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East Coast Main Line

Volume 227: debated on Monday 28 June 1993

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5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has held with local authorities in north-east Scotland relating to InterCity services on the east coast main line.

I last discussed InterCity services on the east coast main line with representatives of Grampian regional council on Wednesday 23 June.

Is the Minister aware that a spokesman for Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin is investigating the cost of purchasing the east coast main line service between London and Edinburgh? Does he agree that that confirms, first, the private sector's complete lack of interest in the other part of that service—the through diesel service between London and Aberdeen—and, secondly, that companies such as Virgin are interested only in running fast trains, with few stops, for the cream of the customer load? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that if he persists with the market testing of railway services, the only and inevitable result will be fewer trains, worse services and the break-up of the national railway network?

The hon. Gentleman well knows that we are not intending to franchise the east coast main line on the basis of only the service between London and Edinburgh. I have made it abundantly clear that all British Rail's services to Inverness and Aberdeen will be franchised. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman would do a great deal more for the cause of electrification of the east coast main line to Aberdeen if he started supporting the economy of Scotland and stopped supporting the job wreckers at Timex in Dundee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fears expressed about privatisation of the east coast main line are precisely the sort of fears that were expressed about other industry privatisations—yet those have led to better services, not worse—

Order. The question is about what discussions the Minister has had with local authorities in north-east Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the local authority in Aberdeen has even privatised its bus service? Is it not clear that local authorities in Scotland recognise that privatisation leads to better services at less cost to the consumer?

I confirm that those local authorities to which I have spoken welcome the prospect of improved quality and quantity of services that our reforms will bring.

Does the Minister accept that as well as meeting representatives of Grampian regional council he must also meet representatives of the Highlands regional council and the surrounding districts? The lines to which he referred are vital to the economy of that area, given that Aberdeen is the oil capital of Scotland and Inverness is the tourist and whisky capital and the fact that there are also fish and food processing exports? The freight aspect of the line is vital to the area's future economy, and no doubt it is also of importance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I hope to meet representatives of Highland regional council in September to discuss our proposals for the railway industry in its part of the world. The prospect of introducing additional private sector capital means that there is an opportunity to enhance rather than reduce services in the hon. Lady's part of the world.