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Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : What a pleasure it is to have on the Front Bench, if only briefly, the Chairman of the Select Committee which examined the Bill with such assiduity and acidity. We owe my hon. Friend the Member
Column 728for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) and his colleagues an enormous debt. Today I have been reminded that when Brunel was arguing for the Great Western railway, the Select Committee which considered his proposals sat for 57 days, but the quality of those Committee members was nothing like so high as the quality of those who sat under the Chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton.
Since we last considered the Bill, a number of welcome changes have occurred. There is a new chairman of British Rail who seems able to take a wider view of his responsibilities than his predecessor. Whether he will be able to reform the hierarchy that he has inherited to the extent that I firmly believe is necessary remains to be seen, but I have certainly been persuaded that the new chairman of British Rail is determined to ensure that the review of the rail link proposals, station policy, environmental impact and many other factors is more thorough, open and public than anything that his predecessor was able to promise. A great many hon. Members present today should take credit for having helped to ensure that outcome. I believe that great progress has been made. When I consider the arrogant contempt with which alternative proposals to British Rail's preferred route were treated for the first two and a half or more years of negotiations, the care and courtesy with which we are now being informed of an intention to examine the options seriously come as a welcome change. I have just come from a small meeting including, among other people, the managing director of the channel tunnel rail link project, and it was perfectly clear that British Rail has now agreed that the rail Europe proposal is technically possible. It requires to be evaluated for commercial and financial viability and has to stand comparison with other proposals, but at one stage British Rail was treating that proposal as though it were some sort of back-of-an-envolope joke. It is an enormous improvement that British Rail now accepts it as a technically viable proposition. We should be grateful to British Rail that it has now established a whole range of studies, albeit late in the day. Nevertheless, the studies should make it possible for those outside as well as inside British Rail to form a judgment as to the right way forward for this massive investment in transport infrastructure. For example, the PIEDA study is to look at the proposed international and domestic stations to see how they act as catalysts for demographic and commercial change. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) whether PIEDA will be looking at the demographic and commercial changes that will be introduced under the King's Cross option. I am assuming that it will, because King's Cross is clearly one of the international stations on the proposed route. If it does consider the likely changes and comes up with a proposition that those changes would be disastrous for the district, what would happen to British Rail's judgment about the King's Cross Railways Bill? If the PIEDA study came to that conclusion, it would reinforce the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who made the case so forcefully, that we should delay presenting the Bill. If the independent consultants recently appointed to assess what the demographic and commercial changes from a station are likely to be were to come up with a report suggesting that
Column 729it would be disastrous for that part of London, it would be better to take note of that before the Bill was produced and revived rather than afterwards.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and of the Select Committee that the traffic problem will be dangerous. Paragraph 65 of the Select Committee's report states : "We believe that a satisfactory solution to the potential problems of increased traffic must be found before the Bill is allowed to proceed to Royal Assent."
In saying that, the Select Committee was saying in as clear terms as possible that to take the Bill forward without having worked out exactly how to cope with the traffic would be totally unacceptable. We are talking not just about railway-generated traffic. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir. G. Young) first brought forward the Bill, he gave three principal reasons why it should be accepted. The second was the need to bring back into use derelict land and to produce 30,000 jobs at King's Cross, in a preferred office location. Any right hon. or hon. Member who thinks that 30,000 jobs can be created without severely exacerbating traffic congestion needs his head examined. What about delivery vans, catering lorries, the shops needed to sustain those 30,000 workers, and the couriers who would travel to and from those offices? A whole host of vehicles would be trying to find their way around servicing 30,000 jobs at the back of King's Cross. The mind boggles.
Mr. Rowe : There is a very severe problem even closer when it comes to jobs. The creation of 30,000 jobs in and around Stratford would be extremely welcome. That alternative should be closely examined, and there is a good case for postponing the Bill for that purpose. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport has listened with exemplary care, and has paid exemplary attention to the details of the scheme. He has shown a far more open mind than his predecessor, who I always suspected fell into the trap of listening to British Rail rather too readily, and then feeling that he had to justify the position that he had adopted. In the earlier debate, we were told by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) that "we have not yet approved the British Rail investment case for King's Cross, and we look forward to looking at it."--[ Official Report , 8 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 634.]
I assume that, all these months later, the Government have examined the investment case for King's Cross and have approved it--though I do not recall reading of that development.
Mr. Freeman : I confirm that no investment proposition has been put by British Rail to the Department, and I do not believe that any investment proposition is imminent. When a proposition is put for the King's Cross development as a whole, it will receive the Department's careful consideration, but no approval has been given.
Mr. Rowe : The private Bill procedure, which has always been the bane of our lives, grows more incomprehensible by the moment. We have before us a Bill relating to a railway whose route has not been determined, and whose financial viability has certainly not been
Column 730realistically assessed, and to a station whose financial viability has not been assessed either. That sums up the whole debate beautifully.
The value of the land to be developed should be taken into account in any investment proposal, although I suspect that it is worth a great deal less now than when the Bill first came before the House. I drew attention on a previous occasion to the Confederation of British Industry's observation that if all the office space that British Rail is seeking to develop at King's Cross were actually built, it would oversubscribe London's office needs by 5 per cent.--and that was in 1989.
We have as the undertaker for the development an operation which is a state -owned industry. The managing director of the channel tunnel rail link, who is a former senior official of the Department of Transport, told me, "It is not really for us to look at the wider issues--it is for us to see what we as British Rail can do to maximise our benefits." We have, growing on the east side of London, a massive office development that is badly under- served by public transport and in some difficulties as a result. We have a publicly-owned undertaking busily engaged in establishing a competitor to that vulnerable east London development, and insisting that it be served by a transport route which to a large extent would destroy the likelihood of any improvement to east London's transport infrastructure.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the east London situation raises questions which go beyond office development because it is symbolic of the likely move of the centre of London eastwards? That makes an even stronger case for the development of Stratford in strategic terms.
Mr. Rowe : My hon. Friend is right. It is reasonable for British Rail to think that some international passengers will want to travel into King's Cross, and it is equally reasonable for British Rail to make arrangements for the line to be continued from Stratford to King's Cross. British Rail's chairman made it very clear that he saw the line from Stratford to King's Cross as an integral part of British Rail's plans for the next century, and I agree. It would be of great value to domestic and international passengers if such a route were provided. However, if that were its principal purpose, it would be quite unnecessary to develop King's Cross on the scale that is proposed.
The development of a major terminal at Stratford would make sense for every possible reason--not only because it would serve a rapidly-growing freight demand right along the north of Kent but because it would make possible the development of an impoverished part of London rather than drive unwanted development into one of the most congested parts of the capital. I agree with my hon. Friend that London is moving eastwards and that more account should be taken of that, whereas the Bill moves in the opposite direction.
I welcome the growing support in recent months for the Stratford option. The Kent chambers of commerce have come out in favour of it, as has the London and South
Column 731Eastern Regional Planning Conference, and Kent county council is much more interested in that option than it was before. Many other organisations are developing an interest in Stratford.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley can confirm that one of the changes since we last debated the Bill is the substitution of a spur railway for the travelator, which was meant to ensure that people from Manchester and the north-west had a trouble free journey to the international railway. It was exciting to think that one could get off a train at Euston, get on a travelator and whirr along to King's Cross. I hope I am right in my understanding that a spur of the main railway is now proposed rather than a travelator.
Mr. Waller : I understand that there are difficulties in providing a travelator--desirable though such a scheme may be in theory--because of the foundations of the new British Library. Therefore, it is necessary to consider alternative means to provide for passengers travelling between Euston and the new station.
Mr. Rowe : I am rather glad about that, because if people from the north-west had to change to get to the international railway station, it would not be a through journey to the continent, which is what was promised.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Can I assure the hon. Gentleman that people from the north-west believe that what we have been offered by British Rail is, at best, second best, totally unacceptable, and a nonsense proposal?
Mr. Dobson : Further to that point, the hon. Gentleman may find it useful to know that the proposal for building the British Library on the site in question was made in 1975. Apparently British Rail discovered only in the past two or three months, that the site lay between Euston and King's Cross St. Pancras, which is further proof of its total incompetence and incapacity to do anything sensible about the proposal.
Mr. Rowe : Taking a charitable view, one might think that that was one of the improvements resulting from the appointment of a chairman from the hard world of private enterprise where one has to learn such things early if one is planning a project. If the King's Cross Bill, as it stands, were later regarded as having pre-empted the choice of route for the high speed rail link, it would be utterly disgraceful, and I am only marginally encouraged by the belief that British Rail is taking alternative routes seriously.
Finally, I add my voice to those who are warning London Regional Transport that if it tries to get around protection for historic buildings as it has been doing, and in the teeth of the Select Committee report, I shall gladly go into battle against it with as much zest as I have tried to display against British Rail's proposals to date.
Column 732and the bulk of the work will do severe damage to it, and as the nature park is wholly within my constituency, I feel moved to speak against the revival motion.
Another way to describe the motion would be a carry-on motion, and nothing could more appropriately describe what has been going on. We are back to the farcical film, "Carry on Up the Junction" or, "Carry on Up King's Cross"--unfortunately without the benefit of the immortal Kenneth Williams to add a little class to the whole proceedings. Once again the House is being treated in a deplorable fashion, as a second-rate legislative slot machine. We have only ourselves to blame if promoters such as British Rail treat us in that way, because we allow ourselves to be so treated.
British Rail and London Underground have reached the stage where they know that they have the money, the time and the influence to put any rubbishy proposals before the House. They put their money in and they get their legislation out. For some years that has been their experience, and that is what is happening now. When they put forward the original Channel Tunnel Bill they sought powers to build the first terminus at Waterloo. At that time--they were stupid, incompetent or liars, or all three--they said that it would be impossible to have a terminal at King's Cross, as it simply would not work. After they got that Bill through, they appeared before the House again and, without mentioning that they had got it wrong before, they said that the perfect solution was to build the terminal at King's Cross. Apparently the traffic does not matter any more, although it was excessive three years earlier and has got worse since. One of the problems is that British Rail and London Underground feel confident that the Government will help to get their legislation through if it relates in any way to the channel tunnel, because that is what experience has shown them.
The Committee appointed by the House to consider the matter met on 51 occasions in public, had five private meetings, inspected the site, took evidence from 60 witnesses and looked at 248 documents put forward by the promoters and others. The Committee was not allowed to consider alternatives to King's Cross. Under the farcical procedure--which the House has accepted until now--for private Bills, every private Bill has to be considered on its merits and on the merits of the proposals put forward. The fact that the proposals are ludicrous and that there would be better ways to deal with the problem is out of order for the Committee. It had to consider a terminal for the channel tunnel rail link before the route had been decided. Nothing could be more farcical than that. We were faced with what might be described as premature legislation. We are being asked to authorise something when we do not have the necessary information upon which to base a sound judgment.
Also, we are faced with what the Committee described as "impropriety". I should explain what British Rail was up to. Allegedly, British Rail is a public servant. It is supposed to be honest, straightforward and decent. However, because the Bill was doing so badly in Committee, because the technical evidence was so full of faults and the people pleading the case before the Committee were so incompetent, British Rail began a secretive, disreputable lobbying process to try to undermine the Committee's work. The Committee said that what was happening
"might have been acceptable in ordinary politics"
"was certainly not so in the quasi-judicial context of private bill procedure."
The Committee said that it considered that British Rail's tactics in this regard were
"improper, and verged on being a contempt of the House." I do not think that we should carry a revival motion to help those who are so incompetent that they have to deal contemptuously with the House.
The Committee also said that it had been placed in the situation that it had wished to avoid--taking a decision while lacking significant information If, after 51 public sittings and the scrutiny of 248 documents, the Committee could not come to an informed decision, certainly the Chamber cannot do so.
The Committee was extremely dubious about allowing the Bill to proceed in the absence of what it described as
"clear assurances to Parliament on various issues"
which--employing a masterly understatement--it said
"currently remain uncertain."
Practically everything in the Bill "currently remains uncertain". We know that there is no route between the channel tunnel and the proposed station : we may be about to see the first underground white elephant in the history of the world. We also know that there is as yet no guarantee of any funds to provide the line between the station and the channel tunnel--if the station is to be placed at one end of the line. Moreover, we have discovered tonight that there are apparently no proposals to fund the project. It seems that the House is expected to endorse a proposition for a project that may not receive any funding.
That brings me back to the cogent point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) about the possibility of private funding. Apparently, the idea is to fund the station by building offices, which will provide 30,000 unwanted office jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) pointed out, those jobs would be better placed in the north-east, where they are needed--or in the north-west, or, indeed, almost anywhere except King's Cross. The last thing that my constituency needs is any more office jobs, let alone 30,000 : that is roughly 10 times the number of jobs at the Ford works in Dagenham.
I believe that the company that is supposedly to be one of the joint financiers of the project, Rosehaugh Stanhope, incurred a loss of £168 million in the previous financial year. I hope that it will shortly prove the truth of my motto that the only good property developer is a bankrupt property developer, but, if it does indeed become bankrupt, it will certainly not be able to part-finance the station.
Since the House last discussed the matter, there have been one or two other developments that may undermine the financing of the project. It has recently been discovered--again, British Rail in its far-sightedness had not noticed--that St. Bartholomew's hospital and the Church Commissioners have the right of reversion of a substantial part of the property on which it had intended to indulge in property speculation to raise the funds for the station. That has now gone up the pictures, as they say : Barts and
Column 734the Church Commissioners are entitled to recover the property that they sold more than 100 years ago to the Great Northern Railway Company under threat of compulsory purchase. That is another of the issues that--as the Committee so delicately put it-- "currently remain uncertain", and a further reason why we should not approve the motion.
It is particularly galling to hear the Bill's sponsor trying to explain away the fact that clause 19--which would have done away with listed- building protection for Victorian buildings in the area--was struck from the Bill by the Select Committee, quite rightly, only for London Underground, one of the Bill's joint promoters, to have the audacity to present another Bill relating to King's Cross containing the self-same clause to cover works that would be proceeding at the same time as the works proposed in this Bill. The promoters are a collection of incompetent crooks who should be stopped in their tracks--and I do not mean railway tracks.
The promoters--British Rail and London Underground--argued that the clause was necessary because of the sheer scale of the demolition that they proposed. The Committee rightly decided that the sheer scale of the demolition was the very reason why protection should be given to listed buildings. The lunacy of the proposition now being advanced again by London Underground lies in the notion that the only time when historic buildings should not be given protection is the time when they need it because someone is carrying out excavations beneath them.
In being asked to approve the Bill, the House is being treated with contempt. Let me remind hon. Members that, as originally drafted--and defended day in, day out, which led to brain damage among Select Committee members--the Bill provided for a concrete underground box to form the station, which was not big enough to contain the trains for which it had been designed. Surely any organisation that is so purblind, stupid and incompetent as to propose the building of a station with platforms too short for the trains that that organisation is having built is not fit to present a private Bill, pull the lever and ask us to deliver its piece of legislation. We should tell the promoters to go back and start all over again if they are determined to build at King's Cross.
There was a time when the House was more robust in its treatment of private Bills--for instance, on only the second Bill promoted by a railway company. In 1825, George Stephenson--now so distinguished that he appears on the new fiver--presented, along with other promoters, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill. His evidence was so bad--so dreadfully incompetent--that it was said that he was shattered, that his credibility as a witness and an engineer had been publicly destroyed and that he knew that he had failed his loyal supporters miserably.
No words could more accurately describe those who appeared before the Committee to promote this Bill. I must commend to the House what our forebears did : they voted the Bill down. They said--even to someone as distinguished as George Stephenson--"This is total incompetence. You cannot justify what you are saying and doing. If you think that you can do the job properly, go away and do it, and then come back and put a proper Bill before the House." That is what Stephenson duly did. If he had been allowed to build the railway that he had
Column 735originally proposed, there would never have been a successful railway between Manchester and Liverpool : the project would have failed.
In my view, the best thing that we can do is follow the example of our Victorian forebears and sling the Bill out now. There is no need for it ; it has been incompetently drafted and incompetently put to the Committee, and it would be a disgrace if we allowed British Rail to get away with this further bit of legislative slot machining. It would be humiliating for the House to accept this proposition. If British Rail built the station that it has proposed in the Bill, it would not be a Euro-terminal of which we could all be proud ; it would turn out to be the most notoriously stinking, gloomy pissoir in Europe. We should do our best to stop that coming about.
Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me about how a matter that I intend to draw to your attention could best be resolved. You know that there are certain places in the Chamber that we cannot recognise as existing, but not a million miles from you sit experts and civil servants who are able to pass notes to Ministers when they are in difficulty, as they are from time to time. At the other end of the Chamber there is a Gallery in which sit advisers--parliamentary agents and others--who provide similar services for hon. Members. The regulations relating to the Galleries, as they apply to the space under the Gallery, say :
"Strangers are not permitted to read books or papers, draw or write, stand in or behind galleries, or carry opera glasses or cameras." This may be a little bit of theatre, but I do not suppose many people come here carrying opera glasses. As for being unable to write or pass notes, it seems slightly unfair that those of us who do not have the back-up of civil servants are unable to obtain written advice from our advisers. I wonder whether you could advise me on how best that problem could be resolved-- somewhere else, perhaps.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : This is a long-established practice. If the hon. Gentleman feels uneasy about it, as he clearly does, may I suggest that he should ask the appropriate Select Committee of the House to look into the matter.
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : I, too, oppose the revival motion. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the reasons enumerated so far for opposing it. They have been more eloquently stated than I could ever hope to state them, but I wish to emphasise one point : the Bill is premature.
I thought that the Bill was premature when it was first introduced in May 1989. I now believe even more that it is premature. It was deviously drafted to make no mention of the route that is to lead to the buffer stop terminal. The very fact that the terminal is to be there predetermines the route to the terminal. Thus, by skilful draftsmanship provision has been made for the development of the terminal. At the same time, those who are immediately affected by the possible route have been denied the opportunity to make representations against it, or even to appear before the Select Committee that considered the Bill. That demonstrates the inadequacy of our private Bill
Column 736procedure and the way in which that procedure can be misused, to the grave disadvantage of those whom the Bill will profoundly affect.
My constituents, particularly those who live in the Warwick gardens area and who are affected by the threat of the line going through the area, are profoundly concerned about the position of the terminal. For that reason, we should reject the revival motion. We ought not to consider it again until we know the alignment of the preferred route.
British Rail has said that it is looking again at all the options. It is reconsidering the strategic advantage of Stratford as the terminal for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is already a junction for the whole of the United Kingdom. If British Rail proceeds with the King's Cross proposals, that will suggest that it has already decided the result of the reassessment. Therefore, it will not be a truly independent, objective or detached view of the so-called other options.
Mr. Waller : May I reassure my hon. Friend that other recently promoted options, including the Ove Arup scheme, assume that there will be a low-level station King's Cross. The rail link is a completely independent issue. Approval of the motion would in no way adversely affect my hon. Friend's constituents.
Mr. Bowden : I wish that I could accept that assurance and the spirit of good will in which it was made, but I am afraid that I cannot do so. I noted that in his speech my hon. Friend said that all the other proposals, except one, include an interchange at King's Cross. That is not strictly true. All the other proposals recognise that there must be a mid- town link. It would be feasible to have a junction at Stratford, with a left turn going westwards from Stratford and stopping at several places--at Fenchurch Street, perhaps, King's Cross, perhaps, and certainly at Paddington. The proposal that we are considering is crazy. Those who come from continental Europe and who wish to go to Wales and the south-west will have to make their own way across London from King's Cross to Paddington to pick up their connections. What sort of channel tunnel rail link is that? It is no better than what already exists. In fact, it is considerably worse. It will result in increased congestion. Although many of the alternative proposals recognise that King's Cross may be a mid-town stopping place, it is not regarded as a buffer stop terminal. That leads us very much to the view that we are discussing not so much the construction of a rail terminal as a large office development. This is a developer- dominated enterprise. On previous occasions I have asked--I hope that British Rail will deal with it in due course--that we ought to be told more about this office development project. Is the development value of the land affected in any way by the fact that a channel tunnel terminal will be situated beneath the office development?
Mr. Bowden : I do not know whether British Rail believes that it will be the prime developer, but its development partners may have come to an understanding with British Rail that if value of the land, as ordinary office
Column 737development, is £X, the fact that the channel tunnel rail link terminal will be on the spot will lead to the value of the land being three times £X. A great selling point for office development would be to say, "All you have to do is to go down in the lift, get on a train and you will be in Paris or Brussels within two and a half hours." Any developer who wished to let such an office block would find that a supreme selling proposition. We ought to be told whether that is the prime reason for the Bill or whether its purpose is genuinely to find a way in which to link the whole of the United Kingdom and London with continental Europe.
We need to know what the rail alignment is likely to be before we decide whether to give the go-ahead to the King's Cross development, as provided for in the Bill. British Rail does not deserve to have the Bill passed by means of the private Bill procedure. It has deviously misused that procedure to deny those of us with constituency interests the opportunity to make our voice heard in the Committee. For that reason, I shall oppose it.
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : It is a little unfair to blame British Rail for using the private Bill procedure. I presume that the Government did not want to use the Government Bill procedure that they ought to have used. It may have been a hybrid Bill, but that would have been the proper way to introduce such a major Bill to the House. British Rail has used the private Bill procedure for many years. However, the Select Committee pointed out that that is totally unsatisfactory. The Committee was chaired by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). The hon. Gentleman and the other Committee members are to be congratulated on preparing an excellent report. It criticises the way in which British Rail and the promoters have approached the matter.
In some ways, this is a sad day for me. There has been so much criticism of British Rail. I am a defender of public sector industries, but the way in which British Rail has handled the channel tunnel rail link does it no credit. The channel tunnel rail link goes back to earlier times, under a Labour Government. British Rail's lack of knowledge of how much the link would cost finally led to a Labour Government cancelling the channel tunnel development.
I have heard of carry-over motions coming before the House, but we now have a revival motion. As the House is being asked to revive the Bill, the Selection Committee will have to select new Members to sit on it. The hon. Member for Tatton has a new job in the Whips Office, so he may not be available, although I hope that he will be.
Labour has made its position clear--we have not supported or voted against the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) made it clear that we would want to be satisfied about several matters, because the Bill clearly was not simply a British Rail King's Cross matter but applied also to the Underground. At the heart of the project was the development land associated with it. It was hoped that with such finance British Rail would finance and develop the whole project. That stemmed directly from the fact
Column 738that the Government were not prepared to find sufficient finance to assist with the development. It had to be funded in that way--hence the need for the land, which became an important part of the financial deal.
We are being asked to consider whether the concerns expressed on Second Reading have been satisfied by the Committee. I have never seen such universal condemnation of private Bill promoters by a private Bill Committee. Members on both sides of the House mentioned the Committee's criticisms. It said that there was considerable doubt about the justification for the Bill and considerable confusion about the real intentions of the promoters. There were growing uncertainties about the viability of the project and its dependence on the land profits, which have now been thrown into doubt by the court case and the claims of the Church Commissioners on lands which were an essential part of the project. I do not know whether that has been settled, but the first step towards establishing a case for the Church has been taken and accepted.
Probably the most alarming of the Committee's conclusions was that it threw considerable doubt on the promoter's credibility. Credibility has been at the heart of the argument since the beginning of the debate--whether one could believe what the promoters were saying on behalf of British Rail, the credibility of the information provided to the Committee and the credibility of continuing with the evidence given to the Committee, which was clearly shown to be false. To that extent, no greater condemnation could be made of the promoters of this important Bill. The Committee said that the promoters seriously delayed proceedings by persisting with evidence which proved to be false, and that about half the petitioners were unable to present their arguments due to the hostility of British Rail. There was a lack of candidness in providing essential road traffic statistical information, on which the Department was at variance with British Rail. That was known to both parties, but the Committee said that it was informed on the last day and was therefore unable to make a judgment on the essential matter of traffic statistics and whether buses or taxis would provide a better service. That basic information was not available to the Committee. Paragraph 20 of the Committee's report said :
"We consider that British Rail's tactics in this regard were improper, and verged on being a contempt of the House. This is particularly inexcusable in the light of the fact that British Rail are a very experienced promoter of private Bills. We very much hope that future promoters of private bills will not be tempted to act in a similar manner."
The judgment and recommendation of the Committee in its report was that British Rail's behaviour bordered on contempt of the Committee. The Committee found--the House has now reached the same judgment--that the system of dealing with private Bills for the development of King's Cross was inadequate and deeply flawed. The House has agreed to a new system to deal with such matters, but it is interesting to note the Committee's conclusion that the procedure was not satisfactory.
The Committee recommends that we proceed with the Bill, despite the lack of substantial bits of information. There is continuing uncertainty about the tunnel link and the funding of the project--two essential requirements of the Bill. I was staggered to hear the Minister say, "We do not have a project on our desks as yet". I know that he is telling the truth as I do not doubt him for a second, but it is staggering that the Government are allowing bodies to
Column 739come forward with Bills on a major strategic transport decision--probably the most important transport decision this century--while the Department is saying that it still has not received the proposals. That may be true, but is it not time for the Department to get off its backside, find out what is going on, and say, "We may have a view about what is important to the development of the channel link." ? People in Europe cannot understand that. They are staggered that the Government can stand aside in that way. In Committee, the promoters argued that money would be available with the EuroRail consortium, but then in June the Secretary of State told the House, "I am sorry, but we do not have sufficient money for the project." It does not stand up.
Finding the finance for the essential link could not be agreed on the conditions that the Government had laid down. I welcome the fact that the Government may now be prepared to find the public money. We said that we would support them in that, if necessary by repealing section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987.
We are hearing conflicting statements from Ministers compared with the ones that we heard a few years ago, but I should like to hear the Minister say that the money will be provided. I believe that the Secretary of State made a similar statement in the newspaper, Scotland on Sunday. He gives his major statements to Scottish papers. We shall wait and see what we get in England. He has said that public money will be available. Will the Minister make clear what he means by that? Normally when the Government have said that public money will be made available they meant loans--the privilege of borrowing at a higher rate from the Government, and to be financed by passengers. Does he mean grants when he talks about public money? Will the difference between revenue and cost be made up by direct funding in the way that we understand public funding on such projects? I hope that the Minister will come clean about that and give us more information about the funding of the project. The Committee faced a difficult decision in recommending to the House that the Bill should continue. The balance of the argument which persuaded the Committee, although there was some dispute about it, was that it would not be fair for the promoters to be faced with tremendous costs while the Committee imposed further delay. Given the recommendations that it received, it had no choice. Nevertheless, it means that the House must now decide whether to pass the revival motion. I understand the comments by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) about operational factors, about the role of King's Cross, about whether the route should go through the south or north of Kent and whether it should be the Thames alternative link international system, the Ove Arup route or British Rail's preferred route.
An essential part will be played by King's Cross, but I do not see a conflict between King's Cross and Stratford, especially as the Government have suggested a surface cross-rail possibility. Such strategic thinking may link those aspects. Only one body can do that--the Government. That is their job. We need strategic thinking on transport issues. The Committee said that northern interests were being led to believe that they would not get the King's Cross development. They therefore had to use pressure groups such as the Confederation of British
Column 740Industry and the Trades Union Congress to lobby Members of Parliament. There was to be a north-south battle. That was not necessary. The Committee made it clear that information was being given out. The promoters at the Committee were excused from giving out such information, but the promoters outside the Committee tried to exploit the differences between the north and the south, as though Stratford and King's Cross were alternatives. There is no reason why Stratford and King's Cross should not complement each other. I believe that the Ove Arup connection via north Kent is a far better proposal. It provides eurogauge, eurospeed and a dedicated track and gives British Rail the possibility of developing. A route through the south of London would be crazy, because it is the most expensive and environmentally damaging proposition, although that route may be preferable to British Rail and the promoters.
Will the Minister give us a guarantee about Ashford station? We have already been told that it will not be a new international station, as we were promised that King's Cross would be. It will be readjusted and a line away from the middle of the station will be used. Building costs and commercial requirements mean that costs are likely to exceed an 8 per cent. rate of return. British Rail may say that it wants Ashford station, but the Treasury will not permit that development because it does not meet the 8 per cent. requirement. Development of Ashford station is therefore clearly in doubt. The Secretary of State told us about the guaranteeing of the route to the north downs, but British Rail seems to want the route to go through south Kent. As Kent county council will find, it will go through the most populous part of Kent, disgorging all its traffic into the Swanley area, next to the M25 and the bridge which is also being built by Trafalgar House. The biggest car park will be in Hythe, and probably around Brands Hatch. Major environmental damage will be caused to the south Kent area.
The south has an interest in the proposal. People from the area believe that the south Kent proposal will be damaging to them. Unless the Government provide public money, Ashford station will not be developed. The north will not get trains travelling directly through the area until three years after development because British Rail is ready to put most of its traffic into King's Cross so that it can feed its InterCity system, ready for privatisation. That is why the north will not get through routes, despite the promises.
Only one purpose-built freight terminal, Port Wakefield, will be ready by the time the tunnel opens. The north is constantly kidded about the facilities that will be available, the south will suffer major damage and London will be torn apart. All parts of the United Kingdom will be disadvantaged.
When the Minister went to Stratford, he said that the Government were looking into all options. If the Minister says that, I believe it, but can he assure us that evidence to the inquiries reviewing the TALIS, Ove Arup and British Rail routes will be made available for others to make an assessment? All too often, when British Rail has carried out assessments and reviews, it has said, "This is our judgment and we will not give you the information on which it is based." We do not trust British Rail's statements, and that is a tragedy. We are not confident about its attitude to this major strategic decision. The Government are responsible.
Column 741There have been considerable changes since the report was published. The cross-rail commitment by the Government, which we welcome, marks an important change in the strategic thinking on these matters. I hope that there will be a new dedicated track and a route through the north of Kent, although I shall listen to all the arguments. If the north is to meet the strategic requirements of fast through trains, freight and a connection with King's Cross, there is no reason why one strategic route, as advocated by Ove Arup, would not meet several of those obligations.
I appeal to the Minister not to stand aside in this matter--it is far too critical. The Labour Front Bench has not yet voted on this matter. I shall not vote against the revival motion, although I am far from convinced that British Rail's proposal is worthy of support because of the operational matters associated with King's Cross. If the Bill's promoters do not satisfy us on the route and financing before Report stage, we shall consider whether as an Opposition we should support or reject the Bill. I hope that the promoters and British Rail are listening. Apparently the new Secretary of State now recognises that there is a role for planning and development. I hope that, in that new spirit, the Government will reach a firm decision to provide a good strategic link to Europe, because that is what the Bill is about--it is a public issue, not a private issue, and it requires action by the Government.