HC Deb 12 January 1987 vol 108 cc1-3
1. Mr. Wareing

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will visit Merseyside to consider at first hand the results of bus deregulation in the area.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

Neither my right hon. Friend nor I have immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Wareing

May I assure the hon. Gentleman that I should be only too ready to take him on a walk round bus stops in Liverpool and Merseyside? It would have to be a walk, because of the irregularity of the buses. It is not on for the Minister simply to say "No", when he must realise the scandal and chaos that have resulted from the disastrous deregulation of the buses on Merseyside. Does he realise that a Merseyside passenger transport executive report stated last week that no fewer than 20 per cent. of passengers have turned to other forms of transport? Does he realise that the report says that what was a good and reasonable service is now completely inefficient and incompetent?

Mr. Mitchell

That is entirely a matter for those on the ground. The extent of the reliability of the operations of a local bus service is nothing to do with the Government or with legislation. It demonstrates the management efficiency of the local operators. In this case, they have not been helped by strikes.

Mr. Fry

Does my hon. Friend recall that only a few years ago between 80 and 90 per cent. of passengers on off-peak Merseyside public transport services paid no fares? That resulted in large sums of public money having to be spent to sustain Merseyside public transport, and that was one of the major reasons for the Government's reorganisation.

Mr. Mitchell

Total ratepayer subsidy on Merseyside last year amounted to nearly £50 per man, woman and child in the area.

Mr. Alton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that before the Government's legislation the people on Merseyside were very happy with the bus services and that since the legislation bus fares have gone up, services have been slashed and there has been a strike every Saturday, which has inconvenienced the local people of Merseyside? Trench warfare has developed between the company and the users, and the initials MPTA are now thought to stand for, "Make Passenger Transport Awful".

Mr. Mitchell

Those who were using the bus services at subsidised fares may have been happy, but the ratepayers who were having to foot the bill were certainly not happy.

Mr. Sackville

When my hon. Friend visits Merseyside, will he also consider the position in neighbouring Greater Manchester where the passenger transport executive decided to withhold £10 million of the £l7 million available and failed to provide an adequate timetable——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about Merseyside.

Mr. Sackville

Will my hon. Friend the Minister draw a comparison with the situation on Merseyside?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is right to compare the way in which Manchester has sought to implement the Act and the position elsewhere in the country. Manchester provided only a skeleton or essential network instead of providing the socially necessary services found elsewhere in Britain.

Mr. Stott

Is the Minister aware that the ratepayers of Merseyside are also electors and that they voted consistently for a proper public transport system? The Minister cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and refuse to accept responsibility for what is happening on Merseyside and elsewhere. Since the Government introduced the Transport Act 1985, transport in Britain has been ruined. Responsibility lies with the Secretary of State and the Minister and not with the MPTA, which is having to put up with the results of that legislation. The Minister bears responsibility, and he was warned what would happen during the passage of the Bill two years ago.

Mr. Mitchell

Whether bus services are reliable and comply with timetables is a matter for local management, not for the Government.