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Rural Areas

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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asked the Minister of Transport what new plans he has to improve public transport facilities in rural areas.

The changes in licensing control proposed in the Transport Bill will be of particular benefit to rural areas. They will make it easier for private operators to introduce new bus services and for people to share cars and other small vehicles. These changes will be of particular benefit to rural areas.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the escalating cost of fuel is hitting the less well off rural resident very hard? Unless public transport to many rural communities is strengthened, village life will change disastrously in the next few years.

I entirely take the point made by my hon. Friend. That is why we place so much importance on seeking to develop new ways of meeting transport needs in rural areas.

Is the Minister aware that what he is saying is not quite true? Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary knows that in Nottinghamshire licences were granted, but within 12 months the firm concerned folded up. The answer to this problem is to give a subsidy —

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not start giving answers at Question Time until he is sitting on the Government Front Bench. He must ask a question.

Is the Minister aware that the answer to this problem is to give a proper subsidy to the local authorities concerned so that people in rural areas can enjoy the transport services to which they are entitled? It is all right for Members of Parliament and Ministers to ride about in their big vehicles, but some people do not see a bus at all.

I am tempted to put a question to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not. We believe that what we are doing will help new transport to develop in rural areas. That is a sensible policy. It is a policy that we have conducted and have been committed to for a number of years. That is what the Transport Bill will seek to implement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposals in the Bill to derestrict licensing should create tremendous opportunities for many people, particularly in rural areas? Will he use every endeavour to ensure that residents and ratepayers' groups and parish councils are made aware of the opportunities that will shortly be open to them?

My hon. Friend has made a good point and we shall certainly take it on board.

The right hon. Gentleman should be aware of a recent study of rural transport by the Association of County Councils, as a result of which it recommended improving and maintaining the public transport network, which we think the Bill will undermine. Even private studies show that the county councils are heavily dependent upon the bus grants which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to abolish. If his scheme fails, will he return to supporting the public network system?

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not like being reminded of this, but the new bus grant was being phased out by the Labour Administration. There is no change in that policy. We are seeking to give the county councils the opportunity to buy new transport and probably get better value for money than they are getting now. I believe that that will be a considerable asset for local authorities.