I have a short statement to make about the arrangements for tabling questions to the Secretary of State for Wales for Monday 13 February. Under the normal arrangements for oral questions, such questions would have to be tabled in person by Members on Monday 30 January. I understand that a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff is being arranged for that day. It will clearly be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for members of that Committee to table questions here at Westminster before 5 pm that day.
In those circumstances, I am prepared on this one occasion to relax the rule requiring oral questions to be tabled in person by a Member. Members of the Welsh Grand Committee may therefore send their oral questions by post to the Table Office or have them handed in by a secretary or research assistant, provided of course that they are signed by a Member.
For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to make it clear that this concession applies only to those Members who are on the Welsh Grand Committee. It does not extend to any other Member who may wish to table a question to the Secretary of State for Wales. I trust that those responsible for arranging these matters will ensure that such a clash of events does not reoccur.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly): May I thank you, Madam Speaker, on behalf of all those Members who represent Welsh constituencies. If the Secretary of State for Wales had acceded to our request for an earlier meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, we would not have been put in this impossible position. I am grateful. I know that all my colleagues share my appreciation of the discretion that you have shown.
Dr. Spink: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You mentioned "Erskine May". I know that you have such wisdom that you do not need day-to -day reference to "Erskine May". I seek your advice on whether it is possible to invoke the provisions detailed on page 678, which enable the House to call individuals before the Bar so that we can question Mr. Alastair Campbell in his new, unelected role as the only person now free to speak on Opposition policy.
Madam Speaker: I doubt whether it is a point of order for me. Coming before the Bar is a question of privilege. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue it as a matter of privilege, perhaps he will write to me in the normal way.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I have a brief point of order in relation to your statement, Madam Speaker. It will be welcome, in relation to not only your generosity, but the flexibility that you have shown in responding to the problem and also your perspicacity in noticing that a large part of Welsh questions is taken up
Column 456by a conspiracy of English Conservative Members of Parliament, who tend to crowd out Welsh Members as a result.
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The whole House understands why, although you were elected as a Labour Member of Parliament, you are not able to talk on issues and policies. As has been said, we also understand that you set an example that the whole House should follow. However, can you explain why every Labour Member of Parliament has now decided not to talk about policies and issues and has instead decided to delegate that matter to someone else? How can the House have a constructive debate on issues of importance to the country with an invisible Opposition, who will not set out their policies?
On today's Order Paper, for example, my question No. 7 for written answer, whose named day for answer is today, relates to dates of publication of documents by the Secretary of State for Health. Question No. 398, in the name of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), which is also tabled for written answer today, is on an entirely different issue, but one that is of relevance to my constituency and neighbouring constituencies in south London: what is happening to the South Thames training and enterprise council, which has gone bust.
It is now, I think unintentionally, the case that written answers are available to the press before they are available to the Members who have tabled the questions, or are available--as in the case of the second question that I cited--to the Member who has tabled what is often a planted question considerably in advance of their being available to the Members whose constituencies are directly affected by the question.
I apologise for the fact that I have not given you notice of the point of order, Madam Speaker, and I do not expect you to rule immediately, but it seems to me that you have always enunciated the principle that Members affected should be told first. I should be grateful if you would, after investigation, give a ruling that, if an hon. Member tables a question for written answer, he or she is told before the press and others, or, if a question directly affects a constituency, the hon. Member concerned does not learn about the matter after another Member with no interest in it and the press, and then only considerably later.
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that I have very firm and strong views about the matter which I will not enunciate at this stage, but I will look at it very carefully and make a statement to the House about it.
Several hon. Members rose -- [Interruption.]
Column 457just raised. If it is a question of the overlapping of interests between Members and their constituencies, and if you are going to make a ruling, will you clarify the position of hon. Members visiting other hon. Members' constituencies, and whether due and proper notice should be given to those hon. Members?
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the current debate on devolution and the accusation by the Prime Minister of "teenage madness" among those advocating such devolution, will you draw the attention of Conservative Members to the fact that they are about to vote--presumably in favour--on the motion at the top of page 1068 in the name of the Leader of the House: that the matter of the Welsh economy is a matter relating exclusively to Wales?
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): On the question of notice, Madam Speaker, in which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) seems to be interested, can you give some guidance on whether it is in order for hon. Members to mention another hon. Member who has asked a question in the course of his parliamentary activities, having given no notice to the hon. Member concerned and having made various presumptive comments about that hon. Member?
Madam Speaker: I shall be glad to look at the whole matter and tell the House how Members should behave. Frankly, however, it is a matter of common sense, and rulings from the Chair should not be necessary when it comes to applying common sense.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): May I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker, in assisting the orderly nature of oral questions? At Welsh Questions today--we have had similar problems in the past with the Home Office--the issue of Ministers' responsibility for policy or operational matters arose. The Minister said that I did not
Column 458write to him on a matter. As you know, that matter is operational and I have written to the health authority about it. There is a real difficulty because, having had a negative reply from the health authority, I then brought up the question here today.
It is the proper function of a Member of Parliament to raise matters of policy here. As I could not raise a point of order at Question Time when the accusation was made, the accusation grew legs and ran away. We are placed in difficulty when we are accused of not properly representing our constituents. May we have a ruling for Ministers on what is an operational as opposed to a policy matter, because many of us would like to know what Ministers are responsible for, if anything?
Madam Speaker: I have no doubt that the Welsh Office will have taken on board what the hon. Gentleman has said and may even be helpful. But he must pursue those matters with the Secretary of State, not through me.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I point out to you--you probably noticed it yourself--that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) was not listening when my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) spoke and had to be alerted to the fact that he should have listened to the subsequent question? He was not doing so and his colleague had to tell him what had been said. He then got it all wrong.
Mr. Paul Tyler, supported by Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. Nick Harvey, Mr. Don Foster, Mr. Simon Hughes and Mrs. Diana Maddock, presented a Bill to amend the Water Industry Act 1991 to prohibit the use by water undertakers of rateable values as a basis for charging from 31 March 1996; to provide for charging by water undertakers in accordance with council tax bands; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January, and to be printed. [Bill 33.]
That the Matter of the Welsh economy, being a Matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration.-- [ Mr. Lightbown. ]
Order for Second Reading read .
Madam Speaker: Before I call the Secretary of State, perhaps it will be helpful if I state that it may be convenient if the Second Reading, the committal motion and the instruction in the name of the Leader of the Opposition are debated together, with an opportunity for a Division, if desired, at 10 o'clock. I am afraid that I shall not be able to call the instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), but the points contained in it are in order for debate on Second Reading.
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, if it meets with parliamentary approval, will lead to the construction of one of the longest and most ambitious pieces of infrastructure to be built this century. The high-speed rail link will be a project of major national significance and will provide Britain with a modern and fast link with the rest of Europe.
The Bill provides powers for the construction, maintenance and operation of the link between St. Pancras in London and the channel tunnel in Kent. The Bill includes powers for associated works, including a connection to provide access to Waterloo international station, connections to other existing lines, provision in outline for a station at Ebbsfleet in Kent, the construction of an open box that could accommodate a station at Stratford, and the alteration and extension of St. Pancras, including advance works for Thameslink. It will also secure the powers to widen the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4 on the outskirts of the Medway towns. The new railway will bring great benefits to the whole country. It will more than double the capacity for international passenger trains between this country and the continent of Europe; reduce journey times for both international and domestic trains; enable the provision of entirely new express commuter services to several parts of Kent; boost regeneration in the Thames gateway and east Kent; and enhance capacity for rail freight from every part of the nation to the continent. Some £1.5 billion has already been spent on trains, tracks and stations for railway services through the channel tunnel. Right hon. and hon. Members who have travelled on Eurostar have already enjoyed the benefits of that investment. They will also appreciate the huge likely demand for those services. Eventually, more capacity will be needed. The rail link, with an additional terminus at St. Pancras, will meet that demand.
Column 460The new line will cut journey times from Paris to London by half an hour to 2.5 hours. The journey time to Brussels will be cut to two hours and 10 minutes, once the Belgians have their new fast line. The time savings will spread the demand and the benefits still further, because they will widen the area of the country for which the journey time by rail will be competitive with air travel.
Paris to Birmingham--city centre to city centre--will come down to 4.5 hours; towns and cities served by the east coast main line will benefit from an hour's reduction in journey time. Paris to Peterborough will take only 3.5 hours.
The new line may take freight, although it is designed principally as a high-speed passenger railway. Taking passenger traffic on to the new line means more room for freight on the existing network. That will present new opportunities to shift freight from the roads. Together with the privatisation of British Rail, the channel tunnel rail link will give a major boost to rail freight. That is a key benefit for the whole country. Some 70 per cent. of freight trains through the channel tunnel are expected to have origins and destinations beyond London. It makes environmental sense for as much freight as possible to be taken on rail right through to the regions.
In the south-east, the new line provides other important benefits, particularly for Kent. Express commuter services will be taken on the new line, transforming the travelling lives of rail users from an area that is currently served by the slowest of London's commuter trains. Gravesend will see journey times to London cut from 50 minutes to 20, and Ashford from 75 minutes to 40.
The Government are keen to see the rail link act as a focus for regeneration, particularly of the Thames gateway and east Kent. That is one of the main reasons why we chose an easterly approach to London. Estimates of growth in the area around Ebbsfleet station, for example, are for 45,000 new jobs and 30,000 additional homes. Likewise, the London terminus at St. Pancras can be expected to stimulate the regeneration of the surrounding area. That provides an excellent example of the Government's policy of encouraging development around major public transport centres, with ensuing economic and environmental benefits.
Mr. Robert Jackson: My right hon. Friend was listing the benefits of the channel tunnel and the rail link. Will he include among them confirmation of the view of his predecessors--that it was unnecessary and inappropriate to have any further green field airport developments, such as that apparently envisaged for my constituency?
Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend is moving the boundaries of the debate slightly wider than that included in the Bill, but I understand his concern and would be happy to talk to him about it if he would like to take up that opportunity.
Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme): Clearly, this is the greatest opportunity that we have had this century of shifting freight from road to rail. Will my right hon. Friend look again at Trafford park, in my Manchester constituency? Currently, we already have six freight trains a night in each direction coming through the tunnel, bound for Trafford park, and the Euro-terminal, so recently opened at the eastern end of Trafford park, is threatened with closure due to the problems of noise and what many
Column 461people regard as the unrealistic level at which the noise requirement has been set, which is quite impossible for rail freight to meet.
Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend raises an important point, one that he has already brought to Ministers' attention. It is complicated by the fact that there is a local authority involvement in the issue, but I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads to look at the point that he has raised.
regeneration--which the Secretary of State rightly mentioned--but that that regeneration was intended for east London. Given that the Government have made it clear that there should always be a Stratford option, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Bill contains powers for Ebbsfleet, but only an indication of the long trench--which he mentioned--and no powers for Stratford? Surely that is an inequity in option terms.
Dr. Mawhinney: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel that. The Bill specifically makes it possible for a station to be there, but--as the hon. Gentleman pointed out--the option has been left open. That is a requirement of the promoters for bidding purposes. We shall form a judgment on the basis of the bids that are made in March.
Mr. O'Brien: Has the Secretary of State considered the question of the east line? Wakefield district council is developing its rail terminal in my constituency, which is important to the area's economy--it will mean 6,000 or 10,000 jobs in the surrounding rail freight village--but we need an assurance from the Secretary of State that freight can be moved quickly from the Yorkshire area through the tunnel.
Mr. Haselhurst: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), does my right hon. Friend accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House support furtherance of the concept of an interchange station at Stratford? I believe that the strategy of the eastern approach, which I wholly applaud, will be boosted if rail connections from the whole of East Anglia can be plugged in at Stratford.
Column 462the Stratford option would remain on the table. We shall respond to the bids, examine them and in due course reach a judgment; but Stratford remains a possibility.
The channel tunnel rail link will have an impact on the environment. As with roads, nearly 68 miles of brand-new railway cannot be built painlessly, but considerable efforts have been made to identify a route that minimises environmental damage. The Government believe that the benefits of the new railway far outweigh any detrimental impact; we also want the environmental impact to be mitigated as far as reasonably possible.
The Government have insisted that the project's developers must meet the environmental standards applied to all other major transport infrastructure projects. I believe that that objective has been achieved, first by careful route selection--the length of the route that we are discussing was considered 10 times, and nine tenths was rejected, much of it on environmental grounds--and secondly by incorporating mitigation in the design.
Extensive use has been made of existing transport corridors. Twenty-one per cent. of the route is in tunnel; 85 per cent. of the link either follows an existing transport corridor such as the M20, or runs in tunnel.
As evidence of the importance that we attach to the environment, the Government, through Union Railways, commissioned a full environmental assessment of the rail link proposals. An environmental statement of the findings of that assessment was laid before Parliament and published on 17 November last year. The assessment process will continue throughout consideration of the Bill. I commend the comprehensive work undertaken by Union Railways and its environmental consultants for its thoroughness and professionalism. I know that the environmental statement will be of interest to right hon. and hon. Members who are particularly concerned about the noise impact of the new link and the mitigation that will be provided. I also recognise the concerns about noise from the intensified use of existing lines and the fact that the Select Committee may wish to examine intensification which might result from the new rail link. However, I hope that the Select Committee will not extend its remit to intensification generally caused by the channel tunnel, as that was considered and dealt with by Parliament when passing the Channel Tunnel Act 1987.
Sir Michael Neubert: I am sorry that I sought to intervene earlier so soon after other interventions. My point relates to the environment. As my right hon. Friend knows, the chosen route is through the London borough of Havering and in particular passes through the constituency of my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). His ministerial responsibilities consign him to silence on this occasion. However, he is in his place and believes, as I and the council do, that the route through Rainham should be about 150 m south of what is proposed.
That is a point of detail, but the general point is that there is apprehension that the Select Committee will not be willing to consider petitions which seek to vary the
Column 463route by more than a minimum. Will the Minister assure me that a counter-proposal such as that by the council of a movement of about 150 m would be considered under petition by the Select Committee?
Dr. Mawhinney: I am aware of the concern of my hon. Friend the Under -Secretary of State for Schools, who is in his place on the Treasury Bench. In an entirely appropriate way in his capacity as a Member of Parliament he has made me aware of the concern of his constituents. The House will understand that it is not for me to determine or predetermine what the Select Committee should do about a petition which may or may not be submitted.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The Secretary of State has outlined his sensitivity about the loss of aural amenity resulting from the project. Will he make comparable references and express the hope that the Committee will examine the loss of visual amenity, especially in west Thurrock, where the route would be on a viaduct of a height comparable to that of the Galleries in the Chamber? It will clearly blight many properties because it will overlook them and their gardens and will clearly make it impossible for people to sell those properties.
Dr. Mawhinney: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point on behalf of his constituents, even if he over-eggs it a little. It would be slightly difficult to disguise a viaduct to make it look like anything other than a viaduct.
A recent Europewide study of high-speed rail networks emphasised the clear environmental advantages of high-speed rail over road and air transport, particularly in terms of energy efficiency, lower air pollution emissions and less land take. It would be a mistake to believe that all the environmental impacts associated with the rail link are negative. For example, the grade 1 listed St. Pancras station will be refurbished. The channel tunnel rail link creates a long-term future for this outstanding example of Victorian railway architecture.
The Bill contains a widening scheme for the A2-M2 between Cobham and junction 4. That is to relieve congestion on an important strategic route. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) and the local authorities concerned urged the Government to include the widening scheme in the Bill. They particularly wanted to see the two new viaducts over the Medway constructed at the same time. We concluded, for sound environmental reasons, that the M2 scheme should be included in the Bill and should stand as part of the Bill's principle.
An environmental statement for the widening scheme was published on the same day as the statement for the rail link. It too is based on a thorough and professional environmental assessment conducted by independent consultants. There has also been an assessment of the combined effects of the road and rail schemes.
I shall now turn to the route of the rail link and begin by describing the process of route development and consultation. This demonstrates that the route contained in the Bill was selected only after the most thorough consideration. The broad corridor for an easterly approach to London was chosen in 1991 following a comparative study of four major options. It was not the cheapest option, but the decision attracted all-party support.
Column 464The easterly route was then refined by comparing and sifting all the possible local route variations, taking account of environmental appraisals and soundings with local authorities, after which Union Railways presented a range of options following an easterly approach to London.
In March 1993, the Government selected a route for consultation, which again was not the cheapest of the options and which as a minimum met the environmental standards that apply to other major transport infrastructure projects in this country. In January 1994, and after formal public consultation that lasted more than six months, the then Secretary of State for Transport confirmed the route, with some enhancements. After further studies and consultation for two route sections he finalised the Government's chosen route in April last year.
It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to be satisfied with the route in the Bill, given that the railway has to run through environmentally sensitive and, in some sections, densely populated areas of Kent, Essex and London. However, decisions have not been taken lightly. Those who remained aggrieved throughout the process have had a proper opportunity to make their cases--leading the Government, in some instances, to reconsider earlier decisions before settling finally on what should be included in the Bill.
Because the route development, consultation and decision-making processes have been so full and painstaking, and because proper environmental standards have been used throughout, I do not believe that the Select Committee need spend time considering options outside the limits of deviation set down by the Bill for the terminus and route.
The London terminus, the existing St. Pancras station, will be extended and enlarged to provide separate accommodation for international and domestic services and for midland main line services. Physical connections will be provided with the east coast and west coast main lines to allow direct through services from the rail link to Scotland, the north of England and the midlands. A grade-separated junction is provided as the rail link leaves St. Pancras. East of the Caledonian road, the rail link will run in bored tunnel to an open box within the Stratford railway lands. That will accommodate an emergency crossover and evacuation facility and a connection to a possible depot at Temple Mills.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that the Government's position remains that it would be possible in the future, within the terms of the Bill, for there to be a junction between the channel tunnel rail link and the proposed cross-rail link?
Dr. Mawhinney: As my hon. Friend may know, that proposal is not in the Bill. However, it remains a possibility for the promoters of both projects to agree to move in that direction if they are so minded. The open box would also provide scope in the future for a station at Stratford. As I made clear to the House last year, the option of a station at Stratford remains open. A final decision will depend on our review of the bids from the four bidding consortiums when they are received.
Leaving Stratford, the rail link will continue in tunnel, emerging alongside the existing London-Tilbury-Southend line to the east of Barking station. The link will
Column 465then follow the LTS corridor. Near the Ripple lane freightliner terminal a connection will be provided to allow freight to join and leave the link.
The railway will continue along the LTS corridor, past the inner-Thames marshes and past the Mardyke housing estate on a viaduct. A second viaduct will take the rail link over the M25 and under the approach to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. The rail link will then enter tunnel to pass beneath West Thurrock marshes and the River Thames.
The link will emerge from the Thames tunnel at Swanscombe marshes, where there will be a permanent maintenance depot. The Bill provides in outline for a combined international and domestic passenger station at Ebbsfleet with parking and access to the A2 close to the M25. A connecting line to the north Kent line at Ebbsfleet will enable trains from the Medway towns to join the link for fast running into St. Pancras.
The rail link will pass under the A2 at Pepper Hill. There is provision for the disused Gravesend west line to be reinstated to provide a connection between the link and the Longfield to Swanley line, so that international passenger trains on the railway can use the international terminal at Waterloo. The rail link will then run parallel to the A2-M2, with provision for possible freight passing loops south of Singlewell.
There will be an additional viaduct over the Medway, parallel to the existing one. The rail link will then switch from the M2 corridor to the M20 corridor by entering a two-mile long tunnel under the north downs, then running largely on the surface to the north of Maidstone. The route will then run parallel to the M20, diverging for a short distance at Sandway. There is provision for possible passing loops at Charing Heath. The rail link will then leave the M20 corridor to run towards the centre of Ashford, where the line will widen to four tracks so that connections can be made with the international passenger station currently under construction. The rail link will then run parallel to the existing railway out of Ashford to Dollands Moor, where there is provision for a possible connection to the freight inspection facility. The railway will then enter Eurotunnel's terminal at Cheriton.
Last year, I described the channel tunnel rail link as a great example of co-operation between the Government and the private sector. The rail link will be built, owned and maintained by a private sector promoter. In June, we shortlisted four bidding consortia; they are now preparing their tenders, for submission on 14 March. We have set certain minimum requirements--an important one of which is consistency with the Bill--but, within those constraints, we are looking for imaginative responses from the private sector. I expect to announce the winner in the latter half of this year. If Parliament approves the Bill, I shall use its powers to designate the winning consortium as the "nominated undertaker" of the rail link. I turn now and briefly to the structure of the Bill.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): Before my right hon. Friend leaves that passage, will he clear up a possible misunderstanding? In response to one of my hon. Friends, he said that it was not for him to predetermine how a Select Committee might respond to a petition. He then said that he saw no need for the Select Committee to consider anything outside the limits of deviation. As he