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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am not at all upset about the Government having changed their mind. My concern was that they took so long to do so.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has moved his position a little. I have to remind the House that the perfection of a project like this, with all the technical examination that is required, with all the consultation that is required for environmental protection and with all the political and financial points that have to be considered, is bound to take years. The fact that we are meeting the scheme that is really a mid-1990s scheme will in future history be an advantage. We can do things now that we might not have been able to do in 1989. So let us try to count our blessings and not look back at what might have been before.

I wish to speak for a few minutes as a resident of Kent. I realise the national importance of the scheme. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about the importance of the link to the regions. I have always been in favour of that. I am delighted at the arrangements made for better links at St. Pancras and so on. I am also delighted at the interest taken in the Midlands, in the north of England, in Scotland and in the west at the progress of the scheme.

In the course of this consultation and in the course of the work that has been done in building it all up, those of us who live in Kent and care deeply for its countryside, care deeply for its economic development and its ability to provide jobs and care deeply, too, for the close relationship of our county with France and Belgium should not miss an opportunity to pay a well deserved tribute to Kent County Council and its leaders past and present as well as to the Members of Parliament for their part in achieving this Bill and in achieving the full consultation that has led to it.

Kent County Council has more to say. I have read its petition and I hope that the Select Committee will listen carefully to what it has to say. It has given some practical advice about the Boxley Valley which I hope will be fully listened to. I agree with others that we should also pay a tribute to the painstaking and very skilled work carried out by Union Railways throughout all these years. I was a witness, at a number of consultation meetings which I chaired in mid-Kent and around Ashford, of its real willingness to listen to the people of Kent. It behaved in a model way.

I have one other thing to say about broad policy considerations in Kent. That is to emphasise the importance of the Kent structure plan, devised, created and maintained by Kent County Council. This new rail track that we are considering today fits perfectly into

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that structure plan. I believe that the whole of Kent, and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom, should be pleased that Kent County Council is of such a quality and has such ability in creating strategies and structure plans like this. I regret--there may be other occasions on which to say this--that the ideologues in Her Majesty's Government have taken a surgeon's knife to the northern part of Kent. It is regrettable that they should do it. But it is lucky that that surgeon's knife did not operate before the arrangements for the building up of this link.

This Bill seems to me to secure what Kent needs as well as the whole of the United Kingdom. The route is the best for international and domestic traffic. The spin-off benefits for the commuter are secured; the connections with London, the north and the west are provided for; rail freight expansion, with a consequent reduction in the number of large road vehicles, is made possible; and the Channel Tunnel itself has a real chance in the future of paying its way and more. I have to declare an interest in that I am a very small shareholder and I guess that it will be very small in the future. I should have perhaps declared an interest as a resident of Kent, but I believe that I am of an age that the actual enjoyment that I get and the advantages of the new railway will be very limited. But I hope that my children benefit much in future.

Kent has suffered, and will continue to suffer, much disturbance until all the uncertainty has been removed. But wisely and courageously inspired by its county council leaders, the great majority of the residents of Kent now accept that there is not only a national need for the tunnel and a new rail link but that advantages will accrue to them as well. What a change that is from seven years ago when 10,000 Kent citizens marched on London protesting against the tunnel and the link. For that change we should pay tribute to the political leaders in the county of Kent. However, much has had to be fought through to achieve this general acceptance and much smaller things need to be fought through and discussed. I hope that the Select Committee will follow the Select Committee of the other place--I agree with the commendation given for its work--to limit environmental disturbance generally, but particularly noise disturbance, and to have effective and timely compensation arrangements for those whose homes or businesses are affected.

I have no doubt at all that the highest priority should be given by the House and the Select Committee to getting the Bill on the statute book. I am sure that the Bill will be further improved, but the priority is getting it on the statute book so that work can begin in 1997, as planned, for no one is going to see any benefit at all until the rail link and associated work are completed.

I have a few short, detailed points to make which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, will find helpful. Some important undertakings were given by the promoters to the Commons Select Committee. Some important requests were also made by the Select Committee of the promoters. What is the status of those undertakings and requests? I would like to know that. I recognise that there must be a legal difference between an undertaking given and a clause in the Bill.

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I realise that some of these undertakings may not be suitable for inclusion in the Bill. I have an unhappy experience of an undertaking being given in a private railway Bill in another place which was later breached to the disadvantage of the residents of Ashford. I hope that in the future there will not be uncertainty about the validity of those undertakings because, under the aegis of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, when he was Chairman of Committees, I was persuaded to drop my protest. These undertakings cover some very sensitive areas, including the village of Harrietsham near where the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, lives and works.

The next point is the height of the rail track and the height of the road, which are relevant to noise. Wherever lowering is not possible, a bund is the next best safeguard. I hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to that because I have a feeling that, as a result of the long consideration given to the Boxley Valley problem, the best practical solution may well be lowering or a bund rather than tunnelling.

My next point of detail is the arrangements to limit disturbance by construction traffic, which I believe was a point made by the noble Lord opposite. They are particularly important in Kent to businesses as well as to residents.

I next come to a point touched on by my noble friend, which I believe is called "perceived blight". An inter-departmental working party has been set up to consider that problem. To whom does the working party report, and when? We would like to know because it is of the greatest importance to the people of Kent. It was announced in answer to a Parliamentary Question asked by my honourable friend Mr. Dunn on 16th March of this year.

The next matter is freight. There are different views about it. I believe that the paramount interest of Kent is to get lorries off the road, so I am in favour of freight on the new line and on the existing line. I realise that the new line may not be suitable for very heavy freight, but I believe that it is suitable for light and medium traffic. I also realise the problem as regards the size of the rolling stock which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned. I believe that there is a problem as regards the Saltwood tunnel if heavy continental rolling stock is put through on the existing line. He will know more about that than I do.

Finally, there is the difficult issue of compensation to those who suffer in their businesses or at home. Delay or unsympathetic haggling will inevitably damage the good will that has been gradually developed. I believe that good will is necessary if the work is to be completed on time. I am not advocating a bonanza, but I am asking for full and timely compensation to be paid and for those responsible to put in sufficient effort to achieve it.

Those are the points that I wish to make to your Lordships. I close by offering my best wishes to the Select Committee, particularly to its chairman, and declaring full confidence in him and his colleagues.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, I begin by saying how delighted we are on these Benches to hear the well-deserved tribute by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington,

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to the county council of Kent which has been controlled, as we all know, by a Labour-Liberal coalition for the past four years. It is good to know that it is doing so well in this field as in many others.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, the noble Lord's history is not quite right. The period is two years.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, I accept the adjustment and offer my apologies.

In presenting this Bill the Minister spoke mostly about the route. I wish to speak about another, smaller aspect which the Minister mentioned, but quite cursorily--the possible effect of what is proposed on the grand old architecture at St. Pancras and King's Cross. St. Pancras is perhaps the second most important Victorian building in London after the building in which we sit. That is why I spotlisted it Grade I in 1967. The Bill removes the protection of listed building law from all buildings which are or might be concerned in the development of the proposed railway. That includes the train sheds at St. Pancras and King's Cross, and St. Pancras Chambers, otherwise known as the St. Pancras Hotel.

So our committee will want to look closely at what alternative protection will be possible. Planning and listed building law provides for public inquiries on the basis of which decisions are taken by the Secretaries of State. In the 19th century, before planning law existed, railway Bills went through which gave the proposed works final and absolute permission. There could be no further question, and I suppose it is that phenomenon which gave rise to the expression "railroading". And that inherited privilege, as it were, has continued right up to now, into the age of planning.

Indeed, a different version of the present Channel Tunnel rail project was introduced in Parliament a few years ago, and was withdrawn; that too exempted the proposed works from all planning or conservation permission. But public opinion and common sense have at last caught up, and have resulted in the recent Transport and Works Act, which provides for public inquiries pretty like normal planning and conservation law in the case of railway works. It is, in fact, a sensible modern response to the anachronism of the omnipotent 19th century private or hybrid Bill. When the CrossRail proposal comes back, I understand that it will be under the Transport and Works Act, which is as it should be. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he replies. However, the promoters of the present Bill do not invoke that Act. They and the Government have chosen to go by another route. They are in fact avoiding that Act, and one may legitimately guess that they fear the rigorous scrutiny of normal conservation law in some places and circumstances.

European law requires that a project of this size and scale must be accompanied by an environmental assessment. We should hope that the Committee will look closely at the documents which are submitted with the Bill under the general title of "environmental assessment" or "environmental statement" to see whether they comply with European law and whether they are of the same standard as would be expected in

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a normal planning inquiry. The documents are provided by the "designated undertaker", to use the appalling jargon of the case, and by consultants presumably paid by the designated undertaker. They are not outside or objective assessments. The real environmental assessment will have to be provided by our committee. In that respect, the committee stands in direct relation to European law, as I understand it.

The environmental statement produced in support of the Bill contains some quite unacceptable parts. The one that I am concerned with is this: it gives no account of the environmental impact of the intended design of the new station buildings at St. Pancras and King's Cross, but only an account of an out-of-date one, the so-called "reference" design, which was no more than a cockshy, and which we cannot assume will bear any particular resemblance to what will actually show up. The document also states that the final design will be,

    "up to the standard of Liverpool Street".
Well, that is not really a very high standard. The great shopping centre which has been inserted into the Victorian train sheds there breaks up the unity of those elaborate iron vaults. The vaults at St. Pancras and King's Cross are quite a lot more important, spacious and beautiful than those at Liverpool Street. Anything like that intrusion would be a true disaster in those two buildings. Our committee must insist that what is intended for the station designs should be published. Our committee should make its own judgment, carefully taking advice.

To sum up, the Bill before us exempts this great project from public inquiry under planning and listed building law. It deliberately avoids public inquiry under the Transport and Works Act, and it is not accompanied by an external environmental assessment. The committee of this House has a most arduous task before it. The Government will, of course, back the present hybrid Bill. They have a large financial stake in the project. It is right that all the decisions should therefore be taken in, and by, Parliament as the court of last instance, corresponding to the role of the Secretary of State under normal planning and listed building law. Since all the normal public inquiry procedures are being evaded, Parliament will have to attend to all the submissions and petitions as carefully as would a normal public inquiry--Parliament in the person of its Select Committee--and it will have to demand from the promoters the environmental assessment that is required by European law, or else do it itself.

We must all wish the committee and the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, well in that arduous and patient work.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I begin by surprising my noble friend Lord Kennet because he and I have quite often in this House and elsewhere differed on environmental matters for the simple reason that he

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is a man of considerable sensitivity and he regards me as a barbarian. To a certain extent, he is right in that respect, but I endorse totally--

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