§ Order for Second Reading read.7.13 pm
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable the construction and operation of a high quality, high speed, dedicated mainline rail link between Heathrow airport and Paddington station. Heathrow is the largest airport in terms of international passengers handled and, excluding the United States, the largest by any means. That has been achieved with the skill and foresight of those in the aviation industry, who have built on our geographical advantage to create an airport second to none.
Many competitors, particularly in Paris and Amsterdam, would like to take over that lead, and one way to do that is to make provision for better ground access. Access to Heathrow is by motorway, trunk roads and a wide range of public transport, including the London underground. That is currently adequate, but unless there is provision soon for wider choice, congestion and overcrowding will spoil the otherwise excellent and efficient service now provided to the aviation industry.
The idea of a mainline railway link to Heathrow is not new. Powers were obtained in 1967 for a link on the southern region. Those powers lapsed after Government studies led to the Piccadilly line being extended to the airport. In the airports inquiry of 1981 to 1983, the inspector recognised that surface access to Heathrow needed improving, and recommended that a mainline rail link be considered. The Government accepted that, and initiated the Heathrow surface access studies in 1985, with a remit to examine a report on surface links between central London and Heathrow airport. It was from those studies that the current proposals emerged. They involved wide-ranging consultation and examining numerous schemes, different London termini, alternative routes and proposals, both by road and rail.
The joint British Rail-BAA proposal was chosen in 1988 by the Government from a number of competing schemes, and plans have been developed in considerable detail and refined since then. Its construction would immediately help in reducing pressure on the M4, other roads in west London and the crowded Piccadilly line.
The Heathrow Express Railway Bill was deposited in another place in November 1988. After its Second Reading in February 1989—
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
Could my hon. Friend quantify the amount of relief that the scheme would give to the heavily congested M4 and A4, in particular the A4 Cromwell road, between one and five miles to the west of central London, which affects not only my constituents but those of many other Members in west London and beyond?
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend will be aware that a reduction of a relatively small percentage in numerical terms can have a considerable effect on the road network. I am sure that, over the August holiday period, he has witnessed a reduction of 5 or 10 per cent. in the volume of traffic, which can considerably speed up journey times. Any saving must be enormously helpful, but quite a 217 number of taxi and car journeys to Heathrow would be made unnecessary if the proposal were brought into effect, which would create the desired advantage.
The subject was considered in Committee in April and May of 1989. The Committee was concerned about the effect of the surface section of the route on green belt land. The promoters responded positively by introducing an additional provision that routed the railway underground, at an additional cost of about £12 million.
The Heathrow express is a joint project between BAA plc, formerly the British Airports Authority, now in the private sector, and British Rail. BAA can be involved in such a project now that it is a private sector company and brings to the enterprise an unrivalled understanding of the air passenger market and considerable financial strength. British Rail brings its undoubted operational experience as the operator of some of the busiest short-distance routes in the world, as well as its strength in marketing the project as part of the national railway network.
The key to the Heathrow express is the high-quality, high-speed, dedicated nature of the service. It is designed to serve air passengers wanting to get to and from Heathrow and central London. The proposed service is for trains to operate from 5 am to 11.30 pm—outside those hours, very few flights operate from the airport. It is proposed that trains should run every 15 minutes. The journey time from Paddington to Heathrow, terminals 1, 2 and 3, will be 16 minutes and to terminal 4, 20 minutes—a dramatic improvement on the existing form of travel.
The trains will be specially designed, electric multiple units with provision for large amounts of baggage. They will be fully accessible to passengers with disabilities.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
As a supporter of the Bill, may I point out to my hon. Friend that the road journey is unreliable? One has to leave at least an hour early in either direction. Only last evening, returning from parliamentary duties abroad, I was delayed on the underground for an hour, for technical reasons, on my way to vote in the House.
§ Mr. Thorne
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The new service would be a marked improvement, and it is something that we must have if Heathrow is to compete with other European airports.
High-quality information will be a key feature, available on board from BAA or from special displays. The trains will be driven by British Rail drivers.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend for not being present for the start of his speech. He has just finished speaking about the route, but does he remember that I have raised the question of a westward-facing link, so that trains from south Wales, the west country and the south-west can travel directly into Heathrow? Does he agree that the BAA, by having use of what are the primary pieces of railway line in this country, has a public duty? Can he give an assurance that, at some point during the passage of the Bill—as those who support it do not want to be disruptive at a later stage—he will consider an amendment to provide for land to be reserved, and if necessary for provision to be made, for that important westward-facing link?
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend is an acknowledged expert on the railway system, and I am sure that he joins in my feeling of delight that a lot of money is to be spent in this 218 way. He will appreciate that the scheme must stand on its own feet financially. Nothing in the Bill will prevent a connection to the west in due course if demand arises, but we must be satisfied that there is such a demand. At present, it does not seem to exist—but as soon as such a link becomes viable, I am sure that it could be introduced.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The relevance of the intervention of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) is recognised in all parts of the House, but I am concerned also about a possible link with the former Southern Railway line, west of Feltham. Right hon. and hon. Members will want to ensure that the new service is not built in isolation but will form part of the over all rail network. It should have connections both to the south and the west. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it will be feasible to provide a step-plate junction, or a series of such junctions, to allow the line to be extended to the former Southern Railway link near Feltham at some future date? Can he indicate the promoters' intentions in that regard?
§ Mr. Thorne
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that important aspect. I believe that it is hoped that there will eventually be a link to the south, but that too will depend on the viability of such a service. It is important to ensure that any expenditure at this stage is not out of context with the scheme's overall cost. It should be possible to examine the provision of a link such as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but cost will be an important factor. It would be wrong to add to the expense of the whole project, and thus to the ticket costs of those people who use the service, by introducing too elaborate a connection. However, it is the intention to explore that possibility.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will know from his vast experience of the railways that, whatever view may be held of where a junction should be introduced, after five years or so, engineers often reach the conclusion that it was not the right choice of location, so a lot of the expense can prove to be abortive. Bitter experience has shown that it is not always wise to spend too much money on providing such a facility too early in a scheme.
§ Mr. Snape
Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will be disappointed with the hon. Gentleman's reply. He must appreciate that the provision of such a junction, or a series of such junctions, in a tunnel is extremely difficult and expensive—and if that provision is not made at this stage, it is unlikely that it will be done in future, except at enormous expense. I appreciate the difficulties in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself, but unless that aspect is considered sympathetically in Committee, the passage of the Bill is likely to be more protracted than it would be, given a more sympathetic reply from the promoter.
§ Mr. Thorne
I intended to make it clear that that aspect had been sympathetically considered already, and that much work had been devoted to it. Certainly, the question of providing some form of demountable section in the tunnel is being considered, and further consideration will be given to that aspect in Committee. It is the promoters' wish to make the new rail link as profitable and successful an enterprise as they can. However, much will depend on the final overall cost of such an enhancement. If it runs into many millions of pounds, it would be wrong unfairly 219 to weight the ticket prices for passengers using that dedicated line and thereby make the whole scheme unviable.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Once the Bill has passed through its Committee stage, right hon. and hon. Members may want to take a view on how much of the scheme's costs the promoters should bear and how much should be considered and extraneity. We are now 100 years on from the opening of the line between Stockwell and King William street, which led on over 17 years to a mammoth expansion of the London underground system. If every new infrastructure project is to be half-blocked in the House of Commons for years, few new projects will come forward, because managers will say that they take too long to go through.
I hope that we will find a way of allowing some extra provision to come forward, so that one can consider a viable project together with a few add-ons. Further infrastructure projects will be necessary if we are to double our standard of living again over the next 30 years. A part of that doubling will require infrastructure projects relating to mass-transit operations.
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend has vast experience of the transport sector. I assure him that the promoters are most anxious that the scheme will be effective and viable. I accept that there are other possibilities for the project, to which I shall refer later. No doors are being closed, and we shall try to ensure that the link caters for the 21st century—which is what it is all about.
Paddington Station will have a pair of platforms dedicated to the Heathrow express, where there will always be a train waiting and a special ticket office will be provided. The taxi and car set down and pick up arrangements are to be modified to ensure a better balance between demand and supply. The express platforms, which will be centrally located, will give easy and level access to taxi ranks and car waiting areas, with simple routes to new escalators that will lead to the London underground. The rearrangement of taxi operations will have the added benefit of reducing rat runs for vehicles through nearby residential streets.
I know that some local residents would like a much more radical change in Paddington's road access arrangements, and British Rail discussed that in detail with Westminster city council. The promoters would also be happy to see that happen, and there would seem to be a window of opportunity to achieve it in conjunction with the construction of platforms for the proposed crossrail link.
Works numbered 1A to 5 provide for the construction of the branch line from the Great Western main line near Stockley Bridge to Heathrow airport. The works begin as a twin-track, cut-and-cover tunnel, continuing as a bored tunnel beneath the M4 and open green belt land. Beneath the airport there will be two stations, one serving terminals 1, 2 and 3 and the other serving terminal 4, each with direct links to the terminal buildings via lifts and escalators, including provision for wheelchairs and for baggage trolleys. The bored tunnel between the two stations will be a single track. The construction of massive stations beneath busy airport terminal areas requires careful planning.
220 Works numbered 6A to 9 provide for the construction of an airport junction. As the express will be using the existing western region fast main line from Paddington in conjunction with the 125 mph inter-city high speed trains, a junction must allow for high-speed points, deceleration and acceleration lanes and flyover for the up eastbound airport branch line.
Disruption to existing operations will be minimised, and local residents will be protected by some special environmental protection measures. Houses next to the existing main line currently experience noise from existing trains. A special green wall, designed to blend in with the railway embankment, will help to reduce noise levels from existing trains and the quieter Heathrow express trains. Some former gravel pits in the area have become ecologically important in the short period since they were dug; the promoters will be taking steps to minimise interference and more than replace areas lost.
Works numbered 10 to 13 permit bridge raising to allow overhead electric wires to be installed on all four mainline tracks at various locations between Hayes and Harlington and Paddington. Other works on the main line for which new powers are not needed include modifications to track works and the installation of new signalling which will also benefit passengers on existing services to the west of England and south Wales.
In order to undertake the works, land and rights have to be purchased and part III provides the power to do so. No house will need to be demolished. Some Government vacant land associated with the Public Record Office has to be acquired. As most of the line runs in tunnel, little land has to be acquired on the surface except for emergency escape shafts and landscaping. However, some land is required for temporary use for a number of working sites.
Part IV contains the normal protective provisions. Within part V, which covers miscellaneous and general matters, is clause 38. That seeks to disapply sections 54 and 56 of the Transport Act 1962. That is necessary because the line, being designed as a special airport link, would be inhibited if the need to consult over closure proposals caused further delays and financial losses. There is no provision for the payment of a public service obligation grant for this line in the unlikely event that it should not prove to be profitable.
All those works add up to a very expensive project, some £235 million at 1989 prices, 80 per cent. of which is to be funded by the BAA and the remainder by BR. The two parties have entered into a joint venture agreement which determines their rights, responsibilities and obligations, and sets out how the income is to be shared. BR's basic return is guaranteed, but there are also incentives in the form of bonus and penalty payments to ensure that the trains run to a strict time-keeping schedule.
The Bill allows for the linking of Heathrow airport to the United Kingdom's mainline railway network. The initial proposals are straightforward and seek to serve a specific market. However, once linked to the network, many other services become possible, some requiring no new powers or infrastructure, while others require modest additions.
While ultimately any decision on which additional services should be run will be for the operators, they will clearly want to take into account the views of users and representative groups. Clearly, one attractive possibility is through operation to Liverpool street and beyond via 221 crossrail, with some trains stopping at intermediate stations. In the longer term, the possibilities for extensions and additions are wide, and the promoters' strategy is to ensure that none of those possibilities are precluded. An example would be for a west-facing link which could be added in a number of ways, such that, if the western region mainline is electrified, trains could operate into Heathrow from the west.
§ Mr. Adley
The western region main line is due to be electrified from Reading as part of crossrail. If my hon. Friend—I do not say this unkindly—reads the railway press avidly, as I am sure he does, he will know that his comment a moment ago about being linked to the main-line system of BR would be regarded as somewhat cynical, when in fact it is only linked to westbound trains coming out of Paddington.
In response to my first intervention, my hon. Friend said that those things would be looked at. Will he give me an assurance that, during the Bill's passage, there will be a full cost-benefit analysis and a further evaluation by British Rail, as a partner in the project, of the advantages to people from the west country, south Wales, Birmingham and so on, of a west-facing link?
Does my hon. Friend understand that, if he is seeking, as he must be doing, to maximise revenue for the Bill's sponsors, there must be some evaluation of how much extra traffic could be brought into Heathrow by rail if people from, say, Bristol, did not have to whiz past the junction, go into Paddington, get off with all their luggage, transfer to another platform and then go back along the route that they had just travelled? Will he please give an assurance that, before the Bill finishes its passage through the House, we shall be presented with a proper evaluation of that?
§ Mr. Thorne
I do not read the railway press as avidly as my hon. Friend, but I read it quite closely. I am sure that he will be aware that the traffic which comes from other areas to Heathrow airport is relatively small and that that is why such a link is not as attractive as it might other wise be. For example, I believe that only 1.5 per cent., 2 per cent. at the most, of the traffic using Heathrow comes from Wales.
§ Mr. Thorne
But they have their own airports, and I am anxious that not all passengers should come to London, because that is what makes roads so difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) complained about the amount of road traffic going through his constituency. We must have a balance in these matters. The matter has been evaluated, and the promoters find that it is not cost-effective at the moment. When the network is electrified into Wales, there is no earthly reason why such a scheme should not be taken up at that time.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Will my hon. Friend seek to ensure that, so far as possible during the Bill's passage, he engenders a favourable climate for the laying down of not only the link to the west but the one to the south, and the rail infrastructure to make possible a fifth terminal? That is the long-term potential of the airport, which will be nullified unless proper rail links are put in in advance.
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) will see that there is some resistance to his suggestion. The question of a fifth terminal is not one that we are here to discuss tonight. so I shall quickly pass on.
§ Mr. Snape
I think that I speak on behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we are aware of the difficulties the hon. Gentleman faces in introducing this legislation, which he is doing in such an able way.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that it was not cost-effective for the promoters to accept a west-facing link at this time. Of course it is not, because the promoters' only interest is in ferrying as many people as possible from Paddington to Heathrow airport. But will he accept it from me that about 5 million people currently use the coach links from Reading and Woking, and it is joining up Reading and Woking with a line through Heathrow that we are about in the instruction which, sadly, for understandable reasons, has not been accepted? Is not 5 million a substantial number, bearing in mind that it will inevitably grow in the 1990s?
§ Mr. Thorne
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the promoters will look carefully at the link. There is no question of their ruling it out.
§ Mr. Thorne
If the Government should decide to come forward with some funds to help the promoters on some future occasion, that is a different matter. Tonight, we are discussing the Heathrow Express Railway Bill. I hope that all hon. Members will welcome such a measure as a first step. We should not pull the idea down, because that would remove the opportunity for expansion into a number of other areas which many other people want. We must leave the options open and speed the passage of this Bill—
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
This procedure clarifies matters. Part of the difficulty is the lack of a coherent Government policy for railways. If only there were a double Y junction at Harlington and another one at Feltham, all would be clear: people could go from Reading to Heathrow, Croydon and perhaps on to Brighton.
As for crossrail, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a single terminal at Paddington has a disadvantage? Would it not be possible to run suburban trains through to Stratford and possibly Stansted, and to provide an extended dedicated service, to be run on the Gatwick principle, a little further into London, so as to have an alternative destination with all sorts of advantages over the proposal for a single terminal?
§ Mr. Thorne
It would not be possible to do that under the present proposal. It is an excellent idea to provide the public with a good, efficient, fast and reliable service. It would be unfortunate to spread out that service by sending it to different locations at this stage, but this is only a step in the right direction. In the 21st century, many more facilities will be required.
I am sure that opportunities for crossrail and approaches from the south will materialise. The question is how and when, but I am afraid that we are not here to discuss that tonight. It would be quite wrong to divert our 223 attention from this essential measure if we are to maintain our position as an international air centre, which is the objective of the Bill. The strategy is one of flexible response, but it must be made clear that, until the initial link is provided, no additions, extensions or long-term strategy are possible.
I began by referring to Heathrow's competitors, which want to steal its valuable position and which are therefore developing new mainline rail links to their airports. In many ways, they are just catching up on our lead. In so doing, they will employ the latest designs and operating techniques to make the links as effective as possible.
Arguably, London has already waited too long for a fast rail link to its principal airport. If the House agrees, it will be possible for the first train to run in 1995, 10 years after the planning process started. The Heathrow express project will then allow Heathrow to maintain its lead and even increase it by ensuring that passengers have the widest choice of flights and services and the widest choice of transport opportunities. I urge the House to support the Bill.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) made a good point. It was remiss of me not to inform the House earlier that Mr. Speaker has not selected the instruction, but the topic of it can be commented on in the course of the debate.
§ Mr. Morgan
There is little point in repeating material already covered in depth in the carry-over debate, but it is worth repeating one fundamental point that emerged from it a month ago. Since the former Secretary of State for Transport, who has now departed to a thousand hurrahs, made his great announcement on 9 October about the London crossrail link from Paddington to Liverpool Street—it had greater significance in its backwash effect, as it included the announcement of the first 40 miles of the Great Western main line between Paddington and Reading—it has become clear that this Bill should be withdrawn and studied again by the promoters and then re-presented to the House taking into account that momentous announcement at the Conservative party conference. Ninety per cent. of the length of the line in this Bill is on the Great Western main line, but when it was originally planned and presented the Government had made no commitment to electrifying the south Wales main line beyond the point at which it passes just north of Heathrow airport. Now that there is such a commitment, we are in a different ball game.
The promoters could have gone away for four months and realised that, as the Government are committed to electrification through to Reading, they had a different set of options and modalities for integrating the different power modes, different junctions and different expenditures—because the Government will carry out part of the job, by means of the usual British Rail external financing limit, which the promoters had thought they would have to carry out on their own. Now the Government are committed to crossrail, taking electrification from Reading to Paddington, linking through to 224 Liverpool Street and connecting with services to the eastern region of British Rail straight through to Paddington—
§ Mr. Morgan
Not completely, but the potential for such connection has been brought much nearer.
In this context, the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) becomes even more important. Since the announcement of the crossrail approval by the Government, Paddington has become a far more critical station. Traditionally it has been a friendly home from home for people from south Wales, Bristol and central southern England, and the home of commuter services to the western part of the home counties. All of a sudden the station has acquired the additional function of providing, as the promoters would have it, the main link for high-speed transport from central London to Heathrow. Paddington will become the hub, the most important railway station in Britain and one of the half dozen most important stations in western Europe.
So the promoters will have to take into account the much greater pressure on Paddington that will result from crossrail being added to the Heathrow connection, on top of the traditional role that the station has played since the days of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the early connections to Bristol and south Wales a century and more ago.
Members of Parliament have a duty to rub our brain cells together and not just to give the Bill a free passage. We must try to imagine how the connections are supposed to work together. We must ask ourselves what the total impact on the planning of Paddington station will be, with crossrail, the Heathrow express and the traditional services. This is not merely a selfish concern of hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and myself about longer queues for taxis at Paddington when we are rushing to get to Welsh Question Time on a Monday afternoon. Paddington has the potential to become the most important and best-planned station in western Europe—or to become the most important and worst-planned, if the project is carried out piecemeal.
The promoters suggest that when crossrail comes along it will be separate, and that Paddington's traditional links to south Wales are different, too. These are not separate aspects: all these services will pass through Paddington. The station cannot expand sideways into densely packed Paddington—that is out of the question—so how will all the traffic fit together?
§ Mr. Spearing
We are talking not about connections to Liverpool Street but about through services of any sort of combination from Liverpool Street on to Stratford, Cambridge or Ipswich—including possibly to Stratford international. What my hon. Friend said about Paddington's expansion was, happily for him, incorrect. Is he aware that British Rail has a huge site north of Paddington which is empty and which may well be disposed of for some form of development?
As regards overall planning, would it not be wise at least to ensure that space is made available for additional extensions to Paddington if they become necessary for the reasons that my hon. Friend has just advanced?
§ Mr. Morgan
I defer to my hon. Friend's detailed knowledge of London and its railway system. I was pointing out that there are two schools of thought on the Bill. There are supporters of the enclave principle of railway connection, and supporters of the connection school of railway development. The enclave school of thought is represented by the sponsor and the promoters of the Bill. They think that we should consider the link as an isolated piece of development, serving central London and Heathrow. The link will run on the western region main line for 10 of its 12 or 13 miles, but nevertheless they think of it as if it were on an island, not connected to the national railway system. They think that it is entirely accidental that it has anything to do with the western region main line.
The other school of thought is that, as it will run on the western region main line, hon. Members should consider the national dimension of the Bill. That line does not merely go to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea but proceeds on to Fishguard and the Irish ferries, so it is an international line. Through the link from Didcot to Oxford, Banbury and Birmingham, the line connects with the rest of the midlands, the north and Scotland and offers an alternative route, instead of the better-known route from Euston.
It will not come as any surprise that I favour utilising the desire of the British Airports Authority and British Rail to co-operate in spending several hundred millions of pounds to provide a high-speed connection between central London and Heathrow. I want to see whether we can use the potential that it offers to open up Heathrow so that it will perform its proper function, as Great Britain's number one international airport.
Heathrow is not merely central London's international airport. It has been pointed out that we have an airport in south Wales. So we do—I live about six miles from it, and it is a nice regional airport, but in no sense of the word can it be considered a competitor for Heathrow. It does not have any regular, year-round international, transatlantic or intercontinental connections but merely a modest four international destinations, served by scheduled flights on a regular basis, and another four within the United Kingdom. That is not competition for Heathrow.
People from south Wales, Bristol, Oxford, Swindon or anywhere else in south-west and central England who want to fly to Nicaragua or to Thailand have to go to Heathrow. People will always have to use Heathrow for intercontinental destinations, and that is what people who live outside central London resent most. Heathrow is regarded as the private concern of people who live in central London. The House is regarded as a club for people who occupy positions of influence in central London.
When hon. Members request that the promoters of such Bills consider the interests of six sevenths of the population who do not live in central London, we are thought to be obstructing the people of importance who live there. That is nonsense. We are the Parliament of Great Britain. The only opportunity for the vast majority of people who do not live in central London to make Bills more relevant to them is to utilise the procedures of the House, and to table amendments for consideration by the promoters which, if viable, will be added to the Bill.
I am surprised that the sponsor has not mentioned the publication of the National Economic Development Council report, which has taken place since the carry-over motion. I have a pre-publication copy here. It is called, 226 "On the Right Track to Heathrow Airport" and was released to the press on 10 December. It was widely referred to in the press last week. The National Economic Development Council was seeking to look after the long-term interests of Heathrow, as our most important airport—it is also, although not in freight terms, the most important international airport in western Europe. In the report, the NEDC makes it clear—the NEDC is one of those tripartite bodies of which the Government do not approve, as it brings in the unions and the employers—
§ Mr. Morgan
Sorry, I had forgotten about the classless society. Perhaps the NEDC is coming back into favour now.
The report also makes a reference to the work of a n hon. Member who is present tonight—the famous pamphlet, "Tunnel Vision, Rail Routes to the Channel Tunnel"—so it is obviously an excellent publication.
The report referred to the development of Heathrow as being dependent on a rolling programme of improvement. Stage 1 would be the approval of the Bill tonight. Stage 2 would be the construction of a westward-facing link, which would bring the connection from Heathrow to the south Wales main line somewhere near Slough, thereby providing a link to the airport for the people who live in the catchment area of Reading, Didcot, Oxford, Swindon, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff and Swansea—the population in that area is exactly the same as the population of London, about 6 million or 7 million people.
Almost everyone, except the promoters of the Bill, understands the connection between the Bill and the westward-facing link, which would be the logical next step. Therefore, I find it odd that the sponsor has so far been unable to say that the promoters have made any undertaking showing that they are willing to consider how to connect the link provided for by the Bill with the logical next step of integrating Heathrow with the national railway system. The aim of the express railway is not merely to carry passengers from Heathrow airport into London, via Paddington.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I offer my warmest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on the way in which he has managed the Bill through the House, and especially on his typical thoroughness and courtesy in responding to the inquiries and concerns of his parliamentary colleagues.
My constituents in the City of Westminster certainly warmly welcome the principle of the new rail link to central London. I have no doubt that many of my constituents will greatly benefit from the new link when it comes into operation.
However, I must say a few words about the environmental and traffic problems that will arise because of this proposal. The impact of the link on central London is just as important as its impact at Heathrow airport and the concerns about traffic problems there which other hon. Members have mentioned.
City of Westminster council is concerned about the environmental impact of the new route and its impact on traffic in the Paddington area, given the expected growth in traffic on roads in that area arising from improvements to the A40, the M40 extensions, the predicted growth in 227 general traffic and rail patronage to Paddington, and significant developments already planned for the locality. Extra traffic at Paddington will have a knock-on effect on congestion on roads and the public transport network throughout the centre of London, and needs to be considered and planned for.
Many of my constituents, especially those living near Paddington station, consider that the promoters have underestimated the potential usage of the railway. The promoters' current estimates—6 million passengers per annum, of whom some 47 per cent. would use cars or taxis at Paddington—are considered cautious, even given the current throughput of Heathrow airport. Moreover, they do not take into account the construction of terminal 5, which would increase usage by at least 31 per cent.
The city council is attempting to secure the development of the Paddington area—which spans the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) as well as mine—in a balanced manner. Our residential population wants the council to implement policies to establish the area as one of mixed use, while protecting and enhancing the amenity of the existing residential area, which house a considerable number of people.
The council has emphasised the importance of traffic-related issues, and the need to plan comprehensively for the long term when considering the four major planning applications relating to the immediate Paddington area. As a result, considerable changes have been made to the applications which reduce their traffic impact. For example, one developer has cut the proposed car parking from 2,500 to 431 spaces, and is proposing to pay for a wide range of highway improvements in the vicinity of the station, including direct access to it off Bishops Bridge road.
Unfortunately, the negotiations between my local authority and the promoters have suggested—at least until tonight—that there is little evidence of long-term planning for Paddington station. That is a matter of great concern to my council and to local residents. For instance, the retention of the sub-standard ramp off Bishops Bridge road, which requires cars to stop and then proceed at about 4 mph, makes the movement of traffic very difficult. If the British Rail access scheme were part of a private development, my local authority simply would not approve it.
Alternative access from the north of the station, via Bishops Bridge road, would be superior in terms of traffic, safety, parking and environment. The city council has been pressing BR to adopt a scheme providing such access for some time. The council still feels that such a scheme could be fully integrated with crossrail, including the through running of Heathrow trains. I was glad to learn tonight from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South that the crossrail development could involve that; I assure him that my authority and its residents would welcome it.
I know that my hon. Friend will convey my messages to the promoters. Let me emphasise the importance of thorough consideration and implementation of the traffic management aspects of the new route. Because of other major planning developments, the stress imposed on the 228 immediate area is such that the control of traffic will be a crucial issue for the residential community for many years to come.
The problem of access to the station must be resolved, and soon, so that my local authority, which has to approve the applications, has time to reassure the public, who have an interest in planning applications, as well as ensuring that their environmental and residential objectives are met. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the keen interest that he has displayed in these matters—at least until this moment.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)
I, too, welcome the Bill; but I find it extraordinary that, over 40 years, Heathrow has developed into a major international airport without having the benefit of a rail link. BAA plc is to be congratulated on having enabled itself to promote the Bill and also fund the new railway.
I have a constituency interest, in that I am concerned for both the continued success of Heathrow airport—which employs many of my constituents—and the relief of the traffic congestion caused by the airport. I believe that the new railway can contribute to both.
As for the quality of the rail link, the Heathrow Express will certainly compare favourably with the rail link connecting with Charles de Gaulle airport: there, it is necessary to board a bus to travel from the terminal to the station.
I hope very much that the new railway will be a success. Nevertheless, we should remember that it will provide a link only with the network to the north of the airport, and that there is a strong case for providing a link with the network to the south. I hope that the Committee will satisfy itself that the proposed works will not prejudice the provision of such a link.
The stations and tunnels that are to be built under the airport could be used—the stations certainly, and the tunnels as part—to provide that southern link, and I hope that the means will eventually be found. I also hope that the Committee will establish as far as possible that the method of construction will not preclude the provision of the southern link and that, within reason, the door will be kept open for it.
I understand from engineering consultants employed by the London borough of Hounslow that, for an additional £3 million—now—three sections of tunnel could be designed, rather wider than currently planned, so that the tunnels for a southern link could be let in later without the need for the railway to be closed while the work was being done. Letting in the tunnels could enable the northern link stations to be used for the southern link, too.
I realise that £3 million is a lot of money, and that the promoters must look to the potential customers for the financing of the development, at least at present. However, this is a modest sum compared with the £220 million being spent on the Heathrow express, and the £35 million that it would cost to shut the railway and join the tunnels with the southern link once the railway was in operation. We must keep the figures in perspective.
We do not yet know the extent to which, after its current venture, BAA plc will develop a taste for providing railway links with its airports. But whoever is in the 229 business of providing railways in the future will be more attracted to doing so if those modest steps are taken to keep open the possibility of a southern link.
A report by Colin Buchanan and Partners, which was commissioned by the London borough of Hounslow, shows that, in engineering, operational and environmental terms, a southern rail link to the airport is a practical possibility. A further report by Colin Buchanan and Partners for the London boroughs of Hounslow, Richmond, Kingston upon Thames, Merton and Sutton supports the practicality of an orbital rail link in south-west London. Several of my hon. Friends have also referred to the report by the National Economic Development Council, was published on 10 December, which supports those ideas in a much more general framework.
I hope that BAA plc, which has suggested that it will try to keep open as many options as possible, and which has already shown some agreement between the consultants on these matters, will continue to keep that option open. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will look carefully at the desirability of keeping open the option for a southern link and that, within reason, the money will be found for doing so because it will undoubtedly be very much more expensive to provide such as link in the future. Keeping that option open would encourage whoever is responsible for the provision of the railways to provide the further rail link which is very much needed because it would strengthen Heathrow and its surrounding environment.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
I sympathise with the points made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). We know that the promoters introduced the Bill to try to improve the surface access problems that exist at Heathrow. Those problems existed before terminal 4 was built, and have hardly improved since. The sponsors suggest that 6 million potential passengers will use the link, thus taking a great deal of traffic off the roads between central London and Heathrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has said that the sponsors must bear in mind the implications for terminal 5 and ensure that they get the link correct.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) is sitting quietly on the Front Bench—from his point of view, I hope that things remain that way—but may I advise him that a great deal of what needs to be done in connection with Heathrow, its surface access problem and the wider implications of the Bill is a matter for the Government, not the sponsors? One cannot expect BAA plc to fund surface access improvements between Heathrow and the Cromwell road. That is a matter for the Government, who should have an integrated transport policy for rail, road and air travel.
My hon. Friend the Minister has now turned to me and has a slight twinkle in his eye. He knows that it is impossible to talk about surface access to Heathrow, the rail link that we should have and the movement of aircraft, without thinking in terms of integration. It is no good the Government having a policy on aircraft movement, the railways and in connection with what the Civil Aviation Authority should he doing, if they do not think about the needs of terminal 5 at Heathrow. There can be no doubt 230 that west-facing access is vital to the people of the west country and south Wales, as is the southern link. Although building the tunnel has some technical implications, in my view that is not the responsibility of BAA plc or British Rail; it is a matter for the Government.
I was opposed to the Bill from the outset because of the effect that it will have on my constituents, although I accept the principle behind it. I still believe that this is the wrong route and that it should run directly from Southall. However, I pay tribute to the sponsors for the way in which they have listened to the criticisms about the route—some constructive, some not—from people such as myself. The sponsors were criticised at first for their lack of consultation, but the consultation process has improved tremendously during the past year or so. Many of my constituents have been able to see the proposals in model form and there has been a hot line by which they could contact the sponsors to find out exactly what was going on.
As suggested by my local authority, the route has been amended to avoid fragmenting the green belt, at a cost to the promoters of £12 million. I am also grateful that, as a result of pressure—some from myself—the route will be taken under the M4 rather than over it, as was originally suggested. The noise and environmental implications for my constituents as the route comes out of Hayes station and turns left to cross the green belt towards Heathrow were matters of great concern, but I understand that a "green wall" is to be built, which will help to reduce the noise levels experienced by most of the residents who back on to the existing main line. To some extent, the green wall will not make all that much difference to some of those who will suffer extremely badly from noise, but the sponsors have agreed to make a financial contribution towards sound insulation to try to make life that bit more bearable for those people.
The disruption to Stockley lakes is important for both ecological and fishing reasons, but it will be minimised by the well thought-out development and management plan. Assurances have been given that the greatest care will be taken to avoid any hazards when dealing with landfill.
I still believe that, in due course, consideration should be given to a different route. However, it bears repeating that the sponsors have at last—I emphasise the words "at last"—responded to the needs of my constituents and to the pressures that I have brought to bear, along with other colleagues, and have made the adjustments and modifications that are necessary to make life bearable for my constituents.
Therefore, although I hope that the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight, I also hope that, in Committee, the sponsors will take on board some of the points that have been made tonight. The most important aspect of all this is that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench should put their heads together and start thinking in terms of integration. Money must be made available to make sure that we get it right, so that the people of south Wales, and those in my home town of Bristol, can have access to Heathrow without this nonsense of passing it by, going into Paddington and having to come out again. I hope that terminal 5 will soon begin the long process of construction, starting in my local authority. We must bear in mind the needs of terminal 5, which, again, is more a matter for the Government than for the sponsors—
§ Mr. Jessel
Surely my hon. Friend cannot imagine that his local borough council will be expected to decide the 231 planning permission and that any future application for a fifth terminal will not result in a call-in, a public inquiry and a decision by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Dicks
My hon. Friend misunderstands me. I said that the start of the planning process would begin with my local authority. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, as he is about the musicians in his constituency: it will be a long-term process. I am sure that the matter will be called in and decided elsewhere.
As I have said, I hope that the Bill receives its Second Reading and that all the points that have been made by hon. Members will be taken into consideration by the promoters and by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I should perhaps make my speech short and say that, if the Bill satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), it satisfies me. His emollient tones bode well for the passage of the Bill. No one would criticise my hon. Friend for not exercising independent and constructive judgment on behalf of his constituents, as he always has and certainly has on this Bill, which is much the better for it.
The problem with the development of airports in this country has always been that far too little attention has been paid to the vital aspect of surface access. Lack of surface access, particularly rail access direct to passenger terminals, has caused congestion, with which we are all too familiar, and has damaged the potential development of airports. This is true of Luton, where there is no direct rail link; it has been so for a long time of Stansted; it was true until the Gatwick express was created for Gatwick; and, for far too long, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) pointed out, it has been true of Heathrow. The consequence for passengers and for those living around these airports has been the failure to exploit their economic potential and a degradation of the environment that was quite unnecessary.
This modest Bill—in financial terms, it is far from modest—will, I hope, be the precursor of further measures to put in place a fully strategic rail infrastructure for Heathrow and other key airports.
I know that my constituents have a double interest in the Bill: first, because anything that is good for Heathrow in international terms—rail access is a vital aspect of that matter—is good for them, as Heathrow is the main source of employment for my constituents, apart from central London; and, secondly, they ask whether it will improve their access to the airport. With the development of crossrail, this may be so. A station on the crossrail link from Aylesbury and Amersham at Northwood will enable them to travel at high speed through to the Paddington terminal and out to the airport.
More important, the rail link will significantly reduce the grave traffic congestion that bedevils west London, which is caused to a large extent by a lack of proper rail access to the Heathrow terminals.
My hon. Friends who argue for wider examination of the Bill's implications in Committee have logic and sense on their side. As I said, the Bill is a precursor of other measures, and we shall undoubtedly need that connection 232 out to the west, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) so eloquently intervened, and the connection to the south, to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston alluded. If we are fully to utilise Heathrow's potential and preserve the local environment, we need to exploit the rail connections much more than is envisaged at present.
I hope that the good experience of the Bill and the installation of this rail link will set a necessary example to policy makers in the Department of Transport. Although the sponsors of the Bill—the BAA and the British Railways Board—deserve full credit for the impetus that they have put behind it and for their readiness to modify it, nevertheless it is the responsibility of the Department of Transport to ensure that the premier gateway to this country—Heathrow airport—has the proper rail access to the east, the west and the south which it deserves. I support the Bill.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The remarkable aspect of this debate has been the unanimity on not only the desirability of this project but the need to widen and to extend it to take care of the transport needs of passengers from all over the United Kingdom who wish to travel to and from the busiest international airport and the need and desire to see this stretch of railway become a integral part of the British Rail network. As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) reminded us, the crossrail should extend to the south, to the west and to the east.
Regrettably, the Bill does no such thing. For eminently understandable reasons, the interests of the former British Airports Authority, which is now BAA plc, lie in maximising the number of passengers who use its airports. Quite fairly, it does not see it as its role or responsibility to do more than that. That illustrates the weakness of the Government's transport philosophy—I would not deign to call it a policy, because a policy implies that something exists—which is that the market will provide these things and that it is the best judge of where resources are necessary and when and how they will be financed and implemented.
I was fascinated to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)—I usually am fascinated to listen to the hon. Gentleman's speeches—who represents the intellectual wing of the Conservative party. He came out tonight as a closet integrator and demanded an integrated transport system. I very much doubt whether it will save him from the wrath of the electors at the next general election. I have a feeling that they will prefer the fervour of the real thing—socialist transport policy—to the fervour of the convert. His conversion, albeit late, is nevertheless welcome.
To a certain extent, we have heard a repeat of some of the arguments that were advanced in the debate on the carry-over motion a month ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), with his wit, humour and customary brevity, set out the needs and desires of passengers from Cardiff, the west and south west for a west-facing connection into Heathrow airport, as did 233 my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke in the debate on that motion but is unable to be present this evening.
The reaction of British Rail's management to the proposals put forward by my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members was interesting. I have a letter from the "Director, Projects" of the British Railways Board to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. On the specific question of the west-facing link, the director, Mr. David R. V. Beynon, said:You mentioned links for traffic from South Wales. I am sure you will appreciate that any additional stops on the InterCity services will increase the journey times for the vast majority of passengers who will continue to want to travel to or via Central London.Paddington is not in central London—a point which should not escape us in these debates and which was made by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) when he spoke of the disturbance that 6 million passengers will cause the city of Westminster and in and around Paddington station.
The letter continued:An interchange at Paddington will mean that every InterCity train connects with a Heathrow Express service which will be waiting in the platform and the passengers can change platforms without having to go up and down steps. South Wales will thus have better access to Heathrow than other regions, passengers from which will have to cross London via the Underground.There is nothing like BR management for stating the obvious, but it does not appear to be particularly convenient to pass the eventual destination of a good many passengers and to go on to the centre of London, only for those passengers to have to reverse 10 miles along the route over which they have already travelled.
The letter concluded:I hope this helps to allay any concerns you may have had over the effect of the Bill on services from South Wales.It does not allay any concerns. Indeed, when one reads such gobbledegook from rail management, it arouses even more concern among those of us who are worried about the future of that once great industry.
The same gentleman wrote to me about the same topic because, like my hon. Friends, I raised the issue of a west-facing link. In his letter, Mr. Beynon said:Thirdly, with regard to a west facing link, it would be wrong to say that BAA and BR do not want it. We have several ideas about how this could be achieved which would not be precluded by the initial link. Again as you pointed out, through services to the west cannot take place until the Western Region Main Line is fully electrified.As far as I am aware, I did not point that out, but no matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West reminded us during the debate on the carry-over motion, the Minister of State said that electrification as far as Reading of an east-west crossrail service was an integral part of the scheme, and we are grateful for that. British Rail's fears about providing a west-facing link without electrification had been eased, if not nullified, by the Minister's statement a month or so ago.
Hon. Members can see no reason why such a west-facing link cannot be provided. I am sure that my hon. Friends from Welsh constituencies, some of whom have spoken on the Bill, will continue to advocate the provision both during and after the Committee stage. I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider the depth of feeling on both sides of the House about this scheme.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Unfortunately, I was not here for the earlier part of the 234 debate. My hon. Friend may recall that, in the debate on the carry-over motion, the issue of access from south Wales was emphasised and we pointed out the considerable potential for bringing passengers from Birmingham and the north-west of England into Heathrow via Reading.
§ Mr. Snape
I said earlier that an estimated 5 million passengers were carried by the existing coach links from Woking and Reading to Heathrow airport. I put that point to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who sponsors the Bill, to show the additional revenue that the transfer of those passengers from the coach link to a through rail service would provide for the Bill's promoters, including British Rail. I very much agree with my hon. Friend's point.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Will the hon. Gentleman also emphasise the necessity of getting those 5 million passengers who currently come by car or coach off the west London roads, where they are an absolute menace?
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman steals my next point, but I do not complain about that. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington lucidly advocated the case for an integrated transport system. The problem is that, where such a provision is needed, it is rarely made. Despite the words of the new Secretary of State for Transport on taking office, road and rail schemes are not judged by using the same criteria. The Government intend to widen the M25—unaccountably, in the view of many of us—which will merely ensure even more traffic jams and four congested lanes—
§ Mr. Snape
—an even bigger car park, as the hon. Gentleman says. Where extra demand exists for the road network, extra provision is made by extending it; where extra rail demand exists, either it is not met or Ministers come out with the advice to British Rail that it should use—in the immortal phrase uttered by the Department of Transport—the "mechanism of the market" to damp down demand. For those of us who speak a more lucid form of English, that means that fares are increased, passengers are forced off the trains on to the road and another lane is built on the M25 to cater for the extra demand generated by using that beloved "mechanism of the market", to which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington takes violent and welcome exception.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head again.
I had better not tempt him further.
We have also debated the issue of an exit to the south and the former Southern railway. If its proposals were accepted in Committee, the Hounslow petition would require the Bill's promoters to provide three partial step-plate junctions in the proposed tunnel for the express rail system beneath Heathrow to enable the tunnel to be joined to a link between Heathrow and the Southern railway west of Feltham. The estimate is that the cost of 235 those three step-plate junctions, if they were made during the express rail construction, would be about £3 million. To build the junctions breaking into the tunnel after construction of the express link would involve estimated expenditure of £21 million.
Of course, construction after the rail link was open would mean that the Heathrow express service would need to be stopped for about a year, with a loss in fare revenue alone of £35 million. It appears that, unless provision is made for that southern link to be provided at the outset, there will be little opportunity—other than a very expensive one—for it to be constructed once the express link is completed and gets under way.
I commend to the Under-Secretary the Colin Buchanan report "Additional Public Transport in South West London", figure 3.3 of which shows the loop connection to the former Southern railway which would enable eight trains an hour to serve the Heathrow express rail stations from the south without any restriction on capacity from Paddington. The eight trains an hour from the south would serve the London boroughs of Richmond, Hounslow, Sutton, Merton and Kingston upon Thames in an orbital service from Croydon to Heathrow, via Streatham, Wimbledon, Kingston, Twickenham and Feltham. We and, perhaps more important, the local authorities concerned believe that that service would make an important contribution to resolving the massive problems of road traffic congestion in south-west London. The Heathrow-Croydon orbital service would also provide a rail service between Heathrow and Gatwick.
I commend to Ministers the Labour party's transport proposals for the channel tunnel scheme—where we propose a rail ring around London—of which these proposals would form an integral part. Again, there is nothing particularly revolutionary in such proposals. They have long been accepted for the road network. Indeed, a rail ring is exactly what the French are providing around Paris to cater for the extra traffic that the channel tunnel links will generate. Of course, the French plan these matters; they are not obsessed with road building as the Department of Transport has been throughout its long and largely shallow history.
The scheme that I outlined will cost less than £200 million, according to Colin Buchanan's study—the price of a few hundred yards of road in docklands. We are talking not about docklands but about a scheme that could benefit not only passengers to and from Heathrow but rail passengers throughout the United Kingdom and, once the channel tunnel opens, rail passengers throughout western Europe.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will take those points on board and will give an undertaking that, in Committee, the proposals will be studied seriously. If they are not carried out at the first construction stages, they are unlikely to be carried out at all. The Labour party fears a re-run of the docklands light railway saga, when a palpably inadequate system was installed and now has to be improved, at enormous public expense. For goodness' sake, let us get it right on this occasion.
History does not fill us full of enthusiasm or optimism on these matters. We do not judge road and rail schemes by similar criteria. At present, there are hundreds of road schemes that, under the existing criteria used by the 236 Department, can be justified, but which, as all of us in the House know, will never be built because of their environmental impact and because of the uproar that they would cause among the public. Yet, at the same time, we have rail schemes that, under the existing criteria laid down by the Department, could be built, but which cannot be justified. Something is wrong; that something is a lack of transport policy.
There has been some unanimity in the debate. Hon. Members of all parties acknowledge that transport policy is missing from the Bill. We must get it right this time. If the Under-Secretary and the Minister for Public Transport get it wrong, it will be an expensive mistake for which the rest of us, in due course, will have to pay.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
I congratulate all the hon. Members who have taken part in this good debate, although the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) spread the debate somewhat and went into his usual overdrive about policy. He made the commitment that he would spend £200 million, which will no doubt be wholly rejected by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith).
§ Mr. Snape
I want to make a point that will be important for the Minister's education when he returns to opposition, as he will after the next election. The proposals have been costed and approved, and they are part of our national transport policy, which is supported by the Minister's hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks); it is called planning.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
That is an interesting diversion, but I will not go down that route. I have never been in opposition in this place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman stays in his place for a considerable time to come.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) on the able way in which he raised the matter, which has stood around and been talked about for so long. He did a remarkable job and he carried most of the House with him when he dealt with each point.
The Government fully support the principle of the Bill. The prospect of an express rail link between London and Europe's busiest airport is exciting, because it will help to ensure that Heathrow continues to be a major interchange for world and for European travel. The fact that this is essentially a private sector project, with the British Airports Authority putting up 80 per cent. of the cost and bearing the majority of the risk, shows that the private sector can play a significant role in the new transport project.
Most hon. Members are in favour of the principle of the link, but there are some reservations which have been raised today. I am sure that the objections raised by the various petitioners will be examined fully in Committee. I understand that the promoters are in discussion with many of the petitioners to see whether their concerns can be dealt with satisfactorily before then.
Concern has been expressed on two points. The first was the environmental impact of the scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) raised. The second point was the possibility of the provision of a west-facing link being included in the Bill. Officials at the Department are currently researching 237 the setting of standards for noise levels for new railways in line with those that are already applied to new highways. British Rail is responsible for making arrangements for noise insulation and is currently engaged in research aimed at reducing noise and vibration from trains.
Hon. Members have referred to the noise from the intensified use of existing railways. I hope that we can announce a decision on compensation early next year. Both the BAA and British Rail are committed to ensuring that the environmental consequences of the proposed link are minimised and that the building and operation of the link are as unobtrusive as possible. I have no doubt that their detailed plans will be scrutinised carefully in Committee.
The west-facing link has many proponents and the suggestion for such a link was echoed by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). He referred to the report of the National Economic Development Office entitled "On the Right Track to Heathrow Airport". It argued the need to connect Heathrow more effectively with west and south Wales. That is not the only proposal to enhance the service. There is also a proposal for a link to the southern region track into Waterloo and there are calls for the crossrail train to serve Heathrow to provide a direct service to Essex.
However, all the potential developments will come to nothing if the basic priority of an express Heathrow-Paddington link is not achieved. The Bill will provide the foundations on which other new services can be built. The important issue is to get the Bill through, in the knowledge that nothing in it precludes further development in the longer term. I know that the promoters are discussing with Hounslow borough council ways in which the potential for a southern region link can be preserved. I am sure that an appropriate solution can be found.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The Minister has referred to the foundations. It seems strange to build the foundation before we decide how to construct the building. Does not the Minister intend to respond to hon. Members of all parties who have said that the Bill proposes a piecemeal development, which does not consider the eventual shape of the railways? In Wales, we are very concerned about that. The burgeoning economy of south Wales must be served by what is our main airport. Has that been taken into account? The Minister has talked about foundations, but he has not reacted to the debate.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I thought that I had made the point clear. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the fact that the economy of south Wales has boomed during the past few years under this Government is to be welcomed. However, that has brought fresh problems and requires further infrastructure. My point was that the Bill will not preclude further development. Without the line, there will be no opportunity for such development. The Committee will be able to look at the whole question and it can make recommendations. I have no doubt that there will be consultations at that time. If the BAA can come to an accommodation with other groups or if fresh developments are merited, there may be changes. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that I did not make that point. I think that he was engaged in a conversation when I referred directly to the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, so he may not have heard me make that point.
238 The prospects for the crossrail service to Heathrow will be examined, but the immediate priority is for a high-quality link to London, which is what the Bill provides and what the Government support. I hope that the Bill can move through its remaining stages successfully and as swiftly as possible.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I am inclined to support the Bill. It seems plain common sense that there should be a fast rail connection between central London and Heathrow. The present rail link by underground, the Piccadilly line, is hopelessly inadequate. It stops 15 or 20 times between central London and Heathrow; it stops every two or three minutes. Contrasted with that, a 16-minute service from Paddington to Heathrow will be excellent.
One factor which appeals to me is the relief it would bring to traffic on the A4, the Cromwell road in west London. That is one of London's main arterial roads not only to the western side of London, but beyond, and to the whole of the west and south-west of England and to Wales. That is one of London's most main roads.
When I intervened earlier, I did not have the figures to hand of the estimated impact on that traffic of constructing the Paddington-to-Heathrow rail link. Since then, I have been informed that it would affect the number of vehicles on Cromwell road by some 3,000 per day—about 2,000 taxis and about 1,000 cars per day. That is not a vast proportion, but it is not insignificant, and it would benefit all those people who live in west and south-west London and beyond, including my constituents who have to get in and out of London along the Cromwell road.
The one thing that would stand in the way of my support for the Bill is the thought that it was linked in any way to the concept of a fifth terminal at Heathrow, as was half-implied by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). I hope that he will not mind if I say that I regard him as one of my best friends. I hope that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) replies to the debate, if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he can assure me categorically that there is no such plan and that the proposal to construct the railway from Paddington to Heathrow stands on its own. I would require that undertaking from him before deciding whether to support the Bill.
I warmly support what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) said about the need for a subsequent rail link into Heathrow from Feltham, Twickenham, Richmond and beyond. As the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), said, that is supported by five south London boroughs, and I believe that it would be warmly welcomed. I hope that we can have a clear assurance that what is decided by the House tonight and what is anticipated in Committee would not: stand in the way of that.
I have the utmost sympathy with the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who said that he did not want people from south Wales going to Heathrow to have to travel into Paddington and then go back to Heathrow. We can all sympathise with that. I went to Cardiff by rail last month. I live about five or six miles from Heathrow airport. I drove my car to Reading and took an excellent 239 fast train from Reading to Cardiff. It is a first-class service. I can understand how people from south Wales would feel about having to go all the way into Paddington and back again. However, a much larger number of people want to travel from Cardiff, Bristol, Reading or Swindon all the way into London. There are more people from those places who would want to travel into London than would want to go to Heathrow on any one day. A stop at Hayes and Harlington would hold up all those people.
I stand to be corrected by a railway expert, but I believe that a one-minute stop, to which is added the time for slowing down and speeding up before and after Hayes and Harlington, would add between eight and 12 minutes to the journey. The same would apply coming out from Paddington to Heathrow. It would add about four minutes to the 16-minute journey, making it 20 minutes. That would affect a much larger number of people wanting to travel from Paddington to Heathrow. One would want to see the figures for the number of people travelling from Cardiff and the other places I have mentioned to Heathrow each day so as to weigh up the benefit to them against the loss in time to what I believe would be a larger number of people.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman is not over-enthusiastic about a fifth terminal at Heathrow. Will he accept that, at present, much of the pressure on Heathrow is caused by the large number of people who arrive on flights from other parts of England and Wales to change at Heathrow? If we had the western link, many of those people would find it easier to come by rail to Heathrow, and there would not be as much pressure for the extra terminal.
§ Mr. Jessel
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but if the train were to stop at Hayes and Harlington for a change to Heathrow, it would already be slowing down and it would only take about another five or seven minutes to get to Paddington. The benefit to the people he described is marginal, and it would have to be set against a disbenefit to a large number of people caused by a stop in both directions at Hayes and Harlington station. I suspect that, if one were to see the figures for the number of people involved in all those categories, the loss in terms of human time would be greater than the gain.
I hope that that point will not be allowed to stand in the way of the progress of what I believe would be a generally beneficial Bill. Many of those from Cardiff and other parts of the country can now fly direct to certain continental destinations, and that will increase as time goes on. It could be that the proportion of those wanting to travel from places such as Cardiff and Bristol to Heathrow will not increase as fast as the number who want to travel from central London to Heathrow, because of the increasing number of flights from provincial airports to continental destinations.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. As long as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South can give me the assurances I seek, I shall not oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Does the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) have the leave of the House to speak again? It seems that he does.
§ Mr. Thorne
This has been an extremely helpful and constructive debate. Hon. Members have made constructive points and I am sure that the promoters will have listened carefully to everything that has been said. I reiterate that it is their wish to make a profitable and successful enterprise of this project and anything that can be done to enhance its output will be considered seriously.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) talked about the present proposal having been planned in isolation. It was the result of a successful competitive bid by BAA and British Rail from which the scheme has evolved. It was one of a number considered at the time and, therefore, was not part of an overall strategy. We should make that point clear. I welcome what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West and other hon. Members said about this being a step forward, but it would be wrong to blame the sponsors for not incorporating it in a larger network.
Of course, Heathrow is a national airport. This is not a local matter and I am sure that BAA in particular would not dream of suggesting otherwise. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West will be pleased to hear that the NEDC report to which he referred has been welcomed by Sir John Egan, the chief executive of BAA. That and what it implies augurs well for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) rightly voiced the fears of his constituents about additional traffic in their area. I fully take on board what he said. The promoters wish to do everything possible to mitigate that. The matter is not entirely in their hands. As my hon. Friend knows, several other bodies are involved—including English Heritage—and their permission must be obtained on certain aspects. However, I am sure that the crossrail link will be helpful to his constituents. We can expect that a proper and detailed plan for Paddington station will be incorporated in the near future.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) made a strong case for keeping open the option of a link to the south. I gave an assurance earlier that the matter was under active consideration. Although the instruction to the Committee was not accepted by Mr. Speaker, I am sure that a future link to the south will be considered carefully by both the Opposed Private Bill Committee and the House.
My hon. and learned Friend said that it would be enormously more expensive to incorporate the work on a southern link at a later date. As he said, the work could be done at a tenth of the price in the planning for this link. That will most certainly be taken into account. But cost is relevant because the railway must be self-financing. It would be wrong to give a commitment that, regardless of cost, the items referred to will be incorporated. That would have an adverse effect on the overall cost to the passengers who will use the line. It would discourage people from using it, which in turn would lead to more congestion on the roads. Such matters must be delicately balanced and we must watch them carefully.
241 My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) made a helpful speech. He welcomed the project and gave it his good wishes. He made an important point when he congratulated the promoters on listening so carefully to what people were saying. That was certainly my experience, too. They went out of their way to listen to everyone involved in the Bill. They have always listened and they are still open to suggestions. If every sponsor of a private Bill listened as carefully as they have done, private Bills would go through the House more speedily.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said that it was necessary to incorporate the railway as part of a larger network. He congratulated the promoters on bringing forward the scheme at this stage and I share his view.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) mentioned the need for strategic planning and a link from the west. We all hope that demand will show that there is a need for a service from the west. It might be helpful to mention the origin of the people who use Heathrow. According to a survey, central London provides just over 32 per cent. of Heathrow passengers. Outer London provides just over 19 per cent., the south-east provides just over 31 per cent., the south-west provides almost six per cent., East Anglia provides over 2.5 per cent., the midlands provide almost 4.5 per cent., the north provides 2.5 per cent., Scotland provides 0.5 per cent. and Wales provides just over 1.5 per cent. Those figures show that the plan to initiate the project as quickly as possible is the natural and most sensible course of action.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East quoted figures for people who come to Heathrow by coach. If those figures accurately indicate that demand will grow, I 242 am sure that we shall soon have a connection to the west. It should come soon after the electrification of that part of the railway network. We can look forward to that.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for stepped junctions. That must be fully and properly investigated. Clearly, one would not want the whole project to be closed for 12 months purely and simply because stepped junctions had not been provided at a reasonable cost earlier in the project. That will be carefully considered.
The Minister made a helpful speech. He knows as much as I do about the project. I am sure that the Government are as anxious as everyone else that the proposals be quickly and speedily introduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) asked for an assurance that the project is not dependent on the construction of a fifth terminal at Healthrow. I am happy to give him that assurance. There is no requirement to build a fifth terminal to make the project viable. The project can stand on its own feet on the basis of existing demand.
I have also been asked separately by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to respond to a request that he previously made for a stop at Acton, for the benefit of Heathrow staff, many of whom live in his constituency. I looked into the matter some months ago and was disappointed to find that the possibility of using alternative rolling stock to convey staff to and from Acton and Heathrow at the changeover duty period could not be implemented because the available rolling stock did riot comply with modern safety standards for carriages going in tunnels. Because of that unfortunate fact, that stop cannot be implemented now. I hope that such a facility will be provided in future. It certainly cannot be provided when, as I hope, the project is opened for business in 1995.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.