HC Deb 24 July 1996 vol 282 cc408-31
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

I must advise the House that Madam Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches in this debate.

7.20 pm
The Minister for Railways and Roads (Mr. John Watts)

I beg to move, That this House, pursuant to section 9(4) of the Transport and Works Act 1992, approves the following proposals, contained in an application for an Order submitted under section 6 of that Act by Central Railway plc on 20th May 1996 and entitled The Central Railway Order, for the construction and operation of a railway between Leicester and the Channel Tunnel via Rugby on a dismantled railway alignment to link with the existing Chiltern line through Buckinghamshire to near Olympia in London, from where a new railway would be constructed in a tunnel under the Thames to Streatham, where it would run beside the existing Brighton line to south of Coulsdon, then under the North Downs close to the M23 and then beside the existing railway to Tonbridge, Ashford and Folkestone; and for the construction and use of freight terminal sites at the M1/M6 junction and next to the M25 and M40 in Buckinghamshire. As this is the first time that the procedure under section 9 of the Transport and Works Act 1992— or TWA for short— has been used, I should perhaps explain briefly some of the background to and purpose of this debate.

The TWA has replaced private Bills as the means by which new railways, tramways and certain other works projects are authorised. It gives Parliament a continuing and important role in relation to schemes of national significance by requiring Parliament to consider and vote on the principle of such schemes.

The purpose of this debate is to enable the House to decide whether the Central Railway application should go forward for more detailed consideration at a public inquiry and, possibly, to the eventual making of the order authorising its implementation.

The motion before the House seeks approval of the proposals. I should perhaps explain why the motion is one to approve the project. I considered whether it should be a "take note" motion which could be amended by hon. Members who wished either to amend or oppose it. I concluded that it is only by proposing a motion to approve the project that a conclusive outcome could be assured at the end of a single debate.

If the House rejects the motion, the scheme is effectively dead as the order could not be made. If the House passes the resolution, the project will be considered in another place. Only if the application is approved in both Houses can it proceed to more detailed examination at a public inquiry.

The House will wish to bear it in mind that Parliament's endorsement of the principle of the project would be bound to carry weight with the inquiry inspector in making a recommendation.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

My intervention will be brief as I realise that it is a short debate. Is not it clear— if not, will my hon. Friend the Minister make it clear— that we cannot adopt the desirable aspects of the project, which include freight coming off the roads and on to rail, which is something that we all want, while at the same time rejecting the awful aspects: that it would damage wildlife in my constituency and send heavy trains within inches of people's homes, which is intolerable? Is it possible to take partial decisions?

Mr. Watts

I think that my hon. Friend will find that I deal with that matter a little later in my speech.

As I was saying, endorsement of the principle by the House would weigh with the inquiry inspector and, indeed, might weigh with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in deciding whether to make the order. It would not necessarily mean that the order would be made. The Secretary of State could still decide, having taken into account the inspector's report, that the application should be turned down. This is no different from the Secretary of State's statutory position under general planning and highways legislation.

I turn now to the specific application before us. Central Railway's objective is to establish an independent railway connecting the midlands, London and the channel tunnel. The proposed alignment is described broadly in the motion. The railway would use standard track gauge but, unlike existing railways in this country, would have greater clearances to enable lorries and double stack containers to be transported.

The main service to be offered would be frequent shuttle trains carrying lorry trailers between freight terminals located near motorway junctions. Central Railway says that the project has been planned to maximise the use of former or existing railway lines. Where new track is necessary, it would be mostly adjoining existing lines.

The draft order contains powers for Central Railway to build and operate the railway and terminals, to acquire land compulsorily, to create new accesses to motorways and other roads, and temporarily or permanently to stop up or divert streets and footpaths. A number of provisions seek to disapply parts of public general legislation, including the regulatory regime for licensing and track access in the Railways Act 1993. Central Railway has also applied for planning permission to be deemed to be granted for the construction and use of the works specified in the draft order.

The works would involve, typically, the laying of railway lines with associated signalling and overhead electrification equipment, and civil engineering such as earthworks, tunnels and bridges. Because of the larger train gauge, the track would need to be lowered, or existing bridges raised, to enable the freight trains to operate. Freight terminals would be constructed near Rugby and at New Denham in Buckinghamshire, and a maintenance facility would be provided at Lutterworth.

Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

Is not it the case that the plan involves the construction of some 24 km of tunnels, some of which would be wider than any tunnels now in use?

Mr. Watts

The proposal certainly involves some extensive tunnelling, but, again, I shall come to that point a little later in my speech.

The application also contains proposals for new passenger stations at Lutterworth, Rugby, Woodford Halse, Brackley, West Wycombe and White City. Central Railway estimates that about £ 3 billion will be required to finance the project.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

Does the Minister accept that for a fraction of the £ 3 billion that he cited we could upgrade the existing west coast main line to the necessary standard and probably move freight from road to rail, something for which we perceive there to be a demand? Would not that perhaps be a better way forward?

Mr. Watts

The two issues are fundamentally different. I have not seen estimates for upgrading the freight capacity of the west coast main line which would come anywhere near £ 3 billion. Essentially, however, it is for the private sector promoters to decide whether it is worth their while to promote such a project and to raise the finance. Of course, this is an entirely privately funded proposal, whereas the hon. Gentleman is possibly thinking of some public sector money for upgrading the west coast main line.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Has there been any consultation between the developers and any local authorities along the route?

Mr. Watts

Applicants under the TWA are advised to consult local authorities and others affected by any proposals. The company claims that it has consulted extensively.

If parliamentary resolutions approving the project are passed, the company would seek to raise additional equity funding to finance the inquiry and statutory blight compensation. Central Railway estimates that the project would capture and retain 25 per cent. of the UK-continental market for lorries and containers, which is about 15 per cent. of total UK-continental freight tonnage, within four years of opening.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I am sure that we would all be interested in a list of the companies that are providing the money to keep Central Railway afloat. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have such a list; it is just that I have not seen it.

Mr. Watts

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. I do not have such a list. Frankly, I do not think that it is relevant to the consideration by the House of the principle.

Sir David Mitchell (North-West Hampshire)

As we are dealing with a new procedure, at what stage will there be an examination of the financial viability of the process?

Mr. Watts

That would be appropriate at a public inquiry were both Houses of Parliament to allow the scheme to proceed to that point. It would be unreasonable for us to expect the company to have raised the full project financing at this stage in the development of the project.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

If the financing of the project is crucial to its viability— as to whether it would lead to extended planning blight— does my hon. Friend have any idea whether his Department could undertake a feasibility study into whether the total cost of the project would be £ 3 billion or £ 6 billion, as has been suggested elsewhere?

Mr. Watts

It is not for my Department to second-guess the promoters of the project. On the matter of blight to which my hon. Friend referred, the company has assured us that it has the means to meet any statutory blight obligations that it might incur.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) has just referred to the crucial issue that concerns many of our constituents. Why should they suffer years of blight on the property they have worked hard to buy and on which they may still owe a considerable amount of mortgage repayment? Why should they suffer an on-going unawareness of what will finally happen? That is the crux of the issue that unites hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Watts

As I said, the company has given us assurances that it can meet any statutory blight obligations that it incurs. If we were to find that it was unable to meet such obligations, we would determine against the application.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I had not intended to speak, but I am becoming increasingly bemused. Has my hon. Friend met the promoters? Is he totally satisfied that they really are people of substance and that they can carry out the project? If he is not, why are we wasting our time?

Mr. Watts

At this stage of the application, it is not for me or my Department to determine whether the company would be able to raise £ 3 billion. That is a matter for the company. Our legitimate interest is in whether the company could meet blight obligations. That is obviously a concern to every constituency Member affected by the project. As I have said, the company has given us undertakings that it can meet any such obligations. If we were to find that it was unable to do so, we would refuse the application.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that Ove Arup commented: 'They have clearly not demonstrated that they have adequate funds available to meet their obligations for compensation for blight and to fund the public inquiry". The House should be aware of that.

Mr. Watts

I am aware of that opinion, which is taken from a report that was prepared in support of some of the objectors to the project. However, until it could be shown that the company's undertakings cannot be honoured, we would be wrong to make a judgment on that.

As to the funding of the public inquiry, as I said in my opening remarks, the company intends to raise the additional funding required to take the project to a public inquiry in the light of a decision made in the House.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I have already inquired in a letter whether the company could pay compensation for blight if the House approved the order tonight. My understanding is that there is no such guarantee. However, is there not something fundamentally wrong with the 1992 Act if a company without evidence of financial viability plus the lack of coherent planning policy can create such mayhem without first producing a planned proposal? Frankly, if it happens again, the Act must be changed.

Mr. Watts

There may well be lessons to learn from this case as to the way in which such matters are dealt with, but as this is the first time that the powers have been used, it would be premature— certainly in tonight's debate— to conclude that the procedure is flawed. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it may be appropriate for us to examine the procedures in the light of experience of this case.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The old system required the Government to be neutral if they were in support of a proposal. They state in their paper of 19 July: 'The Government is not however persuaded that the proposals have such substantial merit as to enable it to commend the application to Parliament. It has therefore decided that its stance on the scheme should be neutral. Can I take it that under the new procedure, being neutral basically means being unconvinced and probably being against?

Mr. Watts

No. Being neutral means what it says. We have adopted a neutral stance at all times in our dealings with the company. However, there is a question as to what might have shifted the Government from being neutral to supporting or opposing the project. For the Government to support such a scheme, they would need to be persuaded that the merits of the proposal were so overwhelming as to justify unequivocal support. I did not reach that conclusion. That is why the position of the Government tonight is still one of neutrality— of neutral neutrality.

Central Railway estimates that the project would capture and retain 25 per cent. of the United Kingdom and continental market within four years of opening. By 2010, the midlands terminal would be catering for 16 million tonnes of freight and the New Denham terminal for 10 million tonnes. The average number of freight trains required to deal with that volume would be 98 per day.

Central Railway is seeking to keep compulsory land acquisition to a minimum, but recognises that realignments of existing tracks will be required at some locations. It believes that most work could be carried out within normal maintenance schedules, but some may involve temporary closures with replacement bus services. It says that no significant interference with services will be required during the upgrading of the Chiltern line but that the company will liaise with Railtrack and London Underground to co-ordinate the construction programme so that disruption occurs during periods of minimal railway operation.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

As my hon. Friend has referred to the fact that Central Railway proposes to adapt the existing Chiltern line, what assessment has the Department of Transport made of the likely impact of the scheme on the commuter services that my constituents use every day?

Mr. Watts

If the House and another place were to allow the scheme to proceed to public inquiry, and if such an inquiry recommended that it should be permitted to go ahead, in deciding whether to make such an order, I would have it in mind that I have powers to vary the order and I would be prepared to do so In so far as I deem it necessary to protect existing passenger railway services. An assessment has not yet been undertaken because we are at too early a stage in the consideration of the application.

The company says that it would seek to keep disruption to a minimum by ensuring that works were carried out during periods of minimum rail operation— commonly on Sundays or late evenings. After construction, the company claims that no existing services would be affected by the operation of the new railway. In very broad terms, that is the applicant's case.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

Those are extraordinary claims. Although my hon. Friend's position is neutral, I am encouraged by the fact that I have never before heard such a barrage of real questions on such an issue. I am encouraged by the mood of the House.

Mr. Watts

I have tried to set out in fairly neutral terms the case that the company has presented.

I turn to the Government's view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] Perhaps the House will find it helpful if I explain how we arrived at this position of neutrality. The Government are anxious that the decline in rail's share of the freight market is checked and reversed. We believe that the key to that lies in giving the private sector the right opportunities and incentives. That is why five of British Rail's six rail freight companies have already been privatised and the sixth is on the market. The Railways Act 1993 created new opportunities— which have already been exploited— for entirely new own-account rail freight operations to be established. We continue to make available substantial support to rail freight through freight facilities and track access grants.

Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)

The rail companies that have been privatised, indeed all rail freight, and many other organisations are backers of the piggyback consortium, which presents a totally viable solution. It would cost £ 100 million, mean no new railways at all and operate a freight service from Glasgow to Folkestone. What is the Government's view on assisting that in the next two years?

Mr. Watts

I am not going to give any commitments on assistance, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the piggyback idea is most interesting and has considerable potential. I hope later in the summer to see a demonstration of a prototype piggyback vehicle.

The Government also want to bring private finance into the provision of transport infrastructure. The channel tunnel rail link is the outstanding example of private finance helping to provide an entirely new railway line. Central Railway's proposals would go further in so far as they would be 100 per cent. privately financed. So, from two points of view— freight on rail and private finance— the Government's objectives could be assisted by Central Railway's plans. It is for those reasons that, although we have urged the promoters to consult widely and take account of consultees' views, we have not discouraged them from working up their proposals.

The question for the House tonight is whether Central Railway's specific proposals have sufficient merit to be worthy of the House's endorsement in principle. That must involve consideration not only of whether the project fits the broad thrust of transport policy, but whether the particular proposals are acceptable in principle, having regard to such matters as environmental impacts and effects on existing passenger services during construction and in operation.

Under the TWA procedure, there is a six-week objection period. The Department received almost 14,000 representations dated on or before the deadline of 1 July. Roughly 98 per cent. of respondents registered objections to the project. The Department has analysed some 6,600 objections, and found that more than 90 per cent. of objectors raised concerns about local environmental impacts of the project during construction and/or in operation, 60 per cent. object to the perceived adverse impacts on rail passenger services and road traffic, and 40 per cent. think that the principle of the project is flawed.

Blight is naturally a concern. All major new developments are likely to have adverse local effects. The House may wish to take a broader view does the project offer sufficiently strong regional or national benefits to outweigh any local disbenefits? The House may wish to give due weight to the views of the planning authorities and the national environmental agencies, which are able to make an objective and strategic assessment of the project. Only two authorities— Surrey county council and Reigate and Banstead borough council— have expressed support for the project in principle, and even they expressed concerns about the adequacy of the information supplied by Central Railway. While supporting the principle of moving freight by rail, 37 local authorities said no to the project and expressed serious concerns about alignment, locations of the terminals, adequacy of the environmental statement, impacts on existing railway services, and, around the freight terminals in particular, road traffic.

All the environmental organisations that have responded are also either opposed to the scheme or have expressed specific concerns. Bodies such as English Nature, the National Trust, the Environment Agency, the wildlife trusts, the Council for the Protection of Rural England— with the exception of two of its branches— and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have been critical of the adequacy of the environmental statement. The National Trust, for example, has commented that the statement does not refer specifically to its land, even though the Central Railway's proposal bisects the trust's Sandhills estate near Bletchingley in Surrey.

The Government want more freight to be carried by rail and more transport infrastructure provided by private finance. However, we cannot— indeed we should not— ignore the number and weight of representations that we have received against this project. Many of them were from persons who and organisations that support the policy of moving more freight by rail. It would be wrong to consider the principle of such a scheme without regard to its effect on the ground. Nevertheless, if we had thought that the arguments for the specific proposals outweighed the force of the objections, we might have been prepared to recommend that the House approved them. But we are not so persuaded. We are therefore making no recommendation in respect of this application and leave the decision to the good judgment of the House.

7.46 pm
Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

I shall be brief because I know that many hon. Members want to express their constituents' concerns.

The Central Railway scheme will demolish many homes and properties and cause grave disturbance and blight to many more. Thousands of ordinary households will suffer in one way or another whether the scheme is built or not. The question is whether the benefits of such a proposal can possibly outweigh its manifest disadvantages. The answer is, as I shall argue, a resounding no, which is why the order deserves to be roundly defeated and why I give notice of my intention to call a Division at the conclusion of the debate.

In the Streatham Vale area of my constituency, the building of a two-track railway would mean the loss of homes, gardens and retail premises. The proposed running of unusually heavy complete lorry trailers and double-stacked containers would cause unacceptable noise and vibration. Above all, the planned construction of the six-mile tunnel under London from Streatham Vale opens up the prospect of a protracted nightmare of noise, lorry movements, dust and pollution for local residents.

Two years ago, a Department of the Environment advice note called for the diversion of channel tunnel-related rail freight around, and not through, London. For several years, the London Channel Tunnel Group— a consortium of London boroughs of all political persuasions— has advocated the upgrading of rail routes around London from Redhill to Reading for use by such freight. A Department of Transport study has acknowledged the technical feasibility of that so-called North Downs line.

Mr. Rowe

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, this very week, British Rail set aside £ 500 million to take account of the fact that it has grossly overestimated the amount of freight passing through the channel tunnel? Does not that show that speculation about how much freight capacity is needed is still at a very rudimentary stage?

Mr. Hill

I entirely agree. The fact is that the tunnel under London is not just environmentally unacceptable: it is unnecessary.

It goes without saying that no one in this Chamber or in the country challenges the principle of the need to transfer more freight from road to rail, but there are other more immediate, more practicable and more viable means of achieving that objective.

Next month, the first wagons operated by the public-private consortium, the piggyback consortium, will begin running between Glasgow and London on the west coast main line. It is one of several projects designed to carry lorry semi-trailers piggyback fashion on rail wagons. Unlike the Central Railway scheme, the loading of semi-trailers can be carried out at railheads nationwide; Central Railway is proposing just two terminals. Unlike in the Central Railway scheme, semi-trailers can be carried throughout the continental rail network; Central Railway's lorries would have to be offloaded at Calais. Unlike Central Railway, which proposes an entirely new line, carrying semi-trailers by rail requires relatively minor upgrading of lines and bridges, at relatively modest cost.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

In south Yorkshire, far from Leicester, London or the Chilterns, there is great concern about the line. A private sector initiative in Doncaster is building an important freight hub that will move a lot of south Yorkshire's heavy engineering goods off the roads on to rail, swinging around London into Europe. Is my hon. Friend therefore aware that Central Railway's proposal, if it goes ahead, would seriously damage the financial viability of that project? The message from south Yorkshire is that the Government, far from being neutral, should vote against the proposal.

Mr. Hill

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes the general point that the project would put a question mark over a range of enormously valuable and immediately achievable schemes. That is a powerful reason for opposing the scheme.

The cost of the piggyback consortium project would be about £ 100 million, compared with Central Railway's £ 3 billion— if we believe Central Railway's figures, which few experts do. London and Continental Railways, which is to build the channel tunnel rail link, has analysed the scheme and concluded that it will cost £ 6 billion— twice Central Railway's estimate. Ove Arup, which has some reputation as a transport and engineering consultancy, claims that the total costs will be 90 per cent. more than Central Railway estimates. Another group of transport consultants, MDS Transmodal, has calculated that Central Railway has overestimated the likely revenues by as much as three times and will never be able to recover the questionable £ 3 billion, let alone twice that sum.

The business case for Central Railway simply does not stand up to scrutiny. After all, it is a company with net assets of little more than £ 100,000. At the end of last year, its managing director wrote in the company report: Obviously, the company cannot guarantee that money will be available from investors to build the railway". That, to say the least, was something of an understatement. The proclaimed jobs and the proclaimed equipment purchases are mere fantasies— they will never materialise.

This evening, the House is being invited to approve a public inquiry into the scheme. Such an inquiry would add two or three more years to the blight that would affect thousands of householders along the route until the scheme inevitably folds. We cannot fairly inflict that on our constituents. This is the wrong scheme at the wrong time from the wrong company. It is up to the House to take the responsibility for this matter and to consign Central Railway's scheme to the scrapyard of history.

7.53 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing)

As has already been said, the issue of whether to proceed with this scheme with the endorsement of the House is one of principle. It is thus inescapable that, by the end of the debate, the House must take a view on whether the scheme is financially viable. The House would have no justification for sending the scheme on to a public inquiry unless it was reasonably satisfied that it was financially viable.

The difficulty that we face— it is entirely of Central Railway's own making— is that the company has given the House a paucity of information about the scheme's financial viability. I tried to obtain from the chairman of the company a copy of the prospectus that it issued in 1995 when it made its last funding issue. The reply that I received was highly instructive. The chairman said: I do not wish to be remotely difficult, but we do not, as a company policy, distribute the prospectus on a general basis as the offer to which it refers has been closed for some considerable time. That is an extraordinary response to a Member of Parliament with a direct constituency interest in a project for which a company is seeking approval. Luckily, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave me a copy from his filing cabinet, for which I was grateful.

The prospectus is the crucial document when it comes to financial viability. It is the only one that gives us some information about what the company's expectations are in terms of revenue, cash flow, operating costs and assumptions about the transfer of freight from road to rail. It is bizarre that the House should be holding this debate without the prospectus being available in the Vote Office. No doubt there is a copy somewhere in the Library— it always manages to get hold of every single piece of paper.

Significantly, however, when the documents for this debate were deposited by the company in the Library of the House on 20 May, the huge bundle of documents— I have taken some pains to comb through them— did not include either a prospectus or any information of consequence about the financial viability of the scheme.

As for the company's attitude, it has placed a most interesting document in the Vote Office, telling Members of this House: So far as the company is aware, private sector developments have never been required to prove financial viability, and objections on that score are misconceived and should be disregarded. Is it satisfactory that a public company seeking the approval of this House should thus dismiss objections on the grounds of financial viability as apparently irrelevant?

Only two of the documents placed in the Library bear on the financial viability of the scheme. One of them is headed "Cost Estimate". It might be thought that this would be a bulky document since it concerns a £ 3 billion project. I have brought it with me into the Chamber; I am not exactly groaning under its weight. It consists of a single sheet of A4 paper, containing on one side 17 lines of cost headings. That is all the costing information that has been placed before the House.

The cost estimate in itself is subject to great doubt. It is believed to be an underestimate, possibly by 100 per cent. The real cost probably amounts to £ 6 billion.

The second document placed in the Library is headed "Funding Statement". It too consists of one side of one sheet of A4. I want to quote just one sentence from it, as it is the only sentence that the company has placed before the House concerning the scheme's supposed financial viability. The sentence reads: The directors of Central Railway believe that the projected nominal internal rate of return for this project is sufficient to allow the project to be funded in the market through the development and construction phases and into the operational phase. That is the one and only indication of the financial viability in the documents placed in the Library.

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir John Stanley

No. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am conscious that many hon. Members want to speak and I shall be as brief as I can.

That is the one sentence the House has been provided with as a basis on which to proceed on an assumption of financial viability— a belief of the directors, expressed in one sentence and wholly unquantified. It is significant that hon. Members are being treated with infinitely less candour on the issue of financial viability than was the case just 15 months ago, when the company made its last application for funds in an equity issue.

When the prospectus was issued, in addition to getting the company's view about whether the project would be financially viable, those who got hold of the prospectus were at least told of the financial risks. In this case, the House has not been told anything of the financial risks.

I shall quote one of the 15 risks detailed in the earlier prospectus.

The company may fail to raise equity or debt on the terms proposed in the Base Case, or at all. It is clearly stated that the company may not be able to raise the money at all. Why has that key financial information not been placed with all the other risks in the process? Why has that not been placed before this House or in the Library? Why was it not put in the Vote Office?

It is not acceptable for hon. Members to be asked to approve this project on the basis of totally inadequate financial information. On the basis of what we have been shown, this project is, frankly, a total financial speculation. I do not have any difficulty with those who wish to engage in speculation— there may be some who speculate on the national lottery, the horses, the football pools or certain stocks and shares. It is one thing to have a speculation where only those who are making the speculation stand to lose, but in this project the losers would not be those who may choose to speculate in the shares of Central Railway, as they could limit their risk and speculate only to the extent that they were willing to lose the money that they advanced in buying equity; the real losers would be the people who were dragged into the project on the back of the speculation. People all the way from Rugby, through the midlands and around the home counties to west and south London, Surrey, Kent and on to the channel tunnel would lose— tens of thousands of people would be blighted. If this House gives the project assent, they will be blighted for years to come and their environment will be damaged.

I do not believe that there is any conceivable basis on which we can reasonably and responsibly approve a scheme when the uncertainty about its financial viability is almost total, and the only real certainty is the devastating environmental damage it would do the length and breadth of the scheme.

8.4 pm

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

It might help the House to know the views of the Labour Front Bench at this point in the debate, and I shall try to put them briefly as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

We are, like many hon. Members, strongly committed to the aim of getting more freight on to rail. We made this clear in our policy document "Consensus for Change" which was published recently, and I set out in more detail how we would set about achieving this in a speech to the rail freight conference on 5 June. I therefore approach this project with sympathy, but I am afraid my conclusion is that the proposal is unrealistic, is not economically viable, will not come to fruition and is causing blight and upset for no good purpose.

I spoke briefly on the telephone today to Andrew Gritten, the chair of Central Railway. He asked me to speak to Central Railway's financial adviser, John Cramer. He told me that he used to work for Goldman Sachs, and also used to be Minister for Transport in Illinois. He argued that to create a successful freight railway, one needs very large volumes, low costs and high frequencies. He believes that to achieve that, the freight railway needs control over its own infrastructure and to have dedicated facilities. He pleaded with me to allow the application to pass today so that it could go to the next stage for full consideration. I said to him— and I say to the House— that I am well aware that investment in new infrastructure causes blight and that that is sometimes necessary in the public interest to carry through major new infrastructure projects. But in this case, it seems clear to me that the whole project is unrealistic and not properly considered. It would therefore be wrong for the House to allow the problem of blight to continue.

Let me cite a few examples of the unrealistic nature of the proposal. It is a 180-mile line, 57 miles of which are to be reinstated on an old route. Near Rugby, incidentally, the old route goes through a new housing estate. It will then move on to an upgraded Chiltern line. The plan involves the compulsory purchase of 41 miles of the Chiltern line. But Railtrack says that it will not hand over ownership, and I understand that Central Railway has not made any approach— at least until May— to propose buying the lines.

In addition, Central Railway has said in its brief to hon. Members this week that work to upgrade the Chiltern line would not involve any widening or extra tracks. But today I was told that it would involve extra track. Yesterday, Adrian Shooter of the Chiltern line said that it would not be possible to integrate the proposed number of Central Railway trains with existing passenger services. He says that Central Railway has consistently refused to tell him how many trains it will run. He learnt only yesterday that it would be five to six per hour. It seems clear to me that not enough work has been done and not enough detail has been settled and the proposal to incorporate the Chiltern line means that it is not a dedicated freight railway, as is claimed.

On top of this, the proposed gauge— which is very high because the lorries are intended to roll on to the trains— will not be able to continue beyond Calais, because the gauge is smaller on the continent. That makes it a defective scheme in my view. But there is no provision for a terminal in France. Central Railway says that: the project will cost £ 2 billion to £ 3 billion— as we have heard— but Ove Arup says it could be twice as much.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) referred to MDS Transmodal— a shipping and freight consultancy keen to get more freight on to rail. That company says that Central Railway has underestimated the cost of locomotives. The type of wagons that are budgeted are not safety approved for the tunnel, and are unlikely to be in the future. In addition, estimates of revenue are unrealistic.

I could go on, and give more examples of this unrealistic nature of the project but I do not want to take up the time of the House. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) referred to the fact that those who are keen to see more freight on rail want attention to be drawn to the alternative plans— costing only £ 100 million— that would enable the west coast main line greatly to increase its freight capacity and remove the same traffic from the road as would the Central Railway plan. This scheme could be completed in two years. Central Railways' plan would take four years after the public inquiry had been completed and the funding found— if it could ever be found.

In contrasting these schemes, I would like to say in passing that this is an example of the deeply unsatisfactory rail system that the Government's privatisation has given us. [HON. MEMBERS: "She's spoilt it."] It does not spoil anything— it is true and the Secretary of State should listen. The privatised railway is so fragmented that there is no strategic centre to the system that is capable of judging which freight scheme best serves the public interest and ensures that that is carried through. I set out in a recent speech to the Adam Smith Institute— Conservative Members may wish to note that— how Labour will ensure that such a strategic centre is established. It is a failure of the privatised network that we are having this mess today when a cheaper and better scheme is available, and the Government are not getting behind the scheme that would best serve the public interest.

My conclusion is that the most persuasive case for passing the application tonight is that it needs much more development and that its passage would allow detailed consideration to take place. However, as the Minister said, if the House passed the proposal, it would be like a recommendation to the planning inquiry from the House. No responsible Member could possibly recommend it and no responsible Government could be neutral about such an unsatisfactory scheme. The proposal is before the House and that requires us to take a view. The project is well intentioned but unrealistic. It would be wrong for the House to allow large numbers of people along the route to continue to suffer blight. I advise that we should vote to refuse the application.

8.9 pm

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), but I am in substantial agreement with her comments on the great central line. Certain of her other comments passed me by but the first section of her speech was admirable. I especially liked her reference to Rugby and its housing estate. What she said about Rugby could be echoed for every constituency on the line.

This is the first time that the Transport and Works Act has been used since it was enacted in 1992. The subject for that unique occasion is the application by Central Railway plc to restore a major section of the old great central line. I suspect that the way in which the Act operates will lead the House to amend it in the fullness of time but that is not a matter for tonight.

It is intended that the reopened line will cater principally for freight and carry the lorry trailer and the tractor unit on flat-bed rail trucks. The House will appreciate that the carrying of the tractor unit in addition to the load is not an efficient way to transport freight. The line has been disused for some 30 years. In some parts, it has been become a nature reserve and a public amenity. In others, factories and housing estates have been built over its site. Were the reopening to go forward, enormous environmental damage would occur.

Many houses have been built and bought in the knowledge that a disused railway line is close by and while Central Railway claims that it has a property protection scheme, it admits that it has no money to acquire properties or to meet any statutory blight notices. That was the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) in his powerful speech. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and businesses face a future that at best might be described as uncertain.

It is significant that the development is opposed by groups ranging from statutory bodies such as county, district and parish councils to the National Farmers Union and various wildlife trusts. All come together in opposition to this proposal. One of the reasons for the breadth of opposition is the existence of a viable alternative. That point was made by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), by my hon. Friend the Minister during his strong speech and by the hon. Member for Ladywood.

The alternative is the piggyback consortium, which involves lorry semi-trailers being carried piggyback on rail wagons on the existing west coast main line. I have correspondence from the consortium dated 8 July that confirms that the first wagons will be launched in the United Kingdom next month, when a revenue service between London and Glasgow using low-height trailers will commence. The consortium is working with Railtrack to upgrade existing lines from Glasgow to the channel tunnel to enable standard 4 m high lorry semi-trailers to be carried.

It is estimated that the infrastructure work may take two years and cost about £ 100 million. That is not an insignificant sum but it pales into insignificance when compared with the costs quoted by Central Railway, which optimistically says that the cost will be about £ 3 billion. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh [HON. MEMBERS: "Streatham."] I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. As he said, consultants Ove Arup have issued a report that puts the cost substantially higher than that currently quoted by Central Railway.

Central Railway has not developed an environmentally sensitive scheme. Its environmental statement does not identify significant effects or specify plans to mitigate the undoubted noise and nuisance. Substantial doubts exist that adequate landscaping, noise abatement and habitat protection have, or can be, provided.

This is one of those rare occasions in the life of the House when there is general agreement between the three major parties. It is significant that the Labour and Liberal parties have come out strongly in opposition to the development. My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government are, and must be, strictly impartial because of their quasi-judicial role. However, Back Benchers do not have to be impartial. One has only to look around the Chamber to see the growing opposition to this crack-brained scheme and the number of Conservative Members who will oppose it in the Lobby tonight. There is no substantial demand for the reopening of the great central railway line outside the financial interests of the sponsors.

Freight can be taken off the roads and the environment can be protected by using the existing west coast main line and the piggyback consortium. It is worth recording that, unlike the Central Railway, the piggyback consortium is supported by local authorities, Eurotunnel, the Freight Transport Association, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, P and O Ferrymasters, PowerGen Property, Rail Freight Distribution, Railtrack and SNCF. Many other major companies are associated with the consortium but a full roll-call would take up too much of the House's time.

I urge the House to reject the application because it is as unnecessary as it is unwanted. It is disruptive, damaging and will cause enormous worry and distress to substantial numbers of the people who we are elected to defend. I intend to divide the House and urge all right hon. and hon. Members to vote no tonight.

8.18 pm
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

It is rare that we have a free vote on an issue of national importance. Even if it is at the 11th hour of our last day, it is gratifying that so many hon. Members are present and clearly intent on voting. I shall be brief because I know that many hon. Members want to speak so I will not rehearse the well-established Liberal Democrat transport policies. I assume that hon. Members can take them as read, whether they agree with them or not. I shall concentrate on Central Railway.

Over the past few weeks, many hon. Members will have been lobbied by the company, which emphasised that Central Railway's private initiative and financial commitment would be at risk if Parliament does not allow the scheme to progress to the next stage. Although my party welcomes private and public sector financing partnerships in our transport infrastructure, provided that it accords with transport strategy, it is odd that Central Railway should appeal to our good nature. The risks are well known. The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes clear the requirements that promoters must meet if they are to take a project forward. Organisations that subscribe to market forces should be happy to allow that procedure, and not complain if the result does not go their way.

The report by Ove Arup, consulting engineers of international reputation and integrity, was independent and not in support of any particular group. The whole point of engineering consultants is that they offer professional and independent views, of which we should take serious note.

The project documentation has been well described. I invite hon. Members to compare that documentation, or the lack of it, with the amount of information that was presented to the House when it reviewed the progress of the channel tunnel rail link and the amount of work that went into establishing the viability of that scheme.

I want to address the three key issues of the scheme's impact on the environment, its impact on the democratic process and its synergy with the national transport strategy. We are all in favour of switching as much freight as possible from road to rail, and my party has set a target of 10 per cent. over a reasonable period. However, that objective is not itself an argument for building a 208 km railway, particularly when the existing rail network is capacity-hungry for freight. We are aware of the damage and uproar caused by recent new motorway construction. Hon. Members will recall the incidents at Twyford Down when the M3 was completed— I live in that constituency, so I remember them well. Railway construction is no less environmentally damaging and is arguably more so. The gradients that must be achieved for a railway are less than for a motorway, so require deeper cuttings and higher embankments— not to mention the 24 km super-diameter tunnelling that will be required. One returns to the argument that we already have an existing rail network crying out for investment.

The Minister said that 14,000 letters of objection have been received, and 50,000 people have signed a petition against the project. The reason for that controversy is that planning officers and locally elected councillors have been shut out of the process and starved of information. It is well established that Central Railway has continually sought to limit information by seeking waivers against the requirements of the 1992 Act, which has undermined the democratic checks and balances that are well established in local and county councils.

If the House approved the order and outline planning permission were subsequently granted, the public inquiry would be concerned not with whether the project should proceed but with when, how and where. The House would remove at one stroke the basis of local democracy, the planning process and local accountability. Local plans painstakingly developed over decades by district councils to serve their communities would be thrown aside. Dozens of communities would be shattered by blight for many years. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) pointed out that housing estates would be cut through, parks destroyed, industrial estates torn down and immense traffic problems created as side roads were used for access.

Of course there is an urgent need to attract freight from the roads to rail. There has been an appalling decline in rail freight volume in recent years, and the state of the west coast main line is a classic example of lack of investment and poor maintenance leading to extensive speed restrictions and disrupted timetables. Nevertheless, the west coast main line is the most extensive and complex link in the national network. It is the major artery connecting the heart of the west midlands and our manufacturing base with the rest of Europe. The proposals of the piggyback consortium show how quickly an essential freight service could be provided. It would use the channel tunnel and connect directly with the continental rail network, without any necessity for a change of gauge or Central Railway's super-gauge, which cannot connect with the mainland European network.

For a fraction of the cost of the Central Railway scheme, the west coast main line can and must be upgraded as an essential part of our national rail strategy. That can be achieved with minimal disruption, to meet the demand for rail freight that can be created if Railtrack is required by the rail regulator to provide cheap, efficient and attractive rail access to freight operators.

It would be wrong for Parliament to act as a planning supremo in granting or making way for an order that would overturn local plans, ignore the needs and wishes of local communities, and circumvent local democracy. It would be wrong to grant or assist an order to permit a massive construction that would cause untold environmental damage and make Twyford Down look like a side road closure order. It would be wrong to grant an order for a hugely expensive and disruptive scheme while the west coast main line remains neglected, underfunded and underused. Parliament should direct its energies at forcing rapid improvement to our existing rail network as its highest priority. I hope that the House will join me in voting against the order.

8.27 pm
Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)

I will not reiterate the comments by hon. Members in all parts of the House because time is short. I quarrel slightly with my hon. Friend the Minister when he says that consultation has taken place with many local authorities. I am informed by Kent county council and Ashford borough council that consultation consisted of encounters with two or three people who were unwilling or unable to answer any questions of consequence. Fortunately, we have good officers in both authorities and they were able to interpret the little information that was provided and the scheme's likely effect on their communities— which would be extremely bad.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) and I have lived for eight years under the blight of the channel tunnel rail link. First there were four routes, then two and then two other routes. That created enormous misery for people who had invested their life savings in houses but who had to move because of their work or for financial reasons, having been caught in negative equity. They were confronted by an apparently implacable bureaucracy. The Central Railway scheme has already produced several months of blight. The blight did not start on 20 May, when the order was first laid. It has long been evident in my constituency and, I suspect, in many others. I hope that the House will sound a resounding death knell tonight on this ill-considered project, so that blight will be truly and properly ended.

My hon. Friend the Minister read out a statement from the Central Railway consortium that by and large there would be little disruption to existing services. That is nonsense. It is nonsense for the Chiltern line. My hon. Friend has not mentioned, but I am going to, the international station at Ashford. I had the great honour of inaugurating that new service on 8 January this year. Ashford is a pretty narrow gap. We have the main lines from Maidstone and the main lines from Tonbridge. We have lines going off to Canterbury, Folkestone and Hastings and in addition we shall have the new channel tunnel rail link going through Ashford.

If the Central Railway line project goes through, it will be much bigger than the others. No one has yet mentioned the vertical deviation of plus or minus 10 m. Central Railway is so precise that we are talking about 33 ft up or down. How can one interpret things like that on a map, for heaven's sake?

The international station at Ashford, which has been open for only two months, will be largely demolished and, we hope, rebuilt— we do not know how— to enable the line to go through. The station already has 7,000 people a week going through it and is fast expanding. It is doing a good job not only for Ashford but for a swathe of counties and constituencies from Essex to Bristol. It will be completely disrupted. No wonder that the channel tunnel rail link people, Eurostar and all the rest feel that the Central Railway line will be the death knell for any stations on the Eurostar route outside London.

I have said enough to show that, even in my part of the world, there are problems. There will be six lines going down from Ashford to Folkestone. The project will involve the demolition of a mediaeval church and a village school. I agree that if the line is built it will cost £ 6 billion-plus, not £ 3 billion, but let us also consider the cost to local authorities. If there is a series of local planning inquiries, officers of district councils, parish councils, borough councils and county councils will have to do a great deal of work to make sense of the nonsensical maps with which they are working so far. Time for officers is money. Why should the taxpayer, either local or national, pay a penny more for this ill-gotten scheme? It must be killed and killed now.

8.31 pm
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West)

I speak on behalf of many concerned constituents, to inform the House that Croydon says no to Central Railway. The people of Croydon say no to the scheme, for environmental, social and economic reasons, not least in terms of jobs. It has been estimated that in Croydon there would be a direct loss of 62 residential properties, many in Croydon, North-West. There would also be a direct loss of 40 commercial premises, which currently support about 580 jobs. There would be loss of access to premises, which support a further 200 jobs. There would also be significant effects on the environment and ecology of the area, including the felling of up to 500 mature trees. There would be other impacts on nature and the ecology.

Many people are worried about the loss of garden space. I understand that. More than 600 residential properties in Croydon would lose garden space. For about 110 properties, the loss would be so significant that the garden space left would be below council standards— a minimum of 8 m in length for a back garden. There would be increases in noise levels.

I have received more letters— well over 150— on this matter than on any single issue since I became a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Tim Smith

I have had a thousand.

Mr. Wicks

The party of inflation will speak for itself later. I have received more than 150 letters— not petitions or postcards, but handwritten letters from concerned groups. I pay tribute to the community groups in my borough and elsewhere, which have led the fight against the scheme. I pay tribute in particular to Vera Hunter and Charmienne Bold— two of our key local activists.

One pensioner from Norbury who wrote to me said in her letter that her husband had recently had a stroke and was now wheelchair-bound. She said that he did not need the added stress of their house being blighted by Central Railway. Another pensioner couple in Norbury said that they had spent all their savings on a house to make it comfortable for their old age, and they now feared that it would be uninhabitable, because of pollution.

Another constituent from Norbury said: If Central Railway have their way it will be sheer hell. There will be more filth and many other disadvantages. Another constituent from Thornton Heath said: The noise coming from these trains… would be unbearable. Another talked about her garden and said, perfectly reasonably, that her 81-year-old mother should be able to tend the whole garden she has lived with for over 50 years without any interference. Another constituent from Croydon said: I bought my house 2 years ago and have spent thousands of pounds renovating it to make it comfortable and also to increase its value. I have no intention of being driven out by the greed of a few people in high places. I could quote from many other letters, but both Opposition and Conservative Members wish to speak.

Central Railway should receive a gold medal in any Olympics for arrogance, and at least a silver medal for insensitivity. Despite inadequate funding and the fact that it is a toytown, tinpot company, it has sought the time of Parliament to pursue plans that have caused dismay and despair, not least to elderly people. I have had people literally in tears in my constituency about the human impact of the project line. I am angry on their behalf, as are other hon. Members, that they have been caused so much despair, dismay and sadness, not least by the arrogant lack of consultation and the bullying approach of Central Railway.

To my surprise, I saw in a local newspaper an article with the headline, "Railway expects yes vote". The article said: Central Railway says it is pleasantly surprised at the number of objections to its freight scheme through Croydon— 12,000. Why is it pleasantly surprised? It is because, the company says, It amounts to little more than 40 objections per kilometre. For a major scheme of this character one could expect a figure which would run into hundreds per kilometre. Such is the statistical fantasy land of that toytown company. These are people who would have described Chernobyl as a small bang.

The people of my constituency humbly hope that the House of Commons will represent them today. I believe that we shall. They feel that they are up against a big brother— a big company— but they also know that Parliament means something in our democracy. Very soon we shall show that we speak on behalf of our people by voting resoundingly, decisively and clearly no.

8.37 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

After listening to hon. Members on both sides of the House, I do not wish to try their patience by trying to demolish the already demolished, but I reflect on behalf of my constituents that in the past two or three years they have been subject to two massive infrastructure proposals. The first was the east-west route, which runs plumb across my constituency, and the second is the Central Railway project, which runs across it from north to south. If the two projects go through, my constituency will look like a hot-cross bun.

All that my constituency wants from my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads is a very small and inexpensive bypass at Tingewick, with which I have bored my hon. Friend on many occasions. Therefore, it is ironic that, instead of that much-needed bypass— people walk in danger of their lives every day— we are presented with two enormous schemes that would dissect the constituency and cause massive environmental problems, among other things.

I shall speak literally for a matter of minutes. Apart from stressing the environmental problems, particularly for Haddenham, the village that would be most damaged if the line was built, I should like to emphasise that there is an air of unreality about these proceedings, not only because there is such a measure of agreement across the House, but because we are discussing, seriously as we must, the whole spatchcocked idea in the first place. This is the type of plan that gives private enterprise a bad name, because it has a strong flavour of speculation. I have not looked up the south sea bubble debate, but no doubt we could have cribbed some terminology from there, had we tried.

I could go on for hours emphasising the pain that this has caused many people in my constituency, but I know that similar pain has been caused to other hon. Members' constituents, so I shall finish with the following thought. I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Minister imply that he would study the procedure under which massive planning applications can be made and cause massive disruption and— as this one has done— massive cost to the Government, when they are merely confetti and not worth the paper on which they are submitted.

8.40 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

There have been some excellent speeches in the debate, which have shown the strength of feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Minister— I do not criticise him for it— illustrated the genuine anxieties that he and his Department have, not only about the possible funding, but about the overwhelming opposition that has been expressed.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), in a telling speech, ripped apart the argument that has been presented. I represent a constituency in the London borough of Wandsworth. The borough has spent an enormous amount of time and money considering the proposals, and has made countless objections to them.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing made certain statements on the documents that he has. I also have one, which I am sure that other hon. Members have, headed: Central Railway's Response to Representation and Objections". It is lies or misinterpretation of what we know has been happening in the constituencies that we represent.

One of the points that the document makes about objections by local authorities is that most of the authorities object to the scheme on the basis that there has been insufficient consultation with them and that the information provided with the application is inadequate; how true. We in Wandsworth, and many of my constituents who are affected, have been trying and trying to find out what the proposals really mean, without great success.

On the third page of the document, there is the following statement: "Under this scheme homeowners are granted an option to sell their homes to the Company at a fixed price. Many hon. Members have been through all this before on other proposals, when at the end of the day people whose homes were being compulsorily purchased have had very little say in trying to get what they rightly believed to be the value of their property.

The document next discusses the environmental impact.

It says: The Company's investigations indicate that the operation of the railway will not create unacceptable increases in noise or vibration". The London borough of Wandsworth, which has done extensive work on that, says clearly, in documents that have been circulated to the three Members for the borough, that that is totally untrue.

My final point is about disruption during construction.

The document says: The project has been designed to minimise disruption during construction but some disruption is inevitable. The Minister said in his opening remarks that there will be seven-day working on much of the project. Do we not have an obligation, not only to look after the blight problem for our constituents, but to look after the general environment in which they live? The hon. Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) spoke of the problems that his constituency has had to suffer as a result of the cross-channel developments.

Very shortly, we shall have the opportunity to vote the order down, and I hope that we shall do so overwhelmingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) outlined—

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can advise the House as to whether any hon. Member will speak for the scheme tonight.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

I am

afraid that I cannot anticipate what hon. Members might wish to say.

Mr. Cox

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) makes an important point. We shall watch closely how many hon. Members go into the Aye Lobby tonight, and I do not think that we or the Tellers shall spend much time counting them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood spoke about the time of the overall development. If we have a public inquiry, which will take two years or more, and then the development work, the entire process might take five or six years. None of us has a right to be in the House tonight thinking about our constituents and saying, "Perhaps they will not like it, but we must live with it." I am sure that all of us here tonight who oppose the scheme want to see it defeated in the House. In six months' or a year's time, we shall not be faced with the prospect of the scheme being brought back because it has been changed in some way, if we defeat it tonight in its entirety.

8.45 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I support the strong objections that have been made to the proposal. I am keen for freight to move from road to rail, as I believe the House and the country are, but not in this way. In my constituency, there would be enormous damage to people in their homes, in that they would have trains thundering past close by, day and night, in a way that would damage unacceptably their health and morale and their way of life, beyond repair. In Greenford, Northolt and especially Perivale, there would be destruction of habitats, in addition to the damage to people in their homes.

Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Does my hon. Friend realise that there could be not only the five to six trains an hour that Central Railway has mentioned, but as many as 10 trains an hour, if third-party operators are also permitted to use the line?

Mr. Greenway

Yes, I am aware of that, and I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned it, because it emphasised his opposition to this unwanted, unsatisfactory development.

Many hon. Members want to speak. We all have a duty to represent our constituents' concerns. My constituents expressed their views to me by the thousand, in the form of a petition. Everyone opposed the scheme; no one wrote to me to say that they wanted it. I wish that people could have been informed of their opportunity to write with their objections by 1 July, long before they were given that information. In my constituency, people did not know that they could write and object to the scheme until the middle of June, leaving them with a fortnight. That is unsatisfactory.

The scheme is unsatisfactory in every way. It has been unsatisfactorily presented and mounted, and it has been unsatisfactorily handled throughout the short consultation stage. It should be thrown out unanimously.

8.48 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I have received the same petition and complaints as many right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken. I want to add to the debate, because there is no point in repeating much of what has been said, simply repeating what many of our constituents are saying.

This application shows the need to review the Transport and Works Act 1992. It is wrong that a company without any convincing financial ability can propose a scheme by drawing a line on the map without adequate consultation with any of the local authorities concerned, let alone other people, and put that scheme in such a way that it blights people's homes and businesses. In doing so, it will make many people lose money on their homes.

This is no way to plan a major infrastructure scheme. No attention has been paid to the height of bridges or to the need to deal with the infrastructure underneath the roads that the railway will cross. A proposal of this nature will put at risk electricity cables and gas and water mains. The Government cannot justify a system in which a minor company makes proposals without adequate thought and planning, and then expects to get it through on the ground that it can spell out the detail later once Parliament has approved it.

I appeal to the Minister to learn from this lesson. The Act must be amended to ensure that a company—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14B (Proceedings under an Act or on European Community Documents).

The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 172.

Division No. 213] [8.50 pm
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Deva, Nirj Joseph
French, Douglas
Gill, Christopher Tellers for the Ayes:
Leigh, Edward Mr. Don Foster and Mr. Robert Hughes.
Porter, David (Waveney)
Ainger, Nick Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Godman, Dr Norman A
Alexander, Richard Golding, Mrs Llin
Alton, David Gordon, Ms Mildred
Amess, David Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Gunnell, John
Austin-Walker, John Hall, Mike
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Hanley, Jeremy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Harman, Ms Harriet
Barnes, Harry Hawkins, Nick
Bayley, Hugh Hawksley, Warren
Beith, A J Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Bendall, Vivian Hodge, Ms Margaret
Benton, Joe Howard, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Hoyle, Doug
Body, Sir Richard Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Booth, Hartley Hutton, John
Boswell, Tim Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)
Boyson, Sir Rhodes Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Khabra, Piara S
Browning, Mrs Angela Kirkwood, Archy
Burden, Richard Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Burns, Simon Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Butler, Peter Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Byers, Stephen Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe)
Callaghan, Jim Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Lidington, David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Livingstone, Ken
Carrington, Matthew Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd)
Chidgey, David McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld)
Chisholm, Malcolm MacGregor, John
Church, Ms Judith Mackinlay, Andrew
Clapham, Michael McNamara, Kevin
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacShane, Denis
Coffey, Ms Ann McWilliam, John
Cohen, Harry Mahon, Mrs Alice
Congdon, David Maitland, Lady Olga
Conway, Derek Marland, Paul
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Corbyn, Jeremy Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Martlew, Eric
Corston, Ms Jean Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Couchman, James Meale, Alan
Cox, Tom Mellor, David
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Dicks, Terry Mills, Iain
Dobson, Frank Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dowd, Jim Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Duncan Smith, Iain Mullin, Chris
Dunn, Bob Neubert, Sir Michael
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Nicholls, Patrick
Eagle, Ms Angela Norris, Steve
Elletson, Harold Olner, Bill
Faulds, Andrew Ottaway, Richard
Fenner, Dame Peggy Paice, James
Flynn, Paul Pawsey, James
Foulkes, George Pearson, Ian
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Pike, Peter L
Gardiner, Sir George Pope, Greg
George, Bruce Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Gerrard, Neil Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Quin, Ms Joyce Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Rathbone, Tim Thomason, Roy
Rendel, David Tipping, Paddy
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Tracey, Richard
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Tyler, Paul
Rooker, Jeff Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rowe, Andrew Vaz, Keith
Scott, Sir Nicholas Walden, George
Shaw, David (Dover) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Shephard, Gillian Waller, Gary
Shersby, Sir Michael Wareing, Robert N
Short, Ms Clare Wells, Bowen
Skinner, Dennis Whitney, Ray
Smith, Chris (Islington S) Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld) Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Soley, Clive Wilkinson, John
Spearing, Nigel Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Speed, Sir Keith Wise, Mrs Audrey
Spellar, John Wolfson, Mark
Spink, Dr Robert Wood, Timothy
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Sutcliffe, Gerry Mr. Andrew Robathan and Mr. Bill Etherington.
Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Question accordingly negatived.