British Railways (London) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

– in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 20th January 1988.

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Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the Bill, not only because I am a London Member, but, principally, because I believe it to be a very good measure. It is, after all, about improving and expanding London's transport infrastructure. Unlike the usual general powers Bills brought before the House from time to time on behalf of British Railways Board, this Bill is for the express purpose of authorising new works and improving rail services in London and the south-east.

Hon. Members will be aware that central London commuting on British Rail has increased by no less than 19 per cent. over the last four years. Off-peak travel has increased by almost one third, thanks to the Capitalcard initiative and other discounts. I also remind the House that the pattern of travel is changing significantly throughout the metropolis. Many more journeys are made around the circumference of our great capital city, particularly by road. The M25 London orbital motorway stands testimony to that.

British Rail is rising to the changes and challenges. It is making ingenious use of an abandoned railway section in the City between Farringdon and Blackfriars to link the north and the south of the Thames. From May, the Thameslink service will run from Bedford, Luton and St. Albans—I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) in his place—to the south of London and on to Sevenoaks, Gatwick airport and Brighton. That will bring many benefits and great convenience to passengers who at present have to change trains, sometimes several times, to complete those journeys.

In central London, the trains will also serve King's Cross, Farringdon and Blackfriars while the Gatwick and Brighton trains will also serve London bridge. However, the trains will not be able to serve Holborn viaduct because it is at the end of a short spur line.

There are essentially three parts of the Bill, in the sense of the works to be undertaken. Work no. 1 is to relocate Holborn viaduct station below ground on the new through route. That involves the realignment of the railway line north of Blackfriars. It is intended that the realigned route will run slightly to the east of the present line and, perhaps more important, will descend to run in a shallow tunnel under Ludgate hill.

The other points to note about the proposal are that passengers will approach the new station through the present entrance to Holborn viaduct station, as the new station will be very near the existing station, or use new entrances on Farringdon road or off Ludgate hill. The station will be fully accessible for disabled passengers. I applaud British Rail's initiative in making that a central concern and strategy of the detailed design plans.

Above the line, shop units are planned to cater for the needs of travellers. That major investment is made feasible by releasing the old Holborn viaduct station for redevelopment. All that will be beneficial for travellers and commuters, for taxpayers, for the City as a great financial centre of the world and for the regeneration of that part of the heart of London. The new station will he named St. Paul's.

Work no. 1 also involves demolishing most of the viaduct between Blackfriars and Holborn viaduct and the removal of the bridge over Ludgate hill, thus restoring the great prospect of St. Paul's cathedral. Environmentalists everywhere will see that as a great boon. I do not intend to wax lyrical about it; I only say that, as someone who qualified as an architect, I have one other thing in common with Sir Christopher Wren, the designer of that splendid, ecclesiastical pile; he, too, was a Member of Parliament. It was realised that there might be a personality clash and it was eventually agreed between our agents that Sir Christopher would promise to make no more political speeches if I promised to design no more buildings. The arrangement has stood the test of time.

British Rail applied to the Corporation of London last September for outline planning approval. At the same time, it entered into extensive local public consultations. I understand that the planning committee will consider the application shortly. Having examined the detailed plans, and speaking as a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute, I commend the planning application to the Committee.

The other works proposed in the Bill—

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

Before my hon. Friend leaves work no. I, will he elucidate further the financial implications of the development at Holborn viaduct? Unlike a public Bill, the measure that he is commending to the House has no financial memorandum I think that I understood him to say that some or perhaps all of the costs of the development would be recouped from the sale of the station and the land immediately surrounding it. Can he tell us whether the whole expenditure will be recouped or whether British Rail is financing any of the development from its other normal capital or current expenditure?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. I hope that I can give him all the information now. The works involved in what I will call in shorthand the Holborn viaduct section of the Bill will all be financed out of the sale for development of the Holborn viaduct station area, which is no longer needed for British Rail's purposes. It is important to stress that, if Thameslink is to become a reality, the existing Holborn viaduct station will be outdated because it will be left in limbo on a short spur and no one will use it. Everyone who wanted to get off in the area would alight at the new station.

The new station cannot be provided unless the asset of the old station is realised. The old station cannot be kept if the new station comes into being. There is no question of British Rail being able to proceed with the new station without getting rid of the unwanted old station left on the spur of the line.

British Rail has many priorities and I suspect that if it is in order we shall hear about some of them during the debate. This project will not stand above British Rail's other major priorities and it will be realised by using one of BR's assets. It could not be used for other British Rail projects, because the project would be useless unless the new station of St. Paul's, on the reopened line, comes into being.

I also wish to deal with the relatively minor, but important works related to works nos. 3 and 4.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I shall give way in a moment.

I shall check this fact, but, as I understand it, these works will be financed by British Rail moneys elsewhere. They are relatively small and I am sure that British Rail will confirm that they can be allocated out of the normal funds without damaging capital investment in other major projects.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will clarify this point now. As I understand it, the long-awaited and excellent Thameslink will come into use in May, so some trains will be running through. Will they not stop anywhere between Farringdon and Blackfriars? If they are able to go through from May, what is the pressing reason for the changes proposed in the Bill?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's great experience and knowledge of the area. The short answer is that, at present, there is no link between Blackfriars and Farringdon. As the hon. Gentleman says, this link will come into being in May, but there will be no station on that line between Blackfriars and King's Cross. I shall check these details in case I have inadvertently misled the House. The station would become useless to those people who presently use Holborn viaduct or who wish to alight from the new link in that area.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

My hon. Friend said that some of the costs, which he described as relatively small, would not be met. Will he be a little more specific? What does he mean by "relatively small"? How much money are we talking about?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise answer now, but I shall seek to 'do so before the end of the debate.

I shall explain the other works, which may give my hon. Friend a better idea. The asset realised will cover work no. 1 and, if there is any excess, that may cover works nos. 3A, 3B, and 4, which I wish to describe briefly.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

I hate to press my hon. Friend on this matter, but what is the normal policy in this regard? What is the normal policy if an asset is sold in a region of the British Rail network and the sum realised is more than sufficient to replace that asset with a new development of the kind described in work no. 1? Is the surplus redistributed among other capital projects in the regions or is it retained within London or Network SouthEast?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

That is exceptional, if not unique, because it is rare that an asset is realised on the site where an improvement can be made to the British Rail network.

My hon. Friend is a much greater expert than I on these matters. Perhaps the Minister will be able to give a more authoritative answer. Normally, the money would go into the finances of the British Railways Board, which would put projects to the Department of Transport. The Minister would then approve, disapprove or amend projects and they would be allocated among the many priorities of the British Railways Board.

The minor works—I use the word "minor" advisedly—relating to works nos. 3A and 3B, aim to reopen two short tunnels immediately to the north of King's Cross station to achieve a connection of this new Thameslink route to the south with the east coast main line running to the north-east. That will allow the Thameslink service to be increased, with local trains running from the east coast route through to the south.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman mentions linking this line to the east coast main line, as does the promoters' statement, as if the use of the east coast main line will allow some London local services to operate. Do the promoters see the link with the east coast main line as a way of providing access for passengers from the north-east into the Thameslink line?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. If he is a little more patient, I shall explain it to him.

Work no. 4 provides for a new escalator connection to shorten the interchange between the Thameslink platforms and the main line station at King's Cross. The main northeast line terminates at King's Cross, although some lines terminate at other stations. It would be impossible for those trains to bypass King's Cross or to continue down to the southern regions of the country because it is a normal 4 ft 8½ in gauge, but narrow width track units are being used. It is important for people from the north-east who want a quicker connection to the south-east or south of the Thames to have this much more speedy and convenient method of crossing from the main line station into the Thameslink. The escalators will do just that.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

My hon. Friend has been more than generous in giving way, but is work no. 4 a compensation for works nos. 3A and 3B? He has described the opportunities to make it easier for passengers from the north alighting at King's Cross to transfer to southern routes. Just before he introduced work no. 4, he referred to the possibility of local trains from the east coast main line moving through central London. What is the position, therefore, of east coast main line passengers arriving on the InterCity 125 at King's Cross? Are they to be discharged and to have the benefit of work no. 4 or are they also to share in the glories of works nos. 3A and 3B?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The short answer is that if he goes to King's Cross and, for some inexplicable reason, does not want to go to Westminster but wishes to proceed further south, he will benefit from Thameslink, with its attendant physical and geographical tangential works, and the new escalator connection. When people using Thameslink wish to proceed further north, works nos. 3A and 3B will come into their own. They are adjacent developments. Of course, they are linked for the direct or indirect benefit of passengers. I have attempted to put the matter as concisely as possible. I can put it no more accurately.

The escalator link at King's Cross will provide other conveniences for passengers at that great station. There will also be a great benefit for passengers using the Northern, Victoria and Piccadilly lines. As High Barnet is at the end of the Northern line, it will beneficially affect some of my constituents. Because of the new escalator link, they will have direct access to the main line station.

At this stage, it is appropriate briefly to refer to the tragic conflagration that took place at King's Cross on 18 November last. I have made inquiries about the proposed new escalators. They will provide an alternative access to and from the three London Regional Transport underground lines. Therefore, they will be an additional route that passengers may take other than going through the ill-fated ticket booking office. The detailed design of the escalators is yet to he completed. I am glad that that is so. I assure the House that they will include all appropriate fire prevention measures. Of course, they will be approved finally only after the most detailed discussions with fire services and the railways inspectorate.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Will the latest fire protection include the provision of sprinklers?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question. With the greatest respect, it would be inappropriate for me to do so. I have an assurance that British Rail will take full account of any recommendations that Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC, may make following his inquiry into the King's Cross disaster. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) will agree that it is far better to wait for Mr. Fennell's report and findings rather than for me to give my view. If my hon. Friend presses me, my view is that every precaution and every modern piece of technology that is appropriate to guaranteeing maximum public safety, not least in underground areas, should be the first priority.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight , Derby North

My hon. Friend has itemised some of the benefits that will accrue to passengers from the north who alight at King's Cross station. Are there any benefits in the Bill for passengers from the north who alight at St. Pancras station? For example, is he aware that passengers from Derby are already agitated, concerned and disappointed that British Rail has made no announcement about electrification?

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) raises an important point for his constituents. He will know that the electrification of other lines is outwith the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, I would be out of order if I were to comment on that matter. As Chipping Barnet is not on that line, I fear that my knowledge is not as good as that of my hon. Friend. If my geography remains accurate, King's Cross and St. Pancras are not many miles apart. There is an interchange between the two stations. Therefore, the escalator link will be of at least indirect benefit, if not of direct benefit, to people arriving at St. Pancras.

When the Bill was introduced into the other place, seven petitions were deposited concerning the realignment of the Holborn viaduct section. The Committee in the other place allowed the Bill to proceed, subject to British Rail giving an undertaking to Whitbreads, one of the petitioners, to return to it the freehold site of that splendid hostelry, the Old King Lud at Ludgate circus, following completion of the works. Sixteen of the 17 petitions were settled to the satisfaction of the petitioners. Four petitions have been deposited in this House by National Car Parks Ltd., Whitbreads, the City of London Real Property Co. Ltd., and Deloitte, Haskins and Sells. They were concerned about the impact of work no. 1 on adjoining property that they own or occupy.

British Rail has written to the four companies and has offered to have meetings. Indeed, meetings have been held. I am pleased to say that a settlement has already been reached with National Car Parks, and it is hoped that settlements will be reached with the other three companies. In any event, as hon. Members know, if the House chooses to give the Bill a Second Reading, its provisions and any outstanding petitions can be considered in detail in Committee.

The Order Paper confirms that there are concerns about the Bill or about British Rail. That is not surprising;. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, it will he of immense benefit to many people. If hon. Members wish to pursue points that are without the scope of the Bill, or if they wish to pursue any grievances that they may have with British Rail, I respectfully suggest that it might be more appropriate to do so when the British Railways No. 2 Bill, or the general powers Bill, comes before the House. I understand that it will do so within the month.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am grateful for that useful piece of advice, which, of course, we shall take. For a century and a half, it has been believed that grievances about railways must be ventilated when railways legislation is brought before Parliament. That belief was somewhat strengthened when some hon. Members' arguments about sleeper service:3 were greeted by British Rail's Inter-City marketing manager's insistence that he did not wish to discuss the matter with Members of Parliament.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

Obviously, I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. Having been a witness to his considerable parliamentary skills, I know that he will devise an ingenious and effective way of allowing this beneficial Bill to go through the House while pursuing his grievances in another parliamentary way.

I am sorry for taking up the time of the House. I have tried to deal with the various points that have been raised. I believe that the works represent positive, sensible steps by British Rail. The works at Holborn viaduct show great initiative and enterprise. They will benefit London and many other parts of the country, particularly the north - east. If it is passed by the House, the Bill will be good for passengers and good for British Rail.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected either of the motions relating to the instructions on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish 7:29 pm, 20th January 1988

I welcome the opportunity to raise briefly the issues in the Bill and to contrast the way in which British Rail seems so enthusiastic to invest in London and the south-east with its attitude to the north-west.

I did not intend to speak on the Bill, but just before: Christmas the north-west group of Members of Parliament asked for a meeting with the chairman of British Rail to discuss the deterioration in the service to the north-west. We were told that the chairman was too busy to see Members of Parliament and that we would have to make do with the midlands' director, Mr. Bleadsdale. When he met north-west Members of Parliament, he treated us with complete contempt. He came with no answers to our questions and made it clear that he was not prepared to listen to our views, but was prepared to allow the deterioration in the service to continue, and that we were a nuisance. I think that that was an insult, and British Rail must remember that if it wants to pass legislation through the House it must be prepared to talk to hon. Members and answer their questions.

I find it amazing that British Rail can make substantial investment in London, yet every time we raise the issue of the deterioration in the service to the north-west the argument put forward is that it does not have the money to invest in that area. We have experienced a continual running down of that service. How on earth can BR talk, as it does in this legislation, of the advantages of travelling across London from north to south when it is doing its best to get rid of passengers who want to come from the north?

A similar proposal for a cross-London route was announced with a great fanfare three years ago. Trains from Manchester and Crewe, instead of arriving at Euston, were to go to Kensington Olympia and would be able to go on to Gatwick, Brighton and Dover. British Rail said that this would be a great improvement and that it required parliamentary approval for that development. It is now saying that from May it will discontinue most of those services.

The reason given for that decision is that an insufficient number of people want to use the services. There obviously have been problems, and one of the fundamental—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. At the outset the hon. Gentleman said that he would refer to the services in the north-west of which he has knowledge for contrast. He is now starting to argue the case for those services, which is out of order in the context of the debate.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I am talking about the cross-London routes. It is perfectly all right for British Rail to tell us how desirable it is to have another cross-London route, but it is very odd that, having tried one for three years, it is now in the process of abandoning it. We must ask to what extent BR will be prepared to maintain this cross-London route, having invested a lot of money in it. I would argue that it should have invested that money in better rolling stock for the north-west and in maintaining services.

The fundamental flaw in BR's route across London was that services to the north of London had one system of electrification, while those to the south had another. A substantial amount of extra time had to be added for the changing of engines at Kensington so that trains could continue through to the south. It has been disappointed by the failure to attract passengers to that service, which is why it may be discontinuing it.

The question that we must put to the promoters of the Bill is how far they will be able to ensure that it is easy for passengers to travel on east coast lines down to the south. BR is obviously considering this improvement with a view to the Channel tunnel. There is still the fundamental problem that the railway system on the east coast line, like that on the west coast line, is incompatible with the engines that travel to the south. I hope that the promoters will tell us how they will get round that difficulty. If they cannot, I suggest to them and British Rail that it would be far better to invest the money in improving services from the north-west.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

What worries me is that when British Rail is confronted with a difficulty such as the apparent incompatibility of running two services, its answer is that one of the services will have to go. That has been its argument on sleeper services. It has said that, because there must be a transfer from diesel to electric haulage, the diesel service will have to be removed altogether. Surely that must have implications for the matters that the hon. Gentleman is describing.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I am unaware of what British Rail is doing about the east coast sleeper service. The amazing development for the Manchester service is that BR does not intend to get rid of the whole service, but only the service in one direction. Sleepers will go up the line empty and return with passengers. British Rail says that that is more economical than having trains carrying passengers in both directions. When we asked for detailed figures, it could not produce them, which is amazing. I do not want to plead the case for sleepers too strongly—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not want to plead that case at all. As far as I can see, it has precious little to do with the Bill.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

If BR cannot maintain a sleeper service from Manchester to London, it is doubtful whether it will be able to provide a service which, in the future, will enable people to catch sleepers that will run on the east coast line through London and on to the continent. I should have thought that one of the arguments for the link would be to make travelling far easier. It is not an attractive proposition at any time to have to change stations in London if one is travelling to the south, but if one is doing it in the middle of the night, that is very unattractive.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I do not see anything in the Bill that relates to, connects with or has any bearing on the sleeper services of British Rail from Manchester to London. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

If I were trying to build a link from the north to the south, which is what the Bill aims to do, one of the services that I would consider using would be sleepers.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am familiar with the north of the country. He knows as well as I do that trains from Manchester to the south do not go through King's Cross.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I accept that argument, but they do go through Doncaster. I would have thought that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be the first to accept that it would be more attractive to catch a sleeper from Doncaster to the centre of London, and on to the continent when the Channel tunnel is open, using this route, than to wake up at 2 am or 3 am, get out at King's Cross, and transfer to Victoria, when services across London are not all that good.

The question whether sleepers will be able to run through this new link on the east coast route is relevant to the Bill. British Rail seems determined to get rid of all sleepers to the north of England—not only on the east coast route but on the west coast one—and that suggests that it does not want to run sleepers, except to Scotland. There is a good argument for it to maintain and develop its sleeper service so that, when there is a link through London and the Channel tunnel is open, it can start to use the sleeper service as a major part of a network within western Europe.

I hope that British Rail will reconsider its attitude to hon. Members and the representations that they are making. I hope that it will reconsider its investment programme. If it can find the money for this link, and could find the money for the Kensington link, it has a duty to find the money to invest in rolling stock so that the many passengers who use its services from the north-west and north-east of England are not deterred from doing so.

Last Friday, having remained here to vote, I went to Euston and was appalled to find that the 3.20 pm to Manchester had no seats left in the first-class accommodation—fortunately, I had booked a seat—and that about 10 first-class passengers had to stand all the way to Manchester. The reason was clear. The guard, for whom I had every sympathy, made the apologetic point that British Rail did not have sufficient rolling stock.

How can British Rail consider this sort of investment when it cannot invest in the rolling stock necessary to provide a decent service from Euston to the north of England? The first priority must be to get decent rolling stock. Many commuter trains in the north-west of England provide a poor service—again because of the lack of rolling stock.

I plead with British Rail to invest in the north of England, on the east and west coasts, with the same enthusiasm as it seems to have to invest money in London. One has the feeling that British Rail's only interest is in providing a service for the people in and around London, rather than one for people such as my constituents in the north-west of England.

I shall continue to take every possible opportunity to make legislating difficult for British Rail until it accepts the fundamental principle that it should talk to Members of Parliament about the problems that face them and their constituents. British Rail should re-examine its investment programme to ensure that a good service is provided for the people from the north of England who have to come to London before it invests too much money in transporting people across London. If British Rail does not invest in transporting people from the north of England, it will find that it will have a network across London, but no passengers because they cannot afford to get there.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North 7:41 pm, 20th January 1988

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has taken a narrow view of the Bill. I support the Bill. But why does British Rail need to obtain powers by using the private Bill procedure? The purpose of the Bill is to execute certain works, which have been well explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). British Rail already has a lot of legislation on the statute book and has many powers concerning the acquisition of land. I should have thought that most of what British Rail wants done could be done under existing legislation and that this Bill was not necessary. But, since British Rail has this special legislation, it will be considered, of course, and supported by many Conservative Members.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech. We all feel sometimes that it is an inconvenience for comparatively minor works to be the subject of a Bill. What alternative means of providing anything new does British Rail have, given that it must first seek a statutory right from the House?

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

A committee is ascertaining whether the procedures can be modified to enable companies to go ahead without facing the general expense of the private Bill procedure. The Bill's promoters know how expensive the procedure is, especially when there is opposition arid relevant points are raised. If a group wanted to construct Sizewell B, it could do so by way of the private Bill procedure, but it would be much better to have a public Act and obtain powers by other routes. I merely suggest that the private Bill procedure is a rather heavy instrument to use on this occasion.

Some time ago I walked through the tunnel between Farringdon and Blackfriars. I was amazed at the ease cif the route and the perspective that British Rail had shown in reopening it. The tunnel was in use in the steam days. It will be useful, to my constituents at least, to be able to travel from Bedford through to Brighton and to Gatwick.

Two motions have been tabled, although both have been ruled by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be irrelevant. They simply reflect the protests in other parts of the country and the wish for more electrification in the United Kingdom. I think that that is generally accepted. 1 praise British Rail to some extent. Although there was a year's delay in starting operation of the line from St. Pancras to Bedford, once it began it proved to be successful and a moneyspinner for British Rail. Such developments can be most useful.

When the proposed line is completed, will there be more inter-city lines from Bedford to London, perhaps going through the tunnel to Brighton and to Gatwick? Will there be faster trains to London? I assume that there will not be. Is there any prospect of a spur line from Bedford to Oakley to bring more people into London and other parts of the south-east?

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet referred to escalators. Two weeks before the tragedy at King's Cross, I wrote to the chairman of London Regional Transport complaining about the filth of the station. Surprisingly, I did not receive a reply until after the accident—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. It is difficult to see how these matters arise from or are connected with the Bill.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

With all respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the transport authorities are constructing an escalator between the stations. There must be proper safety provisions.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedfordshire North

It is critical: I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

Even if the escalators are not made of wood, if they are not swept, as I feel happened at King's Cross and St. Pancras, an accumulation of dust could lead to greater problems for future travellers. British Rail must satisfy itself that the highest standards are introduced and maintained and that the right cleaning facilities are provided to protect the public at all times.

I give the Bill my full support. It will improve transit through London to the south-east. I hope that the provisions will be extended to cover other people such as those mentioned by Opposition Members who want certain additional work done. We hope that British Rail can secure investment from the sale of the assets that it has in mind so that there will not be too great an imposition on the taxpayer.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire 7:48 pm, 20th January 1988

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. We have seen from the speeches of the hon. Members for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) that the debate has national as well as local, London significance.

I declare an interest, if I need do so. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has a more direct claim than I have to the fame of being part of a long-serving, loyal, traditional railway family, but my father was a railwayman for many years. I spent many summer vacations in signal boxes, until an inspector came along and I was put quickly over the dike. My uncle and namesake, Archie Kirkwood, was a long-serving member of the National Union of Railwaymen. Sadly, he died some years ago. He was a mentor of mine, and my family's experience of trade unionism in the railway industry percolated through the fabric of our family life. I benefited from that and, if I have no other claim to speak in this debate, I feel that my family background entitles me to do so.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

May I intervene on precisely that point? The hon. Gentleman has touched on an aspect that has not yet been considered, which is the attitude of the National Union of Railwaymen to the proposals and to the differing effects of investment in different parts of the network. Has he received representations from the union?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

That is an extremely important point, to which I intended to refer. I must say that I am not one of the most obvious constituency Members for the NUR to contact and I do not hold that against it. I make no complaint about that because this is a major Bill — indeed, I commend the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet on the way in which he opened the debate—but one or two gaps have been left and several questions still need to be answered.

For example, what consultations were there with the NUR—a very responsible union with a direct interest in the Bill? The Bill will affect NUR staff who operate from King's Cross and, from a more strategic point of view, the investment deployed could perhaps have been deployed differently. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman or the Minister will give us the benefit of the view of the Government and British Rail on that point.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North made a strong point about the procedures adopted. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I serve on the Committee that considers unopposed private Bills, under your own eminent chairmanship, and I therefore have some experience of these matters. I am surprised that the British Railways board should need to have recourse to such machinery. The pressures on Back-Bench Members inevitably mean that some of these important measures do not get the attention that they deserve, and that operates to the detriment of some of the projects that come before us. I am surprised that the board does not have available to it other means of achieving the ends set out in the Bill.

That leads me to one of my other concerns about the Bill. Are any short cuts—to put it pejoratively —employed in the Bill? Does it circumvent any of the normal planning processes under the planning legislation? I ask that neutrally. I do not suggest that BR is taking short cuts or that, if it is, it is doing so in a conspiratorial fashion. However, the House has a right to know whether this procedure circumvents any of the planning legislation.

That is an important question for local people. Local people have proper rights, obligations and opportunities to have their say and make proper and diligent representations through the planning procedures. Does the Bill deprive them of any of their rights under the planning Acts? British Rail would be well advised to ensure that it has recourse to private Bills only when it is essential.

It is obvious to everyone that King's Cross station has national significance. That is why people north of London are taking an interest in it. King's Cross is the gateway to the south. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of my constituents from the borders of Scotland use it—not just on business but for family outings, visits to friends and so on. The station has a direct link with the east coast route, which has a fine history and tradition. The facilities that obtain in King's Cross are vital not just to commuters who use it daily but to people from very much further afield who use it for a variety of purposes.

We are entitled to ask what inconvenience will be caused during the construction of the works. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet lucidly explained the works, and we have all had the benefit of the brief that the promoters helpfully provided—I am grateful for that—but what inconvenience will be involved? What will be the time scale? Will it be weeks, months, or, as I suspect, years? Some of the works may take many months. If that happens, how much inconvenience will those using the station suffer? Will they have to go to other parts of the concourse—with which they are familiar—to get tickets? Will large chunks of the concourse be shut off for substantial periods?

That important question was made even more important by the remarks of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, who recounted his problems on the train last Friday. I have experienced similar problems. As I explained earlier, my commitment to the railways is such that I try to use as many of my parliamentary travel warrants as possible on land-based transport. I travel to and from my constituency via the east coast route rather than traitorously using aeroplanes, which are only for softies and jet-set yuppies. The mark of a true, established, traditional Scottish Member is that he struggles through the hassle at King's Cross and sits on his suitcase for six hours and enjoys it because he knows that he is doing it for a greater cause—

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

He does it for Britain, rather than taking the easy way out by drinking a gin and tonic on a 757 from Heathrow.

Congestion on the concourse at King's Cross is worrying. In the short term, congestion while the works are being completed may be relevant because it may drive custom away. I might even be driven to my gin and tonic on the 757 until the concourse is put right.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

I look forward to reading about the hon. Gentleman's drinking habits in the Berwickshire News and East Lothian Herald.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

It is always difficult when a constituent who represents another constituency is sitting at one's elbow taking notes for one's local newspaper. I would prefer references to gin and tonic and aeroplanes to be deleted from the record. Alas, I know that that is not possible; the cat is out of the bag.

Perhaps a more serious question concerns the long-term effect on congestion on the concourse of the new escalator and the ticket office and the rest of the works planned in the Bill.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

On the question whether congestion will increase while the works are being carried out, has the hon. Gentleman yet studied clause 22? I know that his mind has been on other matters for the past week or so, but if he studies it he will discover that the compulsory purchase powers taken for the various works at King's Cross last until 1992. It is therefore possible that British Rail will carry out the works over a period of years, as the hon. Gentleman has warned, rather than over a period of months.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

That is an important question, and I hope that if it is not directly addressed this evening it will be addressed in Committee—although the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet may be able to elucidate.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) for giving way, because it may be for the convenience of the House if I deal with that point now. My understanding is—again I shall get confirmation of this — that it is anticipated that the works will take about two and a half years. It may be between two and three years—

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

It will take about two and a half years from the date of the passing of the Act. I believe that it was hoped that, with Parliament's approval, work might start this May. Of course, that is now out of the question because of the length of time over which, rightly, we conduct our proceedings. I shall take further advice on that point but when I asked that question myself, I was told that it would take about two and a half years to complete all the works that are the subject of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

That answer has taken me slightly aback. My initial reaction is that the works are much more extensive than the House had perhaps been previously led to understand. I do not mean that the House has been misled. Do I understand that if the works were to start immediately they would take a full two and a half years to complete?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Well, that adds extra point to my fears about congestion and the temporary transitional difficulties that will accrue.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I was careful to say, "all the works that are the subject of the Bill". The substantial and major work is no. 1, the Holborn viaduct section.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's question about the King's Cross works and the new escalator link, I shall find out how long those works will take to complete. There would be no point in starting the works on the day the Bill becomes an Act—nor would British Rail want to do so — unless and until Mr. Desmond Fennell, QC, has reported and the proper discussions and deliberations have taken place with the railways inspectorate and the fire service. I am sure that hon. Members will think that proper and adequate.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I am grateful to the hon. Member, who is being most helpful to the House. We appreciate that. He brings me to a question relating to the extensive time scale—

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Before my hon. Friend turns to the consequent question about congestion at King's Cross, I wonder whether it has occurred to him — I have only just realised this as a result of what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said—that the time scale that is now described—from May this year until 1991—is exactly the period from which sleeper services are intended to be diverted from King's Cross to Euston up to the introduction of full electrification at King's Cross—that is to say, the date at which sleeper services could be reintroduced without any significant element of subsidy. Perhaps it was not planned that way, but it would open up the opportunity to regard the period during which the sleeper service is not there as one for reducing congestion with the hope of reintroducing sleepers as soon as the link is open.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I hope that my hon. Friend's helpful comment will be taken on board by the powers-that-be. His suspicions are similar to my own. We are talking about—

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would direct his mind to the thought that perhaps the Bill is premature. Given the works at King's Cross, it might be better to introduce the Bill once we have the report and know the work that must be carried out there, rather than in advance of the report.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I assume that that important comment relates to the fire inquiry that is being conducted by the eminent Queen's counsel. Obviously, the Bill was written before the recent tragic event at King's Cross, but has that event been considered? Suppose there are far-reaching consequences in terms of the design of escalators, safety requirements and fire requirements on the major works described in the Bill. It may well be good counsel to hasten slowly. That may not involve terminal delay. Perhaps it will involve a delay of only between six and nine months and perhaps the Bill could be brought back to the House then. It would be sad and unfortunate if the Bill went through all its parliamentary stages only to find that the report produced by the eminent Queen's counsel required substantial amendments to be made.

If that happened, can the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet tell us whether the British Railways Board would appear on the doorstep of the House to ask for further amendments to what would then be an Act of Parliament? Would the board require secondary legislation as a result of the report, because that might cost a disproportionate amount of British Rail's budget in terms of the money that has been set aside for the project? That important question requires attention and some answers in Committee. Even if the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet or the Government cannot give those answers this evening, the House will want to know the implications of the report before it gives its final view. Of course, there will be opportunities not only in Committee, but when the Bill returns to the House on Report.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

If my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) is not prepared tonight to offer to withdraw the Bill for several months to take account of the timetabling points, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire must consider whether the Bill could at least be withdrawn for a short period so that we may prepare a more extensive Report stage, bearing in mind that the works are not urgent, and bearing in mind that other major Bills, such as the York and London Bill of the last century, were considered by the House for 82 days. Even if the Bill has to become law reasonably quickly, there is no reason why we must rush through our considerations.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Eighty-two days is a long time in politics, especially if one has been in the Liberal and Social Democratic alliance during the past week.

The hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) has made a good point. What is to prevent the Bill being put on ice? In terms of parliamentary procedure, presumably it would be possible to stage it over from one parliamentary term to another. I am an inexperienced hand at the parliamentary game, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that it is possible that there is some procedure for staging over a private Bill until the next Session. We had experience of that with the Channel Tunnel Bill, which was a hybrid Bill. This is a purely private Bill. There is nothing to stop us stopping the clock of parliamentary procedure on the Bill until we can see whether there are implications—and there are certain to be implications—as a result of the safety report by the eminent Queen's counsel who has been charged with the responsibility of investigating the causes and long-term effects of the King's Cross disaster. I hope that that important point will be given serious consideration.

I return to the point that I was about to make, having heard that the works will take two and a half years to complete. That suggests that the works are of an entirely higher level than I had anticipated, and that leads me to the question of cost. Although the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet was comprehensive, helpful and lucid in his introduction, he left out the question of the total cost. I listened carefully to his remarks and he said that the cost would more or less be met by the disposal of other assets on the site.

It would be helpful to know the gross or, indeed, the net sums involved. A course of public works over a two-and-a-half-year period will involve a different level of expenditure. If it is true, it brings into a new perspective the arguments that were deployed earlier by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish about the respective and relevant merits of investment on the south-eastern route, let alone the east coast route. I can tell the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that there is life well north of Manchester.

We need more detail on costs. The House is entitled to know how much money will be spent in every category of the expenditure—not only the money being set aside for investment, but the money that it is hoped will be made from the sales of assets. What is the state of play on those sales? Have brochures and prospectuses been made ready? Are the heritable items that are the subject of these disposals ready to be put on the public market? What is their asking price? All these details are relevant so that the House can decide whether we are getting value for money for this significant investment in the four works, which will take two and a half years to complete. We need more information on costs before we make any definitive judgments.

I heard what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said about the extent of the usefulness of the line as a link. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that trains running over the route will be running through tunnels. Presumably those tunnels are many, but they are too narrow to take the InterCity 125 trains. The gauge is different—

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I told the House that the gauge was the normal 4 ft 8½ in, but the coaches are the narrow-width type because of the size of the tunnels and because of the bends.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the bends—I have been suffering from them for the past week in my party.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

It might be useful to clear up this point now. There is an abiguity about the word "gauge". There is a gauge for the width of lines and a loading gauge. We are not yet clear whether the new tunnels in King's Cross will be wide enough—wider than the existing ones—to take not only 125s but also, perchance, sleeping cars.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I see we have a plethora of railway buff talent in the House and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his help. What he said clarifies matters, but it leads me to another question.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet may say that the cost would be astronomic, but how much would a direct link from the east coast route cost? The hon. Gentleman may say that the sums have been done and that countless millions of pounds are involved; I accept that a cost-benefit analysis must be done. However, if the tunnels have merely to be slightly widened in order to allow the rolling stock through, doing that might not be beyond the realms of commercial possibility in the long term.

In view of what has been said about the Channel tunnel, and the opportunity that it would provide for commercial return and for passengers, the question is interesting. Have any calculations been done of what it would cost to make a direct link? The figure may be impossibly high—we are not unreasonable people and we would accept figures on the commercial viability of such a project if they were produced — but we cannot think that we are conscientiously representing our constituents if we do not at least ask that question so that a judgment can be made.

If it is too expensive to widen the tunnels, as may be the case, what is the possibility of co-ordinating timetables so that people coming from Berwick-upon-Tweed can get off at Stevenage, for example, and take a train that would take advantage of the link? What active consideration has been given to that eventuality so that people coming from Berwick-upon-Tweed would not need to go near the terminal station at King's Cross, but could link through in a co-ordinated fashion without changing there?

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

Would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on the problems of freight from the north? If the tunnels and the loading gauge are not such as to be able to take freight from the north, there is no advantage to the vast areas of this country in allowing the Bill to pass. Freight is of the essence in the economics of opening up the tunnels to national use. If we cannot receive the assurances that we would like on freight access, there is no reason why the House should pass the Bill.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I was coming to that point, and I shall reinforce and underline it now. Freight is an essential part of the viability and continuing prosperity of the east coast route. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet may not know — the Minister will—that important freightliner depots just outside Edinburgh have recently been closed. A route such as this could have saved the depots and made them commercially viable. That is how important having a direct route is, rather than an indirect link such as the Bill proposes.

I return to my point about co-ordinating timetables for passenger journeys. How far up the east coast route does the ability to link through the tunnel go? I assume that passengers from places such as Stevenage, Huntingdon and Peterborough can go all the way through the link. How far up the route is it proposed that the service will extend—past Doncaster, as far as York, to Darlington or even the nether reaches of Newcastle and beyond? How far down the east coast route will people be able to get on British Rail trains that will take them directly through the route that is proposed in the Bill?

As regards commercial viability, British Rail tells us a great deal about the new ethos that now prevails in its commercial judgments. We are told a great deal about ratios of profitability, investment returns and so on. I did not hear the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet say anything about the commercial return that is expected on the investment. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and the sums must be done. The House is entitled to know what money it can expect in return for this substantial two-and-a-half year building investment.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

It is also true that we have heard nothing about the revenue implications of the investment that we are discussing. There seems to be an assumption running through the debate that the project is viable in terms of capital invested because of the return on the land. There has been no reference to whether passengers using the route will be receiving a public subsidy in order to do so.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I agree with my hon. Friend. The commercial return is closely linked to the terms of the subsidy—if there is to be any. Some hon. Members are worried about the disparities in the subsidies between one route and another and one area and another. The hon. Member for Darlington and other hon. Members advanced cogent arguments about the disparity in the subsidies that are applied per passenger journey in different parts of the rail network. These are all important matters.

The aims of the Bill are set out in the brief supplied by the promoters. The Bill seeks powers to alter the alignment of the railway. Among other things, the Bill seeks to replace Holborn viaduct and to provide a through bus interchange and better access for taxis, especially for disabled passengers. That is an important part of the Bill's provisions. From my own experience, I commend British Rail for its improvements to stations, especially main-line stations, and to Waverley station in Edinburgh and the Glasgow stations.

To a certain extent, British Rail has not made sufficient provision for services for the disabled and has spoiled the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. I hope that British Rail will pay careful attention in this major development to providing facilities that will enable disabled people to travel without let or hindrance. That is an important matter that must be considered.

The safety aspects of the escalator that will provide a quicker alternative at King's Cross for Thameslink and underground passengers was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North. I am also concerned about that. I was a bit uncertain about the detail of the objections mentioned by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I think he said that 17 objections had been lodged in the House of Lords.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that correction. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet skated over those. It follows from what I said earlier about the planning Acts that the position of objectors is crucial. The hon. Gentleman dealt with some of the petitions, and the sponsors' brief tells us that there are four petitions on the Bill. I was left in some uncertainty about the precise state of the 17 petitions in the House of Lords.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to recall that I said that 17 petitions were presented in the other place. Of those, 16 were settled and a recommendation was made about the 17th, which I shall refer to in shorthand as the Whitbread petition. Four petitions were presented to this House and one has been settled. Three are outstanding and are at an early stage of being considered. Negotiations are continuing. The three outstanding ones include the Whitbread petition.

I hope that the Bill is given its Second Reading. If it is, those three petitions, if they are still unsettled, will be dealt with under the procedures of the House by the Committee examining the Bill. There is no question of the House not being able to pass judgment, to make its view known or to impede the progress of the measure if it is not satisfied with the settlements that are made, not made or undetermined on the three outstanding petitions. It is quite possible and, according to precedent, likely to be the case that the three outstanding petitions will be settled—as were 16 of the 17 petitions in the other place—before the Bill reaches Committee, even if it is given a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

That intervention was extremely helpful and substantially sets my mind at rest. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech and was unclear, but his intervention somewhat alleviates my worries. I would not like it to be thought that I am antipathetic to the Bill and I do not want to do anything to impede its progress. Deloitte Haskins and Sells and firms like Whitbread can look after themselves and their property interests are important. They have the right to make their protests and representations in their own way and in their own time. I am quite happy to let that happen and I do not want self-interest to impede the Bill. However, I was worried about the number of petitions in the other place, but what the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said about that clarifies my mind on the issue.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the petitions submitted to this House. The petitions could include what is described in the promoters' statement as the comprehensive and sensitive redevelopment of the prime area to the west of St. Paul's Cathedral. Hon. Members will know that for the last few months this has been a most contentious issue. The sensitive development of that area is of prime importance not only to the people of London but to people all over Britain.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I entirely subscribe to that view. That was a helpful intervention and if the hon. Gentleman has any other thoughts I should be happy for him to share them with the House.

I was talking about petitions and objections. I do not think that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet told us what the Camden borough planning department had to say about this Bill. It would be of interest to the House to know whether it was negative, positive or antipathetic to this proposal. That is an important issue and it is part of the democratic duty of Camden borough to comment on that.

Earlier, I spoke about the difficulties of defining the interface between this parliamentary procedure and the planning Acts. What is the view of Camden borough planning department? Does British Rail know, or has it asked? If it has asked, I and the House would like to know the reply.

The London Regional Passengers' Committee also deserves to be consulted in this process. I am not an expert about the duties and responsibilities of British Rail in this context. I understand the parliamentary procedure in the House, but it would be remiss of the House if it did not ask what bodies such as the London Regional Passengers' Committee feel about this. Is it antipathetic to the proposal, or does it support the proposal as a positive benefit to the people it represents? The House would like to hear about that.

The Bill considers the possibility of opening railway lines. That is good, and I am in favour of it. I hope that it catches on, because some hon. Members could make a few suggestions about it. The Borders have never recovered from the stupid and incompetent closure in the 1960s of the Waverley line. That had a dramatic and traumatic effect on the communities in the south-east of Scotland. Railway lines can have good or bad effects on communities.

My fervent hope is that the measure will eventually go ahead, and I hope and believe that it will have a positive effect. The House would be derelict in its duty tonight if it did not pose questions such as we have heard so far in the debate, and received realistic answers which it was prepared to accept, before allowing a measure of such magnitude to proceed. Against that background, I am happy to commend the Bill's Second Reading to the House.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 8:30 pm, 20th January 1988

There have been one or two references to the events of the past few days. If the alliance returns from "Voices and Choices" to give 42 minutes to a Bill that it supports, heaven help the rest of us if we ever become involved in public debate with its members in the next general election.

We have considered the content of the Bill, and have no objection to the powers sought by the British Railways Board. Indeed, we support the Bill's aims. We note that it will enable the board to provide a new, modern station on the Thameslink line. Starting later this year, commuter services will run directly between north and south London for the first time since the first world war. We have told the board that we will always support worthwhile investment to enhance the quality of service to the passenger, and this is such a case. We approved the necessary investment for the scheme in December.

The proposed new station will be funded by redevelopment, with the private sector, of the Holborn viaduct site. We are pleased to see that the board is involving the private sector in this way, in line with our requests that it should broaden the participation of that sector in the development of its property.

I hope that the House will support the Bill and enable the British Railways Board to carry out this exciting and worthwhile development. The Department of the Environment has one outstanding point on the Bill, on which negotiations are continuing with the promoters. It is hoped that the matter will be resolved satisfactorily.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if he is about to deal with this point. However, I hope that he will give us a Government view about the prospects for through running from the east coast main line through Thameslink, and about the value or otherwise of British Rail's providing an interlinking service at this point. That must surely have played some part in the decision on whether the investment should proceed.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

It did not. One of the differences about the present Government is that we set objectives for British Rail and then expect it to carry them out. Business interests that have petitioned against the Bill will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The Committee will be able to examine in detail the issues involved, and will have the added advantage of hearing expert evidence.

I recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading, and allowed to proceed to Committee for such detailed consideration.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East 8:32 pm, 20th January 1988

Let me first congratulate the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) on the detailed and comprehensive way in which he moved the Second Reading. I do not know whether this is the first Bill for which the hon. Gentleman has had responsibility, but I am sure that it will not be the last, given the detailed way in which he explained it for us.

The first and most serious point that I should make, particularly in response to the hon. Gentleman's speech, is that I support all that he said about new escalators at King's Cross. All of us were appalled and horrified by the tragedy of 18 November. I know that whatever criticism may be levelled at the management of British Rail or, for that matter, that of London Regional Transport—I am never "behind the door", as the saying goes, in levelling such criticism myself — the lessons of that appalling tragedy will be learnt, and that new escalators, incorporating all the necessary fire prevention devices that are available, will ensure that it is not repeated.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) on his epic speech. As the Minister said, for the Liberal party to support a Bill and take 42 minutes to tell us so—

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Front Benchers always take 42 minutes.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

They do not, as I shall show the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

There are exciting times ahead for the Liberal party, and I hope that, although his speech of support might be a little shorter than that of his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will do nothing to detract from his prospects in the competition to which we all look forward with such enormous interest. If I can do anything to assist him, he need only ask.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who explained that he had to leave early tonight, had some valid and trenchant points to make about cross-London railway traffic in the context of the Bill. I think that we would all regret the lack of success of the north-south services which were diverted through Kensington Olympia. There are reasons for that, which we hope will not be repeated with these new services.

The service to which my hon. Friend referred in detail was started up along a fairly old railway line, which British Rail's management had been unwise enough to run down considerably. The speed of the trains, most of which are to be withdrawn in the May timetable, averages about 44 mph, which hardly provides any marketing appeal in the latter part of the 20th century. We hope that average speeds on the new link line will be considerably higher.

I think that I can prejudge at least part of the Minister's reply, particularly in regard to the InterCity prospects for the new tunnel—

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

It is not a new tunnel.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

As my hon. Friend accurately, if somewhat pedantically, reminds me, it is not a new tunnel. It was closed as long ago as the first world war. The new services to the old tunnel will be confined to local trains, because of the problems with the width of the loaded gauge. I do not know whether the Minister has the figures that were requested by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire about the cost of doing a proper widening job on the tunnel to allow InterCity services to pass through, but the House would be interested if they were available.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Kensington Olympia link, which is used as a link through London. He seemed to imply that it had not been successful and might disappear. I am sorry to hear that, because I had not realised it. My wife travelled on the line recently, and found it a useful service. She did, however, come across a group of passengers who had alighted from a plane from Nigeria at Gatwick, and were now at Milton Keynes still hoping to reach Victoria.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I do not know whether the Bill will offer them much consolation. I do not suppose that, having embarked on such a journey, they would be over-impressed with the link via Kensington Olympia either. As I have said, I think that its lack of success was partly due to the short-sightedness of previous railway managements who ran it down. As there is only one platform available for the trains, if one train runs late—as occasionally happens, even with an average speed of 44 mph — it must wait outside the station if any other train going in either direction is occupying that platform.

One of the problems behind the introduction of Bills such as this is that London suffers from the rabid competition of the old railway companies 150 years ago. It may be a salutary lesson—I do not expect the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet necessarily to agree with me, although he will probably do so secretly—that such unbridled competition all those years ago necessitates the sort of Bill that we have before us. However, the Government are planning to unleash such competition on Monday in relation to road transport in the next two or three years. I hope that Conservative Members who tell us about the supposed benefits of unbridled competition like some ritual incantation will remember the problems when they are next tempted to throw their somewhat infantile ideology around the Chamber.

In one of his many interventions, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) asked about receipts from the land development mentioned in the Bill. That is a valid point. The problem with sectorisation in British Rail is that often, and for understandable reasons, sector directors, having acquired receipts, are unwilling to release them to other sectors.

The balkanisation of what should be a national railway system should be resisted. I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Darlington ought to resist it himself, because, perhaps unlike the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, he has enormous ambitions which will no doubt be realised during a long and distinguished parliamentary career. The fact that sector directors do not like parting with receipts leads to difficulty. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet can answer that point, but it is a matter which we should like explained.

As for the marathon speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, I had not realised that he was so well connected, so to speak, in railway terms. Like his uncle, I am a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I am glad to say that his uncle had a reputation for brevity, which the hon. Gentleman does not share. His uncle was much more sensible with regard to politics as well. Nevertheless, we welcome converts from wherever they may come. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe them as enthusiasts. I am sure that, given his railway background, provided that he renounces those false political doctrines that he has embraced for some years, and if things get too rough for him in that group of Kilkenny cats that he belongs to at the moment, the hon. Gentleman might be welcome elsewhere. He could join the calm and placid listening party which I have the honour to represent.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) referred to the improved services to his constituency as a result of what Sir Peter Parker called and which continues to be known as—the bedpan service. He will acknowledge the good fortune of his constituents which will arise out of the Bill—good fortune which is unlikely to be shared by passengers from further north because of the apparently insurmountable problems associated with passing InterCity trains in the tunnel.

We have heard the good suggestion that we should look at the timetable to see whether, instead of passengers having a cross-London journey necessitating a change to the underground to get from one terminus to another, provision could be made at Bedford or Stevenage, or wherever else BR thinks would be most suitable, for InterCity passengers to change to modern electric multiple unit trains such as it is envisaged will travel from Bedford to Croydon, Gatwick airport or Brighton. It is well worth exploring that idea. I hope that BR management, which is not always adept at snatching business opportunities, will listen to what I think appears to be an eminently sensible suggestion, which would benefit a considerable number of passengers.

There are a number of outstanding matters which the Opposition would like to pursue, but, as your predecessor in the Chair reminded us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a general powers Bill is to follow — the debate on which will enable most of us to get most of our moans about BR management off our chest. We can talk then about the missing, diverted and empty sleeping-car trains — the new ghost trains of the modern railway.

While the Opposition welcome the Bill, we want the Minister to know that our misgivings about these other matters will receive a full airing when that Bill comes before us. If he is charged with taking it through the House, he will have a rougher ride than he has had tonight.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth 8:45 pm, 20th January 1988

I should like to give some background to the Bill. The House is aware that the railways took powers a little while ago to construct Thameslink and run trains from the midland main line at St. Pancras to the southern side of the Thames. I should like to consider those powers in the Bill which will link that system, which is now under construction and nearly open, to the east coast main line at King's Cross. They are works nos. 3A, 3B and 4, and also involve clause 11.

I find it surprising that there is little in the notes that the promoters have circulated about the powers being sought at King's Cross. There is considerable reference in the notes to the works at Holborn to build a new station on Thameslink. We are told that those works will provide a direct connection between Bedford, Luton and St. Albans to the north, and south London, Gatwick airport, Brighton and Sevenoaks to the south; in other words, there will be services right down to the south coast. As for works nos. 3A, 3B and 4, there is no explanation of the sort of service that it is proposed to run through that link. It is unfortunate that we were not told before Second Reading the aims of three of the four works in the Bill.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

Does that not reinforce something that has emerged throughout the debate? I refer to the inadequacy of the information that accompanies the Bill. Had this been a Government Bill, we would have had a financial memorandum outlining the expenditure and detailing the cost to be defrayed on the works, and we would have had an explanatory memorandum giving much greater detail of the powers sought and the works to be undertaken. Should the promoters not now consider whether a much fuller statement should be given? Should there not be details of costs of each work and, who knows, maps and plans as well?

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

I entirely agree. I was amazed that we were not supplied with that information. I hope that the matter can be put right.

If we read the proceedings in another place, where the Bill started life, we find that the sponsor, Lord Marshall of Leeds, explained that works nos. 3A, 3B and 4 are needed to connect the Thameslink direct to the east coast main line. Lord Taylor said that many people would use the service, which would establish an essential link to the rail service north of the border. He described it as an imaginative and energetic example of the management of British Rail. Many of us who have occasion to use the east coast service would not describe the management of BR as energetic and imaginative on the basis of recent experience.

It has been made quite clear, however, that the works at King's Cross are in connection with establishing a link with the east coast main line. There were many references in the other place to the large number of people who would join the main-line services from King's Cross to the north of England and to Scotland as a result of the proposed link through the Thames tunnel.

I was interested in comments earlier in the debate about the narrow gauge of the tunnel. It could not be the track, for it would have been of little use indeed if that were the case. One cannot help asking, however, what used to go through the tunnel when it was previously used. I am sure that the tunnel was not used by special freight trains in the old days. There were not special narrow wagons to pass through it.

A great opportunity will be lost if main-line passenger trains do not pass through the tunnel in future. We are led to suppose that specially thin or specially shortened trains will be built for the service, but we have been given no information on that. We do not know where these trains will come from or where they will go. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), I do not think that there is a station at Chipping Barnet. However, I suspect that there are stations close to Chipping Barnet. Will trains passing through the tunnel go as far as Stevenage and Peterborough, or will they go all the way to Newcastle and Edinburgh? Where will they go in the other direction? Will they go to the south coast, or will they stop somewhere in south London?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that such a Bill should be promoted for works that will last for two and a half years, involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds, yet we have not been told by the promoters whether the tunnel will take 125s or whether it will accommodate freight trains?

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

That is absolutely right. I am certain that the tunnels will not take 125s, because the new service will be electrified. A great opportunity will be lost if the link is not constructed in such a way that it can be used by through main-line trains. Perhaps there is a need to iron out the bends in the tunnel as well as in the Bill. It would certainly be more sensible for a proper long-distance through service to be provided through the tunnel.

Reference has been made to the link to the southern region from the west coast main line. I had hoped that the aim now was to provide a similar service from the east coast main line. The east coast main line is of great historical importance. The first sleeping car ran on the line from King's Cross in 1873. As far as I know, that event has not been celebrated by the present management of British Rail, and, sadly, we face losing this service in the near future.

I believe that there are doubts about the future of King's Cross and over important parts of the east coast main line service. It is amazing that we are being asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill to deal with the interchange of large numbers of passengers between the Thameslink service and the east coast main line, yet we do not know the details of the future service on the east coast main line.

Recently, as one of its initial excuses for removing the east coast sleeping car services, British Rail said that Euston was a superior station to King's Cross for passengers to use. Obviously, if King's Cross is so inferior, we must sort out the inadequacies there. I do not believe that the provisions in the Bill will tackle the inadequacies. We need a more thorough re-examination of the position at King's Cross.

Does the future of King's Cross justify the works set out in the Bill? Will they be sufficient to improve King's Cross to provide an adequate level of facilities, which British Rail clearly feels are at present inadequate, in the light of the action that it has taken in respect of the overnight services? My colleagues from the north are well aware that Lord Taylor's description of the management of British Rail as "imaginative" and "energetic" is not a fair description of our recent experience in connection with services to the north-east. Indeed, I would say "insensitive" and "negative" are more accurate descriptions. There has been a refusal to accept the inadequacies of the proposed changes for the most important overnight services, and that is clearly relevant to what we are now talking about.

British Rail seems prepared to lose its share of the overnight market and has refused to reconsider its plans, which I believe calls into question its judgment as well as its public relations. That must make us doubt whether the plans behind the works in the Bill have been well thought out and considered.

I want to give an example of the inadequacy of the marketing on the east coast main line. The present overnight return fare from King's Cross to Newcastle is 149. I was astonished to find that the fare to Edinburgh is only £109 for the overnight journey, and the Edinburgh journey is 50 per cent. longer than that to Newcastle. To add insult to injury, I understand that one can leave one's car for a week at Waverley station. One would be lucky to get away with leaving it for one day at Newcastle.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

One would be lucky to get a place.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I am, however, advised that the facility is offered at Edinburgh.

One of our great criticisms in the north-east about the service out of King's Cross at present is the complete lack of marketing and initiative that has been shown by the east coast management with regard to the overnight services. We are being asked to incur a great deal of money in this Bill on major works at King's Cross when the management appears to be unable to market the product that it already possesses.

In the near future there will be 400 miles of main line from Kings Cross on which, for the first time in history, there will be no overnight service. The sleepers will go and people coming out of the interchange with Thameslink to use the sleepers will find that the overnight sleeping trains have been removed. We must doubt whether the sums on which the plan was prepared and is now put to the House are still accurate.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Another possibility that is closed off by that decision is that at the moment newspaper contracts go north from King's Cross. There might even be a facility for loading the papers closer to the centres where the papers are produced through the use of the link line. However, British Rail seems to be surrendering completely.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. Before the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) pursues that point, I remind him that we are dealing with work in London. It would be out of order for the debate to stray beyond that.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

As I said at the beginning, we are being asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill a large part of which concerns the provision of a link between the service under the Thames and that from King's Cross to the north. If we consider only one half of that link, the House cannot properly consider the Bill. I would certainly not want the Bill to receive its Second Reading tonight on that basis.

The carriage of newspapers is interesting, even if that only happens between Holborn and King's Cross—to keep the point within the context of London. We may allow our imagination to look further afield. The whole question of sector costing must be considered carefully. The Select Committee on Transport, on which I have the honour and pleasure to serve, drew attention in its report on the railways to its concern over this type of case where InterCity … in an attempt to shed costs, moves its services away from lines or stations which it might more sensibly continue to use.' That has been happening with the east coast main line. The removal of the overnight passengers to Euston, or more likely to the competing air services, will mean that those passengers will no longer help to fund the movement of newspapers, post or parcels on the east coast main line. These services will in turn become less competitive and a vicious circle will be created as a result of the odd costing between various sectors of British Rail.

Before we proceed with the Bill, it is important to know the long-term plans for the service out of King's Cross. It is ridiculous to suggest that there should be a link for passengers using those services if we do not know what plans there are for the future. While it has been suggested by British Rail that King's Cross is an inadequate station for passengers to use at night, the latest reason for removing the overnight services is that the diesel locomotives needed to run it are so worn out and expensive that they can no longer be justified, and that electrification is the answer.

We are being asked to agree a system of works that will link up at King's Cross with the now being electrified east coast main line. The argument now advanced for using electric trains from Euston will be removed by the electrification of the route from King's Cross to the northeast and Edinburgh. There will no longer be any need to use clapped-out expensive diesel locomotives. Indeed, if those overnight trains continue to run from Euston rather than from King's Cross, not only will the passengers not have the advantage of the link to the Thames, but several of the clapped-out, expensive diesel engines will have to be maintained to run the service on from the electric wires at Carstairs to Edinburgh.

There is thus a strong argument in favour of returning the Edinburgh service to King's Cross after electrification in only two years' time. That would bring more passengers to King's Cross and more people would use the works that we are asked to agree tonight. That would be logical, but however obvious and sensible it might be, British Rail has refused to give a commitment and we are left in complete doubt about the future. It is no good saying that the alternatives that British Rail has suggested will be adequate.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

To substantiate the point that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr.Trotter) is making about the type 47s and the switching of trains from Carstairs to Edinburgh, when the point was put to British Rail about running the type 47 from Carlisle to Newcastle, it said that it was too expensive. The point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the link is quite right.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. Carlisle and Newcastle are a long way from London. The debate must be directly related to London, as that is what the Bill is about.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

I am talking about people who want to go from the middle of London up to the north using the service at King's Cross. That is what the Bill is about. People want to get to King's Cross on the link line at night, so that they can go home. On the railways' present plans, they cannot do that. I believe that this should be put right.

People who wish to make an overnight journey to Newcastle now have to go to Euston instead, without, of course, being able to use the link line. They must then go all the way to Edinburgh and back to Newcastle — a total of 525 miles instead of 268. In the other direction, they must leave home at 5 o'clock in the morning to get there in time for their engagement. That is wholly unsatisfactory. One of the most astonishing features of the management of British Rail is that it has failed to accept that this is unsatisfactory. This throws doubt on the judgment of the senior management of British Rail.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

What would the position be if one of my hon. Friend's constituents wanted to return from a meeting in Holborn and be at an early-meeting on Tyneside in the centre of Newcastle? If he could not use the link and had to travel by that circuitous route through Euston and Edinburgh, what time would be available to him for the meeting at Tyneside?

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

He would have to get off the sleeper in Edinburgh at dawn, to catch the first train to the northeast from Edinburgh. It is astonishing that one of the senior managers of British Rail was quoted as saying, He could enjoy … the view on the way.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

That gentleman said: He could enjoy a great British breakfast and the view along the way.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

That is the full quote. The person concerned would arrive in Newcastle at 8.30 am, provided that he got up in Edinburgh at 6 o'clock.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Assuming that the sleeper was not late.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

We are talking about an unknown quantity of money for work at King's Cross, and it is difficult to see the costs in context.

The energy wastage by British Rail on the eastern region is said by its energy manager to be £7 million a year.

I do not know whether the cost of these works will be more or less than that. Losses on the sleepers have been variously estimated at £1 million, £700,000, £500,000, £355,000, £250,000 and £200,000. If we keep up the pressure they may disappear altogether. However, British Rail's determination to close the service at night and prevent people from Holborn or elsewhere in London making an overnight journey to the north-east has been unchangeable.

The Transport Users Consultative Committee takes an interest in all passenger services, whether from Holborn or from King's Cross. Both the north-east committee and the national committee are concerned about British Rail's proposals on this issue.

The link envisaged in the Bill must raise the question of through trains to the continent. On the very day that the other place passed the Channel Tunnel Bill, it gave consideration to the Bill before us tonight. Many hon. Members who come from the north-east agreed wih the construction of the Channel tunnel only because we envisaged a through rail service from the north. We already suffer from the north-south divide. It is essential that we have proper rail communication in Britain. A through service by rail to the continent will be essential in future.

I had hoped that this Thames tunnel would be an ideal way of providing such a service from the eastern parts of England down under London and through to the continent. Are we to be deprived of that opportunity? Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet will be able to tell us whether there is a possibility of a service through the tunnel to the Channel tunnel. We should know whether British Rail is considering that.

Hon. Members have referred to other through services in London. Those services have been reasonably successful, whatever the Opposition may say about the slow speed of such trains. I do not believe there is any need for the overall speed to be as low as it is. I suggest that any slugishness is due to these trains being badly routed elsewhere than through west London. I hope that the new link will mean we can do better in the future.

There is to be a new, experimental, sleeping car train that will run from Edinburgh to Poole that will go 180 miles off the main electrified line. I do not know where the money has been found to pay for that service. I should have thought that there were far fewer people wishing to travel overnight from Poole to Edinburgh than there were wishing to travel from King's Cross through to Newcastle. Will that costly new service use the tunnel? I do not believe that it will, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet should tell us.

Earlier in the year, the director of InterCity referred to the closing of two uneconomic night routes, one of which was the service from King's Cross up the main east coast line. He went on to say—I believe that his words were rather unfortunate—that InterCity planned to add four new ones. I do not know whether he intended that remark to merit my interpretation, but I believe that a service such as that from Poole to Edinburgh — whether it goes through Holborn or not — is likely to be far less successful than the services that we are to lose from King's Cross.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

Has the hon. Gentleman taken account of the fact that the distortions that already exist in fares, particularly on some of the services that we suffer on the east coast, may be applied to services down to places such as Poole?

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Earlier I referred to the incredible lack of marketing. The impression formed by many is that a decision was taken to withdraw the service from King's Cross up the east coast line and that more passengers would be an embarrassment and get in the way of taking that service off.

I do not know whether it is intended to run lounge cars on the Thameslink. I was astonished to read that 31 lounge cars are to be introduced on the overnight sleepers from Euston and elsewhere. It seems that the idea is that business men will spend half the night drinking gin and will then get up before dawn to have breakfast. I believe that providing and running these cars is an astonishing use of money. One cannot help but wonder whether the cost of hauling those 31 lounge cars over Shap and the rest of the system will be fully remunerated out of profits on the gin or the breakfast.

I believe that there are grave doubts about the present management of the British Rail InterCity system. Those doubts are relevant tonight, because one of the aims of the Holborn link is to feed passengers to InterCity services. Before we agree this Bill we need to be satisfied about the plans for future services out of King's Cross that are intended to he used by those coming from Holborn on the link. We need to know the complete plans for the future of the station and the services out of it.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South 9:08 pm, 20th January 1988

I am inclined to support the Bill, but I wish to ask a number of questions. I believe that a number of anomalies have appeared in the course of this valuable debate.

My first hesitation is that the Bill appears to accede to the Government principle—confirmed by the Minister—that substantial investment by British Rail in new routes, new lines—or, to be more accurate, reopened lines—will be paid for only by some form of localised property development. I cannot stomach that doctrine. The Minister may look puzzled, but I understand that that is the policy in many parts of London and in particular in respect of extensions to the docklands light railway. By the time I have finished my speech it will be clear that such a Government policy has also been adopted for other extensions, not only in London but elsewhere. If it is not, I shall he glad to hear from the Minister later by letter.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who thinks that I am being pedantic, but these are not new routes. They are routes which are being reopened and refurbished. Tunnels built in the 19th century are being reopened. Although the railway routes that the trains will use may be new, the works themselves, with one exception, are not new railways. Therefore, I am not being pedantic. A principle is involved. The House is not being asked to authorise a new route.

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) who is interested in the east coast main line. Many Londoners use that line. I shall not dwell on the topic at length, because it does not come within the scope of the Bill, except that British Rail wants to run it almost as a semi-commuter railway, certainly as far as Grantham, which British Rail boasts is now part of London's commuterland. It appears that British Rail wants to squeeze out other services, particularly sleeper services, which seems to be an extraordinary decision.

Even more extraordinary is the lack of assistance for the Kensington route, which is a cross-London route. We heard about that from my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). I am sorry that British Rail has not persisted with that route, because it has the advantage of no loading gauge problems. One would have expected British Rail to persist with the welcome cross-London services which it started. Perhaps those services could go faster, but they were an innovation. It will be disadvantageous to the image of British Rail if they are cut after May.

I wish to ask some questions of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) about Snow hill in particular. That is the site of the main work and there is a proposal to abandon and, in effect, rebuild the Holborn viaduct terminal. The Snow hill route was used in the postwar period, particularly for goods traffic going through London. It has been closed relatively recently, much to the chagrin and criticism of many railway-minded people.

I thought that there was a Snow hill station. Why could not that be refurbished relatively quickly at a fairly low cost? Why was that not done for the service which is to start in May to give access to Holborn viaduct to people coming through on the widened lines?

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

I bow to my hon. Friend's knowledge of the area. Can he tell us about the condition of the tunnel?

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

No. The point I am coming to is that the works which we are being asked to authorise are not necessary for the service which is starting in May. That service will be from Bedford to various destinations south of the Thames, particularly Bromley South, Gatwick and perhaps Brighton. Therefore, those tunnels will be in operation in a few months' time. That is not what the Bill is asking us to authorise.

We are being asked to authorise additional works, first, for the elimination of Holborn viaduct and, secondly, for the refurbishment of tunnels at King's Cross which will give a second outlet to the north. I am mystified why we need to spend a lot of money on redeveloping the Holborn viaduct area to provide a terminal on a station below, which I believe exists and through which trains will be running in the next few months.

In addition, I do not understand why there is an apparent need to remove the viaduct between Blackfriairs and Holborn and the Snow hill route which will start in a few weeks. I appreciate the architectural feature which may be an advantage if the railway is to go beneath the ground, but it is an expensive change which, apparently, will be paid for by the abandonment of Holborn viaduct. I assume that Holborn viaduct will be demolished because, ultimately, the balance of traffic north and south will eliminate the need for a terminal there. If Holborn viaduct is no longer required, surely it would be relatively cheap to put a station beneath it on the Snow hill line.

I now wish to turn to the mystery of works nos. 3A and 3B at King's Cross. I have made inquiries of British Rail about those and it has confirmed the relatively well-known fact that the York road tunnel and the Hotel curve tunnel will not take standard gauge coaches. Specially short or narrow coaches and limited gauge locomotives were used on the Moorgate service until a few years ago. I have ascertained that they will not be available for 125s, sleeping cars or the new mark 4 coaches which will be used when electrification of the east coast main line occurs. Therefore, suburban services from the Peterborough or Stevenage areas will go to the various destinations in the south.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. Surely, if the main part of Thameslink will take proper main line stock, it would be sensible to open up the curves on the tunnels at King's Cross so that we get all the advantages of running through services from the farther ends of the country.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Yes, that would appear to be an attractive solution, but, from what little I know about this line, I believe that the loading gauge restrictions are not only on those tunnels but found elsewhere on the line.

How expensive will it be to make the so-called widened line even wider and provide the facilities that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) mentioned? What about something more ambitious still?

My closing points relate to plans for rail traffic through London, which were produced in the mid-1960s. Under the strategic plans, there were proposals for main-line tunnels through the centre of London linking some of the mainline railways to the standard gauge size of bore. That would have been of vast benefit to Londoners. There would have been relatively short tunnels. If I remember rightly, there was a suggestion for tunnels between Paddington and Liverpool street and between Euston, Battersea and Victoria. British Rail revived such proposals not long ago in a scheme called CrossRail, but the Minister said that he was not concerned with it as British Rail had not produced any plans. He said that the Department of Transport would consider the proposals only if they were profitable.

We are now left with this limited proposal. It would be much better for strategic transport in London, where overcrowding on the underground is now a problem, for the Government to have invested in a much more ambitious scheme of standard gauge routes, either on the CrossRail principle introduced by British Rail some time ago or as envisaged in the strategic plan studies for London in the mid-1960s. That would have provided a better service for suburban traffic in London and for through-London services requested in the debate by hon. Members from the north.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington 9:18 pm, 20th January 1988

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). Some hon. Members referred to him as the hon. Member for Chipping Norton. I would not ask him to choose between those two constituencies. I simply wish to put that on record. I am indebted to him for his clear explanation of the purposes of the Bill. I hope that he will not take it amiss if I now criticise to some extent the promoters of the Bill. We understand that he is not a promoter of the Bill. He is acting on their behalf and he has done his duty in as full and frank a way as possible.

The promoters of the Bill have not effectively discharged their obligations to the House. The statement circulated by the promoters — I received a copy of it only this morning — is a tatty, two-page, photocopied document. It contains neither a financial explanation of the cost of the various works to be undertaken, for which powers are sought, nor a proper explanation, other than two sentences in paragraph 4, of the various works that are described in clause 5. It would be almost impossible for a layman, looking at a copy of the Bill and a copy of the tatty statement, to have any idea of what is going on or of the purpose of the Bill.

I draw that point to the attention of the House for two reasons. First, the House is considering private Members' Bills procedure. I should have thought that the Committee, which is sitting during this Session, might want to examine the statements that are circulated in support of private Members' Bills and whether those who promote them could get a little nearer to the model that was set by the Government, and, at the outset, attach to private Bills much fuller explanatory and financial memoranda.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

If the opportunity arises, I shall reply to the points that have been made. I should like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) about the financing of the schemes. I hope to be able, as precisely as I can, to give hon. Members the figures that they want. They were published when the Bill first came before Parliament. Of course, that was the last Parliament. I take to heart the criticism that the figures were not presented with the memorandum. They are available.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

My hon. Friend, courteously as ever, has attempted to respond to my point. It is no reflection on him; it is a reflection on the promoters. I am bound to say that it will not do to tell us that the financial information was produced in the last Parliament. There are hon. Members present who were not in the last Parliament. No financial information is attached to the present Bill, the Order for the Second Reading of which the Clerk has read. It will not do to say that financial information was published at the time or that it was available in the last Parliament.

It will not do for another reason. When the debate began at 7 o'clock, somebody straying into it might have been under the impression that we were considering relatively minor works. It was only when we examined the full implications of clause 2 that we discovered that we are discussing works to be undertaken over two to three years. We are discussing a major infrastructure investment project in the heart of our capital city. We require much fuller financial information.

We require such information for a second reason. There is a growing, damaging imbalance of public expenditure on the railway network as a whole. Some of the works in clause 5 are self-financing. The return from the realisation of the existing Holborn viaduct site will cover work no. 1. My hon. Friend has already made it clear that the remaining works, works nos. 3A, 3B and 4, will not be self-financed and will require support from central British Rail funds. That means that they will require support from the taxpayer. The most heavily subsidised part of British Rail is Network SouthEast in which the works are being constructed.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State kindly supplied me with the figures before Christmas. The current passenger service obligation grant to Network SouthEast is about £232 million. That is almost as much as the entire regional aid budget. Let us leave that out of the Bill for the moment. Let us simply remind ourselves that the money for the construction of the works at King's Cross, through Snow hill, will come from that central Government subsidy. Those works will be financed not simply by London commuters such as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, but by taxpayers throughout the country who may never witness them being undertaken.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Would the hon. Gentleman have more confidence in the ability of British Rail to finance these works in the medium or long term if it had not gone to such strenuous lengths to deter many of its regular passengers and to sabotage the night services that serve the hon. Gentleman's constituency and my constituents from the Dunbar area?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

That is a very strong point. I was always taught at school that those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. I have now discovered that British Rail's motto must be, "Those services that it wishes to eliminate it first makes secret."

With regard to clause 5, as I established in my reference to the taxpayers' subsidy of these works in London, it would be wholly unfair to proceed with the construction of such a link across the centre of London unless all those who use the railway network and all those who are technically able to do so, commuting on the railway network from those parts that are connected to the London link, have equal access to it. It would be wrong to construct such a link and deny those who had paid for it to the right to travel along it. That means not only equal access but access on a regular and continuing basis, not simply at certain times of the day. This is not a London link for yuppies. It should be used by all those who use the railway network and are able to transfer at points on the east coast line. We shall learn where those points are when my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet replies to the debate.

It is right that, if the taxpayer is subsidising this link across the centre of the capital, all those who wish to have access to the King's Cross line—in particular, the east coast main line—should have access to it at whatever time of day they arrive or leave. Somebody in the north-east—on Tyneside or Teesside — may wish to reach Holborn for a breakfast meeting at 8.30 or 9 am. We are also entitled to consider the position of somebody leaving Holborn who wants to make a business trip to the northeast, the Borders or Scotland.

We are entitled to ask why this appears to be a metropolitan Bill. It has been drafted by people who have no conception of the huge distances involved for those who have to leave London and do their business in the borders or the north-east, or those who live in the Borders or the north-east and have to do their business in London.

Those who drafted the Bill do not understand the implications of not allowing those who live further away on the railway network to share in its benefits. I was not surprised that the metro-cats of Marsham Street could not find much for the Minister to say in support of the Bill. They have no understanding of the huge distances involved or the rights of those in the railway regions that we from the northern constituencies are determined to protect.

We do not find work no. 2 in clause 5. Is that another British Rail service that has somehow become secret? We seem to leap from work no. 1 to work no. 3A. What happened to work no. 2? Was it considered at some earlier stage? Was it something that was included during the last Session that we are not entitled to see during this one? Should inquiries be made at the Vote Office to discover whether part of the Bill became detached in the excitement of the general election? I leave my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet to ponder that point.

Works nos. 3A and 3B pertain to King's Cross and, in a sense, lie at the heart of the Bill. As has been said many times in the debate, King's Cross is much more than a station for London commuters, enabling the yuppies who live on the outskirts of London — for example, Huntingdon — to make their money in the centre of London. It is a national station, as has been recognised from E. M. Forster onwards through the pages of our literature.

In undertaking works at this station whose benefits would not be available to those arriving overnight from Scotland or the north-east, the Bill's promoters are depriving King's Cross of part of its historic role in our railways network. They are also depriving the very people whom they seek to help—Londoners and City business men—of the opportunity to get out of London into the northern regions to see what is happening there. The promoters are doing no service at all.

I come to work no. 4. The serious point has emerged that it would be inappropriate to proceed with the development of subways and escalators in the vicinity of King's Cross when an inquiry into the tragic events of 18 November has only just been established and it will be months before we know what is recommended by the public inquiry set up under statute to be conducted on a judicial basis by Mr. Desmond Fennell QC. There is a range of issues to be considered — not simply fire detectors and sprinklers but the design of the subways and escalators.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet cannot reconsider works nos. 1, 3A and 3B, I urge him to look again at work no. 4 to determine whether it is right to ask the House to grant powers to authorise these works before the public inquiry into the tragic events of that fire has even begun.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

My hon. Friend raises a serious point. I tried to reassure the House in my opening remarks. However great the speed with which the Bill progresses through the House, it will be some months before it reaches the statute book. As my hon. Friend has said, it will be some months before Mr. Desmond Fennell QC reports. The detailed designs of these escalators have yet to be completed. Obviously British Rail will wait on the inquiry's findings. Quite apart from that, British Rail will closely consult the railways inspectorate and the fire services.

Whatever else I cannot do, I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend on that important point. We are talking about the time span between the Bill being passed by Parliament and these works at King's Cross being completed — under two years. Some people complain that the works should be completed more expeditiously. Others, such as my hon. Friend, who refer to escalators rightly say that we should wait. I hope that I can assure my hon. Friend on that point, which is central to the questions that I asked before preparing to introduce the Bill.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

No one could have been more forthcoming and co-operative during this debate than my hon. Friend. He has sought every opportunity to reassure those of us who have had some reservations about the Bill's detailed provisions. His remarks are, to some extent, reassuring.

However, we are talking not just about escalators but about subways and the additional congestion that will be caused precisely because it will take at least two years to complete the work. A large number of additional passengers arriving at and departing from King's Cross may be rerouted along the subways because of the other works to be undertaken under the Bill.

I hope that my hon. Friend will consider carefully the import of his remarks and consider whether it might be better to separate work no. 4 from the others in the Bill, at least until the public inquiry report is available, which I understand will not be until the summer at the earliest. No one has provided any information to the contrary tonight. My hon. Friend might be better advised to return to the House with fresh legislation to seek powers in respect of work no. 4.

I conclude by making two general points. First, I return to clause 22. The Bill takes important powers of compulsory purchase—we have heard nothing of local authorities' response to them — for four years, until 1992. The Bill would allow major works in the heart of our capital city. My hon. Friend and his supporters must make their case for the importance of those powers and justify them.

Secondly, the Bill deals with improvements that will make it easier for those commuting to London—those who enjoy the benefits and southern comforts of the largest subsidy in the provincial rail network. If such benefits are to be conferred on London, it is surely right and proper that they should be enjoyed equally by the rest of the United Kingdom—the taxpayers who are forking out the money. Those who seek power to construct the link must ensure that, as far as practicable, all parts of the country have equal and regular access to it at all times of night and day.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 9:37 pm, 20th January 1988

This has been a very interesting debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to matters that had not struck some of us until we set to work on the Bill. That shows the value of the debate, and those who suggested that we should let the Bill go through on the nod at 2.30 pm, with not a word spoken, ought to pause and reflect that complex legislation such as this needs to be discussed in a reasonable way.

Had more time been available for the debate, other hon. Members might have wished to speak. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is a regular user of King's Cross and the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) takes a similarly close interest and makes full use of the service. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman would probably use the link line if the transfer arrangements between the main line and the link line proved satisfactory. However, it has not become at all clear that those transfer arrangements will be satisfactory.

I know that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) would have liked to deal at length with a number of the worries expressed during the debate. Let me say in passing that the promoters could not have had a better or more helpful advocate than the hon. Gentleman and that we are grateful to him for the way in which he has conducted himself.

Many of us would welcome the opportunity to return to these discussions at a later debate—we could either adjourn this debate or discuss the Bill at a later stage in its proceedings if the difficulties have not been ironed out. Indeed, we may meet again to discuss a British Railways (No. 2) Bill if British Rail does not find it possible—as I am sure it could—to deal with Members of Parliament more directly and allay their fears so that it ceases to be necessary to discuss the issues in debates such as this.

The attitude of some in British Rail has not been conducive to achieving such an object. If one looks back on the long, tortuous history of railway legislation, one discovers that railway Bills generally proceed more satisfactorily when the railway company has taken some trouble to ensure that it is meeting the wide range of service needs of those represented in the House than when it has not.

I was particularly struck and, indeed, disturbed by the Government's attitude to the Bill and the reasons that they advanced for saying so little about it. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State had done some kind of deal with the promoters to keep his remarks to a minimum. I was surprised to see him in the Chamber. I thought it was a victory for the "Convert the railways into roads" lobby. I had expected to see the Minister of State at the Dispatch Box, because he normally deals with railways and takes such a close interest in them.

When the Government's doctrine was enunciated, I became even more surprised. The Minister said that the Government's attitude was that the investment was justified solely because of the return that could be gained from the redevelopment opportunities that it offered. Basically, the Government are happy about the provisions because they are self-financing. I agree with the Government that the fact that they are self-financing is to be welcomed. However, the idea that the Government's attitude should be confined to saying, "Well done, British Rail, you have found a self-financing project," seems extraordinary when one considers the revenue implications that might flow from the continued running of the services, the rolling stock that will have to be provided, the maintenance of that rolling stock, and the extent to which the receipts from the service are needed, when in the rest of Network SouthEast, one is not surprised to find a deficit or a difference between the revenue earned by the service and the cost of running it.

Another reason why I was struck particularly forcibly was that in reply to my intervention the Minister said, "Basically it has nothing to do with us. We are the Government who tell British Rail to go away and get on with the job. All that we are concerned about is to ensure that any deals that it does are self-financing."

I should find that attitude easier to understand if it was taken consistently by the Government. When my hon. Friends and I, and hon. Members of other parties, have raised other service issues relating to the east coast main line, Ministers have been only too keen to wade, with wellington boots, into all the details of the service and comment on them as if they knew precisely how much it cost to open a train door at Newcastle central station or for a passenger to alight at King's Cross. They quote figures of alleged subsidies to passeners as if they were intimate with the day-to-day workings of the rail system. Indeed, I have advised Ministers that that is not what hon. Members expect of them because we understand that the Government are somewhat removed from the day-to-day operations of the railways.

However, the Government now seem to have got themselves in the ambiguous position that if British Rail proposes to remove a service, they weigh in with all the arguments that they can muster, but if British Rail is launching a new project, the Government's sole role will be to assess whether it can be financed out of the property development deal upon which it is based. Any railway finance implications, let alone implications for the customers of the railways, are of no concern to the Government. I find that profoundly worrying.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

This is an important point. It has not yet been clearly stated that at the time of the sale of the land that is now to be sold to provide the finance for the new project, market forces may be totally different from the way in which they are identified now. Present values may not be applicable 12 months from now when the sale takes place. Has that fact been taken into account?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman can make his point with even more force having been told that the key figures that are the basis of all this were produced when the Bill was introduced in the previous Parliament. Quite a lot has changed since then, not least in the vicinity of Holborn viaduct station. City firms are shedding labour at a considerable rate and the calculations about the value to the link line of its passing close to the City will need to be reconsidered. Clearly, many other financial factors will change over time.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

I want to be as helpful as I can to the House. I may not have the opportunity before 10 o'clock to give all the information that has been asked of me during the debate. However, it may be helpful for the House to know that work no. 1 was estimated on 1 December 1986—that is 13-plus months ago—at about £36 million. A complete schedule was presented to Parliament. The hon. Member for Wansbeck is perfectly correct to say that British Rail does not know the value of the assets on the redevelopable land in the proximity of Holborn viaduct, because the value can change at any time.

Of course, the planning application is pending with the City of London corporation, and quite properly, it is not yet known whether those plans will be acceptable to that local planning authority.

One final point is that the House will be pleased to know that these plans will, I think, commend themselves to the local planning authority, if only because they have just been given the approval of the Royal Fine Arts Commission.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I shall turn later to the planning issues. I wonder whether the plans have obtained the approval of the royal family, too. Its members take a close interest in developments in the area around St. Paul's.

I am glad to see that the Minister of State has joined us; I hope to come to what he said about the level of subsidy that he thought—incorrectly, as it turned out—applied to certain other British Rail services as compared with the level of subsidy that applies to passengers travelling on this link route from north London through to the southern counties.

One cannot now think of King's Cross station without remembering the horrible tragedy that took place there and which so shook the nation. Those of us who use the station regularly cannot but be moved by the sight of the bank of flowers that stands outside it, and by the way in which people have added flowers and messages to that bank of flowers as the weeks have gone by. I hope that there will be some sort of permanent memorial, somewhere within the precincts of King's Cross, to those who lost their lives in that terrible tragedy. I hope, too, that lessons will be learnt from it. It was a horrifying experience and many people were directly affected by it.

The fire changed many people's perception of the station. For many people in the north-east, King's Cross has always been the gateway to London, and the facility, if it were properly organised, to travel to other parts of London directly, possibly without even changing trains—as we had hoped—or at least by making a simple connection, would be welcome to such people.

Many of my constituents come through this gateway in to London—farmers coming to the Smithfield show, for instance, although I notice that not so many are coming this year. Times are not so good for the farming fraternity, as the hon. Member for East Lothian knows from personal experience. Ministers and church members come to the numerous church conferences that seem to take place in London ; women's institute members come, as do parties of schoolchildren, who go to the Tower and see the various sights of London. King's Cross is also a gateway outwards from London, which illustrates the importance of the station, upon which so many of these works will be carried out.

I had not spotted, until the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) pointed it out, the disappearance from the Bill of work no. 2. Perhaps, one day, we shall discover what happened to work no. 2 and why, when it disappeared, works nos. 3 and 4 were not renumbered accordingly, as would be the normal practice. I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar with E. M. Forster's novel, "Howard's End", to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred. In it, Margaret Schlegel is mentioned: To Margaret … the station of King's Cross had always suggested Infinity. I am not referring to the Prime Minister, who does not visit King's Cross as frequently as I would wish; neither does she travel on the trains as often as I would wish.

Its very situation—withdrawn a little behind the facile spendours of St. Pancras — implied a comment on the materialism of life. Those two great arches, colourless, indifferent, shouldering between them an unlovable clock, were fit portals for some eternal adventure, whose issue might be prosperous, but would certainly not be expressed in the ordinary language of prosperity. That is rather a dated view of King's Cross, because the buildings on which the works are to be carried out are now recognised for their enormous architectural value. They present a marked contrast between King's Cross and St. Pancras, where Giles Gilbert Scott worked off the frustrations of not having been allowed to build a Gothic Foreign Office — instead, he built a Gothic station. Lewis Cubitt, who had been told that a good station could be built at King's Cross for less than the cost of the ornamental archway at Euston square—its removal was one of the early tragedies of modernisation—set to and produced a remarkable building which was perhaps the first great essay in functional architecture. It was the precursor of a whole generation of architecture against which people are now turning, but it must be maintained, preserved and recognised.

In recent years, work carried out at King's Cross has tried to be sympathetic to the character of King's Cross. I know that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet has a close interest in buildings and architecture and, with his training, he understands it very well. Recent works have tried to be sympathetic to King's Cross and I hope that the works to be carried out under the Bill will do no harm to that very important and historic building. That is a difficult matter for people to deal with, but it is important. I am puzzled by the attitude of British Rail management to it.

The redoubtable Mr. Prideaux is one of the many members of British Rail management who have been involved in arguments with me and with other hon. Members present. He said: Euston's environment for overnight services is superior to that at King's Cross. He is arguing that King's Cross is basically an unsuitable station even for passengers who alight from an overnight train so that they can go down the escalator provided by the Bill to join the link line to go through London to Holborn and possibly to destinations to the south of London.

Mr. Prideaux says that the environment there is not suitable for that purpose. I cannot understand why, because King's Cross has refreshment room facilities, newspaper stalls, a Pullman lounge and all the facilities that one might require either on alighting in the early morning or leaving late at night. However, I wish that the refreshment kiosk stayed open a bit later at night, because at 11.30 pm one is confined to a burger stand. The facilities are adequate for the purpose, and will be particularly so if the link line is there.

I cannot see the sense of diverting all the overnight traffic from Scotland into Euston if the link line was about to be provided. The possibility that people could move directly from an overnight service on to a train which would take them into central London or out to destinations south of London, should have been foreseen by British Rail when it made its extraordinary management decision to transfer all overnight services to Euston. At the back of that desire to transfer, there seems to be a belief that in some way King's Cross is not an adequate station. I reject that view and it is implicitly rejected in the decision in the Bill to make King's Cross part of this service.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

For the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has advanced, if King's Cross is inadequate for people who simply want to get on an overnight train, it must be a great deal more inadequate for the many people who use it during the day.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman is right, and I shall come to the problems related to the points about congestion that were made earlier in the debate.

One matter casts a strange light on the Bill. I went to York to discuss British Rail's plans to withdraw overnight services from the Borders. At that meeting I discovered that British Rail planned to remove them from Tyneside as well. Nothing had been heard about that decision. Indeed, I found afterwards that a press release had been issued at precisely the time that I was to meet Mr. Fraser the InterCity manager to discuss the problem. He told me that one of the results of the change in the overnight services would be that King's Cross station would be closed after 10 o'clock at night. How does that fit in with the provisions of the Bill?

Clearly, the Bill envisages that King's Cross will provide a regular service for passengers either walking directly to King's Cross station or alighting there from Holborn viaduct or stations to the south. I simply do not understand how an apparent attempt to achieve economies by closing King's Cross at night squares with the provisions of the Bill.

Problems will arise because of congestion at King's Cross while the works take place. The problem at King's Cross is not with the overnight services but arises because of the build-up of daytime services and the passengers for them. When the overnight services depart and arrive there is plenty of room on the concourse at King's Cross for all the passengers, even though the trains are full. The Minister should realise that British Rail is pulling the wool over his eyes when it says that nobody uses those overnight services. The evening sleeper service to the Borders and Edinburgh is full night after night. I know that from personal experience. The southbound service from Newcastle is frequently full, even if the northbound service is not.

The congestion problem arises during the day because of the large number of InterCity trains that are in the station for a very short time. They are heavily used—it is a case of capital being intensively used—and one of the consequences is that often the train does not sit at the platform for the 20-minute or half-hour period to ensure that passengers can get directly on to it. Passengers may be boarding the train in the last five or 10 minutes. The result is that a large number of people are queueing on the King's Cross station concourse.

It is extraordinary; it is like Hampton court maze. The entire station concourse is marked out with lines —rather like the lines on the carpet in the Chamber—in a great serpentine shape. The queues are coiled one on another like an Indian snake-charmer's basket, as people wind around to get from one side of the station to their platform, or sometimes proceed in the reverse direction, in queue B, queue C and queue D. It is a most elaborate system, and it is a tribute to the fortitude and patience of the British people — especially the Geordie, Northumbrian and Scottish travellers who use the station — that they bear the queueing system with such tolerance, and show so little irritation, even when enduring very uncomfortable and inconvenient arrangements.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the features of the maze at King's Cross is the complete lack of anyone in authority to help with directions? Presumably that will also apply to the problem of how to get down to the Holborn link.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is true. I have seen it time and again. I find — particularly if I am wearing a black coat, or anything which faintly resembles authority—that I am asked questions by members of the public about how they can get to, say, the metropolitan line.

Problems of congestion are bound to be more acute if a serious displacement of other activities in the station is caused by the works that are taking place. A complete escalator and ticket hall must be built. I foresee considerable problems arising from building of the ticket hall, which is one of the explicit provisions in the Bill. Someone will have to explain to the staff at King's Cross how to relate the activities of one ticket hall to those of the other.

My experience at King's Cross—and, I am sure, that of other hon. Members —has been very disconcerting. For two or three months it was impossible to book a sleeper to Alnmouth, in my constituency, because the ticket office had been told that the train did not stop there. Although the barrier, with a notice on it, was nearer to that ticket office than the new ticket hall proposed in the Bill, the staff seemed unable to observe the words written above the platform informing passengers that the train stopped at Alnmouth. Unless there is some co-ordination, there will be experiences similar to the experience—which I described in an earlier intervention—of the unfortunate Nigerians arriving in Milton Keynes.

Let me now deal with the important issue of the interchange between the link service that the Bill provides and other services out of King's Cross. It has been a great disappointment to hon. Members that there seems to be no prospect of through running, despite concern in the north about through running into the Channel tunnel and beyond.

As the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) pointed out, any support given from the north-east to the Channel tunnel, although it was pretty muted, was at least based on the assumption that there had to be a rail tunnel, with a direct rail connection. If the Bill's promoters would say that the Bill would assist through running through the tunnel that is being built in London, so that direct services to the continent would be an early possibility, it would be enormously welcome, in relation to freight as well as passenger travel.

It is important that the north-east should gain the benefits of rail haulage, which could provide the area with distinct economic advantages if there was direct linking through the Channel tunnel. However, we were told that the loading gauge made through running unlikely, unless there was some rolling stock specifically designed to enable through running from the east coast main line on to the link line and beyond.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 123, Noes 34.

Division No. 147][9.59 pm
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, DavidChope, Christopher
Bevan, David GilroyClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCormack, Patrick
Bottomley, PeterCousins, Jim
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaCran, James
Brandon-Bravo, MartinDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bright, GrahamDay, Stephen
Burt, AlistairDevlin, Tim
Butterfill, JohnDorrell, Stephen
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Carttiss, MichaelEggar, Tim
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Mans, Keith
Favell, TonyMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMiller, Hal
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Fookes, Miss JanetMonro, Sir Hector
Forman, NigelMoore, Rt Hon John
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Moss, Malcolm
Gale, RogerNeubert, Michael
Garel-Jones, TristanNicholls, Patrick
Gill, ChristopherNicholson, David (Taunton)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Gorman, Mrs TeresaOppenheim, Phillip
Gorst, JohnPaice, James
Gow, IanPatnick, Irvine
Gower, Sir RaymondPorter, David (Waveney)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Portillo, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Raffan, Keith
Greenway, John (Rydale)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Riddick, Graham
Ground, PatrickRost, Peter
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Rowe, Andrew
Hanley, JeremyRyder, Richard
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Shaw, David (Dover)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Harris, DavidShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Sims, Roger
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Speed, Keith
Hunter, AndrewStern, Michael
Irvine, MichaelStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Jack, MichaelStradling Thomas, Sir John
Jackson, RobertSummerson, Hugo
Janman, TimothyThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Knapman, RogerThurnham, Peter
Knowles, MichaelTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Lee, John (Pendle)Trippier, David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkWaddington, Rt Hon David
Lightbown, DavidWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Lilley, PeterWarren, Kenneth
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Watts, John
Lord, MichaelWheeler, John
McCrindle, RobertWiddecombe, Miss Ann
Macfarlane, Sir Neil
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Tellers for the Ayes:
Maclean, DavidMr. Michael Brown and
McLoughlin, PatrickMr. Timothy Wood.
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Ashdown, PaddyLeadbitter, Ted
Beith, A. J.Livsey, Richard
Buchan, NormanMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)McWilliam, John
Canavan, DennisMeale, Alan
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Patchett, Terry
Clelland, DavidPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Cox, TomPrescott, John
Cunliffe, LawrenceSnape, Peter
Dixon, DonThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Eadie, AlexanderTrotter, Neville
Flannery, MartinVaz, Keith
Foster, DerekWallace, James
Foulkes, GeorgeWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Fyfe, Mrs MariaWise, Mrs Audrey
Golding, Mrs Llin
Haynes, FrankTellers for the Noes:
Home Robertson, JohnMr. Archy Kirkwood and
Lamond, JamesMr. Michael Fallon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.