HC Deb 20 July 1987 vol 120 cc5-6
6. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what studies his Department has conducted on the effects of bus deregulation on urban and rural transport in the north of England.

Mr. David Mitchell

Research being carried out by the Department's Transport and Road Research Laboratory into the effects of bus deregulation includes a number of studies in the north of England, including Merseyside.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister remember his comments on Merseyside during the general election that deregulation had not been the success there that he had hoped for? Is he aware that 36 per cent. of fare-paying passengers have been lost from the Merseyside buses since deregulation and that fares have risen by almost 50 per cent.? Will he tell the House how Merseyside passenger transport executive can continue running services when the guidelines that have been set by the Government are £36 million less than the sum that it estimates is needed for its requirements?

Mr. Mitchell

When I was on Merseyside, I said that as yet the benefits of deregulation had not become as apparent in Merseyside as I had hoped, and as I expect they will. It is true that fares on Merseyside had been kept artificially low for many years. The cost of transport service provision on Merseyside amounted to almost £50 per man, woman and child, and that huge and excessive amount is being trimmed hack. Last week I met representatives of the passenger transport authority in that area, and we are considering the comments that it made.

Mr. Holt

Would my hon. Friend care to note that in Cleveland, as a consequence of deregulation, the subsidy by the ratepayers has been reduced from £5.8 million per year to £1.8 million, a saving to the ratepayers of £4 million, without any effect on the services, except perhaps to improve them?

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he says is borne out by the interim report of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, which confirms what Ministers have been saying — that deregulation is a success. Bus mileage has been broadly maintained, there have been no massive cuts in services as forecast, the number of operators is about the same, and competition is starting to introduce new and innovative forms of service such as minibuses in over 200 towns.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that some of those advances are very unfair to people in my constituency? In rural areas, many of the bus services are much worse, the fares are much higher and, above all, it is singularly unfair on those who work in the bus industry, who are being forced to renew their contracts by a one-sided abrogation by Crosville that will lower the terms, conditions and wages of the bus men?

Mr. Mitchell

Obviously, the latter matters are for the Crosville management, not for Ministers. Many rural services are loss-making. It is for the county or the PTE to decide whether they are socially necessary and for them to make the necessary provisions.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

As the widespread perception is that deregulation has caused a severe loss of quality in bus transport, especially in rural areas, and as passenger transport authorities do not believe a word that Ministers say, does the Minister agree that an independent survey should be published as soon as possible so that we can discover what is really happening?

Mr. Mitchell

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position on the Opposition Front Bench and congratulate him on reaching that particular bed of nails.

As for an independent inquiry, the TRRL will provide such a report, which I believe will be very valuable.