I have heard lots of mention made of mayoral elections in this debate, so I should probably declare my interest in saying that I am a candidate in one of those races and will indeed seek to use the powers in this Bill should they become available to me. The comments I wish to make today are born out of 16 years as the Member of Parliament for Leigh and the issues I have dealt with relating to bus services in my constituency, which frankly, in my view, have never been good enough in that time.
To put the debate into its proper context, I want, like my hon. Friend Graham Stringer, to go back to the 1985 legislation. Let me read out the words of the then Transport Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, when he introduced the Second Reading of the Bill that became the Transport Act 1985:
“The Bill is about competition...We want to see competition providing an incentive to be efficient and to offer passengers a better quality of service. The customers…want greater efficiency, lower fares, smaller buses going into residential estates, greater comfort or a more polite and helpful driver. Competition is the key to these improvements. It is the key to increasing patronage.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 73, c. 192.]
Having listened to the current Transport Secretary today, I can only say that he put the bravest face that he could on the situation and glossed over some of the real problems that we have seen in bus services ever since that flawed legislation was introduced. He tried to point to all the investment that the private sector had made and said that there had been service improvements, but I am afraid that that is not how the travelling public see it.
It is certainly not how I saw it when I was growing up. I was of an age where those changes directly affected me. I was 16 when the legislation came into being, and then saw it affect me in my teenage years and as I moved towards work. The Secretary of State is fond of reminding people, as he did today, that I was born down the M62 in Liverpool, but he needs to know that when I was one, my dad got a job in Manchester and we moved halfway between, so I was a regular user of the orange and white buses from Leigh bus station—the 26 and the 39—into Manchester; it used to cost us 10p. The minute the 1985 legislation was put in place, the price shot up, the services all changed, and nobody knew where they were. I could not get to work at my first job on the Middleton Guardian using the bus, because it was an unpaid job as a trainee reporter and I could not afford to make it work. Those experiences live with people.
Anybody who has used the buses in Greater Manchester over the past 32 years since the changes came in would say the same. As my hon. Friend Mike Kane said, bus usage has gone down from 355 million journeys in 1986 to 210 million journeys now. The picture has been the same in South Yorkshire and other metropolitan areas that have been mentioned—a huge decline that is very much linked to the cost and quality of the services.