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Mr. Cryer : I would not go down that road in any case, as I am very concerned about the expenditure of money. I have listed the relevant tribunals for the purposes of section 5(7) of the original Act and have related them to this money resolution, which says that "it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967."
The Bill must exist to remedy a defect. Can the Minister tell us how many cases the Government expect in an average year ? Private Members' Bills-- which are very useful, and are debated on Fridays--and money resolutions, are sometimes regarded as a bit of a nuisance, as are the 10 or so Fridays when private Members' Bills are taken. I suspect that we are dealing with a money resolution to implement a private Member's Bill which was taken on a Friday and which, if the Jopling report is implemented, hon. Members would be denied. I shall not go further down that road, but merely point out the great use of those Bills. Sometimes, because the Government do not have enough time, they provide an hon. Member with legislation to discuss on a Friday, if he is lucky enough to come in the first 10 or so in the ballot. I do not know whether the Bill is an example of that, but if it is, the Minister should have a good knowledge of the background to and reason for the legislation.
The various appeal tribunals are listed in five specific areas, so that the Parliamentary Commissioner can take action where there is cause for concern or complaint about any irregularity.
The complex nature of the Bill, in that it is Government inspired--it is none the worse for that, nor is it any less valuable or important--means that the Government may well have more detailed information than would be available to the ordinary private Member about how the financial effects of the Bill have been calculated, and the number of cases and incidents in each of the five sections listed in schedule 4 that occur each year.
I understand that the Bill was introduced to plug a legislative gap, not a loophole. As a result of demand, the Parliamentary Commissioner should have the opportunity to examine those cases, because of irregularities and complaints, yet his powers do not extend to them. It would be interesting to know from the Minister whether one, two, three, four or a dozen cases are involved. As a result, the extra expenses--which I do not expect will be very much--in which the Parliamentary Commissioner will be involved can be calculated fairly accurately. He or she serves a useful purpose and I am all in favour of that expenditure.
It is worth noting that Labour legislation introduced the Parliamentary Commissioner in the first place, based on the Swedish concept known as the ombudsman, and it has been extended widely. The existence of the Parliamentary
Column 527Commissioner shows how even the present ideologically-driven Government recognise that they have to maintain and supplement some means of ensuring that there is some application of justice to administrative corners which affect only a tiny number of people, but which should be sustained because it was a good idea. It stemmed from the infamous Crichel Down case where a great injustice was determined by administrative fiat.
The money resolution provides additional finance of a minor nature to enliven and illuminate administrative loopholes which may be mundane but which are extremely important to the persons involved. I welcome the money resolution. I hope that the Minister will say that a money resolution indicates endorsement of the purpose of the Bill. I hope that he can give me the information that I have requested. Although another money resolution is on the Order Paper, I do not intend to debate it, because I feel that in that instance it is such an open and shut case that debate is not required. I am satisfied in my own mind that the amount of expenditure on that legislation is well curtailed and prescribed. That is not so in this case. Therefore, I hope very much that the Minister will respond with the modest amount of information that I have requested.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. David Davis) : I shall endeavour to help the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) in all his interests this evening, to the best of my ability.
This resolution is a standard money resolution, drafted to give Parliament authority to provide money under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967. The hon. Gentleman is quite right : it is a private Member's Bill and it has Government support. That answers his first point.
Column 528The resolution has been framed to enable funds to be made available to allow the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to discharge his additional responsibilities under the Bill. These are in respect of investigating the administrative actions of staff in certain tribunals, which the hon. Gentleman has already listed and which are not currently within the Parliamentary Commissioner's jurisdiction.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I could estimate the extent of the costs implicit in the resolution. It is not clear at this stage whether any additional resources would be necessary. It is also not possible to estimate at this stage how many additional complaints would arise, forwarded by hon. Members, as a result of the Bill being passed. I am sure, however, that the Parliamentary Commissioner will endeavour to keep additional costs to a minimum.
It is therefore not possible to make an assessment of the full extent of the costs, but the resolution has been put forward on a contingency basis.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of
(a) any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act ; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of money so provided under any other enactment.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I am delighted to have been given the opportunity by Madam Speaker to raise the case for an international station at Ebbsfleet. I do so because such a debate is timely and because, in my view, the Ebbsfleet site represents the best location for an intermediate international and domestic station on the channel tunnel rail link. Ebbsfleet as a site is also significant because of its position and proximity to the M25, M20, A2, A20 and the Dartford river crossings.
I welcome the presence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who I know hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a little later in the debate. I am delighted to welcome also my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), who is here tonight to show support for the project. I am grateful to him for the support that he has given me on this occasion, and on a number of challenges that we jointly face in north-west Kent.
To set the debate in context, I quote the words of County Councillor Alexandra Oldfield, Conservative spokesman on transportation. At a meeting of Kent county council's environment planning and transportation committee on 22 March last, she said : "A station at Ebbsfleet is critical to Kent's economy, to its commuters and to the Government's efforts to regenerate the East Thames Corridor."
I deal now with the need for an intermediate station at Ebbsfleet, and will develop arguments for it on three levels. First, there are the national implications of such a project ; secondly, there are the regional implications and the resulting advantages to commuters ; finally, there is the impact of the rail link on the communities that I represent in Swanscombe, Southfleet, Betsham and Bean.
In the context of the local communities, I shall refer later to compensation problems and the implications for local roads when construction works on the Ebbsfleet site affect the A2 and associated roads and villages. In the national context--that of Britain plc--the opening of the channel tunnel creates an opportunity and climate for economic and commercial change ; that is not in dispute. It will undoubtedly give our manufacturers and traders easier access to the markets of Europe. Equally, in a free-trade context, it will open up our markets to European suppliers.
The site at Ebbsfleet comes within the northern end of the European Dorsale, which comprises 40 per cent. of the population of the European Community. The Dorsale runs from Milan through Frankfurt and Brussels to Dartford and London, and makes up the greatest concentration of cities and economic activity in the Community. On a regional basis, the Government have promoted, and continue to promote vigorously, a policy of regenerating the east Thames corridor. Apart from being the right policy, the placing of an international station at Ebbsfleet underscores that policy of regeneration by opening up the immediate areas of Swanscombe and Northfleet, as well as north-west Kent in general. Without the station at Ebbsfleet, the channel tunnel rail link offers nothing whatever to north- west Kent.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : Is there not a particularly positive opportunity for both the railway and Britain, given that the local authority--which takes a very positive attitude to achieving growth in the area--wants the station at Ebbsfleet ? The two fit very well together.
Mr. Dunn : Indeed, there is total amity of support and interest among all local authorities whose areas border the site of the project. They see it as a major contribution to the work flow and employment prospects of our region. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I also welcome the presence of our hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who entered the Chamber and was struck by the force of the argument being presented in favour of the station at Ebbsfleet.
The existence of the station would move the east Thames corridor concept into a much more positive dimension. I believe that an intermediate station at Ebbsfleet would provide the catalyst for regeneration, leading to the transformation of our local infrastructure and the use of development opportunities to create jobs and new employment vistas for the whole south- east region. Over 30,000 new jobs are expected to be created over a period ; that must be good news for north-west Kent.
As for commuter traffic, according to figures that I have obtained, when Ebbsfleet station is opened, the benefit for domestic commuters will be vast. It will offer local commuters a journey time of 17 minutes from Ebbsfleet to St. Pancras. That compares with existing journey times to Charing Cross of 41 minutes from Dartford, 49 minutes from Stone Crossing, 51 minutes from Greenhithe and 53 minutes from Swanscombe.
The St. Pancras terminus is planned to include three platforms for Union Railways' domestic services, which offers a theoretical capacity of 12 trains per hour at peak times. Domestic services would run from the Medway towns and Gravesend, via the north-west Kent line and Union Railways, but would not call at Ebbsfleet. They would also run to St. Pancras from Ebbsfleet as well as from east Kent, via Ashford and Union Railways--that service would almost certainly call at Ebbsfleet.
The balance of frequency of the services has yet to be decided, but at least 50 per cent. of trains are expected to call at Ebbsfleet, which will be a major contribution to the flow of commuter traffic from north-west Kent to London and back again.
I must argue--as nicely as possible--with colleagues on both sides of the House who represent Essex about which is the worst railway line in the country, as the north-west Kent line takes some beating. Now there are improvements in prospect for Dartford commuters. I remind the House of the endorsement that the Secretary of State for Transport gave the Ebbsfleet site when he made the statement on the channel tunnel rail link on 24 January 1994 :
"I turn now to intermediate stations. The decision in October 1991 to route the rail link on an easterly approach into London was based in large part on the opportunities for regeneration."
That must be the key to the development of the project. It is an opportunity for the regeneration of north-west Kent and the east end corridor. The Secretary of State continued :
"This solution will provide a fast rail link between London and the channel tunnel. It achieves all the Government's objectives. People who live in Kent will get further improved rail services to London."--[ Official Report , 24 January 1994 ; Vol. 236, c. 20-22.] That is the second of the major building blocks that must
Column 531be emphasised tonight. If the project is to gain public credibility, commuters in north-west Kent must benefit as well as those in the Ashford area.
On the downside of the project, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport will be able to assure me--if not tonight, at some time in the future--that, when and if Ebbsfleet international station is constructed, he will take every possible step, through the officials in his Department, to ensure that the inevitable blockages on the two carriageways of the A2 are kept to a minimum.
When such blockages occur, their impact and the amount of traffic moving from the A2 to the country lanes on either side must be taken into account. Any hon. Member who represents Kent can assure the House that, as soon as the A2 is blocked, a phenomenal amount of traffic moves on to the country lanes. If that is to happen for two or three years, the implications and impact must be carefully thought out.
On the compensation arrangements for those of my constituents who will be disadvantaged by the reopening of the Gravesend west spur line, I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure me that these arrangements will be fully explained to those of my constituents who are affected, and that those who find themselves outside the line rather than within it understand the opportunities for appeal. I also hope that the arrangements will be as generous as possible, given that many people face the prospect of further blight and a further loss of value for their properties.
I believe the station to be a winning project. It can win over the people of north-west Kent, and I hope that the Minister will be won over by our arguments tonight.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) for initiating the debate, and I pay tribute to him for the leading part that he is taking in the campaign for Ebbsfleet international station. The station will be good for the rail link and for the south-east of England, good for north-west Kent, and above all, from my point of view, good for Gravesham. North-west Kent is in transition. Only 20 years ago, the economy of the area was based on heavy industries such as cement and paper, which left a legacy of empty acres of quarries and pits. We are now on course for new light industry and commercial and service industries. Those have been helped by the Government, by means of the enterprise zones at Springhead and the Imperial business park. The Government are now pressing ahead with their creative plans for the east Thames corridor, and those can be developed there because, uniquely at Ebbsfleet of all the sites that have been identified along the high-speed rail link line, we have the acreage for the supporting development for an international station.
Ebbsfleet's international station could be a focus for all those plans for the east Thames corridor. I believe--it is one of my hobbyhorses--that it could be an ideal location for a major new exhibition and conference centre on a vast European scale. The station would put us on the first stop of the rail link, before London, and it would have direct links to London, Paris and Brussels. It would also have the advantage of being convenient for the M25. There are many other plans for major new projects in the area, such as the Bluewater development, and there is
Column 532plenty of scope for industrial and technology parks. Indeed, it has been said that 34,000 jobs could be created in the process. We have the right people to staff all those projects, especially the people in Northfleet, in my constituency. The area is bursting with talent. We have good schools, in the Northfleet school for boys and the Northfleet school for girls. Further afield, we have major Church schools and grammar schools. Above all, we have the north-west Kent college of technology, with its campuses in Dartford and in Gravesend. We have the skills, and we have first-class people for a first-class development. I believe that the whole project could be a focus for Britain in the 21st century.
I shall highlight the specific advantages for my constituents if the project goes ahead. Like the people of Dartford, we would have an immense advantage in commuting to London. The journey time would come down from the current 50 minutes or so from Gravesend and Northfleet to the 17 minutes mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford.
There would inevitably be new roads servicing the area, linked to the A2. In particular, the development would finally bring about the Northfleet bypass, which would bring relief to residents in the areas of the high street, Northfleet, and of the Springhead and Dover roads, who have long put up with heavy goods vehicles in streets never designed for the kind of weights to which they are already subjected. For those people, it would bring relief, and for all residents in that part of north-west Kent, especially in Northfleet, it would increase the values of their houses.
Certain preliminaries and safeguards should be taken into account when considering siting the international station at Ebbsfleet. A full archaeological survey of the Roman remains in the immediate area will be necessary. That matter can be thoroughly examined and dealt with before the construction of the station.
The plans for the station and the nearby area must also take account of the environment of the ancient Ebbsfleet watercourse. With the modern techniques of planning and environmental conservation now available to us, plans can and should be developed to ensure that the environment is taken fully into account.
The Ebbsfleet international station has the unanimous support of both sides of Gravesham borough council, and I believe also of Kent county council. I can certainly say that the Conservatives of Northfleet and Gravesham are enthusiastic, keen and supportive, and that they look forward to the project being approved by the Government and going ahead.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) on their contributions to this important debate.
There is a tendency to run down Great Britain and its achievements or plans. That is most true in respect of infrastructure. The Ebbsfleet international station is a great project of which I hope that we can all be proud. The Opposition and the press continue to commit the same mistake of always looking down on our achievements and finding fault. Why cannot we be proud
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) rose
Mr. Freeman : No, I shall not give way. I am responding to my hon. Friends-- [Interruption.] I shall respond ; there is time enough. With respect, I am making the point that this important project should be looked on with some enthusiasm and pride. We should be looking beyond our noses to the achievements-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) will be patient, I shall respond.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford mentioned the importance of a station at north Ebbsfleet. It is perfectly true that on 24 January my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that that project appeared to have the edge over Rainham. Although at that stage there was no clear reason to select Ebbsfleet over Rainham, we said that we would examine carefully the alternatives to serve as a park-and-ride facility for those wishing to travel to the continent. We acknowledged the support given by Blue Circle plc, an important private sector backer of the station at Ebbsfleet. I can confirm that we looked to the promoters of that station and to all those affected by it to submit their views by mid-April to enable Ministers to make a judgment, I hope, by the end of April, thus fulfilling our commitment to reach a conclusion on where the intermediate station should be within three months of my right hon. Friend's statement at the end of January. There are still three locations in the running-- Stratford, Rainham and Ebbsfleet.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we believe that we need at least one of those stations--although two may be sensible--in addition to the station that is now being built at Ashford. That in turn is an achievement. The private sector led by Laing is financing the construction of a new station which I hope will be ready by the end of next year to handle international passengers. It is of excellent design and will be a credit to the rail system.
We hope that when we have the views of the private sector promoters of the north Ebbsfleet and other stations we can come to a decision by the end of April to enable the information to be included in the tender documentation that we hope to publish in June and to permit work on the Bill to proceed so that a Bill will be ready for presentation to Parliament by the beginning of the new Session. We have decided to de-couple the preparation of the Bill from the selection of the private sector group to promote the rail link. That will be an advantage because it will enable us to proceed, if parliamentary time permits and if the Bill is included in the Queen's Speech, according to the fastest possible timetable. I look forward very much to the early prospect of its Second Reading. That is clear proof of our commitment.
The criteria that we shall use in judging which station to select close to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, which carries the M25, will turn on the financial package advanced by the promoters but also--I agree with my hon. Friend on this point--on the benefit to the economy of Kent and the east Thames corridor, and that of Essex and all the east London boroughs. There is a regenerative benefit to building a railway station. There is an argument about how much benefit it brings. Any hon. Member who has been to Lille station in northern France will know that there is clearly some benefit. I admire what the French have done. The building of that station and the complex surrounding it is clearly of benefit.
Column 534Mr. Raynsford indicated assent .
Mr. Freeman : The French have done it. With a new rail link and the stations attached to it, we will build a shining example of good British civil engineering design. In 10 or 20 years' time, it will be the French who look at the excellence of our new high-speed rail link. I am getting carried away with my enthusiasm. I shall return specifically to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford.
My hon. Friend was right to say that journey times will be cut in half. It will be a tremendous boon to those who live in Ramsgate, Margate, Gillingham and Gravesham--and, incidentally, to those who catch trains at Dartford, because the railway lines into Charing Cross will be less congested. There will also be marvellous uncovenanted benefits to those who live to the west of a station at Ebbsfleet, if it is selected and built.
I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks reminded me that the Dartford and Gravesham local authorities support the concept of the station. I seem to spend a lot of my time dealing with local authorities which are not so supportive of a new project that is designed to help the economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford asked two questions. The first related to blockages on the A2. I can assure him that we will be careful to ensure that there is the minimum possible inconvenience when it comes to the construction of trunk road and highway authority road schemes. I am well aware of the effect on villages of traffic being diverted from main roads. Construction must be carefully planned.
I am happy to tell the House, as I have already answered in a written question, that I can confirm that we have accepted the advice of my colleagues who represent constituencies in north Kent to include in the Bill a provision for some road schemes, especially the road scheme on the M2 between junctions 1 and 4. That means that we can plan concurrently for the improvement to not only rail journeys but road journeys. That makes sense. It is a good example of integrated transport planning in action that we can consider both road and rail schemes at the same time. I use my definition of the phrase "integrated transport planning", which is sensible and practical simultaneous planning. We are not talking about detailed planning in 10 or 20 years' time ; we are talking about how to avoid the inconvenience to constituents by ensuring that we do not have to revisit a specific location and rebuild at the same time. As for the Gravesend west line, I can confirm that we will explain to all those affected the compensation schemes provided, especially in terms of those who live within the safeguarded area--the voluntary purchase scheme that will apply--and those who live outside it, and their qualification for having their houses insulated or, indeed, in some cases purchased where appropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham raised several points. If a station is selected at Ebbsfleet north--or, indeed, Stratford or Rainham ; this afternoon, I met a group of people promoting the station at Stratford--the potential is enormous for not only business, commercial and retail development but all aspects of development,
Column 535including leisure, which could capture the benefit of international passengers coming into the country. I cite again the example of Lille where I was impressed with the related development. I agree with my hon. Friend.
As to the archaeological remains, we will take great care. I can confirm that, when a Bill is introduced, we will simultaneously present the environmental statement, as we are required to do under European law. That will take a great deal of preparation this year, which is one reason why the fastest possible timetable that we can adhere to is to present a Bill, if possible and if permitted to do so, at the beginning of the new parliamentary Session.
As to Pepper Hill, I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend has achieved in looking after his constituents. He has made the Government and Union Railways rethink the options. Considerable progress has been made not only at Pepper Hill but also at Ashford. I envisage that, after the mid-April cut-off point for final representations from local authorities and from those who live in the areas affected, we should be able to make a statement concerning both Pepper Hill and Ashford by the end of April. We must look carefully at the increased costs which would arise for any new route.
Column 536The early indications are that some of the alternative options at which Union Railways is looking both at Ashford and Pepper Hill are encouraging in terms of minimising the impact upon the environment and upon those who live close by the centre of Ashford and on the Pepper Hill estate, but still provide the fast direct link that we want.
I believe that, when we present a Bill in due course, the House will be persuaded that the impact upon those who live in Kent and in London will be minimised. I do not deny that there will be an impact. We cannot build a new railway line or a new road without causing some discomfort. I am well aware of the problems at Barking and just outside St Pancras. If we can minimise the impact in those areas--as well as at Ashford and Pepper Hill-- we will end up with a rail link which represents good news for Britain, good news for Kent and good news for the constituents of my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford and for Gravesham.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Eleven o'clock.
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