HL Deb 19 June 1974 vol 352 cc910-21

3.2 p.m.


rose to call attention to the need for all forms of transport in Scotland to be improved to meet the requirements both of a developing industrial economy and of the basic industries of farming and fishing; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I submit that just as in a living organism circulation is the key to growth and, indeed, to life itself, so in the economy of a country the transport system can retard or accelerate or even create growth. At this moment, when Scotland stands poised for the greatest growth in her economy that history will probably ever record, it is our duty to see that this new-found prosperity can be shared widely, wisely and well by all parts of the Scottish nation, so that with all parts well planned and flourishing, the Scottish nation itself may grow and prosper. This is why we on these Benches believe that a wide-ranging debate upon Scottish affairs, touching on the needs of new sources of wealth, but not forgetting the requirements of the old basic industries, is proper at this time.

The core of this debate is Scottish transport; the purpose of this debate is Scottish prosperity. The interest which can be generated by such a debate on Scottish affairs is evidenced by the distinguished list of noble Lords who have put their names down to speak this afternoon. In our view, this shows how people of all shades of political opinion believe it to be urgently important to deal imaginatively with Scotland's problems and to give the leadership to the nation which she needs at this time. My Lords, I feel rather like that mythical beast of Scottish heraldry, the unicorn, whose staple diet was virgins—I note that we we have no less than three "maidens" on the menu and I shall look forward with relish to digesting them.

I have already said that Scotland is poised for growth. Not since the 18th century—not since the days of the "improvers" when my distinguished ancestor Sir John Sinclair was forming his Board of Agriculture, when Thomas Telford was building roads and harbours, when Admiral Pulteney and the British Fisheries Society were bringing the herring fishing industry into being and when Watt and Stephenson were developing steam—has such opportunity lain before Scotland. We have the opportunity now to strengthen the whole Scottish economy—remobilising old skills into new industries, old industries into new ventures and using our young people to build up new and exciting technical industries. To these ends an efficient integrated transport system is important.

We have the opportunity now, completely, once and for all, to solve the Highland problem. If we wish it, and if the Government speak the word, the power is there to remove the ills of the Highlands now and for all time and make it as though they never had been. But to make this a reality an efficient and integrated transport system is vital. We have the chance again, like the opportunity which our 18th century forbears had, of replanning our towns and our countryside. We can get rid of rural slum and urban ghetto alike—if we use an efficient integrated transport system to help us.

We, in Scotland, if we can grasp these opportunities, and if the Government have the vision to let us grasp these opportunities, can demonstrate to the whole world how to create a way of life fit for the 21st century. We can show how a whole country can be replanned to give opportunity and to give prosperity, to give health and to give happiness to all its citizens wherever they live and whatever their skills. But to do this we shall, as a first step, need an efficient and integrated transport system.

Of course, the key to all these new-found opportunities is oil. But oil is only the key; oil is only part of the picture. It is what we do with oil that will count, and we should be planning now to make this new wealth our servant and not our master. We should be using this new wealth to build a new Scotland. Never again must whole areas of the country be poor relations out of remoteness. Never again must we let slums grow up to serve the avarice of industry. Never again must we allow whole areas to die as their basic industries die off. If we are to prevent this happening we must plan now so that we have moved before we are forced to move, and so that new facilities are already building in the proper places and in the proper proportions before we are suddenly forced to run up makeshift infrastructure and put it any old where that we can find to put it. This is especially true of transport. It is no good waiting until the system is choking itself to death before making a move. Energy therefore is the key, but transport is the means by which it can be made effective, and that is why we should be talking about it now. That is why we should be planning it ahead of growth. We can use transport to control growth, to promote growth and to shape growth, so we should use it positively as a planning tool. If we do not our inaction may react negatively against us.

My Lords, I have been talking about an integrated transport system and I have chosen these words with care. Each method of transport has its place and its part to play in the economy of a country, and each form of transport is made more effective by the way in which it integrates with every other form. What use is the port that is ill-served by road or rail? What is the point of flying swiftly over the majority of a journey only to be kept hanging about waiting for a surface transport connection? In Scotland there is all too little attempt made by publicly owned nationalised corporations to plan their services so that they integrate. Trains do not wait for ferries; aircraft land five minutes after trains have left and so on. I am sure that other noble Lords will be drawing attention to specific instances in this debate. We may also be told that much is being done by the public transport corporations to improve matters and that may also be so. Nevertheless, so long as one example of lack of integration exists it is one example too many and we should ask the Government to be vigilant to see that a proper integration is demanded and is provided.

Let us turn now from the general theme of transport, from the theme of transport as a planning tool, to the needs of particular forms of transport, to the way in which each form of transport can be made to play its part, and let us begin at the seaports of Scotland. Let us ask ourselves whether enough is being done to develop our major seaports to meet the needs and the challenge of the oil age. Further than that, we must ask whether we arc developing them to handle the growth of industrial activity which it must be our intention to generate from the oil boom in the cities which lie in the hinterland behind the ports. What, for instance, is being done about developing Invergordon as a major seaport? Or has nobody thought about it? Or perhaps it is being left to chance. It should be being actively planned, but is it? Hunterston we hear about as we read our papers or listen to the news, and I hope we shall hear more about it in this debate, but what has happened to the great, imaginative concept of Oceanspan? Has it sunk into oblivion or is it still being studied? Should we not be studying it even more closely as part of an industrial growth strategy for Scotland?

What about fishing ports that are being swamped by oil developments? Is the fishing industry suffering by being a poor relation? Should we be developing new ports for the fishing industry or perhaps building up some existing fishing ports to handle fleets which may be elbowed out of neighbouring harbours which have sold their souls to oil? For instance, I believe that in Buchan, Fraserburgh is still maintaining itself as a major fishing port, while Peterhead has largely gone over to oil servicing. This seems a good idea, but are we looking ahead at other ports in the same kind of way?

In the area of pure transport, are we seeking to encourage sea transport from Scottish ports to the Continent of Europe? I suspect that the number of regular sailings from Scottish ports to the Continent has fallen in recent years; yet surely we should he taking steps to increase trade and travel to Europe. We should not be leaving this to chance. If we cannot sail to Europe, then can we fly? The answer is: "Not from Scotland direct by British Airways". Surely we should be developing air links with Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, all these old trade links that existed even before the 18th century between Scotland across the German ocean to the Continent of Europe. I am glad to see developments taking place to the runway at Inverness, and I am quite prepared to put up with the temporary inconvenience it causes. I find it comforting that Inverness will become an airport capable of taking the major kinds of aircraft. I hope, however, that someone has planned to give it control and approach facilities to match the runway.

One major defect affects the internal services of Scottish Airways. They are all planned from South to North and none is planned from North to South, while East to West flights simply do not exist. This means that if there is a fog in the morning at Abbotsinch even the birds have to walk. If I lived in London and your Lordships' House were in Wick (which I am sure your Lordships do not want, but if it were), I could attend daily and sleep in my bed each night. As it is, if I wished to hear the Answer to a Question I should have to leave home the afternoon before and I should not reach home until the mid-day after my Question was called. Now that Shetland is a major oil base surely we can improve on performance of this kind. If we do not, then we shall all have to fall back on rail transport as really it offers a very good service in spite of being a sort of limbless ex-Serviceman of the battle of Beeching compared with what it was 25 years ago. Seriously, though, railways are one aspect of Scotland's transport network in which a truly magical transformation could take place. First, we have an existing network which is grossly under-used. The recent Government announcement that railways are to be regarded as a social service should open up the possibility of using them once more in the remoter areas for all the vital social purposes which they used to discharge. Let them carry parcels to Kildonon and sheep from Kinbrace once more.

Now that the Government have adopted this wholly admirable new approach to our railway system, and seem to be prepared to regard the permanent way as part of our national infrastructure and the services provided thereon as a social necessity, I wonder whether they will persuade British Rail to alter their hostile attitude to the farming community. British Rail's intransigent antipathy to what they are pleased to call "the green field trade" has caused hardship in the remoter areas, disrupted traditional farming patterns like the wintering of Caithness and Sutherland ewe hogs in Morayshire, and has thrown an unnecessary volume of seasonal traffic on to the roads. Almost every livestock mart is sited deliberately on a railway line, and it seems the height of foolishness and prodigality that nearly every animal that goes in or out of them travels by road.

One final plea for the railway system before I turn to roads. Is it too much to hope that we might invest some capital in modernising the permanent way, the rolling stock and the schedules of the railways of Scotland? We seem to be the scrapyard of the railways systems of Britain. Our journey times do not seem to have altered much since the last century, and all that has happened to the permanent way in the last hundred years is that half of it has been pruned away while what is left has had its standard of maintenance reduced in order to save cost. We still have many devoted and efficient railwaymen working in the industry in Scotland, so I bg Her Majesty's Government to give them the tools and equipment worthy of their talent and devotion.

Important though railways, airlines and seaports are, the one transport system which everyone uses is the road system, and paradoxically in this respect Scotland is both well and ill served at the same time. For what they are, our roads are good and are well maintained—better maintained, I venture to say, than in the rest of the United Kingdom; perhaps it is the Macadam tradition still living on. But what they are is inadequate for any kind of serious economic development. One would think that we had only about three roads in the country by the way some people speak—the M.8, the M.90 and the A.9. The mileage of dual carriageway in Scotland, outside one or two little bits of motorway which we have, is pitifully small, so it takes only a good tourist season to bring the country to walking pace. I know that Her Majesty's Government are planning big improvements in, for instance, the A.9. But those are only the improvements that are overdue since the 1940s. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, may be going to develop this theme of the road system as a planning tool, so on the subject of roads I will only add that in Scotland the quickest way of shortening journeys is by the bridging of firths. It really is time for the Government to commit themselves firmly and unequivocally, and with dates, to a bridge across the Kyle of Sutherland from Tain to Dornoch. To do less is simply to drag their feet.

My Lords, I hope I have done enough surgery to lay open the transport system of Scotland as a whole to the critical examination of your Lordships' House. But before sitting back to listen to and take note of the many expert opinions which I am sure we shall hear voiced during this debate, I would make one special plea on behalf of everyone who lives North of Inverness, and especially for the hotel and tourist industry in the far North. My plea is for any form at all of public transport to and fro on a Sunday. It really is a big problem for the tourist industry not to have a road or a rail or an air service on a Sunday, and it in fact limits the full use of available accommodation at the height of the season. There may be parts of our transport system in Scotland upon which I have not touched. I have not, for instance, mentioned ferries, nor have I mentioned rural bus services, both of which are important. I hope that other speakers will fill in the gaps in the framework which I have laid down. I have tried to concentrate on the main arterial forms of transport, and particularly on the fixed equipment which they use.

I have tried to steer your Lordships' thoughts towards the strategic planning importance of all forms of transport, especially at a time when Scotland stands on the brink of a new era in history. I have tried to draw your Lordships' attention to the real importance of thinking big and thinking early about these matters so that the infrastructure which we provide can draw Scotland smoothly forward into new prosperity rather than staggering along in the wake of growth, stopping gaps, and trying to circumvent bottlenecks.

My Lords, I am confident that we shall hear these sentiments reflected by speakers on all sides of your Lordships' House. Those of us who voice them are not Scottish "chauvinist pigs". We are people of imagination who know what Scotland has to offer. We are people who beg to be able to offer it and to demonstrate what Scotland and the Scots can do for themselves and for our sister nations within the United Kingdom. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, if I understood the allusion of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I am in the position of the hors d'oeuvre of the unicorn to-day. I hope to deserve the indulgence of the House by being both short in my maiden speech, and I hope not unduly controversial. Indeed, my Lords, there is no controversy about the aims with which this particular debate is concerned. Those of us who know Scotland well, who live there, appreciate the enormous importance of a good transport system. Scotland itself is a difficult country, at least in this respect. We have the wrong shape; we have occasionally rather difficult topography; and, much more seldom than most people believe, we have occasional bouts of bad climate. But none the less, the Scottish transport position is—and I agree entirely with the noble Viscount who has just spoken—vital to the development of the country. I have had the opportunity of being a farmer in that country, of being involved in industry, of being considerably concerned in the fishing industry, and for a short and possibly not a very successful time—that is for others to judge—being in the Government. There is no doubt in my mind that transport is the key to the future of Scotland which I believe is better to-day than it has been for perhaps two centuries.

In the past, and I am talking about the immediate past, the biggest single problem was the link between England and Scotland, when we were trying to get some of the great industries up from the Midlands and from the South of England. It was the links over Shap and through Newcastle that were the key to the industrial development of Scotland. Thank goodness, these are now at least a very great deal better. As the noble Viscount has said, as we approach the next period in Scotland, it is not only going to be the links North and South—and these will be important from Perth to Inverness and beyond, and up the East coast—but also the need for good communications from East to West.

I can remember a few years ago having a little controversy with some of my colleagues in the Government as to whether we ought to maintain the lines North of Inverness and out to Kyle. I claim no credit for any particular crystal-gazing at the time, but it seemed to me to be vital to maintain these basic links in case they were needed in the future. We should have been very much worse off to-day with the developments that are coming, mainly at this moment through the oil industry, if these links had been allowed to go. I am bound to admit that in the future some of the links may well need to be from the West to the East. Here we are particularly vulnerable. There is a great deal that the Government should perhaps now be contemplating in case this type of development is necessary.

I could not help remembering, as the noble Viscount spoke of the railways and their task in carrying cattle and sheep, which they did so often in the past, that when I was fighting that particular battle for the line North of Inverness, I could find not one single farmer who wanted to send his sheep South from Lairg by rail. Perhaps to be fair this may have been the fault of British Railways themselves. However, since I promised to be short, I must not spend too long on any particular theme.

I should like to raise one point which I hope may not be thought to be controversial, but which I feel very strongly about. Those of us who live in Scotland know that in most cases the distances that we need to travel are infinitely greater than down here. During the period I was fortunate enough to be a Minister of the Crown, on not one single occasion was the duty on petrol raised. I regret very much that this has had to happen this year. I know how easy it is for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look upon petrol as something which is a milch cow if the Treasury want some more money; but that is disastrous in the Scottish context. If one looks at the statistics and studies the position in Orkney, one will find that there are a greater number of cars per head of the population than there are in any other part of the United Kingdom, including London. This is not because Orkney is vastly rich. It is because a car is absolutely essential to the life of people in that area. If the Government use petrol as a method of increasing taxation, they are going to hit at the life of the Scottish community in the countryside infinitely harder than anywhere else. I hope that I may make this point.

Next, perhaps, is also a slightly controversial subject though I hope not controversially introduced. It has been most admirably demonstrated in a number of fields that competition is of real help to the consumer. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, was talking during Question Time about the problems of the Island of Mull. The problems to the Islands of Islay and Jura are also great; but they are nothing like so difficult as they are to the Island of Mull, where private enterprise is also competing with the State corporation of Caledonian MacBraynes. The cost per passenger mile or per ton mile in those Islands is very substantially below what it is in the Island of Mull. I happen to know this because it used to be part of my constituency. I hope the Government, in planning their future thinking, whether it is by air, by ferry services, by buses or in any other form, will bear in mind that a reasonable element of genuine and fair competition is enormously to the benefit of the consumer; and it is very easily demonstrated to have been so in Scotland over the last few years.

My Lords, there are a number of small islands scattered round the West coast of Scotland where they have their own particular problems. These are not always problems that are created either by MacBraynes or by the Government; they are sometimes aggravated by the attitude of local authorities. I am thinking of two small islands in my own area of Argyll, the Islands of Gigha and the Island of Lismore. In both of these cases a perfectly satisfactory system of transport could have been established years ago if it had not suited—I am bound to admit this is the only conclusion that I came to—a number of people on the county council, sometimes in the Scottish Office, and sometimes in the nationalised industries concerned, to try to play one section of the community against another so that nothing happened. This is not always difficult to do on the West coast, where time is not always quite as important as it is to some of your Lordships down here.

My Lords, I should like to point out too—and I am sure this point will he made on many occasions during the course of the debate—that if one wants to take a sizeable modern lorry, of perhaps 20 tons, over a stretch of 25 miles of roadway in this country, or on the mainland of Scotland, it will cost at to-day's prices about £25 for five miles. If one takes that lorry the same distance over the Minch it will cost at least £80. This is the element of extra cost that is falling on the islands—many of them with quite useful production and other development potential—due to the haphazard effect of their communications being across the sea and not across the land.

I have spoken for nearly long enough for this, a maiden speech. I have no doubt that on future occasions if I am fortunate enough I may speak for a good deal longer on other transport subjects because they are very dear to my heart. I am certain that the Government and many people concerned, as happened in my day—so I am not being at all controversial in saying this—will pay lip service to the vital necessity of coordinating all forms of transport. I have had my share of trying to do this and I know how important it is. We are at the moment in a period of considerable national financial stringency. In my view it is absolutely essential that we should get the best possible transport system for Scotland or Wales or England or any other part of the country at the minimum cost. But this means very careful coordinating of plans and sometimes taking awkward decisions on priorities. I wish the Government well in it because if they are successful we in Scotland will be successful too.