HL Deb 07 February 1989 vol 503 cc1431-5

2.44 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that the environmental assessment of the alternative routes proposed for the Channel Tunnel railway line through London and Kent compares all those routes, and that it is available to Parliament before any private or hybrid Bill is introduced.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government will expect British Rail to take environmental considerations into account in choosing a preferred route corridor and to explain the reasons for its choice.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, does that not assume that this House and indeed the British public will have no opportunity to discuss the relative environmental merits and demerits of the three routes? If British Rail does nothing about it except attach an environmental assessment to the private Bill which it will be promoting in favour of one of them, what opportunity will there be for public and parliamentary discussion of the three options? Will the Government remember the thinness of the ice they are treading on in this matter because of their being in breach of the European directive on environmental assessments?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I may take first the second part of the noble Lord's question. The EC directive on environmental assessments does not apply to projects approved by British Rail, but British Rail has made clear that before it introduces a private Bill it will be carrying out a full environmental impact assessment of its chosen route as if the directive did apply. It has appointed independent environmental consultants to advise. On the first part of the noble Lord's question, once British Rail has made known its preferred route there will be ample time for people to write to British Rail if they do not like that route, and naturally the press will cover the story strongly.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply gives no comfort to the masses of people in Kent who are wholly against this proposal? Is it not the duty of this House and of the other place fully to discuss these proposals before any attempt is made to bring forward a private Bill? The noble Earl must understand the tremendous opposition to this proposal from, among others, Kent County Council and practically all the people of Kent. It is disgraceful.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord should think this is a disgrace. I understand perfectly well the points that he makes. We all recognise that it is absolutely impossible to build a new line without some impact on the environment. It is therefore important that in developing the proposal the closest attention should be given to minimising and mitigating the environmental impact.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, on the assumption that either a private Bill or a hybrid Bill will be necessary, am I not right in saying that it will have to go through the full parliamentary procedure, including Second Readings in both Houses and proceedings before a Select Committee?

The Earl of Arran

Yes, my Lords. I understand that my noble and learned friend is quite correct.

Lord Jay

My Lords, would it not have been better if the promoters of the project and the Government had investigated the real practical possibilities of running trains at this speed through Kent before and not after they had induced investors to put up very large sums of money for the project?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the noble Lord may take that view, but it has been decided to go ahead and not to progress in that way.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, if it is not too wide of the Question, is it not envisaged that a route from the northern Midlands and the North of the country will go west of London to the Channel?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am not quite certain that I understand my noble friend's point, though I am sure that it was meant to be helpful.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in deciding the route the British Railways Board will choose what is most commercially viable and not what is environmentally good for Kent? Can he tell the House whether the Government are prepared to pay to British Rail the additional cost of ensuring that the line takes a sound and environmentally decent route that is acceptable to the residents of Kent?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in no way will British Rail necessarily take the cheapest route. In deciding on the preferred corridor it will take into account commercial, social, environmental and economic considerations.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is it not a fact that Kent County Council, after very careful consideration with all the people it represented, supported the creation of a Channel Tunnel? Further, were they not 100 per cent. behind the Channel Tunnel? Therefore, is it not slightly illogical that everyone should raise their arms in horror that the necessary high-speed railway line should travel through Kent?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend, be that as it may. The railway line from London to the Channel will still have to pass through Kent.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, do the Government accept that it is most important for the success of this venture, not just for the people of the South-East but also for those throughout the North, the Midlands and Scotland, that it should be achieved with the maximum degree of agreement? Therefore, what steps will the Government take to ensure that there is maximum agreement with the people who will be affected by this line development?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I rather hoped that I had just answered that question. When British Rail publishes its preferred route there will be considerable time in which to go into the whole matter. As I said, there will be considerable press comment, and as my noble and learned friend said, there will be a private Bill which will pass through Parliament in the normal manner.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I asked what steps the Government themselves would take to try to secure maximum agreement through their own contacts with British Rail.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government will need to be convinced that it is the best route.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, with reference to the question posed by my noble friend behind me which the noble Earl answered, is it not a fact that a large body of opinion in Kent joined with Kent County Council in approving the creation of a new, high-speed rail link? Is he aware that what concerns them is that too little regard appears to be being paid to the environmental impact on the people of Kent of a rail link the main purpose of which is not to serve the people of Kent but to serve other people?

Is it not also a fact that many of those people look to the Government to apply their knowledge and interest to the creation and setting of the new rail link, very much in the same way as they do with a road?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, of course the Government are totally and completely sensitive to the beauties which Kent holds. They are aware of the environmental impact that the rail link will make on Kent. However, as I just said, at the same time they will take into account all considerations.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, are we not fast approaching the happy state where the cost of compensation to those who will suffer the impact of such a rail line may match or even exceed the cost—certainly in built-up areas—of putting it underground?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is a technical question which I cannot answer at present. However, as regards compensation, I can say that people whose property is not required but who are adversely affected by the use of the line will be entitled to compensation for depreciation in the value of their property in accordance with the provisions of the Land Compensation Acts.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, while it is important to secure a route through Kent, or elsewhere, surely we must not lose sight of the significant importance to the economy of having a link between London and the tunnel and therefore not waste too much time in establishing that link so that we may enjoy its benefits.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, yes; my noble friend has a point. However, one of the particular points which concerns people at present is the state of uncertainty created by not knowing which route it will be. I think that once that is disclosed, which will be towards th[...] of this month or at the beginning of March, people will feel happier because they will then know where it will be.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that we shall not be able to discuss all the alternative routes in this House; that what we will discuss will be British Rail's preferred route and that that will be the only information in front of us?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that that question has already been asked and I have done my best to answer it.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether the presence of the husband of the Prime Minister in one of the lobby groups concerned with the route to the Channel Tunnel was for environmental, commercial, domestic or social reasons?

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I believe it is the custom that the questioner may round up— —

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I think that we have had a good go round the course on this Question. It is now a matter for the House. If the noble Lord is not making headway, then I think that we should proceed to the next Question.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me——

Noble Lords