HC Deb 24 February 1986 vol 92 cc736-74

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have your guidance? I perceive that our appreciation of the Bill's precise effects, if we are to judge it right, is tied up with another measure—the Airports Bill which is now in Standing Committee. Will it be in order to refer to that Bill because it seems to be almost impossible to judge this Bill without reference to that other Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

It will be in order to refer to that Bill incidentally. Hon. Members must not argue too wide a case, but it is in order to refer to it incidentally.

7.1 pm

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Students of British Railways legislation will know that this is the second time in seven days that I have proposed the Second Reading of a British Railways Bill. I make no apologies for that.

This Bill, in common with all its predecessors, relies upon the duties placed upon the board under the Transport Act 1962. The most important of those duties is as follows: It is the duty of the Board…to have due regard, as respect all those railway and other services and facilities, to efficiency, economy and safety of operation. This Bill is designed to do precisely that.

I shall outline quickly the structure of the Bill. Part I defines the terms and incorporates the provisions of the general Act which is common to all such legislation. Part II deals with works for which authorisation is sought. Part III authorises the board to purchase land the rights over land. Part IV deals with the incorporation of protective provisions as they relate to the Crown, the police and the electricity, water and gas undertakings. Part V provides a limit, in clause 17, of up to 10 years from the passing of the Bill, the period of starting construction. The two schedules are self-explanatory.

The Bill states: By reason of the proposed development and the expansion of Stansted airport by the British Airports Authority it is expedient that the Board should be empowered to construct the works authorised by this Act and to purchase or use the land referred to in this Act so as to provide improved services and facilities for railway passengers travelling to or from the said airport".

It could be a matter for debate whether every airport should have a link with the main railway system. Many people believe that London airport should have had such a facility when it opened after the last war. This Bill is concerned not with other airports, but with Stansted. It reflects a prudent and sensible attitude on behalf of the board to ensure that powers exist to build the railway link, should the proper finance be available.

Work No. 1 relates to the principal work to be undertaken by the board—the Stansted spur road. That involves the construction of a new length of railway of 6,035 m, or just over 6 km, from a point on the London to Cambridge line a short distance north of Stansted station, into the enlarged airport site. The track will be double as far as the tunnel under the airport runway, single track in the tunnel and be double once again into the airport station which will have two platforms.

Work No. 2 requires that a short length of additional railway shall be built between the London and Cambridge line and work No. 1 to allow direct trains from and to Cambridge. The railway building part of the Bill is substantial but extremely simple. I regard it as an imaginative response to the need to provide proper transport.

Works Nos. 3 and 6 relate to the diversion of certain watercourses necessary to complete works Nos. 1 and 2. Work No. 7 involves the construction of a new road to provide access to the site which, after the building is completed, will be left to provide access for maintenance work.

Work No. 6 gives powers to make and maintain the station under the proposed terminal which will give access directly above to the airport concourse. Clauses 7, 8 and 9 provide additional facilities to ensure that any surface water can be taken away.

The Bill is simple and straightforward, but it has aroused great interest among many hon. Members, who see it as an attempt by the board to favour Stansted over Manchester. I remind the House that in 1984 I moved the Second Reading of a similar Bill to give exactly the same powers to Manchester to enable it to provide exactly the same facilities for travellers to that airport. The board obtained works and land powers under the British Railways Act 1984 for the construction of a railway to Manchester international airport.

The powers were obtained by the board in the face of determined opposition from a property developer and in spite of difficult negotiations with local authorities—the Manchester council and Manchester city council. I hope that hon. Members will not deny the board a Second Reading of a Bill to do for Stansted precisely that which was done nearly two years ago for Manchester because there is no direct relationship between the two schemes. It would be like counting apples with pears to argue that Stansted should not enjoy these provisions because Manchester is being treated as a second-class case. That is not true. Manchester already has such provisions and Stansted is merely being brought into line with Manchester.

Other comments have been made to the effect that in the White Paper on airports assurances were given that there would be some direct linkage between the two schemes and that they would be considered contemporaneously. There is no evidence—certainly not in the White Paper—that there is any order of priority between Manchester and Stansted under the two rail link schemes. They are not in competition and never have been intended to compete.

There are other hon. Members who will, no doubt, wish to raise matters such as the additional traffic on the line to London and the effect it may have on services.

As in the past, I shall do as much as I can to deal with individual problems as they arise, but I can assure the House that the board sees no reason for believing that the new link to the airport will do anything to diminish the service—indeed it should enhance it.

This is a simple, straightforward Bill. It does to an airport in the east what was done to one in the north-west. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The House will wish to know that Mr. Speaker has not selected either of the amendments on the Order Paper.

7.10 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

This might seem at first sight a fairly straightforward proposition—that an airport which is about to be developed to a scale of some significance should, right from the start, be properly serviced by road and rail.

I am willing to be persuaded that the immediate institution of a rail link would be sensible for the community as a whole, as well as for the passengers who will use the airport. If it is a straightforward proposition that a rail link should be put in, it is extraordinary that London's premier airport, Heathrow, still does not have a surface rail link after 40 years. One cannot help musing about the priorities of British Rail or the Government that we should be asked tonight to approve a rail link for an airport which currently has a through-put of 500,000 passengers per annum when there is still no surface rail link to an airport that is running at 31 million passengers per annum.

I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister of State has to say on behalf of the Government. Because of the eagerness of British Rail and maybe of the Government, people who have been vitally concerned with the Stansted issue for some time are suspicious that the name of the game is to maximise the airport's attraction and to ensure that everything possible is done to assist its growth potential.

Let us consider what the effects of a rail link might be. First and foremost, one has to consider the environmental aspects. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) did not dwell on this, but I would imagine that British Rail has taken great care to ensure that the route of the spur from the main line into the airport avoids the greatest environmental difficulties.

There will, nevertheless, be a problem for the landowners concerned, and these things are never easy to cope with. I came to the Saffron Walden constituency when the shock waves were still being felt from the cutting through that constituency of the M11 motorway. The residual problems of dealing with compulsory purchase were felt for many years and I have no doubt there will be great distress if this Bill is approved and compulsory purchase orders have to be made. I suspect that there will be difficulties in the general environmental sense, but I hope that we may be assured that the route chosen for the rail link will do the least visual harm to an area which is extremely proud of its rural environment.

The second consideration is the effect that the establishment of a rail link, or its absence, will have on roads in the area. There would be some attraction in a rail link to Stansted airport if the result would be less road traffic in the area. We need some explanation of how the relationship is seen. What is the likely effect on road traffic of a rail link? Will it be beneficial to people in my area and in east Hertfordshire in that it will control the growth of traffic or even reduce it?

We are anxious that, so far, the Government have promised no more than £2 million to spend on roads in the area. Essex county council's shopping list is rather greater —£38 million. I do not necessarily wish to endorse that figure, but there is a suspicion that £2 million will be inadequate for our roads. We are understandably worried about the effect on our roads of growth at the airport. We shall be interested to know whether establishing a rail link will be beneficial.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

My hon. Friend will know that Hertfordshire's claim for additional expenditure on the roads exceeds that of Essex by £1 million. My hon. Friend must bear that in mind when advancing his argument.

Mr. Haselhurst

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Hertfordshire and Essex county councils are working closely on this matter. The invisible boundary between our two counties makes no difference to the problems of the area, which must be seen as a whole.

The question that exercises minds in my constituency and, I dare say, in neighbouring ones is whether the establishment of a rail link to Stansted will ensure that the airport is a runaway success. We are conscious that, when announcing his decision on airports policy, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attempted to achieve some form of compromise so that the growth required would be limited or staged. That is the best crumb of comfort on which my constituents, who have been suspicious of and worried about a large-scale airport at Stansted, can feed. They are prepared to make the best of the Government's decision. There is a compromise—we shall have investment in the airport, which will create jobs in the area. The airport will develop to a certain extent. That assurance would be somewhat damaged, however, if they felt that investment was being poured in in the form of a rail link, which would accelerate the pressures on the airport and render the limit set by the Government relatively meaningless in a short time.

My constituents do not regard the link simply from an amenity point of view. They are anxious about whether it will act as an accelerator on airport growth. Hon. Members should bear that in mind. My constituents are not trying to reverse the decision about the airport, but they would like to believe that there will be some reliance on the limitation which the Government set.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

I understand that, on St. Valentine's day, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport visited my hon. Friend's constituency and mine and that there was a discussion with various relevant bodies about infrastructure. Perhaps my hon. Friend could say what came of that meeting.

Mr. Haselhurst

I would be trespassing on the goodwill of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport if I went too far into that matter as it was a fact-finding visit essentially concerned with roads rather than rail. While I accept the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) that there is an interconnection between the road and rail infrastructure, and I have already referred to that, obviously my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State could not give commitments during his visit as to what the Government might subsequently do in relation to the roads infrastructure. Naturally, I hope that, since he has witnessed the situation, he will advise our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that more should be done than is presently planned.

Some of my constituents are worried that a rail link is simply a means of ensuring extra investment at Stansted to promote the airport's growth and for no other reason. On the other hand, we must consider the possible effect on housing and urbanisation. I understand that a good rail link which would connect such stations as Tottenham Hale, Broxbourne and Harlow Town with the airport would ensure that people seeking employment at the airport from outside the immediate area would have a reliable service to satisfy their needs and curb the need to move into the area thus adding to the demand for new houses with the implications that has for the county structure plan.

That must be considered very carefully, and it is difficult to know whether such a proposition would work. Benefits may arise from a rail link if that link eases the pressure on general urbanisation in the area. It would be helpful to have further information on that point.

The other point to consider with regard to the effects of the rail link relates to the comfort and convenience of the passengers. Some of my hon. Friends will nod with understanding and sympathy when I say that the words "comfort" and "convenience" have not, in the past, been synonymous with Liverpool street station. There are grave anxieties as to whether any form of service could be comfortable and convenient if it runs out of that London terminus.

I am aware that British Rail is undertaking a major redevelopment of the station, which may considerably improve the service. It is worth noting, however, that a working party set up in 1980 to consider rail access to Stansted stated in a Department of Transport report in June 1981 that: Liverpool Street is not a good location for the London terminal. It is some distance away from the main tourist centres in the West End, the surrounding area contains few hotels and hotel expansion is unlikely. The road system around Liverpool Street is already congested throughout the day and the Inner Ring Road near Liverpool Street is of a low standard. The additional traffic generated by an in-town terminal would increase the problems considerably. As regards links with the Underground. the Metropolitan/Circle line provides good connections with some BR main line stations, but the Central line, which is the main access to the West End is already severely overcrowded in the peak hours. The 1974 London Rail Study, (Part 2, paragraph 10.4.1) recorded that the Leyton-Chancery Lane section of the Central line was the most severe example of peak hour overcrowding on the Underground: although conditions have improved somewhat since then, London Transport have stated that a very high level of standing continues to occur, and that for the future conditions would remain inappropriate to accommodate air passengers and their baggage.

Although Liverpool street station might be considerably enhanced to benefit regular passengers, its very location —not the quality of service it offers once one arrives there—may be a difficulty for air passengers whose destination we must assume is unlikely to be the City of London but rather the West End. We must find out more about that and if we are being invited to support the rail link we must recognise that it will ultimately terminate at Liverpool street and not at a more convenient station.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest who promoted the Bill, said very little about the costings it involves. I believe that the House is entitled to have more information about the project if we are to grant it approval. What is the overall cost of the proposal? My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest did not tell the House what that would be. I hope he will intervene if he does know what the figure is. I understand from answers given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the Government expect a 7 per cent. rate of return in real terms on the project, on the capital employed. The Secretary of State will judge that on an equal basis with any other project put before him. We ought to be given some idea whether my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest is satisfied that that rate of return will be achieved.

A considerable sum will need to be yielded in the form of passenger fares if there is to be a 7 per cent. rate of return. I recall that the cost of the electrification of the Bishop's Stortford to Cambridge line was put in 1983 terms at the order of £11 million to £12 million. One assumes that the project under discussion, which involves laying down railway track, boring a tunnel and building a station, will cost somewhat more than that. That figure might presumably be three or four times £11 million or £12 million. One need only carry out some preliminary mathematics to discover that the rate of return may have to be between £2.5 million and £3 million. That is the actual margin—not the total revenue—that has to be found to achieve such a result. That has consequences for the number of passengers who will be required to achieve that result. We need to know more, therefore, about the figures. How many passengers will be using the line? What data did British Rail use to make its calculations to embolden them to bring the matter to the House?

When the working party considered the matter in 1980–81, and the cost of the option—one of four that were originally considered and which is identical to the scheme incorporated in the Bill—it stated that: The cost of this option, excluding any essential work at Liverpool Street that would be necessary and excluding any rolling stock requirements, would amount to about £50 million at 1980 prices. BR and BAA have estimated that the cost of the rail spur and associated works would be £47.7 million at 1980 prices but this does not include costs for signalling, electrification and land purchased by BR which have not been separately identified for the rail spur. How many passengers will be needed to relate to such costs?

At that time, the British Airports Authority was talking in terms of a throughput of 15 million passengers per annum being achieved at Stansted by 1992. That was the other side of the equation when the working study report was made. In view of that evidence, we need precise information as to the present estimated costs and the projected number of passengers using the line. It is evident that a 15 million passenger target at Stansted will not be achieved by 1992 as the terminal is not due to open until at least 1990. In any case, the Secretary of State has said that it may be a facility for only 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. It seems that the figures on the record will require radical readjustment in the light of what we now know. I should like to know how many passengers are expected to use the service, and I should like to have that information presented on the basis of year-by-year growth.

What proportion of the passengers going through the airport will want to reach it by rail? What proportion is it supposed will come from central London? To what extent will Stansted serve the needs of the population of a wider area embracing East Anglia, Colchester, Chelmsford and areas of Hertfordshire? It cannot be assumed that all the traffic will come on the north-south access. I assume that a major proportion will do so, but what figure is being ascribed in the calculations that lie behind the Bill?

What proportion of passengers will come by rail from Liverpool street to Stansted airport? I presume that such calculations will take into account that the high proportion of passengers who use the refurbished line to Gatwick has started to decline. I understand that it rose at one stage to over 50 per cent. On evidence that I received recently from the British Airports Authority on a visit to Gatwick, it appears that the figure has declined to 40 per cent. What would be the figure for Stansted? Could it be a reliable figure, bearing in mind that there seems to be some fluctuation in rail usage to the only other London airport with a surface rail link?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that there must be a 7 per cent. rate of return on capital invested. If his test is to be satisfied, by what year does that return have to be achieved? Presumably a 7 per cent. rate of return will not be achieved by 1991. By that stage the terminal would be barely open. The latest estimate of the British Airports Authority is that by 1991 throughput at Stansted using the existing facilities, which will be in use until the new terminal is opened, will he about 2 million passengers per annum. At what stage does the 7 per cent. rate of return have to be achieved?

Cost calculations must take into account the number of trains that are to run. The House will have noted that the quotation that I used from the working party's report excluded such matters as rolling stock. I must ask for information about the frequency of the service that is to be provided. That is necessary if we are to arrive at any judgment on the calculations that lie behind the scheme.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

The line will extend to Stansted and it will be on a north-south access. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the usage projections are overestimated? Many passengers will not want to come into London only to travel out of the capital for such a long distance northwards. It is likely that fewer passengers will use the line than British Rail or the Department of Transport have estimated.

Mr. Haselhurst

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for amplifying what I said about the hinterland being a source of passengers. Passengers may well come from the north, using the Mll and the A604 connection to the Al. They will make the calculation to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and reach the judgment that to enter London and travel out of it so far is not an attractive way of making their journey.

One of the first publications that the BAA issued in my constituency prior to the public inquiry referred to Stansted attracting traffic from the midlands and the north. I am sure that that factor is behind British Rail's plans. I am confident that it envisages the link as a spur that will go to Cambridge as well as to London. We know that cross-country services on the British Rail network are not especially good, but British Rail might envisage electrified connections at some stage with the east coast main line, which will bring services through Cambridge into Stansted. That may be a gleam in its eye. That is mere speculation on my part because there is no evidence of that as we consider the Bill.

I am concerned about the costs that are involved in running the trains that will be put on the proposed service. Part of the attraction of the Gatwick service has been the quality of the rolling stock that has been applied to it, which is of superior British Rail standard. I do not believe from what I hear that a similar standard of provision will be made on the Stansted route. I have not had wind of any new rolling stock coming on to the Liverpool street sector of British Rail, notwithstanding the present electrification project or the Stansted project. I have a nasty feeling that the rolling stock and the locomotives will be hand-me-downs from other regions. That may have a beneficial effect on costings, but we are entitled to know the quality of the rail link that we are being offered and being asked to approve.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has said in seated interjections, we do not know the price that will be charged for using the service. That factor must have an effect on the rate of return and the speed with which the desired rate is achieved. Another factor is the competition that British Rail will face. It is likely that there will be fast coach services. Under the beneficent rule of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, coach travel has become easier and faster. The competition from coach operators might have a considerable effect on the number of passengers who want to travel by train to Stansted.

An even more difficult factor to evaluate is the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use the powers that are sought in the Airports Bill, which is now being considered in Standing Committee, to direct traffic to Stansted. That must be a crucial element in British Rail's calculations in putting forward the scheme that we are considering. What is in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Will my hon. Friend the Minister of State tell us how the powers will be used? We have not heard anything about that during the Committee proceedings. How can we make a judgment on the efficacy and attractiveness of the scheme that is being put before us unless we know exactly what my right hon. Friend intends? Have there been conversations behind the scenes? Have there been nudges and winks to British Rail about the degree of traffic that will be diverted deliberately to Stansted under the powers that my right hon. Friend is taking? These are matters about which the House should know. They will obviously have a crucial bearing upon our consideration of the Bill.

If we are to make a judgment on the Bill, we are entitled to a great deal more information about the cost of the scheme and the calculations that are being made to arrive at it. If British Rail says in its defence that these are matters of commercial confidentiality, I understand that there may be aspects of its operations that it has good reason in all fairness to keep confidential, but it is a public corporation and it is seeking the permission of the House to expend moneys in a particular direction. Therefore, it behoves it to present the full facts so that we may ascertain whether they are worthy of our confideénce.

The railway line between Liverpool street and Cambridge is not good. I hope that I am not being disrespectful when I say that one's rank in life is no bar to experiencing major inconvenience on that line. When I was pleading with my hon. Friend's predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre), in 1983 for the electrification of the Liverpool street-Cambridge line I had occasion to refer to the Lea valley line. I said it was the worst line running out of London under the auspices of British Rail. It suffers from what is known within British Rail as the cascade effect, in that someone in the imperfect world in which we live has to be at the bottom of the heap. That tends to be the Liverpool Street operation of British Rail's Eastern region, and within that operation it is the Lea valley line that gets the oldest locomotives and the oldest rolling stock. Over the years there has been a dreadful record of breakdown and delay, usually accompanied by rational explanation at the time. The journey from Audley End to Liverpool Street is at best 52 minutes. The main train of the morning, which is heavily used by commuters with business appointments to keep, is frequently delayed, sometimes by as much as half an hour on a 52-minute journey."—[Official Report, 13 May 1983; Vol. 42, c. 1012.] That is the sort of standard we have been expected to tolerate in the past. The standard is intolerable. The whole thrust of British Rail's efforts to deal with that bad standard was to reduce the number of trains on the line. It is important to appreciate that. In order to get over the inherent difficulties British Rail has been reducing the number of trains. The Bill asks us to sanction a substantial increase in the number of trains.

I am indebted to the service group manager of the eastern region of British Rail, Mr. Trevor Hill, for supplying some statistics about performance. He tells me that in 1982 some 66 per cent. of morning peak trains and 59 per cent. of evening peak trains to and from Cambridge arrived within five minutes of the scheduled time. By 1985 this had improved to 72 per cent. and 63 per cent. respectively. That is not saying that 72 per cent. and 63 per cent. of morning and evening trains arrive on time. It presumably means that a percentage of those arrive late, but only up to a maximum of five minutes late. In other words, 28 per cent. of trains were clearly more than five minutes late in the morning and 37 per cent. of trains were more than five minutes late in the evening. This has improved by a further small percentage in the last six months, but at the rate of improvement that we have seen over the past three and a half years, it will be another 13 years before all the trains are on time—or shall we say within five minutes of being on time. In a candid sentence Mr. Hill admits: There is clearly some way to go before the standards can be seen to be satisfactory, but I hope that I have demonstrated that we are moving in the right direction.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)

May I discourage my hon. Friend a little more? He talks about the ancient rolling stock he has to suffer. In my constituency we have the benefit of brand new rolling stock, but I am afraid that the trains run even less to time than was the case before.

Mr. Haselhurst

I visibly sag to hear that information from my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy). Perhaps I was naive enough to suppose that the grass was greener on the Great Eastern line, but clearly that is not so.

As British Rail is frank enough to admit, the standard of service on the Lea valley line is bad. Now we are told that it will be all right if British Rail is given permission to introduce a spur to the airport and put on extra trains and that it will manage somehow.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Without straying too far from the provisions of the Bill, could the hon. Gentleman give the House some solutions to the problem of chronically bad timekeeping on the Lea valley line?

Mr. Haselhurst

I hope that I can satisfy the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) by some of the remarks I intend to direct to that before I conclude my speech. British Rail has to come forward and offer some explanation about how on earth it is to achieve a better standard of service. If it does not come up with a solution, what we shall get in comparison to the Gatwick flier is the Stansted stutterer because most of the trains seem to stop a number of times between the starting point and the end of the journey.

The House is being asked to approve what is virtually an absolute minimum service to the airport. We are not even told what the costs of that are to be. The Bill does not provide for an increase in the number of tracks on the Lea valley line south of the point where the airport spur reaches that line and through to Liverpool street. It does not provide for extra signalling schemes which might be necessary to give effect to British Rail's hope that it will be able to run an effective railway with an extra airport service operating on it. It does not provide for a terminal at St. Pancras, which was also considered as a possible option.

We are being offered the bare minimum, a skimped project, that will squeeze into the requirements of the Secretary of State to achieve a 7 per cent. rate of return. If British Rail had to include the dualling of the track, extra signalling and a proper, convenient terminal at St. Pancras, I would find it difficult to believe that the amount of money expended could possibly bring about the rate of return that the Secretary of State requires in relation to the likely throughput at Stansted. On what is proposed I do not even know what the likely expenditure will be.

Dr. Marek

If the timekeeping is as bad as the hon. Gentleman says—and I quite believe that it is, because it seems similar to my experiences on the London-Midland line—would it not be better for British Rail to invest capital, if it has any capital to invest, in the existing infrastructure in order to get the existing trains running on time? British Rail would be better advised to do that before starting to construct any more lines.

Mr. Haselhurst

The hon. Member for Wrexham makes a fair and relevant point. In fairness to British Rail and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we are seeing electrification of the line. That will bring about an improvement. Electric rolling stock, even hand-me-downs from the north-west, will provide a better service and help improve punctuality, about which Mr. Hill supplied me with figures, to go on improving. It requires a great act of faith for us set our seal of approval on this Bill against that record of performance. We are being asked simply to accept the asssurance of British Rail that it can increase the number of trains on the line, although it has not said in the context of this Bill exactly how many. We are asked to accept that everything will be all right on the day. One begs leave to doubt that.

Whether or not this rail link is right and will be a success can only be seen by trying to relate what is proposed with what is contained in the Airports Bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seeks powers to regulate the distribution of air traffic within the London airport system. That will have a crucial bearing on the viability and operational effectiveness of a Stansted link. We must consider the type of traffic that will come to Stansted airport when judging its effect on the rail link. Will my right hon. Friend use his powers to direct more scheduled traffic to Stansted or will he use them to direct more charter traffic to Stansted? Charter and scheduled traffic have different patterns of operation, and those patterns will affect the time of day when passengers seek to get to the airport. We have not been given any evidence on the pattern of traffic using Stansted airport and, therefore, on the likely numbers to use the rail link to central London. Has British Rail been offered any such evidence?

What about the sheer volume of traffic which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will try to ensure uses Stansted airport? My right hon. Friend will not take a hands-off position, allowing traffic to determine its own level. He will be very much in the market place, but we do not know the criteria he will use in intervening. Those criteria are essential factors in assessing the effect of a rail link.

Mr. Bowen Wells

It has been rumoured that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends forcibly transferring all charter aircraft operations from Gatwick to Stansted. It is likely that many of the aircraft will come in late at night and early in the morning to reduce costs. Until now, British Rail has not operated during the small hours of the morning or late at night. I very much doubt that it would do so if it had the opportunity it seeks under the legislation.

Mr. Haselhurst

My hon. Friend has hit the point again. There is rumour and speculation about the Government's exact intentions. We do not know whether BR similarly has to guess about what is in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or whether my right hon. Friend has unburdened himself to BR in a way that he has not yet unburdened himself to the House.

Mr. Hayes

Does my hon. Friend agree that it goes further than that? The major carriers using Gatwick airport have made it clear that they do not want the bucket and spade trade at Gatwick airport, but that they want it to go to Stansted airport.

Mr. Haselhurst

I am trying scrupulously, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to keep within the terms of the Bill and nothing but the Bill. I do not want to venture too far down that lane. If we enter the realm of speculation about the possibilities of other countries which have a tight grip on air transport refusing to play the game that the Government wish them to play with respect to destinations in the London system, we shall be in for fun, and a great deal of difficulty. A terrible situation will develop and it will be difficult to calculate the effects.

Even if one tries to put that thought from one's mind, I think that we are still in a guessing game. I have heard no evidence to convince me that British Rail is not involved in that same guessing game. We are being asked to approve a measure that lacks substance. It is difficult for us to make a considered judgment on it.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State owes it to the House to state clearly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to do with the considerable powers he requires to regulate civil aviation. This will enable us to draw conclusions on the usage of the rail link. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, who has represented British Rail in presenting the Bill, or British Rail at his behest must give the House considerably more information so that we can satisfy ourselves about what they seek to do. If we have a clear record of the evidence that has led them to conclude that the rail link is necessary, we can decide whether that link is in the interests of our constituents and the nation as a whole.

7.54 pm
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

I wish to oppose the Bill. I did not think that I would ever speak in opposition to a Bill that provided a basis on which British Rail could make investments, because I believe that investment by British Rail is important and I would normally wish to support such investment, but I must oppose this measure. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) posed a number of important questions that must be answered, but I do not think that the Minister of State will be able to answer them satisfactorily. I believe that we should consider costs, capital investment in the line and potential usage before we are asked to give the Bill a Second Reading.

My one connection with Stansted is the fact that I was born in the area, although I left it at a relatively young age. Last year I went to Stansted to speak at the ASTMS college. I used the railway link between Liverpool street and Stansted. Compared with many lines endured by the people in the north-west, this line is much better. British Rail's investment in the line, in meeting the Government's wish to develop Stansted as the third London airport—I do not believe that the Government have made a case for that—will be to the detriment of investment in other areas because of the financial restraints imposed on British Rail. I agree with the intervention forcefully made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) that money could be better used in other areas.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

Which investment proposition from British Rail are the Government preventing from going forward?

Mr. Pike

The hon. Gentleman surprises me. Only recently, in the past month, he turned down the electrification proposal for the railway line from Manchester to Blackpool. The Government should have approved that plan for that important tourist line, which needed development. Lancashire county council and the Greater Manchester council submitted a joint proposal to support that project, but the Government rejected it.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman should know that British Rail did not put forward a proposition for the electrification of the line. It put forward a different proposition—to use sprinter trains on that route, which would run at approximately the same speed as trains on the electrified route, but at substantially better value for money. If British Rail did not put forward a proposition for electrification, how can the hon. Gentleman pretend that I have turned it down?

Mr. Pike

The Minister is not facing the facts. It may well have been that British Rail, knowing the financial constraints imposed by the Government, did not submit a proposal other than for sprinter trains. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that Lancashire county council and the Greater Manchester council submitted a case for electrification. If the Minister received a proposal from British Rail for electrification of that line, would he be prepared to support it?

Mr. Mitchell

If I were to receive a proposition for electrification from British Rail, I would look at it carefully and judge it on the normal criteria. In general, the hon. General will know that I have not found it necessary to turn down investment applications from British Rail.

If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on the councils concerned are prepared to finance the difference between British Rail's return on the cost of doing it with the fast sprinter and electrification, I am sure that British Rail would be interested to hear that proposition. I have not heard such a proposition. The hon. Gentleman is anxious to spend other people's money which they are not prepared to spend themselves.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are now straying from the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will come back to the Bill.

Mr. Pike

I shall return to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was saying that money should be used for those projects. I have no doubt that British Rail knows what financial constraints are placed upon it by the Government.

Dr. Marek

May I give one comparison between money that could be spent on the line that will be constructed for Stansted airport, if we pass the Bill, and on another project? I have in mind the singling of the Wrexham to Chester railway line. Money was not spent, and the line has been cut. Only last Thursday an inter-city train was over two hours late. I should have thought it would be far better, rather than spend the capital on the line to Stansted, to produce a proper service for a town with over 100,000 people. My hon. Friend knows that infrastructure cuts are about to be made in his locality. There must be countless examples up and down the United Kingdom. For example, a new bridge could be constructed on the line north of Inverness to Wick. There are many projects which are far more worthy for British Rail to undertake than this one.

Mr. Pike

I do not want to stray too far along that path, but it is true. The east Lancashire line from Burnley to its terminus at Colne or Chaffer's sidings in Nelson is also to be singled to save money under the financial restraints being placed on British Rail by the Government.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would speculate on the position between British Rail and the Minister. Is it possible, when it comes to spending money under a Bill such as this or on a project such as the electrification of the Blackpool to Manchester line, that there is a ministerial nod and wink before anything is done? Does my hon. Friend believe that the Minister had not made his views known on this Bill or on the electrification of the Blackpool to Manchester line before British Rail made the decision?

Mr. Pike

I am sure that my hon. Friend's comments are absolutely right. The crux of the Bill, and the reason why I and some of my hon. Friends will oppose it, is that we believe that if the Bill were to receive its Second Reading it would be another widening of the economic imbalance between the regions of this country. I have no doubt that British Rail is aware of the Government's views. The Channel tunnel is a good example. It will involve major rail investment in the south-east.

Dr. Marek

It is important that the House realises that this investment is a matter of "either, or". It is a question of the development of the line to Stansted or of developments elsewhere. It all has to be financed out of British Rail's capital investment, and that is subject to limits set by the Government.

Mr. Pike

That puts the point finely. We all recognise that British Rail has only a certain amount of money available for capital investment. If it invests in the Stansted line, it will not be able to invest elsewhere.

I do not criticise Mr. Speaker for not having selected the amendment, but it is unfortunate, because it would have focused attention on the parallel situation where a rail link is so essential to Manchester airport. I used to live close to the airport and Heald Green where the railway line passes.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I fully support the hon. Gentleman's complaint that the rail link into Manchester has not been proceeded with, although permission has been granted for it. Will he consider that, at some unfortunate time in the future, when I am not in the House and he might be Secretary of State for Transport, it will make sense to have the link into the airport so that the line can be constructed? That is the terrible mistake that we made at Heathrow. Here is the chance not to make a similar mistake. Why does not the hon. Gentleman back it?

Mr. Pike

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) always makes valuable contributions on these matters. He has pointed out the difficulty with which we are faced tonight. It is with no pleasure that I oppose the Bill. I accept the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument that if the airport is to be developed—although I believe that that is the wrong decision—it is right to have the rail link connecting it.

I have to oppose the Bill because we know that the Government will not give British Rail the necessary capital to make the other important investments that we need in other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham was right when he said that it was either this or something else. If we allow the Bill to pass, something else will be ruled out. I assure the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that it is on that basis alone that I feel that I have to oppose the Bill.

I should like to be in the position where the Government were telling British Rail to come forward with its plans for investment anywhere in the country and they would see that sufficient resources were made available to develop the rail network, whether it be new lines, new rolling stock or anything else. I believe that we should be making such investment, because it is time that the country took more traffic from the roads and encouraged it to use the railway. To do that we need positive decisions from the Government to encourage people to use the railway for long-distance freight traffic and long-distance passenger traffic. We need to encourage the growth of British Rail.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that we do not know what this line would cost. He mentioned £50 million or £55 million at 1980 prices, if I have the figures correct. We all know that the figure will now be considerably higher.

We accept the hon. Gentleman's comment that this proposal is a minimum option because the line does not link up with what would perhaps be the more appropriate terminus in London, St. Pancras—it merely has the spur at the Stansted end of the line—but runs to Liverpool street station.

The Government have failed to answer the problem of dealing with the people in the central London area. We believe that developing Stansted in the way that is proposed will attract increasing numbers to the south-east of the country to make their travel arrangements. I say "attract", but perhaps that is an understatement. I believe that the Bill will force people to travel through London and through one of the three London airports. That would be regrettable. We wish to see more development of regional airports so that people can travel from the regions.

If I wish to go to Manchester airport, I have tremendous difficulty in doing so. It takes me two hours to travel 24 miles from the north of Manchester to the centre of Manchester, and I then have to catch a bus to the airport. I cannot go that short distance on a direct train. I have to change at Blackburn, and in the middle of the day it takes almost two hours to do that relatively short journey. Yet here we are talking about improving facilities and taking a line directly into Stansted airport. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that this is necessary if the airport is to grow. I do not dispute for one moment that that is so.

The point that I have to make repeatedly is not my opposition in principle to the proposal, but my opposition to the use of British Rail's capital investment. I believe that this is not the No. 1 priority. That is why I feel that I have to oppose the proposal. There are many more important projects for which British Rail could use that money. It would be more to the benefit of the country as a whole if British Rail could do that. Again, the Government have a key role to play. We need to see the Government giving British Rail the ability to meet the requirement to improve the rail network throughout the country.

We do not know what the final growth of Stansted will be. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden hinted at the ways in which the Government intend to get traffic to use that airport. We also know that when the White Paper was discussed the Government said that they would actively encourage the growth of charter traffic at Luton. That is different from the wording used for the regional airports. They were told, "You are on your own. We do not mind your growing, but it is up to you to do it yourself."

It is assumed that there will be large amounts of charter and scheduled traffic. We need to know exactly what type of traffic the airport will get. We must ask at what time of day people will want to use the railway. British Rail might have to run a 24-hour service to the airport for charter flights. We all know that many charter flights are at early hours in the morning, to make the maximum use of the planes, at the cheapest possible price.

Dr. Marek

If Stansted is to be developed as a charter airport, where many of the flights will come in at 2, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, when those people get to London they will find that the first train out of Euston to Manchester is at 10 minutes to 7, for example. What will people do for two or three hours, in the early hours of the morning? I do not think that they will use that line.

Mr. Pike

As always, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. Those problems would have to be considered.

The Bill is premature. It has been too rushed and there needs to be a more detailed study of the implications. I hope that there will be second thoughts and that the Bill will be withdrawn to allow all those implications to be considered. I believe in rail investment. Regrettably, I have to oppose the Bill on the basis that if money is available for investment now, other cases should come ahead of the improved rail link to Stansted. The case must be established much more clearly before we allow the Bill to be approved.

8.12 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

At the beginning of the Bill we read: It is the duty of the Board…to provide railway services in Great Britain and, in connection with the provision of railway services, to provide such other services and facilities as appear to the Board to be expedient, and to have due regard, as respect all those railway and other services and facilities, to efficiency, economy and safety of operation: I should like to construct my speech round the words: efficiency, economy and safety of operation:". I start with efficiency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) said, the original proposal was considered by the commission of inquiry set up by the Government to investigate the possibility of establishing an airport at Stansted, under Mr. Eyre QC, the chairman. The proposal put to the commission was a double track rail link, in other words, double the size of the track between Stansted and St. Pancras. That proposal contains no improvements whatsoever to the railway line between Bishop's Stortford and Liverpool street. Therefore, in the proposal we have substituted four lines for two and St. Pancras for Liverpool street.

It was conceivable that with four tracks one could run an efficient service from Stansted airport to St. Pancras without interfering with and making worse the line between Bishop's Stortford and London, which many of my constituents use daily to get to work. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden described some of the indignities to which my constituents are subjected, through the appalling inefficiency and method of operation over which British Rail presides. I should have liked to invite you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to read my postbag on the subject. The letters come continually. I know that you have your own to look after, but I am sure that you would not like to read this postbag. My predecessor in the constituency, Lord Broxbourne, has had a similar experience over the years.

I understand that on the two-track line it is proposed to run four services an hour into Liverpool street from Stansted, in addition to the current load on the track which, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, now has a low standard of efficiency.

We are asked to believe that we can run four more trains on the track from Stansted—so-called express trains, probably stopping at Tottenham Hale to connect with the London Regional Transport underground service on the Victoria line, and then going on into Liverpool street. I should like hon. Members to consider the possibility of doing that in view of British Rail's current performance. The service is not only inefficient but filthy, dirty and a disgrace to this country. On to the railway line, where we can expect services to be upwards of 10 minutes to half an hour late into Liverpool street, we shall put one of our most valued imports or exports, whichever way one looks at it—our important tourist traffic. We shall subject the tourists to the things that we have to put up with daily —the filth, dirt, inefficiency and unpunctuality.

In the proposal there is no provision for extra rolling stock, although we have been assured that rolling stock will be refurbished, which is presently running to the north-west and up the east coast main line. That will be fine for the airport passengers if the rolling stock is refurbished properly, but our experience on the line is that refurbished rolling stock and engines have a great propensity to break down.

If we need an example of that, I refer the House to the experience of Her Majesty the Queen on a recent voyage of exploration—certainly an adventure—from her home in Sandringham to Liverpool street. There is a catalogue of events. It was impossible to open the doors between the car where people were preparing her breakfast and the car in which she was sitting, so the train had to be stopped to let the person serving her get out on to the platform, go along it carrying the breakfast and then go into the Queen's dining car. That was the first stop. That train broke down five times on its journey from Sandringham to London and arrived two hours late at Liverpool street, having had two engine replacements. That illustrates the reliability of the stock that we are likely to have on the line. It will not be a good advertisement for tourists arriving at Stansted.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend gave a good example of what happened to Her Majesty the Queen. Is he aware of the experience of another prominent member of the royal family, whom I shall not name, who sometimes uses that line, as I do? One evening she complained of noises in the next compartment—banging, scraping, grunts and groans. The ticket inspector went to the next compartment and found that the blinds were closed. He opened the door and found a naked couple, their bodies clothed only with a first-class ticket. It is disgraceful that members of the royal family should have to put up with that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that it is not in order to call in aid members of the royal family. Hon. Members are sailing close to the wind.

Mr. Wells

I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) illustrated the serious condition of the service.

Mr. Snape

I want to make two brief points. If matters on that line are as bad as the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) imply, should they not turn up more often at Question Time and demand greater investment from their Government?

Secondly, and without going too far out of order, can the hon. Gentleman tell me what would be the necessary level of investment to prevent naked couples cavorting on the line? That appears to be less a job for British Rail and the Government and more a figment of the imagination of the hon. Member for Harlow.

Mr. Wells

I do not think that we should pursue figments. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we have been pursuing the question of investment with my hon. Friend the Minister, and have had some success. We have persuaded the Government to electrify the line to Cambridge, which I trust will lead to an improvement in service. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden said, there will be hand-downs from the western region, which have deteriorated in reliability because the engines are so old. However, there has been investment on that line, due in part—not to put too high a value on it—to our representations and lobbying.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman cannot have done too well in view of the chapter of misery that he is describing.

Mr. Wells

I do not accept that criticism. We have been describing the existing service—

Mr. Snape

The Government have been in power for seven years.

Mr. Wells

Unfortunately, I cannot follow all the remarks made from a sedentary position.

Mr. Snape

Sit down then, and I shall make them from the Dispatch Box. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is singing a familiar, albeit boring, song? His Government have been in power for seven years. If they are ever to do anything about the deterioration in the railway service in his constituency and many other constituencies, they must cough up some money. The hon. Gentleman should turn up at Question Time—as he failed to do today—and demand that they do just that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We may have a fairly wide debate, but we cannot have a general discussion about investment.

Mr. Wells

I accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I want to put the record straight. I was here during transport questions today, as I often am, because overseas development questions immediately follow.

I want to discuss British Rail investment because, presumably, it will invest in the line and the rolling stock on it. We have been successful in persuading the Government to invest in British Rail, which has resulted in electrification of the line to Cambridge and to Norwich and of the east coast main line.

I must add a cautionary word about new rolling stock, such as that which we have experienced at Hertford north, and which is relevant to the debate. We must have new rolling stock to accommodate the tourists who will be laden with luggage and therefore requiring special facilities. I have great distrust of British Rail Engineering Ltd. and its capacity to produce a reliable train. The new rolling stock on the line in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) and my constituency is very welcome compared with what we had had hitherto, which was a variety of diesel-hauled trains of pre-war vintage that blew steam into the air, broke down and were dirty. However, having put in new stock we found that the brakes and compressors were inadequate, the doors and the air conditioning did not work, the motor was too small to provide a reliable service and the carriages could not be coupled and decoupled according to design. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory new rolling stock that has seriously inconvenienced the constituents of my hon. Friend and myself.

Mr. Murphy

Does my hon. Friend accept that whereas previously, with old rolling stock, the trains arrived late, with new rolling stock they simply do not arrive?

Mr. Wells

That is right. Indeed, the whole service was suspended for a number of weeks because of the dispute with the National Union of Railwaymen about single manning. That was caused by the inefficiency of British Rail and its inability to control its staff.

The question of staff relates to efficiency, and unless BR can recruit staff that is proud of their work, wear their uniforms properly, are polite to their passengers and are properly concerned about efficiency, reliability arid the safety of their passengers, we will not be able to offer a service to tourists of which we can be proud. Unless the line is improved, we shall drive away tourists.

I have said a great deal about the current appalling service and the sort of service to which we look forward if BR is allowed to go ahead. The figures that BR has presented to the Minister have been seriously rigged. ]hey were designed to persuade him that the rail link could be efficient, providing a 7 per cent. return on assets. Already the service has been reduced by going into Liverpool street rather than St. Pancras, and from four lines to continuing on the existing two lines. Although there will be improvements at Liverpool street, such as the lengthening of the station, the type of service anticipated will be minimal if it is to be within the forecast 7 per cent. return on assets.

We do not have any figures for rolling stock, and I understand that BR is not proposing to provide any. That means that it intends to put our tourists into trains quite unsuited to passengers with a considerable amount of luggage, who will have to suffer the filthy trains that I and my constituents suffer. That does not appear to be in the calculation, as other matters are also not in the calculation.

There are many manually operated level crossings, such as Sawbridgeworth, Stansted Abbots, Roydon and others down the line. These level crossings are a great danger to pedestrians and they hold up enormous amounts of traffic especially at Stansted Abbots and Sawbridgeworth. If the service goes ahead the level crossings will be down more than they are up to provide passengers with the additional trains from Stansted. There are no proposals to increase the efficiency of those level crossings or to build bridges over them. That is a matter of great concern for the people of Sawbridgeworth where British Rail had recently—as it calls it—modernised the line and the type of level crossing. The result is that blind people can blunder across arid get mown down by a British Rail train as there is no physical barrier to stop them. This is a serious matter and my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow did assist me in getting a hooter installed which would sound and this has helped the problem. Nonetheless, it is a danger which will be exacerbated if the frequency of trains is increased.

British Rail has said that it will merely increase the frequency of the service to the level which existed before it reduced the service. It reduced the service to my constituents because it could not sustain railway efficiency and the reliability of the service. To increase reliability—not to a great extent, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden—it reduced the number of trains on the track. If we are to return to the frequency of the past we can obviously look forward to a further serious deterioration in the reliability of the service to Liverpool street.

This line is not signalled centrally from any one station. There are several different signal boxes up the line. The system could be modernised between London and Cambridge with the installation of one signal box at Liverpool street. This would require large investment. However, if this service is to have any possibility of running on time such a signalling system must be installed. If the same tracks are to be used for the increased frequency of trains, such a signalling system must be adopted. My hon. Friend the Minister must include the cost of signalling when he looks at the return on assets. If the Minister does not do this, he will subject my constituents and the tourists from the airport to an extremely inefficient line.

The railway stations down the line are in a terrible state of deterioration. They are unpainted and filthy. The waiting rooms are full of graffiti and unheated. They are depressing and even dangerous places for women to find themselves in late at night because of the lack of staff care at the stations. The booking clerk at Hertford east station is absent most of the time and passengers are in danger of falling through the timber floors which are now full of dry rot. The beautiful prestige arches of the entrance are often totally deserted and from time to time bricks and tiles fall off the roof. The station at Ware has been improved after several years of lobbying—we were criticised for not lobbying by the Opposition. Ware station will be rebuilt and the same is true of Stansted Abbots. The railway station at Broxbourne, which is used by many of my constituents, is an absolute disgrace. It has a dangerous car park-full of heaps of coal. It is a draughty station at which the indicators do not work. The whole of the indicator system is totally outmoded and inefficient. The new indicator system installed on the Hertford north line does not work—British Rail has to get a new computer to make it work. Even with the installation of such modern equipment, one does not have much faith that British Rail will maintain it and that people will know which train they should get on. This will be especially difficult for tourists who cannot speak the language. Indeed my own constituents, who speak the language, still get on the wrong train because of the faulty indicators.

Dr. Marek

I really cannot allow the hon. Gentleman's comments to pass without saying that the answer to all this is to increase the number of staff of British Rail so that they could be present on the platform to give personal service and to ensure that tourists and strangers know exactly what is going on. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman but there is an easy remedy.

Mr. Wells

I am not sure that British Rail is in control of its staff at railway stations. There are plenty of staff but at Hertford north most are found in the pub next door. If one manages to get the staff out of the pub and if they are coherent, they may be able to say what is happening on the line, that is if they know what is happening on the line. If one gets an answer one is lucky. It is not a question of additional staff but it is a question of motivation. The staff must be willing to give a proper service, keep the station clean and look after passengers.

I would like to sum up by considering the question of the return on assets.

Mr. David Mitchell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He has chronicled a sad story in relation to his local line. Can he tell me whether he has taken the matter up with British Rail and what answers he has received?

Mr. Wells

I have been continuously—indeed before I was elected—haunting those filthy, paint-peeling offices in Liverpool street and the offices at Kings Cross on these matters for the past 10 years. I am afraid I have achieved little. We got new rolling stock that did not work as well as the other incidents I have chronicled. I have been in touch with every area manager. I have arranged for speakers from British Rail to speak to the Rail User's Club to explain why the services are so bad. I did not bother with this this autumn because the rail service had totally finished on the Hertford north line. I thought it would be too embarrassing to ask British Rail officials to come to meet a number of my enraged constituents. I have been continuously in touch with British Rail but there is little it can do unless it has control of its staff, is more efficient and is determined to succeed. All of these ingredients are absent from the present line.

My hon. Friend the Minister knows Liverpool street station. I think it is one of the filthiest railway terminals in London, if not in the whole country. The toilets on that station are indescribable. This is the place in which we will land a large number of tourists. I direct the Minister's attention to Tottenham Hale, the station at which the train from Stansted will stop. Can one imagine carrying heavy baggage down the endless steps at that station into the underground? It is ludicrous and this rail link will not work in the way that British Rail has proposed to the Minister.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to accept an invitation from me to come on this line and travel from Liverpool street perhaps at 5.30 pm one evening. He can then experience the delays and listen to the remarks of my constituents about the line and the way it operates. I hope that the Minister will be fortified because my constituents have reached the stage of enragement, when they are not polite about the matter.

Mr. David Mitchell

I would be very happy to do so. It is always my intention and part of my work to keep in touch with the service that is provided. I and the management would like to know more about the conditions my hon. Friend has talked about.

Mr. Wells

My hon. Friend is being sold a pup. The line cannot operate efficiently without taking into account the cost of new signalling and rolling stock, the repair of stations, indicators and track, and the traction engines. At present there are at least three forms of traction engine on that line, all running at different speeds. One of them is designed to be an express train. When they are stopped, as they are, they overheat and have to be taken out of service. That problem is quite apart from that caused by the breakdown of the diesel motors, which the Queen experienced and to which I have referred, and will quickly pass over in view of your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have spoken of the inefficiency of the service and I need say no more beyond hoping that I will have the opportunity to show my hon. Friend how appalling it is. Instead, let me deal with Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick. Before I am ruled out of order, let me say that it is relevant because the rail link will encourage passengers to use Stansted instead of Manchester. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) will be able to enlighten the House still further on this. That is what the British Airports Authority has in mind, as does British Rail.

The Gatwick to Victoria line has made British Rail a lot of money and it has encouraged it to go in for the Stansted link. However, I cannot understand why British Rail is so enthusiastic about building a railway line to Stansted which will probably have fewer than 8 million passengers per annum by 1995 and yet it refuses to put proposals before my hon. Friend the Minister to build a line to Heathrow, which is seriously needed because of the congestion on the roads in west London, which all hon. Members will have had the misfortune to experience.

For some extraordinary reason British Rail refuses to put forward the proposal for a rail link to Heathrow, yet it is essential for our tourist traffic and the efficient running of London. Nor do we have such a proposal for Manchester. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has obtained the planning permission but British Rail will not put forward the proposal. The reason is that the Department of Transport is determined, as it always has been, to develop a huge and unnecessary airport at Stansted. I shall not go into the pros and cons of that because we have had a debate on it and opposition to that has been defeated. None the less, this is a clear attempt to try to divert traffic from Gatwick, Manchester and other northern airports into Stansted in order to build up its throughput quickly so that the BAA can get a return on its investment as quickly as possible and conform with what have been described as transparent transactions between the London airports, which will probably be so transparent as to be invisible to the naked eye or to anybody else who is curious about how Stansted will be made to pay. I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Withington to elaborate on the inequities of the problem of Manchester.

Then there is the problem of the agricultural viability of the land which will be bifurcated by the two lines, one from Cambridge into Stansted and one from Stansted on to the main line. There are serious environmental consequences for my constituents who enjoy using the footpaths and the beautiful countryside which will be destroyed. Woodland and the Tye Green Brook valley will be destroyed by the line.

The line is destined to be a disgrace to Britain unless we make the investment necessary to make it run properly and efficiently. That means efficient rolling stock, the cleaning up of the railway stations, the cleaning up and greater efficiency of Liverpool street and proper modern signalling. If those are provided we might have an efficient service for the commuter, which is desperately needed, and for the additional tourist traffic that will be generated. On British Rail's present proposal there is no way in which that will be achieved. My hon. Friend will live to regret the day that he ever approved the line because of the stream of complaints from tourists and their consequent decline in numbers on this miserable, dirty and inefficient railway line.

8.45 pm
Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) discussed filthy toilets, naked people cavorting, drunken staff and so on, and I was a little surprised to hear him mention Manchester in passing. It is the real fear of what could happen not only to Manchester but to other regional airports that brings me here to oppose the Bill tonight. As has been said, it is regrettable that we have to do that.

The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) tried to say that the Bill would not be unfair to Manchester, but he failed to allay our fears that it could have repercussions for the regional airports. The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head and we have had the same argument in the past.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman heard me, but I said that in 1984 we had an exactly comparable Bill which provided the same facilities for a link with Manchester. Such Bills are not designed suddenly to sanction the building; they are taking powers to enable the board to build when the finance is available. Manchester already has that facility.

Mr. Litherland

We might ask when, because to us it does not seem to be forthcoming. That does not allay our fears or convince us that the effect on Manchester or the regional airports will not be disastrous. We do have doubts and reservations.

Dr. Marek

If the Bill is enacted, British Rail will have the possibility of doing both or neither. In practice it will do one because it wants to build the line to Stansted, not to Manchester. That is why many hon. Members are opposing the Bill tonight. ft is a question of either/or, and if we allow this one, Manchester will not get its rail link.

Mr. Litherland

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is what we are arguing about. We are going into uncharted waters. Those of us who live north of Watford know the depression in the north-west and in the north of England and cannot take any chances. It is regrettable but we must oppose the Bill because we still have doubts and reservations. The Bill is a sign that Stansted is to be developed to the detriment of Manchester and other airports, and we cannot get away from that.

The Standing Committee debating the Airports Bill has a consistent theme—Stansted. That is our greatest worry. That theme has continued since Second Reading. We fear that Stansted could: be extended and developed at the expense of regional airports, especially Manchester international airport. This Bill fans the flames of our fear that the development at Stansted will proceed by stealth. On the Manchester proposal for a rail link we were informed in the White Paper: The Government will consider the project on the same terms as the rail link to Stansted and will be glad to approve the investment if it is justified. Therefore, Manchester believes that the Secretary of State should publish the Stansted submission, so that the House can be satisfied about the viability of the proposals The Secretary of State should receive and publish the submission on the Manchester link, so that the House can be satisfied that both submissions will be determined on equal terms. All that we have been asking is that we should be able to compete with other airports on the same terms. We believe that the rail link and the infrastructure around Stansted will be detrimental to the north of England.

The viability of such investment is suspect. It has been assumed that Stansted could accommodate about 4 million passengers in the year 1988 and up to 15 million passengers in 1992. It took Gatwick 22 years to reach 9 million passengers. It has been assumed that the rail share of the airport traffic will be 40 per cent., and that a high proportion of passengers using the link will originate in the regions outside the south-east. On the original, dedicated link we discussed an estimated cost of £166 million and whether that cost could be financially justified. British Rail has confirmed that subsidy would be required for some considerable time and that is our worry. We believe that it would be an unfair and hidden subsidy.

Following the Government's decision to limit grant at Stansted to about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum, it took British Rail and the BAA only a few months to submit proposals to the Government—details of which the Secretary of State has refused to make public. However, it is understood that the link relates solely to the rail spur and that the dedicated link will not be pursued for the time being.

British Rail and the BAA lost no time in submitting their proposals for investment and the Secretary of State has played his cards—as many Conservative Members have said—very close to his chest in providing details of the proposals. We believe that the cost of those proposals would be about £45 million to £50 million. It is also understood that British rail is satisfied that the project is viable, but that has not been proved during the debate. The assessment is made on the basis of traffic figures compiled by the BAA and a "modal split" produced by British Rail. Traffic build-up figures are unknown. It is clear that much traffic will be required and that the BAA must have made assumptions about that, which we believe are likely to be optimistic.

It has been assumed that all American charter traffic will be transferred to Stansted. There has been a failure to recognise the fact that Manchester will be competing for that traffic. Yet it is supposed to be Government policy to disperse tourist activities to the regions. If Manchester airport is to cater successfully, it is important that access of all modes of transport is improved. The rail link is the natural step for the development of Manchester airport, given its international gateway status. It is important that the airport can exploit the potential of its catchment area of Scotland, Yorkshire and the midlands and that the airport can compete effectively for incoming tourist traffic, especially long-haul traffic.

British Rail's work on the viability of the Manchester link is proceeding, but progress is slow. British Rail is assessing the link not on the basis that Manchester is a gateway airport, but on the basis that it is a regional airport. That is a misnomer and a fallacy that arises in all the arguments about regional airports compared with London airports. Manchester is a hub airport and is recognised by the Government as being a gateway airport.

In 1981 in the town hall in Manchester we set up a northern consortium, because of our fear—it has been called a paranoic fear—regarding the north of England and the south-east of England. Different complexions of political input were expressed by the trade unions, local authorities, north-west authorities, northern authorities, north-east authorities, chambers of commerce, chambers of trade and by other regional airports that are complementary to Manchester. The tourist organisations contributed to our claims that Stansted will affect Manchester. There was tremendous enthusiasm at the meeting and the single thread was the importance of regional airports to the north. We are frightened about the great divide between the north and south, the predominance of the south-east and the fact that we are becoming a country of two nations, which has been expressed time and again.

We recognise that any growth of Stansted will widen the gap of the social and economic differences that prevail between the north and the south-east of England. Nothing that has been said tonight has allayed the real fear of the further extension by stealth. The full extension and development of Stansted would be catastrophic to the region. Everything appears to be going the way of the south-east of England, including the new road infrastructure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he would publish the list that he had received of highway improvement schemes from Hertfordshire and Essex county councils relating to the expansion of Stansted airport, together with the estimated cost, when they were available to him, and if he would indicate his response to the request that those schemes would be funded by additional capital allocations to the councils concerned. The Secretary of State replied that Hertfordshire and Essex councils were proposing roads and infrastructure to the tune of £38 million. The Minister referred to a sum of £2 million. The Secretary of State then stated that he was willing to meet representatives of both councils to discuss those and other proposals. He said that he would not speculate on the outcome and continued: We shall take into account any proposals for capital expenditure on local roads when the Councils submit their Transport Policies and Programmes for future years." —[Official Report, 10 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 313–4.] Once again the Secretary of State is playing his cards close to his chest.

With the investment in new roads, new towns, the Channel tunnel and the progressive extension of Stansted, there is a rosy future for the south-east, but not for the north and north-west, especially the construction industry there. The north has seen a massive decline in its manufacturing industry, ports and coalfields. It has little going for it. In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) male unemployment stands at about 60 per cent. Manchester airport is not a panacea to all those ills, but if it declines our area will be dramatically affected.

As manufacturing has declined, we have tried to promote tourism, but the Bill will affect tourism in the north-west. As Manchester airport continues to develop as an alternative hub airport with a wide range of frequent services, it will compete increasingly with the London airports for a large proportion of regional traffic. It is already relevant that the London airports compete fairly with Manchester airport, but it will become more significant in future. We are merely asking for fair competition. The hidden heavy subsidy for Stansted will certainly affect Manchester

A point which is often ignored in aviation debates is that about 10 million incoming foreign passengers are forced to use London airports. That element of demand is forecast to increase significantly in the years ahead, and will represent an increasingly high proportion of future London traffic. At present London accounts for more than 90 per cent. of incoming tourists who travel to the United Kingdom by air. In future the figure will at least remain static. Many of those tourists have no choice but to travel to London. They do not all want to travel to London and, indeed, 40 per cent. of all their nights are spent outside the south-east. That is because it is Government policy to promote solely London's interests abroad. A further reason is the Government's failure to realise that the structure of the nation's tourist industry is unsuitable for the job in hand.

All the tourist attractions advertised abroad are centred on London. The heritage trail starts in London and the south-east, goes to the Cotswolds, and then to Stratford to experience Shakespeare. Tourism should be spread to the north-west which has a great deal to offer. There is the beauty of the lake district, the Yorkshire dales, Derbyshire and Cheshire. Moreover, Scotland, Wales and the north of England are becoming increasingly attractive to tourists. Local authorities and other agencies are making considerable efforts to capitalise on existing attractions and to develop new ones. Manchester is sending our representatives to do a public relations job abroad, in America in particular, to tell people that the north-west has much to offer, whether it be the Beamish open air museum, the Maryport Harbour development, the north Pennines tourism growth point, the Merseyside maritime—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying now. He was in order when he was talking about the provisions in the Bill. He must relate his remarks to the Bill.

Mr. Litherland

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to make comparisons between what we have to offer and how the Bill will affect us, whether in tourism, hotel occupancy or anything else.

The former chairman of the British Tourist Association, Sir Henry Marking, said: If, as the people of London and of many places in the South of England will readily affirm, London is already full, perhaps overfull, with tourists for most of the year, and if tourism earnings are to grow, visitors must be encouraged to visit increasingly the splendidly attractive places in England, Wales and Scotland. Use of a Northern Gateway would help to ensure this and would spread more evenly throughout Britain the tourist traffic and prosperity and employment which tourist traffic brings in its wake. This is our argument. Any extension of the infrastructure, whether in road, rail links or airports, will have an effect on what we see as the saving grace in the north-west, the service industry, which is standing in in place of the massive decline in manufacturing. We shall raise our voices against anything that might have repercussions against our tourism sector.

What is required is a change of direction in Government policy of the kind clearly identified in the recent report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, "Promotion of the Regions Abroad". It recommends a simplified structure for promoting tourism. The development of what we described as an open jaws policy, whereby one end of the journey is through the London airport system, is not acceptable to the north-west. We see the rail link as apart of that system. We shall oppose the Bill because it will be detrimental to Manchester airport and the regions.

9.8 pm

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

I should this evening have been joining some colleagues in Hong Kong, where the opening of the new British Airways scheduled service between Manchester and Hong Kong is being celebrated. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who have continued on the journey, wish to be associated with what I shall say.

I feel that it is important to be here to speak against the Bill, not because I think that it should not eventually receive a Second Reading, but because I think that it should not receive a Second Reading tonight. It is important that we should understand why. The process of a private Bill—I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to this —involves negotiation between those who object to the Bill and the promoters. In this instance, British Rail has not pursued that process with anything like the vigour that it should have done.

There are two essential ingredients to the problem in the north-east for those who speak on the Manchester beat. First, we are asked to approve a rail development in the south-east for which there is inadequate information and the calculations for which have been withheld from public view. The first demand was for the information upon which the Bill is based to be made public. That has not happened. Secondly, the Bill is based on a clear statement of Government policy, which was that the two rail links should be considered on an equal basis and that they should be analysed and presented to the Government for a decision on an equal basis. That has not happened, either.

British Rail has produced figures which show that it regards the extension to Stansted as a business opportunity and that it is based upon greatly optimistic interpretations of Government policy. However, British Rail has been dragging its feet in Manchester. It has put forward a number of obstacles and has not managed to get even to the starting gate. British Rail ought to be asked why the Secretary of State for Transport has had its proposals for Stansted on his desk since November 1985, although he will be lucky if he receives its proposals for Manchester by May 1986.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Reference has been made to the White Paper, "Airports Policy", Cmnd. 9542. There is also the Government's undertaking about Heathrow. The White Paper says: The Government has therefore decided to commission urgently a study of the options for improving surface access to Heathrow: by easing the capacity problems of the A4–M4 corridor; the possibility of a BR link to Heathrow; and the scope for improvements to the Piccadilly line underground service. None of those proposals is yet before the Minister, yet the Stansted proposal is in front of him.

Mr. Silvester

Yes. I understand that that is even further down the track. Equality seems to be a very malleable substance. British Rail does not deserve the Bill, and I hope that it will not get it. Whether British Rail gets it later depends on how it proceeds. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who has now left the Chamber, passionately asked the House to back the Bill. However, we should not back it tonight because the basis for backing it does not exist, although it may be provided at a later stage.

The basis of the Government's policy is clear. An agreement was reached last year. It was understood that there would be equality of treatment in respect of the rail link, that there would be no subsidy for the operation at Stansted and that there would be no direction of traffic to Stansted. Without that agreement there is no basis for putting at risk all the people who will be affected by the Bill. The British Railways Act 1984 was passed on the basis of everybody, apart from one major objector, being willing to accept it. They were anxious for a rail link. Local resistance to the development of the link was minimal. The Stansted Bill involves substantial powers of compulsory purchase. It is not greeted with universal applause. Therefore, to quote one Bill as justification for another is absurd.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

It is obvious that my hon. Friend has but slight knowledge of private Bills. All private Bills have petitions against them, and all of them are considered in detail. I assure him that the 1984 Bill was considered in detail, too.

Mr. Silvester

My hon. Friend is undoubtedly right that all Bills of this kind attract petitions against them. One has to make a judgment about the importance of the local opposition. However, I doubt whether he would find it tenable to express the view either in Manchester or in the Stansted area that the opposition in Manchester is not very much weaker than that which he will find in the Stansted area. An interesting feature of the Bill is that it involves a rail spur from the main line into the airport, continuing otherwise with the existing infrastructure. This was option B presented to the Eyre report which had some rude things to say about it.

Chapter 16, paragraph 5.20 of that report said: The BRB made it plain that Options A, B and D were opposed. BRB went so far as to indicate that the mere construction of a rail link without additional infrastructure as contemplated by Option B would be worse in operational terms than no spur at all.…Other users of the existing services to and from Liverpool Street could be adversely affected if Option B were adopted. Suddenly all that is gone. Suddenly this horror of option B has disappeared. The reason is clear. British Rail and the British Airports Authority were faced with the decision that they were able to get out of the House—the development to 8 million passengers per year and not to 15 million, rising to 25 million, as originally contemplated.

So British Rail now proposes to include in the proposals for the Stansted link generous assumptions—for example, that the proportion likely to use the line to travel to Stansted will be 30 per cent. of airport traffic or more. The equivalent figure for the Manchester link is said to be about 6 per cent. No one suggests that we would reach the 30 or 40 per cent. figure—which comes from Gatwick —but Manchester will certainly reach between 10 and 12 per cent.

The differences in calculation show a remarkable dragging of the feet. I have a summary or preliminary appraisal of the proposed link with Manchester international airport in which a number of possible options are considered. One says that there should be no action, but that which is most favoured says that the link will produce a negative value of £14 million and a discounted infrastructure cost of £22 million. That is based upon the assumption that the rail link to Manchester would go from Piccadilly and not involve the original loop. I shall not go into detail, because we are talking about Stansted. The route would go from Manchester to Wilmslow and utilise only the Blackpool and Liverpool services.

What British Rail has to say about another option is interesting because it would carry the trans-Pennine trains through to Manchester airport—the obvious thing to do. However, British Rail says that it must take into account "the diversion revenue penalties". In other words, because of its plans for the trans-Pennine link between Yorkshire and Liverpool, it is deducting the benefits to the airport because it says that it would lose revenue from traffic that would otherwise go on to Liverpool.

We are faced with a simple proposition on which the honour of the Government and the integrity of British Rail are at stake. I make no bones about it. Whatever is said in public, there is no doubt in my mind that we were clearly to understand, both here and in Manchester, that the link to Manchester airport and the link to Stansted would be considered simultaneously with the same vigour and determination and on the same basis, with the same commercial criteria being applied. That promise has not been fulfilled. The indications are that that promise is not to be fulfilled. The Minister is a kind man and he shakes his head, but until he can assure me that a British Rail proposal is on his desk I shall take a lot of convincing.

The costing is quite awry. The latest proposals, which have been worked out by the Manchester airports authority, show that, including the trans-Pennine interchange, which BR leaves out, the revenue estimate is close to the original estimate put out by BR's consultants. Those consultants have shown the Manchester link to be a viable proposition, but BR has nibbled away at it like rats in the hay to ensure that it is not.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State shakes his head. I am glad to see that, but I should be much happier if, when he stops shaking his head and rises to reply, he could give me a clear assurance that the proposal is on its way and that the basis of calculation includes a realistic appraisal of bringing traffic into Manchester airport from the whole of the north of England. That is the essential ingredient on which the whole of this agreement was based. I urge him to take the matter extremely seriously.

9.26 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes as the debate has illustrated opposed private business with a vengeance. With the exception of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), every right hon. and hon. Member has been hostile to the Bill, to say the least. The reason is not hard to find.

The hon. Member for New Forest said that there is no connection between the railway line that the Bill proposes for Stansted and that approved in 1984, when he and I were present, for the railway line to Manchester airport. I accept that the hon. Gentleman believes that there is no connection but, regrettably from his point of view and, perhaps, from British Rail's point of view, nobody else does. Certainly no hon. Member who has participated today believes it. There is a strong feeling that there is an imbalance of treatment as between Stansted and Manchester. Stansted is presumably being made more attractive in the run-up to the privatisation of the British Airports Authority, and other airports are being left to fend for themselves.

The official BR view is that the two projects should be considered on exactly the same terms and that, presumably, decisions will be made accordingly. The same view was expressed in the White Paper. The Government have not exactly come clean, however. In reply to a written question from me and in reply to questions asked by other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Secretary of State has covered himself with the cloak of commercial confidentiality in regard to the rail link to Stansted airport. None of us understand that. The criteria for such projects have always been fairly widely published previously. It has always been clear on which criteria such schemes have been judged. That is not so here—there is evidently some commercial confidentiality. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) talked about the necessary 7 per cent. rate of return. He understandably asked about such costs as the tunnel under the runway, signalling and station buildings. He made a plea, which was echoed by some of his hon. Friends, that if and when the Bill goes through, if and when the line is built and if and when the trains are introduced, they will, unlike most trains on the line, run to time. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that the Secretary of State would intervene to make the airport a success. One can understand the unwillingness of all hon. Members to believe the Government when they say that they will operate the same hands-off approach on this project as they have operated on others.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) said, the criteria for not putting forward the Blackpool electrification was rather confusing. I understand my hon. Friend's confusion, which was mirrored throughout the north-west. I saw newspaper reports which said that the Department of Transport had rejected British Rail's application.

Mr. David Mitchell

No, it did not.

Mr. Snape

I accept what the Minister of State says, but I must tell him that the Manchester Evening News reported that the Department of Transport had rejected the application. Whether or not it was rejected—and if the Minister of State says that it was never put to him, then we must accept that—the Opposition would doubt whether the same criteria would apply to that scheme as applied to the railway line into Stansted.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) had some harsh words to say about the line and the way that it is operated at present. Filthy, dirty and inefficient were just three of the epithets he awarded to the present system. He criticised virtually everybody. He criticised British Rail Engineering Limited for what he said was faulty train design. British Rail Engineering Limited has been building these trains for many years. It normally builds them to the specification of the region placing the order. Presumably it did that in connection with the eastern region rolling stock which is used on the line which the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford mentioned.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford and some of his hon. Friends complained about the frequency of service in the existing system and questioned whether the line would be able to cope. The hon. Gentleman said the line could not cope now, and that is before any additional trains enter service. It is not for me to defend British Rail's senior management. I must confess that, having spent some years working in the industry, I have no great faith in it. In my customary attempt to be fair, however, I must point out that the management proposes to redevelop Liverpool street station and I presume that that redevelopment will include some degree of re-signalling which might go some way to easing some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman complained about.

If it is true, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford suggested, that staff were conspicuous by their absence—and he referred, without providing a shred of evidence, to people spending their time in pubs and not therefore being around to run the existing service—I must tell the hon. Gentleman that as one who is sponsored by the major railway union I hold no brief for that conduct. If that happens, that is a direct failure of management.

Whether or not the rail link is built, and although I disagree with much of what the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said, I must admit that I travel on the railway frequently, as the hon. Gentleman no doubt does. I must say that railway management is conspicious by its absence after six o'clock in the evening, particularly at weekends. So long as uniformed supervisory staff is withdrawn and replaced by administrators in tower blocks at major administrative centres, the decline in railway services to which the hon. Gentleman referred is likely to continue. Indeed, whether or not the rail link is built, we may well not see any great improvement in service standards unless the change to which the hon. Gentleman and I would be committed takes place.

Mr. Bowen Wells

The hon. Gentleman claimed that I have made certain statements without a shred of evidence to support them. I am not accustomed to doing that, especially when some of my constituents are railway employees. I would not want to cast aspersions on them unnecessarily. The fact is that I know that what I have said takes place. I happened to go to the bar at which railway staff were imbibing at a time when trains were not arriving at the station. It seemed a pleasant way to pass the time but it was not one which was consistent with their duties, as the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Snape

I shall not be especially impressed by the hon. Gentleman's assertions unless he proves to be more of an expert on railway uniforms than he has proved to be on rolling stock and locomotives. Does he know whether those who he saw in the bar were on duty? Does he know their grades, and has he knowledge of what they are doing at any one time? If that which he describes takes place, I do not condone it. If it does, the railway management should take steps to prevent it happening. It seems from the questions of the Minister of State that the hon. Gentleman has not complained to Ministers, whoever else he has complained to over the years. Ministers are nominally responsible. That is evidenced by the Minister asking the hon. Gentleman what complaints he had made locally and regionally about the line.

I do not envy the task of the hon. Member for New Forest. Although he has not convinced anyone so far, he must seek to convince a majority of the House, even at this late hour, to support the Bill. I would find it a matter of personal regret if the House rejected any proposal to build a railway line. Far too many lines have been closed over the years. However, British Rail and the Government have failed palpably to make a reasonable case for any degree of investment priority to be given to the project that is set out in the Bill, especially if that priority were to be at the expense of more worthy projects in other parts of the country.

9.33 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

It may be helpful if at this stage I intervene to give a brief indication of the Government's view of the Bill. Before I go any further, I take up part of the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). The hon. Gentleman spoke about the electrification of the line from Manchester to Blackpool and said that local newspapers carried a report that it had been rejected by the Government. If they did so, I hope that they will recognise that that report was a considerable distortion. I trust that they will print corrections and give them the same prominence as the original articles. British Rail is able to provide a service virtually as fast and as efficient, with its new sprinter rolling stock—and at lower cost—than that which has been provided by electrification. British Rail did not propose that the line should be electrified.

The Government have considered the contents of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the British Railways Board. Only one minor point has been raised in correspondence with the promoters and I have no reason to doubt that this will be cleared up satisfactorily.

The airports policy White Paper, Cmnd. 9542, which was debated and approved by the House last June, announced the Government's decisions on the case for developing Stansted airport. The BAA has been given outline planning permission for expansion of the airport to 15 million passengers per annum, but the first phase of the development is to be restricted to 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. Expansion, if any, beyond that level will be subject to parliamentary approval.

Against that background, British Rail was invited to study, in consultation with the BAA, what rail link to Stansted would be financially justified in the light of the traffic forecasts and phasing proposals discussed in the White Paper. The White Paper made clear the Government's willingness to approve investment in a rail link to Stansted if it can be financially justified.

In response to the Government's invitation the railways board put forward an investment submission in November last year for a spur from the Liverpool street-Cambridge main line to a new railway station beneath the proposed new airport terminal building.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is at present considering the board's investment proposal. He is also considering proposals from the BAA for the first phase of the expansion of the airport submitted to him last October. He hopes to be able to announce decisions on both BAA and BR proposals before very long.

The Bill would give the railways board power to proceed with the construction of the link. If investment approval is given, its intention is that the link will be operational by the financial year 1990–91.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) asked me whether I am willing to be persuaded that a rail link would be for the general benefit of users. He then asked why there was nothing similar for Heathrow. The same issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The Government undertook in the White Paper to commission a study of the options for improving surface access to Heathrow, including the possibility of a BR rail link to the airport. A shortlist of consultants is being interviewed and an announcement about a commission can be expected shortly. I hope that will satisfy my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bowen Wells

May I ask my hon. Friend why it has taken so long to get to the stage of appointing a consultant when, as he says, British Rail had a proposition on his desk in November 1985? That is surely a quite unacceptable delay on the part of I do not know who.

Mr. Mitchell

There are considerable problems about Heathrow where one is dealing with the M4–M3 corridor. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford knows that there is a long history of considering such opportunities in the past and then having them rejected. We are anxious to ensure that there is a full assessment of the wider opportunities to improve traffic within that corridor. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden asked whether the provision of the railway would have an accelerating effect on the growth of passenger traffic at Stansted. I am advised that growth in demand at Stansted will result from facilities at Heathrow and Gatwick reaching capacity. It is generally recognised that that is the largest single factor. My hon. Friend also raised the financial case and I shall come back to that.

I should like to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) about the possibility of a rail link to Manchester airport. It has been suggested that before legislation is passed giving British Rail powers to construct a rail link to Stansted, further progress should be made over the Manchester airport link. The British Railways Board already has the necessary statutory powers under the British Railways Act 1984 to construct a rail link to Manchester airport. Following last year's airport policy White Paper, the local authorities, the airport authority and British Rail were invited to analyse the case for providing a direct link to Manchester airport.

The White Paper made it clear that the Government will consider the Manchester project on the same terms as the rail link to Stansted airport. In the case of Stansted, we have an investment submission. In the case of Manchester, as yet no submission has come forward but I can assure the House that the Manchester rail link scheme will be considered in no less favourable terms than the Stansted one. The criteria will be no less favourable for the consideration of the Manchester investment project.

Mr. Silvester

Will my hon. Friend explain why it is that, although the submission for Stansted was on his right hon. Friend's desk in November, I am told by British Rail that the earliest we can expect a submission about Manchester is in May this year? Why is that regarded as equal treatment?

Mr. Mitchell

There are a number of additional complexities in the Manchester submission. In the case of Stansted there is one direct line from the airport to one major town destination. At Manchester there is a diversity of destinations, and work has to be done on assessing the destinations to which passengers go from Manchester airport, because they do not all go to Manchester. It is for that reason and for none of the reasons about which my hon. Friend has dark suspicions that there has been a delay in coming forward with the proposition.

My hon. Friend suggested that the House is being asked to approve a British Rail investment without sufficient information. He also said that the Stansted investment proposition will be considered on a more favourable basis than the proposed Manchester link. I assure my hon. Friend that the House is not being asked to consider a BR investment. That is a job for Ministers. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall consider no less favourably the criteria for Manchester than we consider those for Stansted. Naturally, I shall look carefully at his trans-Pennine point when we come to deal with it.

I am as anxious as my hon. Friend the Member for Withington, if a financially sound case exists for Manchester, for it to he brought forward as quickly as possible, but the initiative lies with the local authorities and BR, and I can only urge them to press on together with their analyses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden raised questions about the financial case and the suspicion that the link will be justified only if it carried more than 8 million passengers. The Bill provides statutory powers to undertake the scheme. Investment approval will be needed for the powers to be implemented. It is usual to obtain statutory approval first. The White Paper makes it clear that the link must be financially justified with the phasing set down in the White Paper—with 7 million to 8 million passengers. British Rail has submitted an investment proposal which we are considering.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden then raised a series of questions on the viability of BR's proposed investment. This is a BR investment which the Government have called in for careful examination. This proposition has been with officials since November. They have sought clarification on a number of details. The proposition has just arrived on my desk, and I shall need to ask a number of further questions. I shall seek to deal with this in as businesslike a manner as I can, but I cannot say how soon I shall be able to recommend a decision to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Haselhurst

Will my hon. Friend offer some further guidance? Does he recall that consideration at departmental level of the proposal to electrify the line from Bishop's Stortford to Cambridge took several years? Will this rather more expensive scheme take a similar period?

Mr. Mitchell

If my hon. Friend refers to any investment proposition that has come from British Rail since I have had responsibility in this matter, I can only say that none of those proposals has been kept waiting for years. Indeed, some have been turned round in as short a time as three weeks. I would hesitate to think that I could turn this one round within that time scale.

I have been asked why it has not been possible for the Government to announce a decision on the British Railways Board's investment so far. A number of details have to be discussed with BR, and I have already referred to that point. The board will not be able to proceed with construction of the rail link without approval of the investment proposal but, as with any major scheme for new infrastructure, statutory powers are needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford referred to services on his line. I repeat the assurance that I would accept an invitation from him to see them. My hon. Friend has raised this matter with BR management. The Government have given BR objectives, which include running attractive, clean and punctual services. My hon. Friend went on to say that he believed that the attraction of using this line may add to the attraction of using Stansted. I think that there is a certain incompatibility between those two parts of his speech.

The hon. Members for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and for Burnley (Mr. Pike) claimed that BR should spend its resources on other railway lines. That is a matter for the management of BR. In the case of Stansted, we shall not expect to subsidise the service. We shall expect BR to make a 7 per cent. return on its investment. If the hon. Members for Wrexham and for Burnley know of other investments that BR can make with a similar return. I hope that they will let the board know as soon as possible and copy their letters to me.

There are three petitions against the Bill and the petitioners will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. I therefore recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee for detailed consideration. It is quite clear from what some hon. Members have said that there will be a great deal of detailed consideration and I believe that the House should allow the Bill to go forward in that way.

9.45 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

This has been a long and, for the most part, interesting debate. Obviously the overwhelming view of the House is that the Bill should not go ahead. Nothing that the Minister said has allayed the fears of those who have spoken. We are caught by a twin difficulty. One is British Rail's apparent near paranoia in refusing to develop a rail link to Manchester airport. Its refusal to develop that link rests on the fact that it is greatly concerned about the potential loss of traffic on the Manchester to London route. I and my hon. Friends feel that that fear is grossly misguided. The second difficulty is the desire of the Government to push ahead with the rail link to Stansted in order to make that airport viable far ahead of its time. That is part of their global airport policy, which is almost independent of the need for a direct rail link to Stansted.

I do not think that it is fanciful to suggest that at least partly in the Government's mind is the view that British Rail should fund the link to Stansted and that the link should be well on its way when the Government wish to flog off Stansted, thus increasing the airport's capital value. That is a significant point to which the House should address itself. Is it right that public money—the money British Rail spends is provided by the taxpayer —should be spent to develop and increase the asset base of the British Airports Authority so as to increase the price that the Government will obtain on privatisation? It would be unacceptable to hon. Members from northern constituencies if, in so doing, the Government directly jeopardised the future of Manchester airport and of a national airports policy.

It would also be unacceptable for the Government again to invest in infrastructure in one region when British Rail is constrained by the external financing limit imposed upon it by central Government. It is a simple fact that the money could not be spent on other schemes. For example, the Minister has commented about the charge in connection with the electrification of the Blackpool to Manchester line. I do not believe that there is no discussion between the Department of Transport and British Rail. I know that it was the Department of Transport, not BR, which sent out letters announcing the decision to Members of Parliament who were concerned about the issue. The Department of Transport was intimately concerned in that decision. This is not the time to explain the need for a fully electrified railway system in the north-west, linking it to the national railway system, for reasons of the local economy as well as for an efficient transportation system. However, because of a Government decision, one area of the north-west is being denied infrastructure investment while the south-east seems to have no problem persuading the Government to develop any scheme, whether it be the Channel tunnel, Stansted airport or rail links. The Government are persuaded that the development should go ahead in the region which is already the most prosperous and successful. That would be grossly unacceptable in the present circumstances.

The regional dimension is important. It is massively important that the nation should be brought together. The decision to develop a rail link to Stansted and enhance the capacity of that airport shows the Government's favour of Stansted airport at the expense of the rest of the airport system in Britain.

If Stansted is to develop, it will develop more quickly than any other airport in the history of the airports system. Were it to be developed, that would be directly at the expense of Manchester airport, but not just Manchester. Occasionally it is convenient for the Government to paint a picture showing that only Manchester would be affected. All the regional airports would be affected, such as Newcastle, Bristol and Birmingham and the Scottish airports, which want to develop, particularly in their charter traffic. Stansted would be looking for the charter traffic were it to move towards a throughput of 7 million or 8 million passengers each year. The charter traffic could make that possible. That traffic could come only if it were diverted from the other regional airports. The Government are saying to people from the regions that rather than having access to an airport system that serves the regions, they would have to travel via the south-east. They are doing that through their decision to develop Stansted.

The debate has touched on all the issues that affect the area round Manchester, but the fundamental issue that is at stake for Manchester and other areas is simply whether we are prepared, as a Parliament, to say to the Government, "We trust you to get ahead with the assessment of the scheme without reference to the House of Commons or the public." The Minister has made play of the fact that we already have a scheme, which has been discussed, not just for a year or two, but for many years, to link Manchester airport to the British Rail system. That scheme can be based not on provisional or estimated passenger throughputs, as is the case with Stansted, but on existing passenger traffic. We know the exact amount of traffic that Manchester now carries. Under that scheme, British Rail could put its estimates before the House of Commons and make that information available. We could easily come to our own assessments of the likelihood of the scheme's success or failure.

With Stansted, it is different. The scheme is much more fanciful. It depends greatly on projected traffic growth at Stansted, and that in turn depends greatly on Government decisions, such as to which airports they will allocate air traffic. Therefore, any decisions made by British Rail about Stansted are not decisions that it is capable of making independently of other actors in the drama. As British Rail, in its assessments, depends critically on decisions by the British Airports Authority and by the Government, it cannot seriously expect us to accept its own assessments of the viability of the Stansted scheme.

The minimum pre-condition, before Members of Parliament from the Manchester area can accept that the Bill should go forward, is that the calculation of the financing of Stansted and the passenger throughput that it involves is laid before us. Is the passenger throughput the 7 million or 8 million that the Government talk of? Is it at a cost of £45 million or £50 million, as we are led to believe? Is it different? We do not know. Without that information, it would be unacceptable for the House to allow British Rail to go ahead, when that would be at the expense of every other scheme in every other part of the country. It would be a decision in favour of that one successful region at the expense of all the other regions.

For those reasons, I hope that the Bill will not be passed. The time may come when we can support it, but the pre-condition of support will be that we see the development of other schemes, such as the rail link to Manchester.

9.54 pm
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)

This proposal to construct a new railway will result in encouragement of the use of Stansted, which I cannot condone, given my constituency concerns. The proposal to construct the new railway may also result in less finance being available to overcome commuting problems in mid-Hertfordshire, including the building of a new railway station in Welham Green where—I declare an interest—I have my constituency home, in North Mymms.

Although I recognise the value and importance of the introduction of one-man operated trains, the words of the old BR advertising campaign, "Let the train take the strain" are no longer appropriate; it appears that it is the commuter who now takes the strain.

I am sure that BR would be the first to recognise that it has not been tremendously successful in its level of service in recent months. Its attention might be better directed to overcoming that before embarking upon the new railway envisaged in the Bill.

When quoting the new advertising campaign, "We're getting there" my constituents might be forgiven for asking, "Where?" Is it to Stansted, which will increase the noise and disruption in neighbouring Hertfordshire? A more acceptable answer would be, "To London and home again." If the Bill were entitled the British Railways (Welwyn Hatfield Commuters) Bill, a far more positive response might have been forthcoming from me as a local Member of Parliament.

In our discussions tonight, no mention has been made of privatisation. The need for a railway to link London and Stansted might be an opportunity for privatisation. The Government have an excellent record on privatisation, especially in transport. I hope that they will consider privatisation for the Stansted link if there must be one.

9.56 pm
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I wish to express my reservations about the Bill. I do not think that Stansted should be extended, and the fact that the proposal to do so has been passed by this House does not mean that I cannot still oppose it at every possible opportunity. British Rail is limited in its funds and so cannot construct railways here, there and everywhere. Indeed, BR often tears up tracks, with a consequent loss of service, which means fewer people using the railways.

I have been impressed with Conservative Members who have graphically described serious problems with BR operations on lines between Liverpool street and Cambridge. I always thought that the line between Euston, Crewe, Chester and the west coast main line was rather bad, but some of the stories tonight beat anything that I have ever heard or experienced. The crucial problem is that unlimited money is not available. The Government control the amount of money that BR can spend. The question is whether BR should be allowed to spend its money on the line to Stansted—which I oppose—or whether it should be spent on some other project. The Minister asked my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and myself whether we had any ideas for other projects that would mean a 7 per cent. return on capital invested, and said that we should write to British Rail with our suggestions. I do not look at economics in that way. I have a different view of how we should run the economy of this country, and it is not the compartmentalised view taken by the Minister.

If I had to guess about a line with a potential 7 per cent. return, I would suggest a connection to Heathrow. A fast train between Heathrow and the centre of London would mint money for BR day in and day out, and would provide a return of well over 7 per cent. Yet BR has not put forward any proposal for such a link. Indeed, it has not put forward a proposal to construct a link to Manchester.

We have been told that on a previous occasion the House has considered a Bill to allow BR to put forward proposals for a link to Manchester and to give it the power to construct that link. Nevertheless, nothing has happened. I fear that if the Bill is passed, and with money being so limited, it is likely that BR will favour the link to Stansted rather than the link to Manchester.

Of course, Manchester has always been done down as an airport. Yet people in the midlands, especially the west midlands, would find it as easy to go to Manchester airport as to go to London—

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 66, Noes 37.

Division No. 84] [9.59 pm
Alexander, Richard Durant, Tony
Alton, David Fallon, Michael
Baldry, Tony Farr, Sir John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fookes, Miss Janet
Bevan, David Gilroy Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Franks, Cecil
Bottomley, Peter Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Bruinvels, Peter Galley, Roy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Garel-Jones, Tristan
Colvin, Michael Gower, Sir Raymond
Cope, John Greenway, Harry
Currie, Mrs Edwina Gregory, Conal
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Dunn, Robert Ground, Patrick
Holt, Richard Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Roe, Mrs Marion
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Speed, Keith
Key, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Kirkwood, Archy Stern, Michael
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lang, Ian Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Lilley, Peter Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Marland, Paul Wainwright, R.
Mather, Carol Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Maude, Hon Francis Wallace, James
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Waller, Gary
Mellor, David Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Yeo, Tim
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Neale, Gerrard Tellers for the Ayes:
Neubert, Michael Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson and
Proctor, K. Harvey Mr. Vivian Bendall.
Boyes, Roland Madden, Max
Bright, Graham Marek, Dr John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Clay, Robert Maxton, John
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Murphy, Christopher
Corbyn, Jeremy Pike, Peter
Craigen, J. M. Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Dover, Den Silvester, Fred
Eastham, Ken Skinner, Dennis
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Snape, Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Thurnham, Peter
Godman, Dr Norman Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Golding, John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Harvey, Robert Winterton, Nicholas
Haselhurst, Alan
Hayes, J. Tellers for the Noes:
Haynes, Frank Mr. Tony Lloyd and
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Mr. Robert Litherland.
McKay, Allen (Penistone)

Whereupon MR. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for closure).

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Wednesday.