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Lord Clinton-Davis: Indeed, my Lords. Perhaps during the course of this long debate we can all compile lists of those who are likely to use the link most assiduously, particularly between London and Brussels.
I wish also to pay tribute to those who campaigned for the promotion of Stratford as an interchange station. Many of my honourable friends in another place were in the forefront of the campaign, as were Newham council and many others. Their reward will be the benefits accrued for this country as a whole.
However, if I may say so in the kindest way, I thought that the Minister's speech was rather like a Soviet speech. It was not so much a rewriting of history but the omission of salient historical points which I should put on record during the debate. The speech was full of praise for what was going to happen, but what has happened is almost despite the Government's muddle, delays and incompetence. What we might have achieved is the realisation of the benefits far earlier. We have had an inordinate waste of taxpayers' money, the failures, and the inconsistencies of the Government's private finance initiative, much lauded by them. We have had the ideological barriers which were allowed for so long to obstruct progress, the fiasco over compensation for blight which has caused a great deal of heartbreak to many people; the lack of strategic planning by concentrating almost exclusively on the south-east and failing to appreciate that the United Kingdom as a whole should derive benefits from the scheme. Those benefits can flow only from harnessing the strength of the regions, by properly linking them to the objectives of the scheme.
In parenthesis let me add that I am glad to note that London and Continental Railways has made some provision to add to the plans the small but significant link north of King's Cross which would permit a connection to the West Coast main line. But that is not enough. Nor is there any coherent view about the role of high-speed freight traffic. Certainly the Government evince little enthusiasm for it beyond tenuous references to its "possible" development focused on in part by the Bill. Let us remember that it was not so long ago (I cannot remember exactly when) that Mr. Rifkind, virtually on taking office as Secretary of State, pledged the enhanced development of rail freight--regrettably, with little or no effect.
I turn to the delays. At the earliest, the British end of the high-speed rail link will not be completed until 2002. Let us compare that with France, which finished its high-speed link before the tunnel opened; and Belgium will complete its line by 1998. Britain's position could be characterised as "l'escargot anglais"--the British snail. There have been so many changes of mind on the part of the Government. First, they said that there was no need for a dedicated line. Then there were major policy reversals dealing with environmental damage, the nature of the consortium, the question of alignment and, above all, finance. On finance, the Government rejected the possibility of deriving European money, on purely ideological grounds expressed vehemently by the then Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. That was because of the need for additionality, for
What should have happened, in our view, was the application of a proper private finance initiative, not the half-baked concept that the Government have invented and which has been ridiculed in so many ways, notably by the construction industry, which finds it burdensome, complex and very difficult to operate. The Minister knows that. He has only to speak to the construction industry to appreciate its point of view. The Minister smiles. I have spoken to the construction industry and I know how it feels. What we really need is a partnership of private and public sector finance, with some sensible government guidelines as to what a national integrated transport policy should be about.
I remember crossing swords for years with the noble Viscount's predecessors. They did not understand what an integrated transport policy was. They have now come round to it. The noble Viscount understands it and the present Secretary of State understands it. But for years they denied that there was any possibility of that. We have had contortions, U-turns and so on.
I now turn to the waste of taxpayers' money. It is intimately connected with the delays--the loss of use for so many years; the humiliating comparison with the development in France and even the pace of development in Belgium. This project could have cost something in the region of £1 billion in 1989. The Government, hidebound by their belief that everything in the public sector is bad, set their face against any public involvement.
Let me turn to the realities of the U-turn and the current and future subsidies. There was not a word about it in the Minister's speech. There is to be a £1.4 billion hand-out; £3 billion worth of taxpayers' assets simply handed over; a £1.3 billion loan write-off for Eurostar; a total of £5.7 billion at least for something we could have had for far less--billions of pounds less--in 1989.
There are plum sites at King's Cross with an existing value of £5.8 million and a development use value of £10.6 million. Stratford is in a similar situation. There are station properties at King's Cross and Waterloo--incidentally, built exclusively with public money. Publicly owned assets are now in the deal that the Government have struck. All of it is public money. There is not a word about that from the Minister in proclaiming the huge benefits that he alleges from this marvellous private finance initiative.
There is also the question of blight and issues of compensation. The Government were condemned by the ombudsman for maladministration. That verdict was confirmed by the House of Commons Select Committee and unprecedently ignored, initially, by the Government. I remember crossing swords with the noble Viscount at the time. The view of the Government was that they were not prepared to accept the verdict of the parliamentary commissioner.
The people concerned, and probably many others in the future, will be involved with environmental disruption, noise nuisance, huge inconvenience, probably substantial losses in property values on the part of some, and certainly a lot of distress for many. The Minister admitted as much, and we have to accept that sad fact in a development of this kind of magnitude. Communities have been, and will be, seriously affected. We cannot dodge that. People will be irate. What they expect is a fair deal. The question is, are they likely to get it against the background that I have just described of the Minister's reaction to the report of the parliamentary commissioner?
That issue was considered in some depth by the Select Committee in the other place. The committee recognised that under current rules compensation would not be payable, as I understand it, save in respect of the use of new or altered works, and not until after the link has begun to operate. Over time such concerns are bound to grow. Members on both sides of another place expressed them very vividly.
Ministers said that people should not be given benefits and then become substantially better off as a result of compensation arrangements. They stated that repeatedly in debates elsewhere. But equally it is wrong that they should be allowed to become substantially worse off through a denial or long-term postponement of compensation.
The Government say that they will act on the report of the inquiry they have currently set up. I hope that is right. I hope they will not try to wriggle out of it. It is no use playing about with mortgage indemnity premiums. That will not be the solution to a lot of these problems.
Another fact is that, under the Bill, the Government pass responsibility for compensation to the undertaker. I suppose that could be fine. But a problem arises if the undertaker suffers a fate similar to that of those who have been engaged so far in the undertaking to Eurostar. Can it be assumed that they will always have the ability to bear the burden? What happens if they cannot do so? One's confidence in ensuring that the issue will be dealt with in an equitable way, is, as I said, undermined by what has happened in the past. I hope that the Government will react very positively when the report is published. Perhaps the Minster could indicate in his reply when that will be.
I was also concerned about the response of Mr. Watts, the Minister of State in another place, when Standing Committee A considered this matter on 19th March. In resisting the argument about compensation, he said:
I turn from the question of domestic properties to an issue that has been raised with me and no doubt with other noble Lords about businesses which are likely to be affected by the proposed line. Their needs should not be overlooked. There are three categories to be considered.
First, there are firms seeking alternative accommodation but unable to know when it will be, with a corresponding reluctance on the part of vendors and landlords to deal with such businesses because of the uncertainty of the completion date that will be required and the inability of businesses of that kind to find the purchase price or the rent, or to set up sufficient cash for investment which would follow the move. Amid all that, there is also the very great likelihood of a loss of jobs in consequence. The second category comprises those who will be affected by the inadequacy of three months' notice. I hope that the Select Committee will look at that. In a situation of this kind, three months' notice is hopelessly inadequate. Thirdly, there are those who will be affected by the disturbance when they are forced to remain on the site, trying to continue running their businesses amid huge disturbance and through environmental pollution, dust, fumes, vibration and noise. Are those people able to rely confidently on fair compensation?
The next point that I wish to raise briefly is the position of Crossrail. Is it to be consigned to the scrap heap or will we see it in the year 2010 or 2015? Is there some hope for it or none at all? I remember when Crossrail was much lauded by Ministers at the Department of Transport. That enthusiasm has evaporated recently, presumably under Treasury intervention. But it has already cost £140 million of taxpayers' money since 1988, with another £38 million to go down the drain over the course of the next three years. Ministers should be held to account for the way in which they have squandered that money. It is a project that is now, presumably, under wraps. Yet it could have given greatly improved access to the City and West End and provided better and faster transit for commuters into King's Cross and Stratford, so that people would be less dependent on the car.
Just as mysteriously, the confidence expressed by Mr. Rifkind, the Secretary of State, in the transfer of freight from road to rail has disappeared from the lips of transport Ministers. I recall Sir Alastair Morton's confident assertion in 1993 that the railways planned to transport 3.3 million tonnes of freight through the tunnel in 1995. In reality it was 1.3 million tonnes.
We believe that the requirements of freight and passengers for the regions have to be taken fully into account when the high-speed link is built and that it should happen from the beginning. It should not be left as an afterthought. The finished link must have the capacity to deal with increased future flows. Do the Government agree with that? What are they doing to secure that objective?
In conclusion, I want to emphasise that linkage to the regions and maximising their industrial and commercial potential should be an essential part of an integrated transport policy. We want to see regional services joining the high-speed link directly. They must be connected without having to enter the complex web of London's suburban railways. I repeat that it has to be planned from now and not left until the operation begins. Regional passengers should be given every facility to make full use of the high-speed link. After all, as taxpayers they have to pay for it, as I have already demonstrated.
The building of the route should provide for extensions of freight as well as expanding passenger traffic, notwithstanding complaints--echoed when the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, made his speech--from the airlines in respect of short-haul flights, and the ferries that it will impact on their businesses. It is a trend that is already emerging in the propaganda from those sources.
The high-speed train should become an important element in attracting more customers to rail from road, thereby securing important environmental gains. Railtrack must also ensure that its track access charging regime will not deter this development. It must not be allowed to drive freight off the railways by rendering them uncompetitive with road, sea and air.
I believe it is right that the history should have been put on record, because it was wholly omitted from the Minister's speech. But, having said that, we wish the Bill well and hope that the project will be a great British success.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I begin with a declaration of interest. The line of rail passes through the parish of Charing in Kent, where I live. It also passes near Leeds Castle, and I am chairman of the charitable foundation responsible for preserving the castle as part of our national heritage. I have an interest too as a citizen of Britain and indeed of Europe who wants to see the high-speed line contribute to a modern 21st century network of European railways. The Channel Tunnel and the strategic rail network that ought to be associated with it is as important to Dundee as it is to Dover.
I was fascinated by the history given by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, of the efforts to establish the line. I share much of his critique of the history of the past few years. But the trouble with history is that it all depends on where one begins. My noble friend Lady Seear reminded me that these Benches, which were purely Liberal Benches in those days, backed the building of the Channel Tunnel at the time that the Labour Government in which I was a Minister were
I know nothing of the mysteries of the Committee of Selection. I fully endorse what the Minister said about the appointment as chairman of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, with his immense experience not only of your Lordships' House generally but of a Channel Tunnel hybrid Bill in the past. I was a little puzzled. There was, however, an earlier hybrid Bill associated with this project--the King's Cross Bill--which came to an abrupt end. I should have thought that there might be some overlap in the membership of the present Select Committee and the one which dealt with the King's Cross Bill because experience of that Bill must be relevant in a number of ways. I know, for instance, that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was the very distinguished chairman of that committee.
I wish to focus particularly on the environmental impact of the line on my own part of Kent. I feel sure that when your Lordships' Select Committee comes to consider these matters it will, in the normal traditions of your Lordships' House, look at each issue with fresh eyes and not feel bound by the actions--or lack of action--of another place.
The Select Committee in the other place did excellent work, but there is still much work to be done. That is particularly true of the rejection in another place on the grounds of cost of a long tunnel to protect the Boxley Valley mentioned by the Minister. The rail link as now planned most commendably follows the existing transport corridors of the A.2/M.2 and then the M.20 for the majority of the route through Kent. But where it switches between the two it passes through the Boxley Valley which is generally accepted as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Many of us, including Kent County Council, campaigned for a long tunnel under Blue Bell Hill and the Boxley Valley to provide maximum protection for that sensitive area. The Select Committee in another place decided that a short tunnel under Blue Bell Hill would be adequate and that cost would not justify a longer tunnel. I hope in due course that there may be second thoughts on that by the Select Committee which we can consider when the Bill comes back to your Lordships' House.
As a fall-back position the county council is now pressing for a lowering of the line to protect the beauty of Boxley Valley. That would greatly lessen the impact of the railway on the nationally designated North Downs area of outstanding natural beauty, the major section of the route where the line departs from the transport corridors. There are big issues attached to that in Kent. The sensitivity of the need to protect that green wedge is exemplified by the fact that, if development were to occur in the area, closing the green lung that now exists between the Medway towns and Maidstone, we would have an urban conurbation in Kent the size of Manchester--and all that in an area still proudly recognised as the Garden of England.
While I hope that the issues relating to the Boxley Valley will be reconsidered, at least those who live directly in the valley enjoyed a visit from the Select Committee of another place. In Charing we were not so lucky. The Union Railway itself defined the six kilometres of the line that runs through the Charing parish as an area where the environmental impact of the railway has a Significant Effect of Particular Importance. I emphasise the words because they are now part of the jargon of building the railway line. It is a SEPI area, like Boxley, which is a special category. However, the Select Committee in another place was not able to include a visit in its programme. I hope therefore that your Lordships' Select Committee will feel able to go and study the situation on the ground.
There are two major concerns. The first is the height of an embankment in a particularly pleasant valley through the community of what is called Westwell Leacon; the second is the plan for a freight loop at Charing Heath, which I shall come to in a moment. For reasons which remain obscure to me after long study, the height of the embankment through what is a beautiful valley has been raised to over 10 metres while Kent County Council believes that it should be at least three metres lower. At its proposed height it will be a noisy eyesore over a large area of the North Downs. An unequivocal indication that the vertical alignment should be lowered significantly will be sought by Charing Parish Council in its petition to your Lordships' House. I feel sure that the case will be listened to sympathetically by the Select Committee.
That brings me to the freight loop at Charing Heath which takes out a good deal of land and raises wider issues regarding the validity of the Government's policy on the high-speed line carrying freight. On that issue, as I shall explain in a moment, I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his conclusions about the freight aspects of the high-speed line. Charing Parish Council received expert advice that the curve of the line is not adequate for carrying freight. That view was supported, albeit back in 1991, by one of the Government's technical advisers, Mr. G. R. Heath, of Maunsell, who concluded:
The inevitable conclusion appears to be that, with the present curve, there can either be a high-speed passenger line without freight or a combined passenger and freight line with more limited speed--the usual Whitehall compromise of trying to get the best of both worlds. The local concern is that, once the Bill is passed and that consequence is realised, the curves may be amended by exceeding the present parliamentary limits of deviation in ways damaging to the environment and to local homes in Westwell Leacon.
I hope that the Minister, in due course, will give an assurance--perhaps not tonight, but later by letter--that that will not be the case. The worry is that there may subsequently be an order made under the Transport and Works Act, which is a possible procedure. I hope that assurances will be given that once decisions are taken in this respect, the environmental side will be sacrosanct.
These are technical matters, and I am a layman. But they deserve the most careful probing by your Lordships' Select Committee. The Government's position is spectacularly ambiguous on the matter of the high-speed line carrying freight. The Minister, Mr. John Watts, said in the debate in another place on 25th April:
I do not know what your Lordships make of that remarkable statement. I wonder whether the freight option should be abandoned and the Government concentrate on the best possible high-speed passenger link. It would save a lot of land at Charing Heath, a great deal of disruption no doubt at Singlewell and elsewhere along the line. In that connection I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the latest position regarding the proposals made by Central Railways for an alternative all-freight line through Kent. That may well be a more rational way to deal with the problem.
I want to raise one or two other points. The first concerns an aspect of the noise problem mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am told that there are new electric locomotives which will help to reduce the noise but that they are sitting idly at Folkestone waiting to be introduced. I hope that the Minister can tell us what the problem is, when we can expect to see them running, and what they may do to help mitigate the noise factor.
There are then matters of compensation to be considered. I do not wish to waste time repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said so succinctly. But I support the proposals made on an all-party basis in another place for an examination by the working party set up by the Government into the question of what might be called a more general blight as distinct from the forms of statutory blight that are subject to compensation. I hope that before the Bill passes from your Lordships' House, we will have the Government's's verdict on that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and hope that it will be a positive verdict.
Finally, I turn to the concerns of farmers and landowners whose land will be required, not only for the line itself but also for the substantial construction operations that will take place. The majority of the land affected will not be required once the railways are running. Landowners and farmers should not lose land permanently when it is only required temporarily. The proper safeguards should be agreed before the Bill finally passes.
In my varied past, among various public appointments I have held, I was once chairman of the Crown Estate Commissioners. I can tell the Minister that the name of Crichel Down is engraved on the heart of anyone who ever served as a Crown Estate Commissioner. It led to the principled but very unfortunate resignation of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, as Minister of Agriculture. I would not want the same thing to happen to any Minister associated with the high-speed line. I hope that the
Lord Crook: My Lords, I have had some experience of trying to lay out railways to connect the Channel Tunnel--I refer to the previous attempt which ceased in the early 1970s--so I know the problems involved. I join in congratulating Union Railways on being able to produce a line that will do such little damage to property in terms of so few houses having to be demolished. Perhaps I may say in passing that the road construction business seems to be very much more extravagant in these matters than the railway has.
There has been a good deal of talk about the high speed connection between London and the Continent. However, what has not become apparent either from the document or from the Bill arises in a Written Answer which I have received from the noble Viscount confirming that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is to be built to accept continental rolling stock--provided, I gather, that it does not want to stop at Ashford. That must have had a significant effect on cost. I congratulate all parties on the fact that they are prepared to make a good job of the railway rather than skimp on the costs.
Although the track gauge is the same here as in most of Western Europe--that is why the Eurostar trains can run happily from London through to either Paris or Brussels--continental rolling stock is both higher and wider than the rolling stock which we normally use in this country. Therefore, one needs higher bridges and bigger tunnels. That involves a good deal more expense. None of this is apparent from the Bill. It is all a matter of agreement between the Government and London and Continental Railways. However, in principle all parties could agree to change that so that the railway would be built to the British gauge in order to save money. I would feel a lot happier if the requirement to accept the continental gauge were to be properly set into the Bill so that a change of regime or a change of ideas would not upset this very important feature of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Lord Aldington: My Lords, I think I am the third resident of Kent to speak, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Crook, has at some time been resident in Kent. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, standing up for Kent, with his knowledge of mid-Kent--from Leeds Castle and of Charing.
I differ sharply from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his criticism of my noble friend's introduction of the Bill. I thought it was a model introduction. He impressed upon the House the national and historical significance of this great project which at last has come to this House in Bill form. Of course many of us would like to have seen it before. I was in favour of the Channel Tunnel in 1973-74. Who wrecked that? The
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