asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to receive the annual report and accounts of the National Bus Company.
By the middle of the year.
Does not the Minister agree that, in view of the report of a statement he made to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party about the grave condition of the National Bus Company, it is high time that a statement was made by him on the Floor of the House so that we might see whether the company has come to him to seek immediate cash assistance and, if so, whether the figure of £25 million is correct?
The hon. Gentleman has been a Member long enough to know that sometimes Press reports are not a wholly accurate account of what transpires in private meetings. But it is well known that the National Bus Company, like all public service transport undertakings, is operating at a loss in present circumstances. I am having discussions with the chairman. If the need arises, the Government will take the necessary steps to assist the company. Publication of last year's accounts would not assist either the hon. Gentleman or the House to assess the situation in 1975, which is our immediate concern.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the reason for the present financial problems of the National Bus Company is the counter-inflation policy of the previous Government, which did not permit nationalised industries to increase their rates in accord with the inflation that was taking place at that time?
This probably was a factor in the deficits incurred by a number of public sector industries. But that does not apply in present circumstances.
Is the Minister aware that, at this time of great concern about the high cost of petrol in rural areas, Treasury Ministers are giving the answer that greater reliance will be placed by the Government on the use of public transport? In the circumstances of the National Bus Company and with more and more counties seriously concerned as to whether they can continue to subsidise local bus services, and at a time when the bus companies are coming forward with much greater demands for subsidies, what will the right hon. Gentleman do to preserve even the present limited fabric of bus services?
I am very much concerned about the problem. Only yesterday my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was having discussions with the local authorities. He has already met the operators and the trade unions with a view to trying to find a way out of these very difficult problems. One of the difficulties is that it is recognised that in many rural areas it is not viable to run reasonable bus services and that the counties, as they have powers under the transport supplementary grant, should make subsidies to them. Counties which included this in their plans obtained a grant specifically for that purpose in the TSG recently announced. The trouble is that many counties have either cut back on their plans or are contemplating doing so. This is a great difficulty, because the whole concept has been that the counties should have some regard to the social service aspects of these routes.