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Column 972land at a speculative price to finance the development of the railway, because it cuts out the inquiries into compulsory purchase proposals which, for example, a local authority would be required to hold if it were embarking simply on the compulsory purchase procedure under existing legislation.
Mr. Redmond : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been here from the beginning of the debate. The House has been discussing whether to give the Bill a Second Reading. We have just had a vote to allow business to continue after 10 o'clock. The hon. Member for Weston-super- Mare (Mr. Wiggin) voted for business to continue. I have several questions that I want to ask about the Bill. Unfortunately, I cannot ask them. I wonder, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether it would be in order for you to suspend the sitting for 10 or 15 minutes to allow the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to do whatever he needs to do so that he can come back into the Chamber.
Mr. Cryer : Planning consent will be required from the local authority, but there will be some pressure, once the Bill has been passed, for the local authority to acquiesce because of the scale of the proposal and, by and large, because everybody wants to see traffic congestion eased.
Of course, everyone says that a light railway transit system is bound to be an improvement and they are probably right, but to justify the Bill we ought to have more details than have so far been provided. We do not want this to founder because of the peculiar, indeed unique, method of financing the proposal, which could give rise to serious problems. As I understand it, the money to start the work is being provided not by the Advanced Transport for Avon company but by the contractor that it has chosen to build the line, presumably on a repayment basis later. According to the promoter, the construction company is providing some £3.5 million. It is a very unusual system whereby a construction company pays to construct something that it is employed to undertake by the principal promoting company.
I, too, am sorry that the sponsor is not here to take up this point and answer it to the satisfaction of the House-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for confirming that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare is not in the Chamber and is unable, therefore, to answer the questions that I am raising.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : I am happy to give the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) the assurance that when my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) returns, I will inform him of anything that has been said that is germane to the argument. It is unlikely that I shall be troubling him.
Column 973this offer, he is not going to bother, it is an arrogant affront to the House that he should present a Bill with the backing of the payroll vote and, when hon. Members seek information, fob them off with a sneer such as I saw just now. It is an affront to democracy and to the procedures of the House. [Interruption.] I do not know who said, "Get on with it," but it is very important that we should consider this seriously.
Would the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) like to intervene rather than shouting from a sedentary position?
Mr. Cryer : I see. The hon. Gentleman wants to rush legislation through using the jackboot heel of the payroll vote to crush Parliament. I sometimes wonder whether some Conservative Members carry boxes of matches in their pockets, intending to set fire to this place because they regard it as redundant. I do not like having to say this, but that is the arrogant attitude that some Conservative Members seem to have to this place.
The method of construction is somewhat curious. The promoter made it clear- -and it is clear from the Bill--that the company will have to borrow from the banks. The promoter did not explain what sort of construction period is envisaged. What effect will the present high interest rates have on the project? They must surely have some influence on it. Will the company have to stretch the construction time from five to seven years, for example to cushion itself against soaring interest rates under the Government's present policy? It is dangerous to depend so heavily on borrowing, because revenue will not come in until land is sold and land values have increased- -something that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is desperately trying to stop. The Chancellor tells the House that prices are slowing down, and it is the whole point and purpose of the increase in interest rates to cool the economy, which is overheated and producing higher prices yet to succeed the Bill depends on the very reverse of the Chancellor's policy. The Chancellor is trying to control prices ; the Bill depends on soaring prices to provide the finance for the venture. Tat is a very risky financial basis on which to place what is--in all considered judgments--a very important venture.
If, by any chance, the Chancellor's policies succeed, the alternative source of revenue--a system of what amounts to franchising or licensing-- will have to be used. The company has to complete the construction to obtain the revenue from the licensed operators to meet the costs of borrowing. The Bill provides that a proportion of the charge to the licensees will be to cover interest on the money borrowed. That is a very curious system, as the company clearly cannot obtain revenue from the licensees until construction is already a good way advanced and there is a prospect of the licensees obtaining fare revenue from people using the railways.
It seems to me that there are potential dangers. Suppose that quicksand is discovered, or that the company has to construct major deviations to avoid sewage systems, which it is not allowed to touch under the Bill. Those are potential problems with an urban transport system. If the borrowing process is stretched over a number of years, any such difficulties in construction will mean heavier
Column 974borrowing and the possibility of the company getting into financial difficulty, particularly if the land that it is compulsorily purchased does not have the enhanced value that is necessary to meet the considerable costs--perhaps £3 million to £4 million in all, although they are not sums speculated on in the Bill. Sage opinion will have it that this is not a sound basis on which to enter the construction of a major civil engineering works, because such works have a nasty habit of proving costlier than estimated and producing construction snags that were only hinted at when a venture was first embarked upon.
Construction time is important when we consider the safety of the operation of the light railway and the volume of traffic using the roads. Major road works are envisaged in the Bill. Clause 26 and the ensuing clauses set out protective provisions to make sure that the construction companies follow a proper procedure of notification to local authorities about when they are about to embark on highway construction, deviation or whatever. That means that there will be severe intrusion into traffic flows to and from Bristol.
The promoters have not indicated for how long traffic flows will be interrupted. We have the right to know what calculations the company has made. If the Minister's point about the Committee dealing with these matters in detail is right, the promoters should have the information between now and the Committee stage. They should really have it in their pockets now, ready to be produced to inquirers like me. For how long will the citizens of Bristol have to put up with single line working, and so on? Will it be months or years? What places will be affected? The House should know, so that we are better able to make a judgment about the merits of the Bill and the shrewdness with which the promoters have planned the project. There are temporary and permanent problems to be considered. There will be the intrusion of road works during construction, but there will also be permanent disruption caused by the level crossings that are authorised in clause 12. The laying of the rails may take only a few weeks, but the level crossings will be permanent. There has been comment from both sides of the House about the traffic congestion in Bristol, and the provision of level crossings is important. Accidents have taken place at level crossings operated by British Rail. Clause 12(5) refers to "automatic or other devices". Does that mean automatic level crossings? I refer the House to the Hixon level crossing disaster some years ago, when a heavy transformer was being taken across a level crossing where the barriers were not linked to signals. A British Rail train, hauled by an English Electric type 4 locomotive, hit the transformer. The transformer, weighing many tonnes, was carried several yards down the line with loss of life. That was in the early days of automatic barriers for crossings. As a matter of operating safety, I prefer manned or womaned level crossings with interlocking signals between the gates and the signals so that a driver knows that, when the signal is released, the full gates are across the road, barricading the railway from traffic intrusion. The Bill simply says that the Secretary of State can authorise level crossings.
It would be handy to know what sort of level crossings the promoters have in mind, because there were several accidents in 1987 with half-barrier level crossings. Motorists try to dodge round them. I know that they should not, but we are talking about areas with heavy
Column 975traffic congestion, and there is pressure on motorists to take short cuts and get round safety measures. It is important to know whether there will be interlocking signals with barriers, and preferably gates, or automatic, remotely-operated level crossing signals with the gates not being linked to signals. This is a crucial matter, particularly as a great deal of traffic goes into and out of Bristol. I hope that the promoters will provide the information. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South complained about the lack of detail. I was a little surprised at that, because of my activities in obtaining the light railway order and the transport order to establish the Keighley and Worth Valley light railway in 1967 and 1968. We were required by the Department of Transport to provide a great deal of detail--including, for example, a register of all the curves on the branch line. We had to provide details of the bridges and abutments, the axle load that the bridges could provide and a register of the weights of rail. Presumably, on a new railway, there will be new rails.
The promoters say that it is envisaged that part of their railway will be linked to a dock, which will provide future freight services. I am all for the transfer of freight from road to rail, and I welcome that aspect of the proposal. But the biggest wagons on British Rail have an axle load of 22 tonnes. Is any detail provided to satisfy the Department of Transport that any bridge work and weight of rail will be sufficient to withstand such axle loads? Are the promoters, in their calculations for finance, taking into account the extra expense in such construction?
I can tell the House that some of the most damaging movements of wagons on the British Rail network are the 22-tonne axle loads, which have had some very damaging effects on bridges and viaducts.
Ms. Primarolo : The Bill proposes a railway that will go from Portishead into the city centre at Wapping wharf. In order to join up with the route identified in the proposed No. 2 Bill, which has not yet come to the House, a bridge is required. What is more, it will have to be built parallel to a swing bridge.
Bristol is an old port with an extensively used dock in the inner city. When I mention that there will be great difficulties in building that bridge, the company is silent. Our expert advice leads us to believe that the company has not properly taken into consideration these points about the cost and the technical points about the bridge.
Weston-super-Mare did not mention those matters. Had he done so that would have indicated to the House a determination to tackle the issues head on and convince the House, not by the payroll vote but by tackling all the problems seriously. That seriousness has been entirely absent from the hon. Member's elucidation of the Bill. As the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said during the 1987 general election campaign, it is not good for a Government to have too big a majority. He was right-- although he was sacked for saying it--because instead of providing a sound and reasoned case, the Government simply rely on the payroll vote, on those
Column 976who are loyal anyway and on those who desperately want to join the payroll vote and are anxious to be here and to be noticed. That way of proceeding is not conducive to a healthy Parliament. It is far better for Ministers to have to argue their case and answer the sort of legitimate questions that we are asking. We are asking three questions not in any spirit of ideological antagonism but because my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South and others are concerned to ensure that any light railway transit system is soundly based financially and technically.
I welcome in principle the suggestion of the hon. Member for Weston-super- Mare that part of this network should be used for freight, but several technical questions about the construction of the system remain unanswered.
It would have been pleasant if the hon. Member had said that all employees of the railway would have full trade union rights and that great consideration would be given not only to the safety of the public but to the health and safety of the staff. Generally speaking, if the standards of the latter are high, the standards of operation for the public are high.
Such an assurance would have helped those who fear that a private railway network might mean lower standards of employment, with poor wages and long working hours. After all, we have been discovering, for example, that while British Rail has majority union membership, private contractors can lower standards. That is a pointer to the Clapham junction crash. I shall not reach any conclusion, because the inquiry into that has not been completed, but signalmen installing signals near one of the busiest junctions in the world were working through the night, with torches, installing wiring.
It would have helped the House if we had been assured that such standards would not be allowed on this projected railway, and that one factor in ensuring decent standards of employment would be the right to trade union membership. While the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare may be intimidated by--or perhaps he supports--the Government's antagonism towards trade unions, he could have settled some of our doubts had he made the position clear.
I support the introduction of light railway systems anywhere in Britain-- [Interruption.] --including in Bristol. One of my children attends Bristol polytechnic and I am fond of the city, having visited it many times. But that system must be financially sound, be part of an integral transport network and not be operating in an absurdly antagonistic competitive situation.
There must be a collective decision on how to solve these traffic problems. I want the problems solved in the most sensible and rational way, and a better way of doing that would be to have the initiative taken by the two local authorities--one a Labour-controlled local authority, and the other Tory and Liberal-controlled--and using their pivotal position to invoke, if necessary, the assistance of the private sector.
I would not exclude the private sector, but we should use the local authorities as the primary initiative to develop a liaison between all the other means of transport. It seems to me that, particularly where the local authority is responsible for the maintenance of the roads, it would make sense to have a much closer link during construction than is proposed.
I suggest, therefore, that the best way of dealing with the Bill is for the sponsor to withdraw it and to say, "No, I am not going to depend on the payroll vote to get this Bill
Column 977through, come what may ; there are defects and I will bring it back to the House," on the basis that I have suggested. In that way he will receive the consent and support of both sides of the House, but I am afraid that on the present basis the Bill is so misconceived and the promoters' case is so lacking in detail, that I will vote against the Second Reading.
Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley) : I listened very intently to what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had to say when he was introducing the Bill. Unfortunately, nothing that was said allayed any of the doubts that I have about this Bill. I cannot understand why there is suddenly such a terrible rush to have this Bill discussed that we have to move a business motion to proceed after 10 o'clock, when last year a number of other private Bills were in the Private Bills Office and two came out. On inquiry, we were told that was because no one was pushing them into the system. I find it deplorable that this House is called to discuss a private Bill after 10 o'clock at night, when really we should have had ample time before the Queen's Speech. I wonder whether we should be here discussing this Bill at all, although I accept that the Clerks to the Private Bill Office have deemed that it is a Bill that can be discussed.
A Bill such as is being promoted this evening has such major implications that it would have been better dealt with by a public inquiry in Bristol, to give the people there the opportunity of having their questions answered.
We received in the post this morning a statement on behalf of the promoters, and one would be grateful if at the end of the debate the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare could clarify it, because, if this is the first in a series of Bills that is to come before this House, one really must object if one believes in long-term planning. But, in laying down long -term plans, one must know what the objectives are at the end of the day. According to the Bill's promoters, other Bills are coming along that will enhance this Bill's progress.
I cannot understand why the Minister raised no objections. He said that no public money had been earmarked but that if an application were made, consideration would be given to it. Surely the Minister should have said that such money would be used for the passengers using the railways today.
The promoters say that the second phase of the rail transit system avoids the heavy cost of underground construction. Obviously, one would like such a system to be underground and out of sight where it would not blight the landscape.
Paragraph (4) of the promoters' statement says that there have been extensive discussions between Avon county council and Bristol city council on matters of concern to them and that a substantial measure of agreement has been reached. Surely it would have been in the promoters' interests for all parties concerned to have reached agreement before the Bill came to the House.
I cannot understand why last year there was no rush, but this year there is a rush and the various parties appear not to want to reach agreement. I understand that a number of petitioners have withdrawn.
Column 978My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) mentioned the Chancellor's anxiety about borrowing and the way in which measures such as this affect expenditure and the rates.
Clause 6(3) says :
"The Company shall construct good and sufficient fences on the side of any road bridge forming part of the LRT system."
What happens to the fences in between the bridges? Who is responsible for them? The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said that the railway would use part of the existing British Rail system. I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong. Should we assume that responsibility for fencing between any new bridges will rest with British Rail? If not, the owners of the land backing on to the railway will be presented with a bill, if the Bill receives its Second Reading this evening.
Clause 9(1) says :
"the railways shall be electric power or such other motive power as the Secretary of State may approve."
If it is to be electricity, why do we need that qualification? Is it to keep the options open, so that diesel-powered motors can be used to propel the carriages? That would mean pollution for the nearby houses.
Clause 9(3) states :
"In the provision of passenger services on the LRT system the Company shall have regard to the transport needs of members of the public who are elderly or disabled."
Does that mean providing facilities such as special seating and easy access to and egress from the pick-up points, or does it mean that the fares charged to the elderly or disabled will be lower than those for normal, working members of the public? Perhaps the hon. Member for Weston-super- Mare will clarify whether the Bill is referring to fares and facilities, or merely to fares.
I am extremely concerned about clause 11, which deals with the temporary stoppage of highways. Although the Bill is a private Bill, it seems that many members of the public will be affected if the Bill is enacted. A temporary stoppage of the highway may create additional problems on the motorways going into Bristol, so that may be another reason why the Bill should be withdrawn. We should look at the overall strategy and needs because anything that helps to take traffic off the road should be supported, unless it deals with the matter piecemeal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also mentioned safety arrangements at public level crossings. There have been many accidents on such systems and we should consider the arrangements that the company will make to alleviate some of the dangers. It is not sufficient to say that we shall accept good, standard practices ; we should seek to improve those practices. One cannot stress enough the underpinning of houses near works. It seems to be, "Heads I win, tails you lose". From the moment that the Bill was introduced, it blighted houses along the proposed route. Some of the people represented by the hon. Member for
Weston-super-Mare have lost many thousands of pounds because of the blight on their houses. The company will not be responsible for making up the difference between what the houses would have fetched and their present value. The hon. Gentleman should take that point further. On the other hand, houses that are not affected by blight may have their prices enhanced and, as a result, will not receive compensation.
Clause 15(4) states :
"The Company shall take all such steps as may reasonably be required.".
Column 979Again, it is possible to argue about what "reasonably" means. Is this a matter for an adjudicator like the one used by British Coal, the decisions of whom the Government and British Coal appear to take no notice of, regardless of what they are? Such decisions should be made by an independent arbitrator.
Clause 16 makes certain provisions to ensure safe use of electricity. What insurance does the company intend to take out? It is to be hoped that many people will use a transport system in Bristol that has required such long- term planning. Will there be adequate cover, or will the firm go bankrupt if it has to pay out any large sums?
Clause 18 provides for the extinction of private rights of way, which is deplorable. Many rights of way have been private for many years. Owners sometimes allow the public to use them--walks that are charming in both summer and winter.
Turning to clause 22, I should like to know whether the company will pick up the blighted properties for the market price that they would otherwise have fetched. As for clause 23, which deals with deposited plans, I deplore the Genghis Khan-like principle, "Irrespective of what is decided you must accept what I say, and we can correct any errors."
I should also like to know who makes the appointments referred to on page 16 of the Bill. Perhaps, if the Bill has a Committee stage, the matter will be clarified then.
It appears from clause 27(5) that there will be no chance for local people affected by the Bill to complain. The Bill gives a private company carte blanche to assume the same rights and powers as a public body with none of the responsibilities. Public bodies as we know them are accountable to the Government and to themselves ; this private company will be accountable to no one but the courts, and the little men who cannot afford legal action will be in no position to take the company on.
Clause 27(10) states that the company shall
"supply the engineer with all such information as he may reasonably require".
Why should British Rail seek to provide a competitor with whatever benefits it might have as a company?
We hope that the Bill will be withdrawn and that a much more sensible Bill will be introduced as part of an overall package to provide the transport system that Bristol needs. It is deplorable that people should be attacked for holding a different point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) quite rightly wants her questions answered so as to be sure that her constituents will be looked after properly, but Conservative Members appear to consider it wrong to hold a different view from theirs. I hope that they will bear in mind the fact that a different point of view can sometimes be very good for people outside this House. Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time : The House divided : Ayes 149, Noes 49.
Division No. 50] [23.10 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Column 980Beith, A. J.
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gower, Sir Raymond
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Mitchell, Sir David
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Patten, Chris (Bath)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Steel, Rt Hon David
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed and
Mr. Jack Aspinall.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Buckley, George J.
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Godman, Dr Norman A.