Thus, the hon. Gentleman can hardly blame this Government for carrying out a decision that was announced by their Labour predecessors. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the demand for buses, but there is very substantial demand for many smaller buses. Indeed, I hope that British industry will gear itself up to manufacturing what the market requires.
Is the Minister aware that minibuses have started operating in Avon? Is he further aware that in my constituency the 16 and 15-seaters are immensely popular and are serving parts of my constituency which have never before had a bus service? Is that not a reflection of the competition provided by the Devon General Bus Company?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that illustration, to which I could add many others. The Exeter experiment is well known. Not only has it increased the availability of bus services; it has increased the number of jobs for bus drivers. The scheme is so successful that the Devon General Bus Company is extending it to Torquay, where it is warmly welcomed.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Is the Minister aware that the 15,000 registrations relate mainly to the urban routes and that in the rural areas the outlook is grim? When he discusses these matters with the shire counties, will he remember that finances are inadequate to subsidise the rural routes when the time comes in the autumn? What does he intend to do about that?
§ Mr. Mitchell
In some rural areas, such as Devon, a high proportion of the routes have already been registered, so that it does not necessarily follow that there will be less registration in the rural areas. Substantial funds are available for contract services to be provided in the rural areas. One would expect the counties to use that substantial sum— nearly £100 million for the shire counties—to secure services in such areas. The people there can have the security and certainty of a contract service, and therefore feel safe.