HL Deb 14 October 1991 vol 531 cc955-68

3.50 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport on the Channel Tunnel rail link. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the choice of route for the new railway line between the Channel Tunnel and London.

"Investment planned by British Rail of £1.4 billion will provide high quality, attractive and competitive international passenger and freight services once the Channel Tunnel opens. Upgrading of existing routes and the new international passenger station at Waterloo are well advanced. But British Rail believes that there will come a point at which additional capacity in the form of a new line will be needed.

"The House will recall that in June last year my predecessor announced that the proposals submitted by a joint venture between British Rail and Eurorail to build the Channel Tunnel rail link were unacceptable. He said that he was not satisfied that the partners had found the best solution and that he was asking British Rail to complete its studies with the aim of maximising the benefits to international passengers and commuters, concentrating on the options for the route from the North Downs to Waterloo and King's Cross.

"British Rail spent almost a year undertaking a thorough review. It considered many options and also developed those put forward by Ove Arup, Rail Europe and the London Borough of Newham, in association with the proponents of those ideas, so that fair comparisons could be made with their own southerly route option. It also compared variants to each of the main options.

"British Rail submitted its report to me in early May and a wealth of additional information has followed since. I have placed in the Library a copy of its report and supporting information, which it has made generally available. The Government have taken account of all the relevant considerations, including regional planning, the environmental impact, and the effect on property as well as transport objectives. We have also been very concerned to minimise uncertainty and blight. We have reached the following conclusions.

"The Government expect that as demand for rail services through the Channel Tunnel builds up, a new railway line between the tunnel and London will be needed at some stage. We therefore wish to provide a secure basis on which planning can go ahead.

"We accept British Rail's advice that a second London international terminal will be needed to complement Waterloo. We also agree with British Rail's proposal that it should be at King's Cross. King's Cross would provide excellent connections to many places beyond London, particularly in the Midlands, the North, and Scotland, so that they would gain more of the benefits of the Channel Tunnel. It is also a convenient location for destinations in and around central London.

"Secondly, we have decided that a route on the lines put forward by Ove Arup which approaches central London from the east via Stratford is to be preferred. It would satisfy our transport objectives by providing additional capacity when it is needed. Moreover, it would minimise the impact of the line on the environment and on residential property. British Rail estimates that 38 kilometres will be in tunnel on the easterly route as against 25 kilometres on the southerly route; only two domestic properties would be acquired and none demolished as against 127 acquired and 24 demolished on the southerly route; only five properties would be within 100 metres of the line and 115 within 200 metres against 1,900 and 5,900 respectively on the southern route. The impact on the landscape too would be less, with fewer kilometres of the easterly route in ancient woodland, on the surface in areas of outstanding natural beauty or in green belt. Not surprisingly, therefore, BR's own environmental consultants found when comparing the two routes that the southerly route 'has greater long term impacts on landscape, ecological and cultural resources and greater potential for disturbance to residents from construction and operation'.

"Finally, in preferring a route on the lines put forward by Ove Arup we recognised the substantial potential it offered for development along the east Thames corridor. The new line could serve as an important catalyst for any plans for the regeneration of that corridor that may stem from the study which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced last week he was commissioning.

"The alternative proposal for an easterly route put forward by Rail Europe is less advantageous in a number of respects. It could not be used at all by those international passenger trains which would continue to run to Waterloo. All those services would have to continue to use existing lines, without the prospect of any reduction in journey time. The route is planned to terminate at Stratford, which—although it will become an increasingly important interchange for journeys within London—offers poor connections to the rest of the country.

"In environmental terms too the Rail Europe route is inferior. It impacts more on sites of special scientific interest; it passes through one designated special protection area under the EC directive on wild birds, and through another area that is likely to be so designated; it would affect much more domestic property; and, due to the length of tunnelling involved, more than twice as much spoil would need to be disposed of as from the other routes that were studied.

"All further work will therefore be based on Ove Arup's route. Our decision takes account of British Rail's advice some weeks ago that to develop it to the same stage to which it had taken the southerly route would take about nine months. I have accordingly asked the chairman of British Rail to develop the route to a standard at which I can safeguard it, and to carry out a full environmental assessment. This work will involve publishing plans as a basis for consultation with local authorities, developers, and other interests and the public. The implications for freight will be one of the matters to be considered further. Safeguarding will trigger compensation arrangements, but I have also asked British Rail to consider what voluntary purchase arrangements may be necessary, and when.

"Inevitably the start of construction is still some way ahead, but so is the need for the line. British Rail's own forecasts are that the capacity of the existing network is expected to be sufficient to meet demand until around 2005. It will be possible to take account of the actual demand for rail services through the Channel Tunnel once it opens. Overall, the choice of the eastern route rather than the southern route will not have any material effect on when the new line might come into operation. Suggestions that a decision has been taken not to begin construction before 2000 are incorrect. No such decision has been taken.

"I have also told the chairman of British Rail it is the Government's intention that the rail link should be taken forward by the private sector. As to the precise financial arrangements, this will be for the Government to decide in the circumstances at the time.

"Given our preference for the easterly route I shall shortly make a direction varying the existing safeguarding directions for the route which British Rail had proposed between Cheriton and Upper Halling in the North Downs. The effect of the direction is to exclude from the safeguarded route the section west of Detling, where the Ove Arup route diverges from the existing safeguarded line. I have also asked British Rail to withdraw its voluntary purchase schemes for homes in the Warwick Gardens area of Peckham in South London and along the formerly proposed route between Swanley and Detling, and to dispose of the property it has acquired there while minimising damage to the local housing markets. The safeguarding and property purchase scheme at King's Cross will remain in place.

"In summary, our decision means that the line will be built through East London where the prospect is welcomed for the economic regeneration that it will bring. It will involve minimal blight for people's homes, and its environmental and conservation benefits, in comparison with the southern route, have been welcomed by the Council for the Protection of Rural England and other environmental interests.

"It is also a decision which has been welcomed in the North, in the Midlands and in Scotland and will help ensure that the benefits of the Channel Tunnel will be shared throughout Britain. I commend it to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the Minister for having repeated the Statement which was long and important. I therefore have a number of questions to pose to the Minister, quite apart from the pronunciation of the name "Ove Arup". That is unimportant and I am not sure which is the correct pronunciation.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable cynicism about the Government's motives? Is it not clear that this decision owes far more to the Government trying, rather forlornly, to save a number of Tory marginal seats than to any clear thinking about environmental and transport criteria? Why has it taken so long for this decision to be made, particularly as regards the environmental consequences? Was it not abundantly plain long ago that these consequences would occur? The Minister has indicated that they are detrimental consequences. Is it not a fact that the Bill was passed in 1987 and that the French will open their link next year whereas ours will have to wait until the year 2005? Is this not truly a case of l'escargot anglais?

Is the Minister aware that in the document Moving Britain into Europe issued by the Labour Party quite a long time ago, we argued the case for the East London, Stratford and King's Cross route? If the Government had followed our advice, much valuable time would have been saved. When is it now anticipated that construction will begin and the first trains will run? All the Statement says is that no decision has been made and that the routes will not open until the year 2005. What is the likely cost of the scheme compared with British Rail's preferred scheme? Will the Government now seek to change Treasury rules which inhibit British Rail from obtaining private funding? Do the Government contemplate repealing Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act to enable public funding, either in whole or in part, to be made available to finance the link? Incidentally, that provision was introduced more to satisfy pure ideological humbug than for any other reason.

How do the Government now judge the prospects of attracting private investment as a result of their chaotic approach to the whole situation? Will the Minister now spell out the benefits of what he has outlined as the Government see them, in terms of local communities as well as in terms of environmental advantages? What is to happen to the 1,000 homes that are estimated to have cost British Rail no less than £100 million already? Is compensation to be paid for the blight which has arisen over several years as a result of the mishandling of this situation? How will British Rail, in concert with the Government, go about taking into account the depreciation in prices that has affected so many of the people involved?

What are the details concerning the Stratford link? Will it stop at Stratford or will it continue to King's Cross? Will the Ove Arup route accommodate freight? The Minister was coy about that point. He said he did not know yet whether the route would accommodate freight. Does the Minister not agree that the point is absolutely crucial if the benefits of the link are to be realised? Would it not be wholly absurd if freight had to travel through inner London and then return to Stratford?

How far will the link go? Will it go only to London or, as we have suggested, further north, at least to Rugby? As regards the shape of the Bill, will the Minister inform the House whether it is to be a hybrid, private or public Bill? What will now happen to the King's Cross Railways Bill, which has been subject to record breaking deliberations for a private Bill in another place as a result of the invalidation of many of the points advanced by British Rail?

As regards environmental impact assessment, is the Minister aware that the European Commission is now challenging the transposition by this Government of the directive on environmental impact assessment of 1985? Is the Minister further aware that that could well lead to litigation in the European Court of Justice? What advice are the Government now offering in the light of that development? Would it not be timely—as the Opposition have recommended—for the Government to appoint a commission to make an independent assessment of the road and rail transport corridor infrastructure needs of Britain covering the next two decades with the aim of procuring rapid access to the new Europe and thereby averting in future the chaotic situation and the transport mess which have arisen under this Government?

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. Before I go further, it may be an appropriate moment to say how much I personally am saddened—I am sure this applies to noble Lords on all sides of the House—by the loss of Lord Attlee who would normally have taken part in this discussion today. That loss will be felt when we are discussing this and other transport matters. I must also express my regret at the loss of Lady Burton of Coventry. I am quite sure that the Minister will sleep quietly in his bed at night but I am sure the news of her death will not have pleased him. Her death is a great loss to the House.

We must thank God that the Government have at last made up their mind on this matter. That is the best thing that one can say about the Statement. We have been awaiting the decision for a long time. We understand, of course, that it was not possible to produce the Statement before the Recess as the Government had to wait for the Tory Party conference before issuing it. Nevertheless, we are grateful to receive the Statement today.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested, there are many unanswered questions. The Minister has said that when Cecil Parkinson announced proposals for a joint venture between British Rail and Eurorail to build a Channel Tunnel link, the proposals were unacceptable. As I remember the position, the proposals were unacceptable partly on the grounds of cost. Perhaps the Government will let us know whether the new route will cost less or more than the original proposals submitted by British Rail and Eurotunnel.

The Statement records that British Rail was asked to complete its studies with the aim of maximising benefits to international passengers and to commuters. I should have thought from the reaction of Sir Bob Reid that the interests of commuters are not best satisfied by this route compared with the original route proposed by British Rail. However, I am open to correction.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested that the purpose of changing the route is to save a few marginal seats in South London and beyond. I have no doubt the Government will refute that suggestion with all the vigour at their command. However, having seen the look of delight on the face of the honourable Member for Chislehurst at the Tory Party conference, I had the feeling that there may have been an element of saving marginal seats in the decision-making process.

According to the Statement, the Government have been concerned to minimise uncertainty and blight. Heaven help us if the Government ever decided not to be interested in minimising uncertainty and blight. There has been more uncertainty and blight over this project than has been the case with almost any other project I can remember. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, rightly pointed out, many people around the Warwick Gardens area—I am not just talking about the immediate hinterland but about the whole area where no compensation was available—have suffered blight for many years at a time when house prices have been falling. One wonders what compensation they will receive.

We are told that the Government expect that a new line will be necessary as demand for rail services through the Channel Tunnel builds up. I should have thought we need that line as soon as possible. The line is of a totally different dimension to anything we now have. I am open to correction but, as I understand it, it is intended to build the line to Berne Gauge, or at least to a gauge that will take Berne Gauge rolling stock right through to King's Cross. It is that aspect as much as any other that necessitates that we act urgently. For several years the French have been building these lines at a great rate of knots, but we are still dragging our feet in spite of the Statement.

Is it intended that the King's Cross project will be constructed on the same scale as was planned in the original scheme? I hope that it is, because it seems to me that otherwise the necessary links to the North and Scotland will not be fully developed. As I have said so often in your Lordships' House, the real virtue of the Channel Tunnel is the ability to shift freight from the North of England and the industrial areas of this country into the markets of Europe. Everything must be done to facilitate that as fast as possible. It has been suggested that there will be a delay until the year 2005. That has been discounted by the Minister, but in slightly equivocal terms. He does not say that it will not Like until 2005. He says: Suggestions that a decision has been taken not to begin construction before 2000 are incorrect". It may be that the decision not to begin construction will be made at a later stage. We should like to know when the decision will be made so that the project can get off the ground very quickly.

Finally, in relation to freight, the Ove Arup route was originally to have two tracks into Stratford and King's Cross. Later, two additional tracks were added for freight. Can we have an assurance that those two extra tracks are included in the proposals which the Government have been discussing?

We welcome the fact that there has been some progress. But, for heaven's sake, let us make it real progress and not drag out this terrible saga for another decade.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am very grateful for the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Tordoff. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked me a record number of questions on the Statement. I shall do my best to answer all of them but if I cannot I shall have to write to the noble Lord in due course.

The noble Lord began his response to the Statement by saying that this route had been chosen purely to save the marginal seats of certain Conservative Members of Parliament rather than for environmental or other reasons. I can only say to the noble Lord, as he would expect, that that is not at all the case. The reasons for choosing this particular route were made very clear in the Statement which I have just repeated.

On the question of timing the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, wished that we could proceed a good deal faster. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, went on to propose a commission to assess the role of road and rail for the next two decades. I can hardly imagine anything more like a recipe for further delay. We have said that the line should be built when the capacity is needed. Therefore I cannot give a clearer indication than was given in the Statement as to when that might be.

It has taken a considerable time to reach a decision because further options were put forward by British Rail, Ove Arup and others, which have been considered carefully. It is the job of the Government to consider all these matters carefully and not to take snap decisions on such important matters. Development benefits have been taken on board which were not covered in all the initial submissions. British Rail will consult with local authorities and interested parties on the sale of the properties, which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned, to ensure that the property market is not depressed by a flood of houses on to the market.

As I said in the Statement, the line will go to King's Cross. It will not stop at Stratford. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked me to confirm that, and I can do so. That is better for the existing high-speed infrastructure and will spread the benefits of the new line to the Midlands, the North, and Scotland, as was said in the Statement.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, raised the question of cost and comparisons of the cost of the two routes which I mentioned. The estimated capital cost of the new route and the stations is around £4.5 billion, including the cost of an intermediate station at Stratford amounting to about £250 million. The cost of the southerly route which has been rejected was about £4 billion; so the difference is about half a million pounds.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act. We have consistently said that we have no plans to amend Section 42 of the Act, which prohibits government subsidy for international services. However, we continue to be prepared to consider subsidy for any non-user benefits such as the relief of road congestion arising from the use of the Channel Tunnel rail link by commuter services.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned freight, which is very important. We have endorsed a two-track passenger line. Ove Arup has said that its route will allow continental-gauge traffic to be carried as well as passenger traffic. That will have to be examined as part of the further work which needs to be done. The question of a further network of continental-gauge traffic depends on what conclusions are drawn about using the Channel Tunnel line to London for freight and what the private sector judges to be the commercial viability of investing in such lines. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the passenger line proposed will be of the continental gauge.

So far as concerns the future timetable and the statutory processes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred, there is much to be done before we reach that stage. British Rail's immediate task is to develop the route to the point at which it can be safeguarded and British Rail and the Government must first concentrate on that issue. We have taken no decision on what type of Bill may be necessary. The promoter will no doubt have views on how the necessary powers should be obtained.

Both noble Lords referred to the future of the King's Cross Railways Bill. It is for Parliament to decide whether the provisions in the Bill are the right ones. I hope that the removal of uncertainty over the route of the new line and the location of its terminus will enable Parliament to consider the issues raised by the Bill so that the Bill can proceed more rapidly.

The new route will be capable, as was the southerly route, of taking up to 12 express commuter services an hour in the peak period. It will benefit commuters in Ashford and East Kent, along the North Kent line and in the Medway towns. Journey times to King's Cross could be about 36 minutes from Ashford and 21 minutes from a Medway Parkway station. Journey times to Stratford will be about six minutes less. Some trains from the Southend and Tilbury line may also be able to use the line at its London end.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, expressed regret that Lord Attlee and Lady Burton of Coventry, were no longer with us to take part in this debate. I very much endorse what he said.

I have no doubt that I shall have to follow up some of the questions with letters but I hope that I have answered at least some of the questions put by the noble Lords.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there will be great relief in many areas, particularly in Kent and among people concerned with preserving the amenity of the countryside, that the southern route has now been abandoned? That is the essence of the Statement. It is certainly the aspect of the Statement which public opinion outside will be most interested in and most gratified by.

Is my noble friend aware that many of us feel that it will be impossible to assess what, if any, additional capacity is required until the tunnel is open and operating? There are more views than one as to the amount of traffic—freight and passenger—which the tunnel will attract. It surely is sensible to wait and to see how many people use the tunnel, either as passengers or for freight, before deciding to indulge in the construction of additional capacity in this country in order to serve it.

Is my noble friend aware that, in all the assessments that have been made, it is accepted that the greater part of freight movement in and out of this country will continue to be by sea and that one is therefore concerned in respect to the tunnel with only a minority, although perhaps a significant minority, of the traffic? Is he also aware that, as regards passenger traffic, it is possible to give too much importance to the speed of passenger movement inasmuch as there are excellent air services between Europe and this country which can be and will continue to be used by all those people to whom time is vital? Will he therefore suggest to his right honourable friend that a certain caution in moving towards further decisions involving large expenditure should certainly be observed at least until we see how many people want to use the tunnel?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. He is right in saying that the abandonment of the southern route will be much welcomed, particularly by those in Kent and South London. As I said in the Statement, the number of properties and people affected by the new easterly route is far fewer than would have been affected by the southerly route. That is important.

As I also said in the Statement—I endorse what my noble friend said—it will be possible and necessary to take account of the demand for rail services through the Channel Tunnel once it opens before we decide when the new route needs to be constructed. My noble friend is right to say that a considerable volume of freight will continue to move by sea to this country, but we have great hopes of transferring a great deal of freight from the roads on to rail when the Channel Tunnel is opened, without necessarily having the impact of a new link straightaway which will help environmentally. My noble friend is also right that air services will continue to offer a speedy alternative to rail travel—a point which I, in my present capacity, endorse.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, is it not a little surprising that this announcement was made in a northern resort and not in the Parliament of Westminster where we would have expected it to be made, at least in the old days when I was involved in these matters? However, I shall let that pass because I dare say that things have changed.

I ask the Minister this question: is this not a decision not to take a decision? Is not the BR route available and fully worked out, or almost fully worked out, whereas the Ove Arup route is not? The House knows that I am an engineer and that I yield to no one in my admiration for Ove Arup, but its route is not fully worked out, as the Minister and the profession know, whereas the British Rail route is. Does the Minister agree that the decision to make a fast link between the tunnel terminus and London has been put off until about 2005, or thereabouts?

Perhaps I may say something which I think will hearten the Minister. Does he agree that it would be wrong to adopt the proposition of my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Clinton-Davis, to set up a commission? It is far too late for that. The decision should have been taken 10 or 15 years ago and there is no point in putting it off any further. Does the Minister also agree that the latest decision, or decision not to decide, has quite properly made us a laughing stock in France and on the rest of the Continent? Recently I asked a very old friend of mine—the French wife of a British consulting engineer not involved in either Ove Arup or British Rail—whether she would go to the Gare du Nord or the Gare Saint Lazare and buy a ticket to Stratford. She fell off her chair laughing.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that, as I have already said, the proposal to have another commission on this subject would be a waste of time, but I must disagree with the statement that this was a decision not to decide. This is a firm decision on a particular route.

The noble Lord said that it would take even longer to get this route through as all the work had already been done by British Rail on its southerly route. The development of the southerly route was more advanced. British Rail estimated that it would take nine months to bring the easterly route—the route that have described today—up to the same stage of development, so that is not a great difference in time when we are talking about something that will probably not be built for a number of years. Nine months is all that it will take to get the new route up to the same state that exists for the southerly route.

Lard Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister realise that this Statement will be widely welcomed in the North of England and in Scotland—a fate, it must be said, not common with Government statements of policy? Those of us in the North look to the Channel Tunnel as a means of obtaining quick and easy access for our freight into European markets so to have the terminal in King's Cross looks to us to be eminently sensible and welcome.

While on the general subject of freight movement from Scotland to the Channel Tunnel, will my noble friend urge on British Rail that it should make a speedy decision on where it intends to site the freight terminal in Scotland to line up with the Channel Tunnel?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks. He is correct to say that the decision will be widely welcomed in the North of England and in Scotland. The fact that the London terminal is to be at King's Cross—and it would have been with either the British Rail southerly route or this route, but not with the other ones that I have mentioned—will mean that it has good connections with services to Scotland and the North.

As regards the provision of the freight terminal in Scotland, I shall certainly pass on my noble friend's anxieties about that. I understand that British Rail has chosen seven out of the nine freight terminals elsewhere in the country and that there is to be one in Scotland, the exact location of which is to be announced shortly.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, will the Minister help public opinion by making available to the general public all the material and information about the merits and demerits of the Ove Arup and Rail Europe scheme? While we wait for 2005, or thereabouts, will he provide British Rail with the resources to get ahead with the international station at Ashford rather than putting up with the pitiful substitute of a lot of Portakabins?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said in the Statement, all information which can be provided will be made available to the general public, including the rather bulky report of the British Railways Board, which has now been placed in the Library.

As regards Ashford station, that is not affected by the Statement that I have repeated today. It is a separate issue. We are still considering British Rail's proposals, but they are very expensive. Meanwhile, British Rail is examining a suggestion by Eurotunnel for a station that might be brought into use by mid-1993 as a temporary measure.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, the Minister referred three times to Scotland, the Midlands and the North. When people refer to the North, I am never certain just how much of the North they are referring to. He also said that an impetus would be given to development and investment on the east coast, particularly east of London. I should like to ask him a simple question: when dealing with those matters, did the Government consider the effect on North Wales and the North West and, if they did, will they publish their comments and their estimates of the retrograde effect that the decision will have on those two areas?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, obviously when I referred to the North I included the North-West with which the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, is concerned. I have no doubt that the development of the Channel Tunnel will bring benefits to all areas of the country including the North West. A moment or two ago I referred to the proposals for a freight terminal in Scotland, about which my noble friend asked. As he will be aware, a terminal in Merseyside is to be announced soon. A terminal in Trafford Park has already been announced. The North-West will benefit from those developments.

The development east of London must go ahead whether or not it affects development in North Wales and the North-West. The need is a clearly identified one. That is why the local authorities in Stratford have so much welcomed the proposals for development in that area.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I asked about the possibility of impetus being given to development and investment in the east and whether or not the Government had considered the effect of that upon the two areas I mentioned of North Wales, including Holyhead, and the North-West; in particular, the west coast.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Statement I made referred only to development in East London around the Stratford area in which one of the terminals is to be located.

Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor

My Lords, perhaps I may try to persuade the noble Lord to follow the compass round a little further to the west. The North, Scotland and the Midlands have given this route their support. However, the South Wales industrial belt has an enormous potential for Europe and yet there is no mention of any support being given to that area. Furthermore, the Brunel line to the west has all the in-built advantages of the old broad gauge which makes it the easiest line in Britain to convert to the continental loading gauge. Will the Government bear that in mind and give some encouragement to the South Wales industries?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, British Rail has announced its proposals for a freight terminal in Cardiff which I hope will do something for the industrial base of South Wales. The problem, as the noble Lord may be aware, is that there is no proposal for a route going to anywhere other than King's Cross or Stratford; the choice is simply not there.

Lord Morris

My Lords, was any advice received by British Rail—not least by government—as to the wisdom of buying up residential or commercial property along its preferred route before a definitive decision was taken as to what the route would be? Bearing that in mind, will my noble friend assure the House—it is very important—that the taxpayers, either directly or indirectly, will not have to pay for any loss which may accrue from this unfortunate decision?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The question of blight and the point at which one should or should not start buying property is always a difficult one. I am afraid that without notice I cannot give my noble friend the assurance he seeks.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act was originally written into that legislation at the behest of the ferry companies who were worried about unfair competition? If that is so, does not the Minister agree that the Statement he repeated this afternoon that the Government have no intention of repealing Section 42 will be very much welcomed by the ferry interests?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Having taken the Channel Tunnel Bill through the House five years ago I can confirm that that was indeed the reason. It was certainly not a matter of dogma, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to revert to the concern already expressed about the length of time taken to reach this decision and the costs incurred in the process. It is very similar to the situation I experienced in regard to the Vale of Belvoir when I was chairman of the National Coal Board. We found coal there and spent a long time working out how we could mine it. We bought up a lot of land in the area but after a year-and-a-half the Secretary of State for the Environment (who happened to be the same as the present incumbent) turned the proposal down because he did not consider the Vale of Belvoir to be a suitable place for the mining of coal. That strategic decision could have been reached right at the start and saved considerable costs.

Why could not a similar strategic decision have been reached about the route to be taken by the high-speed line and saved British Rail from all the costs incurred, including buying all the houses which they will now have to unload, presumably at a considerable loss?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, does not make a valid comparison. He is comparing the question whether a particular coalfield should or should not be developed with the present more difficult question on the choice of routes proposed. The point is that it takes time to decide on the best route. It is not a question of whether or not the route should be developed but which route should be chosen.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord should be aware that my family motto is "sero sed serio"—late but in earnest. Does he agree that one is very happy with the present route because it will cause the minimum of disruption, that it will provide absolutely the right employment in the right areas and will be very successful? If it takes a year or two to come about but is the right decision it does not matter.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I do not agree that the decision is late but I agree that it is in earnest.

Lord Desai

My Lords, it has been said that we are going to wait until current capacity is used up before we undertake any new construction. I should like to urge that that is exactly the wrong thing to do on such an important matter. This is the sort of high technology challenge where we must anticipate future demand. To wait until the demand arrives will cause further delays and once again we will have missed a good opportunity to advance towards the new Europe, which we badly need to do.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot agree with the noble Lord. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, it is important to see what is the likely demand from the opening of the Channel Tunnel before somebody commits large sums of money to a new route.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps I may say to the Minister straight away that the purpose of introducing the question of a commission was certainly not to defer this project. There are other major infrastructure projects which need to be undertaken and we cannot risk this sort of pusillanimity in the future.

Does the Minister agree that there is a need for a major debate in this House on this issue at the earliest opportunity? Very important issues have been raised and need to be pursued further.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I can but give the usual answer to that question. It is a matter for the usual channels.