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Column 477right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). There were certainly only two shadow spokesmen.
One of the problems that I inherited from the outgoing Labour Government was the channel tunnel. After almost six years of power, the Labour party had got precisely nowhere. We were no further forward on how to finance it or on how to build it. We had plenty of studies and statements, but absolutely no action.
I concede that, when the Conservatives came to power, under my right hon. and noble Friend Lady Thatcher, it was evident to even the dimmest commentator that the project would not proceed if we simply relied on the taxpayer's resources. Yet it seemed to me that the advantages of channel link remained obvious. The potential for car passengers, for freight movement and obviously for railway passengers was evident.
It was not because there was a need for an integrated transport system, or however it has been put by the Opposition; it was because such a link provided a means of transport that the public themselves wanted. There was a commercial opportunity and therefore, rather than talking about public money, as we had done at the time of the last Labour Government and before that, we realised that there was an opportunity for private capital. So, in March 1980, I was able to tell the House that the tunnel could go ahead if, and only if, it was funded by private risk capital.
I have to say to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who says that the Labour party has always been in favour of these sorts of things, that I do not remember the Labour party rushing to support that new step. Its opinion was that, if it was a public project, only public money should be used to finance it. Indeed, there were echoes of that in the speech by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. He is being held back, but we all know that, left to his own devices, the hon. Member for Oldham, West would prefer to go that way. That was the conventional transport wisdom of the time, and it certainly was the opinion of the Labour party.
Albert Booth, who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said at the time:
"If it is of considerable public advantage, why make that development dependent upon it facilitating private profit?"--[ Official Report , 19 March 1980; Vol. 981, c. 390.]
That was not exactly an endorsement of private investment. It was, if I may so describe it, the clause IV of investment that investment of that type must be public investment.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and for his exposition of the background to financing the tunnel privately. Does he agree that, if the huge cost overruns that developed in the building of the tunnel had been on the taxpayer's back, they would have been an appalling burden for the taxpayer to carry, but that the overruns have been privately financed?
Let me add that, even with the private investment plan, there were substantial problems. Above all, the Treasury--I suspect that I might take the hon. Member
Column 478for Oldham, West with me on this--remained sceptical. I am amused to see that it now claims to be the pioneer of private investment. In truth, I think that it was a very late convert to the cause. The real breakthrough, as far as the tunnel was concerned, came- -the hon. Member for Oldham, West alluded to it--when President Mitterrand and a number of socialist Ministers came to visit Lady Thatcher together in 1981. In spite of all the predictions, it was a very good meeting. I imagine that it was rather like a meeting between the hon. Member for Oldham, West and the Leader of the Opposition. It was courteous; it was friendly; but there was no real meeting of minds. However, in the case of a meeting of national leaders, a communique must be issued afterwards. Something had to be said--they had to agree on something. I am glad to say that, with some prompting, they agreed on the need for a channel tunnel. In Whitehall, the order went out that the Prime Minister wanted it and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, with his Government experience, the No. 10 Downing street card trumps all in Whitehall.
So it happened that the channel tunnel was built. It was built by private investment. The tunnel also promises to be a great success, and that success has been achieved by Conservative Governments and certainly would not have been achieved under a Labour Government. That is quite obvious.
I for one want similar determination and urgency to be employed to complete the channel tunnel rail link. I have always doubted whether the present rail system would be able to deal with rail demands until 2005. All the early signs suggest that the passenger services to Paris and Brussels will be successful. All the signs are that many people will gladly switch from the crush of Heathrow to the railway. Many people will take the view that it is the best and quickest way to travel.
As has been mentioned, there is substantial potential for freight as well. As the House knows, I am a non-executive director of NFC plc. It is not an investor in the terminal, in the tunnel or the link, but doubtless it will be a user--a customer--at some stage. However, let me return to the subject of passengers.
It would be a great pity if the full potential of the railways were defeated by capacity problems; if, having achieved the major goal of the tunnel, we were tripped by the question of the link running to it. I therefore wish to question Ministers on two aspects. The first aspect is the arrangement for financing the link. It was sensible for the Government to ask for private investment. Obviously, a good business opportunity exists; but equally, in the case of the link, I am aware of no reason why public money should be excluded, and I say that for the following reason.
The link is not as outstanding a commercial opportunity as the tunnel, which has the income stream provided by the car and the lorry shuttle. Even more significantly, there can be no doubt that the link must meet important environmental demands to protect the public--involving tunnelling and so on. Thus, the link must meet other criteria in addition to exclusively business criteria. In those circumstances, it is entirely justifiable that public investment be used, and the fact that the costs may be perhaps one- third of the project emphasises the argument.
Column 479I think that the Government are right to say that the link will be a private and public project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was not urged to reply on the subject, but perhaps he might have been--not to say how much, which I assume will be part of the negotiations, nor on the percentage or the capital sum concerned.
Dr. Mawhinney: My right hon. Friend has been especially modest in describing his contribution to the development of the channel tunnel, and I should like to record that, at least on behalf of Conservative Members. As for his specific argument, of course he is right to note that the link will be a public-private arrangement. The public sector, through actions that I shall take, will contribute Union Railways' and European Passenger Services' cash and property to the arrangement.
Mr. Spearing: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I note his argument, but does he agree that the fact that--as far as I know--bids must be submitted before the full alignment and requirements of the Hybrid Bill Committees in both Houses are known, makes the costs of construction and running the railway slightly hypothetical; not to mention the fact that the market price of tariffs of alternative routes by air, sea and land makes the projection of any profit difficult? Does he agree that that perhaps makes the theology of always applying private criteria to that specific project questionable?
Sir Norman Fowler: I thank my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he said. I hear what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) says. If we can manage to build the channel tunnel entirely with private money, it should not be beyond our capacity to carry out a joint rail link project.
I confess to being a little puzzled about how it has been announced that public investment is to be committed. Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 says:
"No government grants to the Railway Board in respect of international railway services"
are allowed. I imagine that the legal advice is that that ban does not include other facilities like commuter services running on the new rail link, or bodies other than the Railway Board. I imagine that, as always, the Treasury opposes any change in the 1987 Act which it fears might open the floodgates. Having made every allowance, however, there is something to be said for clarity in legislation, particularly when public funds are at stake.
Dr. Mawhinney: May I help my hon. Friend again? Section 42 to which he refers applies to a public sector body, which is British Rail. The rail link will be a private sector entity, and the circumstances are entirely different. We do not plan to repeal section 42.
Sir Norman Fowler: That just confirms what I was saying. I understood that point. We shall see the position as it develops. My second question concerns access to the rail link from other parts of the country. In that respect, I agree strongly with what the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said. I shall leave it to my right hon. and hon.
Column 480Friends behind me to raise issues relating to the south of the country. My concern is about the midlands and the north.
According to the Union Railways brief, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed, once the rail link has been completed it will take two and a half hours to travel from St. Pancras to Paris. That makes it a very attractive service which the public will clearly support. From Birmingham to Paris, however, it will take four and a half hours and from Manchester to Paris, five and a quarter hours, even after the rail link has been completed. The Union Railways' brief states that those are
"Electrified Main Lines, which could be served by direct international day- time trains, via junctions at St. Pancras. Some routes would need engineering work or station works. Easy interchange with international trains at St. Pancras are also available to these routes".
When the Minister sums up, will he say a little more about the position? Will he explain how the nation north-east and north-west of St. Pancras will join up with the rail link, what engineering and station works are required and, above all, what timing is planned?
Mr. William O'Brien: I appreciate the support that has been given to the points that I made earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will impress on the Secretary of State the need for capital investment, be it private or public, in the lines from St. Pancras to the north if we are to have the speed and efficiency required, to which people in the north are entitled.
Sir Norman Fowler: Yes, indeed. That takes me to my final point. Clearly, the whole approach to the channel tunnel and channel link is that we must seek to attract the public on to the railways. To do that, the east coast and west coast routes urgently require investment. Given the private investment that is planned, the west coast route is even more urgent than the east coast one. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can say something about that when he responds.
Clearly, we shall hear much more from the hon. Member for Oldham, West about the so-called "integrated transport policy", public ownership and the advantages of public management. I am bound to say that, from my experience, to hold up British Rail as an example of how an industry should be managed is one of the most extraordinary claims that I have ever heard. How can it help the running of the railways to have Ministers and civil servants breathing down the necks of British Rail managers? Whatever Opposition Members may think, that is the reality of nationalised industries, and it happened more under Labour than under this Government. Bureaucracy and interference go together.
The real debate should be about how we attract the public onto the railways. In achieving that, the Government have taken a number of crucial steps, which Labour simply has not done. They have enabled the building of the channel tunnel with private investment, and the tunnel is now open. Had we relied on public
Column 481spending, it would not be open. The Government are now enabling the rail link to proceed. Again, private investment is crucial to that project, although some public money will be required to meet some of its legitimate objectives.
Both projects will go down as substantial achievements--the achievements of private investment. We now need the greatest possible speed in completing the rail link so that the railways can compete for business effectively.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Clearly, there is general support for the principle of the Bill. What is criticised is not only the late arrival of this Eurostar or Euro union but some of the features surrounding it. I raised one of those in an intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). If we are to protect the public, particularly people on the route--some defects in the Bill will be raised in Committee in that respect--we must be prepared as members of the public to support the operation of that line. The Government, however, say that they want it to be constructed and run by the same firm. The paradox in that respect is, in modern circumstances, difficult to sustain. Criticism has also been made about the railway track. A two-track railway can operate to a certain capacity and at certain speeds and braking distances, but if it is to retain freight in order to relieve noise and disturbance elsewhere while also operating as a domestic line, a two-track railway may not be enough. The Bill would have been better had it contained the reservation for a three-track extension or widening as and when the time arose, or even for a four-track line in future centuries. That requires a public less than a private enterprise.
My speech will focus on my instruction on the Order Paper. I understand why all instructions cannot be accepted for debate, but I shall read it to transfer it from the Order Paper to Hansard . It stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr.Banks) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), and the hon. Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Castle Point (Dr. Spink). Other hon. Members may support it in their speeches. It instructs the Select Committee:
"that it shall consider the merits of including in the Bill all powers, facilities, permissions, licences and other statutory provisions required for the construction and operation of a combined international and domestic passenger station at Stratford, in the London Borough of Newham, comparable to those in the Bill applying to such a station at Ebbsfleet in Kent."
When I intervened on the Secretary of State, he agreed that, while there are powers in the Bill for Ebbsfleet, there are none for Stratford, but thought that that was not inequity. I would claim that it is inequity for a true option, which is the Government's well-rehearsed and well-publicised policy.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): I just want to confirm what the hon. Gentleman said--that there are other Conservative Members who would support such an instruction. I hope very much that my hon. Friend the
Column 482Minister will take note of that fact and of the fact that this relatively harmless instruction keeps options open-- options which might be valuable for the future.
Mr. Spearing: I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman. I have noted other interventions from hon. Members who represent constituencies throughout East Anglia, because it is the north-eastern part of London, particularly into East Anglia, that requires cross-Thames access to the channel tunnel. I understand, subject to correction, that the figures that Union Railways presented to various people on the likely use of the tunnel were based on assumptions relating to air traffic from Heathrow. I suggest that that is not necessarily a good way of going about it.
I also take the point made by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), because if we do not get it right now, the option diversion will surely get worse. If the Bill does not provide optional powers for a possible station at Stratford, people will say, "We are not sure; the future is not clear." Will there be an additional order under the Transport and Works Act 1992? That will be difficult. It will take time, and perhaps another Bill. There may be more objections and procedure, which I suggest will further the difference in terms of the option that the Government claim is there but which, I suggest, in reality is not in terms of prospects and what is in the Bill.
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): The option for a station at Stratford is kept open by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will recall the very informative debate that we had on that matter in the early hours of the morning just before Christmas. The Government decided that Ebbsfleet should be part of the project and that there should be a parkway there, while the decision on Stratford remains open.
The decision will be taken not by the nominated undertaker of the project, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It will be informed by the bids that we receive, which will evaluate the economic arguments made so cogently by supporters of the Stratford case on many occasions. The position for a station at Stratford, should the case be made, is protected in the Bill. It is only for the building works connected with the station that Transport and Works Act procedures would be required. If the promoting company felt that there was justification for it--that would inform my right hon. Friend's decision--I do not believe that obtaining the necessary powers through those procedures will be an obstacle to the construction of the station.
Mr. Spearing: I think that, on reflection, the Minister will agree that his intervention is helpful to our case. I do not think that the option is in the Bill. Let me specify. On page 96 of schedule 4, where it shows the land numbers on deposited plans, on parcels 26 to 32 relating to Ebbsfleet it says:
"The provision of an international and domestic passenger station with ancillary development and car parking, diversion of overhead electric cables".
On the relevant parcels of land on page 89 of the same schedule, relating to Stratford, no such words appear; it is largely related to construction purposes, electric cables and so on. If the Minister is telling me that full powers for a station are in the Bill, that is not the information or advice that I have been given.
Column 483He agrees that he is not telling me that, so if the option is to be made by the Secretary of State--I am grateful for the confirmation of that--after the bids are in, why does he not give himself that option in the Bill rather than saying, "If I choose to accept the choice for Stratford I must go to the House either with a Transport and Works Act order or with a Bill"? Perhaps the Minister will answer that.
Mr. Watts: The Bill makes provision for the long box, which would hold the structure of the station. It does not make provision for a station, because no decision has yet been made on whether there should be a station. The Bill is constructed in such a way that that option is not closed off. If a decision were made that a station should be constructed at Stratford it could be done by a Transport and Works Act procedure, or it might even be possible at a later stage to consider an amendment to the Bill. I do not believe that anything in the structure of the Bill closes off that option, should my right hon. Friend be persuaded that such a station ought to be built.
Mr. Spearing: I shall not pursue this any further. The difference between us seems to be getting a little narrower, but the mere fact that other actions need to be taken, including an amendment, or perhaps an additional provision, which is also possible, makes the case.
I do not wish to take too long, as many hon. Members wish to speak, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), who has had more to do with the matter, and properties in his constituency are very much affected. The adoption of the Stratford option would have advantages for regeneration, in environmental terms, in public transport and finance, all of which are matters to which the Government and, I am sure, all hon. Members would give their assent.
The Government said that east London would benefit from regeneration. My hon. Friend, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is better qualified than I to speak, as a former leader of Newham council. All I would add is that, if there are to be domestic services from Kent, as has been indicated, the effects of regeneration on east London will be great, but they will be less so if domestic United Kingdom services cannot stop at Stratford, still less go on through the projected cross-rail, possibly to Heathrow. Good strategic planning suggests that that is where they should go. The Government now say that they want a balance between road and rail traffic. If there is to be freedom from the car, an argument which may appeal to the noble Baroness Thatcher, we must use rail properly and to the best advantage. Yet in the Bill there is a possibility for an M25 interchange, to which people from the London area or even further north might wish to head in their cars on a long-distance journey, whereas if they use the existing rail network in London to get to St. Pancras or Stratford, the frequency and distance of travel by car might not be so great, because the interchange possibility at Stratford is very considerable. True, it is possible at King's Cross, too, but King's Cross is an inner-London area, constrained by Victorian architecture and existing functions, whereas a Stratford station would have many advantages.
At present, there are no fewer than 14 rail routes clockwise, as it were-- the Central line has two branches in one direction--which can, with one connection to Chingford, be reinstated, centering on Stratford. With cross- rail, there would be even more. That would give
Column 484direct access to Stratford from 180 stations in Greater London and south-east England, and from more than 200 if the cross-rail were built. Those stations include major stations in East Anglia, but not the rest.
There would also be direct access to Stratford, in addition to the through trains from the rest of the United Kingdom, by the use of the north London rail link and others, particularly from Manchester, Birmingham or Newcastle, by fast or semi-fast trains. Those routes could include centres for through registration of luggage and ticketing, with certain through trains perhaps providing a timetable interchange.
We all have difficulties sometimes when a terminus is experiencing problems; Stratford station could serve as an extra means of shortening journeys when there are difficulties in the centre, as Clapham Junction, Finsbury Park and Reading do now when such inevitable difficulties occur. Stratford would also provide direct communication with the royal docks area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) pointed out. That area already has an international airport, and will almost certainly have a university college and a large exhibition centre: together, the two will have a second-phase floor space equivalent to Olympia and Earl's Court. There would also be an additional financial return. People might wish to use Stratford on the domestic route, or might take the fast channel link because of the existence of that station. There could be charter traffic or long-distance sleepers to anywhere in Europe, avoiding rail and personnel congestion at St. Pancras. I think that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield agrees with me that that would provide extra revenue for the line.
The House has been discussing this problem for more than a century. Sir Edward Watkin, a railway pioneer of over a century ago, put together the former Lincolnshire and Yorkshire railways to form the Great Central, of which I believe he was chairman. That was the last great main line to London, and at least the route should have been kept, because it was built to a continental gauge. Sir Edward was also chairman of the Metropolitan railway, of which the East London line was a subsidiary, and of the South Eastern and Chatham and the then Channel Tunnel company. He had a bit of co -ordination. I do not think that we have quite reached the standards of Sir Edward Watkin a century ago. The Bill goes towards that, but it would be a better Bill if it were enlarged to allow powers for Stratford to be built, at the option of the Secretary of State.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in the debate. I have listened with interest so far: it is fascinating to note that everyone now accepts the need for the line, although British Rail told the Select Committee considering the tunnel that there was no foreseeable need for any such railway. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) spoke of what happened over a century ago. Over a century ago, a protester in Kent said that there should be no tunnelling there--especially in the Boxley valley--because of the danger of unexpectedly running into a manure cart coming in the other direction. Attitudes to the tunnel have changed remarkably since then, however. The
Column 485Boxley long tunnel, for instance, is essential if Kent is to retain a conurbation of the proper size; without it, development in Maidstone and the Medway towns will close up on the surface railway just as it has done on the motorways that surround the valley. There are plenty of environmental reasons for recommending a Boxley valley tunnel. I shall not, however, spend time describing the ancient woodland there; I shall not even speak of the protection of a Cistercian abbey which was arguably the parent of the Church of England, as it was there that Henry VIII rejected the Pope's emissaries. Nor shall I stress the fact that the valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty, which would be destroyed by a railway running down the middle of it. The important point--which has been part of the county's central planning for 50 years--is that the great conurbation of the Medway towns should not run into the conurbation of Maidstone, creating an urban sprawl out of all proportion to the rest of the county.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for visiting the area last Thursday to observe the strength of the arguments for himself. I was disappointed when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appeared to suggest that he would advise the Select Committee not to consider the Boxley tunnel, or any other tunnel outside the limits of deviation. The Boxley tunnel, however, is unique: unlike any of the other tunnelling options considered in the instruction, it does not transfer blight from one part to another. No blight is associated with the tunnel. In a parliamentary answer, the Government stated: "The long tunnel through the Boxley valley has significant environmental advantages, but the Government decided that these did not justify spending an additional £65 million".--[ Official Report , 31 January 1994; Vol. 236, c. 505 .]
The Department of Transport has also told me that some 160 out of 194 representations received from Kent stressed the importance of a tunnel through the Boxley valley. That view is supported by the county council, every district council, every parish council, every amenity group and every action group. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that he does not intend to put pressure on the Select Committee to refuse to consider a highly valued and unanimously supported proposal.
"It is for the Select Committees to decide on the scope of their consideration; the Government can only offer guidance in such matters."
There is a clear difference between guidance and an instruction. I am opposed to accepting an instruction to the Committee precisely because it would restrict the Committee's discretion. I am confident that right hon. and hon. Members who are appointed to the Committee will be able to view petitions that are presented to them objectively, and to reach sensible conclusions.
I can give my hon. Friend a further assurance, which I have given at meetings on a number of occasions. The Government will of course continue to support the line of the channel tunnel rail link that is set out in the Bill, because we consider it to be the best route, balancing the various factors that need to be balanced. I shall not, however, indulge in any private arm-twisting to try to make Select Committee members take a particular view.
Column 486Any guidance that is given will be given openly, before the Select Committee; there will be no behind-the-scenes shenanigans--not least because, as my hon. Friend will recognise, those appointed to the Committee understand the importance of their task. That task is to examine matters objectively, without being susceptible to undue pressure. In any event, neither the Government nor I myself will exert such pressure.
Mr. Rowe: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful clarification. I am confident that the arguments that I have already advanced, which have been advanced so often and will be advanced again in petitions, will sway the Select Committee.
I have one further argument. The costings suggest that a single-bore tunnel would cost an additional £65 million and that, if the Health and Safety Executive insisted on a twin-bore tunnel, it would add a further £50 million. Those costings are open to serious question. More importantly, the widening of the M20, which is already many months overdue and on which work is continuing, has been delayed and enormous additional costs have been incurred partly because of the extraordinary difficulty of working in slippery gault clay. A large part of the surface route will be constructed on gault clay, but the tunnel itself will pass through entirely predictable chalk and I suspect that there will be a much lower cost differential than is at present claimed.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): Will the newly widened M20 be in a tunnel? If it will not, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the people of Kent object only to noise from trains rather than that from cars and lorries?
Mr. Rowe: If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that the thrust of my argument is that, as surface-built motorways have been used as the boundaries of urban sprawl, a surface-built railway will be used in the same way. We are anxious to ensure that that urban sprawl is held as it has been held for the past 50 years by borough councils on both sides of Bluebell hill. I shall now deal with stations. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that the people who design railways appear to want to make sure that they do not stop anywhere. It was perfectly clear from the beginning that British Rail and its successor Union Railways wanted to build an aeroplane on wheels and had no desire whatever to have stations on their fast line. They have been browbeaten into creating a number of stations which they now gracefully say could conceivably be useful because they might attract some customers.
Ashford now has an international station, thanks substantially to the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed). It would be wrong for me to trespass in other constituencies, but, as the Select Committee will take this debate as one of its guidelines, it is helpful to have some iteration.
It is important to make it clear that the design of Ashford international station is for only the first generation of trains. If the second generation cannot stop there, the Department of Transport says that any necessary adjustments may be made to the track and line side structures if there is a need for access to the international passenger service by larger trains. It is not a promising start for an international station which could be one of the
Column 487great growth points for Kent's economy if, after 25 years, it can be visited only by old-fashioned trains that are approaching the end of their lives.
I am in favour of a station at Stratford, not least because it widens choice for Kent commuters, many of whom have no desire whatever to be taken as far as St. Pancras. I welcome the arrival of the private sector in the project. British Rail has always seemed to prefer to see the difficulties in any changing market situation rather than the opportunities. For example, the way in which it has run down its freight operations in recent years is a disgrace. I look forward to a change in philosophy. I hope that, as part of the private sector desire to get more passengers on to the railways, there will be an attempt to incorporate some junction with the Medway link to help Maidstone residents benefit from the new railway. Compensation is of great importance. It is bad enough at the moment, but what will it be like in five years? A substantial number of elderly constituents have been confidently expecting that some time in the next decade they will be able to sell their properties and move to their relatives or elsewhere. But their whole future is now deeply in doubt. The current discretionary compensation scheme is wholly inadequate and it was made worse by the profligate purchasing by British Rail of properties at the height of the boom, many of which are not even on the finally decided route. There must be a much more generous and compassionate compensation scheme for the 10-year period of the construction of the line.
It is bizarre that the line has been designed for trains travelling at 140 mph and that environmental protection has been put in by the environmental consultants at that level. Everyone knows, and the designer now admits, that the private sector owner will unquestionably want to run trains at 186 mph, which is the theoretical maximum speed that the line could support. We have been told that the studies that are needed to ascertain the noise effects at that speed have been completed and published. However, a letter last week from Union Railways made it clear that the effects of the mitigation of higher speeds have not yet been worked out. Clearly, it would be absurd to build the line to lower speed standards if those standards have to be raised later, probably almost as soon as the line is built. In my village of Harrietsham, to take but one example, it would be ridiculous to have a massive sound barrier that had to be raised before the trains had even started to run because the line was designed originally for a lower speed. Many of my constituents are anxious about the Medway bridge. It is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner), but it is of such importance to so many of my constituents that we should consider again whether there should be a two-tier bridge carrying rail and road traffic. We have been told that such bridges do not work, but one has only to look at the example of Newcastle upon Tyne to see that they work quite satisfactorily. Such a bridge would be helpful.
There has been considerable confusion over freight. One day we are told that there will be so many passengers on the new line that there will be no room for freight. The next day we are told that there is so much additional capacity on existing lines that there is no need for freight on the new line. But that will probably be the promoter's only line and he is bound to want to maximise its use for freight, which will be important. What sort of freight will
Column 488it carry? Will it be that which can be carried on a passenger train set-up? If so, why are passing loops needed? If they are not needed, why cannot the money be spent on the Boxley long tunnel instead? Finally, because I have spoken for longer than I had intended, I again urge the Select Committee not only to use its discretion but to take into account the Boxley long tunnel. That tunnel starts and ends within the limits of deviation, but passes outside those limits. There is a unanimous desire in Kent to have that tunnel considered by the Select Committee. It would be flying in the face of everything that has ever been meant by consultation if, in opposition to that unanimity, the Select Committee was unable to consider that deviation.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and, unusually, I suspect that there is a great deal of unanimity on some points. Therefore, I hope to break a bit of new ground rather than repeat points on which I already agree. We welcome the much- delayed arrival of the Bill at the Westminster platform, but we are extremely concerned at the time that it is likely to spend in the station. The apparent precedent of the hybrid Bill for the Channel tunnel is rather an illusion. That Bill related to a major project, but there are not many householders on the bed of the English channel. In view of the Bill's complexity and the extent to which it affects the rights of individual citizens, we must recognise that Parliament has a unique responsibility to give those citizens a right to be heard.
The Bill will affect 850 acres of agricultural land, 87 agricultural holdings, 182 businesses, 21 listed buildings and 14 other buildings of historic interest. It will mean the demolition of 60 residential buildings and the loss of 75 acres of ancient woodland. Some 410 residential properties will be directly affected by noise, while a further 1,600 will be subjected to ground-borne noise and vibration. It is therefore immediately obvious that the Select Committee will have to consider a veritable harvest of petitions. Indeed, I suspect that the fact that schedule 1 has 35 pages is something of a record. We must be careful to ensure that the petitioners have a real opportunity to express their concerns. A number of those who are already anxious about the way in which the Bill may proceed have asked that the Select Committee proceedings do not start until the petitioners at least have had the opportunity to raise their concerns with the promoters. That might be a wise precaution and could prevent the Committee from becoming bogged down at the outset. As the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, the issue of compensation is crucial.
One issue that has not yet received much attention is access to farmland. The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 required railway companies to provide and maintain in perpetuity what were called accommodation crossings --that is, bridges and passages allowing access to land. Some 150 years later we are dealing with the first large railway proposal since that Act. Although it may not be possible exactly to replicate the rights under the Act, it would not be proper for the channel tunnel rail link simply to sweep aside those interests and concerns. Land owners and farmers want the obligations under the 1845 Act to apply in some form or another.
Column 489Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about links to other parts of the country, especially the north. There is already a great deal of confusion about what is to happen. Railtrack East Anglia costed three options for linking the channel tunnel rail link to the east coast main line and chose the most expensive option because it knew that it would be funded by the Department of Transport-- only to find that that support was not forthcoming. That is an awesome warning to others.
The Under-Secretary must persuade us tonight that he is not considering the channel tunnel rail link in isolation and that he fully understands the need for links not just to the east and west coast main lines but to Wales, the south-west and the west. As a result of the confusion, it appears extremely unlikely that the start date of 1996 for the introduction of the north of London Eurostars will be met. I am sure that the good people of Peterborough will be looking to the Secretary of State to repeat his statement at the 1994 Conservative party conference that it would be met. There are also concerns about the way in which the funding is likely to operate. Some of those have been articulated this evening. I draw to the attention of the House the fact that European Passenger Services has been gifted assets of £818 million while the British Rail Board, to quote the Under-Secretary's statement last March, "retains certain contingent liabilities in respect of guarantees and indemnities which it had entered into when EPS was its subsidiary."
In other words, the private sector operator takes the assets and British Rail is left with the liabilities. That cannot give great confidence to those of us concerned about the balance of investment. Reference has already been made tonight to freight, but I want to develop the argument further. I was part of the team to promote the rail-based link and I have always believed that the best case for a channel tunnel was the fact that it would extend the United Kingdom's rail network and link it to the continental network. That makes long-distance freight economically viable again, which is already apparent by the fast rate of development in freight services. They are a great success. The link will provide the main opportunity for piggy-back trains and there must be a commitment to that development. The substantial potential of transfer from road to rail of long-distance freight makes sense only if the link either carries freight or makes the passage of freight easier through the narrow corridors of London and Kent.
I refer to some of the points in the excellent briefing from the Freight Transport Association. The successful development of the new rail freight market is already suffering from a lack of track capacity. The completion of the high-speed link will have to free up freight on the existing network or the market will be stymied at the very moment that it needs to grow. It is extremely important that the Committee and the Bill take full account of the potential of freight. It will be important to provide freight loops near Gravesend and Ashford and there will have to be a connection to the Dollands Moor freight terminal. I hope that the Committee will take that on board. It is clear that the provision of a link between the new line and the existing London and Chatham railway south of Gravesend will enable high -speed passenger trains to
Column 490reach Waterloo international without travelling over lines used by freight services. The interrelationship between improvement to passenger services and making more effective use of freight services is critical if the Bill and the project are to attract the good will of the whole nation. This is not of concern just to the south- east; everyone in the country wants the balance to be right for the best of all reasons, both economically and environmentally.
The hon. Member for Mid-Kent referred to the fact that the people of Kent want the assurance that domestic services will improve so that they can benefit from the increase in speed on the link. Hon Members are entitled to an assurance that journey times will be cut for the thousands of commuters from Kent. We want not vague promises but an assurance that, from day one, that benefit will come from the link operation.
The exchange between the Under-Secretary and a number of hon Members about the nature of the instructions caused me some concern. As I read the instructions, they are not attempts to tie the hands of those hon Members who serve on the Select Committee; far from it, they have been carefully phrased in terms that will guide the Committee. I agree with the Under- Secretary that, to use his words, there should not be any private arm- twisting, but I see nothing wrong with a little public arm-twisting in the mother of Parliaments. That is our responsibility on behalf of all those who will be affected by the project.
I and my hon. Friends support both instructions. As a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House share our view, I hope that the Select Committee will take account of that fact even if the instructions are not pressed to a Division.
Reference has been made to a number of Kent concerns and they are epitomised in the instructions. I am especially concerned about the anxieties expressed in east London and in our debate about the extent to which the Secretary of State means what he says. In opening the debate, he said that he wanted to commit himself to a route "that minimises environmental damage". In a number of important respects, that does not appear to be the case in Islington and in other council areas in east London and Essex. I am glad to see hon. Members nodding in agreement.
For example, the Baxter B option in the borough of Islington is clearly intended to fulfil the Secretary of State's promise. The fact that he was not prepared to endorse it this afternoon was disappointing. I am sure that the compensation issue will loom large in the Committee's considerations. At this stage, we cannot give more than the general instruction that has been given in the two statements this afternoon. I hope that Committee members will, in due course, take those into account.
It is clear that the Bill's tortuous parliamentary route makes it extremely unlikely that work on the link will start before the last possible date for the next general election. Inevitably then, its progress--hon. Members have referred to this already--will coincide with Government attempts to sell off Railtrack. The two processes are inextricably entwined. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to make it clear that we do not believe that Railtrack can be fully privatised before polling day for the next general election. The reasons are, first, that potential financiers have started to do their sums. They know that many of the claimed assets, such as tunnels and bridges, are huge
Column 491potential liabilities. Secondly, the failure of the private finance initiative casts even more gloom in the City. Its only application will almost certainly be to the channel tunnel rail link. It will not be used anywhere else in the railway system. It will not be available because it simply cannot stack up as a financial prospect. Thirdly, the costs of privatisation of operating services and the on-cost pressure on franchisees, together with continuing subsidy constraints on British Rail, do not bode well for Railtrack's profitability. Finally, investors must know by now that, even if a majority still exists in the House for privatisation, it certainly does not exist among the public at large. It is unthinkable that a by-election candidate who is committed to privatisation will be elected to the House between now and the next general election, and Ministers know how vulnerable the Government's majority is. City investors are no fools. Even if privatisation made progress before the next general election, they know that it would be halted in its tracks immediately after polling day. I noticed that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who is not here at the moment, said nothing on the subject this afternoon. He seems to have been sidelined in the debate of the past few days.
I make it crystal clear that I and my colleagues in the Liberal Democratic party will do everything in our power to retain or reclaim a 51 per cent. golden share in Railtrack, so that the rail network can provide a successful public service. We believe that the project before the House could be derailed by a dogmatic insistence on privatisation of that network.