HC Deb 05 February 1987 vol 109 cc1199-202

Order for Third Reading read.

7.12 pm
Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

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

The Bill has now completed most of its stages in the House of Commons and it has had a very long and interrupted career. The purposes of the Bill are very simple. It is intended to anticipate the opening of the new airport at Stansted and to provide passengers with a rail link that will meet their requirements.

Much of the discussion about the Bill during its stages on the Floor of the House has revolved around the relationship between what is happening at Stansted and what is happening at Manchester.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I hesitate to interrupt a persuasive speech. As the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) appreciates, hon. Members must take the opportunities available to them to argue the interests of their communities. The hon. Gentleman knows why I and my hon. Friends are here in this debate. I hope he will agree that our concern for equality of treatment is wholly legitimate and that he will put that point to the Minister. I hope equally that the Minister will take the point when he replies.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister heard the right hon. Gentleman's comments. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all his representations will be heard, as always, with great care. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in 1984, I moved the Second Reading of the Bill to provide precisely the same powers for Manchester as are being sought now for Stansted. Hon. Members will know that these Bills do not make clear any intention to build anything. In such Bills, the promoter seeks to have powers available should such a building he required. I am afraid that I cannot satisfy the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) of my competence to answer on behalf of the British Railways Board or the Government. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will have something to say about that later. Manchester has these powers and has had them for more than two years.

Another of the problems that surrounds the Bill is the fact that, while Stansted is still in the planning stage, some people are concerned about its effect on other commuter rail links. 1 want to remind the House about the powers that we are seeking in the Bill.

Clause 5 deals with Work No. 1. That is the construction of a new railway of about 6,000m in length which will constitute a spur from the London-Cambridge railway. Work No. 2 is a railway of some 770 m in length which will comprise a connection bwtween Work No. 1 and the London-Cambridge line. The other work set out in clause 5 is completely dependent upon those two major works.

I hope that I can assure hon. Members that when the building is completed and the spur line is added to the main line to the airport, far from making services worse, the work should substantially improve them.

I want to consider the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. On Second Reading, I said that while it was proper for hon. Members to raise constituency concerns in any debate in connection with British Rail Bills—and you have, Mr. Deputy Speaker, always allowed these debates to run very wide because a:11 British Rail matters may be discussed—it would be a matter of counting apples with pears if we were to delay the Stansted rail link simply because final decisions had not been taken about Manchester. It will not be in anyone's interests to block the British Railways (Stansted) Bill and to prevent its passage. That would only mean that British Rail will be unable to meet its obligations when the, airport is finally approved. Indeed, that may endanger the jobs of those involved in the construction.

I hope that the House will grant the Bill a Third Reading, recognising, as I said at the beginning, that it has been thoroughly scrutinised. There are obviously further stages in which it will be further considered, but I hope tonight that the House will feel that the Bill can move to its next stage and that it will be granted a Third Reading.

7.18 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I will be brief. The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has made the point about Stansted. The Opposition have always been anxious that the Stansted project should come to fruition because the project will create jobs during the construction of the link as well as on the railways once the link is completed.

The House will understand why my hon. Friends and I have believed that it was worthwhile and necessary to delay the progress of this Bill in view of the connection that we drew between the Stansted rail link and the Manchester rail link. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has said, we feel that there has not always been comparable treatment between those two rail links. That debate has gone on for some time and is well understood.

If the Minister can assure the House that within the Department of Transport the progress of the proposals put forward by the authorities in Manchester for the Manchester link will be dealt with us as speedily and efficiency as was, and will be the case, for Stansted. my hon. Friends and I will be happy to support the Third Reading of the Bill tonight.

7.19 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

The Bill should receive its Third Reading so that this matter can progress. I know of no sizeable body of opinion in my constituency that is concerned about the precise mechanics of the proposed new spur line. I imagine that those matters have been dealt with under the scrutiny to which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) referred. There is an overall benefit to be gained by Stansted airport, in its expanded form, being equipped with an efficient rail link, as this will have benefits in helping to alleviate pressure on roads and on possible urbanisation of the area.

However, I have one point to make. There is a fear, which has been underlined by recent experience on the railways, that it is difficult to be confident that the demand on commuter services, plus the demand for airport services, can be accommodated safely and adequately to provide a high standard all round. British Rail has assured me that there will not be a practical problem in that respect. Should pressures build up over the next four years that would throw doubt on that assumption, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister would be sympathetic to any request from British Rail for further alleviation of the situation.

My remaining concern is that, in providing a good service to the airport, nothing should happen to undermine the service to my constituents who daily come to the capital, regardless of the airport, and whose quality of service has been questionable over many years. That apart, I welcome the Third Reading.

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

It may be helpful if I intervene to give the House the Government's view of the Bill. The Government have considered the contents of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the British Railways Board. My Department has no outstanding points on the Bill.

As I have said before, the White Paper on airports made it clear that we would be pleased to approve a rail link to Stansted airport if there was a commercial case for it. British Rail has proved that there is, and we have given approval. British Rail now needs powers to build the link. Work will need to begin by the end of the year, so that it will be ready by 1991, when the new terminal at Stansted is due to come into operation.

The Government's position on Manchester is clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are anxious to meet the other interested parties as soon as they have worked out proposals for our consideration. Before that, there is little point in a meeting. Naturally, I cannot give a prior commitment to the link until we have had an opportunity to study the case supported by a grant application.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), on behalf not only of himself but of other hon. Members with like interests in the Manchester area, asked me whether the proposals, when received by the Department, would be dealt with expeditiously. I can give him that assurance, and it is backed up by the fact that I am told that I have the record for the fastest yet handling of British Rail investment applications through the Department. While I cannot undertake exactly how long this will take, I can give him the assurance that the matter will be dealt with as expeditiously as I reasonably and possibly can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) asked about services to his constituents. I have been to Essex today to look at the Chelmsford station and some of the connecting stations. We all have much sympathy both with the commuters held up by the problems with the fall of overhead cables, which British Rail is handling today, and with British Rail staff who are doing their best, working much of the night to deal with the problem.

I assure my hon. Friend that, should British Rail find that there are capacity problems and come to us with alternative proposals, we shall consider them carefully. British Rail has already assessed that there may be the possibility of switching the London terminus for Stansted to a London station other than Liverpool street, should the build up of traffic be such as to bring about the problem that my hon. Friend fears. I hope that on that basis he may feel some reassurance.

It is clear that, if the Bill did not proceed, that would have a substantial effect on the rate of traffic in my hon. Friend's constituency, which he would not find attractive. I hope that all I have been able to say has reassured both my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden and those hon. Members representing Manchester and that they will feel able to take the Government's view and not object to the proceeding of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.