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: I shall intervene later on the issue of routing. Can the Secretary of State clarify, in a way that his colleague chose not to do, the interrelationship between the instruction to the Select Committee and the current consultation that the Department for Transport is carrying out on the safeguarding of the route from Maidenhead to Reading, which, at a later stage, would allow Crossrail to have a western terminus at Reading rather than at Maidenhead as proposed? What is the
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interrelationship between the consideration and work of the Select Committee and the current consultation that the Department is carrying out?
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My point is on a procedural matterthe relationship of the franchises, particularly the Greater Western franchise, which is currently being discussed. Is not it possible that those who are bidding for that franchise will at least try to gauge the likelihood of the Crossrail Bill going through, as that has a major implication in terms of how many additions, or reductions, to services might take place? Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?
Mr. Darling: On no possible view will Crossrail be open for services before the current Greater Western franchise is completed. Indeed, if discussions go on much longer this afternoon, it might be some considerable time before Crossrail opens. The franchisees who are bidding for the Greater Western franchise at the moment know of Crossrail and what the plans are, as they have discussed them with the Department. On any view, however, that franchise expires before Crossrail services will be running, so I do not think that that is a problem.
I want to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West. I want to say something about the instructions. As a preliminary point, the House knows that the Select Committees that we set up have a fair amount of latitude. Indeed, successive Governments have got into awful trouble by being over-prescriptive. Nevertheless, because of difficulties we have encountered in the past and because I think we must get people to focus on a particular propositionwhich is the subject of the Billwe have tabled an instruction to the Select Committee to regard the principle of the Bill as including a proposition, namely, the provision of a railway running from Maidenhead in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, with a prescribed number of named stations on its route. That does not preclude the Select Committee from considering possible variations, and if it heard representations relating to other matters it would not be precluded from saying so to the House.
I note, incidentally, that every amendment to our instruction includes a restriction relating to the environmental impact, so the principle has been accepted to that extent. I fear, however, that if we do not issue our instruction, the Committee will receive only the most generalised instruction. The whole process could continue for months, if not years. There is a serious risk that one of two things could happen: either we might not reach a conclusion, or the costs of the project could rise beyond any reasonable level.
The purpose of our instruction is to tell the Committee that the House has given the Bill a Second Reading and that the principle of the Bill ought to include the establishment of a railway line that is specified in the instruction. I do not think that the Government or the House can tell the Committee,
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"Thou shalt not consider anything else"for example, matters relating to any one of the stations along the route. It is open to the Committee to say that a station is in the wrong place, or that there ought to be a station somewhere else. We cannot tell the Committee, "No, you cannot consider any of those things." However, unless we have a stab at instructing it on what it ought to be considering, we run a serious risk of allowing this Crossrail project to meet exactly the same fate as others in the past. The whole thing could run into the sand.
At 10 pm, the House will have the option of voting down our instructionalthough I should say for the avoidance of doubt that I hope that my colleagues will join me in the Lobby. If our instruction falls, there are others tabled by the Opposition and by individual Membersamong them the hon. Member for Ongar, to whom I now give way.
The Secretary of State is being very clear and he is trying to be reasonable about the powers of the Select Committee. Does that reasonableness extend to petitioners? Will they be able to petition Parliament on where the termini should be, or will such petitions be ruled out of order?
Mr. Darling: I do not think that we can prescribe what is in a petition. The instruction is to a Select Committee. Members of the public are entitled to petition Parliament on whatever they want. I suspect that there will be petitions against the principle of the Bill, full stop. Indeed, I should be astonished if there were not, and we cannot stop them from coming in.
All the instructions are similar, in that they tell the Committee that it should treat the principle as having been established by Second Reading. Our instruction goes further, in that it suggests the route. I repeat, however, that if someone came along and said that the stations or the termini should be different, the Select Committee may well want to consider that. It would be up to the Committee.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar's instruction would restrict the termini to Paddington and Liverpool Street stations, which would make it far narrower than the Government are proposing. I must say that it would destroy the economic case for the development, because unless the railway line runs beyond the two ends of the tunnel, it becomes an extremely expensive proposition.
Our instruction allows a full debate of the sort that the House wants. The other general pointI think that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey
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raised it earlieris that public policy issues such as freight policy or the integration of the railways are likely to be discussed less in the petitioning process and the Select Committee than in the Standing Committee. That is what the Standing Committee procedure is all about.
Mr. Pickles: I am most grateful to the Secretary of State, who is being very reasonable. My particular instruction was not selected, so discussion of it is largely academic, but if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that no technical restrictions would prevent my constituents from petitioning the Select Committee with regard to the termini, he may well have satisfied me.
Mr. Darling: That would be amazing. The hon. Gentleman went to the trouble of tabling an instruction, so I wanted to point out that it was very restrictive and would have rendered the project uneconomic. The House should make the point to the Select Committee that if we do not receive some guidance about what the Bill is all about, we could end up, frankly, going all over the place, which none of us wants.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I appreciate what the Secretary of State says about our amendment to the instruction perhaps prolonging the Committee stage, but given that petitions can be accepted on anything, I do not really see quite why that is the case. Inasmuch as our proposal refers to the need for proper rail freight services and an integrated transport network as well as the requirement to be properly in tune with plans for the 2012 Olympics, how does it depart in any way from Government policy?
Mr. Darling: I do not think that we have yet reached the stage where Conservative policy is exactly the same as ours[Interruption.] We shall see. The point is that the Select Committee will concentrate on matters relating to the petitions, which I would expect to be mainly concerned with matters of private interestproperty take, land acquisition and so forth. In respect of the acquisition of sites presently used for freight, for example, some broader policy issues will be raised. The second part of the Opposition's instruction refers to rail freight, the national rail network and the Olympics and I intend to say something about all of them shortly. Typically, those issues would be dealt with by a Standing Committee because they deal with general public policy rather than private interest.
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