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Bus Purchase Grants

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is satisfied with the controls exercised by his Department over the administration of bus purchase grants for stage carriage operators.

Yes, Sir. The procedures have already been revised to reduce the opportunities for fraudulent grant claims. My officials are also discussing with the operators their estimates of future bus purchases.

My right hon. Friend knows that millions of pounds are involved. What about the case of Barton's, Britain's biggest independent operator, which last year actually made a profit out of selling five-year-old buses and buying new ones under the grant scheme? What about the Newport cases last November where, for example, in the Moseley case some £10,000 in costs and fines were awarded? What about the Don Everall case in which £2,000 in costs and fines was awarded—[Interruption.] Can I say to my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

Order. The hon. Member has asked three supplementary questions already.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the stories now circulating about dealers and operators who have had to hand money back and have still not been taken to court? Is he not concerned that a worthwhile scheme which should be helping hard-pressed public transport is being turned into a gigantic milking machine for filling private operators' pockets?

My hon. Friend tends sometimes to use colourful language. We have made some amendments to meet the point and there have been 16 successful prosecutions involving six operators and two distributors. If my hon. Friend has information which he thinks we can use to correct any existing abuses or possible abuses of the scheme, he knows that I am available to talk about these things. That is probably a better way to do it than by parliamentary question and answer.

In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), many bus operators are in a desperate position and services are being drastically cut. People are not able to get to work, particularly in rural areas. When I raised this matter with the Prime Minister he suggested that I should take it up with the Minister of Transport. For once I am taking the Prime Minister's advice and I am asking the right hon. Gentleman when his Government will do something to produce a transport policy to serve people in the rural areas.

I think the hon. Member knows enough about the facts of transport to realise that it is easy to make a declamatory statement about the problems of rural transport, but it is not easy to produce a scheme especially when, perhaps for understandable reasons, many county councils are unwilling to make contributions to the social service this transport system would provide.