HL Deb 10 July 1974 vol 353 cc676-718

9.7 p.m.

VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the grave concern felt by some of the inhabitants of Kent and Surrey whose lives, health, property and amenities will be injuriously affected by the proposed reconstruction of the existing Folkestone to Edenbridge railway line to take super high speed trains to and from the Continent. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. As noble Lords will see, my Question relates to the rail link between the Channel Tunnel entrance at Cheriton and a rail terminal at the White City. As this is planned to pass through Kent and Surrey I must begin by declaring a personal interest. I live in Kent and the work proposed and the consequences must adversely affect my family's property near the village of Leigh between Tonbridge and Edenbridge, though the house in which I live is about a mile from the existing railway where British Rail plan to double the permanent way. I hope your Lordships will believe me when I say that my personal interest is not the reason why I am here to-night.

In raising this Question, I feel it is my duty to voice as strongly and urgently as possible the alarm, and indeed consternation, which is now being felt by thousands of families whose lives and wellbeing as well as property will suffer to a degree which is only just beginning to be realised. The disaster impending is now being realised both by those affected and by a wider public whose sense of equity and fair dealing is being grossly offended by the current proposals. Their sense of fairness is even more deeply affronted by the manner in which this vitally important matter is being literally "rail-roaded" through by British Rail. I believe this is the first opportunity given to either House of Parliament to debate this most important aspect of the Channel Tunnel scheme and to view it as a unity.

I shall be as brief as the complexity of the subject allows. In 30 years of Parliamentary life, I have gained some experience of public administration. In particular, I have learned the vocabulary of official circumlocution and evasion, but I am not an engineer, a surveyor or an architect. Doing my best to understand the subject matter of my Question, I have had to rely upon a number of official, semi-official and other expert studies on the British Rail rail-link proposals. I am especially indebted to an independent study made by a committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects. If this evening I am sometimes compelled to quote rather extensively from these sources, I trust I shall have the indulgence of the House.

I want to persuade Her Majesty's Government of two things. First, I want to show to their satisfaction as well as to mine that the present British Rail proposals are, in certain vital particulars, in direct opposition to a settled Government approach to the intitiation and planning of major public works. Secondly, quite apart from the merits or otherwise of the particular objections which I shall advance, I hope to show that the form of the inquiry and the timetable now being proposed for the final consideraton of the scheme must be in conflict with all the wider considerations of public and private interest. They must be in conflict, because no firm answers are as yet available to some very fundamental questions. These we must not allow to be begged by hasty, premature and incomplete consideration: and begged they will be for all foreseeable time if we allow matters to proceed as now intended.

I should like now to refer, if I may, to the White Paper, Development and CompensationPutting People First, which was presented to Parliament in 1972. The Introduction states the principles informing the White Paper. Of these, I quote three, all of which are applicable. First: Noisy and unattractive public developments must, by better planning, be separated from people and their homes".

And again: Noise, smell and other forms of pollution must be reduced to a minimum at source—if it is practicable, eliminated".

Lastly: No time must be lost in carrying through the new approach to design and planning, to remedial works and sound installation, to acquisition and compensation".

There are, so far as I know, no Party differences over these principles. How, then, can these accepted principles be reconciled with the current British Rail proposals to route their super-high-speed rail traffic on the existing route through the very heart of a large number of peaceful, populous and ancient communities in Kent and Surrey? Clearly, the present proposals are in precise opposition to the first principle I have just quoted, that noise must be separated from people and their homes.

We must look ahead not merely to 1980, but to 1990 and beyond. At this later date, the rail link will carry 280 trains within the 24 hours, possibly for 365 days each year, at speeds up to 180 miles an hour for passengers; and, in the case of freight, with trains up to half-a-mile long. The rail link will carry them through the growing Southern outskirts of Ashford, through Pluckley, Mar-den and Paddock Wood, through Five Oak Green, Tonbridge and Leigh, through Chiddingstone Causeway, Bough Beech and Edenbridge. Thereafter they will go on into Surrey by routes which are not yet decided and so through outer suburbs of London to the White City Terminal and across the Thames. I will not detain the House by going into the visual aspects of the new line. Metal poles 18 ft, high at 200 ft. intervals, carrying overhead power cables will not exactly enhance the beauty of the Kent and Surrey countryside.

Whatever the route ultimately chosen, we shall suffer deeply by the desecration of a lovely landscape if the rail is to be laid above ground. But in deciding, without publishing supporting facts and figures, that it will follow, with minor deviations, the existing Folkestone-Eden-bridge route, British Rail will ensure that it will pollute with a constant and horrifying din the ears of tens of thousands of people whose homes stand close to the existing line side. More than 20,000 people live within 500 yards of the line between Pluckley and Edenbridge. Of course, noise will not fade to nothing at that distance. Many thousands more will suffer severely.

You might expect that the consideration of noise would be one of the principal factors influencing British Rail in their choice of route. After all, we have had 30 years' experience of airports and realise only too well how inadequate was the attention which the previous generation of planners gave to this over-mastering element in our community life. We have seen how its consideration dominated all the inquiries into the choice of a site for a third London Airport.

The public's only source of knowledge of the project which we are considering, supplied by British Rail itself, is a 6½ page publication Channel Tunnel… A document for Consultation, with a number of out of date maps as a supplement.

There is not one line in it devoted to noise. The word is never mentioned. Instead, we are told that British Rail rejected the three alternative routes suggested by their consulting engineers as long ago as 1970 as being environmentally unacceptable because they all involved very long lengths of entirely new railway … striking across large tracts of unspoiled countryside in Kent".

One must be grateful for this aesthetic perception.

It should be noted that all the alternative routes have been pronounced as being feasible in railway engineering and operational terms. What about spoiling people and their homes? What is environment? Is it only fields and trees and hills, and are people excluded—like Adam and Eve—from the Garden of Eden? By British Rail definition, environment must be "where every prospect pleases and only man is vile"—or should we say "cheap"?

We ought to be told by British Rail, both in Parliament and outside, precisely what were the considerations which led them to reject these alternatives. What, for example, is the length of each route and its estimated cost, including, of course, compensation for all forms of "disbetterment", the cost-benefit figures, the communities affected, the comparative environmental effects, including noise pollution? We ought to know too how the choice of the White City, as opposed to the G.L.C.'s strong preference for the Surrey Docks, would relate to all these other factors. Every schoolboy with a map and a ruler can see that the Surrey Docks, on the East side of London and South of the river, are much closer to Cheriton than to the White City.

It is, indeed, strange that the G.L.C.'s views should have been so summarily dismissed without facts given or arguments adduced, and a much longer route selected to a destination on the West of London, with all the further ill-effects which each additional yard of track brings to the people involved and their environment. Instead of supporting evidence, we are flatly told by Mr. Marsh in his foreword to the Consultation Document: As far as possible this new rail link will follow

—note the future imperative— the alignment of existing rail routes".

Surely, my Lords, it must be wrong, and wholly inconsistent, that the choice of a third airport should have been publicly investigated in great detail, and consideration of this vast and complicated matter affecting both London and all South-East England should be confined, as effectively it must be, by Private Bill procedures, to a discussion in Select Committee of British Rail's own chosen route. Practically, it will be impossible under the rules of procedure to introduce considerations wider than those put into the Bill by skilful Parliamentary draftsmen. It is in this context that I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the pre-eminently important factor of noise.

In what is called a "standard letter" written to the residents of Whyteleafe, Surrey, a Dr. Bonavia of British Rail wrote this: The problem of noise is a complete one. Only in recent years have standards been established for road and traffic noise and aircraft. Both of these are dissimilar to railway noise. We are therefore carrying out research in two ways—to establish standards and to minimise noise generation. This work is being carried out by our Derby Research Laboratories and the University of Southampton, which social surveys are in hand. An interim report has been made and fuller details will be available at the end of the year.

Dr. Bonavia continued: So far as noise generation and vibration are concerned, the trains on this line will be powered by electricity and travel on continuously welded rails, which would have an appreciable effect in reducing the level of noise produced. Once standards have been established in regard to rail noise, which we would expect to be before the British Rail Bill has passed through Parliament, it will be possible, at the subsequent stage of detailed design, to take any measures considered necessary for noise reduction.

My Lords, could anyone, without actually saying so, admit more clearly that British Rail as yet knows little or nothing about the propagation or the effects of noise generated by super high-speed trains? And pray how will they be able to take "any measures necessary"—and British Rail will be the judges of necessity—if they do not yet know the problems to be solved?

Fortunately, the percipience of the Surrey County Council has been equal to the occasion. Reporting in May this year, the County Planning Officer wrote: There is a considerable shortage of knowledge"—

on the subject of noise— in relation to high-speed trains. British Rail has commissioned a study and social survey by the Southampton Institute of Sound and Vibration Research"—

and mark these words— but the full results will not become available for about two years.

In other words, if the present timetable is observed the rail link route is to be incorporated in an Act of Parliament before the most essential information, in a little explored field fundamental to the proper choice of route, is available to either House—surely a Gilbertian situation. The County Planning Officer goes on to point out that the situation of people living and working alongside the new route cannot be compared with the situation of those who already live, or who have chosen to live, alongside already very busy main lines.

He properly concludes: It is essential that the mistakes of the past in relation to airport siting and motorway building are not repeated in this project, and this can only be ensured if the route and construction is chosen on the basis that the noise effects are likely to be bad, because there is no proof as yet that it will be otherwise.

It would be wiser to accept the County Planning Officer's pessimistic assessment than to be beguiled by British Rail's anodyne statements that the horrifying Japanese experience of high-speed trains is not applicable here. From the figures already available it is fair to deduce that for people with normal hearing, when the British Rail plans are fulfilled, life will become intolerable within a range of 500 yards either side of the line, and very unpleasant up to at least half a mile—and remember, my Lords, 20,000 people live within 500 yards of the track.

The project of the Channel Tunnel and the associated rail link are designed to be of economic benefit to the whole nation. It will, one must also note, be of great benefit to the economy of Northern France whose natural beauties cannot be compared to the landscape of South-East England. It is not an exaggeration to say that, unless exceptional methods and exceptional expenditures are accounted as a proper social cost of the scheme, decent family and community life will be destroyed in all the towns and villages of Kent and Surrey likely to be inundated by noise. So, at the very least, all of us who are aware of the magnitude of the problem and of the certain damage to both persons and to environmental interests under the scheme as envisaged must ask with ever-increasing insistence that the proposed British Rail Private Bill should not be introduced into the 1974–75 legislative programme.

My Lords, I know that the Secretary of State for the Environment now proposes to ask Parliament for special consideration for the introduction of the Private Bill after the normal date for the deposit of such Bills, which should be November of this year. However, this would allow no more than a further two months for discussions, and then only with official bodies. In the context, this must still be far too short a period. I believe that I am supported in this opinion by the Greater London Council, the Surrey County Council and the Kent County Council.

On the question of the choice of the best or, rather, the least harmful route, a special responsibility rests upon the Kent County Council. All the alternative routes cited pass through the County of Kent. Therefore I ask Her Majesty's Government what the recent Statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment means in practical terms? When the Secretary of State says that the Minister of Transport will discuss the possible route with local authorities in the course of the next few months, does he mean that the whole route, plus each of the alternatives mentioned by British Rail, will be reconsidered, or will the discussions be confined to the still undecided sections round Ashford and through East Surrey? In that case, no attention will have been paid to the strong objections made to British Rail for the use of the existing line through Kent to the Surrey border.

My Lords, I want to believe in the fairness and candour of the Secretary of State. I should be happier about his Statement if he had not specifically limited these further discussions to two months or so—a totally inadequate time for a full review. In justice, certainly he must leave room for all popular and unofficial views to be properly heard and represented. So far they have been given only a few weeks to formulate their considered objections. Without adequate time, Mr. Marsh's own statement in the foreword to the document— Public opinion … understandably claims the right to participate in the planning decisions"—

does no more than to compose an exercise in farce. Therefore may I ask for an unequivocal reply from Her Majesty's Government to my question about the exact nature of this further examination.

Whatever the route chosen—whether it is to the White City or to the Surrey Docks—the Kent County Council must insist that the scheme provides for the protection of the people of their county from noise pollution in the terms of the White Paper which I have quoted already: either by tunnelling or by "cutting and covering" through populated areas. It must not be suborned into accepting a bad deal merely on the question of cost. Indeed, in duty Kent County Council cannot acquiesce to the imposition of an intolerable burden upon the county. For Members tamely and unquestionably to accept that the full weight of this vast national and international project should fall upon the people of Kent, or upon any section of it, would be to betray the trust placed in them by their electors.

My Lords, I am sure that in these circumstances we may rely upon the Kent County Council henceforward to represent forcefully and successfully the requirements of any scheme for a rail link through the county which is to be tolerable to the people and their environment. Manifestly, the present plans are not. Whatever the outcome, the people to be involved in the consequences of the scheme can fairly and rightly ask that there should be time for the full facts to become known, for all the choices available to be measured, and for evidence that county councils, Parliament and Her Majesty's Government alike care about what happens to them. That is why I ask Her Majesty's Government to think again and to proceed in the first instance by means of a planning inquiry Commission.

We are dealing with part of a very large and intricate problem which is far-reaching in terms of the future and on a scale so great that all the conflicting factors must be brought together and resolved in public—not behind closed doors. That is just the kind of problem which the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 gave a planning inquiry Commission power to deal with. Only then, my Lords, can the people whose lives, whose health, whose property and amenities may gravely suffer be assured that they do really matter to authority.

9.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount does well to ask this Question and I support him in asking it. The question has not been answered—indeed, there has hardly been time to ask it properly—and he has echoed the sentiments of local authorities and amenity societies and everybody who cares at all about conservation matters, in declaring that these things have not been properly looked at, that the questions have not been asked, because they cannot yet be asked on the information available, and that they have certainly not been answered.

I do not want to raise the issue of the Channel Tunnel. If we have a Channel Tunnel then of course I accept that there must be a railway, but my concern is the lack of a proper environmental study for the construction of such a railway. The noble Viscount has dealt with the discomfort, the loss of amenity, the loss of property and so on that people living nearby will suffer. I also feel strongly about the visual amenity, rural land use and all the other things connected with land use in what is the most highly populated part of Europe.

This is the first new railway that has been built in this country for 60 years and, indeed, it is the first railway that British Rail has ever built. The staff that they have to evaluate the problems that go with building new railways is pitifully small, and I want to make it quite plain that the criticisms which I shall be making of British Rail are with the full knowledge that the very small staff they have at present have done the best they can. But the staff that they have is infinitely smaller than the corresponding staff of the road construction units, and they obviously have far less expertise than the road construction units. Indeed, insofar as they have never built a new railway, one can say that they have no experience whatever.

They produced a Consultative Document last February, not before they had been chivvied to try to do so earlier. I sympathise because they probably could not do it with the staff they had. The document was produced in February; there was a meeting on February 7, which was almost immediately following the date of the document itself, and the public were told that the views on the Consultative Document must be in before the end of March—although, of course, it was made known that consultations about the document would continue all the time. The document itself is really very slight. The sort of document one would have expected for an evaluation of a new railway line of this magnitude, even if it had been done with the greatest lucidity and conciseness, would be quite a big volume, whereas, in fact, it is a very small one.

The noble Viscount suggested that even the maps they used were out of date. I do not know about that; all I know is that the maps were so inadequate that I should not like to say whether or not they were out of date. There was no environmental assessment at all, either by British Rail or by the Department of the Environment. The evaluation was entirely on the short-term transport issue and no more. Indeed, so far as the environmental assessment was concerned, British Rail suggested that this ought to be done by local authorities and amenity societies. I hope the Government will take note that British Rail think that this sort of task ought to be done by amenity societies, and will give those amenity societies of which I have any knowledge some money to do it. In fact, that is a nonsense. This kind of environmental evaluation must go hand in hand with the transport evaluation. You cannot separate the two. You cannot say, "We will evaluate the transport problem and leave the environmental problem to amenity societies or local authorities".

Indeed, when it was suggested that the motorways landscape advisory committee should be used for the evaluation of visual amenities of this new railway line, this was turned down. I do not know whether this was done by the Department of the Environment or by British Rail, but the suggestion was that after the line had been chosen, consultants would afterwards be engaged. This is the wrong approach. This is really dealing with the matter entirely from a cosmetic point of view. When you have done something which possibly you should not have done you can prettify it a bit in a cosmetic kind of way. But when you are building a new railway line of this kind this is not the way you should be doing it. You should be doing the thing as one complete whole, so that you evaluate the two matters together, the environmental aspects and everything which goes with them—everything that comes under the heading of land use, whether it is noise or visual amenity or people's property or whatever.

I feel that the evaluation in this report was done in altogether too narrow a way. This is absurd. As the noble Viscount has already said there was no evaluation whatever, no details of noise levels, and I daresay this applies to all aspects of the environmental questions. It looks to me as if the fault lies not with British Rail but with the Department of the Environment who asked the wrong questions of British Rail. They suggested that British Rail should look at it in this narrow context, and that is what British Rail have done.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should like to follow his argument. Is he arguing that if in fact it was decided first where to put the road or the railway, then this will be the final decision, and everything else must be accommodated within that decision?


My Lords, I am afraid I did not understand the noble Lord's question. Would he put it to me again?


My Lords, the noble Lord is arguing that people who are concerned to establish a railroad or a road and who make a decision on it have the final decision. I think if we make that decision then everything else must be accommodated within the decision where the road or railway line is going to be. I could not understand the argument.


It would seem that neither of us across the Chamber understands the other. I am trying to say that if you are embarking on a scheme of such magnitude as the Channel Tunnel with its link of our railway with railways abroad and with the channelling of traffic into London going across an area of very great visual beauty and high population then in deciding where the line has to be you have to be absolutely certain that you take into consideration all these questions which are embraced by conservation, land-use, environment and so on. You cannot in isolation say, "Commercially this is the right line to take, and having taken that line we will then prettify it as best we can". I am saying that this is the wrong approach. Nowadays, you must take these two things together. In the past, we have very often not taken them together, whether it has been roads or, in the Victorian times, railways, or a thousand and one other things across the whole field of industry. Because we failed to take these matters as a whole we have made a mess of it. This is what I am trying to convey to the noble Lord, and I do not believe that we are all that far apart.

The noble Viscount said that the timetable was all wrong, and I think that this is really the key to the whole matter. We have been granted a delay, but for how long? Will it be time for the proper environmental evaluation which, as I was trying to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, we must have, or will it just be that it is put back from November simply to be a late Bill, as it is technically called, in the Private Bill field? If that is all, the granting of a delay really means nothing, because the time that has been available for the evaluation of this problem is less than that generally given for the preparation of any new motorway. Yet this kind of railway line may well cause a greater disturbance in a highly-populated area where there are already existing railway lines which have to be conformed to than would a new motorway.

My Lords, the noble Lord also raised the question, and was echoing the sentiments of all the local authorities involved, as to whether this should have been allowed to remain within the sphere of the Private Bill at all. A good many people have asked for a planning inquiry permission. That has been refused. I wonder why. I hope the noble Lord will give me, and the noble Viscount who asked the Question, a very satisfactory answer as to why the permission was refused. One of the reasons I object to its not being subject to this kind of inquiry is the expense and difficulty to which environmental bodies are put in trying to oppose such Bills which they feel it is their duty to oppose. Governments recognise this, and ways and means of trying to pay for this have been looked into.

In my opinion and that of the noble Viscount, this just will not do. It is no good just considering the narrow commercial cost, which is what British Rail have been asked to do. We must consider the environmental and social cost. I admit the immediate short-term cost of doing the amount of tunnelling under Surrey, which the noble Viscount and I (and many other people) feel ought to be done, is very high indeed. However, in terms of what one is trying to protect for future generations and for ourselves, I wonder whether this is not really a relative cost. In that context, I hope that a good deal of attention will be paid to the time in which capital costs of this kind are written off. Even council houses are written off after about 60 years. My guess is that the calculations have been made on the basis that we write this off in about 70 years. I am not an actuary, but there comes a point at which the figure written off, according to the rate of interest, is tantamount to infinity. Sometimes we have all written these things off at too short a period.

I strongly support the noble Viscount, in that despite what has often been said, possibly jokingly, we have been considering the Channel Tunnel and all its concomitants for 170 years, it is time we got on with it. That may well be so, if we are to get on with it at all, but one cannot dive into this kind of decision as to where to put a railway line in the short time available to us. The people designing the railway line cannot do it properly. The people who have got to criticise it cannot conceivably do it, and if we remain with the kind of timetable that we have given ourselves, we will finish up with a terrible mess.

9.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad my noble friend Lord De L'Isle has raised this question of the Channel Tunnel rail link, as it is really a distressing and disturbing feature for all of us who live in that area of Kent. In saying that, I hope your Lordships will accept that I have declared my interest. The noble Viscount has covered the ground most thoroughly and (if I may say so) most forcefully. At this late hour I do not want to be repetitious nor to delay your Lordships unnecessarily. However, I should like to underline certain features to support my view that the present scheme is ill-conceived, and thoroughly lacking in any regard for the human element, and without sufficient time and thought having been given to it.

The so-called Consultation Document to which the noble Viscount referred, which was prepared I think by British Rail, is glaringly inadequate. It smacks of a kind of confidence trick to try to lull the fears and suspicions of those directly affected by the rail link scheme into a sense of false security. Some of the maps to which the noble Viscount referred, I am told, are as much as thirty years out of date. No assessment of the noise pollution has even been attempted. It is no wonder that the national Press and the R.I.B.A. Report pour scorn on the use of such a document, which, as they say, makes a mockery of genuine consultation. In my opinion, both the Department of the Environment and British Rail should hide their heads in shame.

I live within the parish of Leigh—spelled Leigh but pronounced "Lye"—and I have done so for the past forty years. The proposed new high-speed rail as at present planned will pass within 50 yards of 87 per cent. of the population of Leigh. Up to date the existing line, to which it is proposed to add the high-speed rails, has been what I would refer to as a delightfully lazy, inoffensive branch line with a few trains a day passing through and providing no real noise pollution to which a reasonable citizen could object. But imagine that situation being stepped up to a traffic of one high-speed train travelling at 125 m.p.h. passing through every 7½ minutes both by day and by night. All peace of mind will be destroyed. The night will become a permanent nightmare, and the area will become an area of desolation. I ask your Lordships to try to visualise one of the most pleasant village greens in the county of Kent, where spectators come from London and from many areas miles away, bringing a picnic luncheon, to relax and watch the weekend cricket matches, being suddenly disturbed every 7½ minutes by the roar of a train travelling within 150 yards of the cricket pitch at 125 m.p.h. I doubt whether the umpire would even be able to hear the appeals, and the villagers would certainly find it impossible—


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me. To a certain extent we are surely discussing, in considering the whole of the Channel Tunnel project, which this debate has now turned into, the economic future of the country. While understanding and appreciating the noble Lord's beautiful description of the village cricket match, surely this is not wholly relevant to the future of this country's link with the Continent and our economic viability.


My Lords, I can understand the noble Baroness's view, but I am trying to make a point which covers only 500 people in this little area, whereas I think the noble Viscount referred to something like 20,000 people in more or less the same position. I am going to develop this a little further, if I may.

What I was going to ask is, what is to happen to all those unsuspecting householders whose life savings have gone into buying and building houses close to the planned railway route? Will they be able to sell at a reasonable price? Of course not. Values have already fallen considerably, and will certainly fall further if the present plan is carried through. In that case, what compensation are these unlucky people to get? So far no one has been able to tell them.

It is not surprising that people in places such as Leigh, Bough Beach, Chidding-stone Causeway, and the other villages along the route are seething with discontent and indignation at the cavalier treatment they have received at the hands of British Rail and the Department of the Environment. They have been told that there are alternative routes, but precious little information is available about these alternative routes. In fact, British Rail give the impression that their minds are made up on the existing plan, and at the moment they can give little or no information on the alternatives. I suspect that they have been told to get on with it, and have not been left sufficient time to do their homework properly, and are consequently riding roughshod over everyone.

Why do we have to put up with this indecent haste? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will be able to tell us that. Why should we not be given time to understand even the whys and wherefores of what appears to be at present being forced on us? We are not even told what all this is going to cost. When one begins to think about the alteration of bridges and everything that goes with building a new line of this dimension, the cost will be fabulous. Maybe the answer is that the cost is going to be less than the alternative routes, but we do not know what the cost of the alternative routes is going to be.

I realise that we have, so to speak, been given a three months' reprieve, conceded by the Minister in his Press release of July 1, but that is not long enough lime in which to get satisfactory answers to all these questions, and the explanations that are required. Incidentally, it is not sufficient time for British Rail to complete their sound pollution studies and tell us what the result of those studies is. A public inquiry would give all sides time and opportunity to examine the problems and the alternatives and to reach a businesslike decision. If the Government are unable to agree, then surely the whole Channel Tunnel scheme is at least becoming suspect, and should be re-examined in the light of our present economic situation as to whether it is a luxury we can no longer afford.

9.54 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that you will accept my apologies if I have to leave. I hope to leave London tonight, a little later than I had anticipated. I may not be able to stay to the end of this debate. I must declare my interest. I live in Kent a long way from where this new line is to be built—a parallel line, a halt line at Leigh. I know something about the Hemsholtz theory of resonance, where you carry sound to the threshold of pain, and I have no doubt that it may be reached eventually. That is not my reason for joining in the debate. I accept that the Government have made a decision, which I shall discuss in a moment, regarding the Channel Tunnel and all that it implies.

My second reason for speaking tonight is that I have limited respect for the British Railways Board. I have no doubt that the management has improved since Mr. Marsh took over, but I think, as the R.I.B.A.'s recent report on the proposals under discussion said, that British Railways have approached the task much as they might have done in the 19th century when the last major railways were built. Why do I limit my respect for British Rail? It is because they have been responsible for poisoning the centres of many towns and cities. Railway arches in a city like Manchester, or on the South Bank are dreary, dirty and badly controlled and the railways do nothing to improve them. Arches have a damnable effect on life in the areas where they exist, and practically every big city has more than its share of them.

I called your Lordships' attention two years ago—and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, confirmed by observation—that nine railway arches over the road in Central Manchester, have not been in use since 1960. They should have been removed by now, but nothing has happened in Manchester since that date. Neither has the British Railways Board dealt with the filthy arches which your Lordships can see if you care to drive along the South Bank of the Thames or at the back of St. Pan-eras and Paddington, which have affected the districts and the people who live in them.

The Railways Board last week announced that they have sold £5 million worth of their properties. Hurrah! But they still control major spaces throughout the country, and local authorities find it practically impossible to deal with its Estates Department. The story of the attempts by Manchester City Corporation to buy the Central Station is something that a Select Committee should investigate. There have been a number of articles published in responsible newspapers suggesting "scandal" in the Estates Department. I learn from underground newspapers that some of the people responsible for the British Railways Estates Department have resigned to get positions—maybe more profitable, maybe less profitable—with property companies and estate agents. I should say, in all fairness to the British Railways Board and to Mr. Marsh, that they announced last week that they are restructuring their Estates Department. All this may appear irrelevant to your Lordships; in my opinion, it is not.

Parliament and people in the areas under discussion are being asked to give a blank cheque to British Rail to present a Private Bill. I, for one, would not trust British Rail with such a blank cheque; I would not trust them to deal with aesthetic things, pollution, sound or anything that goes with it. I have no doubt that my noble friends—I have three on the Benches below me, whom I respect for their political judgment and their sense of social justice—will say that the changes can be made after the Bill has been passed. That is what we have been talking about. Can changes be made by local people, modest people, people with limited incomes, parishes with limited rate powers when the Bill has been passed? I doubt whether it is practical. After the Bill has gone through both Houses it is practically impossible to make any serious changes.

I believe that this situation has arisen before and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworlhy, to say whether it is possible for the British Railways Private Bill to be passed in this House in a few weeks. The Secretary of State for the Environment, the right honourable Anthony Crosland, said in April in the other place that: The object of proceeding with Phase 2 is to keep our options open. It does not prejudge any decision on the project beyond the end of the present phase", which I understand will end in the summer of next year. This means that Parliament and the Government will then have to finally decide whether or not to sign Agreement No. 3 and build the Tunnel.

What are we talking about to-night? We are talking about time for genuine consultation. If Parliament and the Government do so decide, and the British Railways Board Private Bill is passed—which will be within their power—in November this year, there will not be a reasonable chance of success in getting a change made. The proposed timetable is too rigorous. We are now asked to make up our minds whether to allow British Rail to submit a Private Bill in November, 1974, and we know that it will have to be drafted in the next few weeks. Taking into consideration the scale of the project, it seems to me that this cannot be done with any care. In the R.I.B.A. report that the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, mentioned, they said that the maps included in the British Railways Consultation Document (which had only six pages of description) were in some cases thirty years out of date, and it made it impossible to relate the proposal to existing roads, residential and other developments. Why trust the British Railways Board?

Although the proposed route passes through areas of outstanding natural beauty, so far as the R.I.B.A. could find out—and I made my own inquiries—no landscape architects or planners have been appointed to the team designing the route, and certainly they made no contribution to the British Railways Board's document. The line, as your Lordships have heard, will pass through the centres of villages and hamlets, and through the centre of towns like Tonbridge, and in the document all this is ignored as if it did not exist. The document also does not give proper reporting on the fact that it will be necessary to raise roads and footbridges. In fact, I think the document is rather misleading. It concentrates on those sections of route which are new sections of railway, and not on lines which run parallel with existing railway lines, about which the noble Viscount spoke.

There should be consultations on what is proposed. As Lord Kindersley said, it makes a mockery of genuine consultation when all that has happened is confrontation with engineers. I would not trust engineers to do the landscaping of Kent, Surrey or any other county of this country. There are alternative schemes, which my noble friend and others have spoken about, and I think these should be discussed before the Bill is presented. This cannot be a matter for consideration in isolation by the Railways Board alone. In Kent we have the line which has been spoken about: an existing, unobtrusive railway system, providing a daily service taking children to school, workers to work and shoppers to the market towns. Let us take the analogy of a motorway. We have learned a great deal about motorways in the last ten years, and it is now accepted practice to route them away from villages and towns. Why not the Channel Tunnel railway line?

When the British Railways Bill is ready I understand—and perhaps my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy can confirm this—that the Department of the Environment will then have two weeks in which to determine the possibilities of British Rail's proposal. Could this possibly include the questions raised to-night—noise pollution, the effect on the countryside of overhead electric cables and so on? Is there time for serious consideration and thought, before the Bill goes through Parliament, by other than the British Railways Board? I join the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, and the noble Lords, Lord Henley and Lord Kindersley, in hoping that the Government will take note of what has been said to-day, and that the "deadline" of November. 1974, and all that that implies, will be put back to give proper time for consultation. There are too many reminders of too-hasty action based on inadequate research. Do not let us add another mistake to these past errors. A public inquiry would not be under pressure from external sources and vested interests. A public inquiry under the Town and Country Planning Act 1965 would have wider terms of reference and be more flexible, and would make it less expensive for local authorities to fight the Railways Board's Bill. I want to repeat: I do not trust the British Railways Board in this matter to do what is right and proper.

10.4 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Viscount, not only on behalf of myself, since I live in Kent and have lived in Kent the whole of my life, but also on behalf of thousands of others who want their case thoroughly put before the authorities, and not have to live in a complete state of darkness, such as that in which they have lived, about what is going to happen to them. I have not had the noble Viscount's experience in Parliament, but I have been over fifty years in the public life of Kent. In that county I have attended countless meetings of every sort, kind and description; and I have been vice-chairman and chairman of the county council. All I can say is that, of all the meetings that I have been to, I have never seen ordinary, quiet, Kentish folk so angry, so frustrated, so disgusted and so absolutely distrustful of any authority as I have seen them at meetings concerning this Channel Tunnel.

I do not blame the officials who have come down to those meetings to answer questions: they, of course, have had to talk to a brief. British Rail have been told to build a railway, and they have to set about trying to do it. The Minister concerned with environmental noise abatement, or something like that, has to go on figures as he sees them and as the Department sees them, and none of them has any knowledge of the locality at all. As to noise, which the noble Viscount emphasised, a gramophone record of the noise of all kinds of trains travelling at different speeds was played at meetings and the decibels involved were explained. Unfortunately, there were three people at one of the meetings who had very accurate and completely modern measurement machines in the audience and they took the decibels too and the official noise abatement decibel figures were completely inaccurate.

I urge the Government to realise, as the noble Viscount has so ably and quietly pointed out, that they are dealing with human beings here. The file which I have here holds about one-tenth of the letters which I have had from individuals whose houses may be knocked down and who have no idea what is going to happen to them. They find railway surveyors in their gardens, yet not one word has been said to them about what is happening. If there had not been a good deal of noise made about this matter, I do not know that these meetings would ever have been held.

The noble Viscount, quite naturally, dealt with the areas which he knows so well. I know the Marden-Staplehurst-Headcorn area. These are possibly smaller villages, but they are extraordinarily difficult ones through which to take a railway line. It will be going right through the middle of the houses. At Marden, the church is on one side of a cutting and the vicarage is on the other. There is a bridge straight after the station. An enormous concrete bridge with double archways will have to be put right in the middle of the village. One could go on giving examples of problems which have never been properly investigated.

I attended one heavily attended meeting in Tonbridge. It has been found that one cannot tunnel right under Tonbridge, as was to have happened. I only hope that the line will not touch the noble Viscount's estate anywhere. No one can really find out. Three routes were put on a map which was not very accurate. We discovered that the Medway will have to be diverted in two places. And so we go on, not knowing what we are up against. Now it has been pointed out that we have a short reprieve. If there had not been that reprieve there would have been chaos. One can only hope that something can be done during the period of that reprieve. Unless there is a comprehensive public inquiry into the whole of what is going on and into the whole question of the Channel Tunnel so far as it affects Kent, I cannot see how any satisfaction whatever will be achieved. For some unknown reason, that demand for a public inquiry has been turned down, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley said.

I am not going through all those things that have been said already, because one can talk about this matter for a very long time. The noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, mentioned the cost. I do not believe that anyone has any idea of what the cost will be. We have just heard that last year British Rail lost £51 million and they expect to lose £100 million in the next year. They have just been granted £1,500 million over the next five years—that represents £300 million a year for five years. They have just written off £180 million or more of debts; and so it goes on. I gather that the price of the Channel Tunnel has already gone up from £840 million to about £1,500 million. What will it be later? Will it be £5,000 million? I do not believe that anybody knows.

I have asked people in the Eastern counties and in the North whether they will come to Cheriton to use the Channel Tunnel if it is ever built. They just laugh at the idea. Eastern counties folk say, "We have Harwich, Felixstowe and the Humber: we can go to The Hague, to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. You need another three bridges over the Thames if you want us to come down to Cheriton".

The noble Lord, Lord Mais, wanted to speak on this question tonight but he has had to attend another function. He asked me to say that he would have raised the whole question of the White City which he, with his great experience of London, regards as quite the wrong place for the terminal. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, also wanted to speak tonight. The proposed roadway will go right through his farm. I have letters here from the National Trust. The next property is that of the noble Viscount, Lord Chilston, which will be almost obliterated by the proposed road. And so it goes on, and nobody knows what the cost of all this will be.

People ask what the compensation rates will be; but we have never had any proper answer to that question. As the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, pointed out, every minute houses in the affected area are losing their value because of this rail link. Exactly the same thing applies to the road. I do not wish to say any more, because it would be merely reiterating a great deal of what has already been said. But I do not think that anybody realises what this business involves and what it will mean to perfectly innocent people who are having the whole of their lives upset and even their homes taken away from them or destroyed.

10.13 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I shall be brief; and secondly, as is quite obvious, I do not live in Kent. But I frequently visit a close friend of mine who lives near Staplehurst Station and I know what will happen in that area if these plans are proceeded with. I fully support the suggestion which was first made by the noble Viscount who raised this Question, that there should be some kind of public inquiry into the whole project. Mr. Heath has been criticised for taking us into Europe without the full-hearted consent of the British people. I would suggest to-night that if the Government proceed with their present plans they will be guilty of planning this rail link without the full-hearted consent of the people who live in South-East England.

I do not want to burden the House any further, except to suggest that none of us, as we sit in this House, has any idea of what the composition of the Government will be next November. I should have thought that that alone would have given them reason to pause before pursuing the present course. I hope that the noble Lord who will be replying to the debate will give us some hope that further consideration will be given to this matter before the present procedures are continued.

10.15 p.m.


My Lords, I too will be very brief. This year my family connections with Kent (which were severed for several centuries) were happily renewed. Before this year (but not now I hasten to assure the noble Viscount) I had looked upon Kent as a county you went through fairly rapidly on the way to the Continent and so, apparently, does British Rail at this moment. As the noble Baroness opposite said, there may be strong economic reasons for that. I must remember to ask my Pennsylvanian friends what was the origin of the expression, "On the wrong side of the tracks". I know that it had a social connotation, but undoubtedly there was a noise factor involved; and here I gladly support the noble Viscount, Lord De Lisle, in saying British Rail, and their advisers, should have dealt with the noise problem very much earlier than they have done.

I do not believe that British Rail can fairly be accused of not having made some effort to consult the public. After all, alternative routes have been offered at Edenbridge and Ashford. On the face of it, it seems to be reasonable to put the greater part of this line along an existing track. I wholeheartedly support nearly all noble Lords in agreeing that the Select Committee procedure that gives the public an opportunity to oppose or amend a Private Bill, is expensive and not so simple as the public inquiry procedure. It is surely not too late to hold a public inquiry where the points that have been raised this evening can be looked into. The advantages to be obtained from public participation must outweigh any possible delay and help people to understand what may be a strong British Rail case. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, that case must be looked at in the full environmental context. I am sure that the matter of compensation wants examination. I am very glad that my noble friend raised this matter; this debate can only do good.

10.18 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for intervening at this late stage. On the other hand, I am one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who have sat throughout the whole of this debate; I was interested to hear what was said. When I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I was trying to find out what line of action he was taking with regard to lines being promoted. Something which has disturbed me throughout this debate is that one would have thought from what has been said that it was this Government who made all these decisions. My understanding is that they were made a very long time ago, not by this Government but by their predecessors. I did not hear the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, explain this when he was introducing his Question. Everyone wants to preserve the environment. Do not let us pretend that none of us is unaffected by it. If developments are taking place one always wants to protect one's own environment and the environment of the neighbourhood. I would not dissent from that opinion, but I think it is difficult when we listen to certain speeches—and I understand the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, who does not want the umpire's decision at a cricket match to be interrupted by a train going by. This I can understand as a good supporter of Surrey—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me, I did not say that at all. I said that I rather doubted under the circumstances, whether the appeals of the cricketers could be heard by the umpires.


My Lords, I do not want to take this too far, but the noble Lord will admit that he introduced the village cricket team into the argument on the Channel Tunnel, and, of course, he is perfectly right to do so. All I am saying to him is that I do not think it is a great fortification for the argument that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle. As was said by my noble friend Lord Hughes yesterday, when he was making a Statement about developments in Scotland, it is amazing the number of people who reach a decision that something will be good for the country provided it does not happen on their doorstep. They all support the fact that it will be very good, provided that it happens in some other place. I think we have to look at this position. I am neither pro nor anti the Channel Tunnel. I do not consider myself so well informed that I can make a decision on it. But your Lordships' House has to reach a decision as a result of argument.

It may well be that, as a result of what the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, has said to-night, an inquiry will find a solution to this problem. I am not so well informed that I would object to it. All I say is that sometimes when we are listening to some of the arguments such as have been made to-night in support of the noble Viscount, the case becomes weaker. I am willing to rest on his argument, and not on the weaker side of it. It may well be that a decision will be reached, but do not let us forget that what we are discussing to-night is not something which has arisen in the last two or three weeks. It is something that was decided some time ago and your Lordships may be a little late in complaining. If there is a case, I shall not mind listening to it; indeed I shall be delighted to listen to it, because I am perfectly well aware of the troubles that are caused to people in communities by such decisions.

I always become a little worried when somebody says: "This is a great difficulty. Now what compensation is going to be paid?" That question was raised specifically by three of your Lordships. If there is a complaint and something is bad, one is not compensated simply by having a cash payment. I have never believed that. I think that that is a very weak argument indeed. To think that you can solve this problem simply by having a payment of cash is something I do not agree with at all. When this argument is put to me, I regard it as a great weakening of the whole case. So all I would say is that when we are discussing this matter to-night—and I look forward to what my noble friend Lord Garns-worthy has to say—I hope he will take these views into consideration, and perhaps in his reply will tell us what is the Government's opinion about this suggested inquiry which might take place. I hope that when he is replying he will also consider the economic consequences for the country as a whole.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will enlighten me. When does he think this debate should have taken place?


My Lords, it is not for me to decide when it should have taken place. If the noble Viscount decides that to-night is the right time, that is good enough for me.


My Lords, I tried to point out that the knowledge of this Consultative Document has been very recent.


My Lords, it depends on what the noble Viscount means by "very recent". One can continue with this argument all night to find out how one defines "very recent". What I am saying is that the Channel Tunnel is not a new subject.


My Lords, I agree about that.

10.24 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, had not anticipated that I also was going to interpose. Perhaps I may do so for a moment, not because I want to discuss the merits of any particular railway line or indeed any transportation system or the Channel Tunnel itself—and thereby I may manage to avoid any political controversy. What I am interested in is procedure. In that, I have to declare an interest—it is a rather obscure one but nevertheless it is something I should say. If this matter should come before a Select Committee in this House I am professionally debarred from taking part in it, whereas if it went in front of any other forum of inquiry I am not. The only advantage of the latter course is that I am then debarred from taking any further part in proceedings in your Lordships' House on the subject. Where the interest lies in that, I do not know.

At any rate, I start from a certain length of experience in dealing with major issues of this kind. I am sorry that the noble Baroness has gone; I am sure she will be back in a moment. But I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Garns-worthy—the noble Baroness is returning and I would take up her point for one moment. When one is considering an argument between the major national importance of a huge economic subject like this on the one side and a large number of small cricket matches on the other, one enters the realm where public participation in decisions comes to its peak and zenith of enthusiasm and where one has to do one's very best to try to provide people with an opportunity at least to have their say and to be heard.


My Lords, may I say in reply that I agree with what the noble Viscount has just said. I think that the "peak and zenith of enthusiasm" has risen to a degree which is quite extraordinary at this hour. It has been a remarkable debate. I agree entirely with participation. Indeed, I think that I may say that on this side of the House we are keener on worker participation and "small people" participation than noble Lords on the other side of the House have ever been.


My Lords, I do not think so. However, I will leave that until we come next week to the debate on the trades union Bill.


My Lords, I shall look forward very much to that occasion.


My Lords, my noble friend will be dealing with that, not me. I was dealing with procedure. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that we take advantage of the lessons which we have learned from what, probably, have been our mistakes in the past on these major projects. As I understand it, the Secretary of State has decided that for the time being it is inappropriate that there should be a planning inquiry commission, on the ground that it would largely duplicate the consideration which Parliament will need to give to the proposals under the Private Bill procedure. According to the Department of the Environment, this is because there is no general legislation which allows railways to be constructed using the short cut of the public inquiry procedure which is available in respect of highways. The full normal Private Bill procedure for major undertakings is to be followed in this case. Also, it enables Parliament to examine the proposal both in principle and in detail. That is a thesis with which I venture to find a certain amount of fault, and I should like to explain to the House and to the Government why I think that is so. What I have to say is entirely non-partisan and is intended to be a constructive comment.

First of all, I do not mind very much what kind of an inquiry we have. I do not mind whether it is a planning inquiry Commission or any other kind of inquiry. However, since the question of the Third London Airport has been discussed, I think it is worth bearing in mind that it began as a very long planning inquiry in Bishop's Stortford. It nearly came to a special development order which would have needed a special Statutory Instrument and would have caused virtually a constitutional crisis, because in all probability it would not have got through this House. It ended as a very large and special inquiry which took a great deal too long and cost a great deal too much. I am not suggesting that we should follow that pattern. However, I think that we can learn from the kind of feelings which were stirred by the idea of having the third London airport at Stansted and the somewhat unfortunate chain of events which followed what was nearly a decision to go there. We may never get to the end of this road, but we have passed over a lot of territory in our endeavours.

My Lords, I am not suggesting that we should have any particular form of inquiry but that we should use our ingenuity in order to try to bring about participation so that people can put the local point of view, can bring out the aspect of their locality which they think might be damaged, and can be seen to be heard and know that they have been heard and not be bankrupted in the process. It is important nowadays to realise that people will not sit down quietly under a threat to their prosperity, to the locality in which they live and to the general environment which they like, in which they have bought their house and so on. We have to accommodate our procedures to take this into account. Therefore I take no point about the kind of inquiry which we ought to have. I say simply that we must be prepared to do something which will allow people to be heard on this kind of question.

At the same time, the national interest and the wider economic field should be canvassed as well. This brings in both halves of this debate, and I think they both should be brought in. So let us just look at the reasons why the planning inquiry commission has been turned down. Incidentally it would be very interesting to know whether there ever has been a planning inquiry commission. I do not think there has, and I wonder why it is that this procedure in the 1968 Act has never been adopted.

The letter, incidentally, to the Surrey County Council from which I have been quoting, goes on to say that the procedure would largely duplicate the consideration that Parliament would need to give to the proposals. I venture to doubt that because people do not lightly come by way of Petition to either House of Parliament to object further to legislation if they have already had an opportunity to thresh the matter out in some other forum and consider that they have been properly treated, even if they do not agree with the results. The reason why they do not come and why the procedure would not be duplicated is because it is prohibitively expensive; it is surrounded by tremendous restrictions and, moreover, you are liable to have to do it twice in both Houses. So, therefore, if they have had an opportunity to ventilate their feelings beforehand, I think it very unlikely that the whole thing will be duplicated in Parliament.

Secondly, it is perfectly true that there is no short cut whereby railways can be constructed as a result of a simple public inquiry in the way that, for instance, motorways can. On the other hand, we have now got experience of the construction of motorways. This has done a good deal to get rid of what I would have said are quite justifiable complaints which used to appertain to this subject. Nowadays you do not get a single centre line order into which you inquire on a take it or leave it basis: the Department of the Environment says, "There are three or four routes. Here they all are on a plan. Let us have an inquiry to see which of them is the best. They can all be taken into account and looked at and considered on their merits in parallel with each other, and at the end of that time we will decide which one we are going to use, if any."

That has taken a good deal of the heat and a great deal of the technical difficulty out of deciding on centre line orders in the case of major road construction. I know that there is no exact equivalent whereby a centre line for a railway order can instantly be made. Nevertheless, it is a piece of machinery which has worked well and has met, I think, with a good deal of public approval. So do not let us blind ourselves to the advantages of it simply because it does not lead automatically to a statutory result in regard to an approved railway line.

Then we get to the last part of this letter, that the full normal Private Bill procedure is to be followed, which enables Parliament to examine the proposal both in principle and in detail. Here I am afraid that the writer of the letter may have missed some of the finer points of procedure in your Lordships' House. The writer says that it will be discussed in principle, and this presumably is an invitation to have a debate upon the Second Reading of the Private Bill. All the inquiries and the experience that I have collected over the length of time that I have been in this House suggest that it is very rare indeed—in fact, one has only to mention the name of the late Lord Birkett to find the one occasion on which it happened—for a Private Bill (or in that case a part of a Private Bill) to be thrown out on Second Reading. One discusses it in principle, but almost invariably the result is that the matter is sent to a Select Committee upstairs so that the details may be threshed out. Therefore one does not, on the whole, in this House take a decision on principle on the Second Reading of a Private Bill.

Very well, what happens when it goes upstairs? There are here two problems, and in this I rely first on the Report of the Brooke Committee (if I may abbreviate it) where they spoke about the difficulties where there was no locus standi. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to the position of amenity societies. If I have got this right, briefly, the Petitioners, unless they have a direct interest in the land, can only appear if the Promoters do not object, and on the whole, therefore, amenity socities are very much at risk in trying to petition against a Private Bill because there is a possibility that they will not be allowed to be heard by the Promoters. There are other difficulties in this House—I do not know about another place.

My Lords, the way that has been sought round this is that there should be an instruction given to the Select Committee that they should on their own account consider certain evidence, and if necessary call it for themselves. This gets round the difficulty that broadly-based national Petitioners may not be able to be heard. This was discussed in paragraph 64 of the Brooke Committee's Report, but they refer to the difficulties inherent in this. This was a reference to the Select Committee Special Report, where they had an instruction on the Empingham Reservoir Bill. If I may abbreviate this also, they found that the general evidence they had to deal with was difficult to evaluate because there was no cross-examination of the Promoter's witnesses dealing with this general material, since there were no Petitioners there to cross-examine them. Therefore the idea of avoiding the technical difficulty by empowering the Select Committee to call its own witnesses tends to result in the matter not being properly tested at all.

There is a further difficulty which does not really relate to that technicality at all. I think I am right in saying that if a Private Bill seeks to obtain powers to construct a railway line, for the sake of argument, along a certain track which is defined on the plans deposited with the Bill, one may, if one wishes as a Petitioner, suggest that this is a very bad idea on the grounds that there are a number of alternative routes which one then proceeds to discuss, and which one suggests to the Select Committee are as good, if not better, than that in the Bill. However, what you do not achieve is anything other than at the very best to have the Bill thrown out because the line that is in it is not necessarily the best. One gets no really comparative decision about which of the other lines may be as good as or better than the one in the Bill. Therefore you have no procedure under the petition system of a Private Bill for a true comparative study of a number of different routes.

As I believe this is the essence of what this dispute is about, I would suggest to the House that a simple reliance on the Private Bill procedure with the hazard of the Petitioners turning up with the money, the time and the talents to try and test this, is not really going to provide an adequate answer to what appears to be a very deeply felt solution. Therefore, not only do we have the problem of not being able to discuss it in principle, but I doubt also whether we have the possibility under this procedure of discussing alternative routes in detail. If I may say so, and if I am right, that is a very substantial indictment of the reasons put forward by the Department of the Environment why they will not have a planning inquiry commission.

I have analysed that letter in detail, and may be told I am wrong. But even if I am in part right, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, to think again whether there may not be, in all the ingenuity and experience of the Department, some other way in which we may explore these rather difficult, very emotive but very important issues.

10.39 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose it was inevitable that we should have a discussion of this nature on this proposal. I have lived long enough to know that when there is any suggestion of intruding on amenities there is an almost immediate and very considerable reaction. In my time, I have played a small part when proposals have been made that would affect what I have always felt was the very attractive, natural beauty of the area in which I live. We have a new roadway being constructed not very far away, which aroused very much the same kind of feeling as that expressed here tonight. I recall that when the local authority sought to purchase compulsorily 60 acres of land to make a controlled tip, I took the lead in opposing it. I think I can say that I understand the depth of feeling that exists. It was inevitable that it would be so.

I think there is nothing that can be said by anybody, by any Government spokesman for any Government, that will set at ease the disquiet and concern that has been expressed here this evening. I think that every Member of your Lordships' House present this evening probably knows that, too. It is unreasonable to expect any project such as the one that we are discussing to be advanced, to be put before the public and put into operation, without all those who feel themselves intimately and closely affected taking much the same stand.

The noble Viscount said that he aimed to speak strongly. He spoke very quietly, but he certainly spoke very strongly. The feeling that he displayed was unmistakable and very profound. I am quite sure that all those who have taken part in the debate will at least have the effect of causing my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to read very carefully what has been said—not that I think he was unaware of the concern; in fact, I am sure that he was, and is, very much aware of the concern. I have the feeling that probably the simplest answer I could give to the Question raised by the noble Viscount would be a very short one: Yes, Her Majesty's Government are aware of the concern. To-night I cannot produce answers that will satisfy all those who have spoken, but I will undertake to convey to my right honourable friend what they have said.


My Lords, I do not want to make a cheap point on this, but at the moment, as the noble Lord will appreciate, Official Reports are hard to come by and we are talking about something which is rather urgent. He said that his right honourable friend would read the report of the debate. I do not know when he will read it. Therefore, to convey what we have said to-night is more important, and that is what we should like the noble Lord to do.


My Lords, I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will have the opportunity to read what has been said. There is an emergency edition of the Official Report, and I will see to it that to-morrow his attention is drawn urgently to it. I said what I thought would be the simplest way of dealing with the Question, but I have no intention of pursuing that course, and therefore I shall need a little time.

The noble Viscount made it abundantly clear that the proposal to construct this railway arises from the decision to go ahead with the Channel Tunnel; we have to keep that quite clearly in mind. On April 3, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced in another place that the Government had decided that the current preparatory phase of the Tunnel project should continue, but that there should be a full and searching reassessment of the project before any decision was taken to embark on the main works. So, in point of fact, that decision has still to be taken. This reappraisal is now getting under way, and includes an assessment of the scope for orienting the project much more strongly to through-rail services. Meanwhile, the Channel Tunnel Bill has been reintroduced—and I emphasise reintroduced—in another place, and, in due course, it should come before this House.

If the project eventually goes ahead additional rail tracks for most of the distance between the tunnel portal and London will be necessary to carry the for-seeable increase in rail traffic. Moreover, under the terms of the treaty with the French Government signed by our predecessors last November, the Government are under an obligation to provide an adequate rail link. This requirement was expanded in an exchange of letters between the then Ministers of Transport, and the general specifications of the railway to be provided are set out in the Third Schedule to the Agreement concluded between the Governments and the British and French Channel Tunnel Companies.

Without such a railway it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate the diversion of traffic to rail which we all wish to see, and to which my right honourable friends attach great importance. Indeed, I scarcely need remind the House that the diversion of traffic from road to rail, and from private to public transport, is a major element in our general transport strategy. There are—and this is taking the broad view—major environmental benefits in all this. For example, it has been estimated that given fast rail services perhaps some 10 million passengers would, by 1990, be using the tunnel each year who would otherwise have travelled by air. I appreciate that the noble Viscount drew attention to the number of trains that would be involved in carrying this traffic. This is an important factor in considering future demand on the London airports as a whole. Likewise for freight there would be opportunities of attracting to the through rail services not only goods now going by rail and sea, but also those now carried by road to the ports for trans-shipment, or onwards movement, by roll-on roll-off ferries.

Many of us are gravely disturbed at what is happening on our roads, even in the South-East of England. I live in the South-East of England and I drive into London every day, and I am very much concerned about what is happening on our roads and the interference that is taking place to a great many people living in lanes and roads such as I live in, where we are getting traffic of a character that we never anticipated when we went to live there. It is felt that overall this proposal will provide substantial benefits in relief from heavy road traffic and aircraft noises, as well as other benefits to our transport system and economy. But despite that, I fully accept that these benefits can only be bought at a cost. Bluntly, the property and interests of those living along the route of the link will inevitably be affected. It would be stupid of me, or anyone else, to pretend otherwise. Of course, it is of these people who are going to be so affected by this proposal that the noble Viscount has spoken so strongly, and has advanced so much telling argument.

It is clearly right that if the Government decide in the national interest that the whole project is to go ahead, the individual interests affected should be treated with proper consideration. I can assure the House that my right honourable friend and the British Rail Board, despite anything that has been said by my noble friend behind me, are anxious to ensure that these interests are indeed protected.

As to procedure, first, the Board have been concerned to identify a route which will cause the least difficulty. After ruling out certain routes which would have involved major intrusions into new areas and widespread property severance, the Board last February initiated consultations with the public and with local authorities on a route largely following the existing East-West railway across Kent, to which the noble Viscount referred. My right honourable friend is well aware of the views expressed in those consultations. I have read reports of all the meetings that have taken place, including a number of those attended by several Members of your Lordships' House, not least those attended by the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis. Due note has been taken of what was said at those meetings. They were not easy meetings and in many cases they reflected the feeling expressed here this evening.

My right honourable friend has also received a tremendous postbag. He has been represented at the public meetings and he too, as have I, has read the reports of the meetings. This is a form of consultation that has already taken place. As a result of the public phase, which has just been completed, the Board is now examining a number of alternatives and variations which have been suggested by the public.


My Lords, does the noble Lord mean that the Board is examining the alternatives—the other lines—mentioned in the document, or merely variations on that line?


The point I was making was that the alternatives suggested at the meetings are being con sidered. With regard to the consultation document that was presented in January this year, I think the date was in some doubt just now and I am pleased—


It mentions but does not specify three routes. Those are the ones I was referring to.


My Lords, I take the noble Viscount's point. He referred just now to the announcement made by my right honourable friend last week about final decisions on the general route. I think we want to get clearly on the Record—although I believe the noble Viscount acknowledged this—that final decisions on the general route have been deferred to the end of the year. That will ensure that the local authorities, the Board and my right honourable friend, will have time to give the proposals the detailed consideration that they require. I appreciate that the noble Viscount said that the time was too short. I will draw my right honourable friend's attention to that feeling, which was shared by several other noble Lords. Secondly when, and only when, the best general route has been selected, those concerned will continue to be consulted about its detailed development, including such matters as protection against noise.

I was very interested to hear from the noble Viscount that the Surrey County Council were consulting with Southampton University.


No, British Rail. I said I was quoting from a document provided by the Surrey County Council Report of the county planning officer explaining what British Rail were doing.


I would inform the noble Viscount that I was a member of Surrey County Council for many years. The Surrey County Council thought—I forget his exact name, but he certainly was at Southampton University—that the planning officer was an outstanding expert in this field. My own feeling is that Surrey feel that the British Railways Board has made a good choice in selecting Southampton University to consider the aspect of noise.

Thirdly, the proposals will then have to be embodied in a Private Bill, and the noble Viscount has spoken to us about Private Bills. I think he will agree, and I think Members of the House generally will appreciate, that Petitions against Private Bills can be heard by Select Committees in both Houses, which, at least, means further opportunities. I appreciate that the question of the cost of undertaking this procedure could be off-putting, and again note will be taken of the concern that has been expressed on that point.


Not just the question of cost, my Lords, but the question of who can be heard and what can be heard if they manage to get themselves in front of the Select Committee. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is in his place, and I know that this is a matter to which he has devoted a good deal of thought; he is possibly as concerned as any of us about this subject. I know that he did not hear my speech, but I have been criticising the scope of what you can do by way of Petition on Private Bill procedure, and perhaps he will have a chance—


My Lords, may I say that I had intended coming to what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, had to say, and perhaps I may as well deal with that now. First, in this House I have often listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. I have admired the lucidity with which he has spoken on legal matters, and the House has, I think, always appreciated his constructive approach and the free dom with which he has given expert advice. To-night, I should like to say to him that I am quite certain that what he has said needs very careful consideration, and I will ensure that the attention of my right honourable friend—and of those within the Department whom he would want to look at this and think about it—is drawn to it. I do not think he would expect me, as a layman, to go any further than that this evening. Indeed, I am—


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I do not object to the noble Viscount putting his question, but is my noble friend saying that what the Government propose is less favourable to everyone who wishes to be consulted on this than was the case when the noble Viscount was in charge of the Bill? I do not think this is true at all. All I want is an assurance that whatever is being done by this Government is certainly not less favourable to people who want consultation than was the case when the noble Viscount was in charge.


My Lords, this is a debate on an Unstarred Question, and I am not at all sure that we are not in danger of setting some precedents so far as procedure is concerned.


Why not?


My Lords, I said what I did as a prelude to saying that I have been advised that, in this case, there arc considerable objections to either a planning inquiry commission or a normal public inquiry. The route of the line is currently the subject of widespread public consultation, and it is hoped that, out of this, agreement will be reached with the planning authorities on the general route to be followed. This will then be incorporated in a Private Bill, which will have to follow the normal procedures of Parliament. The principle of the Bill will be considered by both Houses and the Petitions of those affected will be considered by the two Select Committees. To add a public inquiry between the consultations and the Bill, as it has been put to me, would increase seriously the problems of blight and could add to the costs of Objectors without adding any substance to the protection available to them.

My Lords, as I have said, I will see to it that what the noble Viscount has said is studied, but I have put forward the other side according to the advice I received before the debate. I very much appreciate the fact that the noble Viscount gave me notice that he intended to raise this matter and I really do not think that I can carry it any further.


My Lords, I can do so, however, and I say that the noble Lord could not have been more handsome.


My Lords, I do not object to the noble Viscount saying that. I come now to the question of compensation. I should make it clear that we expect British Rail to apply the full compensation code in their Bill, even where this does not automatically apply to works by statutory undertakers. This full code, which was reviewed and expanded by Parliament only last year in the Land Compensation Act 1973, means that those whose properties are required for the line will have them bought at full market value disregarding the effect of the scheme. Properties "the enjoyment of which is seriously affected" by either the construction or use of the works may be bought by agreement. Those whose properties lose value because of physical factors (noise, vibration) due to the use of the works may be eligible for compensation. Regulations are also under consideration which will require British Rail to provide soundproofing against noise from the construction and use of the new railway comparable to the provisions recently applied to new highways. I accept that nothing can ultimately compensate people who would simply prefer not to be disturbed in the first place. But all that can properly be done to alleviate hardship arising from a major national development of this kind must and will be done.

I now come to the complaints that have been made about people no knowing. As I understand it, this pamphlet has been made freely available and is freely available. There really is no problem in terms of people being able to discover what their rights of compensation may be.

Let me conclude by assuring the House that both British Rail and the Government are very much aware of the environmental implications of the proposed railway. The general line currently proposed is not the shortest nor the cheapest: it was chosen by British Rail in preference to three others which would have caused far greater environmental damage by cutting through unspoiled countryside in Kent. In planning the line and its detailed alignment British Rail will do all that can reasonably be done to ensure that damage to the environment is kept to a minimum. They are aware of adverse reports about the environmental impact of the Shinkansen line in Japan; and without accepting that circumstances in this country are in any way comparable they are carrying out a programme of further research into the noise effects of high speed trains, results of which will become progressively available before the line is built. Although, my Lords, I believe this rail link is currently being planned in a proper and responsible manner. The local planning authorities are playing their full part: and I would simply ask noble Lords to await the outcome of the consultations which are now in progress.

My Lords, the noble Viscount asked a number of questions. I think perhaps that at this time of night he would not wish me to reply to them in detail. I took a note of what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had to say, and also of what the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, said. Of course it is distressing to people living in Kent and in the parts of Surrey which are likely to be affected. Wherever we are going to do anything on a big scale in the interests of the national economy, people will be distressed.

I have tried to cover most of the points raised. I think that perhaps in a general way I have replied to various questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, and the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. If there are points which I have failed to cover, and if the noble Lords concerned wish to pursue the matter and will either have a word with me or send me a note, I will follow up what is said.

However, I want to make it clear that this debate has not been a waste of time. I cannot foretell the outcome, but I should like to say that this Government are on a course which they themselves did not set but which was set by their predecessors. I am quite certain that the procedure we are adopting is the one which our predecessors would have followed: I may be wrong, but I believe that to be so. I think that if the previous Government had been in our position to-night it would have fallen to one of their spokesmen to present the defence that I have endeavoured to put forward on behalf of the present Government.

Let me say this. The present Government in this country have done nothing that is "below decks". They have been quite open, and indeed have already made concessions. My right honourable friend made a concession last week. I hope it will be appreciated that we are not unmindful of, or deaf to, reasonable appeals.