Operation by the Concessionaires

Orders of the Day — Channel Tunnel Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:30 am on 3rd February 1987.

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Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire 1:30 am, 3rd February 1987

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 16, leave out lines 2 to 6 and insert— '(3) The Concessionaires shall make provision for the conveyance by means of shuttle trains of pedal bicycles and of motorcycles of which the cylinder capacity of the engine is less than 50 cubic centimetres.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this we may discuss amendment No. 14, in clause 23, page 19, line 12. at end insert— '(2) Any such approval under this section shall only be given where the rolling stock can adequately convey the appropriate classes of traffic, including in the case of shuttle trains and through international passenger trains, pedal cycles.'.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

The effect of the Government's amendments is to replace the amendment moved successfully during the Committee stage by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) with a provision which fully meets his objective while eliminating serious drafting defects. The hon. Gentleman was concerned to ensure that the concessionaires are required to carry pedal cycles although they are not among the categories of vehicle that the concession agreement requires the shuttle trains to accept.

The hon. Member for Fulham said: The amendment is prompted primarily by members of the cycling fraternity". He went on to say: The amendment merely adds pedal cycles. That is the only change."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 January 1987; c. 422.] Although the hon. Gentleman meant to provide only for pedal cycles, his amendment would have had other consequences which are not acceptable.

Photo of George Young George Young , Ealing Acton

I very much welcome Government amendment No. 9. My hon. Friend has gracefully accepted his defeat in Standing Committee at the hands of the cyclists and has introduced a Government amendment drafting out the impurities which existed in the original amendment moved by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford). I have one question to ask the Minister about his amendment. Why he has chosen the wording: shall make provision for the conveyance rather than simply using the word "convey"? Is it because there are subtle distinctions between "making provision for the conveyance" and "conveyance" and, if so, what are they? Will the Minister confirm that there will be a legal obligation on Eurotunnel to provide a service for those who present themselves with their bicycles?

I shall briefly speak to amendment No. 14 and say that the appetite of the cyclists has now been whetted by the provision being made on the Eurotunnel shuttle service. But, of course, that is just one part of the problem. The position at the moment is that the cyclist will have to cycle to Cheriton to get his bicycle on the train. For those of us in middle age who live in Acton that is a very long way to go indeed. What the cyclist wants is the ability to put his bicycle, not just on the Eurotunnel shuttle, but on the ordinary British Rail trains that will run from Waterloo and other terminals. That is the impact of amendment No. 14. If I may say so to my hon. Friend, what happened in Standing Committee has undermined somewhat any argument that he might put forward to resist this amendment, because those of us who served on the Standing Committee will remember that he resisted the modest amendment to make provision for bicycles in the Eurotunnel with a whole string of arguments, for example, that cyclists would fall from some high platforms, that they would fall under the wheels of motor cars, and all the rest. The Minister lost the Division and then, blow me down, within a few days the Government had tabled an amendment of their own which had exactly the same impact as the amendment he had resisted.

My amendment is much more straightforward. We want the cyclists to be able to take a pedal cycle on to a train at any British Rail station, so that the whole problem about high platforms and intermingling with cars driving at speed into the Eurotunnel simply do not arise. British Rail's record of negotiation with cyclists is not a good one. We do not believe that it has any intention of making any provision for the bicycle, and the 15 million cyclists in Britain simply will not be able to get to the continent with their bicycle unless they cycle all the way to Cheriton.

Photo of Mr Mark Wolfson Mr Mark Wolfson , Sevenoaks

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that, as well as there being 15 million cyclists in Britain, there are probably even more in France, where cycling is a most acceptable form of recreation? If British Rail wants a two-way traffic to the maximum extent it should be much readier to accept cyclists than it is at present.

Photo of George Young George Young , Ealing Acton

I agree with my hon. Friend, whose moving speech in Committee about cycling for softies is one that we shall all remember. There is a real market available—amounting to some £10 million—to British Rail if only it would abandon its hostile attitude to the cycle and instead embrace it.

Is it really the case that the rolling stock being designed by British Rail makes no provision for the bicycle, and that there is a real prospect of the project going ahead without one being able to put a bicycle on a train? If that is so, it is indefensible. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the very modest demands of the cycling community will be met.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

When my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) approached me to share this amendment with him, had I known that it would be discussed at 1.35 am the following morning, I would not in any way have changed my mind about supporting it.

The amendment is extremely modest—indeed, so modest that I am almost embarrassed about putting it forward. All that we are asking British Rail to do is something that, for the past 10 years, it has said it wished to do—namely, to help the cyclist. The first thing that it did after saying that it wished to help the cyclist was to build rolling stock that excluded any possibility of a cycle being carried. After a great deal of campaigning by my hon. Friend and others, British Rail was persuaded to allow bicycles on its trains. It is well known in the House that, as a result of the pressure put on British Rail by myself and other hon. Members in the all-party friends of cycling group, it increased its revenue by more than £1 million a year.

All that we are suggesting tonight is that the Minister helps British Rail to create more profit, more revenue and more business. We are not suggesting that trainloads of bicycles should go under the Channel. We are suggesting only that instead of expecting octogenarians to cycle from Charing Cross to Cheriton, and arrive in a very poor condition before crossing to France, we should facilitate the increasing number of people who enjoy cycling for leisure. They should be encouraged to get on a British Rail train, which should provide a small space for a small bicycle in the guard's van or in the coach.

I should be happy if the Minister said that he would like to encourage British Rail to put in collapsible bicycles and reduce the space by saying that bicycles should be small, not large, wheeled. We would he quite agreeable to the Minister taking away the amendment and coming back with a slightly improved one. The Minister likes to take away amendments and then reintroduce them in virtually identical terms, but in his way. We would be happy for him to do that with this amendment.

It would be scandalous if the French built their trains with space for the bicycle, so that they can come here and be stranded at Cheriton, while the English have to cycle to Cheriton before they can cross the Channel. There will be an imbalance of bicycles between Britain and France.

Having spent many hours with the Minister on the Select Committee considering the question of buses, I know that he is reasonable and will want to do his very best for cyclists. However, he will probably say that it is not for the Government to interfere with British Rail's running practices. But the Minister is always interfering with British Rail's running practices." If he is not, he should be. With a little simple drafting, the Minister could please the whole House, many of whose Members are latent cyclists and many of whom do not confess to cycling because they think it slightly eccentric and strange to want to get on a bicycle. In Britain it is regarded as somewhat strange that people should want to jump on bicycles, but, as we know, when the House adjourns tonight many hon. Members will jump on bicycles and make their way home.

I hope that in a spirit of good will the Minister will make a gesture that would please hon. Members in all parts of the House. Let a little space be made available on BR trains so that octogenarians and others—people will be retiring much earlier—can get on their bikes and go to France.

The French always manage to gain an advantage from situations. At present BR rolling stock is carrying exclusively French mineral water. If we could have—

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. I cannot see the relevance of mineral water to this series of amendments.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

I had intended to suggest that it would be on the bicycles, but in view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not pursue the point. I think I have said enough to convince the Minister of the rightness of our case.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

I am asked to explain the significance of the words "making provision for". The only point I need make is that the phrase includes the opportunity for a van service to be provided for cycles. Reference was made to international trains being compelled to carry cycles. The international trains represent a fully commercial joint French-English operation. Unlike the trains on the rest of the BR network—where the PSO is a relevant factor; there is no PSO operating here—there is a clear commitment by Government that no Government finance will be going into the venture, and it is therefore placed in a different category.

I appreciate the anxiety that my hon. Friends have voiced about octogenarians cycling from Charing Cross to Cheriton, and I am as anxious as they are to ensure that that does not happen. The position is simple. Cyclists can get to France either by catching a train and using one of the ferries or by catching a train to Folkestone and cycling about half a mile to the Cheriton depot where they will use the facilities that will be provided by Eurotunnel for the conveyance of cycles through the tunnel.

I hope that, on the basis of that reasonable arrangement, my hon. Friends will allow the matter to rest.

Photo of George Young George Young , Ealing Acton

I listened with interest to the Minister's reply. Cyclists seek no subsidy. We are happy to pay should there be a problem over whether the service pays for itself. The ferries carry bicycles free of charge and I do not see why BR should make such heavy weather over a modest request for a van for bicycles.

Unless my hon. Friend is prepared to use his influence with BR to take another look at this whole issue, I shall have to ask hon. Members, many of whom sympathise with the case we have made, to divide the House.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

I should make it clear that the debate is taking place on Government amendment No. 9. If the hon. Gentleman is asking for a separate division on amendment No. 14, I am prepared to grant that, and we will deal with it at the appropriate place on the Order Paper.

Amendment agreed to.