HC Deb 29 February 1996 vol 272 cc999-1013 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Sir George Young)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the outcome of the competition to select a private sector promoter for the high-speed channel tunnel rail link.

The competition took place under the Government's private finance initiative, and was keenly fought by four very serious and capable bidders. In order to meet the requirements of the stock exchange, I announced this morning that the winning consortium is London and Continental Railways, whose members are Halcrow, London Electricity, National Express, Virgin, Warburg, Arup, Bechtel and Systra. I should now like to give the House further details.

This is the launch of a new, international, private sector enterprise. The agreements that I have signed with London and Continental are much more than a construction contract. It is about the private sector taking on the running of the existing Eurostar services, procuring the construction of the new high-speed railway line, operating and maintaining the railway after its completion, and providing international passenger services. In short, it is the creation of an entirely new business: a complete private sector railway.

The benefits of the deal for the nation are wide-ranging and substantial. London and Continental will bring to European Passenger Services the commercial and marketing skills of highly successful private sector transport operators. It has impressive plans for increasing EPS passenger numbers and revenues.

The construction of the new high-speed railway from St. Pancras to the channel tunnel will reduce journey times for international travellers by about 40 minutes: London to Paris will be two hours 25 minutes; and London to Brussels, two hours five minutes. The new line will greatly increase the capacity of the international rail market, removing a constraint that would otherwise have limited its growth.

The railway will be a great boost to economic development and regeneration, particularly in the Thames gateway area. We have already announced that there will be a combined international and domestic station at Ebbsfleet in north Kent. I can announce today that a combined international and domestic station will also be provided at Stratford in east London. That station will help attract development and jobs to Stratford itself, to east London more widely, to docklands and to the Lea Valley. It will be a shot in the arm for development in areas where that is sorely needed.

London and Continental's plans will also extend the benefits of the channel tunnel rail link beyond the south-east. In particular, it proposes to construct a short length of new railway within the King's Cross railway lands, which will provide a direct twin-track connection between the channel tunnel rail link and the west coast main line. That will allow direct and frequent international services from cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, bypassing St. Pancras and calling at Stratford. That will cut journey times by up to an hour: for instance, Birmingham will be just four hours from Paris, and Manchester five hours.

London and Continental will now promote applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to construct the station at Stratford and the short length of new track just north of St. Pancras.

The main CTRL terminus at St. Pancras will provide an excellent interchange for services to the midlands and the north along the midland main line and the east coast main line, and also with the Thameslink 2000 project which I announced on Tuesday. The new St. Pancras terminus will, of course, respect the architectural integrity of that magnificent building. It will also greatly enhance the prospects for a sympathetic development of the St. Pancras Chambers, and for the redevelopment of the King's Cross railway lands, which is the largest redevelopment opportunity in London.

London and Continental plans to continue frequent international services from Waterloo, where travellers will also benefit from faster journeys via the CTRL, with a saving of around 20 minutes on current times.

Domestic rail travellers will also benefit from the new line. As we announced in July last year, the Government will be reserving capacity on the new line for up to eight domestic trains an hour in the peak period. The new services should start as soon as CTRL is open, and will dramatically improve journey times from many parts of Kent. The increase in overall rail capacity will help ease congestion and improve reliability on existing Railtrack lines.

The key criteria for the evaluation of the bids were the size and timing of the Government's financial contribution, and the risk each bidder was prepared to accept.

The Government will transfer certain assets to the promoter: European Passenger Services, free of capital debt; Union Railways, the Government-owned company which has developed the project thus far and supported us in promoting the hybrid Bill; and, lastly, the land and property needed for the project, in particular the railway lands at Kings Cross and Stratford, and surplus properties acquired in connection with previous rail link schemes.

London and Continental will be free to develop those parts of the lands not required for CTRL itself; and arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the Government receive a fair share of development profits realised from them. In addition, London and Continental is required to use any income derived from the sale of surplus properties only for the CTRL project.

The Government will also provide financial support with a present value of around £1.4 billion, compared with the overall construction cost of about £3 billion. That is an excellent investment for the nation, since we estimate the benefits of the project to be worth around £6 billion. Those are made up mainly of benefits to international and domestic passengers and regeneration benefits. We have linked the payment of grant to construction milestones to incentivise London and Continental, and to ensure that real progress is made. We do not expect to make the first payments before the year 2000.

CTRL is a key part of the European Union's trans-European network, and London and Continental will receive substantial financial support from the trans-European network programme, expected to be around £100 million up to 1999, with more thereafter.

The allocation of risk between public and private sectors lies at the heart of the private finance initiative. London and Continental will bear in full both the construction risks and the risks relating to the performance of EPS. Financing for the development phase is contractually committed. The Government will take responsibility for the passage of the hybrid Bill which is now before Parliament, and those risks which they are better able to manage than the private sector.

London and Continental will start immediately on detailed design work. That will enable it to be fully ready, by the time that the CTRL hybrid Bill receives Royal Assent, to raise the main financing, and for the full construction works to start. On current plans, London and Continental anticipates that work could start late next year, and construction is expected to take five and a half years.

As the House knows, the hybrid Bill which will authorise the construction of CTRL has now completed its scrutiny by a Select Committee of the House. I applaud the efforts of the Select Committee, its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), and its Deputy Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick). The Select Committee has now reported the Bill, and members of the Standing Committee have been chosen. I look forward to the Standing Committee beginning its consideration of the Bill on 5 March.

Through Union Railways, London and Continental will help the Government to promote the Bill during its remaining stages. London and Continental is bound by all the undertakings and assurances already given in connection with the Bill, as well as others that will no doubt be given during the later stages of the Bill.

This is an historic day for transport in Britain, and a triumph for the Government's private finance initiative. It is because of private finance and private initiative that this impressive project can go forward today. The private sector has come forward with excellent proposals, and we shall all benefit from them. Passengers will benefit, economic regeneration will benefit, and the taxpayer will benefit.

I have now announced in one week two massive investments in Britain's new private sector railway— Thameslink 2000 and the channel tunnel rail link. Here is real proof of the benefits of the Government's policies to tap the skills and finance of the private sector, and of our commitment to a dynamic future for the railway industry.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he first made this announcement at a press conference at Waterloo station earlier today? Does he not think that he should apologise to the House for that discourtesy?

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Labour party, for a long time, has supported the development of the channel tunnel rail link. We believe that it could and should have been built by a public-private partnership such as that proposed by British Rail and Trafalgar House in 1989. Clearly the then proposed route needed modification.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, however, that the project could have been started in 1989, at a cost of less than £1 billion to public funds? Does he not agree that the delay has had tragic consequences, including the imposition of terrible blight on many homes? Delay has denied us the opportunity provided by the channel tunnel to move more freight from road on to rail. It has affected the finance of the channel tunnel, and massively put back the improved rail services for commuters that the link will provide.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the work did not begin in 1989 because the Government were then insisting that the link should be fully funded by the private sector? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm also that the massive delay and terrible blight that have ensued are the results of the Government's ideological obsession with privatisation? Those factors caused the Government to reject the public-private partnership which was on offer in 1989.

Will the Secretary of State admit that the Government have made a complete U-turn and are handing over £3 billion-worth of public assets, including Waterloo international station, land at King's Cross, St. Pancras station, 120 acres at Stratford, and Eurostar? In addition, the Government are writing off £1.3 billion-worth of Eurostar debt, and contributing £1.4 billion to the project. Thus, the taxpayer is contributing £5.7 billion for a £3 billion project that we could have had for £1 billion in 1989. It is—[Laughter.] That is absolutely true.

Is it not true also that the powers of the regulator are less in terms of this project than those that prevail for the rest of the rail network? Will the Secretary of State explain why that might be? Is there any fixed date for work to begin on the project? Is there not a danger that the successful bidder could proceed slowly, sit back and enjoy the growing profits coming to him from Eurostar?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the contract would fall if the CTRL Bill failed to pass through the House and the other place? What would happen if that were to happen? I understand that Eurostar is to be handed over shortly. Will the Secretary of State tell us what will happen to Eurostar if the project does not go ahead?

Finally, will the Secretary of State apologise to the House and the country for the Government's ideological obsessions, which have massively delayed the project that we are now considering? It is—[Interruption.] This is the truth. Conservative Members may not like it, but it is the truth. The taxpayer is paying a high cost for the Government's right-wing ideological obsessions. There have been enormous delays, and the taxpayer is being asked to pay £5.7 billion instead of £1 billion, which would have been the cost of bringing the project forward in 1989.

Sir George Young

I make no apology for my statement to the House, which I think will be widely welcomed by those who take a serious interest in transport policy. I announced the winner at 10 o'clock this morning, because stock exchange requirements oblige the companies concerned to notify it when they incur additional obligations. I did not announce then the decision on Stratford, the Government's commitment or other relevant aspects, which I preserved until my statement to the House this afternoon.

I am glad that the hon. Lady would like to see the channel tunnel rail link constructed. If she wants to proceed with the 1989 proposals, she will have to explain to her hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) why she wants a route that would not have provided the regeneration opportunities that are now available to the Thames gateway. So far as blight is concerned, the hon. Lady will know that the Select Committee saw about 1,000 petitioners, and that it has safeguarded the interests of those who have been affected by the proposals.

As far as the commencement date is concerned, London and Continental proposes to start when the Bill has completed all its stages in both Houses, which I hope will be in about a year's time.

Taxpayers' interests have been protected in respect of the eventualities that the hon. Lady mentioned. The key point that she will have to answer is that it was her party that cancelled a publicly funded channel tunnel; we therefore take with a pinch of salt commitments by the Labour party to any publicly funded project.

So far as the rail link is concerned, the hon. Lady must decide whether she is old Labour or new Labour. If she is old Labour, and she wants this project to be funded conventionally, she must come to the House, with the sanction of her hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), and commit herself to £3 billion-worth of public expenditure.

If, on the other hand, she is new Labour and welcomes projects that involve the private sector, she should welcome with open arms the project that I have just announced, which is a public sector/private sector project; driving the project forward—protecting the taxpayers' interests, harnessing the enterprise, energy and resources of the private sector—at a faster pace than the public sector would ever have been able to afford.

Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my Committee sat for 320 hours and 71 sittings on this important Bill. I am sure that my Committee would welcome the fact that the station at Stratford is to be built. We put in the Stratford box so that it could be built, because we supported it but did not wish to hold up the Bill. We are also delighted—I am sure that my Committee would agree—about the development at King's Cross and St. Pancras. I hope that it will be well planned and well developed, as it is a very important development in that part of London. My only plea is: can we get on and build the line?

Sir George Young

The whole House will want to pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and all members of the Committee, who spent such a long time listening to the petitioners and processing the Bill through its Select Committee stage. I share his wish that the Bill should make speedy progress in Standing Committee and in another place, so that developers can have the legislative cover that they need.

I am sure that the promoter, London and Continental, will take to heart my hon. Friend's exhortations about the treatment of St. Pancras. All of us who know St. Pancras chambers cannot wait to see that building brought back into constructive use. The regeneration work that will take place there—the construction of a major international terminal—will make it possible to put St. Pancras chambers to more productive use than we have seen for the past decade or so.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I refer to the references to the north? The Secretary of State mentioned Manchester and Birmingham. Has he any idea of the frequency of service to Edinburgh and Glasgow using Stratford rather than the difficulties of King's Cross?

Sir George Young

At this stage and with trains likely to start running on the link in 2002, the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot predict with great accuracy the frequency of the services that will run through to the north, but under the present regime, EPS will run services through London to Birmingham and Manchester, so those who live north of London will have an opportunity to get on an EPS train and go to the continent. Those facilities are, I believe, being extended this year.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially his confirmation that the station will be built at Ebbsfleet in my constituency. Will he confirm that he will impose, as much as he can, a rigid timetable, so that construction is locked into the shortest possible time, to minimise disruption to my constituents in north-west Kent?

Sir George Young

It is a contractual minimum requirement that London and Continental should build a combined international and domestic station at Ebbsfleet. In fact, it is keen to do so, because that is an integral part of its plans. It also intends to improve the station by building extra platforms, so that trains running from the north Kent line on to the CTRL can stop at Ebbsfleet, providing an excellent interchange with international services.

The structure of the contract provides London and Continental with every incentive to make good progress. Only when it has achieved a substantial proportion of the contractual requirements will it receive its grant from the Government, and only when the contract is fully met can trains run on the line and provide revenue. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the reassurance he seeks.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement: the link is essential to our rail system. Sadly, however, there has been a good deal of delay, especially in comparison with the progress made by the French.

Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, is it not a fact that, had the British Rail proposals been proceeded with in 1989, the link would be nearly in place by now, at a cost of around £1 billion? I recognise the problems that the right hon. Gentleman cited, but is it not also true that much of the delay was caused by the Government's insistence on using solely private finance?

The net result has been an increase in costs from £1 billion to £3 billion. Does not total reliance on the PFI concept mean that the taxpayer ends up paying more, because private finance is more expensive than finance generated by the public?

I welcome the statement about the channel tunnel rail link with the North London line, which will provide links with the west coast main line. That is an important part of the development. Will the Secretary of State assure the House, however, that, throughout the channel tunnel rail link, there will be requirements for the necessary works to be done to accommodate large-gauge freight and to facilitate piggy-back operation?

That will enable us to provide a modern rail freight service throughout the west coast main line, using the meagre £70 million that is needed to upgrade the system. We shall then have a proper, efficient, modern connection between our freight system and the rest of Europe.

Sir George Young

The CTRL will indeed be able to carry freight, certainly piggy-back—although its main purpose is to carry passenger traffic, thus freeing other lines that may be more appropriate for freight. The capacity and track geometry are suitable, and the necessary loops are there to accommodate freight traffic.

As for the allegation that this deal will cost more than the original one, I do not believe that that is true. The 1990 proposal would have required or placed at risk £1.9 billion of Government money. The eventual outturn could have been much higher, and would probably have fallen on the taxpayer. We now have a well-structured contract that minimises the risks to the taxpayer.

More important, the 1989 and 1990 proposals would not have brought about the significant regeneration that we have secured by re-routeing the CTRL through the Thames gateway and east London, and providing a station at Stratford, where regeneration may create up to 50,000 jobs. We must view the project in the round. It is not just a transport contract; it is very much a regeneration contract as well.

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend assure the House that the conditions imposed on the bid would include all the proposals agreed to by the Select Committee—that the Government had accepted them all.

My right hon. Friend said that other matters could be raised during the Bill's remaining stages, including its consideration in the House of Lords. Does that apply to further petitions in respect of noise barriers? My constituents in Borstal are not wholly satisfied that the barriers agreed to by the Select Committee will be adequate. I would welcome reassurance from my right hon. Friend.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. Petitioners will have further opportunities in another place to make that point. As I made clear in my statement, if the Bill is amended as it goes through Parliament, the Government will bear the risks of any changes; but the project will still proceed.

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East)

May I welcome unreservedly the Secretary of State's comments about Stratford international station? He has always taken a close interest in east London, and I congratulate him on his decision. Will he join me in saluting the eight-year, Newham council-led campaign for that station, supported strongly and determinedly by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he confirm that the station will open when the link opens in 2002? Does he agree that the implication of his comment about through services to Manchester and Birmingham not stopping at St. Pancras is that Stratford will be the hub of the national high-speed rail network?

Sir George Young

I can think of one or two other destinations that might make a similarly ambitious claim, but I pay tribute to the work of the many people who have Stratford's interests at heart. When I was at the Department of the Environment, I had frequent contact with them, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has been in contact with the Stratford Promoter Group and other representatives of Stratford's interests.

Enormous opportunities are available at Stratford railway lands, which will be transferred to London and Continental. With local interests, it will want to work up a development strategy for that site, so that the most can be made of it for the benefit of the Thames gateway region.

Stratford provides an important interchange. It will be on the Jubilee line extension and it is already on the Central line, the docklands light railway and British Rail lines both east and west. I am sure that people who represent Stratford's interests will seize the opportunities that my announcement has made available to them.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his statement, and echo, as Kent's representative on the Standing Committee, the hope that it will not take 320 hours and 71 sittings to complete its work.

More seriously, I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on domestic services. He will know that my constituency at the eastern end of the Thames gateway is served by the North Kent line, which is perhaps one of British Rail's less glorious and glamorous lines. What impact may his announcement have on the franchise that is to be granted for the operation of domestic trains through Kent on the north Kent line? Might it affect the amount of time given on that franchise, which some of us had hoped would include a commitment to some new rolling stock for that line, as some of the rolling stock on the Kent coast line is still the worst anywhere on the rail network?

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I welcome his diligence as a member of the Standing Committee. As a result of the announcement, people in Kent who are within reach of Ashford and Ebbsfleet will be able to use the CTRL to gain speedy access to St. Pancras. Having travelled recently on the North Kent line, I recognise that there is scope for improvement.

The franchising director will be letting a contract soon, and there are options for companies bidding for the franchise to include the option of new rolling stock. The franchising director has made it clear that he will consider a longer franchise in return for investment in new rolling stock.

I have made it clear that domestic services will run on the CTRI. The rolling stock will have to be compatible with rolling stock on the CTRL and be capable of going fast. When the franchise is let, I imagine that the franchising director will include, among the passenger service requirements, an obligation to run a certain number of domestic services on the new CTRL, when it is built.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It was music to my ears to hear that Stratford in my constituency will be the site of the international station. I remind the House that, not that long ago, British Rail was talking about an approach through south-east London, going straight to King's Cross. Now we have an easterly approach with an international station at Stratford. It is excellent news. I welcome it, and I thank the Secretary of State—all those visits to the east end have clearly paid off.

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the Stratford Promoter Group, which was a public and private sector organisation, and to hon. Members on both sides, especially the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), who gave such great support to Stratford in the early days?

Although the tunnel will go immediately under my house in Forest Gate, I cannot wait to sit in my front room and hear the rumble of the trains on their way to Stratford.

Sir George Young

Hon. Members clearly get their pleasures in a variety of different ways. I am conscious that, in the 13 years we have been in the House together, I have said much from the Dispatch Box that has caused the hon. Gentleman great distress. I am glad that, at long last, I have managed to say something from the Dispatch Box that has given him some pleasure. I hope that he agrees that it was worth waiting for.

I pay tribute, of course, to the work of the Stratford Promoter Group and other organisations that have campaigned tirelessly for Stratford to be a domestic and international station, and whose work has now borne fruit.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing)

As my right hon. Friend said that the construction risks would be borne by London and Continental, can he confirm that that means that 100 per cent. of all overrun finance—the excess of actual costs over estimated costs—will be borne by London and Continental, and that the company will be placed under a clear contractual obligation to complete the project to specification, regardless of outturn costs?

If that is the case, as I anticipate, does my right hon. Friend agree that the way he has found of financing the project is infinitely better than the way proposed by the Opposition, which would have left the taxpayer with a wholly open-ended liability to complete the project?

Sir George Young

My right hon. Friend is right. The risks have been transferred from the taxpayer to the contractor, as my right hon. Friend has just described. Some of the key advantages of the private finance initiative are the risk transfer, the protection of the taxpayers' interests, and the incentive for the contractor to get on with the job and complete it on time, rather than looking to the taxpayer and the public sector to bail him out if things go wrong.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that London and Continental will be responsible for administering the discretionary purchase scheme for people whose properties have been blighted? Who will take the financial responsibility if that scheme is extended as a result of the Standing Committee proceedings?

Will the Secretary of State also confirm exactly what risks, both financial and non-financial, the Government will continue to bear? What sanctions will be placed on London and Continental, not just to finish the project within cost but to finish it within time? What controls does he propose to ensure that freight is carried underground, certainly through my constituency, rather than overground?

Sir George Young

On the first point, the development agreement requires London and Continental to continue the Union Railways voluntary purchase scheme until Royal Assent to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, and the discretionary purchase scheme until one year after opening. It also requires London and Continental to apply all present statutory compensation according to the national compensation code. The full agreement will, in the normal way, be made available to the National Audit Office. I will, however, ensure that a memorandum setting out the structure of the agreement is placed in the Library next week.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the House had listened to the proposals by the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen that we should go ahead in 1989, at a cost of almost £1 billion, the environment of Kent would have been ridden roughshod over, there would not have been resources for the compensatory buy-outs, and, worse than that, Ebbsfleet and Stratford would not have been developed along the route?

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that Ebbsfleet is vital to the regeneration of the Thames gateway, and that it means thousands of new jobs and far better transport connections for my constituents? Can he confirm that London and Continental will pick up all the environmental undertakings that have been given so far by Union Railways?

Sir George Young

The answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's question is yes. On the first part, I am slightly surprised to hear myself constantly being urged to have gone ahead with the 1989 proposals, which, as my hon. Friend said, were of a much lower environmental standard and would have forgone the regeneration benefits, to which I am sure the House attaches considerable importance. A quarter of the CTRL will be in a tunnel. The Select Committee has made a number of recommendations to enhance noise mitigation and environmental protection. The 1989 proposals were in all those respects significantly inferior to the one that I have just announced.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Has not the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) got a point? Although the Select Committee has very graciously and fairly amended the proposals, it was open to the Government and Union Railways to concede many obvious petitioners' claims right at the beginning of the process. I personally lobbied the hon. Member for Slough (Mr. Watts), the Minister for Railways and Roads, on very reasonable points that were subsequently conceded by the Select Committee. If it has to go through another place, would it not be more sensible and fair and advance the whole project if some of the legitimate petitions of disadvantaged people were conceded now, rather than being extracted later like teeth from a whale?

Was the Secretary of State at the Conservative party conference in October 1991, when the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), announced the final line of route? Why has it taken since October 1991 to get to the stage where we can make some progress? Have not the Secretary of State's Government, which he has supported, been sloppy and dilatory?

Sir George Young


Madam Speaker

Order. I am sure that the Secretary of State will oblige with short answers. Will hon. Members who want to put questions also oblige by being brief?

Sir George Young

I very much hope that I was at the Conservative party conference in 1991. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend made a memorable speech in response to the transport debate.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, we have a Select Committee to decide whether the petitioners are making legitimate points. He seems to want us to second-guess the Committee. That is why we have a Select Committee—to adjudicate on precisely those matters.

It is not the case that time has been wasted. Money and time have been well spent on developing the route and consulting the public, and on scrutiny in the House, which is not yet complete. We have a good route, which gives a massive boost to regeneration and is environmentally sensitive. The time spent on the competition has not delayed anything, because it has been going on in parallel with the passage of the hybrid Bill.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that not the least welcome part of his announcement is the new international station at Stratford, because it opens up to potential channel tunnel passengers right across East Anglia the opportunity of connecting to the tunnel by train? When he next meets the chairman of Railtrack, will he bear in mind the fact that the upgrading of the line between Peterborough and Cambridge will provide a valuable belt and braces for trains from the north going to Stratford?

Sir George Young

I shall pass on my hon. Friend's point to the chairman of Railtrack. My hon. Friend has made a valuable point that has not so far been made. An international station at Stratford gives people living in East Anglia the opportunity of getting to the continent far more quickly than if there were no station there and they had to go right into London and out again. That is why my statement will be widely welcomed, not only in Birmingham and Manchester, but in East Anglia.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his announcement about the Stratford station? I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), as I am sure would all Labour Members who served on the Select Committee, not only on the amount of time the Committee spent in deliberation but on the way in which it was conducted. Labour Members felt that their views were taken into account as much as those of Conservative Members, which is not always the case.

I am concerned that the Secretary of State described the rail link as a private sector enterprise, although I accept that there is a partnership between the private and public sectors. It seems that the public sector is providing an awful lot of subsidy. I am not just talking about the £1.4 billion transparent subsidy: I am worried about the other subsidies that are not transparent. What about the £1.3 billion that has been written off on Eurostar's debts? What about the cost of Eurostar itself? What about the cost of Union Railways? What about all the land—not only land used for building the railway, but surplus land that is to be used for development?

Madam Speaker

What about applying for an Adjournment debate? I am sorry to interrupt, but I had pleaded for brief questions, so that the statement might get moving a little faster.

Sir George Young

I shall try to reply briefly. We have introduced a clawback mechanism so that the taxpayer can get some benefit from the increase in property values. If the hon. Gentleman says that the King's Cross lands are very valuable, he must explain why they have lain derelict for decades. European Passenger Services is at present a loss-making service, so against that background it is difficult to argue that it is of great financial value.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be warmly welcomed in my constituency because of the beneficial effect that the new line will have in alleviating pressure on existing routes? But does he know that there is still considerable concern in my area about freight traffic? Will he examine the recent claims that Railfreight may be about to break its promises and massively increase the use of the lines through Bromley for freight, because of problems with its new electric locos?

Sir George Young

Of course I shall make inquiries, and write to my hon. Friend about that last matter. On his first point, it is indeed true that, by increasing the railway capacity through the CTRL, we help to reduce the congestion in south-east London, so my hon. Friend's constituents will benefit from the link even if they do not use it themselves.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

As an east London Member of Parliament, of course I welcome the international station at Stratford, which will bring economic and employment opportunities to the surrounding boroughs—but it will also have potentially serious traffic implications. On behalf of the areas surrounding the station, such as Leyton, I ask the Secretary of State to set up either a committee within the Department or an independent group to ensure that the potential traffic problems are not ignored.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London heard the hon. Gentleman's intervention, and we shall indeed monitor the traffic impact of the construction of the new station at Stratford.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, in direct contrast to the carping comments about his statement by those on the Opposition Front Bench, that statement, together with Tuesday's statement about Thameslink, underlines the distinct Government strategy for the transport infrastructure of London and the home counties— with considerable spin-offs for the rest of the country. As for my local point, will my right hon. Friend assure travellers in south London and Surrey that the Waterloo services will still be very regular?

Sir George Young

Yes. London and Continental has made clear its plans to continue the Waterloo service. Opposition Back Benchers have been warmer in their tributes to my statement than have Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, and I am sure that that fact will be noted. My hon. Friend is right to point out that this has been a good week for London. On Tuesday, we had the statement about Thameslink and on Wednesday the statement about the millennium exhibition, and today we have had the statement about the channel tunnel rail link.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I declare an interest as a Member sponsored by ASLEF, the train drivers' union. Will the Secretary of State flesh out a little more the protection for taxpayers? We have heard about more than £3 billion in national assets being handed over to the consortium, but little about how the taxpayer will be protected should it prove incapable of running a railway or of raising the money to build a new line.

Sir George Young

I explained that I would ensure that a memorandum setting out the structure of the agreement would be placed in the Library next week, and in view of your injunction, Madam Speaker, that we should give short answers, I think that that is the right way to respond to the hon. Lady's question.

Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his excellent announcement will mean increased prosperity not only for people in Newham but for those in Basildon and Southend, and throughout East Anglia? Will he confirm that Stratford station will open in the year 2002? Finally, does he accept that, as a result of his announcement, West Ham United may now win the Premier League?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend injects a note of controversy by declaring his allegiance to one football club, although, as a Queens Park Rangers man, I would not endorse it. My hon. Friend is right to say that, as a result of today's announcement, there will be enormous benefits for all those who will be able to access Stratford station. From Stratford, they will be able to get a fast train to Paris and Brussels, which would not have been possible had we not included Stratford in the announcement.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Although I welcome the statement on Stratford international terminal and the Minister's recognition of the importance of public transport to economic regeneration, does he recognise that Union Railway, London Underground, British Rail and all the local authorities are keenly interested in the Woolwich rail tunnel, which could link Ebbsfleet and Stratford, supply public transport access to the Thames gateway on the south bank of the river, and provide an excellent opportunity for economic regeneration? Will he press ahead with that?

Sir George Young

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London has recently consulted on a wide range of schemes—public transport and roads—in east London. He proposes to take that consultation forward.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

May I also congratulate the Chairman of our Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant)? We sat three days a week for a year, and he chaired it very fairly?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the fact that this is principally a passenger railway, but is he aware of the Committee's concern about freight and the fact that, at Singlewell in Kent, we required the optional loops for freight to be included in the main part of the Bill? Does he agree that huge environmental possibilities are connected with this new railway—not least because of the spur that is being put through to the west coast main line—in getting freight off the roads? Has he made any assessment of how much freight we can get off the roads, and of what the environmental impact will be?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend asks a much broader and very important question about the capacity to move freight from the roads to the railway. As he may know, my predecessor launched a great debate on transport. I am in the process of considering the representations that have been made, and the Government hope to draw together the threads of the debate and make a response to it. The broader answer to my hon. Friend's question may become clearer after that response.

My hon. Friend will know that we have kept the options on freight open by enabling the CTRL to carry freight— by specifying suitable track geometry and the introduction of the loop. It will therefore be able to carry the so-called piggy-back trains and other container loads, if that is where the demand lies.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I too welcome the decision on Stratford station, but if its benefits were so self-evident, why did it not appear on the face of the Bill, rather than merely being the option of a long box? We have the station only because of tremendous pressure from local people and from members of the Select Committee.

I should return, very briefly, to the point about public subsidy. When the cost is grossed up, this railway will incontestably require more than £5 billion of public subsidy. The railway did not go ahead in 1990, when— as the Minister conceded a few moments ago—the total public subsidy would have been £1.9 billion. It was vetoed at that point by the then Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Parkinson. The delay in getting this project off the ground has been a national disgrace.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman will have heard a number of other Opposition Members pay tribute to the statement, precisely because it includes Stratford. If he is pressing the case that the Government should have gone ahead in 1989 or 1990, he should remember that at that time it was proposed that the line should go not through east London but through south-east London. He will have to explain to Opposition Members who have welcomed the statement that the course he advocates would not have attracted the regeneration benefits that accompany today's statement.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on announcing the first new major railway line to be built in this country since Victorian times. Will he ensure that all the design documents and other detailed work are properly logged, so that the Railway Heritage Committee knows what it can preserve for future generations? I hope that, under my Railway Heritage Bill, which received a Second Reading a couple of weeks ago, the Committee's powers will be extended to cover the private sector.

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; the answer is yes. He makes the important point that this will be the first new railway line to be built since the Victorian age. It is a tribute to the present Administration that the decision to go ahead with it has been made during our term in office.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I warmly welcome what I understand is the biggest private finance initiative project ever. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will cut journey times between Birmingham and Paris to four hours, and thus have a significant effect on the economic infrastructure of the midlands? Does he think that it is slightly hypocritical of the Labour party to argue for better economic and transport infrastructure for the midlands, but, at the same time, consistently to oppose the PFI and the privatisation which have made it possible?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We continually hear about new Labour and its willingness to work with the private sector, but when such a project is put before the House, it is condemned by Members of the Opposition Front Bench. My hon. Friend rightly points out the benefits to people in the midlands from the announcement that I have just made.

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