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Mr. Portillo : But, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West pointed out, the fares are the same whether on a tendered service or on a normal service. The costs that have been saved have been ploughed back into better service.
I dispute the idea that there has been a compromise on safety. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that standards in the private sector were lower than in the public sector. All these services are subject to the public service vehicle operation conditions which are laid down
Column 686by the Department of Transport. Those are the minimum conditions and all the people who run bus services are required to meet those standards, whether they are in the private or public sector. If the hon. Gentleman knows of instances of bus drivers operating below those nationally set standards or of operators disobeying the law, he would draw that to my attention, because we would certainly want to know all about it.
Accessibility for the disabled and the elderly has been greatly improved under the tendered services. During bus strikes, the tendered services in London have continued to run. That gravely undermines any case that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West might care to make about wages being in some way unsatisfactory in the private sector on tendered services. The evidence shows that industrial relations have been better in that sector and that in those tendered services the public have been able to rely on a service when the rest of the network has been shut down.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was trying to have it both ways. He said that the services tended to run old, unreliable buses. When he came across a service where that was palpably not true--the No. 24, with new buses and where the public enjoy a good service--the only response he could make was that in some way it was a fiddle. That suggestion was not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. As for whether these matters are investigated, all the tendering processes are subject to strict audit. I receive many complaints from private sector companies saying that they believe that the system is tilted in favour of London Buses Ltd. They may have some justification on the face of it in that 103 of the 176 routes put out to tender so far--58 per cent.--have been won by subsidiaries of London Buses Ltd. The Government strongly believe in the fairness of the system. Our auditors tell us that it works fairly. We are satisfied that even where London Buses Ltd. wins a tender in fair competition, it tends to act more competitively and show more respect and concern for the customer than before. The figures showing much better reliability of bus services apply not only to tenders that have been won by the private sector but to those won by London Buses Ltd. Operating in that more competitive environment, even London Buses Ltd. appears to wish to raise the standard of its services in order to compete. LRT, which is responsible for judging the tenders, wishes to be sure that the record of the operator that is applying for the tender does not disqualify it from the competition, so it obviously takes account of previous performance. LRT wants to ensure also that the wages offered are set on a realistic basis and are likely to enable the tenderer to operate a reliable service with a reasonably contented staff. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and these services have continued to run when non-tendered services have been out on strike. The tender documents specify that the buses should be seven years old or less, so it is likely that these services will run by newer, better buses than traditionally run on other services. There have been great benefits to the travelling public. There have been shorter waiting times for buses and the public have been able to rely more on buses turning up. The fact that the buses used by the tendering companies generally conform to the standards laid down by my Department's advisory committee on disabled passengers
Column 687means that there is a better prospect that the steps and handrails will be designed to help the elderly or disabled passenger. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was right on one point-- this is only a halfway stage. It will be right in due course to press on to the privatisation of London's buses and full deregulation in London so that these great services, which are restricted at present, can be enjoyed by all.
Mr. Speaker : Before adjourning the House after the last debate of this decade, I should like to thank the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), the Minister and the hon.
Column 688Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville)--who has been faithfully in his place on the Treasury Bench--and echo the comment of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about the staff of the House. We are deeply grateful to the staff for the service that they give us throughout the year. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West also mentioned the high standards that we have--I think that he meant standards of service from the staff. I echo his points. We have a reputation for other high standards--high standards of behaviour in the House, which I am sure we shall see in the new decade. Question put and agreed to.
It being half-past Three o'clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Order [8 December] and the Resolution yesterday till Monday 8 January.
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