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Rural Transport

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.

During the debate on rural transport on 2nd May, my right hon. Friend announced that the forthcoming White Paper will provide a new charter for the rural are as. Meanwhile, the Government's rural experiments, relying on the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill, are exploring what can be done by community self-help.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the last Conservative Government were beginning to deal, and deal well, with rural transport problems in their 1973–74 measure, which fell with the February 1974 General Election and has not been revived by the Labour Government? Apart from four proposed experiments which are still before the House and have not yet begun, what have the present Government done for rural transport in their three years of office?

The last Conservative Government achieved nothing in three and a half years. Not only that, but the previous Conservative Governments throughout 13 wasted years achieved nothing either, part from one small change in 1956. Since the war, Conservative Governments have made no substantial alteration to bus licensing of any kind. I think that we shall improve on that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that since January 1974 the cost of motoring and motor cycling has increased by 79 per cent. whereas the cost of travelling by public transport has increased by 104 per cent? As the rural areas are particularly dependent on public transport, will my hon. Friend focus his attention on this issue?

I think that my hon. Friend is on the right point. Fares in rural areas have gone up steeply in the last two or three years, partly because they were held down artificially in the early 1970s. There has, therefore, been a catching-up process, for otherwise the subsidies would have been even larger. We have tried to ease the problem by helping to raise subsidies for those services which could be helped in no other way.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that increased bus costs in rural areas hit particularly hard pensioners, disabled people and others on fixed incomes? Good schemes are available in inner city areas to help pensioners with their bus travel costs, but, by and large, they are not available in rural areas. Will the hon. Gentleman examine the possibility of such schemes being made available in rural areas?

It is true that the rural areas—by and large, Tory-controlled—have not the same generous concessionary fare schemes as are widespread in metropolitan areas controlled by Labour local authorities. We intend to deal with this aspect in the White Paper.

I look forward to the Secretary of State's new deal for the rural areas with great interest. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that in many places there is now a bus desert, with large numbers of people marooned, and that what is required—I hope that it will be forthcoming in the White Paper—is a practical programme to allow people to help themselves by reducing some of the restrictions which exist, quite unnecessarily, on the part of the traffic commissioners?

The hon. Gentleman has put that point, which is often put to me by the Opposition, in the best way I have yet heard, if I may say so, and I entirely agree with him.