HC Deb 30 November 1999 vol 340 cc141-3
10. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

What progress he has made in establishing regional Eurostar services north of London. [99016]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin)

The provision of Eurostar services north of London is currently the subject of an extensive review, the results of which we expect to receive shortly.

Mr. Kidney

When the decision whether to proceed is finally taken, will that decision be fully informed not only by the Government's excellent transport policies but by their equally excellent policies for regional economic development and social inclusion?

Mr. Mullin

The review has to take into account a wide range of factors, not least of which are the viability of the service and environmental, social and economic considerations. We expect to receive its report shortly.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What assessment has the hon. Gentleman made of the technological impediments to the operation of regional Eurostar services? Will he favour us by providing a copy of that assessment in the Library?

Mr. Mullin

When the report is available, all the technological aspects will also be dealt with, and the hon. Gentleman will be rewarded—he can spend many hours studying them.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Does the Minister agree that there is no finer example of what the previous Government left us than the north-south divide, and the fact that the Eurostar service does not run north of London? That is despite the promises made in the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 and despite the fact that millions of pounds of public money were put into the project. Does he also agree that if Eurostar is to run a service on the west coast main line, that line must be upgraded? Is he satisfied with the work that Railtrack is putting in? Does he agree that if it is to cost £4 billion to upgrade the west coast main line, that would be money well spent.

Mr. Mullin

I understand that agreement has been reached on upgrading the west coast main line; I am sure that that will happen in the near future. As a Member who represents a constituency that is almost as far north as that of my hon. Friend, I share his desire to see Eurostar running services to the north. However, that will depend on what the review determines; the service must be viable.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Does the Minister understand that we are chronically short of railway capacity in this country, thanks to the Labour Government's policies? Was it not a great Labour lie to say that public transport would get better under this Government, when we all know that it is getting worse and is not providing the alternative that many want?

When, therefore, will the Minister and the Secretary of State take decisions on Railtrack's ways of obtaining revenue? Why will they not allow more revenue to be given to Railtrack when they expand the network, and less for providing what is already being supplied? We have been waiting for a decision on that for months, but the Secretary of State will say absolutely nothing about it.

Would it not be common sense to spend the money that Railtrack does have on improvements to expand the capacity of the railway network instead of on taking over the Circle and District lines? We want new tracks; we do not want Railtrack to take on things that could be organised better with private money coming from different sources. The Government are short-changing the public; they are providing a bad service. It is high time that they woke up and brought in the money that is needed to do the job.

Mr. Mullin

I have to say that, even by the right hon. Gentleman' s normal standards, that was an exceptionally cynical performance. Under the present Government, the number of trains is up by 1,000 a day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Passengers?"] The number of passengers is up by about 14 per cent.