§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time. In doing so I declare an interest. The Bill is a Private Bill promoted by the British Railways Board on behalf of a number of its sectors, on behalf of two passenger transport authorities and on behalf of the Department of Transport. It was deposited in 1990, having passed the Commons, and it received its Second Reading in your Lordships' House on 28th January. It has since been before an Unopposed Bill Committee. I shall turn to the amendments made there later in my speech.
First, perhaps I may summarise the works which will be undertaken if the Bill is enacted. InterCity sponsors one work; that is the construction of a footbridge at Marholm, near Peterborough, on the east coast mainline. British Rail's freight businesses are the sponsors of four of the works. One involves the reinstatement of a piece of line at Guide Bridge in Manchester to facilitate the operation of aggregate trains. The second work is also reinstatement but this time at Edge Hill, Liverpool, to enable trains carrying imported coal to run directly from Liverpool docks to Fiddlers Ferry power station. The third work at Worksop is a new piece of line also concerned with imported coal. In this instance the line runs from south Humberside ports to Cottam power station. Power generation is also the reason for a fourth work, which is the construction of a new siding at Sherburn in Elmet in North Yorkshire. In that case the work is needed for the unloading of limestone, which the flue gas desulphurisation plant will turn into insulation material.
Two passenger transport authorities are seeking powers for new works. West Yorkshire wishes to construct additional tracks between Holbeck Junction and Leeds City Station in order to alleviate congestion and also to create capacity for, additional services. Merseyside wishes to reinstate a section of the line at St. Helens in order to improve connections with the west coast mainline. The temporary diversion of the Leeds to Skipton railway at Bingley is promoted on behalf of the Department of Transport to accommodate the construction of the new Aire Valley trunk road. In the context of that work, time is of the essence.
999 The Bill also authorises the closure of a level crossing at Foxfield on Regional Railways Cumbrian coastline and land purchase for a new siding at Strood in Kent on Network SouthEast.
On Second Reading the Bill also made provision for the extension of a line at Ashford in Kent together with the associated permanent closure of a level crossing at South Willesborough and the reconstruction of a nearby road bridge. Those works are no longer necessary and the promoters deleted the relevant clauses while the Bill was before an Unopposed Bill Committee.
A number of other typographical amendments were made in Committee as well as amendments to take account of changes in other legislation. Generally, all the amendments were made either to resolve ambiguity or to stay au courant with present legislation. I do not propose to go through all the amendments, although I can do so should any noble Lord so wish.
The Motion to be moved by my noble friend Lord Aldington relates to the works originally proposed at Ashford. I shall do my best to answer his points when the time comes. It seems to me that my noble friend's Motion may give rise not only to questions of detail in relation to Ashford but also to points of general importance about our procedures for passing Bills. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will give the House some guidance on that matter.
I repeat the comments that I made on Second Reading because I believe that they have a significant bearing on issues which my noble friend may well wish to discuss. The powers sought in the Bill in relation to Ashford were removed because the situation had dramatically changed and they were no longer needed.
I wish to stress to your Lordships the importance of the Bill. It is not about privatisation; that is a topic for another day. One could question the necessity of granting British Rail powers to undertake works when privatisation is so close. But regardless of ownership the works included in the Bill are essential to permit the railway to continue to operate economically and safely. I believe that successor bodies to British Rail—indeed, the proposed new body, Railtrack—will desire the completion of the projects in order to ensure the smooth operation of railway services. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Mountevans.)
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord Aldington rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, That this Bill be now read a third time, at end to insert ("but this House regrets that on the motion of the promoters the Bill has been amended so that the promoters claim that they will no longer have to honour undertakings given by them to the Select Committee in another place in June 1991 in connection with the level crossing at Aylesford Place, Willesborough, Ashford, Kent, to provide alternative routes for persons and vehicles by the time the level 1000 crossing has to be closed for reasons of increased rail traffic; and invites the promoters to reconsider their position.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I tabled the amendment because, under the procedure of the House relating to Private Bills which are alleged to be unopposed, it is the only way open to me to raise such an important issue. Before I embark upon my argument I wish to say that I am somewhat surprised that my noble friend did not refer to an intervention at Question Time yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. The noble Lord said:
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the British Railways Board has stated that in the event of increased international traffic arising from the Channel Tunnel—which we all hope will be the case—the board will stand by its original commitment for the reconstruction of the Crow Corner bridge".—[Official Report, 8/3/93; co1.824.]
§ My noble friend did not refer to that intervention and therefore I must assume that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was misinformed. If that is not so and the commitment exists, and if that is what the British Railways Board believes, I should wish to rephrase a great deal of what I intend to say. However, owing to the silence that has followed my words I must assume that that is not the position of the board of British Railways.
§ The issue is important to the House because the undertakings, which I shall spell out in a moment and which I spelt out on Second Reading, relate to the rights of the community of Willesborough to move across the railway which divides it. There is only one surgery in Willesborough and it is in the north. If people living in the south of the area are to attend the surgery but cannot drive across the level crossing in vehicles, how can they do so unless the Crow Corner bridge is widened?
§ Secondly, the issue is important to the House because the undertakings were given in another place in front of the Select Committee in order to satisfy complaints by the petitioners—the residents of Willesborough—that alternative crossings would be provided by the time the crossing must be closed for reasons of increased traffic.
The third reason why the issue is important is that in my view the procedure of this House has been used by promoters to get out of undertakings that were made no doubt in good faith in another place. Those are three important issues. I believe that I have accurately summarised the undertakings in the Motion. Further particulars can be found at col. 1389 of the Official Report of 28th January 1993. I then explained the position making it clear that Miss Sheila Cameron, QC, who appeared for the promoters before the Select Committee in another place, pointed out that the level crossing will have to be closed with the advent of the Channel Tunnel. That is what she said and that is what she said was the opinion of the board: it had nothing to do with the works. My noble friend has consistently misled the House in saying that it had to do with the works. That is not the position that counsel, who was briefed by the board, put to the
Select Committee. It was not because of the works but because of the increased traffic coming from the advent of the Channel Tunnel. What she said was:
This level crossing will not be closed until the Crow Corner Bridge has been reconstructed and brought into use for motor vehicles".
She went on to say:
The closing of this level crossing has now become necessary with the advent of the Channel Tunnel",
and she explained why. I added to her explanation, as your Lordships will remember. She explained that, with the advent of the Channel Tunnel and the extra traffic, it simply would be impracticable to open the crossing for more than five minutes or so in the hour.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans replied on the 28th January to what I had said. I cannot complain that he did not give a full reply, because, although I have had consultations with him, I had not given him in full a copy of what I was going to say. But your Lordships will find what he said in Hansard at col. 1394 on 28th January. He said that things had changed since those undertakings were given. He said:
not only has the station itself been moved" [from where it was proposed to be]—
he is referring to the international passenger station—
but other factors have changed".
He went on to say that the opening of the Channel Tunnel had been delayed. It has been delayed by about a year, but this Bill has been delayed by about one and a half years, so I do not think that helps him on that particular point. He then went on to make a surprising point. He said that the delay:
will enable British Rail to undertake the re-signalling of the Ashford area and include Willesborough level crossing into the new plans in time for the introduction of international services".
§ However, as I have explained to the House, Mr. Urie of British Rail was kind enough to give me a schedule of the times and each hour of the day when the crossing could be opened; and there were two hours when it could be opened for three minutes or thereabouts. There were a whole lot of other hours when in practice it would not be possible to open it, because British Rail are not really very clever at keeping exactly to their timetable. It is inconceivable that there would have been many minutes available.
So in effect what Miss Sheila Cameron QC had to say was absolutely correct, and Mr. Urie's later information makes it even worse. Therefore I have to dismiss all the reasons —I call them excuses—that my noble friend gave why these undertakings no longer applied. I must add in a lighter tone that I am reminded of one of Aldous Huxley's sayings:
Several excuses are always less convincing than one".
§ The fact is that this was a firm commitment, given to a Select Committee deciding on the petition, among other things, from the local residents of Willesborough. It was given for a very good reason and it should be honoured, because conditions have not changed. We all know that one of the favourite excuses or reasons for trying to get out of an undertaking is that conditions have changed, but I have to say that they have not.
§ In the Unopposed Bill Committee, the Lord Chairman of that Committee (my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees was unhappily ill that day and his predecessor took the chair) put to the 1002 British Rail representatives what I had said in my Second Reading speech. He put it succinctly, forcefully and very sympathetically; and I am most grateful to him for doing so. The British Rail spokesman replied—there is no shorthand note available but I had with me the Ashford Borough solicitor, who took a note—that the responsibility for the bridge was the highway authority's and that the highway authority—that is Ashford Borough Council—was unable to proceed with that part of the scheme.
§ That statement is incorrect: in fact both statements are incorrect. the responsibility clearly lies with British Rail, as was accepted in front of the Select Committee in the other place. It is simply not true that the Ashford Borough Council is unable to proceed with its part of the scheme; and it has been so told.
§ Unfortunately, in the procedure that we have with Unopposed Bills, it was quite impossible for me to be heard to correct that statement, or for the Ashford Borough solicitor to be heard. I think something is wrong there because the Unopposed Bill procedure is fine when the Bill is not being altered, but when it is being opposed by the promoters, I think it is not unreasonable that other people should be allowed to test what they have to say. However, there it is. We have to accept what is there, and that is why I am stressing this point to your Lordships tonight.
§ My noble friend Lord Caithness will remember that during the Second Reading debate he cast a little doubt upon how correct I had been in going into all these details then, because he said that the Committee stage was obviously the right place for doing that. I think he will now know, as I have discovered for myself, that with this kind of so-called Unopposed Bill, the Committee stage gives no chance for any such thing to be done. It was quite impossible for me to utter a word and, being a disciplined man, I did not do it then and so I am doing it now.
§ I do it, I have to say, with a feeling of sadness that a great authority like British Rail should try to "welsh" on undertakings given in another place. I use that word advisedly. Those undertakings were given in very good faith at the time and were meant to be accepted. They are now trying to get out of them, and that is what that unpleasant word means. I think it is bad that they should do that. I cannot believe that the board of British Rail knows what has happened or that the chairman of British Rail knows what has happened. I therefore hope that one of the things that my noble friend the Minister of State will do is to see that Sir Bob Reid, whom we all know and admire, is informed of what actually happened. Nobody has contradicted a word I have said so far. I hope that Sir Bob will be informed about what has happened and with his management will investigate how comes it that they, as a leading public sector authority with a great reputation and a great tradition, should renege on undertakings in this way.
§ I hope that my noble friend Lord Caithness will not say that, as he is neutral in these matters, he will not intervene. I suggest to the Government that they cannot be neutral as regards the good faith of public authorities which they own and whose chairmen and 1003 boards they appoint. Nor can they be neutral when a promoter of a Bill uses our procedure in such a way as to get out of undertakings made in another place.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I do not seek in any way to challenge the noble Lord, but were this Bill to pass now and British Rail were then to seek to revive its original intentions, is it his view that further legislation would be required in order to deal with that situation? How would the matter be dealt with? Would it simply be a matter for planning permission? I am genuinely uncertain as to what is the situation in that eventuality.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, I too am rather uncertain about that matter. Before the debate began I was reading two long opinions on the subject—one one way and one another—on what are the various rights and duties. Unless I am misinformed, I see no difficulty in British Rail proceeding with the passenger bridge, even though the power to do that has been dropped from the Bill. I do not believe that British Rail has ever said that it cannot proceed with the widening of the bridge because it no longer has the power to do so. When British Rail sought powers to stop up the level crossing—and it had to obtain the power to do that—certain undertakings were given.
This is an unusual procedure. I am asking the House to register with me its regret that this situation should have arisen with or without the permission and knowledge of the board; that does not matter. There should be a request to the board to look at the matter to see whether it can resurrect the commitments given in the other place, even if that is in the form of the commitment described by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, yesterday. We should take this matter seriously. This House cannot do its job properly if it does not try to safeguard undertakings given in another place.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, That this Bill be now read a third time, at end to insert ("but this House regrets that on the motion of the promoters the Bill has been amended so that the promoters claim that they will no longer have to honour undertakings given by them to the Select Committee in another place in June 1991 in connection with the level crossing at Aylesford Place, Willesborough, Ashford, Kent, to provide alternative routes for persons and vehicles by the time the level crossing has to be closed for reasons of increased rail traffic; and invites the promoters to reconsider their position.").—(Lord Aldington.)
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, on this matter. He made out a very powerful case, which demands to be answered, about the unsatisfactory aspects of the procedures which have been followed by British Rail. I do not intend to cover the ground he covered, but the House deserves an answer to the questions he raised.
I concentrate simply on the point about the convenience for the local community in Ashford, to 1004 which the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, referred. It is a longstanding problem in that part of Ashford. Undoubtedly it will be greatly aggravated, if not made impossible, once the Channel Tunnel trains begin to run from the end of this year or shortly after. I have information from Eurotunnel which says that the timetable currently proposed by the national railways envisages that Ashford will be served by 14 Channel Tunnel trains per day in either direction. I believe that I am right to remember from briefing that I received from Kent County Council that during the night hours something like 10 or 12 freight trains will run in each direction. In those circumstances, the continuation of the level crossing as a practicable method of getting across the lines becomes impossible. In the light of the undertakings that were given in another place, it is strange that British Rail should change its position and withdraw its undertakings in your Lordships' House, leaving an anomalous situation which seems to make it impossible for the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, or any other noble Lord to deal with the situation created.
Finally, I am afraid that the history of British Rail's relationships with the communities of Kent over the railway aspect of the consequences of building the Channel Tunnel have been extremely unhappy. We still await some final decisions on where the line of the high speed train will run. As yet, there is no end to the uncertainty which has caused so much blight. In many ways, this episode in relation to the level crossing is a further symptom of the extremely unsatisfactory and unhappy way in which British Rail has conducted its relations with the local communities in Kent.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, is right—and I believe that he is likely to be right—to say that this is not a matter which has been dealt with at the highest level of the board and that the chairman of British Rail may not be fully aware of what has happened. However, the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, has made a valid case and some account should be taken of it.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)
My Lords, as Chairman of Committees, I am reluctant to intervene on controversial matters in debates on Private Bills. I do so now because I believe that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Aldington raises issues of general concern.
I can well understand why my noble friend has tabled this amendment. In that way he seeks to give other noble Lords some indication of the point which is troubling him. The House will not have had to wait for his speech to know what is on his mind. He may well believe that the procedure which he has adopted gives the best of both worlds: the promoters get their Bill and my noble friend registers his protest.
However, the House should be quite clear that the complaint of the noble Lord does not relate to anything in the Bill which is now before the House. The undertakings referred to in the amendment concern provisions which are no longer in the Bill. As it stands the Bill contains nothing to which any 1005 objection has been raised. I ask the House to consider whether it would be right to refuse it an unqualified Third Reading in those circumstances.
The Companion to Standing Orders states on page 111 that:Debate … on Third Reading … should be relevant to the Bill in the form in which it has emerged".Although that is stated in the context of Public Bills, I believe that it holds good also for Private Bills.
More generally, I question whether the House should ever be invited to give a Third Reading to a Bill and at the same time to attach to it what amounts to a label announcing that the House believes the Bill to be unsatisfactory in certain respects. If the House considers that a Bill is unsatisfactory, in my opinion it should not pass the Bill. On the other hand, if the House considers that the Bill is proper to be passed, it should do so without reservation.
Therefore, I hope that if my noble friend does not withdraw his amendment, the House will think very carefully about whether or not the amendment should be accepted.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I speak tonight without a party label and I do so in the absence, through illness, of my noble friend Lord Underhill. Fortunately, his illness does not appear to be too serious; it is one that affects his back, and he is unable to be here. He has taken a keen interest in this Bill, and I am sure that the House will wish him well.
The questions that have arisen as a result of the very unusual circumstances very eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, give rise to much concern. I believe that we were on the horns of a dilemma—certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, was—in the sense that if a means was not devised to raise these very serious concerns, the situation would have passed completely unnoticed. The noble Lord has expressed the view that he hopes that the British Railways Board at the highest level will take note of what has been said. That could not have happened at least without correspondence and the ability to know with certainty that the board at the highest level would consider the matter, which I believe is now inevitable. Therefore, the remarks of the noble Lord have served a good purpose.
The House will be grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, the Chairman of Committees, for setting the situation right as he sees it. He has spoken with considerable force, and it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, to consider his position in the light of those observations. But I sensed from what Lord Ampthill said that in no way was he seeking to blame the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, for taking the course that he did; indeed, I believe that he had no other choice.
The exceptional circumstances that have arisen here are, to say the least, strange. One's reading of the previous debate and the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, about the statements made by Miss Cameron on behalf of the promoters of the Bill are ineluctably clear and are not capable of any misinterpretation. The undertakings were given. One 1006 worries a great deal that in the light of allegedly changed circumstances it is as easy as all that to resile from those solemn undertakings. I believe it is a little unfair to blame the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for misleading the House. He speaks on behalf of the promoters; it is they who must bear the responsibility, not he. I do not want to deflect that. Perhaps I may add in parentheses that if the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, had been here tonight he would have taken the strongest objection to the use of the verb "to welsh". I am not a Welshman, although my name may sometimes give that impression. I feel that that use of language was unfortunate. However, it is not germane to the main issues we are considering.
Undertakings that are given in any place—certainly when they are given in a court of law or to one of the Houses of Parliament, which is much the same thing—cannot be resiled from lightly. I have a feeling that what might have been properly done would have been for the whole Bill, in the light of the changed circumstances, to be withdrawn and brought back without reliance being placed on the fabric of the original Bill in the light of those changed circumstances. The questions that arise are for all of us, not simply for the promoters of the Bill. They are for the Minister as well. We are all Members of this place. In those circumstances, the Minister cannot simply say that the Government have to be neutral. This is a matter of great seriousness for this House and the other place. I have not come across a situation quite like it.
Those undertakings were given in order to allay anxieties raised by the petitioners. We are now in a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. I pose a question to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, which perhaps may be more properly directed to the Minister or to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, is pointing dramatically at the Minister to reply to the question that I put. What is the position in the event that British Rail decide to reinstate the undertaking and act upon it? I do not know the answer any more than the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. Will they then have to seek further legislation to undertake that position? Can they proceed simply on the basis of an application for planning permission? Can they apply to the Minister for his fiat to go ahead? All of those are highly relevant questions that impact on the deliberations in which we are engaged tonight.
My noble friend Lord Underhill raised other matters during the course of his contribution to the Second Reading debate. Although I do not believe that the questions were appropriately answered during the course of that debate, I believe that the main attention tonight should be directed to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. They are points of substance. They are matters which should certainly not be repeated and should not be allowed to be a precedent. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, will at the very least duly apologise on behalf of the promoters of the Bill for the circumstances that have arisen that have, not through him, misled people; they have misled Ashford council and certainly this House and another place.
1007 Having said that, I do not want to get too firmly enmeshed one way or the other because I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, is proposing to do. I have a feeling about what he proposes to do, but that remains to be seen. The mystery will be cleared up shortly.
§ 8.56 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, first I say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, how sorry we are to hear that his noble friend Lord Underhill is ill. The noble Lord is highly respected in this House, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will pass on to his noble friend the good wishes of the entire House. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that if one cannot welsh on a commitment, presumably one cannot scotch an idea. However, I leave that to the noble Lord as a lawyer to give me legal advice later in the evening on the point.
I am grateful for the clear way in which my noble friend Lord Mountevans has presented his Bill, as amended in the Unopposed Bill Committee. I, like the rest of your Lordships, have listened carefully to the strong case put by my noble friend Lord Aldington. I can well understand the reasons that have led him to pursue this matter and propose his amendment. The Government have considered the Bill as it now stands and are content with the powers sought by the British Railways Board. It is important that the board have the powers necessary for operational and business reasons. The Bill was deposited in 1990, and I very much hope that it will make progress and be given a Third Reading this evening.
Your Lordships will recall that during Second Reading I referred to departmental interest in Works No. 4. The Bill provides for a temporary deviation of the Leeds and Skipton Railway to allow the new Airedale trunk road to be built under the railway. If the Bill was not to proceed quickly, there would be extremely detrimental effects on the timing and cost of the Department of Transport's road scheme, and it would also cause considerable inconvenience to rail users. My noble friend Lord Aldington has been very critical of the British Railways Board. During Second Reading my noble friend Lord Mountevans explained the circumstances appertaining to that particular point of concern. I say to my noble friend Lord Aldington that, as I understand it, the British Railways Board intend to comply with the agreement with Ashford Borough Council to widen Crow Corner bridge when they next reconstruct it, and when the conditions relating to the construction of a link road under the bridge are met. That is the latest advice that I have received.
All noble Lords will have listened with particular care to my noble friend the Chairman of Committees. In this House we are fortunate to control our affairs as we do and when the Chairman of Committees makes such a statement it behoves your Lordships to pay particular attention to his words.
I should like to be as helpful as possible to my noble friend Lord Aldington. I confirm to him that I shall 1008 pass on to the chairman of British Rail what my noble friend said, not only today but also at Second Reading. I hope that that will go some way to ease his concern. The House knows how strongly my noble friend feels about the subject. It is right that I should pass that on to the chairman of British Rail. I am sure that the House will be grateful to my noble friend for raising that point while bearing in mind what my noble friend the Chairman of Committees said.
The Government wish the Bill to make speedy progress. Before it does I should like to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, as to what British Rail would need in order to obtain authority in the future if widening Crow Corner bridge. That depends on the circumstances. I am advised that if the rebuilding of the bridge was in the normal course of events approval would simply be a case of planning permission by the local planning authority. For example, if the rebuilding of the bridge was triggered by development of the new town site as was originally proposed that procedure would apply. However, if the widening was triggered by the Channel Tunnel rail link it is likely that any necessary rights or consents would be obtained as part of the statutory process for the rail link.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I am grateful to all those noble Lords who have taken part in our debate this evening. I sincerely appreciate the sentiments which my noble friend Lord Aldington expressed with regard to the subject he raised tonight. However, I am, alas, unable to agree to the Motion he tabled. My reasons are very similar to those which I gave at Second reading. I feel unable to apologise for misleading the House because I believe that I was right at the time, and I hope that I am right now.
The House has been made well aware of the situation surrounding the level crossing at South Willesborough. The situation has not changed since Second Reading, but I stress that it has changed since the Committee considered the matter in another place. My noble friend Lord Aldington tabled the amendment because of the commitments given by British Rail during the Bill's Committee stage in another place during June 1991. At that time it was generally assumed that the Crow Corner bridge would be reconstructed. The fast rail link to the Channel Tunnel and the then proposed siting of the international station at Ashford would have rendered the crossing closure and bridge construction necessary. The routing of the proposed high-speed link is now by no means certain. It may not even approach Ashford. The then proposed siting of Ashford station has been changed because the Government rejected British Rail's original proposal. The site now proposed, some quarter of a mile to the west of the present site, does not require the reconstruction of the bridge.
Also, in 1991 it was thought necessary to reconstruct the bridge because it appeared impossible to accommodate Channel Tunnel rail freight vehicles because the span of the bridge was too low. That 1009 reason is no longer valid either. It has proved possible to overcome the problem by lowering the track and leaving the bridge intact.
In 1991 there were also proposed road improvements associated, first, with British Rail's former new town works and, secondly, with the orbital park. For various reasons neither of those proposed developments has proceeded at the pace expected when the Committee considered the matter in another place in 1991.
The Bill did not seek any powers to carry out those associated highway works. Both the reconstruction of the bridge and the highway works proposed to go underneath the span would have been authorised by other procedures. At the time of its Committee in another place the Bill sought to stop up South Willesborough level crossing and construct a new section of railway associated with the international passenger station and compatible with the high-speed rail link as then proposed. As I said, those reasons no longer exist.
Mention was made of the oral Question which my noble friend Lord Aldington asked yesterday. One of the answers was omitted. I am indebted to my noble friend the Minister for reminding us yesterday that circumstances have changed since the Committee stage in another place.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He adverted to the Question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, yesterday. In the course of that debate a statement was made, when a question should have been put, by my noble friend Lord Carmichael to the effect that:the British Railways Board has stated that in the event of increased international traffic arising from the Channel Tunnel … the board will stand by its original commitment for the reconstruction of the Crow Corner bridge".—[Official Report, 8/3/93; col. 824.]I may have misheard the noble Lord and the Minister, but I thought that the noble Lord said that that was not the case while I sensed from what the Minister said that it might be the case. The noble Lord might like to clarify the point. It may be that I am being obtuse.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me I shall come to that point later.
My noble friend Lord Aldington referred to the undertakings given by the promoters during the Committee stage in another place, in particular those relating to the reconstructed bridge. It is true that if one studies the transcript of those hearings one can find reference to those items. However, as I sought to demonstrate at Second Reading and have sought to demonstrate again tonight, they related to a particular set of circumstances which applied at that time. British Rail has consistently refused to pay for highway work. In its agreement with Ashford Borough Council its obligation to reconstruct the bridge is activated only when a railway operational reason makes its reconstruction necessary. I hope that that answer deals with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I understand that when operational necessity dictates it is British Rail's intention to rebuild the bridge.
1010 I hope that those facts demonstrate what was in the mind of my noble friend Lord Caithness when he said yesterday that British Rail in effect believes that the situation has changed sufficiently for the works originally envisaged to be no longer necessary. Your Lordships will be aware of British Rail's statutory duty to operate,having due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation".It is worth mentioning in the context of safety of operation that British Rail has undertaken to build a footbridge in the position under discussion to alleviate some of the problems that arise from the crossing being less readily usable by motor traffic. It will at least be of some consolation to the pedestrian traffic. I believe that my noble friend referred to the bridge as the passenger bridge. I hope that that is what he meant. "Due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation" is an obligation which is the basis for all British Rail's expenditure programmes.
For railway reasons, as I have argued, it is no longer necessary to reconstruct Crow Corner bridge and British Rail would be in breach of its statutory duty if it were to proceed with reconstructing the bridge without being able to prove operational necessity. The only issue surrounding the Bill, now that all references to Ashford have been deleted, is that of the intensification of the rail service. I cannot deny that the crossing at South Willesborough will be less readily usable by vehicular traffic. However, as your Lordships are aware, that happens to a greater or lesser degree whenever British Rail increases its service levels.
I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Aldington will find it possible to withdraw his amendment in the light of what I have said and given the fact that I will ensure that his remarks are read at the highest level within British Rail.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, before my noble friend spoke I was certainly considering making a short statement withdrawing the amendment. However, I am horrified that my noble friend continues to repeat what he knows from the transcript that I have in front of me is completely untrue. The Select Committee of another place was told that the level crossing had to be closed, not because of the works or the position of the international passenger station, but because of the increase of traffic as a result of the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Miss Sheila Cameron QC explained at some length the effect that that would have on the times of the opening. What my noble friend has been briefed to tell your Lordships is simply not true. I have to say that and say it firmly if this debate is to go in front of the chairman of the British Railways Board.
However, having said that and having recovered a little of my poise after the anger which my noble friend's speech inspired in me, I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness very much indeed for saying that he will pass on the debate to the chairman of the British Railways Board. That accomplishes my purpose, if I may so so. Of course I take full note of what my noble friend the Chairman of Committees said. If I had felt even more strongly than I now do, I should still have felt that I had to abide by the advice given by him. 1011 However, perhaps I may ask my noble friend this. Could he apply his great experience and skill to the procedure on a Bill like this which leads perfectly reasonable people—your Lordships know me as a rather mousy, wet, quiet man normally—to become very upset? Such matters ought to be sorted out in Committee rather than having such detailed discussion on the Floor of the House. I put that matter to him. With the leave of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.