HL Deb 21 June 1990 vol 520 cc1049-50

3.26 p.m.

Viscount Cross asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are prepared to let the Channel Tunnel rail link go unbuilt, and if so, what impact they expect the tunnel to have on the roads of Kent in the absence of this link.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, it is doubtful whether a new Channel Tunnel rail link would have any significant effect on Kent's roads. It is additional passenger capacity, not additional freight capacity, which British Rail thinks will be necessary and for which the new link is envisaged. In the passenger market British Rail expects to be competing mainly with air services.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that rather disappointing reply. Despite the discussions which took place in the other place last week, I make no apology for leaving this Question on the Order Paper. It is a matter of the greatest economic importance to the whole country and there is always time for second thoughts. Have the Government considered the implications of the flood of freight lorries which will pour on to the roads of Kent? Apart from the likely congestion, how does the emission of large quantities of diesel fumes and carbon dioxide line up with the Government's so-called green policies?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the Government do not expect the amount of lorries in Kent to increase substantially. In addition to what my noble friend said, the Government have a large programme of road improvements under way in Kent; for example, on the M.20, the A.20, the M.2, the A.2, the A.259, the A.261, the M.25 and many local roads.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister's reply is rather surprising. He must know that something like 16 million additional passengers will be using lines in Kent which are among the most congested in the world. Many commuters are bound to be forced on to what are already inadequate roads in trying to reach their destinations by car. Have the Government fully explored the statement by the European Commissioner on 4th June that there could be financial assistance from the Commission for a rail link if the UK Government applied for it? Does he not think that a link will be ultimately required? Would it not be a good idea to pursue the possibility of outside finance from Europe and to get started on a link that will ultimately be essential?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, with regard to commuters being neglected, the answer is no. Investment in Network SouthEast is currently the highest since the change from steam to diesel in the early 1960s. As regards EC funding, the noble Lord is right. There has been an offer of EC funding but that in no way makes up the difference in cost.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister explain, further to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, how the Government's policy —or lack of policy —in relation to the rail link is consonant with the commitment the Government entered into in the Single European Act that environmental considerations should be an essential component of all other policies, including transport policies?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's final point, the Government are committed to environmental policies. I should explain that the joint venture requires £500 million of subsidy for commuters; for British Rail to spend up to £400 million on new terminals, and for a low-interest deferred loan of £1 billion which, in the case of default, would rank below other creditors.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that British Rail has put forward three or four schemes which have blighted many areas in Kent? Is he also aware that British Rail has bought many homes in north Kent, and that many people in Kent are unable to sell their properties and move out due to the lack of certainty that exists? The present lack of decision reflects no credit on the Government or indeed on British Rail. The whole set-up is a shambles and a disgrace.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, it is up to British Rail to bring forward new schemes which meet the Government's criteria. In answer to the noble Lord's second point, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has powers under the Town and Country Planning General Development Order to require local planning authorities not to approve applications for planning permission which would interfere with the proposed new line. Regarding the noble Lord's final point, adequate compensation measures are in place.

Forward to