§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I beg to move,That this House urges British Rail to give full and thorough consideration to proposals for a Channel Tunnel Rail Link based on a junction at Stratford, and to enter into professional discussions with those proposing the Stratford alternative before presenting their Private Bill to Parliament for a decision.I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) on his appointment as Minister for Public Transport. I am pleased to see him in the Chamber in what I think is his first parliamentary role in his new office. He enjoys a high reputation in the House for his calm courtesy on all occasions, his ability to listen and his capacity to take action. I know that those three qualities will stand him in good stead in dealing with the issues that are before us.
I shall explain how the motion came up for debate today. Some months ago I proposed, together with leading Members from all political parties in the House and all regions of the United Kingdom, an early-day motion urging British Rail to consider the alternatives before presenting to Parliament its proposals for a channel tunnel rail link. That all-party early-day motion attracted more than 100 signatures and, as is the custom when an early-day motion gains such widespread support in the House, I raised the matter at business questions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and asked him when time might be provided to debate that motion. He gave his customary answer of never. He wrapped it up a little more gently than that and said that the matter would he debated when British Rail came forward with its own proposals.
Good fortune favours a good cause and a few days later I entered my name in the ballot for private Members' motions. Good fortune shone and I was drawn first in that ballot. I was given by fate the opportunity that the Leader of the House was not able to provide to have a debate on the motion.
It is a matter of minuscule parliamentary precedent that this is the first early-day motion which, in its original form on the Order Paper, is being subjected to a full-scale debate. The Table Office tells me that its records for living memory do not show another such instance. Perhaps that is a precedent which might be reflected in other precedents that I shall seek to bring before the House later in my speech. I read on the front page of The Times this morning that the Cabinet will make a decision on this matter next week. I have no way of knowing whether that is true, but it means that this is an opportune moment to air the issues and ventilate the concerns.
Perhaps I should explain how I first became involved in this matter and how my attention was drawn to the 1126 channel tunnel rail link problem. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that it was first a constituency concern. It was felt that there was the threat to my constituency that the British Rail proposals would do a great deal of damage. I make no apology for my concern having been attracted by the parochial principle. However, having looked at the detail of British Rail's proposals, and having seen the effect that they would have not only on my constituency but on south-east England and on the other regions of the United Kingdom, I began to realise the inadequacy of those proposals.
Let us go back to basics. What is the purpose of a channel tunnel link? It should be to offer all parts of the United Kingdom—all the major cities, all the industrial conurbations and all the regions—the opportunity for a fast and direct link to continental mainland Europe. Furthermore, that link should not have a bottleneck or a buffer stop in London but should shift freight or convey passengers from any part of the United Kingdom to any part of continental Europe and link up with the continental rail system. British Rail's proposals singularly fail to do any of those things.
In looking at any route that should fulfil the objective of being part of a strategic European rail network, one has to apply three criteria—operational, financial and environmental. First, any such route must be operationally effective. Secondly, by statutory provision it has to be financially self-supporting. Thirdly, and more important, it must be environmentally acceptable. It must cause the minimum environmental damage for the vast majority of people. The King's Cross rail route, the channel tunnel rail route and the King's Cross rail terminal must be measured against these criteria.
Let us first see whether the channel tunnel plan is operationally effective. We are slightly in the dark because British Rail's proposals are not firmly on the table, but we have seen its first and second compromises and we have an idea of what it is proposing, so we can work on certain assumptions. For passengers, it proposes to run a line that will go through rural Kent from Ashford. It will touch on south-east London, going over bridges, viaducts and embankments above communities, close to schools and into King's Cross or Waterloo stations. This route is called a high-speed or fast-rail link. However, the optimum speed or more than 120 mph cannot be achieved if it is to take that route. The experience of rail disasters and tragedies that we have regrettably seen over the past few years shows that it would not be possible to run passenger trains on such a route. British Rail has said—I think that I am right, but no doubt I shall be corrected if I am not—that the time saved by this construction will be between a quarter of an hour and half an hour. I ask the House, as I would ask all who are affected by this and all who wish to see such a route constructed, whether the environmental damage is not too high a price to pay for such a minimal operational benefit.
The only destination will be London. Passengers who want to go to Edinburgh, Liverpool, the west, Bristol, the south-west or south Wales will arrive at King's Cross station and will have to make their own arrangements, by other transport means, to cross London to, for example, Paddington or Heathrow.
We are uncertain about exactly what the interchange arrangements for trains going north will be, but in most cases people will have to change trains to go beyond 1127 London. Those who feel, psychologically, temperamentally or nostalgically drawn to King's Cross as the gateway to the north will find that British Rail's proposals for a terminal at King's Cross do not meet the needs of a direct route through or around London for passengers who do not wish to stop at London.
§ Mr. Bowden
I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to develop my argument a little further.
British Rail's plans make the assumption that all passengers will be going to London. As I find this slightly strange, I wrote to the Secretary of State expressing my misgivings on 25 August 1989. I received a reply from the then Minister of State on 14 December, in which he said that 70 per cent. of passengers travelling on the route would have London as their destination. I wonder where that figure comes from. If that is the figure on which British Rail and the Department of Transport are working, there is a clear need to examine more closely the assumptions and presumptions on which the route is being built.
One further operational point is worth raising now, although it can be developed later. It is that the track gauge used on the route will not harmonise with the gauge used on mainland Europe. Therefore, far from having a train that goes straight through from Brussels, Paris or Milan, passengers will have to change on to a British gauge train when they arrive here. The idea of a through train for passengers' convenience is lost. I wonder what benefit such a journey will offer over and above the existing travel arrangements by ferry boat and train or by plane.
The provision for freight in British Rail's plans is basically nil. It proposes to run freight over existing lines, and there is to be no dedicated freight route. I find it extraordinary that it should not have looked on this as an opportunity. We convey far less of our freight by rail than any other nation in Europe. We complain about the congestion on our roads and we see great refrigerated vehicles trundling down from the north or Scotland and crossing on the ferries to deliver their merchandise to the capitals of Europe. It is absurd that there should be no provision for putting fish in refrigerated goods trains in Aberdeen and conveying it to the capitals of Europe in less than eight hours. British Rail has not even thought about this and has made no provision for dealing with freight either in London or through London and beyond.
I have raised the matter with British Rail on several occasions and the answer given to me by a board member was that British Rail freight is not "time sensitive". What a wonderful phrase that is. It means that British Rail has no intention of making provision for fast-travelling freight or of competing with road transport to get freight that has to be delivered on time. That stands as an indictment of British Rail's development of its commercial aspects.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I fully support my hon. Friend's point about British Rail's apparent lack of any positive interest in achieving a proper slice of the freight market. It has given details of how little money there is in moving freight in Britain, but that is not a good enough excuse if we are to solve the environmental problem of pressure on the roads.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for endorsing that point, with which many hon. Members agree.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing
We all agree about British Rail's apparent lack of interest in freight. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have had conversations with British Rail officials? It is clear that their wish to concentrate as much traffic in London as they can get away with is related to the need for maximum return on capital invested in the route. Use of stock and lines predicates what they are suggesting, which is not to the convenience of the passengers. Is not that a result of Government financial policy, first, in requiring minimum capital and, secondly, maximum return on stock and route?
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is one step ahead of me. He anticipated what I shall say in a moment. If I do not answer his point directly, I shall do so in due course. We are in agreement.
If freight and the so-called high-speed rail links are run over existing commuter lines, what consequences will it have for commuters who use those lines and who are suffering and complaining about the inadequacy of service? Operationally, many questions need to be asked. Many defects are immediately apparent, and BR has singularly failed to explain many aspects. Before a decision is made, there should be a searching inquiry into the operational benefits and defects of BR's proposals.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of freight, is not it extraordinary that British Rail has not fully explored the possibility of developing the links between Tonbridge, Redhill and Reading and the midlands and the north?
§ Mr. Bowden
I find extraordinary not only that but the fact that BR has not explored any of the other alternatives in detail or depth.
Someone said to me the other day, "From the way that you are speaking, it seems you have a vision of a rail network. Is that really a Tory characteristic?" I said, "Yes, I have a vision of a rail network in Britain linking with the transport network in Europe". I find regrettable the lack of vision of BR's board—indeed, its tunnel vision. The only vision that members of the BR board have is that which they see from their boardroom window during their coffee break, when they look out of the Euston road boardroom and see the King's Cross development. I wonder how many members of the board have been on the alternative routes, have even considered the alternative proposals or have visited Stratford. It calls into question the role of the BR board, which is appointed to serve the public interest, and it shows that BR probably relied on so-called experts within its organisation to feed it what it thinks it should be fed.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
Does my hon. Friend recall that his point was almost fantastically reinforced by the admission that BR made about its original proposals to drive a route through a brand-new housing estate in my constituency? It admitted that nobody had been down the chosen route. What on earth would possibly induce it to consider any alternative?
§ Mr. Bowden
It is a pity that BR did not travel by train along the proposed route because it would have found that there are some defects in it.
1129 I turn to the second criterion—finance. Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 makes it clear that the route should be self-financing. The route chosen by BR goes through mid-Kent and some of not only the most beautiful but the most expensive land in the country. It is also some of the most difficult terrain on which to engineer and construct. That causes additional expense. The route goes through housing estates which BR had not realised were there. How could it cost the compensation claims without knowing where the line of the route went? That leaves one with grave misgivings about its professionalism in costing the route.
Undeterred, British Rail sought the public sector partner that it had been encouraged to seek for finance. Although I was not party to the discussions, it was clear that the public sector partners with which it flirted were unable to see how the route into King's Cross could possibly be self-financing. One way or another, all partners failed, except Trafalgar House. For the convenience of hon. Members I shall not refer to the corporate names that consortiums have used because we are all confused about Eurorail and Kentrail. Eurorail was formed with Trafalgar House, which agreed with BR to construct the route and that it would be self-financing. It was not surprising to the other groups that had made a hid that, having opened the books, Trafalgar House found that there was no way in which the BR-preferred route could be self-supporting or self-financing and that it would be necessary to seek public money.
I shall deal briefly with the environmental criteria and how BR's preferred route measures up to them. The route drives through some of the most beautiful landscape in the south-east of England and some of the most beautiful farm land, which we see as our heritage as well as protective of rural life and fostering rural communities. It drives through small communities, small villages and densely populated south-east London urban areas. It does so not underground but, in many places, above ground, with all the environmental damage and danger that that implies. It will cause not only long-term nuisance and environmental damage, but during the construction period it will cause considerable short-term nuisance.
I know that only too well in my constituency. Warwick gardens—I see my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) in her place—is temperamentally Peckham but technically Dulwich. I speak for Warwick gardens, which people believe is in the Peckham area. Some years ago, it was run down, but it has regenerated itself by the commitment of those who live there and those who have moved in. The human tragedy of the threat of blight caused by these insensitive proposals shows that there is something gravely wrong with planning a route without consulting in advance the communities that it deeply affects.
I know that many other hon. Members are aware of similar anguish being expressed by communities affected by the threat of blight. Those who participated last year in the marches through London and saw the banners from all parts of the community and all parts of the south-east realised that there was a great force of opposition to such a wasteful threat to the environment.
As I have said, there is no real benefit to the commuter, to the continental passenger or to the freight shipper in the King's Cross terminal and route proposals. Who does benefit from the route? I am indebted to my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and for 1130 Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) for prompting consideration of that point. I discovered that an amendment to my early-day motion 692 used the phrase "developer-led". I was amazed by the use of that phrase and decided to delve a little more into what that might mean.
A letter was sent to hon. Members who had signed the early-day motion, with the exception of the six leading signatories, by Mr. J. Palmer, the managing director of European Rail Link, which is a part venture with Trafalgar House and BICC. He used that same phrase in attempting to disparage the alternatives. He said:Alternative proposals for direct links from Stratford to the city, King's Cross, Heathrow and the Midlands, North and Scotland, appear to have been grafted on to developer led plans.It appears that that piece of jargon is used not only in our Order Paper but in the wider world. That prompted me to trawl through the evidence given to the Committee considering the King's Cross Bill, which began its work last June but which has not yet reported. The report of its proceedings is interesting to read, not so much because of the questions that were answered, as because of those that were not even asked. On Tuesday 12 December Mr. Godfrey Bradman, one of the developers, was asked in some detail about the terms on which British Rail would develop the King's Cross site and how Trafalgar House was linked with that development. The Chairman said:Those are assurances that we have been given by BR in this Committee; we want to know whether they are convincing to you.Mr. Bradman replied:I think what you need to have if I may say so is Mr. John Fletcher of Eurorail to whom I spoke as recently as yesterday; he has said that he would be very happy to come and give evidence".My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), a member of the Committee, took up that point. It draws to the attention of the House the unsatisfactory way in which fact and truth emerge from such questioning. He said:No, every time we come up against a brick wall it is suggested we call somebody else for evidence.That shows that we should more closely investigate the terms under which King's Cross is to be developed and the implications for the channel tunnel rail link—or, the other way around, the implications of the channel tunnel rail link going into King's Cross and the proposed development of that site.
I believe that such tactics are called the salami strategy. It is tactically useful for British Rail to produce a Bill that covers only the tunnel aspect. It makes no mention of what happens after the tunnel or any further along the line, British Rail having obtained the tunnel, the next slice of the salami is the terminal, which is to be at King's Cross —yet still no mention is made of how one gets between one and the other. When those who might be on the route between one and the other attempt to make representations, the narrow interpretation of the locus standi rule, imposed by the Court of Referees, denies hon. Members whose constituencies will be affected the opportunity to give evidence, to petition or even to ask questions of that Committee. For that reason it would be useful today to pose the questions that the Committee should have asked the developers.
What is the relationship between the developers of the King's Cross site and British Rail and its venture partner Trafalgar House? Is Trafalgar House a developer connected with the King's Cross development as well as 1131 being part of the joint venture arrangement? What is the value of the development at King's Cross? The rental value per square foot in the location of King's Cross may be £x. If, however it is developed as a terminal for the channel tunnel rail link, tenants and their clients could simply go downstairs, get on the train and be in Paris or Brussels in two and a half hours. The rental value would then be not £x but £3x, £4x or £5x per square foot. The value of the King's Cross development depends very much upon the likelihood of its becoming the channel tunnel rail link terminal. I wonder whether there is a sine qua non in the arrangements, whereby if there is no rail link the development might not even take place, or if it did, not on the same terms.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing first place in the ballot. As he knows, I came second. I have already told him that had I been first, I would have given him half the time available. Whether he will reciprocate is another matter.
The hon. Gentleman referred to salami tactics. There is a problem for potential supporters of the Stratford interchange. If the line runs from the channel tunnel to Stratford, is there a danger that the next slice of salami from Stratford to King's Cross might not be constructed? The hon. Gentleman appears to be considerably downgrading the King's Cross terminal. The stretch from Stratford to King's Cross would be very expensive. I represent constituents in the east midlands whose line is not electrified, so they are already at a disadvantage. We are worried that the line might go only to Stratford, and not on to King's Cross. If that happens, it would not then continue to the east midlands and most of the traffic would go up the east coast. A number of people who are potential supporters of the hon. Gentleman's arguments wish him to clarify that point.
§ Mr. Bowden
I do not know how long the debate will take, but obviously it needs to run long enough to allow all who wish to speak to do so. I hope that I have as much generosity of spirit as the hon. Gentleman and, if it were within my power, I would give half of my time to him as he said he would give to me. However, that is the world of hypothesis.
We must question the relationship of the developers not only with British Rail but with the Government. They want to develop a line and a terminal. They have international tenants waiting who would love to have an international office block with fast links to continental Europe. However, they have found public opposition on a scale which I, for one, have never previously encountered. People who are inexperienced in protest have turned out on Sundays and marched through the south-east in lines of tens of thousands to tell the Government that the plans are unacceptable. That public opposition is no mean feature.
There is also the question of delay. Every time that occurs in the making of a decision, then, to use a developer's phrase, the window of opportunity is closed in respect of making a letting to the right tenant. There is also the cost factor. It is clear that the link cannot be constructed in the way that British Rail proposes without money from other public funds. I suggest that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, put yourself in the developers' shoes.
1132 What should they do? Perhaps I should not put you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to that inconvenience. Instead, I shall put myself in their shoes.
Perhaps I should declare a past interest. Twenty years ago, I was involved in the property development industry and know it to be an honourable profession, and one which makes a great contribution to the nation's well-being. Having served an apprenticeship in that profession, I subsequently taught young people who were destined to enter it, and was able to pass on some of my own experience.
I place myself in the shoes of developers facing the problem of public opposition, delay and cost, and wonder how I would tackle them. I shall paint a scenario. First, I would circulate rumours among the press and other media to the effect that, "The Minister must give the go-ahead at once." Secondly, I would spread the rumours that, "The Minister must fund the project with some public money." Having let those two rumours mature for a little time, I would beat a path to the Minister's door and deliver my ultimatum, saying, "Pay up now, or we pull out—and then where will your Government be?" Having allowed him to digest that, I would try the soft touch, saying, "I know that you must avoid section 42 of the Channel Tunnel act 1987. I know that financing is statute-barred and that you cannot be seen to devote public money to the project. But let us dress it up in some way. Let us call it an environmental grant. Let us say the money is being used to minimise the impact of the rail link on the environment. If you don't like that, let us call it a commuter services upgrading allowance. Let us say that the money will be used to improve Network SouthEast to the benefit of all, so that it will not be seen as a subsidy for the channel tunnel link. Wrap it up in pink paper, tie a ribbon around it, and the public will feel that they are giving a present to a good cause."
That is how one might try to sell such a proposal to any Minister. One would put the wind up him and then show him the way out. But decisions made in those circumstances would be bad decisions, reached without considering the defects of the proposals or the benefits of the alternatives. No amount of public money can make a bad scheme good. In those circumstances, it would be a financial insult to devote public money to an existing environmental injury.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
Has my hon. Friend taken into account that the channel tunnel project itself has grotesquely overrun its original financial projections? It is extremely unlikely that shareholders will ever see a return on their initial investment, and they may be required to put up another £1 billion or £2 billion later this year. As a consequence, when considering the rail link, one inevitably asks why the Government should become involved in putting up taxpayers' money for what will be a high-risk project.
§ Mr. Bowden
And an inefficient high-risk project, at that.
I turn to the proposed procedure and timing. Right hon. and hon. Members are more than familiar with the timing requirements of private Bills. They must be deposited by 27 November, and then lie on the Table until the end of January, to allow objections to be raised and petitions to be presented.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but I am not sure that his facts are right. I raised that aspect with the appropriate authorities of the House, and established that there are a number of precedents for depositing important Bills after November, particularly with a Bill that is likely to span two parliamentary Sessions. That allows proper consideration to be given to alternatives.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. No doubt those who take decisions about when the Bill is deposited and how it is to be dealt with will take them into account. However, they do not detract from the point I was about to make.
When the Channel Tunnel Bill came before the House, there were 5,000 petitions against it, which took a considerable time to screen and hear. If there were 5,000 petitions against the tunnel itself, how many more petitions will there be against a Bill to provide a rail link with it through Kent and south-east London into King's Cross? One could probably multiply those 5,000 petitions by five. The likelihood of there being 25,000 petitions against such a proposal is no more than a conservative estimate. It would take us from, say, January 1991 until June of that year to hear all those petitions and to have them screened by the Court of Referees.
The Bill might receive its Second Reading in June 1991 and then go into Committee. The King's Cross terminal Bill went into Committee last June, and technically it is still in Committee one year on. The proposed new Bill might emerge from Committee in 1992 and be reported to the House—but June 1992 is also the buffer stop for a general election. If we believe that we can solve the problem, we must solve it in a way that allows us to persuade the electorate that we have the right answer. It would not just be an election issue in the south-east—it would be the election issue.
The alternative might be a hybrid Bill. Wearing my property developer's hat, I might say to the Minister, "Come on. Join in on this one. Make it a hybrid Bill. Get your commitment behind it. Make your payroll vote support it, and we will get it through." That might work in certain circumstances, but I am told by more experienced people with wiser heads than mine that success in politics is often, if not always, a matter of timing.
The timing of a hybrid Bill would present exactly the same problems as those that I described in relation to a private Bill. It might have a certain amount of Government commitment and would technically be a Government Bill. However, that would not lessen the number of objections and petitions, which I believe would still number around 25,000—so its Committee stage would not be shortened. Even a hybrid Bill would still be a major issue in the next general election.
There is an alternative strategy and alternative routes that command support from the majority of people involved either in the route alignment or at the destinations. The alternatives should be examined, because there is no way that British Rail's Bill can be put through before the next general election, or even in time to straddle that election.
Why not consider the alternatives, which might command support, might not generate public opposition, might meet the self-financing cost requirement and might obviate some of the delay?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Before the hon. Gentleman turns to specific alternatives, does he agree that the timing of the debate is all-important? If British Rail made an announcement within the next few weeks without taking into account what he and all hon. Members anticipate will be universal disapproval for the likely proposals, and if it ignores voices from all parts of the country asking for a total rethink, which will benefit all the regions—Scotland, Wales, London and the south-east—it will cause British Rail, the Government and any other supporters of BR immense difficulty.
I know the hon. Gentleman well enough to think that he is trying to get a solution that will be acceptable throughout the House and the country. Before any specific alternatives are canvassed I hope that the key point in his remarks will be taken up—that British Rail must not ignore the strongest possible pleas for it to stop going down a second wrong route and must listen to the unanimous call for it to consider all the alternatives suggested in the House today.
§ Mr. Bowden
I think that the hon. Member is saying that timing is all-important, as I suggested a moment ago, and that there is no point in foisting the wrong route upon the country because BR needs to make a decision now. That would only generate further delay because of opposition along the route. If the right route is found, one which fulfils the three criteria, it will obviate the need for delay and will have widespread acceptance. Therefore it could go through the parliamentary procedures with far fewer obstacles and with a fair wind from both sides of the House behind it.
Four main alternatives have been suggested in detail. They are known by the acronyms TALIS and RACHEL. Those two routes are the work of groups which are not professionally sponsored but comprise professionals with experience of civil engineering and railroad building. Indeed, I believe that some had experience of building railways in other parts of the world and could therefore claim to have more professional expertise than many people in British Rail.
In addition to those two route alignments, two other sponsors made proposals—Ove Arup, a prominent civil engineering consortium and Manufacturers Hanover Trust, which has experience of bringing together groups for this type of development. There are two professional consortia and two professional proposals. It is not the point of my speech to single out which proposal is better. That needs to be done at a more professional level within British Rail and the Department of Transport. However all the proposals have one thing in common—they recognise the concept of a Euro-rail link and the need for a strategic integrated transport plan for the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, and they all recognise the need to avoid every piece of freight and passenger going through central London whatever its destination in the United Kingdom.
All the proposals start with a route alignment through north-east Kent rather than mid-Kent and through south-east Essex rather than into King's Cross and one knows not where from there. Benefits flow from that route. The consortia should capitalise on any agreement among themselves. Taking the route through north-east Kent is the idea that they all seem to have in common. Thereby, they will take the route through one of the most deprived 1135 parts of the south-east where there is a fair amount of derelict industrial land and the local communities could benefit from an economic uplift. Any such route, with its freight and passenger transport potential, would introduce new jobs and give a boost to the industrial economy. We should consider the issue not only from the benefit to be gained from operation of the route, but from the intrinsic value it will have for the community through which it passes.
Something someone said a moment ago reminded me of an early meeting I attended with the protest group in which I take an interest, Pearl, which is concerned mainly with the Warwick gardens area. We went to a meeting at British Rail headquarters and met a group of middle managers—not the top brass. Someone said that the TALIS and RACHEL routes ought to be considered. British Rail said that it had considered one—TALIS, I think—and was now considering the other. We asked who was looking at it. Was it an independent consultant? BR said, "Yes, Transmark is looking at it."
I found out that Transmark is a subsidiary of British Rail and its affairs are mentioned in the BR balance sheet. Surprise, surprise—in the first instance Transmark came up with a report on TALIS, I think, saying that that proposal was rubbish. We then discussed the RACHEL route and asked what would happen if Transmark, British Rail's subsidiary, found in favour of RACHEL or found good points in that proposal. The phrase, "fell about" describes the way that British Rail's middle management reacted. They laughed and slapped their sides at the idea that Transmark would find in favour of an alternative. Someone pressed the point and asked the question again. I remember the substance of what was said—although the person with whom I checked takes a different view. I think that one of them said, "We would lose our jobs," and another said, "We should all resign." Whichever way one looks at it, they were saying that their employment with British Rail would somehow terminate. I cite that as an example of the fact that one cannot rely on British Rail having an independent assessment of the alternatives unless it is forced to do so.
A biblical quotation describes the situation but it escapes me. I do not remember the exact words, but I suspect that part of Transmark's job was to point out the speck of dust in the eye of the other proposal, to distract attention from the lump of concrete in its own. I think that that is the modern translation rather than the original authorised version, but the sense is there.
Are the alternatives operationally effective? Let us consider the proposals on an operational basis. They would allow freight and passengers to be conveyed at speed to and beyond London along routes which are easy to engineer. They would provide a direct bypass to the city for passengers and freight not destined to remain in London. Although there is no point or purpose in trying to suggest costings today, it is obvious, even to those not experienced in property values, that acquiring industrial derelict land in north-east Kent will be cheaper, in terms of the amount of compensation that will have to be paid, than acquiring highly expensive farming and residential land in mid-Kent and south-east London.
If Stratford were a passenger terminal, people would be able to park and ride—to go by car to Stratford, as they 1136 might to an airport. They would not be able to do that at King's Cross. What is even more important, Stratford is not regarded as a terminal. Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Ove Arup, the promoters of the two main schemes, have said that repeatedly. In all their communications with hon. Members and at all their meetings they have made it clear that they do not believe that Stratford should be a terminal but that it should be a bypass junction for those who wish to go beyond London.
An essential feature is that there should be a connection between Stratford and the west country. Passenger and freight trains destined for the west country would go from the channel tunnel port to Stratford, turn left by means of a constructed tunnel or existing route, to the City—perhaps via Fenchurch street to King's Cross, touching the King's Cross development—and then carry on to Paddington, Heathrow, Bristol and the west. An essential feature of the strategy is that the route from Stratford to the west would take in mid-town London, west London and the City. It is that essential feature, put forward in the alternatives, which British Rail has consistently denied is there. By means of misinformation and disinformation it has insisted that that is the greatest inadequacy and deficiency of the alternative proposals.
There would also be a not too difficult method of taking passengers and freight to the north-east and the north-west. Stratford could be linked with the routes to the north, either by a route north of King's Cross or by going through King's Cross. That would make Stratford a junction point in a national network; it would not be just a terminal. That is the most important aspect of the alternative proposals.
A passenger and freight alignment along the lines that I have suggested could be designed to the continental gauge. The United Kingdom route would then harmonise with the European gauge and there would be no need to change trains when passengers and freight arrived in this country. That is the main benefit of the alternatives. Routes along those alignments and the development of Stratford would generate their own financial support.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
For the benefit of my constituents in the north-east, can my hon. Friend confirm that his plan would not be to the detriment of my constituency and that it would not slow down the opportunities for development in the north-east, bearing in mind in particular the Government's mule-headed attitude towards a proper motorway to the north-east of England?
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to elaborate on that point. British Rail's preferred route with a terminal at King's Cross, would be of little benefit to those in the north-east, certainly to industrialists who want to shift freight. They would have to find a way to get it to London and then to a terminal, be it at Willesden or Stratford, so that their freight could reach the fast link network. If, however, a freight line went through Stratford, freight could be sent to the rest of the country on the continental gauge. It would be a progressive development. The Stratford option offers more to those in the north and west of England than British Rail's proposals. British Rail has sold its proposals as being the only way in which the north-east, the north-west, Scotland and the south-west can be accommodated. The reverse is the case.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the progressive development of his preferred option. Hon. Members with constituencies in the north believe that the planning by both the Department of Transport and the Government has failed to take account of the need to integrate transport systems as quickly as possible with the channel tunnel link. We need access to the tunnel at the greatest possible speed so that the north of England and Scotland can take advantage of all the benefits. We must not be marginalised, simply because we cannot gain access to the tunnel.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful for the opportunity to try to dispel any misapprehension that there may be in the north about my proposal. Many of us came to the issue because of the need to protect our constituencies from the threat, but the more that we looked at the proposals the more we realised their inadequacy and how little, if anything, they offered to regions other than London and the south-east. The movement of freight and passengers to the north, the north-east and the north-west, bypassing London, could be based on Stratford without the delays, bottlenecks and the interchange of trains that would be necessary at King's Cross. It would allow for the development of lines northwards on a gauge that harmonised with the rest of Europe. Passengers and freight from the north would be able to stay on one train and not have to get out of it until they reached their destination in Europe. That objective is enshrined in the alternative proposals. If the hon. Gentleman has not received the details that make that clear in black and white, I shall ensure that he receives them. The proposal based on Stratford offers infinitely more to the United Kingdom than British Rail's King's Cross proposal.
I do not propose to deal in detail with the Ove Arup or the Manufacturers Hanover Trust proposals. They have been sent to hon. Members and I know that many of them want to speak in the debate. However, I end on a note that is often struck in the press: the French do it differently and the French do it better. They have adopted a strategic approach to the transport link—a grand design that links up the whole of France. They have decided that if there is to be a link between Lille, Bordeaux, Lyon and the channel tunnel, the people who live in those towns will not want to go through central Paris. They have bypassed Paris by means of a line to the east. Interestingly enough, our alternative proposals bypass London with a line to the east. The French avoided taking the line through the centre of their capital—in contrast to what British Rail proposes to do at King's Cross.
The French have also optimised the opportunity to bring prosperity and industry and therefore to improve the economy of depressed areas. Certain towns in northern France have begged the authorities to allow the rail line to go through their region because it would lead to spin off developments. The Stratford alternative would offer similar opportunities. It would go through land that does not enjoy the benefit of the prosperity that is found elsewhere. Moreover, the French have decided to link the line to the Disney theme park to be built in France. Proposals are afoot for developing Rainham marshes in Essex as an international theme park. The alternative link would take passengers from continental Europe directly to the theme park without passengers having to go to King's Cross and change trains to get to the Rainham area.
1138 The alternative proposals ought to be considered seriously by British Rail instead of being rubbished by it in a programme of disinformation and misinformation to hon. Members suggesting that the only solution is the one that British Rail prefers.
The more one considers the proposals, the more one realises that they are wrong. I have not approached the matter negatively. There is a way forward. British Rail should talk seriously to the promoters of the alternative proposals and use a clean slate, without its existing commitments and loyalties pre-determining its approach. We need to find an alignment that serves those who wish to come to London, keeps away the threat of blight from the areas that many of us represent and provides a system that not only is part of an integrated road and rail transport infrastructure in this country but is linked to an integrated transport system for Europe. This is not an idealistic grand vision but a realistic way of looking at the problem. If we miss this opportunity, the effects will last for many years, at great expense and resulting in great tragedy.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Many of us would echo the sentiments expressed in the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and would congratulate him on his choice of subject. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), in whose constituency the possible Stratford terminal will lie, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his motion. In the past hour and 10 minutes, he has ranged over the problems and shown us its many facets. My only quarrel with an otherwise excellent round-up concerns the gauge—the loading gauge in the United Kingdom is more restricted than that on the continent, but the track gauge is not; it is the same—Stephenson. British Rail has said that it will run British Rail size coaches to the continent but the reverse will not be possible. There will be some restriction on freight but, happily, I do not think that it will be necessary to change trains or bogies as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
We welcome the Minister of State to what I believe is his first main debate on these matters. He will listen, as his predecessor did, but, ironically, his predecessor's political beliefs have put him and the Government on the hook. The hook on which the Government and British Rail are impaled is their refusal to provide the capital infrastructure for a new, 21st century railway line, coupled with—a poisonous combination—the requirement or preference for some developer-led finance. Those two matters form the basis for the hook on which not only the Minister and the Government but the hapless officials of British Rail are constantly twisting to every turn either of St. Bartholomew's hospital or of the various developers who come along.
I do not have all that much sympathy for British Rail officials, who do not seem to run our railways as well as they might, but the Government are breathing down their necks and telling them to make all the economies that they can. By chance, I have just returned from Victoria station, having travelled overnight by train from Brussels.
§ Mr. Spearing
My hon. Friend says that I am a tripper. I was listening to the golden, honeyed words of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing and Mr. Jacques Delors—but that is another topic.
Had I travelled overnight to or from Brussels 55 years ago, I should have had a much better deal, as I did a few years' ago when I could go to Victoria station on foot, climb aboard a sleeper and wake somewhere past Lille. Alas, the night ferry has disappeared and its substitute is poor. The overnight train advertised as travelling to places such as Cologne and Brussels stops at every station between Bromley and Faversham. Returning this morning, we had a two-hour wait at Dover and joined the first commuter train at 4.45 from Dover Priory, which was naturally liable to be overcrowded as it neared Victoria. That is the standard to which British Rail treats us.
I commend the fact that British Rail is to have a spanking new vessel on which to put a few coaches. You may have thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in a few years' time one would be able to stroll over Westminster bridge, climb aboard the new super-train at Waterloo and perhaps settle down to a nice dinner, just as you do on your way to Bristol and as my hon. Friends do on their way to places such as Manchester, but no such luck! Having spotted the design of the new super-trains, I wrote to British Rail about this. British Rail replied that it could not afford the lavish restaurant facilities that it has on its domestic services, so there will be meals at one's seat only rather like the service on the otherwise excellent TGVs and on aeroplanes, which people wish to avoid.
§ Mr. Rowe
The vision that the hon. Gentleman conjured up was enchanting, but he left it unpeopled. The congestion that will be caused by using Waterloo as the central terminal for the cross-channel traffic will mean that the hon. Gentleman will be dodging his way across Waterloo bridge among a horde of pedestrians.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman may be right. That is yet another limitation to the plan.
I suggest that there are four desiderata with which we all agree. First, we must have a 21st century railway which fits in with the continental system and our own and must be built to have minimal environmental impact. Secondly, that railway will serve the whole of the United Kingdom. Thirdly, the arrangements for stations in London—I emphasise the plural "stations" and not "terminal"—must meet the strategic planning needs of London and Londoners. Fourthly, there should be sufficient through-running of passengers and freight across or around London.
As I understand it, most of those criteria are not permitted by the infrastructure costs laid down by the Government.
§ Mr. Spearing
My hon. Friend says that none of them is permitted. That shows the inadequacy of the present plans. The King's Cross solution is impaled on the developers' hook, off which they may have been pushed by the intervention of St. Bartholomew's hospital.
There is also the disadvantage of the south London problem. One either uses the route south from King's Cross on the existing overcrowded lines of Thameslink and Network SouthEast, which would add difficulties and use scarce tracks, or one has to build expensive tunnels 1140 through the water-laden gravels of the area. British Rail seems to have tried to get round the problem by what is known as the Swanley solution, which makes one's mind boggle. The idea of having a "terminal" somewhere near the M25, not coming through London on dedicated tracks to link up with the rest of the national system, seems rather strange. There would be a link, of course, but nothing more than that provided by the South East Chatham Railway nearly a century ago.
The south London problem is, in a sense, the bottleneck and the strategic geographical problem on which most of these matters turn. The hon. Member for Dulwich listed the names which have become familiar—TALIS, RACHEL and Ove Arup. As he rightly said, the south London problem is avoided by having a north Thames crossing, somewhere between south-east Essex and Barking. I think that strategically that is probably right, although I dissent from the idea of its being developer-led, whether in Rainham—a controversial development—the Maidstone parkway or nationally.
If we are to get it right, I suggest that bringing greater development in and around the railway to fund it would denude other parts of Britain of opportunities, and is thus not something that either the House or the country would wish to see. Therefore, while TALIS, RACHEL and Ove Arup are on the right lines, I still believe that any contribution made to them by developers, or any dependence which is placed on their developments, is almost certainly wrong.
What we might describe as the north Thames solution has other implications, especially for London's strategic planning. The hon. Member for Dulwich touched on that when he referred to Stratford, an area in Newham which is not necessarily opposed to having an intercontinental or a continental station. Stratford's links are already pretty good. The House has passed a Bill for a direct extension of the Jubilee line from central London to Stratford.
Of course, the Government may choose CrossRail, which is part of the London scheme. If they did, not only would there be three direct links from Stratford into central London, by the Central line, the Jubilee line and CrossRail—I assure Conservative Members that CrossRail would take only 10 minutes to reach the west end or the City—but the line could go out to Heathrow, up to Stansted or through to King's Cross secondary station with all the links to the north and the west. What better solution could there be? If CrossRail was used initially as that link, the costs might be less than for a dedicated track, although I agree that ultimately London should have dedicated tunnels, preferably to the Union Internationale de Chemins de Fer B-plus loading gauge.
§ Mr. Allen
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I apologise for having missed the first few minutes of his speech.
What worries me and other people in the east midlands is the concept of a secondary station at King's Cross. We are worried that virtually all rail traffic will be filtered out at Stratford and that there will be very little incentive to complete an effective link from Stratford to King's Cross and St. Pancras, which is one of the main routes to the east midlands, including Leicester, Derby and Nottingham. As I said when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), we already labour under the 1141 problem of not having an electrified line to the east midlands main line. Would not these proposals present a further problem?
Both the hon. Member for Dulwich and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) need to reassure people in the east midlands that the channel link will be completed through to King's Cross and St. Pancras, that it will be a first-class link and that not only will traffic go through the channel tunnel, but much of it will be enabled to come up to the east midlands. If my hon. Friend fails to do that, we would be as well to stick to the present option.
§ Mr.. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention because it allows me to describe what I believe is the geographical and operational position, which is not entirely clear to some of my hon. Friends representing the midlands and the north. The fears about through-running could apply to King's Cross and to the existing ThamesLink routes, as currently planned. The problem that I dealt with earlier when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich is that British Rail wants to get the maximum return from "high quality" coaches zipping to and fro, rather than from through-running. So, we have that problem in any case.
Personally, I do not want to see any disadvantage in the Stratford case—and I do not think that there is any. As I have said, even without CrossRail, there are already physical links from Stratford to most of the lines to the north-west, the midlands and the great north. With a few little additions, that line could do as well as a dedicated track. The guts of the problem lie in persuading British Rail and the operators to through-run.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) may like to know that I have always backed a rolling plan for electrification, but British Rail and the Government seem to have got it wrong. The east midlands main line is a four-track main line and would, I understand, provide one of the best options for the modification to the UIC B-plus gauge for the whole country. My hon. Friend can be assured that, whatever the problems, the Stratford option would not add to them and would, I believe, be the correct strategy.
One problem which has not so far been divulged about TALIS, RACHEL, Ove Arup and the north Thames solution—other than the unsatisfactory nature of British Rail's "Swanley Solution"—is that British Rail has signed a contract with Eurotunnel with regard to train paths to the tunnel. We know that the tunnel is to be shared between the so-called "ferry traffic" and the so-called "railway traffic". I understand that British Rail has purchased or has an agreement about the proportion that it will run, and no doubt has also made a commercial agreement, which is doubtless highly secret, about how much it will pay. It has been suggested that any other route suggested by any other promoter could not have access through the tunnel section because British Rail has already written the contract.
We seem to be back in the 19th century with railway Bills, tracks and all the rest of it. That is one reason why the Government must come clean. If they have a hidden card in their hand—which may be revealed in the House today if the Minister confirms it or otherwise in his reply —however good all the alternatives that have been suggested, they will not wash because the agreements have already been made.
1142 I conclude by assessing the present position as I see it. British Rail and others are planning routes that we do not want. A number of other routes might be better, but at the moment it looks as though we shall not get them. We do not have any strategic planning for our railways for the 21st century. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has some sound ideas about that, but we have not even reached the stage that the French and the Germans reached, not now but a century ago, when they planned their railways properly. Those who know railway history may recall that even the great Mr. Gladstone was inclined to say that, like the telephone and postal services, railways were so important that they should be publicly planned and even publicly funded. If that were the view now, we should not be discussing the Government's inadequate and feeble planning with which we are confronted at the moment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. It is evident that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I hope that Members will help each other by making short speeches.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
As the Member for a north-west constituency, I want to make the point that the siting of the second London terminal has major implications for all regions north of London and for Scotland. The House knows the important part that industry and business in the north play in the economy of the country. My own region, the north-west, makes the second highest regional contribution to the gross domestic product.
Like other regions north of London, the north-west wants to play its full part in exploiting the opportunities that the single market will provide, but it cannot do so unless first-class communications are available, both from the region to London and the south, and from the region directly through to the continent via the channel tunnel.
The transport infrastructure will be a key to capitalising on the economic opportunities of 1992 and later. The north-west has the most to gain and the most to lose from the channel tunnel. It is the largest single market area for international rail freight and passenger services outside the south-east and stands to gain from both the increased export opportunities and the increased opportunities for tourism. Many more visitors are already coming to the region.
There is real concern in the north-west and, I am sure, in many other regions, about the delay in reaching decisions on both the siting of the tracks to and from the tunnel, and the location of the new rail terminal in London itself.
Decisions must be taken or confirmed now, with national rather than purely London and south-east interests in mind. For that reason I must express my anxiety that we are debating a motion which raises fresh doubts about the location of the new international rail terminal for London. It opens up again the controversy about the siting of the international terminal. King's Cross has enormous advantages over Stratford and the location of the terminal there is important to the national interest. That is the overwhelming opinion in the north-west.
1143 It seems ridiculous to suggest, as I understand is being suggested, that there should be three London terminals —Waterloo, King's Cross and Stratford. Surely, King's Cross, with its central location and with the nearby stations of Euston and St. Pancras, is the hub of London communications. Some 60 per cent. of all London underground stations, through five main underground networks, are connected directly with King's Cross, and the proposed travelator, linking it with Euston, would certainly enhance its role. Another advantage of King's Cross is that by a minor upgrading of the existing route through west Hampstead, it could, and with little additional expenditure would, have a direct rail link with the west coast main line.
I welcome British Rail's plan to use King's Cross as the London international terminal and I hope that we can give our backing to it so that it can proceed as quickly as possible. However, my enthusiasm for British Rail in this connection is tempered by the lack of planned investment in effective, high-speed, rail tracks coupled with suitable terminal facilities in the north-west. My parliamentary colleagues and I will make the case for progress with increasing vigour over the coming months. I, and no doubt my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), will continue to press the case for electrification of the line from Manchester to our constituencies.
I again stress the need to make real progress quickly with the development of our communications from the north and the midlands to the channel tunnel.
§ Sir Peter Blaker
I should prefer not to give way as many hon. Members wish to speak.
A decision on the siting of the London terminal needs to be taken without more delay. My belief and that of the vast majority of those involved in commerce and industry in the north-west is that King's Cross is the natural and sensible choice for the new London terminal. I hope that today's debate will show the strength of that view and the anxieties of hon. Members that this motion, calling for yet another alternative to be considered, will only delay mattersfurther.
§ 11.1 am
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
I welcome the speech of the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and echo his remarks. Like him, I represent the north-west—I am a Cheshire Member of Parliament—and we are extremely worried at the delay which could result from today's debate.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in a clever intervention said that if the House today makes it clear that it is dissatisfied with King's Cross and British Rail, and is, therefore, by implication in favour of Stratford or some other alternative, British Rail will have to listen to that opinion. That may be true. The danger is that few northern Members attend the House on a Friday. It is a London day, for logistical reasons. It is not because northern Members are idle, but they must return to their constituencies, whereas London Members can attend to constituency duties at the weekend. It has always 1144 been so. I and, no doubt, the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South, the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), have stayed because we fear that delay or worse could result from this motion.
No matter what has been said about British Rail, and I endorse a great deal of what was said about its management, King's Cross is a natural point for the north of England—not only the north-west, but the northern consortium which includes Yorkshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Cheshire. Those regions are in favour of King's Cross because of its obvious geographical location and its obvious advantages for passengers from the north.
It is deplorable that British Rail will not provide more through trains in the early years of the tunnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and I both want to be able to get on a train in Manchester or Crewe and get off in Paris or Brussels. We do not want to have to change, but British Rail is not providing that initially. Therefore, if I must make a connection in London, probably at Waterloo because it will be the No. 1 terminal, I must get from Euston to Waterloo which is not an easy journey. The route is the same as that I use to come to the House and involves the Northern line. On the other hand, King's Cross is only the next station on the underground from Euston. At a pinch I could walk there and I could certainly get a taxi within a few hundred yards of Euston station.
Many hon. Members' views about Stratford make it sound desirable, but is the finance there for it? If there was a link and one could take a train from the north to the continent which would bypass London completely, that would be ideal, but I see no proposals before the House which lead me to believe that that is likely. What, then, is left? We have the proposals for King's Cross.
King's Cross is a major station serving London. Its communications by underground with the rest of London are excellent. It has communications with the north-west, Cambridgeshire, East Anglia, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is the terminus for those trains. To lay doubt on the proposals, as today's debate may well do, could delay matters considerably. We shall be talking of a second London terminal not in the closing years of the 1990s, but in the next century. That is our fear because we need the service now.
The channel tunnel is a national project, not a London link. It will link the whole of the United Kingdom to the whole continent. Would that we had had the sense to behave like the French in looking at it from a national point of view or, indeed, from an international or European view. That is far more logical than our scrappy proposals.
I am about to sit down as many hon. Gentleman——
§ Mr. Oakes
—and Ladies wish to speak. Hon. Members, especially those who represent the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland, think that the proposal for King's Cross is the best that we have now. We talk at our peril about scrapping it. The probable cost will be delay far into the next century before we get a proper second London terminal.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on coming top of the ballot and on presenting his case so forcefully this morning. However, he slightly misled the House by suggesting that the gauge was not the same. He was right to say that the wagon gauge was not the same, but certainly the rail gauge is the same. Just as bridges and roads are being upgraded to cater for road traffic, so the gauges will be upgraded for wagons. In time we shall have complete similarity throughout the country. It is not the intention that people will have to change trains to go through the tunnel. The only changes likely to take place would involve the crew, but, as I understand it, the passengers will go right through, certainly from London to Paris, on the same train. I hope that eventually they will be able to go through from Manchester to Paris, and other locations. I fully accept the point so eloquently made by the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) about the need to get on with the job.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich may have got the wrong end of the stick about freight. British Rail is expecting a considerable income from freight. Whether it should be transported at the same speed as passengers is a matter of debate and cost. There are provisions at present for freight to be transported round this country at considerable speed, but it is a matter of how much the customer is prepared to pay, as in anything else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich was slightly unfair to the members of the British Railways Board. It is easy to fire at and criticise people from the House. We all need criticism to keep us on our toes, but we must not go too far over the top. I know that British Rail has provided facilities for me to see various other alternative routes. I am sure that the same facilities have been made available to members of the British Railways Board, who travel on trains just as we do. One should not believe that they use a different form of transport and do not have any experience of trains.
Since the autumn of 1987, no fewer than 42 locations have been considered for the terminal. King's Cross was eventually chosen. Ten of the 42 were considered in detail. Some 70 routes were studied to get passengers from the channel tunnel, through London, to other parts of the United Kingdom. Some 300 options were considered.
We must accept that British Rail has gone to some trouble to explore the matter thoroughly, and the route through Stratford was one option considered. It would be wrong to suggest that the matter has not been thoroughly considered. It certainly has, but there is a time factor. One cannot go on considering issues for ever. If we were to consider all the 300 options in the greatest detail, we would still be discussing the matter in the year 2020. By that time, the French and German railways would be carrying passengers and freight at enormous speed round the country, and hon. Members would be complaining that our unemployment figures were rising and we were not getting a fair crack of the whip in Europe. They would be asking what we were doing about it. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have already expressed concern about whether the decision should be delayed, and whether we have already spent too long considering the issue.
1146 I know that parts of Kent and Essex, and many other parts of the country, are particularly beautiful, and should be treated with proper respect and care. However, we must acknowledge that the other proposals put forward by a number of consortia that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich mentioned have not gone into great detail. Therefore, colleagues have not been inundated by protests from local groups in their area because we do not know where those lines are proposed and exactly what the problems would be.
Certainly, any alternative has to include provision for trains to go through, and right into the centre of, London. It would be wrong to say that because a scheme had been put forward that got passengers to Stratford more cheaply than it could get them to King's Cross, it should automatically be considered on a par. It cannot he, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have explained why. We must take account of that.
There is great concern at present that various parts of this country will miss out unless we get on and achieve our objective. There are certainly problems enough without prolonging and delaying the matter unduly. The French and German railways have made massive strides forward. I think that it was the hon. Member for Newham. South (Mr. Spearing) who seemed to think that French and German railways were so much in advance of ours, and had been for 100 years. I do not agree. German railways snake round the rivers and take a long time to get from A to B. A system has been introduced in the past few years, and we must admire what has been achieved in that time, but 20 years ago Germany's railways were no better than the British Rail network.
§ Mr. Spearing
I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to misunderstand what I was saying. The standard of service may not have been as good, but about a century ago there was a national plan for railways in Germany, which we did not then have.
§ Mr. Thorne
That may be true. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also agree that we introduced railways into the world in the first place. One of the disadvantages of inventing something is that one does not get the same distanced planning as if one is considering it from the outside. Other countries, such as France and Germany, had those advantages, and certainly took advantage of our experience. That was how they could achieve their planning objectives.
Various points have been made about independent assessments and theme parks. Visitors to theme parks are welcome, but they will not form a major part of the traffic that is likely to come from the continent. In addition, I am sure that such people would want to stay in hotels overnight and would be likely to go to the main centres for that purpose.
Compensation is an important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich hit on an important point when he mentioned the comparison between the income that one might expect from the development of King's Cross, and that which one might expect from a development at Stratford, and whether the income was an attractive proposition and should form part of a programme. Yes, certainly those factors should be considered, and I am sure that many hon. Members would wish to attract some of that business and prosperity to different districts for their own reasons.
1147 However, we must consider the matter as a whole. We must consider not only the connections of the railways to central London but the road networks. Many people feel that the road networks are lacking and are already far too congested. Many people will want to go to the terminus by taxi and we should have to make provision for them to get by taxi to and from Stratford, if that were the alternative. Therefore, in our costings, we must allow for an improved road network, whether to King's Cross or Stratford. That factor must be taken into account.
It is important to compare like with like, and if we are to consider the alternatives—we would have to do so quickly—we need more detail than has been supplied. It is easy to put up nebulous cases and say that they would definitely he better. Unless they are detailed, we cannot compare or cost them properly. We must take those important issues into account.
§ Mr. Rowe
British Rail persistently makes that point, which is substantially disingenuous. It has consistently blocked any alternative proposal by saying that it will not consider it. It is therefore putting on any alternative contractor the obligation to spend tens of millions of pounds to carry out the detailed work required to achieve what my hon. Friend wants. It then argues that it has always said that it will not consider that alternative.
§ Mr. Thorne
We have to accept that British Rail has considered 300 alternative routes from the channel tunnel into and serving London. British Rail has done a great deal of work already, and some routes have been examined in considerable detail. Any proposals that are put forward have to be more positive than they have been so far. Any detailed proposals of which British Rail is not aware would certainly be considered. However, we have to examine the reasons why people are promoting certain alternatives. It is not fair to expect British Rail to spend unlimited money on considering every proposal that has been put forward, as there are often special reasons why various individuals and companies are promoting certain alternatives. Those reasons are not necessarily in the best interests of British Rail or the country. We have to be fair in our assessment. I accept that it is an expensive operation, but one has to be fairly definite and positive in one's criticism of people with a fair degree of expertise and about the grounds for refusal.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall not detain the House any longer except to say that it is important that the facility should not be unduly delayed. The vast majority of hon. Members seek a solution sooner rather than later. Every additional delay is likely to increase construction costs and the cost to the British economy unless we are able and and ready to face the challenges of being part of Europe in the 1990s and beyond.
§ Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
I too, congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on initiating the debate. It is a timely opportunity. In the past, I have shared many platforms with the hon. Gentleman in fighting British Rail's proposals. As he said, initially we approached the discussion with constituency concerns in mind. I represent the views of many people in my 1148 constituency, particularly around Clapham and Waterloo. In addition to examining British Rail's proposals from the point of view of our constituents, we must also consider what is best for the country generally. It is clear that operationally, financially and environmentally, British Rail's proposals will not benefit all parts of Britain through increasing our links with Europe.
I shall say a few words about my constituency concerns, particularly those involving Waterloo. We are discussing alternative proposals for King's Cross and Stratford. Let me remind the House that some years ago it was decided that Waterloo should be the first main terminus for the channel tunnel. Many of us are doubtful about the proposals and mistrust British Rail because we were told then that there was a need for only one terminus which had to be at Waterloo. The people of Waterloo and Lambeth said that Waterloo was not the right place for the terminus.
There is now a still greater need to consider what has already been decided for Waterloo. The current design for the Waterloo terminus would cater for 10.5 million people. That was confirmed to Lambeth's planning committee as recently as last autumn when Lambeth was considering the detailed planning application for the terminus. I was pleased that the borough has resisted the temptation to support any moves to get that terminus built. A public inquiry starts in a few weeks' time.
However, British Rail's own transport forecasts now show the original estimates to be wrong. We now know that there will probably be up to 40 million passengers using Waterloo when the channel tunnel opens in 1993. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) travelled through Victoria this morning; anyone who travels through Waterloo knows how chaotic it is there. In addition, the Jubilee line extension to Stratford through Waterloo and the long-awaited improvements to the Northern line will undoubtedly produce a significant increase in the number of passengers using the station. Given the likely increases in the number of passengers due to the channel tunnel, increased numbers of tube and rail passengers and, we hope, more people using public transport, it is clear that Waterloo is not the right place for international travellers to arrive.
Lambeth is refusing to be bulldozed into granting planning permission because the design of the terminus does not in any way come up to the standards that would be needed for the numbers of passengers using it. The taxi and car drop-off and pick-up points are woefully inadequate, there is insufficient allocation of time for passengers with luggage who may have a problem with language and may not be able to ask the way, the coach drop-off point is a long way from the terminal, making it difficult for elderly or infirm people, and the plan provides for only one additional escalator on the underground system. British Rail has stated that it expects 50 per cent. of passengers to arrive and depart by tube. Anyone who travels in and out of Waterloo by tube knows just how congested it is.
The plan does not take into account the effect of the community around Waterloo which has fought off increasing developments in the area. Even at this stage, if we need a terminus at Waterloo, let us at least get it right and not push through proposals for an inadequate terminus. However, I believe that there is a no need for a terminus at Waterloo. If we were to have a public inquiry and consider the overall benefits of moving to the 1149 Stratford initiative, it would not be necessary to spend that money at Waterloo. The Government have recognised that the position has changed. In their planning guidance, Waterloo is almost the only part of London where the Secretary of State has been quite specific in his directions.
One of the dangers of British Rail's proposal is that it has not really examined the movement of freight. It has been very much a plan for passengers. The present plan is to run all the freight along the two existing south London commuter routes in and out of London. British Rail has admitted that it will be able to use those routes only at night as they are already operated to capacity during peak hours because of London commuter and passenger traffic. All the channel tunnel freight would converge on Clapham Junction station before crossing the Thames to a depot at Willesden. Given the number of recent rail disasters, I share the anxieties of the hon. Member for Dulwich about safety when that railway line operates at full capacity. Eurotunnel has said unofficially that it is in its interests for British Rail to develop a freight plan that will maximise the project potential.
The people in Lambeth, Waterloo and Clapham believe that the route via Stratford must be examined by British Rail and that we must have a public inquiry into the matter. I understand the worries of hon. Members from the north and midlands about benefiting from the tunnel. The only reason for the channel tunnel is that it will benefit all the people. Because we are worried about the delay we might push through something that is not the best way forward. I hope that the debate will give the Minister something to think about. I hope that he will listen more attentively than his predecessor and will perhaps move slightly towards the feelings that I understand the Secretary of State may have about the Stratford route.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I welcome the debate and the attention called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) whose constituency is also affected by British Rail's current proposals. However, I view with dismay my hon. Friend's proposals for full and, no doubt, lengthy consideration. My constituents and I are fed up with continuing delay during which numerous rumours of alternative routes have been bandied about. There is hardly a square kilometre of my constituency that has not been the subject of splendidly disruptive proposals. It seems that every civil engineer in the country has made a bid not only for a railway line but to gain the reputation of an up and coming expert on the prospect for a grand renaissance of our railways. Locally, we resent being the guinea pigs for these no doubt stimulating exercises.
The villages of Istead Rise and New Barn have been in the firing line for the longest period. They may be suffering from war weariness, but they remain vigilant in the battle for their environment. Ever since the first announcement burst on us in October 1988, those villages have had to contend with the professional approach of British Rail to these matters—and we all know how professional that is.
The original proposals provided for a towering viaduct overlooking the village of Istead Rise, with the railway slicing on through various houses, having previously carved out the Meopham cricket ground at Nurstead. I am glad to tell the House that, following detailed representations by Gravesham borough council and the 1150 Istead Rise rail action group, with which I have been closely involved, some major modifications have been made.
The Nurstead cricket ground will now remain unmolested. The North downs tunnel would be extended westward to Thirty Acre Shaw between the villages of Istead Rise and New Barn. The south side of Istead Rise would be saved in the long-term by a cut-and-cover tunnel, although likely to be disrupted in the medium term by a major construction site in the Cobham valleys. during which time the Wrotham road would be heavily loaded by construction traffic, particularly removing tunnel spoil.
Both the west side of Istead Rise and New Barn would be exposed to noise from the cutting westward from the mouth of the tunnel, and the permanent disfigurement of the current rural landscape which separates the two villages. This is the major bone of contention with British Rail for my constituents both in Istead Rise and that part of the village of New Barn in my constituency. Were this deep cutting to be covered, I think that much of the local opposition would evaporate.
We do not even know if British Rail intends to stick to its current proposals. Rumours abound that it might move its route southwards, bringing relief to Istead Rise and New Barn, but transferring the anxiety to the parish of Meopham. Proposals have been made which involve tunnels under Luddesdown and Meopham near the parish church, and yet another running under southern Luddesdown and Meopham near Culverstone. Any of these proposals involving tunnelling the entire distance beneath Gravesham would be preferable, provided the tunnel is bored from the Medway and any ventilation shafts and construction sites are sensibly located. That site is well to the west. I know that Meopham parish council and its dedicated sub-committee remain vigilant on those aspects of the matter. I hope that British Rail's preferred route can rapidly be announced to relieve the anxieties of most of my constituents, and to concentrate the minds of those who are directly in its path.
Various other interests have formulated plans. The most serious of those are the plans of the Ove Arup partnership. In respect of Gravesham they propose to cross the borough from east to west along a line slightly to the south of the A2. They would emerge from a tunnel at Scalers Hill, Cobham, having tunnelled under Cobham golf course. They would then travel westward in a cutting past Singlewell, Marling Cross, and Watling street, Gravesend, cross the Wrotham road by viaduct, and then progress on an embankment past the Gough Cooper, Henley Deane and Pepper hill housing estates in Northfleet.
This scheme would have a serious impact on the local environment, and its four tracks would add to the considerable amount of noise arising from the A2 motor road. The partnership's proposals for an urban fringe woodland between railway and highway are imaginative, but we will need much analysis about the effects on the environments of the urban areas that I have just mentioned, as well as of the village of Istead Rise lying to the south-east of the embankment.
There are yet other schemes, notably that of Rail-Europe, the principal of whose routes ploughs through the parish of Higham. It even outlines a route carving through the urban areas of both Gravesend and Northfleet. It has not done us the courtesy of drawing that 1151 route to our attention or saying whether it is on stilts or buried or merely ploughs straight through the houses and gardens of thousands of my constituents.
Many hon. Members were eloquent about the economic and employment advantages of massive railway projects, particularly for the midlands, the north and Scotland. They have to bear in mind the heavy environmental cost for the people living in the transport corridors. A prerequisite has to be the protection of the environment. The House will have to ensure that this prevails. Any developer of a railway project, British Rail or any other, will have to come to the House to obtain a private Bill for any such project.
The private Bill procedure is an extremely onerous one, and any promoter would be well advised to do his environmental homework well in advance. I am encouraged by the Government's statements on the need for an environmental assessment of any project, and for high environmental standards. Unless these needs are met, my hon. Friends from Kent and I will give any Bill a very rough ride. I am also encouraged by the announcement by the Minister's predecessor about the establishment of a committee to recommend a national noise insulation standard for new railway lines. We look forward to its report.
Kent is under threat. We are being assailed by development in a multitude of forms, which is putting terrible pressures on our green belt. Our constituents fear erosion and blows from gandiose projects such as this one. It is high time that the project was finally crystallised, so that we know the precise detail of the challenge that faces us.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
I shall not detain the House long, but as a Member from Wales I feel that our problems in relation to the channel tunnel link have not been considered. Someone from further afield can perhaps look at such problems objectively, although it is difficult when faced with the multiplicity of plans outlined by hon. Members who feel that their constituencies and constituents are under threat.
The basic question to be addressed is why we are concentrating entirely on the situation in London. Surely the whole of the United Kingdom should be considered in terms of the link to the tunnel. It is salutary to realise that those of us who live in Wales, in the west of England and in parts of the south-west midlands, have no prospect whatever of a direct link to the tunnel. Because of the Government's investment criteria for British Rail, our railway lines are not to be electrified, so we cannot have through services.
Why should trains go through London at all? Why not bypass London with high speed trains and link the rest of Britain with an orbital rail bypass and, with an integrated transport system, and include Heathrow and Gatwick? The existing track could be used for trains to go into the London terminals at a lower speed. There would be much less disruption with such a system.
The French are in the middle of constructing a Paris bypass for TGV which will cut two hours off the journey time between Lille and Lyon, and will link with Charles de Gaulle airport. That is an integrated transport system. I do 1152 not know why we have such a lack of vision about a 21st century rail transport system. Most of us want through trains to the continent and are not interested in stopping off in London, which has its own problems—it is full of people and traffic, with all the resulting pollution. We want to get past all that and on to Paris, Milan or even Moscow on the rail system.
British Rail is constricted by the Government's policy and, in particular, investment criteria. The insistence on the 8 per cent. return on capital investment is distorting all British Rail's decisions. One has only to look at King's Cross to see that, because it depends on the 125 acres of land to finance the investment programme. That is crazy. The correct procedure would be to use a cost-benefit analysis, which is the criterion used on the continent.
The channel tunnel rail link is dependent on section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which precludes public investment in the line. That ought to be repealed—private developers cannot finance the project properly and some are already screaming for public money to bail them out —if it is desirable to bring a direct route to London.
Confronted with the facts and the options, Waterloo is clearly the answer. I understand the feelings of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), but she must understand that putting a block on Waterloo would cut out a direct route to the channel tunnel for Wales and the west country. Nevertheless, I understand the effects that a terminal at Waterloo will have on her constituency and how sensitive the matter is.
The King's Cross option will prove difficult for the west because we shall need a link in London Paddington to get there. The same applies to the Stratford option, because we do not know whether there will be the money to invest in a link between Stratford and Paddington and, for those in the north, between King's Cross and Stratford. If the terminal is to be built, we need guarantees about such links. Otherwise, we shall be left out on a limb and passengers will have to use the underground system, lugging baggage around, which would be unacceptable.
I was a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs which considered the channel tunnel links with Wales a few months ago. The Committee opposed construction of the Stratford terminal because it believed that a link from Stratford to Paddington would not be built. However, the Ove Arup proposals may offer some hope.
Another possibility is the existing rail link from Tonbridge to Reading, which has been used from the channel ports for a long time. In the first world war, soldiers were carted from Dover to the north on it. If it could he done then, it can surely be done now. I understand that the problem with that link is that a bridge in the Redhill area needs to be rebuilt and redirected.
§ Mr. Livsey
British Rail has assured us that there will be through trains from Wales to Waterloo and only a single platform transfer. The hon. Lady should be aware of that proposal, which British Rail has even put in writing.
Environmental considerations are also extremely important. In Wales, the opencast mining executive of British Coal is proposing to demolish houses, chapels, farms and other buildings to dig coal out of the ground.
1153 Those who live in the south-east should be aware of the environmental rape with which we continually have to put up. One hears little about that. The south-east has a number of choices, and it needs to consider them. The main choice is between rail and road. If there is not to be a Berne-gauge system of UIC for freight, much of the freight will be decanted on to lorries at the channel ports. There will be even more lorries than there are now in Kent —and even more motorways, each of which takes up 25 acres of land per mile. The south-east has to think seriously about whether a rail system would not be preferable, as it would take up much less land, lay much less concrete and overcome many problems. The road lobby is railroading the rail system out of existence and priorities must be sorted out. We need greater vision in relation to the environment because it is well proven that railways do not affect the environment as much as roads. There is far less pollution.
The Ove Arup proposals are a move forward towards an integrated plan for a rail strategy. They are based on Stratford east, and a terminal at Stratford east will be useless without links with the rest of the rail system. The Ove Arup proposals have such links and will avoid tunnelling in south London. There will be less environmental disturbance. Although a London rail bypass would be the better of the two options, some of the other proposals on the table are not worthy of consideration.
§ Mr. Michael Alison (Selby)
In seeking to strike a note that I fear my hon. Friends the Members for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) will find a little discordant, I want to stress that I am not insensitive to the environmental and other pertinent considerations that press on them and their constituents and on other colleagues, who represent constituencies in the south-east of England. My advocacy of King's Cross against Stratford as the inter-connecting rail link does not prejudge any consequential environmental considerations that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham mentioned as being an essential and proper prerequisite of a private Bill that may have to be introduced.
I want to stress the relevant and pertinent considerations that press on those who represent constituencies in the north, particularly Yorkshire and Humberside. In a nutshell, Stratford will represent a set back, a profound disadvantage and a sharp detriment to the economic life, prospects for jobs, prosperity and economic growth in areas of the north such as Yorkshire and Humberside, which already lag behind the south in those respects.
The railway industry is undergoing something of a rebirth. Huge capital sums are being invested throughout Europe, even in the United States of America, revitalising and refurbishing the attractions of rail travel. The unique relevant feature that the railway offers compared with other modes of transport is a city centre departure and arrival point. The logic of urban industrial growth has produced an uncovenanted bonus for railways: railway termini find themselves at the centre of the urban web and not on the periphery. King's Cross, Euston, St. Pancras, Paddington and Waterloo are at the centre of the urban web by the mere logic of industrial and urban development.
1154 No colleague who has faced the prospect of a two-hour air journey and has had to spend an hour struggling on the periphery of the city to get to the airport can underestimate the value of the centre-of-the-web feature of a modern railway terminal.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I respect the right hon. Gentleman's views because he normally speaks for God in this place. How can he dismiss Stratford in a couple of sentences with the sweeping assertion that the development there would lead to jobs and opportunities being lost in the north? Where did he get that information from, and will he give some substance to the point he made?
§ Mr. Alison
The hon. Gentleman is being hazardous in imputing to me some divine access or inspiration. His facetious remarks may expose him to considerable risk. I disclaim any inspiration for the modest analysis that I am giving. I shall try to elaborate, for the purpose of the hon. Gentleman, why I believe that Stratford is unsuitable.
British Rail can offer only two trains a day to the continent of Europe via the channel tunnel on the east coast main line from the north. Northern business men travelling to Europe and European business men travelling to the north must take the ordinary InterCity train and change in London to complete a journey from Rome or Milan to the north.
Can anyone imagine the psychological and physical disincentive effect of having to change trains at Stratford rather than King's Cross to link with the InterCity service? Having entered a modern, air-conditioned, high-speed train from Paris, Milan or Stuttgart, anticipating the excitement and novel experience of travelling through the glorious countryside of the south-east of England or northern France and the unique railway experience of racing through the new channel tunnel at up to 300 km per hour, imagine the psychological effect on the now thoroughly enchanted and delighted railway passenger of being deposited among the dreaming spires of Stratford.
Can anyone imagine a more delirious anti-climax than arriving at the dreaming spires of Stratford, after all the excitement of travelling through the channel tunnel and north-east France or—starting from York—across the glorious scenery of northern England? As a loading of delight upon delight, on arriving at Stratford the passenger has the unique enchantment of a high-speed tube. Could anything be more calculated to delight the European passenger than the prospect of catching a high-speed tube, which has an average speed of 15 mph, with stops, to link with high-speed trains on the ordinary InterCity services?
Diverting passengers from Europe who cannot use the through-train services, of which there will be so few, to Stratford and forcing them from channel tunnel trains on to the London underground system, stopping at every stop to get to King's Cross and catch the InterCity service, is a nightmare and a total disincentive. No serious passengers travelling from Rome or Milan will bother to do so. They will miss out the north of England. Why should they expose themselves to those primitive forms of urban inter-communication?
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
My right hon. Friend is living in the past. The modern business man from the north who wishes to travel to Milan will fly. Why should he bother about a long and tiring railway journey?
§ Mr. Alison
My hon. Friend, as a southern Member, does not appreciate the extent to which we in the north are still subject to a thrombosis in economic travel and development. There are no great airports anywhere near Yorkshire and Humberside. Yorkshire folk must travel to Manchester, 40 or 50 miles down the rather less-developed road system, to reach a decent international airport. There is a positive attraction in train travel because of the inner-city location of termini. That gives it a great advantage over air travel. The throwing away of the centre-of-the-web feature of railway termini is a profound disadvantage to the idea of locating the system at Stratford.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has become carried away with the prejudice of his argument. People will want to go direct to the continent without stopping in London. It matters not whether they travel through Stratford or any other station. They want to get under the channel and away. Other people may want to do business in London on the way. They can go to King's Cross, do their business and continue on to the continent. It is not the simple, only one desired form of travel option that the right hon. Gentleman suggests. That is a false analysis of the travel needs of people from his part of the world, who travel to Europe and sometimes stop in London. Stratford would not prejudice that, because they could travel to the centre of London.
§ Mr. Alison
The hon. Gentleman's analysis is wrong. There are two options: first, the through connection, ignoring London—there will be only too few such trains —and, secondly, the non-through connection—the ordinary InterCity train service. A business man travelling from Milan to the north of England or from the north to Milan must stop in London to change trains. No business man from Milan will expose himself to the necessity of travelling from Milan through the channel tunnel to Stratford, where he will have to catch an underground train to get to the inter-connecting InterCity train service because there will be no ordinary InterCity train service based at Stratford. Investment in an InterCity network link would be too expensive. The business man will have to take the underground to get to King's Cross to catch an InterCity train to the north. It is a profound throttling of the prospects of business men in the north getting into Europe and of the European business man getting into the north. I urge my hon. Friends to major on the King's Cross link, not Stratford, at all costs.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I had not realised that the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) was so much of a detached snob. Perhaps he has for too long answered questions on behalf of the Church Commissioners. I should like him to come to Stratford some time. I admit that it is not the most beautiful place on earth, even though I represent it, but his remarks were unworthy of him and unfair on the people who live in Stratford and in the east end in general. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) was right to say that the right hon. Gentleman is living in the past. He might have the time to gaze out of the window when travelling through the rolling countryside, but those who want to 1156 come to this country to do business want to get here as quickly as possible—and, given the right hon. Gentleman's views, probably want to get away as quickly as they can.
I welcome the Minister to his new office. I understand that in the past he was an accountant. That makes two accountants running the Department of Transport, as accountancy is also the Secretary of State's background. I look forward to the day when an engine driver or a bus driver is running the Department. Then, perhaps, we might have someone who is more acquainted with the needs of the travelling public. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who will be the next Secretary of State for Transport, will bring to the post some of the qualifications that he has acquired.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on choosing this subject for debate. It gives the Minister an opportunity to acquaint himself with a significant issue. It is opportune that this important debate should be the first in his new post. As a number of hon. Members have said, it is a most unsatisfactory way to construct an enormously significant transport infrastructure. It is piecemeal, shoddy and inefficient. The Government are to blame for the mess in which we all now find ourselves. It is the most significant transport investment decision this century, but the manner in which the Government have approached it, right from the beginning, is grossly inadequate.
We are often lectured by Conservative Members on the efficiency of the private sector. They could hardly use the fiasco of the British contribution to the tunnel and the rail links as a sign of its efficiency. Original costs have escalated wildly from £4.8 billion to £7 billion and rising. The developers are now saying to the Government "Bail us out or it goes down." It is one of the flagship developments. The Prime Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box and made speeches throughout the country extolling such a wonderful example of the private sector. Now the Government have to bail it out.
I hope that the Minister will say whether a report in The Times today is true. It states:The Cabinet will decide next week whether to back proposals for the 68-mile Channel tunnel rail link with the injection of a £400 million subsidy, informed sources say.
§ Mr. Banks
It was not Bernard Ingham; the article said "informed sources".
I want to know whether the article was true. The Government made clear statements that there would be no public money—our money, taxpayers' money—for the project. We have always argued that that was not the way to do it. If taxpayers' money is now to be used to bail out the developers, who obviously had their calculations wrong, what will be the return for the British taxpayer? I am not in favour of bailing out private developers. Let them go bust and then we can pick it up for nothing. The Government must remember that their main fiduciary duty is not to private developers, but to the British taxpayers.
If we contrast the attitude of the British with that of the French, we come out rather poorly. There is close co-operation between the French Government and SNCF, the French nationalised railway system. Speaking as a citizen of this country, I feel almost ashamed that the SNCF has volunteered to put up the money for the British side of the infrastructure investment. What on earth are we 1157 doing? Must we rely on the French to put up the money for the British side of the development? The Government are reducing Britain to a lesser development status. That is atrocious and the Government should be ashamed of themselves.
The French work in close co-operation, but British Rail is narrow minded and the Government are bigoted. It is a decision of national and international significance. It is far too important to be left to British Rail and a bunch of bureaucrats with their limited and unimaginiative approach. Why should we take anything that British Rail says as right? It said that there would be only one London terminal and gave us estimates for the number of passengers. That has changed. Before it has even constructed the first terminal, it wants a second. It says that it must be at King's Cross. How can anyone trust British Rail's planning process? There should be an objective assessment of what is needed—not necessarily for London or even the south-east, but for the country as a whole, and, indeed, for the whole of Europe. That is something that only the Government can do. They cannot leave it to British Rail.
British Rail says—and for once I have some sympathy with it—that it is not the strategic planning authority for the country, or even for London and the south-east. It is a transport undertaker which must get a return on capital. It wants to get people into the middle of London because it says that that is the best that it can do. There are other options, but it is neither authorised to consider them nor does it have the resources to finance them. The Government must take responsibility.
Although I criticise British Rail for its blinkered approach and the way that it deliberately shut off the other options, in the end the Government must take responsibility. The decision is so vast and so important that it cannot be left to British Rail. Indeed, the Government cannot leave it to British Rail and the developers because they now have to put in money. That will be humiliating, although they will probably try to dress it up. They might say, "Actually, we are not contravening section 42 of the Act; it is a subsidy to pay for additional environmental works that we have asked the developers to undertake." Perhaps the Government will be honest for once and say that they have to repeal section 42. If they do, they will run into a great deal of trouble, not only from Opposition Members but from many Conservative Members.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) made a good speech in which he expressed the fears of many people in the north. They want to know that, whatever option is preferred, it will not be to their disadvantage. The various proposals surrounding Stratford, especially that from Ove Arup, would not disadvantage the north, whether it be the north-east or the north-west. Indeed it would be positively advantageous. When I went to see the previous Minister for Public Transport—before he was given the black spot by Blind Pugh and told to convince the nation why the poll tax is such a wonderful thing; I think that he should have stuck to transport—I told him, as I want to tell the new Minister, that there must be a proper assessment of all the options. We want the Government to take the lead in making an objective appraisal and in saying, "This project affects the whole country, so we must take an overview and not leave it entirely to British Rail."
1158 If that were done, the issues raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton could be properly addressed. He expressed concern that our debate could influence British Rail in reaching its decision. British Rail has not been influenced by good sense and reasonable argument up till now, so it is unlikely to be swayed by anything that is said in this Chamber. My hon. Friend can be assured of that. We must hope instead that the debate will influence the Government, because it is they who sit at the centre of the web and who can determine whether the project will be a success or a lamentable failure that will have to be carried over into the next century.
The proposals made by Ove Arup are worthy of close scrutiny. They answer all the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton and would involve both King's Cross and Stratford, which would be in the interests of us all.
The London borough of Newham has worked closely with Colin Buchanan and Partners in making an assessment of Stratford as a prospective site. Newham and the surrounding borough councils—including Redbridge, within the constituency of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who criticises the Stratford proposal —support the Stratford option. Even then, it is not a London but a national issue. Newham has been in the forefront in trying to persuade British Rail to choose Stratford. A development there, linked with additional necessary investment—particularly in cross-rail—would be advantageous to the whole country and to the whole of Europe. It would also be a cheaper option not requiring demolition of property on a large scale. Two hundred acres of British Rail development land is already available at Stratford.
For all those reasons—because the Government should be involved, because of the international nature of the project, and because Stratford is ready and willing and able to accommodate a terminal—I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich on his proposal. Even if today's debate does not in any way influence British Rail, we must hope that the new Minister will take a fresh look and seize the opportunity to make a great name for himself.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on achieving today's debate, which is extremely valuable and could benefit the whole country. It is also a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, in his new role. We had close dealings when he was Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health, and we are likely to do so again in respect of the vitally important issue that is the subject of today's debate, and which also affects my constituency.
I bring to the House the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who wanted to be here today but has urgent other business with British Rail in his constituency this morning.
I want to focus on the strategic issues involved. History tells us—and so does experience today—that railway development, like road development, can give the lead to economic development. Other hon. Members made the point that alternatives to British Rail's present proposals could benefit parts of south-east England which need further stimulation of economic development and would 1159 in no way be detrimental, though others have argued otherwise, to the development of the midlands, north, and Scotland.
I am no advocate of the north Thames alternative or of the Stratford alternative, unless at the same time there can be a sensible cross-London link enabling passengers to alight either at King's Cross or at Stratford. A development at Stratford would affect the eastward move of London. We must remember the strategic point that London is moving east. In 50 years' time there may be a very different perception of what constitutes the centre of London compared with today, bearing in mind developments at Canary wharf and docklands. Because at this stage British Rail is viewing the development entirely in terms of its existing network, and because of British Rail's background and raison d'être, it tends to perceive everything in terms of rail transport. I call on the Minister, as I have done frequently in the past, to take a strategic view instead.
Historically, railways have led economic development. It is interesting that in France the Government grant for TGV trains was based on making them take the lead in developing those regions of France which needed it most. I refer not only to the north of France but to the Brittany peninsula, where the TGV Atlantique has been constructed with regional development very much in mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich spelt out the three criteria against which he measured British Rail's present proposals—operational benefits, costs, and environmental factors. I will not repeat the concerns that he expressed, and which I share, but I greatly fear that British Rail's proposals—which we do not know in detail, but of which we have a pretty clear picture—bear all the hallmarks of a British bodger's job on a herculean scale simply because strategic issues were not addressed before decisions were taken on the exact route and what it should achieve.
I wish to highlight one anxiety affecting my constituency before addressing wider points. The expected route is likely to run through my constituency, where there could be an international station, which I am led to believe might be located within a five-mile radius of Swanley. Any such plan will run counter to all existing green belt policies and to the Kent structure plan. It is bound to bring major building development to the vicinity in future years, and the prospect of such growth will rightly arouse much controversy. Here we have the prospect of growth being centred on an area where it is neither needed nor planned for. If anything, there is over-employment in that area, which for many years has been designated green belt for controlled development only. If British Rail's development was allowed, it would open a Pandora's box and act like the magnet that large airports have become. Such magnets are needed, but not in that location.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give careful consideration to the argument that whatever type of Bill is brought before the House, he it private or hybrid, to enable the rail link to be constructed any development apart from the line itself should be subject to the usual planning requirements and therefore a matter ultimately to be decided through the public inquiry procedure. We had that assurance on the previous proposals for British 1160 Rail and the Parkway station further east in Kent, and I look to the present Minister to give us that assurance again.
As regards the Stratford or north Thames alternatives, I have already said that a terminal at Stratford could bring benefits because of the eastwards growth of London and the fact that the centre of London is moving in that direction.
No other scheme has focused on the national issues. Speeches today from hon. Members representing constituencies in the north have concentrated on passenger traffic. The Stratford alternative—Ove Arup's alternative, in particular—will also deal with freight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich said in his introduction that none of us can be satisfied with British Rail's approach to the freight market. It is missing an enormous opportunity here. British industry, and especially the CBI, are extremely worried about that approach, and anyone who is concerned about the environment and the pressure on our roads should also be worried. Surely the main reason for the channel link was to enable British industry and people to flow through to the continental system. British Rail's proposals would tie us, from the beginning, to the same problem that Brunel battled with—the problem of gauges in Britain being different from those in other parts of Europe. I do not mean the gauge of the track, but the loading gauge and the size of truck and carriage that will be able to run on the British system.
As this stage, with all the effort being put into 1992, we should ensure that Britain's infrastructure and railways are compatible with the entire continental system and not merely the European Community. Opportunities are opening up throughout Europe, and eastern European countries now have the chance to link in. Lord Young said, off the cuff, that he foresaw Europeans travelling by train in the next century rather than by plane, but that will not happen unless our links can be as effective as those in Europe.
To deal with the proper concerns voiced so eloquently by hon. Members representing northern constituencies, the Stratford alternative only makes sense if we also have a cross-London rail link so that Stratford is one of a number of possible boarding and alighting points within the capital. As does the freight system, Ove Arup's alternative provides us with the opportunity progressively to upgrade the rail network north and west of London to handle the continental loading gauge. The swap-body system, in which the body of a freight wagon is moved on and off a lorry allows for huge growth. It occurs all over Europe and cuts transport time and costs. It is recommended by the European Commission, which emphasised its view that the system should be extended to Scotland, but that will not happen unless British Rail produces a scheme which can automatically cope with that system everywhere. Ove Arup's scheme is a start, and if we do not do something similar we shall be at a disadvantage when competing in Europe.
In contrast, what have we got? British Rail has ordered new rolling stock on the existing British gauge and has apparently ruled out upgrading lines designated for freight however far into the future one looks. British Rail has tunnel vision. It must look further ahead and must not merely upgrade within the existing British loading gauge, but upgrade to take continental wagons. Otherwise, we shall again be at a considerable disadvantage.
1161 Some people may argue that these proposals are visionary, but there is a necessity for some vision in such a matter. We have the opportunity for the regeneration of Liverpool as a port. Ships could call there once more and load freight on to a European network at Europe's most westerly point. Freight could run straight through from Liverpool into Europe.
Other hon. Members have compared the situation here with that in France, which is way ahead in developing its passenger network and in planning for freight. The French scheme makes rail travel fit in strategically. One will be able to board fast passenger trains at Charles de Gaulle airport and people who do not want to pass through Paris will not need to do so. We should offer similar opportunities here.
One of the reasons why infrastructure in France, both road and rail, is generally more advanced than in Britain is that compensation arrangements there have been so much better. Our arrangements put a block on development. People feel aggrieved from the beginning when they know that compulsory purchase is to take place against their will and that they will get the lowest possible market value. In France, people are over-compensated by up to 25 per cent. That is surely a good incentive and it can be a saving. So often in Britain the fight against compulsory purchase takes so long that by the time the infrastructure is built, having bought the land, all the costs have escalated hugely. Better compensation would be a sensible way around that.
We argued about compensation in the debates on the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. We did not win the argument, but since then the Government have produced a discussion document on compensation and I encourage hon. Members involved in this issue to keep up the pressure for such a change. There should be improved compensation not just for farmers but also for householders, and for anyone who is bought out as a result of a scheme, whichever scheme is chosen.
Another factor in compulsory purchase orders for land is that if private sector partners are now to be brought in— and I welcome that—to infrastructure projects such as the channel tunnel link, they will want to make a profit out of the land that they purchase. The land is not purely pro bono publico but is required to be profitable for private sector organisations who enter the scheme. It is therefore equitable that the original purchase should not be at a knock-down price. The person who is forced to sell should get some benefit as the scene is changing. That adds force to my argument for the need for better compensation.
I support the motion, which asks the House to urge British Rail properly to evaluate the sensible north Thames alternatives. If British Rail does not do so, our debates on the high-speed rail link will continue to be dogged by complaints from many hon. Members, and from large numbers of people all over Britain, who are not satisfied that this huge national and international project has been approached from the beginning with the proper strategic issues in mind.
§ Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on his excellent speech. I also congratulate the Minister for Public Transport on his appointment to his new post. I hope that he will pay careful heed to everything that the hon.
1162 Member for Dulwich has said. The hon. Member for Dulwich dealt very well with the point that I intend to make—that it is not a question of London and the south-east versus Wales, the north and Scotland, but a question of whether we are to have a national strategy in the national interest or whether there is to be anarchy, chaos and shambles.
We have heard about business men and women in Stuttgart, Milan and Lille, and where they will be. I am glad that they are not in the Strangers Gallery listening to the debate. It is a national scandal that we should be deciding national strategic issues on this basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that he hoped that the Minister would pay heed to the facts, but none of us is very clear about the facts. The intention seems to have been to obscure the facts. Banks, property developers, British Rail and Members of Parliament with constituency interests have been fighting like rats in a sack while the national interest wanders lonely and afraid with no one to look after it. The Minister must take the national interest under his wing and look after it—otherwise, not only London and the south will suffer but also the north, Wales and Scotland.
Those who live in south-east London have no interest in seeing the failure of the manufacturing base of this country, nor are we interested in the ruination of the beautiful environment of Kent, the garden of south-east London. We want a sensible strategy to be developed. The Government must therefore take a grip on the problem. Discussion of the terminal issue has been no more than a parliamentary pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey exercise. We have to do better than that.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the shambles over the channel tunnel rail link is the Government's failure to take any responsibility for this major strategic transport decision. I well remember that in another debate the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Portillo), sat there with a studied, neutral expression on his face. He listened to one side; he listened to the other; then he got up and said, "Of course, it's nothing to do with me." That is not good enough.
The Government must take a view on a decision that will have important consequences for the development of the British economy and our place in Europe both now and into the next century. However, instead of recognising the importance of the rail link, the Government act as though it were of no more importance than a minor extension of the Central line to West Ruislip. The Secretary of State for Transport said that the plan for the route was a private matter for British Rail and its partners. That is no way to treat the issue.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich on tabling his motion. His constituency borders mine. The motion reflects the anger and despair of hon. Members on both sides of the House and in all parts of the country at the way in which the dispute is being handled. It is not yet too late. The debate has provided us with an opportunity to demand that the Government wake up to their responsibilities and look again at where the rail link is to go.
The Secretary of State and the Minister must also recognise that British Rail's plans will cause devastation in south London. There is no strong evidence that they will be of economic benefit to the region or that they will equip us with the means to face the challenge of integrating the British transport system with the European transport 1163 system. I am glad that hon. Members have not erred on the side of castigating British Rail and saying that it is all BR's fault. It is not without fault, but the villains of the piece are the Government who set us all off on the wrong footing.
Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which prevents any public investment in the scheme, has forced BR to try to find the cheapest route possible under the shortest-term objectives. That is the reason for the mess that we are in. We can get out of it only if the Government's central role in developing the rail link is accepted. British Rail has still to announce its final plan, but it has announced loads of "final" plans. It is difficult to remember the number of "final" plans over the past two years. I wonder whether we shall still be waiting in 1992 for the "final" plan to emerge out of the shambolic Opposed Private Bill Committee procedure.
The last British Rail plan was a route through south-east London, which would have involved a massive junction at Warwick gardens in Southwark and the rest of the link in a tunnel under the Thames to King's Cross. That scheme had to be abandoned on 3 November 1989 because the costs were unacceptable to BR's partner, Eurorail. We have since been promised many times a formal announcement of the route, but we are still waiting. I fear that British Rail may now be forced, because of financial pressures, to rever to part of the route that it proposed in March 1988. That would be totally unacceptable to my constituents because it would mean that substantial parts of the rail link would run overground through Peckham, chopping communities in half.
The Government are spending money on inner-city projects, but they can forget inner-city regeneration if, sliced through the middle of Southwark there is a rail link which will divide the shops from where people live and cause a construction blight over the whole of this fragile inner-city area. All the North Peckham task forces and business men's breakfasts in the world will mean nothing. The area will be blighted and become dreadful if British Rail goes ahead with the March 1988 plan of slicing through the middle of Walworth and constructing what has been described as the Walworth wall.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), the hon. Lady and I have similar views. We have never argued that there should be any environment-ally unacceptable plan for the shire counties or other parts of Britain. Does the hon. Lady agree, however, that running rail services overground in what is already an environmentally harmed and polluted area would be just another form of discrimination for the haves against the have-nots? The Government must not try to divide parts of Britain against other parts. We will not, and the country should not, allow inner-city areas to be environmentally damaged any more than they are already.
§ Ms. Harman
The hon. Gentleman is correct.
The commercial pressures imposed on British Rail have led it into misrepresenting the devastation that would result from its cheapest option. British Rail implied that there would be a minor bit of returfing in Warwick gardens and that it would all be all right, resulting in only minor disruption. The equipment that British Rail admits will be used to carry out that work includes two bulldozers, two 1164 or three excavators, two bored pile rigs or two diaphragm wall excavators, one concrete-batching plant, two or three front and back-end loaders, one bentonite slump production plant, one large soil compactor, one reinforcing bar bending shed, four mobile cranes, four dumper trucks and numerous site huts—all on Warwick gardens, one of the few patches of green in an area that is struggling to regenerate itself. Warwick gardens would, in effect, be turned into a giant construction slum for up to 10 years. That would be the effect of trying to do the job on a cheapskate basis.
It is not in the national interest to strangle the manufacturing base of the north-west, north-east and Wales. It is not in the national interest to let our inner-city areas degenerate and turn into slums. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) mentioned compensation. I have taken up many hardship cases. British Rail's criteria have been utterly inadequate. Many people want to sell their homes but cannot either because they are just outside the compulsory purchase zone or because they cannot prove severe hardship. They have been left completely stranded because the "compulsory purchase zone" description is completely inadequate. The blight has spread far wider than the compulsory purchase zone and people have been unable to take up new jobs or to move for family reasons. They have seen the value of their homes collapse. They cannot sell their homes—they are stuck.
The difficulties of my constituents have been made much worse by the continuing uncertainty surrounding the route of the link. No doubt businesses in the north and east feel that uncertainty and cannot look forward to developing for 1992 because they do not know how they will knit in with Europe, but people in my constituency feel that they cannot plan from one day to the next because we do not know what is happening. One of the commonest complaints that I receive is that people do not know where they stand because the route has not yet been decided.
British Rail has purchased 117 homes in the Warwick gardens area, but I am concerned because it is not maintaining them adequately. The homes have been purchased under the compulsory purchase scheme, but British Rail is not ensuring that they are used. Whole streets around the Warwick gardens area in my constituency have been bought up by British Rail only to be left to fall into disrepair. The properties are empty. Given the housing shortage in London, I hope that British Rail will ensure that those properties are filled straight away with, for example, the teachers that we need in our primary schools, or with social workers or nurses. The properties that have been purchased in this awful situation should at least be used to house what are described as key workers. I understand that British Rail has already spent more than £12 million buying those properties.
British Rail has made things worse. It has managed to unite opposing interests against it. Because British Rail is frightened of the public view, it has tried to ride roughshod over it. I invited British Rail to come with me to the meeting of the Lettsom estate tenants association. Those tenants will be affected by the rail link—The letter I received from British Rail stated:Thank you for your letter of 9 May.Experience has told us that large public meetings are not effective in dealing with the perfectly genuine worries of people on the route of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.In the circumstances, I am sure you will appreciate why we shall not be sending a representative to the meeting at the Lettsom Estate Tenants' Association".1165 British Rail has given up coming to meetings because it does not have any answers. Whenever it has attended a meeting, people have been left more angry, more bewildered and more uncertain than when they arrived.
I want to examine the way in which British Rail has handled the private Bill procedure relating to the terminal. With the terminal at King's Cross and the channel tunnel ending at the coast in Kent, my constituency is clearly in the middle. If one takes a map and puts a dot on King's Cross and another dot at the mouth of the channel tunnel, one can see that there is a real question mark over whether the route will come through my constituency.
Of course, my constituents have an interest in the route of the tunnel. That is why I petitioned the Committee that studied the King's Cross Railways Bill and said that, through my representations, my constituents, wanted to be heard and to know the location of the terminal because it will affect them. However, I was told "No, you cannot speak to the Committee about your constituents' concerns. You have no locus standi. This Bill deals only with the terminal. You can talk to us about the route." But we all know what will happen when we get to the route. British Rail will say, "The terminal is already fixed. Thanks for coming to the Opposed Private Bill Committee, but we are sorry, our hands are tied. Look where the terminal is and look where the channel tunnel mouth is—you just happen to be in the middle. Sorry, you are too late. The terminal is there and the numbers are settled." By opposing my locus standi, it is British Rail, not the Court of Referees, that must take responsibility.
Of course, although British Rail is one of the key players, it is not here. These discussions always take place without the right information and without the right people being involved. However, I advise British Rail that when the Bill has been considered by this House, it will go to the Lords where there will be an Opposed Private Bill Committee and where I shall petition on behalf of my constituents. I hope that British Rail will see the error of its ways and allow my petitioners a voice in the Opposed Private Bill Committee in the Lords, despite the fact that BR outrageously blocked that voice here in the Commons.
The Government must establish a proper committee of inquiry to look at all the alternative routes to the rail link so that even those who may lose out in the end feel that consideration has been fair and in the national interest rather than a shambolic back-of-an-envelope job. The Minister will recognise from this debate that although people have held different and even opposing views about whether the terminal should be at Stratford or King's Cross, we are all united in our unhappiness about the handling of the matter. We are fed up.
There is no alternative to the Government repealing section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1988. We cannot continue with the present mess and uncertainty. The Government must face up to their responsibilities now and act to prevent the current shambles from worsening. I know from my past dealings with the Minister on health matters that he does not lack the intelligence to deal with the issue. He will quickly understand what is going on. I hope that, as a new Minister, he will have a new opportunity to understand the issues and that he will be a new broom. We should all welcome that.
The Government will not sort out the problem by blaming British Rail or by trying to persuade more of their friends in the private sector to come up with the cash. The Government can do so only by meeting the two demands 1166 that I and many other hon. Members are making today, which are that they set up a proper committee of inquiry to consider the best route and that they allow public investment in the project in the national interest.
I will support the motion for Stratford, but until the Government take those two steps, the present crisis will continue and my constituents and others throughout the country will continue to suffer.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) will take as read the polite remarks that I would make if there were more time, but many hon. Members wish to speak.
Commuter traffic on British Rail has dipped to a level which, if it were to persist, would make the additional capacity of a high-speed rail link unnecessary. We must remember in this numbers game that we cannot necessarily assume that the growth in use of Network SouthEast will continue; working at home, network working and all sorts of other developments may well diminish that use.
This is a particularly useful debate for clearing up some misapprehensions and I hope to do so. It is disappointing that many hon. Members who have spoken are backward looking. They have fallen into the same trap as British Rail in assuming that the world will stay much the same as it is now. Nobody could assume from listening to our debate that we are talking about a development which will not come on stream until virtually the next century. I shall make my remarks in that context.
The high-speed rail link is not indispensable to get passengers or freight from the channel tunnel portal to other destinations in the United Kingdom. We know that British Rail is spending more than £1 billion to bring international passengers from Cheriton to Waterloo in 1993. We are told that it can cope as it is until the year 2000. British Rail's joint venture partners, Trafalgar House, tells us that there are no plans beyond the year 2000. We also know that British Rail is developing plans to take freight round London on underused passenger lines either via Maidstone or Tonbridge-Redhill. With its sights set at a maximum of 6.1 million tonnes, it reckons that it can cope with that for the foreseeable future.
The high-speed rail link is not indispensable to the channel tunnel. On Thursday, Alastair Morton came to the Select Committee on Transport and said that his scheme was not dependent on the rail link. He said that Eurotunnel would make more money from carrying freight on lorries through the tunnel by shuttle, than on through-trains.
British Rail's proposed high-speed rail link is not a freight line. There are still those in the north of the United Kingdom who believe that King's Cross is vital to ensure that their goods reach mainland Europe quicker than they do now. Those who believe that are completely confused, because King's Cross has nothing to do with freight.
What is the British Rail-Trafalgar House proposal, and why should it not be accepted as it stands? My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who has had to leave, is asking a great deal of those of us who have dealt with British Rail during the past few yers to believe that it is so expert that it should not be questioned nearly as much as some of us try to question it. He made an impassioned plea for its expertise. Having watched it flounder its way through the negotiations and turn, in the end, with great 1167 reluctance to its private enterprise partner, not merely to carry out the contract it wanted, but to tell it how to design the line, I am entitled to feel some scepticism about British Rail's specialist expertise.
We do not know what the British Rail-Trafalgar House proposal actually is. We have been assured that a twin-track line following the M20 from an international station in Ashford to an international station somewhere near Swanley will stick pretty closely to the maps already published. After Swanley, it will follow a line that has not yet been disclosed, until it reaches a newly developed interchange at King's Cross. We could make some pretty good guesses about where it would go, but it would be silly to try to second guess British Rail at present.
I found it a bit thick for my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South to contend that it is impossible to evaluate any alternative because it is necessary to know in detail where a line will go in order to evaluate it. None of us has the faintest idea where British Rail's line is to go.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does the information that the hon. Gentleman has, and which I have not seen, state whether that link from the Swanley area to the King's Cross area will be entirely a new route in tunnel, an enlargement of existing routes or a mixture of both?
§ Mr. Rowe
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman anything other than some informed guesses to which I have been made privy that suggest that it will be a combination of both, and is likely to go underground for the last five or six miles, perhaps further.
We know that Trafalgar House and British Rail cannot build their line without subsidies, despite the fact that Trafalgar House defeated its five competitors for the contract partly on the basis that it would build it without a subsidy. That is the sort of constantly shifting sand with which the previous Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, whom I am delighted to see here today, have had to grapple. Every time they think they have got something firm, it slips away from them.
I understand that the funding gap is closer to £1 billion than the £400 million suggested in The Times, but, again, we have no knowledge of the figures because such things are confidential. That is despite the fact that the arbiter, the sole proponent of this great scheme, is a nationalised industry. I find it difficult to see why information held by a nationalised industry should not more easily be put into the public domain.
I understand that British Rail would prefer to receive a lump sum for any subsidies it needs. Therefore, any deal based on commuters paying to use the line, either directly or indirectly, through Network SouthEast, would not meet that requirement. One is bound to ask in this year of hard Treasury decisions whether British Rail's proposed high-speed rail link is the most worthy recipient of £1 billion, even if that proved to be all that was required.
One cannot rely on British Rail. Let me give just one example out of dozens. King's Cross station has additional parking capacity of 150 places. Mr. Welsby who is now chief executive of British Rail—his handling of the project in its early stages was so exemplary that he was promoted —made me look extremely foolish in front of about 350 angry constituents at a public meeting by telling me that it was stupid of me to imagine that people would want to 1168 bring their cars to the railway station, as people who wanted to travel by train would travel by train. So it came as something of a surprise when his successor in charge of the transport project came to see me the other day, and when I asked why British Rail wanted Swanley, he said, as if I were a complete moron, "Because international passengers travelling to a railway station come by car." So British Rail cannot be trusted, and the entire process stands as a monument to its incompetence.
The costs of the proposal are dubious, even within the parameters of British Rail and Trafalgar House, but those parameters are drawn far too narrowly. I received from the managing director of Trafalgar House a categorical assurance that British Rail will make no contribution whatsoever to the infrastructure costs of a parkway station at its preferred site near Aylesford on the edge of my constituency, yet the costs of the necessary roads to that green field site will be enormous. If Eurorail were a grocery company, it would be required to contribute, with obvious consequences for its costings. Is not it similarly appropriate to include in those costings the costs of upgrading the passenger lines that British Rail propose should be used for freight, including the sound insulations that the many thousands of people who live along those routes have good reason to expect? I believe that the true costs of the British Rail proposal are substantially in excess of £3 billion.
Finally, Kent county council is increasingly unhappy about the proposal. No sooner had Mr. Welsby been translated to his new post as chief executive than he confirmed that Swanley is now indispensable to the project. Kent county council views that change with great alarm. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich said in his most eloquent speech, it affects the green belt. The proposal is also an enormous threat to the prosperity of Ashford. For many years Kent has tried to make Ashford the development centre for the county. A major interchange at Swanley and a Maidstone parkway station would make it almost inconceivable that Ashford would grow in competition with those two centres. It is significant that the consultants who have been appointed to carry out the work on Ashford international station have so far received no further instructions.
I might say in passing that British Rail's own study for Maidstone parkway station shows that more than half its likely passengers would come from the Sittingbourne, Swale and Gillingham areas. No one who has seen the A229 over Bluebell hill in the morning can seriously believe that the Maidstone parkway site is a sensible place for a parkway station, even if it did not drive a coach and horses through Maidstone borough council's and Kent county council's green belt policy. The county council has understandable anxiety that a careful count of houses has shown that more than 7,000 houses in Kent alone will be affected by the three routes in British Rail's present proposals, so for all those reasons we have to be extremely careful.
What about some of the other possibilities? I shall speak of one only, the Bechtel—Manufacturers Hanover Trust proposal, which addresses many of the questions that I have raised. The whole of its proposal is in the public domain, but for the reason that I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South it is not in detail.
One of the few skilful things that British Rail has done in all the negotiations is successfully to destroy the Government's original intention to get it to work with a 1169 private contractor. British Rail did that by shutting out design considerations from the private contractors who were invited by British Rail merely to contract to do the work that British Rail had already specified. I understood that the whole idea of bringing in the private sector was to bring its greater imagination and experience to bear on the design. It was only when British Rail got nearer to London than Swanley that it allowed Trafalgar House to take part in the design.
The Bechtel—Manufacturers Hanover Trust proposal will not be a pig in a poke, and it is important for the Minister to remember that. That company has a record of properly pricing its products and if the price is accepted it completes them at that price or carries the overspend. I am worried that we have a budding Concorde on our hands and that once British Rail has the Government behind it on the project we shall find, amazingly, the cost constantly escalating. There may be other desirable elements in the Bechtel plan. For example, it proposes to continue its line to St. Pancras and that would be a great help to the east midlands. There is also a far greater chance of Bechtel finishing the project without Government subsidy.
In all the debates about the channel links, freight has dominated, especially for those who live in the north or west. The northern fear is that if the continental UIC gauge, which is indispensable for a 21st century freight system in this country, is taken to Temple Mills it will cripple the north. I do not think that that is the case.
British Rail is developing ingenious small-wheeled bogies that will allow UIC gauge containers to travel on United Kingdom lines. The problem, as British Rail admits, is that the number of such wagons would be very small as a percentage of all European wagons. Are we seriously to believe that European manufactures will hang about waiting for a small-wheeled bogie to turn up when they have a container to put on the railway? Of course not. They will put their containers on the nearest available wagons.
I understand that the French are already building a transfer depot which will allow such containers on large-wheeled bogies to be transferred to lorries in France. I remind the House that Eurotunnel will make more money taking lorries on shuttles than it will make on through trains. As a result the roads of Kent, indeed the roads of the United Kingdom, will be filled with all the lorries that the channel tunnel was supposed to take off our roads. However, if the small wheeled bogies were based at Temple Mills they would form a high percentage of the total United Kingdom wagons and the rest of the United Kingdom could be more easily served by UIC gauge containers.
It is extraordinary for British Rail to take such a pessimistic view of freight. Its estimates of what it can capture are lower than those of SNCF, lower than Eurotunnel's and lower than the estimates of the independent consultants who have considered the matter. At 6.1 million tonnes, the estimate is such a small proportion of the United Kingdom's total freight that the anxieties of the rest of the United Kingdom about being linked to the system are barely worth the trouble. Is British Rail right to be pessimistic? I emphatically believe that it is not. Let us look at two measures. International freight growth has been running at 12 or 13 per cent. on the railways in recent years and that growth will accelerate in 1992. Unitised freight movements in 1989 exceeded the forecast that had originaly been made for 1993.
1170 Next we must look at pollution. For how long will the heavy goods vehicle continue to enjoy its privileged position? I remind the House that we are looking into the 21st century. In the light of the announcement yesterday of the new anti-pollution agreement into which the Department of the Environment has entered, we can confidently forecast that pressure will mount every year to get the freight off the roads and on to rail. The tragedy is that, under British Rail's proposals, there will be no international rail network of any sensible proportions to take freight. Any proposal that puts forward a purpose-built freight line, as does the Bechtell-Manufacturers Hanover Trust proposal, on UIC gauge deserves much more analysis than it has so far received.
British Rail is pessimistic because, at the very beginning, when, no doubt, Mr. Welsby was in charge, it took the view that freight would be on a small scale, so it entered an agreement with SNCF, with a tariff that it now discovers gives it no profit. Trafalgar House has admitted that it see no profit in freight.
§ Mr. Wolfson
My hon. Friend has made my point. Unfortunately, Trafalgar House appears to be taking the same view. That is both depressing and wrong.
§ Mr. Rowe
As I understand it, the reason is that it has gone along with the traditional railway freight allocation income of so many pence a mile. That puts the United Kingdom at a huge disadvantage. People who enter such contracts at the beginning of a project of this size should be sacked.
The cost to the infrastructure of the Bechtel-Manufacturers Hanover Trust line are much lower than the costs of the British Rail-Trafalgar House proposal and deserve serious consideration. For example the new Isle of Grain container port, the proposed MCA development at Rainham and the contribution that it will make to the lower Thames road crossing make it clear that the opportunity for getting input into the costs of building the line and the stations attached to it are greater than under the British Rail plan. When I tell the House that only eight houses in Kent will be affected by the Bechtel-Manufacturers Hanover Trust line, whereas 7,500 houses are affected by British Rail's proposals, it will understand that it would be irresponsible for a Kent Member of Parliament not to press for the line to be looked at.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) is right. The centre of London is moving east. In 15 years' time it will be nonsense for my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) to pretend that King's Cross, that Victorian station, is in the centre of London. It will be on the periphery by then. Most international business travellers will want to come to docklands and to the City, so the eastern approach will be much better.
For all these reasons, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to rush into accepting a proposal that will cost more than we are told that it will cost, will be less effective than we are led to believe, takes no account of the future European freight and is in many ways wholly wrong.
§ 1.8 pm
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
I agree with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), but one narrow point will illustrate our difference in perspective. He said that London is moving eastward, 1171 either in the next 15 years or well into the next century. He should understand that one of the pressures that those in the north feel strongly is that much of the emphasis on the tunnel and developments from it means that we shall be at a considerable disadvantage in the early years. Pressures for economic and industrial development will be dictated by the physical and geographical realities of where the tunnel is and where adequate links to it have been established.
From the point of view of the north, decisions must be made quickly to implement proposals. We cannot afford to have our links built at some indefinite time in the future. I hope that that message is understood, because there is common agreement among hon. Members that planning by the Government and British Rail has been appalling. Solutions have been based on the minimum possible cost and effort—not strategically or to achieve the maximum possible benefit for the nation.
The hon. Member for Mid-Kent mentioned freight. The debate on King's Cross has nothing to do with freight, but I am unhappy and unclear about whether the solutions being advanced by British Rail take account of a region such as mine—a major trading region second only to the south-east in economic importance. We insist on adequate access to the channel tunnel for freight distribution. There are all manner of things that we feel British Rail has not provided, such as a decent high-speed link with the north-west, but I accept that those issues are not relevant to the debate.
Whether the terminal is at King's Cross or Stratford we are still unhappy about the lack of through trains. People travelling to the continent from Manchester, Liverpool or any of the northern cities will not want to stop in London. That is no disrespect to Londoners—we simply do not want to have to change in London to travel through the tunnel and we feel that British Rail is letting us down.
There should be adequate links with the three railway lines to the north—the west coast, east coast and midlands lines. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said, the Nottingham line is not electrified. That is ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous that, the line from Blackpool to Manchester is not electrified, allowing the north-west to become part of an adequate, modern railway system. Any link must connect the London interchange with those three rail lines. A good interchange system is a high priority.
I say to hon. Members who are arguing the case for Stratford that the problem in the north is that we know that at King's Cross there will be at least a semi-adequate system. It is incumbent on those hon. Members to guarantee that the interchange at Stratford will be just as good. That case has not been made to me or to others from the region.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I am sorry to interrupt his flow. As a London Member, I support Stratford because I believe that it will do less damage to the King's Cross area and because in terms of transport infrastructure it makes much sense. We do not see Stratford as a means of worsening rail services or through trains for people from the north. It would improve the throughput of rail 1172 freight and passengers and enable people such as my hon. Friend to travel directly from Manchester to the continent more simply than if the trains went from King's Cross.
§ Mr. Lloyd
My hon. Friend's remarks are central to the case being put forward by those who are arguing for Stratford.
The other problem with the Stratford development is the possibility of delays being built into the system, which would put the north at a further disadvantage. It must be demonstrated that any movement away from King's Cross would not disadvantage the north. Whatever is on offer, we must have an assurance that it will not disadvantage the north. We cannot afford delays in an operational system for the northern regions.
If there is to be any reconsideration of the proposal, it is paramount that we are guaranteed that the funding will not sabotage achieving what we need. Central to the case of hon. Members so far has been cost minimisation rather than quality of service maximisation. We know the position with the King's Cross development—we understand the advantages and the disadvantages. If that proposal is to be changed, it is incumbent upon the Minister to guarantee that the system will come into operation quickly and that it will be properly funded so that it is a genuine national system, not just a system to serve the interests of one region.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on obtaining such an important debate at such an opportune time. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his appointment. In view of the importance of the issue that we are discussing, he will be kept busy for many months and years ahead.
It might be helpful to consider the background to the debate—not only the rail link, but the channel tunnel itself, without which we would not be having this debate. The channel tunnel has become an extremely expensive project, not only in money but, as we sadly heard the other day, in loss of life. The House is concerned about the considerable loss of life during construction work to date.
The main aspect of concern today is the immense financial cost of the project, which has now risen to an estimated £8 billion. The only people who have been right about the finances of the channel tunnel are its critics. Those who have advocated the project have consistently got their figures wrong. The changes in figures have all been negative when proven. The only positive changes to the figures are the hypothetical estimates of the revenue to be earned from passengers and freight. Those figures are pure guesswork because no one knows to what extent freight lorries or passengers and their cars will transfer from the ferries to the channel tunnel. Therefore, it is true to say that the jury is still out. Indeed, the bankers are potentially out of pocket with the channel tunnel finances. The £6 billion debt for the channel tunnel project means an annual interest bill, at current rates, of £900 million. Administration costs will add another £200 million, producing total annual running costs of £1,100 million annually. The revenue earned from the existing ferries operation is estimated at £500 million, so even if the whole of that trade transfers to the tunnel, there would remain a 1173 deficit of £600 million and a loss-making channel tunnel for ever and a day. Against that background, we are asked to contemplate an immensely expensive rail link.
The passenger volumes on which the channel tunnel revenue forecast was based were made at a time when it was thought that the tunnel trains would travel faster than is likely as a result of the technological requirements of the latest designs. That and other factors mean that passengers will probably have to pay more to use the tunnel, as will those who use it to transport freight. Therefore, the traffic volumes predicted in previous revenue forecasts are even more suspect.
The new ferries being introduced on cross-channel routes are larger, safer and more comfortable than ever before—they even include club class. They present a competitive advantage by comparison with the tunnel. The ferries will offer much more comfort than cramped railway carriages or the shuttles that will force passengers to remain in their cars as they travel through the tunnel. Those advantages, combined with new technology such as hovercraft catamarans on some of the long-haul channel routes, will mean that pasengers will enjoy more comfort if they continue to use sea crossings rather than the tunnel.
With so many doubts about the tunnel's financial viability, one must question also whether the proposed rail link makes sense or whether alternatives should be examined. Several of my hon. Friends have effectively advocated the viability, in terms both of financial considerations, passenger comfort and commonsense, of alternative rail links. The use of Stratford would seem to make sense and be more cost-effective, and it could benefit many more people. British Rail's plan seems ill thought out, and it has brought complaints from right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House and from their constituents.
The motives of the supporters of, and participants in, the proposed link were questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich. My hon. Friends and I would not question motivations of profit, because they are laudable in any business man—but we do question the profit motive when it is at the expense of a taxpayers' subsidy, and it is being suggested that the rail link cannot work, in terms of a terminal at King's Cross, unless such a subsidy is provided. That would be ludicrous, and we must not be left with a developer-led scheme that results in a taxpayers' subsidy.
If there is any spare money around from property developers, it should be used to realise the potential that exists at, for example, Stratford. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was right to appeal for Stratford to be developed, reminding the House that his constituency is not the most beautiful area in London. It is incumbent upon us to promote a project that might improve his constituency.
The alternatives are not adequately examined in the current proposals. Perhaps if we consider the alternatives in detail we may find that they could benefit many more constituencies and many more people.
In Dover, we are interested in a good rail link. The present link is a disgrace. Last Friday night when my wife came down to the constituency, she missed an urgent appointment that she was supposed to attend with me, because the train journey ended up taking three hours instead of one and a half. It should not even be one and a 1174 half hours. If we had a decent rail service, we could get the time down to an hour and it would then be equivalent to services in the rest of the country.
What is British Rail going to do about improving the Dover service? It does not have to wait for the channel tunnel rail link. Something could, and should, be done now.
Dover is a part of east Kent and we are therefore anxious that, if the rail link is constructed, Ashford international should be promoted as a major through-change. That would bring prosperity to east Kent and it would reduce the level of unemployment, which has gone down considerably due to recent Government proposals and the changes that have taken place in this country in the past few years, but it could still be reduced further. A development at Ashford would be beneficial to that.
In Dover our other interest is to ensure the survival of the ferry industry. Ferries now offer a better, safer and more comfortable service than they did. That is why I am particularly disturbed to hear Labour spokesmen talking about the repeal of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. The Government put that section into the Act to support the ferries of Dover. It was a sensible section, which ensured that the ferry companies and their employees could be confident that the industry could compete fairly with the tunnel, which would not have a competitive advantage over ferries from Dover. Section 42 ensures that the Government do not put money into the tunnel to do down the ferries in Dover. Therefore it is wrong for the Labour spokesmen to seek to do down the ferry industry. We must ensure that Labour's proposal to repeal section 42 does not succeed and that it is not supported by the House.
Should there be any public subsidy or support for British Rail? I question whether that would be sensible. I cannot see why British Rail or the proposed Eurorail company should have a subsidy. It would enable a thoroughly unpopular route—one which would not exist if it were not for the subsidy—to be viable. It is a route that does not seem to have any significant benefits. Some environmental benefits have been promised for some constituencies, but they would make the situation worse in other constituencies, such as Dulwich and Mid-Kent. I do not see why £300 million to £400 million of public money should be put in to do down those constituencies for the benefit of a few areas on the route.
The speed of travel is a marginal reason for a public sector subsidy. It is debatable whether the tunnel, when it is completed, will reduce considerably the time taken to get to Paris. The tunnel will not improve travel speed as much as was originally thought because the rolling stock will have to go at a slower speed, and consequently it will not have such a time advantage. To promote the project with public money to achieve a marginal time benefit seems ludicrous.
What would happen if the project exceeded its budget? Once the first £400 million or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, £1 billion, has been committed, what will happen if the project goes wrong? Will the Government be committed to financing a share of the overrun, or most or all of it? That would be a major mistake. What would happen if the channel tunnel rail link project went into receivership or liquidation? If the Government had committed money to it, would they have to bail out the project, either in its entirety or in part?
1175 The Government must consider the alternative uses to which £100 million, £200 million or even £1 billion of public money could be put. Airports in other parts of the country or road links would be immensely beneficial and would be of far greater benefit than the narrow use of £1 billion on the channel tunnel rail link.
I am critical of the fact that no figures relating to the cost of the proposal have been published. Only rumours and leaks abound about them. There has been no public debate about the cost of the channel tunnel rail link. There have been suggestions in the press today of a £400 million subsidy, but it could amount to £1 billion or more. There is not even a back-of-an-envelope calculation to support the proposal.
I see no reason to worry about what the French may or may not be doing. Two out of three people who cross the channel go to France. The French are the net beneficiaries, since only one out of three people who cross the channel from Europe are French. We should not therefore subsidise a project that would benefit French holiday-makers and the French rail link.
The project is imperfect. The proposal has been neither properly considered nor properly debated. Its finances are uncertain and the taxpayer would have to pick up a considerable part of the bill. We should keep the taxpayer out of it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich on his motion. I shall vote for it.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Minister for Public Transport to his new post. We look forward to his contribution to the debate.
It is extraordinary that we should be debating what is arguably the most significant engineering project of our time, with potentially the most profound impact on our nation's economy, on a private Member's motion in a half-empty House. Why has that happened? It is because the Government have adopted an entirely cavalier approach. They have chosen to ignore the nation's economic needs and the railway revolution across the channel. They have chosen to stand aloof while alarm and despondency have spread through public and private institutions alike.
It is extraordinary that the Government have not once raised the subject for debate in this Parliament—extraordinary, yes, but surprising, no. The Government's doctrinaire approach to planning, the economy and transport prohibits strategic planning and proper consideration of the public interest. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) is to be congratulated on bringing this subject before the House, although I guess that it will become obvious that he does not have the backing of his Government.
The hon. Gentleman's motion seeks to place the responsibility on British Rail for assessing the alternative rail links to the channel tunnel. We cannot support him. There is a clear need to examine the alternatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has consistently called for a full public inquiry into the project, though we recognise that the time for such an inquiry has probably passed. We recognise also that British Rail cannot be expected to be objective. We 1176 propose instead that the Secretary of State, by means of the good offices of his hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, should establish a committee of experts to examine all the available alternative rail link options. We believe that the committee could report within three months and should have a brief to examine the economic and environmental effects, the costs and the safety aspects of all the proposed routes. We suggest that can be done because so much work has already been done outside Government circles. The experts should hear the representations of the many groups of ordinary people who have real concerns and sensible questions and have proposals to make on this subject.
A wide consensus exists on the criteria that should determine the preferred route for the channel tunnel link. That consensus reaches across the political spectrum and encompasses the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. Last month's public opinion panel survey of Members of Parliament gives further testimony to that consensus. It found that the order of priority to specify considerations for determining the route was as follows: first, the need for through links to United Kingdom regions; secondly, the need for fast links to London; thirdly, the environmental impact of the route; fourthly, the cost of the route; and, last, the scheme's ability to be financed completely from private capital. Clearly, the Government are out of step with the views of hon. Members. The survey found also that two thirds of the Members questioned were not satisfied that the regions would be adequately served by links through the tunnel to Europe. Significantly, the survey recorded strong support for greater investment in the railway network to maximise the economic benefits of the channel tunnel.
This debate, because of the motion, has understandably focused on the merits and, to some extent, demerits of Stratford as a second international terminal. Undoubtedly, there are significant planning issues and property interests associated with all potential terminal locations, but we believe that achieving the priority objectives of the link should determine terminal location and not the other way around.
There is a clear consensus about objectives but little confidence that the Government are ensuring that British Rail and Eurotunnel meet them. Instead, a financial straitjacket has been applied by a Government determined to maintain the farce that this massive project can be built without any public money. The outcome is likely to be another botched job and a further public outcry when the latest BR-preferred route sees the light of day. The Secretary of State, we understand, has been studying the plans for six weeks. Perhaps the Minister will tell us today when the right hon. Gentleman is likely to make an announcement, or is it possible that he is having second thoughts?
British Rail's briefing for today gives some sign of the impossible hoops through which it has to jump. It is clear that the financial regime of the Secretary of State cannot be made to work. The preferred route, we are told, will include a proposed new commuter service from Kent to King's Cross in an attempt to attract public subsidy. What a ludicrous way to devise a national infrastructure plan for the 21st century. Having thought up this addition to the route, British Rail then uses it in its critique of alternative routes, saying that the latter do not offer the potential for 1177 a Kent commuter service. I do not think that we will find that many Members actively support a preferred route on the grounds of an enhanced commuter service for Kent.
There are certain fundamental questions. How can we provide a high-speed rail link, a service which links the whole of the United Kingdom to the tunnel and offers a first-rate service for passengers and freight alike? We believe that ideally we should look for a dedicated track built to European standards. Anything less will create a differential between the British service and the continental service, such that in parts of Britain trains could be running at half the speed that they run in France. Will the Minister tell us today whether his Department really finds that acceptable? We believe that the needs of the north of England and of Scottish passenger services——
§ Ms. Ruddock
Just a moment.
Those needs require major interchange facilities at King's Cross. That is the official Labour party view. However, we believe equally that the case is well made on environmental and strategic grounds in London and Kent for an alternative route linked to Stratford. The case for the Arup group proposal has been rehearsed today. There are those who believe that those two requirements can be combined with a relatively fast link from Stratford to King's Cross at a cost of about £500 million.
The House needs to know whether that can be done. Is it a solution to what could otherwise be presented as conflicting interests? Does the Minister agree with the costing? Has he or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State studied the proposal? Are they still prepared to consider it, and if not, why not?
§ Ms. Ruddock
I am sorry, I shall not give way; I have been asked to be brief.
Will the Minister confirm that such a combination of terminals present no disadvantage to the running of through services to the north?
As an hon. Member representing a south London constituency, I am acutely aware of the need to avoid a route that goes through such a densely populated area as my constituency. However, as a shadow Minister, I am also aware of the strong feelings of those in the midlands, the north of England and Scotland that they could be sold short if the concerns of only Kent and London were to be taken into account. Opposition Members are extremely anxious to find a consensus and solution that is right for Britain as a whole.
Our economic future depends on the rail links to the tunnel. With desperately overcrowded roads in London and the south-east and the dilapidated state of public transport, we shall have a disaster on our hands if millions of people and tonnes of freight are simply dumped outside the tunnel or in the heart of this capital city. We must plan for the needs of the nation as a whole with economic efficiency and environmental sensitivity at the top of the agenda.
We are aware that European money is available for European projects. Why should not Britain be the beneficiary? If the French can produce a nationwide network of super-fast trains, why cannot Britain? If the French railways can carry 42 per cent. of all long-distance freight, why cannot British Rail do the same? Why should 1178 British Rail be forced, through financial restraints, to behave as though it was still running a 19th century railway instead of planning for the 21st century?
The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to stand aside any longer. He must consider repealing section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. I heard what the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) said. Of course, we supported that section to protect the ferry services running from our coasts—and rightly so, but it is our contention that those services are competitive and that they remain so without that special protection. It is in the nationwide interest that they do so. However, we should also bear in mind the nationwide interest of being able to provide an adequate railway link to the channel tunnel.
The Secretary of State must relax the financial regime imposed on the rail project. Although we believe that money is required, we are completely opposed to using taxpayers' money to prop up private sector projects. The Minister must be aware that rumours abound. It is high time that his right hon. Friend came to the House and admitted what is going on. Will the Minister tell us today whether we can expect a statement on the financing of the rail link before the spring recess? Before he does so, perhaps the Secretary of State should also consult his officials about the likely impact of the proposed European directive on establishing a Community railway policy, because the harmonisation required to build a Community network is directly at odds with the expected British Rail-Eurorail proposals for the British channel tunnel rail link. The report on that proposed directive states:From a technical point of view it is obviously possible, to a certain extent, to live with different systems and different specifications. However, this approach, which up to now has been the basis of co-operation between the different networks, will result in high costs and less reliable equipment. The European railways should rather adopt 'universal' specifications compatible with the particular set of international routes they plan to serve, which is their only chance of successWe must note what the directive says about developments on the continent. The Secretary of State would be ill-advised to ignore them.
If the Government continue with their present stance, Britain will again be relegated to the dark ages while continental Europe reaps the greatest economic benefits of the single market and the opening of the tunnel. We are in danger of paying the highest environmental cost for the least economic return. We in the Labour party are clear where the blame for this fiasco lies. We share all the anxieties that people have about the behaviour of British Rail, but responsibility for the fiasco lies with the Government, and it is the Government who must act now. Money can and must be found to make an adequate link. A review by a committee of experts will not delay the proceedings. We know that it is crucial if we are to achieve the high-quality, high-speed rail links for the whole of Britain, to which the Labour party is committed.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
This has been an interesting debate and it is certainly not yet over. It has been particularly valuable to me as a new Minister at the Department to listen to this timely and useful discussion. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on his courtesy to me prior to the debate and on the clear and even-handed way in which he presented his case. I also 1179 thank him and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) for their kind remarks in welcoming me to my new position.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) described the debate as being, in effect, a five-hour tutorial for a new Minister, and he is right in so far as 15 hon. Members have spoken, excluding my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, and the debate has certainly been helpful to me. I hope that I bring a fresh and inquiring mind to the issue. It will also be helpful to British Rail and to officials at my Department, and I will ensure that the record is fully studied. To the extent that I cannot answer the questions raised in the time available to me, I will write to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I find these half-day debates helpful—for a Minister, one's desk is cleared and one rightly has to listen to the arguments and so far as possible reach decisions. The proceedings which follow such debates are also most helpful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich will be glad to know that no one, least of all British Rail, disagrees with the terms of his motion. British Rail has examined the alternative routes, including those to Stratford, and will continue to examine them. It has been in contact with both promoters of the alternative routes to Stratford or to the east of London to discuss the details of the schemes. I understand that the new Chairman of British Rail, Mr. Bob Reid, plans to see the two groups himself—the Ove Arup group and the Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Bechtel group. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich will be reassured by that.
Both British Rail and the Government are quite clear that before adopting any final proposals, and before submitting them to Parliament, British Rail will need to be as satisfied as it possibly can be that it has made the right route decision. Parliament will expect to be satisfied, and to have it demonstrated, that the alternatives have been properly and fully examined and that there are good and convincing reasons for the final proposal. There is no monopoly of wisdom in these matters and all ideas must be looked at on their merits.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who sought to put this debate in the context of the channel tunnel opening in three years' time and a rail link being a decade away, even with the fastest possible agreement on the route, and its design and structure. The opening of the channel tunnel and the rail link are governed by two different time scales.
I can give not only my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, but other hon. Members, the assurance that British Rail takes the alternatives seriously—it has to. I shall return to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Deptford for a committee of experts. British Rail has to convince not only itself but the Department of Transport and Parliament because the private Bill procedure, which operates for extensions or alterations to the railway network, provides a careful examination of such proposals.
The issue of the channel tunnel rail link must be seen in the context of the Government's policy that the maximum benefits and efficiencies from transport systems, as in other walks of life, are achieved where there is fair and equal opportunity for as many competitors as possible to 1180 compete in the market. As for inter-city rail and international services, we believe that the railways can and should compete on an equal basis with other transport modes including sea, air or road. I chose my words carefully when I spoke of "inter-city rail" and "international services".
Operators and users of other services are not subsidised and in terms of economics and fairness there is no reason why international rail services should be subsidised. The essentially commercial nature of international rail services is also enshrined in section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to the channel tunnel. If he believes that the Government are going to bail out or subsidise the channel tunnel, I can disabuse him of that fact. He may have been confusing the channel tunnel and rail link. I assure him that there is no question of the Government bailing out the construction of the tunnel, which needs additional finance. We shall see whether the company is successful—it has a good story to tell and I hope that it will soon be successful.
Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act was widely supported at the time, not least by the Opposition, who now seem to be calling for its repeal. Indeed, the hon. Member for Deptford called for it to be repealed. At the time, there was widespread recognition that it was right to guarantee fair play to the ferries and ports, and to those working in those organisations who were concerned that subsidised international rail services would inevitably, in effect, subsidise the channel tunnel. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) that we have no intention of repealing section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which relates to the international travel aspects. There are other aspects of the financing of any rail link which section 42 does not directly affect.
British Rail has had a clear remit, both from the Government and from Parliament, to look at the channel tunnel rail link as a commercial project, and one that will have to be acceptable to Parliament.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Newham, South implied that the Government and British Rail were on a hook because of prejudice, that they did not intend to provide finance for the channel tunnel rail link and had a preference—almost a craving—for private sector capital involvement. The hon. Gentleman was wrong on both counts. He knows that the massive sums involved in providing finance for any channel tunnel rail link—albeit sums which are presently under consideration by a joint venture—require the Goverment's approval and agreement because they are taxpayers' funds. It is not true that the Government are not involved in providing finance for capital investment in a nationalised industry. I assume that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the degree of Government subsidy and the hon. Member for Deptford, is now suggesting that we should ditch section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, but I have said that the Goverment are not contemplating that.
There is no blind prejudice in favour of private capital. If private capital has a role to play, that is fine, but the hon. Gentleman recognises, as I do, that private capital has a much higher implicit cost in terms of the return that it has to earn. That means that the involvement of private capital tends to make a project even more difficult to justify. The private sector can contribute to property development, which nationalised industries are not particularly good at, 1181 nor is it their job, and to the management of particular projects. There is certainly no prejudice on my part or on the part of the Government.
§ Mr. Spearing
Surely the Minister is saying that by virtue of the need for a public organisation to achieve a return of 8 per cent. or for private capital to have an even higher return there is a hurdle that the Government have to jump or a hook on which they have to impale themselves? Will he confirm that if he applied the criteria which applied to the Victoria line when it was built under the authority of Ernest Marples, those considerations would not apply?
§ Mr. Freeman
The hon. Gentleman is right in his analysis. I have no idea what rates of return private sector capital requires in this or other projects. We set an 8 per cent. real rate of return for commercial projects for nationalised industries. I recognise that the involvement of private sector capital can make the attainment of that more difficult in some cases. As I have said, however, private sector capital can make other contributions. The 8 per cent. real rate of return changes with current financial circumstances and the advice and views of the Treasury. I do not know what rate applied when the Victoria line was built.
The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) asked the Government, and me specifically, to be the guardian of the national interest. I cannot shuffle off that responsibility because the Department of Transport's job is to approve investment proposals put to us by British Rail. Any channel tunnel rail link is likely to involve substantial sums of public sector capital and must therefore involve our careful consideration of the alternatives and our being persuaded that the chosen route is the right one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) rightly drew attention to the importance of the environmental impact of any route—the King's Cross route or the Stratford route to east London. British Rail and Eurorail are undertaking a full environmental impact assessment for the rail link along the lines of the European directive. Any proposal which comes to us for final consideration will have to go through that process.
The Government cannot accept the view that major infrastructure projects do not go hand in hand with a sensible commercial approach. After all, the channel tunnel is a commercial project and is much the better for it. The project has captured public interest in a powerful way, and in concept and scale is the leading transport project for the United Kingdom and France, if not the world. Even so, it needs to be kept in perspective. It will not be the only link with the continent. For years we have had ferries, hovercraft, hydrofoils and aircraft linking and integrating Britain with Europe, and those alternatives will certainly continue. The tunnel will be a substantial and important addition to the existing links. Above all, it will be a tremendous competitive spur.
With regard to freight, the House should bear in mind that the capacity of the tunnel will be sufficient to handle only 6 per cent. by volume of total United Kingdom trade in 1993, including oil. In 1988, Liverpool handled 7 per cent. by volume of total United Kingdom trade, Southampton 11 per cent. and Tees and Hartlepool 13 per cent.
I am aware that Eurotunnel would like us to look at an analysis of dry bulk unitised trade between the United 1182 Kingdom and Europe. The tunnel's share of that United Kingdom trade would be between 14 and 20 per cent. I hope that that puts the tunnel into perspective in relation to some of our other great ports. If the tunnel were opened today it would rank as the 12th or 13th largest port in the United Kingdom in terms of volume of freight handled.
Probably the most important aspect of the tunnel is its role in joining the United Kingdom's rail network to the mainland of Europe. That will enable British Rail for the first time to compete with the airlines on price, speed and comfort. No one doubts that international rail travel has a bright commercial future. British Rail is already in the process of investing on a commercial basis more than £1 billion to provide comprehensive passenger and freight services on the day the Channel tunnel opens in 1993. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent for reminding us that we should not lose sight of plans which are already in place and those that we hope to see in place to ensure that we have the rail network to service the tunnel when it opens.
By any standards, this is a massive investment programme and it is fully geared to maximising for the railways the tremendous opportunities offered by the tunnel. Last December, with the approval of the Government, British Rail signed a contract worth some £350 million with SNCF for the purchase of 18 high-speed trains. The trains will be operated by British Rail and will run between London and Paris and London and Brussels.
Today I can announce that the Government have approved British Rail plans to build an international passenger terminal at Waterloo station and a maintenance depot in west London. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) cannot be present in the Chamber. I hope that Lambeth council will adopt an objective and fair approach to the planning applications for Waterloo station because that service has to be open and running in three years when the tunnel opens. If the hon. Member for Vauxhall were here I do not think that she would be able to defend further the argument that we should close down our plans for Waterloo and move to Stratford. The time scales for the two projects are wholly different.
The investments on the passenger side are worth about £175 million. I can also announce that we have just approved investment of about £80 million on electric freight locomotives and on electrification of the line between Tonbridge and Redhill. That forms part of British Rail's core investments of a further £175 million in channel tunnel freight. The Government have now approved the great majority of British Rail's investment plans for 1993.
§ Mr. Prescott
The new investment that the Minister has announced will be welcomed by the House, especially the investment in freight trains. Europe wants to see the harmonisation of our high-speed rail system so that trains can leave the tunnel and travel on the French and Belgian systems. Will the new freight trains be able to do that?
§ Mr. Freeman
I am sorry that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question because I have not briefed myself on the matter. I will write to the hon. Gentleman. I understand the significance of his question.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) asked us to take a longer term-view—what he called freight vision. While I am sure that he will welcome the announcements that I have made today about improving the existing freight system through new 1183 equipment and electrification, he rightly asks us to look 20 or 30 years ahead. No large business undertaking can react short-term to pressures in the next two or three years. British Rail has to take a serious, studied, careful look at the development of freight traffic, and I hope that it will take an optimistic and forward-looking view about the share of such traffic that it can gain. I should not support a limited vision on that. In any proposals which come before me, I shall want to look carefully at whether British Rail has looked forward a decade or two, and I hope that it will rise to the challenges.
Beyond 1993, traffic will undoubtely grow. No one seriously argues with British Rail's view that, sooner or later, extra capacity will be needed between London and the tunnel. There also seems to be general agreement that a new line is the best means of providing that capacity. Against this background, British Rail published its preferred route in March 1989. As the House knows, the cost of environmental improvements to British Rail's proposed new line—in particular, the cost of tunnelling under London—affected the viability of the new rail link proposal.
Latterly, British Rail has been pursuing with Eurorail —the Trafalgar-House-BICC consortium—the possibility of establishing a joint venture company whereby the private sector would play a major role in both the financing and the commercial operation of British Rail's international rail services, including the construction and operation of a new channel rail link. British Rail and Eurorail have now submitted to the Government certain proposals for carrying forward the joint venture and the Government will be responding to a complicated package of suggested amendments as soon as we are able.
The hon. Member for Deptford asked me whether we would make a statement before Whitsun. I cannot commit my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport or the Government, but I can tell her that this debate is both helpful and timely. We shall try to reach a decision as quickly as possible because I am aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and the hon. Member for Peckham pointed out, that there is concern about blight on the routes proposed. We know British Rail's preferred route, but the need to remove uncertainty as quickly as possible is very much at the forefront of my mind.
§ Mr. Prescott
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way to me again because I know that he is pressed for time. In whatever option is put to them is the Government's preference still for the tunnelling rather than the surface option?
§ Mr. Freeman
I cannot comment on that because we have to evaluate the revised proposals put to us. We have not reached a conclusion and I shall not speculate as to what combination of tunnelling and above-ground track we are likely to favour. The Government are aware of the Eurorail and the Ove Arup outline proposals and the support that some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, have lent to these alternative approaches. The Stratford routes have attracted support for a number of reasons. Some wish to see an international station at Stratford because of the local advantages that this would bring. Others have outlined what they see as the national advantages of such 1184 a scheme, including car parking and the onward movement of traffic, both freight and passenger, to the north and the west. I have listened to those arguments with great care.
A Stratford terminal was on the British Rail shortlist as a possible site and has therefore been carefully evaluated by British Rail. Had British Rail chosen Stratford as its preferred location for the second terminal in London, it would still have approached it from the south, the route from Kent, and not from the east through Essex as envisaged by the promoters of the alternative schemes. The reason for that is to ensure that any benefits of constructing a new line are shared with Waterloo and that it is linked with the increased capacity that would come with the construction of such a line. That would not necessarily happen if at a relatively early stage the line went north and across south-east Essex.
§ Mr. Rowe
This is of considerable importance because that was the original point that BR made to us many times. It later changed its mind and explicitly said that it did not envisage that being an essential part of the criticism of the other routes into London. Several Conservative Members were present at the meeting when that was said.
§ Mr. Freeman
I have approached the debate with some caution as I am new to the job and do not want to put my foot in it. I hope that I am not making dogmatic statements. I shall study exactly what was said. I apologise if I have confused or confounded my hon. Friend.
I say to hon. Members who represent constituencies to the north of London, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, south (Sir P. Blaker), the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and others, that of course we understand the significance of a rail link for the regions to the north and west of London. It is most important that we take a national view of any proposals put to us. Although it is fair to say that the bulk of passengers who will use the rail link will live in the home counties, greater London and the south-east, I accept the argument that one must consider carefully the implications for the north-west and north-east. I have listened carefully to the case for what are seen as the short-term advantages of using King's Cross, but I do not propose to dwell on the relative advantages and disadvantages of the various routes.
As I have made clear, the Goverment and BR accept entirely that it is BR's responsibility to convince the country that it has examined all the alternatives and reached the right decision. However, there are certain aspects of the alternative proposals to which I should perhaps refer as it may help to clarify the issue for those concerned about it. The first point relates to comparative costs. Everyone must exercise much caution when making comparisons. Those who believe that the costs of the alternatives are higher then the costs of BR's route say, with some logic, that the alternative routes involve building a four-track railway to handle passengers and freight, whereas BR's route is for a two-track passenger railway only.
I will reply in writing to hon. Members whom I have not answered specifically. The hon. Member for Deptford asked for a committee of experts. British Rail is 1185 responsible for putting forward a preferred route and the Department of Transport and Parliament are responsible for evaluating it.
The contribution that I can make in the forthcoming weeks and months is to listen, as I have to this debate, and to visit the proposed sites. I look forward to visiting Waterloo, King's Cross and Stratford. I will ensure that BR and the Government explain and clarify any proposals extremely carefully, including alternative costs. To the best of my ability, I will ensure that a decision is taken expeditiously to avoid blight and doubt.
§ Mr. Freeman
I am sorry, but I have run out of time.
Several hon. Members have said that that blight and uncertainty have affected their constituencies. I look forward to further debates and discussions on this important subject.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham,North)
I welcome the Minister to his new job and also his first announcement that the chairman of British Rail will meet those proposing the alternative routes. I hope that he will meet them with an open mind, and I congratulate the Minister on moving so quickly to do something so constructive. If he is successful in getting BR to consider the alternatives, the name of Freeman may rank with Brunel in the annals of British railways.
I had hoped to move the second motion on the Order Paper about the need for a democratic revolution in the United Kingdom. However, this debate has proved a classic case study of the need for many changes in the way in which we make our decisions and in the democratic processes in this country. One of the most important historic decisions that this nation could face—how we link with our continental partners—has been typified by bodge, cock-up and half-baked proposals. There has not been a serious, democratic, planned effort through the House, through another place—which should be in a far more representative form—through the contributions of elected regional assemblies or through a system in which everyone could make a decision through a freedom of information Act——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber all morning, but I must remind him that he is speaking to the first motion, which is about the channel tunnel rail link.
§ Mr. Allen
That is why I am now speaking on behalf of my constituency and all those in the east midlands who have profound anxieties—which I hope the Minister will take on board—not merely about the current proposal, but about the alternatives.
I have some sympathy with the Stratford proposal because it appears to make geographic and railway sense in a way that the current proposal does not. My concern, which applies to both schemes, is that the east midlands, and Nottingham in particular, could be isolated. That certainly would be the case if the midlands main line was not electrified. There has been electrification on the continent, railway building in France, the building of two 1186 new north-south lines in Germany and Spain is changing its gauge. They are all gearing up for 1992 and a single market.
Those whom I represent, and those in my region generally, are fearful that we shall be left behind, with the line going up either the east coast or the west coast. One of the major engines of the British economy—the east midlands—will be left to flounder and to fend for itself in a competitive new area—[Interruption.] It appears that other hon. Members are still waiting to contribute to the debate.
The responsibility is not merely to my constituency, my region, south London or the constituencies of other hon. Members who have spoken this morning; it is to the whole nation. How can we all benefit from the opportunities that the channel tunnel and the rail links can offer? While supporting Stratford, we must make it clear that Stratford itself is no better an alternative than King's Cross on its own. The essential feature is that Stratford must be linked to King's Cross-St. Pancras. Without that essential link, there will be great concern among hon. Members, constituencies and regions about the efficacy of the proposal, just as there are doubts about the current proposal.
My great fear, which has not been allayed this morning, is that the proposers of the new scheme may well follow the salami tactics to which the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) referred in another context. They may go for the easier part of the scheme, which would be the channel tunnel link to Stratford, and then, all of a sudden, say that for commercial reasons they cannot afford the expensive, updated, dedicated link from Stratford to King's Cross-St. Pancras. People in my region would be left high and dry with connections possible from Stratford up the east coast and even across to the west coast. That would be a devastating blow.
Will the Minister take away one thought? Why cannot there be two stations serving London? There could be a Stratford station, which would be London international east, and a King's Cross-St. Pancras station, which would be London international north, with the lines going through of equal status so that through traffic could go to all parts of the region.
We have heard some knocking of British Rail, and it was partly deserved. However, we must direct our criticism not at the current Minister but at some of his predecessors over the past decade, who inhibited British Rail from presenting reasonable options and plans. In imposing investment restraints, the Government left British Rail in an extremely difficult position, and that has led to botched plans that will serve the interests neither of the nation nor of my region.
I welcome alternative proposals that have appeared, and am glad that the representations made by trans-Pennine, Midland Mainline Consortium, the Railway Development Society and many others throughout the land are apparently being echoed in some of the Minister's remarks.
I began my speech by remarking that there may be hallowed future references to the name of Freeman along with that of Brunel. I was only half-joking. We have a new Minister and a new British Rail chairman, and there is a possibility that progress will be made. Certainly there is a feeling among the public that the matter should he re-examined and a new settlement reached, so that we may 1187 have a railway system of which we can all be proud, and which taps into the continent in the same way that our foreign competitors have done.
I wish the Minister well in his new job. His is nothing less than an historic role, and I hope that he will seize the opportunities before him.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I welcome the opportunity presented by the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), for right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in the north of England to air some of the concerns that we have about a project which pre-eminently seems to affect the south-east. In reality, it will affect us all.
Anxieties have already been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), and by the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that the link should benefit the north just as much as anywhere else. I also appreciate the arguments made by right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies in southern England. After all, if such a link were to be routed through my constituency, I would have the same passionate and vehement interest in obtaining detailed information about the villages affected. Inevitably, those of us representing northern constituencies can deal with the matter only with a very large brush.
Those who look after our interests include the Channel Tunnel Group, which comprises the most powerful and influential bodies in the north-west. They include north-west local authorities; Rail Forum; Greater Manchester Economic Development Limited; Central Manchester, Merseyside and Trafford Park development corporations; English Estates; chambers of commerce in the north-west of England, and the Confederation of British Industry in the north-west. Those voices wanting to be heard in the debate are not insignificant—and it is not an insignificant issue.
Time is of the essence, and there are also questions of convenience and money. They can all be summed up in one plea that the north-west makes—"Please, the time has now come to stick to the present proposals for King's Cross." I know perfectly well how time will be consumed if we change our minds again—I am not a member of the Court of Referees for nothing. I give my hon. Friend the Minister an assurance that the Court of Referees will deal with subsequent matters, a new Bill, or new proposals—if it has to do so—rather more expeditiously than he fears. However, he is right to say that it will take time.
If the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) were in her place I would say to her that if she comes before us next year for locus standi—I cannot anticipate events and I shall not comment on any decisions already made—we shall view with great sympathy those people who have problems because a line is being driven through their constituency. Nevertheless, time is of the essence and any change is likely to cause more delay.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I have listened to my hon. and learned Friend with great interest and, speaking from the perspective of my Leicestershire constituency, it seems that far too much consideration is being given to landscaping and the link going round villages in Kent.
1188 Those resources should be devoted to better terminals in the midlands and in the north for the tunnel rail link. That is of great concern to my constituents.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend. We live in a lovely island and we have managed to make a good mess of it in some areas. I am in favour of ensuring that we do not make any more mess. I am an old inflationist—there is no question about that. I think that a few extra millions to ensure that we preserve Kent looking nice and reasonable will be money well spent and that people who follow us will be pleased that we had the courage and the guts to do it.
Obviously arguments are raging in Kent, in the constituencies that the line might pass through, and all those arguments will be opened up again. Time will tell. If that happens we may find that we are being left behind. We have manufacturing interests, not only in the north-west, but throughout northern England and they must be accommodated. If they are not, those regions will be marginalised. I cannot go into detail because there is not time, but on behalf of hon. Members representing northern constituencies I want to voice our constant concern that we should be looked after and our interests should be borne in mind, because they are also the interests of Great Britain.
Convenience is another issue. It is no use saying to my constituents or to people in Liverpool or Manchester that there will be a train going down to Stratford. Traditionally, they have gone to Euston or, if they come from the north-east, to King's Cross and they will still have to use those stations under these proposals. It became clear, although we did not go into details in the Court of Referees, that the complex of Euston, which is adjacent to King's Cross, has the capacity for such things as travelators, and the easy communications between the two stations mean that it is simple to change from one to the other.
In reality the vast King's Cross development, and Euston, which is nearby, means that we are discussing two stations which can easily be joined. Therefore, for convenience, and because the stations are connected with Heathrow and with 60 per cent. of the underground lines, we should stick with King's Cross.
British Rail included in the King's Cross Railways Bill in November 1989 powers to improve the Hampstead link. That would be another link with the general rail network.
Naturally, people in Kent who have problems because of the link are intensely interested, but in the north we have our interests. We want people to pay more attention to them. For example, as several hon. Members have mentioned, there is the electrification of the rail lines in the north of England. We want to know of British Rail's plans for electrification between Manchester and my constituency. What are its plans for a depot in the north and where does it propose to site it? How will it be tied in to the lines coming through from King's Cross—we hope—or from wherever, to join up with continental railways? Such a development is essential and we must have it.
We do not want to be marginalised and left on the periphery. However, many people in the north of England believe that that is what will happen. I refer not just to Conservative party members but to Labour party members. Many ordinary folk in the north of England believe that London thinks that it knows best, but——
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.