Rail Sleeper Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 22nd February 1995.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 2:12 pm, 22nd February 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his Department's policy towards the maintenance of overnight rail sleeper services between London and the principal Scottish cities; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The Scottish Office welcomes the Franchising Director's intention to safeguard the four most heavily used Anglo-Scottish sleeper services by including them in the passenger service requirement for the future ScotRail franchise.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that people who indulge in field sports, in which Scotland is supreme—grouse shooting, salmon fishing and stalking—need to arrive at their destination well and truly refreshed? Would it not be a great loss to Scotland if these sleeper services were denied to such people? Would there not also be a loss to Scotland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that our balance of payments would suffer, as would all business men who use these vital services? Should not British Rail be able to run these services more profitably without needing a £400 subsidy on the Fort William service from the taxpayer?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am sure that all those concerned will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. The subsidy is £180 per passenger on the Fort William sleeper service and £453 per passenger trip when account is taken of access charges to the track. It is clear that these are substantial figures. I am as concerned as anyone that the services remain as extensive as possible. Following privatisation, I have no doubt that they will expand and succeed, as all other privatisations have succeeded. I am sure that those responsible for taking decisions will have heard my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

Is the Secretary of State aware that the week before his recent meeting with Sir Bob Reid I tried to make a forward booking on a Motorail service from Aberdeen. I was told that the services were cancelled and were being withdrawn. What credence can we give to the right hon. Gentleman's assurances about future services when British Rail treats him and his Ministers with such contempt? Does that not mean that we are facing a serious problem in respect of north-south rail services once franchising gets under way?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I do not believe that we are. The circumstances of the Carlisle and Fort William sleeper and the Motorail services to which the hon. Gentleman referred are those where there is an indication of a diminution of service. That is clearly to the detriment of those who have relied upon them. All closures consequent upon the passenger service requirement would be subject to formal consultation under the Railways Act 1993. That has already been made plain.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

On his last point, does the Secretary of State not understand that what was promised and confirmed in Hansard, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), and in the Scottish Office's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)—full and formal consultation under the terms of the Act—is not the same as the consultation that the Minister was hiding behind today and which the Secretary of State for Transport has just written to me to confirm, which is that consultation will follow the issuing of passenger service requirements? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm what he promised to the Scottish Grand Committee—that consultation will be under the terms of the Act, not based on services that have already been axed?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Formal consultation under the 1993 Act follows the PSR publication. Consultation is required with local authorities and with the rail users consultative committee. That is the consultation to which my hon. Friend referred in the Grand Committee debate.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us who are used to hearing weasel-worded performances from him believe that, even by those standards, today's performance was a disgrace? Does he accept that, by his actions, he is shaming and making his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who gave an assurance in good faith, look a fool? That assurance was omitted from the official record and was reinstated at the request of some of us. There is no doubt about what the hon. Member for Dumfries said or meant, and that has been confirmed by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). That is the opinion and the knowledge of every right-thinking, decent person who heard it. Is the Secretary of State now repudiating the hon. Member for Dumfries? If he is, let all shame be upon him from this House. It is a disgusting performance.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Far from repudiating my hon. Friend, I am confirming what he said. As to the entry in Hansard, my officials sought to ensure that what my hon. Friend said was entered on the record of the debate. The hon. Gentleman will have had a letter from the Chairman of the Committee, explaining why the Hansard officials had failed initially to include the relevant words.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The House believes that, having failed to rewrite the record, the Secretary of State is now engaged in a process of rewriting history. Why cannot we have a straight answer to the question: will the services still be available when the formal consultation exercise starts—yes or no?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

That is a different question and is a matter for British Rail and ScotRail. If the services are not available—if British Rail were to contemplate their removal—it, too, would engage in consultation with the rail users consultative committee. If closure had taken place, the assets would still be in place and, in response to subsequent PSR consultations, could, if necessary, be reinstated.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Is the Secretary of State aware of the inauspicious comments of the director of ScotRail, Mr. John Ellis, who, two short months ago, as production director, said that Railtrack could not take into account social issues? He could not see much being done to equip branch lines. Does the Secretary of State not realise that those comments mean a debilitating future for economic development, tourism and community life in the highlands? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether services will he shut before there is consultation? Labour Members are asking for a one-word answer with either two letters or three: yes or no?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I have already answered the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. On the first part, I had a meeting with the chairman of Railtrack last week and am confident that he is extremely positive and ambitious to maintain and, indeed, expand services in Scotland.