HC Deb 02 December 1997 vol 302 cc147-8
4. Mrs. Ray Michie

If he will ensure that the present level of Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services is maintained. [17093]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Chisholm)

The Government are committed to safeguarding appropriate lifeline ferry services for communities in the highlands and islands, and to maintaining Caledonian MacBrayne in the public sector. The level of service on individual routes within the Caledonian MacBrayne network is regularly reviewed by the Scottish Office and the company in the light of changing service requirements, the introduction of new vessels and other relevant factors.

Mrs. Michie

The Minister must be aware of the increasing concern that Caledonian MacBrayne is not able to maintain services. When will a decision be made about the Tarbert-Portavadie service? I take this opportunity to give the Minister a friendly but timely warning that he will encounter enormous opposition if any attempt is made to downgrade or remove the Dunoon to Gourock service, given the damage that it would cause to the economy of Dunoon. In the 1980s, the Tory party tried to remove the service, so I hope that the Labour Government will not go down that road.

Mr. Chisholm

Ministers have given approval for the Tarbert service to continue for the summer of 1998 pending further consideration in the comprehensive spending review. A report commissioned by the previous Government on the Gourock-Dunoon service is awaited. It will examine a number of options, and the recommendations will be carefully considered. I remind the hon. Lady that in 1981, when there was a proposal totally to withdraw the CalMac service on that route, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave evidence for the objectors at the public inquiry.

Mr. Godman

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is serious concern in Gourock about the management and development of the company under the regime of Admiral Rankin and Captain Simpkin and that the two vessels which operate the Gourock-Dunoon service are, in shipping terms, very elderly ladies and should be replaced long before 2002?

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to meet a small delegation of the company's employees and me to discuss these issues. I also hope that he will ditch the report that was commissioned by the odd job lot opposite.

Mr. Chisholm

Of course we shall consult local bodies when we have received the report and I shall also be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.