Previous Section Home Page

Column 532

The second key point for the railways is capital investment, not current subsidies. What is important is going for competitive advantage. With new technology, we can run trains faster on existing lines. We are getting greater advances in signalling. We are taking out many of the staffing costs and we are taking out many of the bad jobs to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, East referred. I also echo the point about reducing the noise from freight and passenger trains. The advances that we made through research into the quiet, heavy lorry are coming in terms of quiet, heavier trains. The combination of the technology of the train, the engine and the track will help to reduce the amount of noise to which people are exposed. If more freight goes through residential areas on old, established lines, that is a duty that we owe to local people who will be inconvenienced by what I am told is aural pollution--or is it aural loss?

Mr. Mackinlay: It is spelt A-U-R-A-L--aural. There is a loss of aural amenity. It is a bloody great noise.

Mr. Bottomley: I know how it is spelt and I know what it means, but I tend to call it noise pollution, which is a more

straightforward way to refer to it.

My next point is linked to the debate on through ticketing which will be held on Wednesday. There have been jokes about whether people will be able to buy a through ticket from Peterborough.

I believe that it is possible for through ticketing to be available not just at railway stations. On the day that the regulator's options came out, I received a letter from an operating company in my constituency saying that the ticket offices in my stations would be open for longer hours and not shorter hours.

About 40,000 establishments will soon be able to provide national lottery expertise. With new technology, we should be able to buy tickets off line, in advance and at best value prices; that is not available now. The idea that people should buy tickets only at stations is out of date and we do not always get the best value from that.

I look forward to a better future. The people who will gain most from the Bill are those who do not move from the roads as the rest of us switch to trains as often as we can.

8.37 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me for a rare foray on the Back Benches.

I begin by declaring a personal interest. The channel tunnel traffic, having passed for most of its route through north London in a tunnel, will come whistling out of the tunnel about 70 yd behind the back wall of my house. I therefore have a personal interest in what is happening. I also have a deep constituency interest, because several thousand of my constituents are likely to be adversely affected by the current proposals.

I support the principle of the Bill; I support having the channel tunnel high-speed link. The approach through east London is the best approach that could be devised, and St. Pancras is probably the right destination for the link. However, I want it to be done properly, and that is the whole point of the instruction that has been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is also the tenor of the debate on both sides today.

Column 533

The original proposal from Union Railways was that the channel tunnel trains, throughout their passage to Islington, would be above ground, using the existing north London line. After vigorous representation and after a campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and myself, we managed successfully to persuade the Government to put the line in a tunnel under the north London line for most of its passage through Islington. There is, however, a remaining problem, which relates to the western edge of the borough. One of the arms of the line will now rise towards the surface just to the east of Caledonian road. Under the proposals currently in the Bill, it will cross Caledonian road in cut and cover. It will then come up on to the surface behind Gifford street and run on the surface from there into the grade- separated junction behind St. Pancras. It is that piece of its travels from the area just to the east of Caledonian road into St. Pancras about which I am especially concerned.

The impact of such proposals will be severe. There will be noise, vibration and disturbance to people who, of course, already encounter considerable disturbance from traffic along the north London line as it exists at the moment. Perhaps even worse will be the impact of construction, because the area to the north of Gifford street and the area immediately to the east of Caledonian road will be used as a large-scale construction site for the whole period of

construction--again, under the proposals as they stand in the Bill. There will be a traffic impact of about 290 lorry movements per day on the Caledonian road. If the cut-and-cover operation across Caledonian road is decided on, together with the proposed work to the Fleet sewer, there will have to be either partial or wholesale closure of Caledonian road, with the diversion of traffic which will inevitably follow, into all the surrounding residential streets. The impact from disturbance, from noise, from vibration, from construction and from traffic diversion on a large number of my constituents will be adverse.

Union Railways has said that it is prepared to look at an alternative: to move the tunnel portal further to the west and perhaps avoid the necessity of cut and cover across Caledonian road by instead going in a bored tunnel under Caledonian road. Kindly, the Minister, in a letter of 3 January, confirmed to me that Union Railways is considering such an option.

But that is not the option in the Bill. If we pass the Bill as it stands, we have no guarantee that Union Railways or the private bidders who will come forward for the work itself will undertake that alternative option. It would be useful if the Minister could give us some guidance on whether we will end up with that proposal rather than the specifics in the Bill, which are not as favourable as those about which Union Railways is now talking.

However, there is a third option, which is favoured by all local residents, is favoured by Islington council and is certainly the option which I have argued--directly to the Minister and to Union Railways--should at the very least be considered. That option is of a tunnel all the way into the railway lands behind St. Pancras. A study by Alan Baxter Associates has shown that such an option is perfectly technically feasible. It involves putting the grade-separated junction below ground rather

Column 534

than above ground. Yes, it will cost a little more than the current proposals. However, the Cally Rail group, which has been arguing the case very strongly, has demonstrated very clearly that there are compensating advantages in land value in the railway lands which could offset some of that extra cost.

That is a much better option. Union Railways, however, has reacted very dismissively. It has not talked at all about what work it has done or what calculations it has made about the cost of that option. However, it is the best environmental option, it is the best option from the point of view of residents, and it would greatly lessen the impact of construction. The Select Committee ought at the very least to look at that option, to question Union Railways about it, and to see whether it would be technically and financially feasible, as I believe it would be. Having a tunnel all the way into the railway lands would be of enormous relief to my constituents.

So there are four key questions that I would like the Committee to address. First, will it look properly, fully at the option of a tunnel to the west of Caledonian road leading into the railway lands? Secondly, will it ensure that, when construction takes place, it takes place from within the railway lands and not from construction sites immediately next to residential properties on either side of Caledonian road?

Thirdly, what provision will there be for compensation for those residents who are adversely affected not only by the line in its final form, but by the five to seven years of construction work which is likely to take place immediately beside their homes? Fourthly, what future does the Secretary of State have in mind for what is known as the Lough road site, which is excluded from the Bill but which was previously earmarked, disastrously and unnecessarily, for a concrete batching plant? I hope and trust that that plan will now be consigned to the dustbin.

I do not urge that the Bill is abandoned--I think that it should go ahead-- but I urge that it should go ahead properly. If it does not go ahead with full environmental protection for those who are affected by it, the lives of hundreds of my constituents, which are currently blighted, will continue to be blighted.

The instruction to the Committee would at the very least give us some hope that the concerns of those people would be considered. I urge the Government and the House to support, if not the letter of the instruction, the purpose of it, and to ensure that the Select Committee considers the needs of those residents who will be affected directly by the proposals in the Bill.

8.47 pm

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): Many hon. Members have said that the proceedings of this debate will be obligatory reading for those members of the Select and Standing Committees ultimately dealing with the Bill when it leaves the Floor of the House. I hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to the comments made by all hon. Members, but especially to those my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who encapsulated the particular problems of north-west Kent. In the minutes that I have, I shall try to follow some of his arguments.

One aspect is clear for the members of the Select Committee: those of us in north-west Kent are not in favour of any deviation from the route as set out. The

Column 535

route, while not entirely acceptable and while having implications for the communities that I represent, is in fact at the point beyond which I would not be prepared to tolerate any further deviation or change.

That is simply because, in the congested area of north-west Kent, any further movement one way or another is bound to impinge and impact on communities that hitherto have thought themselves unaffected. It would be the height of cruelty to them, and it would be misleading and disingenuous, for there to be further changes of which they have not yet received notice.

I want to state at the outset that the decision to site a station with domestic and international links at Ebbsfleet is right. The implications for north-west Kent and for the regeneration of what we used to call the east Thames corridor--now the Thames gateway--is immense. While I listened with interest to Opposition Members with constituency interests which led them to consider Stratford to be more significant than Ebbsfleet, I see no reason why the two stations cannot be built side by side, or alongside each other, at some time in the future.

Hon. Members will understand that Ebbsfleet must be my prime consideration. The implications for employment, regeneration and the long-term development of north-west Kent are great. Colleagues on both sides of the House have stressed that the Government, the Select Committee and Union Railways must get this right, because they have only one chance to do so. We cannot come back in 10, 15 or 20 years' time and decide to unravel what this House has sanctioned. There is no second chance.

I firmly believe that the proposals in the Bill as they will be dealt with by the Select Committee should be related to the impact of construction. The communities near Pepper Hill, to the south and to the north of the A2, face the prospect of many difficult challenges in terms of construction. There will be problems with the passage of vehicles and the movement of spoil, and access to open land, although partly scrubland, will be denied to local people.

While the period of construction may be relatively short in the long-term life of the project, every step must be taken now to safeguard the communities to the south of the A2, and to safeguard the community of Swanscombe to the north. There must be proper and detailed negotiations between the promoters of the Bill and the project and the villages and communities which will be affected unless great care and consideration is taken--the villages of Southfleet, Betsham, Westwood and, slightly further away, of Longfield and New Barn.

I welcome that part of the Bill which relates to the code of practice for construction. I hope that that code will be meaningful, and that it will have teeth. I hope that the functions of the independent commissioner for complaints will be made known to us by the Minister.

Several of my colleagues referred to the implications of freight. I advise the House and the Select Committee to be cautious about the endorsement of freight on the new track. That would be a very dangerous position to endorse, as it has implications for the communities in north-west Kent. If freight is to move along the high-speed link, along the A2, and north from Ebbsfleet to Essex, there are implications for communities on both sides of the river. However, if freight is then to be used on the Gravesend west line to join with the London and

Column 536

Chatham line for onward transmission to Waterloo, there are implications for the movement of freight throughout the night for many of my constituents.

The compensation arrangements are inadequate and poor. We have not learnt the lessons from 1988 and 1989. It is unfair to expect people in stable communities to accept that, for the national good, they must lose real and big value--

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): A clear lesson on compensation should be learned in respect of the arrangements that Eurotunnel reached when dealing with the problem of house values and sales at Cheriton. Those arrangements were extremely generous, and worked extremely well. They minimised a great deal of the delay which might otherwise have occurred.

Mr. Dunn: I am sure that my hon. Friend's words are a lesson to all of us, and particularly to those who will read the report of our debate. There is no doubt that there is a need for a hardship scheme and a need for generosity and sensitivity. Nothing must be done on the cheap, so that my constituents, and those of many hon. Members, lose real value in what is very often their only asset: their home. Better arrangements are needed.

I welcome the Bill, because it positions a station at Ebbsfleet. I welcome it for the regeneration argument and from the point of view of the commuter. I disagree with colleagues who claim that the Southend line is infinitely worse than the north Kent line. The north Kent line is by far the worst line in our region. Anything that can reduce the journey time for people travelling from the Medway towns, from Swanscombe or from Dartford proper, must be welcome. A proper integrated system for train movements on the Waterloo line and the north Kent line is an essential part of the development of the project.

I welcome the project. It must be a proper costed scheme. It must have real environmental considerations and it must not be done on the cheap. None of us in the Chamber now will want to be reminded one day that we got it wrong. There is a real chance to get it right, and I wish the Government every success in their endeavours.

8.55 pm

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): I support the Bill, because it is important and significant to the economy and well-being of all our people, and particularly of the people in the north and in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, the area that I represent. I intervened twice during the debate on the subject of the transfer of freight from the north of England, through the tunnel and into Europe. I want also to consider passenger traffic. People from the north of England should be able to board a fast link train at a station in the north--in Leeds in my area, or in Wakefield- -so that they can be transported through the tunnel and into Europe on the same train. I support the Bill, because the sooner we have this high-speed link connection from the tunnel into St. Pancras, the sooner people will be able to travel from Yorkshire and the north on the same train and unit.

In many ways, it is important that the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight. It is important that it receives an endorsement and a speedy process through Committee.

I realise that there are environmental problems. Hon. Members who have an interest because of the link passing through their constituencies have made it clear that they

Column 537

want to safeguard their constituents' interests in the light of the environmental problems that can develop with the high-speed link. I endorse hon. Members' request that the Secretary of State and the Committee ensure that their constituents' interests are fully safeguarded. That is why I support the instruction. I sincerely hope that there will be strong regard for the instruction, in order to protect the environment if problems develop or if safeguards are not properly undertaken.

In my interventions, I raised the need to consider the east coast line, because that line will be used extensively to bring passenger and freight traffic from the north of England, through London to the tunnel. Over the past two years, we have seen tremendous problems on the east coast line causing difficulties and extensive delays. Obviously, if we are to spend the necessary money to develop the high-speed link from London to the tunnel, it is important to have the same facility and the same efficiency on the east coast line as we are looking for in respect of the high-speed link.

It was against that background that I raised with the Secretary of State and with other hon. Members the need for special attention to the east coast line. I am pleased that the Secretary of State and other hon. Members have supported my view that it is important that the east coast line is as efficient as the link between London and the tunnel.

Dr. Mawhinney indicated assent .

Mr. O'Brien: I am pleased that the Secretary of State nods in agreement.

I raised the importance of freight, because, in my constituency, Wakefield metropolitan district council is building the rail freight terminal, which is due to be completed by the end of this year. I hope to see freight trains leaving Normanton and delivering, through the tunnel, goods which were manufactured or assembled in Normanton. That is an important issue. It means much to the economy and well-being of my constituency. As we have suffered many job losses because of mine closures, it is important that we have the link between Yorkshire and Europe.

One disappointing point for me and for my constituents is that the terminal, which is very important to our area, is receiving no support from the private sector. We have heard much today about the importance of private sector money helping to develop such projects, yet the scheme is being developed only because of the initiative, drive and courage of Wakefield metropolitan district council. I hope that the Secretary of State will impress on his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment the importance of supporting the application of Wakefield metropolitan district council for European money to help to finance that Euro-terminal.

I bring together freight and passenger transport, because it is important that we in the north of England have the link through London, through the channel tunnel, and into Europe. Freight from the north should be allowed to use the high-speed link. It is important to many manufacturers and commercial undertakings that provide employment that goods arrive in Europe as speedily as possible. That may mean using the high-speed link.

Column 538

I suggest to the Secretary of State and to the Committee that we ought to consider using every possible moment on the high-speed link for carrying freight from the regions into Europe. Therefore, I hope that we will get some support, and that there will be a constructive investigation into the use of the high-speed link for the transport of freight from the regions through the tunnel.

I welcome the debate, and I support the principle of the Bill. I ask that the instruction be given serious and favourable consideration by the Committee. I hope that my plea for the quick development of passenger transport from the north into Europe via the high-speed link is heard. I also hope that conveying goods and freight from the north is given the same significance as passenger transport. Therefore, I appeal to the House to support the Bill and the instruction.

9.6 pm

Mr. David Shaw (Dover): My constituents had--and still have-- considerable reservations about the channel tunnel. We believe that the ferry industry of Dover has served the country well for many years. It has certainly served the country well financially, as there is only some £1 billion of capital in total in the ferry industry on the south coastal routes to the continent, compared with an investment so far of £11 billion in the channel tunnel. With the channel tunnel rail link forecast to cost at least £3 billion, it is possible that investment costs will be £15 billion or even £20 billion if there is an overrun on the rail link.

The channel tunnel has already run into considerable financial difficulties. I must recognise, however, that the rail link may bring some travel benefits to my constituents. We are told that travel times to Dover will reduce, and I hope that they will. British Rail's announcement last week that it was not prepared to provide Networker trains to Dover was a disgrace, considering that we have some of the worst timetable problems in the country. British Rail continuously fails to meet a reasonable timetable commitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) has, along with me, fought consistently in the campaign, and I pay tribute to him. He fought for better Networker and rail facilities before I came to the House. Something must be done to improve the rail line.

My support for the Bill is limited to the extent that it could benefit my constituents, but I would certainly want it to be amended. My constituents' concern about the Bill is in relation to clauses 30 and 31, which deal with the potential of a Secretary of State to give unlimited financial subsidies to the operator of the channel tunnel rail link. The port of Dover and the ferry industry have hitherto relied on the protection given to them under section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which states that international passenger services shall not be subsidised.

The Transport Select Committee believed that the ferry industry should be protected against unfair subsidies. My constituents are concerned that clauses 30 and 31 are extremely widely drawn. Subsidies could be unlimited. No clearly defined or specific reason is given for a subsidy. Under the Bill, it is possible for a subsidy to be given for negligence, incompetence or even unfair competition. No audit trails are open to public scrutiny, and no mention is made of whether a subsidy is to be for capital, operating or financing costs.

Column 539

There is no mention of a required rate of return on the subsidy that might be provided; the public sector is being asked to give a blank cheque. Originally, the subsidy was said to be for extraordinary environmental costs. I had a meeting with the Minister at which that possibility was discussed, yet that is not made clear in the Bill. It was suggested that the subsidy was needed to purchase capacity for Kent commuters, but Kent commuters may get only a tiny proportion of the available use of the link. Therefore, I am worried about how the calculation is to be done to justify using that reason for the subsidy.

I want the Select Committee to put some detailed questions about the subsidy. If there is to be a subsidy, the channel tunnel rail link must be economically unjustified. The Committee should ask why the link is to be constructed in a way that requires subsidy. If a subsidy is necessary for the link, why is subsidy not made available to similar or even better transport projects? What is to be the audit trail for transactions between the channel tunnel rail link company and Eurotunnel? Will public money be used to improve the finances of Eurotunnel? How are we to use appropriate audit methods to avoid that happening?

In a speech on 3 February 1987, the Minister of State said that railways should not

"serve as a channel for Government funds to be provided to Eurotunnel."-- [ Official Report , 3 February 1987; Vol.109, c.863.] How is that commitment to be met in the Bill? If the rail link is to be subsidised, why not subsidise the roads to the ports? The port of Dover still does not have a good connection with the A2. I accept that it has a very good connection to the A20, which was provided as a result of recommendations made by the Select Committee that considered the Channel Tunnel Bill. Perhaps the Select Committee that will examine the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill will also consider the need for fair play and for the A2 to be properly dualled between Lydden and Dover under the Bill.

If public money is to be used, it should be used fairly. That is what I want to see for my constituents in relation to the port of Dover. It is also important that we recognise that the channel tunnel and the channel tunnel rail link company will have several extra legislative benefits in addition to this Bill. They have a dispensation under the Immigration (Carriers' Liabilities) Act 1987. In addition, 44-tonne lorries will be permitted on roads travelling to railheads in connection with the channel tunnel. The French taxe uniforme applies only to the port and ferry industries; it does not apply to passengers using the channel tunnel. It is a grotesque tax that is unfair in its operation. It acts as a tax on the port and ferry industry.

I hope that the Select Committee will also consider the economics of the link and the fact that it may be a loss leader. That could have implications for the fairness of travel costs between the port and ferry industry and the rail link. There is not much time left to go into the detail. Suffice to say that the current forecast is that 10 million passengers will use the rail link. The average single journey revenue will be some £70. I understand that to be a reasonable figure. The railway companies of the three countries will share only some £55. That would give the channel tunnel rail link company some £15 and only some £150 million in revenue.

If the cost of building the link is £3 billion, £420 million of return on capital would be required for a 14 per cent. return on capital. In other words, a loss of some

Column 540

£270 million might be incurred. Even if the rate of return is reduced to that on public sector projects--about 8 per cent.--a return of £240 million would be required, and there would be a shortfall of about £90 million. That shortfall would be considerable, and I hope that the Committee will consider the unfairness of further financial support to the rail link in those circumstances.

I do not have time to make some of the arguments that I wished to make, but I hope to have the opportunity of presenting them in evidence to the Select Committee.

9.14 pm

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): I am grateful for the opportunity to use the last few moments of the debate from the Back Benches to make three brief points.

First, I welcome the Bill, which is certainly not before time; we have waited for it for a long time. It is essential to the continued growth of the economy, and it will be a great success. The public and private sectors working together to achieve a result is especially beneficial. I believed from the outset that the line would never be built unless there was some public sector involvement. That was not always a popular argument to advance from the Conservative Benches, but it has proved to be right. I am sure that it will make a major and necessary difference to the commuting journeys of constituents from Kent.

That brings me to my second point. It is essential that the project is prosecuted to be achieved as rapidly as possible. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would pay attention to the fact that my Sevenoaks constituents already have evidence that, on occasion, Eurostar trains are being given priority on train paths to London, at the expense of regular services.

From the beginning, the House was given assurances by British Rail management, and by Ministers, that the existing timetables and services provided to commuters from Kent would not be disadvantaged by increased traffic serving channel tunnel passengers. It will be unacceptable if people who pay regular season ticket fares, and who depend on British Rail services to take them into London, find that their service, which is not always as good as it should be, is made even worse because of priority being given to Eurostar trains. It has always been my nightmare that my constituents should stand, shivering, on the platform at Sevenoaks, waiting for a delayed or slow train, while the Eurostar flashes through, with the passengers enjoying their croissants and coffee in comfort. That must not happen at the expense of commuters from my constituency. Therefore, it is necessary to put the line in place as rapidly as possible and take the pressure off existing lines.

Thirdly, I add to the demands made from both sides of the House that the Select Committee must consider the compensation package. It will never be popular with any Government to increase compensation for the disadvantages of blight and of damage done to people's main investment. However, after debating the matter at considerable length in the Standing Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill, Eurotunnel developed a good arrangement for solving the problems of buying out and compensating people living in the Cheriton district, where the terminal has now been built. That was a private sector company taking a very liberal and positive approach to compensation.

Column 541

I would commend to the Select Committee that it study those arrangements and, possibly, require private sector operators to take a positive and similar approach to compensation. Ultimately, proper compensation will mean that the relatively few people whose lives have been or will be heavily damaged by the provision of the link will not have their lives wrecked when the rest of the country benefits in a major way from such an essential development. I welcome the Bill and hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to the wide range of views on compensation expressed in today's debate.

9.19 pm

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central): I preface my remarks by saying that it was a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) urging the Government to give more subsidies to ferry companies in his area.

Mr. David Shaw: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman did not hear me correctly. I was saying that, if subsidy is to be given to a connection to the port--in this case the channel tunnel--we should have a proper road connection to Dover.

Mr. McLeish: I understood perfectly well the import of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and thought it useful to place on record the fact that the hon. Gentleman is considering subsidies.

I do not wish to introduce further discordant notes, because this has been a good-natured and constructive debate in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed issues which relate to their constituencies and are at the forefront of the minds of individuals, organisations and groups within their communities. It is evident from the debate that there is consensus that the Bill should proceed. We can take it as read that there is wide support for this important measure.

We also seek a broad consensus on some of the major unresolved issues. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned compensation, tunnelling and environmental concerns. All hon. Members have said that they are happy to sign up to the Bill, as long as their constituents and organisations are treated fairly and sensitively by all those concerned in the process. That must be said at the start of the wind-up debate because it is a credit to the House.

This is an interesting time to discuss railways. When we discuss through ticketing on Wednesday, we may have more acrimonious exchanges than we have had this evening. The process is vital because, as many hon. Members said, this is not an ordinary construction development. It will take years and years, and many communities will be disrupted in terms of environment, nuisance, noise and general inconvenience. It is therefore right that the House should debate those issues constructively rather than be taken on a tangent to discuss other aspects of the ensuing railways debate.

It is vital that we give a strong lead to the Select Committee and, subsequently, the Standing Committee. The House can do everyone a favour by agreeing to the instruction.

Column 542

This is also an historic occasion for the House because it is the second biggest investment in rail since we have had railways. That is important because it puts in context the importance of rail in the future, especially if it is to be linked to the trans-European network.

Europe has a vision of an integrated transport system, whether it be road or rail. Fortunately, this project has been included in the 13 key projects that will link Europe and, I hope, other parts of Britain for a more prosperous future. It is therefore important in a European context. It is also vital for Britain. For far too long we have dragged our feet in terms of the nature and level of the investment required to take seriously the idea of improving economic prosperity and giving the passenger a better deal.

The link is also about the regeneration of the south-east, particularly London. Many hon. Members have identified that crucial fact. When considering the benefits that will accrue from this development, it is important that the Select Committee take that issue on board. Obviously, it is not only a matter for the south-east and London. As a Scot, I want to see the benefits of the link experienced by other parts of the United Kingdom. That is absolutely crucial. I do not think that it is a matter of the south-east and London. It is a matter for the wider interest of the United Kingdom. On a positive note, the Bill is also symbolic of a new age. We can have debates about public and private, and about the degree of investment from either party, but this is an historic event in that we want it to succeed. We want the west coast main line to succeed. We want crossrail to succeed. We want to open up a new era on the railways. Yes, we can have differences on ideology and have ownership discussions, but at the end of the day the travelling public expect a better deal. It is high time that the House accepted that the passenger and our economic prosperity should be high on the agenda. Those are laudable objectives, but from the discussion this evening, other concerns must be reconciled--whether they be Kent, Thurrock, Barking or Islington--because at the end of the day individuals, groups and organisations will be affected. Communities may be badly affected, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). It is right that we take some time to identify the key areas that the Select Committee should address, because I would not like to think that the House could take historic decisions without taking into consideration the views of many groups and organisations which are fearful of the implications of a new technology: high-speed trains, the like of which most parts of Britain have not yet seen. All those individuals, groups and organisations need to be treated with respect.

A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised the issue of finance. It is clear, whether it be inspired speculation or detailed fact, that there is substantial public investment in the so-called "private" link. Whether one measures that in cash assets being transferred into the project from the Euro-passenger service, or whether it is in commissioning track for use by commuters, we are talking about substantial sums of public money.

I raise that matter not to open up a debate on private and public investment but to say that the House, supported by the Government, should use that public investment as leverage with all those involved, to secure the benefits that we have discussed this evening. If we are talking--the figure may be debatable--of a £1.7 billion

Column 543

contribution to a £3 billion project, the cost of which is rising daily, that is a significant figure. On behalf of all the taxpayers of Britain, whom we represent, we should ensure that Union Railways, the successful nominating undertaker, should be assured that we have an investment and that we want to see a return, not only for Britain but for the communities and interests that we represent.

I had the privilege of accompanying my hon. Friend the Member for Barking on a visit to some of her constituents. I understand that the Minister also visited her constituency. I was appalled by some of the hardships that many of her constituents will have to endure. I would not like to live beside the new tracks that will service the rail link, but they are willing to support the principle of the Bill as long as they get a fair deal. I have to say to Union Railways and to the Government that they do not believe that they are getting a fair deal. That is one of the challenges of the Select Committee: to ensure that the views that have been expressed this evening are taken seriously.

The Government, Union Railways and others are talking about speeds of 145 mph. But we now know that those speeds may be exceeded and that the maximum might be 186 mph. Many people want to be assured that environmental assessments fully acknowledge that those extra speeds may be achieved. That is significant.

In Barking, one of the key issues for the residents was the alternatives to the current route. We have talked about Barking reach and about tunnelling, but those people are equally concerned about compensation. Union Railways' activity on that so far, supported by the Government, has been tawdry. We cannot expect people to have their lives disrupted and their communities ruined, and to be permanently inconvenienced not only for the future but through an intense construction period, without their feeling very angry, dejected and dismayed. Those people are looking for a lead from the House. Again, I urge the Minister to reconsider the instruction. If the whole of Britain is to benefit, let us not have casualties along the way. People in Barking simply want a fair deal, and I do not think that they are getting one now. Union Railways, the Government and the winning nominated undertaker must think again. We need compensation that is fair, and alternatives that have been properly considered and analysed: if people in Barking are signing up to a principle for Britain, they should also be signing up to a fair deal for themselves.

We have heard representations from Conservative Members about Kent, which contains areas of environmental and conservation interest that should be protected. We are talking about a multi-billion pound project, and I do not think that we should be niggardly about environmental protection. That is why I raise the issue of a substantial input from the public purse. I believe that if we are investing, as custodians of the taxpayers' money, we should look for the best deal possible and not be niggardly. Kent Members more eloquent than I have expressed their concerns.

I mentioned regional development at the outset. This is a project for the whole of Britain, not just the south-east, and we hope to ensure that it is a success. The same model is being used for the west coast main line, and cross-rail may be involved in the future. As I have said, we are talking about a multi-billion pound programme for Britain, and we must get it right. We must consider not only local environmental issues but key funding issues.

Column 544

Although the risk is being taken by the private sector, it must be acknowledged that a substantial amount of public money will be spent.

People on the periphery of Britain feel remote from the south-east, from London and from Europe. We now have an ideal opportunity to say to them, "Have confidence in our railways and our economic future." More important, the House must show that we are concerned about regional infrastructure and key links between the new stations and the east and west coast main lines. That is crucial for all concerned.

I have mentioned compensation and do not wish to dwell on it, but I do not think that we can get away with our current programme procedures. In Barking a handful of people have been offered compensation, but literally hundreds of householders should be able to receive some cash. Is it too much to ask the Minister to say that the Government will look at the matter again? We are not talking about more multi-billion pound investment; we are talking about a price for justice.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who made a case for Stratford station to be considered on the same basis as other options. It is vital for regeneration that such projects be considered seriously. This is a once for all: few channel tunnel rail links will be produced in Britain in the future. That may comfort some hon. Members who fear the consequences, but we must take advantage of what is on offer at every opportunity. As some of my hon. Friends pointed out, the economy of some of the areas involved, especially the east end, requires radical treatment.

I mentioned the construction period earlier. I was struck by my visit to Barking; I am sorry that I could not visit other areas, but the new transport team has been in place for only a few weeks. I realised that the area would not only suffer massive inconvenience, but would be a construction site for many years. It appeared, however, that no thought had been given to road access, road damage, the size of the lorries that would come in and all the other inconveniences. I ask the Select Committee and Ministers to think seriously not only about compensation for the future, but about a way out to compensate for some of the ravages that many people in London and elsewhere will endure throughout the construction process. The issue is the instruction that we are asking the House to support.

Some of the Minister's responses have been helpful, but I do not think that he is willing to accept the instruction as it stands. There are three ways forward. First, he can ask his colleagues to vote against the instruction. That would be a tragedy because some Conservative Members want to support it. It would be folly to vote against an instruction in which many people see common sense. The Minister's second option is to say, "I do not want to sign up to support it but I will not obstruct it." That would give the right lead to his colleagues who would support an instruction with so much common sense and which does nothing other than ask for the consideration of environmental issues and tunnelling. If the Minister suggests in his winding-up speech that his hon. Friends should oppose the instruction, it will be viewed badly.

Next Section

  Home Page