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Rail Services (Strathclyde)

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Strathclyde regional council on the effect on Strathclyde's economy of the proposed reduction in rail services.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received no such representations.

Then it is just as well that I asked the question. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that there was a debate on the matter in the early hours of this morning as the snowflakes were falling outside. Has the Secretary of State received information from his surrogate, who was present to hear a debate opened admirably by my colleague, friend and ally — on this issue — the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro)? There is increasing anxiety and alarm about the proposed cuts on the Kilmarnock-Carlisle-Dumfries railway line and the effects that they will have on the social and economic life of the area. Scottish Members are increasingly worried that decisions on cuts in British Rail services in Scotland are being taken in London and are then foisted upon Scottish managers, although they are willing to accept the role of lackey.

The Government have agreed with British Rail performance objectives designed to achieve a significant increase in efficiency and requiring an overall improvement in services. It is for British Rail to determine how to achieve those objectives, but I understand that some extra InterCity services will be laid on.

We are all grateful to my hon. Friend for coming to the House early this morning and listening to the debate. Did he appreciate from the debate the strength of feeling in south-west Scotland about the economic problems that will result if the railway service is downgraded to the extent proposed by British Rail? Does he accept that the Government must bring home to British Rail the fact that their overall policy of bringing jobs to south-west Scotland will be adversely affected? He cannot leave it to British Rail to make such a decision.

I have met the manager of ScotRail and made it clear to him that many hon. Members believe that we need a high standard of service. I understand that British Rail will provide services connecting Dumfries with a sleeper service at Carlisle.

Does the Minister accept that his response is entirely inadequate? On Monday my hon. Friends and I met the Minister for Public Transport and put our case very strongly. In my constituency, which, with that of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), has the highest unemployment in the country, a railway station has just been opened at Auchinleck. Now British Rail is cutting services from that station. Strathclyde region wants to reopen New Cumnock station, but there will be no services for it if British Rail continues in this way. Should not the Scottish Office take some action to force British Rail to reconsider the matter?

I should say that the introduction of sprinter trains to the line next year will improve services by offering more trains and shorter journey times. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that there are no current plans to stop running passenger services on the line.

Will the Under-Secretary examine carefully the rates of return and capital that InterCity especially is expected to produce in the Government's current programme? Will he undertake to reconsider the matter with Ministers at the Department of Transport? The east coast route is of special concern to me. Services will inevitably be prejudiced by the penal rates of return which British Rail and ScotRail are expected to achieve on their InterCity services.

I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport to the matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a major influence on economic development in the Strathclyde region is the incompetent and high-cost policy of Strathclyde regional council, under which 25 per cent. of pupils leave school with no qualifications, and council house repairs are 35 per cent. more expensive than anywhere else?

We are in favour of both high standards of efficiency and high standards of service.