§ Order for Second Reading read.8.34 pm
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Discussion on the rapid transit system to serve the city of Bristol in the county of Avon in order to overcome the inexorably increasing problems of traffic congestion has been continuing since at least 1980. In that year, a metropolitan railway system, similar to that established in Newcastle, was proposed for Bristol and its hinterland by a number of those who are now in turn associated with the Avon Light Rail Transit Bill No. 1.
The original concept foresaw the linkage of much of the present railway network in Avon, with an underground section that would serve the expanding business and commercial area in the centre of Bristol. Although widely admired, the concept made little progress, since it relied entirely on the public purse for the subscription of capital through the taxpayer and local authority ratepayers, both for construction and for subsequent operation. An important statement had nevertheless been made—that a major contribution to improving public transport in Avon could be achieved only by a radical transformation of the railway network which no longer addressed itself to the necessity of serving the rapidly expanding commuter traffic to and from the city of Bristol.
Bristol has one of the highest levels of car ownership of any urban area of the United Kingdom, but equally, it suffers from the inadequacy of the road infrastructure and the inability to increase it without indulging in major central area road construction, which would be prohibitive on both cost and environmental grounds. It is also a fact that the majority of those living in the Avon travel-to-work area also work within the boundaries of that area. That makes the county of Avon an unusually self-contained economic unit. However, it also imposes enormous additional pressures on the transport infrastructure which the local bus operators, despite imaginative developments of their system, are unable wholly to satisfy in competing for road space, they are also the victims of increasing congestion.
Since 1980, the economic progress of Bristol and Avon has not only reflected the increasing prosperity of the nation as a whole, but in many respects has outstripped it. That is due to the excellence of the mainline railway and motorway connections with the captial and with other parts of the United Kingdom, the development of Bristol as a centre for the financial services industry and the increasing concentration on high-technology industries, clustering around long-established and prospering companies such as British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, which continue to form a major manufacturing base in the region. As a result, the outlying districts of Woodspring, Wansdyke, and Northavon have shown substantial population increases, one feature of which is the establishment of virtually a complete new town, Bradley Stoke, on the northern outskirts of the city of Bristol.
It may confidently be expected that the economic development of Bristol and Avon will continue, given those many favourable circumstances that naturally benefit the area. However, the problems of that success, notably that of traffic congestion, also continue to grow apace. Unless confidently and effectively addressed, they 948 will not only threaten to break that expansion, but impose ever increasing penalties of pollution and environmental decay.
As a major regional capital, Bristol ought not to face such problems without a solution and that, in essence, is the concept behind the rapid transit system now proposed. The network proposed is similar to that first considered in the Avon metro proposal, but the technology of achievement has altered radically, due entirely to state-of-the-art development of modern, street-running light rail systems. The House will be aware that it has already approved such systems for Manchester and Sheffield, a Bill to establish a new network in the west midlands has now been deposited and there is active discussion of light rail networks for Edinburgh, Cardiff, Plymouth, Leeds, south Hampshire, Nottingham and a number of other important locations in the United Kingdom.
All those systems, including of course that in Bristol, will be similar to modern urban light rail systems which are a significant and important element of public transport on the continent, most notably in West Germany, France, Holland and Belgium. Even in the United States, the bastion of the motor car, light rail networks are undergoing a dramatic and highly successful revival; throughout the year, some 20 such systems are proposed or inaugurated. It is a major growth industry which offers considerable attractions for the British railway equipment manufacturing industry, once it has achieved expertise through shop window developments here at home. The opportunity so to create new job opportunities in the manufacturing industry must not be under-estimated. Equally, there is a warning that, unless British companies enter that expanding market, it will be lost entirely to overseas competitors.
Nor should the environmental aspect be overlooked. The demand that the anticipated 5 per cent. per annum increase in road traffic will create cannot be accommodated without a considerable impact on the environment in its broadest sense. The accommodation of necessary roadworks would have a devastating effect, and the related required parking provisions would be unacceptable both in land take and in its visual and economic impact. Additional roads create additional traffic. Development would be forced outwards and the attack on the green belt intensified. The so-called freedom of the private motorist cannot be satisfied without enormous cost, a cost which is too great. The pollution factor, despite an increased consumption of unleaded petrol, will also have an impact. Currently, the level of nitrogen dioxide emission from car exhausts in Bristol city centre is more than twice the recommended EEC limit.
The promoters of the Avon Light Rail Transit Bill No. 1 seek to establish, over a number of years and with a series of Bills, a complete network serving much of the populated area of the county of Avon, the essential feature of which is the intention to supply direct and rapid access to the centre of Bristol. That is something that the existing rail network, frozen in its final development at the end of the last century, cannot achieve, but which a modern light rail network can accomplish swiftly, effectively and economically.
The Bill seeks to reopen and convert a length of railway first opened in stages between 1867 and 1906, which has carried no traffic, apart from occasional steam specials, since 1981. The route parallels a wholly inadequate road, 949 the A369 from Portishead to Bristol, whose entire length can be consumed by a traffic jam at peak hours and which, even at off-peak times, constitutes ineffective access to the centre of Bristol.
Protests at traffic delays encountered by the people of Bristol are now a major feature of local authority meetings. The situation is worsened by the existence of a major traffic interchange on the M5 Exeter-to-Birmingham motorway, which Avon county council and the Department of Transport now consider to be greatly overloaded. The reopening of this single route to a temporary terminus at Wapping wharf in the centre of Bristol therefore constitutes in itself a major contribution to solving the serious problem of traffic congestion. That view has not been contested. The House will agree that it makes no sense whatsoever for such problems to continue and to increase while a perfectly usable railway line lies moribund and there are those willing and able to return it to use.
In essence, this is a Bill not for a new railway, but for the re-establishment of an existing one. Further Bills, to be laid before Parliament, at the foreseen annual intervals as currently provided for, will seek to extend this Bill by means of a street-running section crossing the centre of Bristol to link Wapping wharf and Temple Meads. Redundant railway infrastructure will be incorporated to strike north through Horfield to Filton and the new town of Bradley Stoke, while, to the east, another former railway route will be re-established to bring access to parts of Kingswood and then to Yate, where there will also be a street-running section to serve the centre of the new town area.
Further routes will aim to serve south Bristol and the area which have recently been incorporated, with parliamentary approval, in the new urban development corporation for Bristol. Advanced Transport for Avon, promoter of this and subsequent Bills, has also expressed its desire to serve the Avonmouth area and the city of Bath, whose particular traffic problems have now exceeded manageable levels.
Financing is crucial. The Bill—the first of its kind to come before the House for many years—seeks to establish a public transport system within the private sector. Projections obtained from expert consultants show that the proposed system, including, in isolation, the route for which powers are sought in this Bill, can be operated profitably without recourse to public subsidy of running costs, and undertakings that no such subsidy will be sought have been offered to Bristol city council and Avon county council which, quite properly, sought such undertakings. Such an undertaking was indeed given under the company's common seal to the county council last February.
The finance for construction will also lie heavily—indeed, predominantly—with the private sector. Advanced Transport for Avon proposes to demonstrate the long-known linkage between enhanced property values and the development of modern transport systems. This phenomenon of uprating in land and property values as a result of transport development was used to supply substantial capital to the British-constructed metro system in Hong Kong. It is being employed, in variant, in the Beckton and City extensions to the docklands light railway and will inevitably form a vital ingredient of future light rail developments in the United Kingdom, quite apart from Bristol. To establish access to these land values, 950 Advanced Transport of Avon will form a joint development company with appropriate development companies. The first of those agreements is now taking place, supplying not only opportunity, but also working capital for the development cost of the system.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
In arguing the case for the Bill, the hon. Gentleman said that this is a first stage and a precursor to a number of developing stages, and that further Bills will be brought forward to give authority for, for example, street works. However, the financial memorandum to the Bill states:Expenditure which may be incurred in the future development of the light rail transit sytem cannot now be quantified.If the hon. Gentleman is arguing that the system can be developed, how can he do so without explaining where the money comes from to develop the system?
§ Mr. Wiggin
The hon. Gentleman, who is knowledgeable about the Bill for a Sheffield light transit system, will recall that in both that case and this, there is a progression. The promoters of these schemes, whether public authorities as in the case of Sheffield, or private company, as in this case, seek to bite off each little piece rather than seeing the scheme as one vast project, the cost of which would be huge.
This relatively modest proposal as a precursor of another Bill is a sensible way of progressing. I hope that, by the time we reach the later Bills, the first stages will be running and showing that the figures and estimates are truthful. I do not think that doing this piece by piece is a bad method; I hope that, once we have convinced the House that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, further Bills will progress with greater ease.
Through its expert advisers, Advanced Transport for Avon has established a series of sites which are available for development through the usual planning consent procedure—sites on which development would occur in any case. Instead of being exported elsewhere, the additional profits that will accrue from supplying modern transport potential to those sites will be put to work creating employment and prosperity for the communities of Avon and Bristol.
The basis for that is that the people who benefit directly from the system—the house owner, the shopkeeper and the property owner—will pay, through the development that they occupy, a large part of the capital cost. I hope that the House will pay particular attention to the phrases "the normal planning consent procedure" and "on which development would occur in any case". I would not be party to a Bill that sought to delve even further into the green belt. The House knows my views about development beyond it. The idea is to provide a railway line to a development; that development will then have an enhanced value; it is therefore possible to share some of that value with the railway system.
The employment potential involved in construction, operation and maintenance of the system must not be under-estimated as a vital economic factor for the future. A large amount of job creation, estimated at about 2,000 permanent situations—including direct and indirect jobs but excluding construction personnel—will take place when the whole system is completed.
The company will grant a licence for construction to companies with enough expertise and experience to undertake the work. I can inform the House that a 951 substantial agreement with a prime contractor is now in place with a British company of international excellence. In turn, that company will supply £3.5 million in development capital to Advanced Transport for Avon. The company will also license an operator, and has entered into an agreement with Bristol city council and Avon county council in respect of their considerations in the matter.
Advanced Transport for Avon has worked closely with the Department of Transport in formulating its plans, and with the help of our merchant bank advisers is now considering a preliminary application for access to section 56 grants which can be available for projects of this sort. Section 56 grants will, it is understood, be available to the light rail systems now approved or seeking approval in Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham. These discussions will continue, but the House will understand that nothing of substance can be said about the matter until the negotiations between the company and the Department of Transport are concluded.
It is, however, a well-established principle that section 56 grants are made available only when there is a demonstrable benefit to the community in general in terms of easement of traffic, reduction of congestion and pollution and a saving to the public purse in other direct respects, such as a saving of expenditure on infrastructure. In Avon alone, serious traffic accidents cost about £47 million a year, so even a modest reduction brought about by travellers switching from the roads to the Avon light rail transit will recompense the company's modest access to Government funds. Even in respect of this single Bill for a limited route, it is clear that a major reduction in traffic congestion and in the almost legendary delays for travellers between Portishead and Bristol will produce major benefits for the public as well as the private purse.
I mentioned earlier undertakings proposed or made between the company and Bristol city council and Avon county council. They cover a number of important aspects, among them the contributions that the company will make to the public infrastructure by the provision of funds for works associated with the light railway in connection with highways and footways. The sums involved are considerable, and the company has also offered to make a direct financial contribution to the county council to assist it with adjustments to its work load in progressing the light railway.
Throughout the prolonged negotiations over these matters, it can be shown that the company has responded generously and positively to the requests made by these two local authorities for a direct contribution to infrastructure costs.
Consultation is central to the success of a project of this kind. Unusually, and, in contemporary terms, uniquely, this public transport project is propelled by the private sector rather than by a consortium of local authorities as is the case elsewhere. Throughout the past three years, Advanced Transport for Avon has conducted detailed negotiations with the principal local authorities at officer and political level and through the respective parliamentary agents for the parties. About 76 other bodies have been consulted. Almost certainly uniquely, some of these negotiations have been conducted in public through the medium of television. There have been many public 952 meetings and addresses by the promoters to public and private bodies. No one could say that absolutely everyone has been wholly satisfied by what they have heard from Advanced Transport for Avon. Such a state of perfection, although desirable, is, in practical terms, impossible to achieve. Obviously, the time demanded by such meetings dictates that individuals and bodies who are directly influenced are the subject of detailed discussion, so discussions to date have mainly taken place with those involved in the first route and Bristol city centre.
As the project expands, the consultation process will widen correspondingly. As a private company, Advanced Transport for Avon possesses certain commercial confidences which it must retain to itself. That essential element of commercial and business life is capable of being misrepresented. In future Bills, the establishment of a street-running section across Bristol city centre will require the approval of two principal local authorities under the Tramways Acts. The company has energetically endeavoured to establish a route acceptable to all parties and to give greater time for that to be achieved. It was agreed with the county council last year to delay the deposit of the Bill to do with that section. That causes a certain delay to the project, with commensurate additional costs, but it can be cited as a clear example of the company's willingness to undertake and seek accommodation with the parties with which it negotiates.
As a further pertinent example, I cite the negotiations between the company and the Bristol port authority, which is anxious to safeguard the opportunity at some time in the future, to operate freight trains to and from its dock at Royal Portbury. That relatively new facility has no present rail link, but in the light of future traffic developments it may be necessary to establish one. The promoters have shown their willingness to accommodate such traffic within the standards and limits imposed by the railways inspectorate and have further offered at their own expense to lay the track between Bower Ashton junction and the projected junction near the Royal Portbury dock to a standard sufficient to bear the weight of modern freight trains, rather than the much lighter light railway vehicles.
That is a further and important example of the promoters supporting the public infrastructure from their own purse, as the Royal Portbury dock is owned and administered by Bristol city council. No doubt an increase in the traffic to and from that dock would benefit the people of Bristol, who continue to support that facility through their rates.
Public opinion has consistently demonstrated its support for the LRT project. That was confirmed in a MORI opinion poll, which demonstrated through the approved sampling system that 85 per cent. of the people of Avon want the light rail system introduced. That extraordinarily high figure confirms the desire of the local population to see effective action to reduce the increasing traffic congestion which afflicts the city and county.
There have, of course, been critics, and the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) has been one of them. However, she will be the first to confirm that she has had a number of meetings with the promoters and, on the most recent occasion, she was accompanied by representatives of the Labour party who sit on Bristol city council and Avon county council.
At different times, the hon. Member for Bristol, South has expressed concern on a wide range of points, which 953 include safety in operation of the system, the method of financing, consultation, whether the system will reduce congestion and whether the company intends to complete the network throughout. She has stated that the promoters were unwilling or unable to supply her with information on all or any of those points. An undertaking, however, on those matters has been given by the company to the county council during the proceedings in another place and before the commencement of proceedings in this House. Further undertakings now being negotiated with the two authorities, are confidently expected to lead to the withdrawal of holding petitions lodged by Bristol city council and Avon county council. The negotiations were detailed, complex and lengthy. As I have already stated, they are the subject of undertakings to be given under the company's common seal.
Given that those authorities bear weighty responsibilities in permitting the implementation of the light rail network, it is strange that they are satisfied, while the hon. Member for Bristol, South—who bears no such burdens—states frequently that she is not. If the hon. Lady is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope that we shall have the opportunity of hearing her detailed reasonings.
The costs of promoting the light rail scheme in Bristol have to date been entirely supported by private capital, from the promoters directly, and from those who have subscribed or contributed to the scheme in other ways. That again makes the project a unique venture, as an urban transport scheme of this kind has not been promoted by the private sector since well before the last war. In other words, those who have put up the money to promote the scheme have taken a considerable venture risk. Notwithstanding the many difficulties and problems encountered—not least the persistent objections of the hon. Member for Bristol, South—the promoters have continued to recruit both further support and capital and to reach important agreements for the financing and construction of the system. That demonstrates the faith of the railway industry, of individuals and providers of capital, that the project is sound and well-founded and capable of execution within the terms described by the promoters.
In the eight years since the original Avon metro scheme was unveiled, this is the only practical initiative which has emerged to overcome costly and increasing traffic congestion in the county of Avon. Critics who have condemned the scheme have yet to suggest any viable alternatives, or say how it is that they would develop a light rail system in Avon without a major contribution of private investment.
As the light rail industry gathers pace—first in docklands, and now in Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham—it is abundantly clear to all open-minded people that it would be absurd for a major city such as Bristol to suffer complete traffic coagulation, with all the economic disturbance that that will incur, on the basis that public transport schemes promoted from the private sector should not be allowed to succeed for ideological or other reasons.
Of course a project of this kind involves risk—nothing in this world is absolutely certain—but the light rail project for Bristol and Avon is a brave, imaginative and courageous one, which has been set before the House by 954 public-spirited promoters, who are determined to show that there is a sensible and viable alternative to congestion upon the roads, which ultimately benefits no one.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)
I should like first to deal with a few points made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). I must say that I learned no more from listening to his speech than I have learnt in Bristol in the past 18 months when negotiating with the company. Unfortunately, his speech was full of generalities about which most of us would find it extremely difficult to disagree—indeed, about which it would be foolhardy to disagree.
In summary, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare told us that there is a traffic problem in Bristol, which is indisputable; that something needs to be done about it—quite right; and that light rapid transit may be part of that solution. I have no problems with that; I completely accept it. He then told us that it will be paid for from private property speculation through the mechanism of land enhancement values, to which I shall return.
Much of what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare told the House has not been discussed in Bristol. His claim that the light rapid transit system ca .n be effectively, swiftly and economically built is not borne out by international and national research.
There is a crucial difference between the scheme proposed in the Bill and other schemes proposed for Manchester, the west midlands and Yorkshire. I have a copy of the Chartered Surveyor Weekly of 24 November, which lists all the schemes in the pipeline. All the schemes that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned or cares to compare with that proposed in the Bill are being put forward by public transport executives, which incorporate public and private funding, and not by private companies. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken and is attempting to mislead the House if he says that the scheme proposed in the Bill is exactly the same as the other schemes. I do not accept that.
I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about financing, but before I deal with that I want to correct, in case there is any misunderstanding, what he said about the negotiations with the local authorities. Negotiations are taking place between the company and Avon county council and Bristol city council. The company has offered to give undertakings regarding the development of the project, which are being considered. I do not question that. I got the impression from the hon. Gentleman, however, that he was seeking to suggest that agreement had already been reached on those undertakings and that they were under company seal. At present, those undertakings are still in draft. They have not been formally exchanged and negotiations are still proceeding.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am following the debate with great interest and I want to make sure that I have got it right. Is my hon. Friend saying that the local authorities have not expressed support for the project, although they are negotiating with the company? Will my hon. Friend tell me the political character of the two authorities, as that would help the House? My understanding of the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) is that somehow opposition to the project is based on political ideology and dogma.
§ Ms. Primarolo
I must make it clear to the House that the two local authorities have no problem in accepting the principle of the light rapid transit system. I share their support for that system. One cannot be against it, as it offers many opportunities.
The city council is Labour-controlled and the county council, a hung council, is in the hands of the Tories and the Liberals. Those authorities have raised a number of queries with the company and have sought undertakings from it. I understand that agreement is near, but negotiations have not yet been concluded and it is misleading to imply anything else.
The way in which the company and its associates have sought to promote the Bill has, at times, been less than honourable and sometimes sordid. Local publicity undertaken by the company has played on people's worries about the problems of Bristol's traffic congestion. Anyone who lives in Bristol, as I do, knows that it has great traffic problems. The lead levels are extremely high and sometimes it can take two hours in the morning to get from the villages around the outskirts of Bristol into the city centre. Clearly that is intolerable.
The company has told us that it will solve all the traffic difficulties by developing the light rapid transit system. That claim needs closer examination. The company has never made it clear to the people of Bristol that little substantive detail currently exists about the scheme. That lack of detail has been constantly highlighted by my detailed questions and the fact that the company has constantly hidden behind the principle of commercial confidentiality and the like. That is inappropriate.
Returning to the ideological point, I should like to read out a letter that was circulated by four hon. Members, including the sponsor of the Bill, to every Conservative Member. The letter is dishonest, untrue and designed to mislead. Some of the points it raises were dealt with in the speech by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. The letter is dated 24 January.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I wrote that letter and put my signature to it. I should like to know how the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) obtained it.
§ Ms. Primarolo
You, Mr. Speaker, will recall that I raised a point of order earlier today and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that he thought it had been put in his pigeonhole inadvertently. He did not know why it had been sent to him as he is a Labour Member.
§ Mr. Wiggin
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When a private communication inadvertently goes to another hon. Member, is it right and proper that it should then be put into the public domain? I understood that there was a certain code of conduct about these matters, and I hope that you might give a ruling.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may recall that when the matter was raised earlier today you took the view, which I share, that it was not really a point of order. As I recall, your rejoinder was to the effect that if letters are put around which misrepresent a position, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) claims, she should have the opportunity to attack them tonight. That is precisely what she is doing.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did say that earlier this afternoon. I have no knowledge of such letters. I expressed the view that it might be rather interesting for the Chair also to have copies of them.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for any hon. Member to seek to raise points of order because he is ashamed of a letter that has been circulated?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that it is a question of shame at all. The hon. Member sought to ask through the Chair how the hon. Lady had obtained a copy of the letter.
§ Ms. Primarolo
I have already explained how I obtained the letter. It is dated 24 January and entitledAvon Light Rail Transit BillIt says:This Bill is the first of a series that will enable Bristol to have a Light Rail System serving the City and its environs. Much of the track which will be used is existing line. A number of the far left on Bristol City Council are opposed to private enterprise providing transport services and for this and other reasons Dawn Primarolo is proposing to divide the House".I shall pause to comment on that paragraph. It is wholly mischievious and without substance and I challenge the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to prove it if he can. It is accepted and well known throughout public transport executives that in the present climate private finance is part of the arrangement in public transport. That is a fact of life.
The letter continues:Besides this political point"—The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was trying to make the ideological point that we are opposed to the Bill simply because it involves private enterprise. That allegation is a disgrace and I hope that he will withdraw it. I fail to see how that was a political point; it was just a straight smear. The letter continues:similar proposals for other cities could be damaged if she is able to defeat us.I relish the though that I might defeat them, but they have more votes than we have. Even I know that.
The implication of that paragraph will mislead Conservative Members if they do not look at it carefully. It suggests that the defeat of this Bill would have implications for a future Bill. That is contrary to the private Bill procedure. It is contrary to the way in which the House makes decisions. I hope that the people who receive that letter have worked out that that, too, was a dishonest and misleading statement.
The letter goes on:We would be very grateful if you could find it possible to vote in support of this Bill. Signed, Jerry Wiggin, Michael Stern, Jack Aspinwall and Jonathan Sayeed.Forgive me, Mr. Speaker—I cannot remember their constituencies exactly, so I have used their names.
I think that the letter is out of order in the sense that it is an unfair practice and once again brings the private Bill procedure into disrepute. We are supposed to be an open, democratic House. We do not need secret letters, we do not need allegations, we do not need smears. We need the matter debated here on the Floor of the House, openly, so that we know what is being agreed to.
I now turn specifically to the points that I want to make about this Bill.
§ Ms. Primarolo
It is not as boring as the hon. Gentleman was.
Any tiny company with a pipe dream, a good idea—and I am not disputing that this is a good idea—can draft a Bill which is given credence in Parliament under the private Bill procedure. This proposal is unusual, if not unique, in that it is from a very small company—I understand that it has one full-time employee and five company directors. Even with expert advice—we are not given references; we are just told that it is expert advice—it hardly forms the basis of, or represents, a company with a structure such as would fill one with confidence that it could run a public transport system.
The Select Committee which looked at the private Bill procedure—it is an inappropriate procedure, particularly for this Bill—says,Nor is it accepted that members of the public suffer any disadvantage from the use of the Private Bill procedure rather than the procedure for planning inquiries".The proposal needs very careful consideration under the planning inquiry regulations. The company holds meetings where slides and attractive pictures are shown and where there is an artistic presentation of what a tram system might look like, but that is not a consultation process; it is informing people what the company intends to do. Consultation is a two-way process. The company claims that these meetings have been held, but they have, in fact, been public relations exercises.
The Department of Transport must also come in for criticism over light rapid transit systems because, despite the fact that the concept of light rail transit has existed for a number of years, nothing has emerged from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory following its review of the light rail details published in 1979, and there are no Government policy statements or circulars specifically dealing with light rail at present. Because the company told me that it would be bound by legislation and by the guidelines that central Government had laid down, I wrote to the Department asking for details of operational specifications, including safety, which is an important concern, and I was told that guidelines were being prepared, that they were in draft form and would be available soon, but that they do not yet exist and are not yet available.
My idea of public transport is that it is cheap and efficient and serves the needs of the area in which it operates. We need seriously to consider whether this proposal fulfils those criteria. Turning to the specific proposals in the Bill and in an attempt to provide some background, I should mention that nearly two years ago a proposal was launched by Advanced Transport for Avon for a metro scheme. To begin with, rightly or wrongly, the people of Bristol believed that that implied a network which was at least partly, if not wholly, underground, and which would at a sweep solve Bristol's acute traffic problems. This public transport would be provided as a free gift to Bristol by a private company which would finance the enterprise by land enhancement values—that is, by property speculation. It is unprecedented anywhere in the world for a scheme to be totally financed in this way.
The literature produced by the company was glossy and attractive and accompanying rhetoric painted an easy, imaginative and—what was more—a free system.
958 Naturally, Bristolians received the proposals enthusiastically, admired the artist's impressions of what the trams would look like and welcomed this initiative to solve their traffic problems.
On closer examination, it became increasingly obvious that no substantive information about some aspects of the scheme—including the crucial financing—had been properly worked out. That was unlike the system in Tyne and Wear, where a detailed policy statement and three-year plan on how the scheme would be developed was produced before it went forward. It was also unlike the light rail transit system of Greater Manchester on which detailed information was produced. The project developers in Avon produced A4 or A3 leaflets and nothing else. Unfortunately, that was not comparable to those other schemes.
The scheme varies in one other crucial respect from Manchester, Tyne and Wear and the others where the proposals were put forward by public transport executives. ATA is a wholly private company, seeking, through a private Bill, the powers normally afforded to public transport executives.
I shall use an analogy to explain what I am trying to say about the Bill. Suppose that someone came to you, Mr. Speaker, and said, "I will build the house of your dreams for £100,000. Will you give me £100,000?" One would ask a series of questions before handing over the £100,000. One would ask of the person; "Are you a qualified architect? Are you a qualified builder? Do you own the land on which you are going to build the house? Have you got planning permission? Will I have all the services?" All of us would ask those and a great many other questions before passing over the £100,000.
A company is saying to Bristolians, "We can build you, through speculation, a nice, efficient and clean transport system that will considerably ease Bristol's traffic problems." That is to be applauded and the company should be congratulated because it has done what nobody else has done. However, it can hardly complain when we and our representatives say, "Hang on a minute: there are a few detailed questions that we need to have clarified before we enter into that agreement with you."
I should be wholly failing in my role as a representative if I failed to raise the following points. First, on the matter of finance, we were initially told that the scheme would not cost a penny of ratepayers' or taxpayers' money but would be financed by speculation. Then we were told that the developers planned to apply for section 56 funding from central Government and would finance the scheme through a combination of grant funding and bank loans.
Normally, section 56 funding is available to local authorities and public transport executives who match the finance in some way. In October, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the financing of light rapid transit railway developments. He gave the standard answer. I understand that the Government are reviewing section 56 funding, but it was said that it was normally expected that, when section 56 money was given, it was matched by local authority money. Quite rightly, that upset quite a few people in Bristol, including me, because it was not what we had been led to believe. Obviously, the Government had answered on the basis of the Department of Transport's circular No. 285 which states that light rapid transit systems might be eligible for section 56 funding under the Transport Act 1968.
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether the sponsor of the Bill is allowed to speak in the Chamber to the people responsible for the Bill. I thought that this was the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not unknown. Those who are beyond the bar are invisible in the House, and I cannot see what is going on.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had reason to complain earlier about the noise and laughter when my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was making her case. The Serjeant at Arms succeeded in quelling the noise but I hope that we do not have any more.
§ Ms. Primarolo
Things moved on. The Department of Transport told the company that it needed more detailed information. Lo and behold, it was in similar areas to those on which I had been asking questions. The company was asked to undertake an economic evaluation which would form part of its application for the grant before the detailed application could be considered. If it is necessary for the Department of Transport to know these things, the House and the people of Bristol should know them before they commit themselves finally to being for or against the scheme.
I understand that the economic evaluation will cover road congestion, pollution, amenity, regeneration, finance and ridership—the normal subjects set out in the circular issued by the Department of the Environment. The economic evaluation will be ready soon. Unfortunately, the debate has taken place before it is available. We might all have been wiser about the details of the company's proposals had it felt able to wait until the information was available.
The company has never demonstrated that it has sufficient finance to construct the entire scheme. It is inconsistent in its answers on the nature and extent of the public-private mix in finance. The latest development in the saga is that two weeks ago it was announced that two companies—Parkdale and VOM International—with ATA, the people asking for the Bill, have formed a third company called Avon Development Ltd., which will undertake property speculation to raise money to pass over to the company which wants to build the railway. That leads to confusion. What the two companies have not said is that they are so confident that land enhancement will raise considerable profit that they are prepared now to underwrite all the money for the project. They are not so confident that it is a good scheme. Presumably there is a financial risk.
The planned reliance on property speculation is unprecedented and would encourage the unwelcome escalation of property prices in Bristol, a city which is suffering sorely already because of housing and land price problems. It is said that the total scheme of which this is the first stage will cost £300 million to £400 million. I think that that is an under-estimate, but we will not discuss that now.
Let us think about how the money is to be raised. How much property development would there need to be in Bristol? Property companies will want to make their own profit and have enough left to give to the railway company 960 to build the system. If they wish to raise £300 million to £400 million the gross figure involved in property speculation in Bristol would be astronomical. That could have a profound effect on the city and its future development, raising difficult questions such as the development of green field sites and the green belt on the edge of the city. If that happened local and district plans would be breached. It is unreasonable to propose a project that raises all those questions without giving a clear understanding about how it will work.
We have asked whether the company can confirm that £14 million of public money will be sought in the construction of the No. 1 plan. Can the company say whether the money is being sought in Government grants that will not involve a contribution from the local highways authority? Can it also confirm that no local authority funding will be required for the costing and operation of the railway in future? If the company is not seeking public subsidy to meet the operating costs of the railway, it must know that its proposal is an international rarity. The subsidy that is usually required for the operation of light railways tends to be high. How can this company justify its proposals in relation to the studies that it has undertaken in Avon, including full ridership and revenue studies on a best and worst scenario?
We have asked many detailed questions, not because we want the company to tell us where the money is coming from, as we can understand the concept of commercial confidentiality, but this company seems to be unable to understand the ways in which it could tell us firmly that is has the money to complete the entire network. The advice given to me by experts shows that the first part of the system means nothing on its own, and it must be taken as part of an integrated transport network in the city.
I commented earlier on certain development problems, including the contravention of the green belt and other planning policies. We have asked the company frequently to explain clearly how the proposed land enhancement will work, how the land value will be liberated to pay for the project and its possible effects on the future of Bristol's environment. Bristol is a beautiful city and intends to stay that way. While I represent one of its constituencies, I shall certainly fight the proposal to allow unfettered property development across the city, whether or not it provides a free addition to our transport network. The price is too high for us to pay.
There has been rumour upon rumour about how the company would be financed. At the beginning we were told that it would be done by a rail consortium. Then we found that the consortium was just one railway enthusiast, who claimed to speak on behalf of many people, but did not. That scheme fell by the wayside. Next, we were told that the finance would be raised through loans, then grants, and then a combination of loans and grants. Then we returned to the idea of land enhancement. Now we are considering a proposal by this new company. It is unsatisfactory to proceed in this way in an area as crucial as public transport.
We sent the proposals to Mr. Barry J. Simpson, who is our main expert adviser, and who has given me support and advice. He is a planning and transport consultant and has done national and international comparisons of this kind of scheme. We asked him for his opinions on the proposals, which give us the most up-to-date information.
961 The company does reply to letters and provides some information, and we have regular discussions about the matter.
On traffic congestion, Mr. Simpson says that the revenue implications of the number of people the company expects to use the system is on the low side compared with other systems and that that makes the cost very suspicious. All other urban rail systems with that kind of ridership level—that is, the number of people who decide to leave their cars and go on the trams instead—require heavy public subsidy. He goes on to say that evidence from other light rail networks shows that a light rail system by itself does not have a significant effect on road traffic congestion. While some motorists are persuaded to use the rail instead of their cars, other car users seem to replace them; perhaps other members of the family use the car which has been left at home. Some cities, such as Marseilles, which has had a metro system of this type since 1977, still have terrible traffic congestion, and others, such as Gothenburg, Bremen and Munich, have used light rail as an opportunity to address a whole series of measures relating to traffic restraint and the environment.
It requires an integrated, co-ordinated response by all concerned with the provision of public transport to solve the problem of congestion and that certainly applies to the city of Bristol. That means co-ordination between the city council, the county council, the company promoting the Bill, the bus companies, British Rail and organisations such as the Civic Society, Cities for People, Cycle Bag and Transport 2000.
Those various organisations must meet and work out an integrated, complementary system of buses, car restraint, trams and pedestrianisation. Having done that, they should bring forward proposals of a similar nature to the Tyne and Wear system and others that have been shown to be successful. The House would then probably give a speedy passage to the enabling measure. But that has not happened in this case.
The evidence is that other networks of this type have not made a significant difference to traffic congestion. The company has continually been asked to substantiate its claim that traffic congestion would be solved by the scheme. It has not done that.
Various questions about technical evaluation need to be asked, but time does not permit me to do that. However, I point out that we are talking of a system that runs on roads when it goes through the city and on overhead cables with gantries. We must note clearly the implications, including the construction time, the traffic disruption during construction, the frequency of running and what would happen if this private company decided at any stage that it no longer wished to run a private metro system in the city of Bristol.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend believe that the local authorities' reservations about the project arise because of the method of financing the construction by bank borrowing, as explained in the Bill? For example, if the company overreached itself and was forced into liquidation, perhaps after interfering with highways to facilitate construction, the local authorities would have to pick up the bill and bring the highways back into proper use.
§ Ms. Primarolo
That is another question to which I do not know the answer. Central Government, through the 962 local authorities, might have to take over the scheme or remove the whole system from the roads of Bristol. My hon. Friend has raised one of many technical problems that I do not have time to develop.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare spoke of employment, and in that connection one must consider the question of safety. As the hon. Member pointed out, the company will not run the system. It will be licensed to other operators and part of that contract will include a percentage of profit—we understand 5 to 10 per cent.—that will go directly to the holding company, ATA, to pay off its bank loan. So the operators will have to make a profit for themselves, pay their workers and pay a subsidy, a direct payment, to ATA.
I asked the company for its criteria in those licences so that I could see what measures were involved. It sent me vehicle specifications for the trams. Interesting though vehicle specifications are, they do not form the basis for criteria on the very serious considerations of who is entitled to operate a system and under what guidelines they will be expected so to do.
We have seen many problems caused by the pursuit of profit affecting safety on public transport only too recently, and we know full well that there is a very delicate balance between making something economically viable and spending the money that is necessary to make it safe for the public.
I heard the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare say on the radio this morning that this project would create 2,000 jobs. I think that the Labour party will win the next general election, but Conservative members do not agree with me. Just because I say it does not make it true, and just because the hon. Gentleman says without proof or detail that 2,000 jobs might be created does not make it a reality, and it plays on the fears and worries of people who are desperate for work to suggest that this scheme would at a sweep create 2,000 jobs and that the only reason they have not got them is because I have the audacity to try to question the company on its intentions, its backers and its security.
A private company is being given the status of a public transport executive with compulsory purchase powers and all the other powers of a public transport executive. That is very important. We need to look carefully at whom Parliament gives the authority to run public transport and to make sure that nothing is left to chance. I am not saying that the company is not capable of running the scheme; I am saying is that it needs to answer some questions before we can form an intelligent judgment on whether it can run the scheme.
The safety arguments are linked to the accountability arguments, and it is vital that all the details of the scheme are in the public domain so that they can be properly discussed and considered. If the company's finances are unclear and the project goes ahead with tightly drawn financial criteria, it will not always be possible to guarantee safety, and we should be aware of that before we give the authority to proceed.
As I said earlier, international research shows that light rapid transit systems need greater public finance, both capital and revenue, or private finance and are more expensive than any other type of public transport system. We may be prepared to pay that price because we believe the system is superior to buses, and certainly there is a strong environmental argument about lead pollution and the problems of the city of Bristol to support that.
963 We are talking about establishing that accountability and control from the beginning. Parliament cannot make a decision on behalf of the people of Bristol about this scheme until we have all the information from the company and until the people of Bristol have had an opportunity to comment on all the consequences of this Bill.
It is undeniable that Bristol's traffic congestion is appalling and that light rapid transit systems may well be part of the solution, but we must be sure that the traffic problem is not inadvertently made worse by our supporting a scheme that has not been properly worked out.
The company has initiated discussions with various authorities. It is unfortunate and regrettable that the local authorities have not done that before in moving forward, unlike other local authorities. There are many reasons for that, but I shall not go into those now.
There is no short cut for deciding matters of public transport. Parliament must have the relevant information. It is legitimate for us to ask for that. Hon. Members should not face a barrage of misrepresentation and abuse. I have been told that if the Bill fails I will be to blame for Bristol's appalling traffic problems. Such accusations should be firmly rejected by the House. We should say that, while wanting to solve Bristol's traffic problems, we will not be bounced into a shoddy decision simply because something sounds like a good idea. Therefore, I ask the House to vote against the Bill.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
It may be helpful if I intervene to give a brief idea of the Government's view on the Bill.
This is one of a number of private Bills providing for new light railway systems, or modern tramways, in our major cities. Light rail has many potential advantages—for example, faster speeds than buses where segregated from other vehicles, but with the flexibility to go on-street and to cope with gradients and curves beyond the capacity of conventional railways.
Therefore, we welcome the way in which transport planners in many urban areas are now examining what light rail has to offer. It can bring considerable benefits, as it has done in the case of the docklands light railway. Parliament has already legislated for the Manchester MetroLink project, which was promoted by the Greater Manchester passenger travel executive.
Now Advanced Transport for Avon is seeking to take an important new step—the initiation as well as the development of a light railway by a private company. It is expecting finance from the improvement in land values which rail access would bring.
In principle, the Bill is acceptable to the Government, and we have no points outstanding on it.
The Department of Transport provided finance for the docklands light railway and we have said that the Manchester MetroLink is likely to be eligible for grant. Advanced Transport for Avon has not applied for grant. If it does so, we shall look at its case on its merits. I cannot forecast the outcome of that tonight.
We welcome the private sector initiative on which the project is based. That accords closely with the 964 Government's wish to see the private sector involved to the greatest possible extent in the efficient provision of public transport. I hope that we shall see more such proposals before long.
I should add that we are satisfied with the railway's safety aspects as proposed in the Bill.
There are a number of petitioners against the Bill, and if their petitions are pursued they will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The Committee will be in a much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved and it will have the added advantage of having expert evidence.
Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading to allow it to proceed in the usual way to Committee for detailed consideration of the issues involved.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I listened with interest to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo). She rightly said that similar Bills now before the House have been put forward by passenger transport executives. Understandably, she talked of the need for an intetrated and co-ordinated transport system in Bristol. I agree with her, but, regrettably, under the present Administration such integration and co-ordination is anathema. Each system is supposed to compete one with another—a transport mode unique in the western world and one that is already causing considerable problems in London as in other cities, which, if allowed to continue unchecked, will presumably cause the sort of problems in Bristol outlined by my hon. Friend.
There are four outstanding petitions against the Bill. I checked earlier today and found that there is still an outstanding point in the petition presented by Avon county council, but it is hoped that it will be resolved, thus rendering it unnecessary for the county council to take the petition before the Opposed Private Bill Committee. There are some outstanding problems that affect British Rail, especially about running rights for existing, virtually disused railway lines and their possible use for rail freight traffic at night. Again, it is hoped that those difficulties will be resolved before a petition is taken to the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South will know better than I about the detailed and protracted negotiations that have taken place with Bristol city council. Certain offers have been made and certain assurances have been given to the city council, which will be considered. The one other outstanding petitioner is a private steel stockholding company. It was originally offered an alternative site, which it accepted. Evidently, some difficulties with that site arose and an alternative has now been offered. Negotiations are taking place at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South discussed the problem of railway safety. That is uppermost in our minds when we remember the Clapham accident before Christmas. It is not for me to give my hon. Friend any assurances about that, and she will be aware that the responsibility for safety on the Avon system, as on any other railway system in the United Kingdom, will lie with the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport.
§ Mr. Snape
The Minister says that responsibility will lie with the operator, so it seems that the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport will have no part to play in safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South is right, therefore, to express her fears and concerns; I should also express them officially on behalf of the Opposition. It has always been the custom for the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport—or the Board of Trade before that—to be responsible, in any railway system, for overseeing the railway and seeing that safety regulations are in place and are carried out.
§ Mr. Snape
I am grateful that I am getting a nod from the Minister that that will be the case for this particular system.
It is a pity that these matters—with which my hon. Friend has dealt so ably and thoroughly—were not debated and decided before Third Reading. Had they been, we might have been deprived of my hon. Friend's speech, but the Bill might have received a fairer wind. It remains to be seen whether the outstanding points to which I referred can be resolved before the Bill is considered by the Committee. I hope that they will be resolved and although, like my hon. Friend, I feel that it would have been infinitely preferable for public accountability to be involved in the Avon system, we are stuck whether we like it or not—and of course, we do not—with a Government who have a crazy ideology that states that every mode of transport must compete against the others.
Provided that the petitioners can be reassured, it seems that within the narrow parameters of that ideology a start will at least be made on a new transport system for the Bristol area. Given the amount of congestion in that city, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that an initiative—perhaps a more detailed and integrated initiative than the present one—is essential. However, perhaps we should put up with the half loaf that we have instead of having the proper system that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, myself, and all Opposition Members at least would like to see.
§ Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North)
I rise to speak against the Bill on a number of issues but I shall be short and selective because that is necessary.
If a Bill is presented to this House, it should be correctly worded so that we can understand it. Parts of the Bill frighten me in so far as they relate to protecting individuals against legislation of this nature. Clause 14 states:
"The Company may"—
that word "may" is very important; indeed, I almost take "may" as being the opposite to "must"—at its own expense, subject as hereinafter provided, underpin or otherwise strengthen any house or building within 30 metres of any of the authorised works, and for this purpose the following provisions shall have effect:—".that the company may underpin houses, buildings or factories if it so desires. It may be right or it may be wrong to do so.
However, the worst part of these provisions for any individual who may be a houseowner are contained in subsection (c), which states:If any owner, lessee or occupier of any such house or building, shall, within 10 days after the giving of such notice, 966 give a counter-notice in writing that he disputes the necessity of such underpinning or strengthening, the question of the necessity shall be settled by arbitration".I repeat that only 10 days are given. How many hon. Members go on holiday for more than 10 days? I should think that the answer is many. I have gone on holiday many times for 12 days. If the Bill is to be seriously considered, we must consider the importance of giving a poor house owner only 10 days to answer the notice. The house owner might go to the beautiful Yorkshire coast of Scarborough for a fortnight's holiday, but this subsection means that he has no chance to appeal. The work will go ahead and his house will be underpinned, or anything that the company desires may happen, because the clause states "may".
The Bill is wrongly worded. It may have passed certain rules of the House and some examination, but on balance, I should not like to think that somebody might underpin my house within a period of just 10 days when I might be in Scarborough on a fortnight's holiday. I should be terribly hurt on my return and, being a Yorkshire lad, I might even lose my temper. The consequence would most probably be that the chap who underpinned the house would end up on the floor and I would end up in court. I should not like that to happen to anybody.
No hon. Member, of whatever political party, should accept such limiting wording. Indeed, many Conservative Members go away for three months' holiday. If they went away for that length of time, they might return to find their houses underpinned or even pulled down, without knowing anything about it.
However, it would be too late for them to do anything about it because it would have been done under an Act of Parliament. If that happened, those Conservative Members would come crying to us, saying, "We should have voted with you. We should not have allowed the Bill to go through."
Let us be fair—if a Bill of this description is introduced, it should at least be written so that everybody has a reasonable chance to object, through the law of the land, to the decisions that are made in this House. That subsection is absolutely wicked.
If we consider the Bill further, we come to clause 18 which deals with the extinction of private rights of way. I know that many Conservative Members and many of my hon. Friends do a tremendous amount of walking. It is a great sport in this country to go hiking with one's wife or family and to enjoy being in the countryside. There are ways of protecting the countryside under certain Acts, but this Bill will take away the right to go walking in the countryside and to push a pram down the highway. That cannot be right; it is almost immoral to take away the right of people to go strolling in the countryside, but this Bill would do that.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes 182, Noes 57.968
|Division No. 49]||[10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)|
|Alexander, Richard||Ashby, David|
|Alton, David||Aspinwall, Jack|
|Arbuthnot, James||Atkins, Robert|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Atkinson, David|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Heddle, John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Beggs, Roy||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Beith, A. J.||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hunter, Andrew|
|Bitten, Rt Hon John||Irvine, Michael|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Jack, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Janman, Tim|
|Boswell, Tim||Jessel, Toby|
|Bowis, John||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Kilfedder, James|
|Bright, Graham||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Knapman, Roger|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Lang, Ian|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Burt, Alistair||Lightbown, David|
|Butcher, John||Lilley, Peter|
|Butler, Chris||Livsey, Richard|
|Buttertill, John||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Lord, Michael|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Macfarlane, Sir Neil|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Carrington, Matthew||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Carttiss, Michael||Mans, Keith|
|Cartwright, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Cash, William||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Chope, Christopher||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Conway, Derek||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Cran, James||Neubert, Michael|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Devlin, Tim||Norris, Steve|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Paice, James|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Patten, Chris (Bath)|
|Dover, Den||Pawsey, James|
|Dunn, Bob||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Durant, Tony||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Portillo, Michael|
|Fallon, Michael||Raffan, Keith|
|Favell, Tony||Redwood, John|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Rowe, Andrew|
|Forman, Nigel||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Forth, Eric||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Franks, Cecil||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|French, Douglas||Sims, Roger|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Gill, Christopher||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Speller, Tony|
|Goodhari, Sir Philip||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gorst, John||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Gow, Ian||Steen, Anthony|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Stern, Michael|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Gregory, Conal||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Ground, Patrick||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Hannam, John||Summerson, Hugo|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Harris, David||Thorne, Neil|
|Hayward, Robert||Thurnham, Peter|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Tredinnick, David||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Trippier, David||Wilkinson, John|
|Trotter, Neville||Wood, Timothy|
|Waddington, Rt Hon David||Woodcock, Mike|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Walker, Bill (T'side North)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wallace, James||Mr. David Maclean and|
|Waller, Gary||Mr. John M. Taylor.|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Loyden, Eddie|
|Barron, Kevin||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Bermingham, Gerald||McCartney, Ian|
|Boateng, Paul||McFall, John|
|Buckley, George J.||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Callaghan, Jim||Martlew, Eric|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Maxton, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Morley, Elliott|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Mullin, Chris|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Nellist, Dave|
|Darling, Alistair||Parry, Robert|
|Doran, Frank||Pike, Peter L.|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Eastham, Ken||Redmond, Martin|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Flynn, Paul||Ruddock, Joan|
|Galloway, George||Skinner, Dennis|
|Gordon, Mildred||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Graham, Thomas||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Hardy, Peter||Walley, Joan|
|Hinchliffe, David||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Home Robertson, John||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Hood, Jimmy||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Janner, Greville||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lewis, Terry||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Mr. Alan Meale.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That, at this day's sitting, the City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill and the Avon Light Rail Transit Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
§ Mr. Welsh
I shall now carry on to talk about the extinction of certain rights of way. I am not against changing rights of way. If this were a planning application, there would be discussion at planning level and, if the planners wanted to do away with one right of way, they would provide another one. That would be done, however, before the plans were accepted, which is reasonable. That is the correct planning approach. However, it is written in this Bill and, if it is passed, it will become an Act of Parliament and planning will not be involved. That is why I strongly object to Bills of this description, because they give planning permission in disguise. That is wrong. It is against good planning and local government.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Has the hon. Gentleman read the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No. 3) Bill which has exactly the same powers—the powers to acquire land, to disregard recent improvements and interests, and to cause the extinction of private rights of way. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore vote against the Greater Manchester Bill?
§ Mr. Welsh
We are discussing this Bill, but I shall note the hon. Gentleman's comments.
969 Such matters should not be in any Bill. Plans should go to the planning authority and not to this House. It is laid down by this House that they should go through the planning authority. They should be considered in the correct way. After negotiations at planning level with planning officers—not elected members—the council should make a decision. I hope that, after such detailed discussion the scheme will go ahead. That is the correct way to proceed under the planning laws decided by this House.
These are not partisan issues involving the Government and the Opposition, but important issues that affect all of us. Clause 20 of the Bill relates to the acquisition of part of certain properties and subsection (2) says:Where the land subject to the notice is part only of a house, building or factory, or part only of land consisting of a house, together with any park or garden belonging theretothe person on whom that notice is served has only 21 days in which to object. Conservative Members could come back from the Caribbean, and we could come back from beautiful Scarborough, to find that we no longer had a garden because we were away for more than 21 days and were therefore unable to appeal against the notice. That cannot be right, but that is what the Bill says.
If the Bill is unamended in Committee, many Conservative Members will come back from holiday to find that their swimming pool has gone. Imagine going to dive into one's pool only to find it has changed into a railway track. The same could happen to the tennis courts. I am a keen vegetable man and I would not want anyone to interfere with them, but that could easily happen.
Some people go away for winter holidays. Many of our elderly citizens go away to Spain for two or three months in the winter. They enjoy the sunshine and they live a lot longer because of such holidays—all credit is due to them. I go to Spain for about eight days at Christmas and it is lovely to see the elderly citizens who stay there for two or three months. What would happen to them if the Bill went through? They would have no garden left.
970 I cannot accept the present wording in the Bill. It should be thrown out and a new Bill should be introduced. The present Bill is unacceptable to the people to whom we are accountable.
Similar Bills may have been put through years ago, but since the 1960s our society has changed. People go on longer holidays, so it is not right for the 21-day notice to be included in the present Bill.
Clause 23(1) states:If the deposited plans or the deposited book of reference are inaccurate in their description of any landthe company may apply for a correction after giving not less than 10 days' notice. Such action would not be possible under normal local planning procedures. For a number of years I was chairman of planning, and if my officers brought plans to me before I went into a committee I always insisted that we had long discussions with those who had submitted them so that the best result was achieved, for the environment, the developer and the community.
If any of the information is wrong, a person has 10 days in which to alter it, but after that they can do nothing about it. What happens if people are on holiday? What happens to those people who are ill in the infirmary, who cannot comprehend any letters, let alone answer them? They may come back to find the description of the land that they occupy has been altered after 10 days. That cannot be right.
We have to examine the Bill a little more rationally and ask the sponsors to take back the Bill and rewrite it to give the kiddies and the lads and lasses time to look at it, consider it in more detail and appeal before any decisions are taken. For that and for other reasons, but mainly because of the reasons that I have described, I cannot accept the Bill. It is an affront to democracy and l do not think that hon. Members from either side of the House should accept a Bill written in such a way. I ask hon. Members to vote against it later this evening.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
I speak objectively as a shareholder in a private railway. I have five £10 shares in the Keighley and Worth Valley light railway. I was chairman of the Keighley and Worth Valley Light Railway Preservation Society for 10 years and undertook negotiations with British Railways that led to the agreement to purchase the line over 25 years, and I was instrumental in ensuring that that railway was operated on the basis of democratic Socialism.
I cannot be accused of not supporting railways, but it is fair to raise a number of queries about the proposals. I am an enthusiastic advocate of railways, but I have to make sure that the proposals are soundly based so that, if the scheme gets into difficulties, it does not cast a reflection on other railway projects, which could happen.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) suggested that the Bill was the precursor of several, that it is a building-brick process and that the railway will be developed in steps towards an integral system with the extensions being authorised by future Acts of Parliament. However, I pointed out to him—he answered me in a most unsatisfactory way—that the financial memorandum contains no details about any financial projections that would help to justify the Bill as the pier on which the spreading bridge might be built. It states:Expenditure which may be incurred in the future development of the light rail transit system cannot now be quantified.That underlines the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) that there is a lack of detail. Basic details are required in such proposals.
The Minister said that we should hurry this part of the procedures out of the way and get the Bill into Committee. Committees considering private Bills are notorious earning areas for lawyers who do not go into detail as much as they go into length of time. I have never had the misfortune of being on a private Bill Committee, and I hope never to do so, but my hon. Friends who have been on such Committees tell me that it is not the best way of pursuing what is in effect a public policy Bill. It is interesting that, in the Division on the business motion, the Government turned out a fair chunk of the payroll vote. Not for the first time, the Government are pursuing public policy by means of a private Bill. They have done that on several previous occasions. They are getting the payroll vote whipped in to support a private Bill and that really goes against the grain.
Paragraph (4) of the preamble states:It is accordingly expedient that the Company should be empowered to construct the works authorised by this Act, and to acquire or use the lands referred to in this Act, for the development of the first stage of such a system".Therefore, the Bill is providing compulsory purchase powers. If the Bill were being promoted by a public body, those powers would undergo much greater scrutiny, because a public body is more accountable than the company appears to be under the Bill. It appears that an office and a secretary are running the company and a board of directors meets separately because the premises are not large enough. That is my impression.
Secondly, it is unsatisfactory to give compulsory purchase powers to a private body that will use them to sell 972 land at a speculative price to finance the development of the railway, because it cuts out the inquiries into compulsory purchase proposals which, for example, a local authority would be required to hold if it were embarking simply on the compulsory purchase procedure under existing legislation.
§ Mr. Redmond
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been here from the beginning of the debate. The House has been discussing whether to give the Bill a Second Reading. We have just had a vote to allow business to continue after 10 o'clock. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) voted for business to continue. I have several questions that I want to ask about the Bill. Unfortunately, I cannot ask them. I wonder, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether it would be in order for you to suspend the sitting for 10 or 15 minutes to allow the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to do whatever he needs to do so that he can come back into the Chamber.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of order, but the whereabouts of hon. Members is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Cryer
Planning consent will be required from the local authority, but there will be some pressure, once the Bill has been passed, for the local authority to acquiesce because of the scale of the proposal and, by and large, because everybody wants to see traffic congestion eased.
Of course, everyone says that a light railway transit system is bound to be an improvement and they are probably right, but to justify the Bill we ought to have more details than have so far been provided. We do not want this to founder because of the peculiar, indeed unique, method of financing the proposal, which could give rise to serious problems. As I understand it, the money to start the work is being provided not by the Advanced Transport for Avon company but by the contractor that it has chosen to build the line, presumably on a repayment basis later. According to the promoter, the construction company is providing some £3.5 million. It is a very unusual system whereby a construction company pays to construct something that it is employed to undertake by the principal promoting company.
I, too, am sorry that the sponsor is not here to take up this point and answer it to the satisfaction of the House—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who is speaking from the Strangers Gallery, is not in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
I am happy to give the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) the assurance that when my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) returns, I will inform him of anything that has been said that is germane to the argument. It is unlikely that I shall be troubling him.
§ Mr. Cryer
That is helpful of the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), although I do not see why he should sneer at the end. If he is saying that, having made 973 this offer, he is not going to bother, it is an arrogant affront to the House that he should present a Bill with the backing of the payroll vote and, when hon. Members seek information, fob them off with a sneer such as I saw just now. It is an affront to democracy and to the procedures of the House.[Interruption.] I do not know who said, "Get on with it," but it is very important that we should consider this seriously.
Would the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) like to intervene rather than shouting from a sedentary position?
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
The hon. Gentleman asked who had said, "Let's get on with it," to which my reply was, "Just about everyone."
§ Mr. Cryer
I see. The hon. Gentleman wants to rush legislation through using the jackboot heel of the payroll vote to crush Parliament. I sometimes wonder whether some Conservative Members carry boxes of matches in their pockets, intending to set fire to this place because they regard it as redundant. I do not like having to say this, but that is the arrogant attitude that some Conservative Members seem to have to this place.
The method of construction is somewhat curious. The promoter made it clear—and it is clear from the Bill—that the company will have to borrow from the banks. The promoter did not explain what sort of construction period is envisaged. What effect will the present high interest rates have on the project? They must surely have some influence on it. Will the company have to stretch the construction time from five to seven years, for example to cushion itself against soaring interest rates under the Government's present policy?
It is dangerous to depend so heavily on borrowing, because revenue will not come in until land is sold and land values have increased—something that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is desperately trying to stop. The Chancellor tells the House that prices are slowing down, and it is the whole point and purpose of the increase in interest rates to cool the economy, which is overheated and producing higher prices yet to succeed the Bill depends on the very reverse of the Chancellor's policy. The Chancellor is trying to control prices; the Bill depends on soaring prices to provide the finance for the venture. Tat is a very risky financial basis on which to place what is—in all considered judgments—a very important venture.
If, by any chance, the Chancellor's policies succeed, the alternative source of revenue—a system of what amounts to franchising or licensing—will have to be used. The company has to complete the construction to obtain the revenue from the licensed operators to meet the costs of borrowing. The Bill provides that a proportion of the charge to the licensees will be to cover interest on the money borrowed. That is a very curious system, as the company clearly cannot obtain revenue from the licensees until construction is already a good way advanced and there is a prospect of the licensees obtaining fare revenue from people using the railways.
It seems to me that there are potential dangers. Suppose that quicksand is discovered, or that the company has to construct major deviations to avoid sewage systems, which it is not allowed to touch under the Bill. Those are potential problems with an urban transport system. If the borrowing process is stretched over a number of years, any such difficulties in construction will mean heavier 974 borrowing and the possibility of the company getting into financial difficulty, particularly if the land that it is compulsorily purchased does not have the enhanced value that is necessary to meet the considerable costs—perhaps £3 million to £4 million in all, although they are not sums speculated on in the Bill. Sage opinion will have it that this is not a sound basis on which to enter the construction of a major civil engineering works, because such works have a nasty habit of proving costlier than estimated a nd producing construction snags that were only hinted at when a venture was first embarked upon.
Construction time is important when we consider the safety of the operation of the light railway and the volume of traffic using the roads. Major road works are envisaged in the Bill. Clause 26 and the ensuing clauses set out protective provisions to make sure that the construction companies follow a proper procedure of notification to local authorities about when they are about to embark on highway construction, deviation or whatever. That means that there will be severe intrusion into traffic flows to and from Bristol.
The promoters have not indicated for how long traffic flows will be interrupted. We have the right to know what calculations the company has made. If the Minister's point about the Committee dealing with these matters in detail is right, the promoters should have the information between now and the Committee stage. They should really have it in their pockets now, ready to be produced to inquirers like me. For how long will the citizens of Bristol have to put up with single line working, and so on? Will it be months or years? What places will be affected? The House should know, so that we are better able to make a judgment about the merits of the Bill and the shrewdness with which the promoters have planned the project.
There are temporary and permanent problems to be considered. There will be the intrusion of road works during construction, but there will also be permanent disruption caused by the level crossings that are authorised in clause 12. The laying of the rails may take only a few weeks, but the level crossings will be permanent. There has been comment from both sides of the House about the traffic congestion in Bristol, and the provision of level crossings is important.
Accidents have taken place at level crossings opera ted by British Rail. Clause 12(5) refers to "automatic or other devices". Does that mean automatic level crossings? I refer the House to the Hixon level crossing disaster some years ago, when a heavy transformer was being taken across a level crossing where the barriers were not linked to signals. A British Rail train, hauled by an English Electric type 4 locomotive, hit the transformer. The transformer, weighing many tonnes, was carried several yards down the line with loss of life. That was in the early days of automatic barriers for crossings.
As a matter of operating safety, I prefer manned or womaned level crossings with interlocking signals between the gates and the signals so that a driver knows that, when the signal is released, the full gates are across the road, barricading the railway from traffic intrusion. The Bill simply says that the Secretary of State can authorise level crossings.
It would be handy to know what sort of level crossings the promoters have in mind, because there were several accidents in 1987 with half-barrier level crossings. Motorists try to dodge round them. I know that they should not, but we are talking about areas with heavy 975 traffic congestion, and there is pressure on motorists to take short cuts and get round safety measures. It is important to know whether there will be interlocking signals with barriers, and preferably gates, or automatic, remotely-operated level crossing signals with the gates not being linked to signals. This is a crucial matter, particularly as a great deal of traffic goes into and out of Bristol. I hope that the promoters will provide the information.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South complained about the lack of detail. I was a little surprised at that, because of my activities in obtaining the light railway order and the transport order to establish the Keighley and Worth Valley light railway in 1967 and 1968. We were required by the Department of Transport to provide a great deal of detail—including, for example, a register of all the curves on the branch line. We had to provide details of the bridges and abutments, the axle load that the bridges could provide and a register of the weights of rail. Presumably, on a new railway, there will be new rails.
The promoters say that it is envisaged that part of their railway will be linked to a dock, which will provide future freight services. I am all for the transfer of freight from road to rail, and I welcome that aspect of the proposal. But the biggest wagons on British Rail have an axle load of 22 tonnes. Is any detail provided to satisfy the Department of Transport that any bridge work and weight of rail will be sufficient to withstand such axle loads? Are the promoters, in their calculations for finance, taking into account the extra expense in such construction?
I can tell the House that some of the most damaging movements of wagons on the British Rail network are the 22-tonne axle loads, which have had some very damaging effects on bridges and viaducts.
§ Ms. Primarolo
The Bill proposes a railway that will go from Portishead into the city centre at Wapping wharf. In order to join up with the route identified in the proposed No. 2 Bill, which has not yet come to the House, a bridge is required. What is more, it will have to be built parallel to a swing bridge.
Bristol is an old port with an extensively used dock in the inner city. When I mention that there will be great difficulties in building that bridge, the company is silent. Our expert advice leads us to believe that the company has not properly taken into consideration these points about the cost and the technical points about the bridge.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for elucidating that point. I am slightly shocked that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare did not mention those matters. Had he done so that would have indicated to the House a determination to tackle the issues head on and convince the House, not by the payroll vote but by tackling all the problems seriously. That seriousness has been entirely absent from the hon. Member's elucidation of the Bill.
As the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said during the 1987 general election campaign, it is not good for a Government to have too big a majority. He was right—although he was sacked for saying it—because instead of providing a sound and reasoned case, the Government simply rely on the payroll vote, on those 976 who are loyal anyway and on those who desperately want to join the payroll vote and are anxious to be here and to be noticed. That way of proceeding is not conducive to a healthy Parliament. It is far better for Ministers to have to argue their case and answer the sort of legitimate questions that we are asking. We are asking three questions not in any spirit of ideological antagonism but because my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South and others are concerned to ensure that any light railway transit system is soundly based financially and technically.
I welcome in principle the suggestion of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that part of this network should be used for freight, but several technical questions about the construction of the system remain unanswered.
It would have been pleasant if the hon. Member had said that all employees of the railway would have full trade union rights and that great consideration would be given not only to the safety of the public but to the health and safety of the staff. Generally speaking, if the standards of the latter are high, the standards of operation for the public are high.
Such an assurance would have helped those who fear that a private railway network might mean lower standards of employment, with poor wages and long working hours. After all, we have been discovering, for example, that while British Rail has majority union membership, private contractors can lower standards. That is a pointer to the Clapham junction crash. I shall not reach any conclusion, because the inquiry into that has not been completed, but signalmen installing signals near one of the busiest junctions in the world were working through the night, with torches, installing wiring.
It would have helped the House if we had been assured that such standards would not be allowed on this projected railway, and that one factor in ensuring decent standards of employment would be the right to trade union membership. While the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare may be intimidated by—or perhaps he supports—the Government's antagonism towards trade unions, he could have settled some of our doubts had he made the position clear.
I support the introduction of light railway systems anywhere in Britain—[Interruption.]—including in Bristol. One of my children attends Bristol polytechnic and I am fond of the city, having visited it many times. But that system must be financially sound, be part of an integral transport network and not be operating in an absurdly antagonistic competitive situation.
There must be a collective decision on how to solve these traffic problems. I want the problems solved in the most sensible and rational way, and a better way of doing that would be to have the initiative taken by the two local authorities—one a Labour-controlled local authority, and the other Tory and Liberal-controlled—and using their pivotal position to invoke, if necessary, the assistance of the private sector.
I would not exclude the private sector, but we should use the local authorities as the primary initiative to develop a liaison between all the other means of transport. It seems to me that, particularly where the local authority is responsible for the maintenance of the roads, it would make sense to have a much closer link during construction than is proposed.
I suggest, therefore, that the best way of dealing with the Bill is for the sponsor to withdraw it and to say, "No, I am not going to depend on the payroll vote to get this Bill 977 through, come what may; there are defects and I will bring it back to the House," on the basis that I have suggested. In that way he will receive the consent and support of both sides of the House, but I am afraid that on the present basis the Bill is so misconceived and the promoters' case is so lacking in detail, that I will vote against the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)
I listened very intently to what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had to say when he was introducing the Bill. Unfortunately, nothing that was said allayed any of the doubts that I have about this Bill. I cannot understand why there is suddenly such a terrible rush to have this Bill discussed that we have to move a business motion to proceed after 10 o'clock, when last year a number of other private Bills were in the Private Bills Office and two came out. On inquiry, we were told that was because no one was pushing them into the system.
I find it deplorable that this House is called to discuss a private Bill after 10 o'clock at night, when really we should have had ample time before the Queen's Speech. I wonder whether we should be here discussing this Bill at all, although I accept that the Clerks to the Private Bill Office have deemed that it is a Bill that can be discussed.
A Bill such as is being promoted this evening has such major implications that it would have been better dealt with by a public inquiry in Bristol, to give the people there the opportunity of having their questions answered.
We received in the post this morning a statement on behalf of the promoters, and one would be grateful if at the end of the debate the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare could clarify it, because, if this is the first in a series of Bills that is to come before this House, one really must object if one believes in long-term planning. But, in laying down long-term plans, one must know what the objectives are at the end of the day. According to the Bill's promoters, other Bills are coming along that will enhance this Bill's progress.
I cannot understand why the Minister raised no objections. He said that no public money had been earmarked but that if an application were made, consideration would be given to it. Surely the Minister should have said that such money would be used for the passengers using the railways today.
The promoters say that the second phase of the rail transit system avoids the heavy cost of underground construction. Obviously, one would like such a system to be underground and out of sight where it would not blight the landscape.
Paragraph (4) of the promoters' statement says that there have been extensive discussions between Avon county council and Bristol city council on matters of concern to them and that a substantial measure of agreement has been reached. Surely it would have been in the promoters' interests for all parties concerned to have reached agreement before the Bill came to the House.
I cannot understand why last year there was no rush, but this year there is a rush and the various parties appear not to want to reach agreement. I understand that a number of petitioners have withdrawn.
978 My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) mentioned the Chancellor's anxiety about borrowing and the way in which measures such as this affect expenditure and the rates.
Clause 6(3) says:The Company shall construct good and sufficient fences on the side of any road bridge forming part of the LRT system.What happens to the fences in between the bridges? Who is responsible for them? The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said that the railway would use part of the existing British Rail system. I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong. Should we assume that responsibility for fencing between any new bridges will rest with British Rail? If not, the owners of the land backing on to the railway will be presented with a bill, if the Bill receives its Second Reading this evening.
Clause 9(1) says:the railways shall be electric power or such other motive power as the Secretary of State may approve.If it is to be electricity, why do we need that qualification? Is it to keep the options open, so that diesel-powered motors can be used to propel the carriages? That would mean pollution for the nearby houses.
Clause 9(3) states:In the provision of passenger services on the LRT system the Company shall have regard to the transport needs of members of the public who are elderly or disabled.Does that mean providing facilities such as special seating and easy access to and egress from the pick-up points, or does it mean that the fares charged to the elderly or disabled will be lower than those for normal, working members of the public? Perhaps the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare will clarify whether the Bill is referring to fares and facilities, or merely to fares.
I am extremely concerned about clause 11, which deals with the temporary stoppage of highways. Although the Bill is a private Bill, it seems that many members of the public will be affected if the Bill is enacted. A temporary stoppage of the highway may create additional problems on the motorways going into Bristol, so that may be another reason why the Bill should be withdrawn. We should look at the overall strategy and needs because anything that helps to take traffic off the road should be supported, unless it deals with the matter piecemeal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also mentioned safety arrangements at public level crossings. There have been many accidents on such systems and we should consider the arrangements that the company will make to alleviate some of the dangers. It is not sufficient to say that we shall accept good, standard practices; we should seek to improve those practices.
One cannot stress enough the underpinning of houses near works. It seems to be, "Heads I win, tails you lose". From the moment that the Bill was introduced, it blighted houses along the proposed route. Some of the people represented by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare have lost many thousands of pounds because of the blight on their houses. The company will not be responsible for making up the difference between what the houses would have fetched and their present value. The hon. Gentleman should take that point further. On the other hand, houses that are not affected by blight may have their prices enhanced and, as a result, will not receive compensation.
Clause 15(4) states:The Company shall take all such steps as may reasonably be required.979 Again, it is possible to argue about what "reasonably" means. Is this a matter for an adjudicator like the one used by British Coal, the decisions of whom the Government and British Coal appear to take no notice of, regardless of what they are? Such decisions should be made by an independent arbitrator.
Clause 16 makes certain provisions to ensure safe use of electricity. What insurance does the company intend to take out? It is to be hoped that many people will use a transport system in Bristol that has required such long-term planning. Will there be adequate cover, or will the firm go bankrupt if it has to pay out any large sums?
Clause 18 provides for the extinction of private rights of way, which is deplorable. Many rights of way have been private for many years. Owners sometimes allow the public to use them—walks that are charming in both summer and winter.
Turning to clause 22, I should like to know whether the company will pick up the blighted properties for the market price that they would otherwise have fetched. As for clause 23, which deals with deposited plans, I deplore the Genghis Khan-like principle, "Irrespective of what is decided you must accept what I say, and we can correct any errors."
I should also like to know who makes the appointments referred to on page 16 of the Bill. Perhaps, if the Bill has a Committee stage, the matter will be clarified then.
It appears from clause 27(5) that there will be no chance for local people affected by the Bill to complain. The Bill gives a private company carte blanche to assume the same rights and powers as a public body with none of the responsibilities. Public bodies as we know them are accountable to the Government and to themselves; this private company will be accountable to no one but the courts, and the little men who cannot afford legal action will be in no position to take the company on.
Clause 27(10) states that the company shallsupply the engineer with all such information as he may reasonably require".Why should British Rail seek to provide a competitor with whatever benefits it might have as a company?
We hope that the Bill will be withdrawn and that a much more sensible Bill will be introduced as part of an overall package to provide the transport system that Bristol needs. It is deplorable that people should be attacked for holding a different point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) quite rightly wants her questions answered so as to be sure that her constituents will be looked after properly, but Conservative Members appear to consider it wrong to hold a different view from theirs. I hope that they will bear in mind the fact that a different point of view can sometimes be very good for people outside this House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 149, Noes 49.981
|Division No. 50]||[23.10 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy|
|Alton, David||Atkins, Robert|
|Amess, David||Atkinson, David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Beaumont-Dark, Anthony|
|Ashby, David||Beggs, Roy|
|Beith, A. J.||Irvine, Michael|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Jack, Michael|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Jessel, Toby|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Boswell, Tim||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Bowis, John||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Brazier, Julian||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Knapman, Roger|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Knowles, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Lightbown, David|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Lilley, Peter|
|Burns, Simon||Livsey, Richard|
|Burt, Alistair||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Butcher, John||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Butler, Chris||Maclean, David|
|Butterfill, John||Mans, Keith|
|Campbell, Menzies (File NE)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Carrington, Matthew||Mills, Iain|
|Carttiss, Michael||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Cartwright, John||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Cash, William||Moss, Malcolm|
|Chapman, Sydney||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Hushcliffe)||Neubert, Michael|
|Conway, Derek||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Norris, Steve|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Paice, James|
|Cran, James||Patten, Chris (Bath)|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Pawsey, James|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Devlin, Tim||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Portillo, Michael|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Raffan, Keith|
|Dover, Den||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Dunn, Bob||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Durant, Tony||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Fallon, Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Forman, Nigel||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Franks, Cecil||Speller, Tony|
|French, Douglas||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gill, Christopher||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Stern, Michael|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Stevens, Lewis|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Gregory, Conal||Summerson, Hugo|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Ground, Patrick||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Tredinnick, David|
|Hannam, John||Trippier, David|
|Harris, David||Trotter, Neville|
|Hayward, Robert||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Walker, Bill (T side North)|
|Heddle, John||Wallace, James|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Waller, Gary|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Mr. Jonathan Sayeed and|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Mr. Jack Aspinall.|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Barron, Kevin||Doran, Frank|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Boateng, Paul||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Buckley, George J.||Galbraith, Sam|
|Cryer, Bob||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Gordon, Mildred|
|Hardy, Peter||Mullin, Chris|
|Haynes, Frank||Nellist, Dave|
|Hinchliffe, David||Parry, Robert|
|Home Robertson, John||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hood, Jimmy||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Redmond, Martin|
|Illsley, Eric||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Salmond, Alex|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Loyden, Eddie||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Walley, Joan|
|McCartney, Ian||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|McFall, John||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Martlew, Eric||Wray, Jimmy|
|Michael, Alun||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Mr. Michael Welsh and|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Mr. Alan Meale.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.