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26 Nov 2002 : Column 41WH—continued

2012 Olympic Games

12.30 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): I want to use this short debate to add my voice to those supporting a British bid to host the Olympic games in 2012.

The bid would be based in, but not exclusive to London. The sports enthusiast in me would relish the chance to see the world's greatest athletes competing against one another in our great capital city. Which sports fan would not want the chance to see great Olympic performances in their own country, following in the footsteps of Linford Christie, Tanni Gray or more recently the remarkable Steve Redgrave? Enthusiasm for sport alone is not a good enough reason to bid for the Olympic games. We should bid because of the galvanising impact of the Olympics on its host city and nation.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and his colleague the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Government have been entirely right in the way that they have approached the issue thus far by working alongside the British Olympic Association, the London development agency and the Mayor of London to commission a full analysis of the cost and benefit implications of bidding for and hosting an Olympic games and a Paralympic games. Given that joint working is one essential prerequisite for a successful bid and event, the joint work thus far has been very encouraging.

I welcome, too, Ministers' determination to assess the legacy of past Olympic games, with visits to Sydney and Barcelona, and to look at the legacy that future games will bring by a visit to Beijing. That is an appropriate way in which to take an open-minded approach to the issue. The early clarity that the Secretary of State gave in a debate on the Gracious Address was welcome, too. She set out criteria that the Government would use in judging whether to back a bid: affordability, deliverability and legacy. She also gave a welcome commitment for a longer debate in Government time to allow the House to consider the merits of an Olympic bid.

The Arup report is very clear. We cannot afford to wait for the chance to host an Olympic games in 2016. We either bid now for 2012, or the next realistic possibility that we will ever have of winning the chance to host the games will be for 2024. Even if a non-European city were chosen for 2012, the bidding experience gained would be invaluable for a 2016 bid. The Arup report estimates that the cost of bidding for the games would be £13 million, of which £6 million could come from the private sector. Given the likely benefits for tourism and other business activity, that is pretty good value. Even if we do not win, an Olympic bid will help to forge new and deeper partnerships to help tackle the regeneration of the Thames gateway area, for example.

The real concerns about affordability centre first on the figure of £2 billion, which is confusingly quoted by some as the net cost of hosting the games, and secondly on whether such a figure is too low given the theoretically inevitable cost overruns. It is worth placing on record that the £2 billion figure is not the predicted

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net cost as it does not take into account the income from the sale of sporting rights, from ticket sales and so on. There has been much misinformation about the cost of previous Olympic games, which has lead some people to speculate that costs for every Olympic games are likely to overrun. The Sydney games actually made a small profit on running costs, and both Sydney and Atlanta hit their financial targets broadly speaking. The one financial element in Atlanta that did not match the original budget was the cost of security, following the bomb that went off. There were significant differences between the overall costs of the Barcelona games to the public purse and the original estimate of those costs. It is important to remember that a new high-speed rail link and a motorway link are additional benefits that the Olympics helped to deliver once decisions to be more ambitious about the legacy of the games had been taken. Certainly, the Athens games are likely to be substantially more expensive than originally envisaged. Just about every new infrastructure project that the games have required Athens to build has been held up by archaeological issues. That is not a concern that we are likely to have to confront with a London games based in the lower Lea valley and Stratford area.

We can have confidence in Arup's financial modelling, not least because it allows for significant cost overruns in the years closest to the games when the amount of building work will be at its height. Arup estimates that at 2002 prices the games would cost about £1.8 billion, with a likely income of some £1.3 billion—a net cost of almost £500 million. As the excellent British Olympic Association points out, that does not include any income from the European Union. It is worth noting that Athens has managed to secure some £1.4 billion for Olympic-related projects. Given that some of the local authorities where the games would be held have objective 2 status, there remains a real possibility that, like Athens, we could secure additional financial support from the EU.

Another element to factor into any consideration of the financial costs and benefits of hosting an Olympic games is the likely increase in tourism, the value of which Arup conservatively estimates to be up to £610 million. An independent study recently suggested that more than £2 billion in inbound tourism spending in Australia was directly attributable to the staging of the Olympics in Sydney. In summary, Arup estimates that there is a gap of almost £500 million, which could completely, or to a large extent alone, be compensated for by the additional tourism benefits generated—apart from the wider legacy, which I shall discuss now.

The financial appraisal does not include any element of the additional income coming into the UK or any assessment of the extra jobs created. For Barcelona alone, it is estimated that the net economic impact equated to about £11 billion. Arup estimates that some 3,000 full-time jobs would be created just within the east London economy, not including any extra employment generated elsewhere. Nor did the financial analysis cover the regeneration of the Thames gateway area. There would be some 4,000 new housing units, all built on brownfield land, together with large-scale reclamation of contaminated, derelict and under-utilised land. That would have massive regeneration benefits.

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Another key aspect of the legacy of the games is the additional facilities that are required for visiting Olympic athletes to train, which can also provide increased opportunities for grassroots sport in the United Kingdom. New swimming pools have been identified as being fundamental. The capital has just one 50 m pool, which could be used for competition, although it is in need of refurbishment. In addition, many sports need all-purpose halls for training, which would necessitate significant investment in the capital's leisure facilities, many of which are in varying degrees of repair.

As the British Olympic Association points out, in the run-up to the games visiting teams would need training camps dotted around the UK. The Americans might want to be based in Manchester, or the Russians in Birmingham, which would inject significant sums of money into those regional economies. Many of the events that will be held during the games do not have to take place in London. Football could be played at a variety of venues around the country—perhaps at Sheffield, which would give my right hon. Friend the Minister's constituents an opportunity to see high-quality football again.

To secure a lasting legacy from the Commonwealth games in Manchester, Sport England developed new training and activity strategies based on the new facilities bequeathed by the games. A new national squash centre was required as part of its funding agreement to produce a clearly thought through development strategy, which, it is predicted, will lead to 8,000 children from the north-west visiting it to play squash. A fundamental part of the games could and should be to develop participation, coaching and club management structures, as well as to improve the sporting infrastructure.

The games in Sydney and Manchester relied on an extensive volunteer pool. The experience of Sydney has shown that that culture of volunteerism has continued, with people becoming auxiliary officers, community workers, teaching assistants and so on. Some 10,000 volunteers were recruited and trained for the Manchester Commonwealth games—the youngest were 16 and the oldest 87. About 15 per cent. of them were recruited from ethnic minorities and 5,000 from disadvantaged areas of the north-west. More than 1,800 achieved a specially devised, nationally accredited qualification. Manchester has re-proven the case that a major sporting event can be a catalyst for economic and social regeneration. In addition, as UK Sport has highlighted, elite sport will also benefit from a home competition, which provides more role models and inspiration to generations of young people.

London and the UK already enjoy a high international profile, but it is likely that the global marketing opportunity offered by the Olympics would generate additional inward investment into the UK. Sydney and Atlanta have highlighted that as a significant benefit from the games hosted in their cities. The last element of the legacy of such games, aside from transport, is the impact on national prestige that hosting the largest sports event in the world brings the host city and nation.

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The last criterion that the Government will use to judge whether to bid, which my right hon. Friend announced in her speech, is deliverability. To paraphrase some of the sceptics in the media, after the problems in securing Wembley, the decision to cancel Picketts Lock and the experience of the dome's finances, have we really the capability to deliver such a large sporting event, and will we have sorted out London's transport needs by then? It is worth reminding those sceptics that Britain annually stages Wimbledon, the Open golf championship and the London marathon to global acclaim. The Manchester games were delivered to the very highest standards, and no less a figure than Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, has confirmed his belief that Britain could stage a highly creditable bid. We are bidding with confidence to host the 2007 rugby World cup—which I know all hon. Members will expect Wales to win—and we successfully hosted the 1996 European football championships. We have a good track record in delivering sporting events successfully.

Sceptics also point to London's transport difficulties, but new airport capacity at Heathrow, such as the new terminal 5, or at Stansted will ensure that there is sufficient capacity for overseas arrivals by aeroplane. The channel tunnel rail link through to Stratford will be up and running by then. Although Crossrail is not essential in securing effective transport for the Olympic games, the completion of the central London element will undoubtedly help. Arup remains confident, after discussions with London's transport experts, that the projected number of journeys by transport to and from the Olympic zones can be handled without delays or unacceptable disruption to normal travel patterns in London. Undoubtedly, the deadline of an Olympic games will help further to concentrate minds among London's transport planners, which can only be beneficial to those of us who live in London and experience the daily frustration of commuting at the moment.

Another element of the deliverability calculation could be described as the Ken factor. Can all the myriad forms of government—the local authorities, the London development agency, the Mayor, the Greater London Authority, Sport England, UK Sport, the British Olympic Association and the various Government Departments that would be involved—really be expected to work together effectively? They worked together effectively to make the Manchester games a success and they work together effectively in the various other international sporting events that we continue to host. That does not only happen for other sporting events here; it is worth putting on the record the experience of Barcelona, where many of the same problems were faced and people overcame them successfully, with considerable positive benefit for their city. In Barcelona, the state, provincial, city, port, tourism and redevelopment authorities and agencies all successfully worked together through a single regeneration plan, using the Olympics as a catalyst for what most people recognise as a highly successful example of urban transformation. If they could do it, we can certainly do it in London. Just bidding for the games would help to create additional pressures to promote agency co-operation.

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In short, I believe that London could host the Olympic games at a much lower cost than is perhaps widely accepted at the moment. In the process, it could effectively secure a legacy of benefits, including the regeneration of the east London-Thames gateway area, additional certainty about transport quality and significant new social housing units, not to mention the extra investment in sporting facilities for community use and the mass new programmes to increase participation in sport at all levels.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and I am sorry that a prolonged telephone call meant that I missed the first minute or two of his speech. He has made an extremely cogent case and it will be considered by many people who are anxious to see the matter progress.

On deliverability, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, notwithstanding the Conservative party's current difficulties, it is possible that between now and 2012 there will be a Conservative Mayor of London and/or a Conservative Government. Although we, like the Government, are not in any position to write blank cheques, I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman, the Minister and those who are watching our deliberations, that we are very supportive of the Government's efforts to progress the bid.

Mr. Thomas : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his statement of Conservative support for an Olympics bid. His analysis of the chances of having a Conservative Mayor of London and a Conservative Government is perhaps best suited to dreams, rather than reality.

Hosting the Olympics would be a considerable boost to the tourism industry in both London and the United Kingdom as a whole and would result in a whole range of other benefits for British business. The Olympic games are the greatest sporting event in the world and having them in our country would undoubtedly be a powerful inspiration to get involved in sport. That in turn would help our efforts to tackle obesity, reduce crime and generally raise the aspirations and ambitions of all our communities. I hope that there will be a bid to host the games.

12.47 pm

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) for giving me this opportunity to support what has been said so far. Like my hon. Friend, I come at the issue from the point of view of a sports fan. However, we have to have a realistic head on when we approach something as major as the Olympic games. I would love to see the Olympic games in London. I have no doubts about that.

I have not had an opportunity to visit the Olympic games elsewhere in the world. Like many people, I have had to watch them on television. The games inspire a generation of people to watch sport at its best and to see the best competition in the world. There are other world athletics championships and other forums in which people are able to compete, but nothing compares to the magic of the Olympic games and the desire for that gold medal. Money and professionalism have not totally spoiled the Olympic games. Once every four years, there is still that idealistic desire to be the best in the world.

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As a non-London Member, I would like to ensure that this is not just a London-focused Olympics bid. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West has reassured me on that point. He made several comments about the ability of other parts of the country to benefit from the Olympic games. For example, he mentioned Birmingham and Manchester as being suitable sites for the Americans or the Russians. I am sure that Loughborough would probably be considered first, given the excellent facilities at the university and the support that could be provided. I am sure that my constituency would be on the list of places that would benefit from providing such a base for a major nation.

My hon. Friend also rightly pointed out that many of the major sports would not necessarily be based in London. It is possible for many of those sports to be located in the rest of the United Kingdom and still not be that far away. Obviously, the Australian model provides a clear example. Some of the sports were not held at the headquarters, but were spread around. The lack of time differences and the travel distances in the United Kingdom mean that it would be possible for teams to be based centrally and to participate in sports in Birmingham, Manchester and other parts of the country without too many difficulties.

My major concern still comes down to the general or net cost of the Olympics. I fully accept my hon. Friend's arguments that it would not be the £2 billion figure that is bandied around. However, we must identify from where even a net cost of £500 million would come. Based on my experience and that of others who are here today, there would be some cost overrun as well. For example, the Commonwealth games, which were a fantastic success, needed interim and other funding just to ensure that they happened. My fear is that the £500 million might creep up. If it does, we must be clear at an early stage exactly where the shortfall will come from, because there is a real danger that we could fall into the same trap that we have fallen into previously.

I believe that we have the ability to deliver. Anyone who visited the Commonwealth games in Manchester will have seen the enthusiasm of the crowds. I caught a bus with a group of schoolchildren who were going from the railway station to the Commonwealth games. There was a fantastic atmosphere before they arrived, and they spent the rest of the afternoon screaming about absolutely everything that happened. I hope that the legacy of that enthusiasm will be not just an enjoyable afternoon but that those children will be able and willing to carry their enthusiasm into their homes, schools and clubs. I want to hear stories in 10 or 15 years about people collecting gold medals who were inspired to join an athletics club by the Commonwealth games in 2002.

As a general supporter, I believe that there is an enormous amount of work still to be done, but I want to ensure that we get it absolutely right. I was sceptical about our ability to do it and the reasons for doing it until I visited the site in Australia. Recently, I met the mayor of New York, who is enthusiastic about the bid that that city wants to put together. If New York thinks that it can do it with the transport problems that it has, I see no reason why London should not also do so.

It would be a brave decision. I hope that the Government listen very carefully and are not put off by the failure, or whatever one wants to call it, of our 2006

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World cup bid. The unique circumstances of that bid meant that from the beginning it was very difficult, to put it politely, to succeed. We have a fair wind on our side for the 2012 bid. Therefore, we stand a good chance from the beginning, whereas unfortunately our 2006 World cup bid was scuppered right from the start.

Our bid must be such that it is seen worldwide as a great advertisement not only for London but for sport itself. We must ensure that our sporting heroes are involved, because they inspire young people. Key to making it work are club structures and national governing bodies that are ready and willing to pick up individuals who are inspired by the Olympics. There is a small window in which the inspiration of the Olympics can be translated into people joining clubs and in which it can result in a lasting legacy. Wimbledon is an example of that. No one can get a municipal tennis court for the two weeks of Wimbledon, but activity drops off again for the rest of the year. We must ensure that the club structure brings in enthusiastic people.

Finally, I also want to ensure that if money is found for this it is not money that would otherwise be used for the day-to-day grassroots support for sport in this country. We must consider carefully the danger that we may fund a one-off that lasts just a few weeks and offers no lasting legacy of regeneration or benefit for UK sport as a whole.

In conclusion, I am an enthusiast but I am also a realist. I am 90 per cent. convinced. I hope that as the debate continues during the coming weeks and months many of the scepticisms and genuine concerns of people such as me will be eroded and that by the time the Government makes a decision some time in the new year we will be clear about which way we are going and how much it will cost. In that event, the Government and others would have my total and full support.

12.53 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) on securing the debate. He might know a lot about the Olympic games, but he obviously does not know much about football. I invite him to Bramall lane, the mecca of football, to enjoy the delights of watching Sheffield United play any team he wishes.

This is the first debate on the potential bid for 2012. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Department and I want an ongoing debate in which people can express their points of view, which can then be factored into the final decision. We need an informed debate in the next few months before a final decision is made. The timetable means that we have to indicate to the British Olympic Association early in the new year whether we are supporting a bid. If we are, our intention to bid must be presented to the International Olympic Committee by July next year; the bid itself for the 2012 games can be made up until 2005. That is the broad timetable to which we are working.

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I should like to say something about the local and, in particular, the national press. The Daily Telegraph has been doing a first-class job in bringing forward the debate objectively. Clearly several issues have to be explored, such as regeneration and the sporting spectacular that is the Olympic games. The Guardian and the Daily Mail, too, have been ensuring that the case is being made and that a proper and informed debate is taking place.

As my hon. Friend said, the summer Olympics are in a league of their own. They are the biggest sporting event in the world with more than 10,000 athletes, and 300 events and 28 sports being represented. No other sporting event covers such a wide spectrum of sport in such depth and with such competition. The games attract millions of spectators to the host city and billions of television viewers worldwide, and they have an impact well outside the sporting world. I have just come back from Sydney and have seen the impact that they have had on inward investment, tourism and the like. For a month or six weeks—perhaps a little longer—the host city is a massive window for the world, so it is important to get it right. The systematic way in which we are evaluating the bid and the UK's potential is correct.

In making its bid, Britain should be seen to be competent. In response to what my hon. Friend said about the Commonwealth games, one could argue that prior to those games our reputation had been slightly tarnished by what had happened in 2006 and the subsequent decision on Picketts Lock and the International Amateur Athletics Federation world athletics. However, since then the Commonwealth games have been described by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, as probably one of the most competent Commonwealth games that have been held for many years.

The Commonwealth games were hugely successful in every respect, even financially—there were reserves at the end, as the contingency fund did not have to be fully used. After 11 September, such an achievement is a credit to all those who managed the games in Manchester and their financing. However, to put that into perspective, the total cost of the games was about £330 million, of which some £30 million came from the private sector and £300 million from the public sector. Arup's estimate for the Olympics in 2012 is about £2 billion, which is a factor of about six greater than the cost of the Commonwealth games.

After the great euphoria of Manchester, people were asking Sports Ministers and the Secretary of State, "Why not Manchester?". That question might be justified, but one must consider that the British Olympic Association has concluded that the Olympics should be staged in London because a key requirement is that the staging city should be able to provide sufficient accommodation. First, the Olympic family is huge, numbering up to 40,000. Beyond that, the number of spectators will be vast—perhaps millions over the relevant period. A fairly large city or a conglomerate is needed to accommodate such numbers efficiently. That is why the Arup report was commissioned.

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Hong Kong Basic Law

1 pm

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on the Hong Kong Government's proposals to implement article 23 of the Basic Law; those are important and controversial constitutional issues in Hong Kong. I have requested this Adjournment debate to raise the issues and concerns of many in Hong Kong. Also, I have the privilege of being joint chairman of the all-party House of Commons Hong Kong committee, which recently visited Hong Kong and engaged in extensive discussions with most of the key civil servants and politicians, and has since met Martin Lee.

The debate centres on whether the proposals are essentially a modernisation of archaic laws—which is, broadly, the Hong Kong Government's argument—or whether they are a beginning of the application of mainland concepts of national security, under something of a disguise.

The background to article 23 is the Sino-British joint declaration, signed by the British and Chinese Governments in 1984, which is registered as an international treaty with the United Nations. That lays down that Hong Kong's way of life and capitalist system should remain unchanged for 50 years post 1997, while the Hong Kong Government should remain fully autonomous except in the areas of foreign policy and national defence. The principles of the joint declaration form those of the Basic Law. The joint declaration, however, provided that


and that

Article 23 was included in the Basic Law as something new and additional on the insistence of the mainland Government. There is an argument of principle that it is in breach of the provisions of the joint declaration, as it calls for the application to Hong Kong of legal concepts that are incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed by article 3(5) of the joint declaration. Article 23 states:

It is argued that the Hong Kong laws that would prohibit subversion against the mainland Central People's Government could be contrary to the articles of the international covenant on civil and political rights relating to freedom of expression.

In June, matters came to a head when the Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen was reported as saying that the Government of Hong Kong should get a move on with enacting article 23, but that the people of Hong

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Kong should not worry about it and that it was not intended to restrict democratic rights in Hong Kong. He claimed, however, that it would be illegal for Falun Gong members to retain links with Falun Gong practitioners outside Hong Kong—that is, on the mainland.

The Hong Kong Secretary for Justice, Elsie Leung, has responded to comments made by the British Government by promising that there would be full public consultation—which is now taking place—before draft legislation was introduced; that any legislation would comply with the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights; that freedom of speech, association and religion would be upheld; and that legislation would not be aimed at imposing sanctions on any group such as Falun Gong. She also pointed out that the current criminal code could be amended to cover some of the elements outlined in article 23.

Hong Kong already has domestic legislation on treason, sedition, official secrets and activities, and ties with foreign political organisations. However, some of those provisions are clearly outdated and are also potentially very wide. There are no offences of secession or subversion in Hong Kong law. Before 1997, Governor Chris Patten attempted to introduce legislation in those areas, but those efforts foundered in the face of opposition. Although the Legislative Council passed a Bill before handover, it was not enacted by the incoming Administration.

The Hong Kong Government now intend to put draft legislation to the Legislative Council in the new year, with a view to its being enacted next summer. There has been a debate as to whether it should be a White Paper or a Blue Paper. It has ended up as a Blue Paper, though it seemed to us that more of a White Paper approach was being followed, in terms of consultation. A main concern is that the legislative proposals could potentially allow the Government to ban any organisation of which the Beijing Government disapprove, where provisions in the area are not even specifically required by article 23 of the Basic Law.

Few states have express laws against secession and many do not have laws against subversion. The mainland concept of national security is very different from what we are all used to in democratic countries. The deal agreed under the joint declaration was that the PRC concept of national security would not be applied to Hong Kong. Under the treason section, it appears that any business person who trades with Taiwan could risk prosecution if their products end up being used by Taiwan's armed forces or otherwise to assist in Taiwan's defence. There is also a proposal to contain and modernise the archaic offence of misprision of treason, that is, the failure to inform the authorities of treason being committed by someone else. The new treason offence would also apply to all persons who are voluntarily in the Hong Kong SAR, where it is questionable for treason laws to be applied to persons who are not citizens and owe Hong Kong no loyalty.

The proposed new offence of secession includes extra-territorial jurisdiction powers, and could widen considerably the number of people who would not be admitted to Hong Kong or who might not be regarded as safe to enter Hong Kong. The proposed offence of

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sedition is broadly similar to the existing common law offence, but is arguably unnecessary, as the last prosecution was 50 years ago. The mainland Government have traditionally used the offence of subversion to persecute and suppress legitimate opposition. The Hong Kong Government's proposals link the offence of subversion to overthrow by violence or serious unlawful means.

The Hong Kong Government are not proposing any extension to the law on relations with foreign political organisations. However, they propose a new mechanism for banning organisations affiliated with a mainland organisation that the central authorities have proscribed in accordance with national law, on the grounds that it would endanger national security. In that context, affiliated means connected. The key concern is that if such an organisation is proscribed on the mainland, Hong Kong is notified. There will inevitably be such evidence of past or present connections between such organisations that the Hong Kong Government are effectively obliged to ban them.

The general impression that the all-party committee formed from its visits was that there was certainly no malign intention by the Hong Kong Government, and that a great deal of what was being proposed was updating out-of-date law, but that it might have been better to use a White Bill. However, there are major constitutional issues to bottom that I certainly think have not been fully bottomed. In a sense, the constitutional challenge to the Hong Kong Government is to set out fully convincing arguments as to why the legislation would comply with the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, and the international covenant on civil and political rights, as they claim is the case. Also, they must demonstrate that we need not worry if the legislation did comply, as they would not be forced to ban organisations that were banned in the mainland. The system for appeals might be better left to the courts than dealt with under the new proposals.

Others want to speak, so I shall finish in a moment. I trust that the United Kingdom Government are well alive to the issues. The consultation in Hong Kong is open and public, but the constitutional issues raised have not yet been fully answered or bottomed.

1.10 pm

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): I congratulate the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) on securing the debate, and thank him for giving me time to contribute. I speak as another co-chairman of the Hong Kong committee. Coincidentally, I am also the chairman of the all-party group on China. My hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons), the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and I were privileged to be part of the delegation that recently visited Hong Kong, and I declare an interest in that regard.

Article 23 is important, but discussion of it must be taken in the context of the situation in Hong Kong and our relations with it as a whole. I hope that we might secure a longer debate on our relations with Hong Kong and, with others, I will try to set that in hand. The House

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has continuing responsibilities in relation to Hong Kong under the terms of the joint declaration, because of its intrinsic importance and our major investment and commercial, cultural and educational interests there. Also, we have an interest in the 3.4 million British passport holders in Hong Kong, especially the British nationals overseas.

Like everything else in Hong Kong, article 23 needs to be seen in relation to the "one nation, two systems" concept, and against the background of the maintenance of confidence—internal and external—which drives the Special Administrative Region. I fear that Qian Qichen's comments do not seem entirely helpful when put in that context, or in the context of democratisation. The concept of Hong Kong's being allowed to run its own affairs, save in relation to foreign policy and defence, has been nigh on meticulously maintained. The handover and subsequent events have gone at least as well as we might reasonably have hoped.

Hong Kong administrators often tell of the old days when, at the end of the United Kingdom working day, they received floods of telegrams of instruction from London on everything under the sun. Now they receive none from anywhere, and certainly not from Beijing.

I do not underestimate the difficulties that article 23 could involve and the importance of the issues that it covers. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs eruditely set those out. It is right that there are concerns. However, I found—I think that the rest of the delegation that recently visited Hong Kong agrees—that while in hindsight the Government of Hong Kong might reasonably have been best advised to publish a White Bill, they are still engaging in full consultation.

Enacting article 23 of the Basic Law is an imperative. It is not discretionary, although its timing is. I welcome the consultation. I am largely persuaded that the Government of the SAR are fully conscious of the need to maintain a separate regime and to be perceived as so doing. I am assured that the content of article 23 when enacted will be in accordance with international covenants on human rights, and will maintain the differences inherent in the concept of "one nation, two systems". It is, after all, a matter of self-interest for them to do so.

However, other pressing issues face Hong Kong. It is in the economic doldrums, with a budgetary deficit. Its propensity to reinvent itself is challenged. We were told that, even on best forecasts, it would take until 2006–07 to balance the budget; that takes account of soccer betting and border crossing taxes—and people are discussing such issues as a profit tax, a sales tax and even a maids tax, but all of those factors need to be set against the background of the issue of confidence, both internal and external.

Following the transfer of its manufacturing base to booming Guangdong, Hong Kong has transmogrified itself into the ultimate professional service for China—a service that provides a gateway but which is also a massive quarry of unrivalled expertise, possibly the best in the world. Hong Kong, together with its expatriates, has skills in financial services, the law—particularly commercial arbitration—banking, accountancy, information technology and so on. The difficulty is that more of those services and skills, with the possible

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exception of the law, are being provided in China. It has a talented people and is developing those services at a rapid rate.

The development of Shanghai may be considered complementary as well as competitive, but it could further restrict Hong Kong's ability to transmogrify itself. It must be said that, when compared with that of China, Hong Kong's economic performance currently looks weak. Property values have weakened massively and could be off their peak by 50 per cent. and more. Hong Kong, the icon of adaptation to free market forces may need to become—dare it be said?—more dirigiste. It may need to plan its future differently. In that context, it was interesting to see that the cyber port, developed at the Government's initiative and with the Government's backing, is heading in that direction by creating a new way forward for Hong Kong.

Perhaps the most important issue facing the SAR is that of democratisation. In my view, the present ministerial system is not sustainable in the long term, nor can it be regarded as other than a stage in the development of democracy in Hong Kong. Progress towards universal suffrage is inadequate. I accept that the Basic Law does not require that until 2007, but it is important that the debate starts now and that progress is made. Many voices in Hong Kong are calling for it—in and outside LegCo. Progress is, again, not least a matter of self-interest and the retention of confidence. It is for me vital not only for the general well-being of the people of Hong Kong, but for its economy. I hope that the Hong Kong Government can be persuaded to move forward as soon as possible.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara) : Order. For the Minister to be given an adequate chance to respond, I must call him no later than 13.20.

1.17 pm

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I thank the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight). I wrote to him and he kindly offered me two minutes of his time.

I make a declaration of interest. I was recently a guest of the Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong.

I wish to make three brief points. First, I was impressed with the vigour of debate on article 23. Freedom of speech is very much alive in Hong Kong, which is good. Secondly, on the substance of the proposal, I was impressed with the professional job done in the consultation document. Indeed, as an aside, I would say that I am impressed with the civil servants I met there. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) both said that the debate has not been helped by the official comments, and concern has been expressed about whether there should be a draft Bill. As a lawyer, however, I am not especially shocked at the substance of the proposals—they include provisions on entering premises without a warrant and official secrets—as we have similar provisions in the UK.

That leads me to the third point. It seems to me that the concern is more about how the provisions will be used. At present, the Special Administrative Region is

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an open society with the rule of law. I was impressed by the quality of the Bar and the judiciary, which augurs well for the future of the rule of law. It is therefore important that Britain and other countries such as the United States should retain an interest in Hong Kong. Some people expressed concern that that interest was waning, and an assurance from the Minister that Her Majesty's Government will retain their special interest in the SAR would be welcome.

1.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), whom I congratulate on having called this debate. I am also genuinely pleased by the all-party group's interest in Hong Kong, which gives people there a clear indication of the continuing Government and Parliamentary interest in their well-being.

As the new Minister with responsibility for Hong Kong, I am delighted that our relationship with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is so strong. There continue to be many high-level exchanges and three Cabinet Ministers have visited Hong Kong in the past five months alone. Hong Kong's Chief Secretary was here in July and we were pleased to welcome Mr. Anthony Leung, Hong Kong's distinguished Financial Secretary, here this week. I met him yesterday morning and I am pleased that he will meet my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. This debate has testified to the fact that Members of the House regularly visit Hong Kong, and Members of the Legislative Council also make the reverse journey to this country. I hope to visit Hong Kong early in the new year as part of a wider tour of China.

I want to take the opportunity afforded by this important Adjournment debate to get across the message that Hong Kong is a success story despite the current economic difficulties. It is important that that success is maintained as a result of the debate on article 23 and we must be conscious of the factors that have made Hong Kong successful, including the rule of law, guaranteed rights and fundamental freedoms, a level playing field for business, free flows of information and the efficient and effective market regulatory system. Those mechanisms have played a vital role in ensuring that Hong Kong maintains its position and develops as an international business hub. It is crucial that they are preserved when article 23 of the Basic Law is enacted.

That brings me to the key element in Britain's relationship with Hong Kong—our responsibilities under the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong. The declaration provides that Hong Kong should have a high degree of autonomy from mainland China, except in foreign affairs and defence matters. It states that basic rights and freedoms shall be ensured by law in the Hong Kong SAR, and we have followed affairs closely since the handover. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reports twice yearly on the implementation of the joint declaration. Where we have had concerns that its principles might conceivably be undermined, we have raised them with the SAR Government or with Beijing.

Overall, as my right hon. Friend's bi-annual reports have made clear, our assessment of the "one country, two systems" principle remains broadly positive. Hong

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Kong has generally remained free to exercise its autonomy in all relevant regards, as promised under the joint declaration. However, as debate on the issue has developed, we have noted strong concerns among many sectors of Hong Kong society about the SAR Government's proposals for legislation to meet its obligations under article 23 of the Basic Law. As some hon. Members have clarified—I am grateful to them for doing so—such legislation has been foreshadowed for some time, and the Basic Law says that the SAR shall enact legislation. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the most sensitive legislation that the SAR has had to enact since the handover.

We have closely followed the matter from the outset, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised article 23 as a general issue with the Chinese Vice-Premier and the Hong Kong Chief Executive during a visit to Hong Kong in July, before the SAR issued its consultation document. Subsequently, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor discussed the proposals in some detail during a visit to Hong Kong in October, and yesterday I had the opportunity to raise some of those issues with the Hong Kong Financial Secretary.

As a result, on 18 November I issued a public statement welcoming the wide consultation process undertaken by the SAR Government. I made it clear that as a cosignatory to the joint declaration, we had a responsibility to ensure that the rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration were maintained. I went on to say that any new legislation must be compatible with those rights and freedoms and with maintaining Hong Kong's autonomy.

A key concern that has been raised through the process is the proposal to ban organisations in Hong Kong affiliated with mainland organisations proscribed on the mainland on national security grounds. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs referred to that matter. We note that the consultation document says that the Hong Kong Secretary for Security would have discretion not to follow suit. However, there remains a concern that the integrity and independence of Hong Kong's legal system, which are key factors in the region's continuing success, might be compromised by the proposal. We hope and have made it clear that the SAR Government will consider the issue carefully as they draft the legislation in detail.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned Falun Gong and I know that other hon. Members are also concerned about the impact of that provision on that organisation. The Hong Kong Secretary of Justice has said that the proposals are not aimed at particular groups, but we hope that the draft of the Bill will give us the fundamental reassurance that we need.

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Concerns have also been expressed about the impact of the proposals for the media. All hon. Members will agree that a free press is one of Hong Kong's distinctive strengths. Freedom of expression is certainly provided for in the joint declaration and any action that diminishes press freedom would not be in the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

We have highlighted other concerns and we hope that the SAR Government will consider them carefully. They have indicated that they are willing, in principle, to be flexible on at least some of those areas. We warmly welcome that fact.

We are listening to some of the strongest critics of the SAR Government proposals. Last week, the Foreign Secretary and I met Martin Lee, the chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic party. We listened to his concerns, told him that we were following the case carefully and assured him of the importance that we attach to the issue.

This has been an important debate. The proposals show the complexities that arise from Hong Kong's special status under the "one country, two systems" principle. We welcome the SAR Government's assurances that the legislation will be compatible with the international covenant on civil and political rights and that on economic, social and cultural rights, to which Hong Kong is party. That is a vital point, but the test will come with the precise wording of the proposed legislation, without which it is impossible to determine whether there is any conflict with the two United Nations human rights covenants.

Calls have been made for a "white Bill" to set out the detailed legislative proposals before the draft legislation is introduced into the legislative council. Given the intense interest in the proposals, we hope that the SAR Government will provide for full and genuine public consultation on the detailed legislation, whether through a "white Bill" or through some other mechanism. I made that point to the Financial Secretary yesterday.

We have also encouraged the SAR Government to start consultations on other outstanding elements of the basic law. I agree that the ultimate aim is to bring forward democracy, but until that happens it is crucial that the SAR Government should go the extra mile and ensure that no rights and freedoms are eroded in Hong Kong.

In conclusion, people hold contradictory views. Sometimes, we are told that the Government speak out too much on such issues and, on other occasions, we are told that we speak out too little. We will continue to put forward our views on areas of concern in the interests of and as a friend of Hong Kong. Article 23 must be enacted by the SAR Government, but it must be done in such a way as to preserve the tremendous success story of Hong Kong as an international city. We hope that its enactment will contribute to that success.

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1.30 pm

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Crossrail 1 is an imaginative project for an east-west railway line through central London. It could increase the capacity of London's underground and national rail services by 15 to 20 per cent. In the west, it will run from a terminus beyond the M25—yet to be decided—but it will certainly serve Heathrow airport. It was announced last week that it would include stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel. To the east of Whitechapel, one option is a route north of the Thames, through Ilford and Romford, to Shenfield in Essex. The second option is a route through the Isle of Dogs and along the south bank of the Thames, through the London boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Dartford, to a terminus at Ebbsfleet in Kent, the international station on the channel tunnel rail link.

I intend to concentrate on the route from central London to Ebbsfleet. The company responsible for developing and promoting those routes is a 50:50 joint venture of Transport for London and the Strategic Rail Authority, which has been allocated a budget of £154 million by the Government to carry out preparatory work and acquire powers for the lines. It is intended that a decision on the preferred routes will be taken before the end of the year, with the possibility of a hybrid Bill being brought before Parliament in the 2003–04 Session.

The choice of route through east London cannot be made in isolation from the major Government-sponsored project for the development of the Thames gateway. That will regenerate east London on both banks of the Thames and Thameside areas of Kent and Essex through the provision of many thousands of new homes and jobs, mostly on brownfield sites.

One of the largest areas available for business development in London lies in riverside Greenwich and Bexley in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin). That land lies in wards that are among the 10 per cent. worst deprived nationally. Improved transport from east to west and across the river is the key to realising business opportunities and job opportunities for local residents. A new river crossing is already proposed. The crossrail link from central London to Ebbsfleet is exactly what is needed to prime the regeneration of the area, as has been shown in study after study.

One reason why I fear that that opportunity might be overlooked in deciding the route for crossrail is because of the ritual practices of transport planners. Many of their methods of analysis and models are based on identifying latent and unsatisfied demand among existing residents and businesses. They then explore the road and rail links that will satisfy that demand most economically. In many cases, that is the right approach, but it is not the right approach where transport links are intended to promote the development of new communities or to attract new businesses, as in the Thames gateway. In those circumstances, the approach that is appropriate to serving pent-up demand in existing communities leads people to say, "Why put a railway through north Greenwich and Bexley when

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there are insufficient people and jobs in the area to justify it?" That is the point; regeneration means attracting the development of housing and jobs because they are not there. Exactly that argument raged 25 years ago, about extending the Jubilee line through docklands, which was not done for the reasons that I mentioned. Acres and acres of land remained derelict for two decades until the Jubilee line was extended. We should consider the effect that that has had on the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich peninsula.

My first plea is for crossrail 1 to be built from Whitechapel to Ebbsfleet. Businesses will then be attracted to Greenwich and Bexley Thameside because the reduced journey times will enable them to pull in skilled employees from the whole of London. For example, the journey from Paddington will be reduced from more than an hour to half an hour. Those businesses would also have easy access to the European Union via Ebbsfleet or internationally via Heathrow as a result of crossrail. The quality of employment available in the area could change dramatically. The same arguments apply in reverse to the residents of the area. Their job opportunities would lie in the whole of London rather than locally or in central London.

There has been talk of taking the crossrail route only as far as Charlton, Woolwich or Abbey Wood and then relying on an interchange with Connex services on the north Kent line. It is well known that such interchanges deter passengers from using the service. What is the point of the line going through the Isle of Dogs—which is doing very nicely—and the developed areas of Charlton and Woolwich, but stopping short of the major areas of regeneration opportunity in Belvedere, Erith and Crayford? At least, the first stage should extend to Slade Green, so that a substantial part of the potential regeneration area would be covered. Such talk is worrying because it makes it look as though the project is being directed with a narrow focus on cash and engineering, without any attention to the wider regeneration issues. It is especially strange for the crossrail service to stop short at that point, as the company responsible for crossrail has told me that the extension to Slade Green would add little cost because the land is already available.

I make the strongest possible plea for the line to be built to Ebbsfleet in continuing stages, with firm dates for the beginning and end of each stage and a firm commitment of money to make those dates credible. Britain, particularly London, has a history of "manana" public projects. No one can be sure when they will be carried out so the private sector is, understandably, unwilling to commit complementary investment until public works are finished. For crossrail to achieve a regeneration objective, it is vital to have a firm and credible construction programme so that companies can plan and invest concurrently.

The consultation document contains two variants on the route from the Isle of Dogs to Ebbsfleet. One goes from the Isle of Dogs past the dome on the Greenwich peninsula to Charlton and the other continues on the north bank of the Thames, through the major development area in the royal docks and crosses the river by a tunnel to Woolwich Arsenal. Thereafter, the routes are the same to Ebbsfleet.

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The route through Charlton is estimated to be some £400 million cheaper than that through the royal docks. However, the Charlton route is already densely developed, so the potential for new residential or business development is limited. In addition, constructing the Charlton route would prevent Connex services on the north Kent line from going directly to London Bridge as they now do.

In contrast, the royal docks area offers a major regeneration opportunity; crossrail could make it into an extension of the developments on Canary wharf. Access to London City airport and to the Excel exhibition centre would be greatly improved and people from Greenwich and Bexley would have a major new source of job opportunities.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): On behalf of the London borough of Newham, might I underline the enormous significance of the royal docks option? It will be worth a great deal in terms of the thousands of extra jobs and homes for the area. It is right to stress the impact of transport on regeneration. The benefit is already clear in the east end, so I hope that the Minister will pay careful attention to my hon. Friend. Other Members of Parliament from the east end strongly endorse his comments.

Mr. Beard : If it were thought that crossrail should stop at Charlton and not continue to Ebbsfleet until years later, the extension would be unlikely ever to be made. Substantial demolition of houses between Charlton and Woolwich would be involved, whereas the royal docks route involves no such inhibition. The question about the royal docks route is whether the economic gains would make the extra £400 million cost worthwhile. In my judgment, that route has much greater regeneration potential than that through Charlton, as my hon. Friend has just said. If that does not carry enough weight with the Minister, it is also the judgment of my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) and for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), the London boroughs of Newham and Bexley, the London development association, the London Transport Users Committee and the Mayor of London.

In summary, it is essential that crossrail 1 through east London be considered as a major contribution to the regeneration of the Thames gateway to London, the greatest foreseeable opportunity for urban regeneration in Britain. To achieve maximum effect in prioritising the development of housing and jobs, crossrail should go from central London to Ebbsfleet via the royal docks as one dedicated railway line. Planning must include a commitment to the necessary finance, so that there is sufficient confidence for private investment to be concurrent with public investment. On that basis, crossrail 1 and the Thames gateway project can be trailblazers for urban regeneration in Britain in the 21st century.

1.41 pm

John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) for allowing me to speak in the debate. He

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and I represent an area of London that is one of the worst served for public transport and includes some of the 10 most deprived wards in the country. My constituency includes Thamesmead—in effect, a new town designed in the 1960s as a contribution to solving London's housing crisis, but built without any thought of providing an adequate public transport infrastructure. Inadequate bus services developed in an unplanned and uncoordinated way as the population grew, with the result that transport in and out of Thamesmead is poor and within it even poorer. Thamesmead's nearest railway station is Abbey Wood, on the periphery.

Part of my constituency lies in the London borough of Greenwich, and colleagues at Westminster often assume that because of that, I have access to the new Jubilee line station, which serves the Greenwich peninsula. However, where I live, on the boundary of Thamesmead and Belvedere, in the heart of my constituency, there is no direct bus or any other link to the Jubilee line. Even from parts of my constituency that have a direct bus link, the journey time can be an hour or more. Yet Thamesmead and Belvedere, as my hon. Friend said, represent one of the largest employment areas and potential employment areas in London. The Belvedere employment area is the second largest industrial area in London, with potential for more development. Realising the potential of the Thamesmead and Woolwich industrial estates, the Belvedere employment area and, further east, the industrial and development sites in Erith and along the Thames road to north Kent, as well as retaining existing businesses, depends on good transport infrastructure.

The Minister saw for himself on his recent visit the problems caused by the Thames road bottleneck. When he saw the view from the top of the Pirelli vulcanising tower, he could see the development potential. Regrettably, a few days after the Minister left the site, Pirelli served 90-day redundancy notices on the bulk of its staff and the company is in danger of closure. I hope that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will intervene to ensure that the Government do what they can to protect the submarine cable industry in this country.

Paul Clark (Gillingham): On the point about the potential success of businesses in your constituency, are you not concerned that if the stupid proposal to end the line at Abbey Wood happens, congestion in your constituency will be much greater? Would you agree—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara): Order. My constituency is some way from east London.

John Austin : There are problems inherent in that. I would support an Abbey Wood destination and interchange as an interim measure, as long as we had the future plans to Ebbsfleet to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford referred.

Before constituency boundaries were changed, I was the Member for Woolwich. The seat included Woolwich Arsenal, which in its heyday employed more than 80,000 people on one site. It was the largest factory in Europe and it was bigger than the whole of Ford Europe is today. Woolwich Arsenal gradually declined after the

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war and was eventually closed in the 1970s. Boundary changes have resulted in it being just outside my constituency, but it borders Thamesmead.

I have been campaigning for almost 20 years for a rail tunnel under the Thames at Woolwich. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford and I would have preferred a heavy rail link, which would have provided the best opportunities for regeneration by linking with the north Kent line to fill in the missing link in the orbital rail network.

The decision to extend the docklands light railway, which will help to boost the local economy in Woolwich and to assist the Woolwich Arsenal development, has been taken. It will not, however, have the major regenerational effect that crossrail would have had. As my hon. Friend said, the choice of crossrail route cannot be made in isolation from the development of the Thames gateway, where there is a large area of development land on both sides of the Thames, which could provide the homes and jobs that London needs.

Crossrail offers an opportunity to redress the east-west imbalance in London, and a route to the royal docks in Newham would support regeneration in what the Mayor's draft London plan identified as the third largest opportunity area in London. East London and the Thames gateway can provide one third of London's total new housing requirement and 40 per cent. of all new jobs. The royals is the largest area of development land in the Thames gateway and opting in favour of a station in Charlton would be short sighted and would jeopardise the regeneration benefits for the royals, which are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks).

The royals route could also serve London City airport, which would link to the Government's recent report on airport capacity in the United Kingdom. That report proposes a planning policy actively to encourage airports to maximise their potential capacity by utilising their existing runways. At present, City airport serves 1.6 million people a year and the Government's consultation paper suggests that that figure could reach 5 million by 2030. That figure could be achieved sooner with crossrail, which has a possible throughput of 7 million passengers per annum by 2030. The extension of the docklands light railway to the airport by 2005 will certainly provide better access, but it will be insufficient to support either the airport's growth in capacity or the full development of the royals.

I live under City airport's flight path. The airport is a few miles away, but whether I travel by public or private transport I can get to Gatwick more quickly than I can get to it. Crossrail will massively cut journey times in east London. The journey time from the royals to Paddington would be down from 58 minutes to just 18, and that from Tottenham Court road to the royals would be down from 49 minutes to 14. The royals option is important for London, but the scale of the potential development, the key visitor attractions and the university make it nationally significant.

I know Charlton because I lived there for 15 years and represented it on Greenwich council for nearly 20 years. I lived a few hundred yards from Charlton station and the sacred turf of the Valley. There is a highly developed residential area to the south of the Woolwich road. The area to the north of the Woolwich road is largely

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industrial and again it has little scope for residential, commercial or office development, or the generation of the jobs, which the royals would provide. Greenwich council argues that crossrail might not terminate at Charlton and could be extended to Woolwich, but there is no scope, or plans, for additional track eastwards from Charlton. Crossrail could go from Canary wharf to Charlton and Woolwich only if it were to take over the track that currently serves the Connex services from Woolwich into London Bridge and Cannon Street. In that case, there would be no direct trains from Erith, Belvedere, Abbey Wood or Plumstead into London Bridge, and a shuttle bus would replace them. Only the royals route guarantees a service to Woolwich that would not interfere with the existing north Kent line services.

Originally, there was talk of a terminus and interchange at Woolwich, but current opinion seems to favour a major interchange with the north Kent line at either Plumstead or Abbey Wood. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford suggests an interchange further east at Slade Green and I have no argument with that. My constituents want access to the new crossrail and continued access to the north Kent line. Only the royals guarantee a link to Woolwich.

Crossrail services could begin in 2012 and obviously the major benefits will accrue close to opening. However, as my hon. Friend said, an early announcement and an early commitment by the Government would provide significant pre-opening benefits in anticipation. For Woolwich and Abbey Wood, a decision to choose the royals would boost confidence, assist in retaining employment and enable developers to bring forward proposals sooner or to revise their master plans to reflect crossrail. Only the royals route offers the best prospect of maximising the full potential of the royals themselves, as well as enhancing the prospects for regeneration and development in Havering, Barking and Dagenham north of the Thames, and in Woolwich, Plumstead, Thamesmead, Belvedere, Erith and on to north Kent in the south. The Government must make a clear decision on the route of crossrail and it must be via the royals through to Woolwich and beyond.

1.50 pm

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) on securing the debate and giving the Chamber an opportunity to discuss proposals for a cross-London rail link from east to west. We heard useful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for Gillingham (Paul Clark). I am pleased also to see my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen). That demonstrates the widespread interest in the subject among Members of Parliament.

My hon. Friends are aware of the work that is being undertaken by the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London through Cross London Rail Links Limited, a joint company set up by the SRA and TFL with the remit of examining alternative route options and developing the business case for the project. I shall shortly return to the route options under consideration, especially in relation to the east of London, but first I want to make three points.

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First, the Government support viable proposals for a new east-west crossrail link. The transport 10-year plan indicates that such a project could contribute up to a 15 per cent. increase in seating capacity on rail and underground into central London during the morning peak. Hon. Members will agree that such a contribution is much needed. However, we must be sure that the project has a robust business case and will provide value for money. The work that CLRL is doing is vital in ensuring viability.

Secondly, I should make it clear that work is taking a little longer than CLRL originally envisaged. It had hoped to be in a position to finalise the business case and to recommend a preferred route by the end of the year. It now looks as though it will not be in a position to make recommendations until the first part of next year. I fully understand the concerns felt by hon. Members and their constituents who are potentially affected by the project about the continued uncertainty over the outcome of the work on the business case and the assessment of the route options. However, it would be generally agreed that such decisions cannot and should not be rushed. Crossrail would be a very expensive project—of the order of £10 billion, depending on the preferred option—with commensurate benefits. It is therefore vital to get the scheme right. Evaluating the business case for such a major project, with all its economic, financial, social and environmental impacts—several of which were highlighted during the debate—is a complex and difficult process. The choice between route options will not be easy, given the strength of the arguments that were made today and have been articulated by other hon. Members and boroughs. Forecast costs and benefits must be thoroughly bottomed out.

Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead said, the interface with the existing infrastructure and services must be thoroughly understood. Looking further ahead, we must put the mechanisms in place to ensure that any project is delivered to time and to budget. Time that is spent now on getting crossrail properly scoped and defined is time well spent and need not delay the overall implementation programme.

Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford will be disappointed, but not surprised, that I cannot anticipate what recommendations CLRL will make, nor how the Government will respond to them. Nevertheless, I certainly heard the points that he and other hon. Members made and I am sure that he and others involved will put their case to CLRL with equal conviction during the stakeholder consultation and any future public consultation. On next steps, I understand that before the end of the year, the board of CLRL intends to make a statement of progress to date on the work to develop crossrail.

Before we consider what a crossrail route might be, we must decide the objectives that crossrail is meant to achieve. In May, before setting out to consult key stakeholders and local authorities, CLRL agreed several objectives for crossrail with the Government, the Mayor of London and the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority.

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We said that a proposal for crossrail should aim to support the wider transport, social and environmental objectives of the Government's 10-year plan, the Mayor's strategy for London, the SRA's strategic plan and regional planning guidance. It should also relieve congestion and overcrowding on existing national rail and underground networks and support the development of strategic interchanges. It should facilitate the continued development of London's primary finance and business service activities located in both the City and docklands. It should facilitate the improvements of London's international links including, looking to the west, Heathrow. It should facilitate the regeneration of priority areas such as the Thames gateway and the Lea valley, and it should provide improved east-west access into and across London from the east and south-east regions. To meet those objectives, proposals for crossrail must be feasible from an operational and an engineering perspective, must be environmentally acceptable and must represent value for money and be affordable.

I turn to the route and service options that CLRL is considering. Given the objectives that the joint company has been set and the work done in the 1990s on earlier proposals for a new east-west link across London, it quickly became clear that there was a core route for the project based broadly on the previously safeguarded route, which would link Heathrow with Stratford and docklands. Around that core, CLRL examined a wide range of possible route options before selecting for further study a shortlist of corridors along which route and service patterns could be analysed in depth. In the west, those included Aylesbury, Watford Junction and Reading. To the east, they included Shenfield out to Ebbsfleet via north Kent. Within these five corridors there are of course multiple possible variants. For example, north Kent could be accessed either through the royal docks on the Isle of Dogs, or a more southerly approach via Charlton.

My hon. Friend mentioned alternatives in north Kent and CLRL is looking at a range of service patterns and frequencies for the royal docks and Charlton options. If the route were to be via the royal docks, new tunnels would be required from Custom House to Stepney Green and to link Silvertown and Woolwich. Depending on how far along the corridor the route extended, the north Kent line would be used from Abbey Wood. New stations would be constructed at Woolwich and the Isle of Dogs, as well as an interchange at Ebbsfleet.

If the chosen route were to be via Charlton, the north Kent line would be used as far as Charlton. Charlton station would be rebuilt, and a new line and tunnel built from there to the Isle of Dogs via the north Greenwich peninsula. There would be connecting services to London Bridge.

Those are the route options that CLRL consulted stakeholders about from spring to summer this year. CLRL is digesting the results of that consultation and undertaking the analysis. We await the outcome of that work.

As my hon. Friends will be aware, I have received many representations on crossrail from Members and local authorities, business interests and private individuals. Advocates have pointed to the need to provide a large increase in rail capacity to docklands,

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particularly—as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham has pointed out—to support the growing business and finance sectors. They have argued for crossrail to facilitate regeneration in the Thames gateway to serve key development sites, including those in the royal docks, but also on Kent Thameside. It would also have the desirable effect of freeing capacity at Liverpool Street station. Proponents argue that crossrail can become the regional transport spine along Kent Thameside, providing significant journey savings from north Kent and can form an integrated transport network with much increased opportunity for modal interchange.

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I understand the strength with which advocates of crossrail and its several potential routes put their cases. We will not be able to satisfy every competing interest. We are awaiting the work. The CLRL board will, I hope, be in a position to make an announcement before the end of the year on progress. I ask for some patience about that, but I understand that the debate is still to be advanced.

Question put and agreed to.

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