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Oral Answers to Questions

SCOTLAND

Timber

1. Mr. Barry Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to ensure that the Forestry Commission grows timber suitable for the United Kingdom furniture industry; and what is his policy on import substitution for timber products.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro): The Forestry Commission grows timber for a wide range of markets, including the furniture industry. The Government are committed to expanding the woodland area in Britain, thereby reducing our dependence on timber imports.

Mr. Field: I thank my hon. Friend. Does he agree that it takes hours of careful craftsmanship to create a beautiful piece of furniture and just moments of vandalism to smash it to pieces? Is there not an analogy here with the centuries of statesmanship that have created the United Kingdom and the vandals on the Opposition Benches who want to destroy it with the hammer of devolution?

Sir Hector Monro: That is an original thought. The trees of the United Kingdom are a fine asset and I am glad that our hardwoods are manufactured into the finest furniture in the world. Quality has always been the watchword of the United Kingdom. It would be a crime to destroy it by going down the route towards independence.

Mr. Dunnachie: Does the Minister agree that the best place to plant trees would be in the Pollok estate in my constituency where hundred of trees have been vandalised and destroyed to make way for a road that endangers the health and lives of the people of my constituency? It has destroyed one of the greatest beauty spots in the south side. Does the Minister agree that work on that obnoxious road should stop and that the Eaglestone bypass should be considered?

Sir Hector Monro: That is rather far removed from furniture. I understand that the road is supported by a Labour council and by Labour Members of Parliament. When the route is completed, I hope that there will be excellent landscaping and that a large number of trees will be planted to replace those that have been felled.

Mr. Maclennan: Is not the Minister concerned at the poor take-up of grants for broadleaf trees and the relatively disappointing results of the Government's change of policy towards the support of those who wish to grow hardwood?

Sir Hector Monro: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Of the 34, 000 hectares planted in the United Kingdom last year, 16,000 hectares were hardwood. That is a big improvement on anything that has happened recently. I believe that our increased grants for hardwood are working and I hope that that will continue in the future.


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Mr. John D. Taylor: In view of the revised and improved grants for tree planting in Scotland over the past few years, can the Minister confirm that there has been an increase in tree planting in Scotland?

Sir Hector Monro: About 1 million hectares are owned by the Forestry Commission and a substantial number of hectares by private forestry owners. The level is about the same, but as our timber is maturing, more felling is taking place. All felling licences are matched to replanting licences.

Fishing

2. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet representatives of the Scottish fishing industry to discuss policy on drift net fishing for salmon and other migratory fish.

Sir Hector Monro: As my hon. Friend knows, there is no drift netting for salmon in Scottish waters. However, I am in touch with angling interests and will be discussing the subject of the north-east drift net fishery for salmon with representatives of the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards shortly.

Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that all civilised countries, apart from England and Ireland, have banned drift net fishing for salmon? Is he also aware that a drift net-caught salmon is worth whatever Billingsgate will pay for it, whereas a rod-caught salmon is worth hundreds of pounds to the Scottish economy? In light of that, is it not sheer folly to allow the north-east drift net fishery to continue? Should it not be bought out immediately with proper compensation?

Sir Hector Monro: I appreciate my hon. Friend's strong view, which I share in regard to the economy of Scotland. There is no doubt at all that the tourist industry--our hotels and so on--in the areas through which the salmon rivers run is seriously affected by the drop in the number of salmon coming into the rivers because of the north-east drift net fishery, but we have to proceed on scientific grounds. We are having further consultations and it is at least welcome that between 1992 and 1994 the number of licences in the north-east drift net fishery fell by 19 per cent.

Dr. Reid: Does the Minister have any plans to change the antiquated laws prohibiting the domestic production of salmon roe in Scotland? Is it not ridiculous that we can sell and consume imported salmon roe but we are prohibited in Scotland from producing our own? Would it not be a lively source of jobs for many people in Scotland?

Sir Hector Monro: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I would not want to over-estimate the number of jobs that may be involved. We are having urgent consultations to try to resolve the matter, but it is not quite as simple as it looks.

Community Care

3. Mr. Graham: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairmen and chief executives of NHS trusts to discuss matters relating to care in the community.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang): My noble and learned Friend the Minister of State met the


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chairmen of national health service trusts on 20 January to discuss a range of issues including care in the community. The chief executive of the NHS in Scotland held one of his periodic meetings with chief executives of NHS trusts yesterday.

Mr. Graham: The Secretary of State will be aware of the proposals to close Ravenscraig, Dykebar, Merchiston and Bridge of Weir hospitals in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members. He will also be aware of the concern felt by many of the parents and relatives of patients in those hospitals. They are very worried. Therefore, will the Secretary of State support vigorously the Carers (Recognition and Service) Bill which will have its Second Reading on 3 March? Will he guarantee that Ministers will back it completely to ensure that thousands of hard-pressed carers receive the service and support from the Government that they need and rightly deserve?

Mr. Lang: I shall certainly study the terms of the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Government's policy of care in the community has been widely welcomed as being a considerable advance in that area. The possible closures to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and any such proposal, would be subject to widespread consultation and any proposed closure of a hospital would come to me. I would ensure that all proposals were given the most careful scrutiny possible, taking account not only of any planned closures, but any planned extensions and developments.

Mr. Gallie: Does my right hon. Friend agree that devolving the responsibility of funding for the care of the elderly in residential and nursing homes to local authorities has discriminated against private nursing and residential homes?

Mr. Lang: I hope that that is not so. If my hon. Friend has any examples that he can bring to my attention, I shall certainly ensure that they are examined. What matters is providing the best possible care for the individuals concerned at the most cost-effective price to taxpayers, who are, after all, funding the programme to the extent of many millions of pounds. It is important that all agencies involved--local authorities, health boards, the private sector, the voluntary sector, Scottish Homes and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities--work together on an inter- agency basis, and we have given them guidance to that effect.

Mrs. Ewing: Given the importance attached to the link between social services and health services in guaranteeing the delivery of care in the community, does the Secretary of State accept that there must be confidence among members of the community in those who are charged with ensuring the delivery of the service? What action is being taken by the Scottish Office with respect to Moray health services trust board and the as yet unexplained resignation of the chief executive and two non-executive directors?

Mr. Lang: That is essentially a matter for the board, but if the hon. Lady has any anxieties that she would like to bring to the attention of myself or my noble Friend the


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Minister for Health, we shall look into them. To answer her general question--yes, I have confidence in the way in which the general policy is being delivered.

Mr. George Robertson: On the subject of health and care in the community, is the Secretary of State aware that the Government propose that, under the framework document on Northern Ireland published this morning, those subjects will be the responsibility of a legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland? Are not the Government revealing the stark contrast and double standards in their position when they offer a legislative Assembly to Northern Ireland but, despite its special features, they offer nothing to Scotland? Now that the Government have conceded the key principle that devolution inside the United Kingdom is perfectly compatible with a reformed constitution how can they, with any credibility, continue to attack Labour's plans for a devolved legislature for Scotland?

Mr. Lang: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should be so keen to fall so far below the level of events. If the hon. Gentleman cannot understand the differences between the circumstances in Scotland and Northern Ireland--with its history and traditions, and the great issues at stake in the Prime Minister's initiative announced today--he has much homework still to do.

Unemployment, Highlands

4. Mr. Macdonald: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the prospects of unemployment falling in the highlands in 1995-96.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch): The Scottish Office does not produce unemployment forecastfor either Scotland as a whole or for parts of Scotland. However, independent forecasters have predicted further falls in Scottish unemployment in 1995- 1996 and I trust that the highlands will also follow that trend.

Mr. Macdonald: Two weeks ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) gave a clear undertaking on behalf of the Government that there would be a full, formal consultation, as required under the Railways Act 1993, before the closure of any rail or Motorail services affecting Fort William, and on the implications of that for employment in the highlands. Will the Minister confirm the Government's commitment to formal consultation? What discussions has he had with his colleagues in the Department of Transport to get the consultations under way?

Mr. Kynoch: I recognise the importance of transport links with the Western Isles. Future services to that part of Scotland depend on providing services geared towards the customer. The proper way forward is to ensure privatisation as quickly as possible to achieve improved services and improved usage and, therefore, better links with the area. To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, the franchising director is required, under guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Transport--under the Railways Act 1993--to consult formally the rail users consultative committees and local authorities on the pattern and quality of services to be provided through franchising. Consultations on the ScotRail franchise, of


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which the passenger service requirement is a key component, will start after the PSR is published--probably in May.

Mr. Stewart: Will my hon. Friend-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being given a warm welcome.

Mr. Stewart: I am grateful, Madam Speaker. Can my hon. Friend confirm to the House that unemployment in the highlands has been, and is, falling because of the strength of the Scottish economy, of which the highlands are an integral part? More specifically, is the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) yes or no?

Mr. Kynoch: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and shall take the first part first. He is right: unemployment in the highlands and islands area has been falling--it has fallen in seven out of the previous 12 months. On the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I suggest that he waits for a later question to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give a full answer.

Mrs. Ray Michie: Given that the unemployment figures in my constituency, particularly in the Kintyre area, are certainly not falling, how does the Minister think that the objective 1 funding will help unemployment figures? He should remember that, out of more than 214 projects, Argyle and Bute received only 20 in the past. In view of the recent criticism of the piecemeal approach to objective 1 funding, can the Minister say what the overall strategic development policy is for the whole of the highlands and islands?

Mr. Kynoch: In 1994, a total of 58 projects for the highlands and islands were approved for support from the European regional development fund under the objective 1 programme. The hon. Lady will be aware that there is also a geographical targeting programme, but that comes secondary in the selection procedure.

The first procedure is very clear: every application is assessed against a set of common criteria, with a view to selecting the best projects, whatever their location. There is then a secondary procedure whereby geographical targeting is taken into account. I am sure that, if the hon. Lady were to encourage her local enterprise companies to support projects which are worth-while, money would be forthcoming.

Mr. George Robertson: The House will notice how the new Minister dodges and weaves around a straight question which was also asked by his predecessor, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). The fact is that unemployment in the highlands will be affected dramatically if railway privatisation leads, as it will, to a reduction in services throughout that area.

A Minister of the Crown gave a categorical assurance in the Scottish Grand Committee that there would be formal consultation on the issue of the Motorail and sleeper services to the north of Scotland. The Minister must not pass the buck to another Minister or to his boss. He must answer the question: will there be formal consultation before the services are withdrawn--yes or no?

Mr. Kynoch: I have already answered that question in relation to the passenger service requirement's formal consultation. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr.


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Robertson) and I differ significantly in our views about the benefits of privatisation. I believe that British Rail must improve its service, and the only way to do that is by introducing private enterprise into the network. By attracting more people who will use the railways the service will improve, costs will come down and the number of services will increase.

Mr. Wallace: As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) gave an assurance to me, will the Minister accept that an answer which refers to the passenger service requirement obligation is not relevant because it depends on the existing timetable when the passenger service requirement is brought forward? We are concerned that the services should be in place when the consultation period starts. I do not want the Minister to put up any blinds with references to passenger service requirements. Will the Minister give a clear answer--yes or no? Will there be formal consultation before the services are withdrawn?

Mr. Kynoch: I believe that I have answered the question very fully with regard to the statement by my hon. Friend last week.

Housing

5. Mr. McMaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of Scottish Homes to discuss housing in Scotland.

Mr. Lang: I meet the board of Scottish Homes from time to time to discuss a range of issues, the last occasion being on 7 November 1994. I have no immediate plans for a further meeting.

Mr. McMaster: Does the Secretary of State recall that, when Scottish Homes was founded as Scotland's national housing agency, he told the House that it would be founded on the twin principles of efficiency and tenant choice? Is it efficient for Scottish Homes to empty a 56-flat multi-storey building in my constituency--Waverley court--for a redevelopment which we are still awaiting six years later? Is it democracy or tenant choice to offer tenants, like it or lump it, take it or leave it, no choice of landlord? Is it not time that the Secretary of State told Sir James Mellon, the chairman of Scottish Homes, to start concentrating on problems like that, instead of using Scottish Homes as a machine for party political propaganda?

Mr. Lang: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make those comments about Scottish Homes. According to a letter that I have seen, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said that much of what Scottish Homes had achieved was "commendable" and that Scottish Homes had been a "breath of fresh air" for housing in Scotland. I believe that Scottish Homes has created an enormous number of achievements in Scotland. So far as individual cases are concerned, if the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers has been running for as long as the hon. Gentleman suggests, I am surprised that he has not been in touch with the Government or with Scottish Homes to clarify it earlier.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency, Scottish Homes has acted as a catalyst in bringing the private and public sectors


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together in the Aberdeen city centre partnership to transform and rejuvenate the centre of Aberdeen by an imaginative policy of building new homes and refurbishing old properties? Is he also aware that that policy is encouraging up to 2,000 people to come back to live in the centre of the great city of Aberdeen? Does he agree that that is more typical of the excellent work being done up and down the country by Scottish Homes?

Mr. Lang: Indeed I do. I gather that some £6.5 million has been invested in that project, and it is a good example of the kind of partnership which Scottish Homes makes the keynote of its activities. The project involves Grampian regional council, Aberdeen district council and the local enterprise company. That is exactly the kind of catalytic partnership which can do so much to improve Scottish housing.

Mr. Michael J. Martin: We all know what a good job Scottish Homes does, and that is why we do not want to see it broken up by hatchet men such as Mr. Mackinlay. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that, if tenants in my constituency and others vote to stay with Scottish Homes, they will be entitled to the same high standards from that landlord?

Mr. Lang: I am certain that Scottish Homes would never distinguish between different categories of tenants in terms of the service it offered them.

Mr. McLoughlin: When my right hon. Friend next meets representatives of Scottish Homes, could he ask for an updated report on the right to buy in Scotland? Will he inform the House about the success of that policy in giving tenants the right to buy their own homes?

Mr. Lang: The right to buy has been enormously successful, and Scottish Homes has been at the forefront of disposing houses to sitting tenants as well. We have sold some 300,000 council houses in Scotland since the policy began. The policy had to be fought through in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Opposition. Thus, 300,000 tenants and their families have had the kind of housing that they wanted.

Mr. David Marshall: Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a shortage of special needs housing in Scotland, especially in the city of Glasgow? If he does agree, will he make adequate resources available to Scottish Homes to ensure that there is a substantial increase in the number of special needs houses available? If not, why not?

Mr. Lang: Scottish Homes makes a feature of meeting special needs in its housing programme, and it has embarked upon a programme of providing 2,000 community care and other special needs houses.

Water Authorities (Chairmen)

6. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to meet the chairmen of the new water authorities to discuss their salary levels.

Mr. Lang: I shall meet the chairmen of the new water authorities as appropriate to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Welsh: Why is the Secretary of State defying economics and democracy by paying £40,000 a year to


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water board chairmen for a two-day week, when the services are being run by unpaid, democratically elected local authority conveners who offer a high-quality, low-cost service, which is what people want? How can the right hon. Gentleman justify his extravagance upon those part-time water rustlers when the Government are offering a few pennies more to qualified nurses for a full week's work?

Mr. Lang: I have no doubt that the skills and business experience gained from their involvement in other public bodies which the new chairmen will bring to their posts will stand in good stead the services which are delivered to people in their respective areas. As to the economics of the matter, the combined salaries of the present directors of water and sewerage add up to £770,000. The combined salaries of the new chief executives and chairmen add up to only £344,000. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman needs a lesson in economics.

Mr. Donohoe: When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen, will he discuss with them why questions addressed by hon. Members to the right hon. Gentleman have been dealt with by those quango chairmen? When one writes to the quango chairmen, one discovers that they do not reply for months. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about that intolerable situation?

Mr. Lang: It is entirely standard for questions of fact, administration and procedure to be dealt with by the chairmen and chief executives of non-departmental public bodies, and for their answers to be deposited in the Library. As far as policy matters are concerned, those are for Ministers to deal with. I am not aware of any delay of the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but if he would like to draw to my attention to such a delay I shall follow it up.

Mr. Allason: In view of the relatively insignificant cost of salaries in the overall budgets of the water authorities, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what representations he has made to the European Commission, bearing in mind that most of the additional costs imposed on water companies come from the European drinking water and clean bathing water directives?

Mr. Lang: These are indeed directives that impose substantial burdens on water and sewerage services in Scotland, as they do elsewhere. It is, however, the Government's desire to ensure that water and sewerage standards in this country are of the very highest; and it will be the purpose of the new public authorities to achieve that.

Mr. McAllion: With bungs on transfer deals dominating the headlines this morning, will the right hon. Gentleman try to justify the £100,000 bung that he is paying as part of the transfer of water and sewerage services away from elected local councils? How does he justify paying £40,000 a year to unelected part-time placemen, when those whom they will supplant, the elected conveners of water services committees, currently get £900 a year in councillors' allowances? What is the public interest argument that justifies ditching the people's choice to run water and sewerage while the right hon. Gentleman lines the pockets of the people he chooses?


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Is it not true that only paid hirelings will do the dirty work that the Minister wants them to do: putting up prices and paving the way for water privatisation? The right hon. Gentleman should remember that there are some things that money cannot buy--among them, the votes of the Scottish people who, at the next election, will sweep him, his water quangos and his chairmen into the dustbin of history where they all belong.

Mr. Lang: The payment levels offered to these chairmen are entirely comparable with those of other public sector body chairmen. The appointment of these chairmen is entirely compatible with the procedures adopted by the last Labour Government.

As for the benefits to the public: the benefits come from the most cost- effective and efficient delivery of water and sewerage services in Scotland. I am sure that that will result.

Forth Rail Bridge

7. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had from the department of offshore engineering at the Heriot Watt university on the condition of the Forth rail bridge.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): No representations from the department of offshore engineering about the condition of the Forth rail bridge have been received.

Mr. Dalyell: Can the Minister help the House by dealing with two questions of fact which somehow eluded the Under-Secretary of State for Transport? In what year did the Health and Safety Executive last conduct an in-depth investigation into the bridge? And what are the qualifications in offshore engineering or the marine environment of those who are giving the advice that all is well with the Forth rail bridge?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that W. A. Fairhurst, consulting engineers, carried out a review of the painting strategy for ScotRail in 1992 and endorsed ScotRail's method of painting. The company has recently confirmed that Railtrack's strategy is satisfactory.

I cannot state the qualifications of all the engineers concerned off hand, but I have no doubt that Railtrack will have been relying on expert evidence. As the hon. Gentleman heard in the Adjournment debate, the Health and Safety Executive has said that it is satisfied with Railtrack's maintenance programme for the bridge, and that the structural integrity of the bridge is not at risk.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said that he would make inquiries about the most recent investigation and would contact the hon. Gentleman. The crux of the matter is that the elements of the tubular sections which appear to be most affected by flaking paint are still covered by an undercoat of carboniferous material and black iron oxide which is protecting the structure. It is not at risk, contrary to the scaremongering by some Opposition Members.


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Local Government Finance

8. Mr. Chisholm: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what criteria he took into account when setting the capping limit for Lothian region for the financial year 1995-96.

Mr. Kynoch: My right hon. Friend's provisional capping principles for all regional and islands councils take into account the overall level of the 1995-96 local government finance settlement; the additional provision which is being made for the police service; and the categories of expenditure which will be disregarded for capping purposes.

Mr. Chisholm: Why are the Government cutting their contribution to Lothian's budget and setting the cap only £4 million above the present one, when £9 million is required to cover inflation and an additional £17 million is needed to meet agreed pay awards? Does the Minister realise that many teaching posts in Lothian will have to go at a time when school rolls there are set to increase by 2,500 in August, and when the pupil:teacher ratio is already the highest in Scotland? Why is the Minister sacrificing the children of Lothian to the Government's economic incompetence and to the intended tax breaks of next year?

Mr. Kynoch: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that he accepts that the capping regime for next year is very tight. But it is clearly not unrealistic when one takes into account the level of inflation and for as long as local authorities fund pay increases from efficiency savings--as the rest of the public sector has had to do.

It is wrong to calculate that a specific number of extra teachers will necessarily be required simply because of a rise in pupil rolls. Obviously the impact will vary considerably from school to school. I suggest that local councils thoroughly examine their budgets before they assume that services will have to be cut. Greater efficiency is always possible.

Mrs. Fyfe: What answer does the Minister have to the Forum on Scottish Education, which warned this week that Scotland's education service is facing its most severe cuts for more than a decade? Yesterday, the Prime Minister advised education authorities to look for efficiencies to fund pay deals. Is the Minister aware that the Rev. John Taylor, chairman of the Forum on Scottish Education, has said that there is no conceivable efficiency that could meet the extra costs and that, therefore, class sizes would increase, support services would diminish and community, outdoor and pre-five education would be cut drastically or even abolished? It is disappointing to hear the Minister regurgitate the Prime Minister's platitudes, dodging and weaving on a major issue. Will he answer parents' worries about their children's education?

Mr. Kynoch: I am amazed by the hon. Lady's reluctance to accept that improvements can be made in any form of local government expenditure. The teachers' settlement was negotiated by the Scottish joint negotiating committee, and many district regional authorities took part. I assume that negotiators on the management side took full account of the likely budgetary provision when agreeing the pay deal. It is now up to them to deliver within that pay deal.


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Rail Sleeper Services

9. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his Department's policy towards the maintenance of overnight rail sleeper services between London and the principal Scottish cities; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang: The Scottish Office welcomes the Franchising Director's intention to safeguard the four most heavily used Anglo-Scottish sleeper services by including them in the passenger service requirement for the future ScotRail franchise.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Is my right hon. Friend aware that people who indulge in field sports, in which Scotland is supreme--grouse shooting, salmon fishing and stalking--need to arrive at their destination well and truly refreshed? Would it not be a great loss to Scotland if these sleeper services were denied to such people? Would there not also be a loss to Scotland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that our balance of payments would suffer, as would all business men who use these vital services? Should not British Rail be able to run these services more profitably without needing a £400 subsidy on the Fort William service from the taxpayer?

Mr. Lang: I am sure that all those concerned will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. The subsidy is £180 per passenger on the Fort William sleeper service and £453 per passenger trip when account is taken of access charges to the track. It is clear that these are substantial figures. I am as concerned as anyone that the services remain as extensive as possible. Following privatisation, I have no doubt that they will expand and succeed, as all other privatisations have succeeded. I am sure that those responsible for taking decisions will have heard my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Robert Hughes: Is the Secretary of State aware that the week before his recent meeting with Sir Bob Reid I tried to make a forward booking on a Motorail service from Aberdeen. I was told that the services were cancelled and were being withdrawn. What credence can we give to the right hon. Gentleman's assurances about future services when British Rail treats him and his Ministers with such contempt? Does that not mean that we are facing a serious problem in respect of north-south rail services once franchising gets under way?

Mr. Lang: I do not believe that we are. The circumstances of the Carlisle and Fort William sleeper and the Motorail services to which the hon. Gentleman referred are those where there is an indication of a diminution of service. That is clearly to the detriment of those who have relied upon them. All closures consequent upon the passenger service requirement would be subject to formal consultation under the Railways Act 1993. That has already been made plain.

Mr. Charles Kennedy: On his last point, does the Secretary of State not understand that what was promised and confirmed in Hansard, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), and in the Scottish Office's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)--full and formal consultation under the terms of the Act--is not the same as the consultation that the Minister was hiding behind today and which the Secretary of State for


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Transport has just written to me to confirm, which is that consultation will follow the issuing of passenger service requirements? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm what he promised to the Scottish Grand Committee--that consultation will be under the terms of the Act, not based on services that have already been axed?

Mr. Lang: Formal consultation under the 1993 Act follows the PSR publication. Consultation is required with local authorities and with the rail users consultative committee. That is the consultation to which my hon. Friend referred in the Grand Committee debate.

Mr. Wilson: Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us who are used to hearing weasel-worded performances from him believe that, even by those standards, today's performance was a disgrace? Does he accept that, by his actions, he is shaming and making his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who gave an assurance in good faith, look a fool? That assurance was omitted from the official record and was reinstated at the request of some of us. There is no doubt about what the hon. Member for Dumfries said or meant, and that has been confirmed by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). That is the opinion and the knowledge of every right-thinking, decent person who heard it. Is the Secretary of State now repudiating the hon. Member for Dumfries? If he is, let all shame be upon him from this House. It is a disgusting performance.

Mr. Lang: Far from repudiating my hon. Friend, I am confirming what he said. As to the entry in Hansard , my officials sought to ensure that what my hon. Friend said was entered on the record of the debate. The hon. Gentleman will have had a letter from the Chairman of the Committee, explaining why the Hansard officials had failed initially to include the relevant words.


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