HC Deb 03 February 1987 vol 109 cc876-901

'(1) For the purpose of improving communications between all parts of the United Kingdom and France and before their scheduled works are opened for traffic it shall be the duty of the Railways Board to prepare a plan as to action to be taken (whether by way of executing works or carrying out of development by other persons or otherwise) for the purpose of securing that the proportion of cross-Channel passenger and freight traffic to be carried by rail is increased.

(2) The plan shall include, in particular, details of the Board's proposals:

  1. (a) for the dispersal of rail traffic within Great Britain; and
  2. (b) for the construction and operation of collection and distribution centresand inland clearance depots.

(3) The Board shall keep the particulars of the plan under review and shall review the plan at such periods as they consider appropriate.

(4) The Board shall publish the plan and any revision to the plan in such a manner as they consider best calculated to bring it to the attention of those who will be affected by its implementation.'.—[Mr. Snape.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Snape

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

The House will be aware of the provisions of this clause, which places a duty on the British Railways Board to prepare a plan as to action to be taken (whether by way of executing works or carrying out of development by other persons or otherwise) for the purpose of securing that the proportion of cross-Channel passenger and freight traffic to be carried by rail is increased.

The view put forward consistently by the Government is that this project provides the railway network in this country with an unparalleled opportunity. That is one of the reasons why, with a great many reservations, we on this side of the House have supported the project. Now comes the time for the Minister to confirm his good intentions by accepting the clause. We believe that the dispersal of rail traffic throughout the United Kingdom is vital.

None of us should be under any illusions about the decline of railway freight traffic in recent years which has been caused by various factors, some of which are well beyond the control of the British Railways Board. Over the past 15 to 20 years productivity within the road haulage industry has improved dramatically because of the motorway network and lorries being allowed to travel faster and particularly with some relaxation of lorry driving hours under EEC regulations.

That increased productivity and those developments led to a great and accelerating transfer of freight from rail to road. Surely the cross-Channel link will provide British Rail with the opportunity of reversing that trend. If we are to accept that the minimum economic distance to carry freight by rail, given the circumstances which I have outlined, is about 250 miles, then British Rail, for the first time, has the opportunity genuinely to compete with the road haulage industry because the cross-Channel link will plug in the British Rail network to the whole of Europe. But that opportunity will be thrown away without proper dispersal of rail traffic throughout the United Kingdom.

The Minister, although he expressed some pious hopes about the future, did not give the Standing Committee or my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) much cause for satisfaction. The first question we must ask is how and where this traffic will be dispersed.

Let us consider cross-Channel traffic which will originate in the Manchester area once the link opens. Over the past 15 or 20 years virtually all the rail freight depots in the Greater Manchester area have closed. There are no facilities that could be provided at the present time to enable people or industrialists to take advantage of the fixed link. Although the picture may be gloomy in Manchester, it is not quite as bad in other parts of the country, but investment is needed if British Rail is to take advantage of its inland competitive position.

In the Birmingham area, although Bescot sidings still exist, British Rail would need additional plans to develop those sidings in such a way that they are best able to take advantage of this traffic. There is still one freight liner terminal in the Birmingham area, a comparatively small one. What hope or financial inducements can the Minister of State hold out to British Rail that prior to the tunnel opening in 1993 the necessary investments will have been provided to the Lawley street freightliner depot in Birmingham to enable it to take advantage of that upsurge in container traffic?

Within the last 10 days, the British Rail subsidiary, Freightliner Ltd., announced the closure of eight freightliner terminals. Let us consider the example of an industrialist in the Humberside area who would wish to take advantage of the Channel fixed link. Because of the latest announcements, the Hull freightliner terminal will have long ceased to exist by 1993. What offer or inducement is the Minister prepared to offer to give those industrialists in Humberside an opportunity to use the rail freight facilities? Will those facilities be provided prior to the opening of the tunnel?

We .ask in this new clause that the board prepare and regularly update such plans so that we can see in the years up to 1993 exactly what provision is being made countrywide to take advantage of these opportunities. In Standing Committee we talked about measures that have been taken in northern France. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central compared the number of inland clearance points in France and Germany with those in the United Kingdom. He talked about France having 240 and Germany having 250 such points, yet he said that the British criterion for the creation of those inland clearance points is a minimum of 30,000 customs entries per hour.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

The hon. Member may remember that in Standing Committee I made the point, which I think is worth repeating, that it seems entirely sensible that industrialists and others, where they thought it worthwhile, should be allowed to contract for the necessary customs clearance services, and if they did not reach the Government's pre-arranged patterns they should be allowed to buy in the additional ones if they felt it was to their profit to do so.

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Mr. Snape

Unlike his hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who is presumably saving his speech for later, the points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) are normally worth repeating. In the case of the hon. Member for Thanet, North, even though they are not worth repeating, he repeats them anyway. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get a more sympathetic response from the Minister of State than the one that he got in Standing Committee. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, will say that the provision of customs facilities and proper rail freight facilities are vital if the potential for British Rail from this project is to be realised. It will not do to say that we should leave it to market forces or until 1993.

We are the first to concede that the road transport network is more flexible than rail. It runs from door to door and it is possible within the United Kingdom to load a piece of freight on to a lorry and take it to its destination without the sort of transhipment that would be necessary if such a load were taken by rail. Surely it is necessary to provide facilities a long time before 1993. We are not saying in the new clause that rail freight facilities should be provided full scale from one end of Britain to the other. I have already said that in some parts of the country work could take place right now—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend reminds me, it would be helpful to stop the closure of freightliner depots. That is happening at a time when we are talking about a massive expansion in rail freight as a result of the fixed link. It is vital that the work takes place a long time before the tunnel opens in 1993.

At the conclusion of our debate in Standing Committee the Minister of State said: no decisions are needed until nearer the opening of the tunnel".— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 January 1987; c. 575.] We do not accept that, and that is why we have tabled the new clause. Decisions taken now will have an enormous impact on rail freight carriers into the 1990s. If British Rail is not allowed to prepare adequately by not being given the finance to enable it to take advantage of the expected upsurge in rail freight traffic arising from the fixed link, the competitive advantage of road haulage will be maintained into the 1990s. We will see an ever increasing number of heavy goods vehicles—juggernaut lorries—on our roads and will experience the consequent environmental problems.

Given the scale of this project, it would be folly not to provide adequate facilities to enable British Rail to take advantage of the competitive boost that the provision of the fixed link will give it. For those and other reasons, I hope that the Minister of State, who made some sympathetic noises in Committee, will go a little further and will accept the new clause.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I strongly support the new clause. We are told in the Eurotunnel briefing papers about the tunnel that in the 10 years from 1975 to 1985 freight traffic increased from 10 million tonnes to 23 million tonnes. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) rightly says, this month's edition of Modern Railways shows a picture of the closing of the freight. terminal at Dudley. I think it was Dudley, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can confirm that. We now have fewer than 20 freight terminals and the figure may be as low as 12. That is daft at a time when we are all hoping and predicting that: the tunnel will result in an uplift in freight from many parts of the United Kingdom and will present an opportunity to get into France, Germany and Italy.

One of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen was the withdrawal of the siding into Nine Elms. Nine Elms is the new Covent Garden and all the produce coming there could come by rail. Lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers come from Spain, and at one time there was a huge import of South African oranges into Southampton. The obvious thing to do is to get that produce straight into Nine Elms but all the sidings have been removed. Will the same thing be done in other places, and will we be told in four or five years' time, when there is a demand for sidings to be put back in such places as Hull, Sheffield and Manchester, that it would cost millions of pounds to do it and that it cannot be done because of that high cost and an inadequate subsidy?

I accept that for some years Government policy has been to help in the construction of new sidings in various parts of Britain. It would be daft to allow British Rail to continue the process of closing freightliner terminals and sidings. We should at least be putting them into mothballs to make sure that we do not cause any more damage until we have seen what can be picked up when the tunnel is built.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Having listened to the speeches by the hon. Members for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), it seems that they have little confidence in the present British Rail management. They suggest that it is necessary to enshrine in the Bill the necessity to prepare a plan. Presumably that plan will do that which British Rail would normally do anyway to further the commercial interests of the business that it operates.

There is no evidence to show that the British Rail management is not aware of the opportunities that are likely to arise from the Channel tunnel. On the contrary, in conversations with British Rail, in correspondence and in articles that I have read, the management is well aware of the tremendous opportunities that the link will present for the freight system of British Rail.

The problem presently worrying the industry is that the freightliner system has to operate within the parameters of the United Kingdom and that none of the train runs is ever long enough to justify the amount of handling of the containers from the factory on to the train and at the delivery point. Other than by dedicated train loads from factory to factory it is probably far quicker to ship them by road. Most economists suggest that the minimum train run required is 250 miles and very few routes in Britain give that opportunity. The tunnel link will open up thousands of miles, allowing rail freight to. be taken throughout Europe.

The dispersal of commercial traffic is best left to the commercial aspects of the market. There is no way in which the British Rail board, in some so-called plan, can go to Nissan in Sunderland and say, "Look, the plan that Parliament has asked us to put into effect requires us to ascertain now whether we can carry your cars in 1993 into the European market." Nissan would say, "There is no chance. We are not interested and not convinced. What are the costs? At the moment we have our own system of shipping the cars direct from Newcastle across to the Continent." The problems that face the management of British Rail in trying to work year by year to a plan like that are immense. It would tie up an army of bureaucrats and administrators trying to decide who wanted a siding here or a siding there.

We have heard that some freightliner depots have been closed. Certainly dedicated freightliner depots have been closed but, as we all know, it is relatively easy to construct or re-install a depot with the aid of a modest crane. A simple rail link can be put into any factory at a small additional cost in seven or eight years' time. It does not necessitate the tying up of vast amounts of capital and resources and the installation of dedicated terminals now on the offchance that at some time in the mid-1990s there will be traffic for them.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Quite apart from whether Nissan would seriously be prepared to consider alternative costs for transport by rail rather than by sea, which is suggested by the way that Nissan plans ahead on its production location decisions worldwide, is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the French railways also plan and have forms of planning agreement and a long-term planning perspective? Will we have planning and intervention on one side of the Channel tunnel and free market forces on the other? If we have, God help us, because the French will sweep the market.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting comparison between the way that the French do things and the way that we are trying to do things. Eventually one will have to decide who gets the better value for the money that is being invested. I have no evidence to suggest that French railways handle their freight better than the United Kingdom, except that they have the opportunity of a European network, whereas we have the liability of a branch line network. Once we have tapped the resources that the Channel link will give us, the commercial aspect of a British Rail freight operation will probably lick the pants off any French state system, which will become bogged down in its own bureaucracy, as we have seen with the airlines today. If one compares our own free enterprise airlines with the state systems in Europe, it will be seen that one receives a better service from our airlines because they respond better to the initiatives in the market place.

Mr. Snape

Amidst the comic cuts of the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King)— who represents an area which is an example of the collapse of private enterprise and which has had to be rescued by the state— is he aware that to talk such appalling claptrap underlines the fact that the hon. Member knows as much about running a railway system as I do about who writes his speeches?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman does not know the west midlands very well. I assume that he is referring to the car industry. If he is referring to Jaguar, Land Rover and Freight Rover, he will see that they are profitable. One of those companies has been privatised and the others are doing nicely. There is a little local difficulty in Longbridge, but we will put that right in the not too distant future.

In my constituency we have a car factory that is turning out thousands of cars per year with a growing expectation in the European market. That factory is available to take on the opportunities given by a dedicated rail system that will enable goods to leave the Longbridge works and be within the continent of Europe within the day. We readily welcome that opportunity, but it does not need the British Rail Board to come along to Longbridge and say that they want to plan something in 1993—it is happening now because it is good commercial sense. That is the sort of system that we want. As a result of the opportunities that a commercially orientated rail network can bring, which British Rail can readily afford, there is no reason why the system should not be privatised and why we should not have Rail Freight plc so that it can freely adapt and take on the opportunities on offer.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I am becoming more and more fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's speech with every sentence that he utters. What he is suggesting, if I have understood him, is that normal capitalist enterprises do not plan their investment as far ahead as 1993. If he is right, it explains why the economy of Britain is in such a bloody mess.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I must reproach the hon. Gentleman for the crudeness of his language. Plain language is not quite the same thing as coarse language.

8.15 pm
Mr. Hughes

I apologise for using that word, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, in the interestes of the delicacy of the House, I shall not repeat it and say that that is why the country is in such a filthy state.

Mr. King

I remember that when I was deciding what political creed to follow in the early 1960s my views were prejudiced by a so-called national plan, which seemed to me to set the country on a route to complete disaster because it confined the country to a narrow corridor of development. Since then, all kinds of plans which spread themselves over a decade or so have not appealed to me in the slightest. Of course commercial businesses plan ahead on a 12-month and two-year cycle and indeed a five-year cycle. What this amendment is suggesting is that it is a commitment, a part of the Bill. It should be left to the rail board to draw up its own confidential commercial plan, of which I am sure it is quite capable without the necessity of Parliament having to tell it what to do.

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) underlines the position with regard to the present Administration and their lack of understanding of what industry wants. The chamber of commerce in Sheffield, along with the local authority, has put its money where its mouth is and tried to devise a scheme or argument as to why we should have inland customs clearance, and we have brought in independent assessment of that situation.

The argument of the chamber of commerce is that people looking to the north of England for investment will look at transport infrastructure as a major element for five, six, seven or eight years in the future. That is extremely important. That is not the flippant speech of some cowboys; serious consideration has been given to it.

The north-south divide has been clearly quantified in the last few weeks. There is genuine and serious concern that the Channel tunnel will bring resources down into the south-east. The Select Committee on Transport looked at that national impact. Its first report on the Channel link was assessed in 1985 and 1986. The minutes of proceedings say in paragraph 121: It has been argued that a fixed link might induce a further drain of economic activity from already distressed parts of the Midlands and the North. In addition, some concern has been expressed that owing to its nearness to continental markets and to French Government and EEC assistance, the Pas de Calais region might benefit unduly. The National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers (NUMAST) has suggested that if a fixed link does encourage investment in manufacturing it will be in France rather than the UK. 'An industrialist who wishes to establish a manufacturing capacity to serve the north-west European market and is faced with a choice of regional incentives from northern England and Scotland and from northern France is much more likely to choose the latter and to treat the UK market as peripheral' … the Committee feels it is essential that the UK derives an equal benefit from the link and stresses the need to ensure that there is no unfair discrimination in favour of industry or employment in France.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has been saying, we went into some detail in Committee. The French are geared up in northern France, not just in transport infrastructure, but in industrial infrastructure and educational resources. Many hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent in that area to make it attractive to industrialists in their long-term planning. That is very serious for the north of England.

It is unfortunate that the way in which the Channel Tunnel Bill has been discussed does not allow us to get any co-ordination across Government Departments— the Department of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Home Office and so on. The French regional and national councils, the PAL, are co-ordinating their effort to extract the maximum benefits for northern France. We have no like bodies in the United Kingdom. so this narrow Bill has considerable economic and industrial impact upon the United Kingdom.

One example is inland customs clearance. I put it into the context of the reply that I received from the Minister in Standing Committee: If the railways board believes that it can generate traffic that will justify those facilities it is up to it to set out the facts and make the case to the customs authorities."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 January 1987; c. 575.] Under the criteria laid down by the customs—a Home Office responsibility— it has first of all to show that there will be about 30,000 entries per annum into that particular depot. British Rail's freight organisation tells us that that is about 3 tonnes a wagonload and that that will be classed as an entry.

The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) talked earlier about getting a number of industrialists together to try to develop enough traffic to justify a depot. We are talking about 1 million tonnes of freight having to go through a depot before the criteria laid down by her Majesty's Customs are met. France and Germany look at the matter from a different point of view. They ask whether industry, the community and the development in certain areas require such a depot. They do not have the bureaucratic approach of saying, "We will not put one there until you can bring in that level of freight". It is impossible to meet the criterion of 1 million tonnes a year.

In Committee, the Minister said that the customs authority would require proof. The ground rules laid down for BR are well-nigh impossible. That is the point that we were making to the Secretary of State, yet that has been compounded with the closure of eight depots— in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Hull, Manchester, Nottingham and Swansea. I got that information from an article in the Yorkshire Post on 10 January. We are asking for a transport infrastructure which will enable freight to be moved much more effectively by having it cleared at the source of production—I argued in Committee that there should be one in south Yorkshire— yet that is becoming increasingly more difficult.

We must also consider the criteria under which BR is having to work. It must show clearly the return on capital employed. As I said earlier, we have done a feasibility study on that. We are talking about expenditure of about £1.5 million to £2 million in order to put that depot in south Yorkshire. Do we wait to make that investment until the Channel tunnel has been opened, or do we say that we shall have a network of inland customs clearance depots and so should have that up-front expenditure? If we do not, it will be catch 22. Investors will not come to the industrial north if it does not have a transport infrastruture to move the goods away quickly to the European markets. That is serious.

To discuss that within the narrow concept of the railways and BR's decision would be to deny British industry an opportunity to have some say in its regeneration. That is why subsection (4) is important. It says: The Board shall publish a plan and any revision to the plan in such a manner as they consider best calculated to bring it to the attention of those who will be affected by its implementation. That is important, because it is not only BR that is affected. There will be an impact on industry. There may be major benefits for industry, but if industry is not allowed to be part of the discussions and to put forward its ideas to BR, an opportunity will be missed.

I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I might be in some conflict on this. The areas that we represent are in close proximity and I know that you have received some overtures about an inland customs clearance depot for your area. Nevertheless. I hope that, in the light of the Minister's comments in Committee and the comments made in the Select Committee, the Minister will now be able to accept the new clause. It takes cognisance of his reply in Committee about the responsibility of BR. He said that BR was undertaking a survey, and that is welcome. But some direction at least should be written into the Bill. At the end of the day, this is not just a matter for BR. Many people, particularly in the north of England, first, will want to contribute to the report, and, secondly, hope that they will be able to influence its direction.

The new clause has been drafted to reflect the points made by the Minister in Committee and adds that there will be an ongoing dialogue, that the report will be published and will be open for debate and comment. To that extent, it could be made into a much more meaningful exercise than the one described in Committee, which was left solely to British Rail's criteria.

Mr. Stuart Holland

I support new clause 3 and I should like to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House why. New clause 3 says that British Rail should publish a plan and bring it to the attention of those who will be affected by its implementation. It is clear that, since we first heard of the Bill, British Rail has done no research into the probable social, environmental or planning effects of the Channel tunnel. [Interruption.] It is interesting that the Minister should laugh at that. If it has, as a Member of Parliament for a constituency that is directly affected, may I have access to the planning that has been done? The fact that the Minister can laugh raises some interesting questions concerning, for example, consultation, not only with the local community but also with hon. Members. Such issues are not simply a matter of courtesy but come near to the question of the privilege of hon. Members.

I was at a conference on the dispersal of Channel tunnel traffic in Birmingham on 21 January with a Mr. Southgate, a manager of British Rail who is responsible for the Channel tunnel project. Although I was on the platform with Mr. Southgate, he neglected to tell me—I certainly was not told in writing before it occurred—that two days later BR would open an exhibition at Waterloo containing plans for the terminal and its elevation and design at Waterloo on which I have put questions time and again to the Minister in the House. I have asked for the precise specification, when we could see the plans and the elevation and how it works. The Minister, who is smiling again, said that that was a matter for British Rail, not for him.

As a local Member of Parliament, I was not even informed of that exhibition by British Rail, despite the advantage that Mr. Southgate had of meeting me on 21 January. I learned the day before the exhibition opened from Thames Television, which telephoned me to ask what I thought about the new plans and the new model for a terminal at Waterloo which was to be opened the next day. The following morning I had a prior commitment, again to be in Birmingham, and I could not be at BR's opening of the plans for the terminal at Waterloo. I put it to Thames Television that as far as I was aware I had not even received an invitation to view the model or its specifications.

Indeed, not only did I not receive an invitation in advance, but I received a letter today dated 26 January from a Mr. P. C. Trewen, the parliamentary affairs manager of the BR Board. Under the heading "British Rail and the Channel Tunnel Waterloo International Terminal", it says: As you may know British Rail has opened an Information Centre at Waterloo Station … The Centre is open from … I thought you would like to know of this development. You are very welcome to visit the Centre. That exhibition, containing information on the terminal at Waterloo on which I had put questions to Ministers without receiving a response, opened on 23 January. The invitation was sent to me on 26 January.

This is not a small or chiding matter. It is, in my view, symptomatic of the whole way in which Ministers have been handling the issue of this Bill and its passage through the House. The reason that the managers of British Rail can actually get away with behaviour of this kind towards elected Members of Parliament, or have done so far, is precisely the attitude that Ministers have towards key questions which have been put on this Bill and which they have not answered on the Floor of this House.

8.30 pm

For example, consultation, which is of course referred to in new clause 3, is covered by the words To bring it to the attention of those who will be affected by its implementation"— that is, the implementation of a plan.

On the matter of consultation, neither British Rail nor the Government have initiated any proper consultation with the local community in Waterloo, despite the fact that this is supposed to include a flagship terminal for the Channel tunnel traffic. The public consultation with British Rail was initiated by residents in 1981 and aided by Lambeth council in 1983. Its findings have been totally ignored by British Rail in its recent statement on the Channel tunnel terminal at Waterloo. In fact, the siting of a terminal at Waterloo would have major and potentially devastating consequences on the local area and should have been the subject of a major planning inquiry. A plan in that sense already exists—a community development plan for the area. Normally, whether this were a third London airport or a Sizewell reactor, there would be a public inquiry into its implications.

The kind of traffic throughput which we are likely to get at Waterloo has been estimated to be equivalent to that at Gatwick airport. In Committee on this Bill we had a day and a half for local community groups to give their evidence, not much more than half a day for Lambeth council to give its evidence and no answer from Ministers to some of the key questions which have been raised. For example, a case has been made by Lambeth council and the GLC against the siting of a terminal at Waterloo. This charged that British Rail had in fact done no detailed costings of alternative sites. I stand by that allegation. If British Rail has done any detailed costing of alternative sites, we have not seen the figures.

Last year, for example, BR put out a general statement asking, "Why is Waterloo favoured?" In the question and answer format, it said in its answer: There is a clear commercial value in a single city centre terminal with good connections to other rail routes and other modes of internal transport. Let us just take that point. The underground connections from Waterloo to the rest of the underground network are not especially good. They happen to be far better from Victoria, which goes straight through to some of the key stations to the north via the Victoria line. That is one reason why the Victoria line was built.

We have been told, for example, that the Bakerloo line can easily accommodate the traffic likely to be generated by the additional passengers coming from Waterloo.

Dr. Marek

I hate to intervene in my hon. Friend's argument, but he must realise that the Victoria underground line is almost running to capacity at the moment.

Mr. Holland

I am most indebted to my hon. Friend for telling me that the Victoria line is running at full capacity at present. That is one reason why I believe that LRT has proposals to increase its capacity. What I presume it is not aware of is that there has been an admission by David Baylis, who is a London Regional Transport board member and planner, that the Bakerloo line extension proposed recently through the Elephant and Bricklayers Arms to West Croydon will itself now be in question because of the take-up of capacity on the Bakerloo line by bringing international traffic to Waterloo. This should he of some interest to those in south London who have recently been given the impression that there would be an extension of the Bakerloo line. The new Bakerloo line is very unlikely to go ahead if Waterloo is the exclusive flagship terminal in London.

This is a major transport and planning policy issue, which has not been addressed by Ministers, not brought by them to the Floor of the House. It is one of very great significance, to which I shall shortly return.

In other respects— for example, in terms of the costing of Waterloo—British Rail said last year: Victoria Station was carefully evaluated as the location for the international terminal but has been rejected on a number of counts. These include allegedly limiting the number of platforms which can be accommodated, road access, and so forth. What is the comparative cost between the two options? It claims: The Waterloo development will cost in the order of £45 million. Victoria, a minimal proposal, would cost £7 million, while a proposal with four platforms would cost £16 to £17 millions and one with five platforms up to £27 millions.

In the exhibition at Waterloo for the public in general there are none of these nuances of figures, saying that Victoria, for example, would cost only £16 million more than Waterloo. Rather, there is the broad assertion that Victoria would cost 50 per cent. more than Waterloo. It would be very interesting to have a discussion about these matters. Unfortunately, we are in no position to challenge these figures unless we know how the figures themselves are composed. What is the premise for those figures? What are the actual detailed costings? What are the implications, for example, having some Channel tunnel traffic accommodated at Waterloo and some Channel tunnel traffic accommodated at Victoria? Why should it not be possible to get on a train at the Gare du Nord, or in Brussels, and know that the train on the hour is going to Waterloo and the train at quarter past the hour is going to Victoria and alternating termini? That would be likely to increase the effectiveness of Channel tunnel traffic, for the very simple reason that a unique load capacity at Waterloo would limit the frequency of the service.

British Rail again told us that it had examined other sites running through Kensington Olympia, West Brompton, Shepherds Bush, Docklands, Warwick road, London Bridge, Blackfriars, Cannon street, Holborn Viaduct and Bricklayers Arms. It was only today, in taking up the invitation in this letter to view the exhibition, that I came to Waterloo station; there, lo and behold, we have a ranking of stations in meeting criteria as the terminus for Channel tunnel traffic. On the first criterion, convenience for central London and the City, Waterloo gets a tick, Victoria gets a tick, Olympia gets a cross. On the second, access from the terminal to other BR routes, they all rate a tick. On the third, additional capacity at the existing station, we then move into three evaluative categories of good, medium and poor. On additional capacity, Waterloo gets "good", while Victoria and Olympia get "medium".

On the fourth criterion—that of additional capacity on approach routes— Waterloo comes out as good, Victoria medium and Olympia good. All three meet the fifth criterion, that of the feasibility of 400m platforms, as they do the sixth, space for four or five Channel tunnel platforms. In the seventh test— of 500 sq m for a passenger terminal—Waterloo and Victoria pass with a tick, but Olympia gets a cross. They all gets ticks in the eighth—other direct rail access or egress. On the ninth— other direct rail access or egress for public transport— Waterloo is rated good, Victoria medium and Olympia poor. They all get ticks on the tenth criterion. that of accessibility to the North Pole maintenance depot— which all railway enthusiasts appreciate is not located where it appears to be. On the 11 th point— no disruption to existing commuter traffic— there are straight ticks for each station.

The 12th point— infrastructure costs— indexed Waterloo at 100, Victoria at 150 and Olympia as "not available". Where is the costing for Olympia? Why has it not been done? For the whole range of other stations that British Rail suggested would be considered, there was no evaluation of the feasibility of their use in dispersed Channel traffic. Indeed, there is no quantification of the feasibility of one station rather than another. Item No. 9, which refers to road public transport access or egress, concludes that the argument is over because British Rail has judged that one proposal is good, one medium and one poor; but that is to deny the very principle of evaluating traffic congestion caused by additional traffic to individual stations.

The traffic estimates are very interesting. British Rail has been very generous, not only by informing me of an exhibition that would have answered, in principle, some of the questions that Ministers would not answer, but in using technicolor publicity— suitably in the colours of France—to launch a campaign against Lambeth council. British Rail does not allow Lambeth council space in Waterloo station to make its case against the Channel tunnel flagship terminus at Waterloo. Nor has it allowed community groups to put their case against the exclusive use of Waterloo as a Channel tunnel terminus.

I stress that both Lambeth council and the community groups have been responsible by accepting the premise that there will be a Channel tunnel fixed link, and in addressing themselves to the issue of where the traffic should go—whether there should be a single terminus or a dispersal outlet.

Mr. Snape


Mr. Holland

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, who I am sure will support me.

Mr. Snape

As ever, I am always delighted to support my hon. Friend. Perhaps he would give us a demonstration of Lambeth council's impartiality towards the project by telling the House the contents of a leaflet that I understand went through many letter boxes in Lambeth— and, indeed, as far afield as Streatham—detailing on the one hand the advantage of the Channel tunnel and on the other using three pages to describe the disadvantages of the project.

Mr. Holland

It was a very entertaining leaflet, which amused at least one member of the Select Committee when he visited Waterloo. I regret to say that my hon. Friend is wrong—it is not a Lambeth council leaflet, but one produced by an association of Waterloo groups of tenants. They said—quite rightly—that there will be a single main gain from a Channel fixed link, that of cheaper and faster access to the Continent, whether for freight or passengers. There would be considerable disadvantages to the community should there be a flagship terminus at Waterloo rather than a dispersal of traffic both within London and throughout the country.

8.45 pm

On traffic estimates, British Rail held discussions by convening a meeting and taking questions as a substitute for a public inquiry. During those discussions, Channel tunnel traffic was estimated at 13.5 million passengers. However, on another occasion British Rail's estimate of the upper range of passenger traffic likely to be generated rose to 22 million.

British Rail's "Test your knowledge of key facts and figures about the Waterloo international terminus", asks whether the number of passengers using Waterloo station each year will rise by 2003—it forgot to say that that was anno domini rather than an absolute figure—by 7 million, 13 million or 20 million. It states that the answer is 13 million—apparently quite unlike the claims of 15 million or 20 million. The reality is that the upper figure of more than 20 million has been used not only by British Rail but by the tunnel promoters to help float the issue to finance their bid. Thirteen million is an interesting figure because it is not the figure consistently used by British Rail, which has used a figure of 13.5 million on several occasions.

I note that the Minister is absolutely riveted and is about to wet his throat so that he can reply in detail to all my points. The problem is that the differences in the figures are very significant. Anything up to about 20 million passengers means at least 4 million additional vehicles per year, up to 70,000 buses, 3 million taxis and 1 million private cars. Where will they go?

There are important and interesting implications in terms of Waterloo's situation. I am sure that the House will appreciate and enjoy the visual aid that I am offering to support my analysis. However, better than that, most hon. Members are familiar with Waterloo station. Certainly the Minister is familiar because he visited Waterloo station, and we were glad that he did so. He saw that, from the exit to Waterloo east, on the road by the main concourse going to York road, British Rail is planning three-way traffic, whereas currently there is only one-way traffic and a taxi park, with room for the parking of passenger cars. Indeed, I think that the Minister was amazed. He spoke on camera directly afterwards and said that British Rail had not thought through the problem. Rather than having a mystical union with market forces— or the market mythology suggested by the hon. Member for Northfield—British Rail had not thought about the congestion that would be caused by 70,000 buses.

Even if we are generous and refer to only two thirds of the higher passenger traffic estimates, and therefore to two thirds of the number of buses, that is still an additional 48,000 buses per year. Will they be tour operator buses? Will tour operators be allowed to use the link with passenger traffic at Waterloo station?

Mr. Rowe

May I inject some flexibility by suggesting that the Polytechnic of the South Bank might be moved to Kent? Kent does not have a polytechnic, but it should have one. London already has seven polytechnics. If the Polytechnic of the South Bank were moved to Kent, there would be opportunities to reshuffle a great deal of the traffic engendered—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman reads the new clause, he will realise that it refers to the dispersal of rail traffic and the construction of collection and distribution centres and inland clearance depots. I find it difficult to reconcile that with the relocation of a technical college.

Mr. Rowe

The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) referred to buses, and I was suggesting a possible place where those buses might lurk.

Mr. Holland

The hon. Gentleman reminds me of a Member of the House of Lords, who dreamed one night that he was speaking there, and woke up to find that he was. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has come at the wrong stage of the debate. It is a little outside the scope of the new clause to connect parking buses and resiting a polytechnic in Kent with the generation of traffic at Waterloo.

However, the problem of where buses will go or where private cars will be parked at Waterloo is a major issue. Where can such vehicles put down and pick up traffic at Waterloo? That problem has not been addressed. There is a car park for up to 140 cars and a new car park has been planned. However, how many cars are likely to have access to or egress from the roads around Waterloo that are already substantially congested?

I am sure you will be riveted to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this afternoon, at 1.50 pm precisely, I went to the Waterloo area to have the pleasure of examining the exhibition that claimed to give the answers to the questions that the Minister did not give. In coming up to Waterloo from the Baylis road area and going up to the road behind Waterloo, I counted 52 taxis in a queue. That represents a substantial distance—it stretched from the front of the station concourse where people normally catch cabs at Waterloo, right down the side of the station and two thirds of the way along it past one of the sharpest hairpin bends to have escaped alpine history. That bend will take three lanes of traffic if the proposal goes ahead.

On those grounds alone, there can be no way in which Waterloo is likely to be able to accommodate the additional traffic that will be generated by the Channel tunnel fixed link. It is of priority and importance that that traffic should be dispersed. That dispersal should be aimed not only to take traffic beyond London—I shall make some further comments on that shortly— but also to disperse it within London between the different stations. A single terminal at Waterloo will represent a built-in bottleneck.

To stress that argument, I should like to draw attention to the kind of games that British Rail plays with its figures. In the technicolor question and answer sheet, we are told to be confident that Lambeth has got its figures wrong but British Rail has not got its figures right. But those figures are not consistent.

Last year, British Rail assured us that on a normal weekday, outside the domestic rail passenger holiday period of July and August, there will be an additional 21,000 international train passengers a day using Waterloo. Now we are told that there will be an additional 38,000 passengers using Waterloo. You do not have to be a mathematical genius, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although you may well be, to appreciate that the difference between 21,000 and 38,000 is very nearly 100 per cent. British Rail has doubled the estimate of the number of passengers who will use Waterloo.

Then comes the placebo effect on British Rail's figures. It is stated that, in comparison to the total number of passengers using Waterloo in the 1950s and 1960s, the proposed increase in passengers represents a mere 1 per cent. extra. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to retain in your mind that figure of 1 per cent. extra traffic. That figure has all the charm—not only the moderation—of almost infinitesimal regression. That 1 per cent. extra is so small that it suggests no one should bother about it.

That was the attitude adopted by British Rail. In practice, British Rail did not bother. It did not make any effective estimate of additional traffic and congestion costs in the Waterloo area. Instead, British Rail studied the Gibbs report. The figure given in that report of passengers using Waterloo was not 13 million or even the higher figure of 22 million, but 6 million. The Gibbs report came to the conclusion that there would be no significant additional congestion at Waterloo and therefore British Rail also decided that there would be no significant additional congestion. British Rail had the nerve to cite findings and studies by Lambeth and the Greater London council concerning congestion that were based on the Gibbs report analysis of 6 million passengers and not the current British Rail figure of some 13 million passengers.

It gets even more interesting. We are now told that the highest forecast for annual day traffic will be about 13.6 million by the year 2003. Waterloo station has display boards that state that, on average, 1,272 domestic trains used Waterloo in 1978. The average number in 1985 was 1,079. Even with the additional number of trains generated by the Channel tunnel programme, there will be only between 98 and 130 international trains using Waterloo in the year 2003. Those figures are displayed in large columns on the display boards for anybody who cannot easily calculate the difference between those figures. It is clear that the difference between 1,079 and 1,272 is more than 130.

I was rather inquisitive about those figures, which other people consider are purely factual. I discovered that the range figure between 98 and 130 trains using the station diverges substantially—the range is so wide—because two estimates are involved. One is British Rail's estimate and the other is the Eurotunnel estimate.

I asked British Rail what was the average number of weekday passengers going through Waterloo in the peak period from March to October. Those figures have also been put up on the display board by British Rail. In fact, British Rail does not put the precise figures on the board; it uses ratios. However, I have checked the figures with Nick Alexander of British Rail— he was most co operative on the phone this afternoon, and I pay him credit. The figures show that the peak passenger use of Waterloo in any post-war year with 204,000 passengers was in 1971. I asked on what foundation the range of figures at Waterloo had been based, because the words on the display board refer to Average weekday passengers through Waterloo at the peak, March to October".

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) has talked about misleading advertisements by Eurotunnel., but I think he should be talking about misleading advertising by British Rail at Waterloo station. I hope that the Minister will intervene to correct the misleading information. I found out to my surprise that the figures, rather than for average weekday passengers in the peak months of March to October, were sample figures for a peak Saturday in August. British Rail is not using an average monthly figure.

If one uses the figures of annual flow, instead of the dramatic collapse in traffic using Waterloo—

Dr. Marek


Mr. David Mitchell

There are peaks of intercontinental traffic at the weekends. The greatest pressure of travel on British Rail Eurotunnel trains is likely to occur on Saturdays. It is therefore appropriate for British Rail to consider how that peak capacity on Saturdays can be handled.

9 pm

Mr. Holland

I would not want to deter the Minister from supporting the new clause, although I am sure that nothing I say will persuade him. This is precisely the matter that I want to address. I am well aware of that point. I discussed it with British Rail.

One cannot compare chalk with cheese. What are the comparisons about which the Minister is talking? He is talking about peak tourist traffic in August, but is he also talking about current British Rail traffic? One cannot decide how future traffic will be generated by comparing a rail service that has to go by sea across the Channel with Channel tunnel traffic. In making that comparison, one is undermining the basis of the whole case for the Channel study. As Mr. Alexander said to me on the telephone today, "You know how most market forecasts are done— stick up a wet finger." That is almost what is happening. I appreciate British Rail's difficulties in evaluating market forecasts. I appreciate that the Minister may feel that he is seriously misled by a wet finger. I am not suggesting which finger, on which hand, held in what way or with what intent; but the reality is very similar to gestures that are commonly used. One can have no confidence in these projected figures.

Dr. Marek

I support the new clause. I believe that British Rail has considered this matter at length, certainly during the past year. My hon. Friend said that British Rail estimates traffic flow by simply taking a particular day in May or June. My hon. Friend is right—British Rail has been doing this from Land's End to John o'Groats. This example shows no departure from British Rail's normal procedures in establishing statistics.

Mr. Holland

I am sorry to hear that confirmation, because it undermines what little faith I have in British Rail's capacity to forecast traffic. I do not know whether that is acceptable to the hon. Member for Northfield, who believes in market forces adjusting supply and demand rather than in planning supply and demand. [Interruption.] I am willing to give way to the Secretary of State,

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Moore)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Holland

It is a pity to lose the point that the right hon. Gentleman was about to raise.

The breakdown in the number of Channel tunnel trains in the year 2003— 98 and 130— shows the great difference in the figures used by British Rail and Eurotunnel. The premise is that peak traffic will be absorbed during the peak vacation or holiday period and that Waterloo will be able to absorb spare capacity because of the decrease in commuter traffic. But that assumes that there will be spare capacity rather than that the Channel tunnel terminal will be a success.

I was interested to learn from my discussions with British Rail today that its latest midweek passenger figures are for 1982. They are five years out of date. We are planning a terminal with the throughput of Gatwick airport based on figures that are five years out of date. Talk about think of a number, subtract those who get off at Ashford, plump for the station thought of in the first place and the answer is Waterloo—that is almost the extent of the statistical basis used by British Rail in pursuing this case.

As I said shortly before the Minister intervened, according to the information that I received today from British Rail, which contrasts with its display on the technicolor boards at Waterloo, the average number of weekday passengers travelling through Waterloo at peak periods was 204,000 in 1971. It was, on average, between 190,000 and 195,000 between 1961 and 1973–74, 181,000 in 1975 and only 178,000 in the last year for which figures are available. That is much higher than the figures suggested by the misleading public display at Waterloo, which is substituting for ministerial answers. I suggest that the Minister obtains those figures. I am glad that a cooperative middle manager at British Rail has agreed to send me copies of the diagrams, the artwork and the figures on which the estimates are based. For this does not suggest a slump in commuter traffic from Waterloo. It suggests that there is much less spare capacity than the Government say. For example, still talking about the 1982 midweek passenger figures—

Mr. Caborn

If we continue at this rate, they will be 1988 figures.

Mr. Holland

My hon. Friend will appreciate that, unfortunately, I did not have the advantage that he had of sitting on the Select Committee, the Standing Committee or other committees that may have dealt with this matter. [Interruption.] Changing one's mind is an act of intellectual imagination, of which I am sure the Minister is capable. But I trust that he will not change his mind but will listen to the figures. They will be the basis of a continuing debate about the feasibility and viability of Waterloo.

In 1982, the number of midweek passengers totalled 179,000. That is the base. If we then consider the additional passenger traffic generated at Waterloo, on British Rail's figures— I stress that I have excluded through trains from these figures because, obviously, they do not count for terminal purposes— there is an additional 62,000 for British Rail and an additional 83,000 on the 179,000 base from Eurotunnel. This is the crunch. If we put those two figures together, we get 241,000 of feasible traffic on the British Rail figures, and 262,000 feasible daily passenger traffic on the Eurotunnel figures. That is way in excess of the maximum passenger use of the peak for the whole of the post-war period of 204,000 daily passenger traffic.

In practice, this amounts to taking the high of the passenger commuter traffic and adding the type of capacity expansion that Eurotunnel hopes to achieve. The Minister may say that this does not take account of seasonal variations, but the figure is way in excess of the 1971 peak. In fact, it is 25 per cent. above peak post-war capacity as opposed to the 1 per cent. increase— the massaging of one's concern—that we heard earlier from British Rail. If the Minister were to say to me that this assumes a phenomenal success for the Channel tunnel because there will never be that volume of traffic, why does he not plan for a use of the tunnel that can generate that volume of traffic? One of the reasons he cannot do so at the moment is that he assumes that all the traffic will go through Waterloo.

If we get the higher figures, it will have major implications for, first, Customs and Excise, secondly, the underground, thirdly, taxis, fourthly, buses. Fifthly, it spells congestion. That is one reason why we have such little confidence in the figures given by British Rail in this matter. In other respects, the case for dispersal of Channel tunnel traffic is well established.

One of the problems about dispersal is whether there will be on-train customs inspections. It is a major issue. We appreciate that the Government will wish to take into account the view of trade unions in Customs and Excise matters. I hope that the Government will be able to persuade the trade unions of the merits of on-train customs inspections.

Certain anomalies arise. I have asked the Minister whether the French or the Belgians, for example, will have terminal facilities at their stations. It is an obvious question. They do not have terminal facilities at the moment. One may get on a train in Brussels and go to Paris. One may have a meal and take advantage of all those features that are so lauded by British Rail in some of its advertising, such as "Think of getting on a plane, stretching your legs, having a wider seat, a bigger window and a meal. We so much prefer the 7.27 to the 707 or the 747." In reality, that is what happens between Brussels and Paris. Will it also happen for British passengers arriving in Paris? Will there be a terminal in the Gare du Nord? It is a basic question. Will there be a terminal at the Gare du Nord for British passengers travelling through the Channel tunnel? The Minister does not appear to know. The probability is that French customs and excise would do the same as they have always done when anybody travels on one of their trains. There is no need for a terminal, therefore, or for the new see-through terminal at Waterloo. I say "see-through" advisedly. The terminal has no elevation, in physical terms. All the floors are of perspex. It is difficult to evaluate what stands where and the implications of the terminal. That is one reason why there will be a very lopsided Channel tunnel service.

I have said in previous debates that, if there is to be competition between rail and air transport, there must be on-train customs inspection. On 23 January 1987, I put down a question to the Secretary of State for Transport about whether the SNCF expects customs inspectors on Channel tunnel trains to travel further than Ashford in the pursuit of their duties and whether any Customs and Excise facilities will be operated at Ashford. That has a direct bearing on whether or not such facilities will be needed at Waterloo. I was told that no decisions had been taken about on-train controls for passengers or freight carried on through services, that French and United Kingdom customs are holding discussions with SNCF and British Rail respectively about controls and that, whatever the outcome of the discussions, there would be the familiar red-green arrangements for passengers terminating their journeys at Ashford or Waterloo. I do not think that there will be any familiar red-green arrangements at the Gare du Nord. If there are not, it will be a singular victory for common sense.

Allowing for the difficulties involved in achieving on-train customs inspection, there is a proposal to abolish all internal customs inspections within the EEC. There have been many EEC proposals in the last 25 years. I remember a proposal that called for a common industrial policy to complement the common agricultural policy. That has not seen the light of day. I remember a proposal for a common European statute. That has not seen the light of day, either.

It is just feasible and not beyond the bounds of imagination that we may not see the abolition of customs and excise within the EEC in the next five to seven years. But what if we do? What shall we do then with the great white elephant of a terminal at Waterloo? Shall we turn it back into a new Musee Pompidou? The old argument about French railways as they used to be was that, like insects, they had all their works on the outside. Perhaps our Waterloo terminal will be a Pompidou in reverse, since our trains always have their works on the inside. Perhaps we shall have a perspex see-through terminal. Next to the national arts complex, that could be quite appropriate, but it would not be very useful if the EEC had abolished internal customs and excise by the time it was completed.

Mr. Caborn

It crosses my mind that perhaps there ought to be harmonisation of the length of speeches in the various Parliaments of Europe. Perhaps there ought to be a time limit, but it seems that that will not happen for a few years to come.

Mr. Holland

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about the length of my speech.

Reference has already been made to the article in The New Civil Engineer of 11 December 1986. It drew attention to the fact that for the first time the new Snowhill tunnel going via Blackfriars will lead to inter-city trains travelling right through London for the first time. If we consider that, we shall see that there is speculation—

Dr. Marek

Will my hon. Friend give way?

9.15 pm
Mr. Holland

No, I am sorry. It may amaze my hoii. Friend, but I have had some encouragement to complete my brief remarks on the clause.

If that is the case, Blackfriars becomes a feasible station for people to alight in London. I should like to put the serious point to the Minister that, if we can shake off the flagship concept of a terminal, why is it not possible for people who want to alight in south London to do so, and for there to be three stops in London for through trains? Those who wish to get off in south London could get off at a south London station and those who wish to get off in central London could do so at Blackfriars, with through trains going on to north London and to the north of the country. Surely that is the most intelligent way to approach the matter.

I have already mentioned the implications of this proposal for the local environment and the damage that could result to the local environment in the Waterloo area. I have also discussed jobs and the fact that there is little expectation that the jobs will benefit those in the local community. I shall not reiterate those points, because they were put very well by representatives of the local community and the Waterloo development group in their submissions to the Select Committee. I trust that they will be able to put their case to the House of Lords, because they had so little time to put their case to the Committee about the impact of the proposals on the local environment.

Finally, the Department of the Environment—the oracle—has alleged that Lambeth has exaggerated the difficulties that the proposal will pose for its planning powers and that Lambeth will not be overridden. However, a circular from the Department of the Environment, reference No. LCM(86)6, states: In dealing with applications for planning permission local planning authorities shall have regard to the provisions of the current development plans, so far as material to the application, and to any other material considerations. Applications are considered on their merits. As emphasised in Circular 14/85, however, there is a presumption in favour of allowing applications for development. That is of real concern to those in the local community and I am sure that I shall be able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on a future occasion to explain why.

Dr. Marek

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) took 45 minutes for his speech. I hope that I shall take four and a half minutes.

I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that I do not think it possible for through trains to use Blackfriars station to go to the north of London because the tunnels are too small as one gets towards Kings Cross. My understanding is that the tunnels cannot be enlarged because of the pipes and other things in the ground in that area. If I am wrong, I shall be pleased to be corrected.

Mr. Stuart Holland

My hon. Friend is wrong.

Dr. Marek

That is fine. I look forward to the possibility of a conversation later to clear up that matter.

Without discussing Waterloo and whether it will be suitable as a terminus, like my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, I completely support new clause 3 which is an important clause. We cannot leave this matter to market forces because it affects us all. The clause refers not only to freight, but to passengers. All of us in the House—indeed everybody in the country as a possible passenger—wish to know British Rail's plans so that we can comment upon them and suggest improvements to British Rail.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) said, British Rail talks to county councils and to local authorities. If those local authorities wish to invest and help British Rail to move more goods by rail they will need to know where and how to invest, and what the time scale should be. It is absolutely vital that that is not kept secret.

I completely disagree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) that the matter should be left to a confidential study by British Rail. It must be open and we must know the facts—we are all on the same side in this matter—because we want to make the Channel tunnel the success that I am sure that it will be.

I am aware that the new clause is not written as I would have expected it to be if it had been drawn by parliamentary draftsmen. If the Minister cannot accept it now, I hope that he can say that he will introduce an appropriate clause in another place. I strongly urge the Government to accept the spirit of the new clause if they cannot accept its wording.

Mr. David Mitchell

The Government fully support the objectives of the new clause. Throughout the passage of the Bill the Government have made clear their belief and intention that the Channel tunnel will benefit not just London and the south-east, but the whole of Great Britain. Likewise, British Rail has made abundantly clear its desire and intention to exploit the opportunities which the Channel tunnel will open up to provide improved services to a variety of destinations.

While British Rail needs to provide a terminal in London to cater for passengers who want to travel to and from London, it is also planning to run direct services to the midlands and the north. These services will avoid central London by using the west London line. Those services will then join the existing radial routes out of London to other destinations. The exact pattern of services has still to be determined. It will depend on British Rail's assessment of the likely pattern of demand. In broad terms, British Rail expects about 20 to 25 per cent. of its passengers through the tunnel to use the direct services to stations beyond London.

British Rail expects to run direct freight services between points throughout Britain and centres in mainland Europe. It believes that freight customers in the midlands, the north and Scotland will stand to benefit particularly from these developments. Rail freight services become particularly attractive for distances over 200 miles and the opening of the tunnel will create enormous new opportunities. There will be time savings of between 24 and 48 hours and it will be possible for freight forwarders to avoid the costs of transferring freight to and from ships.

As in the case of passenger services, the exact pattern of the services to be provided has yet to be determined.

Mr. Stuart Holland


Mr. Mitchell

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's remarks in a moment.

The services will depend on British Rail's assessment of the likely pattern of demand. British Rail is at present collaborating with Eurotunnel in a regional survey of trade and industry. The survey has my full support. Its aims are to ensure that companies throughout the United Kingdom are fully informed of the exciting opportunities which the tunnel will create for them and to ascertain Britain's likely demand for transport services in the 1990s so that they can be taken into account in planning British Rail services and the infrastructure needed to support them.

Mr. Holland

I appreciate that there are pressures on the Minister, as there are on me, and that it may not be possible for him to reply in detail to my points. Nevertheless, he will appreciate that they were made with considerable seriousness because those questions had not been answered by British Rail. There is a great deal of confusion about what will happen. Will the Minister assure me that within the week he will seek to give me written answers to my questions?

Mr. Mitchell

If the hon. Gentleman could just contain himself, not for as long as his speech but until I reach that part of my speech, I shall deal with his questions.

As part of the process of planning these services British Rail will determine where best to establish new freight collection and distribution centres and where it would be advantageous to have inland customs clearance facilities. Obviously, these facilities must satisfy the throughput and operational criteria established by the customs authorities.

There is already a great deal of work planned or already under way involving British Rail and its various consultants and experts to achieve the objectives of new clause 3. The merit of the new clause is that it will put British Rail's plans firmly on the public record and increase public awareness of the opportunities that they would offer. That is something that the Government would welcome, and I understand that the board would not be opposed to it.

Hon. Members will have heard the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland)—

Mr. Caborn

I wish to ask a question on the criterion for inland customs facilities. If I heard the Minister correctly, he said that there has been no discussion about the entries that are necessary for inland customs. At present I believe the criterion to be 30,000. If there is no movement on that criterion, it will be extremely difficult for British Rail to match those entries. Was I correct in hearing the Minister say that the criterion will remain the same at 30,000 entries?

Mr. Mitchell

I did not say that they would remain the same. I said that they were matters for the Customs and Excise. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) has made a point which must be taken into account, and I will consider it further and write to him.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall raised two principal questions at the start of his speech and he embroidered them during his remarks. He asked whether British Rail has made proper forward plans and whether it had consulted. The hon. Gentleman's concern over consultation led him to ask me some months ago if I would arrange for consultation with the local community and particularly with representatives from Lambeth council and the associated boroughs that had problems. I did that. I invited representatives from Vauxhall, Lambeth, the neighbouring boroughs and all the London boroughs which would be affected by British Rail's plans to come to a joint consultation meeting in the same way as I have had successful joint consultation meetings in Kent.

In Kent, we sat down together and cross-examined British Rail. We considered the facts and sought a consensus. All the time we tried to maximise the advantages and to minimise the disadvantages for those who would be affected.

The joint consultation meetings in Kent have proceeded on a constructive and useful basis. A lot of information has been brought out from British Rail about its operational difficulties. I am astonished that the hon. Member for Vauxhall should have the effrontery to make a speech in which he claimed that there has been a lack of consultation. How can he be so out of touch? I held meetings. At the first of the meetings, I invited representatives of the local authorities concerned to spell out their anxieties. At the second meeting, I arranged an agenda that would enable the authorities to question British Rail and have discussions about the very points which the hon. Member for Vauxhall has raised today. What happened? Councillor Colenutt of Lambeth council led a politically inspired walkout because I would not turn the consultation committee into a public meeting in the borough.

Mr. Holland

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mitchell

Just let me finish.

The way in which that politically inspired walkout was carried out is something which I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apologise for. It was an absolute disgrace. Many people, including Ministers, officials, and Departments, came together to enable the cross-examination which the hon. Member for Vauxhall has asked for to take place. However, the political walkout was organised by the council representive for Lambeth.

Mr. Holland

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mitchell

I have not finished yet.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall raised the question of Victoria as an alternative and he wanted to know what the costs would be. That is the kind of question that I would have liked to have heard raised at a consultation meeting for cross-examination with British Rail. It would have been useful for British Rail to be under pressure from different ideas and lines of attack which I might not have thought of. However, that opportunity was lost.

All the points that the hon. Member for Vauxhall raised today could perfectly legitimately and properly have been dealt with at a consultation meeting. He could have raised his questions about buses, taxis and coach access to Waterloo. Far from having ignored those problems, British Rail has used Alexander Gibb and Partners as consultants to provide advice and guidance about how to improve the traffic patterns. That would solve the problem that is worrying the hon. Member for Vauxhall.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to Waterloo as a bottleneck. He has failed to recognise that the morning peak hour commuter traffic at Waterloo will be over by the time that the first trains arrive after their three and a half hour journey from Paris with their flood of passengers. They will not coincide in a way that might lead to the problem about which the hon. Gentleman is worried.

9.30 pm
Mr. Holland

The Minister did not put it to the House that Lambeth council and local community groups wanted terms of reference for the inquiry that would compare with the public inquiry. They were not able to obtain that. Secondly, and far more importantly in terms of the rights of hon. Members, the Minister may be unaware or have forgotten that I have put the question as the elected Member for the constituency time and again on the Floor of the House and he has constantly referred me to British Rail. British Rail has not answered the questions. It is a secondary matter as to whether his consultation with local community groups and Lambeth council succeeded or did not succeed—I suspect that there are two sides to that. He has not answered my questions here on the Floor of the House. He has passed me on to British Rail, which has failed to answer my questions, or has announced them to the press without even informing me when it is taking place. That comes damn near to contempt of the House.

Mr. Mitchell

I remind the hon. Gentleman that matters for British Rail should be addressed to British Rail. What was unique about the opportunity provided by the joint consultation committee, out of which his friends walked, was that they would have had the opportunity to cross-examine British Rail. British Rail's representatives would have been there, as would the people with whom we are dealing and planning the Channel tunnel link in relation to its London terminal. They could have been cross-examined. Indeed, after the walkout they were cross-examined by others who remained, on aspects affecting the other boroughs concerned. Lambeth's representatives walked out and lost the opportunity. That is a shame, and it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman is not on his feet apologising for what happened.

Mr. Holland


Mr. Mitchell

I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman. Other hon. Members have asked questions with which I wish to deal.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) rightly drew attention to the effect of increased productivity in lorry transportation on the distance that one has to go by rail with freight in order to be able to compete successfully. The hon. Gentleman has much experience of the railways and he is right to say that the figures have been getting bigger. He suggested that they were up to 250 miles. That is a little too high, but one can certainly see the trend. The Channel tunnel is important because it will make those long distances available to British Rail and give it the opportunity to compete successfully with the lorry in so many cases going to continental markets. British Rail now estimates that 1,000 lorries a day will be taken off the road. I am sure that that is something we would all welcome.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East queried the adequacy of the funds available to British Rail for investment. I would put one question to him. Can he tell me one viable project that British Rail has put forward for investment that I have turned down? Can he tell me one, not dozens? I think that he will have difficulty finding one.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) fears that sidings will be taken up where they are needed. When I was in Middlesbrough a while ago, standing in the tower overlooking the huge, old-fashioned Middlesbrough freight depot with Colin Driver, the sector director of British Rail, I cross-examined him on that matter. I asked him what would be the pattern of his inland clearance depots and the pattern of his freight depots for maximising the advantages to British Rail of the Channel tunnel. He said that it was too early to give the details. I pressed him further and asked when I could expect to have them. He said that he thought that by July of this year he would be in a position to give me his initial indication of what the pattern might be.

I know that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) has a special interest because he and his council and others have raised on a number of occasions what that pattern might be. My advice to the House is that one can expect that pattern to emerge next summer. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) recognised the advantages of longer distance. He said that once the tunnel is in operation there will be substantial benefits for car manufacturers in Birmingham and other places further north. My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has put his finger on a crucial matter. British exporters and manufacturers now suffer the disadvantage of dragging their goods across the Channel, with double handling at each end. When the Channel tunnel is open they will be able to have a timetable for delivery in 24 hours to any major centre on the continent. I have much sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said, but there are certain difficulties with the clause as drafted, which the hon. Member for Wrexham recognises.

Parliamentary counsel has drawn our attention to oddities in the wording of the clause. I shall not detail them fully, but in one respect the clause seems inexplicably weak. As it is drafted, the board is not required to prepare any plan until just before its scheduled works are open to traffic, perhaps not until 1992. The Government believe that the clause could be much more beneficial if it required the board to produce its first plan well before the opening time. We also need to think about how long the duty upon British Rail to produce up-dated plans should continue. In short, the Government believe that this clause should be improved significantly. We therefore undertake to bring forward in the other place a new clause based closely upon new clause 3 but with the improvements and clarifications that I have just outlined. I hope that on that basis the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the clause.

Mr. Snape

The House will be grateful for some of the things that the Minister has said. I cannot understand how his drafting experts say that the new clause 3 names any specific dates such as 1992, because it does not. It says: before their scheduled works are open for traffic That does not pin anybody down to 1992, but we would be grateful for small mercies.

Mr. Mitchell

That is the trouble. It does not say that it has to be done in July next year or the year after that or at any other time. It leaves it totally vague over seven years. I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is not his intention.

Mr. Snape

In that case, I understand and appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He has challenged me to name one private project for investment that he had failed to approve. The House is aware, but it will do no harm to remind hon. Members on both sides, that none of those projects which he has approved—East coast main line electrification, locomotive orders, mark IV rolling stock, driving car trailers for the west coast mainline—means any extra money. They are all generated from the British Railways Board's own resources by the sale of assets and by cutting down services in other areas.

It is a distortion of the facts for the Minister to pretend that he is the King Midas of British Rail. Not a penny of new money has come from the Government towards any of these projects. Sooner or later British Rail will run out of assets to sell, and it is devoted to running down the assets it has. When it has peddled all there is to peddle, we shall test the strength of the commitment of the Minister of State and that of his right hon. Friend to British Rail by saying, "Its coffers are exhausted. Will you replenish them or not?" It is to be hoped that there will be a general election before then and we shall not have to worry.

Mr. Roger King

That is right. The hon. Gentleman will not have to worry. He will still be sitting there.

Mr. Snape

I am glad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) has given us that little chirrup to remind us of his return to the Chamber. Despite the praise lavished on him by the Minister of State, the House should not overlook the fact that the hon. Member for Northfield, in his normally ignorant and silly way as far as these matters are concerned, actually spoke against the clause. He asked who needs a clause like this when all we need is a siding here and there. Just spend a few bob and send in a crane. What sort of railway system does the hon. Gentleman think we have in the latter part of this decade?

He told us that his main reason for joining the Conservative party was that he was against the late George Brown's national plan in the 1960s. I have heard worse reasons for joining the Conservative party but not many. I suppose that if one needs a good excuse to join the Tory party that one is as good as any that could be put forward. I can only conclude that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of railway matters began and ended on the day that he made his commitment to join the Tory party. Rail freight has moved on a bit and one siding and one crane is not the sort of facility that we envisage in new clause 3, the provisions of which were wisely accepted by his hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Some 2 per cent. of British Rail freight and 27 per cent. of the freight carried by SNCF is international. The purpose of the new clause is to bring those two percentages somewhat closer together. Because of geography, unless we can join British Rail's freight network to the rest of the continent that imbalance will be perpetuated. I am grateful to the Minister for much of what he said and especially for his acceptance of the commitments inherent in the new clause. I understand that he will bring forward, as he puts it in his modest way, an even better clause in another place. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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