HC Deb 31 March 1993 vol 222 cc337-8
3. Mrs. Ray Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met ScotRail to discuss the future of rail services in rural Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

My right hon. Friend and I meet senior management of British Rail from time to time. Such contacts cover a wide range of topics relating to rail services in Scotland.

Mrs. Michie

Is the Minister aware of the widespread belief in Scotland that the privatisation of British Rail will mean the end of many rural lines? The Secretary of State for Transport has given no guarantee for the future of these services, which will spell disaster for many areas, particularly north of Glasgow and Edinburgh. What did the Minister or his right hon. Friend do to try and prevent Railfreight from hiking up its costs to the oil companies on the West Highland line, forcing them to travel on the roads to Oban, Mallaig and Fort William? What has happened to the Government's commitment to the environment? They are just making the roads more congested and creating more pollution. What happened to their promise to put more freight on to the railways?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Government have repeatedly given a commitment to provide subsidy and to support services in rural areas which, although loss making, provide invaluable social services. Our franchising proposals are based on a desire to bring the benefits of private sector provision to all passenger services and to make them more responsive. We see the railways being used to a greater extent in future. As to the traffic on the West Highland line, unfortunately it is heavily loss making, failing to make any contribution to the infrastructure and not covering the operational costs. Customers have been unable to agree to British Rail's remedial action, which would have returned the service to viability. We are encouraging more freight to use rail by widening the criteria for section 8 grants, by the proposed new grant scheme for the payment of track charges and by the publication of a consultation paper on lorry weight initiatives.

Mr. Graham

Will the Minister assure the people of Inverclyde that privatisation will not threaten the work of repairing the Newton Street tunnel and Wemyss bay? We are already seeing a deterioration in our services as the railways fatten up for privatisation. Will the Minister assure the people of Inverclyde that they will continue to receive a good service, not one which is run down?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is very important that the hon. Gentleman's constituents continue to receive that service. We recognise the importance of ensuring the necessary investment through Railtrack, which will be responsible for investment in the track and for looking after bridges throughout Scotland. We will support investment in the railways where the schemes do not gain an adequate rate of return but provide a statisfactory cost-benefit return and benefits to the communities concerned.