§ Order fir Second Reading read.7.37 pm
§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is before the House to authorise the construction of a new bridge across the Thames between Thurrock and Dartford, to take the existing two tunnels into the national road network, and to provide for the arrangements for financing the work.
The history of legislation on this subject began in 1930 when the construction of the first tunnel was opposed on the ground that a steel bridge would be a better solution, especially as it would help employment in the north-east. There are now two tunnels, providing two lanes of traffic in each direction. They form the link between the M25 to the north and south of the river. The tunnels are owned and operated by Essex and Kent county councils. With the coming of the M25, the councils and others became concerned about the adequacy of the crossing and the Government commissioned a study of the problem.
In 1985, the consultants' report predicted that in the early 1990s there would be serious congestion at the tunnels. The tunnels themselves would be the real problem, not the need to stop and pay a toll. The 24 toll booths now operating can cope efficiently with the highest possible flow of traffic across the Thames at this point. In 1985–86 the average daily traffic at the tunnels was 60,210 vehicles. With the completion of the south-east part of the M25, it was predicted that the average would rise to 67,500 in 1986–87 and 77,500 in 1990–91. In practice, the daily average last year was 69,000, despite the abnormal weather in January. The latest figures indicate a further increase. The daily average for April to June this year was more than 75,500—a 9 per cent. increase over the corresponding months in 1986.
These figures reflect the success of the M25, which is keeping traffic out of London and off unsuitable local roads, and the economic growth we are experiencing due in part to this Government's prudent management of the economy. Extra capacity across the Thames is needed urgently. The Government have recognised the need and taken the action which results in the Bill before the House today.
When my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment appeared in July 1985 before the Select Committee on Transport, he suggested that urgently required infrastructure of this kind—"infrastructure" is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I call roads and bridges—might he provided by the private sector.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Tunnels as well, but we are going for a bridge this time. Although the Committee disagreed with us on the merit of tolls, it noted with approval my right hon. Friend's suggestion and urged him to investigate it.
Guidelines to intending promoters were published on 3 March last year. We left it to bidders to propose the appropriate engineering solution and asked for bids based on both public and private finance. Proposals for nine engineering projects from seven promoters were received by the closing date, 31 May. After careful examination of 583 the bids, on 29 September my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport announced that the proposals of Trafalgar House to build a bridge with private finance, recovered from tolls paid by users, had been selected. To carry out its proposals, Trafalgar House and its financial backers formed a company, Dartford River Crossing Ltd., with which the Secretary of State concluded a concession agreement on 9 April.
The bridge will carry four lanes of traffic southbound. The tunnels will then take all the northbound traffic. The bridge will be built just downstream of the present tunnels. Its main dimensions have been agreed with the Port of London Authority, which is responsible for navigation in the river. At approximately 450m, the main span will be one of the longest in the world for a cable-stayed bridge. We calculate that 5,000 man years of work will be provided, much of it in steel production and fabrication in Scotland and the north-east of England. DRC and the construction companies, Cementation Ltd and Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Ltd, have agreed a price of about £86 million, at October 1986 prices, for the design and construction of the bridge.
We selected this project for a number of reasons. It offered an earlier solution to the problem than any other project. Its construction and predicted maintenance and operating costs, taken together, were lower than the other proposals submitted. The major financial risks would be borne by the private sector, which would relieve the road programme of the burden of paying for it. In this instance, we can use the money for other urgently needed road improvements. This reduces the risk of delay to the many schemes due to start in 1988–89 including, for example, the A1 Dishforth interchange and the A42 north of Castle Donnington, and the important bypasses of Robertsbridge on the A21 and Eye on the A47. These advantages could be obtained without extending the period during which tolls needed to be charged significantly beyond what would have been needed to recoup the cost if the project had been built and tolled in the conventional way by the Department. It does not make sense to have a bridge in one direction operated by one management and tunnels the other way run by a different body. We propose to take the tunnels into the national road network and lease them to DRC to operate them jointly with the bridge.
I pay tribute to Essex and Kent councils, which have done excellent work for 50 years or more in getting these tunnels constructed and managing them with prudence and considerable success. We have assisted with grants for the 12 new toll booths and for widening the approach roads, but it is the councils and their staff that deserve most of the credit. The tunnels, which provide an essential link in the M25, should now be made a national responsibility. The counties accept this. They have been pressing us for some time to take this step, provided they are not left with residual liabilities. The Bill achieves that.
The arrangements for financing the new crossing, the remaining costs of the tunnels and costs of maintenance during the toll period are innovative. DRC will finance expenditure which is not met from revenue by borrowing privately. The Bill proposes that it should be authorised to take tolls for a maximum of 20 years. Tolls should start at their present levels and be linked to the retail price index. If the revenue from tolls pays off DRC's costs within the 20-year period, the Bill requires the Secretary 584 of State to bring the toll period to an early end. We expect that to happen. On present assumptions, tolls should cease 14 to 15 years after the crossing is transferred to the Secretary of State.
DRC will not pay dividends on its small equity capital of £1,000. The Trafalgar House construction companies will look to make a profit from the agreed price DRC is to pay them for building the bridge. They have taken on the major risks — costing of the design, delay in completion and unforeseen ground conditions — associated with this kind of project. If they have misjudged these elements, they will see their expected profits reduced. If costs go up for those reasons, the motorist will not have to pay for the increase through tolls. The lenders will receive the return specified in their loan agreements with DRC, but only if DRC's revenues are sufficient to meet them.
The roads on either side of the tunnels are not part of the M25. During the preparation of the guidelines to promoters, it became clear that works to widen these approach roads to four lanes each way would be essential if we were not merely to shift the congestion problem at the crossing further down the road. We have kept the works in the Bill to the minimum necessary. The cost of the work to the approach roads will be met from the road programme, not from tolls.
I think that the House will agree with me that the Government have acted quickly in planning for increased capacity at this important crossing of the Thames. This will be good news for the many people who use the crossing. They would like the crossing to be toll-free. I remind the House of the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) three years ago when some of these issues were considered at length by hon. Members, including me.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I went both ways, a bit like the Leader of the Opposition at Prime Minister's Question Time today, sitting like a poached egg on a barbed wire fence and dribbling down both sides rather inelegantly.
The Government reviewed policy towards tolls last year in the context of a well-researched report from the Select Committee on Transport which advocated the abolition of tolls on crossings forming part of the motorway and trunk road system. In our response we rejected this. While acknowledging the special problems of the Humber bridge board, the Government believe that, in general, they should not write off or discharge the debts of the tolled crossings because tolls are not unfair and because there are more pressing demands on public funds. We think that, where a crossing offers a substantial time and cost saving to users, and the existence of tolls would not cause congestion elsewhere or diversion to unsuitable roads, it is reasonable for users to contribute directly to the cost through tolls. What is more, the provision of a crossing free from tolls would interfere substantially with the rest of the roads programme.
We are faced with this choice and so is the House in considering the Bill. Would it be better for the motorist who uses the crossing to avoid increasing delays and inconvenience by paying a modest toll for rather longer than previously expected and for others to get their bypasses, or would it be better to do the popular thing and 585 abolish tolls, but have fewer resources for the road programme? I am satisfied that levying tolls here is the more responsible and reasonable course.
The fact that the Dartford crossing is to be privately financed demonstrates that infrastructure provision need not be a matter for Government alone. We are keen to encourage initiatives by the private sector for adding to the level of transport infrastructure whenever this is the most cost-effective way of providing it. The private sector has the opportunity to come forward with proposals for other projects. On a smaller scale, we are also interested in cooperating with the private sector to improve road access to new developments where this can be done safely.
I turn to the Bill's provisions. A Bill is essential to carry out our intentions. No one can levy tolls on a highway without the approval of Parliament. We need a new tolls regime covering the tunnels and the bridge as a combined crossing. We must also repeal the powers and obligations conferred on the councils by the Dartford Tunnel Act 1984. We have to make clear to whom the tunnel undertaking is to be transferred and who will employ the tunnel staff. We cannot leave the counties' ratepayers to pick up the liabilities which are still outstanding from the building of the tunnels. It is necessary to confer on the Secretary of State the special traffic management powers which are necessary for public safety, particularly in respect of the tunnels, and which the Secretary of State does not possess for normal highways. He must also have power to delegate operation and maintenance of the crossing.
We are therefore asking Parliament to approve the bridge and the essential approach road works in the Bill. Some of this work could have been authorised by different procedures under existing legislation. It would be inefficient and time-consuming to ask the House to approve a Bill containing some of the necessary powers and to deal with the remainder by external procedures. We are bringing the complete package to Parliament.
In such a scheme full consultation with all those concerned is of utmost importance. At the outset, we consulted the county councils. When the guidelines to promoters were published, the local councils, Dartford and Thurrock, were kept informed. We have had regular meetings since with the counties at ministerial and official level and I have visited Thurrock and Dartford councils, in addition to contact at official level. The staff at the tunnels were told by our officials about the proposals on the day they were announced and their employers consulted the relevant unions very soon thereafter. In order to inform the public, we organised exhibitions in Dartford and Thurrock in January this year. They were well attended. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has arranged a further meeting between local residents and departmental officials. We have had extensive discussions with statutory bodies including the Port of London Authority and with private landowners fronting on to the river. We have already included in the Bill some protective provisions in schedule 7. We shall be continuing our discussions in preparation for the Select Committee. I am optimistic that we can settle all reasonable fears about the Bill. We have devoted some considerable time to consultation. It is time well spent.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford for his continuing help. It is important to keep local authorities and local people alongside our intentions. Many unreasonable fears can be dealt with and many 586 reasonable problems can be met with such links. Therefore, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has done.
Those with an interest to be protected whom we have been unable to satisfy will, of course, have the opportunity to petition a Select Committee here or in another place. The committal motion is in the usual form for hybrid Bills. We are asking the House to set 20 July as the final date for petitions to be presented. Although that is only 10 days away, potential petitioners have had since the beginning of April to prepare a case. The time limit is therefore by no means unreasonable. We are advertising the final date for petitions locally with the provisio, of course, that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading and passes the committal motion. We have provided that the Select Committee can sit in the recess so that if its members decide that they want to sit then, they will be able to do so
I now wish to describe the main provisions of the Bill. Much of the detail is technical and I do not want to detain the House with it unduly. If I miss points which hon. Members think I should have covered, I will try to cover them in winding up or in subsequent correspondence.
Clauses 1 to 3 authorise the construction of the bridge and the approach road works and the acquisition of land for those purposes. Fortunately, very little extra land has to be taken permanently. On that land, we need to acquire only three occupied houses, and their owners will be compensated. We have been in touch with them for some time.
The second part of the Bill, clauses 4 to 10, deals with the tunnels and the approach roads which are still run by the counties. This part of the Bill trunks the highways in the existing crossing and transfers the land in the undertaking to the Secretary of State, and the rest of the property to the person he appoints — DRC. It also relieves the councils of all the debts and outstanding liabilities related to the tunnels that they would otherwise have met from tolls. Those debts and liabilities will be met by DRC as a consequence of the relevant part of the agreement with them.
We have made provision for the 220 or so staff working at the crossing. They will transfer to DRC. The House will know that staff matters in legislation have in the past raised difficult issues. The Bill provides that staff will transfer to DRC on terms and conditions, including pensions, which will be equivalent to those they enjoy at present.
Part III of the Bill deals with the regime for tolls and the operation of the combined crossing. The tolling powers are at clause 11, revision of tolls is dealt with in clause 17 and clause 16 and schedule 6 deal with the way in which tolls come to an end.
Our intention is that DRC should take over the tunnels on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State. That will be as soon, after Royal Assent, as everyone is ready to transfer the tunnels and to start building the bridge. The Bill provides that tolls will he levied at present rates and for present classes of vehicle. They will be adjusted to keep pace with inflation, using the tolls at 1 January 1986 as a base. Since tolls at Dartford last increased on I January 1984, there is a slight bonus to the motorist because two years' inflation will be ignored. DRC will stop taking tolls for itself after 20 years or when its costs are paid off, if that is sooner. That is the basic system. On present assumptions, we expect tolls to end in 14 to 15 years.
587 The Bill would give the Secretary of State a power to ask DRC to extend tolling for up to a year to provide a fund for the future maintenance of the crossing. He will be able to do that only if the period of extension can be fitted into the 20-year maximum period for tolling.
The Bill must also provide for what happens when tolls come to an end. At that point DRC's appointment will be terminated. All the property at the crossing will be transferred to the Secretary of State. The staff will be transferred to him on their then existing terms and conditions. All this must happen instantly, since there must be no gap in the safe operation of the crossing.
We do not expect these arrangements to fail, but the unexpected can happen. If DRC fails, the crossing transfers immediately to the Secretary of State. If, at that point—for example, because the bridge is incomplete—the Secretary of State faces costs, the Bill allows him to take tolls until he has recouped these costs. He is subject to the same maximum period for tolls, but he is allowed to come to the House just once for an affirmative resolution extending the tolling period by five years if more time is needed to recover public money which has had to be invested in the bridge. The Secretary of State is not allowed to take tolls if DRC's appointment comes to an end because he is in breach of contract.
Clause 12 enables the Secretary of State to delegate the maintenance and operation of the crossing to DRC or, when tolling comes to an end, to any person, including a local authority. It is essential, if the scheme is to work, that whoever runs the crossing has all the powers and duties to maintain it.
The remainder of the Bill is largely technical in content but I should draw the attention of the House to clauses 33 and 34, which provide for DRC's or the Secretary of State's accounts to be laid before the House, so that the House may have the opportunity to examine them.
I should say a few words about the agreement with DRC, copies of which are in the Library. It is the first of its kind. Since it is providing the finance and taking many of the risks, DRC must be allowed as much freedom as possible in constructing the bridge, running the crossing and managing the affairs of the company. Nevertheless, the crossing will be a vital part of the public road network for which the Secretary of State is statutorily responsible. The agreement gives him powers to ensure that DRC builds the bridge that it has promised to build and that any changes of plan are shown to be necessary. He can make sure that DRC maintains the crossing properly and he has powers of intervention if it does not. In return, it can expect him not to interfere with what it is doing. The agreement rightly places on DRC all the risks that it has said that it will accept. If it fails in any respect its lenders could lose a lot of money. Equally, there are risks which I cannot expect it to accept and which will be borne by the public purse. An example would be a structural defect in one of the tunnels, which it did not build. I hasten to reassure the House that we have no reason at all to suspect that any such defect will become apparent. This is not the time to give a detailed description of the agreement. I expect that there may be discussion of it in Committee.
We bring before the House a solution to a problem which must be solved urgently. The scheme is novel and we have acted quickly and decisively to present it to the House. I am convinced that, taken as a whole, it offers the 588 taxpayer and the motorist a good deal. I commend the Bill to the House and I trust that it will receive as swift a passage as possible.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Perhaps I should set hon. Members' minds at rest by making it clear that the massed ranks of Opposition Members will not oppose the Bill this evening. However, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, there are a number of issues of principle which apply not only to the financing of this project, but which extend over a wider range.
I cannot remember a time—indeed, this is probably the first time—that the Government have proceeded with an entirely private-sector financing of what is essentially a public works project. We need to know how far that precedent will be followed in the future. There were vague hints in the Minister's speech that some other innovative or novel procedures might be followed in the future. He said that it was up to the private sector to come forward with different solutions, and perhaps that includes approach roads in various places. However, it is clear that the intention of the precedent set in the Bill is that more and more public sector works will be wholly financed by private sources. Will that policy apply only to bridges and tunnels, or will it be extended to road building? Will some of the bypasses not mentioned by the Minister today, or not yet on the programme, be built by the private sector? We must know what the strategy is and not operate on a purely ad hoc basis.
Will the second Severn crossing be financed by the private sector? There are suggestions that Trafalgar House has already prepared plans for a second Severn crossing and would be prepared to build it on a basis similar to the Dartford-Thurrock river crossing. What is the Government's thinking on the east London river crossing? I will not enter the debate about that crossing, which is much more controversial than the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, because we are awaiting the report of the public inquiry, but we want to know whether it will be dealt with in the same way.
Inevitably we must consider how the money should be recouped, and that introduces the dreaded word "tolls". Let me say at once that I have no quarrel with the Government's formula. The company has 20 years to recoup its money and if it does not recoup its money by that time it must bear the loss. If, as the Minister suspects, the money will be recouped in 14 to 15 years, the river crossing complex—the bridge and the two tunnels—will revert to the ownership of the Department of Transport. That is a good way to proceed. But if there is one issue in transport that unites every road user and every road organisation, it is the imposition of tolls and the paying of them. The Minister must ask the question: would the road user prefer to pay tolls and get the bridge more quickly or would he prefer not to pay tolls and wait longer? That question has been asked right from the beginning, when it was decided to build estuarial crossings and charge tolls on them. The clear difference here is that public money was involved in all the other crossings.
I dare say that if a public opinion poll—I am not sure whether we are supposed to mention them nowadays—asked people, "Would you rather pay tolls and get your road tomorrow or not pay tolls and have to wait for 10 years?", the answer would be, "We are prepared to pay tolls." But if the road works were completed within a week 589 and exactly the same people were polled, they would give entirely different answers. There is a big difference between the theory of paying tolls and the practice.
As the Minister rightly said, the Select Committee on Transport in the previous Parliament published a report on toll crossings in February 1986, and its recommendations appear at paragraph 103 on page XXXII. There were three recommendations. The first was that no tolls should be imposed on new estuarial crossings and that the Department of Transport, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office should work towards the early removal of existing tolls. Secondly, it said that the debts owed to central Government should be written off immediately. The argument was that this was mainly a book-keeping entry. The money was being spent anyway, so they could simply juggle the books. In some circumstances, that is called creative accounting. The third recommendation was that local authorities' debt should be discharged by the Government.
The Government know that, whatever the principles of tolls, before too long the Humber bridge will run into serious difficulty. It will cause immense problems to the local authorities in the area, and the Government will have to grasp the nettle. It would be appalling if, for reasons of crisis management, tolls were removed from the Humber bridge but left everywhere else. The Scots, Welsh and English would rise in revolt if that happened. The Government must have a more coherent policy, and perhaps they will reconsider their general policy as the Humber bridge crisis approaches.
Today, and in their second special report of July 1986, the Government rejected the recommendations of the Select Committee. They will apply tolls to new estuarial crossings and they will not remove the tolls on existing bridges. They will not write off their capital debt and they will not discharge the debts of local authorities. But the question remains whether tolls on estuarial crossings, tunnels or roads will be dealt with in the ad hoc way which the Minister suggests. If a private company says, "We will build your bridge or dig your tunnel or provide your bypass," will the Government be persuaded that it is to their political advantage to make the public pay tolls to get those items earlier? The question must be posed not only to the road user but to the Government.
We must also examine the implications for public expenditure forecasts and estimates. I have always thought that the debates on public expenditure and the terms under which such discussions take place have not properly addressed the issue. Often we have sterile debates along the lines that public investment is bad per se and private investment is good per se. That avoids the issue and is shown to be wholly fallacious in this case. This investment is necessary and desirable. Everyone wants it. The only issue is who should pay for it.
In case anyone reads this speech—there is no one at my back listening to it — perhaps I could say this. Labour Members are sometimes told that we oppose private capital investment in essentially public services as a matter of principle, but at the end of the day it does not matter where the money comes from. If the Government borrow the money, which is their normal way of financing the provision of roads or infrastructure, it comes from the private sector anyway. It does not matter whether it comes directly from the private sector, as in this case, or through 590 the tortuous route of the public sector borrowing requirement. It is probably 99 per cent. private money anyway.
The major question that must be asked is whether we are getting value for money. I shall not argue whether or not the Government have obtained the best value for money, or whether this is the cheapest way of building the crossing, but I would like the Minister to say whether, having examined all the financial implications, this was the best package.
I am interested in the ingenious solution that has been found. It is ingenious because the Government have taken the cost of the bridge totally outside the public expenditure estimates, although it is a public provision. I congratulate the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), on winning what I suspect was a prolonged battle with his Treasury colleagues. He has established an important principle by lifting the cash limites on his departmental budget. All of us who have been interested in infrastructure expenditure have been trying to do that for many years, and I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman achieved it.
I hope that the present Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), will examine this proposition in relation to other industries that are covered by his portfolio. I refer specifically to the example of British Rail. As an aside—an important aside—perhaps the Minister will tell us during his reply whether he and his hon. Friends have any intention of privatising British Rail. That may be too much to ask of him, but perhaps he will give us some indication of how he is thinking. British Rail's finances are governed by its external financial limits. The EFL, as it is known, is a cash limit. Under those rules, it does not matter from where British Rail gets its finances, it is only allowed to spend the figure specified in the external financial limit.
Some years ago, the GLC, which is certainly remembered fondly by me, was willing——
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not think we should denigrate the GLC for the splendid work it did on transport. Its work in that area should he warmly received by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The GLC wanted to make money available to British Rail for the north London line, partly revenue for refurbishment and partly capital investment. I cannot remember what the EFL was for British Rail at that time, but for the ease of my mathematics I will suggest that it was of the order of about £400 million. Therefore, one would have thought that the offer of £20 million from the GLC—because £20 million was offered—would mean that British Rail had £420 million to spend. However, it did not. It had only £400 million, and by accepting £20 million, the British Rail was reduced to only £380 million of free capital. That clearly is financial nonsense. Yet all the efforts that we made to try to get that rule changed have been unsuccessful. Therefore, using the example of driving a coach and horses through the Treasury rules, there is a lot of sense in changing those rules in respect of British Rail.
If local authorities want to make money available for capital expenditure in British Rail, they ought to be free 591 to do so. That ought not affect public expenditure forecasts and that ought not be counted against the EFL. This is not a fanciful issue. It is not a matter of pure theory or a debating point. It is a very real point because British Rail will have to do a lot of infrastructure development in marshalling yards or wherever to attract business to the Channel tunnel.
The Minister has not anticipated the passage of this Bill. Therefore, I must not anticipate the passage of the Channel Tunnel Bill. Let us assume that the Channel Tunnel Bill is enacted, that finance is provided and that it proceeds. British Rail might want to—I hope that it will—spend a lot of money on its infrastructure. I would not oppose that if the money was there, but supposing that British Rail wanted to go into a joint venture with private sector capital. That is a parallel to what the Government are doing here. It is almost a joint venture, although not quite, because the Government are putting some money into the roads expansion, but it is a partnership. Supposing there is a joint partnership of venture in which private capital is willing to add to British Rail's capital to get facilities to attract business and, of more importance, to ensure that there is service to the customer. Will the Government then say that private sector capital will be added to the external financial limit or cash limit of British Rail? That is a very important principle that ought to be considered.
There is only one issue that is controversial about the bridge and that is its name. I do not wish to mock the people who have raised this with me, but I have had many serious representations about what it should be called. As a non-Londoner, it is perhaps dangerous for me to become involved in that. On the other hand, if it is a matter of great moment, and being a Member of Parliament for a Scottish constituency, I am sufficiently far away to arbitrate on the matter. I offer to do so now for double the usual fee.
I join with the hon. Gentleman in wishing the Bill a speedy passage, the early completion of the bridge and the complex for the benefit of the road users in the area.
§ Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the debate because it is of much relevance and specific interest to my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), in his maiden speech, gave a brief definition of the geographic whereabouts of his constituency. As the debate takes its course, I hope that all hon. Members will now know precisely where Thurrock is in the United Kingdom. It is opposite Dartford on the Thames, although outside the House one or two friends of mine have actually asked me if I represent a constituency in Scotland—Thurrock sounding rather Scottish.
Thurrock is in the county of Essex. I am pleased to say that in the general election last month it elected its first Conservative Member of Parliament since the constituency was first formed in 1945. I gained the seat from Dr. Oonagh McDonald who worked very hard for the constituency over a period of 11 years. She was a respected parliamentarian on both sides of the House and was an Opposition Treasury spokesman of high intellect. Without meaning offence, she was a woman of some political cunning—an attribute that I certainly came to respect.
592 The constituency has a population of 67,000 people and stretches from the Hornchurch-Rainham area in the west through to Castle Point on the outskirts of Southend in the east, a distance of about 15 miles. It accounts for about two thirds of the population of the borough of Thurrock. The major towns are Grays and Tilbury. There is no such place as Thurrock. There is not even a hamlet called Thurrock. Hon. Members, if they wished, could go to West Thurrock or Little Thurrock, but they would find it difficult to go to a hamlet even called Thurrock.
Thurrock is comprised of fairly old traditional industrial areas, in particular the docks in Tilbury and the industrial estates in Purfleet, where there are major employers such as the Ford Motor Company, Van Den Berghs and Jurgens, Thames Case and Proctor and Gamble. There are also picturesque villages in my constituency, such as Stifford and West Tilbury.
The main issues in my constituency were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—although they probably did not realise it—and for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine), who both made eloquent maiden speeches, those issues being very high house prices and hardly any private rented accommodation respectively. In my own constituency those problems are compounded by above average unemployment, if the statistics are to be believed for the south-east, and a communications bottleneck in the form of the Dartford tunnel, which I shall refer to in more detail in a moment. Home ownership in the borough as a whole, which includes part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), is depressingly low at only 42 per cent.—a figure that I hope will increase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham also mentioned the cost of living in the south-east. He pointed out that companies, and particularly the public sector, should acknowledge that not only is there a huge difference in the cost of living between London and the rest of the south-east, but that there is an increasing gap in the cost of living between the south-east, in a radius of up to about 40 miles outside London, and the rest of the United Kingdom. Perhaps employers should look at some form of south-eastern allowance as well as a London allowance to try to attract people down to the south-east, particularly to constituencies such as mine where there is an awful gap between the availability of public sector rented accommodation and the people owning their own homes, with a vacuum of private rented housing in between. I can give an example that has been drawn to my attention in the short time that I have been representing the constituency. Two young teachers, both having completed in one year their postgraduate course in education, were living in temporary accommodation provided by the local education authority. They now cannot find accommodation from the local borough council and are being asked to leave the accommodation in which they are living. On the salaries they are earning they cannot afford to buy much more than a garden shed in my constituency and, of course, there is no suitable private rented accommodation. This situation is causing great concern to the local education authority. Young professional people starting out on their careers are finding it almost impossible to come and make a contribution to the community in my constituency because of that factor.
In terms of the geography of Thurrock and Dartford and the traffic flow on the bridge, it is clear that we should be talking in terms of the Thurrock-Dartford crossing 593 rather than the Dartford-Thurrock crossing. It is normal in the industry to refer to such things as bridges and tunnels according to the direction of traffic flow. As the traffic will be flowing only one way on the bridge, from north to south, it is clear that the name of Thurrock should always come first.
The need for the bridge, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said, is very urgent. Queues are developing that are anything up to 10 miles long. I am sure that some hon. Members have had the misfortune to be caught in such a queue. If one compares the traffic volume through the Dartford tunnel for the first quarter of the financial year 1987 with that of the first quarter of the financial year 1986, one can see that there has been a 9 per cent. increase in traffic volume. That compares with an annual average increase for the whole of the United Kingdom of only 3 per cent. Those statistics show how terrifyingly quickly the traffic volumes are building up through that bottleneck.
I should like to add my congratulations to the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore), on his imaginative initiative on the use of private enterprise to fund the bridge. It is clear that considerable benefits will emanate from it. First, the bridge will be built quickly. I believe that recently the Freight Transport Association, although not particularly keen on tolls in principle, has accepted that the highest priority is to complete the bridge and not worry about some small breach in the public sector borrowing requirement. Its slight change of attitude is a clear indication of the fact that the Government have got their priority right by using the private sector and tolls to get the bridge built. It will mean that it will not affect the rest of the road-building programme. The maintenance of tolls for up to a period of 20 years will mean, I am delighted to say. that the crossing will be able to continue to employ 220 people rather than only 130 people. That is good news for the people in my constituency and across the river whose livelihood depends upon the facility.
The increase in the number of tolls from 12 to 24 will, I am assured by the Department of Transport, cope with the foreseeable increase in traffic volumes. The pay-back period of up to 20 years will include the existing debt on the current tunnels which, I believe, stands at about £50 million. The construction of the bridge has been guaranteed by the Trafalgar House group, the parent company of the Dartford River Crossing Ltd.
I have only two mild concerns. My first concern is about the bridge that will be built further up the Thames, the Greenwich-Woolwich crossing. I believe that if that continues to be funded by the public sector without tolls it will provide unfair competition. I would like to see that bridge being funded by the private sector and having tolls as well.
My second concern is that I am not yet convinced that we will have adequate electronic warning on the M25. It will be important that motorists can be warned as far in advance as possible of the need to take alternative routes if there has been an accident or there is some blockage on the crossing, either in the tunnel or on the bridge. Therefore, it would be a good idea if we could get effective advance warning systems on all the intersections of the M25 with major routes coming into it so that people can have advance warning of problems.
I would like to see this imaginative initiative—the use of private capital on a major transport project in my constituency — followed up with the same sort of 594 imagination to get the private sector involved in the Fenchurch Street-Southend line. I seem to recall that some time ago a consortium was set up which was interested in buying the Fenchurch Street-Southend line. It was led, among other people, by my hon. Friends the Members for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I understand that it did not get the co-operation from British Rail that it should have had in order to obtain the information necessary to make a proper analysis as to whether there was a good business case for going ahead if the Government would allow the line to be sold off. That would be an excellent way of introducing some experimentation with privatisation on the rail network, perhaps along similar lines to what has been happening in Japan. Of course, I would also like to see private enterprise and private capital brought into Tilbury docks, which are in my constituency.
I shall mention the point of controversy to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) referred at the end of his speech—the name of the bridge. Thurrock is an area of great opportunity for development at the moment, both industrial and housing development. There is the land, there is a forward-looking and cooperative borough council, and it is clear that the area needs to be put on the map. It needs a flagship. With respect to the Government, it needs more than a service station on the M25 to take its name from the borough. It needs the bridge to be called the Thurrock bridge. The argument that people will not know where it is because it is called the Thurrock bridge is facile. Clearly, people will be looking at a map knowing that they need to get from Darlington to Dover, for example, and that they need to cross a bridge that will be marked on the map. They will be able to find their way. It will become a major flagship for an area of the country which in the past few years has suffered some degree of depression and is now fighting hard to come out of the depression and has great opportunity. If the crossing were called the Thurrock bridge, it would be a great aid to that. I must stress that there is very strong local feeling in my community that it should be called the Thurrock bridge.
I should like to reiterate something said by the Minister in his speech. There should be a quick and smooth passage for the Bill through both Houses. There is a particular reason for that. There is a need to start work on the bridge by early May 1988, due to divergence work on overhead power lines that needs to be done. That cannot be done in the peak periods for the Central Electricity Generating Board so it has to be done in the summer months. If the Bill is delayed, it could put off the commencement of construction by as much as a whole year. That would be frustrating to my constituents and to the millions of road users who want to obtain the benefit of an added facility on our road network. I am sure that hon. Members do not want to delay the date in any way because their own constituents get stuck going to the ports or may get stuck on their way to the Channel tunnel, if it is ever built. They do not want to delay the date to end the appalling queues in which their constituents are frying every summer. My constituents want the bridge, they want it quickly and they want it named after the borough of Thurrock.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
It is a great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) on an extremely competent and impressive 595 maiden speech. I think that we should also congratulate him on finding such a marvellous opportunity for a constituency maiden speech. Not many of us are given the opportunity of having an issue literally on the doorstep of our constituencies on which to address the House on the first occasion. I believe that all of us, however long we have been here, can recall the ordeal of our first speech in this place. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that he survived that ordeal without any show of nervousness and was not one wit moved by the acres of empty Benches in front of him.
I am sure that the House will have noted the hon. Gentleman's deft touch with his slightly barbed tribute to his predecessor. Perhaps we should be warned that, when he addresses the House on a more controversial occasion, he will exhibit that same sort of deft touch, but perhaps in a more controversial fashion. I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman again when there are more hon. Members on both sides of the House to share that pleasure.
The Minister introduced the Bill with his usual lucid presentation. He referred, on a number of occasions, to the impressive speed with which the Bill had been brought forward. I would not dispute that for one minute. However, I am bound to say, as generously as I can, that speed in relation to the matter of the third crossing at Dartford is not something that can be associated with his Department.
There were many warnings by right hon. and hon. Members from all parties, warnings from motoring organisations and from all manner of people that every new complete section of the M25 would lead to a traffic build-up. They warned that the need for a third crossing at Dartford was evident and would grow. However, all those warnings were met with the same bland, dead-pan response from the Department of Transport. As recently as 12 November 1984 the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), then Minister of State, Department of Transport, blandly said:The Dartford tunnel is the responsibility of Essex and Kent county councils but traffic flows are being monitored and the need for extra capacity will be reviewed as necessary."—[Official Report, 12 November 1984; Vol. 67, c. 108.]No sense of urgency there! No sense of acceptance of what was inevitably coming down the track.
In June 1985 the engineering study was announced, but, of course, before that got going the Secretary of State, in July 1985, devised the wonderful idea of involving the private sector. However, it was not until March 1986 that a formal invitation was issued to the private sector to take part. Even then there was no great burning sense of urgency on the part of the Ministers. For example, on 24 February 1986, the Minister of State said:As to the bottleneck, I understand that congestion at Dartford is not likely to become serious before 1991–92."—[Official Report, 24 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 658.]I do not know what the Minister considers serious congestion, but I would have thought that a 10-mile tailback is fairly serious congestion whatever criteria one uses.
The hon. Member for Thurrock has already referred to the report of the Dartford tunnel general manager. That report showed a massive increase in traffic in the past year—there was a 14.7 per cent. increase in traffic in the tunnel over that period. The M25 has produced a 100 per cent. increase in traffic through the tunnel in a four-year 596 period. The figures are staggering—the average daily throughput is 70,000 vehicles. It hits a summer peak of 90,000 per day. With the M25 complete, it is clear that that growth will not continue at the predicted rate. It has been forecast to grow at 3 per cent. a year, but, as the hon. Member for Thurrock has already reminded us, in the first quarter of this year the traffic increased by 9 per cent. That demonstrates the demand that exists.
The report of the general manager of Dartford tunnel contained a clear warning:With a continuing increase in traffic volumes the delays will continue and indeed worsen until a third crossing opens.It is against that background of urgent need that we must judge this Bill. I am sure that many motorists and motoring organisations feel that they are being blackmailed into accepting the continuation of the toll regime simply because we must have that extra crossing quickly.
It is not just the question of people occasionally using the tunnel as a convenience. A number of my constituents have to use the tunnel twice a day to get to and from work. They resent paying £1.20 a day—£6 a week—for the privilege of getting to and from work. It may be all right for others to be persuaded that the savings that the toll will provide will enable bypasses to be built elsewhere, but it is not an extraordinarily popular view when presented to my constituents who pay that money each week.
I always thought that it was absolutely illogical to have the whole, wonderful concept of the M25 as a major part of the trunk network, yet the only part that was not part of that network was under the river—the Dartford tunnel. I have always believed that that was a wildly illogical view. I am glad that, under this Bill, the tunnel and the bridge will become part of the trunk road network, subject of course to a system of private tolls.
On the question of private tolls, it must be remembered that substantial interest charges on borrowed money must be recovered through the toll regime. I understand that the construction costs of the bridge have been put at £86 million and the leasing cost of the tunnels at £45 million. I do not know what the interest charges will be on those sums, but I suspect that they will be fairly substantial and they must be regained through the imposition of tolls.
The hon. Member for Thurrock talked about unfair competition with the new bridge and that those who run the bridge would be extremely unhappy if people took their custom elsewhere. The concept of unfair competition concerning a river crossing is one that strikes me as rather different from unfair competition between supermarkets in a high street. However, there is the important point concerning diversion of traffic. There has been a good deal of evidence to suggest that tolling at Dartford has, in the past, encouraged some road users to transfer to the Woolwich ferry, which is absolutely free. The Minister has dealt with that because, since 1 April 1986, when he and Greenwich council took over responsibility of running that ferry, they have made such a God-awful mess of it that that ferry is no longer providing a reasonable, competent and dependable service. I am not sure that traffic will divert to the Woolwich ferry in such great numbers in future.
There is also the problem of the east London river crossing. That project has hung over my constituency like the sword of Damocles for the past 20 years. That crossing would cause massive destruction in my constituency. I 597 believe that if we have a third crossing at Dartford—an untolled crossing—the case for building the east London river crossing would be substantially undermined.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the name of this great new crossing of the Thames. I understand the parochial pride with which the hon. Member for Thurrock approached this matter, but, as somebody whose background is based on the south side of the river, I cannot for one minute understand the logic of having two Dartford tunnels and one Thurrock bridge. That seems to be the height of confusion. That new crossing will be part of the M25 motorway, and I believe that the less we confuse people the better. As the traffic crossing Thurrock bridge will be crossing from Thurrock to Dartford, I would have thought that the logical thing would be to call it the Dartford crossing and have done with it. The whole thing—bridge and tunnels—is known as the Dartford crossing and, for the removal of confusion, that should continue to be the case.
In conclusion, I can muster only two cheers for the Minister and for this Bill. Cheers, because at last we are going to get on and build this crossing which all of us have known we have needed for a long time. However, I have some regret that to get this crossing we must put up with the inefficient and archaic business of a toll crossing.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate on the proposed Dartford crossing and to support the Bill. I join the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) on his excellent maiden speech. It was particularly gratifying to listen to a non-controversial but nevertheless effective maiden speech in the best traditions of the House. I am sure that all hon. Members look forward to hearing from him in future, even though I think that he, unfortunately, represents the wrong side of the Thames.
The present totally inadequate tunnel crossing of the river Thames at Dartford, which is located in the constituency of my neighbour and good friend the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), is only two miles to the east of my constituency boundary. Therefore, the proposals in the Bill will have positive and potentially far-reaching consequences for my constituents.
My constituency forms the north part of the London borough of Bexley and is located along the Thames. Traditionally, the area has been one of the industrial areas of the borough and has been able to attract investment, jobs and factories. Recognising the potential of the area, the borough established an economic development unit to encourage and to help business to relocate in Bexley. The economic unit has had considerable success to date. With many green field sites and established industrial units available, many business men have been looking favourably at the possibility of relocation. With the local skilled work force and with low rates—all important considerations for industry and business—business men look favourably on the area.
However, despite Erith and Crayford being only 12 miles from London and only five miles from the southern motorway network of the M2, the M20 and M25, it is totally inadequately served by river crossings. Good connections with Channel ports are all very well and essential and, thanks to the improving road network, communications with towns in the south are attractive and 598 useful to business and commerce. But, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Woolwich, the failure to be able to travel easily across the Thames to the north, to Essex and beyond, quickly, easily and uninterruptedly is a disincentive to people in business and industry coming into our area. That disadvantage has been growing for many years. One can look at the map and see the routes across the Thames. There are, we admit, several crossing points. apart from the Dartford one. Undoubtedly, there is the Woolwich ferry to which the hon. Member for Woolwich has already alluded. It is one of the more attractive ways of crossing the river, but it is also one of the least efficient and effective for a business man for whom time is at a premium.
We are promised the east London river crossing. I take a different view from that of the hon. Member for Woolwich. We need it, and we need it soon. At the moment, its development seems to be stalled and delayed, and meanwhile traffic problems continue to grow.
The Blackwall tunnel is further along the Thames. It is heavily over-used, and in peak periods has regularly been congested and sometimes subject to closure. It is worth remembering that the original Blackwall tunnel was a Victorian development, and the bends in it prove that point.
Of course, we could go to the City and travel along the bridges, but no one, for environmental or many other reasons, would wish to take that route. For my constituents, local business, motorists and general transporation, we have to look for improvements in the crossing of the river at Dartford as the only way in the near future to improve our communications system in that part of London. The building of the new crossing at Dartford—I must take the view that it is known as Dartford, and it should continue to be known as the crossing at Dartford, so I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on this point—is to be welcomed. It will not only end the congestion that has caused many problems and improve traffic flow on the effective and worthwhile M25 and connecting motorways, but help to keep heavy traffic away from built-up areas in my constituency and those of other hon. Members. Therefore, for my constituents, the construction of the new bridge will have the wider impact of encouraging new firms to relocate in the area.
Nationally, considerable job opportunities will stem from such a major construction. They must be welcomed by all concerned. The fact that we are to have a new bridge rather than another tunnel is also good news. The project will not only help to maintain the United Kingdom's large span bridge capability, but will take only two and a half years to build. That means that there will be a relatively short time before the bridge is in operation. That will benefit us all and is welcomed.
The present operation of the Dartford tunnel is not satisfactory, as we have heard from other hon. Members. I have never been in favour of tolls on estuarial crossings that are maintained by public authorities. I have raised with the Government the matter of tolls on the Dartford tunnel and elsewhere on previous occasions. Yet this matter is quite different. We need a new river crossing, the cost of which, as we have already heard, is quite astronomic. It needs to be built now. Therefore, the Government are to becongratulated on their approach to the venture. On behalf of our constituents — the taxpayers—we must applaud and be grateful for the decision to allow private financing to construct the bridge.
599 The leasing of the two tunnels and the new bridge for a maximum of 20 years, with Dartford River Crossing Ltd. financing the cost of operating the tunnels and repaying the outstanding debt on them, is an imaginative solution to a difficult problem. As my hon. Friend the Minister has said, the situation will continue until the DRC has recovered its costs. I accept that the costs will have to be recovered through tolls.
I am pleased that we shall not see an escalation of tolls during the period when the DRC runs the complex and that the only increase will be in line with inflation. I still consider that tolls will slow down traffic flow, as the hon. Member for Woolwich said, despite attempts to encourage motorists to have the right change ready. Being against tolls in general, although they are justified in this case, I welcome the fact that in 14 or 15 years the Department of Transport will take over the management of the tunnels and bridge, and the crossing of the river Thames at Dartford will become toll-free. Of course, with the building of the bridge, there will need to be an improvement of approach roads. I welcome my hon. Friend's commitment to do this in the near future. I hope that there will not be too much disruption. As my hon. Friend knows, south London has suffered only too much disruption because of recent roadworks and improvements. They cause motorists a great deal of frustration and delay and do not allow them to drive to the maximum of their capabilities.
My only concern is a minor one, but none the less one that I must voice. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure me on the matter. We have heard of other bridges in other parts of the country; for example, the Severn bridge. Weather conditions affect the availability of the bridge for use by motorists and businessmen. Standing on the Erith waterfront in summer, watching the river boats and so forth, is a most pleasant experience. Yet in winter it is not such a pleasant experience, with north-east winds blowing hard and the frequency of snow and ice. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister—I am sure that he and his officials have done so—to consider the design of the bridge and consider how bad weather and high winds will affect traffic on it. We must make sure that the bridge is usable 'throughout the worst of the winter weather. I hope that my hon. Friend will allay the anxieties of some of my constituents who have raised that important point.
I welcome the Bill and the future opportunities that it offers to my constituents and travellers on the M25. My constituents will be delighted to have a new crossing at Dartford. The bridge is long overdue. The sooner it is built, the better.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I rise with some trepidation partly because this is the first time that I have addressed the House, but also because transport is not a subject on which I am a specialist. I do so because this is a most important subject for the people of Gravesham whom I represent.
I come here following Mr. Tim Brinton, who ably and meticulously represented the constituency of Gravesham for eight years. As I have borne witness over many years, he was meticulous in the way that he handled his constituents' problems, without publicity and with due attention to giving the assistance that they expect from 600 Members of Parliament. He was also meticulous in his devotion to the great passion of his life — the broadcasting industry and the media. It was no accident that, during his time in the House, he became chairman of the Conservative Back-Bench media committee, and all hon. Members who were here in previous Parliaments will remember the devotion to the cause that he showed.
I shall make an unusual departure by paying tribute to Mr. Speaker, for it was as a student resident in his constituency that I first became aware of politics. It was Mr. Speaker who, as my Member of Parliament, fostered my ambitions to serve in this place. Mr. Speaker has set, for us all to see, a high standard of service to his constituents in Croydon, North-East, and it was that high standard that, for me, set an example for the way in which I hope to serve my constituency.
The borough of Gravesham has longstanding river traditions. In its population centre of Gravesend, it is the point at which the River Thames meets the sea. and the people Gravesend have had a long tradition of supplying watermen to the River Thames, and sea and river pilots to the great port of London. At the moment the sea and river pilots feel aggrieved at measures passed in the House concerning their activities.
Since the 14th century, Gravesend has been the landing place for people on voyages from all parts of the world into the River Thames. For example, King Edward VII knew Gravesend well. As Prince of Wales, he spent many days waiting there for the wind to be in the right direction to bring his fair Princess of Denmark to him, and their many years of happy marriage.
For many years, the borough had the inspiration and service of "Chinese" Gordon, who was instrumental in reconstructing the fort at Gravesend. We also have a poignant piece of history because it was in the borough of Gravesend that the great Indian princess, Pocahontas, died of a broken heart, awaiting her captain.
Gravesham borough consists not only of Gravesend. It stretches far to the east of Gravesend, to the historic parish of Higham, the home of Charles Dickens, and to the rural parishes of Shorn, Cobham and Luddesdon, which are some of the most beautiful parishes in the lovely county of Kent. We have a famous parish in Meopham, and many hon. Members have told me of their expeditions to Gravesham to play cricket on the famous green there. It has the unusual honour of having the longest village street in England, at seven miles long. It has an interesting distinction inasmuch as its parish council is the only one to meet in a working windmill. Whether that has an influence on its decisions, I shall shortly be finding out.
The Cinderella of the borough is Northfleet, which was its powerhouse for many years, with heavy industry all along the water front. Northfleet, with its old urban district council, is reminiscent of many northern cities, and during the great recession at the beginning of this decade, like many other cities, it was badly damaged by the effects of the recession on heavy industry. We saw 6,000 people unemployed.
It was a recognition of that hardship that brought the Conservative Government to grant to the borough of Gravesham two enterprise zones. The first, which is now fully in operation at Springhead, has brought success and hundreds of jobs. This success is due to a winning formula invented by this Conservative Government in the enterprise zone concept, used by the Conservative borough council, which carried out a co-ordinating role of 601 considerable achievement, and helped by the flexibility of the people of Northfleet and local areas in the way that they approached their work.
Perhaps the most important factor to remember is the excellent communications provided to those enterprise zones by the A2 and the M25. They are the reason why we in Gravesham consider the Dartford-Thurrock crossing to be so important. My constituents know the misery of the traffic jams to which other hon. Members have referred, and which are particularly acute at peak hours. Those who drive up to London to the sound of Radio Kent remember only too bitterly how often it speaks of miles of queues. Those queues will get worse before this measure relieves them.
Last year alone, the traffic crossing the Thames at this point increased by 14 per cent. Projections show a 3 per cent. per annum increase in the coming years, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) so ably pointed out, already in the first three months of the financial year, the volume is running 9 per cent. above the traffic rate seen last year. This process of congestion will, we fear, stunt the recovery of Gravesham, which is now dependent on light industry and commerce.
In the old days, we would have depended on the national and county programmes for highway construction and we all know what happened to £86 million projects in such situations—they are squeezed into the future. That is why I commend this proposal to the House. It is the product of considerable imagination by the Government. The taxpayers and the ratepayers will have to shoulder neither the cost of either project nor the risk of escalating costs. The Government have not left the road user unprotected either. I note that they have written into the Bill the safeguard of linking toll increases with the increase in inflation.
What I like about the Bill is that it releases the Government and the county road funds for other highway construction projects like the Thameside industrial route, which is so vital for job generation in north-west Kent.
Two aspects of the Bill need attention. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), I believe that the construction of the bridge should take account of the need for adequate wind shielding. The four lanes of highway will be in the prevailing wind. That would cause closures to traffic that would cause immense congestion on the M25, so I ask the Minister to give some attention to that matter. I also ask for close attention to be given to the uprating of ventilation in the older, western tunnel under the Thames at Dartford. That tunnel will be used for northbound heavy vehicles, which will create problems of visibility and noxious fumes.
I do not want to become involved in the local controversy over the name of this crossing. We in Gravesham know exactly what it is: the Gravesham upriver bridge. In our part of Kent it will be known with great fondness, as we drive across it, as the gulf. I support the Bill.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
It gives me enormous pleasure to applaud my Kentish colleague's maiden speech. We are not neighbours, but we miss by only a few miles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the 602 Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) on his speech. He is welcome in the House and we look forward to hearing more from him in support of these Kentish projects.
I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) who joins us in a seat that we have not held, as he said, since 1945. Although he verged on the contentious in his maiden speech, with all that business about the Thurrock crossing — we in Kent know exactly what it should be called—we shall forgive him that. I look forward to having him as a nearby hon. Friend on the other side of the river.
I shall also take the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) in vain this evening. He cannot answer back and that is a good thing. I know that he would wish to be associated with many of the comments that have been made here tonight. His constituency is as intimately concerned with this project as that of my hon. Friend the Member Thurrock. They have a joint interest in the project, but it is an interest that spreads much wider.
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic said in his opening remarks, there is a long history to the Dartford tunnel, and I remember it from the time when the first tube—the west tunnel—opened in 1963. After a year's interim teaching, my first job was to work as a representative for Regent Oil company, and my first training in my first few weeks in December 1964 was helping tanker drivers deliver petrol from Canvey island into Kent. I well remember the enormous relief it was to them to have the use of this new tunnel, which saved them many miles going upstream arid back downstream with their loads. It came as an enormous relief to many people. One must remember that the nearest crossings of the Thames were the Woolwich ferry, which has been mentioned, and the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The first bridge crossing was Tower bridge; so it was a huge journey to go from Essex to Kent in those days.
It was no surprise that the tunnel was quickly congested. So many drivers used it, and there was the constriction from having to take hazardous loads through under escort in convoy, as still happens. The second tunnel, opened in 1980, brought considerable relief, but by the time that the sections of the M25 north and south of the Thames had opened it had already become obvious to most of us that the two narrow dual carriageway tunnels would be inadequte as the link between the M25 on the Essex side and the M25 on the Kent side. It was obvious to all except the Department of Transport, for, as recently as 1983, when the tunnels were heavily congested, it was still claimed by Ministers, speaking from the Dispatch Box, that the arrangements at Dartford would be adequate as part of the M25 link. I note that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) remembers those assertions. It was really a sort of conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus that finally brought the realisation that there would have to be more lanes across the river at Dartford.
The present bores give rise to considerable concern. They are enormously heavily used, and I know that the joint committee is worried about ventilation on the west tunnel. A good deal of upgrading has been done during the past two years because the bores have become extremely shabby, and one was beginning to worry about their state. However, whatever one does to upgrade the present bores, the link will still be inadequate, consisting as it does of two narrow two-lane carriageways that are constricted both by the toll points and the need for the escorted crossings of lorries. I am told that there is also concern about the 603 adequacy of access for firemen from one tube to the other in the event of a major fire. I hope that all of those aspects will be examined during the general consideration of the building of the new link by my hon. Friend and his Department. This is one of the busiest short stretches of road anywhere in Britain.
The new toll booths and the improved southern approach opened last year have helped in the taking of money, but the bottom line is still a small link between two high-speed three-lane carriageways on either side of the Thames. It is typical of our road planning, and especially of the planning of the enormously busy trunk routes in Kent, that we have this inadequate link.
The Dartford tunnel is part of the main route from the Kent ports to the north and should have the eight lanes that are suggested in this proposal. It is on that that my interest in this proposal hangs, because running through my constituency is a small part of the inadequate M2 motorway. It leads to the Dartford tunnels. I look forward to the upgrading of the M2 that will come with the prospect of the Channel fixed link. I also look forward to the upgrading of the A20-M20 and the M25 that will also happen with the prospect of the Channel link. All those roads are at present heavily used and congested.
In the autumn of 1985 I was invited to talk to representatives of the firm of John Mowlem. They put forward a most imaginative scheme for providing a third tube, which is what we were talking about at that time, and for taking over the extant debt from the joint committee in return for a time-limited toll regime. That seemed to be a most imaginative scheme. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic said that it was a most innovative scheme. It was a most novel scheme for the provision of an important new link. I watched that scheme grow. When it was put out to tender by the then Secretary of State for Transport I was delighted to see that it attracted so much interest from the construction industry. It showed how much interest the industry had in this sort of scheme. It was the sort of infrastructure development that many hon. Members in all parts of the House had been calling for during my short time in the House.
I congratulate Dartford River Crossing Ltd. on its success in being awarded the contract for the bridge scheme. I hope that when the bridge is constructed careful consideration will be given to the matter of high winds. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) spoke about that. It would be catastrophic if this bridge were not constructed in a way that virtually guaranteed its use for traffic on every day of the year. We cannot have that bridge closed, as the Severn bridge is closed, when there are high winds. I know that is one of the things that exercises the mind of Kent county council.
As a Kent Member, I welcome the proposal to build this new crossing over the Thames. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a new era which will see the upgrading of the A2–M2, the A20–M20 and the building of the missing link. I find it quite extraordinary that my hon. Friend's Department should have chosen to upgrade those two roads at more or less the same point in Kent at the same time. There must be more cones spread down the A20–M20 and the A2–M2 than on any other road in England. Moving from west to east and from east to west in Kent is a very grim prospect.
604 In part, our underbuilding of the motorway network has been due to our reluctance to accept a toll road system. If we had followed the example of our friends in France and constructed an autoroute system or a motorway system with a toll regime, we would have many more roads than we have now. We should not shrink from using toll income to fund the new Dartford-Thurrock link. I hope that this represents a new era and that we shall see other schemes to build these immensely important links, bypasses and crossings. I welcome the fact that private capital will allow my hon. Friend to continue with many urgent and much needed schemes.
I would be selling my constituency short if I did not put in a short plug for the northern relief road for the Medway towns and the third Medway crossing. That scheme is almost as big, in money terms, as the scheme that we are discussing. With the prospect of the Channel fixed link and the fact that the M2 is bound to be busy, the Medway towns will need that crossing. My hon. Friend must pay attention to other roads that are heavily congested in Kent; he must not focus purely on the Dartford link.
I shall support the Bill during its passage through the House with unequivocal relish, and I welcome it being given a Second Reading tonight.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) in congratulating our new Kent colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), on an eloquent and forceful maiden speech. While Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham made use of an ingenious device by paying the warmest possible tribute to you for the guidance and inspiration that you had given him in your constituency. If ever there was an ingenious ploy for ensuring that one caught Mr. Speaker's eye in future, that was it. Without that ingenuity, I am sure that we will listen to many eloquent and able speeches from him. We wish him every success and happiness in the House and we are sure that he will continue the traditions that were set by his predecessor, Mr. Tim Brinton, to whom he paid a warm tribute.
I welcome the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) about the possibility of the principle contained in the Bill being applied to great effect to many other matters, particularly British Rail, the docks at Tilbury and so on. It is that point which makes the Bill so exciting.
It is remarkable that a Bill which contains such an important principle has been received and accepted unanimously by everybody who has spoken. I welcome the generous comments by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) who paid tribute to the ingenuity of the scheme and to those who have engineered the project so far, particularly the previous Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore). It bodes well if the House can approach projects that harness private capital to major public sector projects in such a manner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham said, if we can do that by using public sector finance and tolls, we will progress and build many of the great projects that we so desperately need.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North rightly asked what that would do to each Department's borrowing requirement and to the external limits that are imposed. 605 I share with him a desire to see commercial activities in the public sector being allowed to utilise private sector finance. We had such an example many years ago when British Rail was allowed to lease much of its equipment and thereby extend its activities in a way that it could not otherwise do.
However, particularly with regard to this bridge, we must apply the proper disciplines of the private sector to these developments, which is precisely what this project does.
This is one of the most exciting projects and Bills that the House has had to consider for a long time. Thinking back, probably inaccurately, it was Sir Thomas Brassey, that great engineer and builder, who conceived the idea of an orbital road around London. It never happened, but it has happened now. In many ways that is an exciting development. We now have a £1 billion orbital road—the M25 — completed around London. That is a remarkable project. We are now combining with it this new bridge, which I believe will be one of the engineering projects of which this country can be proud in years to come.
It really is exciting that in a relatively short time—a shortness of time made possible by the ingenious nature of this project and by private finance—we shall see one of the greatest bridges in England straddling the Thames. If I may be excused a pun, and as it is a road bridge that will straddle this waterway, perhaps we can call it our "Colossus of Roads".
The Bill conceives a magnificent engineering bridge, and it will be built in the most ingenious way. I do not know who originally thought up the scheme, or who packaged it in such a way that it would work, but whoever it was deserves a great tribute, because it achieves so many things. First, we shall have a bridge in record time. Secondly, it will remove from the county councils the debt burden and administration of this tunnel, something that they have never relished, but have carried out with immense efficiency. Thirdly, for the first time it brings in private capital, without which the bridge would not have been built.
As for tolls, I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman). We should not be frightened of the principle of tolls. Many hon. Members and other people travel on the continent and readily pay—perhaps not with pleasure—substantial tolls for the privilege of travelling very much faster on the autoroutes and autobahns of Europe in order to get to their destinations much more quickly. Given the way in which our roads have developed, I am not saying that the introduction of tolls would be easy, but if they can be used to finance projects and to get them built more quickly, we should not hesitate to use them.
The motoring organisations, understandably, do not like the idea of tolls, but this particular project demonstrates the sheer value of them. Were it not for the fact that it is to be financed by tolls, and given the competition for funds from all Departments, there is no way in which this bridge could be built in the way that is now planned.
§ Mr. Janman
Does not my hon. Friend also accept that the benefit of having more tolls in the United Kingdom is that we would gain income from visitors to this country who use our roads, whereas currently they make no contribution at all?
§ Mr. Moate
That is a strong point. It would be even more welcome if applied to the foreign lorries that cause such anxiety. If it were thought that they too were contributing, that would make it even more popular.
Some people may subscribe to the theory of the bottomless pit, whereby any desirable project can be funded quickly. That is a popular notion but it is nonsense, for we know that 101 desirable projects are all competing for funds. No matter how necessary the third crossing is, there would have been little prospect of it getting as far ahead in the queue under those circumstances. In other words, tolls in this case have made it possible to have a bridge in our lifetime, and that demonstrates their value. We should therefore follow the logic of that, and wherever it can be done sensibly without causing much controversy, the Government should look at the possibility of using the toll principle and private sector finance in this way.
I wholeheartedly welcome this proposed legislation and look forward with immense pleasure to the construction of this exciting venture. Above all, our constituents look forward to the ending of the queues that have now built up largely because of the sheer success of the M25, which have escalated even faster than the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) suggested.
I congratulate those Ministers, Trafalgar House, the county council and all the others who have contributed to this great project. I end by suggesting an alternative name, because I shall not become involved in the DartfordThurrock controversy. It is a great bridge, so why not call it by a name that means a great deal to the British people? As it will be the first great bridge that people will see when they come up the Thames, why not call it the Trafalgar bridge, to solve the dispute between Dartford and Thurrock?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I think that you, Mr. Speaker, will treasure the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) who said that he first took an interest in politics because of the way in which you served your constituency. He was one of your constituents, and he said that he would wish to follow your example in his work. In years to come, perhaps he will go on to follow you in the Chair and when he stands for election he may find that he does even better without the party label than he did before.
My hon. Friend follows Tim Brinton and if his voice becomes as famous as that of Tim Brinton, he will be heard in the House with pleasure and by the country with interest. His speech showed that his constituents can bank on his international experience. If he continues to provide thoughts such as the idea of politicians sitting inside windmills, no doubt with the hot air driving the sails round, he may find that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy can make use of him. We look forward to his progress in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) made a remarkably competent speech. I think that it would be welcomed in his constituency because of the fair way in which he described the work of Thurrock council. As he said, it is not a Conservative council yet, but it is forward-looking in many ways. He went on to talk in detail about the ways in which further improvements and investment in transport facilities would be of great advantage. In a few words I cannot do justice to the whole of his speech, but he made the significant point that private 607 capital has a part to play—not necessarily an exclusive role, but a sensible role. He also talked of the need for a quick passage for the Bill to provide the extra crossing facilities as soon as possible.
With the exception of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate holds a seat that 20 years ago was held by the Labour party.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman says, "Never mind the width, feel the quality." In the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) in 1984, "Newport Hughes" spoke. We have now heard "Aberdeen Hughes" and I believe that "Harrow Hughes" is here as well. Perhaps the tradition will continue if there are further schemes requiring legislation such as this.
Arthur Bottomley, now Lord Bottomley, was invited by an engaging voice on the other end of the telephone to open the Conservative party garden fete in Thurrock. He explained that he was very fond of Thurrock but that he did not think that he was quite the right person to open a Conservative party garden fete. He was then told that the Prime Minister—then the Leader of the Opposition—took a keen interest in those who opened Conservative garden fetes. Arthur Bottomley explained that he was a Labour Privy Councillor and that perhaps I might be able to do it instead. By doing that, he turned down the chance of running the last five miles of a marathon that was being held to raise funds for the Conservative party. I am delighted that all the investment that I put in on that occasion, as I watched the marathon runners coming by me, has been rewarded by the election of a Conservative Member. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to represent his constituency for many years to come.
The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham that the crossing should be called the Trafalgar bridge is likely to have crossed the minds of the Trafalgar group. The suggestion that it should be called the Thurrock bridge represents a marvellous campaign, which I expect Thurrock to continue at least up to the naming of the bridge and possibly beyond it if, as is likely, it is not called the Thurrock bridge. However, the campaign represents a chance to put Thurrock on the map as a place which people want to develop and where they want to build. The area south of the Thames will want to promote itself in the same way. I have no objection to the continuing campaign, although I would object if people thought it was the most important aspect of the bridge or that Thurrock had squatters' rights to the name of the bridge because it had been first to think of running a campaign. If Thurrock was too persistent, I had thought of calling it the Bottomley bridge, but a voice behind me suggested that it should be named after the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) — the tunnel could then be called Under Dunn and the bridge Dunn Over. I do not claim authorship of that, merely the courage to repeat it.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North sensibly did not give way to all the ideology of Conservative Members in relation to private funding, but he gave a generous welcome to the way in which the project has been put 608 forward. The arguments against tolling were put forward in detail in the debate in February 1984 and I am glad that they have not been rehearsed at length today. I appreciate the points that were made in that context by interested parties both within and outside the House.
It could also be argued that charging is no bad thing. With the exception of the Woolwich free ferry, people using ferry services—for instance, to the Isle of Wight or to France — are used to paying charges for the journey. There is no special difference between a ferry service and a bridge or a tunnel, although there may be arguments about the most efficient way to raise revenue. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North invited us to consider the possibility of toll roads and we shall be happy to do so.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I did not invite the Minister to consider it. I asked him to state the Government's policy on it.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Our policy is non-dogmatic. I think that that is the best way to put it. Even if the hon. Gentleman did not mean to propose it, it is a sensible suggestion and I shall do my best to consider it.
As I made clear in my opening remarks, the general point about additionality is welcomed. One cannot expect any Treasury automatically to assume additionality, whatever ingenious scheme may be cooked up by the private sector or a Department of state. I should point out, however, that the GLC offering extra money to British Rail, as one public authority offering to add to the funds of another, could not be regarded as additionality in any way. Partnership may be useful, but if money is taken out of one taxpayer's pocket and passed across to another, there is no reason to regard it in a different way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham is right to say that we should do what is feasible and sensible rather than insisting that it can be done only by the private sector or only by the public sector. If we are looking for ways to expand commercial activities in the public sector by using private finance, in general the best way to do that is to privatise and to put the activity into the private sector. There are sometimes difficulties, however, because the one thing that the private sector dislikes is risk. In negotiations with the private sector it is worth recalling that the private sector always wants the public sector to take the risk and it is up to Ministers and their advisers to find the best way to ensure that the private sector accepts risk.
Where the private sector usually gains is that it tends to react to possible cost overruns faster than the public sector and its mistakes tend to be more rapidly self-correcting. We certainly hope that the private sector and DRC will get the bridge built faster than we could have done. I hope that we are years away from the cost overruns of the Isle of Grain power station and other major construction projects, but if the private sector wishes to participate it must be persuaded to accept as much risk as possible so that we can achieve a regime of self-interest without selfishness on the part of contractors and operators in relation to projects of this kind.
With regard to other ideas from the private sector, we are open to ideas from wherever they come and we reserve the right to respond to some private sector initiatives. For example, reference was made to the second Severn crossing. When the private sector offers us a location for the second Severn crossing in a place that does not meet 609 our proposals, it must expect us to say so in a straightforward way. Obviously, we were open to persuasion, but we wanted English Stones for the second Severn crossing. When we reach the stage of deciding whether to use private funding, we intend to have competition as well. Putting projects in the private sector and having competition between different contractors tend to have significant advantages.
My neighbour and colleague, the hon. Member for Woolwich, and others referred to the east London river crossing. As hon. Members know, I have a constituency interest in that, so I am not able to go even as far as I did in the February 1984 debate. A public inquiry into a toll-free crossing was conducted, and I cannot go any further than that.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North made me remember that road users pay for car parks and parking meters. There is no significant difference between paying for moving along a road and paying for the privilege of stopping on a road. I recognise, however, that those in the involuntary queues at Dartford and Thurrock prefer not to be charged; indeed they prefer not to be involved in the queues at all.
Tributes have been paid to the ingenuity and innovation of the approach. Credit should be shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) for the responsibility they took. I pay tribute, too, to the officials of the Department of Transport. Perhaps it is best to do that now, before we are 15 years down the line and see whether tolls are lifted, as we expect. In their work until now, those officials have come forward with a major achievement in co-operation with the private sector—the hankers, lawyers, and so on. This shows the type of innovation which can be found and which the public service has been as good at providing as the private sector. Long may we continue looking for the same benefits to the public of high-quality service by the Civil Service as well as by those who are generally regarded, in theory, as being more enterprising. I say that as the son and brother of civil servants.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I referred to British Rail using private capital which might be added to the external financing limit. I want to make it clear that I do not mind if it is an addition, but the project should be carried out in partnership and certainly should not be used as an exercise in the creeping privatisation of British Rail. There would be nothing worse for the morale and service provided by British Rail than if little bits of BR's services were hived off to private enterprise on the ground that it was an innovative use of private sector capital.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I thought that we had been getting on so well! The hon. Gentleman has put that point on the record, and perhaps we can leave it there.
I was about to refer to the early warnings about the need for extra crossing capacity. I have quickly looked through the February 1984 debate and I am not sure from the remarks of the hon. Member for Woolwich that there was a reference to the need for extra capacity.
§ Mr. Bottomley
In that case, I take it back. One of the major problems faced by the Department of Transport has 610 been the shortage of money. The greatest shortage occurred between 1975 and 1979 when, I vaguely recall, the hon. Member for Woolwich was in some way involved in Government.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman was PPS to the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, on the unpaid side of the payroll. One of the biggest difficulties was the halving in real terms of new money for new national roads. It has taken the Government six or seven years to catch up with the backlog. For those involved in the construction industry, it is better to go for the slow and gradual improvement in actual sums of money rather than for great leaps and bounds in provisions, which might suddenly be cut because the IMF has come in, or because other things have gone wrong. No one can guarantee that we shall always be able to preserve that slow growth, but it is better to try to have realistic assumptions about the sums of money available and, when one can go sensibly for additionality, to do so.
§ Mr. Cartwright
The Minister has made a fair point about the absence and shortage of money. However, with great respect, that was not the case that the Department of Transport made about the additional crossing at Dartford. It did not say, "Yes, we accept the case for a third crossing, but we are terribly sorry we do not have the money.- Instead, it said that it did not think that there was a case for a third crossing, and that is where I find it culpable.
§ Mr. Bottomley
That may be right. However, I suspect that the reasons are probably mixed.
The hon. Gentleman has referred also to the Woolwich free ferry. It is not my job to get involved with the agents who manage the ferry for us at the moment. However, it crossed my mind that if the hon. Gentleman was so good at doing that perhaps we should not have seen the result that we did in the Woolwich election and perhaps we should have had the most recent ex-leader of the Greenwich council here and the ex-ex-leader back there running the ferry better. However, I must confess to partisanship. Although I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is here and that his Labour opponent is not, obviously, it would have been nice if the hon. Member for Woolwich had been a Conservative. However, given the choice and the way in which Greenwich council has been run recently, the ex-leader of that council should be left with his arduous repsonsibilities as mayor and perhaps he will help to tidy up some of the decisions that have been taken by the London borough of Greenwich in the past few years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) rightly referred to the need to improve the road network, as well as making a common point of agreement about extra capacity across the Thames. This bridge between Thurrock and Dartford is the only noncontroversial crossing of the Thames that has been put forward in history. Waterloo, Chelsea, and Battersea bridges and the other crossings were fought against for years by people with proper, but some with improper, interests to defend, or who had unnecessary fears. I am glad to have reached the stage of achieving common recognition that extra capacity is needed and I am sure that the Bill's future passage through the House will be 611 aided by the all-party approach that recognises the need for that extra capacity, although there are one or two points on which people will want reassurances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford also made the point, in words better than mine, about the need to keep heavy traffic on appropriate roads rather than allow it to drift off on to unsuitable roads. Through roads for through traffic must be the key to the road transport side of transportation. Indeed, I hope that that will spread further and wider.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), together with my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, referred to wind protection, to the safety of the bridge in all weather conditions and to ventilation in the tunnels. Obviously, the road surface of this bridge will be treated in the same way as the surfaces of the motorway network.
On the point about windshielding, there is a misconception about the Severn bridge. That bridge is rarely closed, although there are times when high-sided vehicles must be kept off and, of course, it was closed for a time earlier this year. However, that was when both men of Kent and Kentish men had some of their road systems taken out of action for a week or more. One should not have expectations above those for roads on land, for a road that is in the sky and part of a bridge.
There is little experience of putting windshielding on high bridges. It is clear that the conditions between Dartford and Thurrock are substantially easier than those at the Severn. However, there is insufficient experience to be able to state precisely the type of windshielding that would work. From a proper investigation it is clear that some speed and lane restrictions may be necessary for about 24 hours per year. If that is the expectation, it is about the same as that for a cross-country motorway. To argue strongly for windshielding when the tests that would be needed to reduce the possibility, or even the probability, of the need to have restrictions on lanes or on high-sided vehicles for about only 24 hours per year takes our knowledge further than it is at present. It would also increase the investment that would be needed. Indeed, it would be rather like paying the police for more than the burglar is likely to steal. I think that is the simplest way of putting it. We believe that it might be necessary to close the bridge to high-sided vehicles for about six hours a year, and contingency arrangements will be made to deal with that. That reasoning led us to believe that the provision of windshielding on the bridge and approach viaducts would not be justified, but the matter can be discussed during the later stages of the Bill.
It is accepted that there may be a problem with ventilation. A study is taking place. It will be possible to improve the ventilation if that proves to be necessary. We are aware of the problem, and we shall obtain information which should lead us further forward.
I think that I have dealt with most of the issues that have been raised. I am grateful to those hon. Members who contributed to the debate. The House will be doing its duty if it gives the Bill further consideration at its later stages and gets it through as early as possible so that construction can begin, we can relieve the capacity problems of the crossing between Dartford and Thurrock and the bridge, whatever it is called, can come into use as soon as possible.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of seven Members, four to be nominated by the House and three by the Committee of Selection.
That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee—
That is no such Petition as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above is presented, or if all such Petitions are withdrawn before the meeting of the Committee, the order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee shall be discharged and the Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee.
That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agents upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition.
That the Committee have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House and to report from day to day the Minutes of Evidence taken before it.
That three be the Quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Durant.]