HC Deb 19 June 1974 vol 875 cc460-2
8. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secetary of State for Scotland if he will order an immediate inquiry into Scottish rural transport problems.

Mr. Millan

I do not think this is called for at present. Two pilot studies into the problems of rural transport published by the Department of the Environment in 1971 were circulated to Scottish local authorities. Many of the suggestions they make are relevant to the situation in rural Scotland.

Mr. Sillars

Will my hon. Friend reconsider his decision on an inquiry? Is he aware that despite the Transport Act, 1968, transport services in certain towns and villages in the rural parts of Scotland have now reached a point of crisis and breakdown? Does he agree that this would be a suitable matter for investigation by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, for which we have waited in vain since the election?

Mr. Millan

The Select Committee is not a matter for me. I accept that there are considerable difficulties about rural transport in many areas. The 1968 Act places a good deal of responsibility for determining the needs of an area and giving financial assistance on local authorities and it provides the right kind of framework for tackling such problems. The Act has been used extensively by local authorities in Scotland.

Mr. Corrie

Is there anything that the Minister can do to alleviate the problems of the ferry services to the islands on the West coast? The Minister and I have been in long correspondence on the matter. Charges have risen by an average of 47 per cent. between Largs and Millport and it now costs nearly 2p a pound for food to be taken over to the island of Arran. These are severe costs for rural areas.

Mr. Millan

I do not think that the recent increases have averaged anything like 47 per cent. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am committed to meeting very soon all the local authorities concerned. It is a question of finding a date which is suitable to them so that we can discuss these problems.

Mr. Alexander Wilson

Does my hon. Friend understand that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) was very disappointing? Does he realise that an inquiry is urgently needed into the rural transport services in Scotland? Hon Members are inundated with inquiries about the breakdown of transport in rural areas. Will my hon. Friend consider his plans for the new town of Stonehouse, and consider, in particular, advising British Rail to reopen the railway line between Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse?

Mr. Millan

With respect, my hon. Friend's question about Stonehouse goes rather wide. If he has particular problems regarding that area, I shall be happy to hear from him about them and to consider what I can do to help.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I return to the Minister's reply regarding ferry services. Does he accept that the local authorities are now insisting on a meeting with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland? Does he appreciate that the situation has reached a critical stage? The authorities are determined to have the matter discussed at the highest possible level in Scotland. Will the Minister impress upon his right hon. Friend that the authorities must have a meeting with him? If he does not do so we shall assume that he has no interest in the problem.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman's last point was an absurd one to make. The hon. Gentleman knows some of the history about the arrangements for a meeting. He should be the last person to make that kind of comment. As I have already said, I am committed to a meeting with the local authorities. The meeting could have taken place weeks ago if they had been willing to see me on the date that I suggested.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is the Minister aware that in many of the rural areas of Scotland, and especially the remoter areas, the majority of people depend upon the use of their private cars for transport? The use of their cars represents a large part of their budget. Will the hon. Gentleman explain the relevance of the increase in the petrol tax that was announced by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, coming as it does on top of heavy increases for fuel in general? Does he agree that the Chancellor's increase makes no sense to the people living in the remoter areas of Scotland?

Mr. Millan

The whole question of taxation of petrol has been exhaustively discussed during the Finance Bill debates. One of the problems about rural bus transport is that an increasing number of people use private cars. That is one of the difficulties about operating viable rural bus services. The arguments are by no means all one way.