§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Sir George Young)
I beg to move,That further proceedings on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill shall be suspended until the next Session of Parliament;That if a Bill is presented in the next Session in the same terms as those in which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill stood when proceedings on it were suspended in this Session—
- (a) the Bill shall be ordered to be printed and shall be deemed to have been read the first and second time;
- (b) the Bill shall stand committed to a Select Committee of the same Members as the Members of the Committee in this Session;
- (c) all Petitions presented in this Session which stand referred to the Committee and which have not been withdrawn shall stand referred to the Committee in the next Session;
- (d) any Minutes of Evidence taken and any papers laid before the Committee in this Session which have been reported to the House shall stand referred to the Committee in the next Session;
- (e) only those Petitions mentioned in paragraph (c) above, and any Petition which may be presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any proposed additional provision or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the Committee in the next Session, shall stand referred to the Committee;
- (f) any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Committee in the next Session shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agent; upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition;
- (g) the Committee shall have power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from day to day the Minutes of Evidence taken before it;
- (h) three shall be the Quorum of the Committee;
- (i) any person registered in this Session as a parliamentary agent entitled to practise as such in opposing Bills only who, at the time when proceedings on the Bill were suspended in this Session, was employed in opposing the Bill shall be deemed to have been registered as such a parliamentary agent in the next Session;
- (j) the Standing Orders and practice of the House applicable to the Bill, so far as complied with in this Session, shall be deemed to have been complied with in the next Session; and
- (k) if the Bill is reported from a Select Committee in the next Session, it shall thereupon stand re-committed to a Standing Committee.That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill is committed in the next Session—
- (1) that it have power to consider—
- (a) alternatives to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the approach of the rail link to St. Pancras station from the west of Highbury Corner;
- (b) the provision of rail sidings on the Midland Main Line on the western edge of the King's Cross Railway Lands;
- (c) the relocation of Tarmac plc's existing concrete-batching facilities to a site in the north-west corner of the King's Cross Railway Lands;
- (d) alterations to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding railways in the throat of St. Pancras station in the vicinity of the Regent's Canal;
- (e) alterations to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding diversion of the Camden sewer;
- (f) the provision of an additional road into the King's Cross Railway Lands from York Way, in the London Borough of Camden;
- (g) alterations to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding ticket halls and subways of the London Underground Railways;
- (h) the provision of a sewer forming a diversion of the St. Pancras sewer;
- (i) alterations to the table in paragraph 1 of Schedule 7 to the Bill (buildings authorised to be demolished), so far as relating to the London Borough of Camden;
- (j) the running through a tunnel of so much of the rail link as lies between Barrington Road, in the London Borough of Newham, and Dagenham Dock, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham;
- (k) works required in connection with the accommodation of the easterly portal of the main London tunnel;
- (l) the undertaking of additional overhead line diversions in the vicinity of the A13 in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and the London Borough of Havering;
- (m) realignment overground of the rail link and Tilbury Loop Railway in the vicinity of the Mardyke Park housing estate at Thurrock, in the county of Essex, and associated works;
- (n) the provision of additional roads in the vicinity of Crowbridge Road, Ashford, in the county of Kent;
- (o) the provision of sidings on the Ashford to Canterbury Railway to the east of the River Stour at Ashford, in the county of Kent;
- (p) alterations to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the junction of the rail link and the Eurotunnel Railway at Folkestone, in the county of Kent;
- (q) alterations to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding planning permission for development authorised by Part I;
- (r) alterations and additions to the provision which is now made in the Bill regarding the compulsory acquisition of easements and other rights over land by the grant of new rights;
- (s) the disposal of land acquired for the purposes of or in connection with the works authorised by Part I;
- (t) the inclusion of additional land within the limits of land to be acquired or used; and
- (u) additional power to stop up highways in connection with the construction of the A2 and M2 improvement works;
and, if it thinks fit, to make Amendments to the Bill with respect to any of the matters mentioned above, and for connected purposes;
- (2) that any Petition against Amendments to the Bill which the Select Committee mentioned in paragraph (1) above is empowered by that paragraph to make shall be referred to that Select Committee if—
- (a) it is presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office not later than the end of the period of four weeks beginning with the day on which the first newspaper notice of the Amendments was published or, if that period includes any time during which the House is adjourned for more than four days, not later than five weeks beginning with that day, and
- (b) it is one in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents;
That it be an instruction to the Clerk of Private Bills that, on receiving an original copy of the first newspaper notice of any Amendments to the Bill which the Select Committee to which the
342 Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill is committed in the next Session is empowered by paragraph (1) of the above instruction to make, he shall publish the date of the notice in the Private Business paper.
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
§ Sir George Young
There are two motions on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill to be debated today. The first is an instruction on additional provisions, and the second is a carry-over motion. It may be helpful to the House if I say a brief word about both.
The channel tunnel rail link is one of the country's most important infrastructure projects of this decade, probably of this century. The House gave the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill an unopposed Second Reading on 16 January, with hon. Members on both sides expressing a wish to make rapid progress with the passage of the legislation and the implementation of the project.
The carry-over motion takes forward that unanimous will of the House. It is simply a procedural requirement to allow the Bill to run from this Session into the next. It is a hybrid Bill, which therefore has to be considered by Select Committees in each House in addition to all the usual stages of a public Bill. Because of that, and because of the scale of the rail link project, the Bill will inevitably take more than one Session to complete its passage.
Good progress has been made since the Bill's introduction on 23 November last year and its Second Reading on 16 January. The Select Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), started work on 21 February. The Committee has spent 60 days so far considering the 993 petitions received, which is well over 250 hours. The House will, I am sure, join me in paying tribute to the Chairman, the Vice-Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick), and the seven other members of the Select Committee for the way in which they have tackled this daunting task. They have kept proceedings moving forward and have listened to petitioners with unfailing courtesy, concentrating on the important issues. They have already reached and announced a number of key recommendations and decisions.
The Committee needs to complete its work in the new Session, and the carry-over motion provides for the Committee to continue on the same basis as approved by the House in the original committal motion on 16 January. The House has already made clear its support for the CTRL project, and carrying over the Bill is essential to bringing the project to fruition.
The other motion, instructing the Select Committee with regard to certain additional provisions, is to give effect primarily to the Select Committee's own wishes, announced on 20 July, on changes to the route of the rail link. The procedures of the House require that the people whose interests may be affected by the new route changes must be afforded the right to petition and be heard by the Select Committee. This is achieved by a formal instruction of the House to the Select Committee that the Committee may consider the route changes, which then enables the Government to deposit the necessary additional provisions and notices to be issued to those affected.
The major route changes are at Mardyke park in Thurrock, Barking and the approach to St. Pancras. Following the Select Committee's announcement in July, the route changes have been developed in sufficient detail 343 for plans to be produced, property to be referenced and environmental assessments to be undertaken. For Mardyke park, the route is being realigned and a viaduct moved away from the housing estate. For Barking, there is a longer tunnel than the Select Committee sought. For the St. Pancras approach, the Select Committee accepted the promoters' proposal that two options for changing the route should be considered, and the motion allows for that.
I do not intend to run through other items in the motions, although the Minister of State will be prepared to respond to any particular concerns raised by hon. Members. Generally, the other items are minor alterations to works and land to be acquired or used, some of which are a consequence of the Select Committee's decisions. Others are tidying-up provisions, often to meet concerns raised by petitioners during negotiations.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I have a personal concern about blight: the tunnel goes immediately underneath my house. I am quite happy about that, but is there any compensation in this for me? My property, along with many others, has been blighted; its value has gone down. People do not want to buy a house over a tunnel.
§ Sir George Young
As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are statutory compensation schemes, to which he, like other members of the public, is entitled. Union Railways is operating its own scheme for people whose properties are affected by blight. The best advice that I can give the hon. Gentleman is the advice that I would give my own constituents: to take legal advice if he believes that his property interests are affected.
§ Sir George Young
I am not a solicitor. I do not have the relevant qualifications, and I would hesitate to give the hon. Gentleman any unqualified legal advice.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
I share my hon. Friend's concern. Hundreds of my constituents' properties were blighted by the original proposals, and they remain blighted. The Secretary of State said that it was up to Union Railways to come up with a scheme for voluntary purchase, but Union Railways tells me repeatedly that it works under directions given to it by the Department of Transport. We therefore seek tonight the assurance that the properties that will remain blighted—despite the revisions in the proposals—will be covered by a compensation scheme that will be fair to the people whose homes have been blighted for many years.
§ Sir George Young
As I am sure that the hon. Lady knows, the Select Committee has not yet dealt with this subject. It will come to the matter, I believe. She is right to say that Union Railways is buying homes on request within the safeguarded zone for the CTRL. That includes all homes taken wholly or in part by the link. It also operates a discretionary purchase scheme for properties seriously affected by the construction or use of the CTRL in cases of severe hardship. Union Railways published new guidelines for the operation of the scheme on 19 July; they are broadly in line with the arrangements for the road schemes. In our view, widening the purchase schemes to less affected properties could worsen any blight. 344 The Select Committee, as I have said, is still considering property and compensation issues connected with the CTRL.
The instruction by the House does not approve the additional provisions listed; it merely empowers the Select Committee to consider them formally, with the benefit of petitions from those affected. The Committee is not obliged to adopt all or any of the provisions.
The Government's aim is to deposit the additional provisions in two batches: the first—including Mardyke and Barking—in a few days' time, and the second—principally the St. Pancras approach—in early December. This should enable the first batch to be considered by the Committee starting just before Christmas. The second batch should start in Committee after the Christmas recess. The House will, I am sure, share the Committee's wish to complete its hearings without delay so that the CTRL project can go ahead as soon as possible.
§ 6 pm
§ Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I shall begin by saying something personal about the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that he will remember the time—it was some years ago—when we worked together in the project Re-unite, the purpose of which was to give more support to parents—usually mothers—whose children had been abducted. It was a worthy and important cause. I hope that the period during which we work together on transport matters will be as productive as our earlier work.
I have made a comment about the Secretary of State behind his back that perhaps I should make in front of him. I know him to be intelligent and socially concerned, and that being so, I have a basic respect for him. As we begin our new transport relationship, I find it impossible to believe that the right hon. Gentleman judges the current rail privatisation proposals to be in the national interest. I am sure that we shall return to that issue. The more I see of the proposals, the more people I meet who are involved with them and the more of the detail that I come to examine, the more I become aware that they are massively destructive to our transport systems.
I cannot believe that a man of the quality of the Secretary of State could possibly support the proposals. It seems—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not wish to intervene too strongly when there might be harmony. I hope, however, that we shall restrict the debate to the motions that are before us.
§ Ms Short
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to get my compliments in first.
Along with many other Members, I accepted an invitation about a year ago to travel to Paris from Waterloo on the new Eurostar service. I think that we were all invited to make the journey. I tried to register the journey in the Register of Members' Interests and was told that if something is offered to all Members, it is not necessary to register it. That is an interesting concept.
I made the journey with my mother. It is interesting when people in their 70s travel by rail. For them, the smoothness of the ride is of great importance. I met my 345 hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and he, too, was taking his mother to Paris. We had a mothers' day out to Paris, in the rain.
I found—many others have found since—that the quality of the service on the French side of the Channel was massively more impressive than that on our side. Some British people are ashamed about that when they make the journey. President Mitterrand, when he opened the French link to the tunnel on 18 May 1993, said:Passengers will race at great pace across the plains of northern France, rush through the tunnel on a fast track and then be able to daydream at very low speed, admiring the English countryside.Speed and comfort are important. With a poor-quality service there is spilt coffee on the English side but not on the French. There are stops and starts on our side and it is difficult to walk through the train as it sways. I felt sad and rather ashamed that the quality of the service on the French was so massively higher.
§ Dr. Spink
The hon. Lady will not be aware that I travelled on the Eurostar service today. I returned to Waterloo this afternoon. I can assure the hon. Lady that the service that I received was excellent on both sides of the channel. There was no difference in the service on either side. I do not recognise her description of the service. Again, our service is being berated at the expense of British Rail. That is deplorable.
§ Ms Short
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was sleeping during the journey. No one is suggesting that the quality of service provided by the British staff is lower than that given by the French. I am merely saying that the train travels a great deal more slowly on the British side. That is fact. I am not berating anyone. If the hon. Gentleman did not notice the difference in speed, his sensitivity—[Interruption.]
We support the motions that are before us. Given that it is possible that the Bill will be given Royal Assent during 1996 and that instructions for work to begin will be given in 1997, we, Labour, expect and intend to take over responsibility for the project and see it through to completion as early as possible in the new millennium. We are critical, however, that one of the largest civil engineering projects in Britain for a long time has progressed so slowly and that so much anguish and pain has been caused by planning blight because of the Government's mad ideological commitment to market forces and private sector control of all projects, rather than a partnership between the public and private sectors that would bring the best from both sides to the project. The Labour party is firmly committed to the latter approach, which would be much more strongly in the national interest than the Government's arrangements.
Any review of the details and the history of the project—I have obviously engaged in such a review in preparing for the debate—makes enormously depressing reading. It is a story of delay, dither, blight and wasted resources. That stems from the Government's initial determination that no Government grant or subsidy should 346 be provided for the project. As a result, it had become clear by the end of 1991 that London's investment community was unenthusiastic. That error of judgment led to the big U-turn in March 1993, when the then Secretary of State for Transport said that the Government had decided that the project would have to go forward as a joint venture. We were told in January 1994 that the Government were willing after all to provide substantial public sector support for the project.
We now know that the Government intend to hand over to the successful bidder as much as £1.7 billion in cash subsidies and asset transfers without taking any public stake or power to ensure public accountability in return for such massive public investment. That is deeply wrong, both morally and democratically. The tax burden is higher now as a percentage of gross domestic product than it was in 1979. The burden is more inequitably distributed with the result that those on lower incomes are paying more tax now than they have for a long time. It seems profoundly wrong to hand over massive public resources to private companies without ensuring that the public interest is secured. The Opposition object to that.
It is to be welcomed that the Government have responded positively to the proposals that are set out in the report of the Select Committee on Transport. We are concerned, however, about the delays caused by the Government dithering over the best way in which to finance the scheme. We are also concerned about planning blight. We note that there is good news for those who live along some sections of the route. A pamphlet is being issued in Barking that states that there is good news at last. Many people will be comforted by the progress that has been made, and that is to be welcomed.
Some extremely serious allegations were made in an article that appeared in The Sunday Telegraph on 27 August. It suggested that the Secretary of State and his Ministers had attempted to nobble the work of the Select Committee. It is such a serious allegation that I imagine that Ministers will want to respond to it. The article states:Sir George Young, the transport secretary, has told Cabinet colleagues that the Select Committee has already accepted too many points made by objectors, especially in Labour-voting areas of London.I hope that the Secretary of State has not proceeded in that way. Citizens' rights to compensation and other matters should be protected regardless of voting behaviour.
The article continued to the effect that The Sunday Telegraph had learntthat Sir George is to send a discreet message to the two senior Tory MPs on the committee that it would not take much more to make the project no longer viable.That is interesting. The article stated:Sir George and John Watts, the rail minister, intend to approach Sir Anthony before the committee's next meeting on October 17. They will urge him to resist widespread demands for a more generous approach to compensation.That is extremely serious and something that should he mentioned on the Floor of the House.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
I received a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in which he outlined his views. He told me that he did not intend in any way to influence the Committee. I read out the letter to the full Committee at one of its 347 meetings. The Committee accepted his word, as I did. No attempt has been made to influence me in any way. I assure the House that if that were tried, I might go the other way.
§ Ms Short
The letter seems peculiar. I think that the Minister, when he is winding up, might want to come back to that point.
Another specific point that I would like the Minister to address when winding up is where things stand on the ombudsman's report, which found the Government guilty of maladministration leading to injustice over their refusal to pay compensation to some residents. As hon. Members may well remember, the report included some extremely distressing cases: a couple who wished to move because their son had hanged himself in the property; and another where a woman with a degenerative illness wanted to move closer to her family but was unable to do so. I understand that there is a meeting this evening. I also understand that there might be some suggestion that the Government will be rather more helpful than they have been about the ombudsman's report. I very much hope that that is true and that we can have some news on that.
I should also be grateful to know what progress has been made to ensure that when passengers arrive at St. Pancras station the infrastructure can cope with the traffic, because one of the great worries about rail privatisation is that there will be separate writs breaking up the national network and that there will not be the necessary co-ordination of the system. I want to know whether those developments are in hand and, in particular, whether we can now have a firm date for the commencement of direct services via east coast and west coast main lines to the rest of the country.
Our view is that the project is essential to the updating and strengthening of Britain's rail network, and we as a party are absolutely committed to the maintenance of a united national rail network that will co-ordinate transport services throughout our country and remain in public ownership. We also believe that it will improve comfort and efficiency for travellers and that our trade and business relationships with our European neighbours will be strengthened. We deeply deplore the terrible delays that the project has suffered because of the Government's ideological obsessions, but we strongly support it and look forward greatly to taking responsibility for it in government and carrying it through to success.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is self-evident that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. The debate must finish at 7.21, so I appeal for short speeches.
§ Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)
I am grateful to get your help in this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will try to comply with your injunction.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench two particular points. First, today on the front of a national tabloid appeared a report—I do not know whether it was leaked—which concluded that the M2 road widening between junctions 1 and 4 has been postponed. I remind my right hon. Friend that the Select Committee sought assurances that it would be completed within the same 348 construction period as the channel tunnel rail link. The Government themselves gave the qualification that if either were delayed for funding reasons, they would not delay the other indefinitely.
I should make it quite clear about the widening of the M2 road that, as soon as I learned the price of building another bridge—hon. Members will be aware that we are to have two road bridges and one rail bridge adjacent to one of my villages, Borstal, near Rochester—I said that it was a bridge too far, and asked whether we could ban the road. I ask my right hon. Friend to look again to see whether that road really is needed, as it is a great imposition and additional noise to my constituents.
Secondly, I had hoped to read in the instructions to the Select Committee—I accept that they cannot be too detailed—some instruction to look again at the mitigation of noise, because my constituents are certainly not satisfied with noise barriers that cover only one portion of each of these three confounded bridges. They want noise barriers that go right the way across. Their living environment must be balanced against the visual impact that the barriers would have. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that some of the £13.6 million that was allocated from Brussels should be given to ensure the protection of the living environment of the people in Kent and in London who perforce must have this link running through their section of the country.
I have read a rumour, but being a politician I do not believe much that I read in the newspapers, that the Select Committee, when it continues into the next Session—I hoped that this would be in the instruction—will look specifically at generic matters, such as blight, compensation, noise mitigation and construction, because in those matters hon. Members like myself are very worried about people who want or need to move. We are worried about construction—in the case of my constituents, not only of a rail bridge but of another road bridge, and all that that implies. My constituents hoped that building of the two bridges would run simultaneously, but they opened their paper today and learned that that will not be. Will they have 10 years of construction, as the bridges are built sequentially, one after the other?
Part of my constituents' problem, in addition to this great burden on their environment, is that the construction will interfere with a tip that has had asbestos dumped on it for years. Nobody will give them any scientific evidence that it is safe to interfere with it. I warn my right hon. Friend that they require some scientific reassurance about the effects of moving the tip, and construction on and around it. I do so in respect of a recent finding in a court on compensation for people who are suffering because, as children, they played near a source of asbestos. People are naturally worried. We also had the same situation in the dockyard. Although proximity to the source of asbestos was many years ago, men have died 30 years later.
I take it that hidden in this instruction are the detailed instructions to the Select Committee about its next work. I know that the Chairman of the Select Committee is a very independent character and that he and the Committee will do it their way, but I seek assurances on the fate of the M2 and its consequential co-ordinated building; the factory farm site and its asbestos; and the noise mitigation barriers across all two or three of the bridges, whichever it finishes.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Some six hours ago I, too, emerged from the channel tunnel on Eurostar, coming back from meetings in Brussels, and I have to say that my experience was identical to that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) rather than that of the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink). Indeed, other passengers in the carriage clearly thought that there was something wrong with the train. Those coming from Brussels who had not used it before, having had the smooth ride through Belgium and France, when suddenly faced with a remarkable reduction in speed, and much more rattle and swerve as they came through the Kent countryside, clearly did not relish the prospect of reaching London, as they feared, some hours late because the train obviously had something wrong with it.
We know that there is nothing wrong with the train; it is a great institution, but the link is clearly totally inadequate. That is why I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House will congratulate the Select Committee and express relief that it has made such progress so far. We are grateful to the right hon. and hon. Members who have undertaken this task, but it has to be said that already the likely cost of the link has risen by another £170 million as a result of the amendments. We are now looking at a bill of something in excess of £2.7 billion. The cost of delay is clearly the most difficult cost of all to face. How can we justify that to our constituents, who are already well aware of the considerable time that it has taken to get thus far?
The instructions clearly are helpful in a number of ways, and I shall concentrate on one or two of them and their broad purpose rather than go into great detail, because I know that many hon. Members with local concerns wish to speak. The most important implications are for the provision of freight travel through the tunnel. I have always believed that to be the major justification for a rail-based fixed link across the channel. Indeed, I believe that that is already considered to be fully justified, and that its potential is extremely exciting.
Last year, for the first time, freight shipments on the United Kingdom's rail network fell below 100 million tonnes. That has serious implications for the whole British economy, let alone for the balance between road and rail. I hope that both these instructions and the speed with which the Committee is able to make progress will result in increasing opportunities for the economic transport of freight by rail.
A few weeks ago, it was suggested in the Financial Times that that would be the most critical issue in regard to future funding of the tunnel, and also that it would be critically important to our entire rail network. Given that few freight journeys of less than 300 miles are possible because of the loading and unloading costs at each end, the access given by the tunnel to the continental rail network is clearly of remarkable importance. We shall not have that opportunity again. More than 75 freight trains a week are making regular return journeys to a number of European countries; surely we should encourage that trend.
Given that the inadequacies of the trans-European network from Britain's point of view are of our own making, we are clearly presented with another opportunity. According to a Railnews bulletin sent to hon. Members by Eurotunnel, 350taking the road to rail ratio and comparing to other countries, Britain could have got 750km of high speed rail but instead only got 80km, for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Sources in Brussels have said that Britain could have got very much more if it had applied; one wonders if there is a real government intention to spend a significant amount of money on improving the West Coast Main Line. Could not some of it have come from this TEN scheme? Even the modest £70 million required for the line upgrading between Glasgow and Folkestone for piggyback services could have been covered under the combined transport priority list.The Whitehall excuse is that projects, other than the CTRL, were not sufficiently advanced—who can we blame for this but the same people!The CTRL is incredibly important in itself, but it should also be the pioneering project that leads to effective new investment—particularly in freight travel—on our rail network in other parts of the country. It is feared that the return that Railtrack will demand for access charges—not just for the CTRL, but elsewhere in the country—could hold that back.
Of course noise insulation—to which the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) referred—and blight involve important considerations. Many hon. Members will wish to express their constituents' views on those subjects, but those are transitional problems, and I hope that the improvements that have already been hinted at will be seen as the Committee continues its work.
I believe—as, I think, do many members of the public, as well as Members of Parliament—that the function of this link to the continental network to extend opportunities for the freight industry to convey more loads by rail will really make the difference. It will be able to remove from the hard-pressed roads of Kent, and southern England generally, a proportion of the heavy loads that they are currently carrying, and at the same time enable the road improvement programme to be seen in a different light.
Finally, let me comment on future funding for not just the CTRL but similar projects. The French Government may not be perfect in other respects, but over many years, under different political leadership, they have seen opportunities for partnership between local authorities and national Government, and between public and private enterprise, as critical to such projects as high-speed rail links. The DATTAR scheme is by no means perfect in its consideration of environmental implications—we in this country would probably consider ourselves better at such things—but in other respects it leaves us standing.
Today, not for the first time, I passed through the amazing station at Lille where the three mayors of the Lille conurbations—all of different political persuasions—worked together to create a magnificent focus for a TGV station, as well as for Eurostar and for an integrated nodal transport system. That project is already a great success: it has generated new business and retail involvement.
I believe that we are missing an opportunity. I hope very much that the Committee's work will be successful, but I fear that we are still treating the project as a "one-off"—a project that can be attempted only in special circumstances—when it should be showing how we can bring private investment into the public-sector rail network as a whole.
That is the Liberal Democrat recipe for the success of a 21st-century rail system. It is working successfully in other parts of Europe, and we should model the future of Railtrack on it rather than allow the cranks of the right to abscond with an important national asset. 351 The House will wish to congratulate the Committee on the work that it has done so far. I believe, however, that delay could prove extremely expensive, not just to the individuals who are blighted by it but to the whole British economy. With heartfelt emphasis, we add to our previous plea: the Committee has all our best wishes, and godspeed.
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) and his Committee. I do not know whether they are volunteers or pressed men—I do not think that there are any women on the Committee—but, in any event, they are devoting a vast amount of their time, and showing the utmost diligence, in dealing with a highly complicated matter.
I want to make three points. The first relates to the old and continuing issue of blight, and the adequacy or otherwise of the discretionary powers of acquisition that are now applied by Union Railways. I welcome the fact that Union Railways is having a further stab at this, and has come up with a new voluntary acquisition package; but I am extremely doubtful about whether that package will be generous enough to meet the needs of people who, without any doubt, have experienced catastrophic blight. They cannot sell their main asset other than at sacrificial prices.
It simply is not reasonable to put home owners in such a position. The limited number of my constituents who are in that position are making fresh applications under the new arrangements announced by Union Railways, and I earnestly hope that those applications will be successful. If they are not, I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to change the rules and make them that much more generous, so that no one is asked to take a large knock on personal capital for a scheme pursued in the public interest. That financial burden should be borne by the public; it is not for individuals to accept a major financial sacrifice and not to obtain fair value for their homes.
My second point relates to two of the detailed provisions of the second motion, (q) and (r). They appear to widen the Committee's instruction to enable it to consider open-ended changes for what will be approved planning permissions—and, indeed, extensions to compulsory purchase. We want to be assured that those wide new provisions will not be used to the detriment of the rights of individual land owners, and rights pertaining to easements. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure us of the limited and responsible use of what are wide extensions of both deemed planning permission and compulsory purchase powers.
My third point concerns freight. I hope that my hon. Friend can assure us that nothing in the second motion will be used to constrain the freight use of the rail link; indeed, I hope that he will be able to tell us that freight use will be enhanced to the maximum extent. At present, freight users will be able to use the rail link to a considerable extent. They are also able to use existing lines to the channel tunnel. Given that two freight options are available, I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will treat with the utmost scepticism the planned third option that is apparently being constructed by a company called the Central Railway Group.
352 In a letter that my right hon. Friend sent to me in the last week or sp, he tells me that Central Railway Group is planning to apply to him for the construction of a third rail freight line from the midlands, going along existing lines and through Tonbridge in my constituency, to the channel tunnel. On the proposals that I have seen so far, that work would have a serious impact on the centre of Tonbridge and on other regions up and down the proposed route of the Central Railway Group's new freight link.
Given that hon. Members are planning to create a new railway line that will carry freight, and that existing lines already carry freight, it is superfluous to create a third freight route, with all the potential blighting effects under the Central Railway Group's proposals. I hope therefore that my right hon. Friend will be mindful of those points if, in the next few weeks, an order is put to him under the Transport and Works Act 1992 procedure.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
Will my right hon. Friend give way before he sits down? Hon. Members: He has sat down.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. I believe that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) had already resumed his seat.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
In this debate, the starting point for all of us must be that we want the channel tunnel high-speed rail link to be built not only as quickly as possible but in the right way. For those of us who represent constituencies along the route of the line, building it in the right way is terribly important. I do not, therefore, want either of the motions before us tonight to be opposed or defeated, but I do want to flag up one concern.
The most intricate part of the proposed route is the approach to St. Pancras, which comes through the borough of Islington, across the east coast main line and into the St. Pancras railway lands. The Select Committee considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill spent considerable time on that matter, and I pay great tribute to its work. I am delighted to see its Chairman, Vice-Chairman and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) here. The Committee deserves great credit for the assiduity of its work.
In its initial conclusions just before the summer recess, the Select Committee recommended that, in the approach to St. Pancras, what has become known as "Alan Baxter's fully tunnelled option" should be adopted. There was rejoicing in my constituency at that recommendation because it was precisely what local people wanted. It removed the problems of blight, disturbance and noise that they had feared.
Work is continuing on the working up of Baxter's fully tunnelled option but, alongside it, we have a second option developed by Union Railways, which the Committee will consider together with Baxter's scheme. The alternative approach will not be completely fully tunnelled. It will, however, contain more tunnel than in the original reference case. Both options under consideration are better, therefore, than the reference case. Local residents are in the process of examining in detail both options to find out which one they would prefer.
353 Those residents have gone through a rollercoaster of hope and despair on this exercise. Having been told that the Baxter's option was going to be adopted, suddenly they are faced with two potential options, one of which may not be as good as the Baxter's option. Blight has returned to the western part of Islington around Caledonian road as a direct result of the new uncertainty that has been created.
There is a problem. The plans for the two options will, as I understand it, be deposited on 5 December. Local residents will then have only five weeks to prepare new petitions on the new proposals. Even worse, the people who have already petitioned must pay another £20 fee to submit their new petition, which, through no fault of their own, deals with new material.
I hope that the Government, the Select Committee and the House will recognise that the procedure of having to petition fast over the Christmas period and of petitioners having to pay an additional fee above what was originally deposited is putting a great difficulty in the way of the petitioners. I flag up that concern. Petitioners are being put at a severe disadvantage, blight has returned, and there is continuing concern about what will happen in relation to the final approach to St. Pancras.
I make two simple requests. The first is to Union Railways. It is that there will be a full and fair working up of both the options—the Baxter's fully tunnelled option and the Union Railways option. Local residents will be able to make a clear decision and put their representations to the Select Committee only with a full and fair assessment of the impact of the two alternatives.
The second plea is to the Select Committee members, and I am sure that they will readily accept this: listen carefully to what local residents say when they have had a real chance to examine in detail the two options on the table as we are talking here, not just about the value of property, although that is important, but about people's lives for many years to come. People locally want the line to be built in the right way, but they want their lives to be damaged as little as possible in the process. I am sure that the Committee will want to listen to what they have to say in putting their case forward.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
My constituency has been blighted since 1988. Every route that has been considered for a rail link has twisted and turned across my constituency and, therefore, we in Gravesham view with much concern the on-going considerations in relation to the rail link.
I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to item (u) in the second motion, which refers to theA2 and M2 improvement works".Those works take place in an especially sensitive area of the green belt, which is strong on the natural environment. It contains Ashenbank wood and, in relation to heritage, Cobham hall. That region must be treated with careful consideration by the Select Committee when it returns to it.
354 Encompassed within the M2-A2 works is a junction for the so-called Wainscott bypass. If my hon. Friend the Minister is looking for vast savings to be made on the road programme, the best thing he could do is to scrap that bypass, and to simplify the A2-M2 junction.
In those works, reference is made to stopping up various highways in the region. Select Committee members should pay careful attention to a number of accesses along there, especially to the Rochester and Cobham golf club. If that access is blocked, the golf club will be cut off and there will be major havoc to transport flows in the parish of Cobham.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) referred to work being started on the rail link in 1997. One of the first works to be done would be the initial work for the construction of the tunnel underneath the River Thames and the construction of the Ebbsfleet railway station. These works will be on either side of the ancient town of Northfleet. Heavy goods vehicles already thunder through that old town. If works start on both these massive projects under the rail link proposals, life for the residents of Northfleet will be made totally intolerable.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to nag the highways authority—Kent county council—to ensure that, in its programme for 1996–97, it gives the Northfleet bypass the highest priority. I know that my hon. Friend has referred to it as a high priority, but our highways authority must make that its top priority. If my hon. Friend is worried about the finance for the Northfleet bypass, which is known as the south Thamesside development route phase 4, I point out that he can certainly finance it out of the considerable savings to be made on the Wainscott bypass.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley). The House has authorised expenditure of £1.2 billion for improving the existing railroads across Kent to cope with the increased traffic coming from the channel tunnel; passengers and freight now go along the southern routes. The argument in favour of the rail link is saturation of rail capacity across Kent. The construction of the channel tunnel rail link is to bring additional capacity across Kent. As it is new, the logical thing to do is to build it to high-speed qualities so that we do not have one or two problems that were referred to earlier.
If one builds a brand new channel tunnel rail link for high-speed operation, the last thing one does is to put across it heavy carriages with heavy goods. The high-speed rail link should not have freight running along it, not least because residents along the high-speed rail link will not have had railways running past their properties before, and they should not have that added imposition.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing about compensation. We remain to be convinced that there are proposals adequately to compensate people whose houses are their principal investment and saving in this life. It is not fair to say, "We need the project, we cannot really afford it, so we will finance it partly out of the capital value of your house." That would be a shameful way in which to treat my constituents and those of hon. Members in Kent and in central London. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give a lot of encouragement tonight, and that the Select Committee will also bear these points in mind.
§ Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)
I join everyone in thanking those members of the Select Committee who did something that is rather unusual—at least for Conservative Members—and very welcome, which is that they listened. Those who attended the Select Committee sitting that I attended with my constituents were astounded to see Members of Parliament applauded by members of the public for their courtesy in listening. We very much welcome that.
The original proposals were ill conceived and wrong; we have to say that today. They were led by engineers who had no proper concern for ordinary people. The original proposals were dominated by the view that short-term penny-pinching rather than the long-term interests of all the people along the route must be the essence of what was being considered.
The original proposals brought enormous hardship to hundreds if not thousands of my constituents. There was one gentleman whose life was dominated by the issue and who suffered from terrible emphysema because of his proximity to the existing rail track. He died worried about his future.
One family cared at home for a son who was severely handicapped. They wished to emigrate to Canada so that their other children could care for their son in the long term. They were unable to do so and have remained unable to do so because they cannot sell their property; it remains blighted.
Another constituent was unemployed for a long time. He managed to secure a job elsewhere, but he could not take it because he could not sell his house and move to Chelmsford. Those are the real stories—not transitional problems—of the impact of ill-thought-out proposals on my constituents and on thousands of people along the line.
I have three points for the Minister. First, we need some indication of the timetable for bringing in the new safeguarding directions to alleviate the blight. The blight has been there for many years and is still there. Secondly, I stress that the discretionary purchase scheme lies in the hands of the Minister and his Department. He cannot keep shifting the blame to other people, whether Union Railways or the Select Committee. If it turns out that people remain unable to sell their properties—if it turns out that people lose their freedom of movement, which is critical to them—the Government must take responsibility and must return to a more generous discretionary purchase scheme, along the lines of the French scheme.
Thirdly, there will be increased freight. What we must ensure and what is of particular concern to my constituents is that the freight does not shift to the roads. They would then have the impact of the rail link and increased road traffic.
My constituents are not well off. They will now have to make new representations to the Committee. Not only is there the £20 fee, but the fees incurred if legal advice is sought and the loss of earnings for the time that they have to take off work to make representations to the Committee. Those new costs should be met by the public purse because, if the Government's original proposals had been less incompetent, we would not have had the additional delay and further consideration by the Committee.
356 If the present Secretary of State had been in his position earlier, if the present Minister for Railways and Roads had had an influence earlier and if I had been able to make representations earlier, we should not have ended up with a compromise for Barking. I welcome the compromise, but it is not ideal. It does not tear the heart out of Barking as the original proposals would have done, but it leaves hundreds of people, both house owners and council tenants, with an uncertain future. They are unclear about whether they can move and whether the channel tunnel rail link will have a long-term impact on their lives.
I hope that the Select Committee and the House can come up with sensible proposals to deal with blight and with the discretionary purchase scheme, to alleviate some of the suffering that has been caused in my constituency.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I congratulate the Committee on having worked so hard. I was a little disappointed to learn that a senior member of the Committee had said that the proposals from Kent had been well put by officers but not sufficiently supported by councillors. That is unjust, as all the representations made by Kent were made with the endorsement of the councillors. Indeed, in at least one case—and I think in several others—county councillors were not allowed to give evidence to the Select Committee on behalf of their parish councils. So if there is any sense that there is a lack of political will behind what the Kent people have been saying, it is misunderstood.
I am of course going to support the motions, because, as many hon. Members have said, they are the only way in which to relieve my constituents from blight. But I do so with a heavy heart. It has been a lamentable story. We were told at the beginning, when the channel tunnel was first being devised, that there was no need for a railway; we were told that there would be no question of any form of public subsidy for the line; we were told that there would be four routes on the table, although it quickly became apparent that three of them were a complete whitewash and not ever intended to be worked. A whole series of undertakings have been given and withdrawn.
My constituents are thoroughly cynical about whether they will even see what the Select Committee has recommended—and, indeed, has been accepted so far—happen in practice. It is perfectly clear, as many of my constituents who are much more numerate than I shall ever be have pointed out, that the economic viability of this line is very fragile. Ministers have made it clear in correspondence among themselves that they have anxieties on that score. Those anxieties are well founded.
The worst possible outcome for any of us would be that all the proceedings on this Bill in both Houses of Parliament were completed and the line was not built for a considerable length of time. That would be a scandal and I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Minister will give us an undertaking—even though I am sceptical about some of the undertakings that I have had so far—that the line really will work.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, however, for the letter that I have received this very evening saying that, on the authority of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Committee, it has been agreed that the worst cases of hardship brought before that Committee will be looked at again. That is a welcome assurance.
357 I say once again to my hon. Friend—he has heard me say it before, but it is essential to say it again—that the way in which we handle compensation on big public schemes is a scandal. It is not easy, but what happens is a scandal. For the permanent secretary to the Department of Transport to try to maintain that there are only two kinds of blight—statutory blight and the blight caused by uncertainty—is so far removed from reality as to be a disgrace. Member after Member in this short debate has pointed out that, although there is no uncertainty over large parts of the line, the blight persists and will probably persist for another decade.
I do not believe that the line will be built as quickly as we all hope that it will be. I heard today that a potential tenant of Union Railways was offered a 10-year tenancy. When the tenant said that the company had to be joking because the line was set to go through the cottage, Union Railways is alleged to have said that there was no chance of the line being built in the time scale provided. I have not had time to check the story, but if it is true, it is a disgrace.
I wonder what the real cost of the line will eventually turn out to be. There has never been a project on such a scale which has cost anything like the budget first projected. The only thing that would be worse than not having the line built after all the proceedings in both Houses would be to have half the line built and some future Government saying that they could not afford to finish it.
I should like to make one detailed point. I am disturbed and distressed to discover that the thoroughly sensible way suggested of improving the amenity of the Boxley valley—one of the causes célèbres before the Select Committee—by the road going over the line, under the project described as 3A, has been thrown out by Union Railways. I very much hope that in this debate the Minister will allow us to hope that at least that alternative could once again be properly considered.
I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House, that after the matter is resolved, the trauma of compensation and blight that we have all endured should not be forgotten. Could we not have a cross-party consensus that the present system of handling compensation is lamentably unfair and try to work out a better system for the future?
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I join other Members in paying a warm tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), and the members of that Committee—not because I am a creep, although I am prepared to do almost anything to get the Stratford international station located in my area, but because I have chaired many a Committee on a private Bill and I know precisely how much hard work goes into it and how little credit is given to the Members who carry out the work.
I also join with the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and others who have referred to blight. I raise the matter in a slightly jokey fashion, but on the present alignment the tunnel would go immediately under my house in Forest Gate. I am quite happy for that to happen 358 if we can get the international station located at Stratford. Indeed, I do not care if the tunnel goes right through my living room so long as we get that station.
Compensation and blight must be taken into account. One would always hope that Union Railways and the Government would be as generous as possible. Many people who want the project are living in properties which will be blighted, especially if, as has been suggested, the time scale for the project is way beyond 10 years.
When the Chairman reported the initial findings of the Committee, he said:It is our view that a station at Stratford capable of handling international traffic is desirable both in the national interest and in the interest of regenerating eastern London.In east London we say "Hear, hear" to that.
The long box recommendation, which safeguards the possibility of an international station at Stratford, has been accepted by the Government, who will require the nominated undertaker to build it, but they are resisting the Committee's proposal that it should be done under the Transport and Works Act 1992.
§ Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East)
Given the Committee's strong endorsement of the Stratford station, which my hon. Friend has just relayed, given the support that the Government have given to the long box, given the fact that every local authority in London supports the choice of Stratford international, given that London First supports it, and given that everybody who advises the Government on regeneration in London supports it, does he agree that it is now time for the Government quickly to give firm support to the Stratford international proposal?
§ Mr. Banks
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend, and many Conservative Members would also agree with him.
I should like to ask the Minister a series of specific questions. Although the Government will require the long box to be constructed by the nominated undertaker, the nominated undertaker has not yet been chosen. When does the Minister expect to choose the nominated undertaker? Will the decision on Stratford be coupled with that choice, or will it be taken separately? If it is taken separately, when does he intend to take a decision on Stratford? That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) has just raised. Will it be a final decision with regard to Stratford?
Can the Minister confirm that the Stratford rail lands will not be sold off piecemeal prior to a decision? We have received some assurances from the Department of Transport, and a recent letter from the Department to the chief executive of Newham confirmed it, but a public statement from the Minister would be very useful at this point.
In my area, we are alarmed that Railfreight is talking actively about reopening Stratford as a major freight terminal—in fact, as a railhead for freight—contrary to all previous assurances that Ministers and officials have given us that there will no freight railhead in east London. What is going on? Can the Minister tell us? Who is calling the shots? We need to know.
The proposals that Railfreight is now talking about appear to be in conflict with the proposals for developments on the rail land, including the international station at Stratford. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East said, there is enormous cross-party 359 and cross-London support for Stratford as the location of the second international London station. I hope that the Minister will find time to answer the very specific questions that I have asked.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
I was interested to read in a biographical note about the Secretary of State that he once wrote a book called "Blessing or Blight?" It was on the tourist industry, but in his leisure years the right hon. Gentleman may be able to follow it up by writing about the channel tunnel link and rail privatisation.
We have had a good debate. I add my congratulations to the members of the Select Committee who did the drudgery and, as has been said, listened to the many objections and concerns. I pay tribute, too, to my colleagues who have made such effective representations on behalf of their constituents.
Perhaps the most interesting comments in the debate were made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who asked when and whether the link would be built. He said that the worst thing would be if "some future Government" said that they would not complete it. However, as the hon. Gentleman and everybody else here should know, under the present scheme it will not be within the gift of the Government to say that they will or will not complete the link. The intention is to hand over the works to a private company, which will decide whether to complete the link.
Let us look at the scenario that Ministers are creating, and the trail of past Secretaries of State for Transport. It seems that an announcement will soon be made that the assets of European Passenger Services—almost £1 billion worth of public assets, every penny of which was paid for by the taxpayer, every brick and pane of glass in the Waterloo international terminal, and every coach and piece of livery on the Eurostar trains—will be handed over to a private company.
From that day the revenue stream, the most lucrative in the history of the British railway network, will go to the private operators. If the Secretary of State wants to contradict me, he is welcome to do so. When the traffic reaches its expected peak, 15 million people a year will travel on the service and every penny of the money will go to the private operator.
The trade-off for that is incredible; if the Mafia had suggested it, it would be regarded as beyond the dreams of avarice. At some future unspecified date, the private consortium will start building a channel tunnel link along a route not yet defined, within a time scale which, as the hon. Member for Mid-Kent rightly said, is undefinable.
If one of the consortia were unscrupulous enough it would go round east London funding the objectors, saying, "Keep this going as long as possible. The last thing we want to do is to build a channel tunnel link. Why should we, because our revenue stream is guaranteed ad infinitum?"
Will the Secretary of State contradict any of that? When the announcement is made will he tell us why the operator would have a vested interest in speeding up the process of building a channel tunnel link? More important, will the Minister who replies to the debate give me one reason why the assets of European Passenger Services should be 360 handed to a private operator before the Bill has completed its passage, and before a sod has been turned on the route that is finally decided?
Why is it essential for the private operator to have the revenue stream before there is agreement on either the route or the financing of the rail link? Will the Minister answer that simple question, because it has never been answered? What precedent is there for giving an operator the money in return for an unspecified, and I believe ultimately unsustainable, expectation that the link will be built according to criteria laid down by the Government and the Select Committee?
What is the rush to give away the assets, other than that which underlies all the activities of the Tory party? It is the desire to shovel as much wealth and as many public assets towards its friends in the private sector before the day of judgment when the Tories are finally turfed out. Why is it a matter of public urgency to give away the assets of European Passenger Services?
Let us look back at the timetable for the process. Government is about more than rhetoric; it is about record. The Government should be judged harshly on what they have done to the constituents of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and for what they have done to British prestige, leaving us with the poor relation, the national embarrassment of the slow line to the channel tunnel, where the French take over with a high-speed railway line.
Let us look at the record of disaster and fiasco. The Channel Tunnel Act 1987 ruled out public funding to support passenger services. Not a penny of public funds was to go to support rail passenger services to or from the channel tunnel. In those days Parkinson's law ruled, under section 42(3) of the Channel Tunnel Act.
In 1988 British Rail launched a competition for a public-private partnership. In those days the Tories hated even public-private partnerships because the word "public" was mentioned. In 1989 Cecil Parkinson reaffirmed:It remains the policy of the Government that no subsidy will be given to channel tunnel rail services".In June 1990 the public-private idea was killed off. British Rail had done a deal on it and then it was killed off, throwing the whole thing into disarray—the ideological hammer blow. I shall return later to the figures involved at that time.
In October 1991 a proud announcement was made at the Tory party conference. By that time it was the present Foreign Secretary, then Secretary of State for Transport, who made the announcement. The route had been definitively finalised and would go through Stratford, terminating at King's Cross.
In 1993 it was the turn of the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), who has now gone off to his merchant bank, where he belongs. He said that the decision was not final at all. Stratford was called into question and Ebbsfleet mysteriously appeared—the Rumbold memorial terminal. Stratford was no longer on the agenda.
In 1994 the Bill finally got going—and here we are carrying it on into 1995–96. Thank heaven that, while the Tories blundered around and went to every conceivable length to take the project away from the public sector, the public sector was getting on and doing the job. That is 361 why we have that wonderful Waterloo international terminal, and the trains built and designed in the public sector. The whole job has been done by the public sector, and the public sector is proud of it.
What were the costs? In 1990 when Cecil Parkinson killed the joint public-private sector venture, British Rail was requesting a grant of £500 million and a low-interest loan of £1 billion. For that, the job could have been started and the Committee would have been under way in 1990. The work on the link would have been well in progress by now; perhaps it would even have been completed.
However, that was ruled out—it was far too much money. But look what the Government have done with taxpayers' money now. According to the British Rail annual report and accounts for 1994–95, the assets of European Passenger Services, now being transferred to the private sector, are worth £800 million. For Union Railways the figure is already £42.6 million, and cumulative expenditure on the railway project to date is £492 million.
In other words, without a sod having been turned on the project, as much money has been spent as would earlier have been spent to have had the whole thing finished, with a link built and the national embarrassment avoided.
Of course the expenditure continues. Will the Minister tell us how many hundreds of millions of pounds the Government now intend to hand over to the purchasers of European Passenger Services—or rather, "purchasers" is the wrong word, because they will be getting it for nothing? How much cash will they get, on top of the assets? What will be the total bill to the taxpayer for handing the enterprise over to the private sector? The Minister should give us some answers, because that is a fraud on the nation and on the taxpayer.
§ 7.8 pm
§ The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts)
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) into his fantasy world, but the limited time available to me is better spent in trying to reply to some of the serious points made by right hon. and hon. Members. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that the previous Labour Government cancelled the project to build the channel tunnel, so some of his blusterings lack conviction.
There is impatience in the House for the railway to be built and opened as soon as possible, and that impatience was shared by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). The project has taken a number of years to develop, and the House is now rightly considering it in fine detail. Everyone directly affected has had the opportunity to petition and to be heard by the Select Committee.
Justifiable tributes were paid by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the way in which the Select Committee—under the able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant)—listened carefully to the petitions and responded in a practical and sympathetic way. The Committee has 362 proposed many important changes. Where it has not done so, the matter must be regarded as settled as far as this House is concerned.
§ Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)
I am sorry to intrude on my hon. Friend when he is short of time, but I do so on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who is away on ministerial duties. The Committee recommended that the route should be varied and should deviate 20 m south of the line proposed in the Bill as it passes through Rainham. That is not specifically mentioned now. Has there been an omission?
§ Mr. Watts
All the matters on which the Committee made a recommendation have been covered by our response. The instructions before the House relate to matters that the Committee does not already have adequate powers to consider and take forward. I appreciate that a number of hon. Members would like more changes, but the suggestions have all had a fair run before the Select Committee.
The Committee is quasi-judicial, which means that its decisions and recommendations carry special weight, but the promoters' approach to the Committee's announcements on 20 July was—as far as possible—to deliver what the Committee sought. In undertaking the further development work, new problems and opportunities invariably arise. It was therefore important to look not only at the letter of what the Committee sought but at the underlying explicit and implicit objectives. We were loth to reject decisions, and where problems arose we sought other ways of achieving what the Committee wanted. At the end of September, the Government published their detailed response to the Select Committee; it is now for the Committee to decide whether it is content.
The hon. Member for Ladywood accused the Government of seeking to "nobble" the Committee. I commend to her the transcript of the proceedings of the Select Committee on 24 October—day 57 of the proceedings—in which the Chairman of the Committee quoted the Secretary of State's letter of 23 October to him. The letter reaffirms the Government's recognition of the quasi-judicial role of the Select Committee, of the chairman's independence and of not constraining the Committee's work. The Chairman said that he had no more to say on the subject; nor do I.
The hon. Lady also raised the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), to give the Government's response to the Committee's report, which was published on 25 July. Copies of the letter were sent to hon. Members concerned and placed in the Library.
The Government are prepared to consider afresh how a scheme might operate to implement the Committee's recommendation that redress could be granted to those affected to an extreme and exceptional degree by generalised blight from the CTRL between June 1990 and April 1994. We must look at the costs, which cannot yet be established. The response is out of respect for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee and for the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner, and without any admission of fault or liability.
363 The hon. Lady asked me about Eurostar services beyond London. European Passenger Services expects to begin these services in the first half of 1996.
My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) mentioned the M2 proposals and their concurrency with the construction of the CTRL. I can tell her that there is no foundation to the report relating to the M2 in today's edition of the Daily Mail.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I understand that, if preliminary work has not been carried out on the Wennington-Mardyke section of the A13 before the channel tunnel rail link has been constructed, the Government will have to pay heavy compensation. Can the Minister clarify that? Will he write to me on the matter, as it is not clear whether the section will go ahead or what the consequences would be if it did not?
§ Mr. Watts
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are well seized of the significance of the A13 scheme to the CTRL project, and I shall write to him in due course on that matter.
We recognise the advantages of a co-ordinated approach to the M2 schemes, to the construction of the CTRL and to construction of the projects within the same time scale. That is why the M2-A2 scheme was originally included in the CTRL legislation. I can assure the House that the Government will use all reasonable endeavours to ensure that the M2-A2 widening works are completed within the same period as the CTRL, and that the construction arrangements for the two projects are co-ordinated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Medway also raised the generic issues that are to be addressed by the Committee, including those related to blight compensation. There is no instruction to the Committee on this matter because it needs no new instruction. The Committee already has the power to look at such matters and make recommendations. I understand that the Committee has heard a great deal of evidence on the matter already, and it is not ready to make recommendations. When it does, we shall consider them, but it would be premature for me to prejudge what the Committee might recommend.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) mentioned freight and the CTRL. The Committee asked for the freight loops at Charing and Singlewell and for the connection to the Dollands Moor freight yard to be constructed according to the same time scale as the main project to allow the rail link to carry as much freight as possible. We have accepted that recommendation, and given the Committee an undertaking that will be binding on the nominated undertaker.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling also raised—he has done so assiduously on many occasions—the problems of blight, and he referred to the new voluntary, purchase arrangements introduced in July. For the first time, we are to bring the arrangements for new rail projects into line with those for roads. In fact, before these proposals were made, there was no provision for dealing with new rail projects in terms of voluntary purchase arrangements. Other matters concerning blight compensation are for the Committee to consider and to 364 make recommendations. We will respond to the Committee,, but I should not prejudge its recommendations.
My right hon. Friend also raised the proposals of Central Rail Group to construct the new freight line, but that would have to be brought forward under the provisions of the Transport and Works Act 1992. If that happens, the House will have the opportunity to reach a decision on the principal project before it proceeds to any inquiry.
§ Mr. Wilson
The Minister is coming towards the end of his remarks. Will he answer my questions about the value of cash and assets to be handed over to the private sector?
§ Mr. Watts
No. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman, as I shall write to any hon Member to whom I have not had time to respond in the debate. The hon. Gentleman's queries do not relate to the order, and I think that I should continue to spend my time on that.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) mentioned the approach to St. Pancras. The Select Committee asked for a different arrangement for the approach to St. Pancras from that originally proposed in the Bill. It has now agreed to consider both the modified Baxter scheme, as it is called, and the promoter's developed scheme in the new year. We welcome that decision and we expect to introduce the additional provisions for both schemes in early December.
I can assure the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that both schemes will be dealt with in an even-handed way, so that both the Committee and those who may wish to petition it have the fullest possible opportunity to appraise their relative merits. I will also seek to make available as much information as possible as early as possible to assist the petitioners.
The cost of petitioning was raised by the hon. Members for Barking (Ms Hodge), for Islington, South and Finsbury and others. It is not a matter that we can control, because the cost of it is standard and is set by the House.
We believe that the Baxter scheme had some significant defects in operational terms, as well as it presenting some major difficulties in the construction phase. That is why Union Railways developed an alternative that we now believe to be better environmentally and superior in both its operations and construction. It also meets the key objectives of the Baxter scheme and, in particular, reduces the impact on Caledonian road and the traders and others who live there. It is also significantly cheaper than the modified Baxter scheme, although that is not an overwhelming consideration.
It will be for the Select Committee to take a view as to which of the options should finally be chosen. I can assure the House that there will be no attempt at ministerial interference in the Committee's deliberations. I gave that assurance on Second Reading, and I am happy to repeat it.
When the Baxter scheme was worked on sufficiently to prepare an additional provision, its construction and operational difficulties became more apparent than they had been during the Select Committee's deliberations. That was the driving force behind the production of the promoters' developed scheme.
The hon. Member for Barking paid a well-deserved tribute to the Select Committee and its work.
365 My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) raised the question of Boxley valley. We have promised to continue consultation on the landscaping and mitigation for the route of the rail link through the Boxley valley, in line with the Select Committee's recommendation. I understand that Union Railways has had a series of discussions in the past few months with the local authorities and parish councils directly concerned—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [27 October].
§ Question agreed to
That further proceedings on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill shall be suspended until the next Session of Parliament;
That if a Bill is presented in the next Session in the same terms as those in which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill stood when proceedings on it were suspended in this Session—
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.
§ MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Order [27 October], to put the Question on the second motion.
§ Question agreed to
That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill is committed in the next Session—
and, if it thinks fit, to make Amendments to the Bill with respect to any of the matters mentioned above, and for connected purposes;
That it be an instruction to the Clerk of Private Bills that, on receiving an original copy of the first newspaper notice of any Amendments to the Bill which the Select Committee to which the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill is committed in the next Session is empowered by paragraph (1) of the above instruction to make, he shall publish the date of the notice in the Private Business paper.
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.