Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) and (Modifications of Schedule 5) Order 2002

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The Chairman: Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but we are discussing the narrow issue of the transfer of functions to the Scottish Parliament, not what the Scottish Parliament should be doing in Scotland. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.

Mr. Dalyell: In one sentence, am I wrong in saying that since the Scottish Parliament has had responsibility for the Forth bridge, it has let us all down, because work does not seem to be continuing properly? If I am wrong, doubtless the Minister will write to me and set out the position, but many people are horrified at what is happening.

The third issue is the remarriage of the operating companies with Railtrack in Scotland, which some of us would welcome. Indeed, only last Tuesday, some of us, including the Deputy Prime Minister, met Bob Crowe and his colleagues at the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, who are

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deeply interested in developments that might help to improve the state of the railways in general and to prevent accidents in particular, although private finance is likely to be involved. Presumably, the pressure for the order came from somewhere. Was it against the background of the proposals that are floating around Edinburgh and Glasgow for the operating companies to be brought together in Scotland? I do not want to stray out of order if the issue for debate is narrow, but those are important questions of substance.

5.4 pm

Mr. Reid: I shall speak about the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2002. I welcome the fact that it has come before the Committee at last, because it will overcome yet another hurdle in the long, drawn-out saga of the Campeltown to Ballycastle ferry service and the attempts to get it up and running again.

The ferry service is important to the economies of Kintyre in Scotland and Moyle in Northern Ireland, which are badly depressed, and I am pleased that the Scottish Executive plan to go out to tender for an 11-months-a-year service. At the same time, however, my constituents and I cannot understand why that step has taken so long, or why the Government could not have issued the tender documents six months ago, when they agreed with the Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives that a 5 million subsidy would be available.

The ferry was originally intended to start running this summer, but it will now be next summer. Speed is of the essence in getting the service up and running, because travel brochures will be published in the autumn, and it is important that we know before then who the shipping operator is.

In his 2 May press release, the Minister referred to a ''Blue Riband Day'' for Campbeltown, but I should tell the spin doctor who thought that one up that it is a ridiculous metaphor. The blue riband was awarded to ocean liners that broke the record for crossing the Atlantic, but Christopher Columbus crossed it in less time than it has taken the Scotland Office to bring the order before the House. We should not forget that the Scotland Office was given the authority to do so by the Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives back in November.

The Minister referred to the ferry service from Rosyth to Zeebrugge, but, as my constituents noted, it was full steam ahead on that service. It was no problem to get 12 million from a Minister, and the first sailing was last week. The Minister said that comparisons were not relevant, but they are. That ferry service was rushed through, and a Minister paid the 12 million subsidy. The Government have, however, failed to authorise the subsidy for the Campbeltown service, and are waiting until this order is passed.

I hope that the Minister will explain why it has taken so long to get this far. None the less, I welcome the order, and hope that it will go through at full speed so that we can get the service up and running. I thank the Minister for his efforts in getting us this far.

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5.7 pm

David Hamilton (Midlothian): I shall try to be as helpful and as brief as I can. From his younger days, the Minister will recall the Waverley line, which went from Edinburgh through Midlothian and into the borders. An attempt is now being made on both sides of the border to connect Edinburgh to Carlisle, and I ask the Minister to consider several points.

A strategic proposal for two separate development programmes in England and Scotland is a major issue, and should be considered within the Westminster remit, not the Scottish remit. Neither programme is the greatest issue in itself. The Minister went to great lengths to talk about the amount of freight that must be moved from road to rail. If the proposal goes ahead, there will be a third option for moving substantial amounts of freight from Scotland to England. If it is left to the Scottish Executive to consider the development programme in Scotland, however, they will consider it only as a passenger line service to the borders, and I imagine that a similar approach would be taken in England. I therefore ask the Minister to consider seriously the longer term, to bear in mind the Strategic Rail Authority and to remember that those projects are as important to us.

5.8 pm

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): As the Minister recognised, I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. As such, I have been up to my ears in investigations into the railways in particular, and I have three questions for the Minister.

First, can the Scottish Executive now decide whether to go for vertical integration, which has been proposed as a pilot scheme? Is a trial possible north of the border?

A second, related issue is whether the Scottish Executive will have the right to determine not only who gets the franchise, which is due for renewal, but its length. A 14 or 15-year franchise would not allow for a trial as regards vertical integration.

My final point was raised in part by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. Will what is stated in the order mean additional resources north of the border? If the Scottish Executive's budget is around 21 billion, will additional resources have to be applied? If not, the transfer of the power is meaningless.

5.10 pm

Mr. Savidge: I shall be brief. My points follow on from those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. I would value the Minister's advice on the extent to which a concern of mine relates to the United Kingdom Parliament as opposed to the Scottish Parliament. As he will know from questions that I have asked him and discussions that we have had, I am especially concerned about the direct rail connection between Aberdeen and London. My personal interest in that rail service is as recent as last Friday when, thanks to the chaos with the National Air Traffic Services, I could not fly to Aberdeen and the only way back was a direct sleeper connection.

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It is important to retain an Aberdeen-London passenger connection, but a greatly improved Aberdeen-London freight connection is also vital. Most of the needed improvements are between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, so to what extent is that a matter for the Scottish Parliament as opposed to the Westminster Parliament? As the Minister is aware, there is a deep need to improve bridges, tunnels and track on the line, especially in Fife. In some cases, the track needs to be not only straightened, but dualled for the first time.

Mr. Dalyell: We all have to face up to the reality of the situation, which is that we can say goodbye to the Aberdeen freight and passenger services if something is not done about the Forth bridge very soon.

Mr. Savidge: I agree that that is another vital issue. In the longer term, we should consider the desirability of extending electrification for connected services. As I say, that issue is partly for the UK Parliament, so I would value the Minister's advice on the extent to which it concerns Westminster as distinct from Holyrood.

The issue has been made more difficult by the tragedy of privatisation, for which the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) voted in a previous Parliament. He did not say whether he was proud of that, but I think that most Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen do not feel proud that they created the chaos that makes it much more difficult for us to improve our rail services.

5.13 pm

Mr. Foulkes: I had expected a lively debate in which many questions would be asked. I shall do my best to answer them today. If I miss any out, I shall try to answer them by correspondence, but I should be able to deal with most of them.

I thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire for his warm welcome and support for the orders, which was the general thrust of his remarks. He was also pleased with the explanatory memorandum, and gave credit to the Leader of the House, to whom a great deal of it should certainly go. They have worked closely together, and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire supports the idea of benefiting from best practice north of the border. We can learn from the legislative bodies of Wales, Northern Ireland and elsewhere as well. Some credit ought to go to Scottish Members of this House for their work on previous statutory instruments. When they saw the explanatory memorandums produced in Scotland, they raised the subject with the Leader of the House, who took it up and ran with it.

I shall now deal with some of the specific points raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. He certainly represents a large area, so I can understand why he is concerned about such matters. He asked about tramways. They are already a devolved issue. He also asked what we mean by railways. Those within the meaning of the Transport and Works Act 1992 are the subject of the order. As for whether the Scottish Executive could become promoters themselves, the answer is yes, but he should not expect renationalisation. I know that,

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from his own party political point of view, he may like an Aunt Sally to have a go at that, but that is not what we envisage. The Scottish Executive could become promoters.

 
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