HC Deb 19 May 1986 vol 98 cc3-4
3. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received regarding the privatisation of the National Bus Company.

Mr. Ridley

I have received a number of representations, mostly on behalf of groups of local managers and employees who welcome the forthcoming privatisation of NBC's subsidiaries and wish to gain controlling interests in their local companies.

Mr. Pike

Does the Secretary of State accept that if the NBC must be privatised the services would be better protected if it were privatised as a whole and not split up? Would that not protect both services and jobs?

Mr. Ridley

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We discussed the issue often enough in Committee. Already over 50 management teams have expressed interest in buying the subsidiaries, out of the 65 companies involved. Having that number of different companies, together with other private operators, such as the municipal and passenger transport executive operators, will provide that element of competition which has been lacking in bus services and will give a much better deal to the passengers. After all, that is what it is all about.

Mr. Stephen Ross

When does the Secretary of State expect to announce the acceptance of a bid for one of the companies by a management-work force buyer?

Mr. Ridley

Currently four bids are at an advanced stage of negotiation with the NBC. I cannot say when the negotiations will be complete, but so far as I am aware no bus company management is being held up by NBC in its efforts to purchase the company. I shall announce to the House the details of sales as and when they take place.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us think that privatising any service is good so long as it not only puts money into the Exchequer but helps the service? Does he understand, as I do, that one of the great ideas behind privatisation was that the difficult services would be improved? Does he agree that the scheme would fail if some services turned out to be worse than they are now? Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that services will improve?

Mr. Ridley

Well in advance of the deregulation and the tendering for routes, which has not yet happened, in many cities services have already improved. Mini-buses are being introduced on a large scale. We can do all that without the Act being in force, so how much more will we be able to do when it is in force?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will not deregulation and privatisation result in the loss of thousands of routes?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Campbell-Savours

Well, the people of Ryedale believed that. Do the Government now intend to change course? Do they accept that the people of Ryedale said no and that they want the restoration of proper policies?

Mr. Ridley

I accept that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, along with members of the alliance, succeeded to some extent in awakening people's fears that only the registered mileage would be run, but everyone concerned knows that that is not the full truth. The whole of the tendered services are involved. Local councils have 10 per cent. more cash provision to subsidise those tendered services than they had last year, and they have to subsidise only 25 per cent. of routes instead of the 100 per cent. that they did before.

Mr. Gow

Does not the privatisation of individual companies give employees and passengers an opportunity to become shareholders? What steps will my right hon. Friend take to encourage them to take that opportunity?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend is right. As is the case in the Isle of Wight, there is considerable enthusiasm for buying a local bus company. I have made it clear throughout the passage of the legislation that we would give some preference to employees and managers if they sought to buy their company. That is being translated into effect as the sales take place. I believe that the measure will spread ownership widely as well as improve passenger services.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Why does the Secretary of State not face the facts concerning both the National Bus Company and other bus company services? Does he realise that the early morning mileage of NBC services is down by 37 per cent., that evening mileage is down by 48 per cent., and that Sunday mileage is down by 53 per cent.? National Welsh intends to withdraw completely its children's concessionary fare. Is that not the clearest indication possible that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is failing? It is no excuse to say, "Wait until October, when everything will be confirmed."

Mr. Ridley

When will the hon. Gentleman wake up to the fact that he is telling only half the story? He knows perfectly well that to get half the Sunday services on 75 per cent. of all routes for no subsidy leaves more subsidy to provide the other half.