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Buses

Volume 82: debated on Tuesday 2 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will publish the Government's response to the report from the Transport Committee on the buses White Paper.

The Government have today published their response to the second report from the House of Commons' Transport Committee.I am grateful to the Transport Committee for its detailed consideration of the Government's bus policy. There is much common ground between us. We agree on the need for change to halt the decline in bus services. The Committee recognises that competition is the key to improving efficiency and halting that decline.There can be no doubt that the Government must take action. Thirty years ago 42 per cent. of all journeys were by bus; today the figure is just 8 per cent. During the last 10 years there has been a 28 per cent. fall in ridership. Yet everyone agrees that bus services are vital, especially to elderly people, and the less well-off.I do not believe that the Committee's proposed solution — comprehensive competitive franchising — is the right one. That system would continue to restrict the introduction of new services; it would not maintain pressure on the industry's rising costs; it would perpetuate the practice of overcharging passengers on more popular services which is one of the principal causes of the industry's decline.The bus industry needs to be opened up to full competition so that operators can serve their passengers. That will provide the stimulus for efficiency which other industries regard as normal, and the impetus for better services which the passengers have a right to expect. The form of competition proposed in the Transport Bill is the best way of achieving that. We are proposing to give passengers the full benefits of competition while retaining controls over safety, and providing for social need through concessionary fares and local authority revenue support. This is the best solution for the industry and for passengers.