HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1650-1
4. Mr. Powell

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied with the present range and capacity of the surface routes between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Mr. Carter

While I am not aware of any major gap between supply and demand for these services at present, I would naturally welcome any commercially viable improvement or expansion of services which are so vital to the Northern Ireland economy.

Mr. Powell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is one of those cases in which demand waits upon supply and that very often the provision of a route opens up an entirely new market? Does he agree that it would be a mistake to concentrate attention and investment upon one route to the disadvantage of others?

Mr. Carter

I am aware of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about a hovercraft service from Warren Point to Heysham and the novel suggestion, from his point of view, that we should look to demand rather than supply for improvement in these services. But we would have to be convinced, as I suggested in my answer, that any improvement was based on commercial viability.

Mr. Thomson

Has the Minister made any representations to the Scottish Office with a view to getting an improvement of the A75 road up to a real Euro route to serve the needs of the traffic to Ireland? Has he had conversations with British Rail about the possibility of reinstating the rail link between Dumfries and Stranraer so as to obviate the very roundabout route through Mauchline?

Mr. Carter

I am aware of some of the criticisms that have been made about the road routes to which the hon. Member refers, although they have not been substantial. I hope some time later this year to go across to Scotland and have a look at the route to which he refers.

Mr. Skinner

May I take it that my hon. Friend is trying to assist the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to distort the free market forces in order to help his constituents?

Mr. Carter

In fact, I said in my original answer that we could consider such assistance only if the proposal was commercially viable. In that, I am sure that I have the support of the right hon. Gentleman.