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Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will review the regulations covering safety and roadworthiness of buses.

Regulations covering the safety and roadworthiness of buses are kept under continuous review. However, buses are the safest form of road transport in this country and the Government strongly support the growth of bus services, especially in urban areas.

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency people refer to buses these days, following deregulation, as bananas because they tend to arrive in bunches? [Laughter.] One Conservative Member has a sense of humour. Is the Minister further aware that there has been an enormous erosion of confidence in the reliability and roadworthiness of buses since deregulation, especially in south Wales during a period in which monopolies have been created as stronger firms capture weaker ones and cowboy fleets undercut the operations of firms that are much more conscientious and safety conscious?

The bunching of buses occurs largely because of congestion in urban areas. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have recently announced a £10 million programme to provide grants to local authorities to enable them to give priority to buses through the construction of bus lanes and by giving priority to buses at traffic lights. That initiative has been widely welcomed.

There is no statistical evidence to support the contention that deregulation has led to a decline in the quality and roadworthiness of buses. Passenger casualty rates have fallen by 30 per cent. in the past five years. There has been a fall in the proportion of buses that have been taken off the roads because of serious defects found during the vehicle inspectorate's examination.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that safety regulations for buses remain the same whether the services are deregulated or regulated? Will he confirm also that the regulations are entirely independent of the industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has reminded me of what I should have said in my supplementary answer to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is no difference in the standards applied to the initial test or spot checks on the roadside, whether the buses are in a regulated or deregulated environment.

Is the Minister aware that one third of the country's bus fleet is now more than 12 years old, which is double the proportion before deregulation? Does he realise that, given the present replacement rate, the average bus will be on the road for 30 years? Surely that can only mean the collapse of the bus industry, less safe services and less access for people with disabilities. Why does not the hon. Gentleman admit that bus deregulation has been a disaster? Why does not he direct more of his roads bribes money towards the provision of better buses?

As it so happens, on Thursday I had the opportunity to visit Derby, together with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), whose constituency is there. I met the management of Trent Buses, which operates in a very competitive, deregulated environment, and I am glad to say that its investment programme over the past five years has been impressive.