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Channel Tunnel Rail Link

3.31 pm

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the announcement by British Rail yesterday on the definitive route for a high- speed rail link across the county of Kent.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I recognise that since British Rail published proposals last July for a new railway line from the Channel tunnel to London, the matter has been a cause of great concern to a number of right hon. and hon. Members whose constituencies were affected, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold).

I welcome the fact that blight has now been lifted for a large number of people living in Kent and London. I also welcome British Rail's approach to compensation, which will help those most directly affected who could otherwise face difficulty in selling their property. I particularly welcome the emphasis which British Rail has placed on environmental protection. Roughly 23 miles of the route will be in tunnel and 30 miles will follow the existing railways or the line of the M20. British Rail is proposing only 15 miles of new surface route. In drawing up its proposed route, I know that British Rail has sought to follow as closely as possible the criteria established by Kent county council, which has played a notable role in guiding British Rail in the significant changes which it has made to its original proposals.

It is British Rail's intention, after further consultation on the details of the route alignment, to introduce a private Bill in November. It will also be exploring the options for participation in the project by the private sector. In considering whether the Government will be able by then to support the introduction of such a Bill, we shall want to be satisfied that the route has been subjected to a full environmental assessment, so that the Bill may be accompanied by a satisfactory environmental statement, and that any British Rail investment would be likely, within a reasonable time, to earn a proper commercial return. British Rail will be refining the forecasts of traffic, revenues and costs.

The project creates major concerns for those close to the line. It can also offer important benefits to international travellers, Kent commuters and British business.

Mr. Arnold : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his report inasmuch as the matter is of considerable concern to people in south-east London and in Kent. While thousands of people on the discarded routes will feel considerable relief this morning, and while thousands on the route, who see the £500 million worth of environmental improvements working in their favour, can also feel relief, there remain thousands of people, notably in north-west Kent, who will still be exposed to environmental damage.

Will the Minister comment especially on the predicament of the people of Istead Rise and New Barn? Last July British Rail issued a document showing that those villages would be protected by the north Downs tunnel which would have been extended to Longfield in the west. In October British Rail brought out a new document that brought that line back to the surface. Yesterday, when

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British Rail made its announcement, apparently nothing had been done to help the people in those villages. It was only

subsequently--thanks to the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Minister in providing some maps that in turn he had received from British Rail--that we could see the exact line of the route.

On looking at those maps, we found that there has been a small and improved realignment in that area. Will the Minister assure us that British Rail will take considerable pains in the future months to make further adjustments to protect the environment--especially to the vertical alignment of the track--and to provide protective shielding where residential areas would be otherwise exposed?

Mr. Portillo : I certainly recognise my hon. Friend's difficulties with the proposal. I know that British Rail is offering to buy, I think, 37 properties in his constituency. I am glad that he has recognised that the alignment through his constituency is more southerly than the original and that much of it will pass through cuttings. I hope that my hon. Friend will pursue his detailed points with British Rail. I know that he has made arrangements to meet British Rail shortly, and I hope that that meeting will be productive.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that yesterday's announcement has brought precious little comfort to the people in my constituency--whether at Lenham Heath, which up to now has not been involved, or at Hollingbourne, which will still be desecrated--or, indeed, to the many villages not directly on the route but whose pattern of traffic will be completely disrupted by the creation of a major Parkway station. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this railway line is only a part of a major realignment of the British Rail network that will need to be capable of taking Berne gauge freight wagons throughout the British Isles? Will my hon. Friend recognise, too, that many people believe that British Rail's obsession with the centre of London is bad news for everybody in the United Kingdom--including the people of London?

Mr. Portillo : I believe that my hon. Friend underplays some of the changes to the realignment. After all, the new line avoids Charing and the central village areas of Hollingbourne, Harrietsham and Lenham, all of which are important to him. The speed of the trains through his constituency, which he feared would be 186 miles per hour, has been reduced to 140 miles per hour. The number of households that British Rail is offering to buy in his constituency is now 86. I do not believe that my hon. Friend makes a valid point when he says that this is a part of a re- creation of the British Rail network. The cost of converting the whole of British Rail to the Berne gauge would be absolutely prohibitive. My hon. Friend will know that this railway line is designed principally to take passenger traffic, and I feel that his fears are misplaced. The capacity on the existing railway lines for freight is greater than that of the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Is my hon. Friend aware that British Rail's proposals for route 2 to be the preferred choice for a fast rail link show massive concessions to London, but do little for most of Kent? Does my hon. Friend agree that British Rail must revise the

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environmental protection content of its proposals if it wishes to eliminate the anxieties of the people of north- west Kent? Will my hon. Friend accept that the compensation package so far announced is completely and woefully inadequate to deal with the damage that is being done to people's properties and lives?

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend's constituency is very badly affected, and I have every sympathy with him. I would point out that the speed of trains going through his constituency will be 125 miles per hour, which is much lower than he would have anticipated. My hon. Friend was among the many hon. Members who called for important investment in environmental protection in the project. He, among others, called attention to what the French have done. They are quoted as paying 16 per cent. of the costs of environmental protection. The figure for this line is 30 per cent. However, I recognise that British Rail has offered to purchase about 500 properties in his constituency. I stress that that applies to properties within a 240 m corridor which is much more generous than the equivalent available if a road were being constructed.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) : As the

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : What about hon. Members on the Opposition Benches?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the House would agree that those constituencies which are most--

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : This is a national issue.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the House will agree that hon. Members representing the constituencies which are most directly affected should be called first.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have called Sir John Stanley.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We understand that some hon. Members have a special interest, but this argument extends to Scotland, and repeated representations have been made to you. We must have fairness.

Mr. Speaker : The line does not go through the hon. Gentleman's constituency. He will be aware that, after the sad rail disaster in Scotland the other day, the Scottish Members directly concerned were called first.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Sir John Stanley : As it has just been confirmed that there will be no public subsidy for the high-speed line, will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not give approval for British Rail to introduce a private Bill in this House unless the commercial viability of the project can be shown?

Mr. Tony Lloyd : On a point of order. Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Portillo : The point that I was seeking to make in answer to the private notice question is that a great deal of work must be done on traffic, costs and revenue forecasts. British Rail has no doubt--and I see no reason to doubt it--that the line will be viable at some date. However, the

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date when it will be viable has not yet been settled and we need more information before we can reach a conclusion on that.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Prescott : I think that you will recognise, Mr. Speaker, that the Opposition maintain that the Channel tunnel is a national project affecting the north and the south of the United Kingdom. I am surprised that the Secretary of State today is not giving his response at the Dispatch Box and appears, yet again, to be avoiding his responsibilities.

Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State whether he is satisfied that such a major investment decision as this should be settled by a private notice question? Will he again consider the possibility of making a full statement to the House so that all hon. Members can give the matter the kind of close questioning that is necessary on a statement which affects all parts of the United Kingdom?

In view of the controversy over the amount of resources that are planned for the route, is the Minister aware that in his announcement yesterday the chairman of British Rail made it clear that while he thought that nearly £0.5 billion extra resources would be required, the figure might be anything up to £1 billion extra? If that is so, and in view of what the Prime Minister said to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, will commuters in north Kent have to pay four or five times as much in fares to travel on the route to London, when the route was advertised as a benefit to the people in north Kent?

Has the Minister considered the idea that I put to the Secretary of State in a letter on 2 February, that the 16 weeks which British Rail is allowing people in the north of England, the south, Kent or anywhere else, to consider the proposal is totally unsatisfactory? British Rail's credibility on this matter leaves a lot to be desired and the only way to deal with the matter is through an independent assessment before the private Bill comes before the House.

Mr. Portillo : With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may have felt that he has been monopolising the House this week, having appeared in the Chamber every day so far. On the other hand, we might have been surprised at the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) did not stay for the debate on lorry weights yesterday. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. These are very serious matters ; let us get back to them.

Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman said this is no way of settling the investment question, but the investment question is not being settled. The whole point is that a route has been announced ; there are further consultations to be undertaken ; there are further forecasts to be worked out on the revenues ; the costs and all the aspects of the line. So no decision is being taken at this stage. The hon. Gentleman says that the costs could be higher. That is true, the costs could be higher, but the costs could also be lower, and the revenues could be higher. All these things have to be settled. I can say to him quite definitely that it is far too early to reach any decisions about the fares that will be charged on the line, but it must be recognised that if there are faster, more comfortable services, they may well command a premium price.

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The hon. Gentleman refers to 16 weeks not being sufficient, but that is merely a portion of the entire consultation. This has been going on since July last year and it is apparent that a great deal of notice has been taken of the points that have been made since then in Kent and elsewhere. There will be an opportunity for further consultation before the private Bill is introduced.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past, when there have been specific questions about the north-west region and my hon. Friends from that region have been excluded when you have called hon. Gentlemen from outside the region--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member has not been excluded. I hope the House will agree that when we are dealing with a matter of great sensitivity concerning individual members' constituencies they should have some priority in putting questions. Nobody has been excluded.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that in successive Scottish questions and answers over the course of this Parliament, there have been many Tory Members from 400 miles away asking questions and taking up time on sensitive Scottish issues. If it applies to Scottish questions, it applies to this.

Mr. Speaker : There is no parallel at all.

Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : I would like my hon. Friend to be aware of the sense of desolation and despair experienced by my constituents who live in the neighbourhood of Warwick gardens when they learned two days ago that British Rail proposed to construct a sub-surface junction for the Waterloo link. I shall be asking British Rail to reconsider these proposals. I shall be asking my right hon. Friend to ask British Rail to reconsider its proposals to run this link underground. If this were to go ahead there would be 10 or more years of desolation and devastation in the area of Warwick gardens.

Mr. Portillo : If I did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) an injustice a moment ago, I hope he will accept that I was driven to it by the injustice that I felt had been done to my right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) has my sympathy because 130 properties are affected in his constituency and it is something that he did not anticipate and that was not on the original route alignment. It is, of course, the intention that Warwick gardens should be restored after the works have been carried out, but I can well understand that my hon. Friend will wish to discuss this very carefully with British Rail to see what arrangements are available for his constituents.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Is the Minister aware that the route from Warwick gardens to Waterloo cuts a swathe through my constituency? Can he give an undertaking that British Rail will do what it has not done so far and consult my constituents about the effect of the extension and the use of lines upon their lives, homes and businesses? Secondly, will he undertake that compensation and other environmental protection will go to my constituents, notwithstanding the fact that British Rail may choose to use existing lines? Will he recognise that the increased intensity of freight and passenger traffic and

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other use of the lines means that the present lines will be used for an entirely different purpose and that it would be quite wrong to let British Rail rest on some kind of legal immunity to deny my constituents compensation and protection?

Mr. Portillo : I understand the hon. Member's concern for his constituents, but the problem of intensification of use is one faced by the constituents of many hon. Members regarding both railway lines and roads. There is no guarantee what the use may be in the future, but I certainly believe that, even though it is on an existing railway line, British Rail will do well to consult the hon. Gentleman and I will certainly urge it to do so.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : May I alert my hon. Friend to the view, widely held in Kent that taxpayers' money should play a part in environmental protection? Does he agree that the reason for this view is that those people appreciate that this is a matter of national concern and that the Government are giving such high priority--rightly, I believe--to ensuring that the line is environmentally acceptable, as well as to current broad policy on environmental matters?

Mr. Portillo : I hope my hon. Friend will agree that the important thing is that he should be satisfied that the environmental protection which is guaranteed under the new plan is sufficient. British Rail has gone a long way in proposing a fair degree of environmental protection, which greatly exceeds anything available in France. The question of how that should be funded is a matter on which it is impossible to take decisions at the moment because there is so much information that we do not yet have. Ports and airports are expected to be environmentally acceptable, yet no Government subsidies are available for that purpose.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Is the Minister aware of the united opposition from the three Southwark MPs--members of three different parties--and all members of Southwark council, which met last night and agreed unanimously, to the idea of an overground route from Peckham to Waterloo? Does he agree also that there is some scepticism as to why the 12 miles of the Greater London route from Swanley to Peckham, all through Tory-controlled areas, are underground, whereas the four and a half or five miles of route through non-Tory areas are above ground? Is not the reality that the Minister and his friends are buying off Tory areas while leaving the people who have the worst environment already with worse still as a result of this policy?

Mr. Portillo : I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) would have something to say about that, because his constituency is to bear the brunt of the construction in London. I remind the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that the route passes through a number of Conservative constituencies in Kent before reaching London.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : Is my hon. Friend aware that this is not the first time that Parliament has been concerned with a controversy of this nature? The whole of the British Rail network would never have been constructed had our Victorian predecessors not had the wisdom to adhere to a particular principle in their legislation : that if the individual is required to make a

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sacrifice for the benefit of the community as a whole, he should be compensated more than generously. Indeed, compulsory purchase measures provided for market price plus 10 per cent. May I suggest that the legislation adopts the principle of that excellent measure, the Land Compensation Act 1973, whose purpose is to help people whose properties are affected but not acquired. All these provisions should be incorporated in any Bill coming before this House.

Mr. Portillo : I think my hon. Friend will find that British Rail is going further than is necessary under statutory requirements. Indeed, it is not waiting for the private Bill to make compensation available ; as from today, it is willing to purchase properties that are within a 240 m corridor. It will pay full market value, plus the fees involved in moving house, plus a disturbance allowance, which will be in line with the statutory compensation scheme.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East) : As this is a national issue, I should like to ask the Minister what effect any increased investment by British Rail in the Kent area will have on the north-west of England, Yorkshire and Scotland. Will it mean a reduction in the investment that is needed so urgently, and who will meet the bill?

Mr. Portillo : Six hundred million pounds is already being invested in improving British Rail's Channel tunnel services, quite apart from this new railway link. Part of the reason for investing that money is to improve the links to the north of England and the other regions. Of the freight that will use the Channel tunnel, 75 per cent. will be coming from or going to points beyond the south-east of England. It is already planned that international freight sites should be established around the country, the first of them at Leeds. It is clear that others will be needed in Strathclyde, Manchester, Birmingham and Teesside, and discussions are well under way concerning others in south Wales and the north-west. Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. The anticipated door-to-door rail delivery time from Manchester to Milan, when the Channel tunnel is open, is 36 hours.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Can my hon. Friend confirm that the ferry workers of Dover can be confident that there will be no back-door Government subsidy under the proposals, in complete contrast with the Opposition's statements, which would do down the ferry workers of Dover.

Mr. Portillo : I know what great importance my hon. Friend attaches to section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which forbids any subsidy to Channel tunnel services and he will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had to say on that.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Will the Minister confirm that not long ago the Government believed that the Channel tunnel would be viable without a direct, dedicated fast rail link? Why have they changed their mind and when did they do so? Is it because they have discovered that the tunnel will not be viable without it? The Minister has said that he does not know how much traffic there will be or what the cost of the line will be, so how can he tell whether it will be viable? Would in not have been much better, and still be better, for the Government

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to have a wide-ranging public inquiry into this route, and the advantages and disadvantages of other routes, before a Bill is introduced in the House?

Mr. Portillo : The question of the Channel tunnel's viability has never been raised in the discussions. The question is what is the capacity of the railway lines for freight and passengers passing through the Channel tunnel. I have said that I do not know when the new railway line will be viable, but it is now the commonly shared opinion of nearly everybody who comments on these matters, including the consultants to Kent county council, that more capacity will be needed, and most people believe that it will be viable sooner or later. However, we do not yet have the information to know at what date it will be viable. It is in the best interests of the people of Kent in particular to get on with this as fast as possible through the private Bill procedure, which is well established, so that all the uncertainty can be resolved.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : Is my hon. Friend aware that one particular feature of the new proposal is particularly crucial to people in east Kent? The welcome decision to take the line through Ashford rather than cutting north, ruining the Wye valley, is not only environmentally sound but ensures that north-east Kent's economy is firmly cut into the new line instead of being cut off by it. It should also take some of the pressure off our roads which are vastly more congested than any of the roads in the constituencies of those Opposition Members who have been complaining.

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend is right. There were strong representations from Ashford that the line should pass through Ashford. I know that my hon. Friend will be cheered to think about journey times from Canterbury to London being reduced from the present 90 minutes to 50 minutes in future. He is also on to a good point in saying that the more capacity that there is on the railway line for freight, the fewer lorries will need to use the roads of Kent, which are congested.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : Now that differential speed limits are being imposed on different stretches of the proposed line, can the Minister tell us what, in return for the vast expenditure that the new line will entail, is the anticipated saving in time for a passenger going from London to the Channel mouth on the proposed new fast link, and what it is on the existing rail line?

Mr. Portillo : The saving in time is about 30 minutes during the day and more like 44 minutes at peak times when trains would have to use a more complicated route. That brings the journey time down to about 40 minutes as opposed to 70 minutes at off-peak and 84 minutes at peak times at present.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : The odd English freight depot at Leeds is no guarantee that British Rail will not withdraw resources from provincial areas and run down rolling stock, track and equipment in order to pour money into this high-speed project. Can the Minister give a cast- iron guarantee that British Rail will not do that? The Government have denied assistance for a few short yards of track in Bradford to link two stations, but they seem happy to allow British Rail to pour billions of pounds into this rail link which, after all, only arises as a

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result of a peccadillo of the Prime Minister's, has nothing to do with transport, but is meant to integrate us further into the wretched Common Market.

Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman, concerned as he is about investment in the sectors which are non-commercial and supported by the taxpayer--such as the provincial sector--should be relieved to know that we want this line to be commercially viable so that it does not put pressure on the subsidised section of the railway. In the provincial sector, 80 per cent. of the rolling stock will have been renewed between 1983 and 1991.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : While northern Members have considerable sympathy with the worries of the constituents of Kent Members, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that northern Members are absolutely convinced that the high-speed link is essential for the region, and that whatever has to be done should be done quickly?

Mr. Portillo : I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that British Rail is working hard to introduce a private Bill in November, which will fit his requirements.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : What conclusions will the rest of the country draw from the fact that the Government were prepared to sanction a high-speed link across Kent but not extending to other areas of the country? Will he answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) who asked whether the money that was to be made available by British Rail for the high-speed link would be to the detriment of British Rail's spending elsewhere in the nation?

Mr. Portillo : On the hon. Gentleman's first point, if this line is built through Kent, its speeds will be broadly comparable with those already enjoyed by people in other parts of the country. No decision has yet been made as to whether the investment in the Kent railway will be made by British Rail or the private sector. If it is made by British Rail, it will be on commercial terms and I do not see why it should impose a burden on the subsidised section of the railway.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Does my hon. Friend accept that most people want a transport system that is suitable for the 21st century and not the 20th century? Does he further accept that, while the detail of the announcement is causing concern, many people in the country welcome the fact that it shows a commitment to a more modern transport system, which will bring benefits throughout the country?

Mr. Portillo : I well understand my hon. Friend's point. Any transport project creates difficulties. He and I share parts of the north circular road. In my constituency, 367 houses are being destroyed for the north circular road. Any transport infrastructure presents problems but, my hon. Friend is right to say that these must be balanced with the needs and wishes of the majority of the British travelling public and British business.

Mr. Skinner : Now that it has been established that the Channel tunnel is a national issue--indeed, a north versus south issue--why does not the Minister, instead of

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bullying British Rail into providing £500 million, tell it that many people in the north, the midlands and elsewhere in Britain, would like that money to be spent on, for example, midland electrification? Instead of upsetting people in Kent, the Minister would do better to advise his hon. Friends to block up the tunnel and get out of the Common Market. That would satisfy everyone.

Mr. Portillo : The important thing for people in the north of England who are in business is to be able to reduce their journey times to parts of Europe. It is preposterous to pretend that journey times can be improved by electrifying one line north of London if there is a bottleneck in the south-east of Britain which prevents traffic moving smoothly. The project is designed to help every part of Britain, including the north and Kent. Of course, in Kent it presents serious environmental problems.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. All hon. Members recognise the problems that you and the occupants of the Chair face when there is a preponderance of hon. Members coming from one or other party who are interested in a particular topic. As you know, there was considerable

discontent--particularly among my Scottish and Welsh colleagues--about your refusal on principle to call them in series, without alternating with Tory Members. [Hon. Members :-- "Not true."] Generally speaking, it is true. There is considerable concern on the Opposition Benches today about your decision-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are addressed to me.

Mr. Dobson : There is considerable concern about your decision to call a substantial number of Government Members before calling any Opposition Members-- [Interruption.] I am sorry if you cannot hear what I am trying to say, Mr. Speaker. I checked on the practice that you followed when there was a statement on the Scottish rail accident. You called no fewer than three English Tory Members before you called some Scottish Members. Therefore, I should be grateful if you could consider what you could do about such incidents, particularly as some Opposition Members have constituents which are as directly affected by these proposals as any of those of Conservative Members. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) had to wait a considerable time before he was called.

Mr. Speaker : I think I should apologise to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), whom I should have called earlier. However the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) should look up the criteria for private notice questions, as opposed to those for a statement. This matter is not party political--it affects some constituents more gravely than others. I hope that the House will think it fair that when an issue affects certain constituencies rather more savagely than others, hon. Members representing them should receive precedence. Nobody was cut out today.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the concern expressed by Conservative Members about Scottish questions. This is no criticism of you ; I believe that you are doing an extremely difficult job very well. The shadow

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Leader of the House suggested that Scottish Members were disadvantaged. May I remind him and other Scottish Members that, during the past two sessions of Scottish Question Time, Scottish Opposition Members asked two thirds of the questions and Conservative Members asked one third

Mr. Speaker : I hope that the House will show some consideration for those of us in the Chair who have to make extremely difficult decisions on such matters. It is our endeavour to be entirely fair.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker--particularly that of my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House--is it not a fact, as you pointed out, that with private notice questions different considerations apply? I can well understand that, although a number of Members could conceivably have submitted private notice questions with good reason, you must choose a different form of procedure. Would it not have been better for everyone, including the Chair and the House, if, instead of a private notice question, a statement had been made by the responsible Cabinet Minister, if not the Prime Minister? The Secretary of State for Transport, who has been with us the whole time but who has not been subjected to questioning by Members on either side, certainly should have made a statement. If any difficulty arises, the Government decide not to make a voluntary statement. When difficulties arise, they should land in their lap, not in yours, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Today it was a private notice question on the proposal for a high-speed rail link across Kent.

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Business of the House

4.9 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 13 March----Motion for the Easter Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No.2) Bill.

Tuesday 14 March----My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement. European Community documents relevant to the Budget debate will be shown in the Official Report .

Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Wednesday 15 March----Continuation of the Budget debate.

Thursday 16 March----Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 17 March----Private Members' motions.

Monday 20 March----Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments that may be received.

[Tuesday 14 March

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 8887/88 Annual Economic Report 1988-89 ;

(b) Unnumbered Annual Ecomomic Report 1988-89 (as adopted by the Council)

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-iii (1988-89), para 4 ;

(b) HC 15-xi (1988-89), para 5.]

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