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Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): London is a world city, and as we are competing against New York and Tokyo it is important to take note of the improvements that have been made to the connections between the mass transit system in New York and one New York airport and the augmentation of the coach system in Japan with a direct rail link into Tokyo station. Even Norway has built a rail system that runs from Gardamoen to Oslo and beyond.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill, as it provides the prospect of a direct link from Heathrow to the City of London. The City of London Corporation has long lobbied strongly on behalf of Crossrail.

Other benefits will come. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) was right to point out that the potential benefits go beyond the dry language of regeneration. For example, the London Development Agency is promoting the Thames gateway, and Crossrail offers the prospect of significant development there. It will promote further growth along the corridor beside the Thames valley, even if my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) is concerned that the system will provide only 19th-century style parliamentary trains.

Mr. Scott : Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the many difficulties pointed out in the debate and questions about the remit of the Committee, the benefits of Crossrail for regeneration and jobs, and the difference that it could make to constituencies such as mine in Ilford, North can only be a good thing?

Mr. Pelling: Indeed. It is important not to forget the positive elements of the Bill, and I know that my hon. Friend is very positive about the impact that Crossrail would have on Ilford, North.

A substantial part of the Bill deals with the schedule of works and the number of shafts that will be driven down through London streets. That leaves the Government with the conundrum of when to proceed
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with the project, subject of course to financing. It is difficult to see it being a strong point for London if visitors to the London 2012 Olympics would be subject to such constraints. It is important to bear in mind that the proposals for Crossrail come forward at a time when Thameslink 2000 is still on the books as a project for London. The Thameslink project is further advanced in the planning approval process and the planning inspector has concluded that that scheme will be beneficial. His concerns relating to specific issues at Blackfriars, London Bridge and Borough market have been dealt with. Crossrail cannot be completed by 2012, but the Thameslink project could well be completed by then and provide beneficial links with the Olympic Javelin service to and from St. Pancras.

Improved passenger distribution from the King's Cross-St. Pancras hub would link in well with the cross-channel rail link domestic services coming in in 2009, as well as providing greater capacity for the north-south axis, which is important for London's transport. Greater capacity will also be provided on the heavily congested lines around London Bridge, a major pinch-point on the existing rail network. That is important to my constituents in Croydon.

It is good that the Bill reflects a strong intention to consult transport providers and Transport for London. In the name of joined-up government, there should also be consultation with the Olympic development authority and with transport users through the London Transport Users Committee. I listened carefully to the comments of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about proper compensation. I hope that within the lines of deviation that are provided for in the Bill, flexibility will be possible, bearing in mind the effects of the Croydon Tramlink Act 1994 and the fact that people outside the lines of deviation have yet to receive any compensation whatever, even though the tram system has been in place for some time.

Other hon. Members have referred to Crossrail falling within the ambit of the Greater London authority and the Mayor, and clauses 46 and 53 allow the Government to devolve that responsibility to the Mayor. Given the Mayor's ambition to have a London rail authority, will the Minister explain in his winding-up speech whether the Government want the Mayor's ambit to extend beyond Greater London, if the line runs from Shenfield to Maidstone or, indeed, Reading?

9.15 pm

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): I will not detain the House, but I want to make some general comments about the Bill before turning to some specific concerns about Crossrail's impact on my constituency, which contains Reading station. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) for their support for Reading as the western terminus, and I am also grateful to those hon. Members who signed my early-day motion to that effect.

Nobody doubts that the construction of an east-west railway across London will have powerful economic benefits for London, and I strongly support that element
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of Crossrail, but the project misses a once-in-a-generation opportunity to serve the needs of the wider south-east, to which it could bring substantial economic and environmental benefits.

I understand that Crossrail is a metro scheme, not a regional commuter scheme, which exists to support the Mayor's transport strategy, but I am not sure whether that should be the case. Its scope should be much more ambitious—I would prefer a regional service linked to major transport hubs, which would make economic and environmental sense. Crossrail will not serve new and growing population centres, so the projected additional revenues barely cover the projected additional operating costs. A potential nightmare scenario involves more traffic on regional roads outside London as freight is pushed off the tracks and passengers decide that they cannot and will not accept a slow stopping service.

I am also concerned whether the project is fundable. At the moment, it will succeed only with heavy taxation of both business and individuals. Crossrail's funding gap is about £6 billion or £7 billion, although it may be more than that—my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has suggested that it could be as large as £15 billion or £16 billion, which is possible, and it is unrealistic to expect either business or individuals to pay such a huge shortfall. We should not forget that Londoners will probably face a substantial bill for hosting the 2012 Olympics. Perhaps the Minister will provide us with an estimate of the cost burden of both Crossrail and the Olympics on Londoners in his winding-up speech.

I am puzzled why a railway that will serve so much of east London will not include a link to London City airport, which has poor transport links. Crossrail will not integrate with the south-east's airport network—both London City airport and Heathrow have poor transport services, and Crossrail will not serve Stansted at all. Is that really the integrated transport system that this Government promise us year after year?

I was offended by the view expressed by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter). The idea that national transport hubs should only be located in London fails to take account of the important role played by the regions. I am worried about the powers that the Bill confers. The chief executive of the BAA was right to express concerns that the Heathrow Express may find itself part of a compulsory purchase order under those powers. After what happened with Railtrack, that could further undermine economic confidence in the viability of big rail projects. The powers appear to require the rail regulator to favour Crossrail above all else. That could have an enormous impact on freight and commuter passenger services, which concerns First Great Western. I seek the Minister's assurance that freight and commuter services will have full equality with Crossrail's metro service.

I come to Crossrail's significance for my constituents in Reading, East. The project's slogan—"Crossing the capital, connecting the UK"—will certainly not be believed in my constituency. It is proposed that Crossrail should go through the relatively small communities of Iver, Burnham and Taplow, terminating at Maidenhead, while ignoring Reading, a town with a population of more than 130,000 that lies only a short distance to the west. If the project really
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were to connect the UK, surely the fact that Reading railway station is already served by no fewer than four different franchises—First Great Western, First Great Western Link, South West Trains and Virgin Trains—would make it an attractive candidate for inclusion. Outside London, only Birmingham New Street is a busier station than Reading. My predecessor in Reading, East clearly understood that, as do those of all shades of political opinion in Reading when calling for the scheme's extension.

As the Secretary of State said, the extension of the scheme to Reading comes with a price tag. For approximately £300 million, the line between Reading and Maidenhead could be electrified—a small additional expense on a project estimated at £10 billion, but one that would bring many more passengers, and therefore revenue, with it. However, that would not be the end of the story for Reading. In addition to the electrification of the line between Reading and Maidenhead, the station would require resignalling, rebuilding to cope with the extra capacity required, and remodelling of the east and west junctions. The cost would be significant. However, the money should be provided by Network Rail, whose duty should be to upgrade Reading's platforms, signalling and junctions because it is already a bottleneck. Severe constraints on the First Great Western main line are placing serious capacity constraints on current and future rail operations on the regional and national rail network. I hope that the Minister will commit to meet me and local authority officers to discuss the funding of the expansion of Reading station.

With the UK's version of silicon valley based around Reading, our local businesses strongly require a direct link to Heathrow airport in addition to our direct link to Gatwick. The lack of such a link is a barrier to the future development of our town and the wider economy. Those wishing to travel to Heathrow via the existing rail service are forced to endure a wasted trip travelling from Reading to Paddington and then westward again on the Heathrow Express. Given such a significant and diverse business presence in my constituency and the surrounding area, the failure to provide such a link is, frankly, unacceptable. I would appreciate the Minister's thoughts on that and on how, for the sake of the Thames valley regional economy, it could be addressed.

It is extremely important to the regional economy that an upgrade at Reading is included in an improved version of Crossrail, whether now or in future. I therefore ask the Minister that the route as far as Reading be subject to safeguarding. That would give some comfort that an improved scheme may be designed to improve Reading at some point in the future. I am advised that that would require private legislation, but it would help if he could confirm that Ministers would be minded to approve such legislation.

I noted the Secretary of State's incredible contortions earlier today regarding his instruction to the Select Committee on the termini. It appears that those contortions reflected genuine disarray rather than any attempt to mislead the House. However, I believe that, as matters stand, that precludes the constituents of Reading, East from petitioning the Select Committee to change the termini. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to withdraw the instruction because my constituents should have the right to petition for an improved project and an improved deal for them.
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In summary, I am far from convinced by the Bill. The Secretary of State's chaotic response has not given me further reassurance. The measure represents a missed opportunity to bring south-east rail transport into the 21st century and provide a significantly improved service. However, its main benefit is that it is before us today. The question with which I must therefore wrestle on behalf of my constituents is whether an imperfect scheme is better than none.

9.25 pm

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