HC Deb 06 March 1995 vol 256 cc1-3
1. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he is taking to ensure that the United Kingdom north of London is connected by rail to Europe.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

Channel tunnel freight services from north of London have been operating since last June. Last October I instructed Railtrack to ensure that the infrastructure needed for the passenger services is ready for the start of 1996.

Mr. MacShane

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that unilluminating reply. He will know that Yorkshire is to be provided with one single passenger train per day, compared with the several that flow from London. When will Yorkshire and the north of England get the same treatment as the regions of France and Germany, where a public service rail network is being created to plug the regions into the Euro-network? When will there be a Government policy to serve the regions, especially the north, by linking them to the rest of Europe?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman will find that only in this country is there to be a non-stop service from north of the capital, or beyond the capital, through the tunnel.

Mr. Hendry

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement by Eurostar last week that it intends significantly to extend the number of British cities that will have through services directly to Paris? Will it not be magnificent to be able to go to sleep in Manchester and wake up in Paris—and, even better, to be able to go to sleep in Paris and wake up in Manchester?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am glad that my hon. Friend added that last comment. I certainly welcome the continued expansion of services through the tunnel; it is one of the great success stories. It will transform both passenger and freight services. I hope that that can be common ground across the House.

Mr. Tyler

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to accept that confidence in the channel tunnel service is still fragile and that traffic from all parts of the United Kingdom is still dependent on that confidence being reinvigorated and assured? In the light of recent disclosures, is he prepared to add to his exchanges and correspondence with me on the issues of fire safety and evacuation procedures in the tunnel?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman needs to make up his mind—either he wants to build confidence or he wants to raise scare stories, which have the effect of undermining confidence. He knows as well as I do that there are well-tested and well-developed policies for dealing with emergencies in the tunnel, and they work.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), will my right hon. Friend also welcome the announcement by Eurostar of the overnight service from Glasgow to Paris, which will stop in Preston and so serve my constituents well? Will he further welcome the announcement of the £150 million investment in rolling stock, which will be an added bonus for my constituents?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The development of the night services, the development of north of London services and the development of the freight services—in addition to the services from London—across the channel are all good news. They are good news for the constituents of a number of hon. Members, but most of all they are good news for passengers, for business and industry and for United Kingdom plc.

Mr. Meacher

Having been a decade behind the French in building a high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel and two decades behind them in building a TGV network, why are the Government now being so slow in preparing a specifically high-speed rail link from London through the heart of Britain to Scotland and Ireland? Why have not the Government yet even set out their plans for upgrading the rail freight routes from the regions to the continent to the larger continental freight gauge standards to provide the capability for lorry piggy-back services, which would cost as little as £70 million—one tenth of what the Government have already frittered away on the preparation for privatisation?

Dr. Mawhinney

First, on the hon. Gentleman's last point, he is precisely wrong. The Labour party continues to pluck figures out of the air and believes that, if it keeps repeating erroneous figures frequently enough—

Mr. Meacher

They are the Government's figures.

Dr. Mawhinney

They are not our figures, as the hon. Gentleman will shortly find out in an answer to a question by one of his hon. Friends. I am glad—no, I am not: I am sorry—that the general support for the tunnel, which has been evinced by hon. Members on both sides of the House, has not broken through the hon. Gentleman's normal doom and gloom. This is a success story. The private sector will develop it even further. Everyone bar the hon. Gentleman is supportive.