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Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1996

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6.52 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill seeks powers to construct a new high speed railway from the Channel Tunnel to London, the first new mainline railway in this country for a century. It is a project of major national significance which will provide a high speed link with the rest of Europe. The competition for a private sector partner to build and operate the new railway was successfully completed in February this year with the selection of London and Continental Railways. The completion of the Bill will be the last major public step for this flagship project of the Government's private finance initiative. With timely Royal Assent, the rail link should open in the year 2003.

The Bill provides powers for the construction, operation and maintenance of the link between a new international terminus at St. Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. It also includes powers for associated works, including a connection to provide access to Waterloo international station, connections to other lines, provision in outline for a station at Ebbsfleet and the alteration to St. Pancras station, including advance works for the Thameslink 2000 project to enhance the capacity of that cross-London railway. The Bill contains powers for an open box shaped cutting at Stratford, of a size to accommodate a combined international and domestic station there, although the powers to turn this into a station will be sought separately. The Bill also provides powers to widen the A.2 at Cobham and the M.2 between junctions 1 and 4.

The main reason for embarking on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project was the forecast need for extra capacity for international passenger trains in several years' time. The new railway will more than double the capacity for Eurostars, and it will achieve much more besides. It will cut journey times substantially; enable new express domestic services to be provided for north and east Kent, which is an area that currently has particularly slow services; increase overall capacity for freight trains through to the Channel Tunnel; boost regeneration in the Thames Gateway through new stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet; and assist in spreading benefits to the Midlands, north and Scotland through excellent access, notably to the west coast main line.

Journey times for Eurostars from London St. Pancras will be cut by over half-an-hour compared with the current services from Waterloo. Paris will be two hours 20 minutes away and Brussels two hours for non-stop services. The time reductions for regional and Scottish services will be as much as an hour when these services start in the not too distant future. For example, the Birmingham to Paris service will be a little over four hours under the LCR's plans when the rail link opens. The reductions will increase the area of the country for which overall journey times will be competitive with air travel.

Up to eight high speed domestic services per hour will use the new line in the morning and evening peaks and the journey time reductions to London are remarkable: Gravesend would take 20 minutes rather than 50 minutes and Ashford 40 minutes rather than 75 minutes. Some 25,000 commuters from north and east Kent will benefit. The rail link is primarily a high speed passenger railway but it will have a freight capability. Two freight loops and a connection to the existing freight inspection facility at Dollands Moor have been provided in the Bill and an undertaking has been given that they will be built. The rail link will increase overall rail capacity to the Channel Tunnel, which will provide more room for future growth in demand. This is an important regional benefit. with so much of the demand for international freight through the Channel Tunnel arising beyond London.

The route for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was chosen especially to foster regeneration in the Thames Gateway area. We expect to see considerable regeneration benefits as a result of the decision to locate international and domestic stations at Ebbsfleet, Stratford and St. Pancras. Investment will be attracted to the areas served by the stations, bringing jobs to areas where they are particularly needed. It has been estimated that the regeneration benefits created will be worth at least £½ billion, with development being attracted to some 1,300 acres of derelict or underused land. These benefits cannot, of course, be gained without some environmental impact. It would be astonishing if a 68-mile railway running through Kent, Essex and London could avoid generating significant impacts. But the time taken to develop the CTRL project has been well used to produce the optimum route, always taking careful account of environmental impact.

In 1991 the Government selected a broad corridor to approach London from the east after considering the results of a lengthy comparative study of the four main options. This broad route was chosen as it had less environmental impact and created more opportunities for regeneration, even though it was more costly, than the originally proposed southerly approach route. The easterly route was then refined by comparing and sifting all the possible local route variations, taking account of environmental appraisals and soundings with the local authorities. Union Railways presented the major options to the Government and in March 1993 a route for public consultation was published. In January 1994 the route was confirmed, with some enhancements. Further work was commissioned on two sections of the route that caused acute local concerns. Following this work the route for consultation was changed further to produce the route that was incorporated in the Bill on introduction in November 1994.

The process of route selection was very thorough, with proper public consultation, and with comparative environmental appraisals produced at every stage. For every mile of route selected, nine miles were rejected.

A full environmental statement was produced by expert consultants to accompany the Bill at introduction. That statement identifies significant impacts and the options for mitigation. It is a remarkable document in terms of its scope and quality for a project of this size.

The route was then considered by the Select Committee in another place and important changes were made. Supplements to the environmental statement have been produced for each change. Taking those route changes into account, around 25 per cent. of the route is now in tunnel and 85 per cent. is either in tunnel or follows existing transport corridors. I think that it can be fairly claimed that the route before your Lordships' House has been painstakingly produced and has developed into maturity. It is unlikely that there is any reasonably achievable option for a section of the route which has not at some stage been studied and rejected and had the reasons for this explained.

As I have said, the Select Committee in another place made certain locally significant changes to the route for the protection of petitioners. By significant changes I means changes outside the Bill limits which required additional provisions entailing fresh plans and environmental assessments and a further round of petitions. The most important changes were extending the long tunnel in London for a further two-and-a-half miles from Barking to Dagenham; lowering and moving the railway where it runs close to the Mardyke Park housing estate in Thurrock; and changes to reduce the impact of the approach to St. Pancras. The Government accepted all of these changes—seeking only to optimise them—at an additional cost of more than £100 million. That is a substantial sum even for a project of this size. The committee also considered and rejected other changes in the route, notably a long tunnel at Boxley near Maidstone.

It will be for the Select Committee of this House, under the proposed chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthil I, to decide whether it wishes to propose further route changes requiring additional provisions. The Government's clear advice is that the committee should not seek additional provisions. This is for two main reasons. First, the route is already of a high environmental standard in terms of alignment and mitigation, with extensive use of tunnels that have added considerably to the cost of the project. Secondly, promoting additional provisions would cause significant delay and difficulty to the Bill. It would take a number of months to prepare designs, draw plans, undertake environmental assessment and then reopen petitioning. However, it will be for the committee to decide.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I now briefly describe the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and A.2/M.2 widening projects and the content of the Bill. The 68-mile long rail link starts at St. Pancras, which will be refurbished and the deck extended to accommodate the long Eurostars and the new domestic trains as well as existing trains that use St. Pancras. Underneath this deck a new station for Thameslink would be provided as an advance work for the Thameslink 2000 project that has recently been given the go ahead by the Government. The rail link route then crosses the railway lands before entering a long tunnel. Outside the Bill, London and Continental Railways propose to seek the powers for a twin track connection to the North London line that will enable more trains to run through to the west coast main line bypassing St. Pancras.

The tunnel emerges at Stratford in a long, box shaped cutting and powers will be sought separately to turn this into a new international and domestic station. LCR envisages that trains running through to the west coast main line will call at Stratford as the stop in London. Returning to tunnel, the route does not surface until Dagenham, where it runs by the existing Tilbury Loop railway and passes under the QEII bridge before entering a tunnel under the Thames. The route then runs through the Ebbsfleet Valley where there will be an international and domestic station and a connection from the north Kent line. At Gravesend a disused line will be reinstated to provide a connection to existing lines for Eurostars serving Waterloo. The route then follows the A.2/M.2 corridor, crossing the Medway on a high viaduct before entering tunnel under the North Downs. The route emerges to run through the Boxley valley so that it can then take up the M.20 corridor. Approaching Ashford, the route departs from the M.20 so that it can run into the town and serve the recently opened international passenger station. The route then regains the alignment of the M.20 and the existing railway all the way to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Cheriton.

The Bill also includes a widening scheme for the A.2/M.2 between Cobham and Junction 4. For majority of its length, this road improvement will be adjacent to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The Government agreed to the request of the local Member of Parliament, supported by the local authorities, to include the road improvement in the Bill because this will facilitate simultaneous construction and enable the combined impacts of the two projects to be considered. An environmental statement for the widening scheme accompanied the Bill at introduction and it, too, is a thoroughly professional assessment produced by independent consultants. There is also an assessment of the combined effects of the road and rail schemes.

Part I of the Bill deals with the rail link. It grants compulsory acquisition powers to the Secretary of State, with the powers to construct, maintain and operate the authorised works vested in a nominated undertaker. After Royal Assent, the intention would be to appoint London and Continental Railways as the nominated undertaker for the rail link works. There is a special planning regime and local authorities can opt for greater powers to deal with detailed matters where they adopt a planning memorandum that is being prepared with the benefit of two years' consultation with them. While there are some things that cannot be directly controlled within the Bill limits, such as the alignment of the railway, the extra powers available to qualifying authorities are unusually wide. There are also special heritage arrangements, again with agreements associated with the Bill. Part I also establishes a regulatory regime for the rail link and makes provision in respect of competition and finance.

Part II of the Bill provides for the widening of the A.2/M.2 as I have outlined. Part III has various miscellaneous provisions.

There are four particular matters on which it may assist the House if I say something more: heritage; property purchase and compensation; the competition and public financial support; and the relationship of the CTRL competition with the Bill.

First, as regards heritage, the rail link will undoubtedly have a substantial heritage impact in the St. Pancras area. I do not say this defensively, because I think that the nation's heritage will be greatly enhanced by the creation at St. Pancras of a 21st century railway use for such a fine 19th century, Grade I listed railway building. The train shed will be refurbished and the presence of an international station will create the conditions under which the Chambers—that is the Victorian hotel frontage to the station—can benefit from being brought back into some productive use. Some Grade II listed gasholders in the vicinity have to make way for the deck extension to the station to be built, but even so this loss is more than compensated for by the gain to the Grade I station. At this stage I shall not go into the requirements which the Government have imposed on London and Continental Railways, nor the controls over details that have been provided, but if petitioners raise concerns, these are matters that the Select Committee might examine.

The second matter is property purchase and compensation. The rail link will in fact require a very small number of homes to be taken and these properties qualify for voluntary purchase now. There is also a discretionary purchase scheme for properties that are not taken but are seriously affected and where hardship arises. The contentious issue is in relation to properties that do not qualify for purchase but for which there is a perception—not necessarily rationally based—that they will be seriously affected by the rail link. The Select Committee in another place viewed this as a wider issue and the Government agreed in the light of the committee's concerns to review the scope, cause and effect of blight arising during the various stages of major infrastructure projects and to consider whether any practical changes can be made to the existing arrangements for property purchase and compensation. Furthermore, the Minister for Railways and Roads in another place has given an undertaking that any changes introduced to the compensation code as a result of the review will be given effect in respect of blight arising from the rail link.

The third matter is the relationship of the competition and public financial support. In February, London and Continental Railways won the competition for the private sector partner to design, build and operate the £3 billion CTRL project. The contractual details are contained in a development agreement; copies of an explanatory memorandum on the development agreement have been placed in the Library. The Government's financial contribution has a present value of £1.4 billion, which will be paid in instalments towards the end of the construction period after LCR has met at least 68 per cent. of the construction costs itself. Certain assets will be transferred that sensibly form part of the CTRL, notably European Passenger Services. This company runs the Eurostar international passenger services which are currently loss making but to which LCR can apply its expertise to bring into profit. The proportion of the capacity of the rail link reserved for domestic services will be purchased from LCR for some £340 million and these services will be franchised in due course. Land for redevelopment at St. Pancras and Stratford will also be transferred. LCR will also inherit the expertise of Union Railways, which has acted as the Government's agent and will continue to do so for the duration of this Bill. I would like to pay tribute to Union Railways for the way in which it has brought the project from its difficult early stages to the mature undertaking that we are considering today.

This leads me to the fourth matter: the relationship between the Government's selected private sector partner, London and Continental Railways, and the CTRL Bill. A huge amount of design work has been undertaken to produce the Bill design which is assessed in the environmental statement, but the final level of design, the construction design, has not been produced as yet. This will be for LCR to undertake, mostly after Royal Assent, working within the limits of the powers contained in the Bill. The consequence of this is that it is not possible to be specific at this stage about construction design details.

Instead, arrangements have been established to enable details to be dealt with later. Most importantly, in carrying out construction design work LCR is required not to worsen materially the assessed environmental impact. In addition, there are several hundred specific undertakings and assurances which LCR is bound to discharge and qualifying authorities will have detailed controls provided by the planning clause and various associated agreements. This regime compensates for the lack of detailed construction design today, which is an occasional but unavoidable source of concern for petitioners. It is to these specifically designed arrangements for dealing with detailed matters that petitioners can look for their protection.

The Bill and the 293 petitions that were deposited by the closing date of last Friday will now be considered by a Select Committee. This is an onerous burden and the House will share my gratitude to the seven noble Lords who have offered to serve. I am particularly grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, has indicated his willingness to accept nomination as chairman. The House will know that he has already been a distinguished chairman of two hybrid Bill committees, including the Channel Tunnel Bill in 1987. His unrivalled experience and expertise will be invaluable to the committee.

In closing, perhaps I may observe that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is one of the largest and most significant projects undertaken in this country for many years. Indeed, I feel privileged to be opening the debate today. I believe that there is a general feeling that the rail link should now proceed with all reasonable speed.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Goschen.)

7.14 p.m.

My Lords, at the outset I thank the Minister for explaining the Bill in general terms and some of its most important elements. I echo his words in giving our support to our Select Committee in this place, led by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill. We wish him and his colleagues well. I also wish to put on record our appreciation of the assiduous work undertaken by the Select Committee in another place and of the successes that it was able to achieve. I wish to say how much we appreciate the work of Union Railways and to express our good wishes to London and Continental Railways for coping with the challenging work that lies ahead. Theirs is a daunting but, I hope, rewarding task.

We welcome the Bill and will do nothing to impede its progress through the House. The Channel Tunnel is a stupendous British engineering feat with the French playing an important role as our partners. One can only hope that the rail link will achieve similar distinction. As the Minister described, the potential of the link is that it can and should provide immense advantages for international rail transport between Britain and the mainland of Europe. It is extremely important that it should represent a vital link with the trans-European networks and the development of the single market which is critically tied up with the whole project. The cuts in journey time between London and Brussels and London and Paris will be remarkable. I am sure that some of the first users of the fast link will be my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

Indeed, my Lords. Perhaps during the course of this long debate we can all compile lists of those who are likely to use the link most assiduously, particularly between London and Brussels.

There are other important cuts in journey time for commuters travelling from some areas of Kent to London each day—for the most part beleaguered commuters at present. Many other benefits will accrue from the Bill, so it is a vital and exciting scheme which is essential to the wellbeing of the country and, I believe, of Europe as well.

I wish also to pay tribute to those who campaigned for the promotion of Stratford as an interchange station. Many of my honourable friends in another place were in the forefront of the campaign, as were Newham council and many others. Their reward will be the benefits accrued for this country as a whole.

However, if I may say so in the kindest way, I thought that the Minister's speech was rather like a Soviet speech. It was not so much a rewriting of history but the omission of salient historical points which I should put on record during the debate. The speech was full of praise for what was going to happen, but what has happened is almost despite the Government's muddle, delays and incompetence. What we might have achieved is the realisation of the benefits far earlier. We have had an inordinate waste of taxpayers' money, the failures, and the inconsistencies of the Government's private finance initiative, much lauded by them. We have had the ideological barriers which were allowed for so long to obstruct progress, the fiasco over compensation for blight which has caused a great deal of heartbreak to many people; the lack of strategic planning by concentrating almost exclusively on the south-east and failing to appreciate that the United Kingdom as a whole should derive benefits from the scheme. Those benefits can flow only from harnessing the strength of the regions, by properly linking them to the objectives of the scheme.

In parenthesis let me add that I am glad to note that London and Continental Railways has made some provision to add to the plans the small but significant link north of King's Cross which would permit a connection to the West Coast main line. But that is not enough. Nor is there any coherent view about the role of high-speed freight traffic. Certainly the Government evince little enthusiasm for it beyond tenuous references to its "possible" development focused on in part by the Bill. Let us remember that it was not so long ago (I cannot remember exactly when) that Mr. Rifkind, virtually on taking office as Secretary of State, pledged the enhanced development of rail freight—regrettably, with little or no effect.

I turn to the delays. At the earliest, the British end of the high-speed rail link will not be completed until 2002. Let us compare that with France, which finished its high-speed link before the tunnel opened; and Belgium will complete its line by 1998. Britain's position could be characterised as "l'escargot anglais"—the British snail. There have been so many changes of mind on the part of the Government. First, they said that there was no need for a dedicated line. Then there were major policy reversals dealing with environmental damage, the nature of the consortium, the question of alignment and, above all, finance. On finance, the Government rejected the possibility of deriving European money, on purely ideological grounds expressed vehemently by the then Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. That was because of the need for additionality, for matching finance. The rail link, they thought, could do without any state funding whatever. I shall come to that in a moment.

On 11th June 1990, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, then Secretary of State for Transport, said, that it was,
"illegal for the Government to subsidise any fast tunnel link on the grounds that it would create unfair competition for ships, road freight and airlines".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/90; col. 4.]
Today, with—regrettably—the same Government, the taxpayer bears over 50 per cent. of the financial burden. A vast subsidy is being provided for London and Continental. I shall turn to that later, too.

What should have happened, in our view, was the application of a proper private finance initiative, not the half-baked concept that the Government have invented and which has been ridiculed in so many ways, notably by the construction industry, which finds it burdensome, complex and very difficult to operate. The Minister knows that. He has only to speak to the construction industry to appreciate its point of view. The Minister smiles. I have spoken to the construction industry and I know how it feels. What we really need is a partnership of private and public sector finance, with some sensible government guidelines as to what a national integrated transport policy should be about.

I remember crossing swords for years with the noble Viscount's predecessors. They did not understand what an integrated transport policy was. They have now come round to it. The noble Viscount understands it and the present Secretary of State understands it. But for years they denied that there was any possibility of that. We have had contortions, U-turns and so on.

I now turn to the waste of taxpayers' money. It is intimately connected with the delays—the loss of use for so many years; the humiliating comparison with the development in France and even the pace of development in Belgium. This project could have cost something in the region of £1 billion in 1989. The Government, hidebound by their belief that everything in the public sector is bad, set their face against any public involvement.

Let me turn to the realities of the U-turn and the current and future subsidies. There was not a word about it in the Minister's speech. There is to be a £1.4 billion hand-out; £3 billion worth of taxpayers' assets simply handed over; a £1.3 billion loan write-off for Eurostar; a total of £5.7 billion at least for something we could have had for far less—billions of pounds less—in 1989.

There are plum sites at King's Cross with an existing value of £5.8 million and a development use value of £10.6 million. Stratford is in a similar situation. There are station properties at King's Cross and Waterloo—incidentally, built exclusively with public money. Publicly owned assets are now in the deal that the Government have struck. All of it is public money. There is not a word about that from the Minister in proclaiming the huge benefits that he alleges from this marvellous private finance initiative.

It is all in line with the Railtrack give-away bonanza. An asset valued at £6 billion has been given away for less than half. It is the Government's belief that the milchcow can be raided almost any time they like. They are all in favour of public subsidies, even though not so long ago they were dead against them.

There is also the question of blight and issues of compensation. The Government were condemned by the ombudsman for maladministration. That verdict was confirmed by the House of Commons Select Committee and unprecedently ignored, initially, by the Government. I remember crossing swords with the noble Viscount at the time. The view of the Government was that they were not prepared to accept the verdict of the parliamentary commissioner.

The people concerned, and probably many others in the future, will be involved with environmental disruption, noise nuisance, huge inconvenience, probably substantial losses in property values on the part of some, and certainly a lot of distress for many. The Minister admitted as much, and we have to accept that sad fact in a development of this kind of magnitude. Communities have been, and will be, seriously affected. We cannot dodge that. People will be irate. What they expect is a fair deal. The question is, are they likely to get it against the background that I have just described of the Minister's reaction to the report of the parliamentary commissioner?

That issue was considered in some depth by the Select Committee in the other place. The committee recognised that under current rules compensation would not be payable, as I understand it, save in respect of the use of new or altered works, and not until after the link has begun to operate. Over time such concerns are bound to grow. Members on both sides of another place expressed them very vividly.

Ministers said that people should not be given benefits and then become substantially better off as a result of compensation arrangements. They stated that repeatedly in debates elsewhere. But equally it is wrong that they should be allowed to become substantially worse off through a denial or long-term postponement of compensation.

The Government say that they will act on the report of the inquiry they have currently set up. I hope that is right. I hope they will not try to wriggle out of it. It is no use playing about with mortgage indemnity premiums. That will not be the solution to a lot of these problems.

Another fact is that, under the Bill, the Government pass responsibility for compensation to the undertaker. I suppose that could be fine. But a problem arises if the undertaker suffers a fate similar to that of those who have been engaged so far in the undertaking to Eurostar. Can it be assumed that they will always have the ability to bear the burden? What happens if they cannot do so? One's confidence in ensuring that the issue will be dealt with in an equitable way, is, as I said, undermined by what has happened in the past. I hope that the Government will react very positively when the report is published. Perhaps the Minster could indicate in his reply when that will be.

I was also concerned about the response of Mr. Watts, the Minister of State in another place, when Standing Committee A considered this matter on 19th March. In resisting the argument about compensation, he said:
"I do not accept that the project is wholly exceptional".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 19/3/96; co1.112.]
I thought that was the whole burden of the Minister's case tonight; namely, that it was wholly exceptional. That is why I am a little worried that the Government may squirm and avoid their responsibilities. Let us hope not. Clearly this is a very exceptional arrangement.

I turn from the question of domestic properties to an issue that has been raised with me and no doubt with other noble Lords about businesses which are likely to be affected by the proposed line. Their needs should not be overlooked. There are three categories to be considered.

First, there are firms seeking alternative accommodation but unable to know when it will be, with a corresponding reluctance on the part of vendors and landlords to deal with such businesses because of the uncertainty of the completion date that will be required and the inability of businesses of that kind to find the purchase price or the rent, or to set up sufficient cash for investment which would follow the move. Amid all that, there is also the very great likelihood of a loss of jobs in consequence. The second category comprises those who will be affected by the inadequacy of three months' notice. I hope that the Select Committee will look at that. In a situation of this kind, three months' notice is hopelessly inadequate. Thirdly, there are those who will be affected by the disturbance when they are forced to remain on the site, trying to continue running their businesses amid huge disturbance and through environmental pollution, dust, fumes, vibration and noise. Are those people able to rely confidently on fair compensation?

The next point that I wish to raise briefly is the position of Crossrail. Is it to be consigned to the scrap heap or will we see it in the year 2010 or 2015? Is there some hope for it or none at all? I remember when Crossrail was much lauded by Ministers at the Department of Transport. That enthusiasm has evaporated recently, presumably under Treasury intervention. But it has already cost £140 million of taxpayers' money since 1988, with another £38 million to go down the drain over the course of the next three years. Ministers should be held to account for the way in which they have squandered that money. It is a project that is now, presumably, under wraps. Yet it could have given greatly improved access to the City and West End and provided better and faster transit for commuters into King's Cross and Stratford, so that people would be less dependent on the car.

Just as mysteriously, the confidence expressed by Mr. Rifkind, the Secretary of State, in the transfer of freight from road to rail has disappeared from the lips of transport Ministers. I recall Sir Alastair Morton's confident assertion in 1993 that the railways planned to transport 3.3 million tonnes of freight through the tunnel in 1995. In reality it was 1.3 million tonnes.

We believe that the requirements of freight and passengers for the regions have to be taken fully into account when the high-speed link is built and that it should happen from the beginning. It should not be left as an afterthought. The finished link must have the capacity to deal with increased future flows. Do the Government agree with that? What are they doing to secure that objective?

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that linkage to the regions and maximising their industrial and commercial potential should be an essential part of an integrated transport policy. We want to see regional services joining the high-speed link directly. They must be connected without having to enter the complex web of London's suburban railways. I repeat that it has to be planned from now and not left until the operation begins. Regional passengers should be given every facility to make full use of the high-speed link. After all, as taxpayers they have to pay for it, as I have already demonstrated.

The building of the route should provide for extensions of freight as well as expanding passenger traffic, notwithstanding complaints—echoed when the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, made his speech—from the airlines in respect of short-haul flights, and the ferries that it will impact on their businesses. It is a trend that is already emerging in the propaganda from those sources.

The high-speed train should become an important element in attracting more customers to rail from road, thereby securing important environmental gains. Railtrack must also ensure that its track access charging regime will not deter this development. It must not be allowed to drive freight off the railways by rendering them uncompetitive with road, sea and air.

I believe it is right that the history should have been put on record, because it was wholly omitted from the Minister's speech. But, having said that, we wish the Bill well and hope that the project will be a great British success.

7.36 p.m.

My Lords, I begin with a declaration of interest. The line of rail passes through the parish of Charing in Kent, where I live. It also passes near Leeds Castle, and I am chairman of the charitable foundation responsible for preserving the castle as part of our national heritage. I have an interest too as a citizen of Britain and indeed of Europe who wants to see the high-speed line contribute to a modern 21st century network of European railways. The Channel Tunnel and the strategic rail network that ought to be associated with it is as important to Dundee as it is to Dover.

I was fascinated by the history given by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, of the efforts to establish the line. I share much of his critique of the history of the past few years. But the trouble with history is that it all depends on where one begins. My noble friend Lady Seear reminded me that these Benches, which were purely Liberal Benches in those days, backed the building of the Channel Tunnel at the time that the Labour Government in which I was a Minister were cancelling the project. So we must all have a sense of perspective about these matters. But I join with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis in welcoming the Bill and in offering our best wishes to all those who will be associated with building the railway line.

I know nothing of the mysteries of the Committee of Selection. I fully endorse what the Minister said about the appointment as chairman of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, with his immense experience not only of your Lordships' House generally but of a Channel Tunnel hybrid Bill in the past. I was a little puzzled. There was, however, an earlier hybrid Bill associated with this project—the King's Cross Bill—which came to an abrupt end. I should have thought that there might be some overlap in the membership of the present Select Committee and the one which dealt with the King's Cross Bill because experience of that Bill must be relevant in a number of ways. I know, for instance, that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, was the very distinguished chairman of that committee.

I wish to focus particularly on the environmental impact of the line on my own part of Kent. I feel sure that when your Lordships' Select Committee comes to consider these matters it will, in the normal traditions of your Lordships' House, look at each issue with fresh eyes and not feel bound by the actions—or lack of action—of another place.

The Select Committee in the other place did excellent work, but there is still much work to be done. That is particularly true of the rejection in another place on the grounds of cost of a long tunnel to protect the Boxley Valley mentioned by the Minister. The rail link as now planned most commendably follows the existing transport corridors of the A.2/M.2 and then the M.20 for the majority of the route through Kent. But where it switches between the two it passes through the Boxley Valley which is generally accepted as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Many of us, including Kent County Council, campaigned for a long tunnel under Blue Bell Hill and the Boxley Valley to provide maximum protection for that sensitive area. The Select Committee in another place decided that a short tunnel under Blue Bell Hill would be adequate and that cost would not justify a longer tunnel. I hope in due course that there may be second thoughts on that by the Select Committee which we can consider when the Bill comes back to your Lordships' House.

As a fall-back position the county council is now pressing for a lowering of the line to protect the beauty of Boxley Valley. That would greatly lessen the impact of the railway on the nationally designated North Downs area of outstanding natural beauty, the major section of the route where the line departs from the transport corridors. There are big issues attached to that in Kent. The sensitivity of the need to protect that green wedge is exemplified by the fact that, if development were to occur in the area, closing the green lung that now exists between the Medway towns and Maidstone, we would have an urban conurbation in Kent the size of Manchester—and all that in an area still proudly recognised as the Garden of England.

While I hope that the issues relating to the Boxley Valley will be reconsidered, at least those who live directly in the valley enjoyed a visit from the Select Committee of another place. In Charing we were not so lucky. The Union Railway itself defined the six kilometres of the line that runs through the Charing parish as an area where the environmental impact of the railway has a Significant Effect of Particular Importance. I emphasise the words because they are now part of the jargon of building the railway line. It is a SEPI area, like Boxley, which is a special category. However, the Select Committee in another place was not able to include a visit in its programme. I hope therefore that your Lordships' Select Committee will feel able to go and study the situation on the ground.

There are two major concerns. The first is the height of an embankment in a particularly pleasant valley through the community of what is called Westwell Leacon; the second is the plan for a freight loop at Charing Heath, which I shall come to in a moment. For reasons which remain obscure to me after long study, the height of the embankment through what is a beautiful valley has been raised to over 10 metres while Kent County Council believes that it should be at least three metres lower. At its proposed height it will be a noisy eyesore over a large area of the North Downs. An unequivocal indication that the vertical alignment should be lowered significantly will be sought by Charing Parish Council in its petition to your Lordships' House. I feel sure that the case will be listened to sympathetically by the Select Committee.

That brings me to the freight loop at Charing Heath which takes out a good deal of land and raises wider issues regarding the validity of the Government's policy on the high-speed line carrying freight. On that issue, as I shall explain in a moment, I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his conclusions about the freight aspects of the high-speed line. Charing Parish Council received expert advice that the curve of the line is not adequate for carrying freight. That view was supported, albeit back in 1991, by one of the Government's technical advisers, Mr. G. R. Heath, of Maunsell, who concluded:
"The present proposals of the BR Rail Link are not suitable for freight".
The inevitable conclusion appears to be that, with the present curve, there can either be a high-speed passenger line without freight or a combined passenger and freight line with more limited speed—the usual Whitehall compromise of trying to get the best of both worlds. The local concern is that, once the Bill is passed and that consequence is realised, the curves may be amended by exceeding the present parliamentary limits of deviation in ways damaging to the environment and to local homes in Westwell Leacon.

I hope that the Minister, in due course, will give an assurance—perhaps not tonight, but later by letter—that that will not be the case. The worry is that there may subsequently be an order made under the Transport and Works Act, which is a possible procedure. I hope that assurances will be given that once decisions are taken in this respect, the environmental side will be sacrosanct.

These are technical matters, and I am a layman. But they deserve the most careful probing by your Lordships' Select Committee. The Government's position is spectacularly ambiguous on the matter of the high-speed line carrying freight. The Minister, Mr. John Watts, said in the debate in another place on 25th April:
"It is a requirement for the link to be built in such a way that freight can run on the line, but it is not a requirement that it shall run on the line".— [Official Report, Commons, 25/4/96; col. 611.]
I do not know what your Lordships make of that remarkable statement. I wonder whether the freight option should be abandoned and the Government concentrate on the best possible high-speed passenger link. It would save a lot of land at Charing Heath, a great deal of disruption no doubt at Singlewell and elsewhere along the line. In that connection I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the latest position regarding the proposals made by Central Railways for an alternative all-freight line through Kent. That may well be a more rational way to deal with the problem.

I want to raise one or two other points. The first concerns an aspect of the noise problem mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am told that there are new electric locomotives which will help to reduce the noise but that they are sitting idly at Folkestone waiting to be introduced. I hope that the Minister can tell us what the problem is, when we can expect to see them running, and what they may do to help mitigate the noise factor.

There are then matters of compensation to be considered. I do not wish to waste time repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said so succinctly. But I support the proposals made on an all-party basis in another place for an examination by the working party set up by the Government into the question of what might be called a more general blight as distinct from the forms of statutory blight that are subject to compensation. I hope that before the Bill passes from your Lordships' House, we will have the Government's's verdict on that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and hope that it will be a positive verdict.

Finally, I turn to the concerns of farmers and landowners whose land will be required, not only for the line itself but also for the substantial construction operations that will take place. The majority of the land affected will not be required once the railways are running. Landowners and farmers should not lose land permanently when it is only required temporarily. The proper safeguards should be agreed before the Bill finally passes.

In my varied past, among various public appointments I have held, I was once chairman of the Crown Estate Commissioners. I can tell the Minister that the name of Crichel Down is engraved on the heart of anyone who ever served as a Crown Estate Commissioner. It led to the principled but very unfortunate resignation of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, as Minister of Agriculture. I would not want the same thing to happen to any Minister associated with the high-speed line. I hope that the question of the return of land temporarily taken away for public purposes will be looked at very seriously by the Government.

7.50 p.m.

My Lords, I have had some experience of trying to lay out railways to connect the Channel Tunnel—I refer to the previous attempt which ceased in the early 1970s—so I know the problems involved. I join in congratulating Union Railways on being able to produce a line that will do such little damage to property in terms of so few houses having to be demolished. Perhaps I may say in passing that the road construction business seems to be very much more extravagant in these matters than the railway has.

There has been a good deal of talk about the high speed connection between London and the Continent. However, what has not become apparent either from the document or from the Bill arises in a Written Answer which I have received from the noble Viscount confirming that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is to be built to accept continental rolling stock—provided, I gather, that it does not want to stop at Ashford. That must have had a significant effect on cost. I congratulate all parties on the fact that they are prepared to make a good job of the railway rather than skimp on the costs.

Although the track gauge is the same here as in most of Western Europe—that is why the Eurostar trains can run happily from London through to either Paris or Brussels—continental rolling stock is both higher and wider than the rolling stock which we normally use in this country. Therefore, one needs higher bridges and bigger tunnels. That involves a good deal more expense. None of this is apparent from the Bill. It is all a matter of agreement between the Government and London and Continental Railways. However, in principle all parties could agree to change that so that the railway would be built to the British gauge in order to save money. I would feel a lot happier if the requirement to accept the continental gauge were to be properly set into the Bill so that a change of regime or a change of ideas would not upset this very important feature of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

I support the Government. I wish the Channel Tunnel Rail Link well. I trust it will be built in the way the Government have been contemplating.

7.53 p.m.

My Lords, I think I am the third resident of Kent to speak, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Crook, has at some time been resident in Kent. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, standing up for Kent, with his knowledge of mid-Kent—from Leeds Castle and of Charing.

I differ sharply from the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in his criticism of my noble friend's introduction of the Bill. I thought it was a model introduction. He impressed upon the House the national and historical significance of this great project which at last has come to this House in Bill form. Of course many of us would like to have seen it before. I was in favour of the Channel Tunnel in 1973–74. Who wrecked that? The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, seems to have forgotten his history. History to him is only a convenient tool for making sour remarks—the noble Lord made a nice speech otherwise—about my noble friend. He also has a rather strange position on U-turns. He seems to object to the Government having changed their mind. I am delighted. What does he do when he meets Mr. Blair and talks about Labour Party policy?

My Lords, I am not at all upset about the Government having changed their mind. My concern was that they took so long to do so.

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has moved his position a little. I have to remind the House that the perfection of a project like this, with all the technical examination that is required, with all the consultation that is required for environmental protection and with all the political and financial points that have to be considered, is bound to take years. The fact that we are meeting the scheme that is really a mid-1990s scheme will in future history be an advantage. We can do things now that we might not have been able to do in 1989. So let us try to count our blessings and not look back at what might have been before.

I wish to speak for a few minutes as a resident of Kent. I realise the national importance of the scheme. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about the importance of the link to the regions. I have always been in favour of that. I am delighted at the arrangements made for better links at St. Pancras and so on. I am also delighted at the interest taken in the Midlands, in the north of England, in Scotland and in the west at the progress of the scheme.

In the course of this consultation and in the course of the work that has been done in building it all up, those of us who live in Kent and care deeply for its countryside, care deeply for its economic development and its ability to provide jobs and care deeply, too, for the close relationship of our county with France and Belgium should not miss an opportunity to pay a well deserved tribute to Kent County Council and its leaders past and present as well as to the Members of Parliament for their part in achieving this Bill and in achieving the full consultation that has led to it.

Kent County Council has more to say. I have read its petition and I hope that the Select Committee will listen carefully to what it has to say. It has given some practical advice about the Boxley Valley which I hope will be fully listened to. I agree with others that we should also pay a tribute to the painstaking and very skilled work carried out by Union Railways throughout all these years. I was a witness, at a number of consultation meetings which I chaired in mid-Kent and around Ashford, of its real willingness to listen to the people of Kent. It behaved in a model way.

I have one other thing to say about broad policy considerations in Kent. That is to emphasise the importance of the Kent structure plan, devised, created and maintained by Kent County Council. This new rail track that we are considering today fits perfectly into that structure plan. I believe that the whole of Kent, and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom, should be pleased that Kent County Council is of such a quality and has such ability in creating strategies and structure plans like this. I regret—there may be other occasions on which to say this—that the ideologues in Her Majesty's Government have taken a surgeon's knife to the northern part of Kent. It is regrettable that they should do it. But it is lucky that that surgeon's knife did not operate before the arrangements for the building up of this link.

This Bill seems to me to secure what Kent needs as well as the whole of the United Kingdom. The route is the best for international and domestic traffic. The spin-off benefits for the commuter are secured; the connections with London, the north and the west are provided for; rail freight expansion, with a consequent reduction in the number of large road vehicles, is made possible; and the Channel Tunnel itself has a real chance in the future of paying its way and more. I have to declare an interest in that I am a very small shareholder and I guess that it will be very small in the future. I should have perhaps declared an interest as a resident of Kent, but I believe that I am of an age that the actual enjoyment that I get and the advantages of the new railway will be very limited. But I hope that my children benefit much in future.

Kent has suffered, and will continue to suffer, much disturbance until all the uncertainty has been removed. But wisely and courageously inspired by its county council leaders, the great majority of the residents of Kent now accept that there is not only a national need for the tunnel and a new rail link but that advantages will accrue to them as well. What a change that is from seven years ago when 10,000 Kent citizens marched on London protesting against the tunnel and the link. For that change we should pay tribute to the political leaders in the county of Kent. However, much has had to be fought through to achieve this general acceptance and much smaller things need to be fought through and discussed. I hope that the Select Committee will follow the Select Committee of the other place-1 agree with the commendation given for its work—to limit environmental disturbance generally, but particularly noise disturbance, and to have effective and timely compensation arrangements for those whose homes or businesses are affected.

I have no doubt at all that the highest priority should be given by the House and the Select Committee to getting the Bill on the statute book. I am sure that the Bill will be further improved, but the priority is getting it on the statute book so that work can begin in 1997, as planned, for no one is going to see any benefit at all until the rail link and associated work are completed.

I have a few short, detailed points to make which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, will find helpful. Some important undertakings were given by the promoters to the Commons Select Committee. Some important requests were also made by the Select Committee of the promoters. What is the status of those undertakings and requests? I would like to know that. I recognise that there must be a legal difference between an undertaking given and a clause in the Bill.

I realise that some of these undertakings may not he suitable for inclusion in the Bill. I have an unhappy experience of an undertaking being given in a private railway Bill in another place which was later breached to the disadvantage of the residents of Ashford. I hope that in the future there will not be uncertainty about the validity of those undertakings because, under the aegis of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, when he was Chairman of Committees, I was persuaded to drop my protest. These undertakings cover some very sensitive areas, including the village of Harrietsham near where the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, lives and works.

The next point is the height of the rail track and the height of the road, which are relevant to noise. Wherever lowering is not possible, a bund is the next best safeguard. I hope that the Select Committee will pay attention to that because I have a feeling that, as a result of the long consideration given to the Boxley Valley problem, the best practical solution may well be lowering or a bund rather than tunnelling.

My next point of detail is the arrangements to limit disturbance by construction traffic, which I believe was a point made by the noble Lord opposite. They are particularly important in Kent to businesses as well as to residents.

I next come to a point touched on by my noble friend, which I believe is called "perceived blight". An inter-departmental working party has been set up to consider that problem. To whom does the working party report, and when? We would like to know because it is of the greatest importance to the people of Kent. It was announced in answer to a Parliamentary Question asked by my honourable friend Mr. Dunn on 16th March of this year.

The next matter is freight. There are different views about it. I believe that the paramount interest of Kent is to get lorries off the road, so I am in favour of freight on the new line and on the existing line. I realise that the new line may not be suitable for very heavy freight, but I believe that it is suitable for light and medium traffic. I also realise the problem as regards the size of the rolling stock which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned. I believe that there is a problem as regards the Saltwood tunnel if heavy continental rolling stock is put through on the existing line. He will know more about that than I do.

Finally, there is the difficult issue of compensation to those who suffer in their businesses or at home. Delay or unsympathetic haggling will inevitably damage the good will that has been gradually developed. I believe that good will is necessary if the work is to be completed on time. I am not advocating a bonanza, but I am asking for full and timely compensation to be paid and for those responsible to put in sufficient effort to achieve it.

Those are the points that I wish to make to your Lordships. I close by offering my best wishes to the Select Committee, particularly to its chairman, and declaring full confidence in him and his colleagues.

8.8 p.m.

My Lords, I begin by saying how delighted we are on these Benches to hear the well-deserved tribute by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, to the county council of Kent which has been controlled, as we all know, by a Labour-Liberal coalition for the past four years. It is good to know that it is doing so well in this field as in many others.

My Lords, the noble Lord's history is not quite right. The period is two years.

My Lords, I accept the adjustment and offer my apologies.

In presenting this Bill the Minister spoke mostly about the route. I wish to speak about another, smaller aspect which the Minister mentioned, but quite cursorily—the possible effect of what is proposed on the grand old architecture at St. Pancras and King's Cross. St. Pancras is perhaps the second most important Victorian building in London after the building in which we sit. That is why I spotlisted it Grade I in 1967. The Bill removes the protection of listed building law from all buildings which are or might be concerned in the development of the proposed railway. That includes the train sheds at St. Pancras and King's Cross, and St. Pancras Chambers, otherwise known as the St. Pancras Hotel.

So our committee will want to look closely at what alternative protection will be possible. Planning and listed building law provides for public inquiries on the basis of which decisions are taken by the Secretaries of State. In the 19th century, before planning law existed, railway Bills went through which gave the proposed works final and absolute permission. There could be no further question, and I suppose it is that phenomenon which gave rise to the expression "railroading". And that inherited privilege, as it were, has continued right up to now, into the age of planning.

Indeed, a different version of the present Channel Tunnel rail project was introduced in Parliament a few years ago, and was withdrawn; that too exempted the proposed works from all planning or conservation permission. But public opinion and common sense have at last caught up, and have resulted in the recent Transport and Works Act, which provides for public inquiries pretty like normal planning and conservation law in the case of railway works. It is, in fact, a sensible modern response to the anachronism of the omnipotent 19th century private or hybrid Bill. When the CrossRail proposal comes back, I understand that it will be under the Transport and Works Act, which is as it should be. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when he replies. However, the promoters of the present Bill do not invoke that Act. They and the Government have chosen to go by another route. They are in fact avoiding that Act, and one may legitimately guess that they fear the rigorous scrutiny of normal conservation law in some places and circumstances.

European law requires that a project of this size and scale must be accompanied by an environmental assessment. We should hope that the Committee will look closely at the documents which are submitted with the Bill under the general title of "environmental assessment" or "environmental statement" to see whether they comply with European law and whether they are of the same standard as would be expected in a normal planning inquiry. The documents are provided by the "designated undertaker", to use the appalling jargon of the case, and by consultants presumably paid by the designated undertaker. They are not outside or objective assessments. The real environmental assessment will have to be provided by our committee. In that respect, the committee stands in direct relation to European law, as I understand it.

The environmental statement produced in support of the Bill contains some quite unacceptable parts. The one that I am concerned with is this: it gives no account of the environmental impact of the intended design of the new station buildings at St. Pancras and King's Cross, but only an account of an out-of-date one, the so-called "reference" design, which was no more than a cockshy, and which we cannot assume will bear any particular resemblance to what will actually show up. The document also states that the final design will be,
"up to the standard of Liverpool Street".
Well, that is not really a very high standard. The great shopping centre which has been inserted into the Victorian train sheds there breaks up the unity of those elaborate iron vaults. The vaults at St. Pancras and King's Cross are quite a lot more important, spacious and beautiful than those at Liverpool Street. Anything like that intrusion would be a true disaster in those two buildings. Our committee must insist that what is intended for the station designs should be published. Our committee should make its own judgment, carefully taking advice.

To sum up, the Bill before us exempts this great project from public inquiry under planning and listed building law. It deliberately avoids public inquiry under the Transport and Works Act, and it is not accompanied by an external environmental assessment. The committee of this House has a most arduous task before it. The Government will, of course, back the present hybrid Bill. They have a large financial stake in the project. It is right that all the decisions should therefore be taken in, and by, Parliament as the court of last instance, corresponding to the role of the Secretary of State under normal planning and listed building law. Since all the normal public inquiry procedures are being evaded, Parliament will have to attend to all the submissions and petitions as carefully as would a normal public inquiry—Parliament in the person of its Select Committee—and it will have to demand from the promoters the environmental assessment that is required by European law, or else do it itself.

We must all wish the committee and the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, well in that arduous and patient work.

8.17 p.m.

My Lords, I begin by surprising my noble friend Lord Kennet because he and I have quite often in this House and elsewhere differed on environmental matters for the simple reason that he is a man of considerable sensitivity and he regards me as a barbarian. To a certain extent, he is right in that respect, but I endorse totally—

My Lords, I am afraid that I did not hear what my noble friend said. Did he say that I regard him as a Malthusian or a Marlburian?

My Lords, I said "a barbarian". Was I right? I do not think that I am a Malthusian although I have tried my best.

I endorse every word spoken by my noble friend. It would be outrageous if the architectural glories of St. Pancras and King's Cross were sacrificed in this matter. It will be extremely difficult to provide a modern extension to St. Pancras which is as fitting as is the extension to Waterloo Station, about which I have certain reservations, but I shall not go into them now.

I welcome the Bill. However, my reservations about it go back quite some time. I think that the proposed railway line is in the wrong place and that this has been unduly delayed. As I have said in the House on a number of occasions, I think that British Rail's preferred route was much better than this one. However, I shall not go into that now because it is all in the past. We must deal with the proposal that is now before us. Indeed, now that we have it and now that some decision has been taken, it is to be welcomed. I do not want to get involved in the politics of this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who is just leaving us. I will stick entirely to technical matters. (The noble Lord can go, because I will not say any more about him, except to say that I am glad to see him here.)

I welcome the Bill because it appears that, in the fullness of time, we may have something that will be a substantial feat of civil engineering and will give greater realism and authority to the Channel Tunnel as the main route between London and the Continent and, in due course, with any luck, between other regions of the United Kingdom and Continental Europe.

I raise one technical matter on the Bill which I hope the committee will investigate. At this point, the Minister can relax. He need not listen, because I do not expect him to reply to it at the end of the debate. My comments are directed entirely to the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and his committee, not the Minister. The Select Committee in another place considered the question of ground-borne noise and vibration in the tunnels to the north and east of London. It is agreed by all that those tunnels have to be designed in such a way as to mitigate the effects of these vibrations on the houses and their occupants located above the tunnels. That is a crucial design question. The local authorities in the vicinity of these two tunnels were alarmed that under the conditions in the Bill they would not be consulted about the detailed design of the rail link in the tunnels. In paragraph 100 of the report of the Select Committee of another place it is said:
"'… the reduction of groundbome noise and vibration is inherently a property of the track design, and since those are not components identified in [schedule 6], it appears to us that the local authorities can be presented at the approval of the works stage with a scheme that is incapable of any further improvement'".
Therefore, a detailed scheme is to be presented to them as a fait accompli in respect of which in the earlier stages they have had no satisfactory input.

I do not know whether the local authorities intend to present any further evidence to the committee. They presented evidence to the committee in another place on noise and vibration and methods of designing the tunnel. For the information of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, that evidence was discussed on days 42, 43 and 45 of the oral hearings. I do not know to what extent the noble Lord can refer to these, but I hope that he can at least glance at them. He will know the position because he is a very experienced parliamentarian.

There are several solutions to the design problems. The promoters propose that the rail track in the tunnels should be supported on resilient mountings; that is, something like rubber pads under the rail track itself. That is a perfectly reasonable solution. However, the promoters argued that if the local authorities' requirements for noise and vibration standards were to be met as measured in decibels—with which I will not trouble the House because all of them appear in the evidence—a floating track slab might be needed. This is stated in paragraph 105 of the report. Whereas under the promoters' proposals the rubber pads are under the rail track itself, with a floating slab the rail track is supported on a concrete slab which forms a kind of bridge. It is that concrete slab which is supported on resilient bearings on the soffit of the tunnel. Technical problems may arise. Sometimes a slight adjustment to the shape of the tunnel is required. It will certainly be more costly than the other proposal. Nonetheless, the local authorities believe that that will provide a better noise and vibration standard and so less annoyance to inhabitants and ratepayers.

Either of those solutions will work. I believe that the floating slab is a better solution, but I do not advocate one or the other. I am alarmed by what the Select Committee of another place says in paragraph 107:
"Specifically, we cannot in any way recommend the use of an entirely unproven technology like floating track slab for tunnels in London".
Not only is that an extraordinary conclusion for the committee to reach, but I believe that it is mistaken. It may even be wrong. That statement cannot be left unchallenged, if only because the floating slab technique to avoid noise and vibration was first used by British Railways (as it then was) underneath the Barbican concert hall 30 years ago. That technique was proven 30 years ago. For the committee of another place to describe this technique as unproven is pushing it a bit or "coming" it a bit, if I may use the vernacular. It cannot be left on the record that a 30 year-old technique is entirely unproven.

I have the greatest regard for colleagues in another place, but they are not always right. The floating track may solve a serious problem and should not be disregarded. Yesterday I was sent a copy of a letter from a consulting engineer experienced in these matters. He has been engaged in railway construction in places as far afield as Hong Kong. He has said that floating slabs are fully proven in service both for metro and express lines. The speed of the train is not particularly relevant.

That appeared to be the committee's guideline in this matter. What is critical to the design is the load. For Channel Tunnel trains the load will not be extraordinary. It will be slightly greater than that to which we are accustomed but not extraordinarily so.

I hope that this project is successful, but I do not want it to proceed on the basis that a proven design solution is regarded as inadequate. I hope that the committee of this House will bear these comments in mind in considering the Bill. I like to see things built, and I have spent most of my life trying to get things built. I go on about it in this House perhaps at tedious length. I hope to see this railway line built even if it is in the wrong place. I do not mind that too much. I want it even if it is in the wrong place. I wish the Bill a fair wind and I wish the construction of the railway line a speedy conclusion.

8.30 p.m.

My Lords, I should be sorry to think that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, lost anyone's interest with the floating slabs. I only regret that I cannot contribute to the floating slab debate.

I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the clear and eloquent way in which he introduced the Bill. This is a colossally exciting project and I have no reservation about the main thrust of the Bill. Indeed, as one of those who has taken advantage of the Channel Tunnel I join those who will be impatient to see it on the statute book as quickly as possible. I join other noble Lords in wishing the Bill well and also the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, in the weeks and months ahead.

So as not to waste your Lordships' time, I shall move quickly from placing on record my sincere enthusiasm for this measure to dwelling rather sadly on its defects, as I see them. In doing so, I must at once declare an interest. I am a commissioner of English Heritage, and as such, was party to a decision to petition your Lordships in respect of various concerns it had arising from this Bill as currently drafted.

Those concerns, which I entirely share, relate to the inadequate provisions which have been made to safeguard the remarkable complex of historic buildings which survives at St. Pancras and the railway lands which lie behind the station. Those comprise the finest surviving area of Victorian townscape in London and a site of national importance in terms of its listed buildings and industrial archaeology.

I, like many others, was delighted that St. Pancras was selected as the terminus of the CTRL in January 1994, as it provided a permanent solution to the long-term preservation of the station buildings which arguably form the most important railway complex in Britain, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I, too, accepted, albeit reluctantly, that, given the national strategic importance of the project, in this particular instance a case could be made for the disapplication of normal listed building and planning controls, provided alternative safeguards were put in place.

In reaching that conclusion, I was reassured by the environmental appraisal prepared for the then British Railways Board by Union Railways, and subsequently published by the Government, when they announced their decision on the CTRL route and terminus in January 1994. This stated that:
"Five listed buildings would be at risk of demolition and landtake. Demolition is the least favoured option and current plans are to resite or re-use these buildings, where possible. The water tower and gasholders (grade II) are assumed to be reinstated elsewhere in the King's Cross area".
Unfortunately it appears that those earlier commitments to the re-use of those unique structures are now being disregarded. That surely should not be allowed.

The water point is a modest, but unique, structure designed in Gothic style to complement St. Pancras. It is listed grade II, which means it warrants every effort being made to preserve it. No attempt has been made, as far as I know, by Union Railways, or LCR to re-use it, even though that would be entirely straightforward. I am told that the costs of its dismantling and re-erection would be about £350,000, half the cost of re-erecting Yonsea Farm in Kent, for instance, where the principle of dismantling and re-erecting various listed buildings was established by the Select Committee on the Bill in another place. It is difficult to understand why listed buildings at the London end of the route should receive less favourable treatment.

Surely that delightful little building could simply be incorporated into the overall proposals for the new terminus as a kiosk, cafe or waiting room, or even as an operational building. I understand that English Heritage has investigated a solution to show how it could be re-used adjacent to the railway at the rear of St. Pancras churchyard for a variety of possible uses, and that that has the support of Camden Council. Its conversion and fitting out costs could be offset against a Heritage Lottery bid which is in preparation for the churchyard as a whole, as well as SRB funding for the regeneration of the railway lands, to which the Government have committed £37 million.

The triplet gasholders at St. Pancras with their inter-bracing are spectacular examples of Victorian engineering. They are a major listed London landmark of very considerable architectural and industrial archaeological interest. I revisited them only today. They are very remarkable.

It is the great circles of classical columns and lattice work beams which are the gasholders' main architectural interest. And it would be perfectly possible to re-erect them as the framework around a really visionary world-class building of the 21st century. Ideally, such new buildings would allow for the incorporation of the beautifully engineered guide-rails and should be of a scale that preserved the higher levels of the construction as a silhouette against the skyline.

I have in mind my noble friend's concern for regeneration. So what better icon for the regeneration of the whole of the St. Pancras area than a new building arising from within one of the most glorious monuments of the past. In the context of the development of the railway lands as a whole (estimated at £1.5 billion), the cost at about £3.5 million would be modest and the potential advantages enormous. Why do we not see what our most gifted architects can do with them? The Sports Council has identified a real need for recreational facilities at St. Pancras, one of the most deprived inner city areas of London, and English Heritage has proved that they could be converted to cater for these needs. If so, then Sports Lottery funding is an obvious way forward.

Conservation is all about adapting the best buildings from the past to meet new needs. Where better for the Government to point the way than at St. Pancras, by insisting on the re-use of both the gasholders and waterpoint in the planning and heritage minimum requirements?

Finally, I am gravely concerned at the inadequate safeguards in the Bill for St. Pancras Chambers. The chambers is a grade I listed building. I give much credit to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for spot-listing it when he did. It is arguably one of the most important railway buildings in the world. Under the recent restoration programme it received about £10 million of public money plus £250,000 in grant aid from English Heritage for the restoration of external details, and another £50,000 for the consolidation and restoration of some of the splendid interior murals.

At present under the planning and heritage minimum requirements, LCR has only to undertake to keep the building weathertight and waterproof. There is no commitment on it, despite what my noble friend the Minister said, to bring the building back into use or to dispose of it on the open market, without reserve, if it fails to do so. English Heritage believes that there is a high risk that unless the chambers are brought back into an appropriate use a listed building of this size and splendour will deteriorate rapidly if unoccupied for a further period of eight or nine years. I share that view.

I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will agree that St. Pancras Chambers is one of the nation's architectural treasures, and that the gasholders and waterpoint are unique, and irreplaceable parts of our heritage. Can we please have an assurance that the safeguards being sought by English Heritage and other petitioners in respect of these wonderful buildings will be added to the planning and heritage minimum requirements?

I very well appreciate that much of government is about trying to reconcile conflicting aspirations. It would seem likely to me that governments are uncomfortable when they are called upon to make decisions that involve aesthetic judgment. That is not really surprising; the machinery of government hardly lends itself to such a process. Whatever the reasons, the record of successive governments in this field is not entirely reassuring.

There is a story that as late as 1951 the MoD, or its predecessor, applied to have Stonehenge removed on the grounds, I believe, that it was in the way of manoeuvres. As regards London monuments there have been some real tragedies. The destruction of the Victorian Coal Exchange is now recognised as being a terrible mistake and there still exists deep and bitter resentment over the needless tearing down of Euston Arch. Those are just two examples.

The great project which is the subject of the Bill is hugely exciting. It is one that is worthy of a civilised age and it is one that should reflect credit on this Government. There is a seamlessness in the way in which each generation draws on the vision and experience of the past. Without the vision and experience of those who have gone before we would not even be discussing this Bill. How wretchedly diminished we would be if the Bill were to become law without robust protection being afforded to those exceptional monuments at St. Pancras. I urge my noble friend and the noble Lords who will serve on the Select Committee to reflect on those concerns.

8.40 p.m.

My Lords, in declaring an interest I must say that I have been a long-term believer in the need for a cross-Channel rail link not only as an important element in a European transport system but also as a physical and psychological link between this country and Europe. In other words, I am glad that the Continent is no longer "isolated", to coin a phrase.

Earlier today a Statement was repeated in this House which appeared to indicate an atmosphere of distrust and a lack of fellow feeling in this country for the European concept. I shall not go into the ins and outs of what was said, but it is clear that there is and always has been a strong undercurrent against Eurotunnel, for example, from the public, where it stems from xenophobia, and from the political side, where motives are probably rooted in constitutional and financial considerations. However, it should he pointed out that the Channel Tunnel was a project which arose from the building of the Common Market. That concept still has a strong following in this country, as was evident from the consensus between the parties during our debate.

At a different level, I believe that when the Eurotunnel scheme was selected there was a body of opinion, including the Ministry of Transport, which would have preferred a drive-through tunnel or a bridge. But both those alternatives were ruled out by technical problems. The effect was that the tunnel as built had a dual role as a road and rail undertaking and both sides of the project needed a different infrastructure.

The road element, which is the Shuttle and its related activities, depends on the road access. On both sides of the Channel an appropriate network was built up. On the British side that included extensions and improvements to the M.2 and M.20. That work was put in hand in time to be ready for the tunnel's opening and was of course paid for from taxation money.

The Bill which we are considering today relates to the rail infrastructure. Of course the French, with their greater faith in railways, planned and installed a high speed passenger system giving access to Paris, with points south and east, and to Brussels, with future connections to the north, plugging in to the rapidly developing high speed network in Europe. On this side of the Channel a fair amount was spent on improving an old existing route and only today are we considering a planned direct high speed link. Not only the speed but the additional capacity will be greatly needed long before it is ready.

All that can be said in favour of the delay is that, contrary to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, it has gradually led to an improvement in the selected route. It is certainly a great deal better than the original route proposed some years ago with the original British Rail single tunnel scheme.

It has been suggested that the Bill's provisions for financial help from public funds to a privatised concern is to be criticised. Certainly the issue of privatisation is contentious. Having once been responsible for operating a railway, albeit a small one, I can recall the benefits of having an integrated business. I find it hard to see the gain in dividing British Rail into a number of small units. That is not necessary for competition because there is plenty of that from other modes of transport.

The result of the Bill, which is quite a neat one, might be a useful combination for a joint enterprise between private management and the use of some public funds. Certainly as regards the competitive side of transport the advantage lies with the big battalions in private hands. One thinks of the results published today by British Airways which show what can be done in such circumstances and with such management.

However that may be, the nominated undertakers, as the Bill makes clear, will be involved in a competitive situation. I believe it is right that they should be given some physical clout and be spared as far as possible the situation which Eurotunnel faced of being, in effect, bankrupt before it could begin operations. Union Railways will at least have a cashflow from Eurostar and every incentive to turn that into a positive cashflow as soon as possible.

I share the view that has run through the debate that as regards the objects of the Bill there is consensus. I hope that the Bill passes through its remaining stages in Parliament and is put into operation as soon as possible.

8.50 p.m.

My Lords, as a Kent resident I support the Bill. I have many reasons for doing so but I shall mention only two, the first being an undeniably selfish one. Until the new line is open, Channel Tunnel trains leave Waterloo on the existing track through Tonbridge and Ashford where they compete with commuter trains as far as Sevenoaks, which is my station. As there are four tracks on that line only as far as Orpington, delays are inevitable and, in my experience, frequent for those the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davies, described as the "beleaguered commuters".

I shall benefit from a new line, but so too will thousands of other Kent residents. The train journey from London to the furthest reaches of Kent is one of the worst in the country. It now takes one-and-a-quarter hours to reach Ashford, a journey of some 50 miles. Yet one can travel the 180 miles to York in less than two hours. Once the link is open, as my noble friend the Minister said, the journey time to Ashford will be a mere 40 minutes.

My support for the Bill is also influenced by our export trade requirements. The UK is peripheral geographically. Therefore, the Channel Tunnel is of particular significance in overcoming that disability. There has been substantial inward investment to this country and export manufacturing companies need fast, reliable and low-cost freight transit to Europe. That will be provided by the new link and most regions should be integrated fully into the European freight network.

The new line will lead also to a massive transfer of freight from road to rail, to the benefit of Kent residents. Unfortunately, I disagree with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said about the freight issue. I agree entirely with the views of my noble friend Lord Aldington. I am advised that the new link will have the capacity for passenger and freight trains.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, mentioned also Central Railways which, I understand, is planning a brand new railway all the way from Redhill to Tonbridge, Ashford and Folkestone. I fear that that will cause enormous environmental damage in Kent.

I look forward to much greater use being made of the "piggy-back" concept where standard lorry trailers are carried on rail wagons. That is an exciting concept. I understand that there is a potential diversion of 400,000 trailers to rail over the medium term on a route running from the Channel Tunnel to Glasgow with links to the Irish seaports via Holyhead, Merseyside, Heysham and Stranraer. It must be right to get lorries and trailers off the road. I look forward to the end of this year when Railtrack will have completed its detailed study of the critical structures—for example, bridges and tunnels—and will have financing in place.

While I support the Bill, I have two specific concerns. The first relates to Clause 1(3)(b) which allows the promoter to deviate upwards by up to 3 metres from the centre line of the works shown on the deposited plans. Such flexibility is unnecessary with modern surveying and engineering techniques and although I understand that LCR may wish to amend the vertical alignment in certain locations to achieve a higher speed or a more cost-effective design, it should not do so to the detriment of residents or the environment.

My second concern relates to the importance of fully co-ordinating the rail link construction and the widening of the A.2/M.2 which is dealt with in the Bill. That is a vital issue for the many thousands of commuters, holidaymakers and Kent residents who will not only face the construction upheaval of the rail link but also the considerable disruption involved in widening one of the two main road corridors between the capital and the Continent. Obviously it makes sense to try to co-ordinate the work so that we have one period of grief rather than, for example, the roadworks being completed only to be followed by further disruption at the commencement of the work on the rail link, or vice versa. I should be grateful for reassurance on those two points from my noble friend.

Finally, I must declare an interest. As an unpaid governor of Cobham Hall School I have a responsibility to help to protect the beautiful Grade I listed house and grounds where the proposed route runs on the surface along the northern boundary. My noble friend Lord Darnley is also a governor. His family, with a little help from that genius Repton, created the outstanding park. That historic landscape is arguably the most important environmental issue outside London of the whole route, particularly bearing in mind the restrictive covenants granted by the government in 1961 which empower the National Trust to veto any development which it believes will damage the landscape.

The school will be petitioning against parts of the Bill, and I should like to emphasise two crucial points relating to security. First, the proposal to take extra land from the park in order to provide a new bridleway far too close to the school must be looked at again. After the Dunblane tragedy, noble Lords will be well aware of the need to minimise access to schools, and particularly girls' schools.

Secondly, despite the matter being raised on numerous occasions with Union Rail, no assurances have been given that security will be maintained during the construction period to protect the girls and the school buildings. Having said that, the school fully supports the rail link which, with Ebbsfleet station nearby, will create exciting opportunities in terms of access to the Continent and much greater contact with London.

8.57 p.m.

My Lords, I feel that it is only right at the beginning of my remarks that I should declare an interest. My interest is that I am a citizen of two fair cities in this land, Manchester and London, and I speak from that perspective.

This evening we are debating a Bill which is about building a very small section of the trans-European rail network. In the early days of railways, the Russian Tsar put a ruler on the map between St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. He put his thumb on the ruler to keep it steady and drew a pencil line between the two. His pencil went over the thumb and that is the way the railway was built. I do not argue that we should build railways now as they were built then, but that gives an indication of some of the differences which now pertain.

This new link in the trans-European rail network must be seen primarily as a link between major European cities. I was rather concerned to hear the Minister say that it would provide a reduction in commuter time for people in Kent and so on coming into London. I wonder whether that is a sensible way in which to approach this project.

In the 19th century, Britain obtained a steel backbone that links Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London—the major manufacturing urban conurbations of our land. What we now call the west coast main line was unfortunately built cheaply. It has too many curves and rough sections and the speed of transit is too low. It must be upgraded and modernised.

That reminds me of when the M.1 was constructed. I am not sure how many noble Lords are familiar with the M.1 but near Luton it describes a bit of a dog leg; that is, a fairly tight curve. I can remember talking to someone who used to work for the Jaguar motor company. That company raced E-type Jaguars at Le Mans in the 1950s. The cars were driven from Coventry to London and then over to Le Mans on the roads. When the drivers drove down the M.1 the only time they had to touch the brakes was when they negotiated the corner near Luton that I have described. That tells us something about modern motorway standards. For various other reasons we restrict the speed on motorways to 70 miles an hour and therefore that dog leg on the M.1 does not have a significant effect. However, it would have had a significant effect for the drivers of E-type Jaguars travelling at 130, 140 or 150 miles an hour.

Not only do we need to improve and modernise the steel backbone that is so important to our whole national life, but we also need to extend that backbone to German, French, Italian and Spanish cities. We need to have that fast rail link between the major cities in this country and the major cities on the Continent. Therefore there is a lot riding on this Bill. I am glad that we have the opportunity in this debate to influence the Select Committee and to ask it to ensure that certain criteria are met when it considers the detail of the Bill. First, we need to advise the Select Committee that one of the key aspects of this Channel Tunnel Rail Link is that it should be a high speed rail link and a permanent way for high speed in the 21st century. It also needs to have smooth and well designed links to the west coast main line. I was glad to hear the Minister say in his opening remarks that that was a feature of the Bill. The Select Committee will have to consider the Bill closely to ensure that the fine words of the Minister are met in reality. I have to emphasise again that high speed will be of the essence.

When I started my remarks I questioned why London commuters should see a reduction in their journey times because of the building of what I would hope would be a high speed rail link. I wonder what is the justification for that. I have heard on the grapevine that some supporters of the Conservative Party will do nicely out of the new stations at Ebbsfleet and Ashford. The Minister looks askance. I am glad that he does so because that suggests that he does not agree with that rumour which has been circulating. Why do we need intermediate stops on what should be a high speed rail link between major conurbations? I pose that as a question. I hope that the Select Committee will consider that and ensure that while there may be stations on the line that might be used on occasion, there will be no restrictions on the traffic passing down that line which requires it to stop at those stations.

I wish to recount another little tale about our current railway system. Stockport is about five miles from the centre of Manchester. Every train that leaves Manchester heading for London stops at Stockport station. I asked officials why that train always stopped at Stockport, and I was advised that when the railway was built in the middle of the 19th century, as a condition of the railway going through Stockport there was a requirement that every train had to stop there. I hope that sort of situation will not apply as regards this Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It would be absolute nonsense for that sort of restriction to apply in the 21st century. I hope that the Select Committee will consider what I have said in this debate. I hope that it will take on board points that other noble Lords have made and arrive, we hope, at the right judgment that will serve this country well in the 21st century.

9.5 p.m.

My Lords, this Bill should be broadly welcomed. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link has had a long route march since conception in 1972. The vicissitudes encountered along the way would have broken those not of the hardest resolve. There is one aspect that I should like to comment on; that is the M.2 widening scheme. The A.2/M.2 trunk road forms the strategic highway link between London, the Medway towns, north Kent and Dover. This is my "home road". I live five miles off the A.2 and eight miles from Dover. I am another Kentish peer. The M.2 is a two-lane dual carriageway road opened to traffic in 1963.

The busiest sections currently carry in excess of 60,000 vehicles per day, with a high proportion of goods vehicles. The traffic flow is already substantially greater than the design standard for the existing motorway and is forecast to increase by about 70 per cent. by the year 2015. During peak periods Junctions 2 and 3 of the motorway become overloaded. As a result vehicles wishing to leave the motorway at these junctions have to queue on the exit slip road. That is hazardous and creates a potential for accidents. What is proposed?—the widening of the A.2 from dual three lanes to dual four lanes between Cobham junction and Junction 1 of the M.2; widening of the M.2 between Junctions 1 and 3 from dual two lanes to dual four lanes; and further improvements at Junctions 2 and 3. Most of the M.2 widening will be achieved by constructing a new London-bound carriageway alongside the existing road. The existing road will be modified to provide a new coast-bound carriageway. The scheme will require the construction of a new motor road bridge across the River Medway just upstream from the existing bridge. The new bridge will carry London-bound traffic and the existing bridge will be modified to carry the widened coast-bound carriageway. These proposals have been forthcoming following close consultation with Kent County Council and numerous other bodies.

Kent County Council has consistently supported the CTRL and welcomes the M.2 widening from Junction 1 to Junction 4. I am not sure whether I have a declarable interest in that my wife is a county councillor of 15 years standing. Kent County Council is aware of the particularly difficult period for those affected by the section of the CTRL that parallels the M.2 widening proposals between Junction 1 and Junction 3. In addition, there are two new road bridges to be constructed over the River Medway. It is absolutely imperative that these two schemes be closely integrated. That requires the two schemes to be funded and built concurrently—not consecutively, which would extend the disruption and blight. Can my noble friend the Minister give some assurance on this point?

The Bill comes to us following 11 months in another place and with more than 1,000 petitions considered. The Select Committee has 293 petitions to contend with. Let us hope—it is, indeed, a plea—that it takes no notice of those petitions outside the limit of deviation. The Bill needs a fair wind. The House of Commons has been the tortoise. Let this House be the hare and speed the Bill to the statute book.

9.10 p.m.

My Lords, as I listened earlier to the debate, I felt like saying, "Hooray for Kent". It seems to have a loud voice in this Chamber. I wish it well. However, there are other places in this country apart from Kent. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said that the Bill is supposed to improve communications between Europe and this country. I come from the North, as some noble Lords will no doubt know. I have always pursued the idea that, compared with the remainder of the country, the South East of England is a prosperous area. It is very congested as anyone who travels on the transport system will agree. It is congested because of its activities.

I have always considered that factor from the viewpoint of Merseyside. It created a strangulation on the proper development of the whole country, because one has to travel through that congestion to get to Europe. Therefore, I welcome the Channel Tunnel and, as a firm supporter of Europe, I strongly welcome the Bill. I give it a fair wind.

However, there are other issues to consider arising from the Bill. It is the third time that I can remember engaging in a debate on important and large-scale developments in the South-East. I sat on the committee considering the Jubilee Line development, and attempted to persuade that committee and this House to consider the consequences for the national interest of building the Jubilee Line. By national interest, I do not simply refer to the provinces; I include London. I pointed out that the development of the Jubilee Line was not a priority for London Transport. It was only third in order of priority. London Transport wanted to consider some of the other needs for London. I wonder whether the people travelling on the Northern Line and other lines of London Transport now wish that the Jubilee Line had not been completed. All the investment which should have gone to other lines went to the Jubilee Line.

There is another lesson to be learnt. Why was the Jubilee Line built? It was built to assist the private sector in its foolish enterprise in Docklands, in Canary Wharf.

Ebbsfleet has been mentioned. The Minister looked aghast when a noble Lord suggested that that proposal had something to do with the Tory Party. I shall not suggest that. However, I shall suggest that that development came about because a private enterprise firm was keen to get rid of land and sell it for development; and no one will deny that.

I am concerned that there is no proper link. Let me correct the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. He did not hear from the Minister that the Bill proposed an improvement. He would have heard from the Minister that, outside the Bill, permission would be applied for to build the link that I want. It is not in this Bill, and I am concerned about the briefing document. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we will have a Bill for it. The longer the link is left without being built, the longer we are left in limbo in regard to communication with the Continent; the more development continues in the South East, the worse will be the situation for Liverpool, Manchester and Scotland. The private sector will go where the profit is greatest, so it will go again to the South-East. It is essential for us to have the link. I pleaded for it at least 10 years ago and begged that something should be done.

On another occasion, an extension was planned in a Bill for the London Docklands Light Railway. I asked the committee at the time to examine the consequences on the rest of the community and our economy. My suggestion was defeated in this House; we did not consider it.

I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, express his concern about the rest of the country and the Bill's consequences for it. That does not prevent us both supporting the Bill, but it means that there is doubt about the Bill's consequences on the rest of the country, not only for direct communications but also for development. A limited amount of development, especially economic development, can be carried out in the country. If it takes place in the South-East because that area is nearest the tunnel, it will not take place elsewhere. A glaring example of that is the two Docklands corporations established by Mr. Heseltine, who called himself the Minister for Merseyside. Docklands in London is chock-a-block, it is so full that the ordinary people who used to live on the site have not been properly looked after. All the yuppees have gone there, the offices are there, with Canary Wharf and now more are being encouraged to go there. That is London.

Now let us look at Liverpool. We have one government office with, I think, 700 people when there were supposed to be 1,300. There are wide open spaces. An article in the Guardian on Monday described Liverpool as having had a vision of building a city before it had the problems of the 1960s. The article described what happened to Liverpool and it said, at the end: "We should not ask what happened to Liverpool people. The way we have allowed that city to go down tells us something about ourselves because we refused to move some of the activities from the South-East which did not need to be there out to the rest of the country". That is our problem, we do not consider matters from the viewpoint of the national interest.

On what grounds could anyone suggest that MI5 should be at Vauxhall Bridge? What is it doing? Spying on the Russians? Are all the spies coming down here? Is this where MI6 should be? Of course not, it has no need to be here, it could have been in Birmingham or the north of England. Why in this country do we concentrate on having modern communications systems in the South-East?

Perhaps I may conclude with a story. I was chairman of the economic planning council in the North-West and we had a meeting with Ministers. We said to them: "What we will do is to send a letter out to all the industrialists in London and Manchester asking them to come along and tell us what is wrong with industry". We did that and received a letter from Manchester and one from London. The letter from Manchester was posted that night and delivered to us the following day. As for the letter from London, it was five days before it was posted. It takes weeks for documents to get from one office to another in London. The whole of the Civil Service could be outside London with communication by modern technology, saving money and improving the rest of the country. That would leave plenty of empty office space so that the private sector could do what it wants to do in the South-East. It is a simple solution, but it needs someone with a sense of purpose to consider how we distribute our resources. Fundamentally, resources are jobs.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mention the regions. Other speakers mentioned the necessity for ensuring that the regions share in the prosperity that we are all supposed to achieve from the tunnel link and the mighty vision. I was pleased to hear that. Now let us get down to facts. It is no use asking this government to do anything about planning for the good of the nation. They will not do it. They have had plenty of opportunities.

There will not be any more opportunities; very shortly there will be a change of government. I am glad about that. Now we shall know what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and his colleagues will do; namely, set up what I was tempted to ask this Chamber for tonight. I was tempted to table a Motion to instruct the committee to take into consideration the possible consequences of the tunnel on the rest of our economy. I did that once before in relation to another Bill, and it was turned down. I intended to do that tonight, but I thought it would be a waste of time. So I express my hope that, when the new Labour Administration comes in, it will set up a body to look sensibly and practically at the whole question of the national economy, and find out in particular how the South East is starving the rest of the country of resources that it badly needs.

9.20 p.m.

My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as honorary secretary of the all party West Coast Main Line Group. As such, I am delighted to support a Bill which finally links one of our great assets, the Channel Tunnel, with another, the railways of Britain, in a state-of-the-art manner. My only regret is that it has taken so long to get this far.

Back in 1984 we were debating whether there should be a fixed link to the Continent and, if so, what form it should take. Some of us were in favour of a tunnel, added to a high-speed link. Subsequently we settled for the former. It is now up and running, and I agree with those many noble Lords who have paid tribute to it tonight. Some years later we had before us both a proposal for a terminal at King's Cross and what I shall call the BR Cunard Trafalgar-led proposal for a high-speed link. Had we followed that option then, or even had the present option before us then, we might also have had everything in place by 1998—only the year after next. Tonight's proposal, on the other hand, will not be completed until the year 2003 at the earliest, and perhaps not even until 2007.

Either way, one has to assume speedy Royal Assent; detailed design work; progress with local authority planning and other statutory body consents; and last, but not least, the raising of finance. One cannot overlook the slippage on the Jubilee Line extension which arose as a result of problems in getting the finance in place.

I welcome the Bill, however much I regret the timescale. I should welcome it the more if our Select Committee could ensure decent and prompt access from the link to the West Coast main line to give the true network benefits that many of us have sought this evening. I very much hope that such a link will be available when the Channel Tunnel rail link itself is opened. I urge the committee to pursue that point.

I also welcome the fact that the Government will be paying grant to the CTRL project in return for benefits accruing to the domestic traveller. That is another idea that was floated in this Chamber as long ago as 1984. But it is one which in the future will throw up a problem in connection with the franchising of the existing domestic train operator—Southeastern Train Company, or SETCO for short. I understand that the franchise for SETCO is being offered on a 15-year basis in order to encourage the successful bidder to renew some existing stock by 1999 and to replace all the old first generation slam-door stock by its life-expired date of 2005.

My problem is this. Does the bidder go for stock with the high-speed capability required by the new route, for which government grant is being paid to secure paths? Or does it go for a dual mode vehicle capable also of running on existing routes? Noble Lords who have used Eurostar will know how relatively weak its performance is once the train emerges this side of the Channel Tunnel. I see a three-fold problem here: the length of the franchise; the purely technical problem of traction; and that of potential conflict between London and Continental and the franchisee of SETCO. That seems to me to be compounded by the fact that Clauses 16 to 21 of the Bill disapply the powers of the rail regulator, which surely could pose problems in the resolution of conflicts between the high-speed link operator and other operators.

Lesser concerns include decent road and underground access to St. Pancras International, a concern that is familiar to those of us who were involved in the King's Cross Bill and indeed in the Bill enabling us to construct Waterloo International. I am also concerned about the viability of Stratford. I hope that the viability of Stratford is not allowed to penalise or damage the viability of the link as a whole. Despite those matters, I feel that Union Rail's proposal is a worthy one. I hope that it will be completed as speedily as possible.

9.25 p.m.

My Lords, I declare an interest in Eurotunnel and I am grateful for the many messages of support over the years which noble Lords have given to the project. It is much appreciated. Having worked on the Channel Tunnel for nigh on 15 years, I saw at close quarters the excellent and assiduous work done by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, in chairing the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill. It gave me great pleasure to hear that he is proposed as the chairman of the Select Committee on this Bill. It might be said that he has waited patiently for far too long for this Bill to arrive.

As my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said, the regional links are extremely important. It gave me great pleasure to read that London and Continental will propose a proper double track rail link across the top of St. Pancras for frequent services from the Midlands and the north west. As the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, said, it is vitally important in connecting to Stratford and Paris. Noble Lords may remember that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was a trans-Europe network priority and later on the west coast main line was added as a priority project. But they were not connected except by one emergency line. So it could be said that London and Continental has done what the Government failed to do; namely, connect two strategic links across the top of London. Certainly, I welcome that greatly.

I am somewhat concerned about when the project will start and therefore when it will finish. Clause 10 of the Bill says that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link must start within 10 years. If we allow five years for construction, it may be up to 15 years from now. It may be a coincidence but that compares very well with the west coast main line where the franchising director told a meeting in this House quite recently that the upgrading would take about 14 years to complete. So we are talking about the year 2010, or 2011 if it all goes badly. I hope that I am wrong and mistaken. Perhaps the Minister will be able to correct me later on that point.

I want to discuss one specific matter about the construction of the project before I turn to operational matters. As my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said, King's Cross lands is one of the concerns. I do not want to trespass on the responsibilities of the Select Committee, but it appears that the Government are attempting to thwart the will of the Select Committee in another place. I believe that the Select Committee of this House should be aware of that.

At present there are a number of thriving cement, concrete and aggregate batching businesses in that area which supply the needs of the local building industry in central and northern London for concrete which is usually distributed by concrete-mixer lorries. The materials come from many parts of the country by rail, saving an estimated 30,000 lorry journeys a year—if they came in by road that would be the number of lorry journeys. It is equivalent to about 120 heavy lorry journeys per day saved by bringing in this material by rail.

In the original plans for the rail link, those businesses were to be displaced, since they were located on the routes of the various rail lines in the area and there was no proposal from the promoters to offer them an alternative site, although there is an enormous area around King's Cross available for development, which I believe is there to help fund the rail link.

Those businesses therefore petitioned the Select Committee in another place, but the operator, Mainline Freight, did not do so since it was then part of British Rail. The Select Committee reported in their favour and in relation to the Tarmac petition said,
"We require the Promoters to make arrangements to relocate with modern equipment the Tarmac concrete batching plant in a suitable place in the North of the railway lands".
In response to the petition from Castle Cement, Pioneer Willment and Tarmac Quarry Products, it said,
"we were encouraged by the proposals put forward by the promoter that the businesses might remain in place where they are currently or nearby. We support these arrangements".
The Government's response to the Select Committee on that recommendation was also reasonably positive when they said:
"the Promoters will construct a rail siding with discharge facilities on the western boundary of the King's Cross Railway Lands and make land available in the north-west of the Railway Lands for the relocation of the firms if relocation proves necessary. The terms of the firms' occupation and decisions as to which firm occupies what part are expected to be the subject of further negotiations; these will include Mainline Freight, the intended holder of the long-term leasehold interest".
The petitioners were thus reasonably happy in the belief that the Government would negotiate in a positive manner to implement those recommendations. But only 11 days after that government response to the Select Committee, on the day before Mainline Freight was sold to Wisconsin—now called North-West and South Railways—the directors of Mainline Freight, British Rail and the Secretary of State for Transport signed what was called an "overarching agreement" which included, in part, Mainline Freight's future activities at King's Cross.

That meant that the promoter—the Government—could decide the location of rail freight facilities; there was no right for Mainline Freight to object to the period of notice—in other words, it could be 24 hours; the promoters could insist on the businesses moving to an interim site, but there was no guarantee of finding that site or of adequate capacity there. There was no responsibility on the promoters to find a site at all within the King's Cross lands, and the promoter can interrupt rail deliveries to any of the sites, which is not a lot of use when one is running a rail delivery business. Lastly, there was no long-term security anywhere on the King's Cross lands.

What do the parties to the agreement have in common? Mainline Freight, the British Railways Board and the Secretary of State (who is the promoter) are all government controlled. That agreement was signed the day before the Wisconsin handover, which had already been delayed. I understand why Wisconsin signed and accepted the agreement, but with the proviso that it reserved the right to sue the former directors—the government employees—of Mainline Freight for not looking after the interests of their company.

I believe that the petitioners' requirements could be seen to be perfectly reasonable. They were happy to move and to pay for one move. Since then, correspondence between the promoters and the petitioners and the contents of that overarching agreement seem to indicate that the Government are holding back from implementing the spirit, let alone the letter, of the Select Committee report and their response to it.

It is true that the documentation allows the Government to give the petitioners what they require, but there is no indication of commitment. Furthermore, although the land offered—but none of the other requirements—is adequate now, that land is likely to be significantly reduced if London and Continental applies to add additional tracks to connect into the north London line to get a two-track connection by a Transport and Works Act order. Will the Government still agree to relocate the petitioners on the same basis if some of their land is taken in several years' time by a Transport and Works Act order?

I believe that the Government have forfeited the trust of the petitioners, who are still seeking a positive and reasonable outcome to enable them to remain in business. They support the rail link obviously and sought to reach reasonable agreement on the issues key to their continuing viable operation. But those must be binding commitments to the continuity of operation in the short, medium and long term—adequate capacity of sidings and other facilities and reimbursement of the cost to move, apart from the first move.

Why are the Government doing that? It is extraordinary to witness the apparent lack of concern shown by the Government for the long-term success of rail freight at King's Cross for the supply of concrete materials. We have heard many assurances of their commitment to rail freight but there appears to be one overriding exception to this when more money can be made out of property—office, retail or expensive housing.

However, there is one fly in the ointment. The promoters have given an undertaking that all construction materials required for the construction of the rail link will be brought in by rail, wherever that is possible. If the promoter closes down or even interrupts the operation of this rail terminal, the concrete will have to come by road. No doubt many of the local authorities around there might have a few comments to make on that.

If the promoters are forced to close down the rail supplied concrete facilities after construction is complete, that will be a travesty of the principle of the assurances given to the Select Committee in another place. I am sure that the committee and the petitioners will take note of these government actions when seeking ever-more watertight assurances for what they want.

I turn now to operations. It behoves us all to seek a situation whereby London and Continental and other operators can operate with the maximum flexibility to provide a service to customers in Kent, across London, to and from the regions and from all these places across the Channel to adjacent member states. I wish we could get away from the rather insulting words "domestic and international" when we refer to stations. Perhaps "intercommunity" would be better. I rather hope that there will not be this differentiation in the future.

I wish to raise two matters to do with operations. The first concerns the safety approval procedure. In the rail privatisation debate on 8th May I described delays in Railtrack approving safety cases for new rolling stock. The Minister said that it was the responsibility of the vehicle manufacturer and owner to demonstrate safe operation. I hope that he may be able to tell us what the operator and Railtrack are supposed to do in this matter.

I turn to my second point. It is my understanding that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will be an equivalent track authority with, so far as I can see, similar responsibilities, which include safety. If anyone wishes to operate a train on both types of track, as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked earlier, will he have to get a safety case from two separate authorities, thereby costing him double the amount and taking double the time? I doubt whether many operators will bother. London and Continental is also an operator. I think it is called a semi-vertically integrated franchise, which is a rather nice expression. Unlike Railtrack, it will have the ability to give itself safety approval for its trains while refusing a competitor. I am sure that it is much too professional to do that—the people I have met certainly are—but, as the system is set up, an unscrupulous successor could do that. Surely that is another argument for having the safety standards and approval of both Railtrack and the rail link as one separate and independent organisation.

Lastly, I wish to turn to frontier controls for through passenger trains. These trains start north of London this year and, as we have heard, London and Continental is proposing frequent services from the west coast main line, via Stratford, to Paris. At present no domestic passengers may be carried on international trains. We are told that that is a requirement of the frontier control people, but let us just examine why. I define "frontier control" as Customs, immigration, security and MAFF. The authorities trumpet about drugs being caught at Dover. I was told that 90 per cent. of drugs caught in this country are caught at Dover but it is usually as a result of tip-offs. It is just convenient for the authorities.

Some noble Lords may have come on the Eurostar to Waterloo. One notices that immigration procedures are carried out on the train. It takes two people. If it is done at Waterloo, it takes 17 people. That is why they always do one train every day at Waterloo—so that they can have 15 extra people on duty. It is a great job creation scheme. All these people require expensive facilities through the Channel Tunnel. At one stage they asked for the freight shuttles to be separated from the lorry drivers when taken across the Channel because the frontier control people did not want to be sitting with the lorry drivers for 25 minutes. Frankly, that is tough. Eurostar has a separate compartment for them to rest and there are two gaols on board with meat hooks on which the handcuffs can be placed.

Ebbsfleet, Stratford and St. Pancras are all being built with segregated international, inter-community and domestic platforms, probably at a cost exceeding £100 million. That is a complete waste of money, but when one gets north of London the situation becomes even worse. Originally, I believe that Eurostar trains going north of London were going to have separate platforms, but that was found to be impossible. Then they were to have moveable barriers to allow only international travellers on the train. Now, I believe that there is to be only one door opening, so they cannot be expecting many passengers when the train stops at Peterborough, York or Crewe. That cannot go on. It has been a nice, cosy relationship between government departments and government-owned railways until now. London and Continental has now arrived and it is rightly beginning to question things. I understand that it is thinking of converting the mobile gaol and the immigration staff rest compartment into private compartments for revenue-earning business use, and that is great. I understand that it wants to add national passengers.

I know that there will be a problem with the west coast and east coast main line franchisees because they may oppose it. In my view that is tough: it is up to the franchising director to sort it out. Of course, we need Customs, immigration, security and MAFF, but we need to try to resolve this matter so that they work to the benefit of the customers and do so on the train between Ashford and Lille. That will enable all these extra facilities to go and national passengers to travel on international trains.

Many of these subjects, I am sure, will be discussed at later stages of the Bill. I conclude by adding my congratulations to the staff of Union Railways who, I believe, have acted in a most comprehensive and sensitive manner in developing this project. They have worked extremely hard. I support this Bill and I wish it a safe and secure passage through this House.

9.42 p.m.

My Lords, I am an enthusiastic supporter of a high speed rail link between Cheriton and London. Ever since the decision was taken to build a tunnel on its own, a modern and efficient railway link to London and a main rail network beyond, has been inevitable. In 1987, much of the debate centred on what share of the cross-Channel passenger and freight traffic the shuttle service could capture from the ferries. Not much attention was paid to how many of the large number of passengers flying daily between London and Paris and Brussels could be converted to through rail services. Equally, diverting freight from the road-ferry mode to through liner freight trains took second place to discussion on the number of lorries that could be diverted on to the shuttle at Cheriton and away from their familiar ferries at Dover.

In a remarkably short space of time Eurostar has become an enormous success, capturing a sizeable share of the airline traffic between London and Paris. The new owners have announced plans to expand the service greatly. Freight had a slower start, but a number of trains do pursue a circuitous route around London to link up eventually with the main lines to the north and west of the country.

The problem faced by both passenger and freight through services is that whereas much of our rail network is modern and laid out for fast running, the South Eastern Railway was designed to lower standards and with commuters in mind. It is already congested; spare capacity is scarce and the running of international freight trains poses operational difficulties. Lack of rail capacity in Kent will restrict the traffic that can use the tunnel and will do nothing to persuade freight to turn to rail for its long-haul cargoes, which is a major objective of many transport and environmental policies. This new rail link will make possible a full-blown inter-city passenger service between London, Paris and Brussels and will open up the possibility of direct services to other centres on the Continent. It will be designed to carry freight and by its very existence it will also free up capacity on existing lines for freight trains. Best of all, by terminating at St. Pancras, it will enable direct connections to be made to other mainlines in the north and west of the country.

At this point, I must declare an interest in that I have a family connection with the area of land at Cobham Park and Ashenbank Wood which lies on the proposed route of the high-speed rail link. Indeed, it is my intention to petition the Select Committee of this House to seek to reduce the impact of the new railway on the environment and the historical importance of the site.

I hasten to say that I do not criticise the designated route of the railway. On the contrary, it is infinitely preferable to increase the size of an existing traffic corridor by routing the railway alongside existing main roads rather than create a new one out of virgin countryside. The proposed Ebbsfleet station will be much welcomed in north-west Kent. It is an area that is hungry for investment and jobs and it suffers from what can only be described as an inadequate rail service to London.

Inevitably, a major infrastructure project, however welcome and however much needed, cannot be created without some cost to the environment. It is that aspect that concerns me. I mentioned earlier my association with the Cobham section of the railway. That is arguably the most environmentally and historically sensitive part of the entire route outside London. Excellent research has been done for the environmental statement and the baseline condition has been well documented. Cobham Hall, a Grade 1 Elizabethan mansion, stands no more than half a mile from the proposed route of the railway and will be protected from it by its pleasure gardens and the remains of its park, which are listed Grade 2 starred by English Heritage. Ashenbank Wood is a site of special scientific interest, and a Roman villa nearby is an ancient monument. In addition, the whole area falls within an area of outstanding natural beauty.

There is no doubt that the damaging consequences of building the railway could be largely eliminated if it were to be placed in a bored tunnel at this point. That view is shared by the borough council and all those who are concerned with preserving the importance of the site. There would also seem to be topographical and geological reasons to support that course of action which, until now, has been ruled out on the grounds of cost.

Instead, a great deal of work has been done by Union Railways on ways of mitigating the effects of this major civil engineering project both during the construction phase and thereafter. Union Railways has been most sympathetic to the concerns of those affected, but has been hampered in the first instance by not being able to commit finance; and, secondly, because much of the engineering design has yet to be completed.

My concern, which I know will be shared by others all along the route, is that the Bill will receive Royal Assent before proper undertakings can be put in place to protect the environment. That not only involves the costing of the various options, but a clear commitment that when the time comes the finance will be available.

I welcome this most exciting infrastructure project, but I must make a plea that decisions affecting the environment are not made on grounds of cost alone, as once destroyed, our heritage is gone for ever.

9.48 p.m.

My Lords, I firmly believe that we have had what can only be described as a splendid and well-informed debate on the Bill. I do not think that I have ever had the pleasure of sitting through the Second Reading of a Bill on which there has been such an extraordinary degree of consensus about the value of what we are doing although a number of points of detail have, of course, been raised. Some of those points are probably matters for the Select Committee to consider; others raise more general concerns. I shall certainly do my best to discuss those. I shall follow that with a very careful reading of Hansard tomorrow. As I am replying to a three-hour debate and may miss some points, I shall write to noble Lords where necessary.

The quality and thoroughness of this debate illustrate the work that has already gone into the preparation of the Bill. I particularly welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. His support was qualified almost immediately by a party political broadcast and what my noble friend Lord Aldington described as a selective memory test on the issue of Channel tunnels and what had happened over the past few years.

The first major issue is the length of time taken to bring this project to its present stage. I agree with my noble friend Lord Aldington that we now have a very mature, fully worked out plan that has been prepared in the most extraordinary detail. It brings major benefits to this country and to the travelling public—not just transport benefits, which are considerable, but infrastructure and regeneration benefits. That is important and must be the basis on which we consider the project.

The project was never intended to be completed at the same time as the Channel Tunnel. The need for it arises from a future, not current, need for more railway capacity between London and the Channel Tunnel. The noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, and possibly the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the way in which the link had been taken forward in France. In France the TGV Nord was always planned to be ready at the same time as the Channel Tunnel. Moreover, the TGV runs through flat and sparsely populated northern France. I believe everyone recognises that that is much easier to plan than a railway that runs through the rolling Kent countryside, urban Essex and London. Of course, we might all have hoped that progress would be quicker. However, the proposals first advanced for the link would probably not have been capable of winning public approval, and rightly so. The route would have run through densely populated south east London and there would have been no offsetting benefits. The scheme eventually chosen for inclusion in the Bill had to juggle a wide range of interests, including the transport value of the link, the opportunity to catalyse the economic regeneration of the Thames Gateway, and the important need to secure those benefits, while successfully limiting the impact on the environment.

The history lesson continued. Various versions were put forward from different corners of the House. I enjoyed the conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, as the champion of private enterprise, on the rail link to St. Pancras. Of course, I accept that now, but it is important to bear in mind the success of the PFI and the fact that this project is being brought forward as a flagship PFI project.

A comparison has been made between the proposal made now and the proposal in 1990 rejected by my noble friend, Lord Parkinson. I believe that there are four key reasons why the present deal is so much better than that rejected by my noble friend, the then Secretary of State. First, the route is much more environmentally sensitive than the earlier proposals, with about 25 per cent. now in tunnel and about 85 per cent. either in tunnel or in existing major transport corridors. Secondly, in terms of economic regeneration, the stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet in particular contrast with little or no regeneration in the 1990 route. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was concerned about the stations. He flung out a few references to accusations, which I will not go into at this stage. If the noble Lord believes them he is also accusing his honourable friends in another place of corruption and various matters which I know he would not do. When the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, refers to those rumours I am sure that he does not believe them either.

The new route is operationally and commercially superior to the earlier proposals. We now have a well structured contract with a private sector promoter which minimises the risks to the taxpayer.

There was discussion on the question of public money going into the rail link but not into the Channel Tunnel. The link could not be built without public sector support unlike the tunnel itself which Eurotunnel and the banks were confident from the outset could be built without public money support. Public sector support for the rail link is justified, not just needed. CTRL will deliver huge benefits to the public, including vastly improved international and domestic services. I do not see why the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, should be upset by the word "international". It means "between countries", and that is probably the situation.

The link will also stimulate regeneration, as we have heard, in the Thames gateway and East London around Ebbsfleet, Stratford and beyond. So there is no mileage to be had in the U-turn scheme of things. My noble friend Lord Parkinson, the then Secretary of State for Transport, did not rule out a government contribution in principle, and that is worth bearing in mind.

My noble friend Lord Astor was right to draw attention to the benefits of the link for the residents of Kent, and the reduction in journey times, which are so marked. That is in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who felt that because there was an advantage that must automatically take away from the other advantages of the scheme. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are many benefits from the link. I do not believe they are mutually exclusive.

We discussed the important issue of freight. There was something of a division between the Liberal Benches and those of the Labour Party. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, judged that the interests of freight had in some way been overlooked. I do not believe that to be the case. As I said in my opening remarks, the CTRL will have a freight capability. The Bill already provides for two freight loops and a link to the freight inspection site at Dollands Moor. What is more, there are clear undertakings that they will be built.

The key point is that the link will also substantially increase overall rail capacity to the tunnel. The benefits will be to London and to industrial and commercial centres elsewhere where a great deal of actual and potential demand for international freight traffic occurs.

We had some contributions, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, in his characteristically forthright and explanatory style, about the issue of regional links and why it is important to ensure that the CTRL connects properly to the rest of the country. There is nothing between us on that. At one stage I thought the noble Lord was encouraging me to move the Channel tunnel up north. Even the power of this Government would not be able to run to that. I doubt whether he will find that idea even in the somewhat far-fetched proposals often put forward by the party opposite. Nonetheless, I recognise, and agree with him entirely, about the importance of ensuring that the benefits from this link flow throughout the country, and indeed they will.

We have already heard about the linkage that will occur in London: easier connections to the West Coast main line. That was a point picked up by the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis, Lord Berkeley, and others, and was generally widely welcomed.

The issue of blight and compensation was raised by a number of noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Aldington. It is an important issue whenever one is considering a major piece of transport infrastructure. It is, of necessity, a complex issue. It might help if I took just a few moments to explain what is being done. First, the rail link route has been selected carefully, as we have heard, including the sensitive use of tunnelling so that few homes have to be taken. In fact there is an average of one home being taken for every mile of route, which is an extraordinary figure.

For homes that are required to be taken for the rail link, voluntary purchase by Union Railways is available from now at the request of the owner. The terms are the unblighted value of the property as if the CTRL project did not exist, plus all fees, disturbance and home loss payments. The majority of affected homes have already been purchased. Any homes required for the building of the rail link which have not been acquired voluntarily by the time of Royal Assent will be subject to compulsory purchase at that time on the same terms. As regards the residential owner-occupiers whose properties are close to the surface sections of the rail link which are not taken, a discretionary purchase scheme is operated by Union Railways.

The Select Committee in the other place was satisfied with the treatment of those with properties taken or seriously affected by the rail link. Its concern was the blight which petitioners claimed spread further from the rail link which we term "generalised blight". That is the subject of the Government's review, as I mentioned in opening the debate, and I shall comment on that briefly in a moment.

As regards those adjacent to the railway, noise insulation will be available when the criteria for the national noise insulation regulations for railways are met. In addition, the discretionary purchase scheme will continue until a year after opening the rail link. Thereafter, under the statutory provisions for injurious effect, compensation will be paid for loss of property values arising from physical effects of the rail link such as noise. Those arrangements are modelled on the procedures used for roads. There is no question of those affected by the rail link being treated less favourably than those affected by reflective road schemes.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned the PCA report, the ombudsman and so forth. We have already rehearsed those arguments at Question Time and so forth, and therefore I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied if I direct my remarks to the review and its timing. However, if he requires a fuller explanation I can of course give one.

The Select Committee in another place requested the review that we have discussed. The Government have agreed the terms of reference of the review, which were publicised on 18th March. More than 130 organisations with an interest in compensation and blight issues have been contacted with a view to presenting evidence to the review. A discussion paper setting out the key issues which the working group wishes to see addressed in evidence will be published soon. We have promised that copies of the document will be placed in the Library of the House. Promises have also been made that a progress report on the review will be published in the autumn. That is probably as exact as I can be at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Aldington raised the issue of compensation for business. That is a complex issue which depends on the amount of land that is taken, whether it is necessary for the business to move out, whether part of the whole of the land is taken, and so forth. Comprehensive and complex safeguards are built in and I shall be happy to write to my noble friend with the detail of those. Indeed, I shall place a copy in the Library for other noble Lords who are interested in the subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, raised the issue of the Boxley tunnel. Some of the issues can be classified as general and some are for consideration by the Select Committee. However, it was helpful that the noble Lord raised those issues. The Boxley Valley was considered by the Select Committee in another place and the tunnel was rejected. It is notable that Kent County Council is not seeking the tunnel through the Boxley Valley in its petition to your Lordships' House. Others may seek a tunnel but the county council does not and it is worth bearing that in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, also asked about the provisions of the Bill compared with the Transport and Works Act and the way in which the two relate. The development agreement regulates London and Continental to build the CTRL on the lands identified in the Bill. There is no question of using the Transport and Works Act to change the route. I can say that clearly to the noble Lord and I hope that that provides him with the information that he seeks.

My noble friend Lord Aldington asked about the status of the various undertakings that have been given. The Government have given a clear undertaking that requirements will be placed on London and Continental. Accordingly, the development agreement with LCR requires it to honour the undertakings and assurances given during the passage of the Bill. To assist in what might be an otherwise complicated process, a register of all the assurances and undertakings given is being kept. I understand that so far there are about 400 entries.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, raised the issue of the gauge. As he rightly said, a number of Written Answers have set down in some detail the facts in relation to many of the questions surrounding that. Suffice it to say that there is a requirement in the development agreement—the contract between LCR and the Government—that LCR must build the link to a continental gauge capable of taking the largest freight trains. Therefore, there is no need for any provision to be written on the face of the Bill.

My noble friends Lord Astor and Lord Pender were concerned about the interrelationship between the road widening scheme of the A.2/M.2 and the CTRL. An absolute future guarantee of the start of new road projects can never be given because of reasons of government budgeting. Nevertheless, the Government recognise the advantages of the co-ordinated planning of the CTRL and the road-widening scheme and construction within the same time-scale. Indeed, it was in order to maximise the opportunities for those benefits that the A.2/M.2 widening scheme was included in the CTRL Bill. I hope that that explanation is of use to my noble friends.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised the issue of CrossRail. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport indicated in a Statement in another place on 27th February, we expect CrossRail to come after the Jubilee Line extension, Thameslink 2000 and the CTRL. We believe that that is a sensible sequence. I am sure that it is widely recognised that we cannot undertake all those major new rail projects at the same time and that there must be priorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asked about the Class 92 locomotives and why they are taking so long to be introduced into service. They are the most complex locomotives ever developed in the UK and additional work on the track circuits has been required to ensure that they operate safely. I have some other information about that which may interest the noble Lord. Suffice it to say that they will not run on the link until it is built.

Heritage issues have been a central area of concern in the debate today. My noble friend Lord Cavendish was quite right to draw attention to all the important heritage issues which pertain to the Bill and notably those in connection with St. Pancras and the gasholders. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, contributed at some length to that discussion.

There was mention of the disapplication of the planning legislation. Although Clause 12 and Schedule 7 selectively disapply the relevant provisions of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 for works required to construct the CTRL, I can give an assurance that there is no intention whatever to ride roughshod over legitimate heritage interests. On the contrary, to replace the safeguards in disapplied legislation, the Government have been negotiating with English Heritage and local authorities on agreements as regards listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas. They have also negotiated with English Heritage in relation to agreements on ancient monuments. Those agreements are tailored to the particular requirements of the project.

In recognition of the special nature of St. Pancras terminus and its setting, in close co-operation with English Heritage and the local planning authority, the London Borough of Camden, we have developed a series of planning and heritage minimum requirements specifically for St. Pancras. My noble friend Lord Cavendish was good enough to recognise that the Government have made considerable efforts to put in appropriate safeguards, although he still feels that changes should be made. I am sure that such issues will be discussed when the matter comes before the Select Committee.

The minimum requirements target the features of the building which must be preserved and determine the way in which its heritage setting should be conserved and enhanced. That includes requirements relating to traffic control to minimise impact on listed buildings, their setting and the conservation area of St. Pancras. The chambers themselves constitute an exceptionally important building, as denoted by their Grade I listing. Both the chambers and the adjoining train shed are recognised historic landmarks of national importance. Those facts are recognised by the special arrangements that have been made. The buildings are to be regularly monitored and kept in a safe, secure, weather tight and waterproof condition, externally and internally. In addition there are detailed requirements as to the works which can be carried out inter alia to the train shed, booking hall, ticket office and the German gymnasium.

The gasholders were referred to by my noble friend. English Heritage accepts that the gasholders will inevitably be displaced by the CTRL works. That is my understanding. Discussions with English Heritage and the London Borough of Camden on the subject are ongoing and I hope will lead to an agreement soon. We need to await the outcome of current discussions about the priority which the gasholders should have among the range of St. Pancras heritage projects.

My noble friends Lord Darnley and Lord Astor referred to Cobham Park and mentioned that there are petitions on that subject. The issues surrounding this area were extensively discussed in the Select Committee in another place and the request that the route be put in a tunnel in this area was rejected by the Select Committee. Since then, however, Union Railways has participated in a joint study with local consultees, which include both the county and the borough councils, on additional mitigation options and additional community amenity measures for this area. A study has recently been published by officials, and Union Railways Limited has given it serious consideration.

My noble friend Lord Astor was concerned about the upward limits of deviation. I can reassure him that this is a standard provision in railway Bills and is needed for a variety of technical reasons, for example as regards the accuracy of the mapping base. In many locations undertakings have been given to limit the upward deviation where there are physical constraints to be negotiated. If there are further locations where a stricter limit than three metres is desirable, those could of course be put to the Select Committee for consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked a number of questions. He was concerned about the King's Cross concrete batching plants. He gave us the background on that. The noble Lord helpfully quoted from the Government's response to the Select Committee of 13th February on this point, and he has saved me from doing so. He must have seen my brief before I did. That response sums up the Government's position. As was made clear during the debate for Report/Third Reading in another place on 25th April, there has been no change in the Government's position. The Government will comply fully with the undertaking given to the Select Committee. I hope that gives the noble Lord some reassurance.

As regards the position of main line freight, as the noble Lord said, an over arching agreement has been entered into which provides for a long-term lease to be granted for the existing site occupied by the three companies concerned, and a new site is to be made available under the undertaking given to the Select Committee. That lease, which is consistent with the Government's undertaking to the Select Committee, is currently under discussion between the parties concerned and will be granted soon. I know that one of the companies involved has raised a concern about the possibility of temporary relocation, if that proves necessary. I appreciate that the upheaval of moving the plant of those companies twice would be extremely undesirable. To the extent that relocation cannot be avoided if the longer-term site is not available when the current premises have to be vacated, an interim location may be necessary. However, in the unlikely event that that circumstance arises, my department and the CTRL promoters will take all reasonable steps to ensure that any interim arrangements do not prejudice the long-term position of those businesses or the provision of a rail facility at King's Cross.

The noble Lord asked about the freight services and safety. I am sure that he knows the answer to that question as well as I. However, I shall repeat the question for the benefit of other noble Lords. The question was: if freight operators wish to run trains on both the Railtrack network and on the Channel Tunnel rail link, will they need to get separate authority to do so, and as a consequence produce separate safety cases? The design of the link and the safety measures employed are such that potential freight operators will need to seek separate authority. However, that may not mean producing a separate safety case although any safety case would need to satisfy both Railtrack and LCR. That is, of course, entirely logical given the different technical standards on CTRL and the existing Railtrack network. I should press on in the 26th minute of my response. If the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is not satisfied, I shall be delighted to write to him further on that.

As I said in my opening remarks, we believe that the committee has a substantial task ahead. However, the Government's clear advice is that the committee should not seek any changes to the route outside the Bill's powers.

That rehearses all that I said in my opening remarks. However, I believe that it is worth saying again, although it is the Government's advice and it is for the Select Committee to decide.

We have had an extremely wide-ranging and important debate about all the issues surrounding the rail link. We can conclude that the link will bring major benefits to this country, more international and domestic train capacity, faster journey times, and a welcome regeneration for areas which badly need it. It is certainly an embodiment of the principle and spirit of the PFI, exemplifying the private and public sector relationship at its best.

The Bill will open up a new era in rail travel. I believe that that was the sentiment of the House this evening. We wish the Bill a good passage, and I commend it to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.