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

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Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): Given the problems with privatisation that were incurred by the Conservative Government, the right hon. Gentleman may welcome renationalisation to rectify such mistakes.

Mr. Foulkes: I understand that the right hon. Gentleman may welcome that, but I do not think that he is a sinner who has come here to repent. He simply wants to create mischief, although his leader apologised for inflicting the poll tax on Scotland a year early on Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the order could deal with ferries beyond Campbeltown to Ballycastle. Although it is there for that purpose, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of other ferries between the highlands and islands and Northern Ireland; otherwise, we would have to go through the whole process again. We gave the measure a wider remit.

On behalf of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire referred to ferries out of Stranraer. I know that area well. My constituency stretches to seven miles north of Stranraer, so I have a local interest in such matters. The ferries are all commercial. There were three routes; there are certainly now two ferry routes from Stranraer and Cairnryan. The decision to move to Troon by one of the ferry operators was a commercial decision. Such matters are not the same as the order that we are discussing today. To keep all ferry routes under review would not be our responsibility. However, given that the Scottish Executive are involved in the highlands and islands ferry, no doubt they will be keeping all ferry operations under review.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): My Whip is almost having an apoplexy because I am about to ask a question. The decision on the Stranraer route, and what the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire was asking for, is down to the infrastructure that leads to the ferry ports. The problem is that of the A75, and heavy vehicular transport making its way to the ferry. However, that is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, not this Parliament.

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend is right. I hope that I have dealt with the questions of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire.

Mr. Knight: I am grateful to the Minister for dealing comprehensively with the points that I have raised. He said that keeping the issue of sustaining ferry services under review was a matter for the Scottish Executive. The explanatory memorandum showed that there is a concurrent responsibility with our Ministers and, that being the case, does he not have an input should it be needed in the future?

Mr. Foulkes: The right hon. Gentleman is right. The matter is principally for the Scottish Executive, but we shall keep an eye on it with our colleagues in the

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Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I forgot to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's point about the ferry going out of service to the Isle of Man. That was very unfortunate, and it was astonishing that a former Secretary of State for Scotland—now Lord Forsyth—would agree a contract that allowed a ferry operator to take the ferry off the route and away to the TT races in the Isle of Man. I tell the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute that one of the reasons why we have gone through the present arrangements meticulously is to ensure that such a ridiculous situation does not happen again. We want reliability and we want people to know that when they turn up to catch the ferry at Campbeltown, it will be there and not in Douglas.

Mr. Dalyell: The Minister knows this better than anyone in the House because he was worried about the Channel Islands and other tax havens: might there not be a good reason for going to the Isle of Man for tax purposes?

Mr. Foulkes: There certainly was no good reason to go to the Isle of Man for ferry purposes.

May I deal with questions that were asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow? He claimed that discussion of matters of considerable substance were truncated during consideration of the Scotland Bill. The issues that we are discussing were debated during the passage of that Bill. That is why we have the McLeish settlement. The Ballycastle to Campbeltown ferry question arose after the Scotland Bill was passed, and the issue could not have been envisaged at the time.

The very best advice tells me that the Scotland Bill received more parliamentary time than any similar previous Bill. The Committee stage was not only lengthy, but it was held on the Floor of the House. I was going to use my familiar excuse of saying that I was in Montserrat at the time and so I could not be blamed for anything that happened during consideration of the Scotland Bill, but I am speaking on behalf of the Government and I must take responsibility. I am grateful for advice on that.

My hon. Friend asked about the Forth rail bridge. Maintenance of that is the responsibility of Railtrack, not the Scottish Executive. It is a reserved matter, and it is entirely proper for my hon. Friend to raise it. If he has specific detailed worries and he writes to the Secretary of State or me, we shall pursue them. The tone of his remarks was unfortunate because he raised unnecessary alarm. It is wrong for people who live north of the Forth bridge to think that their services will be affected. There was no justification for saying that, and it was a pity that my hon. Friend did.

Mr. Dalyell: The answer to that is just to look at the Forth bridge. Has the matter been discussed with the rail union? I attended the quarterly meeting of the RMT in Perth earlier this year, and nothing about it was discussed. Indeed, I think that the situation was unknown to the general secretary of the RMT when my hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Streatham (Keith Hill) and my right hon. Friend the Deputy

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Prime Minister met him on RMT business. Does the RMT know about the matter? Frankly, the first we knew about it was Thursday night, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr found out on Friday morning.

Mr. Foulkes: I know that discussion has taken place about the Forth rail bridge over a long time. I caution my hon. Friend not to make judgments only by looking at the bridge, because he might reach the wrong conclusions. I hope that he will take up the offer that, if he has specific worries, he should write to the Secretary of State. I am sure that they will be pursued. It is wrong to be alarmist. I have respect for all unions—I am an active member of a union—but everything that every union leader says is not always absolutely correct. It is wise to check statements before repeating them as fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked about funding and the veto. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South should know that the Government's management of the economy will allow the Scottish Executive's departmental expenditure limit to increase by over £5.1 billion by 2003–04. That is a 37 per cent. rise, in current terms, since devolution. It is because of the way that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Government have managed the economy that huge additional sums can be provided for such purposes.

My hon. Friends for the Members for Linlithgow and for Cunninghame, South raised a question that addresses what is commonly referred to as vertical integration. That is merely one of a number of complex issues, and there is no consensus in the rail industry on whether it is the right way forward. However, the Government's main priority is to transfer Railtrack out of administration as quickly as possible, which means that it is sensible to leave consideration of potential structural changes until a successor company is in place.

I turn to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (David Hamilton). First, I wish to put it on record that cross-border development will still be dealt with at Westminster. Therefore, he will have the right to raise matters to do with that in this place—and I do not doubt that he will feel a responsibility to do that.

My hon. Friend is particularly concerned about the Waverley line. Because of the questions that were raised at the last Scottish Question Time, and because several rail issues have previously been raised, I had a meeting last week with Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, to discuss a number of matters, including the Waverley line, the SRA's strategic plan, the ScotRail franchise, the east coast line north of Edinburgh, improvements to the west coast main line, the possible new high speed link to the north, Edinburgh's Waverley station, ticketing from the north of Scotland to the south-west of England, freight, and the SRA presence in Scotland.

The meeting was very constructive. I was impressed by Richard Bowker's ability. It is very encouraging that someone with such vision and ability is in charge of the strategic development of our rail network. On

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the railways in the borders, he confirmed that a business case for reopening the former Waverley line as far as Galashiels—which is the easier part of the line, as my hon. Friend knows—had been completed, and is being considered by the Scottish Executive. His colleague Rhona Brankin and others will be able to raise the issues about that which address their own particular interests in the Scottish Parliament and Executive.

It would be inappropriate to deal with my hon. Friend's other points today. However, if they were to be raised at Scottish questions, I would be happy to go to Westminster Hall to give my hon. Friend more details about the positive outcome of my meeting with Richard Bowker—although I am not encouraging anyone to request an Adjournment debate on any of these matters.

Some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) also came up at that meeting. Electrification north of Edinburgh would take some time and cost a lot, and it would not necessarily result in huge improvements in the times of journeys south from Aberdeen. Therefore, in the short term, the focus will be on improving the rolling stock between Aberdeen and points south of Edinburgh. That is the right thing to do. I was encouraged not only by Richard Bowker's knowledge but by his understanding of the needs of rail travellers north of Edinburgh. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross)—as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North—will appreciate that.

At that meeting, we also discussed the west coast main line and the east coast main line. The hon. Member for North Tayside is not present even now. I have been going on in the hope that he may have missed his train, or be arriving on a later one, or have missed his flight, and that he may rush in and want to raise a few points. I could not have been fairer in giving him time to arrive, but he has not.

The SNP keeps saying that a lot of the money that the SRA is spending under the Government's 20-year plan is being spent in England. It has an astonishing hatred of England and everything English, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire will know from Scottish Question Time. The SNP fails to understand that for train journeys from Euston to Glasgow, or from King's Cross to Edinburgh, improvements made in England to the track, for example, will help make the journey to Scotland much quicker and more comfortable.

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