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Rail Infrastructure

3. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): What action the Government have taken to promote investment in railway infrastructure in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [130569]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid): The Government are promoting investment in railway infrastructure through their 10-year transport plan. That

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includes £60 billion for a bigger, better, safer railway--the biggest investment in railways for generations, which will undoubtedly benefit Scotland.

Mr. Brown: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply and I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for last week's announcement of additional funding through the comprehensive spending review. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that some of that investment is channelled towards moving more freight on to railways, with particular emphasis on timber freight, which is an issue in my constituency?

Dr. Reid: Yes, I will certainly continue to do that. It is noticeable that, under this Government, there has been the first increase in freight transport on rail for generations. My hon. Friend will be interested to know that, since May 1997 when the Government were elected, nine freight facility grants have been awarded in Scotland. Those total £16.5 million and will remove 8.7 million lorry miles per annum from roads in Scotland. A further £1 million has been made available for 2000-01. So, once again, investment in our railways, and incentives to move from road to rail have been encouraged under this Government.

All those moneys would of course be cut by the Conservative party, which, having abandoned every other guarantee, gives only one guarantee to the people of Scotland: if a Tory Government were elected, one third of all expenditure introduced in the Budget as additional for Scottish services would be removed.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): May I associate those of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches with the Secretary of State's good wishes on the occasion of the last Scottish questions under your Chair, Madam Speaker? [Hon. Members: "Under your Chair?"] I am waiting for a little peace and quiet on the Conservative Benches.

In considering the railway investment that the Secretary of State has announced, will he determine which structural and financial problems remain barriers to imaginative, innovative and detailed schemes such as the Waverley route in the borders and plans for a cross-rail link to Aberdeen, which will provide alternative transport that people need if they are to avoid using their cars?

Dr. Reid: I can certainly look at those, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, post devolution, we are involved in a partnership. All train journeys starting and ending in Scotland--not inter-city services--have become the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. I shall ensure that his point is brought to the attention of the Minister for Transport and the Environment in Scotland, Ms Boyack.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, North and Leith): Is it not the case that freight facility grants were never used until the Labour Government were elected in 1997? I welcome the grants that have been awarded, including the one to Leith docks in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State welcome the new, ambitious targets for furthering freight facility grants and the unprecedented

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boost to rail infrastructure that was announced last week, which will be good for the economy, good for the environment and good for people throughout Scotland?

Dr. Reid: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The previous Conservative Government objected on two principled grounds to doing what we are doing. First, they did not believe in planning of any sort. They believed that words such as "planning and strategy", "common sense" and "forward looking" were associated with opposition to the free market, which was their only criterion. Secondly, they were very much opposed to investing money in any public services, not just rail. That meant decline for many years in freight transport and a commensurate increase in transport on the roads, with all its disadvantages. So, I agree with my hon. Friend and I hope that we do not ever have another Government who cut public services as the Conservatives did in the past and have promised to do in future.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): It is nice to hear the Secretary of State praising the privatised rail industry. What level of profit does he consider necessary to ensure the continued flow of private investment into the infrastructure of Scotland's railways?

Dr. Reid: It is not for me to decide the level of profit. The level that will activate future investment will be the one that attracts money to the industry. Despite advances under the privatised industry in the level of investment, the rise in the number of passengers and some of its longer-term plans now that we have brought it together, there have been serious disadvantages, too. Punctuality has gone to pot, reliability is down and the fragmentation of the network meant that, until we introduced the Strategic Rail Authority, there was no overall view. So, the matter is not as simple as having to choose between the unfettered free market and a Soviet command system, which was the line pursued by the previous Government. A sensible balance between the public and private sectors is what this Government stand for.

Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Safety on board trains is especially important during the holiday period. Will my right hon. Friend take up, with inter-city train operators in particular, issues of overcrowding and overselling of tickets, resulting in luggage and passengers in train corridors, which is extremely dangerous? Will he raise those issues with the Deputy Prime Minister and investigate the possibility of introducing legislation?

Dr. Reid: I shall certainly give my attention to my hon. Friend's remarks. There is no doubt that there has been a vast increase in the number of passengers travelling by train. For punctuality and reliability, ScotRail normally comes joint first with, or a close second to, Island Line on the Isle of Wight. As that line is only six miles long, a train need only come out of the shunting shed to be almost guaranteed to be on time at the end of its journey. On the question of investment, the plan outlined by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister provides about £29 billion of Government funding, which will result in upgrading of the east coast main line, modernisation of the west coast main line, and £7 billion for the rail modernisation fund. We want the

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Conservatives to be sufficiently honest to tell us which programme they would cut if they were elected to office at the next general election.


The Advocate-General was asked--

Devolution Issues

25. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Pursuant to her answer to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) of 27 June 2000, Official Report, column 482W, if she will list the cases which have caused her to intervene on the grounds that they might have ramifications for the whole United Kingdom. [130592]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): To date I have intervened in 14 cases. I shall arrange for a list to be placed in the Library of the House.

Dr. Godman: Am I right in thinking think that devolved and reserved matters are not always mutually exclusive? May I point out that a recent motion on the Order Paper of the Scottish Parliament called for Her Majesty's Government and the Scottish Executive to take steps to alleviate the poverty of asylum seekers and refugees? What advice has my hon. and learned Friend given on legal measures in that respect, and would such measures be taken by Her Majesty's Government, or by the Scottish Executive, or by a mixture of the two?

The Advocate-General: As my hon. Friend knows, I cannot disclose the exact nature of any advice that I have given. However, in general terms, I assure him that, where appropriate, I give advice to United Kingdom Departments and Ministers. The Scottish Parliament has its own, separate legal representation.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Pleasant as it is to see the hon. and learned Lady at the Dispatch Box, she knows what she receives by way of her ministerial salary to discharge her functions, yet she informs us that she has made only 14 interventions in the more than 12 months since she took office. In view of the Lord Chancellor's comments about fat-cat lawyers, referring to the self-employed profession, does the hon. and learned Lady think that the Government and the taxpayer are getting value for money from her discharge of her full-time post?

The Advocate-General: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I have not only intervened in 14 cases: I have scrutinised about 750 cases and several Bills of the Scottish Parliament, and that work will increase as the Scottish Parliament produces more Bills for scrutiny. I have also formulated a number of opinions; as the hon. Gentleman, who is legally qualified, well knows, it is not and will not be the Advocate-General's practice to reveal those opinions. However, I assure him that I am not twiddling my thumbs.

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