HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc141-2
6. Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab)

What plans he has to re-regulate buses; and if he will make a statement. [184920]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)

I shall set out proposals in relation to buses in my statement that follows Question Time.

Mr. Stringer

My right hon. Friend leaves me in a difficult position. I assure him that I shall listen carefully to his statement later. Does he agree that we can no longer justify having one system of bus regulation in London, which leads to clear accountability for public money, and another system of bus regulation, or deregulation, in the rest of the country, which leads to a more expensive system, no clear accountability for money, and profits nearly twice as high outside Greater London than in Greater London?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend puts me in a difficult position as well, but let me try to be helpful. The regime for buses in London has always been different, as my hon. Friend knows. It is, though, quite an expensive scheme. Bus subsidy in London has gone up dramatically, and it will go up still further over the next few years. In the rest of the country, it is clear that patronage has gone up in areas where there have been good local authorities and good bus companies—for example, in Brighton, Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. It is striking that in some places, the system has worked well. In other parts of the country, there have been difficulties. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for one thing: he has promised to be present for my statement, so that is the one. If he sticks around, he might catch your eye again, Mr. Speaker, and I shall be able to say something more.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Can I tempt the Secretary of State to say a little about how privatisation has helped rural bus services and patronage? In particular, is he aware of the problems in north Yorkshire, where some bus services are not as frequent as residents would like, especially to enable them to attend hospital appointments?

Mr. Darling

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is trying to make out that privatisation or deregulation is a good or a bad thing. She is wearing yellow, so perhaps she is in Liberal Democrat mode and is taking both sides of the argument. As she well knows, local authorities and her council in particular have the power to provide more bus services if they want to. Opposition Members sometimes overlook the fact that the remedy sometimes lies rather closer to home than here.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), because the same bus company serves both our constituencies, and I am still getting letters of complaint about it.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his decision to take greater control over the rail network. I, too, have been convinced to stay for his statement; he will have a packed house. I hope that he intends to consider doing the same with the buses as with the railways so as to give passenger transport authorities greater control over how they are run.

Mr. Darling

In order not to reduce the excitement, I suggest that if my hon. Friend cares to stick around he will learn more. Buses are not quite the same as railways, but some changes are necessary, and I shall set them out shortly.