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Bus Services (Rural Areas)

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet in a position to announce proposals for improving conditions in rural bus services, following his discussions with local authorities and bus companies.

I appreciate the concern felt by the hon. Member and we will make a statement as soon as possible.

Does the Minister realise that many areas, particularly the small villages, will await his statement with the greatest interest because the problem is serious? Can he, when he comes to have these discussions, encourage the traffic commissioners to approach what is admittedly a difficult problem with a little more imagination than they have done to date, particularly with regard to specific ideas such as the merging of postal and bus services and the question of local mini-bus services? Is it not high time that these ideas were tried out?

The hon. Member knows that there have been a number of Adjournment debates on this matter. We have discussed it fairly fully. I have travelled round the country and met a large number of traffic authority people, including traffic commissioners. Some of the ideas that the hon. Member has suggested are among those I hope to be putting forward.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent increases in rural bus fares, coupled with the regulations enforced by local bus companies about when concessionary fares can be granted to children, mean that many of my constituents are paying enormous sums every week to send their children to school? Is he further aware that some of them are now sending their children to school an hour late so that they can get concessionary fares? Will he look seriously at the possibility of enabling local bus companies to give concessionary fares for all children going to school in rural areas?

The question of concessionary fares for schoolchildren in rural areas, or any areas, is fairly well laid down in the Education Acts. Schoolchildren should not have any difficulty in getting such fares if they live a certain distance from the school. Some of the other points raised by my hon. Friend will be dealt with in reply to a later Question.

The Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) is complacent in the extreme.

It is complacent in so far as if only the Minister had accepted—[Hon. Members: "Question."] Does the Minister accept that if he had adopted what we proposed in our Road Traffic Bill, particularly the clauses which liberalised bus licensing, the tragic problem of rural areas would be well on the way to being solved? Can he give us an idea of when he intends to announce these relaxations?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if I appeared complacent, my activities over the last few months have not been evidence of that complacency—at least, I hope not. I was aware of the proposals made by the Conservative Government in their 1973 Bill. In fact, I made a comment on them in the House. Since coming to power I have realised that, although the problem varies from one part of the country to another, getting a solution which will be generally applicable is not as easy as specifying the difficulty.