HC Deb 03 February 1986 vol 91 cc4-8
3. Mr. Snape

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to allocate additional funds to British Rail in the light of Her Majesty's Government's decision to proceed with the fixed Channel link.

Mr. Ridley

External financing limits for 1990–91 to 1992–3, the years of maximum BR capital expenditure on Channel fixed link services, have not been set, but the Government recognise that BR's investment in these services will require a higher level of external financing than would otherwise have been the case.

Mr. Snape

Will the Secretary of State concede that he said recently, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), that he would not allow EFL constraints to affect British Rail investment in new rolling stock for the Channel link? Will he also accept that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport in the other place said exactly the opposite—that EFL would have to be taken into consideration? Will he sort out the departmental act, and will he give a guarantee that all the railway stock that will be needed will be built in Britain?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman is, as always, wrong. My noble Friend said that the expenditure will have to be accommodated within the EFL—indeed, it will—and I say that the EFL will be big enough to accommodate it. I do not understand what the argument is.

Mr. Gregory

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the past five years the Government have given more investment support to British Rail than any previous Government? The Opposition's protests are not consistent with the present position.

Mr. Ridley

It must be extremely disappointing to the Opposition that, since 1979, more than £2.25 billion at today's prices has been invested by British Rail, plus £100 million a year on the installation of continuous welded rail. Those startling and impressive figures completely refute any charge that the Opposition might make that we have cut investment.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

To limit development in the south-east following the building of the Channel tunnel, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that some compensation to the north will be required? That can be done by the improvement of the road and rail network to serve not just the London area but to provide direct links to the north, to make up for the damage that will be caused to it by the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Ridley

The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that £700 million or £800 million of railway investment will flow from the decision to build the Channel Tunnel Group's scheme. He may not know that there are no railway workshops in the south-east. They are all in the north and in the midlands. He might acknowledge the fact that those jobs will come to the areas about which he is talking. Further, if the Channel tunnel results in lower transport costs and quicker and more certain transport across the Channel, it will be of great assistance to his constituents. If he would stop trying to fight the party battle and recognise the immense advantages of what is happening, he would get on better with his constituents.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

How many additional jobs does my right hon. Friend think will result from this additional investment?

Mr. Ridley

It is hard to say precisely, but tomorrow we shall be publishing a White Paper from which my hon. Friend will discover the best guesses that we can make about extra employment and where it will occur. Of course, it will be for the many industrial companies in the midlands and the north to make sure that they win the contracts when they are put out to tender.

Dr. Marek

Does the Minister accept that there is some anxiety that the Channel fixed link will not necessarily benefit the north? If it is to benefit the north, we must have decent, first-class links across London. Will the Secretary of State consider this and ensure that British Rail provides not just links, but first-class, fast links across London so that the north and the regions can consider themselves connected to the fixed link?

Mr. Ridley

I have frequently discussed this point with the chairman of British Rail. As the opportunities which the link gives to British Rail become more widely appreciated and worked out, there will be scope for through rail services from the entire country to the entire continent. British Rail has not had such an opportunity for many a generation, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the board is fully aware of it.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend remind the Opposition that he has already authorised the Snow Hill link, which will be one cross-London link? Following the previous two questions from the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend invite British Rail to introduce a specific plan to make the most of the Channel tunnel for the north by using Kensington Olympia station and the west London line as a link to the Channel tunnel, and upgrading the south-eastern and Chatham line from Redhill to Reading, which would link straight through to the north and the west? Will he invite the chairman to produce a report for him?

Mr. Ridley

It is for the chairman of British Rail to say how he believes it is best to open up the opportunities which the link will provide. I cannot claim to know more than he does about the railway system. It is right that the railways should make proposals. We shall assess them in the light of their viability and the time scale in which they would have to be built. It has not been possible to do that in the short time since the decision was made.

4. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss the fixed Channel link.

11. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if, when he next meets the chairman of the British Railways Board, he will raise with him the implications for British Rail of Her Majesty's Government's decision to proceed with a fixed Channel link; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ridley

I meet ihe chairman of British Rail regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest. I last discussed the Channel fixed link with him on 22 January.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Secretary of State agree that the EFL for British Rail should be set far enough ahead so that we can all see what will happen? It will enable and encourage British Rail to develop and expand services not just in the south-east of England but in the north and Scotland, and clarify the different view taken by him and his noble Friend in the other place. Will he give an assurance that the EFL will be expanded to take account of British Rail's needs for the Channel link and that other investment required by British Rail will not be curtailed as a result of the Channel link decision?

Mr. Ridley

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Can we take it, therefore, that the Secretary of State will be recommending to his Cabinet colleagues a bigger EFL for British Rail in the years ahead? In particular, will he take note of the need for further investment in the Ashford to London line? If it is to cater for the Channel tunnel and commuters, it will need a great deal of capital expenditure?

Mr. Ridley

In the relevant years—1990 to 1993—the railways' provisional programme of investment is such that, even with investment in the Channel fixed link, it will be investing less than at present. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point is that the costs of the Ashford line are included in the investment plans which British Rail has put forward as an immediate consequence of the Channel Tunnel Group's proposals. British Rail estimates that if it has high-speed trains working between London, Paris and Brussels the investment will be £390 million, but that if it has conventional-speed trains it will be £290 million. A decision as to which trains will be used has not yet been taken.

Mr. Gow

Are there any outstanding matters still to be settled between the Channel Tunnel Group, BR and SNCF?

Mr. Ridley

I was careful to ensure that the bones of an agreement were reached between the two railways and between the combined railways and the Channel Tunnel Group before the decision was finally taken. The agreement is that there will be a 50-50 joint venture between BR and SNCF. They will be able to decide jointly on the services, the costs, the share of the revenue and the investment. I believe that that is a thoroughly satisfactory deal for BR. BR is content with, and has agreed the schedule of, tolls to be charged on trains passing through the Channel tunnel. I cannot at the moment speak definitely for SNCF in that respect.

Mr. Aitken

Does my right hon. Friend recall that before the announcement of the Channel tunnel decision he gave the impression of being a Scrooge-like Minister who would not allow a penny of taxpayers' money to be spent in connection with the project? Since the announcement, and in the House this afternoon, he has given a somewhat different impression—that of a Lord Bountiful who is willing to spend money on expanding the EFL and on railways for the north. Does my right hon. Friend not think that he may be in danger of suffering from a little schizophrenia?

Mr. Ridley

I know that my hon. Friend will never lack ingenuity in finding ways in which to question the Channel tunnel decision. This afternoon is no exception. I have always made it clear to the House that the essential road links and railway investment which result from the decision to build the Channel link would be accepted by the Government. We accept the need to build roads and sanction railway investment to any new port, new town or new factory where the traffic justifies increased infrastructure expenditure.

Mr. Ron Lewis

In his original answer the right hon. Gentleman admitted that there would be more funding for British Rail as a result of the Channel tunnel. Is that why he opposed the scheme?

Mr. Ridley

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he could repeat his question.

Mr. Ron Lewis

There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Channel tunnel will mean extra funding for British Rail. Is that why he originally opposed the scheme?

Mr. Ridley

I was opposed to the original scheme 11 years ago because it was to be paid for by taxpayers. I am in favour of this scheme because it will not involve taxpayers' money for the construction of the link, and it will therefore not be at the expense of other Government programmes which could have serious consequences for public spending.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the central question concerning the project is not whether we or the French get the most out of it, but how it can be directed so as to give the maximum benefit to both nations?

Mr. Ridley

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Another question is whether the people who use the link will benefit, whether as passengers or as senders of freight. If they will not benefit, I shall be very surprised if the City finances the scheme. The fact that the City is likely to be prepared to finance the scheme is evidence of real need among users, which will be met profitably.

Mr. Leadbitter

The Secretary of State has given certain assurances about communication development concerning the fixed link, but, after all these months, he has still not convinced industrialists in the north. When he has discussions with the chairman of British Rail and other transport interests, will he take account of the concern of industrialists and trade unionists in the north and of the Tees and Hartlepool port authority, the third largest in the United Kingdom, which has expressed its deep worry about future trade when the link is developed?

Mr. Ridley

I sometimes wonder how the Labour party, which is always calling for more investment, more infrastructure and more jobs in heavy industry, can find such contorted ways in which to disagree with the biggest infrastructure project that the Government have ever announced. They love it in general, but when projects that will provide many jobs in the north, the midlands and elsewhere are announced, they cannot even bring themselves to welcome them.