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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We have had all sorts of problems with Railtrack in the past; now we have a unified railway system under Network Rail, with the exception of this line. Will Network Rail be able to bid to bring the line into the national network?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): The answer is yes. However, I will not speculate about who might ultimately win that particular bidding process.
The Bill, though short, is the first visible step in the restructuring work package. Our work with LCR identified that High Speed 1 might be subject to two existing pieces of legislation - the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 and the Railways Act 2005. As a result, there is a risk that legal or regulatory uncertainty about how the legislation interacts could jeopardise the Government's ability to get the best price. The first clause confirms that the Secretary of State's powers under the 2005 Act to provide financial assistance can be applied in relation to High Speed 1 and the train services that run on it.
The second and third clauses change existing provisions in relation to the regulation of the line, which is exempt from economic regulation by the Office of Rail Regulation. However, the Secretary of State has certain regulatory duties in relation to HS1, such as setting an access-changing framework and ensuring fair and non-discriminatory terms of access to the railway. There are some areas where the duties of the Secretary of State and the ORR overlap, or could overlap, and the Bill clarifies who is responsible for what and allows the ORR to recover the costs that it reasonably incurs when exercising its function and duties in relation to CTRL or HS1.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman is delighted. I just asked the Minister whether he would be happy for Network Rail to bid for this particular line. I put the same question to Her Majesty's Opposition.
Stephen Hammond: Network Rail will be able to bid for it. As the Minister said, it would be wrong for anyone in the House to prejudice the outcome of the bidding process.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)I am listening very carefully to my right hon. Friend, who is talking about changing at Stratford to get on the Eurostar. Does he share my concern that very few of the trains stopping at Stratford will be going on to the continent?
Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South) (Lab): I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that issue, because I am very concerned about it. I had a series of meetings over the summer with the people running Network Rail, Eurostar and various other services, such as National Express, which runs a service through that station. I was not going to say this but perhaps I will - despite the assurances that I received from Eurostar, I want it to be spelled out in terms that the service will stop at Stratford with the frequency required.
I note some of the things that have happened to the Ashford service - the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is in his place - and I am slightly concerned that the Eurostar management would really like people to travel from St. Pancras to Ebbsfleet and on through the tunnel, without bothering about Stratford and Ashford. I might be wrong in saying that and I am not making that charge directly, but it is a concern. That is precisely the reason why I draw attention to the Secretary of State's powers in these matters, which is what this Bill is about. The Secretary of State can use such powers, and I shall deal in a moment with the effort by the former Deputy Prime Minister to use such powers precisely because some of the companies concerned were not prepared to go along with what the Government were seeking to achieve.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)Does the hon. Lady accept that people going to Heathrow have to use Paddington anyhow, and that the ones going to the continent may as well use St. Pancras? I am afraid that I do not agree at all with this part of her argument.
Susan Kramer: One has to look at how people function in real life. The reality is that significant numbers of business customers in south-west London have been happy to make the easy journey by train to Waterloo, but that they simply jump in a cab to go to Gatwick or Heathrow. It is unfortunate, but their passenger business will largely be lost, as the journey to St. Pancras will be more than an hour longer than the current journey to Waterloo. In addition, it will be far more complex, with passengers having to change trains and manage their bags and so on. All those are significant matters and, if we are to understand the value of the Government's investment in the project, they cannot be ignored.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am pleased to have been called to speak, because it means that the high-speed link has been completed; that is why we are debating the Bill. It is strange that when there is a problem the Chamber is full, but when there is a success, such as the one that we are considering now, there are very few people present - but that is the way of the world.
I visited the line a number of times during its construction. The last occasion was on 14 November to see the start of the regular services between St. Pancras and the continent. It gave me - and, I am sure, many other people - great pride to see the reinstatement of St. Pancras. It is probably now the finest station in Europe. New technology was used on the line leading into the Victorian station; it was a great combination. Contrast that with the sense of shame that many of us used to feel when we travelled from Waterloo on that Victorian railway, which slowly chugged its way along to the channel tunnel. It went through the tunnel and came up on the French side as a high-speed railway. No doubt there was a feeling of shame, but now we do not have to feel that. We leave from a station that is probably the finest in Europe and arrive at a shoddy station in Paris. Perhaps we should not take comfort from that, but we will.
The opening of the rail link has been a great occasion and we should take pride in it. We should give thanks to the project team which lately, since 1998, has delivered it on time and on budget. It is a matter of great regret that the project team, which is the equal of the best Victorian engineers that we ever had, is being broken up because we do not have a plan to take the high-speed link further.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the former Deputy Prime Minister, who had the vision and the courage. It was 10 o'clock on a night in January 1998 when he came to the House and made a statement that the deal had been done and that a public-private partnership had been created. It was interesting to hear the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats asking where the money would be spent now. We should not forget the contribution that my right hon. Friend made, and I was pleased to see him at St. Pancras on 14 November.
I have been questioning the Minister about the Bill and whether Railtrack will be able to bid. I am delighted about that, because we do not want a fragmented rail system again.
Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend said Railtrack, instead of Network Rail.
Mr. Martlew: I am sorry. Railtrack caused us nightmares. Network Rail needed to be created and we now have a system that is working well. The Minister pleased me when he said that it would be allowed to bid. I shall be interested in the financial arrangements that will allow it to do so. That is good news.
Now that we have High Speed 1, we must develop high speed 2 - somebody mentioned high speed 3, but we do not yet have high speed 2 - and bring the line from St. Pancras to the north. One or two hon. Members have mentioned that there is some resentment in the rest of the country about the amount of money that has been spent on infrastructure in the London area. The public transport system in London is very good. In my constituency the only alternative to a bus is to walk. I chaired a meeting yesterday on Thameslink, which seems a good idea that will bring benefits not just to London but to the South-East, and Crossrail is to go ahead as well.
There is a feeling that the north is being left out. I can become obsessive, as I did in about 1992 about the upgrading of the west coast main line. I am still obsessive, as the Minister will know from our meeting last week. Through the work of colleagues, many others and myself, we now have a railway line on the west coast that we can be proud of. The Government provided £89 billion to upgrade it to my constituency and to yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, but we still need a link from St. Pancras up to the north that will take my constituents and others to the continent, or perhaps to Heathrow. One of the proposals, from Greengauge 21, sets that out.
Some comment has been made about the Eddington report. I was part of the Select Committee that questioned Sir Rod Eddington and I pressed him on the need for a high-speed link. Despite the reports in the press that the idea had been discarded, he said that there was a role for a high-speed link and that the planning for it should start now.
High Speed 1 is tremendous. The Government and the country can be proud of it. The improvement in St. Pancras is welcome, but we must go beyond that and take those advantages to the north.
I shall comment briefly on Stratford. I went there to see the opening of the station. It is a totally different sort of station - it is modern, and it is a credit to those who designed it and to the Government, who funded it. However, as we know from the Olympics plans, it is only seven minutes from St. Pancras, and Eurostar will not want to stop at Stratford. It might make one stop as it comes into Kent and continue to St. Pancras. I am not sure whether the Bill can do anything about that. Will the Minister clarify that? It is a technical Bill and needs to be examined carefully, as the financial implications of getting it wrong could be costly.
I return to where I started - the Bill is before us as a result of a successful project which is a credit to the country. I am sure the technical aspects of the Bill will be sorted out and the maximum benefit given back to the taxpayer who, through the Deputy Prime Minister at the time, had to bear the risk at the early stage. I welcome the Bill and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has been listening to the calls from all parts of the House for the high-speed link to continue to the north.
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|On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB|