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Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op):
The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way and helpful by answering questions. He implied earlier in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) that there would be few problems because the two fast lines into Paddington from the west and Wales would remain as they are now. However, it is quite common to find that all four existing rails into Paddington are used, so passenger trains that are meant to be on the fast rails are going on to the slow rails even now, before any construction has begun. Many of my constituents in Bristol are worried that the powers that are being taken
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could be used to give Crossrail trains priority over trains that currently run between the west and Paddington. It is important that we get some reassurance on this.
Mr. Darling: Perhaps that is an instruction to me as well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend raises an important point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West and others have also touched.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Doug Naysmith) is right that trains coming into Paddington experience delays. That is partly because the lines to the west of Paddington, like those in many other parts of the network, could have done with investment to improve signalling and track capacity over many years. I shall not get into the argument about that problem again because we all know why it happened. Part of the Crossrail proposal is to spend something like £1 billion on upgrading those lines and making it easier for freight trains to get on and off the main line. If a freight train comes off the main line and goes into a siding at the moment, it can effectively block the line for six or seven minutes. That might not seem like a long time, but if that happens several times a day, the problem soon mounts up, so that is one reason why my hon. Friend's trains sometimes get held up.
The intention is that Crossrail will use existing slow lines, not the fast lines. The fast lines will benefit from the additional electrification to ease freight train access to which I referred, and fast train services ought to be able to run. Some of the stories appearing in Bristol and further south-west about 40 per cent. cuts in capacity are absolute rubbish. It is one person feeding off another and such stories are not justified. There is no way that I would sanction anything in London that would result in a 40 per cent. cut in trains from the south-west of England.
Mr. Darling: I am glad that my hon. Friend thinks that. The south-west of England is very important to the country and such scaremongering is nonsense. Crossrail will use the slow lines and also subsume some suburban lines. He should not be concerned about any adverse impact on trains from points west of Paddington, especially long-distance ones. Overall, the additional investment from Crossrail on lines to the west of Paddington will be beneficial not just to intercity services but to suburban services. In fact, the project will contribute much-needed investment to that part of the line, which has been overdue for some time. I hope that I have satisfied him on that point. If not, no doubt he will let me know.
I certainly associate myself with some of the concerns expressed by other hon. Members. The Secretary of State said that Crossrail will be a vital rail route, connecting with the rest of the rail network.
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With due respect to Maidenhead, it does not connect with anywhere. Does he accept that there is a powerful and logical case for locating Crossrail's western terminus in Reading?
Mr. Darling: Not entirely, no. My hon. Friend is a little unkind to Maidenheadthere is no reason why trains should not stop there. Reading was not included in the proposal because taking the train out there would add considerably to the expense of the project, not least because substantial resignalling around the Reading area would be required and there are problems with capacity at Reading even at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), the former Minister in the Department, said in the debate on the carry-over motion that the Government would consult on whether we ought to safeguard the route from Maidenhead to Reading. We shall be writing in the next few days to ask whether there ought to be such consultation, bearing it in mind that safeguarding brings problems. Once land has been safeguarded, there are consequences for local authorities, and not necessarily for the Government.
As I said right at the start, the project had to be made manageable and the sums had to stack up, and that is why we chose not to include Reading. My hon. Friend and his constituents and others will no doubt wish to petition the Select Committee on that, but, if we are going to get this built, we have to try to nail down a proposition. I am not closing the door: what my hon. Friend the former Transport Minister said on safeguarding remains the case.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way to so many hon. Members. I hope that, if I incur the wrath of my hon. Friends on constituency points, they will move the issue on slightly.
The Secretary of State is discussing the powers that he is to take for funding Crossrail. As he knows, businesses in London are very supportive of the principle, but there is concern that they will be asked to contribute considerably to the cost. In central London, where the congestion charge is at last being quantified as having a negative impact on the retail, leisure and tourism industries, there is concern that an extra levy on businesses could reduce even further their viability and hence not even the expected amount of money will be raised. Is he coming to that issue or will he reassure businesses in London that they will be able to continue to exist?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, I wish to repeat my advice to the House about the length of interventions. I understand why the Secretary of State is taking interventions and why hon. Members are making them, but we must try to keep them to reasonable proportions.
By happy coincidence, I was about to come to the cost, but, first, I wish to make a point directly relevant to the hon. Lady's intervention. If we do nothing, there is a serious prospect that at some point in the next decadeor certainly the one afterLondon will not be able to carry the number of people who come
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into it. Of all the difficulties that London business faces, that would be the No.1. That is why, over the past few weeks, I have said to the House time and again that we must all ask how we can get more capacity out of the system, be it road or rail.
Mr. Darling: I wish to answer the hon. Lady's point first. You made a fair point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I understand that some 18 hon. Members are down to speak. I do not want to make a Budget-length speech, and I shall now concentrate on the cost issue.
We think that Crossrail will add some £20 billion to the UK's GDP. It will also benefit London substantially through congestion relief and additional capacity, which will assist commuters. That is why it is necessary to build Crossrail. We think that Crossrail will cost some £15 billion or £16 billion at today's prices. The Bill envisages construction between 2008 and 2015, and, if one looks at the money that would be spent in those years, adjusted upward to take account of inflation, that is the probable order of magnitude.
I said last year that my Department, together with the Treasury and Transport for London, would take forward work on alternative funding mechanisms that could be used to raise a contribution from London. Most London business organisations are willing to contribute, because they perceive the direct benefit that London as a whole will receive. However, in light of the work that is being done by Sir Michael Lyons in reviewing local government funding more widely, it makes sense to see what he recommends before deciding the detailed balance of funding on Crossrail. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have therefore decided to defer the consultation on alternative funding mechanisms until after the Lyons review.
It is important to demonstrate our commitment to the project, which is underlined by the fact that we are taking this Bill forward to establish the principle and route of Crossrail. Nevertheless, as the hon. Lady says, it is a significant sum. The cost will be some £15 billion or £16 billion in cash terms. It is a huge challenge, both in terms of funding and in respect of the wider fiscal position, so we need to get the funding right and to take the time to make that happen. My Department will continue to take those issues forward, including the issue of additional development funding, working together with Transport for London.
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