Transport Requirements (Rural Areas)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Transport and the Regions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31 March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 12:00, 31 March 1998

What assessment he has made of the role of the private car in meeting the transport requirements of people in rural areas. [35472]

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The Government are aware that people in rural areas have to rely more on the private car for access to jobs and services than do people in towns or cities. The Chancellor has announced an additional £50 million a year to improve the public transport alternative in rural areas.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

Given that the Government acknowledge that the car is a necessity for those living in the countryside, do they wish to insult people with their offer of £50 million, which amounts to virtually nothing per citizen? Why has policy yet again been aimed against the interests of those living in the countryside?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The hon. Gentleman had better think again. If he thinks that £50 million a year is not a significant benefit to rural bus services, he should look at the current level of subsidy. He is right that, for many people, the private motor car is indispensable. That is why he should welcome the fact that the Chancellor has announced a new vehicle excise duty rate of £100 for the least polluting, most efficient vehicles.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a private car is of assistance only to those who have one, and that many of my constituents in rural areas do not have access to private vehicles? Will he comment on the fact that, in Wales alone, 33 million bus journeys a year were lost through deregulation? That £50 million would certainly begin to rebuild bus services and give many of my constituents real access to real services in towns outside the rural areas.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My hon. Friend makes an important point. No less than a fifth of households in rural areas have no access to a motor car. That is why we have not only put another £50 million into rural transport but, by increasing the fuel duty rebate for buses to ensure that they are not subject to the higher duty on fuel, we have given them the benefit of £40 million. Moreover, we are looking at how we can more effectively regulate buses.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Transport)

Although the Government have put £50 million into rural areas, did not the previous Conservative Government's introduction of the fuel price tax escalator take £4.5 billion from motorists, and will not the changes now introduced by the Labour Government take £9 billion from motorists during the lifetime of the Parliament? Would that not be more than enough to reduce vehicle excise duty for all motorists driving small vehicles up to 1600 cc, not to £100 but to just £10? Would that not help rural motorists to stay on the road while encouraging them to use less polluting vehicles?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

But £100 for the cleanest vehicles is a good start. If the hon. Gentleman takes the trouble to talk to private bus operators in his constituency, he will find that, when they take into account the £50 million and the fact that the increase in the fuel duty rebate is worth £40 million, they will tell him, as they are telling me, that this is the best Budget that the bus industry has ever had.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Labour, Stirling

Unlike the Conservative party, I welcome the investment in rural transport announced by the Chancellor. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that, in parallel with urban transport management, it is essential that we have rural transport management to encourage people out of their cars and on to public transport, resulting in greater integration? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, in planning rural transport, the Government will consider the integration of services, which will meet the needs of education, work and leisure in rural communities in Britain?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. Of course, some families in rural areas have no alternative to the motor car because there is no bus service anywhere near them. But, as has already been pointed out, many households in rural areas do not have access to a car, and that is why public transport is so important to them, and why my hon. Friend will be looking forward to the new White Paper which will announce further initiatives in that area.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

The Government pay lip service to rural public transport but, in reality, they are raising £1.7 billion extra in taxes next year from motorists; investing less than 10 per cent. of that in public transport and less than 1 per cent. of it in rural public transport; and the sum of £50 million is even less than the £60 million which is being raised by the new secret £25 tax on every new car that is registered. Are not the Government totally out of touch with the realities of rural life where, for most people, the car is a necessity rather than a luxury?

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

The Conservative party's green manifesto of 1997 states: We need to consider new ways to break the link between desirable economic growth and undesirable traffic growth. We will continue to encourage the manufacture of more fuel efficient vehicles through annual increases in fuel duty. That was entitled "Leadership Abroad, Responsibility at Home". I do not see much sign of that now from the Conservative party.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that quality bus initiatives—joint partnerships between private bus companies and local authorities—will benefit from the £50 million, and that that £50 million could be translated throughout the country into a series of schemes that will benefit a vast number of people throughout rural areas? Does he further agree—I am sure that he has already done so this afternoon—that, in reality, many people in rural villages, particularly in my constituency of Loughborough, do not have access to their car during the day once it has been parked in the town centre? An integrated transport system will ensure that such cars stay at home and that buses go to some of those rural villages that have been so badly damaged during the past 18 years.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of that £50 million, £45 million will go to the bus industry, but £5 million will be available for community transport and for other types of transport in rural areas. Some Labour Members, including my hon. Friend, are considering innovative methods of rural transport in their constituencies.