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Mrs. Dunwoody: The hon. Gentleman can provide as many apologiae pro vita sua as he likes, but the truth is that the House of Commons was sold a nonsensical bill of goods. The House has the right to be indignant and to say that that is not acceptable.

I do not need to wax indignant on behalf of my Committee, because many other Members will do that. I shall simply say that the future of transport and economic development in this country are closely linked. The development of the channel tunnel rail services presents an opportunity to provide not only the taxpayer but the rail traveller with a high-quality service. If that is not taken, either by the Government or by individual Ministers for Transport, we shall all suffer.

I hope that Ministers will be able to tell us today when the report will be ready, what quality of service will be provided, what undertakings the company has given, and how soon the House of Commons can realistically expect to see a company operating the service. The company should be one that does not simply write unrealistic plans that can never be translated into services, but provides for the United Kingdom the level of rail service that we have a right to demand, and which we have paid for over and over again. We should surprise the taxpayer by producing the goods this time. That would be a real development for the future.

11.15 am

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East): The House will have heard with interest what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Transport Sub-Committee, has said. Many of the points that she made were valid.

I begin by declaring an interest as a director and chairman of various companies involved with the National Express group, none of which have anything to do with the railway industry. National Express obviously does not find my railway experience of any value. All the companies with which I am involved concern either the bus or the property interests of the group. I ask the House to accept the fact that I have not been in touch with the group in any way about its views on what we are discussing.

The Committee used strong language, as did my hon. Friend, about the regional Eurostar saga. Its report said that the regions had been cheated--a phrase repeated by my hon. Friend. She will be aware, as will the rest of the Committee, that there is no legal obligation for Eurostar (UK) Ltd. to run regional Eurostars. Section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 simply imposed a duty on the British Railways Board to prepare a plan for

My hon. Friend will also be aware, as will many of my hon. Friends who have taken an interest in such matters, that in 1989 the chairman of the British Railways Board, Sir Robert Reid, said about regional Eurostars:

    "Our duty is not to run a service because it is desirable; it is to run a service which will be profitable".

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    It appears that that doctrine is still true--or rather, is still believed, although it may not be true,

My hon. Friend suggested some alternatives to Eurostar UK Ltd.--other companies that might run regional Eurostars--and she mentioned Virgin. I have sat in this Chamber several times and heard her say scathing things about Virgin Trains. I live in the west midlands and represent a west midlands constituency, so from time to time I share her anger about Virgin's performance.

As recently as last year, the review carried out by the Deputy Prime Minister, in its submission to the Transport Sub-Committee, described the Virgin proposals as unlikely to be commercially viable. Virgin has been understandably vague. So far, as far as I am aware, it has not provided either the Government or Members of Parliament with detailed costings or information concerning traffic forecasts or the costs of operating the trains. In view of my hon. Friend's strictures about its patchy performance in operating the west coast main line services, if Virgin took on that additional burden, it could lead to even more strident criticisms by both my hon. Friend and other users of the west coast main line in the near future.

There is another reason why I suggest that regional Eurostars should not be introduced now--certainly not on the west coast main line. We have almost had the 1,000 days and nights in which Railtrack promised to refurbish that line and transform it to make it suitable for train operation in the 21st century. We have concrete information, rather than hype, from Virgin this time, and we know that a considerable number of new trains destined for that line are under construction.

I am long enough in the tooth to remember the last time that the west coast main line was rebuilt, and such work is, to say the least, not conducive to punctuality and the maintenance of the existing service, let alone to adding more trains. I am concerned that Railtrack may take much longer than a thousand days and nights to modernise the west coast main line, and its task will not be helped if additional trains are run.

The essential point that the House has to face about regional Eurostar trains without the channel tunnel rail link is who would use them. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) may wish to justify his comments about the north-west, but it is difficult to imagine business travellers who usually pay a premium being too interested in using a rail service from Birmingham or Wolverhampton that takes much longer than the air service. However, those considerations should not apply once the channel tunnel rail link has been completed.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Does my hon. Friend understand the concern in the south-east where people have waited years for the CTRL to get off the ground? It is being constructed through my constituency now. If money is diverted to regional trains, that could stall the process.

Mr. Snape: My hon. Friend makes his point well. Without the CTRL it is impossible to conceive any economic operation of regional trains. For example, from Glasgow, on the best estimates it would take three times as long by train under current circumstances as it does by air. There may be a leisure market for such a service from cities including Glasgow, but a service at regular intervals is hypothetical rather than realistic.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) reminds me of a point about the CTRL. Those of us who served on the channel tunnel Committee in the mid-1980s presumed that once the go-ahead was given for that great project, the CTRL would be built around the same time. Before too many Conservative Members participate in this debate, I hope that they will accept some responsibility for the appalling mess that the CTRL is in. At that time, a route was settled upon that would bring the trains into Waterloo and, eventually, under much of London and out to the north-west and north-east using the rest of the railway network. It was that great architect of social change, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who decided--having allowed British Rail to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in acquiring property on the original route--to scrap it and to divert the trains via Stratford.

I concede that those of my hon. Friends who fought for that diversion fought a good campaign.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Hear, hear.

Mr. Snape: The hon. Gentleman, who managed to drift in to the Chamber for the debate at seven minutes past 11, agrees that it was an effective campaign, but those of us who wanted to see the project completed sooner rather than later made the point that the campaign for Stratford--I do not wish to upset anyone, but it is not a place that leaps to mind when people talk about visiting the United Kingdom--would delay the completion of the CTRL. It has done so to such an extent that we are still concerned about the second portion of the line.

My conclusion is obvious. Although I understand the ire of the Select Committee, I do not see any alternative to what has been proposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Ms Ward) enthusiastically supports a quicker way to Europe than we have at present, but that will depend on the completion of the full CTRL if the trains are to compete with the airlines.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Does my hon. Friend agree that while the Select Committee may be angry, the people in the north of England feel that they were cheated? They travel on train sets that frequently break down and they want to know why carriages should stand idle when they could be used to transport them to London and perhaps on to Paris.

Mr. Snape: I visit my hon. Friend's constituency occasionally, and he is aware of my one vice these days of supporting Stockport County. I have not been conscious of his constituents' anger that they cannot travel direct by train to the fleshpots of Paris and Brussels, which might be because they are not interested in such things in my home town and the town that he represents. However, he makes a valid point.

There is no point in running empty trains, because that will not benefit the north-west, the midlands or anywhere else. The task of all of us involved in that great project is to ensure the completion of the CTRL, and the use of Watford as a transfer point for passengers for Paris and Brussels. However, with the best will in the world and having spent most of my life working in the

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railway industry, I cannot see a regular interval service from some of the cities represented so ably by my hon. Friends present today being sensible or viable in the short term.

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