My right hon. Friend will be more than aware of not only the battering that the current promoter, Union Railways—a British Rail subsidiary—has taken from people in north-west Kent in relation to the possible damage to the environment but the opportunities in terms of jobs, and so on, that are to be gained from the Ebbsfleet station. Is he aware that we need a decision now on a promoter so that we can ensure that our environment is safeguarded and, above all, that the opportunities deriving from Ebbsfleet are realised as soon as possible?
It is an important project for the nation—it has been supported by both sides of the House—and for my hon. Friend's constituents, who will gain access to a quick link to St. Pancras station. As I said in my initial response, we hope to make an announcement soon.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when he makes that announcement, he will also announce the Government's decision on intermediate stations? Will he further confirm that, in making that decision, the Government will honour the commitment made by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in 1991 that the rail link will bring economic regeneration to east London?
Will the Secretary of State please assure the House that, when the channel tunnel rail link is constructed, it will allow the operation of large-gauge freight trains and that links will be made to allow them to operate on an improved and upgraded west coast main line track?
My understanding is that there is an optional provision for loops for freight traffic. The link is primarily intended for passenger traffic into St. Pancras.
Will the Secretary of State admit that the Government's obsession with rail privatisation has caused long delays in the building of the channel tunnel rail link, and that those delays have meant prolonged blight for many families and a failure to use the opportunity created by the channel tunnel to get more freight on to the railways? Will he take this opportunity to tell the House more about the allegations of financial misbehaviour at Union Railways? Is he aware that the national joke is now about train delays being caused by thieves on the line?
On the hon. Lady's first question, had we not engaged in dialogue with the private sector, and if the project was to be financed entirely by the public sector, it would have taken significantly longer to be realised.
As for the second point, the hon. Lady will have seen the announcement made last week by Union Railways. I have asked the chairman of Union Railways to keep me abreast of the progress of the investigation. I have no further comment to make at this stage.