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Mr. Gray rose--

Mr. Martlew: I give way to our honourable clever Friend across the way.

Mr. Gray: Despite the hon. Gentleman's note of irony, I should like to correct one minor point. Virgin does propose services from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Mr. Martlew: The proposed services start from Glasgow and go to Edinburgh and then down the east coast, not from Glasgow to Carlisle and down the west coast. I think I am right on that one.

Points have been made about the option of flying. The reality is that people who live in my constituency will probably have to leave home three and a half hours before their flight from Manchester airport. Parking is expensive. Many people do not like airports. They find them uncomfortable and unsatisfactory. They are stressful places. It would be much easier to get on a west coast main line train, get off at Watford and go through the channel tunnel. We should not underestimate people's dislike of airports. We need a rail service.

I greatly admire my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East and respect his expertise on railways, but all that he seems to offer us on the west coast is that things will get worse, there will be no extra services and it may take much longer than one thousand days to

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modernise the west coast main line. That is a negative estimate of what will happen. I hope that I do not become as cynical as my hon. Friend as I spend longer here.

Mr. Snape: It is not cynicism but realism. I was a signalman when the line was last modernised. I ask my hon. Friend to accept that modernisation and punctuality do not go together.

Mr. Martlew: I accept that, but the technology used 30 years ago when my hon. Friend was a signalman has advanced considerably.

If I am not to have Eurostar services on the west coast main line, I make a plea that the seven train sets be made available to Virgin West Coast. There is no doubt that our rolling stock is unsatisfactory. To use a technical term, it is clapped out. The seven sets would make a great deal of difference. Instead of being in sidings gathering graffiti, which I am sure they are, they should be put to good use on services to Europe down the west coast or, if not, on the west coast main line.

11.46 am

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): I want to make a plea for my county and the region that I represent. I attended the Second Reading debate on the Channel Tunnel Rail Bill as an Opposition Member, regularly making the plea that the regions should be serviced by Eurostar. We were promised regional services on several occasions. One has to ask why the company is reneging on that promise and what the Government will do to ensure that it is fulfilled.

I shall not go into technical details. They were covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). People suggest that there would be no passengers on regional Eurostar services and that, if people want to travel to Europe, flying is best. If hon. Members read our reports on aviation, they would find that we want a service into the hub airports. We have no service from Leeds-Bradford into the hub airports. We are moving fast towards a similar situation with the hub airports on the continent. There will no slots for regional connections from our regional airports. I deprecate that. We need such a service.

It is important that West Yorkshire--Leeds and Wakefield, my own area--should have a rail link into Europe. There are passengers who want such a service. We need an opportunity for people to demonstrate that they want to travel by train. Rail passengers benefit a great deal from the freedom that the railways offer as compared with flying. It would be wrong for a conurbation such as West Yorkshire, with a population of 2.5 million and five large authorities--Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Wakefield and Kirklees--to be denied Eurostar services.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning is familiar with Yorkshire. We have a regional development agency, and we need a service to sustain it. He is dedicated to developing the regions. If we are to succeed in generating economic development in the region, we need a regional Eurostar service. I cannot imagine or envisage that the area in Yorkshire where I live will be denied this service. We must press the company at all levels to ensure that the promises that were made when we were discussing the then Channel Tunnel Bill are fulfilled.

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There has been talk about people being cheated. I shall consider that my constituents have been cheated if the service is not extended into the area where I live. The rail paths are clear and a system is in place. We need an additional service and the trains that will provide it. There is a demand for the service and, along with my parliamentary colleagues, I plead for the service to come into the area of the Yorkshire region that I represent.

11.50 am

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): As someone who much appreciates the opportunity to travel on Eurostar at any time, I am particularly enthused by the prospect that I can get on the service at Watford and end up in Paris three and a half hours later.

The Select Committee has correctly identified that Watford is well placed to be an integrated transport hub. Indeed, the town is already on its way to becoming that. For example, the Silverlink service takes 20 minutes to get into Euston and there are Virgin services on the west coast main line. If the Government support the regional Eurostar scheme, there is the prospect of the Croxley rail link, which will bring tube links direct into Watford Junction.

I share some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). There are capacity difficulties on the west coast main line, even given the modernisation of that line. I recently held a rail summit, bringing together all the train operating companies that serve Watford and Railtrack. When we considered potential new services and regional Eurostar, it emerged that there is no capacity for any new or innovative services. That is the position now and, even with modernisation and upgrading of the west coast main line, there will not be much capacity for additional services. There will be only the improvement of existing services.

We may have real problems in extending regional Eurostar to other areas, and there is no doubt that the solution lies in Watford. The town can provide a real hub for trains coming along the west coast main line from all parts of the country and connecting with Watford. Watford has other good connections. It is very close to the M1 and the M25 and is only a short distance from Heathrow. A proposal was put forward by Anglia Railways Train Services to link Watford and Heathrow by rail. Unfortunately, that has been turned down by Railtrack because of capacity issues. I believe that the link could offer more opportunities for regional Eurostar services. As I have said, there is a tube link. Many people will be surprised to know that it extends as far as Watford. We hope that, eventually, it will be brought into the Watford Junction service.

There are cost issues. The Select Committee report correctly identifies that the costs involved in making Watford a base for regional Eurostar would be considerably less than those of extending the service much further beyond Watford. I understand that investment of about £2 million would be needed at Watford for new passenger facilities and for immigration controls. There is no doubt that the cost would be much lower than that of an extended service and it would be a much quicker alternative. It would ensure that we see Eurostar services extended beyond London. It would be much cheaper than extending them from Glasgow, for example.

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I understand that other hon. Members are keen to speak in this debate and I do not wish to prolong my contribution. I merely say that my constituents would greatly welcome the extension of the regional Eurostar to Watford. The town can cope with such opportunities and provide much better onward travel links for anybody who wishes to come from Europe straight through into Watford. I hope that the Government will consider this option as soon as possible. I look forward to seeing Eurostar operating from Watford to Paris as quickly as possible.

11.55 am

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): The Select Committee report does not say that we want any delay in the construction of the high-speed rail link. It says specifically that we do not want that. For those hon. Members who seem to have written off the regions in terms of Eurostar, the report specifically does not say that we want to see empty trains running into the regions. I am disappointed that some hon. Members have made contributions that seem to write off the regions. I can only conclude that the Members responsible have not read the report. If they have--

Mr. Brady: Is the hon. Gentleman referring to me?

Mr. Stevenson: Yes, I am referring to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a constituency in the north-west.

Mr. Brady: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stevenson: I do not have time.

I suggest that those who seem to have written off the regions should either read the report or read it again more carefully.

The report also states that the one assessment of, or piece of research into, regional Eurostar--it was carried out by Capital and Continental Railways--lacks credibility. That company was appointed by the Secretary of State in July 1998. It knew then that it would be appointed as the leader of the regional Eurostar consortium. It had made it clear that its preference was for Eurostar to be based at Heathrow.

Lo and behold, at about that time, British Airways took a 10 per cent. stake in the consortium. There we have it. That is why the Select Committee said that the research that was carried out by Capital and Continental Railways, or its assessment, lacked any credibility. Indeed, when the company gave evidence to the Committee, a number of us asked a specific question: "Which is your preference for the development of Eurostar services?" The answer was clear--Heathrow. The representatives of the company told us that their assessment of Heathrow was that, if they could develop a service there, they would take passengers away from Waterloo. Nevertheless, their preference was development in the south-east. That was all that they were interested in.

We were delighted when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that he was not completely satisfied with the outcome of the assessment by Capital and Continental Railways. He decided that there should be another inquiry with different terms of reference. Crucially, they include economic benefits to the regions,

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something which was not included in the terms of reference of the first inquiry. The credibility of the first assessment, on which some hon. Members have based their opinions, must be treated with great caution. We are delighted that the Secretary of State has recognised that. We are delighted also that there will be a further investigation. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the next inquiry is conducted as speedily as possible but consistent with a thorough job being done.

I have no doubt--I think that the majority of members of the Select Committee, if not all of them, equally have no doubt--that, when the next inquiry takes place, with the terms of reference that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has laid down, very different conclusions will be reached about the need and demand for, and the essential nature of, regional Eurostar services.

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