Examination of witnesses (Questions 260
WEDNESDAY 16 DECEMBER 1998
GRIFFINS and MR
260. A miracle!
(Mr Griffins) I will continue.
261. I am sorry.
(Mr Griffins) Needed amongst things to find a
train operating company to run Eurostar, a robust train operating
company. In fact, it is known that there were two rivals for that
job and they chose the one that they thought was capable of delivering
a profitable Eurostar business. As part of the deal in June, not
as an after-thought, in the knowledge that there was concern about
the regional services, the Deputy Prime Minister asked the train
operator he had
262. I am interested in when the Government
knew that Inter-Capital and Regional Railways were going to be
appointed, if the term is correct, the management agents? The
information we received from our earlier witnesses was, "We
are delighted to announce that yesterday we got this appointment".
When did the Government know?
(Mr Griffins) At the time that the Deputy Prime
Minister announced the deal to Parliament on 3 June.
263. Yet the Deputy Prime Minister then
appoints this very same consortium. Do you see the point I am
getting at? It the very same consortium that knew they had got
the management agent's deal in the bag that he used to do an independent
assessment into the viability of services and in May and June
they had at least given some indication that they were really
not interested. Is that right?
(Mr Griffins) Yes.
Chairman: Mr Griffins,
it is terribly simple really because we are a bit worried about
this word "independent" and I know you must be worried
about it too.
264. Could you help my constituents out?
They were promised that if this whole investment went into the
Tunnel then they would benefit in some way. There was the question
that they might get a freight terminal. There was the question
that there would be a sleeper service. There was the question
that there would be the regional links. All the things that they
were going to benefit from have been lost. In this rescue package
what thought has been given to bringing a little bit of balance
so that people north of Watford get something back from it? As
I understand it these rail sets could be used in other centres.
For example, if a service went from Manchester, stopped at Watford,
allowing people on and off and on to Paris, that would be fully
viable, although it might well be paid for in the initial stages
by the people who were getting on and off part-way through, but
it would be improving the West Coast service because one of the
fundamental problems on the West Coast service at the moment is
lack of rolling stock. I know that would need a small change in
the law, but given the way in which people outside the South East
have been shortchanged, would that not be a reasonable thing to
(Mr Griffins) Arguably a viable service could
run. There are those who argue it and one was here last week.
Others do not think so.
265. Does anyone dispute that it would be
viable if you allowed people to get off part-way within the United
Kingdom? As I understand it the problem about viability is insisting
that people are through passengers allegedly because of the problems
of Customs and all those sort of things, but I am sure if you
ran a service out of Manchester at six o'clock in the morning
which allowed some people to get off at Watford, extra passengers
to get on and to run through to Paris, you would get some people
going all the way to Paris and you would get a lot of people who
have meetings in London who would be pleased to go in First Class
carriages rather than the shambles that Virgin have got on the
West Coast Main Line at the present time.
(Mr Griffins) Instinctively one could agree with
you, but I have to say that views differ. Views expressed by the
consortium differ from Virgin. I think last week Virgin said that
they could run a viable service without carrying domestic services
passengers. I just do not know. I hope the two people I have quoted
so farI know they have got representatives listening to
mewill forgive me for saying that neither of these two
parties is disinterested; each has an interest. That is why the
Government is commissioning an independent review which will be
266. Will it include looking at the possibility
of those trains making stops which can pick up and put down passengers
as opposed to having to have through passengers all the way from
the regional centres to Paris?
(Mr Griffins) Yes.
267. Mr Fuhr, is that a possibility?
(Mr Fuhr) It is perfectly reasonable.
268. Is it one of the things that would
(Mr Fuhr) It is one of the things which can be
considered. It will be considered both as an issue in itself in
terms of security, in terms of ensuring that there is proper separation
of domestic passengers from international passengers, and it also
will be considered because there is a cost which is attached to
providing the facilities which will allow that operation to take
place and it will be one of the cost items which will have to
figure in any proposal for regional services to have a domestic
Chairman: So what
you are really saying is that if the terms of reference are not
completed then there is certainly nothing that would mean it could
not be considered as one of the alternative methods.
Mr Bennett: The Committee
recently, when looking at integrated transport in the Netherlands,
travelled from Amsterdam through to Brussels on a train that was
then going to go quickly on to Paris. There was no need on that
train to separate those people who were just going across one
frontier from those people who were not going across two frontiers.
269. That is the Schengen region.
(Mr Fuhr) I would hesitate to tread on the territory
of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, they have their
not if you are contemplating leaving the country at any point.
270. Can I just follow up the point made
by my colleague Mr Bennett because I was in the House when we
discussed the Channel Tunnel Bill and I supported it because of
the fact that we were promised then by the Secretary of State
(the late Nicholas Ridley) that it would serve the regions. Our
fear was that the Tunnel was only for the south of England and
we were given assurances that it was to serve all the regions
and now it does not look as though that is going to happen. What
we want to know is what is going to happen with the economic development
of our regions because if we do not have this infrastructure then
we are at a disadvantage with other regions in the south of England
and in Europe. Surely these are issues that you consider in the
Department, are they not?
(Mr Griffins) I know the dangers of trying to
be clever with any Committee, especially this Committee, but I
watched a video of the last session and I read the transcript.
One of the representatives of Fast Links to Europe, Councillor
Stacey, did especially make the point that the most helpful thing
that he could think of to assist the regions would be to get the
Channel Tunnel Rail Link itself built as quickly as possible.
In order to get the Channel Tunnel Rail Link built as quickly
as possible we have got to have a Eurostar business and then get
it done. When it is fully done all the way to St Pancras the project
will include a West Coast Main Line link without even going into
St Pancras. The Act itself does not include it, it is a separate
part of the project which comprises separate authorisation. There
will also be links with the East Coast Main Line. In order for
the regions to derive full benefit, which is the Government's
aim, I think the regions need the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to
be in place.
Chairman: We have
taken that on board. I have got one or two very brief questions.
Mr O'Brien: One of
the issues that was raised the last time we took evidence was
that if these trains were allowed to pick up domestic passengers
then that would be viable. Is that something we are going to consider?
271. I think we have established that you
would be prepared to look at that as part of the criteria.
(Mr Griffins) It would come within the scope of
the review, but I cannot speak for the security considerations.
272. We are not asking you to pre-empt the
conclusions. We are suggesting that an independent inquiry would
include these sort of things. I want to know one or two simple
things. Would it be a simple compromise to operate direct Eurostar
services from Watford and timetable existing domestic services
to connect with the Eurostar?
(Mr Griffins) I think the review might tell us
that. I do not want to postulate it here.
Mr Bennett: Can we
quote you in telling us that?
273. Are there adequate facilities at Watford
to run Eurostar services?
(Mr Griffins) I do not know the technical answer
to that. The previous witness might have known more and certainly
the people conducting the review will know.
274. But I think you understand that if
Railtrack and various other people are asked to get involved in
this then these are the kinds of questions that Parliament will
want to ask.
(Mr Griffins) Absolutely.
275. I will not even bother asking you about
(Mr Griffins) Well, try me.
276. Yes, I could always try, hope springs
eternal. I am not going to ask you about the political end of
BAA but there is a problem there. Is the Department aware of any
particular problems that might arise in developing Terminal 5
as a regional interchange in relation to railways?
(Mr Griffins) No. The latest document I have seen
from BAA suggests that BAA, if there were to be a service to Heathrow,
would work constructively with it.
277. We are assuming that they have at least
taken account of the fact that it might be a possibility. Is that
what we are assuming?
(Mr Griffins) Yes.
278. And the Department have been aware
of that. It might even be part of the criteria that we should
(Mr Griffins) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you
279. Very briefly, Mr Griffins, what is
your interpretation of the evidence we heard from the previous
witnesses that at about the same timeMay/June this yearBritish
Airways took a ten per cent stake in the Inter-Capital and Regional
consortium that the possible option of using Heathrow for future
development of Eurostar emerged? What is your interpretation of
(Mr Griffins) I think I am here as a spokesman
for Government policy.
you do not interpret. Very sensible, Mr Griffins.
Mr Stevenson: Could
I ask the question again.
Mr Bennett: You will
get the same answer.
280. What is your reaction as a senior civil
servant to that remarkable confluence of events?
(Mr Griffins) My reaction as a senior civil servant
is to repeat my previous answer.
Chairman: Give up,
George, you are up against a professional here.
Mr Stevenson: I know
when I am beaten.
Chairman: I am glad
to see that. Sometimes, Mr Griffins, listening to you one would
almost think you were trained by the Fire Brigade's Union. Can
I say we are very grateful to you and the Department, not least
because what you have said to us today about the Committee having
an input into the criteria is extremely useful. We have taken
that on board. We will seek to respond to that quickly if we are
talking about January as being the kind of date that you have
in mind. The Committee welcome that. The Committee are in fact,
in spite of their wickedness, grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister
for the liaison that he has with this Committee and to his senior
civil servants for the care and courtesy with which they treat
us. Thank you very much and a happy Christmas.