I begin by placing on the record my relief that the Bus Services Bill is finally having its day in the House of Commons. We have been waiting for this piece of legislation for some time—and you know what happens, Mr Deputy Speaker, you wait an age for a Bill and then another one comes along in a minute, namely the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.
I would like to thank all those involved in the passage of this Bill so far—the noble Lords on both the Government and Opposition Benches, members of staff and Clerks of the House, as well as my Labour colleagues, of course, both Front and Back Benchers, who have campaigned relentlessly for better bus services and have paved the way for the Government’s change in policy and this Bill.
The original Bus Services Bill has been expertly scrutinised and amended, leaving us with a much improved piece of legislation. Labour supports the Bus Services Bill, and we welcome the changes made in the Lords, which we hope to retain as the Bill goes forward.
Buses are an integral part of the UK’s economy and social life. Sometimes, a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to our railways and to aviation, but it is buses that play by far the most important public transport role for the greatest number of people. This is clear when looking at the number of passenger journeys alone. For example, there were 1.7 billion passenger journeys on our railways last year, a figure dwarfed by the 5.2 billion passenger journeys made by bus. Whether people are travelling to work or school, visiting family or attending a hospital appointment, it is more likely that they will do so by bus than by any other form of public transport. Buses provide a vital service to people in all areas of the country, supporting local economies, tackling congestion, combating social exclusion, and lessening environmental and climate change impacts.
This is why we want to see local authorities empowered and enabled to support thriving bus services, and to reverse the long-term decline of bus services that was brought about by the disastrous deregulation of bus services in England outside London by the Conservative Government in 1986. This Bill is an acknowledgment that the deregulation of bus services has not worked.