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Column 649this Bill does not include proper coverage of British Rail's proposals for King's Cross, let alone anywhere else. It is a preposterous approach.
The background to British Rail's approach to King's Cross-St. Pancras--that vast complex--is that 125 acres of land are surplus to railway requirements. That land is owned by British Rail or its friends-- associated, or previously associated, organisations. [Interruption.] Yes, British Rail still has some friends, but not very many in my area.
During the time that I have been a Member of Parliament--and before that when I was on the local council--I have run all sorts of advice services ; I have received representations from people who wanted land on which to build houses. I remind the House that 7,000 to 8,000 families are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in central London and that there are 15,000 homeless families in central London. People have told me that they would like somewhere to live. Others have said that they would like more schools, and bigger schools. Children and young people have told me that they would like to have a decent athletics track in central London. Other people have said that they would like bigger clinics or another park. In all the years that I have tried to represent the area, no person has ever come to me and said, "I want an office block."
However, British Rail proposes to devote most of the surplus 125 acres to office development that nobody wants, other than an organisation whose real name ought to be Inter-Galactic Property Speculation plc, which has linked itself to British Rail with a view to making a bomb out of it and damn anyone who lives in the area and damn anyone who has got any needs in the area.
The whole object of British Rail's approach to King's Cross is to maintain as much as possible of the 125 acres of property speculation land sacrosanct and safe from any demands that may be made on it. Not content with having 125 acres for that purpose, the Bill would allow British Rail to buy another 17 acres and knock down what is on most of that land ; then it would have another 17 acres for more property speculation. That is one of the motives for those proposals, and is one reason why we should not support them.
Mr. Rowe : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Confederation of British Industry has estimated that if all the office accommodation that British Rail is hoping to build on those acres is built, the effect will be to over-provide for the expected need for office space in London by nearly 5 per cent.
Mr Dobson : As my constituency contains State house, Centre Point, Euston tower and God knows where, I am quite prepared to believe that there will be a surplus of office accommodation, which we are pretty used to in my area.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, the Bill's proposals will result in 326 people losing their homes. We have enough homeless people in my area already without adding another 326. Some 59 shops and 130 small businesses will go and over 2,000 local jobs will be lost.
The purpose of the Bill is not to allow British Rail to build a wonderful station that will be a credit to Britain and will make people travelling through the Channel tunnel to London say, "What a great place London is."
Column 650The purpose is to allow British Rail to build a gigantic dump of a cavern underneath the existing main line station and call it the "Euro-station".
I believe that British Rail's proposals will be dangerous. Firefighters, who have a little direct experience of King's Cross--certainly more than anyone at British Rail--believe that the new complex will be even more dangerous than the current one. It will lead to increased overcrowding. I cannot over-emphasise the fact that the Bill does not contain a single proposal for improving the shifting of passengers to and from the King's Cross-St. Pancras complex. Some improvement in the layout of the stations may be made, but British Rail is not proposing an additional tube line or extra tube trains, and I do not believe all the garbage about improved bus services.
The object of the proposed digging at King's Cross is to preserve intact surplus railway land for speculative development, which is the wrong approach. Although there are some relatively prosperous people in my constituency, as there are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, the people living in the areas bordering King's Cross and St. Pancras are not prosperous. They already live in an area which is full of stinking fumes and much traffic noise. It is not a pleasant place to live, and British Rail's proposals will make it infinitely more unpleasant, especially while the works are going on.
Of all the proposals that affect my constituency, the one that most galls me and most typifies the cavalier attitude of British Rail is the one to destroy the Camley street nature park next to Regent's canal. The land next to the canal used to be derelict, but was transformed by the joint efforts of the Greater London council, Camden council and the London Wildlife Trust. It has a lake, study centre, birds, fish, frogs and other amphibians. It has much shrubbery and is attended by thousands of children. It is used by local schools and respected by local children. Nowhere else in the area has no vandalism, damage, graffiti or fighting. It offers the local children something that is unobtainable anywhere else in central London. It is treasured by them because it is a treasure, but British Rail wants to smash it. We often accuse young people of mindless vandalism, but British Rail's proposals are precision vandalism. It is locating the line through the nature park not because it is convenient for the railway but because it is built on land that British Rail does not own, and therefore will not prejudice the land that it intends for speculative office development. The only reason why the Camley street nature park is to be destroyed by British Rail is to maintain intact the land it wants for its rotten, stinking, lousy, speculative office development. I do not want to hear claptrap suggesting that it is necessary to use that land, or that the park will be restored later in some grand form. We all know that we can place no value on British Rail's estimates, but its best estimate is that there will be no Camley street replacement for five years. That is one primary school lifetime for children in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. Teachers and volunteers have worked to provide the nature park, yet British Rail is prepared to destroy the park because it suits it and saves it a bit of money.
I will now move away from the narrow, parochial interests that I am proud to represent when dealing with Camley street. Let us look at the proposed station. Will it
Column 651be a satisfactory development? The King's Cross-St. Pancras complex is already the biggest transport interchange in Britain. It has two main line stations and the Thameslink line and, as if that was not enough, it has the Metropolitan, Circle, Northern, Victoria and Piccadilly lines. Although it is a vast complex, it is most unsatisfactory, as its users know. Every working day, about 270,000 people use the complex. The Bill proposes to add between 40,000 and 60,000 extra people to that complex from the Underground station every working day. The proposals will add to the number of users, but will not increase by an iota the capacity of the existing system to get those people away from the place to which the Euro-trains have brought them.
I speak as an open and dedicated advocate of the Channel tunnel. I have always believed that it was a good idea and should be rail based. It will be good for the country and good for the railway system, but it is crucial that it must not stop in London. I agree wholly with the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) who says that it is necessary that the links go to the north, the midlands, Scotland, the west, the south-west and Wales. It is crucial that good services are provided linking the Channel tunnel with all those places. I do not believe that the Bill will achieve that. The present proposals do not have the capacity to do what the right hon. Gentleman wants.
When I heard what British Rail was saying to hon. Members from the midlands, north and Scotland about its commitment to through connections to those parts, I drafted what I regarded as a not unreasonable instruction to the Committee. I said that the Committee should
"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 got in touch with the agents for the promoters, who duly got in touch with their principals--if that word, spelt in another way, can be attributed to British Rail. I asked whether they would be prepared to accept the instruction, which, after all, only instructs the Committee to check that British Rail can do what it is telling hon. Members from outside London it will do. The instruction should have been acceptable, but British Rail said that it could not accept it. I raised the matter with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who referred to it today. He took the matter up with British Rail and was instructed by BR--if that is how we should describe the relationship--that it still would not accept the instruction. I hope that hon. Members who represent seats in the midlands, the north or Scotland will join us in voting for the instruction to make British Rail do what it says it will do, however they vote on the Bill itself.
Mr. Tredinnick : The House will know that I represent a midlands constituency. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that schedule 1 to the Bill-- containing works 01 and 02, which I understand provide for a link between the midlands main line and the new international terminal--does not, in fact, guarantee that service? My firm understanding is that they would provide that service.
Mr. Dobson : I am not a railway engineer, although some of those who have produced loony projections that they have gone back on after a couple of years have been railway engineers, so perhaps it is not such a disadvantage.
I believe that, in the end, the proposals will result in a bottleneck rather than a way through because they are not adequate to the task. But I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's point specifically, except to say that unless the midland main line is electrified I cannot envisage any possibility of British Rail laying on through trains from Milan or wherever to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby or Sheffield and I do not think that it has any plans to electrify the line at the moment. I cannot imagine that the trains will change locomotives at King's Cross, as that would be even more complicated than the present proposals.
Some of my hon. Friends--I imagine that this has also happened to Conservative Members from the north-west--have been told all sorts of wondrous stories about through connections. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) outlined how the proposals have changed, but none of the changes has been greater than that discovered by my hon. Friend the Memberfor Islington, South and Finsbury when he met the management of British Rail as recently as last Friday. My hon. Friend discovered that the through connection to the west midlands involved a travelator--I suppose that we all have a rough idea of what that might mean --from King's Cross to Euston station. That is the through connection that British Rail is contemplating for the benefit of those who live in the north-west. I do not know where the travelator will run. It cannot run under Euston road because the Metropolitan and Circle lines run there. There are some fairly big things under St. Pancras station, which just happens to be between King's Cross and Euston. I know for a fact that the British library goes down six storeys below ground level. It will be a fairly deep travelator that gets under that. It is stupid, and entirely typical of British Rail's attitude to the proposal, that it should propose a travelator when it has not thought for 10 seconds about what route it would take.
My suggested instruction to the Committee refers to freight. Are we to have freight on the travelator as well--containers, followed by people with luggage? That is a preposterous idea. British Rail should be ashamed of itself for putting it forward.
Ms. Harman : Perhaps my hon. Friend might enlighten the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). Will refrigerated freight go along the travelator at the same time as everything else?
I understand, sympathise with and support the desire of hon. Members who represent the north of London for fast, reliable and frequent train connections to and from the Channel tunnel, but I do not believe that the Bill will make that possible. Because of my doubts, I hope that, at the very least, they will join Opposition Members in voting for the instruction that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and I have put down. That
Column 653is the only way of ensuring that British Rail will demonstrate to the Committee that it will do what it claims it will do.
In summary, as presently put forward, the measure will do substantial damage to the people whom I was elected to represent. It will do substantial damage to the education of many primary school children whose parents my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and I were elected to represent. [Interruption.] The Minister appears to think that that is not so. For their biology teaching and so on, primary schools in the area have become dependent on the Camley street nature park, which provides a facility that they cannot obtain elsewhere. Under this proposal, it will disappear for at least five years. The proposal will knock down houses, get rid of jobs, cause traffic congestion and produce a totally unsatisfactory underground welcome for anyone coming to London from abroad.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is making a good case for his constituents. What would he say to the constituents of hon. Members such as myself who represent provincial cities in the north, north-west and north- east? Would he say that the good intentions of British Rail can be tested only by the acceptance of his instruction and that, unless that instruction is accepted, the Bill should be opposed to make sure that, before it is represented to the House, the intention of the instruction is completely accepted by British Rail?
Mr. Dobson : That is certainly my position, but I would not wish to push it on those who are broadly sympathetic to the proposals. British Rail's proposal will not provide a satisfactory station for anyone. It will lead to danger and overcrowding in the area and, as I have made clear, will not do the job that British Rail is telling people north of London that it will do in providing a proper through station that can provide a fast, frequent and reliable service to the Channel tunnel. If hon. Members feel obliged, for one reason or another, to vote for the Bill, I hope that they will join in supporting the instruction--I cannot imagine that anybody would have a logical objection to it--and at least ensure that British Rail does what it says it is attempting to do. However, as it has not done a lot of what it claims it intended to do in other aspects of the development, I do not think that we can take its word. That is why the instruction has been tabled. Anyone who takes seriously the undertakings that British Rail has been attempting to give will be able to make British Rail take those undertakings seriously only if the instruction is approved.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : It is entirely appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who is so well-known for his attachment to that most private form of transport, the bicycle, should have been chosen to present the Bill on behalf of an organisation which, without his efforts--to some extent, I am glad to say, supported by me-- would have totally eliminated all services for bicyclists.
It is important, especially as so many hon. Friends are not present tonight, to emphasise that I believe firmly in the crucial importance of spreading the benefits and the burdens of the Channel tunnel to all parts of the United Kingdom. Many hon. Members believe that to do so it is
Column 654essential that the Bill be enacted in the form in which it is presented tonight. However, as we have already heard, that is by no means a necessary condition, and I shall return to that point later. The private Bill procedure, which we have already heard graphically described by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and other hon. Members as wholly inappropriate for work on this scale, is not something that we should apply to this proposition. The whole business of striking out people who have a perfectly valid interest in the Bill by challenging their locus standi has proved to be a negation of their opportunity to make their point at the place where it matters most.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), who is abroad on parliamentary business at the moment and therefore cannot be here, has asked me to emphasise on his behalf his clear understanding that his constituents feel that they have been considerably deprived of their opportunity to make their points in full by the deletion of their locus standi at the instance of British Rail.
Private Bills are a 19th century device invented to get railway Bills through quickly. It is ironic that in the 19th century the level of compensation was, in many ways, a great deal more satisfactory than anything on offer now. Again, I shall return to that later.
One of the worst features of British Rail being able to present a Bill in this way is that the Government and everyone else have no other source of advice. British Rail is the judge and jury in its own cause. When one writes as I have written to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport one is left with the clear impression that the only source of advice open to them comes from the very people whose action one is seeking to challenge. That is not the source of advice that anybody sensible would trust. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the readiness that they have shown to see hon. Members and to discuss such issues with them at frequent intervals.
One person whom I met today in connection with this issue had had an earlier meeting with British Rail cancelled because the British Rail people he was to meet had believed that there would be a railway strike. Not only can British Rail not tell passengers where and when trains will run, it cannot even get it right when they will not be running.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Acton and the Minister claim that the Bill does not pre-empt a decision on the route of the high-speed link. I have been to several meetings at which British Rail has claimed that various route proposals cannot be accepted because they do not go easily into the termini that British Rail has selected. I fear that even my hon. Friend the Member for Acton, with all his wordly wisdom, has been sucked into the slough of deception of which British Rail is such a consummate master. If, however, it is the case that the choice of King's Cross does not pre-empt a decision on the high-speed link, I believe that we should take comfort from that. That would mean, contrary to the belief that has been engendered by British Rail's behaviour throughout the country and at King's Cross, that there is time to consider alternatives. I must say that I wish that I fully believed British Rail. However, having heard it so often dismiss the alternatives,
Column 655I fear that British Rail wants to get the terminus built now, partly to strengthen its resistance to any suggestion that there might be alternative routes to the high-speed link.
On the question of compensation, my hon. Friend the Member for Acton explained with the clarity and honesty for which he is so well known, that British Rail intends to fund this great development principally out of planning gain. Let us not make any mistake about the fact that most of the land from which it proposes to fund the development was acquired under earlier private railway legislation. That is a matter of profound principle not just for now, but for the future. If we become active in the Euro- railway link, there will be railways built hither and yonder around the United Kingdom. If we seriously accept the proposition that British Rail be allowed to acquire more land than it needs to build a railway--so that at some unspecified time in the future it may sell it again for speculative gain--we are in danger of doing a serious injustice to those people who-- not in this case, but in other cases--will be expropriated under compulsory purchase, and who will then see the gain that they might have been allowed to make on their land stripped from them by British Rail. It might then be a private company and it would be making a profit out of land to which it would have had no access had it not been for the private Bill giving it the compulsory purchase powers. That is a matter of great concern to every hon. Member representing Kent constituencies. It should be a matter of great concern to every hon. Member in the House.
Mr. Dobson : The hon. Gentleman used the words "planning gain" concerning the speculative office development in which British Rail hopes to be involved at King's Cross. Normally, a planning gain is regarded as a gain for the local community. However, British Rail is after a speculative gain which for the local community would be a planning loss.
Mr. Rowe : That is an entirely valid comment. I have already said that the very things that British Rail is hoping to build may in some cases destroy, by their sheer quantity, the very market in which it hopes to make a profit. However, that is a matter for British Rail and not for me.
I have one question to ask concerning the King's Cross Railways Bill. I understand that one of the properties under discussion is a property called "The Lighthouse", which I believe it is no longer necessary for British Rail to use for railway purposes. I had always understood that the purpose of a private Bill was to give British Rail, or the railway company, the power to purchase those things without which it would not be possible to build a railway. If, therefore, British Rail does not need The Lighthouse, I hope that it will not seek to acquire it.
We are in the worst of all possible worlds. British Rail is not a private body so when it comes to offering compensation it is constrained by rules which have been devised by the Government. At the same time the Government are leaving it severely on its own, as if it were a private concern. It is important to remember that a great deal of public anxiety over Eurotunnel operations was assuaged because Eurotunnel could offer extremely generous compensation terms to the residents of three blighted villages. As a direct consequence, many of the
Column 656anxieties of those residents disappeared. British Rail is constrained to offer an ungenerous level of compensation. In Germany, 116 per cent. of the value of a property is offered. The people of King's Cross are entitled to press for that.
Will the new station be built to continental specifications? If the high- speed rail link were to come to King's Cross, would it be built to continental gauge? If so, will the other lines into King's Cross be adapted to this indispensable gauge? It is no use having through lines from John O'Groats to Brussels if they cannot carry the sort of coaches and continental gauge wagons that are needed.
Mr. Rowe : There are estimates. It is reasonably simple to install the Berne gauge when building a new line or facility. One assumes that a new passenger line would be built to that gauge. So far I have had no confirmation of that most important matter.
On the freight side, British Rail's pioneering, engineering wizardry will carry us into the 21st century, competing with all the established mainland continental European countries. It will achieve that with wagon wheels a foot smaller in diameter than those that run on continental railway lines. The fact that they will wear out lines more quickly than the bigger wheels may just possibly make them unacceptable to the French, Germans and Italians. We may discover that British Rail's freight plans result in the extraordinary performance of its small-wheeled wagons going only as far as the tunnel. The freight will then have to go on continental wagons because British Rail wagons will not be acceptable on the continent. That is not a prospect that I look forward to with any great pride. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Acton say that an environmental impact study is being carried out on the King's Cross plan, and the Minister confirmed that. Will my hon. Friend tell us by whom it is being carried out and under what instructions? The environmental impact study on the high-speed rail link through Kent is being carried out by Environmental Resources Ltd. which has been instructed by British Rail not to consider any modifications that are not acceptable to British Rail engineers. The idea that it is in any serious sense a fully objective environmental impact study falls at the first fence.
It is clear from the way in which the King's Cross proposal has been treated that remarkably little consideration is being shown to those who will lose either their homes or livelihoods.
The question of congestion has already been covered extremely well by many hon. Members in the debate. I believe that British Rail's statistics are not to be trusted. The Waterloo development, which will not be completed until 1996, will be over capacity by the year 2000, just four years later. My constituents are fed up to the back teeth with hearing British Rail swapping statistics. Every time it produces a statistic it comes back within a week, month or year to say that it was totally and absolutely wrong, and it was ridiculous to give one figure because it did not mean it but meant something else.
Already, 80 million passengers a year travel through King's Cross. How many more passengers a year is King's
Column 657Cross expected to take? The current proposition suggests that it will be a mere 15 million. When the die is cast, how can we be sure that the number will be only 15 million? Where will British Rail go next in order to cope with the expansion? I do not trust British Rail statistics.
In addition, I do not trust British Rail costings. How does it work out its sums? In this project the costs are estimated to be nearly £575 million. Admittedly, that is less than the sum that British Rail added to its estimate for a high-speed link through my constituency when it came under pressure one weekend. In that project, nobody believes that British Rail has correctly guessed the costs. If British Rail continues with the high-speed rail link on the line that it has chosen, it will come to a sticky end, probably somewhere under the constituency of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman). It will come back and say that it is terribly sorry but that it needs another£1 billion to finish the project because it is all much more difficult than it thought.
There is an alternative. The instruction to the Committee, to which I am pleased to have added my signature, states :
"That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to satisfy themselves that British Rail gave adequate consideration to other possible locations at King's Cross and the proposal for a station at Stratford, East before adopting the plan covered by the Works contained in Part I of Schedule 1 to the Bill."
That is a terribly important instruction, whether one votes for or against this benighted Bill tonight. It is a fundamentally proper instruction to the Committee ; there is an alternative. As we have already heard, a report has been completed by Colin Buchanan and Partners, which suggests that between £500 million and £1,100 million in savings could be made available if Stratford were chosen rather than King's Cross. It is extraordinary that we should have in front of us a project that may cause costs of up to £1,100 million more than an alternative that is rejected by almost all hon. Members who have spoken and everyone who lives in the locality, while the cheaper alternative is welcomed with open arms by the local authority in whose areas it falls and by the local community. If the House votes for a Bill that adds more than £1 billion to the cost in order to locate something where it is not wanted rather than where it is wanted, we need our heads examined.
Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham) : It seems absolutely clear to me from the debate so far that the Bill does not deserve a Second Reading. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) did no more than say what was on the face of the Bill. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) spoke against the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) explained why we should not be in favour of it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton). My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) spoke against it, and we have just heard the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) do the same. All were wholly opposed to the Bill.
The only qualified support came from the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). Even he was concerned, since it appears that the freight that he wants to go from his constituency to the continent might have to get off at Euston and get on a
Column 658travelator, and then get on at King's Cross before going to the coast, whereupon it will have to get off because the wheels are too small.
It is hard to tell whether the Minister spoke in favour of the Bill or against it. Pontius Pilate would not have been ashamed of the Minister's speech--an "it is nothing to do with me" speech. He is only the Minister for Public Transport. The Bill is only to do with the opportunities for freight to move from different parts of the country to Europe ; of course that is nothing to do with him--he is only the Minister for Public Transport. The Bill is to do with passengers coming through from Europe to London and other parts of the country--the same applies. It is to do with traffic congestion in north London--that is nothing to do with him ; he is only the Minister for Public Transport--
Mr. Cryer : Although the Minister may say that this has nothing to do with him, a suspiciously large number of Ministers and PPSs are here tonight. Perhaps he has arranged for a Whip to be put on the Bill so that the Government can get it through with the payroll vote. In that case, he has not told the House the whole truth.
We understood exactly what the Minister was saying when he explained that this had nothing to do with the Government because they were not putting money into it. The Government are interested only in whether public money is put in. The strategic implications for regional policy mean nothing to the Government ; nor do the transport issues, the planning issues or the blight issues. The Government say they have gone green. The Minister told us that at some future date we shall have a half-baked environmental impact study from British Rail, but that in the meantime we might as well give the Bill a Second Reading. If that is the policy of a green Government, they must be green from mould, not from environmental concerns.
Parliament is being asked to decide on the siting of a terminal at King's Cross. We have not been allowed to see British Rail's costings or any of the evaluations of alternative terminals--or the environmental impact assessments or the engineers' reports, or anything else. This is the parliamentary equivalent of "pin the tail on the donkey". In fact, that game is a bit more scientific than what we are asked to do tonight--
Mr. Chris Smith : My hon. Friend said that we have not been able to see British Rail's costings. We have the figures given in the statement in support of the Bill, which seem to show that the cost of the proposed works at the below-ground international station will be about £456 million. That is based on the proposals for a six-platform station, but we are now told informally by British Rail that it may run to eight, rather than six, platforms, so even the costings that we have must be questioned.
The British Railways Board believes that it is right for us to agree to site the terminal at King's Cross. I presume that, being members of the board, those concerned made an assessment between alternatives and that that involved challenging their officials on cost, environment, the wider
Column 659transport considerations, the number of homes that would be affected and what would happen in London, the rest of the south-east and elsewhere.
I also assume that before they made their decision, the members of the board were given some answers. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have been asking questions, but we have not received any answers. We asked those questions again tonight--of the hon. Member representing the promoters and of the Minister--yet we still do not have the answers. How can we agree even to do no more than rubber-stamp what British Railways Board members have decided when we do not have any of the information that they must have had before reaching their decision?
In any event, what is so secret about this information? It is not a question of national security. No criminal investigations are outstanding and must be protected. Nor is it a question of commercial confidentiality. Why cannot BR share with us the information on which its board members made their decision?
We are not receiving the facts because BR has become obsessively secret about it all. If its plans are so good and its thought processes correct, why can they not be shared with us? I suggest that it is all being kept secret because it is a botched job. Until BR is prepared to share with us its plans and let us subject them to independent scrutiny on behalf of our constituents who will be affected by those plans, we can look on what is proposed only as a back-of-an-envelope job.
When I have asked BR for this information at meetings I have been told that the whole issue must go before Parliament to be decided. I have replied, "What are you talking about? I am an MP. Don't tell me that it must go before Parliament and, because of that, I cannot see the information."
I trust that this debate will not draw to a close without the House being given an undertaking by the hon. Member for Acton, on behalf of the promoters, that hon. Members will be given this information. Indeed, I suggest that he arranges to place in the House of Commons Library all the information on which the British Railways Board made its decision.
The Minister did not explain what information he had. Indeed, he seemed to regard this lack of information as a matter of no concern to him. While he may not care to look at such documents if they are placed in the Library, many hon. Members who are concerned about the regional and economic implications of what is proposed will want to examine them, as will hon. Members who represent Kent constituencies and have spoken out against the Bill.
I hope that the Official Report of this debate will be circulated widely throughout my constituency and in the neighbouring marginal constituency of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden). Those whose lives, homes and businesses are already affected by what is proposed will not believe that following a debate such as we have had, the Bill received its Second Reading.
It is ludicrous for Transport Ministers to say, "We have no strategic involvement in what is proposed." My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) explained how the Secretary of State appeared before the London group of Labour Members and said,
Column 660after we had referred to him deferentially as the transport authority for London and the south-east, "I am not the transport authority for this area."
We asked him who had that responsibility, and he replied. "There is no such person." That might explain the mess in which we find ourselves. We told him that if his job description did not include being strategically responsible for transport in London and the south-east, he should start accepting that task in the absence of anybody else taking it on. Unfortunately, that seemed not to be part of his consideration or that of his colleagues.
It is ludicrous that the Government have accepted British Rail's proposal to separate discussion of the terminal from discussion about the route. How do we find ourselves in a position where we have a discussion about one terminal followed by a discussion about a second terminal? One end of the Channel tunnel is appearing at the coast, yet we are told that the discussion on the route must be an entirely separate matter.
I know that we are not allowed to use visual aids in the Chamber. Perhaps it will help hon. Members, however, if I explain the map that I have drawn on a piece of House of Commons blotting paper. Mark my words, it is more sophisticated than most of the plans that British Rail has produced so far. I hope that the House will take my document seriously. I have marked King's Cross, to the west of which is Waterloo. The Channel tunnel is, of course, at the coast. In the middle is Peckham. One terminal is planned at Waterloo, with a second terminal at King's Cross. British Rail says that Peckham is the only place for the sub-surface junction.
I asked British Rail whether there was not somewhere else to place the sub- surface junction that it plans for Peckham. The answer was no. The British Rail representatives added, "There is nowhere else where we can have the two lines from King's Cross and Waterloo converging." Why is it that I am told by British Rail that I have no right to have a say and that my constituents have no interest in the Bill? I am told that I have no locus standi. I submitted a parliamentary petition as I wished to represent the interests of my constituents in the course of an opposed Private Bill Committee. I am fearful of the consequences if the Bill receives a Second Reading and four hon. Members who know nothing about engineering are given the responsibility of reaching a decision on an incredibly important issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said, the fact that the four hon. Members have no knowledge of engineering might be an advantage. I have heard of the tradition of amateurs in this country, but this is ridiculous.
I wanted the opportunity of appearing before the Committee and calling evidence on behalf of my constituents. I wanted the opportunity of saying, "This is the wrong place to site a terminal. Look at the effect that the siting will have on my constituents." That was my modest attempt to represent my constituents.
What does British Rail do? It does not say that my petition is in the wrong form. Instead, it says that I have no locus standi and no interest. That is a disgraceful way of shutting people out of the debate. My constituents are unable to sell their houses. In one instance, two of my constituents who want to separate are obliged to continue living in their house because they cannot sell it. Various personal difficulties are arising. However, British Rail tells me that I have no interest in the Bill.
Column 661It is entirely in British Rail's discretion to allow people to make representations to the Committee. Why is British Rail so afraid that the pillars of the temple will fall down if I have the opportunity to represent my constituents and bring evidence to the Committee to show how my constituents are likely to be affected? British Rail's reaction was narrow and mean-minded. In effect, it said, "Anybody who does nt agree with us should get out of the road. We do not want to hear you."
British Rail tried to tell me that it had no option but to rule out my petition. As I have said, it challenged my locus standi. Before I became a Member of this place I used to act as a parliamentary agent. Parliamentary agents advise those who seek to oppose or promote Bills and there is a discretion whether to challenge locus standi. It is shameful that British Rail has accepted the advice of parliamentary agents with the consequence that those who are profoundly affected are told, in effect, "You have no say. Shut up and keep out of it." As the hon. Member for Mid-Kent said, if the Bill is enacted and there is a terminal at Waterloo and another at King's Cross, he, the hon. Member for Dulwich and I will tell the House, "We do not want this route." British Rail will respond, "Sorry, it is too late. Given the location of the terminals, it is the only feasible route." We will not put up with that.
I give notice that if the Bill receives its Second Reading and goes to Committee, I shall petition on behalf of my constituents again, in another place. I hope that the hon. Member for Acton will give me an undertaking today that he will urge British Rail not to challenge my locus standi. There will be an Opposed Bill Committee in another place and if, because of British Rail's disgraceful behaviour, I have missed an opportunity to represent my constituents in this House, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ensure that I shall have an opportunity to air my constituents' grievances in the Committee in another place.
British Rail has engaged in a deliberately misleading advertising campaign that has maximised opposition to the Bill. It has made people angry and furious as well as fearful. In an advertising campaign produced by Saatchi and Saatchi, British Rail used phrases such as "temporary closure" and "some disruption." It is describing the turning of Warwick gardens in Peckham into a giant construction slum of boarded-up houses, closed roads and businesses, and empty homes that will exist for at least 10 years.
If Warwick gardens is to be the location of the sub-surface junction, it will become the site of one of the most difficult and largest civil engineering projects in the whole of London. Warwick gardens will become a giant building site. The Government talk of inner-city regeneration, but they will blight that struggling inner-city area for 10 years. British Rail say that they will grass over the site and that everything will be as it was before, but people will no longer be living in the homes they have now, and the businesses that currently exist will no longer be there either. It will take decades for that area to pick itself up off the ground. No one in Peckham was consulted before British Rail made its decision about the sub- surface junction. No one in Peckham wants that junction at Warwick gardens, yet British Rail is keeping me, as Peckham's Member of Parliament, out of the Committee and, by refusing to divulge any of the relevant papers, it is keeping all right hon. and hon. Members blindfolded. That is disgraceful, and British Rail should not be allowed to get away with it.
Column 662British Rail could have held a public inquiry, and I do not want to hear it said that such an inquiry would take too long. The Government are expert at guillotining everything, so it should not be beyond their wits to hold a public inquiry over a limited time span. Instead, they chose to push the Bill through the House. The only alternative is guerrilla warfare, and that is exactly what the Government will get.
Mr. Dobson : Does my hon. Friend accept that she is not being individually discriminated against by British Rail? A man living in a boat on the Regent's canal in my constituency had his locus standi challenged by British Rail--yet its proposals include draining the canal where his boat is moored, which will deprive him of his home.
Ms. Harman : Parliamentary agents are required to sign a certificate of respectability, as I had to do. I do not know how the lot who are advising British Rail managed to qualify for a certificate of respectability.
I turn to the question of how passengers and freight are to be transported from the Channel tunnel to different parts of London and to the rest of the country. No one wants a road. I do not want to hear it said that we are against railways. We do not want a road, and the people of south-east London do not want passengers and freight using existing roads because the Old Kent road is chock-a-block as it is.
Instead, we want the rail link to be contained in a tunnel below London. If a tunnel can be constructed for a distance of 22 miles under the sea, and if a further tunnel can be constructed under the Thames, there is no reason why the junction has to emerge in the middle of Peckham. It seems that they have merely flown over Peckham and then said, "It's a pity about Peckham." That is simply not good enough.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : My hon. Friend mentioned contact with other regions. Those of us who represent northern constituencies are anxious that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, the Opposition instructions should be carried. But if the King's Cross solution is forced through--I say that advisedly, for that is what the Government will attempt to do--the problems will not be solved.
I have just received from British Rail a note of a meeting that it held with Members of both Houses, which says :
"The London Midland Region is well positioned for Channel Tunnel traffic as it already had a route around London and Willesden to Clapham via Kensington. This route is to be electrified to enable easy transfer."
If British Rail believes that that is the way to give the north and north- west the contact with Europe that they need, it is disgraceful and shows that BR still has not got it right in the Bill.
Ms. Harman : I urge all my hon. Friends from different regions to vote against Second Reading. I understand that we must vote on Second Reading before we vote on the instructions ; if it were the other way round and we could vote on the instructions first, as a sort of amendment, we might be able to vote for the instructions and then, if they were passed, for Second Reading. I hope that those who, like me, are afraid that the instructions may not be passed--and without them the whole exercise is a farce--will vote against Second Reading. I also hope that those who