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Before I call the Secretary of State, perhaps it will be helpful if I state that it may be convenient if the Second Reading, the committal motion and the instruction in the name of the Leader of the Opposition are debated together, with an opportunity for a Division, if desired, at 10 o'clock. I am afraid that I shall not be able to call the instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), but the points contained in it are in order for debate on Second Reading.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, if it meets with parliamentary approval, will lead to the construction of one of the longest and most ambitious pieces of infrastructure to be built this century. The high-speed rail link will be a project of major national significance and will provide Britain with a modern and fast link with the rest of Europe.
The Bill provides powers for the construction, maintenance and operation of the link between St. Pancras in London and the channel tunnel in Kent. The Bill includes powers for associated works, including a connection to provide access to Waterloo international station, connections to other existing lines, provision in outline for a station at Ebbsfleet in Kent, the construction of an open box that could accommodate a station at Stratford, and the alteration and extension of St. Pancras, including advance works for Thameslink. It will also secure the powers to widen the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4 on the outskirts of the Medway towns.
The new railway will bring great benefits to the whole country. It will more than double the capacity for international passenger trains between this country and the continent of Europe; reduce journey times for both international and domestic trains; enable the provision of entirely new express commuter services to several parts of Kent; boost regeneration in the Thames gateway and east Kent; and enhance capacity for rail freight from every part of the nation to the continent. Some £1.5 billion has already been spent on trains, tracks and stations for railway services through the channel tunnel.
Right hon. and hon. Members who have travelled on Eurostar have already enjoyed the benefits of that investment. They will also appreciate the huge likely demand for those services. Eventually, more capacity will be needed. The rail link, with an additional terminus at St. Pancras, will meet that demand.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will make a little progress.
The new line will cut journey times from Paris to London by half an hour to 2.5 hours. The journey time to Brussels will be cut to two hours and 10 minutes, once the Belgians have their new fast line. The time savings will spread the demand and the benefits still further, because they will widen the area of the country for which the journey time by rail will be competitive with air travel.
Paris to Birmingham—city centre to city centre—will come down to 4.5 hours; towns and cities served by the east coast main line will benefit from an hour's reduction in journey time. Paris to Peterborough will take only 3.5 hours.
The new line may take freight, although it is designed principally as a high-speed passenger railway. Taking passenger traffic on to the new line means more room for freight on the existing network. That will present new opportunities to shift freight from the roads.
Together with the privatisation of British Rail, the channel tunnel rail link will give a major boost to rail freight. That is a key benefit for the whole country. Some 70 per cent. of freight trains through the channel tunnel are expected to have origins and destinations beyond London. It makes environmental sense for as much freight as possible to be taken on rail right through to the regions.
In the south-east, the new line provides other important benefits, particularly for Kent. Express commuter services will be taken on the new line, transforming the travelling lives of rail users from an area that is currently served, by the slowest of London's commuter trains. Gravesend will see journey times to London cut from 50 minutes to 20, and Ashford from 75 minutes to 40.
The Government are keen to see the rail link act as a focus for regeneration, particularly of the Thames gateway and east Kent. That is one of the main reasons why we chose an easterly approach to London. Estimates of growth in the area around Ebbsfleet station, for example, are for 45,000 new jobs and 30,000 additional homes.
Likewise, the London terminus at St. Pancras can be expected to stimulate the regeneration of the surrounding area. That provides an excellent example of the Government's policy of encouraging development around major public transport centres, with ensuing economic and environmental benefits.
My right hon. Friend was listing the benefits of the channel tunnel and the rail link. Will he include among them confirmation of the view of his predecessors—that it was unnecessary and inappropriate to have any further green field airport developments, such as that apparently envisaged for my constituency?
My hon. Friend is moving the boundaries of the debate slightly wider than that included in the Bill, but I understand his concern and would be happy to talk to him about it if he would like to take up that opportunity.
Clearly, this is the greatest opportunity that we have had this century of shifting freight from road to rail. Will my right hon. Friend look again at Trafford park, in my Manchester constituency? Currently, we already have six freight trains a night in each direction coming through the tunnel, bound for Trafford park, and the Euro-terminal, so recently opened at the eastern end of Trafford park, is threatened with closure due to the problems of noise and what many people regard as the unrealistic level at which the noise requirement has been set, which is quite impossible for rail freight to meet.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, one that he has already brought to Ministers' attention. It is complicated by the fact that there is a local authority involvement in the issue, but I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads to look at the point that he has raised.
The Secretary of State will recall that, when the route via the eastern approach was first announced, his predecessor said that its purpose was regeneration—which the Secretary of State rightly mentioned—but that that regeneration was intended for east London. Given that the Government have made it clear that there should always be a Stratford option, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Bill contains powers for Ebbsfleet, but only an indication of the long trench—which he mentioned—and no powers for Stratford? Surely that is an inequity in option terms.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel that. The Bill specifically makes it possible for a station to be there, but—as the hon. Gentleman pointed out—the option has been left open. That is a requirement of the promoters for bidding purposes. We shall form a judgment on the basis of the bids that are made in March.
Has the Secretary of State considered the question of the east line? Wakefield district council is developing its rail terminal in my constituency, which is important to the area's economy—it will mean 6,000 or 10,000 jobs in the surrounding rail freight village—but we need an assurance from the Secretary of State that freight can be moved quickly from the Yorkshire area through the tunnel.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), does my right hon. Friend accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House support furtherance of the concept of an interchange station at Stratford? I believe that the strategy of the eastern approach, which I wholly applaud, will be boosted if rail connections from the whole of East Anglia can be plugged in at Stratford.
I understand the point made by both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). It was I who announced the decision that the Stratford option would remain on the table. We shall respond to the bids, examine them and in due course reach a judgment; but Stratford remains a possibility.
The channel tunnel rail link will have an impact on the environment. As with roads, nearly 68 miles of brand-new railway cannot be built painlessly, but considerable efforts have been made to identify a route that minimises environmental damage. The Government believe that the benefits of the new railway far outweigh any detrimental impact; we also want the environmental impact to be mitigated as far as reasonably possible.
The Government have insisted that the project's developers must meet the environmental standards applied to all other major transport infrastructure projects. I believe that that objective has been achieved, first by careful route selection—the length of the route that we are discussing was considered 10 times, and nine tenths was rejected, much of it on environmental grounds—and secondly by incorporating mitigation in the design.
I shall do so shortly; I should like to make some progress first.
Extensive use has been made of existing transport corridors. Twenty-one per cent. of the route is in tunnel; 85 per cent. of the link either follows an existing transport corridor such as the M20, or runs in tunnel.
As evidence of the importance that we attach to the environment, the Government, through Union Railways, commissioned a full environmental assessment of the rail link proposals. An environmental statement of the findings of that assessment was laid before Parliament and published on 17 November last year. The assessment process will continue throughout consideration of the Bill. I commend the comprehensive work undertaken by Union Railways and its environmental consultants for its thoroughness and professionalism.
I know that the environmental statement will be of interest to right hon. and hon. Members who are particularly concerned about the noise impact of the new link and the mitigation that will be provided. I also recognise the concerns about noise from the intensified use of existing lines and the fact that the Select Committee may wish to examine intensification which might result from the new rail link. However, I hope that the Select Committee will not extend its remit to intensification generally caused by the channel tunnel, as that was considered and dealt with by Parliament when passing the Channel Tunnel Act 1987.
I am sorry that I sought to intervene earlier so soon after other interventions. My point relates to the environment. As my right hon. Friend knows, the chosen route is through the London borough of Havering and in particular passes through the constituency of my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). His ministerial responsibilities consign him to silence on this occasion. However, he is in his place and believes, as I and the council do, that the route through Rainham should be about 150 m south of what is proposed.
That is a point of detail, but the general point is that there is apprehension that the Select Committee will not be willing to consider petitions which seek to vary the route by more than a minimum. Will the Minister assure me that a counter-proposal such as that by the council of a movement of about 150 m would be considered under petition by the Select Committee?
I am aware of the concern of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who is in his place on the Treasury Bench. In an entirely appropriate way in his capacity as a Member of Parliament he has made me aware of the concern of his constituents. The House will understand that it is not for me to determine or predetermine what the Select Committee should do about a petition which may or may not be submitted.
The Secretary of State has outlined his sensitivity about the loss of aural amenity resulting from the project. Will he make comparable references and express the hope that the Committee will examine the loss of visual amenity, especially in west Thurrock, where the route would be on a viaduct of a height comparable to that of the Galleries in the Chamber? It will clearly blight many properties because it will overlook them and their gardens and will clearly make it impossible for people to sell those properties.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point on behalf of his constituents, even if he over-eggs it a little. It would be slightly difficult to disguise a viaduct to make it look like anything other than a viaduct.
A recent Europewide study of high-speed rail networks emphasised the clear environmental advantages of high-speed rail over road and air transport, particularly in terms of energy efficiency, lower air pollution emissions and less land take. It would be a mistake to believe that all the environmental impacts associated with the rail link are negative. For example, the grade 1 listed St. Pancras station will be refurbished. The channel tunnel rail link creates a long-term future for this outstanding example of Victorian railway architecture.
The Bill contains a widening scheme for the A2-M2 between Cobham and junction 4. That is to relieve congestion on an important strategic route. My hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) and the local authorities concerned urged the Government to include the widening scheme in the Bill. They particularly wanted to see the two new viaducts over the Medway constructed at the same time. We concluded, for sound environmental reasons, that the M2 scheme should be included in the Bill and should stand as part of the Bill's principle.
An environmental statement for the widening scheme was published on the same day as the statement for the rail link. It too is based on a thorough and professional environmental assessment conducted by independent consultants. There has also been an assessment of the combined effects of the road and rail schemes.
I shall now turn to the route of the rail link and begin by describing the process of route development and consultation. This demonstrates that the route contained in the Bill was selected only after the most thorough consideration. The broad corridor for an easterly approach to London was chosen in 1991 following a comparative study of four major options. It was not the cheapest option, but the decision attracted all-party support.
The easterly route was then refined by comparing and sifting all the possible local route variations, taking account of environmental appraisals and soundings with local authorities, after which Union Railways presented a range of options following an easterly approach to London.
In March 1993, the Government selected a route for consultation, which again was not the cheapest of the options and which as a minimum met the environmental standards that apply to other major transport infrastructure projects in this country. In January 1994, and after formal public consultation that lasted more than six months, the then Secretary of State for Transport confirmed the route, with some enhancements. After further studies and consultation for two route sections he finalised the Government's chosen route in April last year.
It would be unrealistic to expect everyone to be satisfied with the route in the Bill, given that the railway has to run through environmentally sensitive and, in some sections, densely populated areas of Kent, Essex and London. However, decisions have not been taken lightly. Those who remained aggrieved throughout the process have had a proper opportunity to make their cases—leading the Government, in some instances, to reconsider earlier decisions before settling finally on what should be included in the Bill.
Because the route development, consultation and decision-making processes have been so full and painstaking, and because proper environmental standards have been used throughout, I do not believe that the Select Committee need spend time considering options outside the limits of deviation set down by the Bill for the terminus and route.
The London terminus, the existing St. Pancras station, will be extended and enlarged to provide separate accommodation for international and domestic services and for midland main line services. Physical connections will be provided with the east coast and west coast main lines to allow direct through services from the rail link to Scotland, the north of England and the midlands.
A grade-separated junction is provided as the rail Ink leaves St. Pancras. East of the Caledonian road, the rail link will run in bored tunnel to an open box within the Stratford railway lands. That will accommodate an emergency crossover and evacuation facility and a connection to a possible depot at Temple Mills.
Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that the Government's position remains that it would be possible in the future, within the terms of the Bill, for there to be a junction between the channel tunnel rail link and the proposed cross-rail link?
As my hon. Friend may know, that proposal is not in the Bill. However, it remains a possibility for the promoters of both projects to agree to move in that direction if they are so minded.
The open box would also provide scope in the future for a station at Stratford. As I made clear to the House last year, the option of a station at Stratford remains open. A final decision will depend on our review of the bids from the four bidding consortiums when they are received.
Leaving Stratford, the rail link will continue in tunnel, emerging alongside the existing London-Tilbury-Southend line to the east of Barking station. The link will then follow the LTS corridor. Near the Ripple lane freightliner terminal a connection will be provided to allow freight to join and leave the link.
The railway will continue along the LTS corridor, past the inner-Thames marshes and past the Mardyke housing estate on a viaduct. A second viaduct will take the rail link over the M25 and under the approach to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. The rail link will then enter tunnel to pass beneath West Thurrock marshes and the River Thames.
The link will emerge from the Thames tunnel at Swanscombe marshes, where there will be a permanent maintenance depot. The Bill provides in outline for a combined international and domestic passenger station at Ebbsfleet with parking and access to the A2 close to the M25. A connecting line to the north Kent line at Ebbsfleet will enable trains from the Medway towns to join the link for fast running into St. Pancras.
The rail link will pass under the A2 at Pepper Hill. There is provision for the disused Gravesend west line to be reinstated to provide a connection between the link and the Longfield to Swanley line, so that international passenger trains on the railway can use the international terminal at Waterloo. The rail link will then run parallel to the A2-M2, with provision for possible freight passing loops south of Singlewell.
There will be an additional viaduct over the Medway, parallel to the existing one. The rail link will then switch from the M2 corridor to the M20 corridor by entering a two-mile long tunnel under the north downs, then running largely on the surface to the north of Maidstone. The route will then run parallel to the M20, diverging for a short distance at Sandway. There is provision for possible passing loops at Charing Heath. The rail link will then leave the M20 corridor to run towards the centre of Ashford, where the line will widen to four tracks so that connections can be made with the international passenger station currently under construction. The rail link will then run parallel to the existing railway out of Ashford to Dollands Moor, where there is provision for a possible connection to the freight inspection facility. The railway will then enter Eurotunnel's terminal at Cheriton.
Last year, I described the channel tunnel rail link as a great example of co-operation between the Government and the private sector. The rail link will be built, owned and maintained by a private sector promoter. In June, we shortlisted four bidding consortia; they are now preparing their tenders, for submission on 14 March. We have set certain minimum requirements—an important one of which is consistency with the Bill—but, within those constraints, we are looking for imaginative responses from the private sector. I expect to announce the winner in the latter half of this year. If Parliament approves the Bill, I shall use its powers to designate the winning consortium as the "nominated undertaker" of the rail link.
I turn now and briefly to the structure of the Bill.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that passage, will he clear up a possible misunderstanding? In response to one of my hon. Friends, he said that it was not for him to predetermine how a Select Committee might respond to a petition. He then said that he saw no need for the Select Committee to consider anything outside the limits of deviation. As he knows, this matter is of considerable concern to Kent Members and to hon. Members representing regions covered by other parts of the track. We should be grateful if he would make it clear that he does not intend to give advice to the Select Committee.
May I clarify that, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), I said that I would not prejudge on the basis of a petition that might or might not be brought before the Select Committee? I made the Government's position clear. I am in a position to offer advice and guidance to a Select Committee, but I am not instructing it.
On the structure of the Bill, much of its content is well precedented in previous private and hybrid legislation, not least in the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, and in my Department's model clauses for railways and tramways. Part I deals with the rail link. It includes provisions authorising its construction, maintenance and operation and associated works by the "nominated undertaker". The House will note, however, that the compulsory acquisition powers are conferred on the Secretary of State, and that all the usual protections and provisions as to compensation for people whose land, property or rights are compulsorily acquired or injuriously affected will apply.
Part I also gives planning approval for the rail link and establishes a special planning regime, under which various detailed matters are left for subsequent approval by the relevant local authority. There is to be a planning memorandum to accompany the Bill, and local authorities that are willing to abide by the terms of the memorandum will enjoy extended planning powers.
Part I also provides a special regime for heritage matters. Here, too, it is our intention that the relevant statutory bodies, especially English Heritage, and local authorities will have a role through an agreement outside the Bill. On planning and heritage matters, there has been widespread consultation and discussion with the affected local planning authorities and interested statutory bodies over the course of the last year. Those discussions continue.
Part I also includes the public clauses for the rail link, which establish the regulatory regime for the rail link and make provision in respect of the competition and finance, as well as covering a number of general subjects, including the "nominated undertaker" powers, which I have mentioned already.
I wanted to catch the attention of my right hon. Friend before he left part I to ask about clauses 30 and 31. How will the impact of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act, which forbids the Secretary of State or the public sector from financing the channel tunnel, be protected so that the Dover ferry industry will continue to receive protection? Will he give an assurance that clauses 30 and 31 will in no way result in additional and extra subsidy going into the channel tunnel?
I believe that my hon. Friend will find that the financial contributions relate to the domestic rather than the international aspect. If I have misremembered, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to refine my answer later, should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker. I think, however, that I have accurately remembered the arrangement.
The regulatory regime for the rail link will be designed for the particular circumstances of the project. It will reflect the substantial financial commitment of the private sector and the risks that it will be bearing. It will also reflect the fact that the rail link will be in competition not only with other forms of transport but with other railways. The regulatory regime will therefore complement the regime set out in the Railways Act 1993, but with some significant modifications to reflect the rail link's unique circumstances.
Part II of the Bill provides for the Secretary of State the powers for a 10.5 m widening of the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4 on the outskirts of the Medway towns. Widening will be contained entirely within the existing highway corridor. A second motorway bridge across the River Medway will be built upstream of the existing bridge to provide four lanes for London-bound traffic.
The Bill is hybrid. Subject to the House granting the Bill a Second Reading and approving the committal motion, the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee for consideration of petitions against it. Separate Select Committees of the House and of another place will consider the effects of the rail and road schemes on the interests of those directly affected.
It is for the Select Committees to decide on the scope of their consideration; the Government can only offer guidance in such matters. In response to requests and to be helpful, the Government have given an early indication of their intended advice to the Committees. I earnestly hope that the Select Committees will concentrate their attention on the route of the rail link and the road alignment defined in the Bill.
I am one of those who support the Bill in principle. I am not happy about the Stratford international station, but I am sure that it will not happen. Can the Secretary of State help me on the timetable for petitions? The Bill comprises 197 pages, but I understand that petitions have to be in by 6 February. Is there any possibility of extending the deadline?
We had to judge what we thought was sufficient time for petitions to be submitted against the need to make progress with the Bill, which will already span a second parliamentary Session. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the decision was well based even if he would have liked to vary it by a few days one way or the other.
The project has been studied exhaustively. The route has been developed and refined with care and after extensive consultation. Its impact has been assessed in a thorough, professional and independent manner, and the results have been made known. The benefits of the rail link for the whole country are manifest. The moment has come to decide to build the longest new railway in this country for a century. I believe that Parliament will want to seize this opportunity, and accordingly I commend the Bill to the House.
We welcome, of course, the fact that this rail link will more than double the capacity available for international rail services between Britain and Europe. We welcome, of course, the 30-minute cut in the journey time between London and Paris and between London and Brussels—indeed, I think that the cut in journey time to destinations on the east coast main line will be an hour—and we welcome, of course, the fact that journey times for the 25,000 long-suffering commuters who travel from the Medway towns and north-east Kent into London every working day will be reduced significantly. Up to 12 high-speed services an hour in each direction on the new line, a clipping of 40 minutes off the journey time from Dover, a near halving of the journey time from Ashford and a more than halving of the travel time from Gravesend are clearly valuable achievements and we unreservedly welcome them.
What does the hon. Gentleman think of some of his hon. Friends who have been busily attacking Ebbsfleet and saying that the station should not be built there, in view of the improvements to commuting for Gravesend people that he has rightly mentioned?
We all know the circumstances in which the Ebbsfleet decision was made. It will be the parkway for the M25 and the proposal makes good sense in that respect, but the manner in which political lobbyists were involved in the decision did not help the underlying rationale for Ebbsfleet.
No. I would prefer to make progress.
The most that can be said for this Second Reading debate is that it ends seven years of muddle. The delays and policy reverses have blighted huge swathes of south-east England. The incoherence of the Government's approach to long-term infrastructure projects has been ruthlessly exposed. Selling back property purchased during the property boom will entail a waste of about £140 million of taxpayers' money, which, if it had been better spent, could have completely refurbished any of the main lines that are now crumbling as a result of years of non-investment. Above all, the slippage in the timetable has been deeply embarrassing to our national reputation
The right hon. Gentleman goes back to 1975 and very different economic conditions. The channel tunnel has been under consideration in this country for more than 100 years. To associate that delay with the previous Labour Government is a pretty cheap political point.
The British high-speed link will not be ready until 2002 at the earliest, eight years after the Eurostar trains have been forced to begin their slow trundle from the channel. President Mitterrand's quip at the opening of the TGV line between Paris and Lille—that, although high-speed trains would race across the plains of northern France, their ambling through Kent would enable passengers to savour the British countryside—was not a graceful gesture about the beauties of the English landscape; it was a humiliating put-down of the Government's incompetence.
The French built their high-speed link before the completion of the tunnel and the Belgians will complete theirs over the next three years. Only in Britain shall we have to endure the indignity, let alone the inconvenience, of knowing that, although Eurostar trains race across France at speeds of up to 185 mph and travel through the tunnel at 85 mph, they then trundle their way to London at 50 mph. The delay over the British link, which is a national disgrace, reflects a bumbling and short-sightedness that are extreme even by this Government's standards.
When the go-ahead for the tunnel was given, the Government's initial response was to say that there was no need for the link because there would be plenty of room on existing Kent lines. It took—[HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."] Hon. Members' reaction confirms my point. It is astonishing that the Government alone did not realise that a dedicated link was necessary. It took them years, because of their short-termist, market outlook, to realise that the link was not merely a minor addendum but was vital to ensure that the capacity of the tunnel would be fully used.
Then, of course, there were the policy zig-zags. Since 1987, when the channel tunnel treaty was signed, there have been at least four major policy reversals: on funding, on alignment, on consortium make-up and on environmental damage.
Overshadowing all that has been the Government's vacillation on finance. If one wants a monument to the Government's arrogance and ideological stupidity, one need look no further than the funding of the high-speed rail link. So rigid, so dogmatic was the Thatcherite edict that private enterprise must build the link that tens of millions of pounds of European money was rejected. Why? Because it required a Government contribution.
The result has been endless shilly-shallying over how many tunnels should be bored, the cost of the new station at Ashford international, the merits of an underground terminal at King's Cross as part of a comprehensive redevelopment, indecisiveness over Stratford and uncertainty over freight routes to the north. To cap it all, we now have the absurd irony of the Government being forced to pay very much more for something that they could have had earlier at a far cheaper price.
I shall in a moment.
The bad public relations, the confusion of purpose between the Government and British Rail and the constantly changing ideas on what the rail link was designed to achieve have all squandered much taxpayers' money. It is likely that the cost of engineering studies alone will total about £350 million. It is now likely that the Government—perhaps I should say the long-suffering taxpayer—will have to pay half the estimated cost of almost £3 billion.
I shall give way in a second.
The real lesson of this wretched saga is that, if the Government had not been so stubborn and prejudiced, the link could almost have been built by now, and at much less cost. The tragedy for Britain is that a project with a lifespan of well over a century, generating economic and environmental benefits far beyond its balance sheet, has been saddled with a Government who cannot see beyond their short-term City horizons.
My hon. Friend is describing the malaise during the build-up to this Bill, but will he develop his reference to the link with the northern regions? Without capital investment in the line to the north, especially to Yorkshire, the benefits expounded by the Secretary of State of the speed of freight and passenger transport will not be realised. We must impress on the Government the need to invest in the east coast line if we are to achieve all the possible benefits of the tunnel for northern regions.
My hon. Friend anticipates the next section of my speech. Indeed, not only the east coast main line but the west coast main line deserve considerable upgrading.
I introduced the Bill on the basis that it had some all-party support, but the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is now confusing me. A few moments ago he lambasted the Government for insisting on private-sector finance for the project and for being ideologically driven, but he then said that the poor, long-suffering taxpayer would have to pay half. If I understand his first point, he wants the long-suffering taxpayer to pay for all of it. Does the hon. Gentleman have the permission of the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the Labour party would prefer the line to be funded entirely by the public sector?
The right hon. Gentleman has a nerve to make that point. Under the so-called "Prescott option", the Labour party has repeatedly made a proposal that, for ideological reasons and for no other, the Government have repeatedly not been prepared to accept.
We have always taken the view that private sector money should be involved but that the public sector must play a leading role in such a major infrastructure project. The Government and the Secretary of State have failed to accept that, which has caused the delays and vacillation.
No, I want to make progress. I am conscious of the recommendation made in the Jopling report that Front-Bench spokesmen should not take up so much time and that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.
That tunnel vision—if I may use the phrase with some conscious irony—is still handicapping the project. That brings me to the very important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). Concern still exists that the tunnel will increase the north-south divide unless much greater commitment than has so far been announced is made to major new rail investment to link the north-west and the north-east to the south-east.
Britain still needs a strategy, which Labour has long advocated, to develop high-speed rail links through the heart of Britain to the north of England and to Scotland, to improve existing cross-country links to connect the east and west of England and Wales to the higher-speed network and to fill in more of the gaps in the electrified lines, in particular on the east midlands main line and the trans-Pennine route.
In particular, as Conservative Members pointed out earlier, we still a need a much more ambitious approach to the tunnel's potential role in shifting long-distance freight from road to rail. For too long, the Government have refused to accept European proposals for road and rail transfers, such as intermodal wagons or piggy-back systems, because of their prejudice against public investment in the railways.
We still need to develop more freight interchanges and multimodal road-to-rail freight depots to relieve congestion and, above all, to upgrade key freight routes to the European freight gauge standards to ensure full compatibility of rolling stock between the regions and the continent.
There must be upgrading to the right loading-gauge to take containers, swap bodies and semi-trailers. Although the Secretary of State did not refer to this point, the United Kingdom loading gauge height must be increased by about 170 mm to create the piggy-back gauge.
The Government's present attitude to freight and the rail link is far too laid back. Instead of capitalising on the link's full market potential, they concentrate almost exclusively on passenger targets and fast-delivery parcel services. They believe that, if freight demand justifies it, additional tracks known as passing loops could be provided at two places in Kent to allow passenger trains to overtake slower freight trains. However, that, like so much else, is left to the decision of the nominated undertaker.
That is the same narrowness of vision and short-termist outlook that postponed the rail link for years in the 1980s and forced the Government to pay more later for what they could have had earlier much more cheaply. It is a tragedy for transport policy in this country that the Government have no positive policy on international freight aimed at relieving our over-congested roads of a significant proportion of heavy goods vehicles.
I wish to make a point about Kent, after which I shall give way.
In Kent, for example, the gauge of the Victorian Saltwood tunnel restricts larger international freight, but so great is the Government's obsession with privatisation that they prefer a fractured system under which advances will be made at the whim of individual contractors. It has been estimated that upgrading the route corridor from Ireland to Scotland to the continent via the channel tunnel has potential for 400,000 lorry semi-trailers a year, but that will not be realised, or it will certainly not be fully realised, because the west coast main line, which, under Euro-funding, will be piggy-back, and another European scheme, the Cork to Belfast to Stranraer route, which under Euro-funding will also be piggy-back, are not linked.
We have the nonsense of trucks having to revert to roads through Scotland. What is so badly lacking in the Bill is the vision to maximise the tunnel's potential to achieve a major shift in international freight from road to rail at little relative extra cost.
Indeed, it has been estimated that providing the necessary headroom between Glasgow and the channel tunnel would cost less than £70 million—out of a project costing nearly £3 billion. That would create an 800-km intermodal rail route and at half the cost of widening 12 km of the M25 between junctions 12 and 1.5. Strategic vision is lacking in the Bill, which is a major weakness.
Has the hon. Gentleman costed that strategic vision? He has proposed several projects to enhance the rail system, but has he costed them? Is he committing Labour to that expenditure?
I have just given the extra cost. The hon. Gentleman was desperately keen to intervene, and he was probably not listening to what I was saying. The proposal has been costed at an extra £70 million. [Interruption.] I think that it has been costed by UK Transmodal, a private sector consortium that supports the piggy-back gauge, which should have all-party support. ft is a relatively minor proportion of the total cost of the project. Gains to the country in the medium term are much greater. The balance-sheet mentality that looks cross-sectionally at costs today without regard to the value to the country in the medium or longer term is precisely what is wrong with the Government's approach to the Bill.
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend. Does he agree that, far from raising red herrings about cost, Conservative Members should apologise for the 10-year delay in processing the project and for the fact that, at a cost of millions of pounds of public funds, the Government acquired properties along other routes that have since been scrapped? If any party is guilty of wasting money on the project, it is the Conservative party.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to a point that I made earlier about the cost of properties bought during the property boom until 1988–89 that must now be sold back because of the change from the southern to the eastern route. That cost is about £140 million. Conservative Members' comments about a major change that would enormously benefit international freight yet would cost half that amount show their narrow-mindedness.
No. I wish to make progress. I want to make two or three more points before I finish.
That is not the only missed opportunity in the Bill. Another vital decision that the Government are evading— I know that the Secretary of State says that he is holding it open, but he is evading it; he could have gone much further and, again, is leaving the matter to the nominated undertaker—is the future of Stratford. On 14 October 1991, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said:
It is envisaged that the high-speed train from the channel tunnel to King's Cross will stop at Stratford".—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 34.]
The then Secretary of State for the Environment—the present President of the Board of Trade—said that the development at Stratford
has implications far beyond its crucial transport significance … It provides east of London with a development opportunity of unique potential … We cannot approach an opportunity of this magnitude field by field, site by site.
I very much echo his sentiments, but unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues have not adhered to them.
Moreover, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has described Stratford and the royals as the western focus of the Thames gateway, complementing the Dartford-Ebbsfleet station as the eastern focus. Union Railways, in its March 1993 report, specified that one of its three key objectives was
to provide the transport spine for the East Thames corridor development, shifting the pressure from the west to the east of London.
I emphasise the second part of that statement.
There is no commitment to Stratford in the Bill. Without a station at Stratford, there will not be sufficient regeneration based on the rail link in east London. We believe that the case for an international passenger station at Stratford is powerful. It would permit much faster journeys to the continent from east London, East Anglia and Essex. It would take about half an hour less than going to St. Pancras. It would offer a faster dispersal point from St. Pancras for many key destinations in central London—such as the City—thus avoiding the heavy cost of expanding underground capacity at St. Pancras.
An intermediate station at Stratford would be ideally located to complement the existing and planned interchange at Stratford, which includes Network SouthEast, the Northern line, the Central line, the docklands light railway, the Jubilee line and crossrail—if it goes ahead—as well as the tunnel link.
In addition, the regeneration potential is equally telling. There are more than 200 acres—I visited the area last week—of under-used brown field land at Stratford. An international station would open the way for large-scale, mixed-use development including business parks, industry, offices, hotels, leisure and retail uses. For all those, the international station is not merely an additional regenerative factor but the cusp of the whole enterprise. It would provide the potential for 15,000 more jobs in an area where there are 120,000 people unemployed within a five-mile radius.
Stratford already has immediate access to the national motorway system via the M11. As I have stated, there are significant potential land resources close to central London, but only the international station will confirm Stratford's role as an international gateway, regional transport hub and regional service centre and thus generate the demand for the critical mass of development that is so vital for the east Thames corridor. The Government have ducked those matters today despite their earlier commitments, and we shall want to see them fully examined by the Select Committee.
I turn briefly to the instruction to the Committee, which we have tabled. In a number of instances, the benefit of tunnelling at a relatively low cost as against the proposed surface works has not been fully taken into account. In the Caledonian road area—one of two remaining disputed parts of the line in London—the combination of cut and cover, sewer tunnelling, the major construction site and huge heavy goods vehicle movements has never been tested by consultation. The Bill's proposals result in an aerial spaghetti junction across King's Cross railway lands, and substantially reduce the development value.
The Secretary of State will know that Islington's consultants, Baxters, have recommended alternative tunnelling options that avoid the interference of a cut-and-cover trench, remove the need to retunnel the Fleet sewer and do not involve a major works site across Caledonian road.
I am always asked about cost, so let me make it clear again that the cost will be an extra £40 million. However, by freeing up the north-west corner of the King's Cross railway lands for development, the option is expected to produce an extra development value of some £80 million.
Union Railways has admitted that one option would be better than the proposal in the Bill, but I am told that the Department has refused to put it in the Bill. I understand that Union Railways has so far refused to disclose the results of its work on the other option. For those reasons, we want the matter to be thoroughly examined in Committee.
We also want the tunnelling option at Barking and Dagenham to be further investigated. Under the present plans, high-speed trains will travel at 140 mph within some 20 ft, at the narrowest point, of the back of a line of houses in a heavily built-up residential area. That is intolerable. No hon. Member would be prepared to put up with that. Alternative tunnelling options have been suggested for either a route under Barking reach or an extension of tunnelling to the east boundary of the borough underneath the existing rail corridor.
The extended tunnel will, of course, be more expensive, but the cost will be substantially offset by large reductions in enabling works, the virtual removal of railway safety and possession costs, the reduced cost of allowing work during normal daytime hours and easement in railway restrictions. That is why we want those options or any others to be fully re-examined.
In mid-Kent, where the line switches—
For the hon. Gentleman's information, I represent a constituency in north-west Kent. He has given a shopping list of tunnelling cases. Why does his amendment specifically omit Ashenbank wood at Cobham, where vast environmental destruction will result if a tunnel is not constructed? Why has he omitted the case for a tunnel opposite Pepper Hill and the urban part of Northfleet, which would be damaged if a tunnel was not constructed?
I do not exclude the desirability of the Select Committee examining the case for other tunnels. The hon. Gentleman makes the mistake of assuming that we are concerned about only the tunnels that we have specifically mentioned. It is no attempt at an exhaustive list. I am ready to support the view that tunnelling options in other places should be examined by the Committee.
In mid-Kent, where the line switches—this is a significant point—between the transport corridors of the M20 and the A2-M2 and carves through the north downs, Union Railways has opted for the shortest possible length of tunnel. We want the case for a longer tunnel to be re-examined, because the area is officially designated as one of outstanding natural beauty and because to join the Medway towns and Maidstone with surface development through the present green corridor would produce a sprawling conurbation as large as a major city.
The Bill still contains some serious deficiencies on the environment and on compensation generally. As I will undoubtedly be interrupted again, I make it clear that the deficiencies to which I shall refer are not the only ones but those to which I briefly want to draw attention.
I was tempted not to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he has not mentioned the Thurrock section. His instruction expresses the desire for at least some examination of tunnelling at Thurrock. May I invite him to consider that the plans for the section are as bad as those for Barking and Dagenham, which he referred to as unacceptable? In addition, the plans include viaducts as high as the highest point of the Galleries around the Chamber. The decision to build those viaducts was affected by the decision to locate the international station at Ebbsfleet. That altered the Rifkind line of route to the MacGregor one. Blue Circle should make a contribution to the cost of tunnelling that section because its benefit is Thurrock's loss.
My hon. Friend makes his case for his constituency forcefully. The Secretary of State dismissed the point that my hon. Friend made by saying that it was difficult to conceal a viaduct as anything other than a viaduct. I suppose that it was an attempt at a joke, but it was an inadequate response. Viaducts are an eyesore.
My hon. Friend asks about compensation. The proper answer to his question is that tunnelling should be re-examined. That is why we have included Thurrock in the specific list of the areas where we believe the tunnelling option needs to be reviewed.
I am conscious of the time so I shall make just three more quick points. As the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, the Bill allows construction teams to build the track up to 3 m above the line decided by Parliament. That is not acceptable. In some areas such a vertical deviation would alter the whole nature of the line.
Noise protection levels are premised on speeds of some 140 mph, when higher speeds of 180 mph if not 250 mph are already planned. The current proposal is that only people whose property is physically affected by the rail link will be bought out. Others who are intolerably affected by noise or construction will have to wait years for compensation. That is not acceptable.
It is a tragedy that such a huge national flagship project, so necessary for the industrial and economic regeneration of Britain, has been marred by short-sightedness, ideological stupidity and lack of strategic perspective. There could scarcely be a more dramatic example of why Britain needs a Government who believe in a positive role for the public sector, who are motivated by strategic vision and who have an overriding commitment to the regeneration of Britain. That will be our approach when we take over the project.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). It is several years since we have spoken in the same debate one after the other. I am not sure that his script has improved much in that time. I hear what he says about the urgency of the project and the need to make progress. I agree; we need to make progress. However, I wonder at the credentials of the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party in making the charge of delay. After all, the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who normally sits here beside me, started the channel tunnel. The Labour Government in January 1975 cancelled the tunnel. At that stage, the hon. Member for Oldham, West was a Minister at the Department of Industry.
With that cancellation, the tunnel went, the link went, the whole shooting match went. The Labour Government cut public spending. They cut spending on capital projects. So I suggest that whoever can lecture the Conservative Government on delay in building the tunnel or the link, it certainly is not the hon. Member for Oldham, West or the Labour party. Indeed, I should go much further than that. Railways are now back in the news. The Labour party has just committed itself to a publicly owned, publicly managed railway system. [Interruption.] I am grateful for confirmation of that.
It is important to make the following point about this system. The channel tunnel, which is crucial to the future of the railways, was built not by public money but by private investment. The reason why it is open today is that private investors were prepared to take the risk. It was not a case of the taxpayers being forced to accept that risk. That principle of private investment now underline's the rail link as well. We should not overlook the successful and substantial revolution that the channel tunnel represents.
Back in 1979, when I was Minister of Transport, it was a different age. In those days, there were only two Ministers in the Department of Transport—myself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). There were certainly only two shadow spokesmen.
One of the problems that I inherited from the outgoing Labour Government was the channel tunnel. After almost six years of power, the Labour party had got precisely nowhere. We were no further forward on how to finance it or on how to build it. We had plenty of studies and statements, but absolutely no action.
I concede that, when the Conservatives came to power, under my right hon. and noble Friend Lady Thatcher, it was evident to even the dimmest commentator that the project would not proceed if we simply relied on the taxpayer's resources. Yet it seemed to me that the advantages of channel link remained obvious. The potential for car passengers, for freight movement and obviously for railway passengers was evident.
It was not because there was a need for an integrated transport system, or however it has been put by the Opposition; it was because such a link provided a means of transport that the public themselves wanted. There was a commercial opportunity and therefore, rather than talking about public money, as we had done at the time of the last Labour Government and before that, we realised that there was an opportunity for private capital. So, in March 1980, I was able to tell the House that the tunnel could go ahead if, and only if, it was funded by private risk capital.
I have to say to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who says that the Labour party has always been in favour of these sorts of things, that I do not remember the Labour party rushing to support that new step. Its opinion was that, if it was a public project, only public money should be used to finance it. Indeed, there were echoes of that in the speech by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. He is being held back, but we all know that, left to his own devices, the hon. Member for Oldham, West would prefer to go that way. That was the conventional transport wisdom of the time, and it certainly was the opinion of the Labour party.
Albert Booth, who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said at the time:
If it is of considerable public advantage, why make that development dependent upon it facilitating private profit?"— [Official Report, 19 March 1980; Vol. 981, c. 390.]
That was not exactly an endorsement of private investment. It was, if I may so describe it, the clause IV of investment that investment of that type must be public investment.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and for his exposition of the background to financing the tunnel privately. Does he agree that, if the huge cost overruns that developed in the building of the tunnel had been on the taxpayer's back, they would have been an appalling burden for the taxpayer to carry, but that the overruns have been privately financed?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The key is that private risk capital was used. That is what we sought, and that is what we achieved.
Let me add that, even with the private investment plan, there were substantial problems. Above all, the Treasury—I suspect that I might take the hon. Member for Oldham, West with me on this—remained sceptical. I am amused to see that it now claims to be the pioneer of private investment. In truth, I think that it was a very late convert to the cause.
The real breakthrough, as far as the tunnel was concerned, came—the hon. Member for Oldham, West alluded to it—when President Mitterrand and a number of socialist Ministers came to visit Lady Thatcher together in 1981. In spite of all the predictions, it was a very good meeting. I imagine that it was rather like a meeting between the hon. Member for Oldham, West and the Leader of the Opposition. It was courteous; it was friendly; but there was no real meeting of minds.
However, in the case of a meeting of national leaders, a communiqué must be issued afterwards. Something had to be said—they had to agree on something. I am glad to say that, with some prompting, they agreed on the need for a channel tunnel. In Whitehall, the order went out that the Prime Minister wanted it and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, with his Government experience, the No. 10 Downing street card trumps all in Whitehall.
So it happened that the channel tunnel was built. It was built by private investment. The tunnel also promises to be a great success, and that success has been achieved by Conservative Governments and certainly would not have been achieved under a Labour Government. That is quite obvious.
I for one want similar determination and urgency to be employed to complete the channel tunnel rail link. I have always doubted whether the present rail system would be able to deal with rail demands until 2005. All the early signs suggest that the passenger services to Paris and Brussels will be successful. All the signs are that many people will gladly switch from the crush of Heathrow to the railway. Many people will take the view that it is the best and quickest way to travel.
As has been mentioned, there is substantial potential for freight as well. As the House knows, I am a non-executive director of NFC plc. It is not an investor in the terminal, in the tunnel or the link, but doubtless it will be a user—a customer—at some stage. However, let me return to the subject of passengers.
It would be a great pity if the full potential of the railways were defeated by capacity problems; if, having achieved the major goal of the tunnel, we were tripped by the question of the link running to it. I therefore wish to question Ministers on two aspects.
The first aspect is the arrangement for financing the link. It was sensible for the Government to ask for private investment. Obviously, a good business opportunity exists; but equally, in the case of the link, I am aware of no reason why public money should be excluded, and I say that for the following reason.
The link is not as outstanding a commercial opportunity as the tunnel, which has the income stream provided by the car and the lorry shuttle. Even more significantly, there can be no doubt that the link must meet important environmental demands to protect the public—involving tunnelling and so on. Thus, the link must meet other criteria in addition to exclusively business criteria. In those circumstances, it is entirely justifiable that public investment be used, and the fact that the costs may be perhaps one-third of the project emphasises the argument.
I think that the Government are right to say that the link will be a private and public project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was not urged to reply on the subject, but perhaps he might have been—not to say how much, which I assume will be part of the negotiations, nor on the percentage or the capital sum concerned.
My right hon. Friend has been especially modest in describing his contribution to the development of the channel tunnel, and I should like to record that, at least on behalf of Conservative Members. As for his specific argument, of course he is right to note that the link will be a public-private arrangement. The public sector, through actions that I shall take, will contribute Union Railways' and European Passenger Services' cash and property to the arrangement.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I note his argument, but does he agree that the fact that—as far as I know—bids must be submitted before the full alignment and requirements of the Hybrid Bill Committees in both Houses are known, makes the costs of construction and running the railway slightly hypothetical; not to mention the fact that the market price of tariffs of alternative routes by air, sea and land makes the projection of any profit difficult? Does he agree that that perhaps makes the theology of always applying private criteria to that specific project questionable?
I thank my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he said. I hear what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) says. If we can manage to build the channel tunnel entirely with private money, it should not be beyond our capacity to carry out a joint rail link project.
I confess to being a little puzzled about how it has been announced that public investment is to be committed. Section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 says:
No government grants to the Railway Board in respect of international railway services
are allowed. I imagine that the legal advice is that that ban does not include other facilities like commuter services running on the new rail link, or bodies other than the Railway Board. I imagine that, as always, the Treasury opposes any change in the 1987 Act which it fears might open the floodgates. Having made every allowance, however, there is something to be said for clarity in legislation, particularly when public funds are at stake.
May I help my hon. Friend again? Section 42 to which he refers applies to a public sector body, which is British Rail. The rail link will be a private sector entity, and the circumstances are entirely different. We do not plan to repeal section 42.
That just confirms what I was saying. I understood that point. We shall see the position as it develops.
My second question concerns access to the rail link from other parts of the country. In that respect, I agree strongly with what the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said. I shall leave it to my right hon. and hon. Friends behind me to raise issues relating to the south of the country. My concern is about the midlands and the north.
Of course. The north includes the north-west and the north-east.
According to the Union Railways brief, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed, once the rail link has been completed it will take two and a half hours to travel from St. Pancras to Paris. That makes it a very attractive service which the public will clearly support. From Birmingham to Paris, however, it will take four and a half hours and from Manchester to Paris, five and a quarter hours, even after the rail link has been completed. The Union Railways' brief states that those are
Electrified Main Lines, which could be served by direct international day-time trains, via junctions at St. Pancras. Some routes would need engineering work or station works. Easy interchange with international trains at St. Pancras are also available to these routes".
When the Minister sums up, will he say a little more about the position? Will he explain how the nation north-east and north-west of St. Pancras will join up with the rail link, what engineering and station works are required and, above all, what timing is planned?
I appreciate the support that has been given to the points that I made earlier when I intervened on the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will impress on the Secretary of State the need for capital investment, be it private or public, in the lines from St. Pancras to the north if we are to have the speed and efficiency required, to which people in the north are entitled.
Yes, indeed. That takes me to my final point.
Clearly, the whole approach to the channel tunnel and channel link is that we must seek to attract the public on to the railways. To do that, the east coast and west coast routes urgently require investment. Given the private investment that is planned, the west coast route is even more urgent than the east coast one. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can say something about that when he responds.
Clearly, we shall hear much more from the hon. Member for Oldham, West about the so-called "integrated transport policy", public ownership and the advantages of public management. I am bound to say that, from my experience, to hold up British Rail as an example of how an industry should be managed is one of the most extraordinary claims that I have ever heard. How can it help the running of the railways to have Ministers and civil servants breathing down the necks of British Rail managers? Whatever Opposition Members may think, that is the reality of nationalised industries, and it happened more under Labour than under this Government. Bureaucracy and interference go together.
The real debate should be about how we attract the public onto the railways. In achieving that, the Government have taken a number of crucial steps, which Labour simply has not done. They have enabled the building of the channel tunnel with private investment, and the tunnel is now open. Had we relied on public spending, it would not be open. The Government are now enabling the rail link to proceed. Again, private investment is crucial to that project, although some public money will be required to meet some of its legitimate objectives.
Both projects will go down as substantial achievements—the achievements of private investment. We now need the greatest possible speed in completing the rail link so that the railways can compete for business effectively.
Clearly, there is general support for the principle of the Bill. What is criticised is not only the late arrival of this Eurostar or Euro union but some of the features surrounding it. I raised one of those in an intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). If we are to protect the public, particularly people on the route—some defects in the Bill will be raised in Committee in that respect—we must be prepared as members of the public to support the operation of that line. The Government, however, say that they want it to be constructed and run by the same firm. The paradox in that respect is, in modern circumstances, difficult to sustain.
Criticism has also been made about the railway track. A two-track railway can operate to a certain capacity and at certain speeds and braking distances, but if it is to retain freight in order to relieve noise and disturbance elsewhere while also operating as a domestic line, a two-track railway may not be enough. The Bill would have been better had it contained the reservation for a three-track extension or widening as and when the time arose, or even for a four-track line in future centuries. That requires a public less than a private enterprise.
My speech will focus on my instruction on the Order Paper. I understand why all instructions cannot be accepted for debate, but I shall read it to transfer it from the Order Paper to Hansard. It stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr.Banks) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), and the hon. Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Castle Point (Dr. Spink). Other hon. Members may support it in their speeches. It instructs the Select Committee:
that it shall consider the merits of including in the Bill all powers, facilities, permissions, licences and other statutory provisions required for the construction and operation of a combined international and domestic passenger station at Stratford, in the London Borough of Newham, comparable to those in the Bill applying to such a station at Ebbsfleet in Kent.
When I intervened on the Secretary of State, he agreed that, while there are powers in the Bill for Ebbsfleet, there are none for Stratford, but thought that that was not inequity. I would claim that it is inequity for a true option, which is the Government's well-rehearsed and well-publicised policy.
I just want to confirm what the hon. Gentleman said—that there are other Conservative Members who would support such an instruction. I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of that fact and of the fact that this relatively harmless instruction keeps options open—options which might be valuable for the future.
I am grateful for the support of the hon. Gentleman. I have noted other interventions from hon. Members who represent constituencies throughout East Anglia, because it is the north-eastern part of London, particularly into East Anglia, that requires cross-Thames access to the channel tunnel. I understand, subject to correction, that the figures that Union Railways presented to various people on the likely use of the tunnel were based on assumptions relating to air traffic from Heathrow. I suggest that that is not necessarily a good way of going about it.
I also take the point made by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), because if we do not get it right now, the option diversion will surely get worse. If the Bill does not provide optional powers for a possible station at Stratford, people will say, "We are not sure; the future is not clear." Will there be an additional order under the Transport and Works Act 1992? That will be difficult. It will take time, and perhaps another Bill. There may be more objections and procedure, which I suggest will further the difference in terms of the option that the Government claim is there but which, I suggest, in reality is not in terms of prospects and what is in the Bill.
The option for a station at Stratford is kept open by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will recall the very informative debate that we had on that matter in the early hours of the morning just before Christmas. The Government decided that Ebbsfleet should be part of the project and that there should be a parkway there, while the decision on Stratford remains open.
The decision will be taken not by the nominated undertaker of the project, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It will be informed by the bids that we receive, which will evaluate the economic arguments made so cogently by supporters of the Stratford case on many occasions. The position for a station at Stratford, should the case be made, is protected in the Bill. It is only for the building works connected with the station that Transport and Works Act procedures would be required. If the promoting company felt that there was justification for it—that would inform my right hon. Friend's decision—I do not believe that obtaining the necessary powers through those procedures will be an obstacle to the construction of the station.
I think that, on reflection, the Minister will agree that his intervention is helpful to our case. I do not think that the option is in the Bill. Let me specify. On page 96 of schedule 4, where it shows the land numbers on deposited plans, on parcels 26 to 32 relating to Ebbsfleet it says:
The provision of an international and domestic passenger station with ancillary development and car parking, diversion of overhead electric cables".
On the relevant parcels of land on page 89 of the same schedule, relating to Stratford, no such words appear; it is largely related to construction purposes, electric cables and so on. If the Minister is telling me that full powers for a station are in the Bill, that is not the information or advice that I have been given.
He agrees that he is not telling me that, so if the option is to be made by the Secretary of State—I am grateful for the confirmation of that—after the bids are in, why does he not give himself that option in the Bill rather than saying, "If I choose to accept the choice for Stratford I must go to the House either with a Transport and Works Act order or with a Bill"? Perhaps the Minister will answer that.
The Bill makes provision for the long box, which would hold the structure of the station. It does not make provision for a station, because no decision has yet been made on whether there should be a station. The Bill is constructed in such a way that that option is not closed off. If a decision were made that a station should be constructed at Stratford it could be done by a Transport and Works Act procedure, or it might even be possible at a later stage to consider an amendment to the Bill. I do not believe that anything in the structure of the Bill closes off that option, should my right hon. Friend be persuaded that such a station ought to be built.
I shall not pursue this any further. The difference between us seems to be getting a little narrower, but the mere fact that other actions need to be taken, including an amendment, or perhaps an additional provision, which is also possible, makes the case.
I do not wish to take too long, as many hon. Members wish to speak, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), who has had more to do with the matter, and properties in his constituency are very much affected. The adoption of the Stratford option would have advantages for regeneration, in environmental terms, in public transport and finance, all of which are matters to which the Government and, I am sure, all hon. Members would give their assent.
The Government said that east London would benefit from regeneration. My hon. Friend, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is better qualified than I to speak, as a former leader of Newham council. All I would add is that, if there are to be domestic services from Kent, as has been indicated, the effects of regeneration on east London will be great, but they will be less so if domestic United Kingdom services cannot stop at Stratford, still less go on through the projected cross-rail, possibly to Heathrow. Good strategic planning suggests that that is where they should go.
The Government now say that they want a balance between road and rail traffic. If there is to be freedom from the car, an argument which may appeal to the noble Baroness Thatcher, we must use rail properly and to the best advantage. Yet in the Bill there is a possibility for an M25 interchange, to which people from the London area or even further north might wish to head in their cars on a long-distance journey, whereas if they use the existing rail network in London to get to St. Pancras or Stratford, the frequency and distance of travel by car might not be so great, because the interchange possibility at Stratford is very considerable. True, it is possible at King's Cross, too, but King's Cross is an inner-London area, constrained by Victorian architecture and existing functions, whereas a Stratford station would have many advantages.
At present, there are no fewer than 14 rail routes clockwise, as it were—the Central line has two branches in one direction—which can, with one connection to Chingford, be reinstated, centering on Stratford. With cross-rail, there would be even more. That would give direct access to Stratford from 180 stations in Greater London and south-east England, and from more than 200 if the cross-rail were built. Those stations include major stations in East Anglia, but not the rest.
There would also be direct access to Stratford, in addition to the through trains from the rest of the United Kingdom, by the use of the north London rail link and others, particularly from Manchester, Birmingham or Newcastle, by fast or semi-fast trains. Those routes could include centres for through registration of luggage and ticketing, with certain through trains perhaps providing a timetable interchange.
We all have difficulties sometimes when a terminus is experiencing problems; Stratford station could serve as an extra means of shortening journeys when there are difficulties in the centre, as Clapham Junction, Finsbury Park and Reading do now when such inevitable difficulties occur. Stratford would also provide direct communication with the royal docks area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) pointed out. That area already has an international airport, and will almost certainly have a university college and a large exhibition centre: together, the two will have a second-phase floor space equivalent to Olympia and Earl's Court.
There would also be an additional financial return. People might wish to use Stratford on the domestic route, or might take the fast channel link because of the existence of that station. There could be charter traffic or long-distance sleepers to anywhere in Europe, avoiding rail and personnel congestion at St. Pancras. I think that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield agrees with me that that would provide extra revenue for the line.
The House has been discussing this problem for more than a century. Sir Edward Watkin, a railway pioneer of over a century ago, put together the former Lincolnshire and Yorkshire railways to form the Great Central, of which I believe he was chairman. That was the last great main line to London, and at least the route should have been kept, because it was built to a continental gauge. Sir Edward was also chairman of the Metropolitan railway, of which the East London line was a subsidiary, and of the South Eastern and Chatham and the then Channel Tunnel company. He had a bit of co-ordination.
I do not think that we have quite reached the standards of Sir Edward Watkin a century ago. The Bill goes towards that, but it would be a better Bill if it were enlarged to allow powers for Stratford to be built, at the option of the Secretary of State.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in the debate. I have listened with interest so far: it is fascinating to note that everyone now accepts the need for the line, although British Rail told the Select Committee considering the tunnel that there was no foreseeable need for any such railway.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) spoke of what happened over a century ago. Over a century ago, a protester in Kent said that there should be no tunnelling there—especially in the Boxley valley—because of the danger of unexpectedly running into a manure cart coming in the other direction. Attitudes to the tunnel have changed remarkably since then, however. The Boxley long tunnel, for instance, is essential if Kent is to retain a conurbation of the proper size; without it, development in Maidstone and the Medway towns will close up on the surface railway just as it has done on the motorways that surround the valley.
There are plenty of environmental reasons for recommending a Boxley valley tunnel. I shall not, however, spend time describing the ancient woodland there; I shall not even speak of the protection of a Cistercian abbey which was arguably the parent of the Church of England, as it was there that Henry VIII rejected the Pope's emissaries. Nor shall I stress the fact that the valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty, which would be destroyed by a railway running down the middle of it. The important point—which has been part of the county's central planning for 50 years—is that the great conurbation of the Medway towns should not run into the conurbation of Maidstone, creating an urban sprawl out of all proportion to the rest of the county.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for visiting the area last Thursday to observe the strength of the arguments for himself. I was disappointed when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appeared to suggest that he would advise the Select Committee not to consider the Boxley tunnel, or any other tunnel outside the limits of deviation. The Boxley tunnel, however, is unique: unlike any of the other tunnelling options considered in the instruction, it does not transfer blight from one part to another. No blight is associated with the tunnel. In a parliamentary answer, the Government stated:
The long tunnel through the Boxley valley has significant environmental advantages, but the Government decided that these did not justify spending an additional £65 million".—[Official Report, 31 January 1994; Vol. 236, c. 505.]
The Department of Transport has also told me that some 160 out of 194 representations received from Kent stressed the importance of a tunnel through the Boxley valley. That view is supported by the county council, every district council, every parish council, every amenity group and every action group. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that he does not intend to put pressure on the Select Committee to refuse to consider a highly valued and unanimously supported proposal.
I remind my hon. Friend that our right hon. Friend said:
It is for the Select Committees to decide on the scope of their consideration; the Government can only offer guidance in such matters.
There is a clear difference between guidance and an instruction. I am opposed to accepting an instruction to the Committee precisely because it would restrict the Committee's discretion. I am confident that right hon. and hon. Members who are appointed to the Committee will be able to view petitions that are presented to them objectively, and to reach sensible conclusions.
I can give my hon. Friend a further assurance, which I have given at meetings on a number of occasions. The Government will of course continue to support the line of the channel tunnel rail link that is set out in the Bill, because we consider it to be the best route, balancing the various factors that need to be balanced. I shall not, however, indulge in any private arm-twisting to try to make Select Committee members take a particular view.
Any guidance that is given will be given openly, before the Select Committee; there will be no behind-the-scenes shenanigans—not least because, as my hon. Friend will recognise, those appointed to the Committee understand the importance of their task. That task is to examine matters objectively, without being susceptible to undue pressure. In any event, neither the Government nor I myself will exert such pressure.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful clarification. I am confident that the arguments that I have already advanced, which have been advanced so often and will be advanced again in petitions, will sway the Select Committee.
I have one further argument. The costings suggest that a single-bore tunnel would cost an additional £65 million and that, if the Health and Safety Executive insisted on a twin-bore tunnel, it would add a further £50 million. Those costings are open to serious question. More importantly, the widening of the M20, which is already many months overdue and on which work is continuing, has been delayed and enormous additional costs have been incurred partly because of the extraordinary difficulty of working in slippery gault clay. A large part of the surface route will be constructed on gault clay, but the tunnel itself will pass through entirely predictable chalk and I suspect that there will be a much lower cost differential than is at present claimed.
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that the thrust of my argument is that, as surface-built motorways have been used as the boundaries of urban sprawl, a surface-built railway will be used in the same way. We are anxious to ensure that that urban sprawl is held as it has been held for the past 50 years by borough councils on both sides of Bluebell hill.
I shall now deal with stations. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that the people who design railways appear to want to make sure that they do not stop anywhere. It was perfectly clear from the beginning that British Rail and its successor Union Railways wanted to build an aeroplane on wheels and had no desire whatever to have stations on their fast line. They have been browbeaten into creating a number of stations which they now gracefully say could conceivably be useful because they might attract some customers.
Ashford now has an international station, thanks substantially to the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed). It would be wrong for me to trespass in other constituencies, but, as the Select Committee will take this debate as one of its guidelines, it is helpful to have some iteration.
It is important to make it clear that the design of Ashford international station is for only the fast generation of trains. If the second generation cannot stop there, the Department of Transport says that any necessary adjustments may be made to the track and line side structures if there is a need for access to the international passenger service by larger trains. It is not a promising start for an international station which could be one of the great growth points for Kent's economy if, after 25 years, it can be visited only by old-fashioned trains that are approaching the end of their lives.
I am in favour of a station at Stratford, not least because it widens choice for Kent commuters, many of whom have no desire whatever to be taken as far as St. Pancras. I welcome the arrival of the private sector in the project. British Rail has always seemed to prefer to see the difficulties in any changing market situation rather than the opportunities. For example, the way in which it has run down its freight operations in recent years is a disgrace. I look forward to a change in philosophy. I hope that, as part of the private sector desire to get more passengers on to the railways, there will be an attempt to incorporate some junction with the Medway link to help Maidstone residents benefit from the new railway.
Compensation is of great importance. It is bad enough at the moment, but what will it be like in five years? A substantial number of elderly constituents have been confidently expecting that some time in the next decade they will be able to sell their properties and move to their relatives or elsewhere. But their whole future is now deeply in doubt. The current discretionary compensation scheme is wholly inadequate and it was made worse by the profligate purchasing by British Rail of properties at the height of the boom, many of which are not even on the finally decided route. There must be a much more generous and compassionate compensation scheme for the 10-year period of the construction of the line.
It is bizarre that the line has been designed for trains travelling at 140 mph and that environmental protection has been put in by the environmental consultants at that level. Everyone knows, and the designer now admits, that the private sector owner will unquestionably want to run trains at 186 mph, which is the theoretical maximum speed that the line could support. We have been told that the studies that are needed to ascertain the noise effects at that speed have been completed and published. However, a letter last week from Union Railways made it clear that the effects of the mitigation of higher speeds have not yet been worked out.
Clearly, it would be absurd to build the line to lower speed standards if those standards have to be raised later, probably almost as soon as the line is built. In my village of Harrietsham, to take but one example, it would be ridiculous to have a massive sound barrier that had to be raised before the trains had even started to run because the line was designed originally for a lower speed.
Many of my constituents are anxious about the Medway bridge. It is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner), but it is of such importance to so many of my constituents that we should consider again whether there should be a two-tier bridge carrying rail and road traffic. We have been told that such bridges do not work, but one has only to look at the example of Newcastle upon Tyne to see that they work quite satisfactorily. Such a bridge would be helpful.
There has been considerable confusion over freight. One day we are told that there will be so many passengers on the new line that there will be no room for freight. The next day we are told that there is so much additional capacity on existing lines that there is no need for freight on the new line. But that will probably be the promoter's only line and he is bound to want to maximise its use for freight, which will be important. What sort of freight will it carry? Will it be that which can be carried on a passenger train set-up? If so, why are passing loops needed? If they are not needed, why cannot the money be spent on the Boxley long tunnel instead?
Finally, because I have spoken for longer than I had intended, I again urge the Select Committee not only to use its discretion but to take into account the Boxley long tunnel. That tunnel starts and ends within the limits of deviation, but passes outside those limits. There is a unanimous desire in Kent to have that tunnel considered by the Select Committee. It would be flying in the face of everything that has ever been meant by consultation if, in opposition to that unanimity, the Select Committee was unable to consider that deviation.
Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and, unusually, I suspect that there is a great deal of unanimity on some points. Therefore, I hope to break a bit of new ground rather than repeat points on which I already agree.
We welcome the much-delayed arrival of the Bill at the Westminster platform, but we are extremely concerned at the time that it is likely to spend in the station. The apparent precedent of the hybrid Bill for the Channel tunnel is rather an illusion. That Bill related to a major project, but there are not many householders on the bed of the English channel. In view of the Bill's complexity and the extent to which it affects the rights of individual citizens, we must recognise that Parliament has a unique responsibility to give those citizens a right to be heard.
The Bill will affect 850 acres of agricultural land, 87 agricultural holdings, 182 businesses, 21 listed buildings and 14 other buildings of historic interest. It will mean the demolition of 60 residential buildings and the loss of 75 acres of ancient woodland. Some 410 residential properties will be directly affected by noise, while a further 1,600 will be subjected to ground-borne noise and vibration. It is therefore immediately obvious that the Select Committee will have to consider a veritable harvest of petitions. Indeed, I suspect that the fact that schedule 1 has 35 pages is something of a record. We must be careful to ensure that the petitioners have a real opportunity to express their concerns.
A number of those who are already anxious about the way in which the Bill may proceed have asked that the Select Committee proceedings do not start until the petitioners at least have had the opportunity to raise their concerns with the promoters. That might be a wise precaution and could prevent the Committee from becoming bogged down at the outset. As the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, the issue of compensation is crucial.
One issue that has not yet received much attention is access to farmland. The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 required railway companies to provide and maintain in perpetuity what were called accommodation crossings—that is, bridges and passages allowing access to land. Some 150 years later we are dealing with the first large railway proposal since that Act. Although it may not be possible exactly to replicate the rights under the Act, it would not be proper for the channel tunnel rail link simply to sweep aside those interests and concerns. Land owners and farmers want the obligations under the 1845 Act to apply in some form or another.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about links to other parts of the country, especially the north. There is already a great deal of confusion about what is to happen. Railtrack East Anglia costed three options for linking the channel tunnel rail link to the east coast main line and chose the most expensive option because it knew that it would be funded by the Department of Transport—only to find that that support was not forthcoming. That is an awesome warning to others.
The Under-Secretary must persuade us tonight that he is not considering the channel tunnel rail link in isolation and that he fully understands the need for links not just to the east and west coast main lines but to Wales, the south-west and the west.
As a result of the confusion, it appears extremely unlikely that the start date of 1996 for the introduction of the north of London Eurostars will be met. I am sure that the good people of Peterborough will be looking to the Secretary of State to repeat his statement at the 1994 Conservative party conference that it would be met.
There are also concerns about the way in which the funding is likely to operate. Some of those have been articulated this evening. I draw to the attention of the House the fact that European Passenger Services has been gifted assets of £818 million while the British Rail Board, to quote the Under-Secretary's statement last March,
retains certain contingent liabilities in respect of guarantees and indemnities which it had entered into when EPS was its subsidiary.
In other words, the private sector operator takes the assets and British Rail is left with the liabilities. That cannot give great confidence to those of us concerned about the balance of investment.
Reference has already been made tonight to freight, but I want to develop the argument further. I was part of the team to promote the rail-based link and I have always believed that the best case for a channel tunnel was the fact that it would extend the United Kingdom's rail network and link it to the continental network. That makes long-distance freight economically viable again, which is already apparent by the fast rate of development in freight services. They are a great success. The link will provide the main opportunity for piggy-back trains and there must be a commitment to that development. The substantial potential of transfer from road to rail of long-distance freight makes sense only if the link either carries freight or makes the passage of freight easier through the narrow corridors of London and Kent.
I refer to some of the points in the excellent briefing from the Freight Transport Association. The successful development of the new rail freight market is already suffering from a lack of track capacity. The completion of the high-speed link will have to free up freight on the existing network or the market will be stymied at the very moment that it needs to grow. It is extremely important that the Committee and the Bill take full account of the potential of freight. It will be important to provide freight loops near Gravesend and Ashford and there will have to be a connection to the Dollands Moor freight terminal. I hope that the Committee will take that on board.
It is clear that the provision of a link between the new line and the existing London and Chatham railway south of Gravesend will enable high-speed passenger trains to reach Waterloo international without travelling over lines used by freight services. The interrelationship between improvement to passenger services and making more effective use of freight services is critical if the Bill and the project are to attract the good will of the whole nation. This is not of concern just to the south-east; everyone in the country wants the balance to be right for the best of all reasons, both economically and environmentally.
The hon. Member for Mid-Kent referred to the fact that the people of Kent want the assurance that domestic services will improve so that they can benefit from the increase in speed on the link. Hon Members are entitled to an assurance that journey times will be cut for the thousands of commuters from Kent. We want not vague promises but an assurance that, from day one, that benefit will come from the link operation.
The exchange between the Under-Secretary and a number of hon Members about the nature of the instructions caused me some concern. As I read the instructions, they are not attempts to tie the hands of those hon Members who serve on the Select Committee; far from it, they have been carefully phrased in terms that will guide the Committee. I agree with the Under-Secretary that, to use his words, there should not be any private arm-twisting, but I see nothing wrong with a little public arm-twisting in the mother of Parliaments. That is our responsibility on behalf of all those who will be affected by the project.
I and my hon. Friends support both instructions. As a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House share our view, I hope that the Select Committee will take account of that fact even if the instructions are not pressed to a Division.
Reference has been made to a number of Kent concerns and they are epitomised in the instructions. I am especially concerned about the anxieties expressed in east London and in our debate about the extent to which the Secretary of State means what he says. In opening the debate, he said that he wanted to commit himself to a route "that minimises environmental damage". In a number of important respects, that does not appear to be the case in Islington and in other council areas in east London and Essex. I am glad to see hon. Members nodding in agreement.
For example, the Baxter B option in the borough of Islington is clearly intended to fulfil the Secretary of State's promise. The fact that he was not prepared to endorse it this afternoon was disappointing. I am sure that the compensation issue will loom large in the Committee's considerations. At this stage, we cannot give more than the general instruction that has been given in the two statements this afternoon. I hope that Committee members will, in due course, take those into account.
It is clear that the Bill's tortuous parliamentary route makes it extremely unlikely that work on the link will start before the last possible date for the next general election. Inevitably then, its progress—hon. Members have referred to this already—will coincide with Government attempts to sell off Railtrack. The two processes are inextricably entwined. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to make it clear that we do not believe that Railtrack can be fully privatised before polling day for the next general election.
The reasons are, first, that potential financiers have started to do their sums. They know that many of the claimed assets, such as tunnels and bridges, are huge potential liabilities. Secondly, the failure of the private finance initiative casts even more gloom in the City. Its only application will almost certainly be to the channel tunnel rail link. It will not be used anywhere else in the railway system. It will not be available because it simply cannot stack up as a financial prospect.
Thirdly, the costs of privatisation of operating services and the on-cost pressure on franchisees, together with continuing subsidy constraints on British Rail, do not bode well for Railtrack's profitability. Finally, investors must know by now that, even if a majority still exists in the House for privatisation, it certainly does not exist among the public at large. It is unthinkable that a by-election candidate who is committed to privatisation will be elected to the House between now and the next general election, and Ministers know how vulnerable the Government's majority is.
City investors are no fools. Even if privatisation made progress before the next general election, they know that it would be halted in its tracks immediately after polling day. I noticed that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who is not here at the moment, said nothing on the subject this afternoon. He seems to have been sidelined in the debate of the past few days.
I make it crystal clear that I and my colleagues in the Liberal Democratic party will do everything in our power to retain or reclaim a 51 per cent. golden share in Railtrack, so that the rail network can provide a successful public service. We believe that the project before the House could be derailed by a dogmatic insistence on privatisation of that network.
I welcome the fact that we have finally reached Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill. I do not believe that Opposition Members can make any political runs on the subject of the delay, for the reasons that were well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). I say to Treasury Ministers, however, that, in the current new phase of this century-old project, the Treasury has taken an inordinately long time to get from the first proposals to this day.
By my calculations, it has taken six years, six months and two days to go from 14 July 1988, when British Rail first announced its three alternative routes for the scheme, to 16 January 1995 and Second Reading of the Bill. In the process, we have had four Secretaries of State for Transport, and—perhaps this is more relevant for us as hon. Members representing our constituencies—thousands, probably nearer tens of thousands, of people have personally suffered the ravages of blight as a result of the delay and uncertainty which has been generated by the project.
I do not wish to be negative; indeed, I will support Second Reading of the Bill tonight. I wish to be forward-looking, but perhaps I might be allowed one last backward glance. I represent a constituency which, perhaps more than any other along the line of the route, has suffered the ravages of blight on a huge scale as a result of the publication of rail lines which have been put in the public domain and subsequently abandoned. I know that the constituents of many of my hon. Friends representing Kent have suffered considerably in the same way.
I hope that at least one lesson has been learnt by British Rail—it should never again come forward with major proposals for new railway lines that are initially ill conceived and ill thought through, and, as certainly happened in one case, have no chance of being built for environmental reasons.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still a need for some flexibility from British Rail to avoid unnecessary blight? For example, a danger exists in Rainham, which is in the borough in which my constituency is located, that the route will run unnecessarily close to buildings. Were it to be moved 150 m, as has been proposed, that would make a substantial difference to the well-being of the people who live there. The opportunity still exists to put right such minor discrepancies before this otherwise excellent scheme goes forward.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will make his own constituency speech in his own way. I shall mention another deviation in relation to my part of Kent later.
Initially, the project progressed in a far from professional way, not least in relation to the proposal that is known in our part of the world as the notorious route three proposal, which would have cut a noise swathe through the finest environmental countryside in Kent. I do not believe that the possibility ever existed that it would be built. It was widely reported at the time that route three had been traced out on tracing paper on the kitchen table of the British Rail project engineer who was responsible for the project. I am glad to say that, in due course, it was abandoned.
A great deal of unnecessary blight has been created, and in human terms, that has inflicted great anxiety and distress on a great many people. Having said that, this is one of the occasions on which the last state of affairs is a vast improvement on the first. I should like to express my personal thanks to the three immediate predecessors of the Secretary of State for Transport. I thank the noble Lord Parkinson, who, during his tenure of the Department of Transport, was responsible for presiding over—and, I believe, strongly supporting—the ditching of route three by BR, to the relief of thousands of my constituents.
I also thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) who, with great vision and great determination, overruled BR on its preferred route and adopted what was then called the Ove Arup route, which provides the basis for the route in the Bill.
Finally, I express my personal appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), who, to my delight, responded to my strong representations that he should abandon the surface route across the Medway gap in my constituency, which would have had serious blighting and environmentally destructive effects, and replace it with a tunnel route under Bluebell hill. They were three profoundly important ministerial decisions, and I am delighted that they have resulted in a Bill that I am able to support strongly.
As hon. Members have said, the Bill has been improved, but I believe that it is still capable of other improvements, which I hope will be undertaken before the Bill leaves this House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, the environmental cost of the present route immediately to the west of the current Bluebell hill tunnel is unacceptable. There is great demand in Kent for the Boxley long tunnel, which would be a substantial improvement.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reconsider what he said about the guidance that he proposes to give to the Select Committee. He has made it clear that he will offer only guidance, but I do not believe that it is appropriate for him to offer guidance to a Select Committee to the effect that it should not consider alternative proposals that may be outside the limits of deviation. Members of Select Committees are entitled to form their own views, based on the evidence put before them, on what they should consider.
My right hon. Friend will have heard the strong representations from members of all parties in relation to the Boxley long tunnel. As he is a thinking and considerate person, I hope that he will take careful note of what has been said, and reflect further on what guidance it is appropriate for him to give the Select Committee in the light of our Second Reading debate.
I must also deal again with the issue to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State was kind enough to listen during what was probably the last all-night sitting on the Consolidated Fund Bill. The debate began at 6.58 am on 15 December last year and dealt with the voluntary purchase scheme in relation to the channel tunnel rail link. As I said then, the voluntary purchase scheme is wholly inadequate—something that has been repeated by members of all parties. It is not right that a major public project such as this link should be had "on the cheap" at the expense of individual householders. British Rail and the private consortium have to accept their moral and ethical responsibilities.
I shall not weary the House by repeating everything that I said during the Adjournment debate. However, as it may be of interest, I wish to put some details on the record for the benefit of the Select Committee, which I hope will consider them.
On 15 December, I made a specific, concrete and precedented proposal. We can argue until the cows come home about whether a particular property is blighted. It is necessary to establish an independent procedure to ascertain whether a property is blighted, and another independent procedure to ensure that the property of the householder involved can be acquired.
I proposed that the procedure should operate as follows: where there is a dispute between the individual householder and British Rail about whether a House is blighted by the scheme and the dispute cannot be resolved, the district valuer should offer an independent, open market, unblighted valuation of the property. The individual should be told that he may market his property at that valuation and no more for a set period—conceivably, three, six or nine months. If, at the end of that period, the property has not been sold at the district valuer's valuation, I believe that it is entirely reasonable to expect British Rail to buy the property at that stage.
I said that such a procedure was precedented. It is directly precedented by the Department of Transport, and is being used in my constituency in the discharge of the Department's obligations under section 62 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which enables the Department to buy blighted houses for highways schemes outside the physical limits of statutory blight. In the Adjournment debate, I cited a specific ministerial letter that offered that procedure to a constituent of mine in the context of a house purchase.
We therefore have a viable independent procedure which is already being operated by the Department of Transport in a highways capacity. Surely that provides a means of resolving the problem. I hope that the Minister and the Select Committee will consider it carefully.
The final issue is freight. Over the years, I have listened to many statements on freight from Ministers and others. The statements from Ministers, and those from British Rail, have always been somewhat equivocal about how much freight they want to allow on the line. I have never understood the tentativeness about freight on this high-speed line. If one is going to make a multi-billion pound investment, it surely makes sense to use the line to the greatest possible extent. At night, there could be no conflict with passenger trains, as I do not believe that there will be a huge demand to leave London at 1 am and arrive in Paris at 3.30 am. There will, in effect, be a void line at night, and one could surely make extensive use of it for freight purposes.
I was concerned by the Secretary of State's opening remarks. He suggested that there might be an opportunity to increase the amount of freight on the existing lines. The problem is that the existing lines—not only the Tonbridge line but the Maidstone, East line, which passes through my constituency—is wholly unsuited in environmental terms to carrying night-time freight.
Reference has already been made to the proximity of lines to homes in London. On the Maidstone, East line, homes have been built up to its very edge. In environmental terms, I believe that the new line is the best for running night-time freight.
I end with a final postscript. From my voluminous filing cabinet containing papers relating to the channel tunnel rail link, I have taken a press release issued by the British Railways Board on 3 November 1989. It is headed "Parliamentary Bill in 1990". It would appear that this particular legislative train is running approximately five years late.
I think that we are all now firmly agreed that the line's completion is very much in the national interest, and, as far as I am aware, everyone in Kent believes that it is very much in Kent's interest. I hope that Ministers and British Rail will now make every possible effort to ensure that the high-speed line is now built on a high-speed programme, as quickly as possible.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) did well to remind us that it is more than six years since British Rail first published the three routes for the fast link to the channel tunnel. He castigated British Rail, but I remind him in passing that it was at ministerial insistence that the schemes were published.
We have heard much from the Conservative Members about the necessity of transferring British Rail to the private sector, and about how ministerial interference should cease once that has happened. However, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said, or confessed, or whatever term one cares to use, that the Ove Arup route that we are discussing was chosen by a previous Secretary of State for Transport. I remind the House in passing that the announcement about the Ove Arup route came initially from the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the then Secretary of State for the Environment, who talked about the need to revitalise the east London corridor. I know that my hon. Friends who represent the Newham area will talk about the need for an international station at Stratford; I will come back to that point.
Running a high-speed route through the east London corridor and not stopping there is a rum way in which to revitalise the area. I am not sure how the revitalisation would be carried out by the passage of the high-speed trains; but that is the reason given for the choice of route. I hope that, when Conservative Members talk about ministerial interference in these matters, they will bear in mind the fact that it was ministerial interference that brought about the choice. As I have said, it is a strange way in which to revitalise a part of London.
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing also reminded us that he has continually talked about the unsuitability for freight of the existing railway line through Tonbridge—remarkably enough, in his own constituency. I have spoken to the right hon. Gentleman about the matter before. I remember that, in an exchange in the House, I cited the freight-working timetable for 1965, when scores of freight trains passed along the route through Tonbridge.
Before we fall for the sob story that railway freight is terribly destructive of the environment, I remind the House that the trains in the 1960s were predominantly loose-coupled freight trains, with all the associated noise. The right hon. Gentleman must do a bit better to convince us that the freight generated by the project must be confined to the high-speed route. I agree, however, that some of it, especially time-sensitive freight, should go on that route.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who is not in his place at the moment, took us on a rather selective canter around the history of the channel tunnel project and the associated rail link. He went back to early 1974, and the cancellation by the incoming Labour Government of the channel tunnel project, which, at that time, was exclusively in the public sector.
I remember the occasion well. I went to see Tony Crosland, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, when the rumours first emerged, and pleaded with him not to cancel the project. I got singularly short shrift. He said, "Young man"—you can tell how long ago it was, Mr. Deputy Speaker—"the Government, whom you are expected to support, have inherited three major projects from the Conservative party." They were Maplin airport—who remembers that these days?—Concorde and the channel tunnel.
Tony Crosland said, "Privately, I would love to be able to cancel Concorde and go for the channel tunnel, but, unfortunately, neither the French nor my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East"—who was in the Cabinet at that time—"will allow me to cancel Concorde. I am afraid that we are stuck and that I must cancel the channel tunnel project."
In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) pointed out how lucky it was for the public sector that, when the channel tunnel project considerably overran, the burden of the overrun fell on the private rather than the public sector. I immediately thought of Concorde, and wondered what the hon. Gentleman would say about that considerable overrun. I remember that we spent 10 times the original estimate so that we could fly pop stars to America more quickly. Not much was said about the cost overrun at that time.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield treated us to a rather selective look at history. I regretted the cancellation of the channel tunnel project in 1974, to such an extent that I voted against the cancellation, as did others of my hon. Friends with railway connections. Inasmuch as I have any interest to declare in this project, it is that I am a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—
The hon. Gentleman says, "Ah." I was waiting for that. He will now have to write that fact down.
The project is described as the first main line in the United Kingdom in 100 years; that is a rather unfortunate description. I seem to remember that the previous new main line was the great central main line, which, sadly, was axed following the rule of Dr. Beeching. Few of us will be here to see the 21st century. I must be careful about saying that; my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Pearson) will probably be here. If a future Dr. Beeching remembers that precedent, he may look again at the fast link to the channel tunnel.
One hopes not, given the amount of passengers and freight for which the line is designed to cater. There is no doubt that there is a need to increase capacity, and there is no doubt of the unsuitability of the electrified third-rail former Southern Railways routes through Kent for the future. When one considers the popularity of the new Eurostar trains, one can see that there is considerable demand for extra rail capacity, and that demand will increase greatly in the years to come.
I mentioned the Stratford international station earlier. I compliment my hon. Friends from Newham on their campaign over the years for an international station at Stratford. Having, I hope, pleased them by my earlier remarks about the east London corridor, and about the fact that I could not see the sense of running trains through an area without stopping to revitalise it, I must tell them that I am by no means convinced of their case for an international station at Stratford, for the reasons that I have outlined before.
Getting from Stratford to Birmingham by train is no easy task. Although I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) when he talked about the dozen or so routes emanating from Stratford, I point out that none of them gives an especially high-speed route to the north-east, the north-west or the midlands. Unless assurances are given that that deficiency in the existing rail network can be remedied, making a case for an international station at Stratford will always be difficult.
When thinking about political interference, I am reminded that, when the route was chosen by the Government, King's Cross was intended to be the terminal station in London. We were told that King's Cross was essential, because it was a through station, and that there was no alternative if we wanted to have connections to the north-east, the north-west and the midlands. Suddenly—
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). There was a great row about whether King's Cross was a suitable terminal for the high-speed link, which, if not led, was ably supported, by my hon. Friend. Suddenly, King's Cross, which had been essential, was not essential, and St. Pancras was chosen as the alternative. Does my hon. Friend want me to give way?
St. Pancras, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South points out, is 20 yd from King's Cross. Although it is some years since I was a railway signalman, I remember that the operational difficulties at a terminal station with through trains are greater than they are at a through station. I do not think that we shall fly north once we arrive—if we ever do—at St. Pancras as we might have done if we had arrived at King's Cross, the original choice.
I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Hampstead chord, which appeared in a British Rail works Bill some years ago and which was approved by the House, is still going to be built once the high-speed rail link is built. Memory fails me on the rules, although I understand that, if these projects do not go ahead within a specific period, the parliamentary powers lapse. We need some assurances from the Minister that, if it takes until 2002 for the link to be opened, it will be possible to go via the Hampstead chord to the west coast main line, in which I have a particular interest.
I have listened to the argument about the need or otherwise for a railway station at Ebbsfleet. The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who has now left the Chamber, said that he was convinced of the need for a station there, although he mentioned Ashford and Stratford as well.
The hon. Member said that British Rail and its successors in this project appear reluctant to site railway stations through Kent. If we are to have a high-speed railway line, by its very nature it would not help if there were stations every few miles. When the hon. Gentleman was advocating stations through Kent and one at Stratford as well, I was imagining—I shall say it in English because I could not attempt to say it in French, although, anyway, it would be outside the rules of the House—the train announcer at the Gaze du Nord in Paris announcing the Eurostar calling at Ashford and all stations via Stratford to St. Pancras.
A multiplicity of stations along the route is not a particularly high-speed way in which to run things. However, I spoke as recently as last week to Councillor Mark James from Kent county council, and I understand the council's support for Ebbsfleet.
I repeat that I understand and commend the campaign that has been waged by my hon. Friends the Members who represent Newham for an international station at Stratford.
I am following closely what my hon. Friend is saying, but does he not now accept that a station at Stratford would help to take a great deal of passenger pressure off the St. Pancras terminus, and would provide good London connections and direct connections to all of East Anglia? Surely that would be an advantage. We are not talking about the train stopping at every station between Dover and London, as happens at present: we are talking about one stop.
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but I am yet to be convinced that many people travelling on the Eurostar trains would want to get to the sort of destinations that they would easily be able to reach from Stratford. However, that is a matter for the Select Committee to consider.
I am not saying that there is not a case for the station at Stratford. I acknowledge that there is a case. I am merely saying that, as a Member who represents a constituency north of London, I cannot see any great benefit for my constituents from an international station at Stratford. I shall leave that point, on the basis that it is for the Select Committee to decide.
There is also an enormous demand for better freight facilities. We have seen the private sector too becoming involved in various parts of the country in the planning of freight terminals. I understand that there is a terminal on the stocks for Hams Hall near Birmingham, and there a terminal is certainly planned in the north-east. That shows the amount of freight which would switch from road to rail if the facilities were provided.
I return to a point with which some of my hon. Friends will disagree. I have listened carefully to this debate, and I understand the reasons why some of my hon. Friends propose extensive tunnelling along the line of the high-speed link. But, in my view, one of the great attractions of train travel—I confess to be greatly enamoured of that mode of travel—is the ability to look out of the window.
While we all accept the need for a tunnel under the channel—there would be some difficulty in getting between Britain and France any other way, given the geography—it would not be fair or reasonable, and it certainly would be extremely expensive, to have tunnels all the way, whether from St. Pancras or Stratford or wherever, and much of the way through Kent.
The hon. Member for Mid-Kent would not answer a question to which an answer was fairly obvious. There is no tunnelling in respect of the M20 motorway, and he said that that has led to a sort of creeping planning blight. But it is surely up to the planning authorities to ensure that that does not happen because of the channel tunnel rail link. If the authorities cannot do that, it is somewhat unfair of them and others, whether the money is to be found from either public or private sources, to expect that money to be found from either source so that tunnelling, which is perhaps not essential, is carried out.
My hon. Friend must surely accept that the four specific areas of tunnelling which are being proposed would be a very small addition to the overall amount of tunnelling on the line. Frankly, I do not think that the people travelling on the trains would be particularly upset if they were to lose 20 seconds of view of the back gardens of houses in Gifford street in my constituency, which would be avoided by putting a tunnel in the Caledonian road area.
Oh, he does live there. Well, in that case, I shall readily concede the need for a tunnel. That is the sort of personal interest that all of us in this House can appreciate. If my hon. Friend would confine his support to his own back garden, the whole project might be considerably less expensive.
More seriously, those of us who served on the Committee which considered the Channel Tunnel Bill were aware of the distress caused to those people whose properties were to be swept away. The Committee at that time treated those who facing that awful prospect with enormous sympathy. We would have liked to do more, but, of course, the rules precluded us from doing so.
There is an argument, probably not best made here, that there is surely a more sensible way in which to compensate people than the method we currently use. I am conscious that parliamentary legislation is drafted by lawyers, as are all the legal statutes, so it is probably a vain plea, but surely it would be much more sensible if we were to say that, if someone's house were to be taken because of the need for the channel tunnel work, their house would be independently valued, and around 120 per cent. of the value would be paid instantly to persuade the people to move and to enable them to refurnish their house.
That suggestion would stop those expensive public inquiries, so it is, of course, totally impractical from a legal point of view. However, that seems to be a much more sensible way to proceed than the current method we adopt. Similarly, with the 2,000 people already mentioned whose lives are to be considerably affected by the noise of passing trains, the existing laws are not adequate. I hope that we can look again at the compensation that may be provided.
All the matters that I have touched on are for the Select Committee to consider. It promises to be a fairly long-drawn-out Committee, as is often the case, but it is incumbent on the members of that Committee to look sympathetically at the pleas, especially of those who are about to lose their homes. Although there is a comparatively small number of such people for a project of this size, nevertheless they ought to be generously treated.
This Bill has been a long time coming, and it commands widespread support in the House. I hope that the starting date of 2002 can be brought forward. Certainly, if those oft-expressed views about the desirability of transferring freight especially from road to rail and the desirability of using our railway system better are to come to fruition, the sooner the line is built the better.
Perish the thought that we should ever face another Labour Government. It would be ironic, knowing what a hash all Labour Governments ever make of capital or public finance, if the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) found himself in the same position as he did back in 1974, of having to plead with a Labour Secretary of State not to cancel the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill. Given the open-ended commitment and the high cost of the project to the public purse, that is just within the realms of possibility.
Without apology, I am a long-standing chunnel and rail link sceptic. However, it would be churlish of me or anybody else not to acknowledge the remarkable achievement of those who have driven the tunnel project forward to where it is today, and all those who have striven strenuously over several years to produce the current railway project and this Bill. It is also fair to say that there has been unprecedented consultation.
It is quite remarkable that the number of areas in dispute are now so relatively few. However small in number, those areas are of immense importance to all the people concerned, including those in Kent, Essex and London, and I urge to the utmost that the Government and the Select Committee provide every reasonable opportunity, even beyond the strict rules of petitioning, to ensure that the arguments of those people are fully considered, and that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. That is why I appended my name to the Opposition instruction. I believe that it is fairly sensible and moderate. It does not seek to shackle the Committee's hand, or to impose any prejudged issues upon it.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads suggested earlier that the Government would take a very relaxed view if the Select Committee were to consider the options to which I have referred. I am obviously particularly concerned about the Boxley long tunnel option in Kent. That option is supported by virtually the whole of the county.
However, the Minister did not really say that he would take such a relaxed view. In order to maintain the bipartisan approach which has been such a feature of the debate, it would be helpful if my hon. Friend said that the Government would be fairly relaxed in their attitude to the Select Committee when it considers the range of options.
If, as my hon. Friend suggests, the Select Committee were to decide to consider petitions relating to the options in the instruction, it would make no difference what view the Government took, because the Select Committee would have done what I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his opening remarks have said it should do: that is, make its own decisions. It would have taken its decisions in the light of the advice that my right hon. Friend and I have stated quite clearly on many occasions.
It would not matter whether I felt relaxed about that. The Select Committee would be fulfilling its proper function in reaching its own decisions in considering the petitions that it decided that it should consider, and then reporting back to the House.
My hon. Friend referred to the form in which the advice is given to the Chairman of the Committee. Let me make it clear: there will be no private advice to any member of the Select Committee. The advice will be given by counsel for the Department and for the promoters of the link in open session to the Select Committee when it is considering those matters. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), there will be no private, behind-the-Chair arm twisting advice from me to any member of the Select Committee.
I hope that the members of the Committee—alas, we do not know who they will be—will pay close heed to what is said. I do not believe that there is a desire to impose strict rules or to force a vote. However, with regard to parts of London we know about, or to those we do not, it is important that petitioners and objectors from those areas should be given a fair and generous hearing. That is all that one is after, because none of us can know the arguments for and against each of the propositions.
We live in an age when there are many opportunities for enlightened consultation. Parliament would expect the Select Committee to be fair and generous in its treatment of the arguments. I hope that the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that all those with concerns will be heard.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the Select Committee need be arduous or drawn out. The Bill is big, but there has been exhaustive consultation so far. The Select Committee should be able to encompass matters in the instruction, and other tunnels and aspects, fairly, swiftly and conscientiously. That is expected, and it would reflect credit upon the hybrid Bill procedure and on Parliament.
We will have to wait to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says when he replies to the debate, but I hope that that is the message that will go out loud and clear, that the Boxley long tunnel will be considered, and that all other areas directly affected will receive a fair opportunity before the Select Committee.
As a long-standing sceptic, I believe that there is a mood, reflected in the House today, among the sceptics and critics, and even among those whose properties are directly threatened, that the uncertainty has prevailed for too long, that blight has existed for too long, and that, in Macbeth's words:
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly".
After all these years of delay and uncertainty, the message is that we must proceed rapidly. However, the procedure must be done well. It must be understood that there are still detailed and fundamental questions which must be
addressed by the Select Committee and the Standing Committee. Many of those questions affect our county of Kent.
I am not quite sure why this should be, but I understand that, by precedence, Kent Members, or Members in the counties affected, cannot be members of the Select Committee. I cannot see why that is the case if our constituencies are not directly affected, but if that is the case, so be it. However, I hope that the counties concerned will have a strong representation on the Standing Committee. That would allow us to take up some of the very genuine and real issues.
Several of my colleagues have referred to the case made by hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent about the Boxley long tunnel. I describe that as the long tunnel that avoids the Boxley valley. Others are affected more directly, but everyone who lives in or cherishes the north downs of Kent will share the determination throughout the county that the route should not be allowed to inflict such irreversible damage on that designated area of outstanding natural beauty.
The long tunnel option would add about two miles of tunnel, and perhaps 40 seconds in a tunnel for the rail traveller. The extra cost would be quite small in relation to the cost of a £3 billion project. For those who are not familiar with that most beautiful area of English countryside, I suggest that they walk along the Pilgrims way—as I hope members of the Select Committee might find time to—on the scarp slope of the north downs and look down on the Boxley valley. They will then see why it is so important to keep that area of outstanding countryside and that natural belt between the two great conurbations which would otherwise threaten to merge.
I will be brief, as I know many hon. Members wish to speak. I apologise to the House for having to leave in a few moments for a constituency engagement. However, I want to raise several major concerns which I hope we will have an opportunity to emphasise in the Standing Committee.
We must consider the question of compensation. We have not yet finally faced up to the real implications of compensation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) said. That issue must be addressed properly in Standing Committee.
We must also consider the question of vertical deviation. That sounds very technical, but it is fundamentally important to people in the villages on the route. If the level of the rail could be raised another 3 m, that would dramatically alter the impact on the people concerned.
There is a widespread illusion abroad that the link will somehow be of major assistance in taking a great deal of freight off our roads. I was first attracted to the Arup route because it conceived a superb linking into a national freight network. Alas, we do not have that. The truth is that the high-speed link will take very little freight. It is not a freight route. If we examine the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State carefully, we can see that he made that clear.
A briefing note makes that point even more clearly:
The growing volume of freight traffic through the Channel Tunnel will make use of the capacity freed up on existing lines when the Link is open. Plans for the Link do not preclude its use for freight traffic, with provision for two passing loops.
What enthusiasm that conveys. One could hardly have anything more minimalist than that. Apart from high-value freight in small quantities, hardly any freight will be carried on the high-speed link.
The consequences of that are serious. Freight will be transferred on to existing routes, using existing lines, thus intensifying the noise problem in areas which have long since forgotten the kind of noise that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East loves so dearly. His love affair with the railways is well known, but it is not shared by many constituents. They do not want old-fashioned freight trains bashing along the bottom of their gardens. It is a serious new issue.
The hon. Gentleman never misses an opportunity to hit out at road transport. That is a fact of life. Of course my constituents are equally concerned about heavy goods vehicles on motorways. There are equal battles about noise insulation. It is not a matter of one or the other. I hope that the Select Committee or the Standing Committee—I am not sure which—will reconsider freight transport. Does the Bill represent a missed opportunity? Could we encourage other ways of linking the freight system?
On financing, it is for the Standing Committee to find some answers. I do not believe that such a Bill has ever stated:
The exact amount of the overall public sector financial contribution is not yet known".
We know why we do not know, but the truth is that we still do not know.
We all welcome the project as a flagship of the private finance initiative—quite right—but the great thing about private finance is that the risk is taken by the private sector. I fear that such a project could face extensive overruns, could be delayed, and could go well beyond planned costs. The private sector could fail. Who would then risk carrying on, perhaps, a half-finished project?
We must be sure that there is a cap, and that the taxpayer will not have to foot unlimited bills in future. We must be sure that the private sector puts up the bonding and bank guarantees necessary to ensure that the project reaches fruition. Again, very little is known at this stage; the matter is to be explored before the Bill reaches the statute book.
When the high-speed link is built, the people of Kent could have one of the finest commuter services in the country, and we would be grateful for that. Travelling time would be reduced dramatically—how wonderful that would be. It is clear that there will be a first-class premium service, for which premium fares will be demanded. Not everybody could afford premium fares. It is essential to have that service and to have a first-class—in the right sense of the word—rail service through the existing south-eastern train company, and good rolling stock at prices that the company can afford.
Our worry is that we do not know how the two would interrelate. What will be the interface between the premium service and the ordinary service? How can we be sure that we will continue to have public operating subsidies for our existing trains and capital investment in existing train services?
We want assurances. Yes, we welcome the wonderful new commuter service—it could be superb—but we are also entitled to expect that our existing trains will continue to receive the support they need. Again, we must explore that matter in the Standing Committee and in the Select Committee if we are to secure the benefits for Kent that the high-speed link might provide.
The House should acknowledge that Lady Thatcher and President Mitterrand have their fingerprints on the project. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the project will be a memorial to them. They share two characteristics: greatness and despotism. Such people often wish to leave behind bricks and mortar—big projects—as memorials to themselves, and this is one of them.
The channel tunnel project is marvellous. It is time that we acknowledged that; the engineering feat is considerable.
No, I shall not give way, because many hon. Members wish to speak and I _want to develop my arguments.
I pay tribute to everyone involved in the successful construction of the channel tunnel. It is a pity that that great engineering project will be spoilt by the fact that the link is inappropriate, inadequate, late and on the wrong route. The route makes neither transportation sense nor engineering sense. That is a great pity.
Were it not for the fact that my hon. Friends, together with some Conservative Members, have tabled a sensible and prudent instruction for debate, I should wish to divide the House against the Bill. It is offensive and grossly unfair to many of my constituents, but I join hon. Members in trying to temper its effect and, perhaps, even improve it by the House giving an instruction to the Committee to consider tunnelling in several sensitive areas and to have regard to minimising the environmental loss to people in Kent, Essex and London. For that reason, I will certainly support the motion on the instruction and will refrain from dividing the House against the Bill.
I should explain why I feel angry about the line of route. Time and again, the public and Parliament have been told that a final decision has been made on the line. What causes us most irritation in Thurrock is that the flagship newspaper announcement during the week of the October 1991 Conservative party conference was by Secretary of State Rifkind, who said that he had decided the final line of route. Everyone in my borough was relieved; the line of route did not go through our borough and ruin industries and properties.
There was then a change of Secretary of State. As has been the fashion in the project, there was a change of view. Soon after, Secretary of State MacGregor announced a variation in that line of route, bringing it under the River Thames like a bootlace, out at Thurrock, through the pillars of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge on its way westward to London, on its way creating havoc and devastation for many properties and residents in my constituency. We think that it is grossly unfair that, after the Government's announcement at the Tory party conference, the line of route was varied again.
One must ask why the route was varied. It was varied because of the selfish commercial considerations of those who own or have interests in the site at Ebbsfleet. The variation of route was consequent upon the decision to site the international station at Ebbsfleet. For that reason—I do not say this facetiously—the people who own that site might feel that they should make a contribution to the cost of tunnelling or of ameliorating the effects of the line of route in my constituency and probably in others as well.
It will not be forgotten in my constituency that a vice-chairman of the Conservative party was able to lobby on behalf of the interests of the Ebbsfleet project and yet, under the rules of the House—I make no complaint about it—did not have to declare it in the Register of Members' Interests. We find that very regrettable. As a side issue, it questions whether hon. Members should be aligned with prestigious commercial and profitable projects that they might be able to affect in their capacity to influence Ministers and to bend their ears.
I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because many hon. Members wish to contribute.
As a consequence of all that, a very bad taste has been left in my constituency and in the borough. We feel that we have been dealt with unfairly. The line of route has been influenced not by transportation or engineering considerations but by the capacity of some individuals in high places to influence on behalf of commercial interests rather than on behalf of the wider community.
If energy is not used in this place to persuade the Committee to demand that tunnelling be undertaken or moneys spent—public or private—to minimise environmental effects, it will be a great tragedy. This project is clearly the flagship project of our generation in the House, as it will endure for at least 100 years. It is a pity that we shall spoil it in this rather mean way because we are unable to find the funding to minimise the environmental effects on the community.
My constituency—other hon. Members have explained the difficulties in their constituencies—will be disadvantaged by an extremely ugly viaduct that will sweep across it. Earlier today, I invited hon. Members to raise their eyes to the Gallery around the Chamber. The viaduct is to be at least as high as the highest seating in the Gallery, and it will be situated at the end of people's gardens. I invite hon. Members—particularly the Minister—to pause and consider how they would feel if they were to discover that such a wretched viaduct was to be built at the end of their garden. It would be wholly repugnant, and the Minister would be as sick as a dog.
The Minister would not be able to sell his house, and that is the rub. Thousands of people along the route, who are not affected by the line of route going through their front rooms, will certainly have their properties blighted by the loss of visual or aural amenities. The Government must recognise that it is a matter of fairness.
I do not understood why the Minister has been so grudging. Why has he not said that the Government have been persuaded that there is at least a case for the Committee to examine the tunnelling and other aspects of the instruction tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), which is supported by the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) and other Conservative Members? The instruction makes sense. It would save a lot of time if the Minister said that the Government will not resist what is demonstrably a reasonable request. It is nothing more than that.
The instruction does not say that there shall be tunnelling. It says that the House would like the Committee to pay special attention to the need to examine tunnelling. What on earth is wrong with that? I guess that the Minister has been instructed by other Ministers above him. He is a new Minister, and he must not buckle. That is what happens in politics, and it is a pity.
I should like the Minister to make a name for himself by bucking the trend and saying that he has been persuaded that there is a case for the Government to join other hon. Members in asking the Committee to examine whether tunnelling can be carried out.
I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman, although not quite in the way he hopes. The Government clearly are not persuaded by the arguments; otherwise we would have included them in the Bill. It is for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who support the options to persuade the Select Committee that, notwithstanding the view of the Government, it should look at the options for which they have argued cogently.
I will urge the House to resist the instruction to the Committee. I believe that the Committee is better able to use its discretion if it is not fettered. Committee members should take account of the cogent arguments that the hon. Gentleman and other Members have made during the debate. Those arguments will no doubt be made in support of the petitions that will be presented to the Committee for consideration.
I am disappointed that the Minister is not able to be anything other than churlish. He has not read the mood of the House, where there is widespread support for the instruction.
The Bill faces a long road. Like many other Members, I shall join my constituents in petitioning against the worst aspects of it.
The Minister will not be able to pretend that he is the Archangel Gabriel in this matter to constituents in Kent, Essex and London whose properties have been blighted. I acknowledge that many of the Conservative Members who have already spoken will use their good offices, in the House and outside, to argue that the need to minimise the environmental effects should be considered sensitively.
The Minister will be blamed in constituencies that are suffering, and I will not hesitate to draw attention to the fact that he turned down an opportunity to recognise that this project is affecting thousands of people—often Conservative voters—whose properties are blighted and who, in consequence, are suffering great financial and emotional distress.
May I join other hon. Members who have spoken in welcoming the Bill? I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) in not exactly being overwhelmed with gratitude for all that has happened in the past seven years.
Many people in Kent—my constituents and those of my hon. Friends—have had a great deal to put up with. First, they were told that there would be no need for a high-speed link at all. Then they were told that there was a strong argument for only one London terminal. Then they were told that there were to be all sorts of different routes with maximum lighting. Then they were told that the Bill would be ready for debate in 1990. Here we are in 1995, and it will still be perhaps seven or eight years before trains run on the line.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling thanked a number of previous Secretaries of State for Transport. I should like particularly to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor). My right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) has not been mentioned, but he played a significant part in fielding a lot of difficult balls. He tried to meet hon. Members from both sides of the House and to get sensible answers for them. I should also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells).
Those three were able to make a significant change in the route by passing it through the centre of Ashford and making the maximum use of Ashford station. That will benefit not only my constituency, but Kent, Sussex, Surrey and many parts to the west. That was a significant success.
My job—and, I hope, that of the Bill—is to make sure that Ashford station is fully used. We have a big advantage, as the station will open at the end of the year for the existing fast trains to Paris and Brussels. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say how many trains he expects to serve Ashford. People were originally talking in terms of a third of them, and I hope that that proves to be so.
Problems arise in building a new station route through the centre of the town. As far as I am aware, no major building site for the route has been established within the curtilage or centre of a town outside London. I hope that the Select Committee, which will play a vital part in the matter, will be able to suggest arrangements so that all building works and access to building works can take place. That will include the construction of what is called the Barracks link, and my hon. Friend the Minister should know about that.
In Ashford alone, up to 600 heavy goods vehicles a day will serve the building sites, which will cause enormous disruption. It is vital that the route and building sites in Ashford are comprehensively considered in co-operation with the local council to mitigate the problems of construction.
The issue of compensation is also important, and not just during the building of the route. Blight must also be considered, and I echo everything that hon. Members have said about that. We are being very mean and niggardly, which is one of the major reasons why this country takes twice as long to build major capital projects as virtually any other country in the EU. It is about time that we told the Treasury, which is the ultimate force in all this, that it could save money and make people's lives a great deal better if it was a mite more generous in compensation, the blight provisions and all the other factors that affect individuals. We have just heard about the viaducts at the ends of streets in Thurrock.
In the early 1990s, a scheme provided compensation on a discretionary basis if properties were 400 m from the line. The present scheme will provide compensation if properties within 120 m of the line are required. For the new, finalised and published route, Union Railways is prepared to pay compensation only where the property itself is required.
In October 1993, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering asked Union Railways to provide arid implement a new hardship scheme for properties. I should have thought that this was just the job for the complaints commissioner. We have heard nothing about him so far. He is mentioned briefly on page v of the Bill in the paragraph on manpower requirements.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain what the complaints commissioner will do, what his remit will be and whether he will be able to play a major role between the various participants—the construction companies, Union Railways, individual people and councils—in mitigating problems by means of the hardship fund. We need such understanding now, before the Bill is enacted. If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot provide it tonight, I hope that the Select Committee will take a long look at the matter. I hope that it will also take a long hard look at the question of blight notices and when they are served.
Freight has been mentioned several times. We are in a total muddle. I am prepared to be corrected if I am wrong, but I do not know of any TGV lines in France that carry major freight other than high-quality parcels on passenger trains. The idea of running freight trains all the way along the channel tunnel rail link is preposterous. Apart from the problems of interlocking passenger trains travelling at 186 mph and freight trains travelling at 70 to 80 mph at various times of the day and night, it just is not on.
There is no question but that the channel tunnel rail link could free a great deal of capacity not only on the Maidstone line but on the line through Tonbridge, which is now electrified through to Redhill. The line could then join up with other lines to the midlands, the north and the west. If the Ashford to Hastings line was electrified, another line right through to Southampton, Exeter and Devon and Cornwall could also be used for freight.
The type 92 locomotives that will enter service in a few months are much quieter than the diesels or earlier electric locomotives. That will bring a great deal of relief. Do we need the freight routes? Will they be built or will the land merely be reserved and planted? In my constituency and those of my hon. Friends, a considerable amount of land will be blighted because the freight routes remain in the scheme of things. It would be much better if we could decide, if not tonight certainly during the passage of the Bill, whether we want the freight routes. In my view, we could get rid of them and remove a major blight within the parish of Charing.
The issue of commuter lines should also be carefully examined. The speed of travel for passengers from Dover, Folkestone, Ashford, Ebbsfleet and Stratford through to London and further on would be increased. Will there be a premium fare? Will it be so large that it will be like a first-class, Concorde-type fare compared with a world traveller fare for everyone else? If the gap was too large, it would be counter-productive, but there might be a reasonable premium that first and standard class passengers were prepared to pay. The advantages for tourism, business and work travel in north and south-east Kent would be considerable. It would perhaps make up for the appalling service that our commuters have suffered in the past 30 or 40 years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) mentioned commuters. Unless we are prepared to replace the existing Kent coast stock in the near future, the number of breakdowns caused by those coaches of great antiquity—many are 35 or 40 years old—will cause increasing delays to Eurostar services. Delays have already occurred because the trains have broken down. I was unable to catch a train on Thursday evening because a train had failed. I am told by railway engineers in my constituency who know about such matters that the increase in failures in the next four or five years will be considerable. I understand that the problem has been taken up by British Rail. It will have to look hard at the problem with my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friends who represent Kent constituencies, who will bring pressure to bear on British Rail.
We have had a great many problems in the past seven years, a great deal of uncertainty and a great deal of blight. We have had problems of inadequate compensation and lack of information. Only 10 days ago, a couple who own a public house in my constituency learned for the first time that a major part of it would be required for the scheme, yet they are supposed to petition within the next two to three weeks. That sort of thing really must not happen. We have had seven far from satisfactory years. In giving the Bill a fair wind, I hope that we can do much better in the next seven years.
I welcome the support that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House so far in the debate for good environmental safeguards and for the international station at Stratford. On the latter subject, I welcome the heartening tone of the Minister's intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I begin by making some remarks about the case for an international station at Stratford.
Hon. Members may well be aware of the series run by the Evening Standard last week which drew attention to the scale of the problems of urban deprivation in east London. The article focused on Tower Hamlets and painted a powerful picture. My borough, Newham, adjoins Tower Hamlets. According to the Government's analysis of the 1991 census, the level of urban deprivation in Newham is greater even than that in Tower Hamlets. The scale of the problem across east London is beyond doubt.
In the Bill we have the opportunity to implement the single measure which could make the biggest contribution in a hundred years to tackling that deprivation. We could make provision for the international station at Stratford. The local authorities in Tower Hamlets and Newham are making impressive strides in tackling the deprivation that they face. They are doing so in partnership with the Government and other agencies. They stand together in saying to the Government that they need a firm Government commitment in the Bill to the international station at Stratford. Everyone responsible for advising on the future of London, including the Confederation of British Industry, London First, the London Planning Advisory Committee and the local authority associations agrees. We are deliberating today on a route through east London to secure regeneration in east London. That is the reason that the Government gave for choosing the route.
On 14 October 1991 in a statement to the House to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has referred, the then Secretary of State for Transport said:
our decision means that the line will be built through east London, where the prospect is welcomed for the economic regeneration it will bring."—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 26.]
He said later:
It is envisaged that the high-speed train from the channel tunnel to King's Cross will stop at Stratford".—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol.196, c.34.]
That was in 1991. That was the entire reason for choosing the easterly route. It is strange, therefore, that we continue to find it necessary to argue, as we did in the Consolidation Fund Bill debate just before Christmas on the initiative of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), for the green light for Stratford. Without it, the whole purpose of the Government in choosing the easterly route will have been thrown away.
We need Stratford international to be treated in the Bill in the same way as the intermediate station at Ebbsfleet. The Bill provides all the powers needed for a station to be built at Ebbsfleet. It does not rule out Stratford, as the Minister said, but, by contrast with Ebbsfleet, a station at Stratford probably would require additional legislation; it would certainly require additional work.
The Bill needs to be amended to ensure that there is a level playing field for the two station options, with the powers for Stratford in the Bill as well, and I hope that the Select Committee will make that change. I welcome the Minister's suggestion that there could be an amendment to the Bill, and I hope very much that the Select Committee will make it.
There has been a good deal of discussion, some of which has been aired in the debate, about the manner in which the decision in favour of Ebbsfleet was reached, and I know that the Nolan committee is inquiring into that. I do not want to comment on it at this stage. Obviously, there is a case for a station at Ebbsfleet on the M25, and I have no problem with that as long as it is treated even-handedly in relation to the east London station.
However, let us be sure about this. Not only would a station at Ebbsfleet alone in no way constitute the regeneration in east London to which the Secretary of State committed the Government, but development at Ebbsfleet alone would grievously undermine the regeneration of east London to which the Government have committed themselves.
I emphasise that important argument. It was expressed with great force and clarity by the London Planning Advisory Committee, which is the statutory organisation representing all the London boroughs and the City, which, in its 1994 "Advice on Strategic Planning Guidance for London" and in other reports on that issue in the past year or so, has made the following points:
the provision of an international station at Stratford, with the necessary public sector support, is seen by LPAC as a pre-requisite to securing regeneration in East London.
If Ebbsfleet were the only international station to be provided, serious detriment to the cause of regeneration in East London would result. …business and investors would be attracted out of London to where access to the European railway exists. This would reinforce the spiral of decline in the inner part of the metropolis.
So, if the Government's commitment to a station at Stratford were to be abandoned, not only would there be none of the regeneration that the Government promised, but there would be a sucking away of investment that might have been attracted to east London, but which would instead relocate to the M25 and the green-field sites there. The development would leapfrog east London, wrecking the prospects for the economic regeneration that the line was supposed to achieve in east London and giving another boost to, the downward spiral that the Evening Standard graphically described last week. I think that we can avoid it. We must avoid it, and that is what the Committee must ensure that we avoid.
In March last year, the Government issued planning policy guidance note 13, which discusses transport. Paragraph 1.8 advises that planning and land use policies should
promote development within urban areas, at locations highly accessible by means other than the private car".
They should also
locate major generators of travel demand in existing centres which are highly accessible by means other than the private car.
That is the Government's policy and it is clear. Urban regeneration or brown-field development should be promoted at the expense of out-of-town development. Developments should be encouraged in locations with good public transport access, not merely good car access. Government policy, in other words, points unequivocally to Stratford. All that we ask is that the Bill should reflect the Government's policies on regeneration. It needs to be amended to do that.
Even without the regeneration considerations, there is an overwhelming case for the Stratford station. At peak times, 15 trains per hour will run on the high-speed rail link. That is five international trains and 10 domestic commuter trains. If all those passengers can get out only at St. Pancras, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, there will be a 50 per cent. increase in the number of passengers using the underground at King's Cross. That could be managed only with an enormous investment in the underground network, which, I suggest, is not at the moment on the cards.
Does my hon. Friend recall that. in previous debates on the old and unlamented proposal to make King's Cross the final destination of the channel tunnel trains, it was obvious that, without any commuter trains on that line, it would be impossible for the public transport network, never mind the road network round King's Cross, to cope with the extra traffic? Therefore the case was made then for an alternative London station. Does not that emphasise the importance of the Committee seriously considering the Stratford alternative?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend's argument and I think that it is essential for that reason, as for the other reasons that I have outlined.
In any case, why compel people to go all the way into St. Pancras when, in very many cases, they would be better off changing at Stratford? People going to the City would be better off, if they were travelling by public transport, changing at Stratford and using the upgraded Central line than continuing to St. Pancras and having to return along the Circle line to Liverpool Street.
The same applies to many other people. People going to Essex and East Anglia would be better off changing at Stratford. I welcome the support for the station that was expressed by hon. Members representing constituencies in Essex. With the construction of the M11 link through east London and its spur to Stratford, there will be excellent motorway access directly to the Stratford station.
This morning, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I visited the site of the proposed royal docks exhibition centre. Under the Government's private finance initiative, the competition to implement that project has been won by the London International Exhibition Centre Ltd. We visited the site with officers from that company, and they explained the scheme that they envisage, to go on site, they hope, this year. They propose an exhibition centre that, in phase 1, will be bigger than Olympia and ultimately will be as large. as Earls Court and Olympia put together. It is a very important project for London, which I welcome.
The officers of the company emphasised to us the importance for the success of their project of siting the international station at Stratford. What is true for that project is true, on the larger plane, for docklands and for east London as a whole. We are not asking for subsidy, because the Stratford Promoter Group, which is an excellent example of the type of partnership that the Government advocate, has shown that the station will pay for itself. We are asking, however, for the Government's commitment and for an unambiguous green light. That is the way to secure the benefit for the area of the investment that the Government have already made.
The location of the station at Stratford is the key issue in the Bill for the long-term future of east London, but there are many other issues of importance to us in the Bill too. The line will run in a tunnel under my constituency and under the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Two vent shafts will be constructed in Newham and Union Railways tells us that in Newham, between Stratford and Woodgrange Park, approximately 350 properties will be affected by perceptible vibration once the tunnel is operating, and 390 by ground-borne noise and perceptible vibration as well.
The Bill needs to ensure that the best engineering methods are used in constructing the tunnel, to minimise and cushion those problems, instead of the cheapest methods. The environmental statement prepared for Union Railways says that ground-borne noise could be mitigated by an amended tunnel design and amended track form design. I hope that those aspects will be carefully considered by the Select Committee. We need safeguards to control the noise levels from the construction sites— the major site at Stratford and the construction sites for the vent shafts. We need to be satisfied that the tunnelling method adopted will minimise the risk of subsidence affecting the homes above the tunnel.
Another issue that I hope will be discussed is access for people with disabilities who want to use the channel tunnel trains. The rail link should be an accessible railway and the legislation should contain provisions to ensure that it is. That should be taken for granted for a new railway being built in the late 1990s, and I hope that it will be the case with this one.
Undoubtedly, the channel tunnel rail link will create serious nuisances for residents in Newham. One of those affected will be my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, who lives directly above the line of the tunnel, but he takes the view that we all take—a constituent said it to me again on the telephone last night—that we shall take the grief if, as part of the package, we secure the regeneration benefits that the Government have promised through an international station at Stratford. It is a matter of good faith and commercial good sense. We look to the Government to put their policies in that area into practice.
In introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the project was of major significance to the people of Britain. All hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon have concurred with that view.
The people of Kent well understand the need for a link, inconvenient though it may be in some cases. We have willed the completion, with the help of private enterprise, of the channel tunnel and we must will a link to it. But in building the first main line railway for more than 100 years, we must make absolutely certain that we maintain, as far as possible, the living environment of the people of Kent.
I speak today for the concerns of my constituents who are affected. All my constituents want an improvement in commuter services. Those who live in the Medway towns and on the Kent coast have suffered badly for years. British Rail has, almost unashamedly, admitted that the two worst lines in the whole of Network SouthEast are the line out to the Medway towns and the line to Southend. So a large proportion of my constituents want an improvement in the domestic service.
The Department of Transport investigated a widening of the M2 between junctions 1 and 4. I am bound to say that it was not done totally in secret because it was known to anybody who wanted to purchase a house through searches carried out by solicitors, but it was still veiled in such a mist that Kent's highways authority and Rochester city council had to ask me whether I could find out what the Department of Transport was doing in respect of the M2 widening. Coincidentally with the rail link issue, we discovered that it had ascertained that the current Medway M2 motorway bridge was not strong enough to take extra lanes.
Thus my constituents are confronted with the need to build another road bridge over the Medway at that point plus a rail link bridge. They defy anyone else to show them where there are three bridges in conjunction, all three as high as the viaduct in the constituency of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).
My constituents are not satisfied that real consideration has been given to building a tunnel under the Medway. A tunnel is already being built under the Medway between my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) to take traffic out of the Medway towns. My constituents suggested the solution of a tunnel, but do not believe that the Department had a good reason for not building another tunnel under the Medway.
Nor do they believe that the Department seriously considered their suggestion, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) proposed, of a combined road and rail bridge across the Medway. After all, as my hon. Friend pointed out, such a bridge operates in Newcastle, so we did not see why it could not be considered to avoid the three-bridge solution.
That is the first matter about which my constituents are concerned. The second, concerning noise pollution, is by far the most important. Noise on the existing Medway motorway bridge has increased considerably over the years. Just over a year ago, it was resurfaced and my constituents specifically asked whether the resurfacing could be done in a material that would minimise the noise. They were assured that that would be done, but less than a year later they tell me that the noise has definitely increased. I suppose that that may be due to an increase in traffic, which was a good reason why the Department wanted to provide extra lanes. But my constituents do not feel adequately reassured on the question of noise protection and noise pollution. They do not believe that enough scientific evidence is available to ascertain the waves of noise pollution that would emanate from such an elevated bridge to the people who live almost underneath.
In the petitions which the Select Committee will carefully consider, my constituents have insisted on the state of the art in building to minimise noise and on the most up-to-date and proven protection against noise pollution. Given that the bridge will last for more than 100 years, the least we can do is use the most up-to-date systems of protection against pollution.
My constituents also seek assurances that the problem will be constantly monitored. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent referred to that matter. Although noise protection has already been put in hand in respect of a train travelling at 140 to 150 mph, if trains are expected to run at a higher speed, what is the use of installing noise protection for the lesser speed?
My constituents' third concern is about the construction of the link, which is why we asked for a simultaneous presentation of this issue in a single Bill. We did not want the people who live in the vicinity of those three bridges to have to sustain a programme of work for one Bill which was then followed by a programme for another. We want the maximum noise protection and we want it to be sequential so that it is completed in one period, not two.
Although Boxley long tunnel is not in my constituency, I share the wish of the county of Kent and the other districts that the Select Committee should consider the matter. Given the Government's assurances, I expect no less from the Select Committee than that it will carefully consider all the petitions placed before it. I do not see why I should ask the Minister to instruct the Committee to do so because a Select Committee of the House is set up to ensure not only that justice is done but that it is absolutely seen to be done. It will be done only if the Committee has a free mind to consider the petitions placed before it.
I support my constituents' concern about that arid trust the Select Committee to consider any petitions on the long tunnel. From the point of view of my constituents and the city council, the matter is exceedingly important, because we should not prejudice the openness of the Medway gap. A conurbation that included Maidstone and the Medway towns would be a city to challenge the metropolis not far away.
I refer to compensation, on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) has concentrated and built up considerable expertise. Rumour has it that the French pay more compensation, more humanely and more realistically than we do. I know that they have more land, which gives them greater scope to permit things, but a few years ago the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors produced a considerable document on the need to revise the compensation system in this country. In the first new major railway line this century, compensation of a fair amount and a fair acceptance of blight is essential to ensure justice to those on the route.
In my constituency is an area called the Nashenden valley. Residents there have the widened M2 on one side and the rail link on the other. There they are in a pocket in the middle. I demand that they get some realistic assessment of what the two projects mean to the 13 or so households in that valley.
There are many details—I will not go through all the details that worry my constituents—but I have highlighted the greatest of them. I rely on the Select Committee to listen carefully to all the petitions. I hope very much that it will follow the wise precedence of earlier Select Committees, which chose to hold some of their meetings in the areas in which the problems are occurring.
Even the most sceptical of the Euro-sceptics must, I believe, support the construction of a rail link through Britain to enable us to take proper advantage of the opportunities that the opening of the channel tunnel and the development of the Community offer.
The Government have shown the same incompetence on this issue as they have on so many others. As other hon. Members have said, this debate should have taken place six or seven years ago; the rail link should have been up and running in time for the opening of the tunnel before Christmas. Now, when the Government have finally come to the House with a Bill, their proposals in relation to my constituents are damaging and unacceptable.
My constituents support the construction of a rail link in Britain. They are not adopting a NIMBY-like attitude to progress. But equally, it is neither fair nor just that they should be expected to tolerate the unnecessary destruction to their lives and homes that the current proposals entail. All hon. Members who have been most closely connected with the development of the current proposals, including the Minister for Transport in London, now recognise that the citizens of Barking will get an unacceptably raw deal if the Bill and the route are enacted as they stand.
In Barking, there are not 13 families affected, as in Medway. Some 5,000 people live within a quarter of a mile of the rail link, so more people in Barking will suffer more than anywhere else along the whole route.
The proposed route goes through the centre of Barking, tears the heart out of my constituency and destroys a close and stable community. Thousands of families are affected. There is an absurd inconsistency between the Government's proposals for the channel tunnel rail link and their expressed wish to see regeneration in that part of London. How can one regenerate an area when, at the same time, one blights thousands of homes and ruins the lives of thousands of families? There is not one hon. Member in the Chamber who would not be utterly horrified if such proposals threatened to affect their own homes. None of us would tolerate it, and the Minister responsible knows that I am right.
Union Railways, in looking at the impact of atmospheric pollution during construction, estimated that 1,990 properties in Barking would be affected by such pollution. I believe that even more homes are blighted.
Let me explain to hon. Members the impact that the proposals will have on Barking, on its people—not on trees, not on toads, but on its people. Some 321 homes open directly on to the railway, but many more will be hit by the proposals. They are not large homes with extensive gardens. Rather, they are modest homes for young couples on the first rung of the ladder of owner-occupation. They are homes for elderly couples who want to see out their retirement in peace and quiet. They are homes for council tenants who cannot choose to move.
The Minister for Railways and Roads has been with me to the homes—homes in which the distance from the kitchen window to the rail track is a mere 2.5 m. That is less than the distance between myself and the Minister who sits opposite me today. At present, three trains go past every hour; very few use the line in the late evenings and at weekends. The trains travel at less than 50 mph.
When the CTRL is completed, there could be one train every three minutes, at 185 mph, with more at weekends. That is without having regard to the likely increase in the use of the line for freight, to which other hon. Members have referred. That could increase threefold in the first 10 years of operation.
Just imagine eating one's tea while trains go by 10 ft from one's window every three minutes at 185 mph. Just imagine putting one's baby to sleep while those trains are going by at the bottom of one's short garden. Just imagine letting one's children play in the garden in those circumstances. Just imagine if one is old and poorly and trying to get some rest. How can a competent Government seriously propose such a scheme? Current noise impact studies compare existing midweek noise with future midweek noise, ignoring the expected increase in weekend traffic on a line that is scarcely used at weekends.
No owner-occupiers living near the CTRL route can sell their homes. For them, the Conservative dream of owner-occupation has become a personal nightmare. About half those affected by the proposals are owner-occupiers. At the height of the housing market, their homes sold for £85,000. Today, no building society will lend on any property in the area. The only sales are to unscrupulous landlords offering a mere £20,000 to £25,000 to home owners, for whom their house is their only form of savings.
I have a cabinet full of cases from constituents needing to move, who are trapped and forgotten. They include an elderly couple whose 43-year-old son has learning difficulties and needs constant care—they want to move closer to their other son in New Zealand before they die, so that he can care for his brother with learning difficulties, in the community. A widow has become mentally ill because she cannot move closer to her daughter. A man has impaired hearing and could not live with more and noisier trains. A woman needs to sell the empty house that she inherited from her mother, to pay for her daughter's higher education. I could go on.
The scandal is that, under the current rules set by the Department of Transport, Union Railways is offering to purchase only eight properties along that part of the route—eight out of 2,000-plus. The truth is that the Government got their fingers burned with early acquisitions along the Kent stretch of the route, so they amended the regulations, and my constituents are being forced to pay the price.
I have held meetings with the Minister for Railways and Roads, and he has said that he considers the current proposals on compensation inadequate. In my view, they are grossly inadequate and completely unacceptable, but he has not come back to me since the end of November with any sensible alternative proposals, and none is suggested in the Bill. I again ask that both the Minister and the Select Committee look for a new and more realistic compensation package, along the terms suggested by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malting (Sir J. Stanley).
Building the CTRL is not like building a new road. The homes are blighted until construction starts; then there will be at least five years of construction. We all know, from the experience of the tunnel itself, that we could be talking about seven or eight years of construction.
Obtaining information from Union Railways is as difficult as getting the Home Secretary to admit responsibility for anything that happens in the Prison Service, but I understand that its plans for my constituency involve one major construction site, 12 secondary sites, two railheads and a potential spoil disposal site. That will cause immense noise, disturbance, pollution, congestion and danger.
Union Railways itself predicts that 300 lorries will come in and out every day. Those lorries will rumble past hundreds of front doors, past a primary school and past the homes of shift workers who are used to a quiet residential street—and not just during the day. Imagine living with that for five, six or seven years—it simply is not on. The local council has been told that it will be consulted on the construction code of practice only if it has signed a planning agreement with the Government, which could fetter the council's discretion as a local planning authority; that too is absurd, and I ask the Select Committee to examine the matter.
When I spoke about the impact of the proposals on my constituents in an Adjournment debate on 21 July, I asked the Minister to consider widening the limits of deviation for the route so that a practical solution for the problem in Barking could be found. He chose not to accede to my request; again, I urge the Select Committee to consider the matter. I still believe that it would be feasible to re-route the CTRL either across or under Barking reach, and that that would be the best solution for all concerned. It was what Ove Arup originally proposed, and it would work for both the people of Barking and the promoters of the link.
We are building a line that we want to last not for a mere 10 years, but for a long hundred years. Getting it right for the communities of tomorrow is our responsibility; bulldozing a route through people's homes and destroying their lives represents a scandalous dereliction of duty.
In the light of the current proposals, I urge the House to give unanimous support to the instruction that has been drafted for the Select Committee. The people of Barking must be treated in the same way as everyone else along the route, including the people of Kent.
Not one of my constituents has chosen to argue against the development of a CTRL; not one has tried to argue that the route should not go through part of Barking. They know how important the development is for Britain as a whole. What they and I will not accept, however, is a short-term quick fix that ignores their legitimate demands that—both during the construction period and when the route is completed—they should enjoy the same protection as others, and appropriate compensation for disturbance and loss.
The people of Barking feel that, during the past few years since the proposals were first developed, they have become the forgotten people. Since I became their representative, I have tried to promote their cause. It is now up to the House to instruct the Select Committee to do all it can to protect the people of Barking.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Although the Channel tunnel rail link does not pass through my constituency, it should benefit my many thousands of commuter constituents, and the major improvement works to the A2 and M2 from junctions 1 to 4 should help to ease the congested stretch of two-lane motorway from Three Crutches to the turn-off to Gillingham.
This morning, I re-read the Official Report's record of the announcement, in a statement to the House on 20 January 1986, of the Government's decision to accept the Channel Tunnel Group's bid to build the tunnel, the debate on 10 February of that year on the White Paper, and the Second Reading debate on what became the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. There was much praise, from hon. Members on both sides of the House, for the Government's initiative in promoting this great civil engineering project—not least because of the impetus that it would give to the railway network, and particularly the opportunity that would be afforded to the transfer of long-distance freight from road to rail.
There was, however, little mention of a high-speed dedicated rail link from the channel to London or beyond. In answer to a question from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) about his statement, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Ridley, said:
It is not planned to increase the standard of the track that runs from Folkestone to London to enable it to take very high-speed trains. Such work would cause major disruption and would inflict immense damage on the environment. We have made it clear that that will not happen."—[Official Report, 20 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 32.]
During one of the debates, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed)—I am sorry that he is not present now—reminded the House that the 1974 Channel tunnel project, cancelled by Labour in 1975, had involved a high-speed rail link, but said that he hoped that such notions had been buried with the 1974 tunnel.
I regret that the Government and Parliament did not decide to build the rail link with the tunnel, as an integrated project. I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of the Channel tunnel, viewing it as a major artery for the United Kingdom to exploit the potential market in Europe in a way that has always been constrained by the 22 miles of the English channel; however, the scheme approved by the House in 1986 was clearly flawed in not including a rail link, and also, in my opinion, by section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which stipulated that no Government grant or subsidy could be paid for international rail passenger services. That section was a sop to my Europhobe colleagues who wanted to ensure, if possible, that the tunnel project would founder and we could return to our little Englander isolation.
It was obvious from the outset that the success of the project would be greatly enhanced by a high-speed rail link at least from the coast to London, and early in 1988, British Rail began—in an unbelievably ham-fisted way—to plan for such a grande vitesse rail link. The past seven years have seen a tortuous progress from the kitchen-table plans, mentioned earlier, that blighted wide swathes of Kent, to today's substantially planned route and project, presented publicly by Union Railways last autumn.
During even the worst days of British Rail's mishandling of the project—the first major new rail route in Britain for a century, as hon. Members have reminded us—no one proposed a route that went through, over or under Gillingham. My constituents were therefore not subjected to the agonies of planning blight that afflicted many of my hon. Friends whose constituencies lay on the various proposed routes. Thus, at the many meetings of Kent Members with successive Secretaries of State for Transport—and there have been a good many—I have been able to support the fast link without fear of upsetting my constituents, and to use the occasion to urge my various right hon. Friends to maximise the new line's potential to improve conditions for commuters who live in Gillingham and currently endure appalling conditions on the north Kent line of British Rail's Network SouthEast.
The Bill includes
the outline of an intermediate station at Ebbsfleet
and, more importantly, connections with other existing lines. There is a prospect that the new line proposed in the Bill will indeed offer commuters from north Kent an opportunity, at a premium, to speed up their journeys: daylight, perhaps, at the end of a very long tunnel.
We should be able to greet that news with unequivocal pleasure, but in the past few days a cloud has appeared, in the form of a letter from British Rail to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, saying that BR sees no commercial case for ordering the next tranche of Networker trains for the Kent coastlines before 1999.
I understand that the present ramshackle rolling stock on the Kent coast line through my constituency at Rainham will not be able to function on the new high-speed line, so the mirage of a speeded-up journey for my commuters—and beyond—again disappears into the distant future. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would care to comment on that undesirable news when he winds up the debate.
The Bill is not simply to enable a much-needed railway line to be built. For reasons which my right hon. Friend feels are good and substantial, this already complex Bill includes in part II clauses 39 to 42 which allow the widening of the A2 at Cobham and the M2 between junctions 1 and 4. My constituents are most directly affected by that part of the Bill.
During the debate in February 1986 on the channel tunnel White Paper, I predicted that the tunnel would make the M2 too busy for it to remain a local bypass around the Medway towns. I pleaded with the then Secretary of State, Nicholas Ridley, to expedite the northern relief road for the Medway towns and a new Medway tunnel. As my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) has said, this important local bypass is now being constructed. However, congestion on the M2, even though the A20-M20 is now signposted as the main route to the tunnel, justifies widening the westernmost miles of that underbuilt road.
I regret that it is in connection with part II that my local authority, Gillingham borough council, proposes to petition against the Bill on the narrow issue of arrangements for junction 4 of the M2 in my constituency. It will do so because the council believes that the current scheme proposes to place traffic lights only on the elevated roundabout at junction 4, the Gillingham turn-off. The Highways Agency has already stated that that arrangement will not cater for high traffic growth for the design life of the scheme. The council considers that junction 4 should be properly modified as part of a scheme to cater for the predicted traffic flows.
There will be enormous disruption to the M2 between junctions 3 and 4 as a result of the widening works, and an alternative route must be provided. Such a route, the Medway towns southern peripheral route, could be completed, and would provide a suitable link between junctions 3 and 4. That should be funded through the Bill.
The volume of traffic using the motorway could be reduced by transferring people from private cars to coaches. There is already substantial coach traffic from the Medway towns to London each day, and that could be enhanced if a proper coach park for commuters could be provided at junction 4.
My council is also worried that the Bill does not include provision for the local planning authorities to control matters relating to the detailed design and management of the motorway project. That involves matters such as minor construction works, lighting, accesses, spoil disposal, landscaping, screening, hours of working and noise suppression. The Bill includes provision for those things for the rail link, and the council considers that the Secretary of State should enter into agreements with local planning authorities for the motorway work as well.
Although the Select Committee may feel that my council's petition will be out of order, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give due consideration to the council's valid points.
I have been convinced since 1986 of the need for a fast link. The benefits to my commuter constituents of an express route to London merely confirm my conviction, but the real clincher for me was my journey to Brussels on 10 November as the guest, along with many other hon. Members, of European Passenger Services on the Eurostar. The splendid Eurostar train took longer to complete the journey between my local station in Bromley from Waterloo than had the slow commuter train that I had caught in the opposite direction two hours earlier.
We had plenty of time to admire the Kent scenery as we dawdled across the Weald, and it was only when we reached the tunnel that the train began to achieve a speed that suggested some urgency to our journey. The first section between the French portal and Lille served to emphasise the slowness of the English and Belgian sections of the journey.
I look forward to a two-and-half-hour journey to Paris. Not only the ferries will be unable to compete with that: the miserable air journey between Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle will also become a thing of the past. I am delighted to support the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assuage my local council's fears about junction 4.
I begin by declaring not one but two interests. First, I am the only Member to be sponsored by the rail drivers' union ASLEF. Secondly, I am one of two Members whose constituencies are within the borough boundaries of the London borough of Camden where the terminal of the channel tunnel rail link, St. Pancras, is to be found. I do not intend to speak for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). He is more than capable of doing that himself.
I am anxious to speak because for many years that terminal will be a massive building site which will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on my constituents. In common with hon. Members of all parties, my constituents and I welcome the idea of a high-speed railway. Any railway which helps to push this country and its transport system into the 21st century is welcome. Also in common with my constituents, however, I am concerned about the environmental impact of the proposals and the possibility that petitions from areas which the Government may not deem at this stage to be affected by the proposals for the building of the line will not necessarily be accepted by the Select Committee. I hope that the Minister will deal with that matter.
Some of the proposals affecting St. Pancras deal not only with the construction of major new lines and connections to a line which certainly affects my constituents—the north London line, where four separate lines need to be built—but with new roads which will have major works beneath them such as sewers and piping and works of that nature. My constituents and I agree with the hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) that environmental protection should be the most modern available.
The Minister spoke of the environmental considerations which apply now, but we are learning from day to day and from month to month of more and more possible environmental dangers. One hopes that at the same time we shall learn of measures to ameliorate those environmental dangers and hazards. The project is extremely long-term, and I ask the Minister to consider and advise the Committee that changes within the plan may be considered on grounds of increased environmental knowledge in the many years ahead.
In a telling contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) asked the House to imagine what it would be like for her constituents to have a railway line at the bottom of their gardens at a distance somewhat less than that between the Front Benches. There is no need to ask hon. Members to imagine what it will be like for my constituents who will have to live in close proximity to a major building site, because Members fortunate enough to have offices in the Norman Shaw North building know precisely what that is like. The building site there has been occasioned by the work that is under way, seemingly for the foreseeable future, on Westminster bridge and on the Jubilee line extension at Westminster underground station.
Little or no protection was offered to hon. Members and their staff who work in the Norman Shaw buildings during the destruction which had to take place before construction could be undertaken, although the fascias of Government buildings in Whitehall were protected by sheets of blue plastic. I doubt whether the dust and debris, which I know from personal experience sift into my office every day and cover every piece of equipment, sift into Government offices. If there is to be a double standard as to what constitutes environmental protection, it should be weighted towards the people who have to live around, for example, the St. Pancras terminus and its concomitant areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking spoke of 300 lorries trundling through residential streets. That will inevitably happen in my constituency and my constituents will suffer from that sort of pollution. The members of the Committee should also consider whether there should be published, well in advance so that there can be genuine consultation, details of the possible implications of approach to the site of equipment. That would give information on equipment and the type of heavy duty machinery that would be required. Overridingly, there should be strict guidelines as to the hours at which such materials and machinery can work and on the kind of light that will be necessary to facilitate the work without causing danger to those engaged in the work or to people who live in the areas.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I will conclude my remarks. In a sense, I shall end where I began. My constituents and I would welcome anything that provides the nation as a whole with a transport system which fits us and our economic requirements for the 21st century. As the link will be a national resource, however, the nation as a whole should carry a fair proportion of the burden.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken about levels of compensation for those who will lose their homes. I would argue that during the period when the line is being constructed there should also be compensation for people who will have their environment distorted by noise, pollution and the other factors that I have mentioned.
A leader in today's Manchester Guardian —[Interruption.] That gives Conservative Members an idea of how long I have been reading newspapers. I am, of course, referring to The Guardian, in which a leading article today said, in effect, that 80 per cent. of the costs of the link are being met by the taxpayer, yet the lease is being sold for 999 years. One Conservative Member earlier suggested that British Rail should increase its contribution towards compensation; I believe that the private firms which eventually win the contracts to build the line should also be asked to make a sizeable contribution to compensation. The link is a national resource, so it should not be just one section of the nation that has to pay not only in cash but in kind.
This debate is a milestone in the six-year-old drama of the rail link, which has afflicted Kent since 1988. Over those six years, engineers and enthusiasts have drawn lines across my Kentish constituency affecting almost every square mile, to the detriment and anguish of residents. The drama first hit the village of Istead Rise and the parishes of Meopham and Luddesdown in 1988, with the farce of a British Rail manager telling anxious residents in Istead Rise that he had used his children's crayons and his wife's greaseproof paper to draw up the map of routes. New routes have swung from north to south since then, ending up with the route before the House today. Some 11 miles of it passes through my constituency, which is 17 per cent. of the entire link.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made great play of the delays that have ensued. Of course the decision could have been made immediately if the people of Kent had been literally bulldozed aside and taxpayers' money wasted in vast quantities. I preferred the matter to be investigated thoroughly to ensure that we got it right. There has been no rush. Who needed the rail link anyway? Where would the cost benefit have been? Eurostar and tunnel freight are operating well now and passenger traffic would gain only 20 minutes in any event. The key is the rail capacity across Kent. It is adequate now for local and international needs, but on forecast growth it would reach saturation point early in the next century. A new rail line would then be inevitable, so it may as well be designed for high-speed operation—and that is what we are debating today.
Some say that the Government have delayed too long and have paid too much attention to residents' concerns. A certain Opposition right hon. Member is alleged to have complained about "those pampered Kentish whingers" and unfavourably compared British progress with the French HGV route construction, but we should not compare the vast empty landscape of northern France with the rolling, beautiful, populated countryside of Kent. That is why environmental protection must be high on the House's agenda in considering the Bill.
We must ensure that guarantees are built into the Bill to require its promoters to honour undertakings already given by Union Railways and to prohibit any backsliding. If the impact of the rail link on my constituents were confined to environmental damage, I would vote against the Bill today. However, my constituency also stands to gain a great deal from the decision to locate the intermediate international and domestic station within the constituency at Ebbsfleet. That totally tilts the balance in favour of the link and I shall therefore support the Bill today. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Select and Standing Committees going into the details very thoroughly indeed.
The Ebbsfleet international and domestic station is essential. The Government's decision to approve the station was wise, of great value to international travellers and of great importance to local commuters and passengers. Located within a few miles of the M25, it is ideally located for international travellers from the south-east, East Anglia and, indeed, east London. Plenty of parking will be available. For my constituents it will mean only 20 minutes commuting to London instead of the current 50 minutes. It will act as a catalyst for new developments on the exhausted chalk workings, which will bring thousands of new jobs. It will bring new relief roads and improve house prices.
I must say that I resent the gutter campaign by Opposition Members—understandably talking up Stratford, which is anyway provided for in the Bill—with their allegations of sleaze and the talk and cartoons of "Fartyswamp". That cartoon in The Guardian—so close to the heart of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson)—is the sort of abuse that my constituents have had to put up with and which was further exemplified today by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). The Ebbsfleet decision was the culmination of an excellent campaign by local Members of Parliament, business men and councils. Furthermore, it was the right decision.
However, conditions must be put on station development. We must be assured that, even before work starts on the link or the station, the Northfleet town bypass, known as the south Thamesside development phase 4, will be constructed. Designed for dual carriageway, at least one carriageway must be functional as soon as possible. The west end of the phase 4 road must link up with Stonebridge road, thus bypassing Northfleet town. It is essential not only to bring relief to Northfleet but to provide from the outset for construction traffic to be kept well out of residential areas. I very much regret the fact that Kent county council gave the project such a low priority that it will not be constructed during this coming year. Nevertheless, the council should make haste in designing the bypass and submitting it to public consultation.
Another of my concerns is the Ebbsfleet water course, its environment and wildlife habitats—part of which is a designated site of special scientific interest—and the footpaths throughout that area. We also have the unique Blue lake in the Ebbsfleet valley. In this modern age of environmental expertise, all those issues should be examined. In particular, I commend to the Committee a paper prepared by the Northfleet action group which highlights the issues.
The Ebbsfleet valley was the site of an ancient Roman settlement, and the competent archaeological authorities must give their clearance before work starts. The valley also houses the valuable Blue Circle sports facilities. Blue Circle industries, as the landowner and developer, has much to gain from the development and must give a. commitment to replace those facilities in the immediate area for the benefit of local residents.
The Ebbsfleet valley will also be the location for the connection to British Rail's north Kent line. That is very valuable and will allow appropriate passenger trains from the Medway towns, Higham and Gravesend to access the high-speed link to London. However, the environmental impact of the embankment of the connecting line must be reassessed.
There are also plans for a light railway, to be known as Union Metro, which will use the north Kent line onwards through south-east London and then cross the Thames to connect with docklands. That project needs favourable consideration in the context of the development of the Thames gateway—the new title for the east Thames corridor.
The House will recall the battle of Pepper hill, which attracted its own debate in the House. My right hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), when Ministers at the Department of Transport, took the momentous and, I believe, courageous decision to re-route the link out from under some 300 houses at Pepper hill and to force Union Railways to design an alternative route in cuttings past that location and in a tunnel under the A2 motor road. I should like to be assured that that crossing will be by bored tunnel at a low level, which would further minimise the impact on the residential area of southern Northfleet. It would also have the advantage of eliminating the disruption of heavy traffic on the A2 which progressive cut-and-cover construction methods would cause.
I pay tribute to the hard work of the A2 rail action group, led by Mrs. Celia Jones. I should also draw the Committee's attention to the continuing concern of local residents. The deep cuttings near New Barn road should be covered over, which would protect the residents perched above at Pepper hill. The land sandwiched between the A2 motor road and the rail link opposite urban Northfleet and Gravesend should be either returned to agriculture or set to woodlands. In no circumstances should there be any construction development which would breach the long-standing defence of the metropolitan green belt. To protect local residents, commitments should be extracted from the promoters about the landscaping to be put in place. That should no doubt include consideration of lowering the running level at that point.
I turn to one of the remaining contentious points which should be rethought—the crossing of the A227 Wrotham road at the Tollgate. Current plans for a viaduct over the valley known as Northumberland Bottom have led to fears of noise reverberation towards Istead Rise and northwards to a residential district overlooking the Tollgate. I have read no convincing presentation which calms the fears of local residents. I hope very much that Gravesham borough council will petition on that point and will commend to the Select Committee the professional presentation made by the Istead Rise rail action group, whose voluntary work over the years has been invaluable. In particular, the group highlights the possibilities for passing under the A227 carriageway. We also require assurances about any construction sites at that point.
Concern about the rail link remains high in the village. An opinion survey carried out last month in Istead Rise brought a 74 per cent. response from residents to a detailed questionnaire. Seventy-two per cent. of those respondents remain opposed to the rail link and 82 per cent. are very concerned about the proposed multi-span bridge, with a further 14 per cent. moderately concerned about it.
The impact of the landscaping and elevation requirements of the passing loops at Singlewell remain a concern. The passing loops are allegedly required for freight operation, allowing high-speed trains to pass. I do not understand the need for freight on that line, and a number of hon. Members have said the same in the course of the debate. The existing routes can more than adequately handle freight, especially for destinations in the midlands and northwards, which can skirt London to the south. I do not understand why the peace and quiet of south Kent should be bought at the expense of my constituents.
I should like the Committee to consider whether freight working is necessary. I reject the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who supports the building of the passing loops at Singlewell. Incidentally, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, also wants those passing loops to be inflicted on my constituents. Alternative consideration should be given to whether the track facilities at Ebbsfleet make the earlier plans for Singlewell passing loops obsolete. The Committee should therefore consider scrapping freight loops, with consequent opportunities for environmental improvements and improved landscaping.
Perhaps the impact of most national significance is that proposed for Ashenbank wood and Cobham park. Ashenbank is real, ancient woodland. It is of significance for wildlife habitat and a site of special scientific interest. Cobham park and its ponds alongside the route are a fine example of a Repton landscape that would be damaged by the link. The current proposal provides for a wedge to be driven through the woodlands and for a railway to be driven along the edge of Cobham park. The devastation would be considerable.
A whole range of respected environmental organisations have expressed their dismay. I mention but a few: the Woodland Trust, the National Trust, the Kent Trust for Nature Conservation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Many of those organisations will be petitioning. It is my regret that Kent county council is not petitioning on that point. I therefore strongly commend the petitions of those environmental and heritage organisations and also the petition of Cobham parish council, which is being made jointly with the Kent Association of Parish Councils.
Engineering consultants Travers Morgan have carried out a study of the engineering viability of a tunnel beneath the wood and the sensitive parts of Cobham park, with tunnelling through the sound chalk strata. That is worth careful consideration. The cost could be financed by a specific grant from the environmental fund controlled by the environmental directorate of the European Commission. I am very disappointed and frustrated by the lack of progress in obtaining commitments from those funds by the new Member of the European Parliament for West Kent.
Indeed he is.
Incidentally, those funds could also finance other environmental improvements along the link. I am likewise surprised that the Opposition amendment makes no mention of Ashenbank wood or the urban fringe of Northfleet and Gravesend, where there are thousands of houses, in their call for tunnelling to protect the environment. The feeble excuses for the omission offered by the hon. Member for Oldham, West will not wash with my constituents in Northfleet.
Another major point of concern for local residents is the location, scale and operation of construction sites. Those should all be immediately adjacent to the A2 motor road and access to them should not be through residential areas. Strict management should be applied.
The site for the Thames tunnel work, if it must be on the south side, should be on Botany marshes, and it should be served by a rail spur from the north Kent line and by road access from the new Northfleet bypass. Both works should be constructed in advance of the link and river tunnel.
One specific site included in the safeguarded areas is the remote Hoo junction in the parish of Higham. That is apparently required for transshipment of aggregates and construction material. I have been assured by Union Railways that no materials or aggregate will be shifted in and out by road. As such roads are tiny country lanes, that must be rigidly enforced.
Lastly, with regard to compensation arrangements I believe that the boundaries of the safeguarded zones have been drawn in a very mean spirit, narrowing significantly to exclude badly affected homes and thus avoid compensation obligations. That is particularly noticeable at Longview, Henhurst road and The Lodge, Scalers hill, where five properties, all badly affected and sandwiched between the A2 motor road and the rail link, are left in limbo. Two have been offered voluntary purchase, but without the mark-up or assistance with costs. In a project of this size, that action is mean-minded and petty and it should be corrected.
This is a major civil engineering project and clearly the House favours it, but I ask the House not to forget that it affects people—real people—and Kentish people, my constituents. I hope that during the passage of the Bill careful attention will be given to the many concerns that I have raised today.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not for a moment suggest that you missed that, so I shall say that when the hon. Member for Gravesham is debating and not reading from written notes, he should at least ensure that events that have happened during the day are reflected in his speech. When he includes inaccuracies that have been cleared up in the debate he makes himself look foolish. He asked earlier whether it made any difference how quickly the proposal was passed as it meant a difference of only 20 minutes in journey times, but later in his speech he talked about savings of more than 20 minutes. That proves how foolish he is.
I shall support the Bill because I have a record of supporting such Bills. I supported the King's Cross (No. 2) Bill, much to the annoyance of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I did so because I am in favour of railways and all forms of public transport that take traffic off the roads. I shall support the Bill but it will be in spite of, rather than because of, the Government. One hon. Member said that the Bill was five years too late. That is quite late, even by British Rail's standards, so it is with considerable annoyance that I support the Bill.
I am angry with the Government for the delays and because the alignment of the route has been changed so many times, sometimes for what appear to be arbitrary reasons. More than anything, I am angry at the Government's insistence on bringing in the private sector. In fact, it is not an insistence on bringing in the private sector but an insistence that the public sector should not be involved.
I have been involved in plenty of local projects, such as the Greater Nottingham light rapid transit system; we wanted to bring in the private sector for the Robin Hood line. Many Labour Members want to bring about a partnership with the private sector in this case but the problem is that the Government want to involve the private sector and exclude the public sector altogether. Everyone in this country, in Europe or in the world who knows anything about railways knows that public sector involvement is required—everyone except the Government.
We could have had a real partnership in this project as was the case with the Greater Nottingham light rapid transit system. In Nottingham, there was a partnership between the city council, the county council and the private sector. We advertised for private sector partners for the Robin Hood line. All parties would welcome that in this project but we have passed up every opportunity of a real partnership with the private sector. Even when people were literally offering money, the Government said no because that money was conditional on some public sector money.
In the event, the partnership is very strange. It is like a marriage but, in some respects, it is an arranged marriage. We have to pay a dowry to enter into it and we are paying it with public assets; we are paying it with the European passenger service, a public asset built with public money. It is not being sold but given away as part of the deal. Waterloo station, which is a public asset, is also being given away. The freehold of Ashford international station is also being given away as part of what I would describe as a bizarre arrangement. We are talking about maintenance depots in London and Manchester being given away as part of the same deal. The same is true of property in Olympia, not to mention the locomotives and rolling stock that will be given away, not sold.
When the deal has been done, the Government will purchase the right to use some of the capacity on the line for domestic trains. I am not sure that this is the type of partnership that we might have expected at the beginning of the process. I put that down to the Government. However, I shall still support the Bill.
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I realised that many people have a romantic view of the golden age of steam engines and diesel trains. I too am a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, so I must declare an interest. However, I have worked on such trains and I do not have such a romantic view of them. When one is crawling under a bogie changing brake blocks and traction engine motor bushes, frozen stiff at 1 am, covered in grease and oil, one does not get quite so romantic about the railway as the railway enthusiasts.
I accept, however, that the golden age of rail will come again, because there is no alternative for the future. Increasingly, the Government are making noises to the effect that the railways and public transport systems are the future, and I want that idea developed. People must realise that we are talking not about an antiquated, romanticised idea but about a vision of how transport should be in the future.
Many hon. Members have mentioned compensation and environmental protection. I hope that the Minister will go to the greatest possible lengths to ensure that compensation is adequate and that there is as much environmental protection as possible built into the scheme. I do not say that because I have any special remit to speak for the constituents of the hon. Member for Gravesham or for those of my hon. Friends. I see no reason why they should benefit from any greater environmental protection or compensation than people affected by the road schemes in the north of England or Scotland or by rail schemes elsewhere in the country. However, I want people to see proper environmental protection built into this scheme. I want more railways built in the future and, if we can dispense with some opposition in this case, we may be able to dispense with it in the future.
I am not sure how much remains of my 10 minutes but I finish by mentioning freight. Everyone who understands railways knows that the channel tunnel has the potential to open markets for this country and could provide the opportunity to shift freight from the roads to rail for lengthy journeys, which would not have been possible in the past. If we do not take advantage of that, we shall be betraying future generations, our children and their children. We must take this opportunity to shift as much freight as possible from the 44-tonners on to the railway.
Everyone seems frightened of freight trains but they are not the rattly old trains of years ago. Proper braking systems mean that they do not rattle like they used to. Some hon. Members have said that they do not want freight loops to blight their constituents' property but, if we remove any protection from the planned freight routes, we shall be blighting this country.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) has done the House a service by speaking in favour of this type of infrastructure project.
When I was first elected to the House nearly 20 years ago, we would approve, in an hour and a half's debate late at night, sums equivalent to the whole cost of this Bill and the environmental protection costs. We approved the equivalent of £2,000 million or £3,000 million, often the recurrent costs of some nationalised industry which brought virtually no return.
However, the expenditure involved in the measure that we are debating, whether for environmental protection or for the railway line itself, will generate employment not only along the line of route—although that will clearly be the case, and in London—but in factories and industries around the country. I am thinking of the service industries and the engineering, drafting and supply industries, all of which will help to keep this country's economy on the move as well as improve the railway.
I must declare various interests as I have had connections with Eurotunnel, ferries, hovercraft and Seacats and the aeroplanes that provide competitive services. However, I am making a speech partly in the interests of my constituents and partly in the national interest.
The first option of the old British Rail scheme could have run through my constituency. When that possibility existed, none of the environmentalists stood up for those elected to represent Kent and London constituencies who were willing to examine the choices rationally—they went to ground. One of my partisan remarks is that the local Labour party, after making the initial error of saying that it wanted the rail line to come through Eltham, started to exploit the possibility that it might come through in a constituency-political way that was a disgrace to it. I hope that the new modernisers will not do that.
The rail line is being built in the interests of travellers. There may have been a time when most people using the railways had no alternative. Nowadays, almost everyone who uses the railways has an alternative. There will be benefits for travellers in Kent; Ashford and Ebbsfleet being good examples. When we start to halve journey times and when people can get into the city centre more easily, they will make the choice to use the railway because of personal advantage.
In international links, it is the city centre to city centre time that matters. I am not talking just about London to Paris or London to Brussels; I am talking about the other cities to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) referred. Taking an hour off east coast main line journeys to France, Belgium and other European mainland countries will make a dramatic difference to the competitive advantage of the railways.
What is more, there will be an advantage for those on lines that are not served directly by the high-speed link. As people come into Waterloo, as more traffic moves to go into St. Pancras and as some traffic gets a chance to move straight through London, lines such as the Eltham and New Eltham lines should have improvements. From the point of view of self-interest and national interest, this infrastructure project has a great deal to recommend it.
The trouble is that the House has not been very good at giving the operators the consistent backing that they need. We have had feast and famine in capital investment. That is better than the position in the railways a few years ago when there was just famine. The fact is that London Underground and British Rail, for example, have been told before general elections to expect significant extra capital funding which then ebbs away after the election. That makes the money they spend far less effective. Engineers around the country must be tearing their hair out at the ups and downs. I hope that we can find some consistency. As we edge more into private finance initiatives, we may be able to achieve that.
We have had problems with other major infrastructure projects. There were delays in getting permission for the Heathrow express, yet who wants to go out to Heathrow on the M4? It is an irrational choice which is forced on people. The underground service is useful and more reliable than using the road, but we should have had a Heathrow express and we should already have a crossrail system under London which would also relieve the pressures. There has been enormous delay, but crossrail is coming. I do not want to waste the time of the House in going through the problems that crossrail has faced.
There have been problems with the decisions made by Committees of the House. There was the engineering misjudgment by the Committee that considered the Dartford-Thurrock bridge. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) will forgive me; I recognise the service he has given and I leave him on one side.
That misjudgment illustrated that the House had not learnt much since the days when the Manchester-Liverpool railway line was delayed because a clever parliamentary lawyer persuaded Members of Parliament that it was not possible to have a moving engine on a moving wagon pulling freight. He persuaded Parliament that one could have permission to build a railway line only if the engine was put on the side of the track and the train was pulled with ropes and pulleys—
An exaggeration? Perhaps.
We have had problems with infrastructure projects. We have had problems with critical projects, such as the Borough Market junction just near London Bridge station where doubling up the railway track would allow Thameslink services to go to London Bridge, where most people want to go—it is certainly where my constituents want to go—rather than to go in the rush hour through Elephant and Castle.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not just go for the Thameslink provision at St. Pancras. He should start to go for parliamentary or statutory approvals for doubling up the rail service at Borough Market junction. That is the key not only for traffic going under the Thames to north London and to the north of London, but for services to Cannon Street, Blackfriars, Waterloo East and Charing Cross. These things matter locally, nationally and internationally.
The issue of private finance came up originally with the Dartford-Thurrock bridge. Such finance was easier because there was a revenue stream to come. When I was Minister for Roads, I went to Japan in the last 1980s and I went on a Shin Kan Sen train—one of the bullet trains. It had new investment, a virtually dead straight line, no commuter trains in the way, no freight trains in the way and it was over-staffed. The Japanese were managing to run their trains 10 mph faster than British Rail was managing on the east coast line on a railway built 100 or more years ago.
Those who criticise British Rail management do not realise quite how effective the railway management and staff have been over the years in keeping an old system going, in modernising it and in keeping the service going. There has not been nearly enough tribute to the people who have managed to achieve that with the ups and downs of Government.
My next point is political. If the way that the Labour party sat on its hands, to put it most gently, over the signalling staff dispute had had the effect of the signalmen's claim, which was totally unjustified, being met, the railways would have been put back 20 years. We were slow in getting matters moving.
There are two key points about railways. One is reliability. The service cannot be interrupted by strikes or disputes—certainly not by unjustifiable strikes and disputes.
The second key point for the railways is capital investment, not current subsidies. What is important is going for competitive advantage. With new technology, we can run trains faster on existing lines. We are getting greater advances in signalling. We are taking out many of the staffing costs and we are taking out many of the bad jobs to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, East referred.
I also echo the point about reducing the noise from freight and passenger trains. The advances that we made through research into the quiet, heavy lorry are coming in terms of quiet, heavier trains. The combination of the technology of the train, the engine and the track will help to reduce the amount of noise to which people are exposed. If more freight goes through residential areas on old, established lines, that is a duty that we owe to local people who will be inconvenienced by what I am told is aural pollution—or is it aural loss?
I know how it is spelt and I know what it means, but I tend to call it noise pollution, which is a more straightforward way to refer to it.
My next point is linked to the debate on through ticketing which will be held on Wednesday. There have been jokes about whether people will be able to buy a through ticket from Peterborough.
I believe that it is possible for through ticketing to be available not just at railway stations. On the day that the regulator's options came out, I received a letter from an operating company in my constituency saying that the ticket offices in my stations would be open for longer hours and not shorter hours.
About 40,000 establishments will soon be able to provide national lottery expertise. With new technology, we should be able to buy tickets off line, in advance and at best value prices; that is not available now. The idea that people should buy tickets only at stations is out of date and we do not always get the best value from that.
I look forward to a better future. The people who will gain most from the Bill are those who do not move from the roads as the rest of us switch to trains as often as we can.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me for a rare foray on the Back Benches.
I begin by declaring a personal interest. The channel tunnel traffic, having passed for most of its route through north London in a tunnel, will come whistling out of the tunnel about 70 yd behind the back wall of my house. I therefore have a personal interest in what is happening. I also have a deep constituency interest, because several thousand of my constituents are likely to be adversely affected by the current proposals.
I support the principle of the Bill; I support having the channel tunnel high-speed link. The approach through east London is the best approach that could be devised, and St. Pancras is probably the right destination for the link. However, I want it to be done properly, and that is the whole point of the instruction that has been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is also the tenor of the debate on both sides today.
The original proposal from Union Railways was that the channel tunnel trains, throughout their passage to Islington, would be above ground, using the existing north London line. After vigorous representation and after a campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and myself, we managed successfully to persuade the Government to put the line in a tunnel under the north London line for most of its passage through Islington.
There is, however, a remaining problem, which relates to the western edge of the borough. One of the arms of the line will now rise towards the surface just to the east of Caledonian road. Under the proposals currently in the Bill, it will cross Caledonian road in cut and cover. It will then come up on to the surface behind Gifford street and run on the surface from there into the grade-separated junction behind St. Pancras. It is that piece of its travels from the area just to the east of Caledonian road into St. Pancras about which I am especially concerned.
The impact of such proposals will be severe. There will be noise, vibration and disturbance to people who, of course, already encounter considerable disturbance from traffic along the north London line as it exists at the moment. Perhaps even worse will be the impact of construction, because the area to the north of Gifford street and the area immediately to the east of Caledonian road will be used as a large-scale construction site for the whole period of construction—again, under the proposals as they stand in the Bill.
There will be a traffic impact of about 290 lorry movements per day on the Caledonian road. If the cut-and-cover operation across Caledonian road is decided on, together with the proposed work to the Fleet sewer, there will have to be either partial or wholesale closure of Caledonian road, with the diversion of traffic which will inevitably follow, into all the surrounding residential streets. The impact from disturbance, from noise, from vibration, from construction and from traffic diversion on a large number of my constituents will be adverse.
Union Railways has said that it is prepared to look at an alternative: to move the tunnel portal further to the west and perhaps avoid the necessity of cut and cover across Caledonian road by instead going in a bored tunnel under Caledonian road. Kindly, the Minister, in a letter of 3 January, confirmed to me that Union Railways is considering such an option.
But that is not the option in the Bill. If we pass the Bill as it stands, we have no guarantee that Union Railways or the private bidders who will come forward for the work itself will undertake that alternative option. It would be useful if the Minister could give us some guidance on whether we will end up with that proposal rather than the specifics in the Bill, which are not as favourable as those about which Union Railways is now talking.
However, there is a third option, which is favoured by all local residents, is favoured by Islington council and is certainly the option which I have argued—directly to the Minister and to Union Railways—should at the very least be considered. That option is of a tunnel all the way into the railway lands behind St. Pancras.
A study by Alan Baxter Associates has shown that such an option is perfectly technically feasible. It involves putting the grade-separated junction below ground rather than above ground. Yes, it will cost a little more than the current proposals. However, the Cally Rail group, which has been arguing the case very strongly, has demonstrated very clearly that there are compensating advantages in land value in the railway lands which could offset some of that extra cost.
That is a much better option. Union Railways, however, has reacted very dismissively. It has not talked at all about what work it has done or what calculations it has made about the cost of that option. However, it is the best environmental option, it is the best option from the point of view of residents, and it would greatly lessen the impact of construction. The Select Committee ought at the very least to look at that option, to question Union Railways about it, and to see whether it would be technically and financially feasible, as I believe it would be. Having a tunnel all the way into the railway lands would be of enormous relief to my constituents.
So there are four key questions that I would like the Committee to address. First, will it look properly, fully at the option of a tunnel to the west of Caledonian road leading into the railway lands? Secondly, will it ensure that, when construction takes place, it takes place from within the railway lands and not from construction sites immediately next to residential properties on either side of Caledonian road?
Thirdly, what provision will there be for compensation for those residents who are adversely affected not only by the line in its final form, but by the five to seven years of construction work which is likely to take place immediately beside their homes? Fourthly, what future does the Secretary of State have in mind for what is known as the Lough road site, which is excluded from the Bill but which was previously earmarked, disastrously and unnecessarily, for a concrete batching plant? I hope and trust that that plan will now be consigned to the dustbin.
I do not urge that the Bill is abandoned—I think that it should go ahead—but I urge that it should go ahead properly. If it does not go ahead with full environmental protection for those who are affected by it, the lives of hundreds of my constituents, which are currently blighted, will continue to be blighted.
The instruction to the Committee would at the very least give us some hope that the concerns of those people would be considered. I urge the Government and the House to support, if not the letter of the instruction, the purpose of it, and to ensure that the Select Committee considers the needs of those residents who will be affected directly by the proposals in the Bill.
Many hon. Members have said that the proceedings of this debate will be obligatory reading for those members of the Select and Standing Committees ultimately dealing with the Bill when it leaves the Floor of the House. I hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to the comments made by all hon. Members, but especially to those my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who encapsulated the particular problems of north-west Kent. In the minutes that I have, I shall try to follow some of his arguments.
One aspect is clear for the members of the Select Committee: those of us in north-west Kent are not in favour of any deviation from the route as set out. The route, while not entirely acceptable and while having implications for the communities that I represent, is in fact at the point beyond which I would not be prepared to tolerate any further deviation or change.
That is simply because, in the congested area of north-west Kent, any further movement one way or another is bound to impinge and impact on communities that hitherto have thought themselves unaffected. It would be the height of cruelty to them, and it would be misleading and disingenuous, for there to be further changes of which they have not yet received notice.
I want to state at the outset that the decision to site a station with domestic and international links at Ebbsfleet is right. The implications for north-west Kent and for the regeneration of what we used to call the east Thames corridor—now the Thames gateway—is immense. While I listened with interest to Opposition Members with constituency interests which led them to consider Stratford to be more significant than Ebbsfleet, I see no reason why the two stations cannot be built side by side, or alongside each other, at some time in the future.
Hon. Members will understand that Ebbsfleet must be my prime consideration. The implications for employment, regeneration and the long-term development of north-west Kent are great. Colleagues on both sides of the House have stressed that the Government, the Select Committee and Union Railways must get this right, because they have only one chance to do so. We cannot come back in 10, 15 or 20 years' time and decide to unravel what this House has sanctioned. There is no second chance.
I firmly believe that the proposals in the Bill as they will be dealt with by the Select Committee should be related to the impact of construction. The communities near Pepper Hill, to the south and to the north of the A2, face the prospect of many difficult challenges in terms of construction. There will be problems with the passage of vehicles and the movement of spoil, and access to open land, although partly scrubland, will be denied to local people.
While the period of construction may be relatively short in the long-term life of the project, every step must be taken now to safeguard the communities to the south of the A2, and to safeguard the community of Swanscombe to the north. There must be proper and detailed negotiations between the promoters of the Bill and the project and the villages and communities which will be affected unless great care and consideration is taken—the villages of Southfleet, Betsham, Westwood and, slightly further away, of Longfield and New Barn.
I welcome that part of the Bill which relates to the code of practice for construction. I hope that that code will be meaningful, and that it will have teeth. I hope that the functions of the independent commissioner for complaints will be made known to us by the Minister.
Several of my colleagues referred to the implications of freight. I advise the House and the Select Committee to be cautious about the endorsement of freight on the new track. That would be a very dangerous position to endorse, as it has implications for the communities in north-west Kent. If freight is to move along the high-speed link, along the A2, and north from Ebbsfleet to Essex, there are implications for communities on both sides of the river. However, if freight is then to be used on the Gravesend west line to join with the London and Chatham line for onward transmission to Waterloo, there are implications for the movement of freight throughout the night for many of my constituents.
The compensation arrangements are inadequate and poor. We have not learnt the lessons from 1988 and 1989. It is unfair to expect people in stable communities to accept that, for the national good, they must lose real and big value—
A clear lesson on compensation should be learned in respect of the arrangements that Eurotunnel reached when dealing with the problem of house values and sales at Cheriton. Those arrangements were extremely generous, and worked extremely well. They minimised a great deal of the delay which might otherwise have occurred.
I am sure that my hon. Friend's words are a lesson to all of us, and particularly to those who will read the report of our debate. There is no doubt that there is a need for a hardship scheme and a need for generosity and sensitivity. Nothing must be done on the cheap, so that my constituents, and those of many hon. Members, lose real value in what is very often their only asset: their home. Better arrangements are needed.
I welcome the Bill, because it positions a station at Ebbsfleet. I welcome it for the regeneration argument and from the point of view of the commuter. I disagree with colleagues who claim that the Southend line is infinitely worse than the north Kent line. The north Kent line is by far the worst line in our region. Anything that can reduce the journey time for people travelling from the Medway towns, from Swanscombe or from Dartford proper, must be welcome. A proper integrated system for train movements on the Waterloo line and the north Kent line is an essential part of the development of the project.
I welcome the project. It must be a proper costal scheme. It must have real environmental considerations and it must not be done on the cheap. None of us in the Chamber now will want to be reminded one day that we got it wrong. There is a real chance to get it right, and I wish the Government every success in their endeavours.
I support the Bill, because it is important and significant to the economy and well-being of all our people, and particularly of the people in the north and in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, the area that I represent.
I intervened twice during the debate on the subject of the transfer of freight from the north of England, through the tunnel and into Europe. I want also to consider passenger traffic. People from the north of England should be able to board a fast link train at a station in the north—in Leeds in my area, or in Wakefield—so that they can be transported through the tunnel and into Europe on the same train. I support the Bill, because the sooner we have this high-speed link connection from the tunnel into St. Pancras, the sooner people will be able to travel from Yorkshire and the north on the same train and unit.
In many ways, it is important that the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight. It is important that it receives an endorsement and a speedy process through Committee.
I realise that there are environmental problems. Hon. Members who have an interest because of the link passing through their constituencies have made it clear that they want to safeguard their constituents' interests in the light of the environmental problems that can develop with the high-speed link. I endorse hon. Members' request that the Secretary of State and the Committee ensure that their constituents' interests are fully safeguarded. That is why I support the instruction. I sincerely hope that there will be strong regard for the instruction, in order to protect the environment if problems develop or if safeguards are not properly undertaken.
In my interventions, I raised the need to consider the east coast line, because that line will be used extensively to bring passenger and freight traffic from the north of England, through London to the tunnel. Over the past two years, we have seen tremendous problems on the east coast line causing difficulties and extensive delays. Obviously, if we are to spend the necessary money to develop the high-speed link from London to the tunnel, it is important to have the same facility and the same efficiency on the east coast line as we are looking for in respect of the high-speed link.
It was against that background that I raised with the Secretary of State and with other hon. Members the need for special attention to the east coast line. I am pleased that the Secretary of State and other hon. Members have supported my view that it is important that the east coast line is as efficient as the link between London and the tunnel.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State nods in agreement.
I raised the importance of freight, because, in my constituency, Wakefield metropolitan district council is building the rail freight terminal, which is due to be completed by the end of this year. I hope to see freight trains leaving Normanton and delivering, through the tunnel, goods which were manufactured or assembled in Normanton. That is an important issue. It means much to the economy and well-being of my constituency. As we have suffered many job losses because of mine closures, it is important that we have the link between Yorkshire and Europe.
One disappointing point for me and for my constituents is that the terminal, which is very important to our area, is receiving no support from the private sector. We have heard much today about the importance of private sector money helping to develop such projects, yet the scheme is being developed only because of the initiative, drive and courage of Wakefield metropolitan district council. I hope that the Secretary of State will impress on his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment the importance of supporting the application of Wakefield metropolitan district council for European money to help to finance that Euro-terminal.
I bring together freight and passenger transport, because it is important that we in the north of England have the link through London, through the channel tunnel, and into Europe. Freight from the north should be allowed to use the high-speed link. It is important to many manufacturers and commercial undertakings that provide employment that goods arrive in Europe as speedily as possible. That may mean using the high-speed link.
I suggest to the Secretary of State and to the Committee that we ought to consider using every possible moment on the high-speed link for carrying freight from the regions into Europe. Therefore, I hope that we will get some support, and that there will be a constructive investigation into the use of the high-speed link for the transport of freight from the regions through the tunnel.
I welcome the debate, and I support the principle of the Bill. I ask that the instruction be given serious and favourable consideration by the Committee. I hope that my plea for the quick development of passenger transport from the north into Europe via the high-speed link is heard. I also hope that conveying goods and freight from the north is given the same significance as passenger transport. Therefore, I appeal to the House to support the Bill and the instruction.
My constituents had—and still have—considerable reservations about the channel tunnel. We believe that the ferry industry of Dover has served the country well for many years. It has certainly served the country well financially, as there is only some £1 billion of capital in total in the ferry industry on the south coastal routes to the continent, compared with an investment so far of £11 billion in the channel tunnel. With the channel tunnel rail link forecast to cost at least £3 billion, it is possible that investment costs will be £15 billion or even £20 billion if there is an overrun on the rail link.
The channel tunnel has already run into considerable financial difficulties. I must recognise, however, that the rail link may bring some travel benefits to my constituents. We are told that travel times to Dover will reduce, and I hope that they will. British Rail's announcement last week that it was not prepared to provide Networker trains to Dover was a disgrace, considering that we have some of the worst timetable problems in the country. British Rail continuously fails to meet a reasonable timetable commitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) has, along with me, fought consistently in the campaign, and I pay tribute to him. He fought for better Networker and rail facilities before I came to the House. Something must be done to improve the rail line.
My support for the Bill is limited to the extent that it could benefit my constituents, but I would certainly want it to be amended. My constituents' concern about the Bill is in relation to clauses 30 and 31, which deal with the potential of a Secretary of State to give unlimited financial subsidies to the operator of the channel tunnel rail link. The port of Dover and the ferry industry have hitherto relied on the protection given to them under section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which states that international passenger services shall not be subsidised.
The Transport Select Committee believed that the ferry industry should be protected against unfair subsidies. My constituents are concerned that clauses 30 and 31 are extremely widely drawn. Subsidies could be unlimited. No clearly defined or specific reason is given for a subsidy. Under the Bill, it is possible for a subsidy to be given for negligence, incompetence or even unfair competition. No audit trails are open to public scrutiny, and no mention is made of whether a subsidy is to be for capital, operating or financing costs.
There is no mention of a required rate of return on the subsidy that might be provided; the public sector is being asked to give a blank cheque. Originally, the subsidy was said to be for extraordinary environmental costs. I had a meeting with the Minister at which that possibility was discussed, yet that is not made clear in the Bill. It was suggested that the subsidy was needed to purchase capacity for Kent commuters, but Kent commuters may get only a tiny proportion of the available use of the link. Therefore, I am worried about how the calculation is to be done to justify using that reason for the subsidy.
I want the Select Committee to put some detailed questions about the subsidy. If there is to be a subsidy, the channel tunnel rail link must be economically unjustified. The Committee should ask why the link is to be constructed in a way that requires subsidy. If a subsidy is necessary for the link, why is subsidy not made available to similar or even better transport projects? What is to be the audit trail for transactions between the channel tunnel rail link company and Eurotunnel? Will public money be used to improve the finances of Eurotunnel? How are we to use appropriate audit methods to avoid that happening?
In a speech on 3 February 1987, the Minister of State said that railways should not
serve as a channel for Government funds to be provided to Eurotunnel."—[Official Report, 3 February 1987; Vol.109, c 863.]
How is that commitment to be met in the Bill? If the rail link is to be subsidised, why not subsidise the roads to the ports? The port of Dover still does not have a good connection with the A2. I accept that it has a very good connection to the A20, which was provided as a result of recommendations made by the Select Committee that considered the Channel Tunnel Bill. Perhaps the Select Committee that will examine the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill will also consider the need for fair play and for the A2 to be properly dualled between Lydden and Dover under the Bill.
If public money is to be used, it should be used fairly. That is what I want to see for my constituents in relation to the port of Dover. It is also important that we recognise that the channel tunnel and the channel tunnel rail link company will have several extra legislative benefits in addition to this Bill. They have a dispensation under the Immigration (Carriers' Liabilities) Act 1987. In addition, 44-tonne lorries will be permitted on roads travelling to railheads in connection with the channel tunnel. The French taxe uniforme applies only to the port and ferry industries; it does not apply to passengers using the channel tunnel. It is a grotesque tax that is unfair in its operation. It acts as a tax on the port and ferry industry.
I hope that the Select Committee will also consider the economics of the link and the fact that it may be a loss leader. That could have implications for the fairness of travel costs between the port and ferry industry and the rail link. There is not much time left to go into the detail. Suffice to say that the current forecast is that 10 million passengers will use the rail link. The average single journey revenue will be some £70. I understand that to be a reasonable figure. The railway companies of the three countries will share only some £55. That would give the channel tunnel rail link company some £15 and only some £150 million in revenue.
If the cost of building the link is £3 billion, £420 million of return on capital would be required for a 14 per cent. return on capital. In other words, a loss of some £270 million might be incurred. Even if the rate of return is reduced to that on public sector projects—about 8 per cent.—a return of £240 million would be required, and there would be a shortfall of about £90 million. That shortfall would be considerable, and I hope that the Committee will consider the unfairness of further financial support to the rail link in those circumstances.
I do not have time to make some of the arguments that I wished to make, but I hope to have the opportunity of presenting them in evidence to the Select Committee.
I am grateful for the opportunity to use the last few moments of the debate from the Back Benches to make three brief points.
First, I welcome the Bill, which is certainly not before time; we have waited for it for a long time. It is essential to the continued growth of the economy, and it will be a great success. The public and private sectors working together to achieve a result is especially beneficial. I believed from the outset that the line would never be built unless there was some public sector involvement. That was not always a popular argument to advance from the Conservative Benches, but it has proved to be right. I am sure that it will make a major and necessary difference to the commuting journeys of constituents from Kent.
That brings me to my second point. It is essential that the project is prosecuted to be achieved as rapidly as possible. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would pay attention to the fact that my Sevenoaks constituents already have evidence that, on occasion, Eurostar trains are being given priority on train paths to London, at the expense of regular services.
From the beginning, the House was given assurances by British Rail management, and by Ministers, that the existing timetables and services provided to commuters from Kent would not be disadvantaged by increased traffic serving channel tunnel passengers. It will be unacceptable if people who pay regular season ticket fares, and who depend on British Rail services to take them into London, find that their service, which is not always as good as it should be, is made even worse because of priority being given to Eurostar trains.
It has always been my nightmare that my constituents should stand, shivering, on the platform at Sevenoaks, waiting for a delayed or slow train, while the Eurostar flashes through, with the passengers enjoying their croissants and coffee in comfort. That must not happen at the expense of commuters from my constituency. Therefore, it is necessary to put the line in place as rapidly as possible and take the pressure off existing lines.
Thirdly, I add to the demands made from both sides of the House that the Select Committee must consider the compensation package. It will never be popular with any Government to increase compensation for the disadvantages of blight and of damage done to people's main investment. However, after debating the matter at considerable length in the Standing Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill, Eurotunnel developed a good arrangement for solving the problems of buying out and compensating people living in the Cheriton district, where the terminal has now been built. That was a private sector company taking a very liberal and positive approach to compensation.
I would commend to the Select Committee that it study those arrangements and, possibly, require private sector operators to take a positive and similar approach to compensation. Ultimately, proper compensation will mean that the relatively few people whose lives have been or will be heavily damaged by the provision of the link will not have their lives wrecked when the rest of the country benefits in a major way from such an essential development.
I welcome the Bill and hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to the wide range of views on compensation expressed in today's debate.
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman did not hear me correctly. I was saying that, if subsidy is to be given to a connection to the port—in this case the channel tunnel—we should have a proper road connection to Dover.
I understood perfectly well the import of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and thought it useful to place on record the fact that the hon. Gentleman is considering subsidies.
I do not wish to introduce further discordant notes, because this has been a good-natured and constructive debate in which hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed issues which relate to their constituencies and are at the forefront of the minds of individuals, organisations and groups within their communities. It is evident from the debate that there is consensus that the Bill should proceed. We can take it as read that there is wide support for this important measure.
We also seek a broad consensus on some of the major unresolved issues. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned compensation, tunnelling and environmental concerns. All hon. Members have said that they are happy to sign up to the Bill, as long as their constituents and organisations are treated fairly and sensitively by all those concerned in the process. That must be said at the start of the wind-up debate because it is a credit to the House.
This is an interesting time to discuss railways. When we discuss through ticketing on Wednesday, we may have more acrimonious exchanges than we have had this evening. The process is vital because, as many hon. Members said, this is not an ordinary construction development. It will take years and years, and many communities will be disrupted in terms of environment, nuisance, noise and general inconvenience. It is therefore right that the House should debate those issues constructively rather than be taken on a tangent to discuss other aspects of the ensuing railways debate.
This is also an historic occasion for the House because it is the second biggest investment in rail since we have had railways. That is important because it puts in context the importance of rail in the future, especially if it is to be linked to the trans-European network.
Europe has a vision of an integrated transport system, whether it be road or rail. Fortunately, this project has been included in the 13 key projects that will link Europe and, I hope, other parts of Britain for a more prosperous future. It is therefore important in a European context. It is also vital for Britain. For far too long we have dragged our feet in terms of the nature and level of the investment required to take seriously the idea of improving economic prosperity and giving the passenger a better deal.
The link is also about the regeneration of the south-east, particularly London. Many hon. Members have identified that crucial fact. When considering the benefits that will accrue from this development, it is important that the Select Committee take that issue on board. Obviously, it is not only a matter for the south-east and London. As a Scot, I want to see the benefits of the link experienced by other parts of the United Kingdom. That is absolutely crucial. I do not think that it is a matter of the south-east and London. It is a matter for the wider interest of the United Kingdom.
On a positive note, the Bill is also symbolic of a new age. We can have debates about public and private, and about the degree of investment from either party, but this is an historic event in that we want it to succeed. We want the west coast main line to succeed. We want crossrail to succeed. We want to open up a new era on the railways. Yes, we can have differences on ideology and have ownership discussions, but at the end of the day the travelling public expect a better deal. It is high time that the House accepted that the passenger and our economic prosperity should be high on the agenda.
Those are laudable objectives, but from the discussion this evening, other concerns must be reconciled—whether they be Kent, Thurrock, Barking or Islington—because at the end of the day individuals, groups and organisations will be affected. Communities may be badly affected, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). It is right that we take some time to identify the key areas that the Select Committee should address, because I would not like to think that the House could take historic decisions without taking into consideration the views of many groups and organisations which are fearful of the implications of a new technology: high-speed trains, the like of which most parts of Britain have not yet seen. All those individuals, groups and organisations need to be treated with respect.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised the issue of finance. It is clear, whether it be inspired speculation or detailed fact, that there is substantial public investment in the so-called "private" link. Whether one measures that in cash assets being transferred into the project from the Euro-passenger service, or whether it is in commissioning track for use by commuters, we are talking about substantial sums of public money.
I raise that matter not to open up a debate on private and public investment but to say that the House, supported by the Government, should use that public investment as leverage with all those involved, to secure the benefits that we have discussed this evening. If we are talking—the figure may be debatable—of a £1.7 billion contribution to a £3 billion project, the cost of which is rising daily, that is a significant figure. On behalf of all the taxpayers of Britain, whom we represent, we should ensure that Union Railways, the successful nominating undertaker, should be assured that we have an investment and that we want to see a return, not only for Britain but for the communities and interests that we represent.
I had the privilege of accompanying my hon. Friend the Member for Barking on a visit to some of her constituents. I understand that the Minister also visited her constituency. I was appalled by some of the hardships that many of her constituents will have to endure. I would not like to live beside the new tracks that will service the rail link, but they are willing to support the principle of the Bill as long as they get a fair deal. I have to say to Union Railways and to the Government that they do not believe that they are getting a fair deal. That is one of the challenges of the Select Committee: to ensure that the views that have been expressed this evening are taken seriously.
The Government, Union Railways and others are talking about speeds of 145 mph. But we now know that those speeds may be exceeded and that the maximum might be 186 mph. Many people want to be assured that environmental assessments fully acknowledge that those extra speeds may be achieved. That is significant.
In Barking, one of the key issues for the residents was the alternatives to the current route. We have talked about Barking reach and about tunnelling, but those people are equally concerned about compensation. Union Railways' activity on that so far, supported by the Government, has been tawdry. We cannot expect people to have their lives disrupted and their communities ruined, and to be permanently inconvenienced not only for the future but through an intense construction period, without their feeling very angry, dejected and dismayed. Those people are looking for a lead from the House. Again, I urge the Minister to reconsider the instruction.
If the whole of Britain is to benefit, let us not have casualties along the way. People in Barking simply want a fair deal, and I do not think that they are getting one now. Union Railways, the Government and the winning nominated undertaker must think again. We need compensation that is fair, and alternatives that have been properly considered and analysed: if people in Barking are signing up to a principle for Britain, they should also be signing up to a fair deal for themselves.
We have heard representations from Conservative Members about Kent, which contains areas of environmental and conservation interest that should be protected. We are talking about a multi-billion pound project, and I do not think that we should be niggardly about environmental protection. That is why I raise the issue of a substantial input from the public purse. I believe that if we are investing, as custodians of the taxpayers' money, we should look for the best deal possible and not be niggardly. Kent Members more eloquent than I have expressed their concerns.
I mentioned regional development at the outset. This is a project for the whole of Britain, not just the south-east, and we hope to ensure that it is a success. The same model is being used for the west coast main line, and cross-rail may be involved in the future. As I have said, we are talking about a multi-billion pound programme for Britain, and we must get it right. We must consider not only local environmental issues but key funding issues. Although the risk is being taken by the private sector, it must be acknowledged that a substantial amount of public money will be spent.
People on the periphery of Britain feel remote from the south-east, from London and from Europe. We now have an ideal opportunity to say to them, "Have confidence in our railways and our economic future." More important, the House must show that we are concerned about regional infrastructure and key links between the new stations and the east and west coast main lines. That is crucial for all concerned.
I have mentioned compensation and do not wish to dwell on it, but I do not think that we can get away with our current programme procedures. In Barking a handful of people have been offered compensation, but literally hundreds of householders should be able to receive some cash. Is it too much to ask the Minister to say that the Government will look at the matter again? We are not talking about more multi-billion pound investment; we are talking about a price for justice.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who made a case for Stratford station to be considered on the same- basis as other options. It is vital for regeneration that such projects be considered seriously. This is a once for all: few channel tunnel rail links will be produced in Britain in the future. That may comfort some hon. Members who fear the consequences, but we must take advantage of what is on offer at every opportunity. As some of my hon. Friends pointed out, the economy of some of the areas involved, especially the east end, requires radical treatment.
I mentioned the construction period earlier. I was struck by my visit to Barking; I am sorry that I could not visa other areas, but the new transport team has been in place for only a few weeks. I realised that the area would not only suffer massive inconvenience, but would be a construction site for many years. It appeared, however, that no thought had been given to road access, road damage, the size of the lorries that would come in and all the other inconveniences. I ask the Select Committee and Ministers to think seriously not only about compensation for the future, but about a way out to compensate for some of the ravages that many people in London and elsewhere will endure throughout the construction process. The issue is the instruction that we are asking the House to support.
Some of the Minister's responses have been helpful, but I do not think that he is willing to accept the instruction as it stands. There are three ways forward. First, he can ask his colleagues to vote against the instruction. That would be a tragedy because some Conservative Members want to support it. It would be folly to vote against an instruction in which many people see common sense.
The Minister's second option is to say, "I do not want to sign up to support it but I will not obstruct it." That would give the right lead to his colleagues who would support an instruction with so much common sense and which does nothing other than ask for the consideration of environmental issues and tunnelling. If the Minister suggests in his winding-up speech that his hon. Friends should oppose the instruction, it will be viewed badly.
The Minister's third way out is to say that he will not vote against the instruction. The best message that we can send to people in the communities who will be affected is that the House did not divide. That would ensure that the instruction goes forward as a vote from the Chamber.
Although the instruction is not in my name, it affects parts of east London to which my hon. Friend has referred. Is he suggesting that, because we have not had an intimation that is, in effect, an instruction from the Government, the Committee shall not take particular account of the environmental advantages of tunnelling in some areas? Is it possible that the Minister would say that?
It refers to the whole route. The spirit of the instruction encompasses many other aspects of the debate. It is about tunnelling and environmental protection. How will it look to the many communities that are affected by our deliberations if the Government decide to vote down an instruction which is so reasonable and which wishes to take people forward in consensus? I hope that the Minister will rethink that issue before delivering his winding-up speech.
It is evident from our tackling of the Bill that we support progress. This is an ideal opportunity to consider issues raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House and come up with solutions. I hope that the Minister will not say that the suggested solutions are far too expensive. This is a multi-billion pound project and we are discussing communities of real people. We are debating the environment generally, but we are also dealing with people's lives and we cannot put a price on what we should do to ensure that their quality of life remains at least as good as it is.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively to all those hon. Members who have raised local issues. At the end of the day the House can claim credit if it supports the principle that puts railways and Britain's economy at the top of the list of priorities. Let us not at the same time make constituents throughout Britain feel like second-class citizens because we have neither the time nor the money to invest in them.
This has been an interesting, good-natured and, for the most part, well-informed debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that it has shown a strong consensus in favour of the channel tunnel rail link. Of course, much of the debate has focused on important matters of detail affecting certain communities along the route—matters that are not, of course, mere details for those who live there. It is wholly appropriate that their Members of Parliament have so fully represented their interests and concerns in the debate this evening.
I am afraid that the consensus cannot stretch to the instruction to the Committee tabled by the Labour party. First, I do not favour instructions to the Committee which would tie its hands on which matters it should consider and which it should not. There is no getting away from the force of the words:
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that".
My right hon. Friend and I, in earlier interventions, stressed the difference between an instruction such as that tabled by the Opposition and the advice or guidance that my right hon. Friend or I might give to the Committee. If the Government had wished to give an instruction to the Committee, we could have tabled the proper motion and specified that matters outside the line of deviation set out in the Bill should not be considered. We have not chosen to do that because, in our view, it is better that such matters are left to the wise discretion of the Committee and that it should not be constrained.
Secondly, if the instruction were to be accepted it would undoubtedly mean fresh property blight and continued uncertainty over a wide area, especially in regard to the options in east London. It would not be possible to adopt the various tunnelling options without affecting the line that the route takes as it comes towards the terminal. Hon. Members' constituents who are not currently affected by the proposals would have their fears raised. It is not in anyone's interest to spread the problem of blight. Indeed, a number of hon. Members have said how devastating the blight has been for their constituents. One effect of accepting the instruction would be to widen the scope and the impact of the blight.
Thirdly, if the instruction was approved it would inevitably lead to considerable delay for the Bill. That would not be in the interests of the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken this evening and urged the need for the link to be provided quickly.
I have carefully followed what the Minister has been saying, but it seems to be inconsequential. He said that he did not want to rule anything out of the Committee's consideration, but then said that there would be a delay if the Committee considered some of the matters raised by my hon. Friends. If he is worried about delay, that means that he wishes to rule things out. Which is it? I hope that he will not rule out some of the options from the Committee's consideration.
As my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, we hope that the Committee will not consider it necessary to spend time examining options that were considered many times before the Government reached a final conclusion on what we thought was the best route. However, that is very different from either an instruction to the Committee that it should not do so or, as proposed by the Opposition, an instruction that it must do so.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) moves the motion and the Government oppose it and win, is the Minister confident that that will not constrain the Committee from doing what is suggested in the instruction if it so wishes? Negativing the instruction would be a serious matter if it constrained the Committee in the way that the Minister claims he does not want.
The hon. Gentleman almost takes my next words out of my mouth. I was about to urge the hon. Member for Fife, Central not to press the instruction to a vote, because if the House rejects the instruction, as I urge it to do, the Committee may feel constrained by that expression of the opinion of the House from considering these matters, even if it might otherwise have been minded to consider them.
Therefore, from the point of view of hon. Members who want the Committee to consider petitions relating to those options, and from the point of view of hon. Members whose main concern is that we should make rapid progress with the passage of the legislation and with the implementation of this important project, it is wise for the House not to give such an instruction.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you help the House at this crucial point? There has been some discussion as to whether, in the opinion of your Clerks, the decision to vote down an instruction constitutes, in effect, an instruction to the Select Committee not to do something.
I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and to the Minister. I think that we are getting into a contradictory tangle. If the Minister was right to say that the defeat of the instruction would preclude the Committee from taking it into consideration, that would elongate the process even more. As Madam Speaker has now said that the instruction would not be precluded, I presume that this is all irrelevant and that hon. Members on both sides of the House can do what they want and vote for the instruction to guide, to use the Minister's own word, the Committee on how it should proceed.
I did not say that the voting down of the instruction would preclude the Committee from considering it. I said that, if the House rejects the instruction, the Committee may feel constrained, by that clear expression of the will of the House, not to consider these matters, even if it might otherwise have been minded to do so. Sound reasons exist as to why there should not be an instruction from the House to the Select Committee, but the House should have confidence in the hon. Members and possibly right hon. Members who will be appointed to the Committee to use their judgment, to take into account the cogent arguments that have been advanced today and the representations that will be made to the Select Committee, and then to reach their own judgment.
Clearly, we are becoming a bit disingenuous. Will the Minister sum up the position by saying why he will not support the instruction? We now have a double view of what may happen in Committee if we do not do pass the instruction. Is it not right and proper for the Minister either to support the instruction or not to vote against it, to allow the general will of the House to go forward to the Committee?
It would not be right for me to try to sit on the fence. If I cannot recommend to the House that it should accept the instruction, it is right for me to advise the House to reject it.
Many points have been raised during the debate. I have 12 minutes left. I shall try to cover as many points as I can, but I give an undertaking to hon. Members to whom I may not have time to respond, that I shall seek to do so in writing after the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) will forgive me if I do not seek to respond immediately to the figures that he quoted. As one accountant to another, I undertake to reflect on them when I see them in the official record.
Not surprisingly, one of the major issues this evening has been the station at Stratford, which I and several Newham Members had the opportunity of debating in the early hours of the morning shortly before Christmas. I accept that a station at Stratford would assist the regeneration of the Stratford area. As I have explained, the option of a station there remains open by the provision in the Bill for the construction of a large open box.
The decision on whether there shall be a station at Stratford will be taken when we have received the bids from the four consortiums in March. As the House will recall, the bidding consortiums have been required to bid on various permutations, including the possibilities of a station at Stratford and no station at Stratford. This will be a good way to assess the economic viability of a station at Stratford in addition to the other two intermediate stations already provided in the Bill. We shall be in a position to make a proper and objective judgment on the basis of that evidence.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned connections to crossrail. We have long made it clear that we have not ruled out the possibility of a connection from crossrail to the channel tunnel rail link, but it must be a matter for the private sector promoters of the two projects to agree, first, that it is in their mutual interests to secure the provision of such a link and, secondly, to seek the powers under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to provide for it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) raised an important issue which was also mentioned by other hon. Members—how important it is that the benefits of the fast link should not be exclusively for London and the south-east but for the regions. In fact, it will be a requirement on the promoter of the project to build junctions outside St. Pancras to allow through services from the channel tunnel rail link to the east coast main line serving Peterborough, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh and to the west coast main line serving Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester. St. Pancras will provide an easy interchange within the station to the midland main line serving Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. The House will know that it is already intended that services from Wales and the west country to Waterloo will commence in the near future.
The Government therefore remain firmly committed to ensuring that the benefits of this important new piece of transport infrastructure shall be of benefit not only to London and the south-east but to the regions. Bringing the whole country closer to our European markets where we do so much business is an important benefit that we seek to secure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) raised the issue of noise mitigation and reminded us that the mitigation incorporated in the Bill has been designed for train speeds of up to 140 mph, whereas there is at least an expectation in many people's minds that the promoter will want to run trains at the maximum feasible speed of 186 mph. If that proves to be the case, the arrangements will ensure that the mitigation provided must be equivalent to that which would have been provided for the lower speed and, if the noise mitigation required for higher-speed operation cannot be provided, a limitation on speed would be imposed.
I am advised that over the vast majority of the route there is no difficulty about the adequacy of the land designated in the Bill for mitigation measures for the higher speed. It would be reasonable to expect that, if the private sector operator of the route intended to run trains at the higher speed, he would wish to build the mitigation to the higher standard from the outset rather than adding additional measures at a later stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) raised the issue of the 3 m upward limit of deviation. Most of the 3 m upward limit of deviation is needed for technical reasons to do with the accuracy of the mapping base and the way in which Parliament requires sections to be prepared, but we are considering carefully whether there are ways to meet the concerns about the 3 m limit without undermining the promoter's ability to build the new line.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) spoke about the route through Rainham. Having listened carefully to the views expressed locally during the consultation exercise, we decided to provide an additional 10 m gap between the rail link and the London-Tilbury-Southend line as it passes residential areas in Rainham. This has allowed for further mitigation to provide noise protection from the channel tunnel rail link and the London-Tilbury-Southend line. However, the alignment proposed by the Rainham residents association was considered to be unacceptable as it would have resulted in the rail link severing a series of industrial and development sites, thus constraining development in the area.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) raised the important issue of the Mardyke Park housing estate. It is true that the viaduct carrying the rail link past the estate will have noise and visual impact. There is, however, scope for reducing the number of houses affected by means of revised mitigation proposals, such as the use of higher or different types of noise barriers. We did not accept the alternative options for the alignment of the route in the area which were put forward during consultation, notably the short and long tunnel option or the viaduct option, as they all proved to be extremely costly in relation to the environmental benefit that they could deliver.
My hon. Friends the Members for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) both spoke about the crossing of the Medway. Having road and rail viaducts adjacent to each other will require careful attention to design. In principle, it must be preferable to concentrate crossings at a single point rather than to create a fresh crossing further upstream. Furthermore, having a single new structure is impractical for a number of reasons, including the fact that access to the M2 at junction 2 would be restricted. A tunnel would be very expensive, with an additional cost of more then £100 million.
I cannot give an absolute commitment that the two structures will be built concurrently. The co-ordination of funding and contract-letting would be a major challenge. The Government recognise, however, that concurrent construction may have some advantages in reducing the environmental impact and there is continued co-operation between the two project teams. It may help that, as I have ministerial responsibility for railways and roads, I may be able to have some small part in trying to ensure this co-ordination. I am well aware of the local concerns about the environmental impact of both the rail link and the widened M2, especially in terms of noise pollution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) referred to the problems of Pepper Hill housing estate. There should be no physical impact on the housing estate from the construction or the operation of the rail link. Following the announcement of the route in the area last April, the rail link route no longer passes underneath the estate, but goes through a cut-and-cover tunnel under the A2 to the west of the estate. The residents may, however, experience some impact from the movement of construction traffic.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malting (Sir J. Stanley) and other hon. Members referred to the purchase proposals. As I said to my right hon. Friend in the debate on 15 December, I recognise that there should be a read-across between the compensation for road schemes and rail schemes, and I recognise the merits of having a set of schemes that apply with equal validity to both modes. The schemes currently operated have been designed to be broadly comparable, although my right hon. Friend, I know, believes that in a number of respects, they fail to meet that objective.
The Government have undertaken to consider what more might be done to help people who, despite the best efforts that have been made to minimise the impact, are seriously affected by the construction and operation of the channel tunnel rail link. In addition, the Department is considering the implications of a recent decision by the Court of Appeal. In the light of that, decisions will be taken on how to deal with applications for road schemes. Given the similarity in operation of the separate channel tunnel rail link scheme, a decision will be taken on how that should read across to the channel tunnel rail link.
I met many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), in her company, before Christmas. I recognise that there are serious problems for many of them from the construction of the route and, in some instances, from its subsequent operation. I know of the strength of feeling among the hon. Lady's constituents that more should be done. As I have just explained, we are giving further consideration to the property purchase arrangements currently in place.
I commend the Bill to the House and I hope that the House will reject the instruction proposed by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), his hon. Friends and other hon. Members.