§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
I am currently discussing with the chairman new objectives for London Regional Transport for the next three years. I expect those objectives to include reference to our policy of extending the benefits of deregulation to bus users in London.
§ Mr. Cox
I note that reply, but is the Minister aware of the increasing concern expressed by people in London about the future of their bus services and specifically about the effects of deregulation? Will he assure the House that high on the list of priorities will be the protection of services, the conditions in which staff have to work and the safety of passengers? Will he give an assurance that items of that kind will be discussed in the House and in local communities, and not just with people seeking to run bus services in London?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I can well understand people in London expressing concern about the bus services and looking forward to the time when they can enjoy the benefits that other parts of the country have had, including the introduction of minibus services, hail-and-ride services and a whole tranche of innovation which London has only just begun to experience. Safety and other matters remain, of course, of prime importance to the Department of Transport.
§ Mr. Adley
Does my hon. Friend agree that a non-dogmatic view of deregulation suggests that there have been some disadvantages as well as advantages? Before proceeding to consider full deregulation in London, will my right hon. Friend consider the effect of coach deregulation, which has taken away local authorities' power to direct traffic on to particular routes and has led to great parking problems, increased pollution and the use of unsuitable roads? Will he give full consideration to those aspects before reaching a final decision on bus deregulation?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I hear what my hon. Friend has said and I will consider his point. However, coach deregulation has brought enormous benefits to a large number of our fellow citizens who can now travel at prices that they never dreamt would be possible. Indeed, the competition has sharpened British Rail considerably.
§ Mr. Foot
Will the Minister be discussing with the management of London Regional Transport the kindred subject of the further introduction of one-man-operated buses? Is it really the management's intention to proceed with that programme? Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that any figures given by LRT showing that such a programme is popular with the public must be cooked? Is it not true that the only purpose of the programme—apart from increasing the jams in London—is to throw a few more people out of work?
§ Mr. Mitchell
London Regional Transport is not committed to 100 per cent. one-person-operated buses in London, although that is the norm in other major cities in the world. Each major route that is converted to OPO saves £250,000 a year for the ratepayers of London. 7 Indeed, OPO is safer for the crew because there are fewer assaults on staff and there are also fewer boarding and alighting accidents.