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3. Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): What discussions she has had with the Strategic Rail Authority regarding the provision of direct Eurostar rail services between Scotland and continental Europe. [51348]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): The Government believe that all areas of the country should have good access to channel tunnel rail services. I will discuss this matter, among a range of issues of importance to Scotland, when I meet senior management from the Strategic Rail Authority shortly.

Mr. Harris: I wonder whether my hon. Friend recalls a promise made by a previous Conservative Government, who said that following construction of the channel tunnel, direct passenger rail services would be provided between the continent and all parts of the United Kingdom. Given the potential customer demand and economic benefits to cities such as Glasgow, will he now commit this Government to making good the Tories' broken promises on the issue?

Mr. Foulkes: It would be a very tall order to make good all the Tories' broken promises, but I can be helpful on the issue in question and tell my hon. Friend that later this year the SRA will publish a strategy for facilitating rail services through the channel tunnel from various parts

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of the United Kingdom. I am sure that he will welcome that step forward and the ability to take up one of the tasks that the Tories were signally unable to carry out.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): Will the Minister now answer the question that he signally failed to answer earlier as to whether the upgrade of the west coast line will be carried across the border? Does he accept that if that fails to happen, it will prove the point made by the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland that the Strategic Rail Authority's 10-year strategic plan is very much south-east centred?

Mr. Foulkes: Yes, I shall answer the question that I failed to answer earlier, having now found my place in my notes.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): That was a straight answer.

Mr. Foulkes: I always find that honesty is the best policy.

The scale of the overspend and underdelivery on the west coast main line is a major issue, and the SRA has had to examine the project to determine what outputs can be delivered and by when. The plan assumes that the west coast project will cost about as much as Railtrack estimated last spring, but that there may be some delay in completing key milestones. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Further to my hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), will he impress upon the Strategic Rail Authority the importance of maintaining and improving direct rail links between Aberdeen and, if not Europe, at least London? Crucial to that is a major upgrading of the track between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Mr. Foulkes: I appreciate that. I have always been enthusiastic about extending electrification beyond Edinburgh. Having spoken to GNER, Railtrack and others involved, I recognise that better services can be provided more speedily through GNER acquiring faster and more efficient trains—diesel trains, which are now as fuel efficient and environmentally friendly as electric trains—and it intends to do that.

The development at Waverley will be of particular advantage to Dundee and Aberdeen. I am keen to see the general upgrading of the east coast main line, and if that involves sorting out the track north of Edinburgh, which I discussed earlier, I shall raise that with the Strategic Rail Authority.

I am enthusiastic about the high-speed link, which was the subject of a study started by WS Atkins and announced by the SRA last year. That should be out in the latter half of this year. We have witnessed the success of the TGV—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pronounces this better than I do—

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I ask the Minister kindly to allow me to get to Question 4? I call Mr. Eric Joyce.

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4. Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): What steps she is taking to promote tourism in central Scotland. [51349]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I had a very successful meeting in Madrid with leading members of the Spanish travel industry, all of whom are actively engaged in encouraging tourists to come to Scotland.

The responsibility for promoting specific areas of Scotland lies with Visit Scotland. That includes all central Scotland, from its historic sites to the ultra-modern Falkirk wheel, which is funded by the Millennium Commission through the national lottery.

Mr. Joyce: My right hon. Friend will be aware that in late May Her Majesty the Queen will formally open the Falkirk wheel. Will she join me in congratulating all involved in the construction of the wheel, especially my constituents at the British Waterways Board and Morrison Construction, for creating a magnificent focus for tourism in central Scotland? Does she agree that it will be important for potential investors along the route of the canal carefully to consider the merits of developing the regenerated parts of the Forth and Clyde canals?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Bringing together the Forth and Clyde canal and the Union canal is an important tourist initiative in central Scotland. We should bear it in mind that the millennium wheel is unique. I have not yet had an opportunity to see it, but my colleagues on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs went away amazed at the feat of engineering that it took. We all look forward to its opening.

The millennium wheel is not the only unique tourist attraction in Scotland. For example, we have the world historic site at New Lanark, the opening of the toll booth in Stirling, and Burns cottage in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sandra Osborne). I urge people to take the opportunity this weekend to visit as many of those unique sites in Scotland as possible.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): I recently visited the refurbished toll booth in Stirling, in central Scotland. I was impressed by the new arts and community facility, which is funded by Scottish Arts Council lottery grants. What is the Secretary of State doing to facilitate meetings between Visit Scotland and the Arts Council to ensure that the tourism potential of such developments, which are funded by lottery grants, are maximised?

Mrs. Liddell: It was a great pleasure to visit the toll booth with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) on the day that it opened, to announce that Her Majesty had granted city status to Stirling. I therefore know the toll booth, which is a stunning investment.

Liaison already takes place between the Scottish Arts Council and Visit Scotland as well as the other agencies that are involved in bringing tourists to Scotland. For example, there is currently a major initiative to promote

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golf. It is important to play to the strengths of all the niches in the Scottish economy. I hope that the initiatives taken by Visit Scotland will bear fruit.

Mrs. Lait: So as usual, the right hon. Lady is not getting involved in anything that will help Scotland. We have had nothing but a cloud of words about the west coast rail link north of the border. Will she clarify what will happen to it? Will she also estimate the effect on the recovery of the tourist industry in Scotland of the increase in national insurance, which is nothing but a tax on jobs?

The right hon. Lady mentioned golf. Will she give her view of Visit Scotland's inability to promote deerstalking—[Interruption.] Deerstalking is one of the most effective tourism industries in rural Scotland. Does she agree that by not promoting it, Visit Scotland is cutting off the noses of Scottish rural people to spite its politically correct face?

Mrs. Liddell: That is what is known as an omnibus question. I know that I am not a good golfer, but deerstalking has nothing to do with golf. Those of us who spend our lives in Scotland rather than doing the occasional day trip acknowledge that important moves are being made to promote tourism in Scotland and improve rail links and direct flight links to Scotland. The hon. Lady's time would be better spent on promoting Scotland's values and the opportunities to visit it rather than on trying to talk it down.


The Advocate-General was asked—


25. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What devolution issues have been raised since 19 March under the Scotland Act 1998. [51312]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): Since 19 March, 30 devolution issue cases have been intimated to me. They have raised a variety of points, such as articles 6 and 8 of the European convention on human rights, which protect respectively the right to a fair trial and respect for private and family life. Some devolution issues have also related to the compatibility of secondary legislation with European Community law.

Miss McIntosh: I am sure that the Advocate-General agrees with an article in The Scotsman on 21 January which stated:

If she agrees with that, does she also agree that a five-minute Question Time is complete nonsense and does not allow her to be held responsible for the discharge of her duties? Can we have a Question Time of 15 or 30 minutes?

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Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

The Advocate-General: I am delighted that there is so much support for my Question Time. The hon. Lady has been a consistent and effective questioner. It is a credit to my answers that she wants more time.

It is, of course, for the business managers to decide whether to extend this interesting slot in the parliamentary timetable. I agree with The Scotsman on this occasion, and I am delighted that the hon. Lady appreciates the importance to the devolution settlement of the Advocate-General's role. I look forward to her next question.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): Has my hon. and learned Friend had any discussions about reviewing the performance of the Scottish Criminal Injuries Compensation Board in respect of some of its awards to children who have been sexually abused? Some of its awards have been paid at the lower limit, which is disgraceful when higher levels of compensation are paid in England. Does that not concern my hon. and learned Friend? Could she have a word with her colleagues in Scotland about it?

The Advocate-General: I understand my hon. Friend's interest in this matter, but he must understand that these decisions are made by independent panels, so it would not be appropriate for me to intervene or to discuss them with him.

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