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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I have long been a supporter of Crossrail. Indeed, I believe that Crossrail is a very good idea. However, the handling of the Bill so far suggests that Crossrail is a very good idea that is going badly wrong, in several ways. First, it is going wrong in relation to the impact on services on the main rail network; secondly, it is going wrong in relation to the interaction of Crossrail with the main rail network; and, thirdly, it is going wrong in relation to the impact that it will have on the principle of independent economic regulation, because of the powers that the Bill will give to the Secretary of State to give priority to Crossrail over and above the judgment made by the Office of Rail Regulation.
I have a particular interest in the Bill because, as several hon. Members have mentioned, the proposed western terminus for Crossrail is Maidenhead, the main town in my constituency. My constituents will be affectedboth those who live in Maidenhead, by the works, and those who commute from Maidenhead. Other parts of my constituency will also be affected.
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I was comforted by the Secretary of State's remark that it would be open to the Committee that will be set up to look at any issues raised by petitioners against the Bill and that the instruction to be given by the House will merely be guidance to the Committee about the areas that it can cover. However, I am concerned to learn that the legal advice is that the instruction is just that and that it will not be possible for the Committee to consider matters not in the instructionspecifically, the termini.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): As I understand it, the legal opinion is that the Committee can look at matters that are within its terms of reference, which encompass the Bill and the instruction. In those circumstances, it is hard to see how the Committee will be able to consider the issues of Reading, the Olympics or the wider implications for the rail network, both freight and passenger, that that the Crossrail project may have.
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend is right. Several of us were comforted by the comments made by the Secretary of State earlier, but if the Committee will not be able to consider the location of the terminiand whether the line should be extended to Readingit will make a mockery of the Secretary of State's remarks this afternoon and of the Government's intention to consider whether to safeguard the line through to Reading. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the position when he winds up.
Peter Luff: It may assist my right hon. Friend and the House if I say that I have sought advice on that point. The clear advice that I have received is that the instruction is precisely thatan instructionand it would not be possible for the Chairman of the Committee to go beyond Maidenhead in consideration of the Bill. That is the advice at present, and that is why I would like a debate on the instruction, but we are denied that. It is important that the Minister give a definitive undertaking on that point when he winds up, because otherwise I will be obliged to vote against the instruction.
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I hope that the Minister will give a definitive view on that issue, but I also hope that he will go further. If the legal advice that my hon. Friend mentions is indeed correct, and the Committee will not be able to go beyond the specific instruction from the House, I hope that the Minister will tell us how representations can properly be made in the debate on the Bill on the possibility of extending the line to Reading.
The Crossrail line could be of enormous benefit to my constituents, but the services proposed would unfortunately ensure that they would receive a worse train service than they currently receive. The extension of the line to Reading could provide benefits, not only for my constituents using the Maidenhead and Twyford stations and the two branch lines to Henley and to Marlow and Bourne End, but for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) and the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter). The hon. Gentleman earlier made an unkind reference to Maidenhead when he said that rail
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passengers could not connect to anywhere from the town. It is true that there are not many places to connect to from Maidenhead, but one can connect to Cookham, Furze Platt, Marlow and Bourne End [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their support for those wonderful places.
The branch line will be affected by the services, but the main line network will be particularly affected, because after Crossrail, Maidenhead station will receive only four services in peak hours. Far from having fast and semi-fast services direct to Paddington or stopping only at Slough, the services will in future stop at 10, 11 or 12 stations before Paddington. I have recently had a significant debate with First Great Westernindeed, I raised the matter in an Adjournment debateabout the fact that its December timetable last year extended the length of the journey from Maidenhead to Paddington from 20 or 21 minutes to 25 or 26 minutes. The Crossrail proposals would see that time double to 40 minutes or longer. The benefit of Crossrail to my constituents would be if one could take a fast or semi-fast service from Maidenhead to Paddington and then access the west end or the City without changing. If the journey to Paddington is on a stopping service, the benefit will be lost.
I have described the impact on passengers from Maidenhead, but those who access Twyford station, either directly or by the branch line from Henley through Wargrave, will face an even worse problem. They currently enjoy up to seven services an hour in peak times, but that would be reduced to two services an hour under the Crossrail proposals. I noted that the Secretary of State said that Crossrail would bring benefits to the south-east. He also said that it would be wholly beneficial to suburban lines, but I have news for him. For Maidenhead and Twyford suburban lines, it will not be wholly beneficial.
The Secretary of State also said that one need not worry about services to the west of London, because those went on the main line and Crossrail would go on the relief lines. The whole debate about the December timetable from my constituency has revealed that all the stopping services and the suburban services have been moved from the main line to the relief lines, and they will have to share those lines with Crossrail. It simply will not be possible for the services to be improved from what they are today. In fact, the services will deteriorate. I am therefore surprised by the categoric statements that the Secretary of State made earlier about the benefits of the proposal for everybody in the south-east. Taking the line to Reading would have significant benefits for my constituents, because those travelling from Twyford would be able to use the service, provided that the services to Paddington were fast or semi-fast.
The biggest physical effect on my constituency would arise from electrification of the line, which would lead to gantries being built on Brunel's bridge at Maidenhead. That bridge remains the longest brick arch bridge in the world and it is part of our national railway heritage. The view across Brunel's bridge would be changed by the erection of electrification gantries. I have raised with Crossrail and Network Rail the possibility of a third rail system, but that is apparently out of the question because it would be far too expensive and the systems could not be mixed and matched along the line.
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However, I urge the Government to ensure that the debate about electrification includes consideration of innovative ways to ensure that the impact on Brunel's bridge is as light as possible. We recognise that there will be some impact, but Crossrail, sadly, has shown no desire to try to ensure that it reduces that impact as far as possible. That is an issue to which I shall return during consideration of the Bill.
The Bill gives the railway the possibility of taking over Guards Club park. That means that lorries will be taken through a residential part of Maidenhead into a park that is used by families, including children. It is a major benefit to Maidenhead. Sadly, Crossrail has refused to consider innovative ways of accessing the work site at Brunel's bridge. For goodness' sake, it is over a river, and the park is next to a river. It would be possible to use the river to provide some access for the heavy materials that need to be moved in, and not bring them in by road through the park. I hope that that will be able to reduce the use of the park.
There are two further points that concern me. The first point is whether Crossrail is part of the main rail network. My constituents have no desire to be part of the Mayor of London's transport scheme. The idea that Transport for London could take responsibility for the line through to its terminus at Maidenhead fills me and, I believe, most of my constituents with horror. I trust that the Minister will be able to give us a definitive statement that the project will be part of the main rail network and that it will not be handed over wholly to the Mayor of London, for him to increase his orbit and ambit through the west of London on to Maidenhead.
Central to whether the project is part of the main rail network is the question of independent economic regulation. I challenged the Secretary of State on that question. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to give Crossrail priority over other rail services. At present, the situation is clear: there is a balance of priorities that is struck by an independent economic regulator, which is the Office of Rail Regulation. I have a tinge of sadness that we have moved away from the previous rail regulator, Mr. Tom Winsor, who was known for his trenchant comments to the Government about what was happening on the railways, to the Office of Rail Regulation, which I fear that few people have heard of since it took over from Mr. Winsor.
Those were proposals for the future of the rail network. Sadly, the Bill is entirely contrary to that statement. The Bill will take Crossrail away from the Office of Rail Regulation and enables priority to be established outside of that regulator. That has implications not only for Crossrail and the railways but for independent economic regulation throughout the raft of industries and utilities in this country. I urge the Government to think again on that aspect of the Bill.
Crossrail could be of enormous benefit to my constituents, but what is proposed in the hybrid Bill that is before us is not of benefit to them. I trust that, over the next year or more, we will be able to ensure that the Crossrail that is built is one that reflects a good idea and is of benefit to the south-east, and not the proposal that, sadly, is going badly wrong today.
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