HC Deb 24 May 1995 vol 260 cc895-7
13. Mr. Eric Clarke

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss Scotland's transport network. [24237]

Mr. Lang

I meet the Scottish TUC from time to time to discuss a variety of issues relating to the Scottish economy, including transport matters.

Mr. Clarke

Is the Secretary of State aware that people in Scotland fear that the Government are opting out of the transport network in privatising British Rail? Will the subsidies and the guarantees of fares being kept down in the south of England be the same for the whole of Scotland?

Mr. Lang

The fares guarantee will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. As to the Government opting out, on the contrary, we are privatising the rail network because we believe that there is need for improvement which can be provided only by the private sector. The past few years have not demonstrated that the public sector has the capacity to deliver the quality of rail service that this country needs.

Mr. McLoughlin

When my right hon. Friend next meets the TUC, will he point out the great advantages that are being brought about by air liberalisation and allowing competition to take place between British Midland and British Airways, to the benefit of all passengers in Scotland who use those routes?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the encouraging features of the rising prosperity in this country is the increasing use of various air routes around the United Kingdom. That is reflected in massive new investment at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports of £30 million and £100 million respectively.

Mr. Wallace

In discharging responsibilities with regard to the Scottish transport network, the Secretary of State will know that under section 5 of the Railways Act 1993 the Secretary of State for Transport can give directions to the franchising director, Mr. Salmon, including a direction that Mr. Salmon must submit to the Department of Transport the criteria that he will apply when he puts loss-making services into the passenger service obligation. Has the Secretary of State been involved in discussing those criteria? If so, when will that happen and what are the criteria?

Mr. Lang

Surely the hon. Gentleman knows by now that internal discussions between Ministers are not made public. He will wish to address his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. McAvoy

The Secretary of State will be aware that the rail services provided in the Strathclyde regional council area, part-funded by that council, are a key part of Scotland's transport network. But is he aware that the Argyll line services to Cambuslang, Rutherglen and Halfway have been effectively closed over the past few months because of flooding of the line? Despite the efforts of Strathclyde region to get together with ScotRail to try to come up with alternatives to that closed service, ScotRail does not seem to be moving. If the Secretary of State is really concerned about Scotland's rail network, will he ensure that ScotRail co-operates with Strathclyde regional council to re-establish that rail service?

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, those are matters for Strathclyde passenger transport executive to negotiate with ScotRail. If he wants to send me any further details, however, I shall see whether there is any way in which I can help him.

Rev. Martin Smyth

In discussions with the Scottish TUC and others, has the Secretary of State examined the impact on the transport network in Scotland of upgrading the Stranraer, Larne and Belfast facilities? Will he undertake to have a discussion with the Secretary of State for Transport? He cannot tell us publicly what he has discussed, but could he not use his influence to upgrade facilities at Stranraer?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman will understand why I share his close interest in such matters. I am glad to be able to tell him that a major new investment at Stranraer was announced only this week. It comes on top of the various commitments, on both road and rail, to upgrade the transport network in that important part of Scotland.

Mr. George Robertson

Would the Secretary of State give a warm welcome to the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who is lurking suspiciously at the end of the Government Front Bench? While he is doing so, could he bring to mind the prophetic words of his late colleague, Mr. Robert Adley, who described railway privatisation as the poll tax on wheels? Does he not realise that privatising the railways in Scotland will be as wasteful, costly and electorally devastating as the poll tax was to turn out to be? Is it not time that the Secretary of State put Scotland before Tory ideology and, perhaps, put the people of Scotland and their interests before his career plans in the Cabinet?

Mr. Lang

We are sweeping away the remnants of the socialist ideology and dogma that led to so many public utilities being brought into the public sector, thereby denying them the resources and investment that they needed to stay efficient and modern. Now we are giving them the opportunity to break free from that constraint, just as we have done with telephones, the airlines, gas and electricity and so many other industries. Where they relied before on Government subsidies of £50 million a week, they are now profitable, successful, more efficient and generating revenue to the Exchequer of around £50 million a week, I have no doubt that railway privatisation will lead to massive improvements for the people of this country.