Bus Companies, London

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey , Vauxhall 12:00 am, 22nd May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent assessment he has made of the performance of bus companies in London. [23879]

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

The overall quality of bus services in London is continuing to improve.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey , Vauxhall

Has the Minister seen the excellent report by the Lambeth public transport group on route No. 133, which is the only direct route through south London to the City? Is he aware that that report refers to high staff turnover and to demoralisation among staff, leading to a decline in service on that route? Does he agree that that is a direct result of a tendering process which is not open and accountable and which leaves the public no opportunity to see the facts of the tender that was won by London General?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

What I know about that report is that it is produced by the Lambeth public transport group, which is funded by that magnificent organisation, Lambeth borough council. I suspect that few objective observers will be surprised to know that that group sets all the difficulties on route No.133—principally traffic congestion on the A23—at the door of the dastardly robber barons who own the London bus companies. The reality is quite the opposite, but the report is an interesting insight into what the priorities of a Labour Administration might be for bus services: pay the trade union members a great deal more money and all the other problems will go away. That is nonsense.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I congratulate my hon. Friend and all concerned on the definite improvement in London's bus services, but does he accept that one-person operated buses sometimes delay traffic enormously while the driver takes the fares of people getting on? Will he bring back the clippies on busy bus routes, and does not he think that that would have other advantages as well?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I shall ponder on my hon. Friend's last point, which raises a fascinating prospect. What my hon. Friend says is important and he is quite right to say that one-person operation tends to reduce the speed.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I should be glad if the Minister would address the House and particularly the Chair. Too many Ministers turn towards the Member asking the question because they think that that is courteous, but it is not: the courtesy is to address the House and the Chair.

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I know that you, too, are interested in one-person operated buses and I am happy to follow your direction. I apologise for the discourtesy.

In London about 70 per cent. of fares do not involve cash but travelcards or elderly persons' cards. The way to develop the service is through cashless technology which allows for more rapid entry rather than going back to the inefficient days of two-man operation.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the Minister confirm that, since deregulation, passenger trips in London—where bus services were not deregulated—have scarcely fallen at all, while in all the metropolitan areas which were deregulated passenger trips have fallen by more than 35 per cent.? Will he acknowledge that deregulation has saddled Britain with a bus industry that is costing passengers more, providing a poorer service for those who need it most and using buses which are generally older, less well maintained and more polluting? Staff are disgruntled and worse off, and deregulation has virtually led to the demise of Britain's bus-building industry. When will the Minister admit that deregulation has been a disaster and that the sooner we have re-regulated bus services under a Labour Government the better?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

Once again, by their words shall they be judged: I am happy to leave any objective observer to think on what the hon. Gentleman has invited me to say. The hon. Gentleman's question proves that he knows nothing about bus services. He does not appreciate the huge difference between the London market and the out-of-London market. It is perfectly straightforward: in London, the inability of those who would otherwise commute by car to find parking spaces determines the consistently high level of bus use, while outside London increasing car ownership has led to less bus use—a feature which is common throughout the European Community. However, there is now clear evidence that the process of deregulation has arrested the rate of decline and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has led to a halving of subsidy, a reduction of a third in operating costs and 20 per cent. more route miles.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald , Hertfordshire North

In assessing the performance of London's buses, will my hon. Friend also look at their environmental performance? Is he aware that Johnson Matthey in my constituency has developed a diesel autocatalyst which is currently being piloted on some of London's buses? Will he see what can be done to spread this excellent initiative across all bus services?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I did indeed go to a demonstration of the continuous recircling trap product developed by Johnson Matthey. It illustrates the fact that in respect of diesel emissions, which were thought for a long time to be relatively benign, we now realise that those 10 micron particles are among the most dangerous emissions and we welcome any technical development which allows us to eliminate them from diesel engines.