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Mr. Smith : That is so. British Rail has had a wonderful record of implying one thing to some hon. Members and another to other hon. Members during the preparation of the Bill. When I met British Rail officials last Friday, they told me that what they have in mind is a travelator linking King's Cross and Euston. As far as I could divine, to all intents and purposes, that was the end of the story.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Does my hon. Friend have information to suggest that British Rail management will adopt a proposal similar to that for the so-called "Battersea Bullet"? Pictures at the windows give the impression that the train is moving at 150 miles an hour, although it is actually travelling at only 35 miles an hour. Does he think that British Rail has something similar in mind for the travelator?
Mr. Smith : I hesitate to follow my hon. Friend along that line. The difficulties of passenger transfer from a Channel tunnel train on to a completely different train starting from a different station are such that they must be obvious even to British Rail.
Mr. Dobson : Assuming that British Rail does not use the great circle route from King's Cross to Euston, the travelator will run entirely within my constituency. Did British Rail favour my hon. Friend with any indication of what route the travelator would take and whether it would be above or below ground?
Mr. Smith : The implication appeared to be that it would be below ground, but beyond that British Rail was not terribly forthcoming. British Rail has changed its mind absolutely and completely about the choice of King's Cross in the first place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St.
Column 623Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, when the Select Committee discussed the location of the station for the Channel tunnel at Waterloo, it asked British Rail whether alternative locations in London would be better or worse than Waterloo. British Rail was specifically asked about King's Cross. Its answer to the Select Committee in October 1986 was that King's Cross was an infinitely worse location than Waterloo ; so bad was it that British Rail ruled it out completely.
Let me quote from page 1829 of the proceedings of the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill on 28 October 1986. Counsel for British Rail said :
"The principal reservation"
about King's Cross
"is traffic congestion--which, as I say, features very badly compared with Waterloo."
British Rail now tells us that King's Cross is the best thing since sliced bread, although two and a half years ago it argued that it was the worst option. But the only thing that has changed in the past two and a half years is that the traffic congestion at King's Cross has got worse.
I have three major reasons for opposing the Bill and asking the House to refuse to give it a Second Reading. The first is its impact on the local neighbourhood. It will cut a swathe across the south-western corner of my constituency. It will involve the compulsory purchase of 17 acres of property to the east and south-east of the station. It will involve the demolition of almost all the 150 buildings on that 17-acre site. It will mean diverting two of London's main traffic arteries and blocking many other roads. It will mean excavating a 40 ft pit across most of the site, for a period of two years at least.
Thousands of people live and work in the buildings to be destroyed : 329 people will lose their homes ; 59 local shops will have to close ; 130 other businesses will lose their premises ; 2,114 local jobs will go ; the main Euston road post office will disappear. In addition, the measure represents the destruction of a thriving local community. Over the past 20 years, much effort by local councils and by local people in particular has been put into the building up of a good, thriving, lively neighbourhood at King's Cross. Houses have been rehabilitated. The neighbourhood has been re -established as a wonderful place for people to live and be in. That will be destroyed by the proposals. Nothing can take that from the defects of the Bill.
Meanwhile, British Rail, which is proposing to gobble up 17 acres--with all the homes, jobs and people who will be affected--owns 125 acres to the north-east of King's Cross station. If it insists on using King's Cross as a location for its second Channel tunnel station, why on earth does it not use the land that it already owns rather than seek compulsory purchase of land and destroy jobs and homes in the process? Perhaps I can provide an answer on behalf of the promoter of the Bill. The reason is that British Rail does not want in any way to endanger the profit which it expects to make from the development of
Column 624railway lands to the north of King's Cross station. If it builds the new station there, that is precisely what will happen. The second reason for opposing the Bill is that it will have a severe impact on congestion in the surrounding area. King's Cross is already one of the most congested locations in London, both above and below ground. We know that from the tragic events of November 1987. British Rail now proposes to put 15 million extra passengers a year through King's Cross. Quite simply, King's Cross cannot cope with that extra load. However the works are done and however much the underground booking hall is extended, King's Cross will not cope with the extra traffic, either above or below ground. Above-ground conditions will be particularly severe.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton, parroting what British Rail has frequently said about the Bill, said that the philosophy behind the King's Cross location is its easy access by public transport. That may be the philosophy behind the choice of King's Cross, but it will not necessarily be the event--the actuality--of the location of the second Channel tunnel station. People will want to be met by coaches or by relatives. People will go to ground level and take taxis. People will arrive by train from Paris and get off at King's Cross. They will not go to the Underground but will get transport at road level. They will go into an already fiercely congested area. Perhaps I can put it no better than the local chief superintendent of police put it in his annual report only a month or so ago. On policing in the King's Cross area, he wrote :
"Plans for Kings Cross Railway Station will make it a major travel centre for Europe. This has major traffic implications for the area, even now the roads are unable to cope with the volume of traffic." They are not my words. They are the words of the Metropolitan police. The police have identified what British Rail has ignored and what the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton has sought to obfuscate--the severe traffic implications of what is being proposed for King's Cross and the surrounding area.
The third reason for opposing the Bill is that it represents a total absence of proper national strategic planning of the benefits from the Channel tunnel. As a nation, we should seriously think about how best to maximise the economic benefits that can be derived from the Channel tunnel and how to spread them as effectively as possible around the country. Putting services into King's Cross will not necessarily do that.
Let us carefully examine British Rail's claims about direct services to the north. In meetings that I and my colleagues have had with British Rail, it has said that, at most, it expects only a quarter of trains going into King's Cross to go northward from King's Cross. In other words, a small minority of trains will provide direct services to the north. Most trains will terminate at King's Cross. Indeed, British Rail gave that fact away in its information pack on the Channel tunnel rail link. Its leaflet called "Rail Services" refers to journey times for passengers and a new terminus at King's Cross--not a station : a terminus. A terminus is where trains stop and go no further. That is what British Rail has in mind for the great majority of traffic from the Channel tunnel to King's Cross. All the talk about the possibility of direct links is a smokescreen to disguise the fact that the overwhelming majority of traffic will go to King's Cross and end there.
Column 625That is not a recipe for spreading the geographic and economic benefits of the Channel tunnel. It is a recipe for funnelling everything into the centre of London. That principle is behind British Rail's policy on the Bill.
Frankly, British Rail and hon. Members who argue its case about routes from King's Cross to the north have been disingenuous in their claims about the benefit of King's Cross as a location. The Bill represents no strategic thinking or planning. It will bring few long-term benefits, cause large- scale traffic chaos in much of north and north-east London, and involve the massive destruction of a thriving local neighbourhood. The Bill should be refuted.
Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This evening President Ortega of Nicaragua is addressing a rally at Central hall, which is not far from the House. A provocative counter-demonstration in support of the Contras is taking place not feet from the entrance to the hall and is resulting in a breach of public order. Two people have already been arrested. I have approached the police and asked them why it has been allowed, and they have said that they have given permission. I ask you, as Deputy Speaker, to make inquiries.
Students were not allowed to demonstrate within a mile of Parliament. Given that this demonstration is resulting in a breach of the peace and is an insult to a democratically elected President, I ask you to use your authority and ask for an explanation from the Metropolitan police.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have jurisdiction when an hon. Member approaches the police and asks them to explain to demonstrators that they are in breach of the law, is refused access to the demonstrators, and is told by Inspector Grigg that he does not intend to tell them that they are in breach of the law? Surely you can do something when the upholders of the law are refusing to allow lawmakers access to people to tell them that they are breaking the law. Surely that is a serious breach.
Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friends are saying that the demonstration is not in breach of any statute but in breach of the Sessional Orders which we pass at the beginning of each Session of Parliament. There have been precedents. In the past, Mr. Speaker has undertaken to examine whether the Sessional Orders were being breached. Therefore, in those circumstances, it might be helpful if you could ask whether some Officers of the House might do that. The demonstration outside Central hall, Westminster could be breaching those Sessional Orders.
Column 6267.49 pm
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I rise briefly to join Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends in opposing the Bill. I do so for two reasons. First, I cannot see the area of King's Cross having the capacity to cope with the massive amount of traffic and congestion that would result from a terminus being built there. Secondly, if the legislation is not right in the first place, I see the battle of King's Cross today being the battle of Kent tomorrow and indeed the battle of the rest of the country as the 1990s progress towards the millennium.
On the first point, it seems most odd that a national transport institution such as British Rail is commencing a route from Europe into the capital of this country, starting at both ends, but being relatively unconcerned about what happens in the middle. Clearly, we need a national statement by British Rail about its policy for the country as a whole. I do not like and have not liked for some years the piecemeal approach that British Rail has developed towards access to and from Europe. I liken it to the dance of Salome and the seven veils. The unfortunate thing is that when we think that we are getting to veil No. 7 and are about to see the body beautiful, another seven veils are added. We are no nearer to the truth as we perceive it than we were when we started with the whole vexed question of this policy.
As an hon. Member representing north-west Kent, I can say that we were more than a little dismayed when the individuals and organisations along the route in Kent made applications to the Court of Referees for leave to appear before the appropriate Committee of this House to have their objections heard, but were turned down. We felt that that was wrong because we have as much interest in this legislation as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and his hon. Friends who represent central London. In that sense, unusual and unlikely as it is, we are at one in our opposition to this proposition.
I shall develop my argument on British Rail's piecemeal approach for a moment longer, because the House will understand that this is the first opportunity that I have had, as a Kentish Member, of getting my views on record about British Rail's proposals for the high-speed link and the consequential effect on London termini. The House will remember that some years ago we were told by British Rail that the Channel tunnel would have no impact on the need for extra rail capacity and that the existing network services could cope. Yet, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has said, today we are debating a proposition which, in the eyes of British Rail, was apparently wrong some time previously.
I should like to speak on two matters--the two instructions that have been chosen by Mr. Speaker for debate and the instruction tabled by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), which refers to Stratford East. I am supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) in saying that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is absolutely right that British Rail should give "adequate consideration to other possible locations at King's Cross and the proposal for a station at Stratford East".
I have total support for that as it would give the appropriate Committee of this House the opportunity to consider alternatives to the proposed route two for the high-speed rail link route through Kent. As the House
Column 627knows, my views on the high-speed link are quite simple. If British Rail wishes to place a high-speed route through my constituency, it can do so on one condition--that it goes underground. Under the terms of the proposal tabled by the hon. Member for Newham, North -West, British Rail could also consider TALIS--the Thames alternative link international system--which commands a great deal of support in north-west Kent. Therefore, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
The thing that worries me about this whole vexed matter is the impact on the environment. Any hon. Member whose constituency is affected by King's Cross, or by the preferred route 2 cannot but give statement to and evidence of the great distress and anxiety that the proposal has caused and will cause to many thousands of individuals, communities, places of work and to those who, like me, seek to protect the green belt, such as we have left, in north-west Kent. Further, I am especially concerned that the promoter of the Bill did not refer in some detail to the impact of clause 19. It is an interesting clause and the precedents for the inclusion of such a clause in a private Bill are limited. The implications of clause 19 are that this private Bill will seek to override the general public law on the protection of listed buildings. If clause 19 were enacted, a precedent would have been created for the inclusion of similar clauses in other legislation from British Rail or from any other institution seeking to undertake a project of a similar scale and type.
We in Kent have suffered for some years from a tremendous demand for housing and urban development. We have a whole series of historic places from Folkestone to Bexley that would be severely affected and would have no protection under general law if a clause 19-type provision were included in the Channel tunnel high-speed link legislation as, if and when it comes forward. That is why I register my great concern about clause 19, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) will reply to that point later.
Ultimately, we must consider ourselves in the traditional role of the House --as the guardians of the rights of the individual. The old-age pensioner in King's Cross and in Dartford has the same right to have his or her views made known about the legislation as do the large institutions of both corporate and local variety. If we cannot air our views in this way and make it easier for an individual to have his or her views made known, what are we doing in our business as legislators?
I commend the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and other hon. Members, and welcome entirely the stance that he has taken because--I repeat--the battle of King's Cross today is the battle of north Kent and of Kent as a whole tomorrow.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I am surprised and disappointed that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) has allowed himself to be used in such a way by British Rail. I understand--the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong--that British Rail had some difficulty in finding someone to promote the Bill. Clearly, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr.
Column 628McNair-Wilson), whom one would normally expect to promote such a Bill, is not in his place. The hon. Member for Acton will learn in due course that he has been handed a parliamentary equivalent of the black spot from blind Pugh. If the Bill is ever passed, I suspect that when the hon. Gentleman passes through Kent he will need to go with a large entourage of bodyguards around him--because, as we know, he has a rather large body--plus a white stick.
I have a variety of reasons for opposing the Second Reading of the King's Cross Railway Bill. First, it is outrageous that such a vital strategic decision will be made without proper consideration of the transport needs of London or the south-east. There has been so meaningful consultation over the King's Cross proposal. British Rail has acted like a bunch of bully boys. it has been arrogant, high-handed and, what is even worse, it is now trying to use this place as a parliamentary rubber stamp for its proposals. We should not allow ourselves to be used in that fashion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said, the private Bill procedure was not designed for such complex strategic decision making.
I was one of the members of the Joint Committee that considered the private Bill procedure. The Committee was concerned that normal planning arrangements were being increasingly by passed through the private Bill procedure. One of our recommendations--on which I hope the House will eventually make a decision--was that environmental impact studies should accompany such proposals. At least we would then know that there had been some attempt to consider the planning and environmental impact implications of proposals contained in private Bills. I heard the Prime Minister in all her ignorance state recently that the private Bill procedure gave adequate opportunities for objectors to put their case. Clearly, she has never sat on a Committee considering a private Bill. If she had, she would never have made such an ill-informed comment.
Secondly, we have already heard that British Rail is knocking out as many of the potential petitions as it possibly can by challenging the locus standi of objectors. Indeed, more objections concerning locus standi have been raised by British Rail on this Bill than in the previous 50 years. That is no way to convince people that one is prepared to consult and to have people examine one's proposals fairly and impartially. Instead, British Rail is using a technical device to ensure that the voice of opposition is never heard during the private Bill Committee stage. The private Bill procedure is entirely inadequate as a substitute for properly convened public inquiries. I believe, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House, that there should be a proper public inquiry before the Bill is allowed to proceed.
Thirdly, the King's Cross Railway Bill is about the location of a terminal. However, Parliament is being asked to take that decision before it has been asked to determine the route of the rail link from the tunnel to the new second terminal. It is a classic case of putting the carriages before the engine. If that is the way in which British Rail runs a transport undertaking, it comes as little surprise that so many of its trains have recently been crashing into the buffers.
What confidence can one have in an organisation such as British Rail, which finds itself seeking permission to construct a second terminal before the first one is built? What level of ineptitude has led British Rail to
Column 629miscalculate passenger demand completely so soon after the decision to make Waterloo the site of the London terminal? As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury correctly reminded us, it was during the Committee stage of the Channel Tunnel Bill that British Rail's so-called experts specifically ruled out King's Cross as a site. What has changed in the couple of years that have since passed? All we know is that there is far more traffic congestion and chaos on the roads of London, and certainly around King's Cross, than there was two and a half years ago.
I believe that it is a monumental miscalculation that British Rail is now bringing this new proposal before us. It is breathtaking stupidity. I do not see how the House can have any confidence or trust in British Rail's ability to get its next decision right, when one considers how badly it got its first decision wrong. How can we take its arguments seriously any more?
All British Rail's decision-making processes have been carried out behind a veil of secrecy. It has shown sheer insensitivity about the needs, wishes and fears of people both in London and Kent, which is no way to treat people. If this terminal is supposed to be for the people of London, of the south-east and of the country as a whole, they should be consulted about decisions that are taken by grey, faceless bureaucrats in the British Rail headquarters.
Fourthly, there is a planning vacuum in the south-east. When I visited British Rail and stressed the strategic implications of the decision enshrined within the Bill, it told me that its only concern was running a transport undertaking. It was not its function or responsibility to act as the strategic transport planning authority for London. I accepted what it said. The Secretary of State for Transport came to see the London group of Members of Parliament. He probably thought it was safer to be with us at that time than being chased by people about a variety of matters affecting aircraft safety. When asked a direct question, he told our group that he was not responsible for strategic transport planning in London. The House is entitled to know who is. I still cannot believe that someone as young as the Minister for Public Transport is in a position of such authority in the Government. He is the young Lochinvar of the Conservative party. He is perhaps the person to whom we should turn and ask about the transport strategic decision-making processes in London.
Mr. Spearing : I was so intrigued by the admission of a planning vacuum by the Secretary of State for Transport, who everyone assumed had that responsibility, that I ventured a written question to him. To my surprise, the answer that came back was that the statutory responsibility for co-ordinating public transport in London was with London Regional Transport. My only comment on that was, as in most other things, that that did not give me any confidence.
Mr. Banks : One can hardly be surprised at that. We find it difficult to accept that a vacuum should be allowed to exist. In many ways one can believe that it is a positive dereliction of duty towards the people of London and the south-east that no one is prepared to take responsibility for strategic decisions that will affect the country for decades to come. No other European country would go about things in such a half-cocked way as this Government, aided and abetted by British Rail--or perhaps it is the other way round.
Column 630The suggestion that all strategic matters can be dealt with by a private Bill Committee of four Members of Parliament would be laughable if it were not so serious and far-reaching. We are told that we are now the substitute planning inquiry. That is fine, because Members of Parliament like to think that they have a little power. The Prime Minister does not often give us very much. Therefore, this is the beginning of the process. This is the Second Reading, but where is everyone? They will all troop in later. I shall look very carefully to see whether the Prime Minister once again turns up in her curlers and slippers, as she did for one of the earlier private Bills. I shall also be interested to see whether the payroll vote has been whipped in.
Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend said that it was not the Prime Minister, but that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was probably going off to another disco, with his shirt slashed to his very ample waist, revealing a very hirsute chest. It was the sort of sight to turn a strong stomach. It was not the sort of thing that a clean-living Member of Parliament such as myself would wish to be associated with.
Although those hon. Members will not have been involved in the discussion, they will vote. Planning matters cannot be left to that level of uncertainty and that lack of involvement.
We are told that the private Bill procedure is an adequate replacement for planning procedure. The Prime Minister herself said that. It is not so. Four Members will be asked to sit on that Private Bill Committee, and they will not even have an interest in the area. One of the requirements to sit on an opposed Bill Committee is that one does not have a constituency interest. Often, that means that there is no interest. The Members just want to get out of the Committee as fast as possible. Such an important decision should not be left in the hands of people who will not want the opportunity with which we shall present them.
I want the House to reject the Bill so that British Rail can give proper consideration to the other options for the location of the terminal. If the House will not do that, I hope that it will at least pass to the Committee the instruction on the Order Paper which will require British Rail to look seriously at the options. So far, it has just put up a facade of consultation and consideration. We want it to consider the options properly, particularly the option of Stratford in the borough of Newham.
My council has been campaigning consistently for the terminal to be located at Stratford in the east end, in my constituency. We want it there for a variety of reasons. There is adequate British Rail-owned land there already. There will be no need to destroy listed buildings and community facilities, as will happen if the terminal is located at King's Cross. Stratford has a railway tradition going back to the 19th century. There is adequate transport infrastructure and more is planned, for which we are grateful. The development at Stratford will give a further boost to the economic development of the east end as a whole. Of great significance, the London borough of Newham entirely supports the location of the terminal in our area. That support is also given by the surrounding boroughs.
Mr. Leighton : Has my hon. Friend noticed the remarkable fact that everywhere else--for example in Kent and most other places in Britain--we have the "not in my back yard" factor? The London borough of Newham is saying, "Please put this in our back yard." Is that not completely unprecedented? Surely it must weigh with British Rail when an area will give a welcome to the development and not the opposition that one sees everywhere else.
Mr. Banks : A new acronym is born, IOBY--in our back yard. We are saying, "Yes, we are prepared to have the development, and the surrounding local authorities will co-operate with the Government and British Rail in locating it." It is not often that the young Minister gets such an offer, yet he is turning his face against it. It is a great pity for London, the south-east and the country as a whole. I realise that several of my hon. Friends have expressed a clear preference for King's Cross over Stratford. I hope that they will take time to read the report commissioned by Newham from Colin Buchanan and Partners, which puts the case for Stratford rather than King's Cross. It is described as the case the nation must hear. I shall ensure that the Minister gets a copy and I hope that he will study it [Interruption.] The Minister has a copy. Excellent. That means that the communications system has been working well. I hope that he has read the report. If he has, I am sure that it will convince him that the decision that he will be allowed to make to locate the second terminal at King's Cross is wrong and that he should quickly change his position.
It is not surprising that since British Rail made the proposal, it cannot reject the notion that others will also explore the idea of a Channel tunnel terminal, in this case at Stratford. This is especially true since it appears that the comparative studies originally considered necessary by British Rail have not been carried out other than in a very cursory manner indeed. The Buchanan study does not claim to have done justice to all the technical matters involved in making a proper comparison between King's Cross and Stratford, but it has carried the analysis far enough to show that a high-speed rail link from the Channel tunnel to a new terminal at Stratford will be far cheaper than British Rail's proposal involving King's Cross. The capital cost saving would probably be in the range of £500 million to £1,100 million. Partly because of the imaginative cross- rail proposal which has emerged from the central London rail study since the decision on King's Cross was taken, the time disadvantage of Stratford compared with King's Cross for a journey from Paris to central London probably averages no more than five minutes, while in certain key areas, notably Canary wharf and the Liverpool street area, journey times via Stratford would be much quicker.
Stratford is capable of providing the onward rail connections for through services with journey times not noticeably different from those achievable via King's Cross. Where through services are not operated because the demand does not justify them, an interchange is necessary in London. Travel times would also be very close. The Stratford site will shortly be connected directly to the M11 and could easily accommodate the car and coach parking essential to a major international transport terminal.
Column 632King's Cross, by contrast, lies at one of the most persistently congested points of London's road network--the worst point at which to locate a major traffic generator. Because Stratford is near the Temple Mills mashalling yards and because it can have new carriage cleansing yards adjacent to it, it would permit the operation of a much tidier, more self-contained and cost-effective rail operation, with freight services able to make use of the full length of the high-speed line wherever traffic paths can be made available between passenger services.
A Channel tunnel terminal at Stratford would be of a quality, spaciousness and greenness which, no matter how clever the architecture, can never be matched underground at King's Cross in the midst of one of the most tangled and congested rail complexes in the world. A Channel tunnel terminal at Stratford offers the opportunity to achieve a major inner-city redevelopment of the type known to be favoured by Ministers which could accord with the key planning objectives recently set out by the Secretary of State for the Environment. A Channel tunnel terminal at Stratford accords with the local plan for the area, whereas one at King's Cross contradicts the recently adopted local plan of Camden.
There are many good reasons why the House, if it will not throw out the Bill, should at least take the opportunity through the private Bill procedure to consider in some depth what is clearly a viable alternative that would meet the needs of London, the fears of the people of Kent and provide the sort of facility that the east end desperately needs. It would enable us to serve transport in London and the country as a whole in a way that would not cause the damage and distress in King's Cross that the Bill proposes.
For all those reasons I ask the House, even if it is minded to give the Bill a Second Reading--I hope that there are enough of us to vote it down-- at least to accept the instruction that stands in my name and those of hon. Members on both sides, so that proper consideration can be given to the viable alternative of Stratford.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : It may be helpful to the House if I intervene at this point to set out the Government's position on the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) on an extremely lucid and helpful explanation of the Bill.
Perhaps I should begin by emphasising that the Bill does not deal with the development of the King's Cross railway land. That is entirely a planning matter which is the subject of planning applications currently lodged with the London borough of Camden. The Bill deals with proposed operational railway and underground works, the need for which is independent of the development of that site. Some part of that need is urgent. The relevance of the wider planning issue to the Bill is that British Rail and London Regional Transport either seek powers now for their railway development or lose the chance of effective railway development at King's Cross if the rest of the development then proceeds. Once any development is completed, it will be impossibly expensive to carry out extensive railway projects on the scale envisaged.
There are three distinct elements in the Bill : first, BR works to permit commuter services which operate into King's Cross to use St. Pancras ; secondly, BR works to
Column 633construct a low-level station for the use of rail services, whether domestic or international ; and thirdly, LRT works to improve London Underground facilities.
There are several ways in which the Bill affects my Department. As British Rail's sponsoring Department, we must be satisfied that the powers being sought are appropriate, that safety considerations are adequately addressed and that the projects are likely to meet the appropriate investment rules. The same is true in respect of the works proposed by London Regional Transport for London Underground in which important and specific safety considerations arise from the Fennell report and less specific safety considerations also arise that relate to the relief of congestion through the enlargement of an Underground station.
We should also be concerned with the broad impact of the proposals taken together, on the existing transport system, including the road system around the King's Cross area. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton described British Rail's plan, first to link St. Pancras to the east coast main line to relieve congestion at King's Cross and secondly, to provide for the enhancement of the Thameslink service through King's Cross by using the low level station. British Rail believes that both measures are required--the first more urgently than the second--to cope with the growth in the use of those services. If Parliament grants the powers, the board will, in due course, submit the investment proposals to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for his approval. If they offer good value for money, I am sure that he will be pleased to approve them. In principle, what is proposed in the Bill looks sensible and we support British Rail in seeking the powers at this stage. This is a further step in British Rail's plans to create a modern railway to carry traffic to and through London.
Mr. Rowe : Will my hon. Friend explain something about which I have never been entirely clear? If somebody were able to present a plan that provided better value for money than British Rail's plan, would my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State be able to direct British Rail either to give over its plan or to think it out again?
Mr. Portillo : We do not yet know whether British Rail proposes to bring forward an investment case of its own. I think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has wider implications encompassing the Channel link through Kent. We do not yet know if British Rail intends to bring forward an investment proposal of its own or will seek Government approval through a private sector arrangement. All I can say is that the discussions that British Rail will have with consortia will be closely followed with intense interest by the Government.
The Government are currently considering the board's commercial case for King's Cross as a second international railway station in London in preference to other possible locations. I hope that we shall have reached a conclusion on the matter by the time that the Government submit their report on the Bill to the Select Committee. The commercial case for the low -level station may involve us in considering the traffic, both domestic and international, that would be made possible by a new rail link between London and the Channel tunnel. The reasons for the timing of the Bill have been explained and I can assure the House that granting British Rail the powers to
Column 634build this station does not prejudge the case for a new link or its route. The House would be agreeing only to British Rail's proposition that if there is to be a second central London international station at King's Cross it should be constructed in the manner indicated. In the short term at least, international traffic could reach King's Cross by the Thameslink line rather than a new line from Kent. In addition to the proposals in the Bill to connect the low-level station to both the east coast and midland main lines, I am told that it would be comparatively straightforward to connect the west coast main line, and that this is being considered by British Rail.
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman is jumping the gun. I have explained that we have not yet approved the British Rail investment case for King's Cross, and we look forward to looking at it. If an adequate case for King's Cross is put forward by British Rail, we shall be pleased to approve it.
Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham) : The Minister referred to an adequate case being put forward by British Rail for King's Cross. Has he had the opportunity to see the documents that convinced British Railways Board members that King's Cross was the right location? The reasons for its decision would have been based on comparisons between alternative termini, costings, engineering plans, environmental impact. If the Minister has seen the documents on which British Rail board members based their decision, will he place them in the House of Commons Library so that hon. Members who have to make a decision on the same issues at least have the benefit of that information?
Mr. Portillo : I have tried to explain to the House that the Bill has come to the House before the decision on the investment case has been taken. That should not be a surprise to hon. Members because that point has been made a number of times.
Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way at this stage because this is what Parliament is all about. The Minister has made some important statements. Is he saying that the Government agree with this location in principle but are reserving their case on the commercial element? The Minister nods. Does he remember that not long ago the Prime Minister, at that very seat, said that the private Bill procedure was as good as, and better than, any planning inquiry? The Minister now says that the Government, without any planning inquiry, and before the Committee has met and any debate concluded, have decided in principle that, given the commercial case, King's Cross is the right location. Is that not an example of the elective dictatorship at work?
Mr. Portillo : About halfway through the hon. Gentleman's intervention I entirely lost him. Let me try to explain the position. British Rail is charged with running commercial rail services between cities and internationally.
Column 635There is to be no subsidy of the rail services provided by British Rail, either between cities or internationally, and if there is to be no subsidy from taxpayers' money there should be no interference from the Government in the choice of location for its terminals made by British Rail because that is a commercial matter. However, if the terminal to be is to be financed by British Rail--and as BR is a nationalised industry--obviously the case for its investment in one station rather than another must be convincingly made to the Government. The decision has not yet been taken but that does not make it impossible for the House to consider the case for the King's Cross Railways Bill now before us.
Mr. Spearing : I am sorry that I was a little too quick in making my point. The Minister has confirmed that the Government, subject to a commercial arrangement, are in favour of the location. As I explained earlier, the Prime Minister claimed that a Committee to consider a Bill was as good as any public inquiry, but an inquiry has not taken place. By giving the Bill its Second Reading tonight and giving the Government's imprimatur to the location, is not the case prejudiced because it has not been scrutinised properly? That is so unless the promoter is going to accept the location, which he has not yet said.
Mr. Portillo : From such a renowned constitutionalist, I find what the hon. Gentleman said very surprising. We are saying that British Rail is right in principle to bring forward the Bill. I intend to explain that the Government believe that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, that the Committee has an extremely important job in considering all the relevant matters and that there are some points on which the Government have doubts. If I manage to make progress with my speech I shall reach those points.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Bill will be widely welcomed in Leicestershire, particularly the new link from the midland main line? However, there is concern that this will not be electrified and, therefore, the link will not be used to its full extent.
Mr. Portillo : It has been suggested to me that the Bill would be welcomed in Leicestershire and also that the midland main line should be electrified. However, British Rail must consider whether it wishes to make an investment case for that. My hon. Friend should also consider that electrification is one of only a number of ways in which services on lines can be improved.
Mr. Dobson : It was so long ago that I hope I am not misquoting the Minister, but I believe that he said that he understood from British Rail that it would be possible to link the works at King's Cross to the west coast main line. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was told by British Rail as recently as Friday that it is contemplating doing that by way of a travelator more than a quarter of a mile long. When was the Minister told by British Rail that it could make a link to the west coast main line? Does British Rail envisage doing that by means of a travelator or a railway line?
Column 636"I am told that it would be comparatively straightforward to connect the west coast main line, and that this is being considered by BR."
I referred to a railway line, not a travelator.