HC Deb 30 April 2002 vol 384 cc789-90
1. Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central)

When she last met the Strategic Railway Authority to discuss transport in Scotland; and if she will make a statement. [51346]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes)

I do not know whether it is in order to say so, Mr. Speaker, but I thought that your address to Her Majesty was excellent, and I hope that some of the sketch writers heard it as well.

I will shortly be meeting the senior management team at the Strategic Rail Authority to discuss a range of issues affecting rail services in Scotland.

Mr. Doran

A legacy of rail privatisation is a fragmented and confused ticketing system. Recently, one of my constituents, Mr. Bill Naphy, attempted to buy a ticket on the Virgin train which runs directly from Aberdeen to Exeter and in the process discovered that no cheap rail tickets were available to anyone north of Edinburgh or Glasgow. When my hon. Friend meets the SRA, will he take up the issue of that blatant discrimination against all travellers from the north of Scotland, which is a further indictment of the rail privatisation system that we have been left with?

Mr. Foulkes

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. The Tories left the railways in a complete mess, with a lack of investment and fragmentation, and we cannot clear it up overnight, as my hon. Friend knows only too well. I agree with my hon. Friend also about the importance of accurate information not only on tickets but on prices, and particularly on the purchase of through tickets. I give him this pledge: I will discuss the matter with the SRA and other rail bodies, and report back to my hon. Friend who is, incidentally, along with the other two Members for Aberdeen, very assiduous in pursuing the interests of his constituents.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

The Minister will be aware that the ongoing chaos on our railways is of great concern as regards Scottish employment and has implications for the future. Will he do better than the Minister for Transport did in questions last week and deny, rather than fuel, rumours that the upgrading of the west coast main line will stop at the border?

Mr. Foulkes

The upgrading of the west coast main line is very important for Scotland, and it is being carried out because of our huge investment in the railways—£64 billion is now available in real terms. That is more than the programme of spending on the railways in any of the last 50 years, during the whole of the Queen's reign.

John Robertson (Glasgow. Anniesland)

My hon. Friend will be aware of the controversy surrounding the rail link between Glasgow and Glasgow airport. Will he allay those fears, give his full backing to that link and ensure that it is built quickly?

Mr. Foulkes

The Government, together with the SRA and the Scottish Executive, are carrying out a study of airport links, both to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, which will be completed in the autumn. I personally welcome the SRA's readiness to consider the development of direct rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, which are both vital to the future development of air services out of Scotland. However, I point out to my hon. Friend that there is already a rail link to one of Scotland's great airports, Prestwick, from where he can fly to five centres in Europe.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

In meetings with the Strategic Rail Authority, will the Minister take on board what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) said about the problems of being outside the central belt and the railway network, and make it clear that it is not just ticketing that is a problem, but the whole investment in the infrastructure? Electrification stops at Edinburgh. We must make it plain to the SRA that Aberdeen should be part of the strategic rail network. It is important that journey times from Aberdeen southward are as fast as they are from Edinburgh southward.

Mr. Foulkes

I agree with the hon. Gentleman—he is nearly my hon. Friend—on that. It is important to improve the links to Dundee, Aberdeen and the north in general. I am concerned about that and discussed it recently with representatives of GNER, who are thinking about having new trains that run straight through without electrification, so providing a quicker and better service to both Dundee and Aberdeen. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the £400 million that is being spent on Waverley station to allow more trains to run through it will also be of assistance. All in all, as far as the north-east is concerned, the rail organisations, with the wholehearted support of the Government, are doing everything possible to improve connections.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)

While strongly supporting the plan for a rail link from Edinburgh to Edinburgh airport, may I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which I received last week, on the proposed Musselburgh Parkway station? Does he agree that one benefit of the proposed station would be that more people would travel from Lothian to London by rail? That would be a good thing, not just on general environmental policy grounds, but also in relation to congestion on the roads and at London airports.

Mr. Foulkes

My right hon. Friend makes a good case for the Musselburgh Parkway station. I discussed that with GNER immediately after he raised it at Scottish questions last month. When the franchise for the east coast is re-tendered after the two-year extension, the parties will have another opportunity to submit proposals for a 20-year franchise. The case for a station at Musselburgh can be considered then if a bidder sees the benefit of it to their proposals. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will lose no opportunity in making his case to the bidders.

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