§ 5. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)
If she will expedite the awarding of the Scottish rail franchise. 
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell)
The current franchise agreement ends in March 2004. Public consultation on the priorities for rail services in Scotland ended on 28 February, and Scottish Executive Ministers will take account of that in the directions and guidance put to the Strategic Rail Authority for the Scottish passenger rail franchise.
§ Mr. Donohoe
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, she will know that awarding the contract for the new franchise to ScotRail has been delayed. That affects its ability to place new rolling stock orders. Will she make further representations to facilitate the process and thus enable the Scottish travelling public to travel on trains that have seats for everyone?
§ Mrs. Liddell
I know of my hon. Friend's interest in the matter. The Scottish Executive have been anxious to concentrate on getting the process right rather than on speed. However, I will make sure that my hon. Friend's representations are made available to the Scottish Executive, and I am sure that they will take them into account.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that in Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland the need for that matter to be resolved is urgent? Recent developments of traffic problems around Aberdeen demonstrate that we need an upgrading of the service between Aberdeen and Inverness, and investment in a commuter service between Inverurie, Stonehaven and points further north and south. The sooner the matter can be resolved, the sooner we will be able to secure the investment that will deal with the traffic problems and congestion.
§ Mrs. Liddell
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and I understand them. The problem is a consequence of many years of underinvestment in our 138 railway network, and the Scottish Executive will take that into account when they roll out their plans for the rail network in Scotland.