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Sir George Young: It would be churlish of me not to welcome the remarks welcoming my announcement that the hon. Lady made at the beginning of her question,but, with respect, she has totally missed the point. It is precisely because we are privatising Railtrack that we can make progress with the capital investment without the need to impose extra obligations on the taxpayer or to borrow more money.

The hon. Lady would be unable to make the statement that I have just made, because she would not proceed with the privatisation of Railtrack. The hon. Lady is not allowed to make any public expenditure commitments, and she could not have made the statement that I have just made because, under a nationalised Railtrack,it would cost extra money. It is because we are privatising Railtrack that we can make faster progress with the project than the Labour party could.

On the hon. Lady's more specific questions, I made it clear in my statement that there will not be any impact on the franchising director's budget. The effect will be

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neutral, because the additional revenues generated by the capital investment will remove the need for subsidy.On the question of progress, I said that we hoped the project would be up and running within six years. I hope that Railtrack will proceed with the Transport and Works Act 1992 process towards the end of the year.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South): Given that a recent comparative study of European capitals put London in first place both for international access and for access within the city, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on today's announcement? May I press him on the timing of a further statement about crossrail?

Sir George Young: As I implied in my statement,I hope to make a statement shortly about the progress that we are making with the channel tunnel rail link, but at this stage I cannot go any further in answer to my right hon. Friend's request.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): We welcome the Secretary of State's announcement about the progress--at last--of Thameslink, although we have some reservations about the routeing through London Bridge, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is somewhat concerned.

Will the Secretary of State tell us his views on the effect of linking the Thameslink project with the channel tunnel rail link, because that could be a recipe for further delay? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance today that the Thameslink projects can be carried out as advance works for the channel tunnel rail link works? That is a very important point. I am equally concerned that it now appears that crossrail will be delayed until after Thameslink and the channel tunnel rail link are in place. Is that so?

Finally, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that provision will be made for an interchange at Farringdon to connect Thameslink with crossrail? That is a very important point for overall access to the system.

Sir George Young: On the first question, there have been informal consultations with the London boroughs involved, and they have given a general welcome to what is planned, but they have reserved their position under the Transport and Works Act 1992. That process will give the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey(Mr. Hughes) and others an opportunity to make their points to the inspector about the impact of the works on specific buildings and on the environment.

As for the CTRL, the box required for the station for Thameslink 2000 is an integral part of the St. Pancras tunnel, and the works will proceed in parallel.

I owe my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) a response on crossrail. As I said in my statement, I expect crossrail to come after the Jubilee line extension and Thameslink 2000. That is a sensible sequence; I am sure that the House will recognise that we cannot do all these major projects at the same time.

The Farringdon interchange will be a matter for crossrail when that project begins.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I had the responsibility--nay, the privilege--as a Back Bencher, of

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introducing the original Thameslink Bill--the British Rail (London) Bill--to the House as opposed private business. I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which is, in effect, a mark 2 development of that original project. Will he confirm that this project will be a boon not just for all Londoners but for many people wanting to cross London from one side to the other? Of all the projects brought before this House, this must be the ideal one for employing private finance.

Sir George Young: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's pioneering work in promoting legislation in earlier Parliaments which assisted the development of the railways. When he joined the Government, I inherited from him a private Bill dealing with King's Cross, which I then had the privilege of promoting.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the benefits go far wider than Londoners alone. Those who want to travel through London will benefit enormously from the strengthening of the links between the rail network to the north and south of London. My hon. Friend is quite right to stand back and take a strategic view of my announcement.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I declare an interest as a Member sponsored by the rail drivers' union, ASLEF. I welcome the Government's long-awaited decision on the project; but does not Railtrack's financial investment depend on the Government wiping out part of Railtrack's outstanding debt? Far from being rooted firmly in the private sector, will not the bulk of the money for the project come from the public sector--although such profits as are made,if the Government do not rethink rail privatisation, will go into private pockets?

Sir George Young: It would be churlish of me not to thank the hon. Lady for welcoming the project. I am delighted that ASLEF may also support it. The figures I quoted show that the Government are making a modest contribution: £100 million out of £650 million. As I said in the statement, we shall take account of Thameslink 2000 when setting the capital structure for Railtrack, but I expect that Railtrack with Thameslink will be a more attractive investment for investors, because it offers the potential for growth.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and I will warmly welcome today's announcement, providing that it benefits my constituency as well as other parts of the south-east? Is he further aware that the Thameslink services extend at the moment along the Kent coast line only as far as Sevenoaks? Can he assure me that, as a result of today's important announcement, Thameslink services can be extended along the Maidstone East line and through Tonbridge along the Kent coast line as well?

Sir George Young: The answer to my right hon. Friend's last point is yes. A number of train operators will be looking to offer additional services as a result of the expansion of capacity.

The announcement will certainly be of benefit to Kent commuters going to Charing Cross, because it increases capacity around Borough Market, where there is often

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congestion. Extra provision for Thameslink traffic will ease the flow of Kent commuter traffic into Charing Cross.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a welcome for this announcement, in principle, on both sides of the House? That welcome, however, is qualified, because there is little in it that could not have been done some 10 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman has merely announced linkages and an enhancement of the current service.

Does the Secretary of State agree that a drawback of Thameslink 2000 is the lack of an interchange with the Central line, which is important pending the east-west opening of crossrail? Would it not be better to look at the possibility of an interchange in the Snow Hill area--there is none at the moment--to make the service of even greater use?

Sir George Young: I should like to reflect on the hon. Gentleman's last point. He is right, in that I have detected a broad welcome for my announcement, although there has been some carping criticism from Opposition Members about the Government's investment in London Transport. It is worth putting on record the fact that total investment by London Transport in the current year is forecast to be about £1 billion, which is four times as great in real terms as in 1979.

Sir Michael Grylls (North-West Surrey): Does my right hon. Friend agree that his announcement is yet another example--no doubt others will follow--of removing the dead hand of nationalisation from the railway network, and enabling private sector capital to come forward to provide important and badly needed infrastructure?

Will my right hon. Friend be a little kind to the Opposition, who are in a difficult position? They bitterly fought the privatisation of the railways, and therefore cannot welcome something that they would have welcomed had the railways still been nationalised.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right.A dilemma confronts the Labour party. Many of the projects to which my hon. Friend has alluded are possible only because we have privatised nationalised industries. Without embracing the Government's approach, the Opposition would not be able to make progress with projects such as the one that I have announced, without increasing either borrowing or taxation.

My hon. Friend rightly says that several projects in London are being taken forward under the private finance initiative. There is the Lewisham extension of the docklands light railway. Other examples are the Heathrow express, Northern line trains and the Jubilee line extension. All these imaginative partnerships between the public and private sectors have been taken forward by a Conservative Government.

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