|Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) and (Modifications of Schedule 5) Order 2002
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Would the Minister agree that Mr. MacAskill does a lot of mischief-making and gives the impression that if such decisions were made in Scotland, all would be well? As the Minister said, decisions made in England will directly affect the rail systems in Scotland.
Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman is right. If there were a Nobel prize for mischief-making, Kenny MacAskill would be in the running for it, although others would be, too. The SNP regularly says that everything would be better and easier and there would
Column Number: 019be no accidents if matters were controlled from Scotland. That is not only naive but dangerous.
Mr. Dalyell: If the Minister wants his speech lengthened, I will, of course, help him. He should be careful about awarding Kenny MacAskill Nobel prizes; he was my political opponent in the constituency of Linlithgow, and if we start to award him Nobel prizes, he might well take them at face value.
The Chairman: Order.
Mr. Dalyell: I fear that I have not yet finished.
A serious problem has developed on the Forth bridge as a result of the holes bored through its well-oiled surface for that wretched floodlighting. Rust is setting in. Something must be done about that, quite apart from the other problems; the matter is desperate.
The Chairman: Before the Minister replies to the first point, may I remind him that when the Committee started at 4.30 pm, we were talking about the transfer of functions to the Scottish Parliament?
Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful for the gentle way in which you reminded me about that, Mr. Atkinson. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow is an expert at lengthening speeches, but my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling has other concerns.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, for the third time, that if he writes to me with his concerns, I will ensure that they are taken up. I also congratulate him on the victory of Linlithgow Rose in the Scottish junior cup yesterday. Mr. Atkinson, you will realise that that is particularly magnanimous of me when you learn that they were playing Auchinleck Talbot. You may wonder how that is relevant; both Auchinleck and Linlithgow have railway stations.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute raised some interesting issues, but his contention about Rosyth and Zeebrugge is entirely fallacious. The £12 million that he mentions was not a PSO subsidy but a freight facilities grant, which was given because of the huge amount of traffic that the ferry will take off the roads. It is sour of him not to give a warm welcome to a superb service that will revolutionise direct transportation between Scotland and the continent. His point is entirely different to what we are talking about. It is because of the problems pointed out by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, which I addressed in relation to the Isle of Man, that we wanted to ensure that this time the ferry operated on a proper basis. We wanted it to run for not only the summer months but 11 months of the year, which is effectively year round, allowing for winter maintenance. We wanted to ensure that it could be guaranteed, that it would run for five years and that a subsidy would be made available.
The basis for the subsidy was that it would fall under the powers relating to industrial development. That has delayed the issue. It is a complex matter. However, there has never been any question that the
Column Number: 020Scotland Office wanted a delay. That is manifest nonsense. It is Alice Through the Looking Glass stuff. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) who picked up the issue and was determined that the service would operate. The day after I took over from him, I was asked whether a meeting scheduled in Northern Ireland should be cancelled, to allow me time to get into my brief. I said that it must go ahead as planned and that there must be no delay. We pushed time and again.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute says that he cannot understand the delay, but that is not because it has not been explained to him. On each occasion, I have spoken and written to him and told him every detail, often beyond the proprieties—my civil servants wonder whether I have told him too much. He has been told every reason for every delay. Perhaps the reason his constituents do not know is that he did not explain the problems and difficulties involved. Perhaps he was trying to gain some political advantage on the ground.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute says that the intention was to start this summer. That was the hope, but it became clear that if we were to push the proposal through, the service would not start until well into the summer. To start it off half cocked would not be sensible. It needs proper planning, marketing and advertising to start successfully. The Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives and the Scotland Office therefore decided collectively that it was best to wait until next year and have a proper send-off early in the year, with proper advertising and planning. If the proposal is agreed to today, it will come before the Scottish Parliament over the next couple of weeks, and can reach the June Privy Council. Once it is approved by Her Majesty, there is no reason for a delay. As I said, I expect the Scottish Executive to make an announcement about tenders later this week. I hope that at least the vast majority of the Committee accepts my explanation.
Mr. Reid: I take the opportunity to put on record my warm welcome for the Rosyth-Zeebrugge ferry. One question still puzzles me. Why could a UK Minister pay that subsidy but not pay the subsidy or initiate the tendering process for the Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry? I draw the Minister's attention to a press release issued by the Secretary of State on 8 May 2001, coincidentally the same day that the Prime Minister called the general election, which stated that a subsidy would be paid by a UK Minister. I am still genuinely unclear about that. I also take the opportunity to reiterate my thanks to the Minister for taking the process this far, even if I have felt that he could move a bit more quickly.
Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his thanks, however long they have taken to come. Indeed, I can describe today as a blue riband day. Responsibility for that should not fall on our press office. I am responsible for changing the headline.
It would have been technically possible for us to fund it through a grant from the Scotland Office, by top slicing the money that goes to the Scottish Executive. However, Scottish Ministers—including the Deputy First Minister and the Scottish Minister
Column Number: 021for Environment and Rural Development, who happen to be members of the same party—preferred it to be dealt with by the Scottish Executive. It was thought more appropriate that it should be funded through industrial development and that the Executive should take forward the tendering process.
The Scottish Executive have officials with expertise in ferries—they have experience of the other ferries in the highlands and islands—so it seemed sensible. However, Committee members will have seen that, following devolution, it is not always easy to work out what is best. Devolution was the biggest constitutional change in mainland Britain for 300 years. It is not a surprise that one or two things remain to be ironed out; in fact it is a surprise that there are not more things to be ironed out. Of course, although it could have been treated as a UK matter, the freight facilities grant for Rosyth, too, came from the Scottish Executive.
I hope that I have dealt with most if not all the questions that have been raised. I thank you, Mr. Atkinson, for your indulgence. You have been a most
Column Number: 022friendly, amenable and co-operative Chairman. I appreciate the warm welcome given to the orders by the official Opposition. I presume that the welcome given by the Liberal Democrats, after some discussion with the hon. Members for Argyll and Bute and for Edinburgh, West, means acceptance. The SNP's representative is still not present. I hope that the Committee will agree to the orders unanimously.
Question put and agreed to.
(Modifications of Schedule 5)
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