Bus Deregulation

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 29th November 1993.

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Photo of Mr Bryan Davies Mr Bryan Davies , Oldham Central and Royton 2:35 pm, 29th November 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action he takes to monitor the effect on services of bus deregulation.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

The effects of bus deregulation outside London have been fully monitored through a programme of research undertaken by the Transport Research Laboratory, which has published a number of reports on the situation nationally and locally.

Photo of Mr Bryan Davies Mr Bryan Davies , Oldham Central and Royton

What has caused the Minister to change his mind about London? If deregulation will not work for London, why should Greater Manchester suffer, especially when unrealistic bids by private operators can work only if services are cut, workers sacked and fares raised?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

There is no intention to change either the operation of the travelcard or the concessionary fares scheme.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Greenwich

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.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

Obviously the common sense approach in London is what we shall follow, which is net cost tendering and privatisation of all London bus subsidiaries next year.

Photo of Mr Stephen Milligan Mr Stephen Milligan , Eastleigh

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?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

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.