§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord CAMPBELL of CROY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on transport and communications in Scotland, with particular reference to road and rail links with the North of Scotland. The noble Lord said: My Lords, from the terms of my Question your Lordships will see that it is links with the North of Scotland by road and rail with which I am mainly concerned this evening. In the last six years or so, there has been greatly increased activity in the North of Scotland, and many developments. These developments have not been related only to oil. However, those of my noble friends and others in this House who are familiar with Scotland will know that there are geographical obstacles in the centre of Scotland which make difficult communication with the North. There are the irregular coast and long inlets on the West Coast, and there is the central massif of the Grampian Mountains. Of course there is a way round by Aberdeen which does not necessitate going over high ground or winding through valleys, but it is a long way round, if I may say so with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, whose home city it is. Therefore, the main trunk road to the North, to Inverness, is the A9, which winds through the mountains up the middle of Scotland, and the railway route follows the same line.
§ I should like to consider them in turn. First, the road, the A9. When the Conservative Government came into office in 1970 I, as Secretary of State for Scotland, immediately commissioned a feasibility study into a new route for the A9 trunk road North of Inverness. The Labour Government had announced that they would retain the long route round the firths, but I proposed bridging the firths and reducing by several miles the distance by road North to Invergordon, Sutherland and Caithness. I had, when in Opposition, asked Mr. Ross, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, who is now again Secretary of State, whether he would hold his hand on the decision he had announced. Indeed, nothing was done, because of 122 cuts in the road programme at that time, which is reminiscent of today. Thus, when I came to office, I was able to put that feasibility study into action; and within four months I was able to announce that the route across the firths was being adopted. Even the Treasury was pleased because the immediate plan to cross the Beauly and Cromarty Firths would, in the long run, be cheaper than maintaining 14 extra miles of trunk road on the long route round.
§ What we ask today is: where is the Kessock Bridge, the crossing of the firth immediately North of Inverness? It should by now have been well under construction across the Beauly Firth. While inflation has clearly caused the cost to soar, are there other reasons as well? The new road is being built on each side and there is likely to be a period when it will simply lead into the water. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, answered my oral Question on this matter today and told me that the Secretary of State did not accept the tender which had been submitted, and this was many months ago. That clearly was confirmation that this scheme has been a victim of the very high rate of inflation over the last two years. But the noble Lord also said that, if all went well, it would be two years before a start could be made with the building of that bridge. I must tell your Lordships that there is great concern, and not only in the North of Scotland, at the delay which is being caused to this new route, and doubt as to whether there is to be a bridge at all.
§ Bridging the firths North of Inverness was part of the reconstruction of the 137 miles of trunk road between Perth and Invergordon, started in 1973 as the new A9. Most of it was to be on new routes eliminating the bad bends and steep gradients. The whole length was to be renewed in an immediate programme of five years. Provision was made for dual carriageway throughout and about one-third of this was to be built during this first five years. About half of the five years has now elapsed and this is an appropriate time to ask what is the present position. Besides the delay to the Kessock Bridge, has inflation caused any other erosion or delay in the programme? If one looks down on the A9 from the air, as I often do as I fly North and South, one can see why the old A9 has been so unpopular 123 and dangerous; although the traffic does not appear to be very thick, one sees very long processions, in some places for miles, because one large lorry or two or three caravans make it impossible for faster moving vehicles to pass. This is because it is so winding. I recognise that there are planning objections. In some cases there have been objections to where the new line of the road is to be and, indeed, when I was still Secretary of State, the Dunkeld by-pass was objected to by amenity bodies and not simply by the owners and farmers whose land was affected on the way. I must point out that because this road goes over very high ground, such as the Pass of Drumochter, conditions can be exceedingly difficult, with ice and snow in the winter.
§ I come to the question of rail. Ten days ago a Scottish Office Minister announced the go-ahead for restoring the second track and crossing loops to part of the railway line between Perth and Inverness. This will reverse the action in taking up the second track and the loops which was carried out between 1966 and late 1969, action during the previous Labour Government which I was vigorously opposing at the time. In a letter to me of 10th March last year, just over a year ago, British Rail informed me that the estimated cost at that time, the late 1960s, of "singling", of the reduction of the number of passing loops and of resignalling was £75,100. It was announced last week that the cost of reversing that is now estimated at no less than £3.7 million, almost five times as much. With inflation, it will probably, in the event, be considerably more.
§ In reporting the Minister's Press conference, the BBC's Scottish Television News and some of the Press the next day attributed the removal of the second track to the Beeching cuts. This was totally incorrect, as they later realised. It is most unusual for a BBC news item to be completely wrong and I was surprised when, on that Friday evening in the North, I heard the announcer saying that this was a track that had been taken up by Beeching more than 10 years ago. I must report that the BBC immediately agreed, when I took the matter up, that they were wrong, and apologised. But the newspapers also got it wrong and I have heard from one of the correspondents that the reason was that a question 124 was put at the Press conference and it appears that the Minister in reply made an elementary error. The singling was carried out long after Lord Beeching had ceased to be chairman of British Rail, and the Perth to Inverness line, being a main line, was not mentioned in his closure report. Indeed, that report recommended improving and speeding up such main lines, the opposite of what the Labour Government later allowed to happen.
§ I say immediately that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, is not himself in any way responsible, having not been concerned with this Press conference and having not been in the Government or concerned with these events in the past, but I know that he has the duty of replying on behalf of the Scottish Office tonight. Has the Scottish Office issued a correction to all the Press who attended that Press conference? If not, the Minister at the Press conference has been responsible for falsifying history and, no doubt unintentionally, for providing the Labour Government with a bogus alibi for action which took place in the late 1960s despite the increase in traffic arising from tourist development at Aviemore and the new smelter at Invergordon. These developments were happening long before the oil developments. Unless there is a public correction, the episode will suggest that Orwell's 1984 is no longer fantasy but is arriving before time. Clearly, if my information from the correspondent is right, it was an impromptu reply to a question; it was a guess, a bad one, and it had the effect of turning the facts on their head.
Having been involved in that piece of recent history in the late 1960s, taking up these matters with Ministers at the Ministry of Transport and with British Rail, and having my files of correspondence and Parliamentary replies with me still, I am astonished that this could have happened. For instance, I was corresponding with the responsible Minister, the Minister of Transport at that time, about this railway line from 1967 onwards and there have been some strange happenings in connection with the line. For example, in March 1967 there was a Government suggestion that the whole line might be closed, contrary to every assurance that had been given up to that moment, and that a reprieve was being exercised. It
did not stop the singling of the line being carried out later and up to the end of 1969, and I will quote from a letter which I sent to the Minister of Transport, who was then Mrs. Castle, on 22nd March 1967. I wrote:
Following your statement on railways in the House last week, I have been trying to trace the origin of the statements which appeared the following day, on 16th March, in most of the national Press to the effect that the Perth-Inverness line had been 'reprieved' or saved from the axe. For example, this appeared in The Times on page 14, although there was no mention of this line or similar lines in the official statements by you and your Ministry. To see this in the Press caused considerable surprise to me and others concerned with it because during the past year and a half you and other Ministers have informed me, by Parliamentary replies and letters, that this line has not been under any threat or proposal for closure.
The Perth-Inverness line was not in the proposals for closure in the Beeching Plan, The Reshaping of British Railways, and according to your Ministry the position has not changed since then. It therefore looks…as though you were making a claim last week to reprieve a line which was not due to be closed anyway.
I had to wait for three weeks to get a reply and I then received a reply from the junior Minister, Mr. John Morris, now Secretary of State for Wales. In it, he said:
The Chairman quoted the Perth-Inverness line in his opening words as one that would have been liable to closure under the previous policy. It was included with the other lines in various parts of the country in a Press handout listing all those lines which 'would in all probability have been proposed for closure, but which are now shown as part of the stabilised network.'
It is true…that the Perth-Inverness line has never been formally proposed for closure. Nevertheless, in the view of the Railways Board, it is one of those which, under normal commercial practice, they would have very probably had to put forward, bearing in mind its length and the limited amount of traffic it carries.
That kind of episode does not instil great confidence in the public in Scotland. The Chairman of British Railways referred to in that letter from Mr. Morris was not the noble Lord, Lord Beeching. It was two years after the noble Lord had given up the chairmanship. That was an extraordinary incident. I described it in a debate soon afterwards in another place as a "mystery thriller—The Case of the Phantom Axe". The House will understand why members of the public in the North of Scotland still find it difficult to be reassured that proposals of the kind
announced last week will be carried out. They are suspicious that sudden changes will occur, especially when the railway unions are warning that large cuts in the network are being considered. There is a report in today's Glasgow Herald that, at a meeting of the Scottish Council of the railway union ASLEF, strike action was considered by 3,000 Scottish railwaymen if further cuts in freight and passenger services are carried out. The unions are clearly worried. We know that from Press reports. As for the public, they want to know the facts.
§ There is another cause of concern arising from the Statement last week: will this restoration work mean delays to trains while it is being carried out? Can the Minister give any assurance that when work is taking place during the coming months beside the existing track which is in use, it will not hold up the trains? Of course I welcome the restoration, having opposed the singling at the time and having pointed out that it was short-sighted. It should never have been done. Now, it will cost at least five times to put back what it cost to take up. I must point out to your Lordships that the effect of singling is that trains can only pass in opposite directions at certain points. If there is a breakdown or a delay with one train, it can cause several other trains to be late. There have been delays to trains to Inverness of two or three hours. That has been regarded as normal. Then there was a case on 28th-29th December 1974 when an overnight train from London was nearly eight hours late. I was meeting someone off that train and was very well aware of what happened. When I took it up with British Rail, they had to admit that, in addition to vandalism near Motherwell—and, on that, I certainly sympathised—there had been breakdowns including at least one locomotive.
§ Naturally, I dealt with that and other similar matters directly with British Rail because the Government cannot be responsible for the day-to-day management of the railways. No one expects them to be. But this question principle concerning this particular line has been accepted as a matter of concern to the Government because it was the subject of a Press conference and Press release in the name of the Minister of State at the Scottish Office.127
In a leading article on 6th March, the Scotsman spoke of the state of the locomotives and rolling stock and said:
With one or two exceptions, British Rail's lack of money to invest in reliable locomotives and modern rolling stock in Scotland is often painfully obvious.
§ That is voicing an impression which is widely held in Scotland, whether or not it is correct. I hope that the noble Lord will do something to reassure those who hold that impression. Perhaps the number of breakdowns North of the Border is no higher on average than elsewhere in Britain. I do not know, but, where there are single lines for long stretches, the situation is accentuated as I have described because one breakdown can cause delay to a whole section of the timetable.
§ In view of that comment in a leading article this month in a Scottish newspaper and of the general concern about plans for road and rail links with the North of Scotland. I am glad to give the Government this opportunity to make a statement today.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, following my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in a most erudite speech I find a rather dramatic experience, as it is to follow a former Secretary of State for Scotland. That is particularly so as I am now something of an exile from Scotland, but I still have close relations in Scotland and hope to go there later this year. I am certainly acquainted with much of the country which my noble friend has described.
Anybody who, over the years, has travelled on the A9 trunk road will know the problems. As my noble friend has said, there are geographical problems which make certain improvements very difficult; but I wonder, for example, what is now the position as regards the town of Pitlochry, which is a very important tourist centre. Last time I was in that area there was the difficulty of acquiring land around the Ballanluig area. I do not know whether that difficulty has been resolved. I have been trying to find out, but without much success. This is clearly an example of a town which badly needs a by-pass.
128 Then there is Perth itself. It is the county with which I am best acquainted, since my mother and grandparents all came from that part of Scotland. Driving through Perth is still a devilish problem and, bearing in mind the efforts which the Scottish Tourist Board have made over the years, it is frustrating for those who are trying to take advantage of the amenities offered to find these problems.
Turning for a moment to the air service, a friend of mine is a prospective candidate for Caithness and Sutherland. My understanding is that the air service to Wick is to be cut in the near future. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, can confirm or deny that point. At the moment, I understand that there is a service from Dalcross to Wick but I believe that it is likely to be terminated. That is now a vital part of Scotland. Quite apart from the large atomic plant at Dounreay, there are various small industries, such as those involving glass, cheese and so on, much of which I believe goes for export.
According to my calculations the fastest train journey to Wick appears to be approximately 17 hours. Even bearing in mind a distance of about 768 miles and all the problems of gradients, that seems an interminably long time. As my noble friend says, the Government have no direct responsibility for the operations of the British Railways Board, but surely the railways could consider this matter. In the interests of both tourism and the increasing business now being experienced in the North of Scotland, some speed-up, or improvement, in rail services could surely be countenanced. Of course there is the problem of finance. But bearing in mind both the inevitable cutback to which, presumably, the roads will now be subject, and the climatic conditions which often affect roads in that part of the country—where often the railways are not affected quite so much—there is surely a case here for improvements.
I finally turn to the Motorail service, which my family and I have used on a number of occasions. We travelled on the first Motorail service to Perth, when the cost was approximately threequarters of what it now is. I have been trying to compare the costs. A night journey from London to Perth now costs £75 return 129 second class for car and driver, and £28 return for each additional passenger. If one travels by day it is, admittedly, somewhat cheaper. But a great many people cannot travel by day; they must do a night journey. Surely there is a case here for the railway authorities to look into the matter of cost. Here, again, the Government themselves probably cannot answer this question, because Brtish Railways run their own commercial affairs.
However, I hope, and the people of Scotland certainly hope, as do those who take their holidays there, that when the increased fares conic into effect the Motorail service will not be charged out of all existence. Costs are high enough as it is, and most users of the Motorail service are families: mother, father and children. Generally, they are not wealthy people, and this service provides a means of getting not only to Scotland but to other parts of the country in a way which prevents our roads from becoming clogged up. On the one hand we are told to try to keep trunk roads clear of traffic, yet on the other hand the cost of public transport is pricing so many people out of existence.
My Lords, that is all I have to say specifically on this problem. But bearing in mind that Scotland is, rightly, becoming more and more an attraction as a tourist centre—I have in mind such places as Aviemore—and more and more a centre of business, too, with much emphasis upon exports, I believe that within the limitations of the present financial burdens everything should be done to make it possible for those living there, as well as those travelling to and from Scotland, to suffer the minimum inconvenience.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, it is not for me to rebuke or to protest, but I complain somewhat bitterly about the very short notice which your Lordships received of this Question. Admittedly, the railway strike probably contributed to the delay in the post, but it was only late on Thursday that I received notice of this debate. In any case, I think it fair to say that Monday is a terribly difficult day for Peers who live in Scotland, especially at a time when the sleeper services have been interrupted. Therefore, I must apologise if my contribution to the debate 130 is somewhat sketchy, though I make no apology at all for taking part, because after all an Unstarred Question is by definition one,which may give rise to discussion.To many Back-Benchers it is a welcome vehicle for intervention.
I will be brief, and indeed had the Question been worded differently I might not have been taking up your Lordships' time at all. But—and I emphasise this point—the pressure of the growth of oil traffic, to which previous speakers have referred and which is known to all of us, is pressing Southwards. As one of my correspondents has it:The impact of North Sea oil lends added urgency to the need for an outer by-pass for Edinburgh.It is my case that ultimately the A1 road will be designated as a trunk route. One can now drive from the Forth Road Bridge to London by the Al or the M18 motorway, or the M1, without passing through any city or town, except Edinburgh and Berwick. My information is that the Berwick by-pass is to be taken in hand in 1979, leaving Edinburgh alone without a by-pass.
I base my contention as to the urgency of this matter on the Public Expenditure White Paper. On pages 61 and 62 the White Paper says:The main objectives of the trunk road programme in Scotland are twofold. First the improvement of the trunk roads providing access to oil-related developments…Second, the improvement of the trunk roads serving the industrialised central belt, notably through the completion of the motorway and dual carriageway network. While the improvement of the oil-related roads remains of first priority, the reductions in planned expenditure mean that development of other parts of the programme will be slowed down.I emphasise the words, "improvement of the oil-related roads", and in this respect I make a claim that the by-passing of Edinburgh is related thereto.
I heard that the calculated cost of the Edinburgh by-pass today is between £35 million and £40 million, and in turning back some old papers I saw that on 4th November 1959, at col. 373 of the Official Report, in reply to a Question raised by me, the estimated cost of the Edinburgh by-pass was put at £2 million. Expenditure on roads per capita in Scotland is only £18 annually, compared with £56 in Norway, £35 in Sweden, £30 in Denmark, 131 and £36 in the Federal Republic of Germany. These figures are taken from a reply given in the other place on 2nd March, reported at col. 552.
Quite apart from the economic angle, so far as Edinburgh is concerned the amenity angle has to be considered, if only in passing. I suggest this is perhaps not the time to lay that much weight on the point, though I turn to the extraordinary proposals which seem to be taking shape in regard to another historic city—and, of course, I refer to Winchester. In terms of financial stringency, obviously massive expenditure within the City of Edinburgh must wait. So far as Edinburgh is concerned, that is no bad thing when one considers that until a by-pass is completed internal traffic estimates can only be conjecture.
My Lords, there is another element of urgency. I am the first, I would emphasise, to welcome the substantial allocation of funds provided by the Lothian region for the detailed planning of the by-pass so that time may be saved and it can be put in hand as soon as funds are available. This I welcome; but the urgent matter is that a final decision as to the Eastern end of the by-pass should be made with the minimum of delay, because until that is determined the pressing problems of by-passing Musselburgh and the Southern approach roads to Leith Docks cannot be settled, and they are of great urgency based on the traffic which is building up. I have been assured unofficially that in pressing for an Edinburgh by-pass I am in a measure pushing at an open door. It is only the matter of timing which is at stake, and which I raise tonight.
My plea, then, is that an Edinburgh by-pass be accepted as a necessary,…improvement of the trunk roads serving the industrial central belt".That comes from the paragraph in the White Paper to which I have already referred:…an improvement of the oil-related roads".It is a link between the North-East of England and the North Sea oil developments. In passing, it is worth bearing in mind that although it may be some time before the Al can be upgraded, or need be upgraded, as a trunk route, a by-pass would ease the traffic between 132 North and South by feeding into the A7 and the A68; and I look forward to hearing the Government's Statement on the matter.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, I hope I may be permitted to intervene at this moment for just a second. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy may have raised this subject just before I came in, but in case he has not I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, whether the Highland rumour that the Glasgow-to-Fort William railway is to be closed in the foreseeable future—say, five years—is true; because even the new A9 would not be a suitable alternative, especially in snow conditions, quite apart from the fact that people from Fort William and the West Highlands have to travel many miles on a twisty and hilly "B" route before they even reach the new A9 at Dalwhinnie.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Lord KIRKHILL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for providing me with an opportunity to speak about this subject today. First, as to the general question of transport in Scotland, I would ask that noble Lords await the publication of the Government's consultative document on transport policy, which of course will cover the whole country. This document, which it is hoped to publish within the next few weeks, will provide an opportunity for all those concerned with transport problems to submit constructive views to the Government, and the Government will of course welcome the submission of views of that kind.
As to the Government's policy for communications to and in the Highland Region, the Government consider that the road and rail links to the Grampian Region and Inverness from Perth, in particular, play a vital part in the development of those very important areas. That is why the Government have, as my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Millan, announced on 5th March, decided to authorise the British Railways Board to proceed with their scheme of improvements to the Highland railway line at a cost of approximately £3.7 million: this—and I have to emphasise the point—despite the current restrictions on public expenditure. The Government 133 continue to give the reconstruction of the A9 road high priority; indeed, as they do to other road improvements intended to serve North Sea oil developments. This programme is not subject to the same expenditure cuts as have had to be imposed on the rest of the roads programme in Scotland in what are extremely stringent times, which shows in itself the importance attached by the Government to this particular area of the country.
My Lords, I have already dealt in some detail with the situation as regards the Kessock Bridge, in reply to a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, earlier this afternoon, and I do not think I can add very much to what I said then. But the noble Lord has raised the matter of the Kessock Bridge yet again, and specifically mentioned it in his earlier remarks, and I have to rest on the point that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland felt quite unable, at this time, to accept the consortium tender of approximately £30 million—and I think his declinature was fully justified. From that decision there has of course flowed further consultation, and the consortium, together with other companies, are in process of retendering and resubmitting to us. That is the present situation. I can again give the assurance that, subject to a favourable economic climate, it is certainly the Government's intention to authorise the start of the Kessock Bridge very early in 1978, and I would repudiate the suggestion that there is any thought that there will not be a proposed construction of the bridge at about that date.
In addition, of course, elsewhere on the A9 a great deal of rebuilding is already in progress. The first scheme of the planned 137 miles of reconstruction—the new Almond Bridge and its approaches, just North of Perth—is open to traffic. Work is progressing satisfactorily on six schemes for modernising another 29½ miles of this route, including a by-pass of Dunkeld. Recently, three more schemes, covering the 10 miles between Almond Bridge and Dunkeld, have been started, and a further scheme in Perthshire will be put to tender shortly. The necessary procedural and technical preparatory work is being undertaken to maintain a steady flow of future schemes to the constructional stage. In the central belt we 134 envisage the completion of the planned motorway and dual carriageway network, with the important links Northwards towards Perth and Dundee.
Plans for the provision of a fast through route linking Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness are under consideration, as are those to make the inland route from Dundee to Stonehaven via Forfar (A929–A94) the trunk road instead of the coastal route via Arbroath (A92), and the Tayside and Grampian Regional Councils have been asked for their comments on this suggestion. Meanwhile improvements to this route are being undertaken at Government expense. Schemes between Aberdeen and Inverness (A96) are also being undertaken or planned and among the schemes in operation are those at Huntly, where it is hoped that work will start soon, Inverurie, Elgin and Forres.
Air and sea links are important also in the North of Scotland, and I include the Islands in that geographical area. Substantial funds, of approximately £27.4 million in all, have and are being provided by the Government for major runway improvements and a new terminal building at Sumburgh Airport, runway improvements to Inverness Airport, for a new terminal building at Aberdeen, and for a new runway and terminal building at Edinburgh. The Government now have powers to support uneconomic air services to the Highlands and Islands and subsidy is being paid for the Loganair services to Tiree, Barra and Skye. In shipping the programme of conversion to vehicle ferry operation continues, with Government assistance for the necessary terminals currently running at £2.5 million a year; in addition revenue grants are over £3.5 million a year. All this is evidence of the Government's determination to ensure that the Highlands and Islands area has good modern communications to support its development needs.
If I might, I will now turn to specific points which noble Lords have made in the course of their remarks and will reply to those as far as I can. I turn first to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland. I can say to him that as regards the Motorail services and their related prices, the pricing of particular services within British Rail is a matter for the Board. The Government do not 135 have a locus. I should also mention that so far as his query relating to the Pitlochry by-pass is concerned, objections to the draft orders are still under consideration. That is the present position. The noble Lord also mentioned the position at the moment of the Perth by-pass. I am able to tell him that a contract is about to be let for the final part of the Perth Southern by-pass at the Craigend sector of the by-pass.
I should also tell the noble Lord that he is correct in his assumption regarding the probable change which will take place in the air-link to Wick. British Airways propose to remove their Inverness-Wick arm of service and propose to remove their Aberdeen-Wick arm of service, flying direct from Inverness to Kirkwall and direct from Aberdeen to Kirkwall. They propose a radial service, Aberdeen-Wick, Wick-Aberdeen and consultations are still taking place between those who are very interested in the substantial changes being proposed by British Airways. One must keep in mind that British Airways are under an obligation to match operating costs. If, in the end, the Wick service is discontinued by British Airways, there is a proposal that Loganair may step in on receipt of subsidy from the Highlands Regional Councils. These are matters still under discussion between the interested parties.
I turn now to the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and in particular his question of a by-pass road for Edinburgh. Other noble Lords will know—as I do from my short time here—that he has been a champion of this particular proposal for a long time. I have taken careful note of his remarks today; but I must emphasise that the primary responsibility for decisions about the by-pass, which is not a trunk road, rests with the Lothian Regional Council as local roads and transport authority for the area. Under the arrangements for local transport planning, the Government have left regional councils with the maximum responsibility for determining their own local roads and transport priorities within very general financial guidelines.
In the exercise of these responsibilities each regional authority prepares a document called a transport policy and programme, the programme covering a 136 period of five years ahead. Lothian regional council's first transport policy and programme, necessarily very provisional in nature, suggested that a start on the Colinton section of the by-pass might be made in a later part of the five-year period. This will become clearer as the regional council further develop their programme in the second transport policy and programme this year and in subsequent programmes. No doubt the noble Lord will ensure that the council are aware of his views on the priority which they should accord this scheme.
I can confirm on the further point which the noble Earl made that Government policy is to continue to improve the A1 in the Lothian region as an international route and as a strategic all-weather route serving the East Coast and the Borders region. I could not say at this time that the Government would conceive of the Al as being principally involved in terms of the infra-structure as related to onshore oil development. The principal emphasis at this time must be in that regard much further North. I have taken note of the particular point which the noble Earl raised.
I should like to turn now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and I admit to him right away that I am not able to reply to him at this time on three questions; namely, whether or not I could give an assurance that trains will not be held up; whether I could tell him the situation as regards the locomative stock, and also whether his assertion was accurate that the stock does not seem to be of sufficient calibre in the Scottish regions as against other areas of the country.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, it was not an assertion by me. I was reading from a leading article in the Scotsman and saying that this was an impression that I think and hope that the Government will be able to dispel.
§ Lord KIRKHILL
My Lords, in attempting to follow closely the noble Lord's argument, I did not make that distinction between his quotation from a leading article in the Scotsman and the impression in his own mind; but I undertake to write to him specifically on these two points.
137 On the particular point raised by the noble Lord—which, by the way, I do not consider to be of Orwellian dimension, although he made mention of the man of 1984—and the noble Lord's concern regarding the alterations to the Perth-Inverness line in the 1960s, the facts as I understand them are that the second line between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie was removed in 1966 as part of an operational rationalisation, and formed part of cost-saving measures being undertaken by the Board at that time. Of course because no railway station was closed, Government affirmation was not required. It lay within the management decision-making area of responsibility so far as the British Rail Board was concerned whether or not they took this action post-Beeching.
The noble Lord is right in saying the removal of the second line is not directly attributable to the Beeching Report of 1963. The noble Lord, Lord Beeching, himself left British Rail in 1965. The decision to make these alterations to the line was made against the background of the Report and its objectives which were to develop, modify and employ railway assets, and to remodel the system, to meet current needs. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Minister of State did not intend to mislead anyone about this matter, which he mentioned in passing during a Press conference following his announcement to the Oil Development Council. I should add in passing that his response was to a question and not part of his substantive statement after the Oil Development Council meeting. That has been made clear by the Scottish Office to the Scottish Press.
I submit that this particular statement should not be a major point of difference between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. The major point is that the Government, in view of the development of the North Sea, and oil related industry, are prepared to provide the necessary finance now to improve the line to meet the needs of the 1970s. Of course these are matters which have now, other than the new decision by the Government, long since passed. I suggest what we must now do is to look not at certain of the decisions of the 1960s but at the grand design of the 1970s and 1980s, and consider what sort of a transport and communications system we want to see in Scotland, and 138 indeed in Great Britain as a whole, during the years ahead. The Government's Consultative Document, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, will provide just such an opportunity.