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Highlands And Islands

Volume 264: debated on Wednesday 18 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on economic prospects for the highlands and islands. [36040]

The success of the Government's economic policies means that the prospects for continuing growth and long-term economic prosperity in the highlands and islands look very encouraging.

I return to the question of the Skye bridge. Contrary to the benefits claimed by the Government, everyone in Scotland recognises that the policy of high tolls is creating an economic barrier to progress in Skye and the western isles that is every bit as great as the physical barrier that the bridge is intended to overcome.

I ask the Minister to look specifically at the question of disabled drivers using the bridge. Disabled drivers who display orange badges receive a 100 per cent. exemption from tolls on every other toll bridge in Scotland, but they are having to pay the full whack on the Skye bridge. That is surely completely unjustifiable and an example of what happens when the profit motive is put before the interests of the community.

I am very disappointed that the hon. Gentleman seeks to try to run down Skye. The Skye bridge is a much better transport link that makes Skye more accessible. As I understand it, the tolls on the Skye bridge are much less than people would pay on the ferries.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to disabled people. Arrangements for the disabled using the Skye bridge are better than arrangements on the ferries and, in fact, disabled drivers are exempt from tolls.

I trained as a mechanical not a civil engineer, but even I am aware that, as my hon. Friend explained, when one pours concrete surface cracks may appear. Those surface cracks must then be covered over for cosmetic reasons. As far as I am aware, the hon. Gentleman need have no worries about the structural arrangements for the bridge. They have been looked at thoroughly and everyone is quite confident that the bridge will go from strength to strength and will greatly assist the people of Skye about whom the Government are concerned.