Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The channel tunnel rail link, or High Speed 1, is now open—on time and on budget. Passengers can now travel the 68 miles from St. Pancras to the tunnel at speeds of up to 186 mph. The journey from London to Paris can be made in two hours 15 minutes, and the one from London to Brussels in one hour 51 minutes.
From December 2009, domestic journey times will be slashed for commuters living in Kent, with the arrival of a new fleet of trains. London and Continental Railways, or LCR—the company that built the rail link—estimates that the project will generate an additional £10 billion of private sector regeneration investment along its route. Management of construction has been a tremendous success. In part, that is down to the structure in place: the corporate and contracting structures and the roles played by all stakeholders—LCR, the Government and a range of other partners. However, managing a construction project is not the same as managing a railway. The Bill makes a small number of changes to support a restructuring and make sure that the future structure is as effective as the existing one.
In 1996, London and Continental Railways won a contract to design, build and finance the channel tunnel rail link. That, however, was only the beginning of the story. The fact that the line runs from Kent to St. Pancras today is in no small part thanks to the efforts of Michael, now Lord, Heseltine. His focus on regeneration led to the rerouting of the original alignment under south London and enabled St. Pancras station to become the monument to British engineering that it now is.
In 1996, LCR and the Government signed a number of deals, of which the most important is the development agreement; LCR acquired not only the UK arm of the Eurostar joint venture, but brownfield development land around King’s Cross and Stratford. The first part of High Speed 1 opened in 2003 and the second section opened last week. The 1996 financing plan was to borrow against Eurostar revenues; it soon became clear, however, that those revenues would not give lenders enough security.
Unwilling to see the project fail, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), then Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, led a rescue bid in 1998. That comprehensive restructuring exercise secured the project’s future; without my right hon. Friend’s intervention we would not have celebrated the opening of St. Pancras earlier this month. My right hon. Friend’s role was pivotal. Without his efforts, it is clear that High Speed 1 could not have been built. It stands today as an outstanding legacy to his political career. I hope that the House will recognise his achievement.
The National Audit Office concluded that the restructuring was well thought out and helped to maintain private sector discipline over cost. The arrangements that were put in place have now proved their effectiveness, as the project was completed on time and within budget. As planned, the new railway is fully open and the Eurostar services moved successfully from Waterloo to St. Pancras International overnight last week. I take this opportunity to thank everyone who played a part in that.
Government support will always be needed to fund major rail projects, but given the investment made by taxpayers, we now need to get the best possible return. In 2006, after speculation about the ownership of LCR, its shareholders decided that at that point they did not want to sell their interest in the company. However, as was announced to Parliament in March last year, the LCR board and the Secretary of State agreed to undertake a joint programme of work to evaluate potential restructuring options. The objective of that work was to identify and implement a future structure for the company that was affordable and maximised value for taxpayers. The work is not yet complete, but we have made significant progress.
A separation of LCR’s three different businesses is planned—the infrastructure, including the track and stations, the land interests and the UK stake in Eurostar. Ultimately, as the Secretary of State said last year, we anticipate that there will be an open, competitive process for any sale, to secure best value for the taxpayer. The Bill is the first step towards that. Outside the Bill, a number of regulatory approvals must be granted.
The Minister makes the important point that when the sale happens he will seek to gain the best value for the taxpayer. Can he cast some light on whether the Department will also have some regard for the travelling public who use the line, particularly in Kent, because one can imagine circumstances in which there would be a genuine tension between those two demands?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that any restructuring process—indeed, any wider policy of the Department—will make the interests of the travelling public an absolute priority. I understand that he has concerns about the service pattern of Eurostar as it affects Kent, and he may want to say something about that later.
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of the travelling public, he will know that my constituents are very much looking forward to using the domestic high-speed service. Many of them will want to go to Stratford international station and then get on to the docklands light railway to go into the City, as will be possible from 2010. Others will want to transfer from Stratford international station to Stratford domestic station to get on to the Jubilee line. Those two stations were supposed to be linked by a travolator, but I understand that there are now some second thoughts about whether that will be constructed or whether the link will be delivered in some other way. Will the arrangement that he is proposing make it more or less likely that we will get that essential link between the two Stratford stations?
That was an ingenious intervention by my hon. Friend. The short answer is that I am afraid that the Bill will make absolutely no difference to whether the travolator—an inelegant word if ever there was one—will be constructed. He is right that the requirement to build a mechanical link between the international and regional stations at Stratford was part of the original planning consent. He will perhaps already know that plans are now in place to build an access route from the eastern side of the station that will require passengers to walk about 200 m, and the procurement process to identify a suitable contractor is under way.
Outside the Bill, there are a number of regulatory approvals that must be granted, but if the timetable proceeds as we anticipate, the most significant sale—of the rail infrastructure—is likely to take place in 2009.
The answer is yes. However, I will not speculate about who might ultimately win that particular bidding process.
The Bill, though short, is the first visible step in the restructuring work package. Our work with LCR identified that High Speed 1 might be subject to two existing pieces of legislation—the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 and the Railways Act 2005. As a result, there is a risk that legal or regulatory uncertainty about how the legislation interacts could jeopardise the Government’s ability to get the best price. The first clause confirms that the Secretary of State’s powers under the 2005 Act to provide financial assistance can be applied in relation to High Speed 1 and the train services that run on it.
The second and third clauses change existing provisions in relation to the regulation of the line, which is exempt from economic regulation by the Office of Rail Regulation. However, the Secretary of State has certain regulatory duties in relation to HS1, such as setting an access-changing framework and ensuring fair and non-discriminatory terms of access to the railway. There are some areas where the duties of the Secretary of State and the ORR overlap, or could overlap, and the Bill clarifies who is responsible for what and allows the ORR to recover the costs that it reasonably incurs when exercising its function and duties in relation to CTRL or HS1.
Does the Minister accept that while there has been an understandable focus on the enormous success of the passenger facilities that will be available with the reopening of St. Pancras, there needs to be an equal focus on the potential use of the rail link for freight? That has been a much less successful development, with, at times, as few as one train a day using the line for that purpose, and that needs as much attention in future as the successful passenger-related developments that have already taken place.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I know that he takes a close interest in rail freight matters. High Speed 1 might be appropriate for freight usage. The Government’s hope is that decisions about access to High Speed 1 will be taken on a completely commercial basis. He is right to point out that the recent history of through-tunnel rail freight has been a difficult one, certainly in relation to the charging regime for travel through the tunnel. The Government have been trying to work that problem through with the owners and the rail freight companies. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is no reason why domestic freight should not use High Speed 1 in the future.
The Bill amends the statutory definition of “development agreement” in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 to include the word “operation”. We are now starting to see the full extent of this project’s value to the UK taxpayer. The financial receipts from any sales are likely to be significant, but the benefits of the rail link are wider than any simple financial transaction. LCR estimates that the new line is facilitating £10 billion in private investment in some of the most deprived areas of the south-east. King’s Cross Central is a 27 hectare former goods yard that will accommodate new-build homes and reused warehouses, shops, offices and leisure facilities. Taxpayers will receive an agreed proportion of the proceeds from that development.
In Stratford, a 30 million sq ft development, including a new station, shopping centre and accommodation for athletes, will support the successful staging of the Olympic games in 2012. Journey times to the continent have been cut by at least 40 minutes, compared with before HS1 was built, and through tickets are now available from regional stations across the UK.
My hon. Friend talks about through tickets from regional stations and the regeneration effects of HS1. Bearing in mind that his constituency is on the west coast main line, as is mine and that of Madam Deputy Speaker and several other hon. Members present, can he say when we might see HS3 serving that line so that people outside the south-east can quickly get to the continent if they wish to do so?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention. [Laughter.] We have plenty of time, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am not sure that you would want me to digress to that extent. However, since the question has been asked, the channel tunnel, which was first suggested as a genuine capital project that would actually go ahead in the 1980s, gained support in the House because there was a commitment to link it via high-speed lines to points throughout Great Britain. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct about that. Subsequently, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the then Conservative Government decided that direct high-speed links to the channel tunnel would not be provided—I am not making a political point here; this party supported their decision.
To bring the House completely up to date, it is a matter of record that our party’s 2005 manifesto committed the Government to considering the case for high-speed links from north to south, and we have done that as part of the process leading up to the publication of our White Paper, “Delivering a sustainable railway”, in July. The Government concluded correctly that although there may be a case in the medium to long term for high-speed lines as a way of meeting additional capacity demands, there was not as strong a case for them with regard to connectivity and journey times, given that Great Britain is a relatively small island. That discussion is still ongoing in the Government. We will make further consideration of the case. I hope that whoever is in this job in 2012 will make a relevant announcement at that time, in the run-up to the high-level output specification planned for publication in that year that will cover the control period from 2014 to 2019.
My Friend or his ministerial colleague told me that the Government would not consider extending HS1 north until 2012. That is a tragedy because its extension would make a transformational impact. I have just come back from Taiwan, where a high-speed railway was opened in April. All domestic flying has stopped in Taiwan because it makes sense for people to travel on that railway.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s brief travelogue, but I must emphasise that, in the context of connectivity in the United Kingdom, the case for high-speed lines is not as strong as it might be in other parts of the world. I do not accept that the high-speed line is, of itself, necessarily a good thing. There must be other economic and environmental reasons for such a line. It is a vast financial commitment over a long time, with certain consequences such as blight. Ultimately, travel times in Great Britain are comparable with some of the times that are achieved for similar distances between cities and other locations on the continent. I have not ruled out the prospect of more high-speed lines in Great Britain, but they must be considered on the basis of whether they benefit the economy and meet the demands of increasing capacity in the next 10 to 15 years.
Given the Under-Secretary’s comments and the fact that people in the north of Scotland and in my constituency in the west of Wales currently and for the foreseeable future derive no direct benefit from the channel tunnel rail link, why is it still regarded as a UK-wide project? Why is Government funding under clause 1 excluded from the operation of the Barnett formula? Why that exclusion when we do not receive any direct benefit from the line in Wales or Scotland?
We are considering the first high-speed line to be implemented and inaugurated in our country and our capital city. I do not perceive any benefit in following the nationalist, narrow-minded dead end that the hon. Gentleman’s comments suggest. To describe a high-speed line from St. Pancras to the channel tunnel as some sort of parochial benefit for the south-east is the worst form of nationalism. Nationalism takes many bad forms but that is one of the most small-minded attacks that I have heard since I gave an interview to BBC Radio Scotland two weeks ago.
The discussion is becoming terribly negative. I have worked out that my constituents in Ramsgate will be able to get to Leeds in four hours, including the time it takes them to change trains at St. Pancras, on the new service. We should celebrate that, not criticise it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for again bringing the debate back on track. We should celebrate High Speed 1. More than £8 billion has been spent on upgrading the west coast main line, slashing journey times between London and Glasgow, which will have a knock-on effect on people in Glasgow, including in my constituency, who want to use the west coast main line to travel to King’s Cross and Euston, then go to St. Pancras for their onward journey to the continent. That is unalloyed good news for the whole of Britain, especially the British rail industry.
I want to revert to the pressure that has been put on my hon. Friend to consider other high-speed links in the UK. He has talked about the excitement that opening High Speed 1 has generated. Given the genuine excitement, the continuing and growing concern about climate change—and the effect of other modes of transport on that—and the ever-increasing congestion on existing lines, is not now, rather than 2012, or who knows when, the time to consider other high-speed links? We would thus capture the excitement of the moment.
I add a note of caution to my hon. Friend’s comments. The environmental case for a high-speed line is often overstated and painted in black and white terms. Pushing any train up to significantly higher speeds takes great increases in energy, which has to come from somewhere. I return to the point that I made earlier. Connectivity cannot always be addressed by high-speed rail in a country the size of Britain. Given that the journey times between most of the major cities in Britain are already fairly modest, we are left with the conclusion that the main argument for new high-speed lines lies in the need to meet the increased expectation of higher capacity in the medium and long term. The Government are committed to considering that option. I hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Members in all parts of the House will accept that as a reasonable and mature strategy to pursue.
Take, for example, the journey from London to Manchester as it stands currently. Even without high-speed lines, rail already has the majority share in that market. Once the west coast main line is finally upgraded, I expect that advantage to increase.
The Government are not in the business of telling airline passengers that they should not use airlines. We want to ensure that realistic alternatives are available when people make a judgment about which form of travel to use. Thanks to our investment in the wider rail industry over the past 10 years, and in the west coast main line in particular, people in this country have a realistic choice of whether to travel by train, rail or car. That was not always the case. Before 1997, and certainly 20 years ago, most people did not have a choice between rail travel and air travel. They now have a realistic alternative to travelling by air, and more are choosing railways even without the high-speed lines.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Given his background, can he tell me of a single Member of the House representing a constituency in Glasgow who takes the train more than once a month to get from his or her constituency to the House and/or back?
I would not want to speak for any of my colleagues representing the first city of Scotland, but I can tell my hon. Friend that I certainly use the railway to get from Glasgow to London every Monday morning—although that is a hostage to fortune. I use the train whenever possible, which works out at three times every month at least.
Local people in Kent will experience reductions in journey times to London from the end of 2009, with travel to Folkestone and Canterbury estimated to take about an hour. The brand new fleet of class 395 Hitachi trains will also be used to deliver the high-speed Javelin service during the 2012 Olympics, travelling from St. Pancras to Stratford in just seven minutes. The Bill sets in motion a restructuring package that will optimise value for money for taxpayers and put the railway on a firm financial footing for the future. I commend it to the House.
Today we have the Second Reading of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill. It is a small Bill of only six clauses; none the less it is a difficult Bill and to some people almost impenetrable. However, behind it lies a unique British achievement: the channel tunnel rail link or High Speed 1, as we are now to call it. The first service left St. Pancras last week to universal acclaim, achieving recognition from all the national newspapers; indeed, even the Evening Standard put it on its front page. Those of us who attended the opening ceremony the previous week will remember for a long time the excitement and sense of achievement that we experienced that night. The crowning achievement is surely the reinstatement of the single span roof.
As the Minister rightly said, the contributions of Lord Heseltine and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) are to be saluted. We on the Conservative Benches should also like to offer our congratulations to Mr. Rob Holden of London and Continental Railways and his team at the channel tunnel rail link on completing the project on time and on budget. We would also want to salute, as did the Minister, the efforts of all those who moved operations seamlessly overnight from Waterloo to St. Pancras. That was a major success and when the first train rolled out last week, it was a huge achievement.
High Speed 1 now stretches from the mouth of the channel right the way through the Kent countryside into east London via Stratford, terminating at St. Pancras—a total of 109 km or 67.7 miles. Although the London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord service will be the main focus at the moment, we should not forget that about 40 per cent. of the capacity is being reserved for high-speed domestic services. Clearly, that will be a huge advantage for the commuters of Kent.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has recognised the benefits of the domestic services to my constituents in Kent, but may I gently remind him that when the Conservative Government left office, they had no plans for a domestic high-speed service? In fact, they had ruled them out. It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who insisted that there must be a domestic service on the CTRL.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, but let me remind the hon. Gentleman that on 20 February 1996, it was the Conservative Government who had the vision and awarded the contract to put that in place. They awarded the contract to London and Continental Railways to build and operate the channel tunnel rail link. Who would have dreamed that we would see 186 mph travel from the UK to France and beyond, as well as on domestic services? Certainly anyone using domestic services at the moment could hardly have dreamed of that.
Given the vision of the Conservative Government—I absolutely salute that vision for the channel tunnel—what are the hon. Gentleman’s views on the possibility of High Speed 3? If his party were in government, would they support it and, if so, would they put any public money into it?
I am delighted to respond to that intervention. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a keen student of our policies, not to mention explanatory notes, so I am somewhat surprised that he does not seem to have noticed that we have already said and confirmed—it is in Conservative party policy—that an incoming Conservative Government will conduct a feasibility study for HS3.
As I understand it, the Bill is intended to make minor amendments to current arrangements. There is a belief that the structure of London and Continental Railways, which has contributed to success in construction and delivering the project, may not be the best on an ongoing basis and for its operational purposes. As the Minister said, the Government and LCR have thus undertaken an evaluation of available restructuring options. The Bill is being enacted so that that process can happen.
As the Minister stated earlier, the Government believe that splitting LCR into its component businesses is the best way forward, so the Bill introduces a small number of measures to clarify the legislative and regulatory status of High Speed 1. The Government believe that, without their intervention and the Bill, there would be risk of legal and regulatory uncertainty. In Committee, we will look to the Government to clarify, quantify and justify that position.
Network Rail will be able to bid for it. As the Minister said, it would be wrong for anyone in the House to prejudice the outcome of the bidding process.
The Government assume that if the assets of LCR were sold, their value—without this legislation—might be sub-optimal due to the lack of clarity about the funding arrangements for capital construction and the future. One of the things that we will be keen to learn from the Minister is what guarantees the Secretary of State has given with regard to the construction phase. Will the Bill allow the assets to be sold with those guarantees? Does it imply that if London and Continental Railways assets were sold, the debt would remain guaranteed by the Government and the original funders?
The Minister was right to say that clause 1 implied the existence of a sufficient level of uncertainty over whether the powers that the Secretary of State had to fund the project during the construction phase would continue into the operational phase. We shall want the Minister to clarify at some point whether he means that those powers apply to the whole channel tunnel rail link, or just to the channel tunnel rail link and LCR after the construction phase. Does the uncertainty stem from some ambiguity in the original Act, and why did that Act not cover the post-construction phase? That is an important point because, as the Minister well knows, later this week a Bill analogous to this will be considered in Committee, and we need to be sure that the provisions in this Bill cannot be applied to the construction phase of another major project.
I assume that the import and intent of the Bill will not affect a net change in the overall cost to the public exchequer, but merely confirm what is already the case. However, questions arise from the Secretary of State’s power to continue to fund the channel tunnel rail link and the trains that run on its infrastructure. Does that imply that the subsidy applies to both infrastructure managers and train operating companies? Will the Minister confirm that there will be no overall change in public cost, but merely a restatement of the guarantee? Why is it envisaged that the Government will subsidise the operating cost, and for how long is that envisaged to last? If Eurostar train operations succeed or at least break even, why should the public purse continue to operate a public subsidy? All that arises in clause 1. Although the Bill itself is small, we shall have a fair amount of work to do in Committee.
Clause 2 appears to repeal some of the provisions in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 relating to the Office of Rail Regulation which it is claimed are no longer necessary. Again, we shall seek clarification of the exact extent of what the Government are doing. Under section 16(1) of the 1996 Act, any operator of CTRL is not required to hold a licence under the Railways Act 1993, and therefore access arrangements relating to the channel tunnel rail link do not generally require the prior approval of the ORR. We shall seek elucidation of why the operator is not required to hold a licence. Will that continue into the operational phase, and, if so, does the Minister expect the position to change? Do the access arrangements that currently do not need prior approval not need it because they have been agreed, or because they will be regulated by some different method?
I understand that all access contracts in relation to the channel tunnel rail link are outside the regulation of the ORR under the terms of the 1993 Act. How long does the Minister intend that to continue, and is it really desirable? What impact will it have on the ORR’s normal powers in relation to safety and performance? All that is covered by clause 2, which is short but gives rise to a number of issues.
Clause 3 makes some changes to the ORR’s duties in relation to the channel tunnel rail link. It gives specific powers to ensure that functions in connection with the national rail network which the ORR formerly exercised to prevent the construction project from being adversely affected are now changed. It is a small repealing measure. As the Minister said earlier, clause 4 allows the ORR to charge a fee to the operators of the channel tunnel rail link in proportion to the cost that is incurred.
Although this is a relatively small Bill, clauses 1,2 and 3 will require scrutiny in Committee. As I said earlier, however, behind the Bill stands a unique British achievement, and the Minister was right to praise it. Conservative Members also salute that unique achievement.
I am grateful to the Minister for his offer of a briefing prior to the Committee stage. I hope it will be enlightening, and that it might raise the scales from my eyes with regard to some of the Bill’s more technical points. We intend to aid the Bill’s parliamentary progress and I ask my colleagues to support it.
As the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has said, this is a short Bill which is uncontroversial in the House. It does have some significance, however, certainly for people such as my constituents in Norwich who are trying to use Stratford station in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman)—to get better access to Eurostar and services to north Kent. I want to probe a little the remark made in response to his intervention by my hon. Friend the Minister, who said that the Bill will make no difference to the development of that.
I strongly support the Bill, particularly the part that confirms section 6(1) of the Railways Act 2005 giving the Secretary of State the power to
“provide, or agree to provide, financial assistance to any person—
(a) for the purpose of securing the provision, improvement or development of railway services or railway assets; or
(b) for any other purpose relating to a railway or to railway services.”
As I understand it, clause 1 of the Bill confirms for the avoidance of doubt that the Secretary of State can following completion of the construction project continue to provide financial assistance to CTRL—the channel tunnel rail link—under the powers of the 2005 Act. That is one of the clarifications that the Bill seeks to make.
In particular, the Bill confirms the Secretary of State’s power to provide capital funds through a range of different mechanisms for the CTRL project. I understand why my hon. Friend the Minister therefore said that the Bill was not associated with a high-speed link such as High Speed 3 or HS4—or, in the case of Norwich, probably HS15, when it comes around. He might be interested to know that the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Norwich city council is arguing for us to get a full high-speed link—that HS15 project—right away, but I understand the public expenditure constraints my hon. Friend the Minister described.
The Eddington report’s statement that we should be trying to get far more efficiency out of our existing network is of relevance to the Bill and this issue, and in particular the question of the interchange between the main line service between Norwich and London—and other services coming into Stratford—and Eurostar and the Kent system. It seems to me—perhaps this will be clarified in the wind-up—that the power that the Bill confirms allowing the Secretary of State to require that money be spent on improving this network and the assets related to it could in principle, if the Secretary of State so desires, apply to creating out of Stratford station an effective high-quality interchange. I want to elaborate on that point.
The Secretary of State should use that power to invest capital in the vital interchange station at Stratford, and in particular either to construct a travolator—it would have been far better had that been established earlier—or another convenient walkway, such as the eastern egress walkway which is currently being talked about, from the main line and other services at Stratford to the new international station on the Eurostar route. As other interventions have suggested, that will also be the connection to the new service to north Kent. Therefore, this is not simply to do with a high-speed service from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet or from Ashford; it is also to do with an interlink for people travelling from East Anglia to Kent. If they have that interchange at Stratford, the services will be improved.
There is discussion and argument about what the exact distance of the interchange will be. I understood that it might be 400 m to 600 m, but I heard the Minister say he thought it might be 200 m. It will in any case be a relatively short distance, but it does not seem to me to be an unreasonable demand that people travelling internationally—going on holiday, perhaps—should not have to lug their bags about and should instead have the kind of automatic transit that we see in every airport in the country. My hon. Friend the Minister might confirm whether I am right, but that does not seem to me to fall outside the Secretary of State’s remit in terms of the capital investment they could require.
Of course, the case for investing in the interchange station is very powerful. There are three central arguments. First, as I said a moment ago, it would increase use from East Anglia and some parts of London, including the Canary Wharf area—that is not entirely insignificant when looking at business on the Eurostar service—of both Eurostar and the service to north and east Kent. As the hon. Member for Wimbledon said, that represents about 40 per cent. of the capacity of that line. That increased use would be a real benefit to millions of people, certainly including my constituents but also many others throughout the whole east and south of the country.
The second case for investing in the interchange station is that it would increase revenue to Eurostar and put the Government in a stronger position to gain a proper return on their investment, which I understand is one of the Bill’s purposes. For example, a survey commissioned by Newham council from Buchanans suggested that such a change would increase Eurostar’s revenue by no less than 10 per cent. That is a big increase. There have been counter-suggestions that the figure could be as low as 2 per cent.; however, even 2 per cent. should not be sniffed at if one is trying to get better use of the network as a whole. That would be a matter of real interest to those involved in the restructuring of London and Continental Railways. In the context of the restructuring that the Minister described in his opening remarks, the potential travel and transit on the route is very important.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that issue, because I am very concerned about it. I had a series of meetings over the summer with the people running Network Rail, Eurostar and various other services, such as National Express, which runs a service through that station. I was not going to say this but perhaps I will—despite the assurances that I received from Eurostar, I want it to be spelled out in terms that the service will stop at Stratford with the frequency required.
I note some of the things that have happened to the Ashford service—the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is in his place—and I am slightly concerned that the Eurostar management would really like people to travel from St. Pancras to Ebbsfleet and on through the tunnel, without bothering about Stratford and Ashford. I might be wrong in saying that and I am not making that charge directly, but it is a concern. That is precisely the reason why I draw attention to the Secretary of State’s powers in these matters, which is what this Bill is about. The Secretary of State can use such powers, and I shall deal in a moment with the effort by the former Deputy Prime Minister to use such powers precisely because some of the companies concerned were not prepared to go along with what the Government were seeking to achieve.
I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend is saying about the importance of the interchange between the regional and the international station. However, I should point out in the light of what has happened to Ashford that Eurostar management never gave any hint that they were intending to cease the stopping of the Brussels train at Ashford while the station was being built, and while their support for Ashford was necessary to build Ashford International. I, like him, have my doubts about whether they will be committed in the long term to the Eurostar’s stopping at Stratford, for the same reason.
I am grateful for that intervention and I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the strongest way to convince the management of Eurostar—or, indeed, of any train service—of the utility of stopping at a particular station is the impact on passenger numbers and, therefore, on revenue. That is why I cited just before he intervened studies suggesting that revenue would increase if the kind of investment in Stratford station were made that would make a difference to the motivation of the management. I do not blame Eurostar management for wanting to run a service in a way—in the right way—that makes them money, but I question whether they are making the right judgments from the point of view of revenue development.
I was arguing, first, that investment in the station would increase the use of services, and secondly, that that would therefore increase revenue to Eurostar, which is in the interests of Eurostar and of the Government of the day when looking at the restructuring described in the Bill. Thirdly, that change would increase incentives to travel by rail, rather than by car. For example, it would reduce the amount of car journeys from East Anglia to Ebbsfleet to pick up the Eurostar. Some in the train business believe that it is okay if people drive to Ebbsfleet, but it is getting on for a 100-mile drive from parts of my constituency to there. It would be far better if people got on the train and made the change at Stratford if they were going to do that.
The regulatory impact assessment suggests that
“the provisions within the Bill do not have a direct impact on emissions”.
That refers to carbon emissions. I am certain that the indirect benefits for the environment are significant.
I am arguing about utilisation and the benefit to constituents; about revenue to Eurostar and, therefore, ultimately to Government in the restructuring that is talked about; and about sustainability and environmental improvement. For all those reasons, I maintain that capital investment at Stratford is important. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is in her place, because she chairs the Select Committee on Transport. [Interruption.] She moves so elegantly that it is a miracle to behold. I hope that I shall not misrepresent the Committee’s central conclusions. I read them to say that the Committee had come to the view that the interchange at Stratford would enhance the rail network as a whole and would take the situation forward positively.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is difficult to reach St. Pancras station from some parts of London? The development of an orbital service in London whereby it is possible to go around the centre of London rather than through it, and increasing congestion in the centre, may mean that his campaign for all trains to stop at Stratford and for better facilities there will get support from many people in London for whom the move from Waterloo to St. Pancras, although welcome in some ways, creates a longer journey to get on the Eurostar in the first place.
I strongly agree. I think that I am right in saying that Stratford is the sixth largest interchange station in London, for exactly the reason that my hon. Friend suggests. I cited Canary Wharf, although I know that it is not in his constituency. Let us consider air travel, for example, the routes from London City airport to Brussels, Paris or elsewhere. The chances of getting people working in such places on business to go quickly by changing at Stratford are much better than hoping that they will go back to St. Pancras, drive to Ebbsfleet or use some other route to get on the train. I hope that they will be able to make such a journey in a much more effective way.
The Bill is important because Government intervention is necessary to achieve these benefits. Reference has been made to the fact that in 2001 the then Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), set down clear conditions for a high-quality interchange at Stratford, placing a planning obligation upon Union Railways, the company constructing the channel tunnel rail link. There is little doubt that Union Railways openly flouted the requirement, despite an explicit Government instruction. Union Railways claimed that it could not afford either the capital or the ongoing maintenance costs for this improvement, and eventually the Government’s stipulation was, sadly, simply ignored. Representations were made by many people: those who were dealing with the London gateway; people from Newham council and a range of different other areas; and some rail companies that wanted the improvement to happen. I understand that when detailed legal advice was taken, those who supported carrying through the Government’s commitment did not think that they would legally win the case to do that, so it got slid away.
It is important that we use the power in section 6(1) of the Railways Act 2005, which, as I understand it, this Bill confirms will apply directly to this railway system, to require the investment that is needed. The attitude exhibited by Union Railways was unacceptable, which is why the Bill’s requirements are necessary. The Secretary of State should use her powers in the ways that I have described.
The power can, and should, also be used to encourage good connections to the Eurostar from throughout the country. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), makes a powerful case in resisting HS2, HS3, HS4, HS5 and so on simply because of the amount of money involved. That is a serious factor. However, would it not be possible and better to invest relatively much smaller sums to use connections such as Stratford in a way that genuinely creates an integrated system?
The regulatory impact assessment explains that the Bill
“sets out provisions which will facilitate the restructuring of LCR by clarifying the legislative and regulatory position of the HS1 railway, and goes on to say that without government intervention there is a risk of legal or regulatory uncertainty affecting the restructuring, which could jeopardise Government’s ability to optimise value for the taxpayer.”
That is a serious warning in the RIA, when we consider the situation in the round, and that is why the Bill is necessary. However, that is also why I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the clarification includes the commitment to capital investment in a high-quality interchange at Stratford station.
The RIA makes it clear that the Government will receive capital receipts if assets are sold. I believe that a good use of such receipts would be to invest in the capital work at Stratford station that I have suggested. Such an investment would be worth while for the country, so I hope that Parliament will pass the Bill and that the Secretary of State will act on it.
I would welcome the Minister’s reflections on his response to an earlier intervention that the Bill would make no difference to Stratford station. I am aware that he was responding on the hoof, but I hope that he was wrong. I hope that the powers established by the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to encourage the development of a high-quality interchange at Stratford, which would be important for my constituents and more widely, for the reasons that I have set out today.
This is a short but highly technical Bill. I agree with the Conservative spokesman in appreciating the fact that we will get a briefing on the Bill next week, and I am also conscious that there will be work to be done in Committee. Although the Bill’s clauses seem narrow, the consequences have significant monetary value, whether for the taxpayer or the fare payer ultimately using the range of services. Like others, I was caught up in the excitement of the completion of the channel tunnel rail link and the glittering opening of St. Pancras station. It was a glorious evening, and there was a certain satisfaction in seeing a project such as High Speed 1 come to a successful conclusion and feeling that we, too, had a high-speed service, not just the continental Europeans.
I shall not go into detail on the history, because others have, but it has some warnings embedded in it. It would be best to keep some of those warnings in mind as the Bill makes progress.
I suggest to the Minister and the Conservative spokesman that it is wise to be cautious about using the phrase “on time and on budget”. When the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), then Secretary of State for Transport, announced the award of the contract to London and Continental Railways in 1996, the total Government contribution was set at £1.7 billion—with no guarantees or loans—and the completion date was 2003. It was only with the rescue package—I commend the Government on their willingness to push that forward in 1998—that we actually got the project that people now describe as on time and on budget. Most people agree that there may have been some flaws in the procurement that made it a much easier target to achieve.
The Government now stand credit behind £3.7 billion in bonds issued by London and Continental Railways. There is still a potential for the Government to loan directly up to £400 million, and up-to-date figures on the likely figures would be welcome, although that seems to be a constantly moving target. The Government, for their pains, have in effect obtained the equivalent of an equity stake of approximately 35 per cent. in the company and, in 2006, LCR was reclassified as a public sector company.
The flaws in procurement raise several issues. It is clearly evident that the private sector managed to out-negotiate the Government into entering a contract in which the risks remained overwhelmingly with the public sector, with precious little remaining with the private sector. The Government—I suspect that the problem lies largely with the Treasury—were far too naive in their analysis of passenger numbers. The original forecast that Eurostar would have 21 million passengers by 2004 was ludicrous. Even the revised and re-revised downside cases of 8 million passengers by 2006 have been missed. Passenger numbers are starting to move up a bit now, but I would be interested to hear from the Minister about the greater risk profile for passenger numbers now that the base has been moved to St. Pancras.
As many in the industry recognise, the business commuters based in south London are an important element of Eurostar’s passenger numbers. They have taken advantage of the Heathrow, Gatwick and Waterloo triangle, but they will now be lost. I shall be interested to know the potential impact of that loss on the project, and to what extent the money that the Government have put in may be put at risk.
One has to look at how people function in real life. The reality is that significant numbers of business customers in south-west London have been happy to make the easy journey by train to Waterloo, but that they simply jump in a cab to go to Gatwick or Heathrow. It is unfortunate, but their passenger business will largely be lost, as the journey to St. Pancras will be more than an hour longer than the current journey to Waterloo. In addition, it will be far more complex, with passengers having to change trains and manage their bags and so on. All those are significant matters and, if we are to understand the value of the Government’s investment in the project, they cannot be ignored.
I had not intended to intervene, but the hon. Lady seems to be suggesting that all our business men and women live in south London, something that may come as a bit of a surprise to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and one or two others. Moreover, she seems to ignore the fact that many people in the triangle that has been mentioned, as well as in the midlands and the north, will benefit from the transfer of the Eurostar service to what is a fantastic and sparkling new station. We should try not to be too parochial when we talk about the rail service—except, of course, when we do so in relation to Crewe and Nantwich.
Obviously, I respect the hon. Lady’s expertise and knowledge when it comes to transport, but the triangle offers three options for travel to continental Europe. The existence of that cluster of departure points has attracted a significant number of people to live in the area: they make the journey on a regular basis and are an important element of Eurostar’s passenger base. It is not that business people do not live all over London, and in the north and the midlands, but they are less likely to make regular rather than occasional journeys. That changes the profile of Eurostar use, as the company has recognised.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, in the fullness of time, there will be an upgrade of the Thameslink services between south London and the new St. Pancras International station? There will be an escalator straight up to the Eurostar platforms, so will that not make a difference?
I confess that I have sometimes used the phrase “Thameslink 3000”, but I accept that any additional access to St. Pancras will mitigate the problem that I have identified. The project has constantly failed to meet its forecast targets, especially in respect of passengers, and the cash flows involved—in the early stages in particular—are significant. The problem that I have described is not major, but it should be noted and not ignored.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, but I hope that she will clarify her position. Is she suggesting that it was wrong to choose St. Pancras over Waterloo International as the Eurostar terminal? Does she believe that Eurostar services should have continued to go from Waterloo instead of St. Pancras?
The original plan—in many ways framed as a promise—was that services would continue to leave from Waterloo as well as from St. Pancras. I had hoped that we could keep to that commitment, even though I accept that it would have been difficult to achieve in financial terms.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way to me a second time, and I shall try to make this the final intervention that I make on her. She has said that the option of using both stations was too challenging in financial terms, so which would she prefer as the single terminal—Waterloo or St. Pancras?
My constituents are undoubtedly affected by the move of operations from Waterloo to St. Pancras, but none the less St. Pancras is a magnificent achievement. Does the hon. Lady agree that people from south-west London are more concerned about the fact that platforms at Waterloo that could have been used to ease overcrowding will not be used?
I very much agree with that point and will address it later in my comments, which are not long so the hon. Gentleman will not have long to wait.
I appreciated an earlier intervention about the disappointing amount of rail freight using the channel tunnel, so I am interested in the Bill’s implications for freight. There is a general perception that, rightly or wrongly, one of the difficulties in increasing the amount of rail freight using the tunnel has been the conflicting interests within the SNCF, as both owner and provider of rail services. As the Minister is aware, other freight operators, such as EWS, are extremely frustrated at their inability to get access to the channel tunnel for the services they want to run.
Given the restructuring of the project—the separation into different packages of the track, operations and property—it would be exceedingly interesting to know how possible conflicts of interest will be addressed, as it is perfectly possible that somebody could be an investor in more than one of the pieces. The ongoing frustration that we hoped was coming to an end could thus continue, so I shall be interested in the Minister’s comments on the issue.
I am sure the Minister agrees that freight is an important concern for all of us, especially with climate change in mind, and that the need to shift freight from road to rail is extremely pressing and would have general benefit.
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady about freight. Does she accept that the channel tunnel is one of the costs that must be borne by Eurostar services, and that the tunnel will be uneconomic unless and until we put much more traffic through it? As there are not enough passengers, that traffic will have to be freight, so does she agree that we need a delivery system for freight on our side of the channel to make full use of the tunnel to make it an economic proposition, which will benefit Eurostar indirectly, too?
I very much agree. There is huge demand for continental freight transport and I am concerned about the quantities of freight that are likely to arrive in the UK—the industry suggests another 2 million trucks-worth within 10 years. The only way it can be moved successfully through the country is to have more freight capacity on our rail lines overall. I am a fan of dedicated freight lines, which are not a subject of the Bill, but the idea feeds into its general structure, as the framework could be affected by the terms of the Bill.
The quality of procurement for the project is relevant, because the Bill would shape the sale of the underlying asset—possibly the next step. As the Minister is aware, in 2005 the National Audit Office took the view that the taxpayer was still likely to be called on to fund a shortfall in LCR’s cash flow, and that the economic justification for the links remained marginal. Those issues will have to be addressed in the next step.
In 2006, the Public Accounts Committee came to similar conclusions and recommended that the Department for Transport should actively manage the size and timing of LCR’s call on the access charge loan, to give LCR and Eurostar an incentive to maximise revenues.
It would be interesting to understand how the Bill, and the sale that will follow on, will impact on those issues.
The Minister has confirmed that, in effect, the Bill is a preparation for sale. Rob Holden, the chief executive officer of LCR, said:
“After November 14, the restructuring”—
I think we can safely read the word “sale”—
“will be our No 1 priority.”
I fully support what was said in the Treasury minutes, in 2006, in response to the National Audit Office. It was noted that
“the best way of protecting the taxpayer’s interests would be for there to be an open, competitive and transparent process before the sale of LCR”.
The Minister has been kind enough to let us know that the likely structure will involve a division between track and train operations, and property. He has confirmed that it will be possible for Network Rail to be one of the bidders. I wonder whether he is able to go into some of the ways in which the Bill could help to make sure that the project remains an integrated part of our overall network—rather than standing alone—given that the rest of the track in the country is owned directly by Network Rail. There is also the issue that I raised before: ensuring that we do not, through the creation of complicated consortiums that own different pieces, find ourselves once again facing an anti-competitive conflict of interest—which seems to have expressed itself in resistance to allowing other freight operators to use the tunnel.
I am rather unclear about the impact of the sale. Will the Government receive an equity return that involves getting their 35 per cent. stake back? What will happen to the debt? Will that be repaid through the financing? Given that the construction risk was one of the primary arguments for the Government’s agreeing to stand behind £3.7 billion of debt, and that construction risk is now over, will we have some assurance that guarantees on that figure will be removed?
Can the Government try to give us some confidence that the public will genuinely get value for their support for, and investment in, this project? I just give some warning in relation to the recent example of Northern Rock. That reminds us that the private sector tends to think that it can play fairly fast and loose with public money and with the Government in these kinds of circumstances. The Minister will be conscious of the pain and anguish that has followed the collapse of Metronet’s public-private partnership. That demonstrated that such negotiations will be exceedingly complex, if they are to be successful.
I want to ask the Minister about the use of the proceeds from the sale that the Bill structures. Others, including the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, have mentioned that the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee reminded the Government in 1999 that, when the Channel Tunnel Act first got parliamentary approval in 1987, the regions were promised a benefit. It was to be for them as much as for the people in London. The ETRA Committee report that looked at the final project said:
“The regions have been cheated”.
The Government could begin to fulfil that promise to the regions by directing all or part of the proceeds from the sale into expanding the high-speed rail network. That would not pay for the network from beginning to end, but it could begin to provide part of the Government proportion and begin to pay for the planning and feasibility studies. We could begin to look at the kind of structures that have been used for the Crossrail project, for example—the kind of structures that could bring development and business money in, to enable a high-speed network to be developed. My party is going to look at a lot of that over the next year.
I join others in saying that high-speed rail has huge potential in this country. The Government are short-sighted in putting off even looking at High Speed 2 until 2012. Although they may argue that with three or four hours to spare a person can make a rail journey between significant parts of the UK, the benefits that come from high-speed rail—we shall see them in Kent—are jobs and regeneration. Given the intense population pressures in the south-east, the use of a rail network that combined high-speed rail with dedicated freight lines, to take business, jobs and opportunities across the country, rather than keeping them essentially south-east and London-centric, would be of benefit to absolutely everybody. We have a pot of money—not the largest in the world, but a significant one—that the Government must, to some extent, regard as a windfall; it could be put towards trying to make that happen. That would live up to the early promise associated with the channel tunnel and the beginning of the idea of an exciting, new and different future for rail in this country.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady says, and I do not at all rule out the possibility that there will need to be further high-speed projects in future. I do not think that there is one fag paper’s difference between the positions of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Government, all of whom basically offer a feasibility study on further high-speed lines. However, those feasibility studies have to take account of not only the cost of constructing high-speed lines, but the opportunity cost. It may be that what would give us the best bang for our buck—the best reward for the regions—would be to spend the money on accessing existing mainline stations in the regions, or on improving stations such as New Street. That might actually give faster journey times to London, as opposed to the rather marginal benefits that a new high-speed line might offer.
I thank the hon. Gentleman but I think that there is huge opportunity with High Speed, and that ignoring it may be to our detriment. A point that he missed is that when a new line is created and opens up genuine opportunity—Crossrail is an example—there is an ability to capture the development money. He will be aware of the Jubilee line figures: there was a cost of £3.2 billion, even with overruns, but an estimated benefit to developers of £13 billion. The money to get the line built, and the profits, were only just captured. In recent years, we in this country have taken a rather poor approach to the way in which money can be pooled together, because of the benefits, to create infrastructure. A change in the thinking is required. I hope that the Government will use the significant amount of money that will hopefully come from the line to open up that world of possibilities.
The Minister must have expected me to mention my next subject, and the Conservative spokesman gave me a wonderful prompt. I believe that there are obligations to those who lost out with the new link. My constituents in south-west London, who valued the Eurostar at Waterloo, are obviously in that group. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and I have been assured by the Minister in previous exchanges that two of the Eurostar platforms at Waterloo will be transferred to South West Trains in 2008 to improve our commuter services, and that in the 2009 to 2014 cycle, the remaining Eurostar platforms will be converted to domestic use to allow 10-car trains on all lines into Waterloo. I raise the issue because recent press reports questioned that timetable and that plan. This is an opportunity for the Minister to give us reassurance on that point.
Like the Conservative spokesman, we fully support the Bill and the intentions behind it. We shall be interested to follow the details in Committee; that is for the benefit of all, because as we know, a small, technical drafting error in such a Bill can have significant financial consequences. We are delighted to support the Bill today.
I am pleased to have been called to speak, because it means that the high-speed link has been completed; that is why we are debating the Bill. It is strange that when there is a problem the Chamber is full, but when there is a success, such as the one that we are considering now, there are very few people present—but that is the way of the world.
I visited the line a number of times during its construction. The last occasion was on 14 November to see the start of the regular services between St. Pancras and the continent. It gave me—and, I am sure, many other people—great pride to see the reinstatement of St. Pancras. It is probably now the finest station in Europe. New technology was used on the line leading into the Victorian station; it was a great combination. Contrast that with the sense of shame that many of us used to feel when we travelled from Waterloo on that Victorian railway, which slowly chugged its way along to the channel tunnel. It went through the tunnel and came up on the French side as a high-speed railway. No doubt there was a feeling of shame, but now we do not have to feel that. We leave from a station that is probably the finest in Europe and arrive at a shoddy station in Paris. Perhaps we should not take comfort from that, but we will.
The opening of the rail link has been a great occasion and we should take pride in it. We should give thanks to the project team which lately, since 1998, has delivered it on time and on budget. It is a matter of great regret that the project team, which is the equal of the best Victorian engineers that we ever had, is being broken up because we do not have a plan to take the high-speed link further.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the former Deputy Prime Minister, who had the vision and the courage. It was 10 o’clock on a night in January 1998 when he came to the House and made a statement that the deal had been done and that a public-private partnership had been created. It was interesting to hear the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats asking where the money would be spent now. We should not forget the contribution that my right hon. Friend made, and I was pleased to see him at St. Pancras on 14 November.
I have been questioning the Minister about the Bill and whether Railtrack will be able to bid. I am delighted about that, because we do not want a fragmented rail system again.
I am sorry. Railtrack caused us nightmares. Network Rail needed to be created and we now have a system that is working well. The Minister pleased me when he said that it would be allowed to bid. I shall be interested in the financial arrangements that will allow it to do so. That is good news.
Now that we have High Speed 1, we must develop High Speed 2—somebody mentioned High Speed 3, but we do not yet have High Speed 2—and bring the line from St. Pancras to the north. One or two hon. Members have mentioned that there is some resentment in the rest of the country about the amount of money that has been spent on infrastructure in the London area. The public transport system in London is very good. In my constituency the only alternative to a bus is to walk. I chaired a meeting yesterday on Thameslink, which seems a good idea that will bring benefits not just to London but to the south-east, and Crossrail is to go ahead as well.
There is a feeling that the north is being left out. I can become obsessive, as I did in about 1992 about the upgrading of the west coast main line. I am still obsessive, as the Minister will know from our meeting last week. Through the work of colleagues, many others and myself, we now have a railway line on the west coast that we can be proud of. The Government provided £89 billion to upgrade it to my constituency and to yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, but we still need a link from St. Pancras up to the north that will take my constituents and others to the continent, or perhaps to Heathrow. One of the proposals, from Greengauge 21, sets that out.
Some comment has been made about the Eddington report. I was part of the Select Committee that questioned Sir Rod Eddington and I pressed him on the need for a high-speed link. Despite the reports in the press that the idea had been discarded, he said that there was a role for a high-speed link and that the planning for it should start now.
High Speed 1 is tremendous. The Government and the country can be proud of it. The improvement in St. Pancras is welcome, but we must go beyond that and take those advantages to the north.
I shall comment briefly on Stratford. I went there to see the opening of the station. It is a totally different sort of station—it is modern, and it is a credit to those who designed it and to the Government, who funded it. However, as we know from the Olympics plans, it is only seven minutes from St. Pancras, and Eurostar will not want to stop at Stratford. It might make one stop as it comes into Kent and continue to St. Pancras. I am not sure whether the Bill can do anything about that. Will the Minister clarify that? It is a technical Bill and needs to be examined carefully, as the financial implications of getting it wrong could be costly.
I return to where I started—the Bill is before us as a result of a successful project which is a credit to the country. I am sure the technical aspects of the Bill will be sorted out and the maximum benefit given back to the taxpayer who, through the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, had to bear the risk at the early stage. I welcome the Bill and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has been listening to the calls from all parts of the House for the high-speed link to continue to the north.
As the Minister acutely predicted, I shall make some remarks about the intermediate stations in Kent, but before I do so, I shall pick up two points. The first was made by the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and shared by the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). The right hon. Gentleman was worried that the guarantees given to Stratford might not be watertight. From my experience in Ashford, I can say that if those guarantees are not nailed down, he is right to be sceptical about what might happen in the future. I share those worries.
Secondly, I am fascinated to hear from all parts of the House the unalloyed enthusiasm for new high-speed tracks. I share that enthusiasm for the vision of a high-speed railway running up the spine of the country, no doubt eventually as far as the Minister’s constituency in Glasgow, but as the only Member present who has had a high-speed line built through his constituency, I warn hon. Members that it is not an unalloyed joy. I apologise—we are joined by the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), who also has a high-speed line through his constituency.
I make two points. First, if Members want their constituents to welcome a high-speed line with open arms, they must make sure that their constituents get some direct benefit from it, or they will only see the downside. If we build lines from London to Birmingham and then to Manchester, most of the places in the intermediate areas will not benefit very much. People should recognise that. It may well be worth doing as a national project, but we should not kid ourselves that many people will benefit directly.
The second point is the lesson learned from Ashford: people will want to consult. What happened there was that four different lines were drawn on maps and lay there, as it were, for years—thus blighting many properties, completely unnecessarily, for years. That planning blight caused more angst and difficulty than the actual construction. Although the period of construction was, of course, difficult, people at least recognised that something was happening. When we come, as I hope we will, to build High Speed 2, 3, 4—there have been bids as high as High Speed 15, as far as Norwich—please can whoever is in charge of the rail network learn the lessons from the building of the relatively short stretch of high-speed line across Kent?
I want to raise a few points about the Bill that particularly affect the intermediate stations in Kent, particularly Ashford station in my constituency. The bulk of the Bill confirms that the Secretary of State will continue to be empowered to fund the CTRL—or High Speed 1, as we now call it. I wish to explore the Secretary of State’s role as part of my initial point. The Minister will be well aware of the background. Amid all the celebrations, in which I shared, about St. Pancras and the new services, this week also saw the end—temporary, I hope—of the Brussels services from Ashford. For my constituents and many others around Kent and Sussex, that is a blot on what should be an unalloyed celebration of the expansion of the rail network. The lesson that I draw is that we need better and more positive ministerial involvement to preserve the wider public benefits of high-speed rail. The need for that involvement is shown by a letter that I received in August this year from Guillaume Pepy, the chairman of Eurostar. He said, quite bluntly:
“Whilst Eurostar acknowledges the growth plans for both Ashford and Ebbsfleet, the Board is equally clear that the business has a purely commercial remit to maximise its passenger revenues for its French, British and Belgian shareholders, and to help pay for the construction of High Speed 1, and is not accountable for regeneration.”
That is honest and direct; the company is in it just for the money—fair enough. The letter makes it clear that the wider responsibilities for regeneration, always regarded as a hugely important part of the High Speed 1 project, lie with Ministers. The problem has been that Ministers have now declined that responsibility. Another letter, written in July by Judith Shepherd of rail customer and stakeholder relations at the Department for Transport, to Edith Robson, a constituent of mine, says:
“It is important to state that the Government has no formal powers over Eurostar’s operating decisions and that Eurostar, whilst under an obligation to operate a sound commercial business, is at liberty to set its own timetables.”
That is a classic black hole, between the responsibilities of the public and private sectors. Eurostar says that it does not care about regeneration and the Government say that they have nothing to do with Eurostar’s timetable. Even though tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent on regeneration efforts, based on the international train services and the timetable, no one, apparently, is responsible for making sure that the rail services contribute to the regeneration effort. The buck stops nowhere.
I do not think that Eurostar would benefit from public ownership. However, I hope that I am making a powerful case in favour of Ministers exercising the responsibilities contained in the legislation, including in the Bill. If Ministers did so, we could indeed gain the benefits of the huge amounts of private investment attracted into the project and the rest of the rail network since privatisation. That investment has, of course, funded the huge growth of the rail network in the past decade or so; that point is not controversial on either side of the House.
Let me say straight away that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about Eurostar’s ridiculous decision about Brussels services from Ashford, and I fully support his campaign to reverse that. However, I cannot let him pin the blame on Ministers, who do not have responsibility for Eurostar. The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that when the Government let a franchise, they should decide on the frequency of the passenger service and where it should stop. The Government have that exact system of franchising in place for the whole of the rest of the network in this country. However, the Conservative party is now opposed to it and says that it would wind it up.
I do not agree with that analysis. The specific point is that the whole High Speed 1 project and channel tunnel rail link have been based on the idea that they would contribute to wider regeneration efforts in my and the hon. Gentleman’s constituencies and other parts of Kent. I refer the Minister and the hon. Gentleman to the Public Accounts Committee’s 38th report, of May 2006. It states:
“The economic case for the Link remains marginal. On passenger traffic alone the Link is not justified, so regeneration benefits are required to make the project value for money.”
That is why it would have been correct for Ministers to play a more proactive role in trying to secure the full regeneration benefits.
I am conscious of and grateful for the Minister’s attempt to question Eurostar’s decision. However, he and I know that that was very late in the day. Frankly, the Department for Transport did not play a proactive role throughout the procedure, despite the huge coalition that had assembled. The people arguing were not limited to those from Ashford or even Kent—the coalition was cross-party and from across the south-east of England. It spread as far as the South East England Development Agency, and even the European Commission became involved. That extraordinary coalition assembled to say that the decision was bad. Frankly, the only piece of the jigsaw that was lacking was the Department for Transport, and that was hugely regrettable.
Oddly enough, I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman on his point that good transport schemes should carry with them a strong element of regeneration. However, we do ourselves a disservice if we ignore the fact that the original Conservative desire to have no public money in the scheme got us into an absurd situation. Although it was perfectly clear that the economic advantages were fairly marginal, when the line was about to go bankrupt it was forced to come to the Department. To say now to the Department, “You are not doing the things that you were not expected to do in the first place, and you have managed to recoup only with considerable difficulty,” seems mildly unfair—and I am never unfair to the Department for Transport.
It goes without saying that the Chairman of the Transport Committee is never unfair to the Department. The hon. Lady makes the point that the Department was heavily involved from 1998 onwards; it therefore had a perfect legitimacy and locus from which to intervene if it had wanted to. However, it did not do so, and that is hugely regrettable.
The hon. Gentleman misses the point that Eurostar is not the same as the CTRL line. Eurostar was granted its franchise before the Labour Government came to power, on the basis that it was going to be run entirely privately, with no public subsidy. At that point, it was given complete commercial freedom. When the Labour Government came in and had to redesign the financial package to complete the line, they did insist on a regeneration benefit. They insisted that the domestic service, which was to serve my constituency and the hon. Gentleman’s, be carried on the line.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. He wants to praise his Government for mounting the rescue, but when things happen that he and I disagree with, he says that the Government have nothing to do with them. He cannot have it both ways. I hope that the Bill will make it more difficult to walk away from these responsibilities in future and that the House can receive some reassurance about that in the winding-up speeches.
Looking ahead, as the Minister explained, the purpose of the Bill is to prepare LCR for break-up and subsequent sale, so that Eurostar will then become a purely stand-alone operation. It is reasonably likely that one of the bidders, possibly the successful one, will be SNCF. The chances of SNCF caring very much about Ashford, Ebbsfleet or Stratford are remote unless some safeguards are written into the sale to try to recapture the full regeneration benefits that Members on both sides of the House want and that should come from a project that has absorbed billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. I hope that the Minister can reassure me about that at the end of the debate and at subsequent stages.
I want finally to deal with the change in the role of the Office of Rail Regulation to allow it to charge fees on the line. Will the Minister clarify whether that new charging regime is designed to allow, or even to promote, competition on using the line? He will be aware, as will others, that there have been reports of new operators who wish to run trains through the tunnel on High Speed 1, and many of us think that such competition, if technically feasible, would be welcome.
As we have heard during the course of the debate, the issues surrounding the high-speed line are rather less smooth than the ride that we will all enjoy on it. It may yet prove in the long term to be a successful “grand projet” of the type that this country is traditionally not very good at. I hope so. To be fully successful, however, it needs to provide the benefits originally promised to Ashford and other parts of Kent. I hope that the Minister can reassure all hon. Members that those benefits will materialise in future.
As a frequent user of St. Pancras, I have watched with some frustration the work that has been going on there in recent years. Along with countless thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of others, I have picked my way through the building work on a daily basis. Indeed, visitors to St. Pancras have at times been on something of a voyage of exploration, with the pedestrian routes changing almost daily and presenting a challenge to users. Looking at it now, though, I can say that all the inconvenience has been worth it many times over. The transformation of a rather run-down station and the somewhat derelict area around it has been quite stunning. I pay tribute not only to this Government and the previous Government for having the vision to see that it was possible, but to all those involved in the design of the project and the very high-quality work done on the site. It is a source of great pride, I hope to them, but certainly to us as a nation, to see that transformation and what is now undoubtedly a magnificent gateway to the UK—one that we can all share in being very satisfied to see and to use.
I speak about the transformation with mixed feelings because my flat here in London overlooks Waterloo station, and I, like many others, will miss watching the Eurostar trains snake their way slowly out of it. However, that underlines the significant improvement that has been made, because that slowness is such a sharp contrast with the speed with which they are able to accelerate out of St. Pancras. It is a revelation to those of us who watched them every day at Waterloo to see just how fast they can accelerate and how they are now able to run at something approaching their full potential.
I want to make three brief points and in doing so to emphasise some that have already been made. First, the platforms that will be released at Waterloo as a result of Eurostar’s transfer have enormous potential to relieve the congestion at Waterloo. I encourage the Government to bring forward the use of those platforms to relieve that congestion, and particularly to consider the comparatively minor investment required to bring about the crossover that is needed at Clapham Junction to enable that potential to be used to the full.
Secondly, I want to reinforce a point that I made earlier about the potential for freight transport. Sometimes only one train a day passes through the channel tunnel carrying freight. That represents a small fraction of its overall potential not only to take existing trucks off the roads but to obviate the need in future for mega-trucks to use our roads, which are inadequately equipped for them. That potential needs to be developed, and I hope that the Government will continue to press that on the tunnel operators and the railway freight operators. In the past, the situation has been related to tariffs and influenced by the problems experienced through the use of freight trains to gain illegal entry into the UK. However, I hope that both those problems can be overcome and that the full potential of using the tunnel for freight can be encouraged.
My hon. Friend may be interested to know that it is now possible to run at least 150 trains a day through the tunnel in each direction, and with signalling modifications many more than that. That equates to thousands of freight trains per year. There is no possibility of passenger traffic, but that level of freight traffic could transform the economics of the channel tunnel and, indeed, of Britain’s freight transport system.
I thank my hon. Friend for his well-informed intervention. I know that he takes a particular interest in matters of rail freight, and he emphasises my point about the fraction of the potential that is used at the moment and the enormous potential that is there for the future.
Finally, the completion of High Speed 1 and the excitement around it emphasises the potential associated with high-speed train travel in general. I impress on the Minister that this is the perfect time to dust off plans for other high-speed links. I recognise that, as he said earlier, they are not in themselves a panacea—all sorts of issues are associated with their construction, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) reminded us. None the less, they could increase rail capacity in the UK dramatically. Having spent a considerable amount of time on Sunday standing in standard class while coming down the east coast main line, I would say that any increase in capacity would be very welcome.
High-speed links can increase capacity far beyond the improvements that are possible on the existing network. Beyond that, there would be a step change in terms of opening up new possibilities, particularly in attracting people away from domestic air travel. The long distance rail potential of Scotland and the north-west can be realised only on new high-speed lines. If those services are to offer a realistic option to people who use airlines, they must be fast, modern, attractive and reliable. I hope that the excitement that has been generated by High Speed 1 will prompt the Minister to dust off and revisit these plans, sooner than 2012, in recognition of the fact that this is the ideal time to excite investors about high-speed rail lines. This is an opportunity too good to be missed.
First, I would like to say how delighted I and many of my constituents are about the high-speed domestic service. I suppose for that I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).
I would like to speak primarily about constituency matters. Although the project’s financing has been thoroughly discussed, local passenger numbers are vital within this complex financial package. I would like to make some comments on that, and about the commuters who use the service and who will be affected. I would also like to touch on the integration of the rail link to the ongoing construction work. The infrastructure and regeneration efforts in general have been used as an argument for continued public funding and the backing of the link.
I recently travelled by Eurostar on the amazing, brilliant, new, fast service. International train services began running from Ebbsfleet railway station yesterday, on time, and I and my friend, the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), were delighted about that. Moreover, we no longer have to listen to a French conductor, triumphant to the point of smugness, announcing that at last the train is able to achieve maximum speed every time we emerge from the tunnel on the French side. That is a relief in itself.
The train services may now be operating, but the construction of the associated infrastructure is still ongoing. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 incorporated the widening and realignment of the A2 trunk road dual carriageway, which runs past Ebbsfleet International, and through my constituency on the old Watling street from London to the coast. The integration of the rail and road infrastructure was good news, but the actual construction has not been as well integrated as it might have been. People in Gravesham have endured traffic gridlock from the widening of the A2, and residents of local villages have at times been literally unable to leave their driveways because of gridlock on the rat runs used to avoid delays. The realignment of the A2 continues, with regular traffic jams stretching into Gravesend and just as far to the south on the other side of the A2. I hope continued construction of local infrastructure and future maintenance will continue; it will no doubt be required because the process will have a great impact on local people.
I have probably dwelt a bit too much on construction, and I would like to focus on the regeneration of the local area, which was one of the arguments initially used for continuing to finance the tunnel rail link. Since then, of course, the Olympics have been sited in east London, where the other new international railway station is. I am concerned that financial commitments to support local regeneration may be channelled towards the Olympic site and away from Gravesham and north Kent. Although Ebbsfleet is situated in the Dartford constituency, it is right on the edge of the two main towns in my constituency, Gravesend and Northfleet. Most of the car parks are in my constituency, I am happy to say. The people of Gravesham have faced disruption caused by the construction, owing to the increased traffic flows needed to ensure high passenger numbers, and it is vital that they get some of the benefit from the regeneration. I hope that we can reaffirm the importance of regeneration in the area, particularly in north Kent, and that we do not simply see the process as another way of funding the Olympics.
A new development of residential and commercial properties is planned surrounding the station, which in itself does not count towards the regeneration of the existing parts of Gravesham. In order to encourage inward investment for cultural outlets, about £2 million has been raised for a landmark sculpture—an “Angel of the South”, if you like—that will be visible to passing motorists on the A2, but also to people on the trains. As residents in my constituency and that of my neighbours will have to look at such an iconic sculpture every day, it is most important that anything commissioned should get final approval by local people and elected officials on Gravesham borough council.
The Office of Rail Regulation is currently able to provide very useful information about the use of Gravesend railway station. To the nearest thousand, it is calculated that just over 1 million people entered the station in 2004-05, about 1.3 million left it, and 9,000 people changed trains there. Last year those figures increased. Although those numbers may be interesting to trainspotters, they also show the increased use of Gravesend station, which should increase considerably when commuter services start using the link. They also show an average of about 10,000 more people coming to Gravesham than leaving it by train, and that migration can increase only when the morning commuting time from London Charing Cross to Gravesend falls to about 20 minutes.
There appear to be plans for two trains an hour to call at Gravesend on their way to St. Pancras. However, those will start in Medway and other services will originate in other parts of Kent. It is not clear how many seats—or, more likely, standing places—will be available for people from Gravesend. There is also the issue of the affordability of services from Gravesend to St. Pancras for local people. I hope that it will be made clear how many commuting places will be made available to passengers travelling from Gravesend and Higham to St. Pancras in order to offer protection for existing commuters so that they do not face an even longer commute from Gravesend.
Finally, the Border and Immigration Agency has informed me that there are no plans to have a permanently manned immigration control at Ebbsfleet International railway station. I am concerned, therefore, that immigration officers will not be monitoring departures from Ebbsfleet International. I am also concerned that no one will be on hand to check arrivals should immigration checks not be satisfactorily completed on board the train or on the continent.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak about the Bill, and particularly to support the furthering of the Secretary of State’s powers to fund the channel tunnel rail link and the trains that will run on it, post-construction.
I must apologise, however, for not being able to be here at the beginning of the debate and for not having heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister, or that of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). I was, however, pleased to be here when the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) made her speech. I found it very interesting and I agreed with much of it. As I said in an intervention, if there is to be heavy subsidy, direct or indirect, for CTRL and the whole system, including the channel tunnel itself, there must be more Government involvement. It cannot simply be left in private hands, and in the longer run we might see the whole system integrated into a publicly owned railway system, but that is an argument for another day.
I have taken a long-term interest in railways, and I am particularly pleased about the St. Pancras development for personal reasons because I have travelled on Thameslink from my Luton constituency for 37 years—not to this House for the whole time, of course—and it has been quite wonderful to see the regeneration of St. Pancras station. The hon. Member for Richmond Park said that she thought the case for the St. Pancras development had not been made. If the debate had taken place 15 years ago, there might have been an argument for developing a high-speed line from Waterloo rather than St. Pancras, but it has happened this way and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chair of the Transport Committee, has pointed out that many more people live on the north side than on the south side. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do everything he can to bring forward the development of Thameslink so that all those in the south of London can travel to the magnificent new station about to be opened at St. Pancras International. I travel through that station every day and it is really exciting to see it developing. It will open within days, and the process has been very encouraging.
I like to think that I played some role in that process myself, because of the concrete box built underneath St. Pancras. It was always going to be there; it had to be built in order that the station could be developed at some future date. However, many of us—I was one of those who lobbied most hard on this point—thought that it had to be developed and built at the same time as the opening of Eurostar services from St. Pancras. Otherwise, people would have had to walk from the appalling King’s Cross Thameslink station, which was always temporary, at night, across one of the most depressing parts of London. I worked in the area for a long time, and we know that there is a degree of drug addiction and prostitution in that area that is very depressing.
It was too much to expect travellers to go from King’s Cross Thameslink to the Eurostar trains without new provision. The station had to be built to ensure that passengers had proper, decent access to St. Pancras station. I argued, as did others, that passenger traffic on Eurostar from St. Pancras could have been seriously damaged if the new station had not been built underneath St. Pancras with access via travelators, escalators and so on. I am therefore pleased that the station was built.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned freight. Hon. Members may recall that I proposed in an Adjournment debate in January the development of the EuroRail Freight Route, which would put an enormous amount of freight that now goes by road on to the railways, and use the channel tunnel. We have made a submission, which is currently under investigation, to the Select Committee. I shall not go into more detail, but I believe that pushing vast amounts of freight through the channel tunnel would transform its economics, which would improve those of CTRL and of Eurostar services.
There will never be enough passengers to justify the channel tunnel or the CTRL, so better use must be made of the tunnel for freight. All the forecasts at the beginning of the channel tunnel project were overblown: people argued that everyone would travel by train rather than plane in future. That was unrealistic. Many will travel by train—I shall use Eurostar as often as I can—but others will use aircraft and possibly still go by sea. However, there were never going to be enough passengers to justify building either the tunnel or CTRL. Freight had to be considered as a longer-term possibility. To realise the transportation of the sort of volume of freight that we are discussing, we must develop a delivery system on this side that is capable of taking full-sized containers and trailers on trains, and match the freight services and lines that have been developed on the continent. That is the future. I shall continue to pursue that and to support railroad developments in general.
I greatly look forward to travelling from my constituency in Luton to St. Pancras and then to Paris, Brussels and elsewhere. We are discussing a wonderful development, which has given a genuine boost to the idea of modern railway development. Not so long ago, the Department for Transport seriously talked about railways as the mode of transport of the past. I exempt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary from that charge. However, many civil servants were cited as saying that they were managing the decline of the railway system. That is not happening now. We know that rail is the transport mode of the future, not the past. Instead of the Department alone being enthusiastic, passengers have decided to use railways, and the demand is so great that the Government and the rail industry have to consider extra capacity. That is a wonderful development, which is good not only environmentally but socially and in every possible way. I look forward to further railway developments along those lines, especially that of a dedicated rail freight network linked to the channel tunnel and the continent of Europe.
I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate, but I was serving on a Statutory Instrument Committee. I am especially pleased to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because, as many hon. Members know, HS1 runs through the middle of my constituency, and Ebbsfleet International station is situated there. I therefore have several observations to make about a once-in-a-lifetime project, which can transform the lives of people not only in Kent but throughout the UK, provided that it is successful.
The debate is about a Bill that will pave the way for the sale of the project. Its saleability will depend on its success, which is what I want to consider this evening. There are three key components to the project’s success. The first is the extent to which it can bring new jobs, skills and regeneration, especially to Kent, which desperately needs regeneration and has a significant skills shortage. To what extent can the high-speed rail line achieve that? I believe that, if we get it right, we can create a blueprint for many projects that will benefit the country.
The second major component is modal shift. It is a jargon term, which effectively means the extent of the project’s success in changing people’s travelling habits, away from aeroplanes or private cars to public transport, and high-speed rail links in particular. That is crucial and much more work needs to be done to ensure that modal shift occurs. Another project in my constituency is the fast-track bus route—a rapid, dedicated bus service between the constituency of the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) and mine. It has been fantastically successful—passenger numbers are 50 per cent. above those predicted. However, it is more interesting to note that there has been at least a 10 per cent. modal shift. In other words, 10 per cent. of current journeys on the fast-track bus system are made by people who would previously have used their car. A significant shift in travelling patterns away from private car usage to rapid, clean, efficient public transport is already occurring. I believe that HS1 can also offer such an opportunity. In two years, when the 17-minute commuter service from Ebbsfleet to St. Pancras operates, it will offer a further opportunity to get away from the overcrowded, rather dingy trains on the North Kent line and reach the centre of London much more quickly, in more comfort and in a way that is a model for others.
The third and perhaps most important major component is the extent to which inward investment in projects such as HS1 benefit existing communities as much as new ones. In my constituency and in that of the hon. Member for Gravesham, there is huge inward investment, and plans to build up to 30,000 new homes and provide up to 20,000 or 30,000 new jobs, as well as massive improvement of derelict infrastructure, which sorely needs regeneration. However, can we benefit existing communities to the same extent as we benefit new communities? The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made the important point that, in many instances, people who live along the route of new lines do not benefit at all. They take the mess, noise, inconvenience and disruption to their lives and get little in return. It is vital to avoid that when we build such new projects. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that we had five, six or seven years of uncertainty about the route—whether it would be A, B, C or D, which homes would be blighted, bought or knocked down and which people would be moved. It was a nightmare for many years until the route was fixed. We must find a better way to tackle those planning issues to ensure that, once such a project is agreed, the minimum disruption is caused for the minimum time and affects as few people as possible.
The problem with many projects is that those who face the most disruption experience the least benefit. Unfortunately, that is largely true in my constituency. Despite the enormous investment, improvements and opportunities for people, many of the existing, settled communities do not feel the benefit of the regeneration projects. They still live in overcrowded areas, face the extra noise, traffic and pollution that the new projects generate and do not yet experience the good. If we are to produce more new projects in future, it is essential that existing communities in the areas that we regenerate perceive from day one what is in it for them. What new jobs will they get? What improvements will be made to their housing infrastructure? How will their schools and hospitals be rebuilt and regenerated? How will their shopping centres be upgraded? That must be clear from the beginning.
The rail link is a major part of the Thames Gateway project, which has had a mixed press over the years. Indeed, recent reports have stated that perhaps we have not maximised the benefit or achieved the genuine vision that we should have realised. If we are to get people on side and to understand exactly what can be achieved, we must ensure that they benefit before rather than after the new communities.
The way to do that is, first, to iron out some of the planning issues, to ensure that regeneration projects are swift and effective, that local people are involved in planning and that there is the minimum disruption for the minimum time. However, we also have to ensure some early wins, so that people already living in the communities affected get some quick benefits, before we start to introduce the big changes. Obvious examples of that include the fast-track bus system, whereby communities are linked to town centres and new developments. We must ensure that investment in our town centres is made before the extra building and development, so that people can see improvements in their towns first. It is a question of direction of travel and of ensuring that we build the infrastructure that benefits people’s lives before we build the other parts. If we can get those things right and in the right order—Ebbsfleet and north Kent are good examples of where we can do just that—and thereby ensure that local people benefit from new investment from the off, we will bring huge benefits to the country.
I finish by paying tribute to the work that the Government have done to ensure the delivery of the project. It has worked, and there is a fantastic future for High Speed 1. I think that there will be High Speeds 2, 3, 4, 5 and who knows how many more. Local communities can be shown how they can benefit, but we must ensure that we get those important issues right before we, to make a pun, railroad ahead with future expansion.
Like the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), may I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present during the opening speeches?
I should like to seize this opportunity to make a brief point to the Minister about the exponential growth of traffic on the railways. I welcome that and agree with all the remarks that have been made about this coming to be the age of the train. That has been forecast for many years and in future years it may well be true. However, in referring to that growth of traffic, I should like to bring home to the Minister the need to strike a balance between the exciting new high-speed projects of the kind that we are rightly celebrating and the more mundane expansion of existing facilities.
In my constituency, which is an area of heavy commuting into central London, there is an issue concerning the Thameslink scheme. I understand that it will now be completed in two stages, with Borough market junction being completed before the Blackfriars bridge part and the rest of the scheme. I urge the Minister to recognise that the two schemes go together. It is not enough to complete the Borough market bit, which will only add a certain amount of capacity. The whole Thameslink scheme must be completed as one item. I want the Minister to consider that, because commuters in London occasionally feel neglected, next to the exciting high-speed schemes that we all welcome. I would not like the Minister to forget them in the next few years.
As we complete this debate some three hours early, it is worth reflecting on how transport business is again finishing early, with the Government still telling us that they have not found the time anywhere to fit in the harbours Bill, which they allegedly support. Should the harbour revision orders, on which we are supporting the Government, run into trouble, they will have themselves to blame for not introducing that necessary modernisation.
I am aware of a certain sense of irony today. One of the most vivid experiences of my parliamentary career was leading a little gang of just 16 MPs with my colleague David Shaw, the then Member for Dover, in a rebellion against the final stages of the then Channel Tunnel Bill. As the right hon. Lady was then the leader of the Conservative party, it was quite an experience. Nevertheless, Eurotunnel was big enough to invite me to the opening. It would be impossible not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the engineering, even if the delays and cost overruns were well in excess of what David Shaw and I predicted in our letter to the Financial Times, which caused a certain flutter and started the argument.
Unlike then, today I join the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) in congratulating LCR on getting the high-speed link in on time and pretty much to budget, which is a remarkable achievement. The link will provide a faster service to the continent and for those who have taken part in this debate who want the railways to prosper—that is, everyone who has taken part—it is a heartening sight. I also welcome the opportunities for my county, and the prospect of trains taking one hour from Canterbury West is extremely attractive. However, I shall return to the concerns that I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) about the situation there.
My concern 20 years ago was that the channel tunnel would not prove to be commercially viable and would have to rely on a large amount of public subsidy. Ironically, that point is borne out by clause 1, which confirms the Secretary of State’s right to fund the channel tunnel rail link and its trains, which is something against which we are not arguing against now. The aim of clause 1, as the Minister made clear, is to maximise the value of the asset. In that respect it is a sensible tidying-up measure.
The fact that the port of Dover has, against a number of predictions made at the time, done so well and continues to prosper is a tribute to the management there. The fact that we still have a successful Dover and many low-cost airlines has put the rail link to France and Belgium under pressure. Although numbers have recovered from the low point of just over 6 million to a little under 8 million last year, it should be remembered that the Government’s 1998 projections were for 9 million passengers under the downside case and for 8 million under the low case, just above the current level.
That said, when Richard Brown took the trouble to come and put the case for Eurotunnel in my constituency it was rather sad that, in giving the rather gloomy tale that forms the background to my hon. Friend’s concerns, he emphasised the poor passenger numbers as a reason why—surprise, surprise, now that Ebbsfleet had been built—services from Ashford to Brussels had been entirely wound up and redirected to Paris. That was especially sad, because other parts of the industry sufficiently affected by low-cost airlines—the premium airlines, for instance—are reputedly looking into rail. Guillaume Pépy, the head of France’s SNCF has hinted that Air France is considering launching arrivals through the channel tunnel once Eurostar is opened up to competition in 2010. Indeed, Air France has already started a parallel process, with a shift from air to rail in its link from Paris to Brussels. My hon. Friend made the point strongly that his constituents and mine, as well as people throughout east Kent, are deeply concerned about the loss of services from Ashford. I have considerable sympathy for the points that he made. However, Eurostar must ask itself how others, including airlines, are seeing a commercial opportunity there while it is cutting back.
The Secretary of State’s power to grant subsidies is significantly reinforced by clause 1. With all the tales of woe that we have heard, I should like to echo the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon put about whether train operating companies are included in the measure and whether the Minister envisages it involving any extra public funding. I ask that because—I see that the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) has just resumed his place—no money resolution has been tabled with the Bill and a number of the items raised in the debate, if not the contents of the Bill themselves, involve spending extra money.
Issues surrounding the interchange at Stratford closely parallel those around the use of Ebbsfleet and, more particularly, Ashford. A powerful case has been made that if we are to see the regenerative benefits, one way or another, those issues need settling, but I see no reason why that should mean public money.
Another matter to consider is how things will develop in respect of subsequent high-speed links. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon announced our clear commitment to a feasibility study, which means exactly what it says—that we will look into it, but that we are not committing ourselves beyond that. I remind one or two of the more enthusiastic speakers of the wise warning of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford: if there is one thing to avoid next time, it is putting lots of alternative routes on a map and then spending years discussing them. Even in my end of Kent, we felt the backwash of the sheer fury generated in west Kent.
A smaller matter that needs clarifying is the exact relationship between the channel tunnel rail link and the Office of Rail Regulation. On the one hand, clauses 2 and 3 seem to entrench the channel tunnel outside the remit of the ORR, but on the other, clause 4 provides for the regulator to levy charges on the channel tunnel. I would be grateful if the Minister would pick that point up in his concluding speech.
The issue of freight came up about five times in our debate, but the Minister hardly touched on it at all in his opening speech. You would rightly restrain me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to broaden my speech too much into a wider discussion of the issues surrounding freight, but I saw parallels between the remarks of several Members on this measure and the position of our ports. The complaint is, frankly, that no legal framework is in place to allow port operators—even those forced to spend large sums on infrastructure—to negotiate long-term rail paths. I am aware of a discussion document that deals with the issue, but it offers a short-term and very complicated solution. I believe that there is a parallel, so I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether the Bill helps in any way to deal with the problem of encouraging more rail freight.
This is a short and uncontroversial Bill, so the Opposition are happy to support it.
We have had an excellent and probably too short debate. I will try to respond to as many contributions as possible in the next two or three hours and eight minutes!
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made an excellent and helpful contribution and I would like to echo his tribute to Rob Holden and his team at London and Continental Railways for the outstanding work that they have completed on High Speed 1. The hon. Gentleman asked about the future of the Government guaranteed debt, which currently amounts to about £6.1 billion. It is likely that the Government will continue to guarantee the existing debt. He and others, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), asked about the implications of clause 1 for the Secretary of State’s role. Let me clarify that the clause does not change in any respect the existing arrangements for subsidies; it clarifies that the Secretary of State has that power. It is the Government’s intention that that clarification should be seen as applying to domestic services operating on HS1. It does not mean that the Government have any long-term intention to offer public subsidy to Eurostar.
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I would like to make some progress and I was generous in giving way during my opening remarks.
Let me clarify the role of the Office of Rail Regulation, about which several hon. Members have asked. As the hon. Member for Canterbury rightly says, clause 2 entrenches the existing position that CTRL or HS1 will not be regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation. It will, however, continue to be the safety regulator and the appeal body for any train operating companies—whether it be Eurostar or any other—that feel that the charging regime is unfair. Clause 3 will allow the ORR to make charges specifically for its own services and not for track access charges.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South, who made an excellent contribution, obviously feels very strongly about Stratford International. This may not be news to anyone in the House, but I am not aware of any plans by Eurostar to provide any international services from Stratford International. I understand that Eurostar has committed to looking again into whether there is a demand for such services from that station. In that respect, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a correlation, as the hon. Member for Ashford has already said, between that and the position in Ashford. I come back to my earlier comments. Clause 1 clarifies the Secretary of State’s role and responsibility for funding services on CTRL, but it does not in any way oblige that person to fund capital improvements—in Stratford International or anywhere else.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s clarification. As I understand it, the Secretary of State has two types of power. The first is to subsidise the operating costs of services, which I believe is what my hon. Friend was referring to—though I may be wrong—and the second is to provide capital support for particular developments to make the services run better. If I have understood that correctly, I should make it clear that I was referring only to the capital commitment that would be relevant to achieving the interchange at Stratford. I was not referring to subsidising operating costs or anything of that kind. Will my hon. Friend clarify whether I am right that the Secretary of State has the power to provide capital for those developments at Stratford station?
I will clarify the position. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend is correct in that those powers are available for the Secretary of State to use. However, the wording of clause 1 was adopted specifically in respect of arrangements for subsidies to domestic services. That is the purpose of clause 1. My right hon. Friend feels strongly about this issue, but I think that he should be wary of demonstrating too strong an interest as there are a number of Whips in the Chamber and they may interpret his remarks as his volunteering for Public Bill Committee duty. Of course, I would welcome my right hon. Friend’s presence on such a Committee.
Returning to the matter of the interchange between Stratford International station and Stratford regional station, I do not care whether the Minister provides the subsidy to link the two on account of the domestic service or on account of the international service. All I want is the two stations linked.
That seems quite a reasonable position to adopt. I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier answer, as I understand that the procurement process is under way for a supplier and there is a possible contractor to provide the link that he so craves, but I cannot guarantee whether there is going to be a travolator, a moving pavement or whatever.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) talked about passenger growth predictions, which goes to the hub of the issue that arose in 1998 when the previous financial arrangements for building the channel tunnel rail link collapsed. Inevitably, predictions of passenger growth were too optimistic. In 1994, when passenger services first began, it was estimated that 21 million people would be using Eurostar by 2010. That prediction has had to be reviewed and it is now expected that 10 million people will use Eurostar services by that date. That shortfall led to a lack of confidence in the economic underpinning of the deal that was put together in 1996.
I challenged what the hon. Lady said about the risk to growth resulting from the move to St. Pancras. I do not think she can have it both ways. In the absence of an immediate start to work on high-speed links to the north, the location of St. Pancras as a terminal for Eurostar services will be of great benefit not only to Londoners but, crucially, to people living north of London. Even people in my constituency—and certainly those living in the north of England—find it easier to travel to Euston and King’s Cross and then on to St. Pancras than to arrive at either of those stations and then take the underground or a cab down to Waterloo International.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady said about the importance of freight. Of course it is in everyone’s interest for us to manage a major shift from road to rail. As the hon. Lady will know, in the high-level output specification announced in July we have committed £200 million to developing a strategic freight network, and various grants have already been made in the past few weeks to encourage gauge changes on existing freight lines.
The hon. Lady asked whether the proceeds of any future sale could be put towards the development of a high-speed network. She predicted a substantial bonus for the Treasury from the sale of LCR or its component parts. She should bear in mind that the Government gave LCR a £3 billion grant during construction, and has already assumed £6.1 million of debt. However significant the windfall from the sale of LCR may be, I am not sure how much will be left over for any such project.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) —who is a doughty promoter of high-speed lines on the basis that all of them will stop at Carlisle—gave an eloquent and enthusiastic account of his reasons for supporting high-speed links. He spoke of the evidence that Sir Rod Eddington gave to the Transport Committee. He was, of course, right to clarify what Sir Rod said about high-speed lines. He did not rule them out; although I think he did rule out maglev as a technology. Maglev is slightly different from high-speed lines. I do not demur from Sir Rod’s view that high-speed lines may well have a role to play, but I believe that its role would involve meeting increased capacity demands rather than the environment or connectivity.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) understandably raised, again, the unfairness with which he feels his constituency has been treated by Eurostar. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). Whether he admits it or not, the hon. Gentleman is completely at odds with his colleagues on the Front Bench, who constantly tell the Government every month during Transport questions that Ministers should not be micro-managing the railway. We should not be writing timetables. I agree with that, and we do not do it: that is why we do not specify the timetable for Eurostar.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that even with the revised service at Ashford, 33 per cent. more Eurostar services stop in Kent as a result of the opening of Ebbsfleet. He also asked about the role of the Office of Rail Regulation, which I hope I have now clarified.
That is an excellent question, which has not been asked today until now. The answer is yes, I would welcome competition with Eurostar. A great deal of capacity is available on High Speed 1, and I foresee competition at some time in the future. I believe that it would offer a good deal to passengers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) expressed enthusiasm for the opening of St. Pancras. He predicted, or at least requested, a change in policy on high-speed lines from me before I sit down this evening. I am sure he will not be surprised if I disappoint him by telling him that my position is the same as it was three hours ago.
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway) supported the link, and gave an excellent description of the way in which high-speed lines can benefit local communities. He also mentioned some of the possible disbenefits of their construction, but he spoke enthusiastically about the benefits to his consumers from the domestic services that will start in December 2009.
I like listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) when he talks of railways in general, but particularly when he talks of freight. He has an in-depth knowledge that far surpasses mine, and his insights are always interesting. He spoke of his wish to see vast quantities of freight travel through the tunnel. The Government want that as well, but, more important, we want it to happen on a commercial, profitable basis, because that is the only way in which it can be sustainable in the long term.
I also commend my hon. Friend for being the only person on the planet who still uses the word “railroad”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) produced an incisive analysis of what is happening to high-speed rail. He spoke of the regeneration aspects, and the importance of modal shift. The fleetingly present hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) spoke of the importance of not forgetting the traditional non-high-speed network, asking me not to forget Londoners. Given that we are spending £5.5 billion on Thameslink and another £5.1 billion on Crossrail, and that about 900 of the 1,300 new carriages to be purchased under high-level output specification will come to London and the south-east, I hardly think that that allegation holds much water.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) began by asking about the harbours Bill. I have a very large remit, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not extend it unilaterally to harbours.
This has been an excellent debate, and I am extremely proud to be the railways Minister who happened to be in position when St. Pancras and the high-speed rail link opened. I put it in those terms because I cannot claim to be the driving force behind the creation or the building of the link. Nevertheless, it is a privilege to have been a member of the Government at such a time.
The channel tunnel rail link is one of the largest construction projects ever completed. Completing a project of this size within time and budget is an achievement in itself, and we should celebrate its success. At last we have a high-speed rail link to shout about, a train service that links the country to Europe at up to 186 mph. St. Pancras has been transformed, and its position on the transport network means that people living in the north of England—and, I hope, Scotland—can buy a single ticket at their local station and go all the way to Paris without the trouble of crossing London. We have a regeneration investment estimated at £10 billion, which is being spent on bricks and mortar in some of the most deprived areas in the south-east.
Apart from all those benefits, we have the opportunity to gain a tangible financial return on taxpayers’ investment. The Bill kicks off a programme of work that will last at least three years. Through restructuring, we will secure the long-term future of the channel tunnel rail link project—a project that has delivered, and will continue to deliver, real benefits for the country, and a project of which we should all be proud.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
CHANNEL TUNNEL RAIL LINK (SUPPLEMENTARY PROVISIONS) BILL (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7) (Programme motions),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 11th December 2007.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Question agreed to.
CHANNEL TUNNEL RAIL LINK (SUPPLEMENTARY PROVISIONS) BILL (WAYS AND MEANS)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees by the Office of Rail Regulation in respect of the exercise of its functions in relation to the rail link.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Question agreed to.
With permission, I shall put motions 4 to 6 together.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),
That the draft Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 24th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.
Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism
That the draft Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2007, which were laid before this House on 9th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.
That the draft Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment No. 2) Rules 2007, which were laid before this House on 9th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Question agreed to.