HC Deb 24 October 1979 vol 972 cc415-6
16. Mr. John Mackay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the review of ferry charges to the islands.

Mr. Rifkind

As my hon. Friend is aware we are currently examining in detail the whole question of Government assistance to ferry services. I hope to issue a consultation paper before the recess and take decisions on the future pattern of assistance early in the new year.

Mr. Mackay

Does my hon. Friend realise that his timetable will be welcomed by many of my island constituents? Does he also realise that freight charges impose an increasing burden on my constituents and, further, that they all wish that, in his review, some element of competition will be injected into ferry services so that the islanders do not become the victims of a State monopoly?

Mr. Rifkind

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we are very well aware of the feelings of the islanders. That is why, at a time of very severe restraint, the Government have indicated that it will be a priority to ensure the viability of Scotland's island communities.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister aware that his review of ferry charges has also been welcomed in my constituency? When the time comes to make a decision, will he bear in mind the fact that in Norway island communities in the far north are afforded an equal chance of a reasonable economic freight service by the Government in Oslo?

Mr. Rifkind

I am aware of the right hon. Gentleman's point. We are approaching this matter without any rigid views. We are anxious to hear the views of the local authorities and the island communities before coming to firm decisions on the manner in which we shall move towards a road equivalent tariff.