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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have warned Front-Benchers before. I am getting tired of seated interventions. If the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) or any hon. Member wishes to intervene, they must do so in the time-honoured fashion.

Sir George Young: The figure will be announced when the contract is awarded. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North cannot expect the Government to give away their negotiating hand by revealing, while discussions are still taking place, how much they are prepared to pay.

It is hard to overestimate the economic importance of the channel tunnel rail link and the west coast main line. Along with the channel tunnel, those two lines will form an industrial artery running through the heart of Britain to the continent--a wonderful boost for British industry. In recognition of the line's importance, almost £7 million has been allocated to the improvement programme as part of the European Union trans-European networks programme.

Privatisation will deliver a railway for the 21st century. Increased flexibility and investment will encourage people and freight to move from the roads to rail.

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On roads, we are making progress.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young: I must answer many of the points that have been made by hon. Members who have been in the Chamber for slightly longer than the hon. Gentleman.

We are also making progress with the design, build, finance, operate initiative for the highways. Earlier this evening, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the preferred bidder for the first of those projects, the A69 between Carlisle and Newcastle. That status has been given to a company called Roadlink, with which we expect to sign contracts shortly. Because of the first tranche's success, we have already followed that up with competitions for four more. Bids for those have just been received. In all, eight projects will provide capital investment of more than £500 million.

There has been criticism of the private finance initiative from sectors of the industry that say that it causes delay. I sympathise with that, because deals can take time, but the PFI provides funding for projects that would not otherwise take place, and substantial delay is not a charge that can be laid against the DBFO initiative. We have made progress with the competitions in a short period.

What the industry really wants is what it calls "deal flow" so that it can spread risk. We are seriously contemplating another tranche. One attractive possibility would be to extend the DBFO technique to a chain of improvements, allowing companies wider scope to operate efficiently.

It is worth reminding the House that the last two Labour Governments closed 655 stations and lines, whereas we have opened 244. On 26 October, I wrote to the hon. Member for Ladywood, asking her to set out clearly Labour's policies for the railways. I have not received the courtesy of a reply. I hope that she will reply to that letter, answering all the questions that I put to her in it.

Ms Short: I am pleased to know of the right hon. Gentleman's letter. In the past few weeks, I have been terribly busy, as I am sure he will understand. Of course, I will reply to his letter, but I am sure that he will understand that I have had a lot of other intensive reading to do.

Sir George Young: I understand that and I look forward to receiving that reply. The hon. Lady says that

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she has been very busy in the past few days, but, in that time, most of the press releases seem to have come from the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North rather than from her.

Old Labour is alive and well. We had an astonishing threat from the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North not to renew franchises, even if that means a worse deal for passengers and for taxpayers. What an absurd, unpopular and dogmatic policy to insist on returning control to the railways, even if that costs more for the taxpayer and produces less for the passenger.

It is a bit rich of the Labour party to criticise the Government for lack of rail investment when the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has said:

How much would the Opposition spend on the railways? When are we going to hear a figure on that to back up some of their commitments? It is misleading of the Opposition to claim that they would invest more than the Government on the railways without giving any idea of their figures.

We all know that the hon. Member for Ladywood is an honest socialist politician. It is precisely because of her honesty that she has already resigned twice from her Front-Bench team. How long will it be before, as an honest socialist, she will have to resign again because the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer will not let her make the commitments that everyone in this Chamber knows she would like to make?

It is also ridiculous of the Opposition to criticise us for a lack of investment when they want to deny others the opportunity to invest in the railways. No sooner do we have the private finance backing for ROSCOs, Red Star and the other old parts of British Rail that we have sold, than the Opposition leap on their left-wing bandwagon of renationalisation. That shows how little they want private investment in our railways.

If investment in the railways is not to come from the private sector, where would it be found under the Opposition if they were in government? It would have to come from the public purse. Are the Opposition really saying that, when investment is called for in the railways, they will stump up the cash rather than giving it to hospitals, to schools or to pensioners--because that is what keeping the railways in public ownership would mean. It will be a continuing struggle, and their policy on the railways will get them nowhere--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Child Prostitution and Pornography

10 pm

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway): I beg leave to present the following petition.

I introduce this petition this evening on the sixth anniversary of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Can there be a more noble purpose on such a day?

To lie upon the Table.

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Employment (Chester)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Willetts.]

10.3 pm

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester): I am grateful to have this important opportunity to raise an issue that is of fundamental concern to every one of my constituents, to their standard of living, to their quality of life, to the way that they live now and to the way that they and their children will live in the future--employment in the city of Chester.

Only a few days ago, at the very outset of the debate on the Queen's Speech, I was privileged to be given the significant opportunity of extolling the virtues of my unique constituency. I touched on its 2,000 years of history. In tonight's debate, I want to consider Chester as it is today, and perhaps as it may be in the future. I want to look at its achievements, consider its potential and face up to some of the very real challenges that confront us.

Essentially, ours is a success story. In recent years, unemployment in the city has been falling and inward investment rising. It is perhaps worth examining the level of inward investment and its quality to see the lessons that we can learn for future potential increases in employment in our area.

One notable example of inward investment, which included the personal involvement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the wholehearted commitment of the Government's inward investment team in the north-west, has been the arrival in Chester of the Maryland Bank of North America. It is instructive to consider why MBNA and others have chosen to come to Chester.

Executives of the Maryland international bank examined sites across Europe and throughout the United Kingdom and the British isles before deciding to build the new headquarters for its financial services and credit card operation at the Chester business park. The bank's move to the 150-acre landscaped park is one of the largest American investments in the United Kingdom for a number of years.

Why did it come to Chester? Tom McGinley, MBNA's chief executive, said:

The quality of the work force, therefore, is one of the reasons that firms come to Chester.

The arrival of MBNA adds to quite a long list of companies based in our city. We also host the headquarters of Marks and Spencer Financial Services, Shell Chemicals (UK) and BICC Cables. Financial services are a particular strength. The NWS bank--North West Securities--has been in the city since the 1950s. Pearl Assurance is also based there.

Our success is not only in the sphere of financial services. We have also been successful in enticing manufacturing businesses to our part of the world. Cacao Barry (UK) Ltd., a member of the Barry Group, opened a new factory three years ago on the 84-acre Chester West industrial and commercial site, after looking at 16 different locations in the north of England, which is where

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most of its market lies for the bulk of its production of high-quality chocolate for use in biscuits, cakes and confectionery.

The company says that the Chester plant, which was built in the record time of only five months on eight acres and which now employs nearly 100 people, is the most technically advanced chocolate factory currently in production. Marc Donaldson, its commercial manager, says that Chester best fitted the company's location criteria, partly because the city is within 45 minutes of the international airport at Manchester. It is within easy reach of good communications. He also cited the culture and quality of life in our community.

Two more American firms worth mentioning have come to us recently. Original Bradford--soapmakers--and NEBS Business Stationery are also located on the Chester West site. More recently, a firm called Strix has settled in Chester. It is a remarkable company, which I mentioned last week. It has invested £10 million and created a large number of jobs--upwards of 100 to date. One item that it makes is switches for electric kettles--for 70 per cent. of all kettles in the world, in fact.

Ed Layne, the managing director of Original Bradford, said:

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