Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time. I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) on an exceedingly articulate and fluent maiden speech. I look forward to debating many issues with him in the forthcoming years. I am not sure that I can guarantee how long that will be for him on his side of the House, but it will certainly be for as many years as I can manage on this side.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on pronouncing my name correctly. Since I came to the House, everybody has been incredibly kind and helpful, but the one thing that has caused some problems has been the pronunciation of my name. More often than not, I am afraid that the pronunciation has been mistaken for that of the Leader of the Opposition. I am not sure whether that has been an advantage or a disadvantage for me. However, when I told people that I came from Kincardine and Deeside, all was revealed and everybody was happy.
I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Nicol Stephen. He was a Member for Parliament for only four or five months, yet during that time I know that his constituents in Kincardine and Deeside very much appreciated the amount of work and effort that he put in on their behalf. I hope that his colleagues will convey his constituents' thanks to him.
It would be wrong of me not to mention his predecessor, Alick Buchanan-Smith, who served this House for 27 years, first as Member for Parliament for North Angus and Mearns and then as the Member of Parliament for Kincardine and Deeside. I know that the respect in which he was held in all parts of the House, by all sides of the political spectrum—in Scotland in particular—and throughout the United Kingdom meant that his sad death last year caused a lot of sorrow and led to a major loss to British politics. I am pleased to be able to pay tribute to his widow, Jan, whom I must thank personally for the tremendous help, assistance, guidance and encouragement that she gave me over the last few months.
Kincardine and Deeside stretches from the south-west corner of Aberdeen city out through the dormitory towns that house many of the employees who work in Aberdeen, associated with either oil, or oil-related industries, and along the most beautiful valley of the River Dee, then on past Banchory, Ballater and Balmoral castle to Braemar and down to the ski slopes of Glenshee. It stretches south from Aberdeen through Stonehaven to the fishing ports of Gourdon and Johnshaven and inland to Laurencekirk and the Mearns where agriculture is the main industry. Kincardine and Deeside is arguably the most beautiful constituency in Britain. I am privileged to stand here today and represent all its electors.
The constituency has benefited significantly from the last years of Conservative government. A measure of that is the recent unemployment figures. Unemployment in Kincardine and Deeside stands at 1,306. In 1987 that figure was 3,289. There has been a drop of 60 per cent. in unemployment. Conservative policies have worked well for the constituency of Kincardine and Deeside. The major industries are oil and oil-related industries, tourism, fishing, agriculture and the small businesses associated with each of those industries. It is appropriate, therefore, that I should be speaking in a debate concerning rail transport in particular. Communications and transport are of prime importance not just to the north-east of Scotland but to Scotland as a whole.
I concur with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) regarding rail transport in the north-east. The beginning of Stagecoach's involvement in the service south from Aberdeen is a step in the right direction: to provide the service that the customer wants. We are trying to provide a flexible, targeted service that meets customers' requirements.
I know of two instances where nationalised industries have not worked. Before British Airways was privatised, it ran an air service between Inverness and London. I remember being visited by a senior local manager of British Airways and asked why, as a local business man, I did not use its service. I was told that it was perfectly tailored to the business man: that I could do a fine day's work in London, using British Airways, which timed the aeroplane to leave Inverness at 9.30 am. That meant that one did not reach central London until midday. The return flight left London for Inverness at 5 pm, which meant that one had to leave central London at about 3 pm.
That is not providing a service targeted at the customer. The air route made losses for British Airways, yet, when it was taken over by Dan-Air, it did a marketing job and filled its aeroplanes. Dan-Air now provides a service that leaves Inverness at 6.50 am. One can therefore be in central London by 9.30 am. Furthermore, one does not have to leave central London until 6 pm. That is what I believe bringing private enterprise and private involvement into transport is all about.
Another example has been mentioned—Japanese railways. In my business life, I have been to Japan several times during the last few years. What is commonly known as the bullet train but what is properly called the Shinkansen runs on the main line between Tokyo and Osaka. That train comes into a perfectly clean station, exactly on time, to the second—and I mean to the second. It pulls out, exactly on time, to the second. It pulls up at the platform at a predetermined mark, so one knows exactly where one will be getting into the train.
That is private involvement alongside public involvement in a transport system, yet the competition in Japan is producing a service that is second to none. If, however, British Rail intends to emulate the Japanese, I suggest that it should realise that the one thing that the Shinkansen does not do very well is to provide comfortable seats. Unfortunately, they are tailored more for the Japanese body than for the slightly larger Western frame.
Before ending, it would be wrong and strange if I did not mention the electrification of the line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. I understand the hon. Member for Gordon being slightly upset about no mention being made of electrification north of Edinburgh. Having been involved in business, I know that such a project cannot be carried out without a proper feasibility study. As the Bill is passing through the House, we should ensure that ScotRail gets on with a feasibility study rather than waiting, as it is, until the study of the line north of Glasgow is completed. What relevance does that have to the line north of Edinburgh? I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport seriously to put pressure on ScotRail to get that feasibility study going, because it wold be an added benefit if it were completed before considering franchising the rail service or involving private enterprise.
The Bill is good for Scotland and for my constituency and I commend it to the House.