Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 260 -280)

WEDNESDAY 16 DECEMBER 1998

MR ROY GRIFFINS and MR MIKE FUHR

Chairman

  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——

Mr Stevenson

  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.

Mr Bennett

  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 do?
  (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 far—I know they have got representatives listening to me—will 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 independent.

  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.

Chairman

  267.  Mr Fuhr, is that a possibility?
  (Mr Fuhr)  It is perfectly reasonable.

  268.  Is it one of the things that would be considered?
  (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 component.

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.

Chairman

  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 own requirements——

Chairman:  Certainly not if you are contemplating leaving the country at any point.

Mr O'Brien

  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?

Chairman

  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?

Chairman

  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 Terminal 5.
  (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 ask.
  (Mr Griffins)  Yes.

Chairman:  Thank you very much.

Mr Stevenson

  279.  Very briefly, Mr Griffins, what is your interpretation of the evidence we heard from the previous witnesses that at about the same time—May/June this year—British 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 that?
  (Mr Griffins)  I think I am here as a spokesman for Government policy.

Chairman:  Therefore you do not interpret. Very sensible, Mr Griffins.

Mr Stevenson:  Could I ask the question again.

Mr Bennett:  You will get the same answer.

Mr Stevenson

  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.





 
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