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Ec Railway Policy

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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10.51 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "policy" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"and welcomes the proposals to upgrade to European standards Britain's inadequate railway system by filling in the missing links, and especially welcomes the establishment of a high speed rail network to include a dedicated high speed rail route from the Channel Tunnel to Scotland which requires the recommended changes in the present financial controls over nationalised industries, notably British Rail, in order to take into account the general needs of the community.".
I hope that the House will understand that if I am to allow other hon. Members the opportunity to speak, I shall not be able to give way as often as the Minister did.

In view of the statements made by the Prime Minister this afternoon and in the past by the Secretary of State for Transport, to the effect that no subsidy would be available for a high-speed international rail link, no debate could be more apposite than this debate on the Community's rail policy. If that is true—we shall have to await the contents of the statement that may be made to the House on Thursday to find out—Britain will remain committed to its existing 19th-century railway system while Europe develops the railway system of the 21st century.

That will be bad news for the tunnel that will connect the two systems and it will make it much more difficult to raise the finances for that tunnel. It will be bad news for the already congested south-east railway network, which will have to carry an additional 16 billion passengers. It will cause considerable environmental damage. It will be bad news for the northern parts of Britain, which will not have the fast access to Europe so necessary to their economies. It will prevent the relief of major congestion in Britain and the limitation of environmental damage, which could both be achieved were we to develop fast links such as those provided by the TGV in France. Britain will pay a high price for such a decision.

The Opposition amendment is based on those aspects of policy which, as the Government made clear in their evidence to the Committee—and as the Minister made clear tonight—they do not accept. The Government do not welcome the idea that a railway system should be developed to meet the community's needs, that is, that there should be a fast high-speed network throughout the Community. If that were the case, people could travel from Scotland to Portugal, into the south of France or to Italy on a fast rail system. It is somewhat contemptible for southern hon. Members to say that such a system might save only 10 minutes on a journey in the south. A high-speed network is vital to the northern parts of Britain and that should be accepted whether hon. Members live in the north or the south.

Apparently the Government do not accept the need to co-ordinate. They accept that we need to harmonise some of the technical provisions, but they are not prepared to plan to ensure that we have a high-speed system similar to that in the rest of the Community and to fill in what the document and the Community refer to as the missing links in such a system.

The proposed plan for the European high-speed network extends only as far as London—according to the definition of a high-speed link. The European definition of high speed is 180 mph and there are test trains on the TGV system capable of 300 mph. It is all very well for the Minister to refer to the Leeds line. I travel on that line regularly. It is a good quality train, but trains on that line travel at two thirds the speed of trains in Europe. The problem is that the ride on the line is most uncomfortable because the track is not suitable for high-speed traffic. The Minister said that he has travelled on that line. I defy him to keep his coffee in a cup, if he can get it on a table, when the train is travelling at 120 mph. If he doubts what I say, he need only ask any hon. Member who uses that line.

I invite hon. Members to travel on that line and to see for themselves. A fortnight ago I travelled on a TGV at 190 mph and I could have stood a pencil on its end. That is the difference in the quality of the high-speed lines.

The Government reject the idea that there should be any subsidy for international passenger services or for freight services. The Government would not offer a financial incentive for combined road-rail services to move traffic off the roads on to rail. The Commission believes that someone using road and rail is being charged twice for the track costs—for the freight carriage and on the road. Therefore, there should be an entitlement to a reduction in the road tax. That is a reasonable argument and one that I should have thought would appeal to the marketeer arguments that we hear from Conservative Members. The Community's desire to see more freight transferred from road to rail and the use of subsidy should be an objective. That might not be achieved as a result of market forces, but it is recognised as desperately necessary in the south-east and in east Kent, where people do not want hundreds of thousands more lorries on their roads.

We disagree with the Minister about freight. The Government want a policy that reduces the public subsidy, leaving the issue to the market and to competition and hang the consequences. I am afraid that the Opposition do not accept that. Our amendment seeks to highlight the differences between us and the Government over the development of a Community rail policy.

Our system is inadequate and has missing links in that some lines still require electrification. I should have thought that the east midlands point might strike home with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who no doubt campaigns for it. We need a high-speed link from the channel tunnel to Scotland. It should go not simply to London; it should go to the north. The Government must also change the financial framework to allow a high-speed network to be built. Those are the possibilities to be found in the document with which we agree.

If the Labour party is so keen to develop rail links in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes, why has Labour-controlled Derbyshire county council refused to help to fund a feasibility study into the development of the Ivanhoe line, to improve passenger rail services in my constituency?

If the hon. Lady visited Europe and looked at the railways there, she would discover the European rail systems are paid for by the state, which plans the development and finances the investment and does not constantly impose increasing charges on the local authorities to carry the rail burden, which is what the Conservatives in Britain have been doing. They have been transferring the cost from national to regional and local expenditure, with all the difficulties that that is bound to create.

Never to the hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: `Windy."] Windy? The man is an idiot.

Our railway system is inadequate, and hon. Members need not take my word for that. They heard the groans that accompanied the comments about the Kent railway system. We have a passenger consumer body that has made it clear that the quality of the service has been deteriorating in punctuality, cleanliness and quality of service because of the reduction in the public service obligation grant. The grant in Britain is a fraction of what is given in Europe, and the result is bound to have an effect on the quality of the service.

There is no need for us to argue about whether our rail system is inadequate. It clearly is, on the basis of speed, quality and comprehensiveness of the network. On all scores the British rail system does not measure up to the best in Europe, and we should not have anything but the best.


If the argument is that our railway system is under-resourced, with a reduction in grant and investment levels, one need only examine a CBI report on the subject that was issued recently. That showed how much we spend on the infrastructure compared with our competitors. They are spending four or five times more than us, including on the railways. Presumably the CBI's arguments are accepted by Conservative Members.


The same applies to the amount of passenger journeys by electrified lines—56 per cent. compared with an average of 70 per cent. in Europe generally. On all fronts our system is inadequate and we must fill in the missing links if we are to achieve the improvement that we need.

On the freight side, we have a clapped-out engine system. We have been supplied with only half the engines that we need. Whereas, in 1975, 15 per cent. of products went by rail in this country, only 9 per cent. now go by rail. In Europe the figure is 15 per cent.

What do the Tories think section 8 grants are when they talk about no subsidies being given for freight? About £50 million has been given by the Government in section 8 grants since 1980, and that is called a subsidy. I agree. It is a subsidy designed expressly to achieve a transfer from road to rail. But it has been announced, with the collapse of Speedlink, that those who were encouraged to invest will no longer have the wagon facilities because the financial burden placed on the freight side of British Rail—now further increased in view of the greater rate of return requirement—has forced a cut in wagon loads.

It is always claimed when a cut in Speedlink is mentioned that it will represent only 2 per cent. of the tonnage: But that percentage represents about 100,000 lorries on our roads. Can our roads bear that additional number of lorries, considering our present congestion and environmental problems?

Incentives must be made available if we are to achieve improvements in the rail system. Conservative Members have much to say when we discuss subsidies and incentives. What happens when there is talk of reducing company car allowances? Those, too, are subsidies.

The Minister is apparently opposed to the idea of the Community having some influence on the nature of our rail system. The Government made it clear in evidence to the Select Committee that, in their view, they do not feel that what is required in Europe should necessarily have relevance to our railway system. I disagree. The British people would like to see a TGV fast railway link. That would give them choice. Conservative Members should favour choice, enabling us to compete against the aeroplane, thereby reducing congestion at our airports, and against other forms of transport. If time permitted, I should say a lot about the problems of congestion at our airports. It is no longer a matter of competition with the ferries. They will look after themselves very well; they are now bigger and faster. The tunnel will cost twice as much as they will, so price sensitivity is no longer such a concern for them.

I have no time; other hon. Members want to speak.

The aviation industry is congested and we should relieve that congestion, just as the French have clone. All those matters are relevant to our rail system.

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman does not want to give way?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can we establish that endeavouring to persuade a spokesman to give way does not make an hon. Member a yobbo? I hope that we can, as the Minister was courteous enough to give way several times.

That was one of the most genuine points of order ever put to me. That can indeed be established.

The hon. Gentleman is telling the House that a future Labour Government would put massive new resources into the rail system. Will he confirm that one of the first actions of the previous Labour Government was to cancel the Channel tunnel project? They went on to make major cuts in the railway investment programme, an action of which the hon. Member for Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was a regular critic. Why on earth should the House or the country believe that any future Labour Government would carry out any of the promises that the hon. Gentleman is making?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I adopted a position similar to his on the channel tunnel at that time. It is now partly completed and it will be an important part of our transport network. The question now is how to connect the link to it.

I come from the shipping industry and I know its sensitivities. I still advocate the need for a tunnel and rail connection, because the shipping industry will look after itself.

Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) does not want to waste the time of the House with such phrases, and that he will now withdraw it.

I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I directed the remark to you. I did not intend that, although I may have intended it in other directions. I withdraw any insinuation against you, Madam Deputy—

Order. Just to put the record straight, it was not a reflection on me. I clearly heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I take it that he has now withdrawn the remark so that we can proceed in good order in what little time we have left for the debate.

In the little time I have left I shall not give way to anyone else. I want to finish my speech.

I have been asked to quantify the money involved, and I do not want to evade the question. I do not want to be like the Secretary of State, who runs away from every argument. I take every opportunity to deploy my arguments, and the Secretary of State should do the same.

The Government's position on these matters is: leave it to the market; everything must pay its own way; the needs of the community are irrelevant. As our amendment makes clear, we reject that point of view. I should have thought that even those with an A-level in economics would know that transport costs are an essential part of any economic development—[Interruption.] I think I was right before about the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), but I must not spoil my image and keep laughing.

There is an hon. Lady who might reflect on that comment.

A European high-speed rail system of the TGV type is essential for this country, and it is necessary for us to secure it. It is possible to do so, and we must, to reduce congestion, improve the environment and build an economy to aid Britain's development in the European Community. Britain cannot have less than is available abroad, particularly when she is on the periphery of the Community, and needs a high-speed connection into that system. Therefore, the argument about the different routes is tragic.

The Prime Minister has said that there will be no subsidy for international links. Presumably, that means that costs are too high, and are greater than those on which one can except a rate of return from the projects. Those costs were inflated by a rumoured £1 billion by the Prime Minister saying, during the campaign for the Kent county elections, that people in Kent should not worry about their environment, because the route would be tunnelled. British Rail then had to come up with a plan to meet the evironmental requirements. I support the need to meet the requirements, but it is the worst of all worlds to impose such a social cost on a railway system and then, when one finds that it does not pay, to cancel it.

The argument is about whether we need the system, and, if so, how to pay for it. I do not know how much it will cost because we do not even know what the Eurorail preferred route is, because the Government do not give us any information. Nobody knows what the costs are, but we have heard that there is a difference of about £400 million. With a project costing £3 billion, it seems a good deal for the Government to put in £400 million to complete a high-speed rail link. With other projects—for example, in the London docklands—the Government's argument is that one puts in a little bit of public money to generate an awful lot of private capital. What is so different about a high-speed rail link?

Advancing public money would be fine if the payment of £400 million were one off. What would the hon. Gentleman say if developers came along and asked for another £400 million, and then another?

What has happened with the building of the tunnel, by another private enterprise flagship, has made me aware of that tendency. This is a problem, and one on which we have to concentrate our minds. However, if it not unique for such systems to be financed with private capital. I shall come to that, because it is relevant.

When I hear the hon. Member for Dover saying that he does not want subsidies for the ferries, I wonder whether he advocates the subsidy of £100 million-plus that goes to Network SouthEast. Does he want that removed, so that fares will be set in fair competition? Presumably they will have to rise to meet what is already a declared Government policy of reducing the public service obligation for Network SouthEast. He may think that that is good, but I think that if one forces up the fares, one will force more people into cars, which will have the worst possible consequences in an already congested area. That is not good sense. I only hope that it will dawn on the hon. Member for Dover, as we get near the election, that it might not be a good deal, because an awful lot more people travel on the trains than go on the ferries. He might rethink his order of priorities. It will not matter, because he will be out anyway.

The provisions of section 42 are an important element in the debate about public money. As I have said before, both sides of the House agreed with that section. The aviation and shipping industries were concerned and put on pressure then, but things have changed since 1986. For example, it was said that the south-east could handle all channel tunnel traffic, but since then it has increased by 25 to 30 per cent. The ferries are now faster and bigger and able to cope with the traffic. The cost of the tunnel has doubled, and the price factors make a difference in competition. Much the same has happened in aviation. Therefore, the Government could repeal the section, and I offer them the opportunity to do so.

The argument is: what is the combination of private and public money? The reputable Connect organisation surveyed 100 Tory Members, and 50 per cent. of them said that public investment should be made in the project and that section 42 should be repealed. We must wait to see what happens about that.

The central issue is whether the public sector can use private money to develop the channel tunnel and the high-speed link that should go up to Scotland and not end in London. That link becomes all the more important the further one travels from the tunnel.

We must change the rule that governs the nationalised industries in this country, which has been deployed by the Treasury under Labour and Conservative Governments. The document published by the Commission makes it clear that the financial framework should be changed in such a way to encourage private investment. A week ago Commissioner van Miert came here and suggested that projects such as the tunnel cannot always be made profitable and that the Euro-infrastructure fund should make up the difference in costs. That fund can offer only a small sum of money because of the Government have set their face against a larger such fund. But for the inadequacies of our system, Britain would be in a similar position to that of France regarding the common agricultural policy. We would be a net recipient of money from the Euro-infrastructure fund and we would be building up our communications system. Instead we are paying out on the CAP and paying higher costs for the project.

The nationalised industries of France and Germany have borrowed varying amounts from the private sector to cover three quarters of the cost. I have read the pamphlet from the 100 group about public utility financing. All the top private companies brought their auditors together and they recommended that it is time that we changed the rules in the Treasury concerning nationalised industries, to enable them to borrow on the private market. One could bring in equity financing and change the debt structure if desired, but it is not beyond our imagination to change the financial framework so that the major burden is not totally on the taxpayer, but balanced by the fare payer. That burden could also be reduced by development contributions and infrastructure money. At least that would mean that we had a rail system adequate to the needs of the 21st century.

We need such a system, but that needs imagination from the politicians. They must rethink some of their views so that Britain is given the transport system that she fully deserves.

Order. There is less than 30 minutes for the remainder of the debate. It will not be possible for me to squeeze a litre into a half pint, but I shall do my best with the co-operation of hon.Members.

11.17 pm

I am not sure whether I am a litre or a half-pint. The fact that more than 50 hon. Members are present, many of whom wish to take part, shows the political interest in transport matters and in railway policy particularly.

I make no complaint that the two Front-Bench spokesmen have taken up an hour of the one and a half hours available, but if any of the Government business managers are listening I hope that more time will be made available for such important debates.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the courteous and thoughtful way in which he introduced the European document. I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend, in his new position, intends to listen well, as there is a lot to learn about the railway industry. I suggest that my hon. Friend should check how much of what we call the subsidy to British Rail has, in the past 10 years, come from subsidies from the public loans fund board and how much from British Rail via its funds and from fares from its customers. I believe that my hon. Friend will discover that the claims that the Government make about the amount of subsidy given to British Rail for investment are a long way from reality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce), my near neighbour, referred to the Swanage railway, which is run by volunteers and acquired old irons to make one of its signal boxes from a sale in my garden a few years ago. That that railway should be compared with the investment requirements for the TGV leaves a little bit to the imagination.

The Opposition's amendment would be all very well had we not rather longer memories of what happened under the last Labour Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) pointed out. They have never yet shown an ability to match their ambitions with the reality of the economic policies that they have pursued. Perhaps that is why there is a reference to "missing links" in their amendment. Some of us remember that it was Barbara Castle who closed the Somerset and Dorset joint railway, the Great Central railway, et alia.

Conservative Members are entitled to say that the problems that we are facing now in our debates about the railways are caused by the congestion created by a successful economy generating a great deal of prosperity for millions of our fellow citizens which has been manifested in more cars on our roads. That is the political reality that we face today.

The document that we are debating contains a number of interesting proposals. It considers the role that the railways can play. One particular paragraph in the draft directive on the development of Community railways says:
"the manner in which road users currently pay for roads and the historical anomalies concerning inland waterways makes the achievement of equality of treatment between competing transport modes difficult."
That lies at the heart of this debate and all our debates. It is the debate that we had in the House a few Fridays ago. It is the debate about the double standards adopted by the Department of Transport since time immemorial towards investment in our roads as opposed to investment in our railways. That is the key to all this.

The document also says:
"The role of governments should rather be to provide a competitive framework within which railways and other modes of transport can compete on equal terms."
Unless and until we have equal terms, there will be no sensible debate. There is all the difference in the world between the way in which the ferry operators and the airlines, for example, get their passengers to airports and ferry ports, and the way in which British Rail gets its passengers to the channel tunnel.

As far as I know—my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me if I am wrong—the Department of Transport is not proposing to form a company next week called British Roads plc and it is not proposing to have a scheme whereby those who use the roads are required to pay for them. The taxpayer will provide all the money for all the roads for all the passengers to get to the airports and ferries. But British Rail must provide its own track costs out of its own funds. That is what many of us mean about the inequality of investment criteria.

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to abide by strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall not give way.

The perceived role of the railway in a modern industrial society on a small, crowded island such as Britain leaves us living on a different planet from the perceived role of the railways in various other EC countries.

We have all heard about the French railway system and I do not propose to discuss it this evening. But will my hon. Friend take every opportunity to study what goes on not in France but in West Germany? Most people would accept that the West German Christian Democrat Government are far from being a socialist Government. But the way in which the West German Government provide funds and assistance for their railway system can only cause one to gasp in anticipation and at the same time to groan with despair when we realise what a different attitude Britain has to our railway system.

The Deutsche Bundesbahn receives three types of funding from the West German federal Government. First, it receives compensation for public transportation services. The railway receives funds to help offset the costs of services which are not meant to be profitable, particularly in relation to urban transit or to regional transport in rural areas.

Secondly, subsidies are aimed at eliminating competitive distortions. In its attempts to compete with alternative modes of transportation, the federal railway is hampered by the fact that it is a Government entity. The Government provide funds to reduce some of the company's imbalances, particularly the extraordinarily high financial costs incurred for civil service training, retirement and welfare expenses. No such thoughts have ever crossed the minds of successive Governments in this country.

Thirdly, Deutsche Bundesbahn receives grants to ensure a stable capital base and maintain a healthy level of investment in the firm's railway infrastructure. As the owner of the federal railway, the West German Government are obliged to support the railway in that area. My hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessors have told me that they are uncertain of the West German Government's assistance to their railway. I spent time recently with the West German ambassador, with the transport attaché and with the head of Deutsche Bundesbahn in London. I should be happy to impart to my hon. Friend such information as I have received.

In West Germany, the modern railway is a national asset and part of the country's economy. It is an essential factor in both economic growth and environmental protection. I give only one illustration of environmental protection, which my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned in his speech. Recently, I supported the Government in their decision on the Winchester bypass. It was explained quite properly that, to alleviate environmental damage, the Government would provide millions of pounds to overcome the environmental objections to the bypass. Yet when British Rail makes proposals and, quite properly, is told that it must provide environmental protection, it has to find the money out of its own funds. There is an inconsistency in the treatment of British Rail. Until we have the level of playing field to which the document refers, we shall never have an honest and straightforward debate.

I shall end on the following point. I am sorry if I weary the House, because I have made it many times before. Public transport policy and party political dogma are uneasy bedfellows. Congestion and concern for the environment are national problems which will grow worse and worse over the years. I know that some of my hon. Friends wince if I dare to use the word consensus, but we must find a consensus across the political divide in the House. We must come up with a transport policy which operates in the interests of our nation. Inevitably, that will require far greater public investment in our railway system. There is no alternative if we are to continue to provide an environmentally acceptable and pollution-free opportunity for our citizens to enjoy a reasonable means of travelling in comfort and safety.

11.27 pm

It says little for the House of Commons that a major debate on transport is jammed into one and a half hours when we are endeavouring to take major decisions about the future of a railway system. I do not object to the length of the speeches from Front Bench Government and Opposition Members. It is important that we learn from the Government whether they have a transport policy at all. They make it clear that to them the transport system should be treated rather in the manner that some doctors used to be said to treat their patients—with masterly inactivity. They believe that, if they do nothing, with any luck something will happen. The difficulty is that in those circumstances the patient frequently dies.

We now face a major decision about a major transport link, the channel tunnel, which will affect not only the south-east of England but the economies and futures of the north-west and north-east, not to mention the state of Scotland, as well as Northern Ireland. Married to the plan for developing a high-speed link must inevitably be a clear view of where the freight depots will lie, how the passengers and freight will get around a major conurbation such as London and how we can plan, with the addition of local authority money not only for a land bridge to Northern Ireland but for the development of stations and traffic which will make a major and important contribution to the transport system of the next century. Those factors have not been made clear by the Government.

We know that the Government have one policy, which is to squeeze the rail system of as much finance as they possibly can, by setting increasingly difficult targets and demanding that the investment should come almost entirely from passengers or those who use freight services. Neither the environmental costs nor the development costs are important to the Government so long as they can cut subsidies. It has been made clear today that that is an unequal policy, because the Government happily choose to subsidise alternative forms of transport, although they are anxious that that should not be seen to be done.

The directive is a major departure. It suggests that rail systems will, in all probability, be split in two and that in financial terms the infrastructure will be divided from rolling stock and other services. It says nothing about how that will be planned or financed, and nothing about how we can achieve transparency in the financial system. While every other European country with the exception of Greece subsidises its rail system to an enormous extent, we are at the bottom of the table.

What do the Government intend to do to ensure that British Rail is not required to play off one local authority against another all across Britain due to the Government's attempts to have local ratepayers meet the cost of the sites to be developed as freight depots? What are the Government prepared to do about planning those systems so that they are economically viable and logical for the future development of this country's industry? That has not been made clear, for the simple reason that the Government are determined that such decisions should be made by British Rail. They will then put an enormous financial squeeze on the rail system so that decisions will be take by default which will have far-reaching consequences and will be impossible to alter when we are no longer competing.

It is the height of hypocrisy for the Government to argue that the Confederation of British Industry is concerned about congestion and the cost to British industry of not having an adequate infrastructure, and then not to make a single clear decision in relation to London, the movement of freight, or the development of high-speed trains.

Every other European nation has spent at least five years and probably 10 years planning to link its transport systems into HGVs, not just into their own future system but into those of other countries throughout the continent. We are the only nation to have left that aspect to be decided by default, on the back of an envelope, when it happens to be politically useful to make a statement in the House, like a bone being thrown to a little dog.

It is the height of irresponsibility for the Minister to come to the House today and still not make it clear how the Government envisage the future not only of the high-speed link but of the freight depots and of investment throughout the country. In the north, we need a clear statement of how passengers and freight will be transhipped around London and connect to a high-speed system. We need to know where electrification will come and why the Government will not encourage proper transport planning. None of those questions has been answered. It says very little for the Minister and nothing for the Government that they have such a weird set of priorities.

11.33 pm

You may be amazed to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I listened intently to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I was appalled to hear him call for a high-speed railway running at 190 mph. That would smash through Kent with scant regard for its environment.

In the short time available to me, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to get on with the job of scrapping the current high-speed rail link proposal. It is a botched job, which takes no account of the environment of Kent. It is inadequate for the purpose, as it carries only passengers. It would overload railway lines into south-east London—God alone knows that our constituents suffer that bad railway journey into London every day in the south-east—and to finance it, British Rail is asking for a blank cheque from the taxpayer. The Bill needed to achieve that would be a hybrid Bill, reliant upon whipping on Conservative Benches, which certainly would not be the way to get the legislation through.

The whole proposal is typical of a nationalised industry, with its traditional enthusiasm for white elephants. I do not see why the taxpayer should subsidise jet setters from London going to Paris or Brussels, or business men on their journeys to the continent. We do not want a rush job, which makes a fundamentally wrong decision about such a long-term project as a high-speed railway network.

I also listened intently to the Minister and he quite clearly said that when the channel tunnel opens there will be a railway network that provides a framework for freight and passengers to get through this country, and that £1 billion of British Rail money has been invested to ensure that that happens.

Tonight we are discussing a European document. Now is the time for us to calmly put our efforts into the working party of the European Commission, which will weigh up the priorities for high-speed links throughout Europe. However, when we consider a rail link passing through Kent, we should think of the environment and we should also consider a link that will carry both freight and passengers.

I represent one of the north-west Kent constituencies and that area has nothing to gain from a high-speed rail link. Our people will pay the price in terms of its effect upon their environment. If we are to have such a link, investment by the rail users must be used to protect people in north-west Kent who would otherwise pay the environmental price.

11.37 pm

I am almost reluctant to speak, because obviously, at this time of night, with another speech coming up and with the Front Bench spokesmen having already taken up one hour of the debate, it is impossible to say what one really wants to say.

However, it would be useful to establish the principles upon which I base my argument. As a Liberal Democrat I am committed to one Europe. As a country, we should be playing a positive role within Europe and not, as is often the case with the Government, dragging our feet and setting up obstacles. Narrow-minded nationalism and remarks such as "This is our railway," which the Minister, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), made on television last night, are hardly the spirit in which we should approach European unity and the single market.

Even if the Government are not committed to an integrated Europe, surely they can see that any delay in grasping the advantages for commerce and trade that the single market and the opening of the channel tunnel offer can spell only doom and gloom for Britain's economy. Those countries with advanced transport systems, including rail, which can transport passengers and goods in a fast, safe and efficient fashion, will corner the market. By the time we have stopped burying our heads in the sand, the rest of Europe will have established itself in the market and will be reaping the economic and social benefits.

If we are not going to try to compete on equal terms with our partners, the channel tunnel will be nothing more than an eyesore—and an expensive eyesore at that. Whether or not, as individuals, we want it in place, the fact is that it will be there—or it may be there; we are not quite sure, and I have my doubts about the project ever being finished as costs are spiralling and have already almost doubled. Do the Government know more than we do about that, and is that the true reason for their reluctance to invest in a high-speed network? Without an efficient rail link, our existing freight and passenger lines will not cope with the increased capacity. All major roads in the country will be jammed with lorries and cars making their way to Dover. The damage to our environment will be immense. The roads in Kent will be unbearable.

To resolve the congestion, we build more roads and damage the environment even further. If we do not resolve the problem of congestion, people and goods will eventually stop coming to Britain. Tourists will find it easier to travel in other parts of Europe, European companies will find other markets more profitable and British companies will find it increasingly difficult to justify the cost of transporting goods to Europe.

If that is the scenario for the future, it is not one that should be advocated in this Chamber. Railways have been proved to be far more environmentally friendly in terms of landscape and capacity, and the new technology means that they are also becoming noise-friendly. A high-speed rail link to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom—including the west and south-west coasts and not just the south-east and the route to Scotland, as the Labour party's amendment seems to advocate—will open up so many frontiers to us that we cannot help but benefit from it.

The claim that section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 prevents the Government from providing the funds is hogwash. The Government know very well that they could fund some of the high-speed rail link by means of the public service obligation to Network SouthEast. All that prevents them from doing so is the fact that it goes against the grain of their policy of making Network SouthEast self-sufficient.

I suppose that if we hold out long enough we may qualify for a grant from the proposed Community fund for the missing links of the European network. The Secretary of State is fond of saying that he has a balanced policy for transport. I suggest that he should put it into practice in this instance. These are not the policies that we require. We want policies which make for a fast and effective transport system.

11.41 pm

Many hon. Members are in the House tonight because we all like railway debates. Whenever we hold a debate on railway policy, there are always some hon. Members who have a lot to say about the investment that should be made in the railways, how it should be spent and what the priorities are. I hope that hon. Members will reflect on the fact that, if the proposals become the law of Europe, there will be precious little point in holding any debates on railway policy in the House. As directives are published, I hope that hon. Members will become aware of the extent to which we are totally throwing away decision making and giving it to another body in Brussels.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) referred to the new funds that will be made available. Provision is made for funding. If we want high-speed rail links, we shall have to go to Brussels and say, "Please may we have them?" Other countries will have to do the same.

I hope that hon. Members who like the idea of a high-speed rail link will read the document. The idea that there will be a coherent policy is utter nonsense. All we have are the old Euro-beliefs. We are told that a competitive, safe and environmentally friendly railway network will emerge from the proposals. Those are daydreams. According to page 57, one of the aims is to provide a common and, therefore, a more effective and credible front in the face of competition from Japan. I had never thought that one of the major problems facing British Rail was competition from Japan.

I hope that hon. Members also realise that if we go ahead with the proposals, there will be subsidies for high-speed rail links and crossing points. We all know that section—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), to put the Question necessary to dispose of them.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 112, Noes 149.

Division No. 229]

[11.43 pm


Abbott, Ms DianeCook, Robin (Livingston)
Allen, GrahamCorbyn, Jeremy
Anderson, DonaldCox, Tom
Armstrong, HilaryCrowther, Stan
Ashton, JoeCunliffe, Lawrence
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Cunningham, Dr John
Barron, KevinDalyell, Tam
Beckett, MargaretDarling, Alistair
Beggs, RoyDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Bermingham, GeraldDewar, Donald
Boateng, PaulDixon, Don
Bradley, KeithDoran, Frank
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Buchan, NormanFearn, Ronald
Buckley, George J.Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Flynn, Paul
Canavan, DennisFoster, Derek
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Foulkes, George
Carr, MichaelFyfe, Maria
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clelland, DavidGolding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, MildredO'Brien, William
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Parry, Robert
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Patchett, Terry
Haynes, FrankPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Heal, Mrs SylviaPrescott, John
Hinchliffe, DavidQuin, Ms Joyce
Home Robertson, JohnRedmond, Martin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Reid, Dr John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Robertson, George
Ingram, AdamRobinson, Geoffrey
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Rogers, Allan
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Kirkwood, ArchyRuddock, Joan
Leighton, RonShort, Clare
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Snape, Peter
Lewis, TerrySoley, Clive
Livsey, RichardSpearing, Nigel
Lofthouse, GeoffreySteinberg, Gerry
Loyden, EddieStott, Roger
McAllion, JohnTurner, Dennis
McAvoy, ThomasWallace, James
McFall, JohnWardell, Gareth (Gower)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
McKelvey, WilliamWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McLeish, HenryWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mahon, Mrs AliceWilson, Brian
Marek, Dr JohnWinnick, David
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Martlew, EricWorthington, Tony
Maxton, JohnWray, Jimmy
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Morgan, Rhodri

Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Martyn Jones.

Mullin, Chris


Alexander, RichardConway, Derek
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Amess, DavidCope, Rt Hon John
Amos, AlanCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Arbuthnot, JamesDavies, Q. (Stamfd & Spald'g)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Day, Stephen
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Dover, Den
Bellingham, HenryDunn, Bob
Bevan, David GilroyDurant, Tony
Bottomley, PeterFallon, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Favell, Tony
Brandon-Bravo, MartinField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Fishburn, John Dudley
Burns, SimonForman, Nigel
Burt, AlistairForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Butcher, JohnFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Butler, ChrisFreeman, Roger
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)French, Douglas
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Carrington, MatthewGill, Christopher
Chapman, SydneyGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Chope, ChristopherGoodhart, Sir Philip

Goodlad, AlastairNorris, Steve
Gow, IanPaice, James
Gregory, ConalPatten, Rt Hon John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Pawsey, James
Hague, WilliamPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hanley, JeremyPorter, David (Waveney)
Hannam, JohnPrice, Sir David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Raffan, Keith
Harris, DavidRedwood, John
Haselhurst, AlanRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Hawkins, ChristopherRhodes James, Robert
Hayes, JerryRiddick, Graham
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidRidsdale, Sir Julian
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Sackville, Hon Tom
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Shaw, David (Dover)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Irvine, MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jack, MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Steen, Anthony
Knowles, MichaelStern, Michael
Knox, DavidStevens, Lewis
Lang, IanStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lawrence, IvanStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Lee, John (Pendle)Sumberg, David
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Summerson, Hugo
Lilley, PeterTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Luce, Rt Hon RichardThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasThurnham, Peter
Macfarlane, Sir NeilTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Maclean, DavidTwinn, Dr Ian
McLoughlin, PatrickWalden, George
McNair-Wilson, Sir MichaelWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Malins, HumfreyWarren, Kenneth
Mans, KeithWatts, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Wells, Bowen
Maude, Hon FrancisWiddecombe, Ann
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinWiggin, Jerry
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickWilkinson, John
Mills, IainWinterton, Mrs Ann
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Winterton, Nicholas
Mitchell, Sir DavidWood, Timothy
Moate, RogerYeo, Tim
Monro, Sir HectorYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Morrison, Sir Charles
Neale, Gerrard

Tellers for the Noes:

Nelson, Anthony

Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Irvine Patnick.

Neubert, Michael
Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Question accordingly negatived.

Maintain Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4478/90, relating to Community railway policy; and broadly welcomes proposals aimed at improving the efficiency and competitiveness of the European railways.