I am pleased that Greater Manchester passenger transport authority has got on with splitting the bus company and selling the resulting two companies. The hon. Gentleman refers to an unrealistic bid by one company for Greater Manchester Buses (North). I do not believe that it is unrealistic. It is for the Greater Manchester PTA to make the decision and I hope that it will make it quickly. I wish the two companies, once split and sold, the very best.
London is wholly different from Manchester, Glasgow or Liverpool. The number of buses, the ridership and the intensity of use in London are very different. Next year, we are going to get on with privatising London's buses and providing a better service.
I welcome the fact that the Government intend to provide a better service on London buses for Londoners. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that service is already a great deal better than it was 10 years ago? Will he assure the House that, in the improved and deregulated market that he describes pensioners' and disabled people's travel passes will always be safe?
Why does the Minister not come clean and admit that the real reason for his Department abandoning bus deregulation in London is that he knew it would result in traffic chaos in central London and a collapse of services in outer suburban areas, the consequence of which would have been electoral annihilation for the Government? Why does the Minister not take pride on this one occasion in having done something sensible and allowed common sense to prevail over unnecessary dogma? Deregulation was not right for London and should be abandoned as a policy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the effects of bus deregulation has been to create companies which offer a range of transport services? In my constituency, the private bus company Southern Vectis is preparing a franchise bid for the loss-making coastal line. This will increase the frequency of railway services on that line from one per hour to one every 10 minutes. Does that not demonstrate that deregulation and privatisation will lead to an improvement in services, contrary to the allegations from the Opposition Front Bench that it will lead to a closure of unprofitable railway lines?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. Since 1989, bus mileage has increased by about 20 per cent. and operating costs per mile have fallen by about 40 per cent. [Interruption.] Do the Opposition disagree with that? Those are the facts. A deregulated and privatised industry will, I hope, bid for rail franchises and bring about a new dimension and improvement in railway services.