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House of Commons

Monday 6 February 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Disabled People (Access)

1. Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on access by disabled people to transport facilities and vehicles.

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): We are firmly committed to achieving fully accessible transport systems, and great progress has already been made. Hon. Members have received a copy of my mobility unit's annual review, which details many of the developments. We continue to take forward a number of initiatives to improve access to vehicles and, of course, transport infrastructure has been included in the Disability Discrimination Bill, which received its Second Reading on 24 January.

Mr. Barnes: The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will be before the House on Friday, applies to all means of transport, including buses and trains. The Government's alternative, however, although it applies to railway stations and bus terminals, does not apply to the

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buses and trains themselves. How many people will be covered by the Government's legislation compared to the number who would be covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? Why have not the Government written on the face of the Bill that it will apply to the means of transport as well as to the stations from which people seek to move? It will be nonsense if people can turn up at railway stations, but cannot get on the trains.

Mr. Norris: The Government take the view, I think rightly, that targeted initiatives, including specific legislation, guidelines, codes of practice and the setting of technical standards, are the best way in which to achieve workable and sustainable access improvements. Although it is, of course, always possible to set even higher standards than those to which the Government aspire, provided that one totally ignores the cost to the public purse of any possible assessment of costs and benefits, the hon. Gentleman should remember that this country boasts the best provision of disabled access for rail passengers on an inter-city system of any country in the world. He might reflect occasionally on that.

Mr. Congdon: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is often easier to build in proper access for the disabled when new facilities are being provided than when old ones are being converted? Does he also agree that the introduction of new systems of transport, such as the light rail proposed in Croydon, will provide not only improved transport for people but, more importantly, good and proper access for those with disabilities?

Mr. Norris: My hon. Friend is right. We have made it a principle of new projects that they are fully accessible to the disabled. My hon. Friend is equally right in his implication that simply to require retrospective accessibility for the disabled to our transport infrastructure is high- flown words, but is extraordinarily difficult to deliver in practice because much of our infrastructure is Victorian in origin. It was built at a time when, sadly, the needs of the disabled were simply not taken into account. Realistic Governments understand that and plan a programme of change accordingly.

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Midland Line

2. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will now make a further statement about the need for electrification of the midland line.

The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): Investment priorities are a matter for Railtrack in consultation with the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising and the train operating companies.

Mr. Skinner: Would it not make more sense for the Government to favour rail, especially the electrification of the midland line, rather than spend billions of pounds on motorway widening? Many projects, including the widening of the M1 between intersections 28 and 31, cost millions of pounds and many people object to them. Would it not be better to spend the money on rail and to favour rail rather than to widen parts of the M1? That would be a better investment in the end.

Mr. Watts: The public expenditure settlement provides for investment in the coming year of about £1 billion in the railway network and about £1.8 billion in the trunk road network. In a balanced transport policy, it is clearly important to invest adequately in both modes. Railtrack is aware of the desire of local authorities and people in the area, in particular, for improvements to the midland main line and is about to embark on a study of the various options available for such developments. Railtrack will be working closely with train operators and local authorities during that study.


3. Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will outline steps taken to improve the safety of cyclists.

Mr. Norris: Fatalities to cyclists are at their lowest since records began in 1927. We shall continue the improvement by means of education, publicity, research and advice to local authorities on cycling matters.

Mr. Hinchliffe: Is it not true that the Government do not take cycling seriously, despite the fact that it is the most environment- friendly and healthy form of transport? Is the Minister aware that modern traffic conditions frequently result in the rights of cyclists as road users being totally ignored? When did he last have an invigorating ride on a bike? Will he get out of his chauffeur-driven ministerial car and experience for himself the conditions that cyclists face on the roads every day?

Mr. Norris: I contemplated and instantly rejected a number of answers to that question. I shall confine myself to agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. Cycling has been hugely undervalued for many years. Ironically, because it was potentially dangerous, we said that we would discourage people from doing it, whereas many other countries have proved that, if one creates safe cycling conditions, one can greatly improve urban transport and encourage people to do something that is healthy for them and for the environment, so there is much in what the hon. Gentleman said. That is why we have committed £3 million to taking the cycling programme forward in

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London, and why we are stressing the importance that we attach to cycling in transport policy and programme guidance.

Sir Terence Higgins: Has my hon. Friend noticed the

extraordinarily suicidal tendencies of London cyclists, who ride around with no form of illumination at night? Once upon a time, the police would have stopped such people immediately. What measures does he propose to prevent that from happening, as it is grossly unfair on motorists who have to try to avoid such cyclists?

Mr. Norris: My right hon. Friend touches on an important point because there can be no excuse for cyclists not abiding by the principles of road safety, which are there entirely for their personal safety. They do cycling no good service. It is an extraordinary proposition that they can afford several hundred pounds for very expensive bicycles and even more expensive clothing, which is apparently de rigueur, but cannot afford a front light.

Traffic Speed

4. Mrs. Helen Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what he is doing to reduce the speed of traffic on urban roads.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Dr. Brian Mawhinney): We are taking a wide range of measures to reduce speed-related casualties on urban roads, including speed cameras, major publicity campaigns and funding for local safety schemes.

Mrs. Jackson: The Minister will be aware that a reduction of just 1 mph would lead to a major reduction in air pollution in our cities and cut fatalities by 7 per cent. and injuries by 5 per cent. He will also be aware that 92 per cent. of those convicted for speeding offences are men. Does he agree that what is required is a major public education programme directed at motorist aggression and the macho image of the man behind the wheel?

Dr. Mawhinney: Or, indeed, of the woman behind the wheel. I share some of the hon. Lady's concerns and know that she has assiduously followed up her worries after a tragic accident in her constituency last year. Speed kills and the statistics of survival, especially for pedestrians struck by moving vehicles, improve considerably as speed drops. For that reason among others, I hope that she will be pleased to know that, in this country, we have 145 different areas with a speed limit of 20 mph.

Mr. Mans: My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the huge reduction in pedestrian casualties that has resulted over the past two years from traffic calming measures. Will he ensure that his Department gives the highest possible priority to those by ensuring that local authorities carry out traffic calming measures in both urban and rural areas, because they seem to be the best way to reduce casualties and to improve the environment where people live?

Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I know that he has taken a lot of interest in that subject, having introduced legislation on it. It is worth recording that 85 per cent. of pedestrians will die if they are struck by a vehicle travelling at 40 mph, while only 5 per cent. will die if they are struck by a vehicle travelling at 20

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mph, so there is a considerable safety issue involved, and traffic calming measures can play an important part. My hon. Friend will welcome the fact that, over the three-year public expenditure survey period, we shall increase the money made available for local safety schemes.

Mr. Tyler: Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the statistics are even worse in the case of one of the most lethal threats on our roads--a heavy lorry travelling at excessive speed in urban areas, particularly if it is overloaded or has not been regularly maintained? Does he acknowledge that the inspection procedures need to be tightened up rather than relaxed? Will he now agree to meet a deputation from the all- party campaign called BRAKES--the campaign for safer lorries?

Dr. Mawhinney: I do not want to get into an argument with the hon. Gentleman in which we bandy about figures on the most dangerous form of excessive speed on the roads. Heavy lorries can be extremely dangerous but so can motor cyclists who weave in and out of the traffic in central London. We all recognise the problem and the whole House is coming together to try to find ways to deal with it. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for local transport and road safety has already agreed to meet the deputation.


5. Mr. Robert Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make it his policy that there should be no new airfield on a green field site in the south-east.

Dr. Mawhinney: Lord Parkinson said in 1990 that a major new airport on a virgin site in the south-east was unlikely to be realistic or acceptable. I agree with that view. Regional planning guidance holds Oxfordshire to be an area of restricted development, and it is hard to see how such a proposal could be consistent with that guidance.

Mr. Jackson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome his reaffirmation of long-standing Government policy restricting growth in Oxfordshire. Will he confirm that, as it is a private proposal that is not sponsored by the Government, the developers will have no access to compulsory purchase powers?

Dr. Mawhinney: I confirm that the proposal is not sponsored by the Government. The Government do not sponsor airport proposals. My hon. Friend is right to say that the promoters which are not statutory bodies do not have compulsory purchase powers.

Mr. Mackinlay: Will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House on his press release last week in which he announced an intensification in the use of Heathrow airport? Are not the Government craven in their support for BAA-- [Interruption.] Oh yes, they are. Does that not have clear ramifications for airports in the south-east? BAA, which the Government privatised, monopolises the three London airports. Stansted airport is underused and BAA is trying to get an extra terminal at Heathrow. The Secretary of State is supporting it by supporting the concept of doubling the number of aircraft coming into Heathrow. Did he not issue a press release so

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as not to embarrass the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and other hon. Members with constituencies in and around Heathrow airport?

Dr. Mawhinney: I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels better for getting that off his chest. Last week, I answered a written question in considerable detail. I thought that it was quite a good answer, as did most people who bothered to read it, unlike the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Patten: Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, although his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) was extremely helpful, it leaves a question mark over the possibility of a green field international airport in Oxfordshire or any other part of south-eastern or southern England? Would not the answer be for my right hon. Friend to freshen up the noble Lord Parkinson's guidance with a fresh announcement that makes it clear that he rules out the possibility of such an airport in southern or south-eastern England?

Dr. Mawhinney: I understand clearly the worry that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have expressed, and indeed experienced, about that issue. Subject to the legal advice that I have received, I have been as robust as I am permitted to be.

Mr. Tony Banks: Is it not absurd to encourage more and more traffic into Heathrow and to talk about the expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick when, for example, Stansted airport, which is a great airport, is underused? Obviously we need more ministerial direction and discussion with the airlines to encourage them there. If we cannot use incentives, perhaps the Minister can use something approaching a big stick.

Dr. Mawhinney: There are those who value the importance of Heathrow and Gatwick, and the economic contribution that they make to the country. We got rid of traffic distribution rules some time ago but, subject to that, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that more use could be made of Stansted.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link

6. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make it his policy to specify conditions and limitations in relation to specific types of subsidies which will be available under clauses 30 and 31 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill.

Mr. Watts: The level and nature of public sector support for the channel tunnel rail link will be determined by the outcome of the competition now under way to select the private sector promoter for the project.

Mr. Shaw: Can my hon. Friend confirm that it is not the intention of the Government that clauses 30 and 31 should be used as a means of subsidising the channel tunnel, and that it is the Government's intention that the ferry industry and the channel tunnel should remain in fair competition with one another?

Mr. Watts: I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety that there should be fair competition between ferries and international rail services. I hope that I can give him the reassurance that he requires. European passenger services will be privatised as part of the competition for the CTRL.

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We have no intention of subsidising the private sector operation of international rail services, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill contains no powers to do so.

Mr. Madden: Whatever the subsidies are for the channel tunnel, does the Minister agree that many people were gobsmacked to discover at the weekend that, last month, the Secretary of State for Transport had cut the security division at the department responsible for security on the channel tunnel, airports and ports of entry throughout the country, especially at a time when the threat of international terrorism remains? What on earth is the Secretary of State thinking about by sanctioning such a disastrous cut?

Mr. Watts: No reductions are being made in any front-line security services in respect of any transport mode. I believe that much of the media coverage at the weekend, especially that on television, was visually misleading, in that it showed Metropolitan police officers and security staff checking baggage at airports. They are not employed by my Department; they are not part of Transec.

In the Department, we are considering improving the efficiency of the administration and the guidance and oversight of security measures at airports and other transport facilities. There is absolutely no impact on front-line security, which is one of our highest priorities.

South-east Railways

7. Mr. John Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimate he has made of the requirement to replace old rolling stock currently in service on south-east railways.

Mr. Watts: Estimates of rolling stock requirements for rail services are currently a matter for British Rail.

Mr. Greenway: I thank my hon. Friend for the interest that he is showing in the future of the ABB Carriage Works in York. Will he assure the people of York, and also Kent commuters, that if, in response to British Rail's latest invitation last week, ABB makes proposals to provide new trains on the south-east region, especially in Kent, at the same cost as or a lower cost than continuing to deploy the old, clapped-out trains--some of which are dangerous, extremely dirty and not conducive to persuading commuters back on to the railway--he will do all that he can to ensure that British Rail exercises its option to build those trains, and build them this year?

Mr. Watts: On 1 February, last Wednesday, British Rail wrote to the manufacturers of Networker trains, ABB and GEC Alsthom, inviting them to say by Friday of this week, 10 February, whether they would wish to have an opportunity to submit proposals for a further tranche. BR has made it clear that any proposals must satisfy the private finance initiative criteria, recognise that the economic case for early scrapping or redeployment of existing rolling stock is weak and take into account the planned privatisation of the rolling stock leasing companies. The British Railways Board is willing to consider proposals from manufacturers which meet those criteria while recognising the order position of the rolling stock manufacturing industry. Any proposals which BR

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brings forward for assessment against PFI guidelines will be considered as a matter of urgency by my Department and by myself.

Mrs. Dunwoody: That is a load of claptrap. Has not ABB already submitted a detailed assessment of the amount of work which it could do? Is not ABB tooled up for an existing order? Is it not the Department--not Railtrack--that is doing those bizarre things, and forcing ABB to start all over again and submit a new tender? Why does not the Minister have the guts to admit that the Government are wiping out the manufacturing of rolling stock in this country, which will cause a horrendous loss of jobs?

Mr. Watts: The hon. Lady should know that it would never have been a matter for Railtrack. On the previous occasion we debated these matters, the hon. Lady indulged in fairy tales. She has now, in her own words, moved on to claptrap.

Commercial decisions about the replacement of rolling stock are a matter for British Rail. I have explained on many occasions that the role which I and the Department have in those matters is in ensuring that the proposals fit within the requirements of the private finance initiative so that they can be taken forward.


8. Mrs. Angela Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proposals he has to assess the effect of widening the M1 on traffic on the surrounding road network.

Dr. Mawhinney: All my Department's road scheme proposals are supported at public inquiry by assessments of traffic levels on the roads affected by the scheme. Following the publication of the report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, these will now take account, where necessary, of induced traffic.

Mrs. Knight: My right hon. Friend will know that whenever motorway widening is proposed, fierce dispute is never far behind. Is he aware that the three issues of particular concern in Erewash relating to the M1 widening are the need for sound barriers, the pressure of traffic on junction 25 and the village of Sandiacre and the need to connect properly the town of Ilkeston to the M1? Will my right hon. Friend's proposals take those three matters into account?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am aware of those issues, due to the diligence of my hon. Friend. As part of the scheme to shield those living in Long Eaton, Sandiacre, Stapleford and Trowell, 3 m to 4 m high noise fences and mounds are proposed. I hope that that is of assistance to my hon. Friend. Further improvements to the scheme are difficult because it is hemmed in by housing. It would be better to service Stanton from new local authority links at junction 26. I hope that that will be of some encouragement to my hon. Friend.

Mr. William O'Brien: In considering the impact of the widening of the M1 on trunk roads and urban roads, will the Secretary of State also consider the impact of the

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widening of the A1 and the M62 in west Yorkshire, not only on the traffic on minor roads but on the environment of schools and properties adjacent to the roadways?

Dr. Mawhinney: Yes, because the effects on all of the roads associated with a particular scheme are taken into account before judgments are made. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point.

Mr. Robathan: My right hon. Friend will know that the M1 passes through my constituency, and particularly through the village of Leicester Forest East. Is he aware of the strong opposition among residents of Leicester Forest East and Kirby Muxloe to the widening of the M1, and in particular to the possibility that the M1 will be widened by another lane? Is he aware of the concern there is about the impact that that will have on roads in the area?

Dr. Mawhinney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that concern to my attention. I undertake to bear it in mind as we discuss the matters further.

London Underground (Access)

9. Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to improve access for disabled people into London Underground stations.

Mr. Norris: For a number of years it has been London Underground's policy to improve access to stations as they come up for redevelopment. All new lines and extensions will be fully accessible. In October 1993, London Underground announced the dropping of all restrictions on wheelchair users on the system.

Mr. Gerrard: Does the Minister accept that when people with mobility difficulties are asked to give 24 hours' notice of their travelling on public transport and about only 30 underground stations are wheelchair accessible, we are a long way short of a much-needed comprehensive programme? In his earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), the Minister referred to the financial difficulties in meeting that programme. Under his plans, how many years will pass before the majority of underground stations are accessible to people with mobility difficulties?

Mr. Norris: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important subject. Perhaps he might ask shadow transport spokesmen whether they are prepared to commit themselves to a capital programme to permit disabled people to access the public transport system. I fear that they will tell him that the problem is that a great deal of the underground system was built in Victorian times when, as I said earlier, the needs of disabled people were simply not taken into account. In many instances, remedial work will therefore be horrendously expensive. One estimate puts the cost of making London Underground wheelchair accessible at not less than £7 billion. No one could be more understanding and concerned about the needs of disabled people than me, but I think that a little realism would not go amiss.

Mr. John Marshall: Will my hon. Friend confirm that London commuters have seen real progress made in this area, with taxis and other parts of the transport system having been made wheelchair accessible? Does he agree

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that it is hypocritical of Opposition Members to say that they oppose tax increases, yet say that we should spend £7 billion?

Mr. Norris: My hon. Friend is quite right. I hope that the Opposition will produce a costed programme--if that is what they are offering--to show the public expenditure implications of a commitment to wheelchair accessibility on London Underground within a few years. That cost will be horrendous; my hon. Friend is exactly right.

Mr. Tom Clarke: Does the Minister accept that his replies this afternoon have been complacent and mean-minded in the extreme? How can he justify introducing legislation that allows disabled people access to stations and bus terminuses, but not to the vehicles themselves? Are those people supposed to stand on platforms and wave goodbye to trains and buses?

In the light of the figures that the Minister presented to the House, how can he justify the fact that the recent refurbishment of the Angel station has made it even more difficult for disabled passengers to access? Does he accept that he has a responsibility not only to almost 1 million disabled potential passengers in London who cannot access public transport but to ensure public access to public transport in the capital?

Mr. Norris: I fear that the hon. Gentleman's high-minded and immensely sincere words must be backed by finance. He has to be realistic. London Underground's management has taken considerable steps in that regard and I know that, in his usual fair way, he will acknowledge that.

All new transport developments and new transport systems offer full access to disabled people. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in London we operate a largely Victorian-built system with deep tunnels, which makes it very difficult to introduce disabled access. If he can persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends to cost the programme, I would like to see that commitment. I believe that, when the chips are down, the hon. Gentleman's high words will cut no ice with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown).

Traffic, London

11. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he is proposing to speed the flow of traffic and in respect of parking in London and the surrounding boroughs; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Norris: Red route measures--allied to strict enforcement of parking controls on red routes by the police--will reduce congestion on London's main roads. Elsewhere, the new local authority parking enforcement system will substantially increase the resources available for parking enforcement, and thus help to tackle the problems caused by illegal parking throughout London.

Mr. Greenway: What is my hon. Friend doing to increase the provision of parking, which is much needed in inner and outer London, especially in Ealing? Has he been caught in traffic jams on the approach to the wedding cake in front of Buckingham palace? If so, does he remember the great value to all traffic of being able to drive around the wedding cake? Is it really necessary to

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block half of it for the Queen's safety? Surely she can be made safe and a right of way properly maintained to the benefit of London traffic.

Mr. Norris: This is exciting stuff, but I fear that the roads in question are the responsibility of Westminster city council. I have encountered that interesting traffic experiment, and we must all wait to see how it works in practice. As for providing more parking space in central London, which was the thrust of my hon. Friend's serious question, I cannot give the guarantee that he seeks, precisely because the provision of parking, especially for those who commute into central London by car, is the greatest invitation to commuting, which produces the congestion about which my hon. Friend and his constituents complain. The control of private non-residential parking is more likely to play a part in urban transport planning in future.

Mr. Corbyn: Does the Minister accept that he must be much bolder if he is to reduce London traffic flows and clean up the air? He must seriously cut the number of parking spaces available in central London and, above all, of the planning permissions still being granted for new office development that include a large number of internal car parks, which are filled with the vehicles of expense-account motorists, whom we are all subsidising as taxpayers.

Mr. Norris: Stripping some of the Marxist rhetoric from the hon. Gentleman's question-- [Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Speaker, perhaps not Marxist, but then I am an amateur in such matters. The hon. Gentleman's remarks contain the germ of a perfectly sensible idea. Government planning policy note No. 13 makes the same point and emphasises the importance of the report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. We all have choices to make about air quality, allied to our own wishes and the apparently increasing desire among the population to improve it. That is felt nowhere more acutely than in town centres.

Rail Privatisation

12. Mr. Charles Kennedy: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on progress towards rail privatisation.

Dr. Mawhinney: Preparations are under way for the stock market flotation of Railtrack. The first franchise contracts are due to be awarded by the end of 1995 and we plan to have 51 per cent. of them in private hands by April 1996. The maintenance depots of British Rail should be in private sector ownership shortly. The three rolling stock leasing companies and the freight companies are set for sale during 1995.

Mr. Kennedy: Is the Secretary of State aware of the great concern and downright offence felt by Highland regional council because the Department has not seen fit to respond properly to the council's request, which it first made on 21 December, for a meeting arising from the franchising director's pre-emptive statement about the ending of the sleeper service to Fort William? The regional council will lobby the Scottish Grand Committee in the House on Wednesday morning, when it will meet to debate that and related matters. Will the right hon. Gentleman or one of his colleagues take the opportunity

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to meet a delegation from the council to explain why categorical assurances given by the previous Minister to the region about the sleeper service have not been upheld?

Dr. Mawhinney: I understand the concern that has been expressed locally but, as I want to be fair, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the taxpayers' subsidy per person for a sleeper berth on the trip to Fort William, excluding the infrastructure cost, is £180. If one adds the cost of the infrastructure, that subsidy becomes £540. Given those figures, it seems reasonable that there should be public consultation, as there will be when the franchising director produces--

Mr. Kennedy: That is wrong.

Dr. Mawhinney: I assure the hon. Gentleman, and I think that he will accept this from me, that when the franchising director produces his passenger service requirements for ScotRail, there will be consultation on whatever proposal is or is not included with respect to Fort William.

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