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Column 545The Minister's third way out is to say that he will not vote against the instruction. The best message that we can send to people in the communities who will be affected is that the House did not divide. That would ensure that the instruction goes forward as a vote from the Chamber.
Mr. Spearing: Although the instruction is not in my name, it affects parts of east London to which my hon. Friend has referred. Is he suggesting that, because we have not had an intimation that is, in effect, an instruction from the Government, the Committee shall not take particular account of the environmental advantages of tunnelling in some areas? Is it possible that the Minister would say that?
Mr. McLeish: That is a timely intervention. It seems that rhyme and reason are on the Opposition side and that they are shared by many Conservative Members.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: What scale of priorities is demonstrated by the instruction? It omits any reference to the urban areas of Northfleet and Gravesend which are close to the rail link.
Mr. McLeish: It refers to the whole route. The spirit of the instruction encompasses many other aspects of the debate. It is about tunnelling and environmental protection. How will it look to the many communities that are affected by our deliberations if the Government decide to vote down an instruction which is so reasonable and which wishes to take people forward in consensus? I hope that the Minister will rethink that issue before delivering his winding-up speech. It is evident from our tackling of the Bill that we support progress. This is an ideal opportunity to consider issues raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House and come up with solutions. I hope that the Minister will not say that the suggested solutions are far too expensive. This is a multi-billion pound project and we are discussing communities of real people. We are debating the environment generally, but we are also dealing with people's lives and we cannot put a price on what we should do to ensure that their quality of life remains at least as good as it is.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively to all those hon. Members who have raised local issues. At the end of the day the House can claim credit if it supports the principle that puts railways and Britain's economy at the top of the list of priorities. Let us not at the same time make constituents throughout Britain feel like second-class citizens because we have neither the time nor the money to invest in them.
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts): This has been an interesting, good-natured and, for the most part, well-informed debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that it has shown a strong consensus in favour of the channel tunnel rail link. Of course, much of the debate has focused on important matters of detail affecting certain communities along the route--matters that are not, of course, mere details for those who live there. It is wholly appropriate that their Members of Parliament have so fully represented their interests and concerns in the debate this evening.
Column 546I am afraid that the consensus cannot stretch to the instruction to the Committee tabled by the Labour party. First, I do not favour instructions to the Committee which would tie its hands on which matters it should consider and which it should not. There is no getting away from the force of the words:
"That it be an Instruction to the Committee that".
My right hon. Friend and I, in earlier interventions, stressed the difference between an instruction such as that tabled by the Opposition and the advice or guidance that my right hon. Friend or I might give to the Committee. If the Government had wished to give an instruction to the Committee, we could have tabled the proper motion and specified that matters outside the line of deviation set out in the Bill should not be considered. We have not chosen to do that because, in our view, it is better that such matters are left to the wise discretion of the Committee and that it should not be constrained.
Secondly, if the instruction were to be accepted it would undoubtedly mean fresh property blight and continued uncertainty over a wide area, especially in regard to the options in east London. It would not be possible to adopt the various tunnelling options without affecting the line that the route takes as it comes towards the terminal. Hon. Members' constituents who are not currently affected by the proposals would have their fears raised. It is not in anyone's interest to spread the problem of blight. Indeed, a number of hon. Members have said how devastating the blight has been for their constituents. One effect of accepting the instruction would be to widen the scope and the impact of the blight.
Thirdly, if the instruction was approved it would inevitably lead to considerable delay for the Bill. That would not be in the interests of the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken this evening and urged the need for the link to be provided quickly.
Mr. Chris Smith: I have carefully followed what the Minister has been saying, but it seems to be inconsequential. He said that he did not want to rule anything out of the Committee's consideration, but then said that there would be a delay if the Committee considered some of the matters raised by my hon. Friends. If he is worried about delay, that means that he wishes to rule things out. Which is it? I hope that he will not rule out some of the options from the Committee's consideration.
Mr. Watts: As my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, we hope that the Committee will not consider it necessary to spend time examining options that were considered many times before the Government reached a final conclusion on what we thought was the best route. However, that is very different from either an instruction to the Committee that it should not do so or, as proposed by the Opposition, an instruction that it must do so.
Mr. Spearing: If my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) moves the motion and the Government oppose it and win, is the Minister confident that that will not constrain the Committee from doing what is suggested in the instruction if it so wishes? Negativing the instruction would be a serious matter if it constrained the Committee in the way that the Minister claims he does not want.
Mr. Watts: The hon. Gentleman almost takes my next words out of my mouth. I was about to urge the hon. Member for Fife, Central not to press the instruction to a
Column 547vote, because if the House rejects the instruction, as I urge it to do, the Committee may feel constrained by that expression of the opinion of the House from considering these matters, even if it might otherwise have been minded to consider them.
Therefore, from the point of view of hon. Members who want the Committee to consider petitions relating to those options, and from the point of view of hon. Members whose main concern is that we should make rapid progress with the passage of the legislation and with the implementation of this important project, it is wise for the House not to give such an instruction.
Mr. Tyler rose --
Mr. Rowe: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you help the House at this crucial point? There has been some discussion as to whether, in the opinion of your Clerks, the decision to vote down an instruction constitutes, in effect, an instruction to the Select Committee not to do something.
Madam Speaker: The playing field is as level as it ever was. Such a decision does not constitute an instruction of that kind.
Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and to the Minister. I think that we are getting into a contradictory tangle. If the Minister was right to say that the defeat of the instruction would preclude the Committee from taking it into consideration, that would elongate the process even more. As Madam Speaker has now said that the instruction would not be precluded, I presume that this is all irrelevant and that hon. Members on both sides of the House can do what they want and vote for the instruction to guide, to use the Minister's own word, the Committee on how it should proceed.
Mr. Watts: I did not say that the voting down of the instruction would preclude the Committee from considering it. I said that, if the House rejects the instruction, the Committee may feel constrained, by that clear expression of the will of the House, not to consider these matters, even if it might otherwise have been minded to do so. Sound reasons exist as to why there should not be an instruction from the House to the Select Committee, but the House should have confidence in the hon. Members and possibly right hon. Members who will be appointed to the Committee to use their judgment, to take into account the cogent arguments that have been advanced today and the representations that will be made to the Select Committee, and then to reach their own judgment.
Mr. McLeish rose --
Mr. Watts: I give way for the last time.
Mr. McLeish: Clearly, we are becoming a bit disingenuous. Will the Minister sum up the position by saying why he will not support the instruction? We now have a double view of what may happen in Committee if we do not do pass the instruction. Is it not right and proper for the Minister either to support the instruction or not to vote against it, to allow the general will of the House to go forward to the Committee?
Mr. Watts: It would not be right for me to try to sit on the fence. If I cannot recommend to the House that it should accept the instruction, it is right for me to advise the House to reject it.
Column 548Many points have been raised during the debate. I have 12 minutes left. I shall try to cover as many points as I can, but I give an undertaking to hon. Members to whom I may not have time to respond, that I shall seek to do so in writing after the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) will forgive me if I do not seek to respond immediately to the figures that he quoted. As one accountant to another, I undertake to reflect on them when I see them in the official record.
Not surprisingly, one of the major issues this evening has been the station at Stratford, which I and several Newham Members had the opportunity of debating in the early hours of the morning shortly before Christmas. I accept that a station at Stratford would assist the regeneration of the Stratford area. As I have explained, the option of a station there remains open by the provision in the Bill for the construction of a large open box.
The decision on whether there shall be a station at Stratford will be taken when we have received the bids from the four consortiums in March. As the House will recall, the bidding consortiums have been required to bid on various permutations, including the possibilities of a station at Stratford and no station at Stratford. This will be a good way to assess the economic viability of a station at Stratford in addition to the other two intermediate stations already provided in the Bill. We shall be in a position to make a proper and objective judgment on the basis of that evidence.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned connections to crossrail. We have long made it clear that we have not ruled out the possibility of a connection from crossrail to the channel tunnel rail link, but it must be a matter for the private sector promoters of the two projects to agree, first, that it is in their mutual interests to secure the provision of such a link and, secondly, to seek the powers under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to provide for it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) raised an important issue which was also mentioned by other hon. Members--how important it is that the benefits of the fast link should not be exclusively for London and the south-east but for the regions. In fact, it will be a requirement on the promoter of the project to build junctions outside St. Pancras to allow through services from the channel tunnel rail link to the east coast main line serving Peterborough, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh and to the west coast main line serving Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester. St. Pancras will provide an easy interchange within the station to the midland main line serving Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. The House will know that it is already intended that services from Wales and the west country to Waterloo will commence in the near future.
The Government therefore remain firmly committed to ensuring that the benefits of this important new piece of transport infrastructure shall be of benefit not only to London and the south-east but to the regions. Bringing the whole country closer to our European markets where we do so much business is an important benefit that we seek to secure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) raised the issue of noise mitigation and reminded us that the mitigation incorporated in the Bill has been designed for train speeds of up to 140 mph, whereas there is at least an expectation in many people's minds that the promoter will want to run trains at the maximum feasible speed of
Column 549186 mph. If that proves to be the case, the arrangements will ensure that the mitigation provided must be equivalent to that which would have been provided for the lower speed and, if the noise mitigation required for higher-speed operation cannot be provided, a limitation on speed would be imposed.
I am advised that over the vast majority of the route there is no difficulty about the adequacy of the land designated in the Bill for mitigation measures for the higher speed. It would be reasonable to expect that, if the private sector operator of the route intended to run trains at the higher speed, he would wish to build the mitigation to the higher standard from the outset rather than adding additional measures at a later stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) raised the issue of the 3 m upward limit of deviation. Most of the 3 m upward limit of deviation is needed for technical reasons to do with the accuracy of the mapping base and the way in which Parliament requires sections to be prepared, but we are considering carefully whether there are ways to meet the concerns about the 3 m limit without undermining the promoter's ability to build the new line. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) spoke about the route through Rainham. Having listened carefully to the views expressed locally during the consultation exercise, we decided to provide an additional 10 m gap between the rail link and the London-Tilbury -Southend line as it passes residential areas in Rainham. This has allowed for further mitigation to provide noise protection from the channel tunnel rail link and the
London-Tilbury-Southend line. However, the alignment proposed by the Rainham residents association was considered to be unacceptable as it would have resulted in the rail link severing a series of industrial and development sites, thus constraining development in the area. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the important issue of the Mardyke Park housing estate. It is true that the viaduct carrying the rail link past the estate will have noise and visual impact. There is, however, scope for reducing the number of houses affected by means of revised mitigation proposals, such as the use of higher or different types of noise barriers. We did not accept the alternative options for the alignment of the route in the area which were put forward during consultation, notably the short and long tunnel option or the viaduct option, as they all proved to be extremely costly in relation to the environmental benefit that they could deliver.
My hon. Friends the Members for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) both spoke about the crossing of the Medway. Having road and rail viaducts adjacent to each other will require careful attention to design. In principle, it must be preferable to concentrate crossings at a single point rather than to create a fresh crossing further upstream. Furthermore, having a single new structure is impractical for a number of reasons, including the fact that access to the M2 at junction 2 would be restricted. A tunnel would be very expensive, with an additional cost of more then £100 million. I cannot give an absolute commitment that the two structures will be built concurrently. The co-ordination of funding and contract-letting would be a major challenge.
Column 550The Government recognise, however, that concurrent construction may have some advantages in reducing the environmental impact and there is continued co-operation between the two project teams. It may help that, as I have ministerial responsibility for railways and roads, I may be able to have some small part in trying to ensure this co-ordination. I am well aware of the local concerns about the environmental impact of both the rail link and the widened M2, especially in terms of noise pollution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) referred to the problems of Pepper Hill housing estate. There should be no physical impact on the housing estate from the construction or the operation of the rail link. Following the announcement of the route in the area last April, the rail link route no longer passes underneath the estate, but goes through a cut-and-cover tunnel under the A2 to the west of the estate. The residents may, however, experience some impact from the movement of construction traffic. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and other hon. Members referred to the purchase proposals. As I said to my right hon. Friend in the debate on 15 December, I recognise that there should be a read-across between the compensation for road schemes and rail schemes, and I recognise the merits of having a set of schemes that apply with equal validity to both modes. The schemes currently operated have been designed to be broadly comparable, although my right hon. Friend, I know, believes that in a number of respects, they fail to meet that objective.
The Government have undertaken to consider what more might be done to help people who, despite the best efforts that have been made to minimise the impact, are seriously affected by the construction and operation of the channel tunnel rail link. In addition, the Department is considering the implications of a recent decision by the Court of Appeal. In the light of that, decisions will be taken on how to deal with applications for road schemes. Given the similarity in operation of the separate channel tunnel rail link scheme, a decision will be taken on how that should read across to the channel tunnel rail link.
I met many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), in her company, before Christmas. I recognise that there are serious problems for many of them from the construction of the route and, in some instances, from its subsequent operation. I know of the strength of feeling among the hon. Lady's constituents that more should be done. As I have just explained, we are giving further consideration to the property purchase arrangements currently in place.
I commend the Bill to the House and I hope that the House will reject the instruction proposed by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), his hon. Friends and other hon. Members. Question put and agreed to.
Bill read a Second Time.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business),
That, at this day's sitting, the Motion in the name of Secretary Mawhinney relating to the committal of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill to a Select Committee and any Motion for an Instruction to the committee on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of nine Members, five to be nominated by the House and four by the Committee of Selection.
That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee-- (a) any Petition against the Bill presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office at any time not later than 30th January 1995, or, in a case where the Petition is that of a single individual or of individuals in their capacity as residents, at any time not later than 6th February 1995, and
(b) any Petition which has been presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any amendment as proposed in the filled-up Bill or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the Select Committee,
being a Petition in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents.
That, notwithstanding the practice of the House that appearances on Petitions against an opposed Private Bill be required to be entered at the first meeting of the Select Committee on the Bill, in the case of any such Petitions as are mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above on which appearances are not entered at that meeting, the Select Committee shall appoint a later day on which it will require appearances on those Petitions to be entered.
That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agents upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition. That the Select Committee have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place and to report from day to day the Minutes of Evidence taken before it. That Three be the Quorum of the Select Committee.--[Mr. Watts.] Motion made, and Question put,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that in any consideration of any evidence relating to the Boxley Long Tunnel, the Caledonian Road area of Islington, the West Thurrock and Purfleet section, and the Barking and Dagenham section, they shall take particular account of the environmental advantages of tunnelling as against the proposed surface works; and that the Committee shall satisfy itself that the best possible provision for both environmental protection and compensation has been achieved throughout the length of the route.--[ Mr. Meacher .]
The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 286.
Division No. 37] [10.00 pm
Column 551Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Column 551Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)