Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill

Part of Orders of the Day — Schedule 3 – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 1st November 1995.

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Photo of Mr John Watts Mr John Watts , Slough 7:08 pm, 1st November 1995

No. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman, as I shall write to any hon Member to whom I have not had time to respond in the debate. The hon. Gentleman's queries do not relate to the order, and I think that I should continue to spend my time on that.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) mentioned the approach to St. Pancras. The Select Committee asked for a different arrangement for the approach to St. Pancras from that originally proposed in the Bill. It has now agreed to consider both the modified Baxter scheme, as it is called, and the promoter's developed scheme in the new year. We welcome that decision and we expect to introduce the additional provisions for both schemes in early December.

I can assure the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that both schemes will be dealt with in an even-handed way, so that both the Committee and those who may wish to petition it have the fullest possible opportunity to appraise their relative merits. I will also seek to make available as much information as possible as early as possible to assist the petitioners.

The cost of petitioning was raised by the hon. Members for Barking (Ms Hodge), for Islington, South and Finsbury and others. It is not a matter that we can control, because the cost of it is standard and is set by the House.

We believe that the Baxter scheme had some significant defects in operational terms, as well as it presenting some major difficulties in the construction phase. That is why Union Railways developed an alternative that we now believe to be better environmentally and superior in both its operations and construction. It also meets the key objectives of the Baxter scheme and, in particular, reduces the impact on Caledonian road and the traders and others who live there. It is also significantly cheaper than the modified Baxter scheme, although that is not an overwhelming consideration.

It will be for the Select Committee to take a view as to which of the options should finally be chosen. I can assure the House that there will be no attempt at ministerial interference in the Committee's deliberations. I gave that assurance on Second Reading, and I am happy to repeat it.

When the Baxter scheme was worked on sufficiently to prepare an additional provision, its construction and operational difficulties became more apparent than they had been during the Select Committee's deliberations. That was the driving force behind the production of the promoters' developed scheme.

The hon. Member for Barking paid a well-deserved tribute to the Select Committee and its work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) raised the question of Boxley valley. We have promised to continue consultation on the landscaping and mitigation for the route of the rail link through the Boxley valley, in line with the Select Committee's recommendation. I understand that Union Railways has had a series of discussions in the past few months with the local authorities and parish councils directly concerned—