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Cowal Ferry

Volume 12: debated on Wednesday 11 November 1981

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has received representations from the Cowal Ferry Services Retention Committee; what reply he has made; and if he will make a statement.

I met representatives of the Cowal Ferry Services Retention Committee and other local interests in Dunoon on 5 November. They appeared to accept the need to reduce subsidy on this service. They represented against the provision of a passenger-only service between Gourock and Dunoon piers, and they asked that Caledonian MacBrayne be allowed to continue on the present basis, but with subsidy restricted to the losses incurred in carrying foot passengers.

I notice that the Minister said that they "appeared" to agree with him. I use this service regularly. Will the Minister take it from me that I have still to find any sizeable number of people who are in agreement with the total programme, not merely the pure ferry service, but the effect that the removal of the vehicle ferry will have on the town of Dunoon? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the whole matter, in terms not just of the subsidy, but of the total effect on the Cowal peninsula?

I accept that there is considerable concern in Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula about the overall proposals. I was emphasising, as it was emphasised to me, that local opinion had accepted, or appeared to accept—I do not want to put words into people's mouths—in an unqualified way that any eventual solution to the problem should not involve the continuation of a subsidy for the car service provided by Caledonian MacBrayne and that there was no basis for Caledonian MacBrayne having such a subsidy when Western Ferries, without a subsidy, was able to attract the overwhelming proportion of the car traffic.

One of the points of concern is that the tourist traffic tends to use the existing Caledonian MacBrayne service, while many of the local community. according to what they told me, prefer to use the Western Ferries service. It is significant that local users tend to prefer Western Ferries, but clearly we have to take into account the overall tourist implications.

If Caledonian MacBrayne withdraws its car ferry service from the route, what guarantee can the Minister give that the roll-on/roll-off service at Gourock will be maintained as a storm weather port for boats from other parts of the Clyde Estuary, in particular Arran and Rothesay?

We are having discussions with Caledonian MacBrayne and also, for its own interests, with Strathclyde regional council. All the relevant implications of any decision by Caledonian MacBrayne will be taken into account.

What will be the cost of a standby vessel, such as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)——

He is still my friend. I shall even embrace the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) if I am obliged to do so, but not with that beard. What will be the on-cost of a standby vessel, such as one of the two at present on the Gourock-Dunoon run? Further, what will be the cost of purchasing this passenger-only vessel for Cal-Mac to replace the other vessel?

Caledonian MacBrayne and the Scottish Transport Group are looking into both matters. They will be bringing to us their conclusions when final details have been worked out. One of the objectives of this exercise—I stress only one—is to reduce an unnecessary subsidy. Any final decision will depend on the financial implications of the proposals put forward.