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Lord Judd: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. This is an important point. Could he possibly explain in the context of all the positive comments being made about the record of the CDC what it is that has not been achieved with management and leadership based on the principle of public service rather than what normally motivates the private sector?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. That was the point I was going to come on to when talking to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. There is not necessarily any dichotomy between public service and the private sector in this regard. Clearly, those who work for the CDC are working in the best traditions of British public service. But just as that is not a grasping thing to do, neither should the employer be mean in the way in which he

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approaches them. What we are trying to do is to give flexibility to the system rather than to make any particular criticisms of what has occurred in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about making money in Africa. Of course the private sector is the means for making money, but at the same time it is now deemed an essential tool for development since private sector investment is an appropriate—perhaps the best—way of stimulating economic development. It is for that reason, rather than the primary reason of maximising return, that the CDC is operating in this area.

I now come to the question that perhaps everyone in the Chamber has sought an answer to; namely, why is it that we wish to privatise the Crown Agents while we wish to retain the Commonwealth Development Corporation in the public sector? The answer is that the Crown Agents as a body do business for other people. In short, they might be described as a procurement agency. The Crown Agents can be operated most flexibly and most effectively in the private sector, while the Commonwealth Development Corporation, as I hope I made clear in my opening remarks, is about investment on the margins of acceptable risk. There are difficulties in doing that outside the public sector. Because of the security that the public sector provides, we felt on balance that that was the appropriate way of dealing with the matter.

A number of noble Lords have raised the question, in slightly different ways, of whether the powers that the CDC has are appropriate to enable it to do what it ought to be doing. As noble Lords may be aware, a statutory instrument was made in December 1993 to allow the CDC to invest in new areas of business. However, that does not deal with the slightly wider problem of the vires under the CDC Act which concerns the circumstances in which it can invest and carry out the activities it is permitted to undertake.

I listened with great interest to the proposal from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne about the possibility of a Private Member's Bill. Suffice it to say that we will undertake to look at this matter most carefully. We give no undertakings, but we thought it was important to proceed swiftly with this Bill because, as noble Lords may have noticed, the thresholds over which the CDC will want to borrow will shortly be exceeded. That is an important consideration bearing in mind that there is an overriding requirement from the CDC's perspective to get the extra borrowings permitted.

That covers the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and others on why the Bill does not go further. We decided on balance that the right thing to do in the circumstances was to proceed with the Bill as it is. As I have already described in responding to the comments of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, we can consider further steps later if we conclude it is necessary. Finally, there was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow—

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, my noble friend was saying that he would consider further steps if they were thought to be necessary. As I understand it, the

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Government have already said that they accept the need for wider powers for the Commonwealth Development Corporation; it is just a question of how we get there.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend is right to pick me up. I was perhaps slightly too lax in my phraseology. We will certainly look at the best way forward for the CDC in the way I described. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, made an important point about why the money of the CDC is included in the ODA's budget and is contained in that part of the public sector accounts. The reason is that, while interest is not now being repaid to the Exchequer in respect of the loans, it is nonetheless public money which is being used by the CDC, even though it is allowed to retain the profits generated by it. Of course, that capital which is invested in the CDC is part of the overall Exchequer debt on which interest is paid in the wider context. I hope that I have covered all the main points that noble Lords have made. As there is widespread support for the CDC and for the Bill, I very much hope that the House will grant it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Motorail and Sleeper Service to West Highlands

7.19 p.m.

Lord Gray rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will advise the Director of Rail Franchising to maintain the West Highland Sleeper and Motorail Service and to instruct British Rail to retain that service at least until the consultation process is completed.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, had the Fort William sleeper not run last night I would not have been here to ask this Question. However, it is not self-interest that leads me to do so, rather it is the potentially serious consequences for the social and economic welfare of the West Highlands that the possible withdrawal of the services threatens.

Ironically, 100 years ago there was an almighty political wrangle over whether the Mallaig line should be built because of the need for a subsidy, which the Tories favoured. The economy of the West Highlands is subsidised. It has to be, and considerable sums are involved. I dislike Euro-jargon, but it is an "objective one" area. A comprehensive transport infrastructure is essential. The railway is a key component, and the sleeper/motorail service is a key element.

This is not a privatisation debate, but the proposed axing of the services has aroused passions and the public debate thus far has at times engendered more heat than light. I hope that this evening we shall turn down the heat and turn up the light and will be able to persuade the Government to look afresh at the problem.

Not only is withdrawal of the sleeper and motorail service threatened, but ScotRail has announced that additional seasonal trains will not run on either the Oban or Fort William lines this summer—all this at the beginning of the tourist season upon which Lochaber,

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Argyll and the islands rely so heavily. It is also relevant that there is a proposal to de-trunk the A.828, which we had hoped to see improved.

Furthermore, all these cutback proposals coincide with the announcement that 19 oil companies want to go ahead now with developments off the west coast. Service cuts now do not auger well for Oban, Mallaig or the islands benefiting from any oil-related boost. Lost business is often nigh impossible to recover and opportunities missed seldom return. Surely it is time for investment, not cutbacks.

An aspect which unites those campaigning for the retention of these services is a disbelief in a variety of official statements, particularly on the cost of services and the level of subsidy. They are frustrated at BR's refusal to give details. In the face of that coyness the only way I can challenge those figures is to advance rival ones.

Individuals and campaigning groups have painstakingly researched detailed costings. I am indebted to three sources for the calculations which I am confident are realistic: London Friends of the West Highland Line, Professor Bill Bradshaw of Oxford (an adviser to Her Majesty's Government on rail privatisation) and Mr. Jack Shaw-Stewart. They have produced assessments of the direct costs of providing the services, including Railtrack charges.

Before taking into account any revenue, their assessments are £2 million, £2.3 million and £1.8 million respectively for running the Fort William Sleeper and Motorail Service as at present. The figure of £2 million is more precisely £2,003,466 per annum, or £3,042 per train.

The same sources assess revenue at £1.28 million. That is based on 16,000 passenger journeys with fare variations. Current improved performance and uncertainty concerning strike days last year suggest that 17,500 journeys and £1.4 million revenue might be nearer the mark. The figure of 16,000 passenger journeys had to be estimated because of last year's strike.

Those figures assess operating deficits at £740,000 or £604,000. Whichever one takes, it is a far cry from the officially quoted figure of £3 million. It is important to remember that the contribution to Railtrack which is included would not represent a saving on withdrawal of the services.

Perhaps a better way of looking at the matter is to examine what would be saved by axing the services. My sources assess avoidable costs at £1,094,000 a year. That is £186,000 less than the estimated revenue from 16,000 passenger journeys. There is therefore no net saving to the taxpayer from axing the services. Surely that points to the adverse effect that taking off the sleeper and Motorail services would have on other services on the line.

The scenario against which the matter has been aired is unsatisfactory. We were told that franchising would be based on the 1994 timetable. Consultation has been provided for and repeatedly promised. However, while we await consultation Mr. Salmon, Director of Passenger Rail Franchising, has announced that he will

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exclude the Fort William Sleeper and Motorail Service. Then BR announced that they will axe the services on 28th May. That is why my Question has to be double-barrelled. One might be forgiven for feeling as if one had gone to play a crucial match and found that someone had nicked the goal posts and dug up the pitch and the referee had lost his whistle. I do not accuse the Government of interfering with posts or pitch—that was done by Mr. Salmon and British Rail—but the Government do appear to have lost their whistle.

We have been given assurances that no final decision has been made. My noble friend the Minister said as much at Question Time on 28th February, and he explained why Mr. Salmon had made his announcement. But that explanation did not excuse Mr. Salmon pre-empting consultation. I see that Mr. Swift, the rail regulator, says that BR is out of order. I hope that he is right.

It is reported that the Scottish Office has refused BR a subsidy. I hope that it will note that on the basis of my figures a three-month operating subsidy would require only about £200,000. It is reported that Mr. Salmon has withdrawn subsidy. How does he withdraw what is presumably already in place and was not in his gift? Surely when so much is at stake for a heavily subsidised economy the decision whether to subsidise an important aspect of infrastructure for an area of special need should be a hands-on political decision taken from a wider viewpoint. Can my noble friend the Minister say whether there has been a thorough review of the wider implications for the economy of the West Highlands of the withdrawal of these services?

One might have hoped that privatisation would afford an opportunity for entrepreneurial improvements rather than a death sentence. Once the service has gone, trying to win back business would be daunting.

It has been irksome when trying to discuss this matter to be rebuffed with repetitions of the figures of £543 per passenger and a subsidy of £6.6 million per annum. If British Rail's operating subsidy is £3 million that puts access to the Railtrack system at more than £3.5 million, although a leaked letter now suggests that it is less, and it has already been admitted that Railtrack costs will not reduce with withdrawal of the services. Without knowing the construction of the Railtrack access charge how can we judge its relevance to this debate and to the threatened services? I remain suspicious.

Since the Fort William sleeper service was moved from Kings Cross to Euston, BR has done it few favours. There seems to be a corporate lack of will to maximise business, as current experience with freight is proving. Freight is not on the agenda tonight, but I am told authoritatively that £1 million worth of freight traffic is currently going begging on the Fort William line.

In order that before consultation starts everyone is briefed to discuss the subject on the same basis, I ask my noble friend that British Rail and rival costings should be independently analysed, or that British Rail should release its calculations for study in exchange for those I have mentioned this evening.

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I have come to the end of my speaking time. There is much else that I should like to have said. I have a great affection for the line for which I once travelled as stand-in for a sleeping car attendant. However, it is not my relationship with that line which is at stake; it is the relationship of that line with the area about which I have spoken.

I hope that those noble Lords who have so kindly put their names down to speak tonight, together with my efforts, will be able to persuade the Minister to have another look at the problem and to give us some encouragement.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gray, on introducing this useful debate. I should declare some interests. I am a member of a frequent flyer programme with both British Midland and British Airways and in receipt of a car park pass from the British Airports Authority. Having got that out of the way, I can tell the House that I have been a railway enthusiast since I was aged 14. Also, and more cogently, my brother is catching the night sleeper from Fort William to London tonight and will join the train at two minutes past 10 in Crianlarich. Therefore, although I live in Clackmannan, which is distinctly not in the West Highlands, I feel that I have some connection with the area.

I deplore the planned withdrawal of the West Highland Sleeper and Motorail Service during, or almost before, the consultation period with possible franchisees has begun. Does that mean that the carriages must rot and the staff be dispersed? I do not understand how the service could be taken on as it will not be a going concern unless the discussions with potential franchisees take place extremely swiftly. I am, too, worried about rumours that business is being turned away by British Rail in order in some way cynically to prove that the service is not working.

In a small way, the proposal gives an economic kiss of death to the fragile economy of Lochaber and the North Argyll area. All this is happening in the country which invented railways. As regards public transport in Scotland, there is a choice of rail or air transport from North, East and Central Scotland. There are airports in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Wick and Campbeltown, not to mention most of the islands. In the East of Scotland, Dundee and Perth do not have a significant airport, but they have motorway connections with airports. Therefore from the East Coast, North and Central Scotland, it is possible to travel either by air or by rail. However, there is no air service out of the West Highlands despite there being a small airfield at North Connel. A person wishing to travel from that area by rail after the withdrawal of the sleeper motorail service would have to drive through to Kingussie to catch the sleeper from Inverness, no doubt at some awkward time, having travelled the road through Laggan—a route which I should hardly recommend in winter.

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The West Highlander who wishes to travel by air has to go by Glasgow or Inverness, again on awkward roads which quite distinctly are not motorways and which have to cross mountain ranges at such passes as Rest and Be Thankful.

The withdrawal of the sleeper motorail service creates a black hole in public transport in the West Highlands. But what are we really considering? We are looking at a Government of 16 years with what must be considered an anti-rail policy. Scotland needs a more positive government attitude towards railways in remote areas. When in 1880 the Callender and Oban railway was being built, when the North British Railway Co. was constructing the West Highland line in the 1890s, and when the Mallaig extension had to be built with public funds, it was recognised that it would not be easy to run a rail service in that area, but that a rail link was definitely needed if there were to be any possibility of economic development.

I believe that the Minister has to face up to the fact that his department is throwing away Scottish rail services. I fear that that enhances what I like to call "Britosceptic" thinking. I sum that up in this way. What is the point of two nations having a united Parliament if Scotland gains policies that it does not want? I believe that a Scots Parliament would have a more positive attitude towards railways in remote areas. It would recognise that social subsidies are involved.

I conclude by urging the noble Viscount to retain the service in order to allow the fullest and most realistic discussion with potential franchisees.

7.36 p.m.

The Earl of Buchan: My Lords, I wish to address the House for six minutes and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gray, on his tenacious efforts to keep the West Highland line open, in particular for the throwing of light on tendentious figures issued by British Rail and other interested parties. This noble House, incidentally, has to listen to Erskines speaking for 12 minutes—I refer to my noble kinsman Lord Mar and Kellie, and myself.

Perhaps I may address the Minister on a matter not directly connected with the issue. Since Cross-Bench Peers were falsely accused of being "whipped" during the debate on the Pensions Bill, this Cross-Bench Peer has no inhibitions about offering advice to the Government. Would it not be kinder and shrewder to adjust the length of the debates in accordance with the likelihood of Her Majesty's Government being able to do something about the issue in question? Indisputably, the Government have the power to close or to keep open the West Highland line; they could do something about it. Thus, the next time that an occasion arises where time is asked for a debate on an issue such as a United Nations conference on the imperfection of Western man with particular reference to the vileness of the developed world, could not the answer be roughly along the lines of, "Very sorry, Her Majesty's Government can do nothing about the imperfections of Western man: You can have 15 minutes maximum in which to speak"?

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In encouraging the Minister to maintain the sleeper and Motorail services on the West Highland line, perhaps I may make a plea on behalf of those living in remoter parts of Western Scotland such as Ardnamurchan and Morven, where a great many people seek to make a living through holiday camps, fishing, fish farms, forestry, the retail trade, the holiday trade and farming. It cannot be right that those people's connections with the remainder of the United Kingdom should be changed at the whim of a secretive franchise director. It is now assumed in that part of the world that once Baghdad bazaar standards are applied to the railways the next argument will be, "Now that there is no night service on this line, let us take away the day service because the costs cannot be shared". It cannot be right that remote places such as Acharacle can be cut off from the remainder of the United Kingdom, resulting in it being more difficult to get from there to London than from Brussels to London.

Perhaps I may seek to soften the Minister's heart and draw his attention to a most unfortunate coincidence of dates. The year 1995 is the 250th anniversary of the landing of the Young Pretender. That event will be commemorated loyally at Glenfinnan and will draw a great many visitors from literally all over the world: America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other similar places—even France and Italy. It must appear to the organisers of the commemoration a snub that almost to the month Motorail and the sleepers to Fort William are being taken off. Perhaps noble Lords would consider how the event could be commemorated and what could be done with a little marketing and publicity. One could have an announcement along the lines of:

    "Join the Motorail sleeper in Rome, after visiting Henry IX's tomb in St. Peter's, and be at Bonnie Prince Charlie's memorial via the Channel Tunnel the next day!"

A little imagination and a little hard work marketing the service should make it prosperous.

The noble Lord, Lord Gray, touched on the history of the line. As he said, it has been running for 101 years. However, what he did not mention is that the Treasury gave a subsidy of £260,000 towards the cost of the building of the line at that time. It was never a question of the line being profitable. Noble Lords might be interested in the comment by the chairman of the North British Railway in 1899, that company having guaranteed the capital for the West Highland railway. He said:

    "I would not venture to prophesy it will ever pay an adequate return."

It has never paid, but it represents a hundred miles of well-maintained, single track line between Helensburgh and Fort William. It could be made more prosperous.

Perhaps I may make a point on press comment on the issue. The Times newspaper has covered the issue fully and fairly in my view, and I hope that it will continue to do so until the cause is won or the proprietor runs out of newsprint. The Economist, on the other hand, produced a rather facetious article on the West Highland line and I do not commend it to noble Lords.

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Finally, I implore the Minister to reconsider the issue and request the railway authorities to keep open the line for both the sleepers and Motorail.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Rankeillour: My Lords, I intend to leave the statistics and business data of this sad and sorry tale to those noble Lords best versed in such matters. My own contribution is merely intended to bring the attention of this House and the kingdom to other curious things that are said to lie behind British Rail's dismembering of the West Highland line.

This is not the "Deerstalkers' Express": it is used by people in every walk of life, even more so since the huge ski complex was built in the high hills outside Fort William, which attracts tourists in great numbers, winter and summer, from all over the world. I wonder why BR—which apparently claims that its sleepers and Motorail carriages are so empty—has not lowered its charges (I emphasise "lowered") to attract the army of skiers and tourists, as well as their motor cars, for the haul of hundreds of miles from the South to Fort William. Indeed, how well has BR tried to advertise the line with the new honeypot at its northernmost end, one wonders?

Imagine, if you will, that BR suddenly announced that it was to rip out all the seats from a few carriages in all its commuter trains between, say, London and Manchester or Birmingham, for the given reason that they are too expensive to maintain; and, anyway, what is wrong with making the passengers uncomfortable throughout the entire journey! What is wrong goes far deeper than just bad marketing and a poor sense of the needs of the travelling public. In the case of the Fort William to London Euston trains, the matter becomes a lot more serious, for not only would the removal of the sleeper service and Motorail be a giant step backwards for BR, but also the people of the Highlands and Islands would at once lose their only safe, all-weather, year-round, fast means of restful transport. Our lifeline would be snuffed out like a candle's flame: there a moment before, but suddenly stone dead.

We are not like somewhere in the Home Counties with an airport and a choice of good fast roads between London and front doors elsewhere. We in the Highlands and Islands are an ever-increasing population trying to live, as the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, said, a peaceful, constructive life in a territory that by nature requires greater consideration from such people as British Rail than almost anywhere else south of the Border.

In short, this is our railway too. My ancestor, Lord Annandale, did not form his Caledonian Railway Company during the Industrial Revolution to survey a route from Glasgow to Fort William just for us now to see the West Highland line dismantled, stone by stone, apparently in the name of cost. Does not BR know the word "amenity"? Does it not care? No, he had a dream; and in time a railway was built along that surveyed route but, alas, not by his company, as history shows for all to see. But at least that selfsame track is still in use—so far.

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But for how much longer? If BR is to care so little for its travelling public, how does it view the metals themselves? Will they be torn up too? We in the West Highlands remember all too well what Beeching did to our way of life all those years ago. Are we now to have the coup de grâce?

Our West Highland line is not just a statistic in BR's company books, it is our lifeline: a living legend, an old scenic marvel, admired throughout the world, a fast vital means of transport between calm and chaos. Yet, despite all that, BR has for years been gnawing away at its foundations instead of gently improving them. Why?

In The Times leader of 20th March this year came the charge that,

    "booking clerks discourage passengers in order to support claims that the sleeper runs almost empty on most nights".

That is said to be,

    "all too believable in the light of earlier tactics by railway bureaucrats".

So perhaps the time is ripe to ask the Minister whether there is any truth in that report and whether the bureaucrats are indeed accountable.

Even now, some sleeper attendants at Fort William have been summoned to the severance pay desk, one girl near her marriage day. What a wedding present to start out on life's hard road, having just been fired by a company set, she thought, to see her through to retirement.

Is it really beyond the wit of man to improve our beloved railway to the point where it can flourish as well as, or even better than, in its Victorian heyday? Is there no chairman available or capable of pulling it up by its bootstraps, to give the staff their pride back; to reintroduce observation cars, the better to see the gorgeous scenery en passant; to put attendants in uniforms that look correct and are not ragbags; to use some imagination in the matter of the present unmanned stations and to keep the entire length of track free of rubbish?

The train goes through my West Highland village. I am an ardent passenger on it and have been since a boy, when the station was the hub of our universe and the corrals held our livestock for transport to the lowland markets. Nowadays only a hut and a platform remain of that boyhood memory.

In those days of BB (before Beeching) British Railways very much cared for its stations and passengers. Why does it not still? After all, the whole north west of the Highlands and Islands survives. Those areas still need the attentions of the Belford Hospital consultants, fast transport for businessmen and freight, and tourism. Now that the ski complex is blossoming, British Rail announces its closure of the sleeper and Motorail. In company with everyone who is concerned with the Highland line, I am appalled.

BR must be told in no uncertain way that it simply cannot cut off the Highlands and Islands sleeper/Motorail services just because, as yet, the line does not balance its books. Railtrack might consider running it all on its own from the vast sums that it charges other operators. Amenity can bring its just rewards sometimes, if given a push. The alternative is

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bleak for the north west of Scotland, if we are to be deprived of services which in most other parts of this kingdom people regard as their common right. Let us just look at a road map of Scotland and ponder on the dire alternatives and consequences for the future.

What benefits will this privatisation bring to railway passengers north of the Border? Apparently none. It is a clear indication that British Rail and the Royal Mail would be a lot safer in the hands of nationalisation (one of the few exceptions to the rule now surging through this kingdom). Keeping the railways and the Royal Mail under government eyes would make me feel a lot safer than just throwing them to the avaricious wolves.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Mountevans: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Gray for asking this Question tonight. As ever on railway matters, I declare an interest. It will come as no surprise to noble Lords that I have some sympathy with the British Rail decision. I also have to say that I have some sympathy with the speech of my noble friend Lord Rankeillour. He has probably travelled that railway more times than have the rest of us put together.

The noble Lord is a lover of the West Highland railway, and so am I. I am sad to see the sleeper threatened with withdrawal. But I have to say that I find annual subsidies of £2.6 million for the operation of the train and £4 million for infrastructure quite unacceptable in my capacity as a taxpayer. In terms of costs per passenger, these figures become £180 per single journey and £450 respectively. They are all 1993-94 figures from an Oral Answer in another place; and they relate to the 14,600 passengers carried by the West Highlander in that year: 284 passengers per week spread over 12 trains, six each way. With six trains each way, you get an average load of 23 passengers per train. I shall return to that point later.

If the press comments, some of which have already been prayed in aid this evening, repeating that shibboleth "Beeching", or talking about "withering on the vine" or about lack of investment and lack of marketing, were true, I should have a great deal more sympathy with those who spoke passionately tonight for the train. But, sadly, they are not totally true.

To quote Beeching would involve closure of the route, touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, and mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rankeillour. But we are not talking about closure of the route. In this case we are talking about the withdrawal of one train.

Turning to the idea of withering on the vine and to investment, the West Highland has received a disproportionate amount of investment in the past decade. I wish that my railway from Waterloo to the New Forest had received similar levels in terms of the passengers that it carries. Millions are spent on radio electronic tokenless block signalling and on new day-time trains. The sleeping cars themselves are much more modern than those on many of the trains on which I travel down to the New Forest. Indeed, they are much

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more modern than the high-speed train fleet, which is a means of communication for many Members of this House.

With other investment over the decades, the journey time from London has come down by some two-and-a-half hours since I first travelled on the route, and indeed on the night sleeper, in 1962. There is one monster difference, which nobody has mentioned, between 1962 and today; namely, the presence of the motor car.

Is lack of marketing to blame? That was also touched on by noble Lords. I hardly feel so. Last year saw the centenary of the West Highland line. It was celebrated with additional steam services. There was a new video—the second film in effect in recent years; I can remember paying, in my British Tourist Authority days, for the early 1980s film. There are cassette tapes, a new history of the line and a very attractive description of the sights on the route which make the journey by daylight very appealing indeed. My noble friend Lord Lindsay was at Fort William for the centenary celebrations with the West Highland line steam locomotive that was rescued by his late father. The West Highland line and the West Highlander have scarcely ever had that much publicity before.

What about the more specific appeal to the customer's pocket? My noble friend Lord Rankeillour mentioned lack of marketing. But he will recall that in the past two or three years I told him of certain opportunities and he has indeed used them. There has been a very great deal of marketing in an effort to keep this sleeper going. There has been advertising at both ends of the route. With the Apex tickets, similar to the airline ones, one saves money by booking some time in advance. There have been discounted berths for family Railcard holders, including the offer of two berths for the price of one. There have been offers of sole occupancy of twin berth compartments for second-class ticket holders; special packages for couples; and off-peak first-class offers—to say nothing of Motorail offers, which I believe I specifically mentioned to my noble friend. There have been four special Motorail offers. Let us not forget the work that was done by the Scottish Tourist Board and my erstwhile friends in HIDB, which in those days had tourist cars covering the line, as well as my erstwhile colleagues in the British Tourist Authority.

I am always delighted when tourism is prayed in aid, as it has been tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, among others. But all this promotional and marketing activity suggests to me that the train does not meet tourism needs which cannot be met by other services on the route.

Where does all this activity leave us? On my last journey on the West Highlander, last October, there were 10 passengers, of whom five were my colleagues—British Rail's "best kept station" judges—and five were revenue fare paying customers. Those five in no way cover the staffing costs: seven people are required to run the train, actually on the train between Fort William and Glasgow. They do not cover the staffing costs, the rolling stock costs or the traction costs; and there is no way that they could cover the infrastructure costs, no matter how we calculate those.

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You could have given some away for free and the train would still have been losing a fortune. To put it another way, the £180 per passenger subsidy figure that is mentioned is four-and-a-half times that payable for a passenger who uses the Inverness sleeper and 11 times that of using the Edinburgh sleeper.

The West Highlander has, sadly, run its course. I sympathise with BR's decision to withdraw it. In the light of the franchising director's decision to withdraw subsidy—it was the franchising director who took that decision—given the numbers, I would be reluctant to look for subsidy from any other source. Rather, we should hope that the Inverness service, with its ongoing subsidy and its prospects, is given a fair crack of the whip.

This is an emotional issue, and I share that emotion. But emotion does not pay the bills. Let us celebrate the West Highland line and the West Highlander. But let the latter go, and let us concentrate on the much greater problems facing British Rail as a whole nationwide. The battle is really for the railways. The West Highlander seems to me to be but a smokescreen.

8 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, for reasons which have already been given and which I shall attempt to support, I do not go the whole way with my noble friend Lord Mountevans. Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Gray has already deployed in great detail and with great accuracy the financial implications involved. I am glad that he did so. It saves us all a bit of time.

I have no interest to declare in this matter. I used the West Highland line quite often until about 40 years ago. Since then I have not used it very much and certainly not in recent years. I remember the West Highlands for some of the most wonderful scenery in the world, and wonderful wildlife too. It is a great potential tourist attraction, not merely for people from the southern half of England but from the rest of the world. Fortunately, there is a growing tendency to treat the world as one place. Air travel has made that possible.

The noble Earl, Lord Buchan, mentioned Rome. It so happens that I was there yesterday concluding a three-day visit—not, alas, on holiday. I was working rather hard, unpaid I hasten to add. I was astonished at the number of Japanese people in Rome. That is just a symptom of the ever increasing travel between various parts of the world involving people from all over the world.

Most long distance travel is done by air. But, as the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said, in the West Highlands the air services are somewhat limited. They are limited for the tourist trade. Some of the landing fields are so small that they can take only very light aircraft and might not meet the needs of tourist traffic if it increases, as I believe it will, in the years to come.

For that reason the West Highland line to Fort William is truly essential. The question that remains is whether the night sleeper service is also essential. I believe that it is and will become more so as the international tourist trade expands, as it undoubtedly

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will if those in this country who are responsible for developing what is a great money earner for this country—it helps the balance of payments—do as well as they should. If so, the tourist trade to the West Highlands will undoubtedly expand over the years. That goes beyond the valid reasons for the West Highland line stated by my noble friends Lord Gray and Lord Rankeillour.

I must say a word about the cost of the sleeper service and attempt to answer some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Mountevans. I voted for privatisation. But during the discussions on the Bill I never understood—I do not think I was given to understand—that services such as these would be closed down. The railways, even though privatised, are a public service. It would go against principle if only those services were operated which made a good profit. Within a few years only suburban services, inter-city services, football specials, summer seaside services and a few profitable freight services would be running. I was very interested to hear my noble friend Lord Gray mention the potential for freight services on the West Highland line.

Surely, it is unbelievable that privatisation could result in the loss of all other services, some of them somewhat marginal and some losing small sums of money, which are necessary to the life of the people in the country. If that were to happen, our roads would become even more congested than they are already. Therefore, I believe that some traffic which does not pay or does not pay well enough should be subsidised. If the West Highland night sleeper services were better advertised, as has been suggested, they would be subsidised less.

But even if they have to be subsidised, they should be kept going as a public service. I agree that it is a question of the amount of the subsidy. Obviously, that must not get out of hand. But it is a matter for those who will have the responsibility of running the services to see that they are well advertised and that the public are persuaded to make the fullest use of them.

It would be absurd to discontinue this service in early May without further thought being given to what has been said in this evening's debate, without further thought for the future, and indeed ignoring the 250th anniversary of the landing by Prince Charles Edward, as the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, mentioned. Alas, this debate is not about Motorail on which, as an octogenarian widower, I have become rather dependent in travelling between Euston and Carlisle and which, I dare to hope, may too be given an extended lease of life.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, it is a pleasure to support my noble friend Lord Gray and other noble Lords who have spoken on this matter. My personal interest is indirect. I used the line and its sleeper services quite a lot when living in Argyll. I still have family there including a brother who recently moved to Roybridge and is a close neighbour of my noble friend Lord Rankeillour. He has told me about the anxiety of local people.

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It is not just those who live close to the line who are concerned. The railway has, expressed in geographic terms, a vast catchment area. The West Highlands depends on the line for both trade and tourism. And tourism is not just a summer matter. Skiing has made it an all-year-round industry. I am told that at New Year, when a vast number of skiers headed for Fort William, there was a desperate call for additional coaches on the trains, both sleepers and ordinary coaches. For some reason, British Rail was not able to supply them. I merely repeat what I have been told. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can look into the matter and write to me. If I have been misinformed, I am most sorry.

The feeling of the local people can be illustrated by a page from the Fort William newspaper Press and Journal. I have shown it to my noble friend and he has taken a copy of it. There are three main headlines. One says, "Appeal to Premier to save North rail lines". It tells how the regional council convenor, Duncan McPherson, is attempting to save the Motorail's sleeper service and how a number of honourable Members in another place representing the Highlands are trying to interview the Prime Minister about it. Two further headlines are "Timetable of broken promise" and "A feeling of betrayal".

There is another matter to be considered. The railway line is extremely famous. It is featured in a book which I received at Christmas called, Train Journeys of the World. It describes 30 journeys throughout the world: among them is Glasgow to Fort William on to Mallaig. It contains descriptions of the wonderfully scenic journey that can be experienced. If British Rail insists on withdrawing sleeper and Motorail services, the West Highlands will begin to consider what other services can be cut. As was pointed out, there is no airport near Fort William and therefore the railway line is vital. Will British Rail eventually cut the lifeline?

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