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Column 357from the Committee Room ; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such orders as he may receive from the Chairman in pursuance of this order.
That the Order of the House [23rd January] be supplemented as follows :
Lords Amendments 1. The proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall be completed at this day's sitting and, subject to the provisions of the Order of 23rd January, those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion be brought to a conclusion not later than the expiration of the period two hours beginning with the commencement of the proceedings on this Order.
2.--(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 above--
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided and, if that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment, shall then put forwith the Question on any further Amendment of the said Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown and on any Motion moved by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in the said Lords Amendment or, as the case may be, in the said Lords Amendment as amended ;
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining Lords Amendments as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall--
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment and then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown. That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in their Amendment, or as the case may be, in their Amendment as amended ;
(ii) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in a Lords Amendment ;
(iii) put forthwith with respect to each Amendment designated by Mr. Speaker which has not been disposed of the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Amendment ; and
(iv) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all remaining Lords Amendments ;
(c) as soon as the House has agreed or disagreed with the Lords in any of their Amendments Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith a separate Question on any other Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown relevant to that Lords Amendment.
Column 358(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 3. Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of any further Message from the Lords on the Bill.
4. The proceedings on any such further Message from the Lords shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of those proceedings. 5. For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion-- (
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided, and shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair ;
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining items in the Lords Message as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall- -
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on any item ;
(ii) in the case of each remaining item designated by Mr. Speaker, put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Proposal ; and
(iii) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.
Supplemental 6--(1) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.
(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which they are appointed. 7.--(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments, on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and on the Report of such a Committee.
(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(4) If at any time the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), the bringing to a conclusion of any part of the proceedings which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.-- [Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
Lords amendment : No. 1, in page 10, line 41, at end insert "(10) Section 61(1) to (8) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (fingerprinting) shall apply to the taking of a person's fingerprints by a constable under subsection (9) above as if for subsection (4) there were substituted--
(4) An officer may only give an authorisation under subsection (3)(a) above for the taking of a person's fingerprints if he is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to assist in determining--
(a) whether that person is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism to which section 14 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 applies ; or
(b) whether he is subject to an exclusion order under that Act ; or if the officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that person's involvement in an offence under any of the provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) of that section and for believing that his fingerprints will tend to confirm or disprove his involvement." "--[ Mr. Douglas Hogg. ]
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : As the amendments are either technical or part of the general thrust of amendments moved by the Opposition in the House of Lords, I shall not oppose them. Question agreed to.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.
Order for Second Reading read
The annual British Railways Bill is connected with the desire of the British Railways Board to bring the railway system into line with the requirements of modern operation. This general works powers Bill is one of a substantial number introduced in the House since 1963. It aims to improve the safety and efficiency of the railway system, but such Bills have always been seen in the past as an opportunity for hon. Members to raise other matters relating to the railway system. Although I am sponsoring the Bill on behalf of the board, hon. Members should recognise that I am not competent to answer any points outside its scope.
It is, of course, right that all hon. Members should be concerned about safety, as indeed is everyone in the country. Let me make it clear that the board never puts safety after passenger convenience : it is always a top priority. Everyone who works at British Rail receives basic training, and every railwayman receives at least two years' training before taking out trains, so that he has a knowledge of both train operation and the routes that the train is likely to cover.
Automatic warning systems are already provided for drivers, and automatic train protection is the next step. Such technology, however, has yet to be applied to a complex rail network. It is in existence for simple rapid transit systems, and it is hoped that a pilot scheme may be in place next year.
Part I of the Bill deals with the normal preliminary provisions that incorporate the usual enactments by reference relating to such matters as compulsory purchase. Part II deals with the works proposed, part III with the lands, part IV with the normal standard protective provisions and part V with the miscellaneous and general provisions. Let me begin with the major works proposed. Works No. 1 is a new railway in Birmingham to connect Snow hill station with the station at Smethwick West. The proposed new railway is sponsored by the Passenger Transport Executive which will pay the cost of the reinstatement of British Rail tracks on disused track-bed out of Snow hill until the line joins up with the board's existing freight railway for the final part of the link. For part of its length, the proposed link will share presently disused four-track formation with a light rapid transit railway proposed to be constructed by the PTE. That plan is very much welcomed by local residents and will benefit them and others.
Works No. 3 consists of a new railway--partly reinstatement of disused track, and partly totally new railway--intended to form a link between Nottingham and Mansfield to permit services on the Nottingham-Mansfield- Worksop corridor. The proposal is backed by local authorities in the area which will provide the funds to construct the railway which is expected to relieve traffic congestion. There is also some likelihood of European funding being obtained.
Works Nos. 9, 10 and 11 consist of work associated with platform extension to enable longer trains to operate on certain sections of Network SouthEast. Hon. Members who are concerned about overcrowding on trains must
Column 361welcome that proposal, which will provide some easement of the inevitable overcrowding in the rush hour. Works No. 9 deals with the reconstruction of the tunnel at Woolwich Dockyard station. Works Nos. 10A and 10B involve bridge and viaduct widening at Lewisham station. Works No. 11 involves bridge widening at Dartford station. Greenwich borough council is aware of the proposed works No. 9 and has expressed no opposition. Lewisham borough council has expressed some concern about some aspects of works Nos. 10A and 10B, but discussions are continuing with the board and it is hoped that a mutually acceptable solution will emerge. The initial reaction to the proposed works No. 11 from Kent county council and Dartford borough council is not unfavourable and further discussions are continuing. I shall briefly identify the other works in the Bill for the convenience of hon. Members. Works No. 2 at Tickhill has received no objection from Doncaster metropolitan borough council or from the Tickhill town council which is well aware of the planned works. Works No. 4 relates to the extension of the high speed train depot at St. Philip's marsh. Bristol city council is aware of the board's proposals, and discussions are taking place.
Works No. 5 relates to the construction of a new cord line to improve facilities for the coal trains supplying the Fiddlers Ferry power station to which there is no objection, as far as the board is aware.
Works No. 7 is a new siding to run to the British Alcan works at Bassaleg, and the Gwent and Newport district council is in favour of the scheme.
Works No. 8 relates to the deviation of Margam to Tondu branch railway at Cefn Cribwr to achieve the release of a significant amount of coal which can be exploited by British Coal.
Clauses 6, 7 and 8 relate to works No. 1, clause 9 involves the relinquishment of powers under the British Railways (No. 2) Act 1981 and the British Railways (No. 2) Act 1984. Clauses 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 relate to works Nos. 3 to 9.
We now come to the provisions of the Bill which have caused some concern. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has expressed concern and has put his name to the blocking motion. The provisions deal with the stopping up and closing of footpaths. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the petition on behalf of the Ramblers Association. Clause 17 deals with the removal of a dangerous walkway over the River Ribble. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that change should be made in the interests of safety. For the convenience of the House I shall touch on the related clauses. Clause 11 relates to the stopping up of footpaths at Kirkby in Ashfield and deals with the earlier works to which I have referred. Clause 18 provides for the taking down of a dangerous footbridge and clause 19 the stopping and discontinuance of a footpath at Tipton with which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is particularly concerned. The vehicular use of the crossing was prohibited in 1981 and subsequently in 1984 and as a result the crossing has been only for users of the footpath.
Column 362that clause 11 is of interest not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), but to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as it is in your constituency.
Mr. McNair-Wison : Of course I shall proceed with caution, and I hope that I will carry you with me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to make it absolutely clear that the board has no desire gratuitously to curtail movement across any of its tracks or any of its land. In all the cases that I have mentioned, the proposals stem entirely from a desire to improve safety.
Clause 19 relates to Watery lane level crossing in Sandwell. Vehicular access was prohibited nearly 10 years ago and the board proposed a scheme using miniature warning lights. Quite properly and understandably, the local school and the council were concerned that that would be dangerous because many trains travel through the area. The council was concerned that the crossing should be closed. The board believes that that is probably the only sensible answer, but as school-children and those requiring access to the school are likely to be concerned for at least another year, no action will be taken until 1990, but I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and others concerned about the footpath will look favourably on the suggestion, which is not a gratuitous interruption of access but in the interests of safety. If hon. Members wish to explore the matter further I shall do my best to answer their points later, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye again, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The remaining clauses in the Bill are fairly standard. Clause 28 sets time limits for the purchase of land and the rights over land which are limited until 31 December 1994. Clause 29 deals with the extension of a time limit from an earlier Bill because of the work required for the reinstatement of the curve linking the midlands line with the great central route at Doncaster. The board intends to apply for an extension until December 1994.
Part IV of the Bill is the standard incorporation of previous protective provisions. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, part V deals with the miscellaneous and general provisions. As the House well knows, there are also schedules attached to the Bill. In conclusion, I want to point to the modest nature of the proposal. I hope that, it will find favour with the House. I also hope that, at a time when British Rail is very much in the news, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, those of us who are concerned about its operation will give the Bill an opportunity to proceed so that the modernisation, and as a result the safety and efficiency that we hope will flow from it, will be a benefit to all the travelling public.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I apologise to the House for causing a debate to take place on the Bill. I had hoped that it would be possible for the promoters to meet the points raised by the Ramblers Association and by myself without a debate. I was disappointed last week that it was not possible for the promoters to give an undertaking, particularly because my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) has been pressing me hard for several months about the importance of the part of the Bill which will provide a rail
Column 363link from Mansfield to Nottingham. I fully appreciate his point, and I have great admiration for the work that he has done on behalf of his constituents to try to get that line included in the legislation and to get the local authorities, and hopefully the EEC, to come up with the money to make the line a practicality. I am concerned about the principle as to how footpaths should be diverted or stopped up. Anyone who wants to close a footpath, stop it up or divert it should use the highways legislation or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 rather than a private Bill. I do not want to rehearse the whole argument. I suspect that on future British Rail Bills we will go into the argument in more detail.
I have always contended, and I believe that the Private Bill Committee has also made it clear, that planning matters should be the subject of public inquiries and, perhaps as a long stop, parliamentary legislation, rather than public inquiries being short-circuited by parliamentary legislation.
It would have been possible for the diversion of the footpath in the Mansfield area to be dealt with by an application to the local authority. The local people would have had an opportunity to object. As I understand it--I do not know the area well--most of the local people do not object. They are losing one piece of path and they will gain an alternative path. Therefore, British Rail could have used the local procedure. If local people had been concerned about the proposal, they could have made their point of view known directly to the inspector appointed to consider the objections to the footpath closure. Instead, the proposal has to be dealt with at second or third hand on the Floor of the House and in Committee upstairs. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield knows all the detail on the ground, but it is not easy for another hon. Member to argue about footpaths in a constituency other than his own. It is not easy either for the Ramblers Association, which has to put the petition to the Committee, to get its information from local walkers and put it to the Committee at second hand. It would have been far better for British Rail or the other promoters to make their proposal for the diversion of the footpath through the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the highways legislation rather than by a private Bill.
The next footpath is at Malton where the proposal is to take down the bridge at the level crossing because it is not safe. Again, local procedures could have been used rather than resorting to a private Bill. It is a cumbersome process for local people who want to object. It would be simpler if they could object to the local authority. I believe that there would have been no difficulty for British Rail if it had proceeded in that way.
The third footpath is in the Tipton area at Sandwell. It is more complicated and I am reluctant to tread that path. Again, I suggest that it is not appropriate to deal with the matter through a private Bill. As it involves the closure of a footpath across a railway, it could have been argued about locally rather than at second hand in the House. British Rail insists that it could not use the highways legislation or the Wildlife and Countryside Act because it could not establish that no one wanted to use the footpath.
The argument is more complicated. In that case, people want to use the footpath but it is not safe. British Rail argues that, because it wants to close the footpath in the
Column 364interests of safety, it could not use the highways legislation or the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It could use those provisions only if it believed that people did not want to use the footpath. I do not know enough about the local position. Perhaps British Rail is using the argument of safety to avoid the cost of constructing a proper crossing which would enable people to get over the railway safely. In one or two places British Rail has erected footbridges. Although the footbridges are a safe way for people to cross, they have caused considerable upset to people who have suddenly found a substantial structure by the side of their gardens. I do not know enough about the Tipton case to know whether a new footbridge would be practical.
Again, it is not the best use of parliamentary procedure for a private Bill to be pushed through the House which will close a crossing over the railway on the ground of safety, with the odd little addition that British Rail will not close the footpath straight away but will leave it open as long as a school wants to use it. In future, when the children stop using the footpath, other local people will be denied the opportunity to do so. Again I argue strongly that such a proposal should not be in a private Bill but be dealt with by other means.
The Ramblers Association will put its petition to the Committee. I hope that British Rail may be able to meet the association's points. Perhaps British Rail need not make changes to the Bill in relation to Mansfield and Malton. If it was to give a general undertaking to the Ramblers Association that in future it will deal with closures through local procedures rather than a private Bill, that would be satisfactory. In the case of Tipton there should be more investigation of the legislation in general to see whether it is correct, as British Rail contends, that it could not close the footpath by any procedure other than a private Bill.
I do not intend to divide the House, particularly in view of all the efforts that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield has made to try to get the railway line into his constituency. I hope that British Rail can clear up the matter and that the Bill may have a speedy passage. Perhaps in the not too distant future my hon. Friend will invite me to travel on that bit of railway to see his constituency.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : It might be for the convenience of the House if I were to intervene now and briefly explain the Government's view of the Bill. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for his very lucid exposition of the Bill. These Bills are necessarily complicated and detailed, so I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his very useful presentation, which enables hon. Members to have an informed debate on these matters. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the British Railways Board.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made an interesting and thoughtful contribution, in which he alluded to the Ramblers Association's objection in principle to the use of private Bill procedure for the stopping up and diversion of public footpaths, on
Column 365the ground that the existing powers of highway authorities provide adequate safeguards for public rights and private interests. However, I understand that the powers under the Highways Act 1980 do not at present allow for stopping up on safety grounds. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Joint Committee that considered Private Bill procedure recommended in October that the Highways Act 1980 should be extended to permit stopping-up orders to be made on grounds of safety in appropriate cases. That would be achieved through the usual Highways Act procedures, including confirmation by the Secretary of State, if necessary following a local public inquiry. But the House has not yet had an opportunity to debate that report. The Government are still preparing their response to it. It is only fair to tell the hon. Gentleman that in the present circumstances the Government are satisfied that there is no objection to British Rail seeking powers in the Bill.
The three petitioners against the Bill will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Committee, which will be in a very much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved. It will have the added advantage of hearing expert advice. Therefore, I welcome the assurance by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. I recommend to the House that the Bill should be given its Second Reading and be allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee, where it can be given the detailed consideration that it merits.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Like the Minister, I welcome the Bill. I also extend my usual thanks to the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for the way in which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I, too, spend a long time--it might seem even longer to my audience-- dealing with these measures. Perhaps I might be allowed to refer to some of the works in the Bill in a little more detail, not least because many of the provisions of works No. 1 are in my constituency.
I and most of my constituents express great pleasure at the restoration of the old great western route between Snowhill and Handsworth, especially as that route will be eventually a four-track formation once again. While we shall not be able to see halls, kings and castles along the great western main line, I hope that we shall see on two of the tracks fairly new sprinter DMUs, and on the adjacent tracks the even newer super-trams of the midland metro, provided the Department of Transport gets its act together and stops changing the rules, as it did recently in a hopefully futile attempt to stop us having a midland metro. But that expectation gives me great pleasure. I hope that the works will be proceeded with quickly if the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight.
I should like to deal with works No. 3, and the replacement of a passenger rail service between Nottingham and Mansfield, and, I believe, Worksop. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) who has done a great deal of work behind the scenes in the House and with his local authority and the other relevant local authorities to see that the railway services that were short-sighted and misguidedly withdrawn in the 1960s are restored sooner than later.
Mansfield is the largest English town that is not connected to the railway network. I apologise in advance
Column 366if I have pinched a line from my hon. Friend's speech in saying that, but the fact that a town the size of Mansfield has been off the railway network for 25 years speaks volumes for the short-sighted decisions that were taken in the so-called Beeching era. Thanks to the efforts of the local authorities and hon. Members with constituencies in that part of the world, I am sure that that railway service will be restored.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish gave a careful and concerned speech about clause 19, the Tipton Watery lane level crossing. As I said to the hon. Member for New Forest, who is responsible for the Bill, that crossing is in the constituency adjacent to mine. I notice that the hon. Gentleman was careful to give a full and detailed explanation to Madam Deputy Speaker when she was in the Chair, as the work concerns her constituency.
The circumstances surrounding the clause are complicated. It is a long- running saga. Sandwell borough council wrote to Madam Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), and to me, and I should have thought also to my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), asking for support so that the crossing would remain open. The circumstances surrounding its proposed closure are that the British Railways Board, in its constant desire to cut costs and ingratiate itself with the Minister of State and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, wants to close the manned signal box at Watery lane, which controls the wicket gate through which members of the public pass across the track.
I have some sympathy with BRB and I do not quibble with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, as I am aware of his expertise on Acts of Parliament. But British Rail has the bulk of the responsibility for preventing motorists and pedestrians from killing themselves. It is strange and slightly illogical, although I understand the reason for it, that we protect the railways in this manner, yet children and adults, whether responsible or sober, are free to cross heavily-used dual carriageways if they are unwise enough, without any protection. Proposals to stop up crossings across lightly used railways--although this is a heavily used main line--are greeted by opposition from individuals, local authorities and groups such as the Ramblers Association.
Various alternatives to closure have been discussed by the council and BRB. I ask the Minister to clarify this point at the end of the debate. As I understand it, the board does not propose to take any action until an annexe has been completed for an adjacent school in 1990. Once that annexe is completed, the need for the crossing will be removed, although I accept my hon. Friend's point that there may well be inconvenience to present users.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish reminds us, the replacement of level crossings by bridges is occasionally as controversial as the original decision to close a level crossing. He does not represent the Woodsmoor area of Stockport, but it is close to his previous constituency, and he will be aware of the controversy that arose when British Rail decided to stop up a level crossing to save the wages of those working in the signal box, and to replace it with a bridge. There was such a row that after about seven years British Rail had to take down the bridge. Thankfully, there is no suggestion in works No. 3 that British Rail will adopt that course, but
Column 367that case shows that often what British Rail does is wrong in the eyes of many people. I hope that, as my hon. Friend said, the discussions that are taking place, and will take place up to 1990, will lead to agreement. He may be able to persuade the Ramblers Association, whose interests he guards zealously in the House, that the closure should go ahead.
As the Minister said, these matters can be discussed more fully in Committee. On behalf of the official Opposition, I give the Bill a warm welcome. On behalf of my constituency, I hope that British Rail, having been given the parliamentary go-ahead for these works, will proceed quicker rather than slower, and that we shall see once again early in the 1990s a four-track railway line between West Bromwich and Birmingham Snow hill.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : This can be described as a useful little Bill. It costs only £26 million and extends British Rail's network. As the preamble to the Bill says, British Rail has a duty "to provide railway services in Great Britain and, in connection with the provision of railway services, to provide such other services and facilities as appear to the Board to be expedient." I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for allowing a debate on this issue which goes wider than the details of the Bill, to which I have no objection and in no way wish to obstruct. Throughout the debate on the extension of the British Rail network as it affects my constituents and my part of Britain, I have tried constantly to be constructive and positive. I have no desire to be a Luddite, and never have been. My anxiety is to make sure that as Britain enters the 21st century, for the first time for many years with a rather exciting prospect for railways, we get it right.
Getting it right means not only getting a railway of a kind that we can be proud of and that can discharge the kinds of functions that we wish it to discharge, but also a railway that is acceptable to the people who have to endure its passage. I talk about the new high-speed rail link to the Channel tunnel, which has been a source of trauma for a long time in my part of the world.
Part III of the Bill includes powers of compulsory purchase. One can but hope that British Rail has fully consulted all those affected. However, one cannot rely upon that. In my recent experience, British Rail does not understand what consultation is. In my part of the world, British Rail has exhausted itself with meetings. On the one project alone, admittedly 77 times more expensive than the one we are discussing this evening, it held about 160 public meetings. Any fair-minded person must pay tribute to the extraordinary stolid good humour with which British Rail personnel, often exhausted and often shown to be incompetent, managed to retain their good nature. However, good nature is not enough. The meetings were all confused, crowded and very angry. They were confused because either they were told different things at different times or they were told nothing much at all. They were crowded because they dealt with matters at the very heart of individuals' concerns--home, environment and life style. They were very angry--this is the point--because they were in no sense consultations ; they were confrontations. I hope that, in the areas covered by the
Column 368Bill, British Rail has consulted or will consult. However, in case it still has not learnt what consultation is, I shall tell it again, although I have told it often enough already.
Consultation means sharing. It means saying to someone, "This is my difficulty. It affects you. Will you help me to resolve it?" In my area there are many people with diverse skills, long experience and a strong sense of public duty. There are engineers with experience of multi-million- -even billion--pound projects. There are architects, planners, designers, naturalists, noise specialists, geographers, surveyors and lawyers. They are intelligent, mature, rational people. Present them with a problem and they will work to find a solution. Confront them with a solution designed with no reference to them, pat them on the head as if they have nothing valuable to contribute, and they will fight every inch of the way.
My worry in Kent is that, now that British Rail has retired to a new position prepared in isolation, it will argue that it has consulted enough. I tell it now that further public meetings with communities down their chosen route will not be considered consultation. North Downs Rail Concern- -the umbrella group with which I have been associated--has reorganised itself. It has set up specialist sub-committees concentrating on matters such as compensation, noise measurement and so on. It will offer its help to the individual communities along the line, each of which will set up its own negotiating team to talk with British Rail.
If British Rail responds to that, it will be consulting. If it does not, it will be confronting. I hope that in Kent, as in other areas covered by this Bill, it will this time consult. If it does not, it will steel the opposition to its railway and all its related works. In relation to freight, the Bill allows for the construction of new railways. In my part of the country we are in trauma over the plan to construct the longest railway in Britain this century. It will be a passenger line. Part of our trauma stems from the fact that we do not believe that the proposed railway is the only railway that will need to be built. We believe that there is already a need for a purpose-built freight line. We are not alone in that belief. Eurotunnel would like one. Its chairman, Alastair Morton, says : "We believe it is virtually certain that the capacity of Network SouthEast to accept and carry to schedule a rapidly rising flow of international passenger and freight trains will not be maintained at the level shown in British Rail's Study Report."
Maunsell's, Kent county council's consultants, pointed out that even the higher estimates so far used by British Rail stem from a database which dealt with the years 1974 to 1984. They recommended "That serious consideration be given to the design of the new tracks to accommodate freight services in addition to international passenger services."
Steer, Davies and Gleave, consultants to Transport 2000, also attack British Rail's forecasts, pointing out that it has carried out no complete revision of freight forecasts since 1985. That group believes that it may be possible to cope by upgrading an existing line, but only if it were upgraded to take continental gauge freight.
General Technology Systems makes it clear that, unless British Rail provides a Berne gauge line, it will lose to the competition for the growing Euro-freight market and that its revenue loss will be so great that the funds to sustain
Column 369even relatively modest improvements to the United Kingdom rail network, such as are proposed in the Bill, will fall.
The Minister tells me that I am wrong because there will not be capacity in the tunnel to take the freight anyway. I believe him to be misinformed. I think that British Rail, frightened of competition, is trying to persuade us that it will make an adequate response to the challenge of a rapidly growing European freight market by slotting in freight trains in gaps left open by the transfer of some passenger trains.
It is absurd to enter the 21st century with a railway system which cannot take Berne gauge wagons. Out of 200,000 European freight wagons, only 2,500 can run on British tracks. That is why I believe that we shall shortly be confronted with a proposal for a new freight line, possibly built by private enterprise. No wonder we in Kent take a burning interest in the hitherto unavailable freight proposals of British Rail. I earnestly hope that British Rail, which is bound to present its freight proposals before the end of the year, will have the tact as well as the sense to present them before it puts its private Bill before the House next November, if it manages--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. The hon. Member has been referring to the subject of the Bill until recently, but I am now getting a little lost. I am sure that he will return to the subject matter of the measure.