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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The debate has been interesting, with many important contributions. Those of Back Benchers contained rather more clarity than those of Government Front-Bench Members. Let me therefore first deal with the contentious matter of the instruction.
The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary were confused about the instruction; let me be clear. The instruction's purpose is to interpret for the Committee the principle of the Bill. The Committee will not be permitted to accept petitions that do not deal with that principle. The custom of the House is clear: those who petition the Committee must have locus standi. In other words, they must have a special or direct interest in the concerns of the Bill or the instruction.
It is not, as the Secretary of State promised earlier, the case that anyone can petition the Committee. It is not the case, as the Secretary of State pretended earlier, that the Committee can consider any matter of its choice. The Committee is strictly guided by the instruction. Let any colleagues who were seduced by the Secretary of State's silky charmsI was not, but we Taliban Tories are hard to persuadebe clear: by voting for the instruction, they narrow the terms of the Committee's consideration so that it cannot consider some of the many important concerns that my hon. Friends and hon. Members in other parties raised today.
Yet there has been no constancy of purpose about Crossrail on the Government's part. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) noted, the management of the project to date gives rise to great concern. Those concerns are not confined to the Opposition. Labour Members, businesses in London, commuters and the affected communities have raised anxieties about a wide range of issues.
Perhaps the most profound concern is the doubt about the funding of the project. As I said earlier, in a written question only a week ago, I asked the Under-Secretary for the latest estimated cost of the Crossrail scheme. He suggested that it was £10.29 billion. Yet today, the Secretary of State said that it was likely to be £15 billion or £16 billion. It has risen by between £5 billion and £6 billion in the space of a week.
The figure of £10.2 billion was at 2002 prices, as was made clear. The reply refers to the
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last assessment, which was made in 2004. The price that I cited earlier is in cash terms and reflects the fact that construction did not start in 2002 but would start, on the current plans, in 2007. The prices are consequently increased. I was therefore giving the House the up-to-date cash position. I reiterate that the figure of £10.2 billion was at 2002 prices.
Mr. Darling: No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. The prices reflect the fact that the construction of Crossrail would, on any view, take place over many years. So some of the money would not actually be paid until the far end of the period. In order to get a cash figure, therefore, we needed to make a calculation as to how much would be involved. The price that I quoted simply reflects the fact that one set of prices was at 2002 prices, and what I was giving the House was the cash figure that we estimate today. That is the reason for the difference. This is a perfectly conventional way of doing it, but it is important that the House should get the right picture.
Mr. Hayes: That is true. Hon. Members will understand our scepticism on this point, given the earlier confusion in the Secretary of State's mind about the instruction. They will understand if we are rather doubtful about some of the figures that he is now presenting to us. I would say to him as kindly as I can that, had we had a better defined business plan and better defined budgets, and had potential investors had a clearer understanding of the vehicles that they might use to invest in the project, the Government would not be in the mess that they are in today.
Mr. Hayes: No, I must move on. I am going to mention the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) favourably in a moment. He might want to intervene on the back of those compliments, rather than in haste now.
Had the Government been more precise about some of the matters that I have just mentioned, much of the doubt and speculation that their uncertainty has inevitably fuelled would not have arisen. The Secretary of State may shake his head, but I have met many people associated with Crossrailas he and the Minister will have done in the course of their businessboth from the railway industry and from London business, who endorse the fact that there is a lack of clarity. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich made an important contribution earlier. He said that we must be careful about what he described as counterproductive cost-driven delays. He went on to say that elements of the project that were eliminated to save money might in the end deter investment. Those were profound points that the Government would do well to note. I have never understood why the right hon. Gentleman now finds himself on the Back Benches.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I put it to him, however, that before he
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starts throwing stones at the Government over Crossrail, he might like to ponder his own party's record on the issue, and the uncertainty that was created in the 1990s when the Bill did not proceed because of administrative confusion and a lack of leadership from the party of which he is a member.
There are real doubts about the funding of the project. There are even more profound doubtsI almost hesitate to say itabout when the Treasury really backs it. I have no doubt about the commitment of the Secretary of State and his ministerial team, but is the Treasury really behind the project? As Thomas the Tank Engine might have said, this is a case of "Hurry up, Gordon!"
There is also considerable concern about how the construction of the project could disrupt other services. The rail industry estimates that the construction will affect 2,200 freight, commuter, long-distance passenger and airport services per day, along two principal routes. In particular, freight terminals along both routes could suffer significant disruption. On the Great Western route, 12 terminals, mostly on slow lines, would be permanently affected. My hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), and the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) made the point that there is a real issue of disruption caused by displacement. We heard that that could even have an effect as far afield as Norwich and Oxford. The idea that this project should be considered solely as a metro service, and solely as the concern of London, when it has these wider implications, is way off beam.
In addition, a number of constituencies will be particularly affected. In the west, Crossrail will terminate in Maidenhead, which has an extremely busy commuter station served by fast and semi-fast trains at peak times. As my right hon. Fried the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made clear, the introduction of Crossrail not only threatens to replace those with a slow stopping service, but might reduce the number of trains, and worst of all damage that aesthetic masterpiece, the Brunel bridge. Can we really ask the people of Maidenhead to endure this for five or six years for a worse service than they have at the moment?
Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reiterating the points that I made earlier about the impact of Crossrail on Maidenhead. The residents of Maidenhead will not only get a worse service and have to suffer the view of Brunel's bridge being destroyed by the electrification gantries, but the station at Maidenhead will have to be completely redeveloped. At the moment, there is no feeling that there is even the space available for the proposed depot. Is not that yet another reason why the line should go to Reading rather than stopping at Maidenhead?
As the hon. Member for Reading, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) said, there is a case to be made for that, and the Select Committee should certainly consider it, which is precisely the argument of a variety of Members
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in relation to its remit and terms of reference. When I heard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, I thought to myself, "With a determined and articulate representative like that, it is no wonder that she saw off the Liberals in Maidenhead and will always do so when the test comes."
Speaking of Liberals, there are a variety of local environmental concerns, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) pointed them out. There are also fears that far from being a regional railway, Crossrail is now a metro schemeno longer part of an integral railway network. Some say that the project is increasingly being driven by the Mayor of Londonhardly the best person to deliver a train service to the people of Berkshire, Essex, Kent or elsewhere.
There is much local opposition to the proposed 24-hour maintenance depot at Rush Green. The petition had 2,302 signatories, and what a feisty campaigner they have in my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I tell him, the people of Romford and the House that when we are returned to office, which will be before the project starts if this Government have anything to do with it, we will reprieve the people of Romford and consider seriously the alternative highlighted tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles)the North Pole depot west of Paddington. When the Eurotunnel rail link is complete, that depot will become vacant, and it seems to be a suitable alternative to blighting the lives of the people of Romford, as has been properly drawn to the House's attention.
According to a preliminary study by an independent transport consultant commissioned by the BAA, the replacement of the dedicated non-stop Heathrow Express services with stopping Crossrail services could result in the loss of 3 to 4 per cent. of Heathrow airport's public transport share. Such a result would mean that the objective increase in public transport access to the airport as required by the Government's White Paper, 2The Future of Air Transport", would not be realised. The current proposals will take over paths and platform space already safeguarded by BAA for the Airtrack project which would link Heathrow with Waterloo for the first time. Moreover, terminal 5 does not have the capacity to accommodate the Heathrow Express and Crossrail. Crossrail's proposal therefore implies that either Airtrack or Heathrow Express to terminal 5 is no longer possible. Surely it is not too much to ask that we maintain good public transport access to Heathrow airport.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton said, the Bill as currently drafted threatens fundamental principles of independent regulationanother point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and others. The powers under the Bill, if exercised, could negatively affect Network Rail's ability to deliver services and challenge the wider principles of independent regulation. That would threaten business confidence, with wider implications for future private sector investment.
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The Crossrail Bill also creates a potential conflict. It instructs the Office of Rail Regulation to give priority to Crossrail. Clause 15 of the Olympics Bill, however, would place the ORR under an obligation to assist in the development of the Olympics, with a clear implication that it should give priority to the Olympics. Which is to come first? We heard nothing about that from the Secretary of State. Will the Minister clarify the matter, as I would have expected the Government to be absolutely clear about how Crossrail and the Olympics interact and overlap?
The Bill also threatens the expropriation of private property rights. It gives the Secretary of State power to take over, without compensation, Heathrow Express, in which BAA has invested around £750 million over the past decade.
The Select Committee must be allowed to satisfy itself in regard to: concerns about Crossrail's construction; powers taken under the Bill; and railway planning in the context of the Olympics. That is why we tabled our instruction to the Committee. The Government must address other important questions. What potential is there for capacity growth? Have the Government affirmed tonight that Reading remains the objective beyond Maidenhead, or have they merely confused the House because of their own confusion? Does the increasing involvement of the Mayor of London mean that Crossrail will remain a metro service, or will it eventually serve regional needs?
It is claimed that Crossrail will provide indirect benefits by releasing capacity at Liverpool Street station so that more trains can run from the Lee valley to Stansted. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire pointed out, train operators have said that that will not work because the route is already at the limit of its capacity elsewhere. Is there potential for capacity to expand to services to Stansted and other growth areas?
In his opening statement, the Secretary of State said very little that could remove the uncertainty surrounding the funding of the project. In public, business leaders say they are behind the project, and indeed they and we remain behind it in principle. In private, however, they tell me of their grave concerns about their contribution. It is not simply a question of size; they are also concerned about whether they will have a meaningful say in the project's management. If business is expected to make a major contribution, it will expect to have some say in the governance of Crossrail. I do not think that that is unreasonable, but the Government and Crossrail have only just addressed the issue.
We must get this project right. If Crossrail does not happen, that will undermine business confidence and the Government's ability to deliver part-funded infrastructure projects in the future. We know that the Government have committed themselves in a very significant way. An investigation of Crossrail in 2004 revealed that 265 staff members were involved in planning the project. According to another investigation, rents on prestige offices in St James's park for Cross London Rail Links, the parent company, were costing £745,000 a year. In answer to a question that I tabled recently, the Minister said that in the last financial year those office costs had trebled to
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£1,907,000. He also revealed that his Department had spent £1,937,000 on consultancy in the last financial year, in answer to a question that I tabled on 12 July.
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