Tariff Rebate Subsidy (Northern Isles)

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:45 am on 12th March 1997.

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Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 10:45 am, 12th March 1997

I am very sympathetic to the point made by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, that whoever wins the tender—I have no idea who it will be—should have the necessary access. It is for the Scottish Office Minister at the time to use his or her good offices to ensure that that is implemented. I wish to ensure that the services are carried out effectively in that connection.

I think that I have answered most of the points raised by hon. Members. The new vessels issue is very important. I have made it clear that the Stockholm agreement requires the new vessels to be on the route by early next century. We are working on an agreement to give operators sufficient reassurance to allow them to invest in new build. The quality objectives laid down in the service specification were tightened after consultation with islands representatives.

We shall continue to monitor the effect of the present subsidy arrangements, in consultation with representatives of the islands' interests, to ensure that essential shipping services continue to be provided to the islands at affordable cost.

I thank hon. Members, and I would like to say how much I enjoyed being a member of the Select Committee that visited Shetland during the Falklands war when we were considering transport.