|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 305protection and decent social cohesion go hand in hand. They want a Britain where everyone has a decent home in a neighbourhood free from crime and free from the fear of crime. They want a Britain with a health service in which the doctors work for the patients and do not have to take orders from Tory bureaucrats in flash company cars. That is what the people of our country want.
Our people want a Government who run Britain in the interests of everyone who lives here. They do not get that from this Tory Government. This Government are too busy with their primary, top-priority task of keeping their own party together. They are trying to do it with the same old mixture of more privatisation, more deregulation and more money for their friends. They are trying to keep their party financially afloat by taking money from dodgy sources in Britain and from lying, corrupt and criminal foreigners abroad. They are out of touch with the people and they have shown that in the Queen's Speech. They are so out of touch that before long, they will be out of office.
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer): I congratulate the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on his new Front-Bench position. I am sad, however, that his speech did not rise to the new job. We are discussing serious matters, and I was sorry that he should have recycled an old speech. That was the only piece of recycling that we heard about.
One element in the Queen's Speech that will be of particular concern and interest is the decision to produce a new environment agency. I shall begin with that matter, as it is central to my consideration of the Gracious Speech. The idea of bringing together those three disparate organisations is welcomed on both sides of the House. That is perfectly proper, because one cannot deal with environmental problems in other than a holistic way.
The National Rivers Authority, which I was lucky enough to play a part in founding and setting up, has been a great success, but it cannot do what it was set up to do because its remit is not wide enough. To look after the environment properly, it needs, with others, to be able to deal with pollution not only in terms of water but in terms of air and other elements. It is impossible to have a proper arrangement to protect the environment unless the whole issue of waste is part and parcel of that regulation. We have recognised that, and I am pleased to hear from the Opposition that, in principle, they accept and support the bringing together of those three organisations.
I was keen to move forward with a legislative programme that enabled maximum discussion as widely as possible. That is why I produced a draft Bill as early as possible. I have always believed that the process of legislation within the European Union has something important to teach us, in the sense that we know early on what the proposals are, but in a form that makes it possible to discuss and argue. We often end up with legislation that is wholly different from the original draft. That is the proper way to proceed in a democratic structure. I hoped to extend that idea, so the draft Bill has been designed to meet that purpose.
I am pleased to see that, in most areas, the content of the Bill has been welcomed. But the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred to the use of the words
Column 306covering conservation duty. I have been advised that the words used have exactly the same effect in law as the words used in respect of the NRA.
I have discussed those matters with the various green organisations, some of which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and tried to explain to them that I saw none of the failures or dangers that they saw. I sought to reassure them because we had no intention of weakening the new agency's powers. They still feel that they would prefer the wording to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and would like a different way of dealing with their concerns.
So that there is no doubt whatever about the agency's conservation and sustainable development role, I have decided to amend the wording to provide the clear duty that those bodies would prefer. That is a main advantage of having a draft Bill. If I claim that the words make no difference, I should be able to turn that claim on its head and say that I am prepared to accept words that help those organisations and make them surer of our clear commitment to an agency that has at least the powers of the NRA and which, by bringing them together, will be a significantly more effective guardian of the environment. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras did not take the same time to read my speeches over the past two months as his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) spent on the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Had he done so, he might have come to the House a little more educated about the issues before us. He might not have made those allegations.
The hon. Gentleman might, for example, have discovered that the secretary- general of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds--the largest voluntary organisation in the country, I believe, with about 1 million members--said that it would be
"hard put to keep up with the environmental pace set by this Secretary of State for the Environment."
He might have discovered that, however much he may dislike the Conservative side of the House, there are some issues on which we might have made common cause instead of nasty innuendo. I fear for the future of our discussions if he is going to approach this issue, which of all issues ought to be the one on which we could find much in common, on a cheap party political basis. I shall seek not to do so, but no doubt it will be extremely difficult, especially if the hon. Gentleman continues to giggle from the Opposition Front Bench as is his wont.
The real issue that faces the House is looking after the environment for the sake of our children. We are signed up to sustainable development. That means sustainability--not cheating on our children--and it means a commitment to growth. Those two things must be brought together for there is no evidence of life if there is not growth, and growth must not be bought at the cost of the next generation. The bill must be paid now.
That is why, in addition to the establishment of an environment agency for England and Wales and a Scottish environment protection agency, the Bill will contain the following measures. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will listen, because this will answer some of his questions.
First, the agency will have powers and duties relating to contaminated land, and amendments will be made to the powers and duties of local authorities, to achieve
Column 307consistency. Those provisions arise from the review of policy on contaminated land and liabilities, and I shall make a fuller announcement on the subject before the introduction of the Bill. That is the first of the areas that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned on which I think that I can give him full satisfaction.
Secondly, there will be new requirements to enhance the agency's abilities- -to make it much stronger--and enable it to deal with pollution from abandoned mines. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has not had much time to get in control of his brief, but he did not mention that subject. Most people would say that it is an important matter, not least in those parts of the country with long-standing problems of that type, which need a modern legislative framework.
Mr. Dobson: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends pressed for changes in the law on abandoned mines and took the opportunity to mention the subject during the passage of the various mining and coal industry Bills that have appeared before the House, so that idea is not a novelty?
Mr. Gummer: I am happy to be able to say that pressing for that has been a common view on both sides of the House, especially among Members of Parliament who represent constituencies affected by the problem. In the environment agency Bill, I am taking an early opportunity to do something about it. I merely pointed out that, for me, that was a major priority.
In addition, we have been working on one new recommendation, which will form part of the Bill and put Britain ahead of any other nation on producer responsibility. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras pressed hard the view that we should be leading the world on the environment for economic as well as moral reasons. I happen to agree, and that is why we will introduce provisions to support industry-led schemes for producer responsibility.
Recycling will thus become a central part of producers' responsibility. They have worked out the scheme themselves, and given us the basis. We shall work on it with them to complete it. I have no doubt that various alterations will be made to their proposals. I started by saying that it was likely that the most cost-effective way of delivering the scheme would be worked out by the people who were to do the delivering. In other words, the Government must set the targets and it is much better to get those who are best placed to discover the best means of delivering them. That will increase the proportion of material which is recycled significantly. We shall set the targets, and industry will deliver the goods within a legal framework which protects them from unfair competition from those who do not carry that responsibility.
That is the exact kind of cost-effective system for which I am looking. I do not see why it benefits anybody to make people pay more than they need to pay to achieve environmental benefits. Indeed, I think that the opposite is true. If we spend money that we do not need to spend on the environment in one area, we do not have it to spend in another area. Those who are silly enough to suggest that seeking cost-effective, cost-benefit arrangements are somehow anti-environment are surely missing the point.
Column 308Unless cost-effective measures are taken, and unless those measures are sensible ones in which there is a link between a gain and cost of that gain, we will not be able to afford the immense cost of the environmental improvements to which the Government are committed and which will be central to the Bill that I shall bring before Parliament.
Our example stands in strong contradiction to what happened in Germany, for example, where industry has been burdened with a system set up by a Government, with all the bureaucratic failures which a Government system has. It has ended up with the Germans disrupting the whole of the waste recycling system of the rest of Europe, and it has meant that Britain has had to pioneer, push through and finally succeed--or as near as damn it succeed--in producing a new regulation on the issue of waste. The German Government sought to use the bureaucratic methods normally associated with socialist Governments, and I am surprised at them--they ought to have known better. We in this country have dealt with the matter in two sensible ways. First, we have seen that there was a proper European directive to cover the whole of the European Union so that we act together in concert. That is a proper use of the European Union's powers and of the position of Brussels.
Secondly, we have insisted that the system works upon the principle of subsidiarity, so that we in Britain can produce our own scheme which will be bedded in the principle that the industry which produces the waste must not only deal with its recycling, but do so in a way which is best for the industry to achieve the ends which are set by the Community through the Government.
That is surely the way in which we should deal with environmental issues, and we have shown a lead not only in Europe, but in the world. We shall seek, through Commission on Sustainable Development conferences and other ways, to see that such methods are carried through elsewhere. That does not mean regulation for the sake of it. One respects and recognises the need for regulation, but we should not have unnecessary regulation.
Deregulation means getting rid of unnecessary regulations, making them simpler, making them work with the grain of industry instead of against it, making sure that we get the best value for money, and seeing that we have up-to-date regulations rather than carrying forward all kinds of stuff which has been stuck on the statute book for years. That is deregulation, and very sensible it is. We know that the Labour party does not like deregulation, because it likes regulating. It likes to be in charge--it is the party of centralised control. What has it said during the whole of this debate? "More power for local government . . . local government must do this . . . local government must do that." It does not mention partnership, but it mentions the people who are in centralised control in local government.
What did Labour local authorities not want? Labour did not want the schools to run themselves; the Opposition wanted them under centralised control, under the town hall or the county council. They did not want parents, teachers and governors to run the schools. They wanted local government to run them because, according to the Labour party, local government knows better.
Column 309So let us not be taken in by the Labour party's views of partnership. Its list of partners really amounted to the Government and local government. We believe in partnerships between ordinary people, local government, business and national government, all working together as they do in city challenge up and down the country. [Interruption.]
However much nonsense the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) may shout from a sedentary position, he should have accompanied me to Labour- controlled Hackney and Stratford, East the day before yesterday, where he would have seen real examples of partnerships, not just partnerships driven by local authorities. I certainly honour the role of local authorities, but that role should be as one partner to bring in the local community. A partnership should not consist only of those who happen to be part of a local authority net. This Session we shall certainly introduce measures to establish new independent authorities for the 10 national parks in England and Wales, and to revise parks' purposes. We said that we would do that; now we shall deliver it. The Opposition said that we would not do it or deliver it, so people would not respect us. We said that we would do it; we will; and people will support us for doing it.
We shall also introduce--this will please the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras--an enabling power for the preservation of hedgerows of particular value, and new arrangements for the payment of environmental grants. These measures too will form part of the Environmental Agency Bill. To prepare for that, I wish to announce to the House the names of the people who I hope will help us to move from the present system to the new agency system.
I am pleased to say that Lord De Ramsey has been prepared to serve as chairman. Councillor Harman has also been invited to join the committee. He is leader of Kirklees council and vice-chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, and he has been centrally involved with Agenda 21, the local authority organisation dealing with issues of sustainable development. In that capacity, he has shown himself able to bring together people of all political parties.
In addition, I have invited Peter Burnham, a former senior partner at Coopers and Lybrand and a member of the recently established HMIP advisory committee, to join. He is also a founder commission member of English Heritage. Another member of the group will be Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of Leicester city council. Hon. Members will remember that Leicester was Britain's first environment city. I shall also invite Nigel Haigh, director of the Institute of European Environment Policy and chairman of the Green Alliance, to join. Christopher Hampson, a former board member of ICI, chairman of the HMIP advisory committee, former chairman of the CBI's environment committee, and chairman of Yorkshire Electricity, will also serve. I shall include John Norris, an NRA board member nominated by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and a well-known expert in drainage matters. Then there is Mrs. Shirley Jackson, whose work as a fellow of the Society of Practitioners of Insolvency and whose business ability will bring to the agency the sort of tight
Column 310control over bureaucracy that my hon. Friends would like. There will be an additional member nominated by the Secretary of State for Wales.
I am especially pleased that Lord De Ramsey has agreed to be chairman. When I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was much concerned about the fact that drainage authorities had no conservation duties. Now, drainage is important when it comes to keeping the environment as we would like it to be.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras might have spoken differently if he had looked at the background and history to the duties of conservation. I was determined to introduce such measures to drainage authorities and the man who made it possible was the then chairman of the Association of Drainage Authorities, Lord De Ramsey. He has been prepared to stand up for conservation not only among the people he represented as president of the Country Landowners Association but on his own farm, where he has carried out a great deal of work which has become a model for people roundabout and beyond. He has delivered the answer to many conservation concerns and hon. Members would honour him for that.
Another aspect of Lord De Ramsey's work should commend itself to the House. He will now withdraw as a member of the board of the long-established Cambridge water company. It recently sank a new borehole some way from Cambridge, and I went to see it and open the pump assembly. That was part of another aspect of conservation that concerns us, because conservation is not just about flora and fauna, which are important, but about the man-made part of Britain's environment.
The way in which that water company has ensured that its installations should clearly blend with the other buildings of a historic village and estate is impressive. I could mention a number of other utilities where that concern has not been dealt with as directly. I was pleased to note that in my discussions with Lord De Ramsey he supported the change in wording of the conservation duty to which I have referred.
We shall also be transferring to the environment agency HMIP's functions under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, and we shall simplify the authorisation procedures, to make them not less stringent but very much clearer. I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased about that.
Mr. Dobson: The Minister said that the hedgerow legislation would be an enabling measure. Who will be enabled by that? I am not in the habit of commenting on the background of people I know nothing about. The only two people mentioned by the Minister whom I know about are John Harman and Imtiaz Farookhi, who are both excellent. If there are to be local authority representatives on the board of the agency or agencies, I hope that the Secretary of State will consider allowing local authorities to nominate some of their members or to proffer alternatives from which the Minister might choose. In this case, perhaps we could see who two of the alternatives might be.
Mr. Gummer: I do not envisage the environment agency advisory committee, which is what it has to be while legislation is going through Parliament, as having a representative function. I have tried to make it a group of
Column 311people whose interests are widely spread and who can make personal contributions and have the credibility of great standing. I hope that no one suggests that Councillor Harman is anything other than a good representative of local authorities.
[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman did not say that he was not, but he said that people should be representative. I do not see the agency in that way.
One of the problems about the representation of local authorities which have a number of different organisations within them is that one could not have an effective committee with the range of representation that might be convenient for them. Therefore, I have done my best to get the balance which I hope the hon. Gentleman thinks is right. To have both the chief executive and the leader of a local council on a committee of some eight people, plus a chairman, is not a bad way to try to ensure that local authorities are fully covered.
I understand the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) about playing fields. The planning arrangements about the use of playing fields are tough. I made a number of decisions recently in which it was made quite clear that I would not allow playing fields to be developed. I respect my right hon. Friend's views on the matter, which I have looked at before. I shall look again to see whether we need to tighten up in any way, but my impression is that the arrangements are already fairly tight. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend about the enormous changes in Brent. It is a good example of not throwing money at problems but running the show properly. That is what has made the difference. The Conservative Brent council is now running the show at a much lower cost to the council tax payer than was the case under Labour, and it is running it extremely well. To win prizes for services that used to be nominated as the worst in the country, when the Conservative council has been in power for only just over three years, is a remarkable achievement, and one that is clearly recognised as worth while by the people of Brent.
There are difficulties with development appeals, which was another point raised by my right hon. Friend. After all, what we are doing is telling people that they cannot do what they want on land upon which they should have a right to do just that. We restrict people's rights, so naturally they have an appeal that is different in form from others. I think that that is about the right balance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) raised the question of the National Rivers Authority and navigation issues. I do not think that anything that we are doing will in any way weaken the position of those concerned with navigation. If he has a particular point, I shall be happy to consider it. I am certainly looking at the problem of crushers. I agree with him about their value. The problem is that they make a great deal of dust in many cases and there must be some sensible regulation. If my hon. Friend has any particular cases he wants to raise, I shall consider them. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) courteously explained that he could not remain until the end of the debate. However, I must point out that he has again called for an unfair voting system. In
Column 312Germany, for example, it ensures that the smallest party remains in government for ever. He wants an unfair voting system, and I think that I know why.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) about the Royal Mail. It will suffer because privatisation has been put off, when in fact it is the answer to the problems.
I say directly to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that I go around the world selling British industry. We are making considerable inroads and our exports are up in a big way. Many of the companies that are most effective in selling environmental goods, services and new techniques are the British privatised water companies. Yet, in all he said, he did not say a single word about the many jobs and the considerable amount of extra wealth that has come into this country because of privatisation, and especially through the water companies. I am sorry that he is not yet able to admit that.
The difficulty with the Labour party is that it is so much behind the times. No other Labour party would speak as the British Labour party does. In his speech, the hon. Gentleman was more out of date than any spokesman of any Labour party in the whole of Europe. No one speaks like him. Indeed, I do not think that the ex-communists in eastern Germany would speak like him--yet he is supposed to be a moderate, even behind his beard. He made a speech that would not have sounded out of place in 1932. He must grow up in the world in which we live, not in one--
[Interruption.] Oh, all right, I shall give way.
Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, in the 1930s, the people were better off and had better housing and better opportunities. With or without the beard, that is beyond the bounds of credibility.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) was right about the rail link; we must carefully consider the points that he raised.
I must tell the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that the newspaper report he mentioned has no basis. It is the NRA that decides the areas concerned. It then goes to each and recommends whether it needs primary, secondary or tertiary treatment. It has not yet done the survey for Hull. When it does, it will give the advice, not me. It is not my responsibility, nor would I want to have it. It is a technical responsibility.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras cannot resist the party politicisation of everything, even the location of the Hull estuary. He is not interested in the environment, but only in the Labour party's fortunes. I was thrilled to be able to announce today, for the first time in a little while, that the Conservatives not only won a by-election from Labour in Hackney but pushed the Liberal party to the bottom of the poll. I suspect that will be the order in which the Government will be returned to the House at the next general election.
Column 313We ought to support in particular the elements in the Queen's Speech that relate to the environment agencies Bill, for we will then give the kind of tough protection to the environment that is necessary.
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Monday 21 November.
That European Community Documents Nos. 10904/93, 8037/94 and 8618/94, relating to two- and three-wheeled vehicles, shall not stand referred to European Standing Committee A; and European Community Documents Nos. COM(94)400 and 8782/94, relating to the draft general budget for 1995, shall not stand referred to European Standing Committee B.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
Motion made, and Question put,
That the Speaker shall--
(1) at the sitting on Thursday 24th November
(i) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to Deregulation (Procedure) not later than two hours after their commencement, and such Questions shall include the Questions on any amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved; (ii) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to two- and three-wheeled vehicles not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; and
(iii) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1994 not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings thereon; and
(2) at the sitting on Monday 28th November put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to the European Communities' 1995 Budget not later than one and a half hours after their commencement;
and the aforesaid Motions may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich): East London, north and south of the River Thames, is an area of higher unemployment than the rest of London. It has more housing problems and poor transport connections to the rest of London. North of the river, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets are first, second and third in the Department of the Environment's league tables of urban deprivation. South of the river, Greenwich ranks 28th in the Department's list of the 100 most deprived urban councils.
My constituency has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the country, a training and enterprise council that increasingly looks unable to deliver, and adult male unemployment around the town centre in the region of 50 per cent.
The name Greenwich conjures up images of the Cutty Sark, Greenwich park, the royal observatory, the famous Queen's house of Inigo Jones, Wren's masterpiece of the Royal Naval college and Georgian terraces--the Greenwich that tourists see. Few glimpse the reality for ordinary families in the borough, which has unemployment rates higher than in Bolsover or Blyth Valley.
Unemployment levels in my own constituency of Woolwich are higher than in Bootle, Hartlepool, Knowsley, Newcastle or Salford. Together with the boroughs on the north bank of the river, Woolwich also has development potential. At the heart of the town centre are 75 acres of derelict industrial land owned by the Ministry of Defence, which once housed the royal arsenal. In its heyday, the arsenal employed 80,000 people on that site--the largest factory in Europe. Today, it is derelict. To the east, there are hundreds of acres of development land in Thamesmead. To the west, there is the Blackwall peninsula--derelict land that once housed the now- defunct metropolitan gas works.
In that picture of gloom there are enormous opportunities for change; that is already occurring in the London docklands north of the river, where there are well-formulated plans for the Blackwall peninsula. The biggest drawback to development is transport. East and south-east London have poor public transport links to the rest of London, and south-east London is the worst served of all. Indecision about investment in public transport and uncertainty in the vacuum created by the Minister's announcement last June of the withdrawal of proposals for the east London river crossing are hindering development and job opportunities in the area.
Woolwich boasts one of the modern wonders of the world--the Thames barrier. That is a superb feat of civil engineering, but the Thames itself is a barrier to communities and to development that is difficult to overcome. The Thames could be used as a means of transport. It offers possibly the quickest way into central London, but there are no commuter services--only tourist boats. There could be traffic across the river, but apart from the Ford ferry which transports workers from Belvedere to Dagenham, there is only the Woolwich ferry--the floating link between the north and south circular roads in which the Department of Transport has
Column 315failed to invest and which it has neglected to modernise, resulting in queues and congestion as boats are taken out of service. For motorists in south-east and east London, there are two depressing announcements on the morning radio. One is, "Only one boat is working on the Woolwich ferry," and the other is, "Overheight vehicle stuck in the Blackwall tunnel." I have to tell the Minister that there were two of the latter this morning.
The Government's preferred solution to those problems was to build more roads. I am aware that there was much lobbying for a motorway to link docklands on the northern side with the M2 and M20 south of the river and the channel ports; for enhanced capacity on the M25 crossing--the construction of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. There was pressure for improved access across or under the river at Blackwall. The Government appear to have listened to those voices, but to have ignored all the possible public transport solutions and put all their eggs in the road- building basket. But they came unstuck over the east London river crossing. They planned to build a motorway across the Thames, through Thamesmead and the residential areas of Abbey Wood and Plumstead--areas with some of the highest incidences of asthma and child respiratory illness in the south- east--and then through Woolwich's Oxleas wood, destroying an 8,000-year-old ancient woodland and site of special scientific interest.
Clearly, the Government had not anticipated the strength of the environmental concerns. The battle over the east London river crossing led to what I understand was the longest planning inquiry on record. The Secretary of State was taken to the High Court by local residents. The European Environment Commissioner issued a reasoned opinion that the Government had breached the European directive on environmental impact. What started as a small, local
campaign--Plumstead Against the River Crossing--became Londonwide, then national and eventually international. It was discussed at the Rio summit and gained support from the rainforest campaigners in southern America. It eventually led to the Minister coming to the House last June to say that the proposals did not measure up to the Government's current environmental standards.
The problem was that, all the time that that was going on, the area along the line of the proposed road was blighted. Homes fell into disrepair and decay, not just the 258 homes due to be demolished to make way for the road, but the surrounding area as well. The problem now is that, although the original proposals for the east London river crossing have been withdrawn, the Government appear to remain wedded to the idea of a strategic road linking docklands north of the river to the M20 and the M2. They cannot work out how to get around, over, under or through Oxleas wood. They have not cancelled the compulsory purchase orders and have not withdrawn the line order, so the area which has been blighted for the past 20 years remains blighted. But I urge the Minister, having seen the situation for himself yesterday, to accept that the east London river crossing will not be built and to lift the blight on the Abbey Wood and Plumstead area.
I am aware that there are discussions with the private sector about the possibility of a road bridge linking Barking with Thamesmead and stopping at the Thamesmead spine road. The Minister will know that I
Column 316have reservations about such a proposal. I accept that it might produce some benefits for Thamesmead, but it would also pose problems in terms of traffic generation for Woolwich, Belvedere, Erith and, possibly, Dartford, too. If that east London river crossing were ever built, it should not exclusively be a road bridge, because at very little extra cost it could carry the docklands light railway south of the river to Thamesmead, and I can see that as a very real plus for the area.
If the little east London river crossing--the bridge from Barking to Thamesmead--is an option that the Minister wishes to explore, he could go out to consultation on that and we could examine in detail the benefits and disbenefits of that proposal, but in the meantime he should withdraw the line order through Abbey Wood and Plumstead for the big east London river crossing and help the regeneration of housing in that area.
I implore the Minister to look seriously at the public transport alternatives. I draw his attention to the east London rail studies. In 1989, the then Secretary of State pointed to the need to improve rail services to docklands and east Thameside. The earlier central rail studies had been about relieving congestion, but the east London rail studies stressed the developmental role of public transport provision. The first east London rail studies report referred to regeneration and was probably the first official report to highlight the need for a rail link across the Thames to Woolwich, which would extend the docklands effect east and south. It was clear that a public transport river crossing would have advantages over a road crossing: less noise, less pollution, less disturbance during construction, less community severance, greater development potential, higher safety, less demolition and land acquisition and less harm to local ecology.
The proposed Woolwich rail crossing enjoys the support of the London Docklands development corporation, London Transport, British Rail, Railtrack, Union Rail and the local authorities in the area. London Transport and the London docklands corporation now propose a core scheme linking the north London line with the north Kent line and the provision of new cross-river services between Stratford and Abbey Wood. I hope that a spur to Thamesmead will also be built at little extra cost. The Woolwich metro fits into the Government's east Thames corridor, Thames gateway initiative and core services could be extended east to Dartford and possibly to the proposed international passenger station at Ebbsfleet. A new station could be provided at Silvertown, with a possible link to City airport, and the existing Woolwich-Arsenal station could be utilised.
The project is clearly attractive to the private sector and the project group, consisting of London Transport, British Rail, Railtrack and the London Docklands development corporation, is looking into those possibilities. But the scheme will require a public sector contribution and the Government's reticence could be a major contributor to delay.
The local authorities most affected--Greenwich and Newham--have not been invited to participate in the project group or its steering group. In view of the significance of the rail crossing for Woolwich and the direct impact on Woolwich town centre, I hope that the Minister will argue for the borough council to be a full member of the group. The LDDC, as the planning authority for the north bank, is fully represented on both groups and will, no doubt, be safeguarding its essential
Column 317interests. Greenwich, as the planning authority for the south bank, ought to have similar representation. I understand that the LDDC and London Transport are sympathetic to that proposal, but that opposition is coming from Railtrack. I enlist the Minister's support in rectifying that.
The east London rail study has looked at the benefits in terms of development and job creation. It has looked at the possible relief on other overcrowded lines, but it has not yet estimated the benefits from reduced rail overcrowding. It has not considered the benefits from reduced congestion on the road network, nor have the environmental impacts been evaluated and compared with road options. Even without assessing those additional benefits, the arguments to press ahead with the Woolwich metro are convincing. I hope, however, that we will not see delay, such that we saw over the Jubilee line extension, as the Government dither about whether there is to be public investment. The scheme is too important for the future economy of Woolwich and north Kent and to the successful development of the royal docks to insist on private capital alone being responsible for its construction. It must be a partnership, with the Government playing a full part.
We had delay and anxiety over the Jubilee line extension and then uncertainty about a station on the southern side at Blackwall. What nonsense it would have been to build the Jubilee line extension crossing the river twice from north to south and north again and not provide a station on the south side. What an opportunity will be missed now if the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham does not have a station at Cutty Sark gardens, despite an undertaking by the Government that a station would be included. I hope that the Minister recognises the near impossibility of getting a private funding package of £14 million together by January 1995 and that he will persuade the Department of the Environment to allow the project to go to tender in the new year with the options open regarding the Cutty Sark station.
Finally, I come to the proposed Blackwall third crossing. Clearly, the impact of a third crossing at Blackwall, together with the Woolwich metro, will need to be assessed in relation to the perceived need for an east London river crossing. It is the view of Greenwich council that the Woolwich metro plus the Blackwall scheme would be sufficient to meet transport needs in the area. Of course, the Minister will be aware of local arguments against the third crossing at Blackwall. I share the concerns on both sides of the river about the adverse environmental impact of a high- level bridge on the residents, especially those in Tower Hamlets, the blight and adverse effect with regard to the land-take on the Greenwich peninsula and potential traffic effects. However, at the end of the day, if the Minister is convinced of the need for a third crossing at Blackwall, I urge him to consider seriously the tunnel option.
Yesterday, the leader of Greenwich council, Councillor Len Duvall, suggested to the Minister that, instead of piecemeal consultations on individual projects, there should be widespread consultation in a meaningful way with the local authorities on a comprehensive package of measures to meet the needs of the east Thames area. I know that Councillor Duvall and his colleagues in Greenwich, as well as those in Newham and Tower Hamlets, I am sure, are willing to work positively with
Column 318the Minister to ensure that the developments in the east Thames corridor bring lasting benefits to the local community. The Woolwich rail tunnel is crucial to the economic regeneration of Woolwich and north-east Kent and is crucial to the successful development of the royal docks as well.