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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Local authorities and bus operators working in partnership have produced striking examples of good practice in many places. We believe that these provide the best way forward for most other areas to follow. Beyond that, we are keen to see some authorities develop more radical options within an integrated transport plan.
Mr. Grogan: May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment? Does he agree that, given that the Mayor of London has extensive powers to determine bus routes and service frequency in the interests of passengers, there is no logical reason why similar powers should not be available to councils representing the great northern population centres, such as Manchester, Liverpool, York, Leeds, Doncaster and, indeed, Selby and other rural areas?
Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. May I pass on the apologies of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who is recuperating from a minor operation and would otherwise have answered this question?
London is uniqueit does not have the same problems and issues as other areasso there is a logical reason why arrangements there might differ from those that we apply elsewhere. I believe that the objectives that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) has in mind can be developed within the existing infrastructure and within the partnerships that we are trying to encourage.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Minister aware that the road transport directive will have a particularly adverse impact on rural bus services? Is he also aware that exempting journeys under 50 km will not cover most rural bus companies, and will he look specifically at companies such as Norfolk Green, in my constituency, whose annual costs will rise by roughly £250,000 because of these Euro-directives?
We will indeed review the working time directive within the next 12 months, and we are well
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aware of the rural transport issues. We have to improve rural transport, and we will work very hard to do that over the coming years.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): When I did my O-levels in 1977, the excellent Tyne and Wear Metro system delivered me to school by train and by bus through a transfer ticket. That happened under a regulated system, but in Wrexham today under an unregulated system, the buses do not stop at the railway station, even though the same company runs the trains and the buses. Will the Minister and the Government please accept that it is about time that we had a regulated system, to enable the progress made in London to be made in other areas?
Dr. Ladyman: I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses, and we do expect rail services and bus companies to work closely together. The objectives that he sets out can be delivered within the existing structures. We want to develop new types of partnership, and the mechanisms are in place to achieve them. If my hon. Friend has particular concerns about transport in his local area, my colleagues and I would be pleased to hear from him.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I am sure that the Minister will join me in extending the sympathies of the House to the families of the schoolgirls who died in the tragic road accident in County Meath in the Irish Republic yesterday. Does it not highlight the need to introduce legislation to make it compulsory to fit seat belts in school buses throughout the United Kingdom?
Dr. Ladyman: I certainly want to extend my sympathy and that of the Government to the families of the girls who sadly died. We must do all that we can to avoid similar tragedies in the future, so we shall look carefully into what happened in that case and in similar accidents in order to learn what we can from them. If the hon. Gentleman's proposal is advanced in the responses, I have no doubt that we will want to bring it forward.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend understand the concerns of my constituents who, year on year, see their bus service provision decline, passenger numbers decline and fares rise at a rate above inflation? With 42 days' notice, my constituents can see their links with their employment, doctors, post offices and families simply cut off. Will my hon. Friend reiterate his Department's commitment during the last Parliament to work with the South Yorkshire passenger transport authority to develop a quality bus contract for Sheffield to ensure that we have a coherent and consistent local bus framework in the area?
Of course I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that we will do all that we can to encourage in his area productive partnerships that will drive up the number of passengers and the capacity of bus services to accommodate them. In other parts of the country, however, where best practice is being followed and these partnerships are being developed between different modes of transport and between transport companies and local authorities, "passengership" is actually on the rise. There is no reason why a similar success story could not be repeated in my hon. Friend's area.
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