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Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : The Minister has given way generously, and I appreciate that. He said that no taxpayers' money was to be used and that the funds would come from British Rail. To what extent will property development desiderata play a part in this? Documents that I have seen suggest that British Rail wants the terminus at King's Cross because it is superior for property development and British Rail will make a lot of money out of it. That, rather than traffic considerations, weighs heavily with British Rail.
Mr. Portillo : Both property development and traffic considerations could be important. The Government will look for an economic case to be made for the station ; it will include station property and traffic. I have not yet seen that case, so I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the proportions between the two will be.
Mr. Dobson : Is the Minister saying that, when considering the proposals for the railway works at King's Cross, the Government will consider property speculation on the 125 acres of surplus railway land to the north of King's Cross?
Mr. Portillo : No, I was saying that the question whether the low- level station is viable has to do with the traffic that might be generated by it and the property development that might be associated with it. As I said in my opening paragraph, the railway lands around King's Cross are outwith this measure and will be considered through the normal processes by the submission of a planning application to the London borough of Camden.
I turn now to the implications of the Bill's proposals for the Underground. The Bill will allow the present Underground ticket hall to be enlarged, and a new one to be constructed to serve the deep tube lines and BR's Thameslink and channel tunnel traffic. It also provides for a series of new subways between the various platforms, ticket halls and the surface. These works are needed to implement one of the recommendations of the Fennell investigation into the King's Cross fire. Mr. Fennell recommended that London Underground should build a direct subway link between the deep tube lines and the Metropolitan and Circle lines, or provide alternative satisfactory means of relieving the serious congestion. He considered that an important recommendation.
Although the detailed appraisal of this aspect of the proposals has yet to be completed and presented to the Department, the Government support these improvements in principle. I am sure that the House will bepleased to support measures designed to relieve congestion in one of the busiest stations in the London Underground system--
Mr. Dobson : Have British Rail or London Underground--or the two between them--calculated the net effect of the improvements set against the additional 60,000 passengers that they contemplate? It sounds to me possible that the place will be more overcrowded as a result of the proposals.
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman asks me a question which is better directed to the promoters of the Bill. It would probably be more appropriately asked in Committee than on Second Reading. As far as the impact of the proposals on the road network is concerned, we are discussing the technical issues with British Rail, the King's Cross developers and the London boroughs of Camden and Islington with a view to identifying the separate and combined effects of the development and the railway works. Our first priority will be to judge the overall effect of all the proposals on the trunk roads for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is the highway authority, and on the designated roads for which he is the approving authority for borough proposals. We also need to consider the wider implications for other borough roads in the area. When taking these discussions forward, we shall be able to draw in the first instance on traffic information in the document supporting the developers' planning application to the London borough of Camden and in the environmental impact assessment which BR will submit in relation to its proposals.
Our main aim will be to safeguard the efficient movement of traffic on the strategic network of trunk and designated roads in the area around King's Cross.
Ms. Harman : Does the Minister think it right that the House should be asked to give a Second Reading to the Bill when British Rail has not yet allowed hon. Members sight of, or published, the environmental impact assessment of these proposals? Should we not have those plans before we are asked to vote?
Mr. Portillo : That is another question for the promoters, not for me. The Bill must pass through several stages, as the hon. Lady knows, and the environmental impact assessment will be made available during the passage of the Bill. It concerns the Government, too, as I shall explain in a moment.
Some improvements will be possible with the introduction of better traffic management techniques, but if the additional traffic demand is heavy, changes to the trunk road, particularly at the junction of Euston road with Pentonville road and York way, might be necessary to accommodate it. A former GLC scheme for this junction, the St. Chad's place scheme, has been safeguarded. We are reviewing it to see whether it will be adequate, given the proposed developments. We would expect to submit a progress report on the road issues to the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton referred to an environmental impact assessment which British Rail has commissioned in connection with the railway works in the Bill. I understand that it will be available well before the Select Committee begins considering petitions against the Bill. The Government welcome the fact that British Rail has chosen to carry out this assessment. Although the European Community directive on environmental impact assessment does not, strictly speaking, apply to works authorised by a private Bill, BR has chosen to operate within the spirit of the directive and of the recent Joint Committee report on private Bill procedure. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present for parts of the debate on 20 April on private Bill procedure, and although I was abroad on official business that day, I have read Hansard with great interest. The
Column 638Government are considering how best to proceed in the light of the Joint Committee's report and of the debate, but the House will recognise that for the time being there is no alternative to the private Bill procedure. Speaking for myself, I cannot regard it as bad that a project of this size and importance for the national railway system should be considered by Parliament, rather than exclusively by a local planning inspector and Ministers of whatever party. Doubts in that regard were expressed by hon. Members on both sides and, as I have said, we are carefully considering all the issues raised by the report and the debate, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House promised just over three weeks ago
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Does the Minister accept that no one on the Opposition Benches argues that either Parliament or the planning procedure should be used? We are arguing for both--for a proper planning inquiry and then parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Lady makes her point, but I am not sure whether going through the processes twice, with all the delay that that involves, is in the best interests of anyone, including the objectors. As it happens, in this case we are dealing with two closely related matters-- the railway works in the Bill and the broader development in the King's Cross area. On the latter, there will be normal planning procedures involving the submission of an application to the London borough of Camden. To that extent, the hon. Lady may be contented, because there will be both a planning procedure and a private Bill procedure.
The works proposed will affect several listed buildings in the area. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is concerned about clause 19, the effect of which is to disapply the special controls that normally apply to listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas. My right hon. Friend accepts that exceptional circumstances may justify overriding the normal statutory conservation safeguards, but he does not want that done at the expense of proper debate, for purposes not directly and specifically connected with British Rail's operational needs. He is currently in discussion with the promoters to establish the precise effect of their proposals on the listed buildings and conservation areas and will be considering the position further after consulting English Heritage. I understand that, apart from the two main line stations, which are listed grade I, there are seven buildings or structures listed grade II which are potentially affected by British Rail's plans, and two conservation areas.
My right hon. Friend had previously attached some weight to the fact that English Heritage was petitioning against the clause, since that would, in his view, have ensured that when the Bill was in Committee, Parliament would have the benefit of its independent and expert advice. In view of the decision by the Court of Referees to disallow English Heritage's petition, he will now be looking to the promoters to give satisfactory assurances-- preferably by way of an additional clause in the Bill--that they will consult English Heritage ; that they will give it adequate opportunities to record any buildings which have to be demolished ; and that generally they will pay special regard to the desirability of preserving, so far as is practicable, the buildings and other features which give the
Column 639area its special interest and character. Subject to that, he will be considering whether to report on the clause, and in what terms.
Mr. Tony Banks : The Minister is correct to remind the House that the Court of Referees did not accept the locus standi of English Heritage. That happened because British Rail challenged locus on the part of English Heritage, as it did on the part of a large number of other potential petitioners. What confidence can the House have that BR will give careful consideration to all the matters to which the Minister referred, given the way in which BR arrogantly and aggressively stopped people who were able to come before the Committee from appearing and giving the benefit of their advice?
Mr. Portillo : I am responsible neither for BR's action in challenging the locus standi of certain petitioners nor for the decisions of the Court of Referees. The Secretary of State for the Environment has responsibilities in those matters, and the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that the Government will look for assurances, preferably by way of an additional clause in the Bill, and I hope that that will be of comfort to him on that point, which clearly concerns him.
Ms. Harman : I welcome the fact that the Minister has recognised that BR behaved wrongly in objecting to the locus standi of English Heritage. Will he bear in mind that many other organisations and individuals petitioned against the Bill, including myself on behalf of my constituents, and were also steamrollered out by BR's objection to locus? Will he, in addition to taking up the case of English Heritage, consider the cases of all those who petitioned and whose petitions were disgracefully ruled out on the basis of that challenge?
Mr. Portillo : No. The hon. Lady wilfully misunderstands what I said. I do not criticise British Rail in the matter ; I simply said that I had no responsibility for it. I do not see how BR could have been wrong to mount a challenge, the Court of Referees having found its challenge to be in order. These are matters for the Court of Referees, although the Secretary of State for the Environment has special responsibilities which he will discharge in the manner I described.
I have indicated support in principle for the Bill. It is of course for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are justified. There remain against the Bill a great many petitions which raise important matters and which reflect genuine and widely felt concern about the proposals. The petitioners will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The Committee will be in a much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved and will have the advantage of hearing expert evidence.
I therefore recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed to proceed, in the usual way, to Committee for detailed consideration.
Column 640newspapers tell us that the hon. Gentleman is the coming man of the Government. I have no wish to blight his future career, but I warn him that he must do better in future if he is to live up to the rave reviews that he has been receiving from the national press. As my hon. Friends--and to be fair, some Conservative Members--have said, there is widespread unhappiness about the procedures that have been adopted towards the Bill. The Minister agreed that hon. Members in all parts of the House felt that the private Bill procedure was being abused from the point of view of this project. As for the management of British Rail, there is, to put it at its mildest, widespread unhappiness in the House about the way in which it has conducted itself in the conflicting and contradictory stories that have eminated from that source.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) spoke of the project being a partnership between the public and private sector. We would have no objection to that, if it were true. The problem with the Bill, as the Minister pointed out, is that the contribution from the private sector will be all-important because it will enable British Rail to meet the investment criteria laid down by the Government.
That being the problem, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said that BR owned a considerable amount of land at King's Cross which, in his opinion--and he should know, because he is the constituency Member--would provide an adequate site for a new railway station, if that were what BR was seeking. But that is not what is being sought by BR. It is seeking to maximise revenues on that valuable inner- city site to meet the investment criteria laid down by the Government, which will allow BR to build an underground station catering supposedly for international trade, supposedly to all parts of the country.
In explaining why BR had opted for that course, the hon. Member for Acton conceded that, when BR gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Channel tunnel, its forecast for cross-Channel passenger traffic was too low. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) might have something to say privately to him about that because, when giving evidence to that Committee, BR made a number of statements which it subsequently contradicted. It told the Committee that there was no need for a high-speed rail link and that the Waterloo terminal would be sufficient for international passengers until the end of the century.
BR then changed its mind and said that its forecasts were too low. BR was cross-examined on a number of occasions when giving evidence to the Select Committee about the accuracy of its forecasts, but was adamant at that time that they were correct. What has changed since? Has BR been reading the Eurotunnel prospectus, which said that its forecasts were too low? Has BR been talking to its counterparts in SNCF, who felt at that time that the forecasts where too low? Or could it be that, to minimise opposition to the original Bill, BR deliberately pitched its forecasts at a low level, simply to get the Bill through the House? I do not know the answer, and the hon. Member who is acting for the promoters shows no signs of telling us. It would not be unusual, to say the least, for the British Rail management to mislead on these issues.
Column 641many of us about the fact that BR has remained adamantly opposed to accepting advice on any aspect of its great Euro-rail investment from any other source, be it the Swiss, the French or the Germans, even though the figures on which BR is now proceeding appear to be much closer to those of the French?
Mr. Snape : That is a valid question, and the hon. Gentleman should address it to the hon. Member for Acton who is acting on behalf of the promoters. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view that it has been incompetence on the part of the BR management. Not that I question its incompetence ; I worked for it for too long to believe that it is anything other than incompetent when it comes to making decisions of this kind. But we should not ignore the fact that, as well as incompetence, the BR management over the years has been adept at what has been called obfuscation about statistics relating to its business.
I am speaking of the railway management that, following the 1955 modernisation plan, decided to operate a multiplicity of different types of diesel locomotives. These were all stabled next to steam locomotives, with the inevitable maintenance problems that were bound to arise. It is the management that gave us massive marshalling yards for wagonload traffic from one end of Britain to another, only entirely to drop wagonload traffic thereafter. It is the management that tells us that the best way forward for the operation of passenger services in and around the capital is one- person operation locomotives and unmanned stations. That system gives the malicious an opportunity to board a train at a station which has no staff, to mug the passengers while the train is proceeding under the control of one person and to leave the train at another unmanned station. Apart from the moral considerations of a management that approaches its duty in that way, that is not an economical way of running a train service. It is possible for people to board trains at unmanned stations, to ride on OPO trains and to alight from those trains at unmanned stations. The motivation for some individuals to pay their fare is perhaps somewhat lacking.
I am talking of the management that comes forward with a fresh barrage of statistics and supposed facts to convince us that the Bill is worthy of support.
A thread that has united us all, apart from the promoters and the Minister for Public Transport, whose somewhat confused contribution suggested that he is a man with a future behind him, is a mistrust of British Rail's management. That includes its intentions for King's Cross, and especially the way in which that station is to be operated for through international services to other parts of Britain.
Mr. Dunn : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to take the conspiratorial notion a stage further. Does he agree that it would be wrong for us to proceed with the Bill without having the Government's views made known to us on other routes? Does he agree also that it would be wrong for us to adjudicate on the Bill without knowing anything of British Rail's intention for freight and freight clients? I speak as a man with only a past to which he can look forward.
Column 642The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that I do not know. British Rail has confused itself, so God knows what it does to the rest of us. The latest epistle from British Rail- -I refer to its press release of Saturday 6 May--refers to freight using the existing north London line. It is especially vague about through passenger services to the north of England, especially to the north-west and to the part of the country which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I have the honour to represent in the west midlands. I know that that bothers you considerably, as it bothers me.
British Rail's current view--I stress "current"--is that it intends to cater for railway passengers from other parts of the country. If we are to accept that, the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) should be given a little more consideration by the hon. Member for Acton. My hon. Friend referred to passengers to and from south Wales. He spoke also of a letter from the Standing Conference on Regional Policy in South Wales--I have a copy of it in front of me--on the future of services into Paddington and connections with Channel tunnel services to any part of the continent or with through services, if they are to operate, that will use the King's Cross terminal.
The lack of strategic planning is central to the flaws in British Rail's planning generally. There is a proposal for a dedicated rail link between Paddington and Heathrow that will be operated by the British Airports Authority. That does not give much comfort to those who wish to join the cross-Channel services. Sir Norman Payne and his BAA colleagues are obsessed with sites for Tie Rack, Sock Shop and even a chain called Knicker Box Ltd. It is hard to imagine that they will be too concerned about the impact of that dedicated rail line on a travel pattern that will involve the Channel tunnel project. The central London rail study was referred to a few days ago by the Minister's boss, the Secretary of State for Transport. I understand that there are plans for a surface link--perhaps it will be a sub-surface link, but these matters confuse me--between Paddington and Liverpool Street. There is not much sign there of any coherent strategic plan for knitting these projects into the cross-Channel tunnel services, which are supposedly to pass through the new King's Cross international station.
Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to the lack of coherent planning of underground railways in London. He has spoken also of connections to the London-north-western main line. From Stratford to Willesden there is an electrified railway line which projects onwards to Acton, Central and Acton, South. The direct route from Stratford to the south Wales main line would join the Great Western main line at Acton main line station. Is that not ironic?
Mr. Snape : That is an historic irony. My personal view is that the great advantage of long-distance railway services is that they run from city centre to city centre. That has always been perceived as the great advantage of the railways when they are in competition with aviation, for example. By the very nature of things, airports are well away from the centres of towns or cities that they are supposed to serve.
We are told that the advantage of the King's Cross project for the rest of the country will be the through services, if they come to exist. Let us move away from
Column 643south Wales and the west, with the inadequacies of the proposed provision of services for those areas, and consider Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Carlisle, and the west coast main line. It has always been our understanding that British Rail intended to build and electrify a spur that would join the east coast main line with the west coast main line. It would allow through continental train services to pass via the new King's Cross international station to the parts of the country which I have just mentioned.
As long ago as 10 January, the chairman of the British Railways Board, Sir Robert Reid, wrote to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) on the spur project. I came upon the letter because it was sent to the West Midlands regional forum, on which I have the honour to serve as chairman of the west midlands group of Labour Members. In that respect, the letter is in the public domain. In his letter, Sir Robert referred to through passenger trains to the west coast main line and stated :
"The current Parliamentary Bill"--
it was not current at the time but never mind, that was just one inaccuracy --
"concerned with the redevelopment proposals for King's Cross and St. Pancras does contain provision for a sub-surface station. If King's Cross were to be selected as the site for the second London station for International Passenger Trains, this facility would be used for that purpose."
It would be difficult to imagine any other purpose for the facility.
That being so, I am not sure what Sir Robert was getting at when he wrote that part of his letter. He added :
"So far as International Passenger Services beyond London are concerned, if the business demand does support the investment in the trains, it would be the Board's intention to provide rail connections from the sub-surface station at King's Cross to the East and West Coast Main Lines."
That proposal appears straightforward, and it was one accepted by the West Midlands regional forum, which included little me, at its face value--given that it was dated 10 January 1989.
Subsequently, two of my colleagues wrote to the Department of Transport about that matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) received a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, while my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) unaccountably received a reply from the Minister for Public Transport. Evidently, Privy Councillors write only to Privy Councillors, which is something else that I did not know. Personally, I do not mind receiving a letter from the Minister, provided that it is clearer than his speech this evening. Remarkably, the letter dated 3 April from the Secretary of State and that dated 7 April from the Minister of State both include the following paragraph :
"I understand that British Rail's choice of Kings Cross as a second London terminal for Channel Tunnel passenger trains is not intended to prejudice the possibility of through passenger trains to and from the West Midlands. BR are considering whether to seek further powers for a new direct link from Kings Cross to the West Coast Main Line, or whether to retain their original plan of routing such trains via the West London Line."
Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) there are now three options.
Mr. Snape : I shall come to that possibility in a moment. We are now presented with a choice of three different routes. There might be an electrified spur joining the east coast and west coast main line, or we may have to settle for the revamped west London line. Given the likely congestion that would occur once full services got under way, we in the west midlands do not find that a particularly attractive prospect. The third alternative may be ceremonially unveiled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury--a travelator connecting King's Cross with Euston station. It is conceivable that, in the timetable for that brave new world after 1993, there may be through trains indicated between Birmingham and Brussels, Paris, or any of the other exotic locations about which I know very little.
How will those new services be advertised if a travelator is used to connect the new King's Cross with the old--or not so old, because it was built only 20 years ago--Euston station? Will advertisements show an escalator, or will they show a man--and given the sexist nature of the British Railways Board, presumably it will be a man--bent double with suitcases and buckets and spades, stepping on to an escalator connecting the two stations? Will we be told what connecting services will be provided for the rest of the country? In view of the contribution made by the hon. Member for Acton--I must not be hypocritical, because he did his best--it appears that no one knows what connecting services will be provided, and no one can say whether through services to other parts of the country will be provided.
I draw the Minister's attention the instruction in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras and for Islington, South and Finsbury, which refers to the need for the Committee on the Bill to
"take evidence and report to the House on the capacity of the proposed works to provide for fast, frequent and reliable passenger and freight connections between the Channel Tunnel and the Midlands, North and Scotland and on the environmental impact of the proposals."
I do not know why the Minister did not refer to that instruction during the course of his very unenlightening speech. He may argue that section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 includes an instruction to the British Railways Board, introduced by the Opposition and accepted by the Government, that such a report be published by the end of this year. That instruction does not contradict section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, but reinforces it.
Mr. Snape : The Minister says, sotto voce, "Not so," that such an instruction would duplicate the Act. It would certainly clarify it. Such an instruction would at least force British Rail to come clean about their intentions and would give right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House an opportunity to make a proper and valid judgment about whether the Bill should be allowed to proceed. The Minister says that such matters should be discussed in Committee. Tonight, we are talking about--in railway parlance, appropriately enough--giving the green light in principle to a Bill that will supposedly bring
Column 645about through services to all parts of the country, yet if the Bill receives a Second Reading, the House has no way of knowing whether that happy situation will come about.
Mr. Rowe : I very strongly support the hon. Gentleman's comments. If we wait until the end of the year before we receive any coherent plan from British Rail about the proposed connections--assuming that such a thing is possible--the Bill will pass through the House of Commons before we have an opportunity to debate those proposals.
Mr. Snape : The central point of the argument is that the House is expected to pass the Bill without knowing British Rail's intentions. I have worked for British Rail all my working life, until I came here for a break. Putting aside my insults about British Rail management, I hope never to work for British Rail again. Under the new rules and regulations, I would probably be fired anyway for saying what I have tonight. It is unacceptable to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House not to receive assurances from British Rail on which we can rely. So far, we have witnessed only a series of contradictory statements, assertions and press releases.
In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke about road congestion in and around St. Pancras and King's Cross stations. Any right hon. or hon. Member who spends any time travelling around this city will know just how congested is the Marylebone road in the vicinity of those two stations--and the likely impossibility of the extra traffic likely to be generated by the scheme having free passage up and down Marylebone road and Euston road in particular and in the side streets also.
The press release from British Rail embargoed to 6 May, to which I have already referred, makes the specific statement :
"The new proposals are designed to meet all these demands"-- that is, the architectural and other demands--
"in a building of outstanding architectural merit"--
I presume that British Rail means the new concrete awning that is to be erected--
"at the same time as improving access to and from road transport." The House has been told by the Minister that no roads surveys have yet been completed. He said, reasonably and accurately enough, that the impact of the proposals on road access and the road network has still to be measured, yet British Rail's press release presumes that its proposals will be beneficial.
Mention has been made of the proposed new terminal's advantages for the midland main line. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Acton would explain what advantages there will be for those living along the route of the midland main line. If it is not intended to electrify that line, then, given the loading gauge problems of the so-called wide lines, through trains from European cities and from cities along the midland main line are unlikely, to say the least. I have said that through trains between European cities and the western main line are at best doubtful under the somewhat nebulous proposals we have just heard about.
The support given to the Bill by hon. Members on both sides of the House is, I think, reasonable enough, provided that British Rail comes clean and tells us what it is about. I fear that, if it fails to do so--if, as it appears, it has
Column 646briefed the hon. Member for Acton insufficiently, it will fail to do so--we shall be asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill that asks more questions than it answers.
I hope that at least some of those answers will be provided before midnight. If they are not, I know that many of my hon. Friends will--to say the least--have considerable misgivings about the Bill's veracity as it relates to the future of the rail network, not only in London but in Britain as a whole.
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside) : We have all been much entertained by the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), but I am not sure that much light has been cast on the subject. I sometimes suspect that the hon. Gentleman's intention is more to confuse than to clarify. In his remarks about the management of British Rail--after all, they went back 30 years--I heard one of the most convincing arguments for BR's privatisation that I have ever heard on the Floor of the House, although it may have been advanced unwittingly and interpreted in a different context from that intended by the hon. Gentleman. I wish to speak only briefly, on a fairly narrow aspect of the Bill. It is clear that views are divided between two camps. One view--which I deeply respect, but do not intend to comment on because I have not the necessary knowledge--concerns the immediate geographical and environmental impact of the proposals, and I understand the strength of feeling behind those arguments. Other hon. Members, among whom I count myself, are more concerned about the wider strategic implications, a concern which underlined the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister.
I am anxious that the benefits of the development of the Channel tunnel and all that goes with it should extend beyond London, and we should ask whether that development will enable international trains to run beyond London. Let me say unashamedly that my interests extend to the east coast main line link to the north-east of England and, of course, to Scotland. But it is because I believe that the benefits should extend as widely as possible that I am attracted--in principle--to the Bill : having listened carefully to what was said earlier about Stratford, I believe that the choice of King's Cross improves the chances of establishing good through links from the Channel tunnel to the north of England and to Scotland.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : The hon. Gentleman has anticipated me. As I have said, I support the Bill in principle ; obviously there is to be a second terminal in London, and I want to ensure that it is in the position most likely to facilitate the extension of links with the north and Scotland. In my judgment the Bill achieves that. I entirely agree, however, that we want rather more assurances than we have received.
I believe that the chosen site is better than others in London, and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman anticipated me, because the question that he has asked is the next point in the notes that I have before me. It probably cannot be answered fully tonight, but, if my
Column 647support for the Bill--in principle--is to continue, I should like to know how many through trains will run to the north and Scotland. There has been a certain amount of vagueness about that.
My next point is also a general one. I shall not go into detail, as much has been said on the subject this evening, but it is equally important that there are adequate cross-London links to provide a means of connection. A good deal of long-distance passenger traffic will not use the Channel link for the whole distance. People will want to catch connecting trains to places other than the north of England and Scotland.
I understand that the total cost will be some £574 million, a huge amount for a single project, and I hope that that will not be at the expense of other British Rail programmes. There is already considerable competition for British Rail's investment. I should like to mention two aspects, one connected directly with the cross-Channel link.
If the cross-Channel link is to be successful and areas distant from the Channel are to benefit, we must ensure the development of an efficient freight terminal in Scotland. I do not want that to be put at risk by developments elsewhere. At Coatbridge, a site that I believe is being discussed as a possible major freight terminal in Scotland, we already have a freightliner terminal. Nevertheless, I believe that a great deal more study is needed, and I hope that none of that or any subsequent investment will be put in jeopardy. Extra investment will certainly be needed. If there is a new terminal it will have to be connected, at some expense, with the trunk road and motorway systems. Let me also say to my hon. Friend the Minister--and I hope that British Rail will pay attention--that proper consideration should be given to refrigeration facilities at the terminals. The link will provide Scotland with a great opportunity, given our exports of high-quality food. There must be proper handling facilities, but as far as I know no such facilities are being considered at present.
My final point also concerns investment. The east coast route is being electrified and will shortly be completed as far as Edinburgh, but that leaves a huge gap from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. There is no doubt that Aberdeen is the oil capital of Europe : it is a very busy city and has one of the lowest unemployment levels in Scotland. The oil industry is picking up, and it will continue for many years to come.
Many of us are worried by British Rail's rejection--so far--of proposals to continue the electrification beyond Edinburgh. The investment south of London and in the Channel tunnel will be very much bigger than that north of Edinburgh. It is galling to us that additional investment should be denied to us when so much money is being spent elsewhere. Scotland believes that the links with the Channel tunnel will provide opportunities for us, but we shall be able to take advantage of them only if the links are provided in the most effective way. One of the effective ways is to have a terminal at King's Cross. However, it must not be at the expense of investment elsewhere--in particular at the expense of the two areas that I have mentioned.
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Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : In case anybody should be confused, let me say right at the outset that I am utterly opposed to the King's Cross Railways Bill. It directly affects my constituency and my constituents. I oppose it, too, for reasons connected with London as a whole and for national reasons. I object most strongly to the fact that this most important transport development, which is of national strategic importance, is to be decided by means of the private Bill procedure. No other democracy in the world has anything like the private Bill procedure. It is a means whereby well-off and powerful organisations get Parliament to set them above the law of the land. In a sense, it is statutory endorsement of not obeying the law.
A major decision such as this, which will directly affect the route of the lines from the Channel tunnel to London, and possibily the lines carrying traffic beyond London, should be determined by a private Bill promoted by British Rail. It was quite clear from the few meetings that I had with British Rail about the Channel tunnel that it was incapable of organising a conspiracy ; it did not have the faintest idea what it intended to do. That has become dramatically obvious, as the debate has continued, from its conflicting promises and assertions.
It is improper for a decision of this importance to be taken by a railway operating company, whether it be publicly or privately owned. That decision should be taken by the Government. God knows, this Government are happy to poke their noses into lots of things. I do not know why they are unwilling to take strategic decisions of this kind, which affect my constituency and Kent.
We need a thoroughgoing public inquiry into the proposition and into all the links proposed by British Rail. We should not proceed by means of this hole-in-the-corner set-up, known as the private Bill procedure. British Rail has used salami tactics rather than the dance of the seven veils tactics, suggested by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn).
When British Rail first said that it intended to introduce a King's Cross Railways Bill, it said that it had nothing to do with the Channel tunnel. After the Bill was introduced, after all the rowing in Kent and after the line that it finally decided that it favoured ended up--for some extraordinary reason--at King's Cross, British Rail finally had to admit that the King's Cross Railways Bill had something to do with the Channel tunnel. Everybody had known that all along, but--lyingly--British Rail had denied it. British Rail used the fact that it is not directly connected with the Channel tunnel--so it says--to challenge objections from those who will be affected by the line to King's Cross. It is preposterous that British Rail has been permitted to proceed in this way.
British Rail has told me and my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that in the second Bill which is to be introduced it proposes to facilitate further works all the way through Kent and south-east London that will affect other land and that will lead to other purchases in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury.
However, British Rail is not prepared to tell us what works it intends to carry out in our constituencies. Even