Skip to main content

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 17 January 2008

Not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Powers of Secretary of State

I beg to move amendment No. 7, page 1, line 4, at end insert

‘and the railway assets at Waterloo Station released by London and Continental Railways.’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, page 1, line 5, at end add—

‘( ) The powers of the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Railways Act 2005 shall be exercised in such a way so as to ensure that assets associated with the rail link at Waterloo Station are developed for the purpose of providing domestic rail services’.

I am delighted that amendment No. 7 has been grouped with amendment No. 4, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who sits on the Front Bench. This is an important issue relating to the railway assets at Waterloo international terminal. Most of my constituents who commute into Waterloo had assumed that, by the time the international terminal there was closed, a clear plan would be in place for its re-utilisation. It has now emerged that that is far from being the case. The decision to move the terminal from Waterloo international to St. Pancras was first taken in 1994. The Government have therefore had about 13 years’ planning time in which to work out what would happen to the Waterloo international terminal when it was vacated by London and Continental Railways and the Eurostar services.

Rather late in the day, back in February 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority, as it then was, invited tenders for consultants to look at all the options for future use of the Waterloo international terminal. Ove Arup, the partnership that won the tender, produced a voluminous and, I thought, very helpful report, dated July 2005. It set out a series of options. One of the options, mothballing, was considered and rejected because it was accepted that that was an expensive option. Even then, it was estimated that it would cost more than £500,000 a year. Obviously, it was also considered by many to be a shameful waste of valuable railway assets, particularly at a time when, as everyone who uses Waterloo station knows, the station is under tremendous pressure, with not enough platforms for all the services and passenger numbers close to the station’s capacity. Amendments could be made to the structure of railway assets at Waterloo and nearby that would release the five platforms at the Waterloo international terminal for domestic services use.

I agree with my hon. Friend’s argument, but does he accept that his amendment No. 7 is not ideal because it is only permissive, which would enable a Minister to ignore his argument? Does he accept that amendment No. 4 provides a far better way of dealing with the matter because it directs the Minister in what to do?

I acknowledge that my amendment is more probing in order to raise the issue, while I view amendment No. 4, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, as a more substantive amendment. If we have the opportunity later, after withdrawing my amendment—providing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, agree to that—I would like to see amendment No. 4 put to the vote. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is absolutely right that that is a mandatory amendment. On the other hand, even that amendment will not achieve anything unless we have a clear indication from the Government that there is a will to do something. I note that the Under-Secretary acknowledges that. Let us hope that this debate will provide him with an opportunity to explain why we have the mere prospect of having one of those platforms opened for domestic services by the end of 2008 and no prospect whatever of any of the others being available for such services in the foreseeable future.

Of course, there are all sorts of available options, some of which are incompatible with each other, which is the nature of options. That is why the Strategic Rail Authority, before it was abolished by the Government, was wise to engage the services of consultants. What depresses me is that, all these months and years on, it seems that the Government have still not reached a clear conclusion. Indeed, I do not believe that the Government commissioned the additional work recommended by the SRA consultants, so it provides yet a further example—to the detriment of hard-pressed commuters—of Government indecision in the critical area of public investment. Taxpayers are already paying through the nose for the cost of subsidies to Network Rail and railway services.

We know that socialism is normally associated with public waste, public expenditure and declining quality of services, but there is no reason why the Government should make a habit of it, particularly in respect of Waterloo international. This should not be a party political issue because Labour constituencies are served by services going into Waterloo station and there are certainly Labour voters at Waterloo on a Monday morning. People are increasingly bemused by the fact that the Government talk the talk about investment in railways and the need to transfer people from road to rail, yet, when they have an opportunity to invest in it and take a decision, they fail to do so. Indeed, they funk it. That is exactly what has happened in respect of Waterloo international terminal.

This Bill is all about ensuring that we continue to subsidise the channel tunnel rail link services with taxpayers’ money and add value to London and Continental Railways. Yet, as I have said, the Government seem to be very mean when it comes to finding the necessary investment to make the most of the assets at Waterloo. I hope that the Minister will tell us precisely what has happened since the publication of the Strategic Railway Authority’s review in July 2005.

This issue affects a great many Members of Parliament. That is why I was a co-signatory to an early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who is anxious for the assets to be returned to use as quickly as possible. What worries him and many others is that although the Government know that it would be right to invest in Clapham Junction as well, and thus to enable full use to be made of the facilities at Waterloo, they lack the will to find the money to do so, thereby leaving the commuting public and other passengers in a much worse position than would be possible if they made the necessary investment.

I do not need to make a meal of this issue, but I would not want anyone to think that the fact that I had not spoken at length meant that I did not feel strongly that the Government must address the issue and address it today, and also apologise to the people of London and others who use Waterloo for the fact that they have already wasted valuable years with their indecision.

I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), but, as he said, my amendment is subtly different, and requires action by the Minister.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, if our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) seeks leave to withdraw his amendment, he will seek the Chair’s permission to press amendment No. 4 to a Division?

In that eventuality, I shall certainly seek the Chair’s permission to do so.

When the decision was made to transfer the international rail terminus from Waterloo to St. Pancras, the reasons for the move were announced by Eurostar’s director of communications, Mr. Paul Charles, who listed some key benefits. He said, for instance, that

“Domestic commuters will benefit from faster access into Waterloo and the opening of more train pathways”,

and that there would be

“Opportunities for domestic train operators to utilise capacity vacated”.

That announcement was made on 15 November 2004. In the three years that have passed since then, the move to St. Pancras has taken place and we have witnessed the successful opening of the United Kingdom’s first high-speed rail line, which enables travellers to cross from London to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes. However, improving Paris-London services was only one part of the deal. The other part of the deal was opening up the vacant platforms at Waterloo, and that has not been kept: the platforms remain empty.

It is interesting to look at the forecasts of traffic and passenger numbers. In 1996, when LCR first bid for the project, it forecast that the number of passengers using Eurostar would reach 21.4 million in 2004. In fact, by that stage the number was only 7.3 million, and the latest available figure is 7.85 million. When we contrast that rather optimistic forecast with the huge increase in the number of people using routes into Waterloo, we see the problem. The Office of Rail Regulation estimates that 60 million people a year—164,000 a day—are now either coming into or leaving Waterloo.

As I and my constituents experience, those trains are all too often overcrowded, and passengers are carried in conditions that may be described as subhuman. Interestingly, every time I look at the daily scrum on platforms 1, 2, 3 and 4—as people try to get the train from or back to my constituency—I sense the empty platforms at the other end of the station that ought to be used for my constituents and for those of so many other Members.

The hon. Gentleman makes the use of those platforms—which is, indeed, very desirable—sound very simple. Does he not accept that it is a complicated issue that would involve alterations not only to the station, but down the track, and particularly at Clapham Junction, as has been suggested?

Alterations to the station do not present a difficult problem. I accept that there are some track problems, but the overall cost of putting those five domestic platforms into operation, including the track works, has been estimated at under £10 million—I will listen to the Minister’s response carefully. The cost of mothballing the platforms is reckoned to be about £500,000 a year, so there is a huge cost to mothballing, as well as to doing something. I also ask the hon. Gentleman to bear it in mind that this problem did not arise yesterday. As I made clear in my opening remarks, we knew from November 2004 that Eurostar operations were to move to St. Pancras, so there has been a long time to work out what might happen in the post-relocation period. That is a fact.

It is also a fact that South West Trains operates some of the most overcrowded services in the United Kingdom. It wants to use the platforms at Waterloo for its longest trains—those that serve Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth. Those vacant platforms are already long enough to host those trains. The ownership of Waterloo international will pass to the Department in March this year, and work could then begin, with an eye to having all the vacant platforms open. As I understand it, work will begin on platform 20, and the platforms will be available for use from December 2008.

A number of issues arise from the lack of forethought. Let us be clear that the Government have had three years to get to this point; they cannot shirk responsibility. Eurostar is pulling out of Waterloo. It has no incentive to safeguard the platforms for domestic services post-withdrawal. The Government are taking over the platforms in question, and therefore it is their job to see that they are put to good use. I credit the Minister for clearly recognising that fact. He has given written answers to questions on Waterloo in the past two months on 12, 21, 26 and 27 November and on 6 and 18 December; he is a very busy man. Let me remind the Minister of what he said on 6 December:

“Ownership of Waterloo International transfers to the Department at the end of March 2008 following Eurostar’s de-commissioning of the facility as an international station. The Department is currently working closely with Network Rail and Stagecoach South West Trains…to finalise the design and costs associated with the partial conversion of Waterloo International to accommodate some domestic passenger services. The cost information should be finalised early next year. Works on site are expected to commence soon after the station transfers to the Department and will take several months to complete. Services could then operate into and out of Platform 20 of Waterloo International from the start of the timetable change date in December 2008.

Options for the medium to long-term use of all five international platforms are being assessed…as part of a wider strategy for the upgrade of Waterloo”.—[Official Report, 6 December 2007; Vol. 468, c. 1484-85W.]

On December 18, the Minister said:

“It is primarily the railway infrastructure outside Waterloo that limits the number of trains that can use the station rather than the number of platforms. Therefore the need is to run longer trains rather than more trains. So we are planning a large scheme to make all the platforms long enough to accommodate 10 and 12 car trains...The scheme also presents opportunities at Waterloo International to reconfigure the passenger circulation space and the interchange with other transport modes, and to better integrate the station into the surrounding area. Such an ambitious scheme requires very detailed planning to make the most of this unique opportunity.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 1441W.]

None of that is in dispute, but the Minister’s Department has known about the availability of the platforms since November 2004, so what excuse will he give us for the fact that it did not have a comprehensive plan for the redeployment of the platforms ready as soon as they were available after the decommissioning of Eurostar?

I have listened to this debate for longer than it would appear by the length of my presence in the Chamber. Since 2004, my colleagues and I have constantly prompted the Government to address this issue. The key to it is Clapham Junction, because of the size of the viaduct going in. Thus, it is not just about the circulation at Waterloo; it is also about investing at Clapham Junction in order properly to give commuter access to the five now-vacated lines.

My hon. Friend again makes the excellent point about the need for works at places other than Waterloo. As I explained in answer to an earlier intervention, a decent estimate has been made about the cost of those works, which, in toto, would not last longer—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but may I urge him to address either the Chair or the microphone at all times? If he turns round completely, in a courteous effort to address his hon. Friend, the record can sometimes be impaired.

I am grateful for your instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of my colleagues might think that the record would be better if I were turned round more often.

I want to ask some further questions, and I hope that the Minister will address them. Why is it only now that the options for the medium to long-term use of all five international platforms are being considered? Why is only one platform being prepared for domestic services? Will he confirm that it will meet the December 2008 target? In the written answer of 18 December that I quoted, he said that the work planned at Waterloo is designed to allow longer trains to use the platforms. South West Trains runs 10 and 12-car trains on the main line and hopes to extend the number of cars used to at least 14. The reality is that the Eurostar platforms are the longest in Britain and can accommodate 18 carriages, so surely they are long enough to support the long trains.

If the reason for the delay is an ambitious plan for Waterloo, when will it be revealed? What is it? What will it cost? Is the ambitious plan that the Minister mentions merely a fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of the Government and Network Rail for not having a plan to use all the five platforms immediately on decommissioning? We seek answers to those questions from the Minister.

The mess in the lack of preparedness for the decommissioning and the vacation is symptomatic of the failure to give the people of this country an accountable, efficient railway system that is focused on the needs of the passenger. The long-suffering commuters into Waterloo are amazed that this national asset, which is part of the answer to their problems, sits there lying empty. They will be unforgiving if four platforms continue to lie empty until 2012 to 2014, as the Minister suggested in one of his written answers.

There is a way through this situation. Under section 6(1) of the Railways Act 2005, the Secretary of State has 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.”

Before anyone starts asking whether we are about to hear a spending commitment, I should remind hon. Members that financial assistance as defined by that Act is

“(a) the making of grants or loans;

(b) the giving of guarantees; and

(c) investments in bodies corporate”.

So that does not necessarily imply that spending would be necessary, but it does imply that the Government may be required to give guarantees.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us that part of the rationale for this short Bill is to ensure that the financial assistance, as defined by the 2005 Act, already given to London and Continental Railways by the Government remains in place as the construction phase ends and the operational phase begins. The Government currently provide financial assistance for capital funding in several ways. The whole financial assistance is utilised, including loans, Government-guaranteed bonds, securitised bonds and other debt facilities. The Government also have the power to provide some revenue funding for domestic services operating on the channel tunnel rail link. Therefore, it is clear that as part of the overall CTRL project, an asset—albeit an asset that is now post-construction and operationally redundant to CTRL—could receive a Government guarantee of financial assistance of some form to maximise its usage or disposal value. The disposal value of the Eurostar platforms, if disposed for railway purposes, would undoubtedly be maximised by ensuring that they were operational.

We are told that the Bill is necessary because, among other reasons, the maximisation of the disposal value of other railway assets must be ensured. If the Government are to continue to provide revenue funding for the rest of CTRL, and capital funding guarantees, why not make Waterloo part of the scheme? It is undoubtedly critical that the platforms at Waterloo left vacant by Eurostar’s relocation are put to use. We are all aware of the capacity shortages on our railways and they are particularly acute at Waterloo. The liberation of the five platforms represents a golden opportunity to address some of those capacity needs.

The Government have, by the virtue of the Railways Act 2005, the power to provide financial assistance to those who own or run railway services or assets. The amendment in my name will put an obligation on the Government to exercise that power in such a way as to ensure that the platforms at Waterloo, which they will own from March, are put to domestic train use. The Government will fail in their obligation to passengers at Waterloo if they fail to do that. Amendment No. 4 would ensure that that obligation is fulfilled.

I am known as a big fan of high-speed rail. Now that the dust has settled after the spectacular opening of St. Pancras international, it has become painfully obvious that not all of the obligations of the move from Waterloo have been honoured. The last cross-channel train has pulled out of Waterloo international and there is an eerie void where it once hummed with activity. That void must be filled. The Government must meet their obligations and, unless we receive more reassurance from the Minister this afternoon, I will seek to divide the House on the amendment.

I welcome amendment No. 4. It is a very timely amendment that raises a serious issue. Indeed, it is difficult to disagree with the case that has been made. As soon as it became clear that Waterloo international was no longer to be used for Eurostar services, it should have been obvious that there was a wonderful opportunity for an improvement to domestic rail services into Waterloo. That is certainly obvious to the commuters who use trains into Waterloo every morning. The public would have expected the Government to have a plan to ensure that as soon as Eurostar services ceased, new domestic services began seamlessly. I accept that three years is not a long time, but the Government tell us that in 2012 they will come forward with plans for the period beginning 2014. So they seem to think that two years is sufficient for investment in long-term rail projects.

It is clear that with rising congestion, overcrowded trains and a significant increase in the number of train passengers, for which the Government are happy to take some credit, we will need extra capacity on the rail network above and beyond that suggested by the Government’s White Paper on railways. All the evidence suggests that railway passenger numbers are increasing faster than the Government anticipated. The pressures on the network will therefore be greater at an earlier stage than the Government admit. That is the same at Waterloo as everywhere else. It seems to me to be a no-brainer that we should bring the platforms into use for domestic services. The fact that the Government are talking only about platform 20, not the other platforms in Waterloo international, is a failure.

I want to make the same point as I did when I intervened on the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) makes the use of those platforms sound very easy. In fact, he spoke just a moment ago about reusing the platforms. Does he, too, not accept that it is not simply a question of reusing the platforms but a complex business, involving realigning the track further back at Clapham Junction? That cannot be done the following morning or week, but needs a considerable amount of planning and investment.

The hon. Gentleman did raise that point a moment ago, and I am tempted to give the same answer as the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). First, the planning should have started some time ago. Secondly, of course there are constraints further back at Clapham Junction and elsewhere—I accept that. However, this is a feature of the Government’s rail policy. They are attempting to get as much as possible out of the network through signal improvements and so on, which is fine, but they have not yet grasped the nettle and recognised that we must invest significantly in the rail network to deal with the modal shift from road and air to rail travel, which is needed for climate change reasons, and to deal with the increase in passenger numbers.

We will have to spend money on places such as Clapham Junction. There is no getting away from that. If we do not spend it now, we will spend it in 10 years’ time. Such forward projections ought to be made by the Department for Transport, but it has not made them. It has failed to make projections far enough ahead about what will need to be done, including about such changes as those at Clapham Junction. The Department is still working on the presumption that oil will be $50 a barrel in 2025; that is the official DFT position. It was hardly surprising, with such inputs, that its answers were wrong.

Yes, there are problems at Clapham Junction. They need to be dealt with. They should have been thought about before, but they were not. It is a complicated matter, but it all needs to be dealt with. It is insufficient merely to leave the platforms empty—or worse. One written answer that was referred to a moment ago, which I saw in Hansard the other day, talked about “passenger circulation space”. To me, that is rather a worrying phrase. It conjures up ideas of Birmingham New Street, where a lot of money is spent to provide not very much space for trains and quite a lot of space for people to sit and wait for trains. I wonder whether passenger circulation space actually refers to the idea of building a shopping mall and a couple more McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets where passengers can wait in comfort for trains running from platforms one to 20, rather than using the platforms from 20 onwards for more trains. I hope that the Minister will confirm that there is no intention permanently to remove the platforms above platform 20 from Waterloo international and that that will not happen.

I need not detain the House much longer. The hon. Member for Wimbledon made a good case, and if the House divides, my colleagues and I will support him.

We have just heard three excellent speeches, all of which have made a compelling case for action. I hope that the Minister will satisfy us that he will take such action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), as a lawyer, always makes a good case. However, I feel that today his drafting skills have deserted him. Amendment No. 7 is extremely wishy-washy, and if the Minister does not satisfy the House I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), will be minded to support amendment No. 4.

I congratulate the Government on eventually overseeing the successful opening of the UK’s first high-speed rail line, which enables passengers to get from London to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes. I also welcome Eurostar’s move to St. Pancras, which is far easier for my constituents, and for residents of Yorkshire and other parts of the north in general, to get to than Waterloo—although why any resident of Yorkshire would wish to cross the channel, when in my constituency of East Yorkshire we have the delightful seaside town of Bridlington, I do not know.

However, improving services from London to the continent was only part of what we were told would happen, as we were promised that vacant platforms at Waterloo would be used for domestic services. I do not blame the present Minister for the problems that we now face; they arose before his watch, but he must explain to the House why his predecessors did not undertake the necessary planning to bring the vacant platforms into use.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) made a fair point, but there has been a gap of three years in which action could have been taken to resolve the problems at Clapham Junction. As far as I am aware, no such action has been taken.

I think that I was the first to raise this matter: I did so in 2004, and have done so regularly since then. The issue is complex, and investment at Clapham Junction is required if we are to get the crossover facilities that we need. My right hon. Friend’s constituents may well be happy that St. Pancras is now the terminal for Eurostar, but in my constituency there are nine railway stations that feed into Waterloo. I am unhappy that the vacated platforms are not fully in use for commuters.

I can well understand my hon. Friend’s concern but, although my constituents do not face the disastrous travel problems that his face, the point is that the Government have a duty to maximise the use of public assets. They are spending some £6.5 billion on our rail network, and we were told that platform 20 and all the other vacant platforms at Waterloo would be brought into use. I hope that, unless it transpires that some platforms have to be demolished to allow the track to be realigned, the Minister will be able to reassure commuters that that is what will happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon was right to say that the Railways Act 2005 gives the Government the power to provide financial assistance to those who own or run rail services and assets. The Government would be in dereliction of their duty if they did not make available the money to allow the vacant platforms at Waterloo to be brought into use. Amendment No. 4 would oblige the Government to ensure that the vacant platforms at Waterloo were brought into use for domestic train services. I hope that, in the absence of an unequivocal assurance to that end from the Minister, the House will support it.

I support amendments Nos. 7 and 4. I heard the critical remarks that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) made about amendment No. 7, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), but it is wholly consistent with my hon. Friend’s known philosophy. He likes to enable, rather than force, people to do things, and the amendment is entirely consistent with that approach. Amendment No. 4 is more positive: it is designed to get the Government to do something—but then my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is the shadow Minister, and that is his job. I am therefore delighted with how he has phrased his amendment.

Both amendments enable us to raise the problem of congestion on commuter railways south of the Thames—a matter of profound importance about which there has been a great deal of comment. The underground system south of the river is skeletal, and the commuter lines into the relevant stations south of the river—and occasionally just to the north—are suffering from huge and worsening congestion. Here is a golden opportunity to do something about that problem very quickly and simply.

The opportunity presents itself to the Minister to score a quick hit. When we raise the problem of congestion on commuter lines, he always tells us that Thameslink will come along in due course and other things will happen in 10 years’ time—[Interruption.] Thameslink may be being built now, but when will it be open? When will the famous Borough Market junction be free of congestion? Not for years to come. That is the truth of the matter.

Yet in 2008 it is still not built—or, rather, it has been built but it will be years before it relieves congestion. That is precisely my point.

I do not want to prolong the debate, but to answer the comment made by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about Thameslink 2000, may I remind the House that the first thing I did on becoming a Minister was to change the project’s name from Thameslink 2000 to Thameslink?

The Minister was wise to do that. However, the fact remains that it will be a long time before we will see serious relief for my constituents and those of many other hon. Members as a result of the scheme.

I understand that most of the pressure in this debate has come from my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who represent commuters coming in from the south-west—from Portsmouth, Southampton and stations closer to London. That is a priority, and Waterloo is the station for those commuters, but the fact is that after crossing the channel, the Eurotrains passed through Ashford, Orpington and Petts Wood—stations in my constituency—and then diverted from the main line carrying commuters into Charing Cross and Waterloo East to go into Waterloo station. There is therefore a line available.

I do not expect to take all three or four lines—I am sure that South West Trains naturally expects to take the majority—but there must be some room for people from Orpington and Petts Wood to go into Waterloo, using those now disused lines. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire said, we should maximise the use of public assets, which are there to be used. If we did that, it would immediately ameliorate my constituents’ difficulties; otherwise, they will have to wait years for improvement.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) back in his place. He often intervenes to say that what we are asking for will take a long time, but in this instance it would not. Eurotrains passed through Orpington, Ashford and Petts Wood and then went straight to Waterloo. Why cannot commuter trains from those stations in my constituency go straight to Waterloo, thus relieving the lines into Charing Cross? Now, many of my constituents travel from Orpington and Petts Wood and get out at Waterloo East, which is not far from Waterloo. Why can they not travel on the alternative line, which is available for use? It would not require a great deal of track rearrangement or similar work.

I was not suggesting that that was undesirable or that it would take a long time. I merely intervened, as I am doing now, to say that this is not a straightforward matter of reusing platforms. Extensive work on the line would be needed.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has elaborated and clarified his comment, but the fact is that this is not a big issue. The work could be done relatively quickly.

The Minister must know that what we want is some quick hits. I am trying to help him. He—a Minister in a Labour Government—would be able say to my constituents, “Here is something that will benefit you within a few months.” We have a wonderful opportunity, but apparently it is not to be taken. Perhaps we are seeing the dead hand of Network Rail. We have seen how bad Network Rail is and we hope that, eventually, the Minister will do something about it. We have plans, as he may know. Perhaps the dead hand belongs to some other group involved in the railways, to civil servants, or to the Minister himself. The Government have an opportunity to do something imaginative and quick-acting, which is almost never possible with railway investment. I hope that the Minister will comment on that possibility.

I rise to speak more in the hope than in the expectation that I can persuade Opposition Members that the two amendments are not necessary. However, as the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has told the House that he intends to press them to a Division regardless of what arguments I make, I shall try to be brief.

I am grateful. I have listened to the debate, having sat in on most of it, and I am surprised that no one has mentioned the wider societal and regeneration benefits that would come from supporting amendment No. 4, in particular. The part of the south bank in question, and Waterloo, need regeneration. The amendment would benefit not only commuters but that whole area of London.

I was about to point out that no one has yet mentioned the relevance of the amendments to the Bill, which deals with the channel tunnel rail link and not with Waterloo or any other Network Rail mainline station.

Clause 1 confirms that the power under section 6 of the Railways Act 2005 permitting the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance for railway purposes applies to the rail link and the train services running on it. Clause 1 does not give a new power; it simply clarifies, for the avoidance of doubt, that the power will apply to High Speed 1, as it applies to the rest of the rail network. The rail link that the clause refers to is HS1, the railway between St. Pancras and the mouth of the channel tunnel. Waterloo station is not part of the rail link and is not subject to the provisions of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, which gave rise to the uncertainty.

It is also worth noting that ownership of Waterloo international terminal is to be transferred to the Department for Transport in March this year, as the hon. Member for Wimbledon said, and it will not be among the assets sold as part of the HS1 business. There is not considered to be any ambiguity about the application of section 6 funding powers to Waterloo. The transfer of Waterloo does not form part of the restructuring with which the Bill is concerned. As a result, amendment No. 7 is unnecessary and irrelevant.

Turning to amendment No. 4, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wimbledon on his intellectual acrobatics in attempting to justify its logic and crowbar it into a short Bill concerned primarily—I would say exclusively—with the channel tunnel rail link. He started by describing his amendment as more subtle than that of his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). If subtle is the definition of a brick, I suppose I agree.

Amendment No. 4 would ensure that domestic services could use the platforms at Waterloo international. Assurances that that will be possible have already been given on numerous occasions. As far back as October 2005, my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling)—now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but then the Secretary of State for Transport—announced that the platforms at Waterloo international would be retained for domestic passenger use. We debated the issue again in March 2007, when I described our plans for Waterloo in some detail. In case hon. Members wish to consult the record, I should tell them that the debate was on 14 March in Westminster Hall.

My officials have been assessing the scope and benefits of altering the platforms at Waterloo station for domestic services for some time; the process did not begin recently. A feasibility study completed in 2006 concluded that running South West Trains services to those platforms would deliver short-term performance benefits, and that long-term development options required further consideration. After the transfer of ownership of Waterloo, work to convert platform 20 for domestic services will start, and that capacity should be available from December 2008. That is our short-term plan.

What action did the Government take immediately after the publication of the Strategic Rail Authority report from Ove Arup in July 2005, which concluded by recommending extra work in various directions to narrow the options for the future?

Will the hon. Gentleman be entirely surprised if I tell him that I do not have those details to hand? However, I shall be more than happy to write to him. Our proposal for the medium term is linked to the high level output specification objective of providing longer trains across the network to meet the expected growth rates forecast over the coming years. The scheme being considered by the Department and Network Rail could see longer commuter trains operating not only on the lines to Windsor and Reading, but on mainline suburban routes to Surbiton, Chessington and Hampton Court. Currently, services on these routes operate into the shortest platforms—platforms 1 to 4—of Waterloo.

The Department’s proposal would see services being shuffled across the existing station, with the Windsor services operating into and out of Waterloo international. That would allow the other lengthened commuter services to access longer platforms within the main Waterloo train shed. Clearly, work is already in hand to implement the Government’s plans for Waterloo international to be redeployed for domestic services.

The amendment seeks to go further and commits the Government to spending on the station for that purpose. That is not only unnecessary but inappropriate. Is the hon. Member for Wimbledon suggesting that a future Conservative Government, instead of putting commitments on major infrastructure changes into the high level output specification, which I assume his party will ultimately accept, would impose on the Secretary of State a statutory commitment that, not only in respect of Waterloo, but presumably in respect of every mainline station and all 23 main lines throughout the country, all those changes, improvements and spending commitments would be mandated in primary legislation? If he does not intend to do that, he is creating an unfortunate and illogical precedent today.

There are many factors to consider when designing major changes to a busy station. There was a wide range of interested parties to consult. Adding the amendments to the Bill would not be the most effective way of securing the best outcome for passengers at Waterloo. Domestic services are scheduled to begin operation from the international terminal in December 2008. Under the support arrangements in place, we will continue to work on the long-term options.

I conclude by referring to a comment from the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam). In his world the conversion of the platforms to domestic use could be done tomorrow—or perhaps, if he were being more realistic, Monday. I have to tell him that I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) that the engineering works, not only in the station but on the tracks outside Waterloo, are substantial.

Does the hon. Gentleman honestly believe that I, my colleagues or the Department for Transport had the option of making the platforms immediately available to domestic services, but that instead of pursuing what he called that quick and easy option, we deliberately decided not to do so? That makes no sense. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that I, as the Minister with a vested political interest in making our rail network more effective, would not deliberately turn my back on a cheap and quick option.

As I am addressing my remarks to the hon. Member for Orpington, it would be better if he intervened now, rather than others.

The Minister is an affable man and one of the more able Government Ministers. It is hard to explain to commuters why, although until recently Eurostar trains were going through Orpington and ending up in Waterloo 15 or 20 minutes later, ordinary trains cannot now do the same journey on the same tracks and arrive at Waterloo, relieving congestion on other routes. It seems simple to commuters. I am sure that there are engineering complexities that the Minister will cite, but surely they cannot be that bad.

We are in danger of indulging in tabloid politics. With due respect, although the hon. Gentleman may be right to say that it seems patently obvious to the outside observer that when platforms are vacated by Eurostar, all we have to do is say to South West Trains, “You can use those platforms,” of course it is not really that simple.

Let me make a relevant point that has not yet been made. I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Wimbledon. He is about to reply on behalf of his party, and in a few minutes he can say what he likes.

There seems to be a view, unfortunately prevalent on the Opposition Benches, that the creation of extra platforms will mean extra capacity on the rail network. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) seems to be of the view that reopening a new railway line automatically creates extra capacity. However, such initiatives would be worthless unless we could buy new trains to run services on that new infrastructure.

I have to tell the hon. Member for Orpington that South West Trains does not have the spare capacity to run extra services to Waterloo international. The idea that South West Trains could conjure up x number of new carriages to run new services through platforms that were previously used but are now vacant is frankly unbelievable. The Conservative party should put its money where its mouth is and welcome the high level output specification, which we announced in July, and which commits the Government to purchasing, through the franchising process, 1,300 new trains—some of which will go to South West Trains for exactly the purpose mentioned. I have to conclude that opening up vacant platforms is utterly useless unless there are new trains to provide services for customers.

A moment ago, the Minister accused me of intellectual acrobatics; actually, he is engaging in them himself. We all accept that platforms cannot just be turned on and off and that there are engineering works in Clapham. However, in making his defence, he has failed to explain in any way what has happened between November 2004 and now. When the decommissioning and vacation happened, the Government could have put the plans into operation immediately. His defence would have been stronger if he had mentioned those.

I was trying to make the point that whatever work has been done in considering options for the domestic use of such platforms—and a great deal has—our major funding commitment for new carriages takes place between 2009 and 2014. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman’s party has not welcomed that spending commitment.

The Minister has set out the complexities fairly. However, will he tell us the last possible date, in the worst-case scenario, by which those platforms will come into use for domestic services?

I expect the platforms to be in service by 2014. With that reassurance, I urge the hon. Member for Christchurch to withdraw his amendment.

The Minister’s response to the debate has been disappointing. We have not raised the matter as a party political issue, but he seems to want to turn it into one. People who commute into Waterloo, or have constituents who do so, will wonder why someone who represents Glasgow, South is commenting on what it is like to go into Waterloo station.

We are not talking about needing new services straight away; we are saying that at the moment my constituents, those of other hon. Members, and I myself experience delay every day as we come into Waterloo. The trains stop between Clapham Junction and Waterloo because of the lack of capacity at Waterloo and restrictions at Clapham Junction. To give one example, until 1909 there were eight lines between Clapham Junction and Waterloo; now there are only seven. If the flyover between the two stations was removed, there could be eight lines. That would not need to result in extra services, but it would mean that the services already there could run on time, and probably take less time.

Although the Government go on about how they have improved punctuality, they have actually increased the standard length of the journey. It certainly now takes longer to go from my constituency to Waterloo, and part of that is because of pressure at Waterloo. That pressure could be released if those extra platforms were brought into use. I hope that the Minister will spend some time visiting Waterloo to discuss with the people concerned exactly what the problem is and what could be done to put it right.

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s arguments. I am not yet sure if he is going to say whether he wishes to withdraw his amendment, but let me repeat that I wish to press amendment No. 4 to a Division, because I am not happy with the response that we have heard.

Order. Perhaps it will assist the House if I indicate that were the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) to withdraw his amendment, I would be disposed at the due time, after consideration of the next group of amendments, to allow a Division on the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond).

I am grateful to you for that indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Obviously, I shall not seek leave to withdraw my amendment until I have finished my remarks; if I did, I would not be able to conclude what has been a really good—

Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not seeking to cut him off, as I had to on his lengthy point of order.

That is very fairly put, if I may say so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the light of my earlier provocation.

All the Minister has said is that he thinks that the platforms will be brought back into use by 2014. That is another six years away. Between now and 2014 we will be spending £500,000-plus a year on mothballing them, which is absolutely intolerable. That could still be mitigated, but it was avoidable had action been taken after the Strategic Rail Authority report from the consultants in July 2005.

Does the hon. Gentleman notice any comparisons or parallels between Waterloo international and the millennium dome?

I used to be the shadow Minister for the millennium dome, so I will not be drawn into a long debate about that saga. The millennium dome was, at all material times, a white elephant; Waterloo international is a very fine building that needs to be brought back into use straight away. The problem with the millennium dome was that it was difficult to find anybody who could make a commercial go of it, whereas everybody is saying, “Let’s get Waterloo station back into full operational use as soon as possible.”

The Government talk about doing something by 2014. If they had a clear plan, the first thing that one would expect them to say—for example, to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), who made an excellent speech—is, “The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is feasible,” or, “That is not feasible.” Of course, it would not be feasible if the bridge linking the old Eurostar line that goes over the railway tracks between Clapham Junction and Waterloo to allow services from Petts Wood and Orpington to come into Waterloo were taken away. What depresses me about this debate is that I would have expected a Minister to say, “That’s a good idea—yes, we can do that,” or, “That’s a bad idea—it won’t be practical because we think that our priority should be services coming in from the south-west.” The fact that the Minister does not seem to know which of those options is to be used shows how far we are from reaching any conclusion.

Given that the Government have claimed credit for Crossrail, which has eventually been sorted out, should not they take the blame for not listening to the argument advanced by my hon. Friends and myself several years ago that thousands of commuters would be put out by the failure to integrate the platforms at Waterloo and make the investment at Clapham Junction? There seems to be a balance between Crossrail, where at last the Government have done something, and on Waterloo international, where they have failed.

Absolutely, they have failed, and sooner rather than later, more and more people are going to realise the extent of that failure.

I shall quote briefly paragraph 5(4) of the Strategic Rail Authority final report dated 11 July 2005:

“Waterloo domestic station is one of the largest and busiest stations in London. Its 19 platforms are intensively used, particularly those serving the Main Line, Suburban and Windsor Lines destinations.

The Waterloo area is currently a limited destination in itself, and most passengers arriving at Waterloo interchange onto other lines…Passenger circulation is a particular issue both in the main concourse and for interchange. Network Rail believe that the station is approaching the limit of its safe passenger handling capacity and that works will be required to increase passenger capacity if passenger numbers increase significantly. It is expected that at current rates of growth (and without any changes to Waterloo International), capacity will be reached by 2011.”

That is three years before the Minister says that the platforms at the former international station will be open. That information was available to the Government—I accept that it was not available to him, because he has become a Minister only recently—in July 2005. It is clear today that in the intervening period the Government have done absolutely nothing to address the issue.

When my constituents find in 2011 that they cannot get into Waterloo because of passenger congestion, what will I say to them? I will say that there was an opportunity to increase capacity, but the Government declined to take it. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) referred to Crossrail. That is an incredibly expensive project. For a much smaller investment, the lives of tens of thousands of commuters into Waterloo could be completely transformed, with quicker, more reliable and more comfortable services, safer platforms and more circulation space for passengers.

This has been a disappointing debate, because I had hoped that we would get a clearer picture from the Government, and that the impression I had before the debate that the Government did not have a clue where they were going with Waterloo international would be removed by the Minister’s remarks. I am afraid that that feeling has been confirmed by the Minister’s remarks, so the only way we have of showing our disapproval of the Government’s laid-back attitude on this matter is to divide the House. The best thing to divide on would be amendment No. 4, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 7.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 3, page 1, line 5, at end add—

‘(3) In subsection (1) “rail services” refer only to those services that both originate and terminate in the United Kingdom.’.

The Minister accused me of intellectual gymnastics. This amendment is full of intellectual clarity, so we shall have no problem with it. He will recognise the amendment because it is very similar to one that I tabled in Committee. I tabled it again because, as I said in Committee on reading the Minister’s answer, we would like to seek further clarification, or to press the matter to a Division if we have a disappointing response.

As the Minister said, clause 1 is intended to clear up any potential confusion about whether the Government can continue to provide financial support to the rail link and the services running on it, now that the construction phase is complete and the services are up and running. That is deemed necessary because any future buyer might be in some doubt about it, which is why the clause includes the words:

“For the avoidance of doubt”.

The clause gives the Secretary of State the power to subsidise HS1 into its operational phase, but it is the stated intention of the Government that this power will be exercised in relation to domestic services only, and not to international ones. The explanatory notes to the Bill say as much:

“the Secretary of State will provide revenue funding for domestic services operating on the CTRL”.

The Under-Secretary said:

“It would be wrong for the UK taxpayer to subsidise services across the continent.”––[Official Report, Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2007; c. 13.]

It is therefore strange that the Government’s stated intention is not reflected on the face of the Bill. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State may continue to provide funds

“in relation to the rail link or railway services on it.”

However, a large proportion of services on the rail link will be international. Nothing in the Bill prevents the subsidy of services bound for or returning from continental Europe.

The Bill states that

“nothing in sections 31 to 33 of the 1996 Act prevents the powers of the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Railways Act 2005… from being exercised in relation to the rail link or railways services on it.”

We contend that leaving the clause unamended will not restrict revenue funding to domestic services, as the Government require. Elsewhere, the clause uses the phrase:

“For the avoidance of doubt”.

Let us ensure that doubt is avoided and ambivalence removed. The amendment would add a new subsection, which states that

“‘rail services’ refer only to those services that both originate and terminate in the United Kingdom.”

We are led to believe that it is not the Government’s intention to fund international services, so let us make it clear in the Bill.

In Committee, I asked the Under-Secretary,

“in extremis, does not the Bill allow the possibility of part of the service that Eurostar is running in the UK being open to revenue funding?”

He replied:

“In essence, if, in the short term, any extra subsidy were to be provided to Eurostar Ltd, such as through leasing stock agreements, the hon. Gentleman is right. That could be interpreted as being a short-term subsidy from the Government. However, as I have repeatedly said, it is not the intention of the Government publicly to provide any subsidy to Eurostar in the long term.”—[Official Report, Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2007; c. 14.]

The Under-Secretary’s answer was extraordinarily revealing. Although he repeatedly said that it is not the Government’s intention, there is a genuine possibility that the Government will not be able to fulfil their intention.

If it is the Government’s intention that there is revenue funding only for domestic services, let us include that in the Bill for the avoidance of doubt and ambiguity. The Government’s current position appears to be that they offer revenue funding and support to domestic services and not to international services, but only in the long term, not in the short term. That is ludicrous. In Committee, the Under-Secretary told us that my amendment was unnecessary. He said that the power to support rail services under the 2005 Act extended only to the United Kingdom. That may be the case, but, as I pointed out, some of the trains that run on British soil are international services. As his answer showed, the Government may well subsidise some international services in the short term. Being in British territory does not necessarily make a train a domestic service.

Does the Under-Secretary concede that, in the light of his reply in Committee, just because the Secretary of State’s powers are restricted by the 2005 Act to funding only services in Great Britain, funding is not restricted to domestic services? Does he concede that some trains that run on British track are international services? If he concedes those points, does he admit that the current wording of clause 1 does not meet the Government’s stated objective? For the avoidance of doubt, my amendment will help the Under-Secretary. I hope that he will accept it in that spirit of help.

In response to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) that my answers in Committee were revealing, I assure him that that was not the intention. I am not sure whether my response to his questions will be any more persuasive or reassuring today than they were in Committee. Nevertheless, I will try.

Let me say again that it is not the Government’s intention to subsidise international services through a franchise or any similar arrangement. Furthermore, the power to support services in the 2005 Act extends only to Great Britain. The Secretary of State does not have the ability to fund continental train services. The current structure of Eurostar UK Ltd preserves the distinction between charges paid by London and Continental Railways and charges paid by the other owners—SNCF and SNCB, the national railway operators of France and Belgium respectively. The cost and revenue-sharing protocols under which Eurostar is managed ensure that LCR pays only the access charges on the UK side and half the charges for the tunnel.

Clause 1 does not give the Secretary of State a new power. It does, however, clarify that she has the same commercial flexibility to support HS1 as she has for the national rail network. Technically, that would include the ability to support cross-channel train operators in the same way as domestic franchise operators are subsidised, but Eurostar is an open-access operator and therefore has no franchise arrangements with the Government. However, as Eurostar UK Ltd is historically loss making and relies on future public support, through the access charge loan and guarantees of its rolling stock leases, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, it is fair to expect the company to continue to require support in the short to medium term if it is to remain financially viable and be able to run services.

The access charge loan has a limit of £184 million at January 1997 prices, which in current value terms will be roughly £500 million next year. Eurostar UK’s rolling stock leases currently have a capital value of £175 million. The amendment would call into question the Secretary of State’s ability to provide either the funding that has already been agreed through the access charge loan, the guarantees of rolling stock leases or any other means. That would place Eurostar in an unsustainable position, which would affect the value of HS1, too. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, far from adding clarity, the amendment would increase the likelihood of doubt about the Secretary of State’s powers under the clause. I therefore hope that he will see fit to withdraw it.

I have listened carefully to the Minister and have no doubt that his stated intention is that no subsidy should be given to international operations. I have also listened carefully to what he said about Eurostar. However, I fail to see how the amendment could do anything other than add clarity.

The Minister may say that, but I have learnt in life that that is not always a wise thing to do, although I know him to be a generous, affable and able man.

I accept the Minister’s explanation of why he thinks the amendment is not necessary. However, we shall watch carefully to ensure that the short-term funding that he says is necessary does not extend into long-term funding. If that happened, that would be contrary to the Government’s stated intention and become a problem for them. With those caveats, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 4, page 1, line 5, at end add—

‘( ) The powers of the Secretary of State under section 6 of the Railways Act 2005 shall be exercised in such a way so as to ensure that assets associated with the rail link at Waterloo Station are developed for the purpose of providing domestic rail services’.—[Stephen Hammond.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Clause 4

Power of Office of rail regulation to charge fees

I beg to move amendment No. 9, page 2, line 8, leave out from ‘as’ to ‘in’ in line 9 and insert

‘is reasonably incurred by the Office of Rail Regulation’.

Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert

‘but such further notice shall not include any increase to the fee payable in the original notice attributable to the fee remaining unpaid after the date specified in the original notice.’.

Given that my amendment has been signed not only by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) but by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), to whom I am obliged, it would not be stretching the truth to say that it has the ring of an all-party amendment.

Clause 4 gives the Office of Rail Regulation power to charge fees, stating that

“the Office of Rail Regulation may by notice require a rail link undertaker to pay a fee in respect of the exercise of any of the Office of Rail Regulation’s functions in relation to the rail link.”

My concern relates to subsection (2), which states

“The amount of a fee under subsection (1) in any case shall be—

(a) such amount as the Office of Rail Regulation considers to represent the costs reasonably incurred by it in the exercise of the function in relation to the rail link”.

As I said in Committee, what worries me is that, in effect, the Office of Rail Regulation will be advocate, judge and jury in its own cause. It will surely never admit that the fee it wishes to charge is unreasonable. Therefore, there is no objective test of whether the fee imposed is reasonable to a third party.

Does my right hon. Friend know whether this form of words is unique to the ORR and the Bill, or is there the same form of words for all self-financing regulatory authorities?

I do not know the answer to that, but my concerns nevertheless remain. If this wording is used elsewhere, however, perhaps I should start a campaign to amend the wording in other statutes similarly. If we were to have a profligate or wasteful ORR, it could cover its high-spending ways by imposing fees that are higher than necessary but that it decrees reasonable.

Amendment No. 9 would change the wording so that the fee payable in any case would be such an amount as

“is reasonably incurred by the Office of Rail Regulation”.

In other words, it would introduce an objective test, so that in any disputed case that might come before the courts, they would be able to say whether that is a reasonable amount. That is how we should proceed, and the amendment’s wording is far better than the original wording in the Bill.

I began to make this point in Committee, and the Minister stopped me in my tracks. He said he had listened to my point, and that if I were to table an amendment on Report:

“I shall be happy to consider it, but I make no promises at this stage on whether it will be acceptable to the Government.”––[Official Report, Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2007; c. 21.]

When we started on the process of considering the Bill and the Minister was facing questions, he rather dismissed my point, but when I returned to it in Committee proper it was clear that he had been reflecting on my remarks and he generously said that he would consider such a suggestion on Report. He has subsequently indicated to me that he is minded to accept this amendment.

I do not want to blight the Minister’s career, but may I say to him that he has behaved as a model Minister in this instance? He listened to the argument and felt that a fair point was being made from those on the Opposition Benches, and he has graciously conceded that the amendment should be made.

I therefore hope that no Member will disagree with amendment No. 9. I am always nervous when I see my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in the Chamber, because I know how volatile he is, but I hope that I am taking him with me in my arguments.

Amendment No. 2 also relates to the power to charge fees under clause 4, but seeks to make a change by adding at the end of proposed new section 21A(6),

“but such further notice shall not include any increase to the fee payable in the original notice attributable to the fee remaining unpaid after the date specified in the original notice.”

Proposed new section 21A(6) gives the ORR power to revise a fee notice that it has already issued by issuing a subsequent notice. My concern is that if there were an unreasonable person in the ORR they could issue a notice, and if it was not paid by the time stated in the notice they could issue a second notice increasing the fee—perhaps even adding interest on to it—and that subsequent notice would then supersede the original fee notice issued. That is not how the ORR should behave, but it could behave like that under the Bill as drafted. My amendment No. 2, which I am delighted my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has signed, would prevent that from happening. In other words, the ORR would not be able to issue a subsequent notice mentioning a higher fee solely because the original fee was not paid on time.

The Minister may be less convinced about amendment No. 2, but I ask him to reflect on the points I have made. Surely it is not proper for the ORR, or indeed for any body, to be able to revise a fee and thus impose a penalty on the person due to pay it merely on the grounds that they have been late in paying it. I hope that the Minister will give me a full house today by accepting that amendment too.

I shall not detain the House long. I am delighted that amendment No. 9 has been selected. As my right hon. Friend has been saying, the question of fees charged by the ORR was raised during some lengthy deliberations in Committee. He has explained that the intention in Committee was to ensure that the fee was consistent with the fee levied on operators of other parts of the network and that it was based on the costs reasonably incurred, and not on anything else. He started suggesting some sensible changes in Committee and he has proposed them today, so I am pleased to have added my name to the amendment. As he said, under the amendment the ORR would no longer be assessing itself in terms of reasonable costs. Thus, the test of reasonableness would be made much more impartial, and therefore fair and credible. This excellent amendment improves the wording, and I hope that the Minister will support it.

My right hon. Friend also discussed amendment No. 2, which I also support. It would ensure that the fees could not be raised by the ORR upon a revision of a notice notifying a fee—he has just elucidated that important principle—and it represents an improvement to the clause. The amendment is sensible and rational, and it needs to be taken with amendment No. 9. Those amendments, taken together, improve the clause as drafted.

As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) said, I have added my name to amendment No. 9. I did so because, as he suggested in Committee, it makes good sense to clarify the clause’s intention. It may seem a small point, but it is an important one, because, as he said, the clause as originally drafted would have left the ORR as judge and jury about what was reasonable in its own case. The amendment suggests a sensible alternative—the test of reasonableness should be objective rather than internal to that organisation—so I am pleased to support it. I share his hope that the Minister will accept it. I am sure that he will because—I say this as we are using the word—he is a very reasonable man.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire make about amendment No. 2. However, as the right hon. Gentleman said, such provision would be necessary only were we to envisage a situation where the ORR was acting in a grossly unreasonable way. I suggest that it is not necessary to write that into the Bill. There are other ways to ensure that persons acting in that capacity behave reasonably without setting specific provisions. I support amendment No. 9, but not amendment No. 2.

I, too, support amendment No. 9. I was a little disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) was unable to answer my intervention, because he normally brings such intellectual rigour to our debates. He has normally done his homework and research, but it appears that he has not found out the answer to the question. I do not think that it is purely speculative. Paragraph 15 of the explanatory notes that have been kindly supplied by the Government states, on the subject of the charging regime:

“This clause allows the ORR to charge those responsible for operating the CTRL a fee calculated by reference to the costs it reasonably incurs in the exercise of any such function”—

and so on. The paragraph continues:

“This is similar to the position on the national rail network”.

It thereby suggests that the wording that my right hon. Friend wants to amend is already extant in other legislation. My concern is that we should have some consistency.

If my hon. Friend rereads the explanatory notes, he will see that they use the word “similar” rather than “the same”.

I do not need to reread them to know that the words “the same” are not used. However, the words

“similar to the position on the national rail network”

infer that someone should be put on notice that the same wording may be used in other legislation to create a similar situation. The situation will merely be similar, but the wording might be the same.

In an attempt to satisfy the hon. Gentleman’s curiosity, I understand that such a form of words—or a similar form—is not uncommon in other legislation. I hope that he will not press me on which pieces of legislation, because I do not have that information to hand. If his case is that the wording is inappropriate in the Bill and is therefore inappropriate in other legislation, he should be careful that he does not countermand his argument. It is clear that the ORR, in following its general practice when charging fees across the rest of the rail network, has not charged unreasonable amounts.

I am not just concerned about the ORR, but I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance.

If the Minister’s information is that wording similar to the unamended wording in the Bill is extant in other legislation, I hope that, as a result of the debate, the Government will amend it. That can be done without the need for a long-winded piece of full legislation under the deregulatory regime introduced by the Government in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. Since that Act was passed, I have noticed a great paucity of measures brought forward under it. At the end of the debate, the Minister might seek to break the mould and suggest that that the modest deregulatory measure that we have suggested should be applied to all other legislation that is so worded. I hope that that is useful.

On amendment No. 2, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire is on to a good point. I should much prefer it if people who paid the fee on time or earlier got a discount. That would be better than penalising late payment in the way envisaged in the Bill.

Unamended, the Bill puts the ORR in a position that is different from the one occupied by everyone else in the country. If I provide a service for which the bill is not paid on time, I cannot arbitrarily increase the size of that bill to reflect its late payment. I can issue a writ or summons to recover the money, and I might be able to charge a modest rate of interest and claim any associated costs, but the Bill goes rather further. That is why I believe that my right hon. Friend for East Yorkshire is on to a good thing with amendment No. 2.

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is right to say that there has been some debate already in Committee and in the House about whether clause 4 gives the ORR the right to decide, without restriction, what fees are appropriate for exercising its relevant functions. The current wording of the Bill says that the fee could be

“such amount as the Office of Rail Regulation considers to represent the costs reasonably incurred by it”.

I assure the House that it is not the Government’s understanding or intention that the Bill should allow the ORR to charge unreasonable fees, nor that the ORR would consider itself able to do so. The Government expect that any fee the ORR might charge under clause 4 would be reasonable, on an objective basis.

The recollection of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire about our earlier discussions is correct. I was grateful to him for raising the matter then, but I believe that my objection to his proposal, which I rejected, was both genuine and robust. He raised the matter again in the full Public Bill Committee debate, and he is right to say that I subsequently undertook to consider in a positive light any amendment that he might decide to table.

I did that, and I even thought about the matter over the Christmas recess—after all, what else would one do at such a time but consider amendments to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill? I have concluded that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has made a valid point and, although I do not believe that the Bill as written would create the problems that he has predicted, I am persuaded that it would be improved by amendment No. 9. I can therefore tell the House that the Government are willing to accept that amendment.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire on drumming up so much support on both sides of the House for that amendment. [Interruption.] These are the jokes, folks. However, I must make two qualifications—that he should not get used to me being so accommodating, and that I am not inclined to be so generous in respect of amendment No. 2 .

Clause 4, as amended, allows the ORR to charge a reasonable fee and then to arrange for that fee to be paid. The ORR has to issue a notice informing the rail link undertaker that will be the new owner of HS1 of the amount of the fee and the date by which it must be paid. Unpaid fees will be pursued through the ordinary process of civil debt recovery.

However, subsections (6) and (7 ) of clause 4 allow the ORR to revise the notices that it issues. These two provisions have been included in the interests of being fair and reasonable. For example, if the ORR finds that it has charged HS1 too much, it can correct the original notice. That would prevent the ORR having to secure payment of the original amount and then arrange a refund later.

Amendment No. 2 is aimed at a slightly different scenario. In effect, it would prevent the ORR from charging interest in the event of non-payment of a notice. That is standard commercial practice and, as I said in Committee, we are all used to having to pay extra for bills that are paid late. The wording of the clause as it stands simply allows the ORR the same rights as any other organisation when dealing with a debtor.

The Opposition are understandably proud of their links with small businesses. They know that the late payment of bills is a major and serious problem for many small and medium-sized enterprises. Without that right to charge extra on unpaid bills, many small businesses would be left in some difficulty. I hope that Opposition Members will extend the same rights to the ORR, because the same principle applies.

Amendment No. 9 would also mean that any costs, including interest, that the ORR charges HS1 would have to be reasonably incurred—whether something is reasonable being the objective test that the right hon. Gentleman requires. That provides sufficient protection for the HS1 infrastructure from unfair fees, so amendment No. 2 is neither necessary nor appropriate, and I hope that he will not press it.

I am delighted by the Minister’s response to my arguments in favour of amendment No. 9. It is pleasing to see that the generosity that he exhibited in Committee was not an aberration. I am also pleased to hear that I was in his thoughts at Christmas. I have to admit that he was not in mine.

I am grateful to the Minister for the fair way in which he has dealt with this matter. I never argued that the clause as drafted was without restriction. My objection was the test was such that the organisation imposing the fee had the right to be judge and jury in its own cause. I am pleased that he has taken the point and that we now have—or will have in a moment—an objective test in clause 4.

Clause 4 as amended by amendment No. 9 means that amendment No. 2 is less essential, as the Minister pointed out. The test overall, being an objective one now, is whether the fee, even if it includes interest, is reasonably incurred. Because of that, and because the Minister has dealt with amendment No. 9 in a fair and reasonable way and invited Government Members to support it, it would be ungracious and unreasonable of me to divide the House on amendment No. 2.

Amendment agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House why we introduced the Bill in the first place. The channel tunnel rail link was one of the largest construction projects ever to be attempted in this country, and it opened on time and within budget only a few months ago. It was rightly hailed as a success story, and St. Pancras station is acclaimed as a triumph of Victorian engineering and modern design.

Passengers arriving at St. Pancras can now travel to Paris in two hours and 15 minutes and to Brussels in one hour and 51 minutes. As it powers through the countryside at up to 186 mph, travellers looking out of the windows of Eurostar will see the evidence of the £10 billion in private sector funding going into regeneration and large-scale development along the route. From 2009, commuters from Kent will experience impressive journey time reductions through the brand new fleet of class 395 Hitachi trains, which will also be used to operate the high-speed Javelin service during the 2012 Olympics.

The successful opening of High Speed 1 is one of the achievements of London and Continental Railways' corporate structure, and of the role played by Government. The next step in the journey will involve the separation of LCR's three different elements—the infrastructure, the land interests, and the UK stake in Eurostar—into three sustainable self-standing businesses. Our intention in restructuring is to put in place a new, affordable corporate structure that maximises value for taxpayers.

The Bill will facilitate restructuring. The objective of the competitive sale process that will be completed during the next three years is to secure value for taxpayers from the project. Though small, technical, and financial in nature, the Bill is crucial to delivering that goal. It confirms that the Secretary of State can continue to provide financial support to the rail link in the same way as at present, and it will remove potential duplication between two different regulatory regimes for access contracts and clarify the role of the Office of Rail Regulation. It will also give the ORR the ability to charge for functions that it carries out in relation to High Speed 1, provided of course that those charges are reasonable. Finally and vitally, the Bill will add the word “operation” to the definition of a development agreement in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996.

I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for the careful consideration and support that they have given the Bill during the past three months. The able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) in Committee and the useful and succinct contributions of most Members have assisted the Bill’s speedy passage through the House. I look forward to monitoring its progress in the other place. In the meantime, I commend it to the House.

I was wondering whether the conclusion of the Under-Secretary’s speech was a challenge to us to be succinct. This is a small Bill—it has only six clauses—but behind it lies a unique British achievement. High Speed 1 from St. Pancras launched its first service last year. It left to universal acclaim and accomplished the unique feat of achieving recognition on the front pages of all the national newspapers. The opening ceremony the week before was a tribute to British engineering and construction. Those of us fortunate enough to be there will remember our sense of excitement and achievement that night for a long time. The reinstated single-span roof is that achievement’s crowning glory.

High Speed 1, formerly known as the channel tunnel rail link, stretches from the mouth of the channel through the Kent countryside to east London and Stratford, terminating at St. Pancras. It runs for 109 km, or 67.7 miles. Although the London to Paris service is the railway’s focus, we must remember that about 40 per cent. of capacity will be reserved for high-speed domestic services from north Kent to Stratford. That will open up the City and docklands in central London, another exceptional achievement of the channel tunnel rail link.

On 20 February 1996, the Conservative Government awarded to London and Continental Railways the contract to build and operate the channel tunnel rail link. Who would have dreamed then that we would be able to travel at 186 mph through the countryside to France and beyond? The challenge is to ensure that our country can connect to the trans-European network and to expand high-speed rail in the United Kingdom. That is why I am delighted that the incoming Conservative Government are committed to a feasibility study of high-speed rail.

As the Under-Secretary said, the Bill is intended to make minor amendments to the current arrangements. That represents a general acceptance that the structure that contributed to LCR’s success in delivering the project might not be the best structure for the future or for operational purposes. The Government and LCR undertook an evaluation of the restructuring options for LCR, which resulted in the Bill before us.

In Committee and on Report, we have examined this relatively small Bill at great length—some might say exhaustively; the Under-Secretary probably did. Although the Opposition accept that exceptional projects require exceptional powers to ensure their facilitation and operation, the powers should still be subject to scrutiny for evidence of abuse. We have indeed subjected the Bill to scrutiny, although I remain concerned that clauses 2 and 3 grant truly exceptional powers, the continuing need for which is contestable. We shall look carefully at the operation of those two clauses.

The Bill is short and largely technical, but it is important. The channel tunnel rail link has been a great success for the United Kingdom. The prospect of Eurostar and domestic High Speed 1 being operational is exciting, and if the Bill facilitates that, we should assist its passage. I hope that it will enable the operational phase of the channel tunnel rail link to be as successful as the construction phase, and that in due course St. Pancras will be not only the centre of a UK high-speed rail network, but part of an international high-speed rail network.

I largely agree with the comments of the Minister and the spokesman for the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), both of whom support the Bill in principle. The Minister correctly says that it is a small, technical Bill, but it has significant implications for taking forward the channel tunnel link.

It is clear that we now have a railway of considerable capacity and one that we can be proud of, taking us from the channel tunnel through to St. Pancras. Many of us who used Eurostar when it first opened were embarrassed that we could travel through the French countryside so fast, yet clank around at probably 18.6 mph on the way from the Kent coast up to London. That has been dealt with. After a slow start, the Government have moved fast to help in their own way with the completion of the St. Pancras project, and the country is better off for that.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches look forward to the day when high speed services do not stop at St. Pancras but run much further north, so that people from Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool will be able to access high speed services and travel to Paris and Brussels without the need to change in London. I hope that the Government will bring forward plans to examine those possibilities sooner rather than later.

As we send the Bill on to the other place, as I hope we shall shortly, I should like to highlight a couple of points that it would be helpful for their lordships to examine. The first is about the implications of the potential sale of the infrastructure. The Minister is right to talk about the three constituent parts, but I would be concerned if the track were ultimately not owned by Network Rail. That would be inconsistent with the rest of the rail network, and it is difficult to understand how a sensible arrangement could be reached with suburban or domestic trains running on infrastructure not owned by Network Rail. It would be much cleaner if it were owned and run by Network Rail. I hope that their lordships will examine that.

The second matter, which we have not considered today but which is important, is freight movement. The Minister said at column 1123 on Second Reading:

“High Speed 1 might be appropriate for freight usage”—

might be appropriate. It should be made clearer in another place how freight will be able to access the line. I hope that that will not be, as the Minister said,

“on a completely commercial basis”.—[Official Report, 20 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1123.]

If that were the case, freight might be excluded.

It is absolutely the Government’s expectation that freight will use High Speed 1, but the hon. Gentleman should know that in this country freight is an entirely commercial operation. Any freight movements on High Speed 1 will therefore have to be commercial. I am sure that that is welcomed in all parts of the House.

I am grateful to the Minister for that. I was suggesting not that freight should not be commercial, but that it might be in the interests of individual parties to maximise the number of passenger trains to the exclusion of freight. That would be unhelpful.

I see that the Minister agrees.

Having made those two simple points, I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and wish it well in the Lords.

I join those who have contributed to this Third Reading debate in welcoming the amended Bill and wishing it well. I understand that the Government give £6.5 billion annually in subsidy to the rail network; that is a sum of which any Government should be proud. However, it is interesting that, despite all the congestion problems that we have heard about, our railways still carry only 6 per cent. of all passenger travel. Some 84 per cent. of journeys are still undertaken by car. Although the channel tunnel rail link is rightly a priority, at some point in the not-too-distant future there needs to be either a shift or an increase in transport funding so that road users are treated equitably.

I thank the Minister again for the fair-minded way in which he has dealt with the Bill and for his approach throughout. If there is any justice in this world, he will be made Secretary of State at the next reshuffle.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.