HL Deb 02 December 1986 vol 482 cc701-3

2.44 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, following the Answer of 13th October (col. 517) and the rejection by the Traffic Commissioner of an application by Strathclyde Regional Council, what steps they now propose to take to end "bus wars" in major cities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the Transport Act 1985 gives traffic commissioners the power to intervene to prevent danger to road users or reduce severe traffic congestion. The Traffic Commissioner for Scotland has not rejected the application by Strathclyde Regional Council for traffic regulation conditions in Glasgow. He has simply said that he is not prepared to take emergency action without holding a public inquiry to allow all the parties concerned to express their views. He has published the application and made it clear that he will be prepared to hold an inquiry if he receives a formal request for one.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is this not a continuing problem in Glasgow? Am I right in saying that the time-scale for the inquiry is about the middle of January? Do the Government not feel that the situation is getting out of hand and that they ought to intervene? If the Government are expecting some sort of voluntary arrangement to take place between the operators, would that not be against the spirit of the Act?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, no. It is for the Traffic Commissioner to decide whether he should reach a decision without holding an inquiry that would allow all the parties concerned to put their case. The Scottish Traffic Commissioner decided against acting without an inquiry. In reaching that decision, he noted that the severe congestion of 11th October, when other factors were involved, had not recurred.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the very fact that there has been an application to the Traffic Commissioner, although it was unsuccessful in achieving the full effect that Strathclyde Regional Transport wanted, seems to have brought about a slightly more sensible attitude on the part of the Scottish Bus Group?

Is the Minister aware that there is great uncertainty about the future of buses in Glasgow? We are at present grossly "over-bused". Many buses are travelling almost empty, with the obvious intention of pushing competitors off the road. Is the Minister aware that if Glasgow loses its bus services other than those of the Scottish Bus Group there will be a monopoly situation and that after Glasgow has been conquered, the same could happen in other cities around the country? Would the Minister keep this possible development in mind? Would he also perhaps ask the Office of Fair Trading to keep the matter before it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it is certainly within the power of the Office of Fair Trading to look into this matter. It is for the commercial judgment of each operator to decide what services he runs. Operators will provide services according to the demands of the market. This is the best way of ensuring that services reflect the needs of the travelling public, which of course should be the paramount consideration.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, in view of the great interest taken by this House in the legislation that promoted the new system of free operation of bus services, could my noble friend arrange in the New Year to publish a report of a survey nationally of how the new bus services are working throughout the country in order to fulfil our hopes as well as to allay our anxieties?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I shall certainly take note of what my noble friend suggests and see what might be the best way of putting forward such information.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, is it not probable that the matter will sort itself out in the middle of next month?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I gather that, to some extent, the problem has sorted itself out already.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, may I send my noble friend a rather nasty lob? Can he equate, in the spirit of this Bill, that there are two organisations—the Strathclyde Bus Company, which is owned locally, and the Scottish Bus Group, which has not been privatised—both intent on war and possibly keen, therefore, to keep out private enterprise? Does my noble friend think that, ultimately, this war will bring a better bus service to the citizens of Glasgow, and to the employees of the bus companies? Will he say who is going to be the winner after all in this very unsatisfactory and unsavoury situation?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is of course keeping in close touch with the competition aspect in Glasgow and elsewhere. If any evidence of anti-competitive behaviour emerges, the Government will take appropriate action. Also, as I said earlier, the OFT can also look at the matter.