As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said in the London Regional Transport levy order debate on 25 January, we have asked LRT to bring forward early proposals for restructuring London Buses Ltd. into smaller units which will be able to operate commercially under conditions of competition.
I understand that London Regional Transport is now considering a proposal to break up the bus fleet into 15 separate companies. Will the Minister tell the House what good that will do for the efficiency of bus services in London generally? He must know how many people are complaining about the system at present. The LRT 1988–89 business plan shows that there will not be any improvement in waiting time next year, that about 70 million bus miles will be lost and that there will be no new investment in buses. Will he tell us how his proposals will assist the travelling public in London?
Mr. Robert G. Hughes:
Will my hon. Friend accept that people in my constituency, where there is a local bus organisation called Harrow Buses, want more of the decisions made by local people on the spot and that, therefore, the splitting into different companies is warmly welcomed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the features of smaller-based operations is that they are able to be more flexible in responding to consumer demand. This has been well demonstrated in the deregulated system outside London, where the National Bus Company has been broken up in that way, and it has proved to be very successful.
Will the Minister confirm that if there is to be any improvement — which is doubtful — as a result of the break-up of London Buses, it will come only as a result of higher bus fares? Will he also tell the House whether he intends to push ahead with the deregulation of the London bus system within the lifetime of this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume that there is a direct correlation in those matters with bus fares, which should be operated at the optimum level to secure both continuing custom and a viable business, where it is practicable to do so. I hope that I have successfully answered the hon. Gentleman's question.