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Mr. Caborn: That was the situation that the Conservatives left us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The Minister must not reply prematurely from a sedentary position.

Mr. Jenkin: It gives me nothing but satisfaction to have riled the right hon. Gentleman already. However, that is not my intention; I genuinely want an explanation. Virgin was firmly under the impression that it was bidding with a clear obligation to run regional services. The consortium bid was accepted, and the Government then announced that regional services were not an obligation.

There was a second red herring in relation to running services to London Heathrow when, technically, that will not work. We have all seen the picture in Rail magazine of a Eurostar train standing at a platform at Heathrow, but the only way to get that train to that platform to take such a picture would be to alter the platform or to remove bits of the train. That service is not a viable option until terminal 5 is constructed; that is some way off--too far off for most Members of the House.

Thirdly, what have the Government done since last year's statement on the channel tunnel rail link? We have received the reports of Mercer Management Consulting Ltd. and of the Transport Sub-Committee, and the Government have now commissioned another independent

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review. That looks suspiciously like a stalling exercise. However, during that period there has been another offer from Virgin. As the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) pointed out, there are great virtues in Watford acting as a hub for regional services and in starting a service from Watford through the channel tunnel to Paris. The Waterloo service takes three hours; the Watford service would take three hours and 20 minutes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, there may be problems about the viability of services running as far north as Manchester and Glasgow. However, that does not apply to Watford. The tracks and the train paths are in place. I understand that Virgin has even discussed with Eurostar (UK) Ltd. the possibility that Virgin should run such services. Virgin's real interest is in adding critical mass and viability to its services running into Watford and down the west coast main line. I want to correct the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who said that it is not viable to run Eurostar services up the west coast main line. I understand that it is viable to do so and that that is Virgin's intention in the fullness of time.

Mr. Martlew: I said that Virgin's proposals are to run trains from Glasgow and Edinburgh down the east coast line--not down the west coast line from Carlisle.

Mr. Jenkin: I may have the wrong information; I am prepared to stand corrected on that point. However, the question whether those trains could be used to improve the services on the west coast main line is not in doubt. At present, the trains are sitting idle--that might be the information to which I referred.

In paragraph 21 of the Government's response to the report, they half accepted the key recommendation of the Committee, but have merely handed the matter back to the British Railways Board. Paragraph 22 states that the board

We want a decision from the Government. Have they merely put the matter into the box labelled "Too difficult"? Transport Ministers come and go; I remember that there was some criticism that were too many Transport Ministers under the previous Conservative Government. The same disease seems to afflict the Labour Government. Perhaps the officials in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions hope that the Minister will not have time to grapple with the matter before he moves on and they can start on the education of a new Minister. On the other hand, perhaps the Government are imprisoned by their interest--the financial stake that they have taken in the Eurostar consortium. They have a 10 per cent. stake, a 35 per cent. share of the profits and a potential 35 per cent. share of the sale proceeds. Has the Treasury told the DETR that the viability and the profitability of the existing Eurostar service should not be compromised because the Treasury has made a financial investment that is tied to the channel tunnel rail link deal?

One of the reasons why the services are in doubt is that there is no obligation on the company running the channel tunnel rail link to build phase 2. We are left with a most

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unsatisfactory situation. I want to leave one final thought with the Minister, although I realise that he is not the Minister of Transport, but has responsibilities for the regions. Any solution would be better than the present situation. That is a plea. We share the difficulties that he faces in resolving the situation, but it is absurd that seven good train sets should be lying idle. The right hon. Gentleman's Government have been responsible for that during the past two years; we are anxious to give him any possible assistance and support in resolving it. It is time that the Government took some decisions instead of setting up more and more reviews.

12.16 pm

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I apologise for the sedentary intervention that I made earlier. It was not becoming to a Member on the Treasury Bench.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on initiating this important debate. Although the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said that I was not the Minister of Transport, I was a member of the Committee when the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 passed through Parliament. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour Opposition at that time forced the Conservative Government to include section 40 of the Act. Labour forced that Government to take on board our belief that the asset of the channel tunnel rail link should be for the whole nation and not merely for part of it. The nature of the Bill was such that financial responsibility could not be placed on its sponsors, so we had to deal with the matter by including section 40. That measure dealt not only with passengers, but with freight as well. It was an extremely important section of the Act that dealt with the well-being not only of the English regions, but of Scotland and Wales.

The inquiry held by the Transport Sub-Committee and its report echoed the views expressed by hon. Members today. The Committee's recommendations have been invaluable in informing the review that the Government are commissioning. We have already announced that we intend the review to be wide ranging. Its terms of reference were drawn up in the light of the Sub- Committee's thinking and encompass a broad range of issues--including consideration of routes, stopping patterns, operational issues, demand for services, impact on the construction of the channel tunnel rail link and, of course, the wider socio-economic benefits of such services. That is set within the broad context of section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987.

My hon. Friends were the main participants in the debate, which shows the interest of Labour Members in the regions and in Scotland and Wales. Some of that information about the origin of passengers, for which my hon. Friends asked, is confidential, but I assure my hon. Friends that it will be available to the consultants. The consultants' report will take into account Railtrack's modernisation programme for the west coast main line. Services for Watford and the Watford hub will also be considered by the review. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich made a number of points and I hope that they will also be factored into the review. We want to factor in all those matters, but we want to ensure that there is no delay in the work of the review.

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As the House will know, on 12 April, we announced that we had invited five firms to bid for the appointment as consultant to undertake the review. Those firms are Arthur D Little, Booz Allen and Hamilton, Colin Buchanan and Partners, PricewaterhouseCoopers andWS Atkins. The bids were received today, and we expect to make the appointment in June. We shall instruct the successful firm to undertake the broad-ranging study that I have outlined. I hope that that report will be with us by the end of the year. The hon. Member for North Essex shakes his head, but he knows that we inherited one hell of a mess in respect of the financing of the channel tunnel rail link. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, we hope that the taxpayers and the travelling public are in for a nice surprise, because the first surprise that we gave the taxpayer was to unravel the mess that the Conservatives had left. We would not be having this debate had the channel tunnel rail link itself failed, and that was a high possibility because of the give-away mentality of the previous Government. We had to get a better deal for the taxpayer by unravelling the mess and making sure--

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Caborn: I shall not give way to hon. Members who, having only just come into the Chamber, decide to intervene. Only Members who have sat through the debate are entitled to intervene.

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